As days passed he loafed around the school. He saw the big girl, Mashiya, walking away with Riya. So they were friends. They reached a scaffolding erected outside a wall of a house under construction. Spontaneously, the girls cackled aloud and glanced behind. Riya cried out to Short, “See that display!” Mashiya meticulously beamed at him.
An old man squat on an elevated panel dangling a dead fish.
It wasn’t about him. However, at some point Riya mentioned his name to Mashiya. She knew he was Short but neither girl hinted his crush on Arnelle.
November 6th Saturday, Layla School’s Theatrical Association went out on Flag Day selling cards house by house. It brought showers in intervals.
Late afternoon, Short went to the tailor to fetch a pair of trousers. The shop was closed. It started to rain and he got stuck under the roof eaves. As the rain ceased, he turned to go, simultaneously caught sight of a naughty bunch of schoolgirls revelling on the street, teasing and splashing water from the puddles, quite boisterous. They were all soaked to skin in school uniform, red tie and no shoes. Among them, Arnelle, Mashiya and Hobby.
Short paused to stare down. As the girls passed, he noticed those budding red nipples of Arnelle defined through sheer fabric of white and wet georgette. The girl he prayed every night in bed.
Girls giggled at this stupid chap ogling at them. Mashiya noticed him very well. Even in mingling Arnelle maintained a steady posture, her eyes straight and not a twinkle.
A kid’s birthday party got ready at Veil-In-Green; a place that only Mubtasim knew. He called Shrink to help him because they expected Mashiya to be involved in the preparations. Shrink sat down next to her at a table filling cards. He made friend with her but it was too obvious of her love for the sailor boy.
Schools closed for annual holidays in December. Short failed in Mathematics but his teacher gave him pass marks based on other subjects he did well. In Maths class, his teacher would not even mark his exercise book. Short was so bad in Maths. It was a compulsory subject to pass or he’d not promote to the next grade.
1983 was his final year at school. On 27th Sunday in February, he wrote of the appearance on the road, ‘At four-fifty in the afternoon, three girls passed the dusty road. Recently formed Grade Eight begins at five. Arnelle wore short cut hair. She is still the sweetest.’
This year though he missed too many classes for cutting school. His diary entries read ‘Appearance on the road nil’ in most places. He saw them walk separately to school. Mashiya would always gape at him.
He was glued to music shows in town, collected hundreds of cassette tapes or watching movies on video at friends’ places; The Sound of Music, Papillon, The Wild Geese, The Guns of Navarone, The Day of the Jackal, The Godfather, The Exorcist, Kramer vs Kramer…and he read those many novels.
Then came a dead September like a calm before the storm…
In October, to be precise, on 26th Wednesday, his classmate, Moustache, announced that Arnelle was going to marry a sergeant, in fact, a distinguished person. And Mashiya would soon marry the sailor boy; Adam.
It was embarrassing as his classmates pooled in to share this news without looking him in the eye as Short was cut short right there. He didn’t have a clue what went on inside Bittersweet. All hopes were gone.
All alone heavy shouldered in pain
Back on the roads again
I could remember when I was ten
Playing out with my friend
Those times I lived my life counting on
The richest girl in town
Now I’m in for shame I can’t stand
To face a stroke backhand…
After the coup in 1988 that nearly overthrew the government if not for Indian intervention, a number of personnel in the National Security Services were removed and banished for collaboration with the foes. Arnelle’s husband, Juez Fiel, was sent to an island in the south.
Short worked at holiday island resorts hopping jobs from place to place. He was scared to death that day knowing his mother was left alone at home with two old bedridden grandparents. Those mercenaries were killing people.
In 1992, he was sacked from job by an assistant manager who was a half-brother of Arnelle. He suspected since this management change that they were seeking on a term to remove him. At first, the General Manager asked him to fetch a book from his bungalow while guests were crowded at the reception.
In a staff meeting, GM American Joe, raised this matter and that Short wandered around at midnight with a magazine under his arm. Short said he only slept after seeing to early morning departures. He was given a trial period to correct his conduct.
Next it was as he returned after an overstay from leave. No, he wasn’t questioned immediately.
Days later he was summoned to the query office. Half Lord ordered him to button up his shirt.
American Joe opened, “Why have you decided to come back after taking your time? I could have removed you right there!”
Short thought he answered intelligently, “Justice delayed is justice denied…” He was not that smart.
“Well,” said American Joe, “I still haven’t figured a position where you can serve. This office is overstaffed. Can you give me some time to fix a job…say a week?”
“Yes sir,” he agreed. Short wasn’t entitled to any specific job. He couldn’t find a better job as he moved all the time from job to job. Former manager recommended a probation pay, one drink a day and a pack of smoke per se.
General Manager continued, “Two weeks!”
Short nodded, “Fine by me.”
“One month, perhaps!” he insisted.
Short nodded, “Fine again.”
In the following week Short was late on duty at the reception. Half Lord blasted at him.
American Joe deliberated, “It makes no sense at all to assign a job to a non-being who isn’t there to serve.”
“I rather quit,” decided Short eventually.
“Why would you want to quit?”
Once again Short delivered a smart answer as he thought, “You will not find me again to blame for coming short to serve at his job.”
“Very wise,” uttered the GM, “you decided so. As from now your request is granted.”
He dropped his duty at the reception at once and headed to his room. Three days later, he returned home on a supply vessel crossing the sea in rough weather.
Dusty roads…here I come…
Hold me Lord…hold me on…