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.
We were disappointed. So when daddy said ‘there was more’, we willingly left the shoddy room that was daddy’s place at the company, and went with him, eager to finish it all and get back home.
Daddy had got silent. But then neither did we want to speak much. What was there to say? Daddy wasn’t no big-shot.
Jacko and I followed daddy up a marble staircase, near the field guys’ room. What was left now?
“The units where the people actually come are independently set up through the country… this is just the HQ. Only employees visit here… that’s why I could bring you guys…” Daddy was saying. He wasn’t enthusiastic. He was just completing the tour. We got to the upper floor. Another hall of cubicles greeted us. But these were larger. There were wider alleys between each row, and the one in the center could have contained me, Jacko AND daddy if we stood next to each other.
But we didn’t go inside. Daddy just showed us from the stairs. “The office at the far end is the boss of us all.” The ‘COO’ or something he said.
“The entire row in front of it is just his secretaries. ” Jacko and I counted five cubicles. That meant five secretaries. People were calmer here, I noticed. No one was hurried. No one was shouting. And hardly anyone wore white. PInks and hot purples, and blues! Oh, so many blues! A red scarf, silver somewhere… It hardly looked like an office.
“Some say they made this place just because he wanted to sit somewhere that was ‘office’. All the work gets done downstairs anyway. And it all depends on how much we guys sell, in the end.”
We retraced our steps. And daddy had an idea. “You wait here a minute. I’ll be back.” And off he ran to the miniscule room, and we stood waiting.
Daddy was walking proud again. I couldn’t stop from smiling. Jacko was looking up but that was all. The idea was spectacular. And we shouldn’t have judged daddy already.
Daddy was taking us to a sell. He was taking us to one of the ‘easy’ customers, he said, so we could see him at “the real work”.
“Watch and learn” he had said again.
We were walking with our backs to the sun now, no daddy did not get any angel lining- but I knew better. My daddy was MY daddy. Even in human form.
Daddy rung the bell at a small, dull house… I had never seen that part of town before. The houses were too small. “We call them the Weasies. They’re easy to sell to. The whole damn place is vulnerable!” Daddy laughed and I didn’t understand anything.
I looked at the small house. Daddy had once told me that to maintain an insurance some money had to be paid regularly. I wondered where the owners of that dinghy place would buy the insurance from, let alone pay the premium.
An old woman opened the door. “Ye-es?” she moaned. This was an easy customer?
“Hello Ma’am. I’m from Alpha Insurance. Could I have a few minutes of your time?” Daddy smiled. I stared. When did he ever talk like that?!
“I don’t want no insurance.” The old lady said plainly.
“I don’t intend to sell you any. But I would like to talk to you, Ma’am.”
“Okay, speak.” She folded her arms, and eyes Jacko and me curiously. Not an usual sales-party, I know.
“We have this record back at Alpha Insurance. I understand that you live here with your husband- Bill Getz? And you’re both above seventy? Well, ma’am, I saw those records today. And I must say… I am concerned for your safety.”The woman frowned.
“I have a mother, Ma’am. She’s about your age. I can’t begin to think how lost I’ll leave her if I- die before her. And then I saw your file. The horrors that could be in your life… should your husband…” I looked at Jacko. He was startled too. We had never heard daddy talk about granny before. Not since she had died two years ago.
“Sit down son.” She said.
“I hope you don’t mind my bringing along my kids… they just- didn’t want to stay at home today… it gets pretty alone there…”
The woman was nodding.
“Ma’am, I’ll get to the point. I don’t like to see that people are in danger. That’s why I came here. I don’t want to thrust an insurance policy on you, but I just want to make sure you have the resources for any kind of situation.”
“I understand Bill works at the bank?” She nodded.
“Ma’am, though I hope it doesn’t happen… I wouldn’t trust the bank right now. Things are showing clear signs of a Depression and bank turnouts haven’t been near good for months. They might soon be outsourcing their branches.”
The woman drew in breath quickly. A hand went up to the chest. “My! Bill was saying the bank was getting funny businesses nowadays. They must be renting out!”
I understood nothing, but it was clear that daddy was happy. But if he hadn’t come to sell insurance, why were we here?
“Now, I must suggest some security for your family ma’am. I mean, I look at these figures in the newspaper everyday… so many people jumping off rooftops, the accidents, the helplessness. And what with massive unemployment, and poverty and then the needs… I think you’re very deep in trouble.”
Was she, I thought. I heard food cooking in the kitchen. Her house, though small, was comfortable. Pictures of her kids covered the walls. But then, what did I know? Daddy must be right.
“Yes I am…” I heard her whisper, her eyes glazed and staring…
Daddy shifted suddenly.
“There’s another reason I came to you today, Ma’am… Every time I think about it, it saddens me so much. I used to work at a store once. It wasn’t a big job, but we were happy. My wife would take of the kids and every evening I would come to my small flat and sit with my family. But then the stores closed downand suddenly we were poor. And then, my wife.. my wife, died of asthma. I couldn’t do anything. I just… I wished I had a policy or something because then it would have been so easy for her to be alive…”
The woman was crying. Jacko’s eyes was wide. Daddy had another wife? We had step-siblings?!
The woman grabbed me in a hug suddenly. “Oh the poor dears! How bad!” She wailed.
Wait, my mommy’s not dead. It’s his first wife…. but I couldn’t say anything.
“Son, I think I want to buy some insurance now.”
Daddy had crossed the street when Jacko and I realised it was over and ran out after him. We wanted explanation.
“Daddy, mommy isn’t dead!” I whispered, as if revealing a secret he didn’t know.
“And granny is!” joined Jacko.
“What? Of course… Oh, I was just selling it to her.”
“You lied?” I was shocked.
“Is mommy dead, Jenny? No. Then yes, I lied. I got to do it. It’s how you play it.”
“So the company lies?” I asked, not wanting to discuss mommy’s death anymore.
“Insurance is a lie! It’s a gamble. Why will anyone buy it if they think they are safe and comfortable?!”
“So you fool people for your business?” Jacko asked, disgusted.
“Hey. What are you guys angry about? If the folks are stupid enough to listen to some sob story and be influenced, I’m gonna do my business!” Daddy laughed.
“Does everyone do that, at the company?” I asked meekly.
“No… that’s just my style. And it’s different with those up-street houses. There you got to talk all about money and management and more money. Half the Life insurance sells because the family will get more money after the father’s death…”
That was all we had to say. Daddy was… clever. But somehow, I didn’t like insurance much. And I don’t think Jacko did too.
Vinny Pearson was batting.
Jacko Jackson was bowling.
It was a cool Wednesday evening and the kids were in a heated game of baseball. I was, as always, sitting quietly in the stands, rubbing my palms against my knees. I had already made my trousers wet with the sweat. I murmured- Come on Jacko, make it strike three.
The only person who was sweating more than me that cool evening, was Vinny Pearson who had already bagged two strikes from Jacko’s ball. I wondered- If Jacko took enough time throwing the ball, Vinny would drop the bat out of sheer sweat. I hoped he would.
Finally Jacko was ready. I knew, because his right leg got stuck to the ground and never shifted. He was in position. Jacko pulled back his bowling arm, and raised his left leg high to his shoulder, then bringing it down in a swing, thrust the arm forward, launching the ball forcefully out straight. I closed my eyes. I waited for the sound of wood hitting the ball. I waited. But no sound came.
Until finally I heard Jacko scream out in the air and I opened my eyes. Did we do it?
Jacko was leaping up and down frantically. I could hear in my head daddy’s voice when he would come to watch Jacko play at school- No boy! You have to be professional!
Vinny was sitting on the base, despondent like a broken lamp. Jacko was dancing, Vinny hung his head. We did it!
I ran down the stands onto the ground. I picked up the ball from behind Vinny and tossing it up in the air started jumping and dancing myself!
“We did it! We did it! We did it!”, I sang. Our side of the team joined us on the ground but they kept a little away from the lunatic show Jacko and I had revved up. Vinny’s side came out too. They had all known Vinny was done for.
The thing is, Jacko has never got a strike two and not made it a strike three. So it wasn’t really a surprise.
Jacko and I skipped back home just as it got dark. Once back in, Jacko went straight up to his room, suddenly stopping skipping. I never knew why he didn’t stay and tell mommy and daddy about his game. But anyway, I always did, so I guess it was alright.
I kept dancing and skipping right inside the door so when mommy came in to put the dishes on the table and almost ran into me, she snapped angrily, “Jenny Jackson, what in the world are you doing rampaging like that? Go do something and stop being a hurricane.”
I had heard that before. Stop being a hurricane. It was one of mommy’s favourite dialogues. She always called me a hurricane, no matter how I looking. When I got ready for school, mommy would throw her hand up and call me a hurricane, and then stuff my shirt in my skirt. I don’t know why she did that, my shirt was always exactly the way Jacko’s would be. Anyway, I liked being mummy’s hurricane.
So I went and sat on the stairs. I waited for daddy. Usually after Jacko and I came back from the park everyday, daddy came after ten minutes. Jacko and I would sit on the top of the stairs and wait for him to come and say his first few words. That’s how we knew if our tummy’s were full or we wanted dinner that day.
“That rascal!” usually meant we had had a lot of lunch.
“I’m home!!!” meant Jacko could take any notices from school down to daddy.
“What’s for dinner?” was the tricky one. These were the only words that didn’t tell whether daddy was coming from the pub or the base. So we had to wait for mommy to tell him, and then for him to speak.
Today was one of those days when I would sit at the bottom of the steps and wait. I looked up to see if Jacko was at the top. He wasn’t. He would get there.
And then daddy came home. He fumbled with the door knob, as he always did. Then finally, daddy opened it. I stood up. I thought I would tell daddy about Jacko’s game and quickly go away before daddy spoke any of his opening lines.
Daddy swirled on his feet. I stopped speaking.
“Where are you, you dirty woman?” daddy cried out to no one in particular. He shifted weight from one foot to another and almost lost his balance.
Mommy had stopped working in the kitchen. She was being very quiet. It was strange. Daddy stopped moving too. He looked ta me.
“Hi daddy.” I said and waved.
“What are you doing here?” daddy said, squeezing his eyes shut and walking towards me. He kept one hand firmly on the wall. “Don’t you have to go to school?”
“I will, daddy. In the morning.” I said politely. Daddy asked funny questions sometimes.
“Of course. I know that. It’s night right now, of course. What?! Do you think I’m foolish?” Daddy came up close. He smelt.
I didn’t know what to say. Suddenly, my shirt pulled up. I looked behind me. Jacko was pulling me up the stairs.
“But Jacko, daddy’s talking to me…”
“Come on, Jenny. Now.” Jacko didn’t listen to me. He kept pulling at my shirt and it started to hurt. I got up to leave. He wasn’t giving me a choice.
“You’re going to take her away, huh? You think you’ll ignore me like this? Come on here, and I’ll show you. Come on-”
There was a thud. Jacko turned around. My shirt loosed so I turned too. Daddy was lying on the floor, his head and hand on the first stair. Daddy slept at funny places sometimes. Jacko took me away. I heard mommy close some boxes. She must have returned to work.
Later in the night, I went out of Jacko’s room. He was doing homework. He didn’t see me leave.
I went down the stairs, and peeped inside the drawing room. Daddy was sitting in a chair, watching TV.
I went up to him and sat down next to him. I looked up. He hadn’t seen me. Sometimes, people don’t seem to see me in the house.
“Daddy, Jacko had a good game today. Another strike three.”
Daddy grunted again.
I got up and left. I had done my job. I went back to Jacko’s room. He had fallen asleep. I brought my own pillow from my room, and slept on the floor, holding on to his hand that dangled down. I soon fell asleep.