An entry in the Crocodile Prize
PNG Government Award for Short Stories
SOME people just don’t understand the answer, no!
‘You’ve filled out so well,’ Ray eyed me up and down, drooling like that bulldog from Rio (the movie, I mean).
I stood there, in the aisle at Big V hyper mart too dumbstruck to say anything.
‘You used to be this skinny gangly girl in high school and my, just look at you now, aging has done you wonders.’
Ray, the high school hunk, made me feel like one of the cans of food on the shelf.
The feeling was of disgust.
‘Are you married? How many kids do you have?’ hunka munka asked.
‘I have a child, but I’m not married,’ I stood tall and said in a confident voice.
‘Geez, Ingrid, you had this squeaky voice in high school and, wow, now you talk in a hoarse deep voice,’ Ray winked at me.
The wink was the Grim Reaper’s signal to scythe a sinner’s head off.
Hope it’s not my head.
‘Do you smoke?’ Dr Ray love asked me.
‘Duh, everyone smokes these days. Why are you asking me?’ I replied annoyed.
‘Just got curious, because of your hoarse voice,’ Grim’s sidekick in disguise said.
As he smiled, I saw the betel nut stained teeth.
‘Are you on FaceBook?’ he asked, moving closer.
I took three steps back and nodded my head sideways.
‘No?’ he quizzed.
‘Nope,’ I said fishing my ringing mobile from my handbag.
‘Can I get your number then?’ Mr High School-once-had-six packs asked again.
Oh, dear. Persistent. Must think, he’s still the high school hunk.
‘Never,’ I said and answered the phone.
I spun my shopping trolley around with one hand and spoke on the phone. I walked along the aisle trying to find the Nescafe three-in-one, already-mixed coffee.
In high school, Ray was good looking, athletic and an A student. Girls would roll out an invisible red carpet for him. I was on the ugly list, so I usually walked off in the other direction with snickers from Ray like, ‘Hey bony, why you on the wrong track?’
I was ugly and skinny, but I knew stuff. I sort of found out that looks were deceiving if, even if you were an A student, you didn’t know a lot of ‘other stuff’.
It was during a boys’ night.
On boys’ night they were allowed to visit our dormitory whilst we waited for them outside with refreshments and then gave a concert to show we were beautiful humans too. I believe every girl gave Ray a present and so did I.
As we were serving refreshments, he came out of our dormitory with his buddies helping him carry his gifts. We entertained them and sang songs (I was at the back, being tall) and then we talked with whichever boy we wanted.
I talked with my cousin Rictor the whole night not knowing how to approach the other boys, who were trying to drink fruit punch through their noses.
Some girls believed this very funny and were laughing like hyenas but I thought they were disgusting, especially when one of Ray’s friends had a coughing and sneezing fit and blew snot out of his nose.
Then everyone sat on the grass and talked. The floodlights were on and the moon was beautiful. As Rictor and I conversed in our mother tongue and laughed, I saw feet in front me. Then I realised all eyes were on me.
‘What the hell is this? What kind of present is this? Are you trying to offend me skinny?’ It was Ray and he was as angry as a Rottweiler.
My cousin stood up and tried to defend me, but I held his hand and he stopped.
‘What do you think it is?’ I asked smiling.
‘Are you making fun of me? Why a stone for a present? Are you so poor, you have nothing to give me?’ Ray shook his head sideways and I could see smoke coming out of his nostrils.
I was not poor. My parents were humble people but well off, and I was brought up to be friendly and kind. It wasn’t my fault I was skinny adolescent still growing up.
But now I was mad.
‘You are in Mr Thompson’s science class. Don’t you know what that is?’ I stood up and faced him.
‘Would you rather get a teen magazine with a lot of airhead unschooled stars who made it to the top by chance?’
‘Yes, I’d rather have a teen magazine which has handsome people like me instead of you giving me a stone as thick as your head,’ he yelled and tried to slap my face, but his hand landed on my cousin Rictor’s arm.
Rictor punched him and then his friends and some girls started screaming at us. The staff came and sorted everyone out and asked us what the problem was.
‘Skinny offended me by giving me a stone,’ Ray angrily told the dean of boys.
‘Show me the stone,’ the dean said.
‘Ray, these dormitory nights are supposed to be fun nights. The girls can give you weird gifts just to crack you up. What’s the big deal?’
Then Mr Thompson our science teacher came over and took the ‘so called stone’ in his hands.
‘Ingrid is this what I believe it is?’ he asked, smiling at me.
‘Yes, it is Mr Thompson. It’s petrified wood.’
‘Very rare indeed, Ingrid. Mind if I keep it?’ Mr Thompson asked, looking at the wood closely.
‘Not at all, sir,’ I said.
Then Mr Thompson pushed something into Ray’s hands.
‘Here, keep this Teen Wolf mag. I’d rather have this wood, it sells well overseas.’ Mr Thompson left Ray with mouth agape and returned to the staff table.
‘Wood? Petrified?’ he asked no one but looked at Rictor and I.
‘Yes, numbskull, your best present for the night and you lost it,’ Rictor chuckled and we laughed and said something worse in our mother tongue.
Back in the Big V, I rounded the corner to the kitchenware aisle and high school hunk was blocking me smiling like a Cheshire cat.
‘Hey, Ingrid, I’m sorry about the petrified wood thing. I was really stupid then,’ he giggled like a teenager.
Dude, you are still stupid now.
‘Oh, yeah, I was just thinking about that a few minutes ago. Don’t worry, it’s all in the past,’ I said forcing a smile.
‘I always thought you were a really cool girl.’
‘Everyone thought I was the coolest,’ I said sarcastically.
‘Awww, Ingrid. Just give me your number,’ he begged.
‘Why do you want my number? There’s nothing for us to chat about,’ I told him in a matter of fact voice.
‘What if I want to take you out for dinner,’ he said.
Shivers! This guy must think we’re still in high school. He was getting on my nerves bad now.
‘No, I don’t do dinners, I don’t do numbers, I don’t do nothing,’ I said, trying to push the trolley past.
‘What do you do for fun?’ he sounded a bit distressed.
Nothing you dope!
‘Well, I don’t know what fun is. I work,’ I said, again matter of fact.
I strolled past him and went to the checkout.
Twenty packets of already-mixed Nescafe later, I exited the shop. ‘Never give up Ray’ was there.
‘Umm, Ingrid, Just want to ask why you are buying all that coffee. Do you run a coffee shop?’ he looked confused.
‘No, I don’t Ray, I drink them,’ I said.
‘You drink them all by yourself?’ he looked scared.
‘Yes, Ray,’ I said.
He followed me as I made my way to the car.
‘Why do you drink so much coffee? Are you bored? Can’t you sleep at night?’ he asked in a deep strange voice.
‘No, dear, I’m a writer. I drink coffee and write at night’, I said as I turned on the ignition and wound up the window.
Goodbye aisle flattery, hello real life.