by Raji Singh
In celebration of Dr. King Day, we remember the heroes in our lives. This post was the foundation of the novel, The Seasons of My Giving Back. It reminds us of the power of caring for one another.
* * *
I am James Thaddeus Fiction, the Fifth – a true Fiction. Typhoon tears me from my parents. I alone survive. I become an orphan foundling, taken in by new loving parents Dr. Ben and Indira Singh. Now I am Raji. These are my found and foundling tales.
* * *
At least twice a year – from kindergarten to high school – Lindia bound with my parents. Away from comfortable home quarters at the Fiction House Medical Clinic in Cincinnati, we’d fly, to some impoverished hospital half-a-world away.
Side by side, they ‘cared for’; with me fetching blankets, ferrying bandages, filling water bottles.
“You are learning of one of life’s greatest and yet simplest gifts,” Mother would tell me after a long day. “Giving!”
Fa, ever the believer that, “there are good lessons to learn in every situation, son,” would add, as if he were prescribing a long-known miracle drug. “Every unselfish act, Raji, helps you avoid, septem peccata mortalia, those seven deadly sins that tempt all humans: Lust, envy, gluttony, sloth, greed, envy, wrath.”
I enjoyed helping the sick by assisting my parents, but a nurse or doctor I’d never be. Soon, they sensed this.
“Many are the ways for you to help people, Raji,” they agreed. “You will find one if you use that vivid imagination of yours. In the meantime, we have just the right thing for you while we are at Hospital.”
As any other ten-year-old – Adventure – that is what I yearned: I’d just read Robinson Crusoe.
So, as we traveled, to where this mystery assignment would commence, I was allowing my imagination free play, as a way to wile away the early morning hours. Never ending are the tales a tyke can create while riding alone in the back seat of his parent’s sedan.
I smiled broadly and said to myself. “My parents will sense my desire. They’ll let me ‘give’, by allowing me to work on a cobra-milking farm – where the venom is transformed into healing medicines. I’ll become the Number One Squeezer in all Lindia.”
I hear a deep ‘Hah! Hah!’
Did Fa hear my thoughts; or sense my thoughts? No he and Mother are chit chattering about illnesses.
Poppy Sol, bouncing brightly along the treetops of the Lindian Woods, looks through my window. He’s nearly out of breath from trying to keep up with our vehicle’s pace, but still he’s able to sputter. ‘Hah, lad. Kidding ye must be. Never would your Fa, let alone your Ma allow you to become a Squeezer.’
My aspiration of adventurous altruism skids to a dead stop.
But one of Poppy Sol’s stray rays allows a flickering rebirth of hope. ‘Holt on a minute now, me young bloke. Just perhaps, I may have a gra-a-a-nd way to bring about a change of mind in them. Let’s say we…’
I am so excited, but I cannot understand the rest, so, to the glass I put my ear, to, better hear. Sol can be a mighty prankster – at least in my tyke imagining. But I’m just sure this is no pranking.
Luny Mum’s beam enters, right through the window glass on the other side of the vehicle. She taps my shoulder. ‘Don’t you be believin’ a word that fabricatin’ ol Sol be tellin’, Raji.’
Loving Mum, she’s readying to bid adieu to the day, but still she takes time for me.
‘Raji, as your earth mum says, “use your imaginin’.” Dream like a King, mi lad. And Think. Of how might you inspire? How might you unite?’
Hmm! I wonder. How? Then a flash of brilliance comes. ‘I know what I’ll do Luny Mum.’ Poppy Sol glares through the window at me, anxiously awaiting my decision. This time I know he won’t guffaw. My great idea burns in my thoughts hot and bright as Sol. I sniff. I think I smell my brain afire. Burning brain: It smells rubbery. I never took time to notice the acrid scent of smoldering synapses in the hospital, if ever there was an occasion to notice such a thing. I look around: No smoke billowing from my ears. Look up: My cowlick isn’t a red flame lick.
‘THUMP! THUMP! THUMP!’
The sedan hit a pothole, causing a flat tire. That’s what I smell. Fa retreats to repair it. Mother keeps him company. As we sit, a line of chauffeured silver and gold Rolls Royce and Bentley pass us. I blink. No, I’m not imagining this. I see it – with my own eyes. I just hope not all those well-dressed passengers had my grand idea at the same time I did. And now they’ll beat me to the punch; or in their case, the champagne.
Luny Mum interrupts my thoughts. ‘Tell us your plan, young ‘un.’
‘I’ll become a tiger trainer. We’ll take the big cats to the hospitals to entertain the sick.’
‘Whaat ho, lad?’ Queries Poppy Sol.
I look out; think I see laugh lines creasing Sol’s glow.
‘Hah! Hah! The patients are there to be cured. Not get eaten. Don’t be daft, lad. They wouldn’t let your creatures past the front doors. Hah! Hah!’
‘Sol’s right, Raji. You must think of other ways to help.’
But I thought it was such a good idea.
My parents get back in and we’re off. Curious, I ask. “What are all those fancy cars doing so far from Lindia City? On such a desolate road?”
Mother turns, squinting to see me midst Sol’s glow of curiosity. He also wants to find out why. Mother’s soft face is aglow with compassion as she explains. “Often these days, Raji, such royal caravans may be seen. They too make pilgrimage, for a sole purpose – to give food to poor people.”
“HA! HA!” This time the laugh isn’t from Poppy Sol, but Fa. He looks briefly from the road ahead to address Mother. “You know well as I Indira, why they journey.”
“But at least they do, Ben. That is enough for me.”
Fa begins carrying on a ‘prescription’ conversation with me, glancing at me in the rear view mirror almost as much as he does at the road. “As Goddess Nardesha proclaims, Raji. It is easier for an elephant to traverse safely through an active beehive than for gentry to enter the glorious hereafter.”
Mother laughs. Luny Mum joins her. I wish the two could meet. I know they’d enjoy the others company. Maybe one day they will. Mother says, “Goddess Nardesha has an irascible sense of humor that your Fa likes, Raji. And she is right. To appease Nardesha: That, I believe is why the royal caravans have come into existence…
“Watch the road, Ben.”
As their front seat chit chattering focuses on elephants, beehives, and gentry, Luny Mum’s gentle beam strokes my shoulder. ‘Other ideas lad, other ideas. You’ll not want to become one of Nardesha’s pachyderms.’
‘I know just the thing, Luny Mum. To the sea, I could sail. Train otters to catch fish for me. Then I’ll bring the nets-full, to the poor.’
‘Never,’ glares Sol. ‘Fish! Where’s the ADVENTURE? Besides, those you mayest ‘elp be land bound. In your journey, the floppers would half-bake in me heat. Would do more hurt than ‘elp.’
‘You’ll have to imagine another way to help the earthbound,’ Mum glows.
“Ben, watch the roa…” ‘SCREECH!’ Fa swerves to avoid creating road kill of a mangy mongoose.
I’m pushed against the door. The jolt frees the answer that must have been in my thoughts all along, but trapped. ‘I know Poppy Sol. I know Luny Mum. I shall give back, by helping. This solution will be unbeatable.’
The celestial glares and glows show that Sol and Mum are interested in this latest proposal.
In unison. ‘Go on lad. We await your decision.’
I am so excited I talk so fast I hardly stop for breaths. ‘Poison tip dart artisan for tribesman to use in their blowguns. To defend their forests from foreign tree rustlers who ravage the land for selfish profit motives. Those, elephants, care not a whit about the people, animals, and plants they displace and destroy.’
Sol glistens. ‘Blimey, lad. Poison tips. An excellent idea to rid the undesirables.’
Mum’s stern reaction. ‘Nonsense you two. Never ‘ave I heard anything so ridiculous.’
‘No, no, Mum. Fa has medicines that deaden but do not kill. The rustlers are unconscious, just long enough for the tribesman to inform authorities to come and jail them.’
I see I’ve convinced Sol, but Mum, she still needs work.
“Watch the road, Ben.” ‘SCREECH! THUMP!’ Fa slides into the back Rolls of the royal caravan. To protect from injury Mother braces her hands against the dashboard, and Fa holds tight to the steering wheel. I am tossed, over and into the front seat, landing, jostling safely onto Mother’s lap.
‘Youch! That’s gotta hurt lad.’
“Not really, Sol,” I say aloud.
“What say, Raji?” Mother asks, gently stroking my cheek.
“Oh, just imagining,” I say.
Luny Mum strokes my other cheek. ‘It is time I take my leave, lad. Glad everyone is safe.’ With no fanfare, Mum fades, disappearing into the blue.
We get out of the car just in time to see the train-like chain reaction of Rolls and Bentleys slowly bumping, one at a time, undamaged into the car preceding it. Their natty sarong and dhoti-attired owners are too occupied to notice, or care. They’re quite conspicuously appeasing Nardesha by directing their tuxedoed butlers to distribute, from porcelain tureens, sweet smelling delicacies, to the unending lines of raggedy passers-by. Some of these poor stop to taste, but only for a moment. Most continue the ongoing movement forward, as if some holy destination lays ahead, some nirvana worth passing up the caravan’s mere morsels.
As Mother, Fa, I, and, Poppy Sol follow, I notice dozens of youth, around my age. They load unfortunate road kill onto carts, then they also move forward.
I squint upward. Anxious in my curiosity I query Sol. ‘From your position, you can see what is ahead. Where is everyone going? Is the reason they’re not stopping to eat the gentry’s food, does that have something to do with it?’
‘HA! HA!’ is Sol’s reply. ‘Raji, I can see quite clearly from here the job your folks have arranged for you.’
‘Tell me. I am so anxious to know. What it is? Tiger tamer? Cobra Squeeze? Poison tipper? Otter fisher?’
‘You’ll not like it, young bloke.’
‘You’re wrong Sol. Any helpin’ kind of daring-do adventurin’, ‘ll do me fine.’
‘Well then, brace yourself, lad. Your ‘elpin’ ‘ll be…
‘On the road kill gang. Surely that’ll ‘elps ya from becomin’, a elephant.’
It’s a good thing our whole conversation took place in my imagination: Because my mental shout of ultimate disappointment would have deafened all within a mile.
What possible good for humankind could the road kill gang provide, I ask myself?
And, just where, oh where – are all the poor, bound?
(Join me every Sunday night at the Fiction House, your place for short story, lark, whimsy, and merriment. Meet the many residents as I archive their lives and centuries of adventures. You can read of their origins in my novel TALES OF THE FICTION HOUSE. They are completely different stories. My novel is available at Amazon, (Kindle and Trade Paperback) and Barnes and Noble.)
©2014 Raji Singh