The Professor asked the creative writing class to write a story “that involves sex, mystery, religion and royalty; and you have one hour!” Within five minutes, one student got up, handed in his paper and left. The professor read his four line story.
The King is dead.
The Queen is pregnant.
Who did it?
I laughed. Mom told me her favorite joke when I was only ten, kissed me good night and turned off the lights. My mother never did try to keep my feet on the ground. Always, she told me what all was possible, irrespective of what was probable, or even proper. She never told me that anything was something I couldn’t understand, but let me try, and stood by to help me if I asked. She taught me to imagine before I knew, and to appreciate the beauty of perspectives. A math teacher herself, while she instilled in me a joy of rapid solutions and numbers, she also showed me how to prove four equal to five, and amazingly, all it takes is a few basic math laws.
Sometimes, I think knowledge hasn’t been as important to me as imagination. Knowledge, to some extent, is a good book away. But to expand my imagination, I have no tricks and no guarantees. I tried imagining ‘six impossible things before breakfast’. I wrote stories and rewrote all the names. I tried to imagine a new color, until I got a cross between peach and brown and pretended that it was original. Imagination has become my closest friend. It is also my most trying one. And it is a gift my mom chose to raise me with.
Dad taught me more practical things; the machinery of a world. A man rather obsessed with meditation, organisation and assisting, he roped me into all three as soon as I could write. I rejected meditation outright, my already developed imaginative mind mocking the concentration demanded from it, changing the silence involved into waking dreams. But I happily picked up the other two. There are countless incidents in my life when sheer organisation has made everything -academic, personal, random- so much simpler and easier. Being collected also benefited me in managing my time and consequently, in helping others, and anyone who knows me today knows that I will be there when they need me.
What I am is significantly touched by other members of my family as well. My little sister is a living testament of the power of optimism. My grandmother taught me Mahjong, an old Chinese game, that adds to my life of wonders. My uncle took me across India, as I followed his transferring Air Force home, collecting music and endless hobbies along the way. My grandfather showed me that all you need to do to travel first class on an economy ticket is ask. The list is endless, just like the lessons. The result is me; Icarus, with long wings.
Today, this positive-positive combination is the bedrock to my strength. If I am known as the Ruchika that doesn’t break, its because I know how to handle hard-hitting situations. I know how to put seemingly larger than life moments in the context of time, to project my feelings in outrageous proportions just to ridicule them and make them palpable. I fail, feel lost and get hurt, but I know that anything is only as grave as I let it be.
Even if they didn’t specifically know the ripples of what they were teaching me then, my family has given me this world in an oyster. They’ve equipped me to achieve anything I truly want.
Now, I just have to choose where I want to start.
It was morning. I was sitting by the window in Jacko’s room. I had slept in his room yesterday, and this time I hadn’t had to ask. I was thinking about yesterday.
“Dear me!!”, I mimicked Dandy Lizzy from school. “What disasters I can think up, huh!”
I laughed. God, really what had I dreamt up last night?! Twice I had woken up in the dark, with sweat on my brow and fear in my body. Like fever, I had been hot and afraid… afraid that I had dropped a glass jar on daddy’s head.And something about a knife? Geez, was I getting cocky or what!
When I woke up an hour ago, Jacko wasn’t in the room. He wasn’t in the bath, and he wasn’t sleeping. Wherever he had gone, he had locked me in. “Have been acting crazy to him too haven’t you, Jenny Hurricane Jackson?”
I laughed again. Something’s got to be wrong with my head. I felt like laughing so much.
‘Hurricane’ reminded me of mommy. Oh yeah, where was she? I mean, cool as she is, even she should be getting me off to school now, right? I distinctly remember it was Tuesday yesterday.
My head started aching again. Wait- again? Yeah…. yeah, I had this little ache in the night… yeah, I got up once with headache too. Oh boy! Getting up thrice in the night and having nightmares! That’s not like me!
I held my head in my hands. And I sat down and watched out of the window.
There he was! Jacko was coming down the road. Well that meant he wasn’t going to school too. That’s fun. He looked up. I waved. He didn’t wave back back but of course, he was just going to come in.
Within a minute, the lock turned from outside and Jacko pushed the door open.
And that was the end.
Back it all came. The dark. The knife. The cries, the shouts, the fight. The hatred. The fear. Mommy falling down. Daddy with the knife.
Jacko with the pan… Jacko on the floor….
The glass jar. Not like in a dream. No waking up.
The dark. Daddy with the knife.
Out went all the humour, all the laughter. There was nothing funny about Dandy Lizzy anymore. There was nothing happy about anything.
Jacko’s face filled with bruises and scratches…
“Jenny?” he asked.
“She’s still sleeping in your bed. I checked on her in the morning. She’s all right.”
“You lock her too?”
“Yeah. I had the key with me all night. You okay, Jenny?”
I looked at him. Okay? What’s okay?
“Of course. You’re not hurt, right?”
Hurt? What’s hurt?
“Okay. Do you want some breakfast?”
Breakfast? “I would like some breakfast.”
Breakfast? Were we really talking about breakfast?
“How will you make breakfast?”
“There’s some bread-”
“We don’t have a kitchen.”
“That’s my name. Jenny.”
“Yeah Jenny.. I’ll just go down to the kitchen that we have… in our house and-”
“Our house? We don’t have a house.”
“Jenny what are you saying! You’re on my room, see? My room is in our house. Our house which has a kitchen.”
It’s like Cinderella.”
“What’s like Cinderella?”
“It’s just like Cinderella. She has no family. She has a house but she has no family. And in the day she fights that Captain Kirk is really the hero of Start Trek but it’s all really a game. Because the evil stepmother will get to her. And it will all be over.”
“Whoa! That’s not quite how I remember Cinderella. Now you sit down there. I’ll go and get you a sandwich okay? And we’ll talk about this fine? Jenny?”
“That’s my name. Jenny.”
“Ya. Jenny Jackson.”
Jacko ran out quickly but he asked me one last question.
“You want me to fix you a glass? Want something to drink?”
“I don’t drink.”
And then he left.
Jacko came back a few minutes later with a vegetable sandwich on a plate and a ketchup smiley on top.
“There you go. Now we aren’t going to school today-”
“Jacko what happened?” I started crying. Hot tears were streaming down my cheeks. I realised things would never be the same again.
“Hey. It’s okay- Don’t cry. C’mon.” He settled in next to me.
“Jacko what happened yesterday?”
“Daddy came home very drunk, Jen and… there was a fight.”
“Did.. did daddy really throw a knife at me?”
“I think so.”
“Why did daddy hit mommy so hard?” I cried.
“He didn’t know what he was doing. He was too drunk.”
“You knew about this, didn’t you? How long has this been going on?”
“Some while… But come on, eat your-”
“Is that why they fight so much? Because daddy drinks?”
“Ya… most of the time.”
“And daddy hits mommy?” I could barely hold my voice.
“Ya. Sometimes he does.”
And then I wiped my tears. Because I really wanted to know something suddenly.
“Daddy doesn’t hit you too does he? He was just too drunk yesterday right?”
“Jenny come on-”
“He doesn’t right? Say it!”
“No. He doesn’t.”
“You’re lying!” I shouted. “That- that sprain- when you didn’t play the school game… it wasn’t because of daddy…”
Jacko looked at me. He moved the sandwich away.
“Look here kiddo. I know you’re very shaken right now. And my face isn’t helping- I mean I probably look like the joker right now but… see…”
And Jacko explained it was all right. He said we’d just get on with our lives and go to school and play baseball and forget all about daddy.
“I mean, we can’t forget about him but we won’t pay much attention.”
And then he stopped talking.
“Mommy and daddy don’t love each other anymore.”
“I don’t know.”
“We’re not a family.”
“Jenny. Just Jenny. We’re not Jacksons anymore.”
“Just like Cinderella.”
Jacko turned towards me.
“Cinderella didn’t have a last name.”
Jacko hugged me tight, and I hugged him back.
“We’re out of shampooooo!” I sang.
“Ohh not again!” came a grunt.
“C’mon! We’re out of shampoo!”
Paulo entered. “We always are. What’s going on?”
“The Great Verity Shampoo Game” wailed Margaret.
“Oh.” and Paulo left.
I looked at Margaret expectantly. She rolled her eyes and grunted, “Oh no! We’re going to have a dirty hair day!“I giggled.
“What could you mean? We’re just going to wash them with soap!” I laughed at my traditional daily joke and went back inside the bathroom.
But Paulo was right. We were always out of shampoo. In fact we were always out of everything. All we had in the whole entire family was our elaborate names. (And the house we had currently been given- if you could call it a house- by the Track Commission or something like that.) Mom had given us those names before she died. And she had names us after her favourite famous people.
Margaret not after Margaret Thatcher, but Marguerite Wheatley, the actress who starred with Matt Damon in Invictus. We sometimes do call her Margue.
Paulo after Paul McCartney and even that she jazzed up.
Alexander, my other brother after Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s noble Founding Forefathers.
And me after a character in the only book mom ever held in her hand, Agatha Christie’s Nemesis- Verity. (I have yet to read it and see if I am happy with my name.)
That’s it. That’s all we have. We don’t even have proper bodies to go with our names. I am skinny. Marge is skinny. Paulo is just a teeny meeny notch above skinny so he passes. And Alexander is totally out of the question. He has thin legs, HEAVY arms, a chicken belly and super thin shoulders that make his head seem broader sometimes. He was born with some disease I think.
Yet we are a GRAND family of four.
Margue with her red hair and a hand made for a bat and nothing to do but amazing ability to seem crazily occupied even when she’s staring at the sky.
Paulo with his slightly dusky skin and killer eyes, but never a girl to pull in with them.
Alex with his awkward body just manages to live with us. You’ll see eventually, dear reader, that all there is to Alex is his breaking body.
And me with my irritating jokes, pinching enthusiasm, killer speed if it comes to it and nothing else. But I do have ONE credit to my list. I am more educated than the rest. But it’s not proper.
Like only yesterday I got to know it isn’t ‘had went’ but ‘had gone’ while knowing at the same time what equestrienne means. So, imPROPER. Unbalanced. Flawed? But anyway, that’s how I am yet to read ‘Nemesis’ in case you were wondering.
So, we live in the backstreets of USA. No state really, you see the alleys of one aren’t very different from that of another. Except those of New York. Nothing about New York is similar anywhere outside, ever.
We are cockroaches. The human kind. Not our choice.
I’m not going to tell you a sob story of how my mom left her rich house to marry my dad because they were madly in love but eventually he left her to the shadows and she died a sick decaying hag, who spent her last breaths regretting the day she tied the bedsheets and escaped down the balcony while her hungry black kids cry and wail around her and try to eat bits off each other.
No sir, I won’t tell you that. Because that’s not what happened. 🙂
My family have lived in the Use Me bins for as long as we can remember. The good that comes out of that is we know all the matters of the trade. It’s like we are the oldest family in the business! There’s some respect to that.
But now I got to stop my narration sir, because the train is here. Your train sir, which you said you had to board. I’ll talk to you some other time. Bon Voyage!