No, dear dear reader, the pools I mention are NOT dung pools. Not quite as bad as that. But I’ll start at the beginning.
Though I hadn’t intended for this to be a part of the post originally, I might as well tell. I went to take a particular test to enrol for an English Language course today. I was told I was too good for it, and should probably wait till I’m an adult and try then. I never said I was modest!
I ride my bicycle to the swimming pool every evening. It’s been rainy lately, so I decided to outrun the rain clouds and go earlier today. Nice idea, because there was a soft breeze out when I peddled ever so calmly through the kilometer. Even the people in cars (a cyclists favourite enemies) were calm today.
Now let me tell you something about cows. In India, it’s not really unusual to find cows roaming their lazy ass on the roads, even the ones cars zoom over. You can find one in any part of the country, but then you might just not. The point is, if there IS a cow on the road, no Indian would take much notice. All we do is honk though it never helps, eventually sigh and wait and then speed away.
But this time I noticed.
Because they weren’t just cows, they were two nice fat buffaloes, and they weren’t just walking, they were having a war dance with their curly horns interlocked tight. Not too far away was a cream coloured cow. I flashed glance between her and the black angry males and knew it all. It is ALWAYS the same. Please girl! Tell me that’s not happening over you!
I giggled. The passivity that girlfriend was showing was the record in all time coolness! Attitude, huh?
So I got to the pool all right.
And I got to the deck all right.
But after that nothing was ‘all right’.
The thing about rain is that we love it so much every time other than when it troubles us. And when it’s the first showers, we are so stuck up with the beauty and Facebook updates that we don’t remember it also troubles us. But this is what it had done, to the sweet pool I was hoping to take refuge in. (This is not the pool I go to. It’s just a pic from Google to show what my pool had become. And after all, how is grime and muck of one place different from another? The caption’s from the original picture.)
Okay, I was not prepared for that.
All I had thought was that there would be less people in , thanks to the rain. I hadn’t come to this…
Oh whatever! I jumped right in. Yes, when it comes to hygiene and fun, there IS a big chance I would choose fun. And then I thought about the people in rural areas who bathed in lakes like this, and also got natural vaccination from Hepatitis A.
But I am quirk-some too… I wasn’t in for two minutes that I had decided to just do the backstroke after all. Gone were all the underwater stunts… gone were the mushroom roll-ups…. gone were the races… the fun…
At least I could still make mermaid swishes inside the water, pretending my legs were the long tails we learned to envy in kinder garden.
But then an eye-opener. Naturally there were some insects too in the water (though a man was working diligently to get them out.) A crow spot it’s lunch close by me, swooped down, picked it up in it’s beak and….
after a few paces, dropped it back.
Even the crow discarded it. Whatever in the world!
The green water was noisily teasing the boards around the pool. ‘1.3 metres.’ or ‘2 metres.’ Nothing mattered, the green-ity was so dark, you couldn’t see a foot beneath you!
How long could my persistence survive? I came back home, dirty wet. And came online to tell the tale.
What a day, huh?
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.
It was a dark night. In fact it was so dark, Jacko and I held bets on who could spot daddy coming home first. Jacko said it was because there was no moon in the sky today. Coincidentally, the street light outside our house was broken too. I didn’t like that very much.
And then daddy came. Neither Jacko nor I had seen him, even though he must have been right under the window we were peeking through, in my room. As a part of the challenge, we had switched off the light outside the door, mockingly too, because we were both certain we would see him long before that. We were wrong. And that brought disaster.
Something crashed loudly outside the door. Daddy cursed loudly. “They DARE cut our light?!!!! Even when I paid half the bill today!”
Jacko and I ran out to our place at the top of the stairs. We shouldn’t have shut that light. Daddy was inside.
“WHO do they THINK they are?! So what I’ve been late with the bill, THEY don’t have to go house to house selling some ruddy insurance! And those- those- bastards at the company!!!”
I wished daddy would look at the kitchen. A light was on, mommy was working. They hadn’t cut the light. He did see. And in he went.
“What is this?! You! Why is this light on?! That’s just it. You. You make the bills so high. Why don’t you just pay them too if you make them so high! HUH? You hag! You’re the reason of all my problems! What do you do all day anyway, huh? You just sit around all day and switch on the ruddy lights!”
I couldn’t hear what mummy was saying. I went down the stairs. Jacko pulled me back but I wriggled out of his grasp.
“Oh God! Must I deal with you everyday! You’ll kill me with that smell some day!” She was shouting too but her pitch didn’t come close to daddy’s. It was IT. Another one of mommy and daddy’s fight. Those things Jacko didn’t tell me the reason behind. Did mommy and daddy not love each other anymore?
“What?! You have a problem with my drinking? So a man must work his arse off all day and he doesn’t deserve a drink! And that too when he has an old ugly witch for a wife who does NOTHING but makes his life worse, and raises his bills! Tell you what! YOU work from now on right! YOU get the money and YOU run the house! Hell, they won’t NEED to kick me off then, I RESIGN!”
Pans were cluttering. I hoped daddy was not going to hit mommy.
“So that’s what you did now, huh! LOST YOUR RUDDY JOB, DIDN’T YOU! There go all your reward breaks and early releases. You’re just a bum who got fired! You never did anything good anywhere! Not at home, not at the job! You’re just a FILTHY-”
An echoing thud came from the kitchen. Mommy screamed. I had to look in now. Jacko was coming down the stairs himself.
Mommy was on the floor. She covered one cheek with her hand. She was crying. I was scared. I pulled in my breath quickly.
Daddy turned towards me. “YOU NOW! What do you think you are doing! Can’t I talk to my wife without you or that shit brother of yours sticking your stupid head in!!! I’ll tell you what! YOU AREN”T MY KIDS. You are just rats! RATS!”
I cried now. Jacko had come behind me. He ran in towards mommy.
“And YOU! What do you think you are doing? LEAVE HER THERE! I want my wife on the floor, that’s where I’ll have her!”
Daddy took a step towards Jacko. He swayed violently when he moved. I cried out, “Jacko!”
Daddy picked up a knife and turned towards Jacko. “I said- LEAVE HER THERE!”
I was shocked. Daddy wouldn’t hit Jacko! What was he doing?
Jacko was looking at the knife. He was looking at the knife and pulling mommy up behind him. Mommy was really hurt. She kept grimacing and clutching her body- her legs, her arms… She moved her hand from the cheek, and I saw blood trickling down the side of her lip. Why had daddy hit her so bad?!
“You won’t listen!” And daddy made a plunge at Jacko. He waved the knife in front of him. Jacko bent back.
“Dadddddyyyy! You’ll hurt him!” I screamed. Had daddy forgotten he was holding a knife?!
Jacko picked up a pan.
“Jacko, what are you doing!” I was crying hard now. “Are you fighting daddy, Jacko?!” I sobbed, helpless, scared.
“Jenny just take mom to your room, now!” Jacko said, looking at daddy.
I didn’t want to think. I ran and helped mommy get up. I looked at daddy from behind Jacko. He was staring at Jacko. He didn’t look like daddy. I rushed with mommy. I hadn’t known she was so heavy. I rushed and rushed, I had to get back fast. I helped mommy into my bed and ran out down.
When I reached, Daddy had moved closer towards Jacko and Jacko had moved back. The knife and the pan were poised.
And as I stood and saw, daddy growled loudly, and jumped forward right on Jacko and threw him to the floor. Daddy stood over Jacko and kicked him in the stomach. I screamed and ran to Jacko but daddy threw the knife at me. I stood frozen to the place. The knife missed me by an arm, a very bad shot for daddy. But daddy had attacked me. I was stunned. Jacko was getting up, daddy was wresting him.
I was stunned.
Daddy hit Jacko in the face. Just like he had hit mommy.
I was stunned.
Jacko whimpered when daddy drove his fingers into Jacko’s sides and hit him again.
I looked at the jar on the slab. The glass jar filled with water. Stunned still, I walked towards it and picked it up. It was heavy, but not as heavy as mommy. I walked over to where daddy crouched over Jacko. I stretched the jar out over daddy’s head.
Daddy looked up.
I dropped the jar.
Daddy fell like a lifeless mass to the floor.
Jacko breathed painfully. He coughed and gasped.
He got up and pulled me away. He took me outside.
Glass pieces from a half broken bottle lay everywhere.
Jacko cleared an area and pulled me down beside him.
He pat my head and whispered, “It’s okay. Jenny, It’s okay.”
It’s okay? What’s okay?
I looked at the dark. I touched the dark.
I loved the dark.
“But Jacko she just won’t stop!” I wailed.
“Whatever Jen! WHAT-ever Amelia did, why did you have to empty your entire water bottle on her head?” He fumed, clutching his fists. This was the second day in the week that news about me had reached him in school.
“What are you being so teacher-ish about? You had a nice long fight with a boy today didn’t you?”
“What? Don’t tell me to control my anger and all that. She asked for it.” I crossed my arms across my chest.
Jacko sighed. “You’re a bull sometimes!” I stuck my tongue out.
“Okay. You took your revenge. The past. But did you think about it?” He looked up hopefully.
“Ye-ah… I told her to leave me alone and I tried telling Mr. Matthew but Miss Abigail won’t let me talk to him, and I did tell her that would hit her if she didn’t stop so I did think about it. And then I didn’t hit her! I just- emptied my bottle…”
Jacko sighed again. “What was it about anyway?”
“She was going on and on and on about her trip to India. Even now! And she was bugging everyone. And she was convinced that cricket is better than baseball. I said that’s because she doesn’t know zilch about baseball and she had never been on a strike-three team. So lame, huh?” I looked up hopefully.
Jacko stared. “And then?”
“And then she told us some rules about eleven players and twenty-two yards and something; but no one really listened.”
He kept staring. Then, shaking his head slowly he said, “Jenny, please tell me that is NOT why you emptied your bottle-”
It was my turn to stare. Of course…
Jacko got up and exclaimed, “Oh God!!!”
“Forget it, just- forget it.”
“Alrighty.” And we went back to our work. We were in Jacko’s room again.
It was a few minutes later that I thought things had cooled down enough for me to ask him.
He looked up.
“Have you ever played cricket?” He looked at me at first and then-
“Wanna try?” He smiled.
“Yes!” I laughed.
As I jumped up from hid bed, Jacko threw me two baseballs, one glove, and his new race car.
“The bat’s different. What do we do for that?”
“Cardboard? Mommy bought new track pants yesterday, right? From the same shop I got the socks from?”
Gathered our merchandise, we set up the race-car-box wicket, Set me up with the cardboard bat and Jacko took the familiar ball. We left the glove, it was a single and we had no ‘Wicketkeeper’. Jacko told me a a few basic things. Throw the ball, hit it far and run between the wickets and make ‘runs’ and then don’t let the other team reach your score. Oh and, if you hit the wicket with the ball when the batsman isn’t in, he’s out.
“That’s all?” I asked.
“It’s not very different from baseball!”
“Except there is no strike-three.”
“There’s no strike-three?! How is this game so popular?!”
Jacko threw the ball. It bounced off the ground.
“Hey! What am I supposed to do, hit the ground?”
“Wait till it bounces. Then hit it.”
“That’s stupid. Why not just throw it in the air?”
“Ha! I don’t know Jen!” Jacko laughed.
“Stupid Amelia.” I said as Jacko bowled again. I Swung the cardboard full, missed the ball by an inch perhaps but it hit my leg and bounced off. I started off towards the opposite wicket, but had to stop when Jacko started laughing.
“Stop stop stop! You’re out! Don’t run!”
“Why? The ball’s hit.”
“It hit your leg. Leg Before Wicket. That’s an out.”
“Of course it hit my leg! If I don’t keep my leg before the wicket, you’ll just knock it off!”
“No! You protect the wicket with your bat. With the leg, it’s a fowl. And you’re out anyway, you’ve knocked the wicket clear off with the cardboard!” Jacko motioned and laughed.
I looked at the fallen race-car box. And then I laughed too.
That day, we went back in pretty late but thankfully, nobody noticed. Which also meant that I missed the final evening practice, which also no one noticed, the consequences of which I had yet to know. But when we did return, we came back with a race car that no longer had a box, two shoddy pieces of cardboard that went in the bin and one ball (one lost to a ‘Sixer’, by Jacko).
And that was that.