Story Writing - Write your stories

 

I used to tell everybody that I didn’t have enemies. I really didn’t think I had any. I knew no one who was out to get me. My relationships were not perfect but I didn’t think anybody hated me. I was forced to think about my enemies, though, in one interview I attended.

Suppose the current employees refuse to work with you, what would you do?” one of the interviewers asked.

I would find a way for us to work together,” I said. “I tend to get on with people.” I had been confident in that conviction. That was before I had met my supervisor and that bus driver, but after I had met Mas Joe.

Are you saying that you have no enemies?” That lady was persistent.

None that I know of,” I had responded.

Everybody has enemies,” she had told me, every one of her words imbued with a certainty that she had dared me to question.

Since then, I had tried to figure out the meaning of that word enemy. One dictionary told me that an enemy “is a person who is actively hostile to a person or something”. The synonyms of that word are impressive in the amount of evil they embrace. So, I opened my eyes. Not because I wanted to find enemies, but to understand my relationships.

It turned out that after spending almost three decades on this earth, I did not understand the meaning of enmity. Or, had I understood it but had actively suppressed the thought that evil towards me could reside in the people close to me? Or, probably, I was looking at evil as a continuum from bad to worst, and I was waiting to put those people who had committed the worst acts of evil against me on my list of enemies. Possibly. Although, at the time, none of my friends, family members, relatives and acquaintances were “actively hostile” towards me. What degree of hostility should be directed towards me before I considered someone my enemy? It was during that introspective period in my life that the question of how to have good relationships with people began to consume me. I hated the thought of having enemies.

All those thoughts chose the moment when I was hustling up the bustling street to play “hide and seek” in my mind.

Time waits on no man,” they say. And I was just about to run out of time. You see, I had to be at work in three minutes and I was still a small hill and a valley away. Running wouldn’t help me. I lacked the stamina for such exertions. A taxi could get me there a few minutes late. But, what was the point of paying to be late? I would be out of $400 that I could use for important stuff, although at that moment I could not think of any important stuff that I needed.

They could wait. They knew exactly what to do. I had made sure of that.

It’s nine o’ clock,” the disc jockey on the radio reminded me, as I passed that lady sitting on her yellow juice crate, clutching her basket of sad looking oranges and knick knacks and waiting for the undiscriminating buyer. Our eyes met as usual and a fleeting smile passed over our faces before our urgent thoughts intervened and we relegated our encounter for that day to our lists of random memories which we collected each day and which we would revisit, hopefully, another day.

She was a nice lady, unlike Mas Joe who I passed at Crossroads yesterday. That was his regular spot. His thick dark face, framed by his thinning grey hair and beard, was animated. Around him, young and old men congregated as he regaled them with stories about his past exploits with his political cronies. That was his favourite topic. Politics. The stories never changed. He dredged up revered memories of the parties with free flowing liquor on the campaign trail that he had attended, the great speeches given by the party leaders that made water come to his eyes and the good that his party did for the country and the community. But now, the party had gone to the dogs, he often said.

His words got louder and louder as I drew near, drowning out the dissent of his contrary listeners. Buoyed by the support from his like-minded supporters, he let loose his guttural laugh and spun like a gig, only to be transformed into a pillar of salt at the moment that our eyes made four.

Evening, Mas Joe,” I said, feeling a strained smile covering my face. His face was resurrected before the rest of his body. Bright eyes dared me to do something or say something else. They were brazen in their disregard, with barely hidden suspicion and disdain fighting for pre-eminence.

Mm,” was the sound he managed to dredge up—a greeting or a curse? I wasn’t quite sure.

I’d known him all my life. He was a friend of all the other members of the family but he’d never warmed up to me. As the years went by, he had got more and more morose whenever he saw me. I never considered him an enemy, though. Just a man who didn’t like me for some reason only he knew.

I shrugged off those thoughts as I neared my classroom. The children were quiet, too quiet. I smiled as I entered the room. My supervisor was waiting for me. I was not surprised.

See me at the end of your class,” she said.

I nodded and turned my attention to my class. We were learning about characters. My supervisor was one character worthy of study. That would be my assignment, though.

My supervisor, Mrs. R. Brown, flanked by her friend, was waiting for me in her office, a tiny cluttered room in a building far from the main buildings. Her friend couldn’t hide the smirk on her face as she sat on the visitor’s chair and played with her phone. Mrs. R. Brown stood tall, strong and imposing, glaring down at me. She didn’t try to hide the spite streaming out of her slanted eyes and I could barely tamp down the shrug that was waiting to be released. Her music blared and I struggled to concentrate as I tendered my apology for my lateness.

You are a professional,” she said. “A professional doesn’t leave her class unattended. What lesson are you teaching your students with such slack behaviour? If you can’t respect the rules, probably this job is not for you.”

Ten minutes late! Ten minutes late! Not because I wanted to, but because there was an accident, which trapped all motorists until the road was cleared. Ten minutes late! Ten minutes late! Only ten minutes late! Once!”

Those words played in my mind as she droned on and on and on, until her voice reached its crescendo a screech, like that of a trapped bat in a cave.

I held my breath and waited. I remembered my neighbour, Miss Mary, telling me about the time when she was having breakfast with her husband. All seemed to be well until his left fist slammed into her right cheek, leaving her with a mouth full of blood and loosened teeth. Afterwards, he continued to eat his breakfast as if nothing had happened. For no reason, he’d lashed out, Miss Mary had said.

Mrs. R. Brown seemed to have a reason to lash out. Suppose she did? I could not win that fight. She was a giant of a woman. She allowed her busy beady eyes that seemed to be always searching for something to sear my soul, before she jerked away from me and plopped down into her chair.

I backed out of the room and allowed the air I was holding like a balloon to seep out of me with a whoosh.

I hate her!”

Those words infused with the most dangerous venom stopped me in my track. They came from a dangerous dark depth and soared above the pulsating reggae beat and landed in my ears. I felt them like someone had plunged a knife through me. An enemy? Mrs. R. Brown was someone who was “actively hostile” to me. I continued to move forward, a conversation with a phantom raging in my head.

I hate her!’

Why?”

I hate her!’

Why? Why? Why?”

I knew the who and the what, but I couldn’t figure out the why.

That afternoon, I left work drained. At my bus stop, I studied the faces of all the bus drivers who drove into the park. I was looking for one face. That face was up to no good. For what reason, I did not know. The first time I took her bus, she categorically dismissed me. I’d climbed the steps and had watched her making change and handing out tickets. When it was my turn, I had greeted her. Her face had become a dark threatening cloud, a harbinger of a violent storm. She had stared at my $500 before dragging her attention to the next customer. I had waited. She had ignored me. I had asked her why she was not taking my money.

You must have change!” she had snapped.

But, she had been making change for others. What could I have done? I had got off her bus and had resolved not to enter her bus again. Well, I had succeeded up to a point. The next time I had inadvertently boarded her bus, I had greeted her before realising that she was my nemesis. She had twisted her face into a more unpleasant mask than the one she had been wearing. I had change that time. When I had reached my stop and had been on the verge of disembarking, she’d driven off before my feet had hit the road. Only the swift action of the nearby passengers had pulled me from the brink.

That face was not there. I went home in peace that day.

That night, I met a man. He must have been a basketball player; I was a midget beside him. His round brown wizened face sported friendly inquisitive eyes and lips that easily widened into a ready smile. His long bushy kinky brownish grey hair gave him the appearance of one of those wizards created by the imagination of creative writers. After we talked about inconsequential stuff, he wanted to know what was bugging me.

How can I win over people who don’t like me?” I asked him. He seemed like someone who had all the answers to life’s secrets, so I thought there was no harm in asking. We were sitting on the sea wall with our backs to the traffic that flowed up and down the road behind us. He placed both hands on the hard concrete surface on which we sat, stared at the crescent moon above us and started to hum. Or, was it a chant? Casting a spell for me? I stared at the man and swung my legs to dislodge the voracious mosquitoes that took turns snacking on them. We were alone in our world, he chanting and looking up to the heavens and I staring at his moonlit face.

After an eternity of waiting and watching him and swotting at mosquitoes, he looked down at me and smiled, his face glowing in the dark.

This is what you need to do,” he said, and bent to whisper in my ear.

I stared at him dumbfounded. I was expecting something more profound.

The following morning, I met Mas Joe on my way to work. He was alone, pacing, at his favourite spot, while people hurried by and threw greetings his way. “Good morning, Mas Joe,” I said, with a smile as near real as possible.

Not a t’ing good ‘bout de mawning,” he said, and shuffled away from me.

I caught up with him. “We have to make the best of things, no matter how bad they are,” I told him.

He scoffed, snorted, pursed his lips and remained silent.

Have a good day,” I said, and hurried to the bus stop. He did not want to talk to me. Did I remind him of someone who had done him wrong? Whatever the reason for his hostility, it had him in its grip.

I took the first bus that came to the bus stop. There she was! I had not seen her in a while. I thought she had moved on to greener pastures. She didn’t seem to enjoy her job.

Good morning,” I chirped and handed her the change. Her lips remained clamped, her body taut. I couldn’t refrain from shrugging and moving on. Another test I had failed. I hoped that I wouldn’t get another chance to resit it, but I knew I wouldn’t be that lucky. And, I’d promised to try anyway.

As I hobbled my way to work, clutching my heavy handbag to my right side, my high heels clippety-clopping on the concrete pavement, I passed the lady sitting on her yellow juice crate, listening to her blaring radio, participating in life and marking time. She still presided over her basket of still sad looking oranges and knick knacks. We exchanged a smile.

Somet’ing ‘appen yesterday?” she asked. “Dis is you usual time.”

Life,” I said, and hurried to school.

Mrs. R. Brown was sitting in the staffroom, something she rarely did. She was frowning over an open book.

Good morning, Mrs. Brown,” I said, infusing those words with all the positive emotions I could muster and sat at somebody else’s place because she was too close to mine.

Yes?” Mrs. Brown enquired, raising her head, her tone saying, “Why are you being pleasant to me? Don’t you know that I don’t like you? You are nothing but vermin in my eyes—a mosquito that I will swat one day.” Her face registered her annoyance and her busy beady eyes raked me from head to toe.

Good morning,” I repeated, my voice losing none of its enthusiasm.

Wh—Huh---”

I smiled at her and watched her writhe in confusion.

She hated me with a violent hatred. She had said so, but I shouldn’t let that get me down. I would continue to talk to her.

Talk to people. It is not easy to get on with them but you must try. How are you going to learn about them unless you talk to them? When you talk to them you know what they like and what they don’t like. You learn about who they are. If you know this, you can work towards a compromise. This will take time. This is life. Talk during the time you have. When time runs out, it will be too late. So, while you’re here, talk, treat people the way you want them to treat you and learn to find a middle ground. Maybe, just maybe, they will reciprocate. Never forget that time is the master of everything. I should know.”

That man had whispered those words to me before he disappeared into the night. I have many questions for him, but I fear we will never meet again. We’d met in one of my dreams.




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