5

ANNA, THE IDLI DEALER

He’s there when you need him the most. The munchies. The morning after, when the stomach rumbles and tumbles, jack in a box, spinning in all directions possible, nailing the triple back flip, dancing to be fed. Mornings routines are always so dramatic.

Unfair even. Making you suck it up and answer the inevitable question of carbs v/s proteins, potatoes v/s bananas, muesli over cheese. You wake up feeling like a king, ready to feast on the day’s bacon and by breakfast you’re the pauper again – angry, unfed, loosing the liquid battle of too much water in your masala oats. Oh masala oats. How I crave a revolution.

Do you hear the people sing? Singing a song of hungry men? It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again!

It was on one such inspired dawn that I happened to meet the man who would change my mornings forever. Anna. That’s what they called him. No one knew his real name. Anna, the local idli guy. Anna, good old Anna, the bringer of fresh cheer and morning high. Anna, the Tamilian, maybe Malayali, or was it Kannadiga, idli guy, who occupied a blissful bylane of Santacruz West, selling warm idlis for a steal, with just a cycle and a smile for company. Anna, lord help him Anna, whose idlis were as soft as peaches. Chutneys that sure spit a bite.

This is hard. So hard.

You see Anna wasn’t like the other idli guys you might have met. He didn’t offer the customary shebang that goes with the profile. No incense. No gunpowder. No lined lungi for legitimacy. He was all about the idli. The perfect shape. The right viscosity. The tensile strength. A performer. A magician. A maverick with his hands. The idli Scott of his times. Serving, wrapping, returning his masterwork and your exact change in less than 15 seconds. A real businessman. Cut-to-cut. No pleasantries attached. Not even eye contact. Sometimes I wish there was some. I wish I could tell him how I really felt. Ah…

This was one of his more peculiar traits – eye contact. He never made any. Almost going about his business with a fine fidgety edge, quick to serve and dispense, never encouraging chitter chatter, a quiver of the index finger and upper right lip. No handshakes. No cyu laters. Only translucent bags. A lot of sweat. He seemed uncomfortable even, as if some larger powers were at play. Something deep. Something dark. Something dangerous. Illegal. Its like he sold idlis like he was selling drugs.

And I knew, I just knew there was something foul. I had smelt it in the air. And it wasn’t the guys eating missal paav next door. Maybe the local police was involved? Had they given him a hard time just because he was a late entrant into the breakfast game and had taken it by storm? Was the local vada paav lobby behind all this? Maybe the Matunga mafia? Not the Marathi manoos? No. No. It couldn’t be. Rice is the grain of the nation. We’re all bound by the belly as brothers. This was gunpowder of a different kind.

I’ve seen Breaking Bad mind you. I know what happens to perfectly good-natured men who get caught on the wrong side of the batter. Maybe Anna had a serious problem on his hand. Maybe there was an emergency. Maybe his real name was M.S. Subbulakshmi. I don’t know. It’s all so bloody confusing.

And sure. You might think I’m being overly dramatic, but I’m not. I’ve seen things. I saw him. Selvam.

It was a Monday morning I guess. I was late for work and needed a quick hit. A classic splash and dash I presumed. I rushed to Anna, signaling the usual from afar. But something was amiss. Anna seemed more anxious than usual. His eyes flickered in quick succession; the pocket-handkerchief could feed a thirsty slum. His moves were sloppy, the chutney dripped and dapped, the idlis were dull and lifeless. He wasn’t alone I quickly gathered. Standing next to Anna, towering above rather, was a man I’d never seen before. He seemed to be in a hurry, almost waiting for the crowd to clear up before making his maiden pitch. Anna seemed to know what was about to happen, but he kept a brave front, almost shielding us from the events that were to follow. He was proud man like that. A true servant of the people.

The large gentleman soon became impatient and let out a short, assertive hmm. The kind that typically gets things going. I was the last one to get my fill, so I lingered. Just to be sure, just to help in case I was required. It wasn’t asked for. He signaled Anna to walk ahead almost like a prisoner being directed to the gallows. All I could see was a solitary auto rickshaw a feet away. Then, he muttered the word that I would only later begin to fully comprehend. “Selvam”.

Anna shuddered. I fluttered. This seemed like a story well beyond my city boy purview. But I couldn’t leave. I stayed. I walked alongside my captive friend, twiddling gibberish on my phone. Classic sidekick stuff.

From my angle, all I could see was the left edge of the auto. It had a fresh coat of yellow and green. Gentle instrumental music played from the front. An incense stick was wedged firmly into the left side view mirror. This was no ordinary auto I figured. An arm crept out eventually. Selvam. Just the arm. No face, no shoulder, no body. A white linen shirt. A gleaming gold bracelet. A scar if I remember right. Anna shook his hand reluctantly. Starch was all they had in common. Maybe Ram Gopal Varma. He offered some idlis to break the ice, but the move was swiftly rejected. Selvam wasn’t looking for breakfast. He was here for his free lunch.

I saw Anna twitch violently, this time taking extra caution to assess his surroundings. Then, without warning, he dug deep into the recesses of his undershirt and produced a wad of notes, packed tightly in his patent translucent bag. The bag was poor quality, and the notes were clearly visible. A week’s earnings I would assume. A heated discussion followed. Anna smiled and trembled in variation, Selvam clenched and unclenched. The rings on his fingers did most of the talking. His wookie, the mute Chewbacca, meanwhile tapped Anna shoulders now and then, as if to remind him of a previous presentation. Eventually I saw my dear friend relent and pull out another set of notes from his left trouser pocket. The new notes were soggy. So was this blasted scene.

I asked Anna about Selvam once the auto left, but he seemed reluctant to oblige. Smiling, hiding his pain, he seemed a man broken in this suburban culinary war. Selvam, he muttered. Selvam, he smiled. That was the last I saw of Anna.

A new idli guy materialized in his place the next day. He said he never heard of a man called Anna. He said maybe Anna had gone back to the village. He said maybe Anna had gone back for Onam. He said maybe I was talking about Anna, his elder brother, who sold appams in Chennai. Sure. Brothers share recipes you know. The imposter’s idlis had leaves on them. Leaves! And tiny rectangular shavings of carrots. That’s right. Carrots.

It’s been over a month now, but there’s been no sign of Anna ever since. No news, no note, no nufing. Things are really not the same. Dawn has lost its colour again. The sparrows have disappeared. The masala oats have returned. I’ve stopped carbohydrates in protest. Hoping, maybe, I don’t know, to please the gods someday. Atkin Anna would be proud I think. The fat is gone, but the pain, the pain still remains. Nostalgia is a horrible thing.

In memoriam.

shot_1394865874330

4

LIVING ON THE EDGE!

A for Agrawals. A for Adventure. A for Antonyms.

My family – The Agrawals, is made up of, what one can only call, a group of hopeful intellectuals. We prefer the power of words, the laws of physics, the myths of the Mahabharata to get our freak on. You won’t find us rappelling down mountains, or jumping off planes, or diving deep into the hidden depths of the ocean. No sirree. That’s not our play. There is no secret life of Yudhishthir Agrawal. We don’t even like dogs. As in, we’re afraid of them. Petrified really. All nine of us combined. Woof woof.

Now, I know this sounds pretty darn traumatic already but, not surprisingly, it only seems to gets worse.

You see, in the end, man (and by man, I mean man or woman of course) is still just a prettier ape in disguise. He (I mean she, umm, just go with it) has a basic need to raid and conquer, to make and destroy, to shriek and give in occasionally to the unflattering Neanderthal inside. And we Agrawals are man do doubt! We might not have the classic bone of adventure (did somebody say bones?) but we have the need for speed nonetheless. Think of us as the chimps that never went on hunt, but recorded it all with a friendly, enthusiastic smirk. The Pirates of the mind I like to believe. Indiana Jones and the armchair. The return of the planet behind the planet that returned the planet of the apes.

See, this is exactly what happens. We get lost in the big bang shebang, and never reach the real point. Adventure, as I was struggling to say, is really not our cuppa tea. And yet, to fulfill our duties as honest law abiding decedents, we feel obliged to tease our edge with some rather, how do I say, unconventional means.

Television, for instance, is our preferred leap of faith. We’re practically living on the remote islands of Lost and in the operation theaters of Grey’s Anatomy and the whatchamacallits of Revenge. Holy LED Samsung! We’ve memorized Star Trek, have sworn to Star Wars, and have dutifully rejected the screen adaption of The Hitchhikers Guide, twice. Even 101 Dalmatians is OK when it’s on TV. Come 10pm and we’re boldly go where no man has gone before. I mean seriously. Sitcom sweats and everything.

Anyhow, the point of this rather elaborate introduction was not to talk about television of course. That was so last year. It was instead to set the context (and soften the bite) of our latest obsession – the fidgeting fuel gauge of our cars.

Now now, really, don’t try.

You see, in the absence of typically traditional interests, my family, The Amazing Agrawals, has had little choice but to infiltrate a seemingly harmless phenomenon to shake its Baniya stirrups. The fuel gauge, as you would well know, serves the rather critical purpose of indicating whether or not your vehicle has enough fuel to get you to your destination. If the gauge is near E, you fill fuel till it goes above E. Simple. And if not, you run the risk of finishing the reserve stash, kept just in case of emergencies. Now, ‘emergency’ is the operative word here. Most sane people don’t touch the reserve stash, as it serves that very purpose of hope in a situation of distress. But alas. Alas, alas, alas. Where the ordinary man sees the grain of logic, the Agrawals smell the sweaty smell of opportunity.

We like to test our reserve capacity. This typically means, not filling petrol even if the gauge goes below the dreaded E. Now, let me be clear. This is not another scheming way of saving money. I mean, sure that’s an added bonus (and why not I say?) but, the key really is the thrill. It’s a bloody thrill. Not stopping for gas even when the gauge flickers and fumbles, the car huffs and puffs, when the engine coughs on its first few hits of air. We don’t stop, but cheer. We wait and see, and guess and bet, testing the outside limit of Honda’s claim of breakthrough fuel efficiency. Will the car ever stop? Or will we once again reach our destination, just in the nick of time? These are the questions that keep us up at night. It’s also probably why we never reach anywhere on time. Or why people don’t call us anymore. Hmm.

Anyway, imagine driving on long highway in Gurgaon at night. Imagine the fuel gauge stammering precariously close to the E sign. You see a damp petrol pump on the other side. Do you stop? The adrenalin is pumping. You drive on. Now imagine that the streetlights go out suddenly. There’s a weird chill in the air. Let’s throw in a few snarling dogs shall we. Grrr. And a police siren. We must have a police siren. You can’t go too fast lest you use up too much fuel. You can’t go to slow, lest you stop and can’t start again. You might get mugged. It’s a battle of nerves and steel. Hand and feet. Gear to gear. Easy on the turns. Very easy on the bumps. Wooh. I’ll jump from any mountain that can offer this quality of fear.

Living on the edge did you say hmm?

But, but, I suppose I should be honest as well. Things are not as rosy as you might have imagined. The new car guys are building engines that run on practically anything, and we hardly get to experience the mortal fear of desertion I described above. And with all this talk about hybrid…I mean things are only going to get from bad to worse. Sure it might save the world, but it’s doing no good for the Agrawal morale. Uh uh. How are we supposed to stick the stakes with these new engines and fuels and complicated technologies around? What do we do when there is no start and stop, no cough and litter, when the car runs as smoothly as a peeled potato skin, even when the gauge is well into reserve? What do we now? And what about five years from now? Good gosh man. (and woman)

The other problem of course is that our extended family has steadily refused to acknowledge our particular point of passion. They often borrow our cars and return it, in good faith I presume, with the tank full of throbbing fuel. This, in turn, means a forced sabbatical from our daily excursions, which I can tell you, has been the subject of much heated debate at the dinner table. I mean it’s sad, really sad, when families fail to understand each other. To each his own I used to think. I don’t make fun of their river rafting picnics do I? Though you’ll never run out of fuel there will you? Just saying.

That said, our odd little fascination has brought in the occasional reward too. Our drivers don’t misuse the cars. How can they? People steal and often return our cars. How far will they take them? We never get fined for speeding. And we never ever ever run over anyone. (It’s common knowledge that you maintain the car at a steady average speed for most efficient consumption of fuel. So)

Its perfect really – this method to the madness. Economical. Treacherous. Educational. I mean where else do you get to learn about your innermost fears and the basics of fluid mechanics and how much money you can actually save in a month? And I know, I know this doesn’t sound ‘typically’ adventurous but I can assure you it is. We might not be the greatest of athletes, sure. We might not have the biggest frames or the bushiest beards or a respectable sense of balance or direction. But, but, but, but, give us a packet of Bhujia and a freshly exhausted car and well, wooh, we’ll show you how to have a good time. It’s wild really. Living on the edge like this. Just shooting the breeze. Dodging the bullet. Milking the cow. Cranking the horn. Riding the wave. Breaking the fast. Spinning the dolphin. Smelling the monkey. Waking the vulture. Braiding the tiger. Lacing the lion. Twerking the turtle…

(Do Note: In the absence of a suitable ending, the author has once again dived into the welcoming depths of indulgence. Also, the preceding stunts have been performed by more than willing practitioners. Please, do not, maybe, necessarily try these at home.)

Living on the edge!

0

AUNTIE ON COCAINE!

None of us saw it coming, not even my mother. And she knows things.

Well my auntie, my mother’s sister, a real gem of a doll had recently undergone an unfortunate hip replacement surgery which had rendered her immovable for the next three months. Painful, definitely, but the operation did also come with the compensatory bonus of a few months of welcome rest – a time to really kick back, spread out and wedge. With a pillow under the bum of course. Now, I’m not saying this was ideal, but one could certainly see the silver lining in the crack.

Not so much my auntie though.

You see, my auntie is a rather gregarious personality. Generous with her love and her opinion. If you’d met her, you’d probably remember her as lively. She is what they call the true social butterfly – bustling with activity, the toast of every evening, friend of every friend, the real dish of the day. And this unplanned sabbatical didn’t go down too well with her plans of mass pollination. Especially with Diwali around the corner.

Diwali, as you would well know, meant endless evenings, copious bouts of socialization, opportunistic weddings and a general sense of brouhaha towards strangers and family alike. Missing this would be like missing the Royal Rumble. A personal loss for auntie no doubt, but also a spanner in our family’s long term ambition of infusing some much needed funk into the Baniya ways of debauchery. You see, she was our chosen flag bearer at the upcoming Punjabi card parties. Whiskey for every whiskey. Joke for every joke. Shahi paneer sticking it to chicken malai tikka. Without her, what were we but some vegetarian starters discarded in a corner?

The mood, you could safely say, was not too festive. The season was about to begin and our quarterback was perched firmly on the bench. What were we to do? My 16 year cousin suggested the use of technology to make up for this unfortunate hiccup. Specifically a new cellphone – the touchy feely, internet induced, icon spewing, multitasking, mega GB gadgetagooboo kind. Something that would arm my auntie with the necessary tentacles of connection, ensuring her adequate presence in our lives and of course some much needed peace of mind. The only catch was, she wasn’t much of a technology buff. Not a novice either, but a sure rookie in the ways of our cellular generation.

A 3 week training schedule was thus hurriedly devised. Quarterly modules on etiquette, language, models and platforms with a special two day workshop on the internet and the space beyond. The workshop, of course, was open for all. By the end of the first week she was ROFLing, LOLing, XoXoing like a pro. By the end of the second @auntiee556 had added us on all possible platforms and networks. By the third, she was everywhere. All the time. A three side flanking technique that looked impressive on paper but would soon become her signature strategy of annihilation. The seed had been sown. The monster was slowly rising.

We didn’t know it yet it, but this was perhaps the beginning of the end. We were hoping to groom a graduate of certain merit, a modern day domestic icon, a service to the community, an auntie free with technology and the takda, swyping with purpose, pleasure and precision. What we got was, well…

You see, it wasn’t the ROFLing, XoXoing and #tagging that was the problem. It wasn’t even the :), 😉 and the :P, though they were quietly stretching the boundaries of familial restraint. It was in fact the little noticed and oft discarded ‘!’. Yes, that same tiny ‘!’, that harmless drop of joy used to connote a certain sense of excitement and revelry from the sender. Now I know what you’re thinking – what damage could an innocent ‘!’ really do?

Well, I sincerely hope you never have to experience the answer.

They came from everywhere. Those blobs of menace, splattered across every line, often in diads and triads, daring us, egging us, begging us with their unbridled enthusiasm and relentless cheer – have you ever been high on cocaine?

Hi auntie. How you feeling?

Good!!! How were you?!

I’m good. Hows the pain?

Bad!!!!! Hurts a lot!!! Lots of medicines!!!

That’s tough. Can I help?

No!! You can’t!! No one can!!!

Oh, I’m sorry

Just pray :P!!!!

I will.

Yes yes!!! Please do!!

The thing with cocaine is, and this I’ve only heard, that it injects your brain and body with so much energy that the person feels almost infinite. I’ve read of cases where people haven’t slept for hours and have eventually had to be sedated in quiet desperation. Now, I’m not saying my auntie was high on cocaine, hell no. But just try, for a moment, to understand the sentiment.

I was quite well behaved the first few days. Responding in respectable hmms and hellos, and oh my, I hope you get better soons. Not feeding the ‘high’ as the experts dutifully recommend. But soon, the messages became more demanding, rising in intensity and frequency, almost commanding an urgency in replies.

Where are you!!!

What are you doing!!!

I’m so bored!!! 😛

Now I love my auntie. I really do, but this was getting out of hand. The strain of faking consistent enthusiasm was taking a toll on my impeccable nephew next door persona. I found myself cursing and cringing every time the phone beeped. The knuckles hurt, the wrists screamed, the burrow furrowed. Something had to be done.

Luckily, streams of dissent had begun to emerge from the rest of the family as well; my parents, my sisters, the part time maids. We were all a bit mad and found ourselves with few choices but one.

An intervention.

On Saturday morning the following week, a few of us, handpicked by the elders on account of experience and respectable hygiene, missioned it to my aunt’s house for an honest to god chat.

You see auntie, it’s not the messages, but the exclamation marks, my sister began.

They’re just not right you know auntie.

You can use them of course, but not all the time. Ok auntie?

She seemed to understand I think. Though her eyes looked deeply sullen, as if suddenly robbed of all energy and blood. Her head down, her finger’s crossed. We left without tea.

Things didn’t change much. By the end of next week, the pace had quickened again, this time reaching us across multiple forums and topics. There were new exclaims about the government, the prices, the festival, the food, the neighbours, the pets, the neighbour’s pets, the poor and the upcoming wedding of our second cousin’s step daughter.

This program needed some serious medication.

A doctor relative recommended we make it difficult to find the drug itself. In our case it was the wild idea of stealing her phone one weary night, and getting it adequately corrupted through the vigil agents of my neighbour at work. By morning, the phone was as good as brick.

So sorry to hear that auntie. I might have a spare phone in case you need it.

Sure I did. An old Nokia 3310. Hah. The original prodigy with big podgy numbers and an exclamation mark that took at least five presses of the number 9. That’ll show her I thought. Skillful, yet quite considerate. Next door nephew for the win.

It was not to be of course. By evening, wily auntie had mastered the controls of her new gadget, switching guilefully between the right thumb and index finger, with enough time to break every snake record I had accumulated during my extended years of puberty. Things were getting personal now.

What do we do? I asked her husband in desperation. Something has to be done uncle, we can’t go on like this. We’re losing sleep, we’re losing relatives, we’re losing credibility! The card parties are about to begin and we’re not even invited! How will we ever recover from this?

Hmm, he said after taking an extraordinary amount of time in contemplation. Maybe we need a long term strategy. Maybe I need a nap. Maybe something that will make her forget this problem once and for all.

You mean an extended period of abstinence?

Exactly. How about London?

London! That’s perfect. We can send her to Khan’s uncle’s villa for the winter!

And maybe give her a phone with a, well, ‘not so appropriate’ data connection

Which will make it difficult to send a single text… genius! Plus, it’ll save us money, so ye to the Baniya way!

It’s decided then, London for the winter. I think I’ll take a vacation too. How far is Kaniyakumari from Trafalgar square?

By January, three more months had passed and we hadn’t heard a word from auntie since. I’ll admit I missed her a little. Her passionate updates did at-least cheer up my mostly dreary days at work. And after work. And before sleep. And in the middle of the night. But I’m not complaining. Apparently she wasn’t either.

I was later told that she had returned from London in the start of January itself. But still no news? Not a single Hello! Was she alright? It wasn’t till the end of the month that I finally mustered enough courage to ask how she was doing.

Hi Auntie! How you doing?

Hi. I’m ok.

Ok? Are you sure?

Yes.

How was London?

Fine.

Just fine?

Ok.

Ok!!?

Ok.

I’m told rehabilitation is a tough tough program. Patients suffer from depression, anxiety and the gloom of persistent relapse. Most leave as hardened individuals – often numb to the world and it’s previous pleasures. And I could see that change in my auntie too. Suddenly, our conversation was bereft of her usual cheer, as if the love had been sucked out in one hard stroll in the by-lanes of Piccadilly. I blame myself. I don’t know what happened back there, nor can I imagine how bad the period must’ve been, but somehow I think I was responsible. It was my own inadequacy, my own inability to deal with the situation, my own insecurity and selfishness that had brought this upon my auntie. I love my auntie goddammit. I thought I’d save her, not make her half the woman she used to be. I’d ruined everything. For everyone. I mean who uses full stops after every word huh? Staccato. Really. Auntie. I mean. Really?

mail.google.com

1

FOR WHOM THE HAIR FALLS

I’m turning 30 in two months and things are not looking good. Not good.

My body is failing me, my skin is peeling, so is my mind. I am no longer the youngest member in the room. I don’t remember the name of the youngest member in the room. I have a patchy beard. People are asking me for advice. They’re actually asking me for advice. And still not letting me into bars. And my hair is falling.

That’s right. I said it. My hair is falling. I can feel it now, the wily widow’s peak. Like a girlfriend whose recently bored – slowly but surely slipping away. The hold is slighter, the mornings horrible, more gel is required to get things going.

I could blame my dad, his dad, his dad even, but it’s not going to change a thing. This story has been written, years ago by a generation of racist genes that deemed my kind as just not good enough. And that Panjabi’s would give them rosy babies. Well fuck you racist genes.

Why do you play with me such oh might one? Why do you entice me and then take it all away? I see the pain in my dad’s eyes. I see it in my uncle’s. I saw it in my grandfather’s. The deep wrenching hurt of hair that once was. I see the scars on their shiny bald heads. A battle fought tooth and nail, hair and clipper, oil and shampoo, but a battle lost, lost even before it was begun.  It pains me, these paternal wounds. It reminds me that I’m not strong enough.

So I strive. I preserve. I persevere. I curate and farm and nourish. I plan for the drought. I wait for the drought. I water for drought. I hope that the drought will never come. I, the overtly optimistic one, hope against hope hopen.

But reality doesn’t waste time on such frivolity. And with each passing day, I notice; I notice little threads of my being, symbols of my twenty’s and my teens, my first kiss and my first fight, gently waltzing down the cushion and the sink and the gutter. I see them mocking me as I once did the mirror. I don’t like the mirror so much now.

Time had come for drastic measures and so off I went to the barber, heavily willed and sufficiently sedated to cut my dying locks into shape. To keep them short and crisp and army like I purposed. To make them my soldiers at bay – the ones who stand straight! yet gently sway. I had to stop them from defecting, my men. Every war has sacrifices. And I was going to make mine that day.

The setting was the local barbershop. A nice quaint little place. Clean cuts and close shaves it said at the door. That’s the stuff, I told myself. A man doesn’t need long hair to prove that he’s a man. Long hair is for boys. Little squiggly metrosexual boys. I’d like to look crisp and clean I announced. Grow a beard maybe. Yeah. That’s what’ll I do. I’ll cut my hair and grow my beard. A full beard. Like a man. Women will like such a man. Yeah! I amuse myself such while waiting my turn. I curse and amuse and convince and retract and convince and rebut and hold my turn. We’re old friends we are, me and the locks. We know each other too well. This break up wasn’t fun.

Peter came through smiling. Peter, I think his name was. It could’ve been Pran, or Pankaj or Paul, I was too consumed with grief to really bother. His scissors were shining, as was his smile and I felt a bit relieved. Maybe this was a good thing. I felt comfortable around Peter. His friendly glance and receding mane, told me that he felt my pain. I felt an urge to let it all out. To tell him my story, to ask him, to beg him for help. A hand, a shoulder, a strategy – anything that could prolong this long torrid affair. He smiled at my innocence. A disarmingly pleasant smile. The smile of a sage who’d seen it all, who’d seen many a men squander down this path, a soul who’d lost the battle but had won the war. The war of the mind. It was a disarmingly charming smile I tell you. The kind that told me that things were gonna be all right.

Let’s get started, he announced, fiddling with my hair to get a better feel. He turned them left, then turned them right, exposing the true damage of the years. I was afraid to even look, as if being stripped naked, questioned on my callus attitude and lack of conditioning. I took it all – the jibes, the prods, the repeated speculation. Then promptly handed in my spectacles as a prisoner would hand in his sword. I’d left it to him, this battle. Thrown in the towel. Retired from the race. My eyes were now closed, as if in deep meditative silence. Only the sound of scissors filled the air. It was excruciating. The imagination going wild with each snip and each cut, strands of hair gently falling to my lips, as if teasing me of my decision. I clenched hard and resisted.

Hmm, Peter bellowed. It seemed the problem was far deeper than he had expected. This might take a while, he said, requesting me to pick up my glasses and watch. Watch? Does a slave need to watch his own execution I wondered? But he wanted me to watch it seems. He needed an audience. Even Peter, the veteran, the enlightened one, needed an audience. Such was the scale of my problem.

You see, he explained, the problem is with the roots. They roots are too weak and that, well, is the root of the problem. He smiled, admiring his uncanny wit. I sneered. The roots are stronger at the back here he continued, tugging at a tuft of my hair. Leave them alone, I begged him with my eyes. This hair is fine, but the ones in front, well…I eyed him this time, daring him to touch me again. He seemed to understand my angst and stepped away, at once disarming me with his smile. This is a problem, he said. We’ll have to cut them a different way perhaps. I can’t grow more hair for you, but maybe, maybe I can hide it somehow. I can’t guarantee. But, hmm, there might just be a way…

Hide? I asked myself. Had it come down to this? Did I need to hide my hair now? I used to have good hair. Rich hair. Bouncy hair. Hair with fucking volume. Many a hand had fiddled with my hair. Was it so bad that my barber could only offer a maybe guarantee? Was my hair nothing more than a saintly stylist’s annual challenge? I think I know how Shahjahan would’ve felt when they took it all away. Those fucking Aurangzeb racist genes. My receding hairline had become Peter’s purpose. There’s was a glint in his eye. As if a challenge finally worthy of his skill. The end of a long glorious career, the final bow, the big finish. He was going to salvage my hair and then retire his tale. Oh boy, what joy I saw on his wrinkled face. As if, Michelangelo himself, prepping before the Sistine Chapel.

We can leave the top long, the front short, the sides slanted, the back planted. It’ll look like there’s a crop of hair, but it won’t really be there. Got it? An illusion he announced, snapping his scissors as if a magician before a reveal. Now you see it, now you don’t, aha! He started humming a tune now. Something that told me he was enjoying my ungainly display of courage. He clipped and he cropped, he swerved and swayed. He bent down, brought mirrors, changed sheets thrice. There was a lot of hair that day. I kept my eyes closed throughout, relying on my ears to narrate this tragedy. His scissors clipping past my ear as if whispering the winning chant. I could feel my head lighter, the skin nearer, the sounds clearer. It seemed we were getting close.

Just a while longer he said, 45 minutes into the act. I was getting restless now, but I knew the master needed time. I was his canvas, the chapel wall, and I was to offer myself, in all my glory, with no lumps, jerks or resistance. Just the top part left now, he said. You can see if you wish. I declined, preferring to attend the victory march instead. Carry on Peter I told him. I know I’m in good hands. Just go gentle on the top alright. They’re really not used to visitors.

10 more minutes and I began to feel a strange tingle above my left ear. You know, a tingle, like a tickle but almost unnatural. I took hold of my specs to investigate, but instead found Peter smiling from behind. The same disarmingly charming smile. He seemed pleased. Pleased at his accomplishment, a job well done, the smile that told him he still had it going on. That’ll show ‘em newbies with their gelled hair and pocket knifes. Old school is the only school. Clean cut, close shaves he seemed to murmur. Yeah! I was happy to have offered him this moment of glory. I was happy to have witnessed this moment for a while. It even distracted me from my key purpose of inquiry. I could still feel a strange tingle above my left ear. More than a tingle maybe.

It was my scalp. Specially, a red rosy rambunctious gash on my scalp.

Why was there a gash on my scalp I wondered? And why could I feel my scalp in the first place? And where the hell was all my hair? Sacrifices are common in war I told you, and this time it seemed it was common sense. Peter, the man I once called master, the barber with the disarming smile, the swine of a man had snipped the entire left mane off my head, leaving little but skin and tiny wisps of hair, as if rookie soldiers being called to action well before their time. I looked like a skin head with glasses. With little hair on the sides and a mop crop on top. Ooh watch out folks! He’s gonna skin us then spin us!

A modern day Don Juan, Peter insisted. Machismo style. My hairline seemed invisible, sure. The sheer ugliness of my new crop did make the hairline less of an issue. GI Joe, he encouraged. More like Dilton Doiley joined GI Joe. I’d won the battle, but had lost the men. The entire left wing of men. In my attempt to salvage my receding hairline, I had been handed the haircut from hell.

Months of misery followed. 3 months and 16 days to be precise. I did win a lot of arguments though. Jumped quite a few queues, even the cabbies seemed to oblige. Maybe it was my tone, maybe my accompanying beard, maybe just the pain of feeling my scalp every time I sneezed.

I wear my hair longer now of course. As if in defiance. As if to compensate for my adultery. As if to remember a better time that was – a playful nostalgia when the sky was blue and the wind was fine. I can’t keep her, I mused, but I can surely keep you. We’ll hold each other tight I promise.

I even hear him singing sometimes, Peter, that swine. His hum like the sound of church bells, each strung together with the strands on my head. Ting ting ta di di ting ting, ting ting ta da di ting. But I like this sound. I laud this sound. I sing with it everyday.

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece, a part of the main. My hair is the less, as well as if yours were, as well as if a manor of my friend’s or mine’s own were. Any man’s loss diminishes me more, because I am involved in mankind, the whole, the sum. And therefore never send to know for whom the hair falls; for I know I know, it falls for me.

For whom the hair falls

3

VITO & I

Let’s just say it wasn’t love at first sight.

Maybe it had to do with the circumstances. Maybe it was just in my head. I dunno. But it didn’t go well. Her eyes seemed too large, her structure too bony. I recall the vibe as uncomfortable, even tense. Her color too. And her teeth. Rougher than usual. But it was just me I’m sure. I’m a stickler for these things. Hygiene. Something just smelled wrong. No. me. All me. This is pathetic. It was my issue, not hers. I really can’t blame her for this. Not even if I wished too.

Meeeow she roared again.

Note to myself: Do not mess with the alley cat who sits at your door. It’s her door now. Don’t mess with her when she sits in your driveway. It’s her driveway now. Don’t look her in the eye. Never look her in the eye. Look down at all times. Don’t shout or make loud noises or pretend to be on the phone and barge through. That won’t work. She won’t budge. And please don’t tell your neighbors not to feed her. She’s knows you told them. And she doesn’t like it. And she’s coming after you. So just sit and wait patiently till she leaves or just request the security guard for help (and just take his sarcasm and judgement in your stride) or pray. Praying is good for the soul and for the cat and for passing time when you’re stuck outside your house cause some goddaamn alley cat has decided to perch herself and her litter in front of your door and its not looking like she’s going to move. She’s the boss. You’re the kitten. Darwin should’ve said that. But he was scared as shit.

I’ve said too much already. I really have.

But then again…well its a bit like therapy this talk. Read it like charity maybe. Charity for the weak and dribbly feline phobic who don’t think much of cat videos and would rather have them banned if they could.

See, there I go again. Fear turns to hatred turns back to fear turns to tail between my legs and I wait another ten minutes for her to vacate my welcome home mat. That’s my mat man. And she’s not welcome. We’re territorial beings, all of us, and I’m losing mine to an alley cat. And I’m getting angry. Or I’m probably just scared. Did I mention she has a litter now?

Ok so a little context might help here. My new house was and is an ideal pad for a young man like me. Sufficient ventilation and walls that absorb 80% sound. My 90 year old neighbor screams only on new years night every year and the rent is…well fuck that. But he’s a good man, my neighbor. A man of honor and degree and pedigree but with little practical sense. Why he chooses to feed this alley cat is beyond my rational comprehension. But he does and so she stays. On my welcome mat. I did mention that already.

My attempts at solving this unfortunate situation have proved mostly unsuccessful. I began with confidence, hoping that my relatively larger frame (with respect to the cat that is. I am relatively skinny in human terms, which could be the source of the problem here) would be enough to express my strict no house-guest policy. But that didn’t help. Apparently, she’s a pro at this game. And my rookie attempt proved hardly menacing. So I wait. I wait for her to get up and go somewhere. That’s right. I wait for the cat to get bored to enter my house everyday. It’s an interesting arrangement.

I once tried making a noise to scare her off. It was a loud ‘aaaah’ or ‘wwwwoooooh’, I can’t remember correctly. That because my howl was soon drowned by her crystal clear snarl which when merged with my pubescent shriek didn’t leave much to imagination. She’s a pro I told you. So I wait. I wait for her to get bored and leave so I can enter my house. I’ve taken quite a few long walks lately. Nice locality, mine is.

The only time I did make some partial headway was more of an accident than a thought out strategy. See, with most of my previous attempts failing, I had developed the habit of poking my head into the corridor before walking in altogether. It saved me time and effort and a few remaining scraps of dignity. And somewhere I liked the suspense of a cat free Friday. Ah, what a Friday that was.

But this time, I happened to be on the phone. And the conversation was animated. And I was sweaty after a jog. And in all the confusion I forgot my head bobbing ritual and jogged in, one hand on the phone, the other on my hip, with the confidence of a man. A real man. It seemed to confuse her, this ungainly display of testosterone. It threw her off perhaps. But somewhere, the combination of sweat, my loud curses and general post- jog swagger convinced her enough to vacate my mat in a hurry. I realized this feat only a few minutes later. But by then it was too late.

I’d messed with the system. And I was going to pay.

Now the thing about cats is (and I can claim to have thought a bit on this subject), that they’re not very expressive, yet they are very receptive. My cat, she seemed to have taken this trouncing a little too personally. For the next few days I found her sitting at my door for much longer, as if to compensate for that one off defeat. My walks became longer. The prayers harder. She hissed and huffed with vengeance, her tail straight – as if a soldier waiting for instruction. I’d rather not describe it anymore.

But the truth was that I’d pressed a nerve. A raw beastly nerve. There was going to be blood. And it wasn’t going to be hers.

Little did I know that she wasn’t thinking about mine either.

I was taking an early morning flight the next day, so I turned in relatively early. The extra long walk did help me build up an appetite and with the help of some good karma and probably an innocent mouse, I was back in my bed before ten with just enough time to get a few hours of sleep and forget about this matter altogether.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like early morning flights. It’s unnatural to get up at 4am. The bowels never work no matter how well you plan. And yet, you’re still hungry. And you can’t have coffee ’cause that speeds up things and well certain people have a certain kind of relationship with the throne. I do. And 4am mornings are not good on the throne. Anyway, that apart, I did somehow manage to drag myself out of bed, into the shower, and out the living room with my suitcase. I was at the door, but somehow things just didn’t feel right. I know, I know, you’re thinking its the bowels again. I did too, but it wasn’t that. There was churning in the stomach sure, but these were encounters of a different kind. And I’m generally good with my gut. Yes, even a full one. And this just seemed like one of those days.

I mustered whatever courage I could find and opened the door, this time using the head bob routine from the inside. I just wanted to avoid any trouble. The hallway was clear. There was no cat. No sound. No light. I was even slightly offended.

For about three seconds that is.

You see, cats are not ordinary creatures. They’re brighter than most I’ve met. They see things, they feel things, they don’t show as much. You can never tell what they’re scheming. And she, she was at the peak of this act. The o general! The city ruffian with a freshly bruised ego. I told you there would be blood.

There was. The blood of a half eaten pigeon. Sprawled on my new welcome mat. Placed artistically with odd balls of fur and tad few many whiskers. On my new green welcome mat. The contrast just made the colors pop.

I could hear her in the background. Almost chuckling to herself silly thing. I could hear her in the background, practicing this tale for her litter tomorrow morning. I could hear her in the background, mocking me to the other alley cats. I had almost stepped on a half eaten pigeon covered in blood and fur at 4 in the morning with a bowel that was full and a heart that was empty.

It was not the fact that the bird was dead or that it was half its frame, but that it was placed there for me, just me, to see, as if to signal something. Something deep. Something dark. Something dangerous. The garbage man told me to think of it as an act of kindness . That she only wanted to share her food with me. A truce he implied. But I laugh at his innocence. I pity him. This was no truce. This was a threat, abet a skillfully veiled one, but it was a threat no doubt. A message to keep my distance, to fall in line, to purr. To really fffin purr. No doubts about it. This was no random act of kindness. It was a well worked out game play, the work of a mastermind, the menace that only went so far. An offer, you could say, that I just couldn’t refuse.

It was only natural then. I dropped my head and called her Vito.

But she, she just shrugged and walked away.

Post Script: With our hierarchy now clear, we seem to have reached a mutual arrangement of sorts. Vito clears the way for me to enter and then retains her position at the helm of my door. I’m sorry, her door.

The litter too has now grown up considerably. One of them has a lot of energy, the kind that needs immediate intervention. The other is more calm and composed. As if in waiting. He’s younger, but I have a feeling he’s going to be trouble pretty soon.

shot_1379162055023

3

GLENN SUSAN SUSAN GLENN

First, for some context. For this title hardly speaks for itself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PX5PsV2uMVg

By Susan Glenn, I refer to this little known but seemingly apt metaphor for the ‘girl from back then’, ‘the one who got away’, ‘the one who I could’ve, should’ve, but didn’t and thus’. And considering we live in a delightfully digital decade, its only fair to use this kind reference to give wings to my words, and of course some fodder to your eyes.

So please. Indulge me. If you haven’t so already.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PX5PsV2uMVg

Now, hoping you’ve got the general drift of things, let me begin.

It had been over 10 years since I’d last met Susan Glenn. ‘Met’ is perhaps a tad misleading – I’d never really met her before, only seen, stalked, often surrendered. She was ideal, perhaps too much of an ideal for me to realistically pursue. And considering we went our separate ways without so much as a single word, you’d understand my complete and utter surprise when I found her sitting next to me on my first day of work, a full 10 years later. How could I let this pass?

‘Susan Glenn?’ I confidently enquired. My self-esteem and general swag having taken an unusually sharp turn since the premature heartbreak years ago.

‘Yep. That’s me. Do I know you from somewhere?’

‘Umm that depends. But no, you probably don’t. And that’s quite all right. I guess I just wasn’t ready then.’

You could probably argue that patchy acquaintance was a better way to go. One could begin with a common past, establish an air of familiarity, then perhaps breach the “comfort” zone? Nonsense. It’s crap. It’s a trap. With Susan Glenn, and trust me when I say this, you’re much better off NOT risking nostalgia. That cobbled path typically leads to:

‘How nice, we were in school together!’

‘Oh really, in the same class?’

‘Wow, surprised we never met’

‘Hmm what a shame’

‘Oh.’

Followed of course by the classic pause, shudder, shrug and shift.

Instead I suggest you start anew – wipe the slate clean, bring out the new silverware, lather up on some fancy body wash. Its love love again and you get to serve.

Meandering back, this early judgment call led to a rather fruitful first few weeks for our relationship. Susan Glenn and I, mere strangers at first, were soon regulars at the podium coffee bar, walking famously the thinly veiled line of platonic friendship. It was building up to quite a karmic climax. The only thing left was a final plunge of courage, which I wholeheartedly endorsed through several subtle invitations to my apartment. Unfortunately for me, most of these were met with not so subtle rejections.

Unforced errors, I coached myself. Keep your eye on the ball. Serve and volley now. Serve and volley.

‘How about it then Susie?’

‘Well…’

‘We can grab some dinner?’

‘Yeaa…’

‘And a quiet movie?’

‘Ummm..’

‘I can cook some chicken?’

‘Hmm…’

‘Tender succulent’ chicken’

‘Hmmmm’

‘With peas and little greens’

‘Oooh’

‘And sweet potatoes if you’re keen?’

‘Woah’

‘And radishes with oranges and hot cinnamon forages?’

‘Yes!’

‘And wine! Some wine? We can always end things with wine!’

‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’

FTW.

‘Chardonnay then? 18?  Nappa Valley? Sideways?’

‘Done! So done! Let’s rage on wine! But beware, I might just bring my evil twin tonight!’

Now, if you were a simple man like me, you’d be rather pleased by the last statement. Typical thoughts would stroll in the areas of role-play, drunken swaps, naughty maids and what not. And I hope you can then understand my deep and bitter disappointment when I found Susan Glenn at my door that night, hand in hand with her identical twin sister, instead of the pink negligee & harp I had secretly hoped for.

Karmic climax all right.

So let me ask you this – Have you ever fallen in love, twice? Have you ever met the woman of your dreams and then have you met her again in the same room, the very next minute, drinking the same brand of wine, spilling it on the same woolen sofa? It’s not a pleasant feeling. It’s not even an unpleasant feeling.

Here I was, at the peak of my swag, staring intently into the kohl brown eyes of one Susan Glenn, while Glenn Susan, her identical twin sister, with her kohl brown eyes, stared right back at me.

Numb is probably a better expression.

It soon dawned on me that this was a crossroads of sorts. I’d have to choose and choose quickly. On the face of it, and what faces they were, this call would be a tough one. Who should I pursue? And why? I needed to interrogate further for clues. Questions perhaps? I mused. Music, art, literature, politics? Politics? Nerdy. So bloody nerdy. What would they think? He’s called us to interrogate us? But I couldn’t just sit and watch could I? I needed to know where to begin. Questions then? I’ll keep it simple, I promised myself. The clock was ticking. So was the wine. I gulped a mouthful and launched headfirst.

Me: So girls, what’s with all this talk on America’s foreign policy?

Susan Glenn: Policy? Please! It’s more like a fallacy!

Glenn Susan: Yeah, fallacy. Hmm. Wine sucks. You got some whiskey?

Always.

Me: How about some Simon and Garfunkel then? Should we set the vibe?

Glenn Susan: Simon and who? Funkel is such a funny sound

Susan Glenn: Funkel! Funkel! Uncle! Funkel! Funkel! Uncle! Funkel! Funkel!

Hmmmm.

Me: Hemingway? Tell me about Hemingway. You must surely like Hemingway?

Glenn Susan: Like? Love.

Susan Glenn: Really?

Dammit.

This was getting difficult. I liked Susan Glenn. She was cute and odd and activist and cuddly. Very very cuddly. But she dissed Simon and G. And that’s, well, basically treason. But so did Glenn Susan though she did like her whiskey. And Hemingway. And you know how hot it is when a girl likes her Hemingway and her whiskey. Dammit! This was harder than I thought. I’d have to see them alone if I had to make up my mind. But how? And where? And when? Unless…maybe. No, it couldn’t be… I’d have to be quick….

The weakest bladder.

Glenn Susan broke first. Apparently, it had something to do with the younger twin with the weaker plumbing. Though I think a quarter of Blender’s had something to do with it. It was just me and Susan Glenn again – like the old times. Cute, odd and cuddly. Cute. Odd. And cuddly. That’s all I needed to remember.

Me: So, the weather’s kinda crazy now isn’t it Suz? The rain makes you feel …you know…sort of…

Susan Glenn: Mellow?

Me: Exactly. Mellow. I love the feel of mellow.

Susan Glenn: I really don’t get it when people ‘feel’ mellow. What is with feeling mellow? Mellow. What does it really mean? Mellow. It seems like such a mediocre, middleweight excuse for a word. I’m sorry, but it makes me really mad. Ooh, the weather’s so good; I’m feeling super mellow. Simon and Garfunkel make me feel so bloody mellow! America’s foreign policy is so friggin mellow! Dammit! Pick a side already! Good, bad, black or white, pink or purple. But why mellow huh? Hemingway, now he wasn’t mellow. He wasn’t afraid to feel.

Me: I thought you didn’t like Hemingway.

Susan Glenn: I don’t.

Dammit.

Flush.

Glenn Susan sauntered in just then, tilting the majority emotion in the room from tense to recently relieved. Our metaphysical state of symmetry was quickly destroyed as Susan Glenn rushed in to do her business. She seemed in a hurry to get away.

Hardly discouraged, I shifted my lens to the now sprightly Glenn Susan. Hemingway, whiskey, yeah. This girl got my drift.

Glenn Susan: So what were you guys talking about?

Me: I’m not so sure. Just the weather at first, though somehow the conversation seemed to hinge on the word mellow. Mellow. And your sister seems to hate the word mellow. Mellow. I love the word mellow. I’m not sure why. Do you like to feel mellow?

Glenn Susan: Mellow? Hmmm. Mellow is good. What’s wrong with it? It’s pleasant. Easy. Simple. Yeah. I like to feel mellow; sometimes. Not all the time but sometimes. Other times it troubles me. As in I can get very mellow. Like really mellow. For days and months, even years. That’s why she hates it maybe. She’s seen me. It’s like a… As in you need to stop when it goes too far. Can’t use it for everything you know. Like the Americans you were saying  – they’re not mellow man, they’re scared. I mean, just bomb that shit already! And those new popcorn bands everyone’s talking about these days – Some guys and sons, some feathers and bottoms, some bees and bobble-heads…what’s all this mellow shit anyway? I mean why have all you men gone soft huh? Where are all the real men? Men like that…that Hemingway guy. He was tough. And so rough. And aawwesome in that movie last year.

Goddammit.

Flush.

Susan Glenn strolled back in, this time with an inspired look on her face. Something serious had gone down in the chamber.

Susan Glenn: You know, I was thinking, it’s not that I hate the word mellow; it’s just that people have really ruined it for me. They use it like a badge of something deep and dark and dangerous, but it lacks…it lacks…

Glenn Susan: Perspective?

Susan Glenn: Perspective! Yes! It lacks perspective. It seems so hollow, so fake – like an act of some kind. Aarrgh! I hate this! That’s why I respect Hemingway. He didn’t pretend to be mellow. He just wasn’t. And that’s why it’s bull crap to call America mellow. They’re so not mellow.

Glenn Susan: More like yellow.

Susan Glenn: And that’s why Simon and G sound so hip. They weren’t trying to be mellow. They just were.

Glenn Susan: Unlike your Featherhead Pajawamamas, who just aren’t.

Susan Glenn: I guess what were trying to say is that mellow is actually good. In fact it’s great.

Glenn Susan: And so is Hemmingway

Susan Glenn: And Simon and Garfunkel

Glenn Susan: But not America so much

Susan Glenn: Yeah, we don’t love America so much

Glenn Susan: More whiskey my friend?

Gulp.

Shudder.

Shrug.

& Shift.

Susan Glenn: Funny isn’t it, how we all love the same things.

Me: Yeah. Funny. Excuse me one minute.

As I ambled into the washroom, this time to bid my rightful turn, my mind and my bladder were ready to burst. Was it really possible that my idea of Susan Glenn was made up of two Susan Glenns? That she only worked when she was a bit of both? Mellow and yellow and hello dirty fellow? A Hemingway hating, whiskey drinking, almost activist, mellow hipster tripper? That having just one was like having only half a chocolate pie? How could I choose between the cookie and cream, now that I’d tasted them both together?

It was clear to me now. I had to let it all go. So I just stood there in the moonlight and cried myself to pee.

shot_1379162940330

0

BRRRWOOHAAACHOOOALAND

LIST OF CHARACTERS:

 

HENRY

An irate cocker spaniel that loves to talk

 

TIMOTHY BRICKBACK

Local news anchor, flair for the dramatic

 

BUDDY HUFFINGTON

Local weatherman, goofy & uncertain

 

EXPERTS

Special guests on the local news show

Monty Python like ensemble, eight characters

 

MAYOR

Local authority, burly frame, threatening moustache

 

SETTING:

A tiny country called Brrrwooohaaahchoooaland.

Independence: 1932

Population: 3000 according to the census study (2005)

Life Expectancy: 85 years and counting

Sex Ratio: 1.43 (male/female)

Language: English with a touch of gibberish

Transport: Kingstown 7m, Hereford 19m; No railway station

Weather: Unpredictable

 

STAGE DESIGN:  

The stage is divided into two neat halves (H1 and H2).

H1 serves as the setting for a local news station complete with an anchor desk (D1), a tall chair (C1), a busy backdrop (B1) and a wooden frame cut into four squares serving as a multi-display screen (W1). During the performance, actors repeatedly pop into W1 from behind while playing guests on the daily news update.

H2, on the other hand is free space used for exposition throughout the performance. There’s a pink park bench bang in its center. A classic radio lies unattended nearby.

 

CURTAINS RISE.

Henry, a tan coloured cocker spaniel troops in casually from Stage Right. It seems like a wonderful day. (Beat) But is it really? He stops for a moment, sniffing around suspiciously. He looks up. He looks down. Then, all of a sudden, darts upstage to the park bench on Stage Left. He stops again, this time inspecting the bench to its utmost detail. He switches the radio off. A few anxious moments pass. He winces.

Finally convinced, Henry the dog lies down and takes a nap.

 

SCENE 1:

THE DYNAMIC OPENING SOUND OF A TV NEWS BULLETIN

 

(Henry wakes up with an unfamiliar jolt and barks! at the radio lying nearby.)

 

(Furiously trying to shut the radio off)

HENRY:

Oh now come on! Can’t a dog get an honest hour of sleep around here? Keep it down you crazy hoodlums or I’ll bite your friggin skulls out! (Beat, now noticing the audience) Oh hullo there. I’m sorry I didn’t realize we had company. No one told me of course…why should they? (Beat) I’m Henry, incase you were wondering. Son of Richard the second, cocker spaniel of the country that is, and his dame Elizabeth, who was quite naturally the first. I’m practically royalty in these parts. (Beat) But I suppose you wouldn’t really care? You must here to meet Buddy or Timothy or some other weasel faced moron who’s had it made. Well guess what…It’s not your lucky day. You’re stuck with me. Buddy the dog, servant of the food chain, man’s most underrated friend. Congratulations! And to think, to think that it all happened because of me. Me! (Beat) I mean, come on! Somebody! Give a dog a bone!

(H1 lights up to reveal the TV newsroom. There are four curious experts filling up the windows of W1 behind. An intense conversation is in progress…)

 

TIMOTHY BRICKBACK:

We’ll Buddy old friend (Beat, in a gameshow tone) can you ‘Guess the Sickness’?

 

BUDDY HUNFFINGTON:

Timmy, this is a tough one… But (Beat) I believe Mrs. Darlington had the case of the licikty lips on Tuesday, Mr. Zelmer here with his tingling knee on Friday, Colonel Alcazar has been sniffing since last Wednesday, and uh… Hot damn! If I’d bet my dog Henry on it, I believe Ms. Primrose won’t have her hair back till late tomorrow afternoon…

HENRY:

Henry. Let’s all bet on Henry the dog. Scoundrels. (Barks!)  Wait. Did you get all that? (Beat) Can we have that again Buddy, please?

 

BUDDY HUNFFINGTON:

Certainly Henry. I believe I said Mrs. Darlington had the case of the licikty lips on Tuesday, Mr. Zelmer with his tingling knee on Friday, Colonel Alcazar has been sniffing since last Wednesday, and… Uh, hot damn! If I’d bet my dog Henry on it, that’s you of course, I believe Ms. Primrose won’t have her hair back till late tomorrow afternoon…

HENRY:

Isn’t it just wrong? Buddy of all people, playing (mockingly) ‘Guess The Sickness’? Just so aaargh unfair! I mean why stop here? Let’s just breed little kittens in the house! That’ll be fun hah! Imagine those tiny squirmy little balls of fffur! (Almost gags, Beat) No! This is just wrong! Don’t you all agree?  It just gets my… (Beat) You’re not angry at all (Beat) Why the hell not? (Beat) How can you accept something so… (Stops) Heh. They never told you did they? Scoundrels. (Beat) Well, allow me then you see this “place” where we all live – let’s just say we’re a bit geographically challenged – set on a modest island, in a temperate climate, at a high latitude with one of the world’s biggest oceans on one side, and a huge continent on the other. It’s practically nirvana. (Beat) If by nirvana you mean crappy and utterly irresponsible weather. (Beat) I mean what the hell! It’ll be bright and sunny one minute, and then some jet streams make it rain the next hour, only for those westerly winds that arrive late, as always, and plummet the temperature before your wagging tail can know it! (Beat) We’re always sick! Lickity lips, tricky knees, bushy hair, fuzzy head, tender loins, sneezletons…everything, everyone, all the friggin time! (Beat) Which is probably why we’re called what we are…

(From the wooden frame W1, experts react in sequence)

(Shivering in the cold)

EXPERT 1:

                                                                                    Brrr

 

(Puffing from a heat wave)

EXPERT 2:

woooh

(Sneezing from a cold)

EXPERT 3:

aaachooo!

 

EXPERT 4:

aland!

 

HENRY:

Brrr-woooh-aaachooo-aland. It’s a bit silly of course, but the name’s kinda stuck. (Beat) You know how it is with names. Some just roll right off the tongue…

EXPERT 1:

What a lovely name – Brrr-woooh-aaachooo-aland!

 

EXPERT 2:

Yes sir, we’re citizens of Brrr-wooh-aaachooo-aland!

 

EXPERT 3:

The hills are alive in Brrr-wooh-aaachooo-aland!

 

HENRY:

We’re positively obsessed with the weather. And why wouldn’t we be?

EXPERT 1 and 2 in sequence:

Its toxic but it smells great!

 

HENRY:

(Beat) Which is miserable reality I am willing to forgive if! It hadn’t made this guy – Weatherman Buddy Huffington basically as good as God.

TIMOTHY BRICKBACK:

Buddy, are you ever wrong? (Beat) Of course not! You’re our weatherman goddammit! That’s better than any doctor we’ve ever produced!

 

(The four guests behind the screen put up placards with their diseases neatly written on them…)

 

(Timothy continues while referring to his notes)

Mrs. Darlington did in fact get the lickity lips from the heat wave on Tuesday, Mr. Zelmer’s knee gave way from the wind chill last Friday, Colonel Alcazar has been sniffing since the rainfall this Wednesday, and as it won’t hold up till tomorrow afternoon, Ms. Primrose will just have to live with her bushy hair for another whole day. Fantastic. Just fantastic. I’ll have to stop calling you from now on…This is practically cheati… (He stops due to an urgent message coming through his earpiece) Uh hmm. Hmm hmm. Are you sure? Are you absolutely sure?

(Beat, flustered) Well ladies and gentlemen, guests, Buddy, I don’t know what to say, but it seems like we have a tragedy on our hands… Our very own weather satellite Sparky 2001 has fallen prey to a sudden burst of space debris! (Pause) We’re in a tizzy Brrrwoohaaachoooaland. We’re in a tizzy of humongous proportions.    

(Whispers begin around the four squares behind. Some experts get down to the other squares. Some go up, some huddle together. Buddy remains silent. He’s not smiling.)

 

TIMOTHY BRICKBACK:

Buddy, you know what this means don’t you? Without Sparky, we’re a complete mess! How will you warn us of a heat wave, or a cold wave or a tidal wave in advance? What are we going to do? What are you going to do? (Beat) I’m sorry ladies and gentlemen, I know this is uncharacteristic but I’m scared goddammit. I’m scared. (Beat) Sparky’s gone, Buddy silent. I don’t know what to say…

(All eyes are on Buddy. He keeps looking down, muttering to himself. He then slowly gets up and walks towards Henry’s bench without saying a word…)

 

We’ll there you have it folks. Our favorite weatherman has spoken. (Beat) I suggest you stay indoors tonight, hold your family close by, say your prayers together. We’re in for a bumpy ride. Oh yes… (Beat, composing himself) As always, for Weasel News 11, this is your very own and very anxious anchorman Timothy Brickback, signing out. Goodnight and please stay funky.

(He leans back and continues to informally interact with the guest’s through the screen…)

HENRY:

Buddy was had. He was done for… The daily news had no weather report for weeks…

TIMOTHY BRICKBACK:

And now, over to Buddy Huffington for the weath…(Stops, realizing there’s no Buddy…)

HENRY:

He wouldn’t know what to say. Everything he knew, all this love and obsession was ‘cause of Sparky. Without it, he was just plain old Buddy, the guy who lived across the street. The one you met in a bus and never remembered. (Beat) Pretty disheartening isn’t it?

(Beat) And things really did get out of hand. People were sick, schools were closed, offices were shut down. Hell our Mayor got so nervous he even commissioned a special weather tax to fund our new satellite!

(The Mayor enters from Stage Left, then exits briskly…)

MAYOR:

10% for women, 20% for men, and 5% for the elderly and pets!

HENRY:

Can you believe it? Charging the elderly! People were angry as hell! And more so with their “favorite” weatherman…

EXPERT 1:

This wouldn’t have happened if Buddy had thought of the problem before…

EXPERT 2:

Shouldn’t he have known that space is dangerous?

EXPERT 3:

What does a weatherman do anyway?

 

EXPERT 4:

The Mayor and Buddy are in it together!

EXPERT 1:

Good Gosh! This is the death of our nation!

 

(All this while Buddy has been sitting gloomily next to Henry on the bench. His shoulders stoop as low as possible…)

BUDDY HUFFINGTON:

Well Henry. This had to happen one day I guess. They hate me now. The whole nation. I served them for 10 years straight, and all I get is the crummy weather tax! Dammit I’m paying it too you know. But who cares about that? Everyone just wants to blame Buddy! (Beat) I suppose I had it coming… The only weatherman in the country. Buddy Almighty I would say… I actually thought I could do this forever … Predict the weather, keep the nation healthy, win ‘Guess The Sickness’ every darn time… What the hell did I know! (Beat) No. It can’t end like this. Not when no one remembers… Henry, are you even listening? I have to figure this out…There has to be a better way… I’m Buddy Huffington goddammit! Son of Samuel.T.Cyclone! This is my destiny! Henry? Henry?

(Henry, who was pretending to listen, starts to look around suspiciously again. He looks up and down. Sniffs the ground, put’s his ear to it, and then run’s into the right wings as fast as possible. Just a few moments later, the sound of thunder can be heard. Heavy drops begin to fall on Buddy, whose now sitting drenched on the bench.)

BUDDY HUFFINGTON:

Just great! Even the dog knows the weather before I do! (Beat) Why this lord! Why me! (Beat) But how? (Beat) Now wait a second…(There’s a sudden spark in Buddy’s body language. As if some complex arithmetic is at play inside. He’s muttering to himself almost jumping up in excitement. He pulls out a quirky phone from his pockets…)

Hold the press Timmy boy! I’ve found a way out after all! Call the Mayor if you like. I’m gonna predict the friggin weather tomorrow!

 

(HI, the next day, the opening sound of the newscast…)

 

TIMOTHY BRICKBACK:

Well Brrrwooohaaahchoooaland, your guess is as good as mine…

BUDDY HUFFINGTON:

Thank-you Timmy. Well, so, I know it’s been a rough few weeks for everyone. It’s been horrid really with people falling sick… So much… No way to be prepared anymore. And you know, I know it’s bad, but it just got me thinking somewhat… Is it really that bad? I mean, think about it… Is it worse than say that horrible weather tax? (Beat) Not that I had anything to do with it…

 

(A loud murmur amongst the guests behind…)

 

TIMOTHY BRICKBACK:

Wait a minute… Are you actually saying that the nation falling sick is a good idea? (Beat) Buddy my boy have you lost your wonkers?

BUDDY HUFFINGTON:

Ummm…yes Timmy, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Sort of. I think. Ok, let me try and explain. See, it just got me thinking; you know all this sickness and disease. It’s just not right. We’re all too dependent on the weather. (Beat) But isn’t the reverse also true? As in isn’t the weather also… dependent on us?

(Silence)

 Let’s try this with an example…(He turns to the guests on the screen behind…) Professor Goosenberry, since when have you been carrying this cold sir?

 

EXPERT 1:

Since yesterday I suppose Buddy…It was rotten last evening, and its been acting up all day. That’s because I didn’t take my pills of course…I just didn’t know what to expect…

BUDDY HUFFINGTON:

Of course. Of course. Thank you. (Beat) Madame Primrose, how has the hair been all day?

EXPERT 2:

Well Buddy dear, it’s been bushy all week really, but it’s seems to be settling in since the morning came…

BUDDY HUFFINGTON:

Fantastic. And the tingling knee Herb? It hasn’t been bothering you all week has it?

 

EXPERT 3:

Not till yesterday no Buddy. Just on my way here.

BUDDY HUFFINGTON:

Hmmm. I’m not surprised. Ok, thank you all. Just one last question Timmy, and this one’s for the Mayor. (Beat) May I see inspect your tongue sir?

MAYOR:

What monstrosity is this! (Coughs) Timothy – I’ll have you removed for bringing such (Coughs) despicable men on your show again! (Coughs)

 

BUDDY HUFFINGTON:

Just this once Mayor. You can have us fired the very next minute… (The Mayor looks around, at Timothy, and at the other guests and then reluctantly obliges…) Just as I thought. Swollen like a plump. (Beat) Well Timmy I think I’m made my case.

TIMOTHY BRICKBACK:

What case Buddy? You’ve asked everyone their illnesses, insulted the Mayor and almost had me fired! Where’s the weather update you promised boy?

BUDDY HUFFINGTON:

Timmy, Timmy, Timmy. Always so restless. Don’t you see? Professor Gossenberry has a cold that’s acting up, Madame Primrose’s hair is settling in, Herb’s knee tingled only this morning and the Mayor’s tongue is swollen like a steaming gorilla! (Beat) It’s getting cold goddamitt! That explains everything. Trust me when I say this, tomorrow morning will be wind chills through the day. Hot damn! I even bet my dog Henry on it!

 

HENRY:

He was right of course. Though I’m not sure I like being the central pivot of all his conviction.

(The next day, the opening sound of the newscast…)

 

TIMOTHY BRICKBACK:

(Wearing a muffler) He’s right as if he’d never gone wrong. Buddy Huffington, Buddy Almighty, and my loyal friend. The chill is in the air, the mufflers are on the streets, and Buddy, our favorite weatherman, is back in business!

HENRY:

And this didn’t just stop here. Buddy kept on just the same way. Everyday meant a new group of guests, a new prognosis and poof – the weather for the day.

 

(Guests keep shifting positions. New guests pop in and out of W1…)

 

(Rolling a cloth banner that falls in front of his desk)

TIMOTHY BRICKBACK:

Buddy says sunny, carry your Ray ban’s tomorrow folks!

(The next day banner from the desk)

TIMOTHY BRICKBACK:

It’s springtime on my calendar, but Buddy say’s it going to get messy. Burberry’s everyone!

(The next day banner from the desk)

TIMOTHY BRICKBACK:

Don’t go by the books. Just tune in to Buddy Almighty! He’s better than the average satellite floating around in space…

HENRY:

Hell, even I got in on all the excitement…

BUDDY HUFFINGTON:

We’ll Timmy, Henry was indoors all night with one ear perched firmly to the ground… I believe we have a storm on our heels!

 

HENRY:

Things got so good that the weather tax was completely abolished. In fact, Buddy got so good at asking questions that he replaced Timmy when Timmy went off on vacations… (Beat) And many vacations they were…

 

(Timothy jumps up from his chair with a bag and walks off stage right. Buddy takes his seat; Velcro’s in his tie and continues…)

 

BUDDY HUFFINGTON:

Well there you have it folks, the sesame buns are made from the same buns as regular buns, and the chicken eggs are perfectly safe for the chicken herself…(Buddy continues talking, but at a lower volume…)

 

HENRY:

And to think it all began here, on this very bench, from silly old me – Henry the dog, the dirty rotten mongrel, who ran in when he heard the rain coming from the west…

BUDDY HUFFINGTON:

Till another time Brrrwooohaaahchoooaland, this is your very own weatherman, and sometime anchorman, Buddy Huffington, signing out. Good night and please stay chunky.

(Beat)

 

HENRY:

What? (Beat) You remember right?

LIGHTS OUT.

CURTAINS FALL.

 

END OF SCENE.

END OF PLAY.

0

TALK WITH YOUR MOUTH FULL

You wouldn’t really notice it the first time you met her. And she was good at hiding it too – the seeking eyes, the perky pout, the dangling calf – all worthy additions to her well practiced act.

The doctors speculated her’s to be a case of the palatine uvula – that seemingly useless, positively unpleasant piece of skin hanging from the posterior edge of the soft palate, just above the human tongue. You might remember it as ‘that thing that makes you gag while brushing’.

Now this same palatine uvula, or as some surgeons preferred – ‘the bum’, the ‘squatter’, the ‘one who must not be named’ had long been a bone of contention for the medical fraternity. Bone, perhaps being a wrong choice of word here. There was certainly no bone in the palatine uvula; and frankly, very little of anything else – no muscle, minimum mass, zero protein – just a good old dead weight. A puny piece of superfluous flesh that served no apparent function in the human body but had yet somehow managed to acquire prime real estate in it. But how could this be? Some experts had mused. Could it be an evolutionary oversight? Or was it just another sign of divine incompetence? The fraternity was perplexed. And rightfully so – being subjective was hardly their key skillset. As you can well imagine, no easy decision could be reached and so eventually, in the interest of more pressing medical matters, this hunchback of oral-fame was given the mutually agreeable title of ‘that icky thing that tingles’. That was that. The issue was settled. TB was cured.

Now things would’ve moved along just as sunny if only our erstwhile subject of interest hadn’t proved to be such a resourceful little nugget. You see it’s almost mystical function and rather convenient location made it a near perfect antidote for undiagnosed cases – ‘I’m afraid Mrs. Grempleton it seems your son has the case of the palatine uvula’. ‘Unfortunately Mr. Rackenshaw, it seems the paltine uvula is at fault here’. ‘There’s nothing we can do for Master Richard Mam. It’s that palatine uvula we were afraid off’. Retirement, it seems, wasn’t quite on the cards.

Which, when you think of it, is rather fortunate, considering our lady’s problem fit smack up this alley.

Her’s was a peculiar case to say the least – The girl who couldn’t speak more than four letter words. ‘Hmmm, sure’ she would say. ‘But why me? Why can’t I spea…pah, pooo, pfft, sigh.’ The doctors had ne’er heard anything like it. Tests were furiously conducted, exercises were routinely scheduled, but nothing came off em. Not a word worth its weight. And before long, our lady’s casual anxiousness had given way to seething frustration. ‘Dammit Doctor! Is there nothing you can say to help me anymore? I can’t take this any longer!!!’ she wondered. Her articulation wasn’t so clear of course.

The famed palatine uvula was thus invoked. And with good measure too. Considering it’s fateful position, the tingling tyrant could well have been supposed to work in tandem with the throat, the air and the lungs to create a number of guttural sounds. A slight shift in orientation or a marginally unnatural size was certainly plausible grounds for her vocabular malfunction. ‘Hmmm… there it is’ her doctor routinely pronounced. ‘It’s too short and too thin. The air from the lungs just cannot reach the tongue properly. That explains the loss of certain words. A surgery is near impossible. It’s that stinking palatine uvula again…’

What could she do? What could anyone do when it came to palatary pneumonia such as this? The doctors had left her no choice. What If I pretend I could not speak from birth? She considered resolutely. That way at least my mind will stop messing with my mouth. But wouldn’t that be unfair to those who really suffer? Or should I just continue with this splintered conversation; At least it’s all vivid in my mind?…No. But why not? Yes. Maybe. Urrrgh. These thoughts consumed her day and night, lunch and dinner, morning and eve. She didn’t eat for weeks. She didn’t speak for months. Years went by in deafening silence. In fact things hardly changed until the year she turned 16. After that…

Ah 16, that wonderfully savage age of bloom.

You see at 16, this state of existential dilemma was often mistaken for the poised mysteriousness of a much older woman. The boys went, well, cuckoo over her. ‘She doesn’t say much, but perhaps there’s too much to say already?’ ‘Her eyes, they say everything. It’s like there’s a revolution inside!’ ‘Such intensity! I must have her, now!’

Well there’s only so much attention that a girl can lawfully refuse. Slowly, she began to open up to the idea of all this gentility. ‘I can’t speak but I can surely listen. And my silence seems pretty attractive too. What’s the harm in repaying a little courtesy?’ The boys certainly agreed. They would yelp & yap and she would respond with gentle sighs and purrs and paahs to keep them oiled. Occasionally, she’d slip in a tilt, or a tap or a tender glance just incase their interest began to wane. It was near perfect. She hadn’t gotten so much attention in her life. And for a while, the boys seemed content with her complicated silence. But then again, these were just boys, boys who were soon to become men, men who needed more answers, men who needed to unravel her mystery once and for all. ‘Meaningful conversations’ they began to say one day.

‘I know you don’t like to talk, but it just seems like I know nothing about you’

‘I like you, I really do, but why is it always my story and never ever yours?’

She tried to explain, but she was petrified. If they know my truth, they’ll probably never see me again. Who want’s to date a bumbler anyway? Perhaps if I just keep listening, they’ll eventually come around? Someone will come around who wouldn’t care so much. Someone, somewhere, somehow…

It happened to be the local town conference where he was selling paper pens for a living. A strapping young man with wavy hair and a smile to beat. Spit spot. And he loved to talk too. ‘That’s my business he would say! If you can’t spell, you can’t sell! I talk and tease and try and toast, and sell me pens like a perfect host!’ A real social fish he was, outtalking every other mammal in the room – especially the kind who wouldn’t talk at all. ‘Say, you look like you could use a paper pen? They’re the best in the business! I guarantee that!’ ‘Pppf’ She grunted. Her way of saying ‘Please. Leave me alone. I am only here to feel the crowds again. I don’t wanna talk. And I don’t want to be rude’. He continued of course, blissfully immune to such rejection, as men of sales often are. ‘Say, I think you ougghta try this pen once. It’s free and flowy, it’ll change your life I tell you. It changed mine. Just this day I was…’ ‘Gosh’ she huffed. Does this guy ever cease? ‘Bah! Boo, Blah’ she pushed periodically, but he persisted. It was a challenge after all, his Mount Everest for the day, the kind of sale only the best in the business could make. How could he let that go? ‘And when I told that other guy that this pen is actually magical, he just laughed and laughed and today he’s writing for the local paper and thanks me all the time and this is so…’

And somewhere, muffled in the drone of his perfect pitch, came the sound of something wonderful snapping in her head. As if a switch flew open to seed her malnourished heart. What if he was the kind of man she needed? The kind who didn’t really care about her faults, but just needed someone to listen? The kind who would require gentle encouragement now and then, but had enough stories for the both of them combined?

Ah yes, she thought, perhaps, perhaps, Oh! It’s been so long.

‘Hmmm’ she tried now watchfully. An instant response followed. ‘Oh, that’s right. Then of course she asked me Mr. are you sure this pen can save my son from chronic arrhythmia? And I said, Mam I’ve seen things that a man shouldn’t have. Just trust me’. ‘Sigh’ she gushed, subtly flicking a few strands of hair. ‘Oh yes, it’s true, uhmmm; so, she did, and guess what it worked! Her son fought through that wretched infection, and she ordered a hundred more just in case! Now that’s a story they tell in the pubs here!’ ‘Weee’ she harked, her lips perched in a perfect pout, her hands gently caressing her sweaty collar. ‘Oh my, certainly, you got yourself a deal!’ he smugly declared, knowing very well that this was one sale he was going to be awfully proud of.

Travel was a big part of his job so they made a pact to call each other every night. He would ring with his stories and adventures, the mothers and ministers he was meeting each day and she would offer her gentle touches, always there, listening, loving, learning. It was a match made in the heavens. Even the doctors approved.

Then one evening, a few months down the line, he called sooner, his voice a little raspier than usual – ‘Ummm darling, I was wondering, it’s been so many months and we’ve had such a great run and I’… Oh lord she thought. Let it not be… He’s… Why does it need to be like all the other men? Please lord, just let it not be! ‘Mmm huh’ she cautiously replied…’Well love I was thinking, I have a break for a few months and perhaps this time I’ll come over town and live down there for a while. You know really get to know you, talk to you; I’d love to hear your stories too. I’m afraid I talk too much. There must be so much you have to tell me…’ By the time she got her bearings right, he had already left – the lone ranger rushing to claim his beloved prize. Also, the smell in the booth had been much too strong to continue. Now what would she do? How would she share? What if he lost interest like all the other men did? Even the mere thought of this made her repeatedly gag. An infected palatine uvula eased the process no doubt.

As she lay down on her bed that night, prepping herself for the ordeal ahead, there was just thought on repeat – Please lord, let me not disappoint him. I just cannot break another man’s heart…Not a noble, kind and gentle heart such as his. There must be a better way, she mulled, chomping away at her nightly cucumber salad. There must be a way to let him down easy. And this cucumber salad is positively delicious. But that’s not the point. Or is it? For as she fondled the last piece of watery goo in her hands, it hit her with the jolt of freshness they promise only in television ads.

You can’t talk with your mouth full! Everyone knows that. It’s just plain irresponsible. Even our mums disapprove. What If I were always eating when I meet him? This way I’d have a good enough reason not to talk, and I can listen and listen and listen. Even he would approve – after all, how could you possibly talk with your mouth full? She supposed, enjoying the sweet aftertaste of an idea well struck.

So it was decided. They would meet at the local diner at exactly 3pm for a leisurely Sunday lunch. He rushed in, dressed in his finest linen, only to find her dressed for the occasion too. A new white dress that dripped right below her knees, exposing just enough flesh to make his bones tingle – An anatomic revelation to his simpleton mind. ‘So good to see you again my luv’ he said taking her lips in a passionate kiss. But her lips felt oddly crumbly, bitter with a fleeting tinge of olives. Surprised, he kissed her again, this time tasting the certain trace of grapes with rough garlicky undertones. His confusion was swiftly met when she pointed to the half eaten, special edition, all-inclusive, extra garlic, breadbasket combo with white wine. She had gotten in a bit early and ordered for the both of them. She hoped he didn’t mind, she tried to say, pointing at her rather busy mouth. ‘Of course my dear, nothing, nothing should come between a creature and its food. Chomp away, I’m famished too’.

They ate in silence for a while. He talked in spurts of course, of his quests and conquests and she ate, never breaking, always munching. When he paused for a reply, she simply tapped her mouth. ‘Ah, yes, one can’t talk with their mouth full, of course. Not a worry my luv’ and he continued… For he had many stories to tell, and apparently a girl’s appetite, and she could always tell hers when she was done. There was plenty of time. There always was.

Now this dietary charade continued through the evening till it was almost near dusk. The setting was perfect and he could think of no better time to do what he had intended in the first place. His talk with the manager had helped no doubt. On cue, the waiters parted ways for the local clarinet band, the light dimmed, the candles burnt and he was on the floor, one knee to be precise, asking her to be his lawfully wedded wife. She was shocked and happy and shocked and petrified and delirious. She didn’t know what to say or how to say. ‘Pfft, ummm, wooh, paah, peee, deee, wuum, baah, peer, pumm.’

‘Is something the matter my luv?’ he asked, anxious yet oddly optimistic. ‘Did I do something wrong, do you not love me the way I love you? ‘Ummm, nooo, buut, laaah, deee, weee.’ ‘Can we not be together? Do you not want to be my wife forever?’ ‘Yes, but, iiii, blah, boo, bee, bum’… She was losing him, she was losing everything. Here was a man, a fine man, a man finally asking her hand in marriage and all she could muster was irrational noise. She pointed at her full mouth but he wouldn’t budge. ‘Come on now, you can spit on some food at this point. I’m on one knee for Christ’s sake!’ The clarinet band agreed. Her chewing wasn’t helping their co-ordination one bit. So she tried again, “Iiii just can’t…baah, boo, weee, munch, crunch, try to speaa, slurp…”

And Again.

“i..just..want..baah..crunch….to…say..munch…that slurp… I have…glob never’t met any…tick crunch, munch one like you…I love you and yes I will marr slag y you. Burp.”

Apparently the presence of adequate food in a healthy mouth can appropriately compensate for a diminished palatine uvula, allowing just enough assembly for the air from the lungs to flow freely through the mouth.

She was caught off-guard. It had been so long since she had completed an entire sentence and that too at a time like this. It was uncanny. He didn’t understand of course till she told him later when they were celebrating. ‘I just munch cant slurp talk gob unles bah crack I am eat slop ting.’ ‘Oh, that’s quite alright. We’ll eat together then my luv’ ‘I love you’ she said biting her cucumber salad in bed. ‘And don’t you worry about what people say, we’ll talk with our mouths full till they all walk away!’

And talk they did. At dinner and diners, and pubs and parties. She ate, he fed, he talked, she ate, she talked. Even the crowds began to see the love in their eyes despite the specks in their teeth. ‘It’s disgusting, but just so awfully cute.’ ‘Such sacrifice is nothing less than a miracle.’ ‘They’re lovers first, animals second.’

Soon enough, the couple mapped out a clear pattern to her sounds. Greens were ideal for softer words, meats where more emphasis was required and wine to finish off sentences with flair. And with some trial and error, it wasn’t long before they thrashed out the specifics too. Rocket leaves for the hissing s and baked broccoli for the crunchy cs. Chicken wings for the nifty ts and caramel pie to ease in the Is. They even documented this find in a little pocket chart, one she carried everywhere they went. You never knew when she might eat a new sound.

Eventually, he left his job to study the uvula in more detail. ‘Well frankly it was an opportunity waiting to be had’ he would brag to his friends. ‘With the perfect research companion and my love for words this could become quite the venture I suspect’.

In time, they traveled far and wide, presenting their experiments with dietary truth. ‘Each food has a distinct sound,’ he would habitually declare, ‘You just need to have a ear for it.’ Seeing them, more people began to come out and acknowledge the uvula as a real problem. She wasn’t alone in the world after all! They had tried her techniques, and had crunched and munched and talked and teased and gulped and burped their way to many a conversation. A few people, to a few cities, to a few countries to a global phenomenon. The world got fatter, even trashier, but a lot happier. It got noisier too, but let’s not ruin the moment.

A fitting finale, you could say, to the oft misunderstood legend of the palatine uvula. What else could justify this hopelessly disgusting, positively revolting, socially unacceptable, wonderfully ecstatic lifetime of the girl who couldn’t speak more than four letter words?

Ask your doctors about it sometime.