Jacaranda Jacaranda

Sunday Herald Short Story Competition 2016

Jacaranda Jacaranda
To gay kids everywhere

“Haven’t prepared breakfast. There is money on the kitchen shelf. Have something on the way to school and buy lunch. Don’t die of hunger. It’s a different thing to have nothing to eat. Cross roads carefully. You never know your fate. And get home straight after school, not go sightseeing. Lock the door properly before leaving. Hear?!” From the doorstep my mother launches these words of routine counsel into the house,  hoping they get into her son’s thick skull as she leaves for work on this Friday morning. I don’t respond. Nearly a month ago I fought with her, since then I’ve gone dumb. I take my school bag, lock the front door, and instead of going to school I slip out of my building to the mental hospital garden closeby. When my father was a school boy in khaki knickers, our present-day neighborhood was the mental hospital’s backyard full of snakes and eucalyptus trees. With time, the hospital property shrank. Now among other things the property includes a sprawling garden for mental patients to stroll, roll, hop and frolic about during breaks from their grumpy caretakers. As a little boy I learned to trespass like any bird or squirrel.

I sneak into the garden as I have many times in the past for joy, to bury sorrow or to be with my own friendless thoughts. Startled egrets on the overgrown lawn watch me trot along a row of quiet rain trees leading to my hideaway: a bower made by a short jacaranda’s branches curving to a side, forming a cosy sunshade. From afar the tree looks like caught in a hurricane. Taking my bag off, I settle in the shade the morning sun crochets. Clouds sail the February sky and a finger feels the healing crack of a busted lip the monster gave me two weeks ago.

~*~

In class I was lost in Faizal’s thought when the monster and gang came up behind me, pulled my mouth open and shoved in chalk pieces. Choked, I sprang up coughing out chalk. In rage and shock, I swung a book, whacking a face or two. A blinding slap across my face sat me down. “Tranny! Dare you touch my friends again!” blatted the monster in my hot face. I ran to the restroom with a torn lip.

~*~

Lying on the grass, with hands for pillow, watching a tiny wagtail hop twig to twig, I think of Faizal. A shy smile he brings, the fluffy clouds behind the wagtail turn more charming.  Like yesterday, here I kill today’s school hours and go back home when it‘s time.   

~*~

A fortnight ago. About 8:30pm. In the empty classroom I had stayed behind after the evening tuition, catching up on lessons I had missed in my absence the past week.  A sudden power outage plunged the neighbourhood into darkness, forcing me to shut my books. I decided to go home. Descending the narrow staircase I confronted two big boys coming up. I stepped aside to let them pass but one got right behind me while the other blocked my way down.  A moment of bafflement . “Excuse me, let me pass. Move aside,” I said slowly, expressing shock. Their faces were barely visible in the black. They were strangers and I didn’t know if they lived in the building. “No I won’t. You can’t go,” said the one in the front badly mimicking a female voice; the other one gave a spooky snicker. “Move aside. Will you?” I raised my voice while attempting to push him aside. Like a mountain he blocked me, then grabbed my arm.  From his beastly hold I tried to take my arm back but couldn’t move an inch. “Let me go!” I cried wriggling. “Give me a kiss, you can go,” putting over this ultimatum, he stuck his cheek out to me.

I wanted to knock the sleaze’s teeth out.  The other one grabbed the back of my neck and thrust me to his cheek. My nape muscles tightened in the struggle. “Let go!” I yelped. My pursed lips almost stamped his cheek.  “Hey! Hey! What’s that down there?!”  an alarmed voice from up in the building shot through the dark, cutting their fun short. The hooligans abandoned their sport and scuttled up. Beginning to feel relieved, I hurried down the stairs without wanting to turn around for the owner of the voice that saved me.

In a lit-up street a tear wouldn’t escape my eye. But briskly walking up the dark dead street I whimpered wild tears, dousing my cheeks. The star-spangled sky unfurled endlessly. “Hey,” that voice again. Who’s that? I turned around. It’s Faizal, the boy from the building opposite my house who I had never spoken to, but who got me swooning every time I ran into him, on his bi-cycle. “Want a ride hom...  Are you crying?” he said gathering my face in the dark. I couldn’t care less about the tears gushing out at his words. He got off his bi-cycle, hooked his arm around my shoulders. Turning my hanging face up towards his, he said, “Don’t cry. They were some louts. Stop crying. They are stupid, that’s why they do things like that. Don’t cry now, Kiran. It’s okay, don’t cry.”

In reply I just sobbed. And then we rode back home by the moon light. I barely got any sleep that night. It had simply not occurred to me to ask him what he was doing there, or how he knew my name.

The sounds of crickets fill up the garden that has been besieged by cabbage white butterflies. Sitting under the jacaranda, I doodle tiny blossoms and curly ribbons about the sentence, 'Faizal, you make me happy, and I think I love you.' on the last page of my science note book, and follow it by inadequate words for besotted feelings. The monster’s image jumps out of my subconscious; I wish he and his henchmen were dead. The hot sun overhead, the cool jacaranda shade shut my eyes. I fall asleep.    

~*~

Tuesday after school, in the restroom, after my finishing business I stood inside the stall with a keen ear to its door. The monster gang had come in. I listened harder for the monster. “No, he is not there,” I whispered, doubting my own words. I heard vulgar talks growing loud. They always wantonly shared profanity. The only way, I thought resolutely, I was getting out, was as a dead body.  With my stomach in knots I worked to confirm the monster’s presence in the middle of flushes and unending loose talks. Taps stopped running. Footsteps carried the talks outside. With a falling squeak the main door shut. All clear. Hopefully. Taking my ear off it, I warily unbolted the door. Like a mouse I got out, looked up at the sinks. Nobody there. “Thank God,” accompanied a sigh. I looked tiny in the long mirror.

Washed my hands. Walked up to the main door and almost had its knob when it moved away. In the doorway he stood. The monster. I froze, flabbergasted. He walked in. I walked back. The door behind him slowly shut. I attempted slipping through the side of his huge mass. His mammoth arm dammed me. “Please let me go, please...” I squeaked. He got me in a corner; I shrank as his body closed in on me. “Please let me go, I beg, please let me go!” I said, my eyes welling up. “Shh...’ He put a finger to his lips, popping out the frightening eyes at me. Then he put his hand on my head and pressed me down to my haunches. “Please don’t!  Please let me go...”  I implored as I struggled under the weight of his hand. Narrowing his eyes, he said, word by word, in foreboding voice, “What.  Are.  You.  Doing.  In.  Boy’s. Restroom?” “Please let me go, I’ll never come again,” I beseeched him. With his other hand he unzipped his pants. “No, don’t, I beg...”   I cried, tucking my face in my arms. And then he said, “You like boys, she-man? You want to see how we piss?”  “No, let me go,” I was in tears.  “Get up. You are going to watch how we piss.” Then he got me to watch him urinate. If I looked away, he threatened to douse me with piss.

Since that, I haven’t gone to school. I dread seeing the monster and wish I could miss school again tomorrow. But I can’t be absent for three days straight; they’ll write to my mother. A gentle wind sends jacaranda flowers rolling. It’s about time to go home now.

~*~
    
Two years ago, I moved here, to Vincent High School, to start class eight. Then in a classroom of strangers I met the monster. Until the day he spoke to me, he had on and off eyed me peculiarly in class. One day he called me over to his bench full of henchmen. He had sprawled like a wicked king, his henchmen like woozy tamarins about him.  “Sit,  please. Make some room for the lady.”  He said lewdly, without taking his eyes off me. The word lady mortified me and suggested I was going to be teased to tears.  A henchman sitting beside him gave up his place, in it I sat timidly. The monster then began stroking my hair with a finger. “Beautiful hair,” razzed a henchman in a breathy voice.  The monster’s fingers now kneaded my cheek. He was joined by a henchman. I pulled my face away in discomfort. He then villainously asked his entourage for suggestions, “She’ll taste fine. Won’t she?”  Yes, yes, just fine, excitedly buzzed the crowd. The monster brought his face close to mine and hissed, “Are you a girl?”  “Not fully,” said a henchman as if it was going to be my answer.  The monster wouldn’t take his fiendish gaze off my face. One henchman inquisitively pinched my nipple, and in a girly tone said, “Is that a big boob ya?” The gang roused, thrilled. A couple of curious henchmen nipped me for their tickle. Enough of it all, I rose to my feet and began hurriedly wading my way out of the teasing crowd. “Catch her, catch her,” came the  voices.  A hand pressed my buttock as if it were a bulb horn. “Nice butt,” barked a henchman. Another hand groped my boy part.  “He doesn’t have the thing!” a triumphant announcement was made. The news sent the tamarins into a tizzy.

~*~
    
In History class on this bright Saturday afternoon, Faizal has occupied my mind. Since the hooligan incident I haven’t seen him. The longing to see him again has had me on pins and needles. “...and those were the founders of Indian National Congress. Can anyone tell me who its first president was?  You’d know if you’ve had your ears to me,”  says Syeda Ma’am, my favourite teacher, surveying the class for a potential answerer. “You in the red T-shirt. Answer?” she picks out the monster. He stands up, trying to fish out an answer from the ceiling. He nudges a henchman by him for the answer, but gets nothing. He looks like the real thickhead he is with a swollen tongue. “What have you been doing the whole time? You idiot. Don’t answer questions, soon you’ll get kicked out. And you can’t sit until the end of this hour,” orders the teacher, vexed. A laugh escapes my throat at his deserved pity state. In sealed anger he turns around to me. 'Dear god, after this period I am done for.'
 
The bell goes off, creating a ruckus as pupils begin to move about disorderly.  To avoid the monster I take advantage of the confusion by swiftly following the teacher out, along with a few spods who are attached to her like cleaner fish. I make a dash to the restroom and hide in one of the stalls until the bell commencing the last period. Waiting out the scariest 10-minute recess, I pray with clasped hands that somehow, I get home in one piece.
   
The last-period bell blares. For a moment I think I shouldn’t go back but wait the whole of the last hour out in here. I scratch that thought out and quickly get back out to the classroom, only to behold a horror awaiting me. There is no teacher. The monster is before the class holding a book. “Ah, there is our lovely girl,” he hollers, looking at me in the doorway. “Come in, come in,” a couple of henchman cordially gesture me to walk up an imaginary red carpet. My Science notebook in his hands!  “Dear Faizal, I love you so much!” In an awfully girly voice the monster trumpets and kisses the air while my open book changes hands of rows of pupils. “The In-Between of our class has a boyfriend, you all!”  he announces, like a 'congratulations'. Gasps are heard.  And then he continues, “Are we coming to the wedding?” he mockingly bats his eyes in my face. I am horrified.  “This Faizal, how much you love him?” he jeers. I look around for my bag. It’s lying in chalk powder below the black board.  I run to my book, snatch it from hands and back to my bag. “She so shy!” the monster jibes. The henchmen applaud. “My man Faizal! Faizal,  I love you! Faizal, my love...” they mock, throwing bits of paper over me. 

My heart is racing. I get my bag and just as I start a run for the door the monster grabs the back of my collar and yanks me down. A button pops out. I hit the chalky floor banging the back of my head against the wall, still holding the book tightly to my chest. Mad anger hits my brain. I hurl the wooden duster lying by me at the monster. “ Ah!” he shrieks while grabbing his eyes. I spring to my feet and dart to the door.  Two henchman attempt to grab me. I strike one in the face with the hard spine of my book, simultaneous biting another’s hand that’s now around my neck.  A moment later I find myself out of the hullaballoo, breathlessly darting down the stairs. I look up behind, they are a flight of stairs away, descending rapidly. I leap off the last stair, flying over a huge square of floor, onto the lawn of the quadrangle, almost stamping my face into the grass and, without a pause, streak across for the gates. The school somehow seems deliberately deserted.

Hauling the mammoth gate I look back, they are halfway across the lawn. I get out and tear along the street. Stones come flying at me. I can’t feel my legs. Speeding up, I think looking back would slow me down. Making a sharp turn to the road on the right, I go into a skid, the book and the bag go flying. I lose balance, fall, slide sideways, scrape my arm, and knock the side of my head against the road before coming to a rest. A plume of dust raises over me. But scared, I prop up on the scraped arm and see how far behind they are. They are not that far, they could catch me before I am back on my legs. Having seen me fall they’ve slowed down and are laughing. I try getting back up. But my ankle’s gone deaf.

The gang pounces on me! “You bastard!” growls the monster. The stamp of chalk dust still across his eye. Then, in the nick of time a murderous pandemonium breaks loose. All eyes look in the direction of the blood-curdling uproar. A berserk pack of stray dogs is hurtling down the street towards us. The gang starts hauling me away quickly. A confusion of hysterical dogs gets worse with a bunch of school boys in sight. The bangarang soars as it nears frightening the daylights out of us. The gang drops me to the ground. I madly toddle to my bag lying closeby and cower behind it. While the gang scatters helter-skelter for their lives, the pack descends over us in no time. I am drowned in deathly barks. Crouching tighter I shriek my lungs out. Dogs fly over me for the darting gang. Wild tugs jostle my bag. I shriek like I have never done before. Confusion of screams and deafening barks I hear. And then, everything quiets down just as bizarrely as it started. I peek out from behind my bag. The street looks deserted but for the cloud of dust that hangs in the air.                          

Epilogue

Bullying is motiveless and doesn’t recognize its victim’s age or size or gender or what time of the day it is. Bullies aren’t just found in classrooms or playgrounds, or people you know. Bullying involves everything badassery: teasing, ragging, harassment, molestation, physical abuse, sexual assault...  For many a hapless different kid it riddles childhood, school life, college years, and continues even beyond, but in different forms,  feeding on one’s difference, fear and helpless silence. And perhaps more than for anybody, it’s devastating for a gay child - closeted, open, or still figuring it out. Confusion and fear experienced are beyond comprehension; there could be help but situations you and I don’t understand could hold the kid back from getting it. Such days, months, years come in life when most scarred, distressed, traumatised kids like Kiran run away, for respite, to a lonely garden; but very sadly, some never return to a world they bitterly feel they don’t belong in.

Murthy G (24)

An employee at a financial solutions company, Murthy sees himself more as a reader than a writer. He believes that it’s challenging to pushoneself to read and understand something out of one’s element. He finds poetry liberating. Clichés don’t interest him—christening or crime, love or leisure, there has to be something that most people are indifferent to or feel weird about. When he is too bored of books, his friends, his little pet Annie, theTV and his talkative mother keep him busy.
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