“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!
Jacko has a funny habit. If he needs to make a quick visit to a room, say- go in, switch on the light, take what he wants, and switch the light off- he just can’t do it. He has no problem with shutting a light off. He just can’t switch it on. There is no reason behind it. He just can’t. Not that he’s lazy. You can tell him to run fifteen times to a shop and get a new thing every time, and irritate him at that, but he won’t get tired.
And he could switch on lights. But when he was staying for long. Like, if he was going to sit for even ten minutes, he’d happily switch the light on himself. Without any quirks.But if it was for less time, his hand would suddenly repulse from the switchboard, and his smile droop down.
He tried many things. He tried finding his things in the dark, but often came out with the wrong thing, of similar shape/size/feel… and had to run back in so many times, he even tried a flashlight. But he kept dropping it.
He tried asking me to go ahead of him and switch on the light… Like this one time when he came running to get a baseball bat, but stood fidgeting and frowning near the front entrance, waiting for me to get the light. And just as he saw the light shine on the barrister, off he fled up the stairs and threw himself at his bat and was ready to return. In fact, he had come so quick I hadn’t even moved away from the switchboard. As a result, both of us came down the stairs together. It was too much action.
Finally, it was settled, much to the comfort of both of us, that these flying visits would be made solely by me. That is, he would tell me what to bring and I would get it. It wasn’t easy at first. I knew little of the layout of Jacko’s room, despite the amount of time I spent there.
So he’d tell me to get the Checker’s board, and I would take hours to find it, even when all his games I knew were supposed to be on the bottom shelf. Okay, not hours, his room isn’t that big, but that’s what he would groan and say. The price of which was, often, refusal to play anymore. So after I had finally found the board and brought it down, I had to go back up and keep it back. The deal wasn’t very nice any more. It was soon to be changed.
It was Baseball day. Wednesday. All the most serious games of the neighborhood happened on Wednesday. Last Wednesday, Jacko had got a strike three. This Wednesday, he wasn’t playing.
However much his team, or me, persuaded him, he just kept saying no. Why? “I got work to do. I won’t come to play.” was all he kept saying. So they all finally left,and I followed Jacko to his room. Just what work did he have to do, I wanted to see. But Jacko didn’t do anything. He just picked up his book, and sat down reading it.
“Jacko!! Why are you reading?”
“Because I can?” he snorted.
“But why are you reading now?”
He didn’t answer. So I went and checked his calender next to the window. He didn’t have any test coming. Why was he reading then?
“Jacko. Is this the work you said you had to do?”I suddenly asked.
“Yes Jenny. Now are you done being an itch with all your endless questions?”
“I’m just asking because Fat Joe was coming to play at the other side today. You missed on a good game.” I said, very concerned.
Jacko flushed. He turned to his book quickly.
“Hey! What’s wrong!”
I coaxed. I pried. I snatched the book away. I was about to use the blaster ‘Jacko-do-you-know-why-mummy-and-daddy-fight’ emotional blackmail, when finally, finally, Jacko said,
“Oh get off it! I don’t want to play Fat Joe. That’s why I didn’t go, okay!” And he snatched the book back.
Ohhh. Serious thing.
“Why not, Jacko?”
“Jennnnnnyyyy!”He said in an unusually thick tone.
“Yes Jacko?” I honestly didn’t understand.
“Oh God! I’m scared okay! So STOP IT NOW!!!” He burst out, stamped his foot on the bed (which didn’t make much effect) and stomped out of the room.
I was stunned. Jacko was afraid of playing Fat Joe.
It was evening. Daddy would be getting home soon. I was playing with Buzz, in my room.
“Hey Jen?” I turned to see Jacko at the door, hands behind his back.
“Ye-ah?” I said.
“Umm- could we talk for a minute?” He took a step forward.
“Oh sure! Come on in!” I jumped onto my bed, and invited him to join me. He seemed to breathe more.
“Hey, I just wanted to ask you- if, you know, you won’t tell anyone about what I told you today.” He said.
“Uhh okay, but- what did you tell me?”
“You know- about Fat Joe-”
“Oh that. Cool. I’ll say you shut your door and I couldn’t see what work you were doing.”
“Thanks.” Jacko smiled. He got up to leave.
“But I want something in return.” I remembered suddenly.
“We’ll take turns at bringing your stuff down. And when I bring a game down from your room, you will play it.”
“I can’t take turns.”
“Fine, just promise to play.”
And that’s how my problem was solved.
Karan focused on every sound he could hear. He had felt the shooter move away, and was wondering what sort of gun was aimed at him at that moment. He was sitting on the edge of the roof, on the wall that marked it’s boundaries. Karan thought if jumping off would leave any of his bones intact. He decided against it. The only way he was going to ‘take a leap’ that day would be if he was shot. Then, at least, the crash won’t hurt.
His thoughts diverted to Jeremy. Never before in their life had the situation been remotely similar. In the fifteen years they had known each other, even before they had joined the Army, Jeremy had never ever needed to do something of which Karan was unaware. It was either both, or neither.
Karan was afraid.
Jeremy raked his brains. What the hell? If I pay the man so much extra, he might just create a scene! What does the buffoon want, to have me noticed?!
Jeremy crossed the street, towards Mrs. Virmani’s colony. How he wished he were twenty paces inside it, and not in this rut! He walked past the entrance, and stopped at the roadside shop, set up by two wooden poles and a scrap of tent. Business was low. Not many people cared to stop for packaged tobacco in the heat. All the worse for Jeremy, the magnanimous pay would be noticed.
Jeremy spoke, in native Hindi, and the microphone relayed the conversation to the shooter on the roof.
“How much for that white one, brother?” boomed Jeremy’s voice.
“This?! No, no sir, that’s not the one for you! I’ll show you- Ya, this one, sir will like this one good. Not that one sir, low quality stuff.”
“Is this your best?” Jeremy asked, playing along. “What’s it cost?”
“Won’t fool sir, this poor fellow! Yes, yes sir, just for you… The price is nothing…petty for sir…”
The shooter could hear the apprehension in the shopkeeper’s voice. He thought he was losing the deal, Jeremy had inquired about the price so quick . Anyway, he was in for a surprise.
“Hmm…. okay, I’ll take… let’s say, three packets. Here.”
The shooter looked down the roof, through the binoculars. The kit he had kept ready on the roof was very important for this stint to be carried off. He saw Jeremy handing over the money. The shopkeeper was hidden under the tent, but the shooter waited to see what happened.
It had been twenty-four bucks. Jeremy had given fifty rupee note. More then half, he had been right. More than half… what excuse would he make?
There were no buses for Jeremy to ‘suddenly catch’, and anyway, that wouldn’t go well with the shooter. The shopkeeper was counting out the change….
“Keep it. Keep the change.” Jeremy wanted to rush off with that but the man had heard.
“But sir, it’s too much.” For the first time in his life, Jeremy didn’t like honest people.
“No, no… you’re a good man. Buy something for your family…. You have a family, huh?”
The shopkeeper was alert. His eyes were wide.
“Yes, sir….. two sons… and my wife….”
“Good. Treat them out. Keep it.” Jeremy turned and walked away, breathing sharply. He knew that with that much profit, the man would be able to have a full meal that day, and still probably save some. A treat, as he had said.
Jeremy felt grateful for poverty. Yet another first.
Nice one, Jeremy. Nice one. The mic had faithfully relayed the conversation to the shooter, and he had heard all of it. Good dealing…. But let’s see you tackle the next!
He picked up the cell phone, and speed-dialed 1…. It was ringing….
Jeremy had walked a good distance away from the tobacco shop, when he took the call. He was expecting only more crap.
“Not bad…. but let’s see you manage this. There’s a man in a blue shirt standing about two meters ahead of you. See him?”
“Go and sell all the tobacco to him. Doesn’t matter how much he pays, just make him buy it.”
“What the hell?! Do you even want anything from this place or are you just playing us?! Damnit, it-” But the line was dead.
Jeremy knew they were just being tossed about. The shooter was just going to kill them, he wanted nothing.
He thought about Karan, sitting so near his end, and oblivious of any such thing.
But then, was he even alive?