This is a short intervention in the on-going story, Jacksons. It’s an incident that never really happened, but I think about it a lot. No reason. I like it. Do you?
“You don’t like Marge?”
“It’s not my name.”
“Do you still want to go to the movies today?”
“Which movie is it?”
“I don’t know Tubb, you were surprising me.”
“Yes, I was.”
“So do you still want to go?”
In the evening. Tubb is not at home.
Tubb comes in.
“You don’t like Marie?”
“It’s not my name.”
“Do you still want to go to the movies?”
“When is it?”
“Yes Tubb. It started five minutes ago.”
“How do you know?”
“You gave me the tickets, Tubb.”
“I gave you the tickets.”
“I thought I was going to surprise you.”
“I thought you were going to surprise me too.”
“So do you still want to go Tubb?”
“No, let’s leave it.”
“Good night May.”
“Good night Tubb.”
In the morning. Maggie is not there. Tubb is not there.
Tubb comes in.
There is a note on the table.
Maggie is not there.
A milkshake was sitting ready on the table. It’s owner was missing. I was perched on the corner of the table, looking at it. I thought if I stared long enough, people would start noticing and the owner would finally come to take it away. Poor milkshake, it must be feeling so lonely!
I stared. Sooner than I had imagined, I got a response. Some one tapped my shoulder. “Yes?” I said. “Miss Jenny Jackson?” a polite voice asked.
“Miss don’t you think you’ll be late for class if you don’t finish your milkshake now?”
I turned. It was a young man I didn’t recognise. That was strange. I recognised every teacher in school, even Jacko’s. I let the matter out of my mind for then.
“Oh no sir! That milkshake isn’t mine. I don’t take cafeteria lunch. Jacko and I bring our own sandwiches everyday. I was simply giving the milkshake company- you see, it’s owner has left it.” I explained.
“Who’s Jacko, Miss Jackson?”
I liked the way he called me ‘Miss’. None of my teachers did that. They usually just hollered my name like an out of tune loudspeaker… JENNNNYYY JACK-SONNN!!!
“Why, Jacko’s my brother sir.” He nodded.
“A good brother?” I was puzzled.
“I don’t understand what you mean by that, sir.” He smiled.
“That’s alright Miss Jackson. I’m afraid now I have to go.” As he left the cafeteria hall, I looked at the back of his head all the way. Who was this character?
I liked him.
The bell rang. I walked back to my class, thinking up stories of the young man’s identity. I had had to believe he wasn’t a gentleman really- he hadn’t introduced himself while at the privilege position of knowing my full name. I missed Amelia very much. She had picked some king of skin rash from her trip to India and had been absent for a few days now. She would have liked him. I walked back to my desk in the classroom. I opened the desk and took out the present for Miss Cathy.
“Jenny! Stop playing with the snow-globe!” It was Crazy Mandy.
“Why Mandy, what is the problem now?”
“You might drop it, butterfingers! Then all the fluid and all the glass will be near MY seat! Haven’t you mopped enough puddles already.” She mocked.
My teachers’ favourite punishment was to make me bring the janitor’s mop and clear the puddles I created sometimes in class.
I made a face and played on. Miss Cathy was late. That was very strange.
And then, as we waited for Miss Cathy, the young man from the cafeteria entered the class. “Sorry, I’m late. But since it’s my first day at the school, I hope you’ll not report me.” He smiled. Some of the students in the first row laughed. I nearly dropped my snow-globe and Crazy Mandy shrieked.
“Hello Grade One. Miss Cathy is on leave for the time being. So I’m going to be her replacement. As I said, it’s my first day at this school, so we’ll start at the very beginning.” Twenty blank faces looked at him.
“Uhh… let’s just say I am here until Miss Cathy comes back. My name, by the way, is Matthew and-”
Before he could even complete, a hand rose up in the first row. Alan Boyd. I realised he was just waiting to catch the young man’s name- Mr. Matthew’s name- so he could put his question.
“Will Miss Cathy be gone a long while, Mr. Matthew?”
“She might be. But I promise I’ll try to fill her place the best way I can.”
Mr. Matthew waited for something. Whatever it was, it didn’t come, so he made his next announcement. “Let’s start with the names, right? You know mine, so let’s hear yours. Come on, from the right.”
As students gave their names one after the other, I wondered if this was really happening. I must tell Jacko everything about Mr. Matthew. I had to know what Jacko thought about him.
“Mister John Carter, sir.” Some people giggled.
“Mandy Carter. No relation.” More people laughed.
It was my turn. “Je-”
“Ah! But I know Miss Jackson. My colleagues give me a lot of information about you. Nice to meet you again, Jenny Jackson.”
I sat down to a classroom full of stares and envy. I liked it.
Soon the nineteen names and the one un-needed introduction was complete. Mr. Matthew was speaking again.
“I know that Miss Cathy started a picture story with you, but I will take…” He talked about his plans for the term. Everyone listened quietly. He asked, “Does anyone want to ask anything?” I raised my hand.
“Yes, Jenny?” He smiled. The class looked at me.
I got up rather slow and asked the question that had been troubling me for some time now. “Do you give punishments, Mr. Matthew?”
The class looked ahead, eager.
“All my teachers tell me to mop the puddles I make sometimes when I drop something… Do you too give punishments?”
The class was silent.
“Well, I can’t see any reason to mop a puddle actually… If there IS a pool in the class, I would rather have a nice pool party than spoil all the fun and have it cleared!” He said.
The class cheered.
The bell rang.
Almost everyone had left the class. I put the snow-globe back inside my desk. It might not go to Miss Cathy after all. But the new winner would first have to prove himself. As I picked my bag and slipped it on my arms, Miss Abigail from Grade Two came in.
I knew I had to go now. I didn’t like Miss Abigail much, even though she was beautiful. As I closed the door behind me, I heard Miss Abigail ask Mr. Matthew, “And? Did you learn anything new today, Matthew?”
“I sure did Miss Winston-”
“Please. It’s Abigail.”
“Ok. Abigail.” I could hear him smile.
“What I did learn today is that these little ones don’t waste much time on whys and why nots. They adapt. And they try to be happy. They don’t care why someone left a milkshake unattended! They just start at the solution. They don’t care why their teacher isn’t coming! They are simply hooked to what’s happening now. They carry no baggage.”
“You seem to have had a good day, Matthew.”
“Yes. Yes.. I think I’m going to have a good time here, Abigail.”
“I’m sure you will.” Miss Abigail replied.
“I’m sure you will.” I said under my breath.
Karan and Jeremy sat down as silently as possible. They held their breaths. It had been a quick one, this duck. Not that they were scared, or surprised for that matter. A twelve year job as an ‘Information Officer’ in the Army makes this kind of stuff so much a routine that adrenaline just cannot kick in in such petty surprises. Though they had left the Office long back, they had never lost the skills. After all, how can you un-learn being clever?
In the shade of the house they were leaning against, in the colony opposite Mrs. Virmani’s, both were silent. Listening for all sounds, specially those of police jeeps. They had just been coming up the road, as planned, when the furious police jeep had rushed past them, causing them to change their plan. Not only had it stopped at the Virmanis’, Jeremy also recognised the Officer behind the wheel- the one who he had taken permission from before seeing Mrs. Virmani last time. Jay Mehra’s second appearance, and so casually too, might cause a few suspicions, he said.
Jeremy was thinking. “….Tell Karan; a nice girl, so nice she would never turn down an old lady’s request… she never refused to eat with me, to take me- but well, how does it matter now?…..” Mrs. Virmani knew something about Sunny. And she was saying very clearly, they could know all of it if they could pay the price. The plan was simple. Pay the price. Officer Yadav complicated it.
Just as he was diverting his brain’s most gruelsome thoughts to Mrs. Virmani’s, Karan was deciding if it was all right now to get out. And anyway, Jeremy needed to hide, not he.
“I’m going.” He said, getting up.
“Where?”, asked Jeremy, shaken out of his pleasing visions of torturing Mrs. Virmani. That was one luxury he could afford, in the sticky circumstances.
“To the house. Just saw that Officer return.”
Karan went and looked at the house over the boundary wall of the colony. All was quiet, just as they had anticipated previously.
“No way Karan! SHE can still create trouble!”
“Nothing we didn’t account for, Jem!”
“It’s too much police right now, Karan! Will you please stop losing it again and again, I care too, okay!”
Karan calmed down. But he didn’t change his mind.
“Jem. I have to go. Please just-”
Karan stopped in the middle of his sentence.
“Listen to Jem, Karan. You aren’t going anywhere.” An unknown figure said, pushing Jeremy back. It was more the gun he pointed at Karan’s head than his sudden appearance that made Jeremy comply.
And there he stood, looking at the grinning man, whose gun remained steady at Karan’s temple, like a pro’s.