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Tuesday, April 14, 2009


The evening was clattering and clamouring with incessant noise, and if you cared, you could hear the frogs croaking after a downpour earlier on that afternoon. Water had flooded the swampy marsh, feeding the crocodiles with zest, and were in an unison ululation that seemed to echo the approaching twilight life in the suburbs overlooking terrains of the prison farm nearby. The sprawling middle-class estate, still drenched and wet from the rain, roared abuzz with workers as they dragged themselves back to their hovels, sprinkling the streets with sweat from their tired muscles and making the street groan under the shuffling of their weary limbs.

In one of the houses, Leon had been writing a story all afternoon in his bedroom-cum-study. He worked for the local newspaper, and according to his wife, was a little stingy- miserly -but still tolerably comfortable to live with. While he, in turn, considered his beautiful young wife a little spendthrift. This balanced their financial lives and over spilled into their romantic lives, for although he had never raised his voice at her, she still referred to him as a rough and overprotective.

But she couldn’t compare him to their next door neighbour: a DD-dedicated drinker- whose daily drinking made him abusive and irresponsible, beating his wife when he was sober and receiving the same treatment from her when he was drunk. And was notorious when –in his stupor- miss his door and knock on his neighbours’ senselessly like a public noisemaker, especially in the middle of the night—and on several occasions, knock the right door in a bit too loud a fashion enough to awaken the devil from his siesta.

‘Is that my rabbit burrowing out there?’ Leon had been very absorbed in the story that he hadn’t noticed Alison was already home from town where she liked spending her evenings.
‘Ahoy!’ She answered squeamishly in the sitting room.
‘Is that my pussycat purring?’
‘When did my pussy come home?’ he went on nonchalantly, not wishing her to intrude into his thoughts.
‘Just now. Come out honey and see what I’ve bought.’ She ignored his don’t-bother-me tone and went on unheedingly knowing too well that he would come out if she mentioned money and spending.
‘You must not disturb me...’ But he paused shortly and then went to the door, peeped into the sitting room, looked searchingly at the shopping basket sprawled in the sofa set, and with pen still held in his hand said; ‘bought, did you say? All that? Has my little squander bird been overspending again?’ he looked so surprised at his wife’s compulsive buying.

‘Oh, honey, surely, we can let ourselves go a little this year! It’s the first Christmas.’
‘Oh yes, dear. But we have a future to think of. We need to save as much Mooney for a rainy day.’ He grumbled.
‘Then I’ll wrap up all the notes in pretty gold paper and hang them on the Christmas tree. wouldn’t that be fun?’
‘What’s the name of that little bird that can never keep any money?’
‘The squander bird?’
‘Yes, she is a pretty little creature, but she gets through an awful lot of Mooney. It’s incredible what an expensive pet she is for a man to keep.’

‘How can you say such a thing?’ she pulled her dramatic face to achieve her desired effect. ‘You seem so surprised. I don’t see anything about this shopping that goes beyond the bounds of the ordinary.’
‘I wish my little songbird to be different from what she is.’
‘Mooney is made to be spent. What use is there to keep Mooney in the banks for the future when the living is here and now? Is it any use to a horse now, if one of his descendants will win the Horse Race? We can as well spend it now as we would then.’
‘You’ve no idea at how we hardworking people tremble when we get our bills.’
‘Don’t worry, your rabbit will salt the bills and your pussycat will sugar them with her sweetest smiles.’ She said as she unpacked foodstuff brought from the supermarket.

Dejected, he retreated to the bedroom and went back to his writing. He was not in the mood to start a squabble just then. For whatever he said, she would say it smartly and that would start another everlasting argument-though her final decision was not always the same as the one she made later. He had to learn to live with such a wife. Tolerate her if he couldn’t do away with her. He adored her. They had married earlier that year but had not yet added any lovely children into the population. He had nothing to complain about but count his blessings.

She followed him into the bedroom, still excited in her new latest clad. She put her purse on the dressing table, took off her long dress and put on the new mini-skirt, and admired herself for a while in the long mirror. ‘What do you think of this fabulous mini-skirt?’ she looked round, begging his opinion, which was not forthcoming. ‘Isn’t it just cut for a princess?’
‘Honestly? Or you want me to tell you what you want to hear?’
‘Humour me darling. Yes! But don’t tell me that a woman only knows what kind of dress she doesn’t want after she buys it.’
‘I think it’s true of what the poet said.’
‘Mad poets! What did they say? That, we women ask a question, answer it for you, and then say you are wrong?’

‘No, that we shall observe our likeness in the mirror and reflect on our sins.’
‘Hahaha! That’s a new one-better than the last one.’
‘I forgot that you always kept count.’
‘I don’t bother with what mad poets say. I can forget a lot of the miserable past for a little lovely present. But do tell me, how do I look? Fabulously south of thirty, right?’
‘Even if you were north of seventy, you would still succeed in arousing the interests of perverts and rapists when you go out into the streets parading half-naked in that stupid thing called mini-maximum.’

‘Don’t be so judgmental and miserly. Come out of your conservative macho closet. When are we going to start living? At forty, huh? Common, we live only once; why then should we spend those precious few decades that have been allotted to us stifling under the cover of some sort of philistine scruples?’ She said this while taking her shirt off. And her sexy bra made her even more romantic.
‘Don’t be preachy darling. We are not sent into this world to air our prejudices. Leave that to the preachers.’

When she noticed that her solicitations to get the attention she required to make her plans work were ignored, she went straight to the point, standing in front of him, and begging of him: ‘If a little rabbit asked you really prettily to grant her a wish-well, would you grant it to her?’
‘First I should naturally have to know what it was.’
‘Rabbit would do lots of pretty tricks if you granted her with her wish.’
‘Out with it, then.’
‘Your little pussycat would miaw in every room.’
‘My little pussy does that already.’
‘I’d turn myself into a little fairy and dance for you in the moon.’

‘Honey it isn’t the house-moving business you were talking about in the morning.’
‘Yes, honey, yes. He came back again this afternoon while you were gone. He found a cheap but comfortable house uptown. I just need you to find time tomorrow so that we can view the property. Trust me, you’ll like it.’
‘Didn’t you promise not to discuss the business in my absence?’ He wagged his index finger and looked reproachfully at her. ‘My little pussy must never do that again. A pussycat must have clean whiskers to purr with, otherwise, she’ll start purring out of tune.’

‘The agent would help us get a better and bigger house.—away from these creepy and drunken and noisy neighbours.’ She explained away in a matter of fact voice.
‘I told you let me handle this business honey. This smart house agent will fleece us of our hard-earned Mooney and end up putting us up in a gutter.’
‘You’ve been saying that for the last three months. This is our last chance to move into a decent place away from this filth.’

‘Get me a drink.’ He asked in a bid to dismiss her intrusion and buy time.
‘I don’t know what’s in the fridge. Only beer I expect.’
‘There is no only about it. My taste is so simple.’ He was getting irritated.

She headed into the kitchen. The TV screen in the sitting room was splashed with a picture of a local and notorious sexual offender nicknamed Jack the Raper. He had been in the news lately for his remarkable antics- tying the hands and legs of his victims to the bed before proceeding to rape them. The news anchor said that the Jack had escaped from prison and a major manhunt had been launched.

Of course, the image of Jack did not register in her mind as she made her way to the kitchen, humming away happily at the prospect that her husband was finally agreeing to talk about moving house. And she learnt the hard way the Jamaican saying that ‘chicken merry, hawk de near’ when she came face to face in her own kitchen, lurking in the shadows, the rapist who had made his escape, munching away food as if he was in his own house.

That’s why before her shrewd mouth could hang open wide enough to allow in a swarm of flies, he was already dragging her roughly back to the sitting room. Warning her, threatening her, daring her with a kitchen knife, pointed now at her neck, now at her jugular vein, that he would do his worst if she dared to shout. And before the husband could shout or call for help, Jack the Raper was warning him, pointing out the knife he held, that he would hew out any itchy tongues. He dropped his pen and begged desperately, nodding his head submissively and in agreement that there was no such pressing need neither to hew tongues nor to slice throats.

‘I’ll give you all the Mooney present in this house. Just don’t hurt us.’ The words had barely come out when the intruder asked politely for a rope. It was so gentle that he could have been stopping by to ask for a glass of water. But he still managed to frighten them, as a madwoman frightens those believing themselves sane.

The husband produced one from one of the drawers in the corner. ‘Now listen carefully because I never repeat my instructions. I really don’t want to hurt anyone. I just want to do my thing and leave you in peace. I’ll be on my way if you cooperate and don’t delay my voyage.’ He briefed the astonished couple. ‘I’m not a bad thief. I only hurt those who make my life hard.’

‘Let’s start with you.’ He said to the husband, cutting a piece of the rope and handing it to him. ‘Now lie on the bed and tie your legs.’ He ordered, still holding the knife against the wife’s neck. The husband obliged without dally. Once he was done tying his legs, the intruder tied both the wife’s hands and ordered her to standby. He proceeded to tie the husband’s hands to both sides of the bed. Untied his legs, spread them across the two sides of the bed, and then tied them again making him to face upwards.

He then dragged the wife into the sitting room. Looked around for a convenient and a long sofa set, then bundled her into it. She got fidgety and let out a scream. He became mad at her and slapped her. He roughened her, tying her feet as well into the sofa. ‘I told you, silly goose, I don’t like scenes except on the stage! Who do you want to call? I’ll do my worst—starting with you if you make more noise.’

‘Please don’t hurt her!’ The husband pleaded and admonished her to stop screaming. ‘She’s a scared little rabbit. Tie and put her where she can see me.’ He urged from the bedroom.
‘Tell her to stop wailing like a small kid or I’ll slice her throat.’ Jack warned.
‘Don’t mind her. Women are like that-always wet with sentimentality.’ The husband defended. The intruder pushed the sofa set near the bedroom door so that the couple could see each other.

With only the compact mini-skirt and a see-me-through bra, she cut a sexy frame. And for the first time, the intruder seemed finally to be interested in her looks, for after tying her, he took longer in studying her geographical features in spite of himself. Who couldn’t? Especially when strongly attracted by such a magnificent loveliness – and almost stark naked? Had the price of looking been blindness, he would still have looked. She felt a desire to spit upon him as his eyes brushed slowly over her body. Her dairy farms were firm and round- the domes of the Far East temples. A small rose flower was tattooed upon her belly and her excellent transport facilities formed a capital V.

He bent mechanically as if drawn by her feminine hydraulic power. His lips moved towards her. He kissed her-on the left cheek, took a bit longer, then stood up, pocketed to adjust his bulging trousers and smiled as if he had conquered the world. His majestic look alone could only describe how and what he had felt at that moment. It seemed to him that all his life had been narrowed to one perfect point and time - like he had escaped from prison just to make that award-winning kiss!

He took off his prison shirt and pants and threw them at the foot of the sofa. ‘Where do you keep the towel?’ he asked standing like the David Statue in torn underwear. A rainbow tattoo peeped out in his groin.
‘In the bathroom.’ The husband informed, and added almost immediately, ‘The soap, shampoo, Gillette machine shaver and toiletries are all in there- second door from the kitchen.’
‘Am I clear that no squirrel squeals until I come back from the shower?’ he menacingly asked the scared couple.
‘Yes! Yes! Just do your thing and leave us in peace.’ They exclaimed almost a in unison.

‘Okay-wo! Me nuh be bad tief-man.’ He sang as he headed into the shower. Smiling his mean smile, he opened the creaking bathroom door and breathed alas! When he found that, the water was warm and a bathroom, that he had never seen outside his prison life, was all for him.
‘Here is a likkle song, dat I wrote
Baby don worry, about a thung
Coz every likkle ting, a guo be awright-o!
Di gangsta will be in di house tonight-o
Baby don worry about a thung.’

He went on singing in the background, in a hoarser, dry tone, the well-known hardcore gangsta-rap anthem. The rasping sound and the phrasing enchanted the couple. They saw mutilated bodies and other horrors that are normally confined within bounds of a scary movie. And she cried, like a great baby does half the night, and made the husband cry too to see her cry.

‘Are you alright? Don’t cry honey.’ he whispered, peering at her from the open bedroom door but not feeling so much alright as a man sleeping out in a hailstorm or curling up in a wasp’s nest.
‘What question!’ she could barely stop herself from spitting fire. ‘All this because of you and your miserly life. We should have moved long-time man! Now you asking me “am I alright” ain’t-I-owright-o indeed?’
‘Hey.’ He pleaded at her. ‘I’m just asking you to stop that crying nonsense.’ He regretted opening his mouth because her sobs rose in a crescendo.
‘I-am-just-scared! What-are-we-gonna-do-o-o?’ she cried. ‘Do you think he’s gonna…you know…going to…’ And she cried more, just thinking of the worst.

A handful of minutes fell like leaves from the tree of time. The husband had made a quick calculation. ‘Hey honey, I’ve a plan. It’s the best option we have for our survival.’
‘What plan?’
‘Honey, he may use force on you. So listen to me. When he comes to you, please and please and please, don’t try to make it hard for him by resis…’
‘Ress-ssist? Are you out of your mind?’ she could barely control herself. She tried to move her fastened and separated feet, which she couldn’t, of course, under the fetters fit to tie a zebu bull.
‘Listen to me you silly goose.’ The husband went on wheedling his wife.
‘Why must I listen?’
‘This is no time for more bloody nonsense. It’s serious.’
‘When you want somebody to listen to your stark and raving mad ideas, it’s serious.’

‘My dear wife, that’s the easiest way. You’ve read about Jack the Raper. Believe me; you don’t want an open skull. Please darling. Accede to his demands. This is such unfortunate. I wish I could do something for you.’ He pleaded.
‘How can you ever say that to someone you claim to love? Is this how deep your shallow love can go? You normally said that you’ll die for me.’
‘But that’s right honey.’
‘Then why are you still alive, you cowardly fool?’
‘There has never been a chance to prove myself. Believe me.’
‘Then this is your chance to prove what you assure me.’
‘I’ll do anything for you.’
‘Are you willing to lay your life for me, then, to show how much you love me?’
‘Anything my squander bird asks. I love you in spite of yourself.’

‘Here is you chance to prove yourself a man who can stand up for his squirrel.’
‘What do you mean?
‘Did you see him bending to kiss my left ear?’
‘Yeah. How dare he planted his filthy kiss on you?’
‘He wasn’t kissing me. He whispered something.’
‘What did he tell you?’
‘And did you see the rainbow tattoo poking out of his grey area?’
‘What is that to do with anything?’
‘That’s what you are just about to find out. But first assure me of your undying love.’
‘Believe me darling. I’m ready to sacrifice my life.’

‘When he whispered to me, he told me that his taste for women was lower than that of men.’
‘What the..?’
‘Yes my darling. He told me he actually admired you.’
‘No monkey business.’
‘That after all, there were no women in prison.’
‘No way!’
‘Way, hubby! And so, please and please and I beg of you, if he comes in your direction, don’t try to resis…’ he could not allow her to finish the phrase.
‘Me? Are you out of your mind?’
‘See? I knew. I knew. You can’t stand up for me. I always knew that. You can’t sacrifice yourself for me. Your love for me is so lame.’
‘Don’t say that. Put yourself in my shoes. That is so weird and unnatural even to think about. Who can imagine it? And in the presence of my wife?’
‘You mean, it’s natural the other way round, huh?’

There was a debate and counter debate as they decided who would be sacrificed for the other. A standoff ensued with the adamant husband, ready to die first, reluctant to take any truce. She was so upset and bitter accusing him. ‘You call me skylark for nothing. It makes me sad to know that your love for me stops short at death. And if I died, it makes me sadder to know that you’d have another skylark in your bed even before the sheets lost my body’s heat.’ And she began to cry once again, at her desperate situation and at her husband’s apparent ‘refusal’ to protect her.

Jack the Raper came back sparkling clean after the hot shower. He was in her bathrobe. A foreboding indication to her that her fate was sealed. Yet, instead of going straight for her, he headed into the bedroom. Pushed and pulled the wardrobes, browsing through suits, hunting for what matched his taste. Taking a pair of jeans now, trying on a buggy T-shirt, disarranging, shuffling disapprovingly at the owner’s taste for cheap clad. Deciding on one pair of designer suit, he went closer to the dressing mirror to make sure he looked ready for the imaginary ‘date’ he was going.

He applied lotion on his face. Put on an after-shave and sprayed. Took out the purse that had been placed carelessly earlier on, and poured its contents on the dressing table. He gave an amused survey of the debris - puffs, powders, patches, two Bibles, rosary, a love letter. He dusted one of the Bibles and smiled as if, unworthy as he was, had realized that, its inclusion among love letter and cosmetics suggested a general confusion between worldly and spiritual affairs and values. He clutched at the Rosary and for a moment, the husband thought he was reflecting on his sins, as his wife had done, but Jack the Raper couldn’t distinguish between true and false worth for his gaze was fixed on a love letter and smiled at the lady’s picture to whom the letter was addressed to.

‘So romantic of you!’ he commented. ‘Look at this! Where do you get lovely ideas like these?’ and then he recited dramatically.
“I’m dying for you.
My heart is internally
Bleeding for you.”

‘Are you ready to die for the sake of you wife?’ he asked, looking at himself in the mirror.
‘You are such a nice young man. You could do something worthwhile with your talents.’ The husband advised. ‘They will find you. The authorities, you know.’
‘Don’t you lecture me on how to live my life.’ He hissed at him, with such finality that left the husband more terrified, and especially when he went back to the sitting room.

But he didn’t stop in the sitting room. He disappeared into the kitchen to forage for the food that he had been rudely interrupted imbibing, and came back almost instantly, sat near the wife and ate from the saucepan. He ate voraciously, with mouth stretched back to ears to swallow the more, eyes opening wide at the same time as jaws, and throat generating noises like the gurgling in a drainpipe. His eyes wandered to the unpacked dinner the wife had bought home. ‘Is that beef there?’ he asked, looking as if he had never turned a third course of any meal. He neither waited for the answer.

He picked up his fork and poked the meat with the knife; he cut off a slice of the beef, which lay in a mourning sea of watery gravy and heavy enough to hold upright a huge wooden spoon. Put the beef in his mouth, chewed it and, with great effort, made himself to swallow. ‘That tastes swee-eet so still!’ he went on, scrutinizing the almost dressed figure of the wife. ‘Isn’t it splendid to see young people eat? Lot’s of food to build up their strength! They are the people who are going to stir up the fermenting forces of the future.’

He grinned between mouthfuls throwing her a Jack the Ripper grin- his teeth gleaming like a lighthouse and his laugh coming up out of him like the beginning of an earthquake. But the wife only stared him with empty eyes, to which he retorted: ‘Aah! No attempt at conversation? I see you have been through such an experience before. Well, then, I must continue talking.’

She simply looked at the metallic darkness of his eyes and remembered the same look in the eyes of a snake, poised to strike her in the woods of her childhood. Her sobs had died down to a low moan. And she heaved now and then at her sorry state. Her husband had given up pleading. And waited for the worst to happen, a disturbing thought crossing his mind, that the old man made of bones had finally come to lay his cold and heavy hand on their shoulders.

Laying aside the saucepan and wiping his mouth with his thumb, Jack the Raper sat closer to her. He loosened his belt, unbuttoned the shirt. He simply stared at her as a cat would to a mouse that he had caught and was lying helplessly. Perhaps thinking too the thoughts that ran through the cat as it celebrated its feat. She started to plead but her mercy was met with his stern and stone-faced look. ‘With rape, as with making love, foreplay is an all-important factor.’ He reminded her (isn’t that what the cat would say?) and caressed her sweating cold face. ‘Do feel free to let me know how you feel.’ She was now screaming uncontrollably at every kiss that she received.

But before the foreplay could develop any further, there was a loud ‘O-P-E-N!’ noise and commotion from the outside. Then a single mighty blast—the sort of terror-inspiring noise that accompanies all big earthquakes-and the loudest knocking of the door in the history of the neighbourhood shattered the peace that had reigned. Someone slipped and fell heavily on the ground outside. Cursing followed; ‘Open thish houshe thish inshtant before I bring down the door with my rainsh and blowsh and kicksh...’

Action. Shuffling of feet. A cocktail of noises from the excitement inside and careless banging outside, mingled to awake the whole neighbourhood. ‘Come right in! Come right in!’ the tearful voice of the wife could be heard. ‘Just break it dude! Just break it pal!’ the faint voice of the husband was heard crying in the wilderness of his the bedroom.

The deafening banging persisted with total disregard to the pleas inside for the ‘damn’ door to be broken, as the knocker seemed never bothered at what the couple was saying. ‘This ishn’t my head I’ve got now,’ he kept threatening, between blows. ‘I think thish ish shomething that ushed to belong to Columbush or Shakeshpeare.’

He was now kicking and hitting at the door with all his might. ‘I think you better shtart looking for some new asshes, ‘caushe I’d blow away what your mamash gave you.’ He kept cursing frantically. It did not take long for the frail joints and the mortise lock to snap under his pressure and caved in, letting in the drunken neighbour.

His stupor left him for a second at what met his gaze: a semi-naked woman who did not resemble his wife, but then overpowered again, when he thought that his eyes were deceiving him with double vision. ‘I’m not drunk. I can prove it…I shwear. I can even shtand on one leg.’ He tried to but lost balance and fell flat. They all laughed. He laughed hysterically, too, and rose up, recovered and stood up. ‘I’m laughing at my own exshpense…eeh? Woman, your looksh different. I thought you wash my neighboursh wife.’

He staggered to the wall, took off his coat and tried to hang it on what he thought was a nail pinned on the wall. But it was a fly. And each time he made the attempt, it flew away. He followed once or twice until he gave up on the effort. And finally when he realized his mistake, that he had broken into the wrong house, that he had intruded, that the woman tied to the chair and the man tied into his bed were his neighbours, he could only laugh. But knew that he would get off lightly with his welcome intrusion. ‘You shall love your crooked neighbour with your crooked heart.’ He managed to mumble after helping them to their feet and wobbled away.

The couple could only sigh and feel their weariness, as swimmers climbing ashore, feel the full weight of their body. That beautiful ‘All is well that ends well’ never fell more reassuringly on their ears. The only sign that an intruder had been lurking around was the open rear kitchen door, which let in a gust of wind as sharp as a Berber’s sword slicing the curtains. She went to close it, stood for a second to hear the brawl that was brewing in her neighbour’s house. ‘Where have you been? I’ve been scouring the whole town looking for you.’ The wife demanded from his straying husband and reminded him with a few slaps—not to intrude into other people’s houses.

[Leon and his wife finally moved to an upmarket destination. The drunken neighbour kept drinking. Jack the Raper was finally caught and is serving his sentence.]

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