“Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit…” I would have kept up with my chant had Jacko not thrown a pillow right into my face.
“Oh shut up will you! It’s just a dress!” He cried as he pulled the laces on his shoes.
“It’s not just any dress, Jacko Jackson, it’s my- ballet- show-dress.” I said in a very low whisper, because I was so scared and feared that if I said it even an iota louder, Mistress would hear me back in the dressing rooms and come charging into Jacko’s room and smack me so hard that I wouldn’t have a face to perform with after all. Then I wouldn’t have to perform but it wasn’t much consolation. Already I had missed evening practice yesterday.
“It’s just a tear for crying out loud! Stitch it up or something!” He went on, stamping his foot and admiring the shoes.
“I can’t! Would-” I pushed the sunflower dress towards him.
“No. Don’t even think about it. I am going out with the boys.”
“But won’t you even come to the ballet?”
“Can’t say anything. And mom’s gonna be there anyway.”
“But she doesn’t want to go!” I cried.
“She IS going, right? Want to or not. Have fun.” And Jacko went out, leaving me with my torn dress.
I wore the dress. I hid the tear with the only scarf I own- blue. I know sunflowers aren’t supposed to be blue but it was either that or a smack.
Mommy only said, “Geez, I didn’t know it was so cold!” and laughed at her joke and we drove off, as the horrid sun outside made me itchy in the scarf.
I thought about my position on the way. Just how deep in shit was I. I had a tear in my dress and I was in the front row. I had missed the most important practice last evening thanks to Amelia who made me want to know/play cricket and I was not prepared for any changes that had been made. I had not called up anyone to ask because mommy had been on the phone and I couldn’t explain to her why I needed to talk to a friend so urgently because I couldn’t have her realise I had missed practice, even though it was her job to drop me off.
I could only hope that Mistress had not noticed, though how she would overlook the fact that a front row dancer was missing a DAY before the ballet with no news, no message and no explanation- I didn’t understand. I guess she HAS noticed. Then I’d better hide that tear at least.
Mommy stopped at the school gate, told me to ‘run along’ and she’d be in the hall. But she wasn’t turning off the engine so I asked where she was going and she said, “Oh some urgent matter. But I’ll be there.” and roared off towards the market.
So in I went, without my family to see me, without any clue of procedures, but I was saved for just as I entered backstage, I ran into Alan Boyd.
“OUCH! Look where you are going Jenny Jackson!”
“Alan, I need your help.”
“No, no, no, I am not helping you. You’re just bad news. And anyway, Mistress has put a mark on your name- she says anyone who sees you is to report you to her room IMMEDIATELY. I guess I should just-”
“Oh nooo. She knows. Oh no, Alan please. You have got to help me! Because if you take me to Mistress she will smack me and it will all be because of you!”
“Me? I didn’t not attend practice yesterday!”
“Yes, but I’ll get a smack only if you tell Mistress I am here!”
“Okay, so I might not have seen you after all. But aren’t you going to dance then?”
“Umm… can you cover me, huh?” Since Alan was placed right next to me, it was a pretty good idea. Only Alan didn’t think so.
“No. NO! Bad idea, Jackson. I am NOT in this shit.” He shook his head and tried to get away but I used yesterday’s cricket practice and covered the entire corridor like it was a wicket.
“Alan Boyd, will you really leave me in this all-”
But I couldn’t complete because Alan jumped through between my arm and leg, crashed on the ground, and skippered off fast backstage. I guess he would leave me in the rut.
I followed him backstage. Okay, so I’m on my own. At least I can find out if there are any changes to the setting. On the stage, behind the curtain, cardboard trees and clouds were set, a cardboard train was being moved in and everything was where I expected it. The costumes seemed alright. The lines were familiar-
And that was all I noticed. Because I was whirled around and pulled by the scarf and I had to hold on else it would fall and show the dreadful tear. I looked up and it was Mistress. I looked further up and saw the frown. And so I prayed.
“Jenny Jackson, Where. were. you. yesterday.” Mistress fumed as she shut the door of a classroom behind her. I hadn’t even realised we had entered one.
“I had a cold.”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“I am not.”
“I didn’t get a message.”
“Mommy probably forgot.”
“I’ll ask her.”
It wasn’t okay but I couldn’t say anything else. Then Mistress looked at the scarf around my neck and I wrapped it tighter. See, I have a cold.
“Sunflowers aren’t blue.”
“I didn’t have it in yellow.”
“Sunflowers aren’t blue.”
She looked at me, I tried not to look at her.
“Oh alright.” and before I could even see what she was doing, she pulled the scarf off and shrieked and jumped back.
“JENNY JACKSON WHAT IN THE WORLD HAVE YOU DONE TO YOUR DRESSSSSS!!!!!!!!”
I should probably tell you about the tear now. It’s not just a tear. It’s a canyon. It starts at the neck band, wedges off half the band, then comes down and rips the dress halfway down the back and the stitching comes out in a line in the front. It might not be just a tear. I honestly don’t know how I managed so much destruction.
“What- is this- Jenny?” Mistress breathed heavily.
“I sort of tore my dress a little…”
“A little?! How, did this happen!”
“I was running out and it must have caught in my leg and I must have pulled without looking because I was running out and it was near the edge of the bed so I think that’s when it got tore but I didn’t do it inten-”
Mistress held up a hand.
“You were running out?”
“Why weren’t you in bed?”
“I was trying to make it to the practice when I felt a little better.
“Why would you run to the practice without your dress?”
“Jenny Jackson, don’t lie to me.”
And so I told her everything.
“WHAT?! YOU SKIPPED PRACTICE FOR A RUDDY GAME OF -CRICKET?! AND YOU-YOU HAD THE CHEEK TO LIE TO ME AND YOU TOREEE YOUR DRESS AND YOU DID IT BECAUSE OF CRICKET?!!!”
And that was the end of my dancing days. Because Mistress kicked me out of the ballet, and I had to sit next to Mr. Matthew and watch the entire performance and I didn’t speak because Mr. Matthew wasn’t happy when Mistress told him why I was going to sit next to him and not perform. Mommy didn’t come to see my dance but I guess it was alright because it wasn’t my dance anymore. But the dance was great because Mistress went in, in place of me, and I heard someone say ‘she was a swan’. Weird compliment because she was being a sunflower really.
Why didn’t she just give me another dress, I wondered, because she did manage something for herself after all. Mr. Matthew said it was to teach me a lesson. But I didn’t care about ballet that much so the lesson must be-
If you tear one dress you don’t get another.
Well, that makes sense.
This Saturday, I had a dance ‘jig’ in school. Jacko said it was a jig. Mr.Matthew said, it was a ballet; one where all the parents were to come and sit and see their kids dance. But I couldn’t understand how so many parents would fit in the hall and how all the students of all the grades would fit on the stage and if we won’t hurt each other when we moved, on which Mandy made a strange cooing sound. But Mr.Matthew said that all the grades had a day of their own. And Grade One had Saturday.
That wasn’t the problem. I was doing pretty good. And even though I flopped a couple of times between the turns and twisted when we were to roll, Mistress put me in the first row, at the end though. Mistress was a new teacher in school. Like Mr.Matthew. I didn’t know her real name, but she just asked us to call her ‘Mistress’. Even Mr. Matthew calls her Miss M.
So my dancing was going good. Even the costume fit well. I was a sunflower and the yellow suit they gave me was not too big. The only problem was that Mistress made us practice in socks. She said it was how it should be. And because of that, I had ruined the pair of cream socks that I had. Because of all the flopping and turning and twisting and rolling. And since there were still two more days of practice, I needed new ones urgently.
Surprisingly, I had no ‘stand-by’s in my sock drawer. Mommy shook her head and said ‘uh-huh’ when she saw that. I tried Jacko’s but they were too big and the elastic fell loose. Mommy didn’t have any socks of her own, because she never wore shoes.
On Wednesday, I had managed in the old ones that had worn out and though Mistress stared at them when I went on stage, she didn’t say anything. When I was going out she said, “Jenny Jackson?” and i cut in before she could tell the whole Grade One about my socks, “New ones tomorrow Mistress.” and ran away. After the glory from the Thumb Gash Incident, I couldn’t afford a sting and ruin it all.
On Thursday, mommy and me went sock-shopping. Evening practice had begun and if I wanted to attend, I had to have new socks.
It was hot outside. And that’s all there is to say about the whether. It was always hot outside. Except when it was winter, and then it was always cold.
So it was hot outside and mommy had dressed up in her red pants and red stilettos and white sunhat and I had worn my blue pants. And off we went down to the market and there’s not much to say about that. Except that I kept skipping ahead and only knew mommy was behind because her heels clicked.
There’s not much to say about the store we went in either. I couldn’t read the name, and there was nothing very special. Except it was cool inside, and I remember hoping it wasn’t as cool in winter. Mommy went and found the Kid’s Section and a man started following us and only went away when I stuck my tongue out really long and squinted my eyes. And when he went, he said this- ‘Weird kid. Hot mom… but weird kid. Well, she’s got to find the stuff on her then.”
And mommy went through the Kid’s Section and then went through it again, but she couldn’t find the socks and it was taking too much time. And then that man came up again, and asked, “May i help you?” and then mommy smiled differently and touched her hair suddenly and said, “Ohh. Yes please. I seem to be very lost.” in a very thin voice.
After that, the man and mommy started talking and he took her to where the socks were and mommy didn’t look at me or talk to me, and only turned when she told me to try a green pair on and then turned away to talk to the man again. I figured I had to warn mommy so I put the socks on real quick and then tugged at her hand.
She bent down and I whispered in her quickly, “Mommy, this man was following us!” and made my eyes really big. But mommy only said, “Was he?” and smiled at the man and talked to him some more. I looked down at my socks and pulled and adjust here and there.
They were alright. I wished mommy would just take them and we’d go. But she was talking to the man a lot now and he was making big gestures with his hand and mommy was touching her hair a lot now. She was also leaning on one foot so her hips came out very round.
“Mommy these are good.” I said and pulled at her. She finally looked at me, and said, “Oh-okay.” and the man didn’t leave us as we went to the billing counter and mommy paid up. I started pulling and jumping and groaning and mommy made a face and told the man, “This little one!” and then she said “Goodbye.”
We only just made it in time to the evening practice but I had new socks so it was fine. And I came back home and went to sleep real early. I didn’t play with Jacko much in the day, and I didn’t even see daddy the whole day. The only persons I seem to have met really were Grade One and Mistress and that man at the shop. The only persons mommy seems to have met really is the man at the shop too, because she went back to the store later because she said she’d forgotten to buy her socks. And I wondered when she had bought shoes.
There are some people who never need an introduction. He was one of them. He could walk into the room and you would think you had known him forever. And yet, when you went close to talk, as you certainly would, you would find yourself laughing at all the new things he had to say, all the jokes he would crack. And you’d infer that he was “such a homely creature” and that you would be great friends!
I did just that. I saw him at a party January last. I was sitting in the far end of the hall, looking at the girls swishing their dresses, the boys admiring them. And through the mist of people, he made his way across to a table before me. And he reached… and he didn’t sit… and he kept walking…till he reached the chair right beside me, and then he said, “Is this seat taken?”
Now all this time that I had been watching the girls with the swishing dresses and the boys watching the girls swishing their dresses, a friend had been my loyal company. Actually, my first cousin’s best friend, and it was obvious that he was trying to hit on me. At this exponentially fortunate moment, he had gone to get drinks. So I, not very untruthfully, said, “No.”
So he sat there, beside me and smiled. For a long half minute, he smiled. And with my mind screaming not to do something stupid, I smiled back.
“Are you here alone?”
“If you call having a missing cousin and an undecided ride back home being alone, then yes, I am alone.”
“Then I guess there is no way you could disapprove of my company, seeing that you are not interested to dance, and there is, fortunately for me, no one else to engage you at this moment.”
“How can you be so sure that I don’t want to dance mister….?”
“Let’s come to the names a little later. As for the dancing, no person can possibly sit back when they are playing Elton John’s ‘Sacrifice’ and yet say, they want to dance.”
“Point noted. But why aren’t you dancing then?”
“I was just standing by the door wondering what the best strategy to persuade this beautiful lady in the white dress to dance with me would be.”
I suddenly realised how much I loved the colour white, specially when it set me apart from all the other girls, dressed either in red or black. But I had to keep my cool, I could NOT let him get it easy.
“And you decided….?”
“To tell the truth. You see, I find it that the truth tends to make things easy more often than not.”
“Hmm….. Then Mister, in answer to your method of truth, I think I wouldn’t mind this particular beat.”
And as George Michael’s ‘Careless Whispers’ filtered into the room, he led me to the floor and we danced. All night, through the songs, we danced. And the little moment when I slipped, by mistake I swear, passed flawlessly, as he caught me just in time, making it look like a beautiful dip.
God, how I loved it.