To commemorate the new school year, here’s a whimisical excerpt from The Seasons of My Giving Back.
* * *
School’s starting for some, just around the corner for others, and forever out for many. Here’s a school daze reminiscing that nearly scared the “be-jeezers” out of me, and made me truly experience how much more satisfying the giving back is than the taking.
* * *
From the sidewalk, you believe you hear terror in the voices of the Aru brothers. When you peek through their bookshop door, propped to allow in the morning breeze, you think you see fright on their faces.
Mother often tells you, “Never eavesdrop, Raji. It is impolite.”
You wish you had heeded her admonition. Nightmares, sweat drenching sleepless nights, and a discombobulated first month of school result from what you overhear. The street traffic is noisy. So you make out just pieces of the conversation.
“…They may well overrun all Cincinnati, those, those…”
Ari Aru finishes his brother, Sari’s sentence. “…Those scarlet tongued, blue mouths…”
Though it is still warm September, Ari and Sari’s next words freeze you, as if you’re a January snowman.
“…4th grade boys…”
“…turning them into…”
“…so hideous, so scary…”
You clench your school lunch sack and remind yourself, ‘You are a 4th grader, Raji.’
“Hi Raji,” Ari shouts, thawing me.
“Come in Raji. The book your father ordered arrived. We’ll wrap it up for you to give him.”
Even though you’ve known these bearded and ancient Lindian neighborhood Uncles as long as you can remember, suddenly it seems you don’t know them. You hesitate entering their shop. The always-there baggy, blue-black puffs beneath their eyes, seeming gentle smiles, suddenly appear sinister.
“Do not just stand there, Raji.” Ari takes you by one shoulder.
Sari seizes the other.
These friendly bookish confines you’ve been in hundreds of times, becomes a trapping lair.
The brothers lead you to the counter. The business has an out of place scent, burning saffron. Strange chants, in a Lindian dialect you do not understand, emanate from tinny speakers in a back room.
Ari and Sari dress in white cotton dhoti shirts and multi-color silk pants. They keep, oddly, to the old world Lindian ways. They chew teeth reddening betel nut, yet worship Goddess Nardesha who forbade the addictive habit. They speak perfect English, yet stock only Lindian language books and newspapers. These things, that for you had been ‘just the way the brothers are’, now are ominous.
You begin believing – If you were a stranger passing through our neighborhood…those red teeth, and blue-black under-eyes…you’d keep right on going, lickety-split.
“What grade are you in this year, Raj?”
You stammer. “Four…fourth.”
“Hmm!” Ari looks to Sari and back to me. “Well you be very careful, Raji. Because boys your age…”
You don’t hear the rest of what he says, because you grab the package, and run out. You’re just sure you hear Ari say to Sari, “I just hope our Raji doesn’t become one of those scarlet tongued, blue mouths.”
Don’t know what one is: A zombie, giant lizard, horrific monster. Don’t want to find out.
* * *
Throughout September, you avoid walking by the bookshop. With time and distance, you start realizing your distrust of the Aru brothers is unwarranted. What you should fear is the scarlet tongued, blue mouths of whom they speak.
You look twice into alleys you must cross. You never know if a scarlet tongued, blue mouth may lie in wait, or what they may do to you. You shutter your mind to the possibilities.
~ ~ You may very well enquire, Dear Reader. “Why aren’t you asking an adult about the scarlet tongued, blue mouths?” ~ ~
It is because of another conversation you overhear. Sari Aru is on a street corner talking to a parent of a classmate. “So it got your son. I am sorry to hear that. But he will survive. Embarrassment will be his only illness. That is fortunate.”
Then Sari says. “If only they’d stop talking about it, then they would all be safe from the scarlet tongued, blue mouths.”
That convinces you. Your lips are sealed.
The next day you look close at the talked about boy. There it is, hardly noticeable, a slight tinge of blue to his lips. When he speaks, you see a slightly scarlet tongue.
You look at the mouths of other classmates. You lean too close to a girl’s face.
“What are you doing, Creep?” Margaret cries and backs away. “Are you spying on me? Mom wants you to report if I wear makeup. Doesn’t she?” She quickly wipes off bluish lipstick. “I hate you Raji Singh!”
Margaret runs from the room. You sink low in your seat as everyone looks at you – glaring, smiling, as if you two were a 4th grade ‘item’ and it was revealed at that moment.
Maybe confronting a scarlet tongued, blue mouth would have been easier than dealing with Marr-grr-ett.
* * *
That afternoon on the playground, ‘The Mystery’ solves itself.
Boys line up to climb the ladder to the slides. Mop-haired Joshua, a sly trickster, secretively shares one of his gimmicks. He takes a plastic pen from his pocket. He says, “The Aru brothers carry these at their store. If the pens go bad, they may look at you funny, but they’ll give you a new one. When you’re almost out of ink, just suck on the air hole, like this.”
The boys watch curiously. The ink rises slowly. Something strange happens. Maybe it is high readings in barometric pressure that day. Maybe Joshua is showing off and applies too much suck effort? The blue ink suddenly spurts from its tube – like red mercury from a thermometer in a Saturday morning cartoon.
Joshua spits, phhts, and phews as the ink coats his lips and seeps onto his tongue. His mouth turns blue, and his tongue scarlet. He runs wildly around the playground, spitting, phht-ing and phew-ing as he wipes crazily at his face.
* * *
The question you will always have for Ari and Sari, but will always be afraid to ask, “Did you know I was listening to you that September morning when I was in 4th grade? And, was it for my own good?”
“It was a giving back to me, simple lesson in honesty, wasn’t it? Thank you Ari, Sari.”
©2015 Raji Singh
(Join me every Sunday night at the Fiction House, your place for short story, lark, whimsy, and merriment. Read more about Shelva and meet the many residents as I archive their lives and centuries of adventures. You can read their origins in my novel TALES OF THE FICTION HOUSE, but that’s a different story. It’s available at Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.)