Pun Chronicles 8 – Words of Encouragement

“Pa…”

That single syllable was the first to leave Sreeraj’s lips, and its subject was to dominate his entire adolescent life. A neat summary of his existence up until the present day could be summed up neatly in the phrase “Unrequited Love.”

But his yearning was not romantically inclined. His yearning harkened back to one of the oldest instincts that we, as slightly neurotic animals, are bound to fall prey to. The need for paternal affection.

His father, a business tycoon, self-made, brimful of pride and vitality, overwhelmingly defined to Sreeraj what a man could be and must be. Sreeraj’s earliest memories consisted of feelings of inadequacy and vulgarity in the face of his father’s relentless façade of stoic reserve and apparent inability to budge.
He may well have loved Sreeraj in his own way, but he would not afford to let it be shown. And Sreeraj, being of a member of a slightly lower strata of grey matter, could never fathom this. For him, it was always a case of trying to impress a man who had achieved everything he had set out to achieve. It was proving to be no easy task, and his attempts had descended from their initial optimistic form of setting out to impress him, into the vulgar attempts at getting his father’s attention. With the help of the perennial motto of the rebel adolescent, “Any attention is better than no attention”, he began to walk down the path less traveled. He began exploring the unexplored, the dark underworld that is only a few scratches under this flimsy exterior normalcy that our society attempts to exude.

And yet, his efforts to get his father’s attention never ceased as is shown in the conversation, shut down before it got going, recorded below:

Sreeraj: “Pa, where is our family originally from?”

Pa: “Many places.”

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And again:

Sreeraj: “Pa, who do you think is better, Dante or Shakespeare?”

Pa: “Yes.”

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And again:

Sreeraj: “I just found a whole new world of the most fantastic movies. They’re completely experimental and totally underground.”
Pa: “I worked my entire life to keep our family’s head above ground. Don’t pull us under.”

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This conversational reticence on the part of his father convinced Sreeraj that he was not wanted, and perhaps justifiably so. But, and some credit must go to the lad in this regard, he never gave up.

He craved the smallest reward. Just a word of encouragement, of support, of love. Every time he took up a task, no matter how arduous and fraught with obstacles, his father would look on with an air of expectancy, and yet it would show no emotion. None, that is, until Sreeraj failed. Then the expression of disappointment would be etched on his father’s face with a clarity that none could misread.

As he turned 18, he tried his hand at being an adult, and found that too, beyond him. On every occasion that life demanded that he show his strength, Sreeraj succumbed. At first to Tuberculosis, and later to Hypochondriasis. As a result, his many initial attempts to kickstart his career fell flat. Of one thing Sreeraj was certain. He would never impress his father by following in his footsteps. He did not have the same persona and air of domination, and so he would necessarily fall short by every scale of measurement. His only hope was to go in the opposite direction, and manage to achieve something his father never would. And so his father’s many offers to set his son up with a comfortable position in his own burgeoning company fell on deaf ears.

Now, at the age of 24, by which time his father had already begun to have serious doubts about his son’s capabilities to cope with life, Sreeraj hit upon a masterplan.

“Ma, I want to learn how to make pizzas.”

His mother, long accustomed to Sreeraj’s many queer whims, took this one in stride.

“Very well, boy.”

And so he was off. Immersing himself in a world of flour, cheese, meat and the art of aromatizing his creations, Sreeraj found himself, for the first time in his life, at home. The craft seemed innate and natural to him, his mind thought out fanciful innovations, some of them positively scandalous, but in praxis they always flourished. After three years of strenuous graft and endeavor, Sreeraj graduated top of the academy with his self-esteem soaring. The path before him was now clear.

His father, however, had no inkling of his son’s activities. Sreeraj had begged his mother to keep this fact away from his father. By the time he graduated, his father had mentally resigned himself to the fact that his son would never amount to anything.

Sreeraj, graduating as he did with flying colors, received many offers from reputed restaurants across the country, offering him positions most would kill for. However, they did not fit in with his plan. He applied to his mother again, this time with a bolder request.

“Ma, I need funding.”

“How much?”

“Quite a bit. I want to open my own pizzeria.”

His mother, straightened up with visible alarm. This sort of ambition was not characteristic of her son. She eyed him nervously.

“By yourself?”

“Yes, Ma.”

His mother sighed.

“Very well, boy.”

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And thus it was, Sreeraj Pizza Bar came into existence. A quaint little café with plush seating, a quiet ambience, and an unassuming countenance overall. People passing by were impressed by its understated assurance of quality, and those acquainted with the elites of the food industry were curious to see what the latest prodigy from the famed academy could conjure up in his first ever restaurant.

The opening was set for the 18th of September, the anniversary of the only day his father had smiled at him. Sreeraj had arranged for his mother to bring his father along. The best table in the house was reserved for them. The rest were already full. His reputation had ensured that, barring some catastrophe, his opening would be a success.

As all the customers patiently waited for service to begin, something Sreeraj refused to consider beginning before his father arrived, Sreeraj set about rehearsing what he would say to his father.
He was convinced that today, of all days, he would show his father enough of his capabilities that he would elicit from his reluctant lips those words of support that he had waited 27 years for.

He saw his father’s car pull into the parking space that Sreeraj ensured would be left free. He signaled to his head waiter and the entire work force sprang into action.

He noted, with a chuckle, his father’s bemused expression at the name of the pizzeria. He still did not suspect it was his own son who created this place. Walking in, he was greeted by the head waiter graciously, and seated at the table.

His wife perused the menu for a while and then handed it to him, he refused. A voice spoke behind him.

“Would you prefer a white flour base for your pizza, sir, or a whole wheat base?”

Recognizing the voice, he turned to see his son, smartly dressed, holding out the menu towards him. His bewilderment prevented him from speaking.

“Yes, father. I own this place. This is my restaurant. I want you to be the recipient of the first dish that this kitchen creates. It would be my honor. And so I ask you again, father. Would you prefer a white flour base for your pizza, sir, or a whole wheat base?”

On finding his father to be just as bewildered as before, Sreeraj began to panic. What if his father did not approve? What if his years of toil and excellence would be reduced to naught by a single dismissive gesture by his father’s hand? What then?

His mother, being of the perceptive gender, realized what was puzzling his father.

“He is asking whether you want your pizza with maida or atta,” she asked, in the local language.

Tears welled into Sreeraj’s father’s eyes as he looked back at his son and said, voice cracking with emotion, “Atta, boy.”

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The Pun Chronicles #8 – The Schema of Emphysema

Sooraj walked into the apartment complex with his customary smile plastered across his face. This smile was not necessarily a reflection of his mood, but simply a necessity. He was a well-known figure in this area. Every person he encountered knew him, and in return, he knew them or someone closely related to them as well. This was what necessitated the smile. Acquaintances tend to expect you to be happy to see them, and take it personally if your expression is anything short of mirthful, even if they are not the cause of your mirthlessness.

Greeting all the passersbys by their first name, stopping every few steps to greet yet another acquaintance, it took him a while to get to the elevator, where he finally was allowed to gather his thoughts to himself again. He stepped off the elevator on the fourth floor, and approached the apartment at the end of the corridor and rang the bell.

A woman, with the miserable countenance common to those of the lower strata of society, opened the door and sighed. Sooraj stepped inside, bowing to the maid, and requesting to meet the master of the house.

“Hi, Ramma. Is Jake in?” he asked.

“Yes, Mister,” she spoke, her voice sounding muted, melancholic.

He entered Jake’s room, staring enviously at the bed. Sooraj’s own room had no such luxuries, merely a mattress. Jake lay prone across the very same bed, deeply in the throes of slumber, mouth slightly open, breathing lightly. To Sooraj’s ears, Jake’s breathing sounded a bit ragged, and his skin seemed a bit pale,  but he couldn’t be sure, since there was hardly any light in the room.

He walked back outside, looking for Ramma. He found her squatting near an empty vegetable crate, her shoulders silently shaking as she cried. Hearing Sooraj approach, she composed herself and turned to face him.

“Is Jake ill? He looks extremely weak,” Sooraj asked.

Ramma’s lower lip trembled as she spoke, “Yes, Mister. He has been getting worse every day.”

“Every day? How long has he been ill?”

“He has been ill for more than a fortnight now, Mister. Ever since Mr. Chandra came over.”

The alarm bells sounded for the first time within Sooraj’s head. Something was off here.

“What happened when Mr. Chandra was here?”

“Well, Mister, he came over three weeks ago. He refused to eat anything I cooked. They both stopped stocking up the vegetables. There is no rice, no flour, nothing for me to cook. Mr. Chandra ordered food for himself, but then would find the food not so much to his liking and give it to Jake. Every day the same routine. I saw it happen before my eyes, but they never listen to me.“

What was Chandra up to?

Sooraj knew Chandra well, having studied in the same class as Chandra’s father. He also knew the owner of the restaurant that Chandra was habituated to ordering from. Neither of these facts brought much comfort to his mind. In fact, it discomfited him no end. He had never considered Chandra to be of much consequence. In the areas that mattered, Chandra had always been a pawn.

But this situation seemed to be exactly the kind Chandra thrived in. He may have been only a pawn, but this was a pawnsy scheme.

Hesitating no longer, convinced that Jake had been poisoned, Sooraj pulled out his stash of homeopathic medicine. Feeling the vibes emanating from each of the bottles, he chose the one that exuded the purest vibes, and handed the bottle to Ramma, directing her towards Jake.

“Listen carefully, Ramma, you must feed Jake five of these tablets. Exactly five, no more and no less. That is imperative. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mister.”

Approaching her Master’s bed, Ramma’s hands shook. The gravity of the situation, coming as it did at the tail end of a stressful fortnight, was taking its toll on her nerves. Tilting the bottle over Jake’s mouth, she counted as the pills fell in.

One.
Two.
Three.
Four.
Five.

She stepped back, relieved at the completion of the task. Sooraj, too, breathed a sigh of relief.

Suddenly, Jake awoke.

“What the fuck…” were the words of erudition to first emanate from his mouth.

Sooraj and Ramma chuckled, but their joy was short-lived. Jake had bent over the side of his luxurious bed, and was now retching and puking violently. Rushing to his side, Ramma noticed blood all over the floor, and shrieked in horror. Looking around to Sooraj for guidance, she saw the room was empty. She ran through the house, searched every corner, but he had vanished without a trace.

All the while, the sound of Jake disgorging the contents of his intestine impelled her to act faster and more decisively.
Quickly grabbing her cell phone, she called up the resident doctor, trying, between hysterical bouts of crying, to explain what happened to him. The doctor did not understand much, but understood immediate attention was needed. Showing up at the apartment, minutes later, he rang the bell, and was greeted by Ramma, almost on the verge of lunacy by now.

“Hello, Ramma,” he said, trying to introduce some calm into the situation, “What seems to be the issue?”

Ramma set off on another convoluted attempt at bringing him up to speed, but the Doctor was unable to make head or tail of what she said.

“Ramma! I need you to calm down and explain to me what happened. The quicker you calm down, the faster I can help you.”

The wisdom of his words seemed to register belatedly in Ramma’s mind. She visibly calmed down and, taking a deep breath, gave a brief, but concise synopsis of the situation.

“Doctor, Jake ill, and Mister hide.”

The Pun Chronicles #7 – The Plight of Khosrow

 

Ashkan’s tale:

Amongst the outer reaches of the Shiite province of Bakhtiari, Iran, there lived a boy who was to shatter every mold that was unfortunate enough to encounter him on its path. His name was Ashkan. A slender frame, always bedecked with the most tasteful of clothes, gave no indication of the strength, both mental and physical, that resided within the boy. His radiant face, with an aquiline nose and an impeccably trimmed beard, always held an expression of vague irritation. The sort of expression one wears when one is upset but cannot quite remember why.

Ashkan’s childhood and adolescence was a miasma of experiences out of which only two kinds of people emerge: The broken or the extraordinary. Ashkan was the latter.

Battling society, parental pressure and his own conscience, Ashkan decided to pursue a life of extreme, on-the-edge, creativity. Armed with his guitarrón, his fingers bled for music, weaving melodies that were not necessarily understood, but certainly appreciated by onlookers wherever he performed. Eventually, his talent gaining wider recognition every day, his street performances began to pull in more money than he had ever dared hope for, allowing him to devote more time to his craft undisturbed, and also to widen his geographical horizons. Previously, Ashkan had never been beyond the outer limits of his own province. The entire world outside of Bakhtiari was known to him only through the highly unrealiable medium of village gossip, and the mythological and fable-istic renditions of the world’s current events that filtered through to him via illiterate tongues. He was aware that his perspective on the world could only be described, at best, as skewed, and so he yearned to right that wrong the only way he could. By travelling.

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Khosrow’s tale:

Khosrow was born into a wealthy and influential family in the most affluent part of Khuzestan. Never knowing what it meant to need something, Khosrow spent his entire life relentlessly hunting down and acquiring whatever pleased his fancy most. His wing of the house boasted the most eclectic memorabilia from unimaginably diverse fields of activities. His tales of how he acquired those items were almost as awe-inspiring as the items themselves. Now a grown man of 32, his interests had evolved from objectophilia into an interest in the uncommon man.

He had taken to travelling to the remotest corners of Iran, letting his gut guide him more than anything else, and searching for any form of extraordinariness. Once he found something that caught his exotic fancy, he would do whatever it took to add that person to his entourage. He would become their guide, their sponsor, their caretaker… Their God. He usually got his way pretty quickly. There are very few obstacles that money cannot overcome. And so it was that, walking along the streets of a godforsaken town in Eastern Iran, he encountered a melody that, even to his trained ears, sounded other-worldly.

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Ashkan’s tale (contd):

The world was multifarious and infinite! How Ashkan wept when first he realized all that had been denied to him because of the small-minded fear-mongering by the elders of his village. But it was not too late. Ashkan, a veritable sponge, who once would walk almost doubled over in fear of human contact, now thrust his chest out forward, and walked with his eyes scouring the populace for a bright face or a welcoming smile. He found everywhere in people a willingness to share their experiences. And from their experiences, little droplets of wisdom would fall to the parched tongue that was his mind. He discovered an underground network of musicians that functioned as a loosely connected web, never intrusive, but always within reach. Tapping into this underbelly of craft, Ashkan honed, modified and polished his already formidable virtuosity with the guitarrón. Even amongst musicians, he was one of the few who was widely considered capable of going international; something very few dared to dream about. Along with his growing fame, Ashkan had to deal with his share of detractors too. They ranged from the self-anointed music critics to the conservative radicals that periodically vented their wrath on the perpetrators of whatever they decided was the corruption of Iranian morality at that given time. However, an artistic constitution is no stranger to struggle, and Ashkan took it all as a matter of course. To the critics, he presented his guitarrón, allowing his fingers to reduce their critiques to dust. To the radicals, he preferred not to give reply. Theirs was a world that he never hoped nor ever wished to inhabit. And he had, with some success, managed to avoid any open confrontations by sticking to side alleys and underground performances. It was, however, a battle that he knew would come someday. And that day, he needed to be ready.

On some days, when his performances hit new levels of brilliance, he would be approached by agents or other musicians for a collaboration. Sometimes these worked, more often than not, they didn’t. But after much sifting and excruciation, Ashkan found himself surrounded by a solid group of musicians, all of whom understood what he aimed for, and provided the perfect platform for him to get there. For the first time, he felt prepared.

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Khosrow’s tale (contd):

It’s all coming together wonderfully well.

Khosrow inspected himself in the mirror with the same satisfied expression with which he looked upon all his possessions. His face bore all the marks of majesty. Perfectly oval, with thick eyebrows, and a beard of absolute magnificence. He wore traditional Iranian clothes, but with a panache that left few in any doubt as to his position in this world. He needed to look his best today.

Having heard Ashkan perform on the streets to a crowd that was far too small and far too illiterate to appreciate what was being served up to them, Khosrow resolved to create the perfect environment for his newest ward. Unbeknownst to Ashkan, Khosrow arranged for musicians all over Iran to “happen across” Ashkan performing in the streets, allowing Ashkan himself to choose from amongst them who he needed to form his own band and complement his music. Khosrow did not like to reveal himself too early. He worked from the shadows, revealing only partially to his wards the paths to success, and allowing them to believe the paths were of their own making. And then, when the time was right, he stepped forth from the shadows, all light and glory, and reveled in the gratitude of the artist.

Ashkan would be no different. His newly formed band, thanks to some shrewd marketing by Khosrow, had acquired something of a cult following amongst the locals, and word was spreading fast. Today, with a well-placed word or two from Khosrow, they had been invited to perform to a crowd of 2000 people; a crowd several times larger than any of them had ever encountered in their lives.
They even got special mention in the local newspapers. They were well and truly on their way to the big time.

Khosrow got to the venue early, carefully keeping out of the public eye. He watched Ashkan and his band set up the equipment and finetune the sound settings with an ease that was astounding in a group so inexperienced. He saw the expectations of the crowd render the very air electric. People lounged about, almost uneasily, not quite sure what they were about to experience, but salivating at its prospect nonetheless. Khosrow did not like to admit it, but he was nervous.

And then the performance began, and Khosrow wondered why he was ever worried at all. His grin widened steadily throughout the performance, reaching its zenith as the band ended their set to an ovation the likes of which are reserved for the ruler of the nation. This was the moment!

With a nod to the stage security, he walked around the barriers and strode up the steps to meet the band. Walking straight to Ashkan, he spread his arms, inviting him into an embrace. He felt a surge of emotion within himself, as he felt he was on the cusp of a life changing experience. And, in Ashkan’s eyes, he felt, he could see a hint of the same.

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Ashkan’s tale (finale):

Ashkan’s felt giddy with delight. The past month had been a blur to him. Between the forming of the band, the seamless transition from a group of solo musicians into a well-drilled unit, and the bewildering invitation to a performance that he was sure he would not forget for the rest of his life, Ashkan felt like he was on a joyride with Willy Wonka, tasting the greatest pleasures in life, all of which had been concentrated into an extremely brief span of time. His life as a street musician, dependent on the generosity of the locals seemed a lifetime away. Today, two thousand people swung to the tune of his fingers.

But with the giddiness, there came also fear. Ashkan was not naïve. He knew it was not normal for everything to fall into place so easily. And since he had no reason to suspect a silent benefactor, he merely assumed that he was on an extraordinary run of luck, and that it was bound to end soon. It was the crash that he most dreaded, but it was also something he awaited with something akin to impatience. He wished it would come so that he may be done with it and see where he stood in its aftermath.

Today, however, giddiness prevailed. They had played a perfect set and the crowd had not stopped cheering throughout. All the world seemed at his feet. And just then, as his exhilaration hit its crescendo, he spotted a flurry of movement off stage, to the right. He saw a man, obviously one who held a position of power, walk through the security with not so much as a hand laid on him. He saw all his fellow band members separate to make way for the man to get to him. The man had a smile on his face, a wild smile, one belying undercurrents of tyranny and possibly insanity. His eyes shone with a fervor that only served to intensify the fear growing with Ashkan. All his insecurities and fears about performing in Tehran came flooding back. His fellow band members had assured him he had nothing to fear from the radicals, that they were not significant enough to warrant such attention. But now, seeing their demeanour, Ashkan understood that they were in on it from the beginning. This, then, was the reason everything had gone through without a hitch. It was a set up!

His dreams crushed, he stared into the eyes of the bearded fanatic. His Shiite upbringing in the slums of Bakhtiari had ingrained in him one undying principle. Fight!

And so, as Khosrow spread his arms, welcoming Ashkan to the embrace of brothers, Ashkan’s body tensed up. Using all his strength, Ashkan struck, hitting Khosrow under his right eye with astonishing force, knocking him to the floor, motionless. The crowd, all at once, became silent, and the looks of horror on his bandmates’ faces told Ashkan that his fairytale was over.

The Shiite had hit the fan.

The Pun Chronicles #6 – Darryl’s Unfortunate Tryst with Fate

Darryl loved to think of himself as an innovator. The thrill of it came from the knowledge that innovation was the only really true form of uniqueness that still existed in this world. The only way to step out of the crowd, to experience the full glare of the spotlight before the next fashionable trend stole it away again. This was the Age of Lightning. Nothing lasted. Never had the phrase “30 seconds of fame” held more poignancy than it did today.

Darryl understood all of this perfectly well, but what was conspicuous by its absence from his train of thought was malice. He bore no ill will to this whimsical crowd, this fickle audience that he co-populated the Earth with. There was no resentment, no grumbling, no flicker of jealousy when his moment of inspiration, of sweat, blood and toil, was cast into the ocean of has-beens along with a billion others, as the masses moved on to something passing, superficial, un-sublime. He bore the fact with some grace that, to get a foothold of any kind, one must constantly innovate.

And so, innovation became life to Darryl. He could not take two steps down any road without coming up with an incredible, naïve and fantastical idea about how to radically change this or revolutionize that, and how the principles of the idea were simple, and the execution only required the power of will. When he was with company, they were usually sane enough to bring his flight of imagination back safely down to Earth.  But when he was alone, his imagination ran riot like an Australian bush fire, brushing aside the obstacles that reality puts in its path with all the disdain of a Dickensian Nobleman.

It was during one of these phantasmic reveries that he hit upon what he was certain would be the mother lode. His train of thought began from a judgement that he had silently passed on a friend of his. His friend, munching on a bar of Snickers, had grimaced and then unceremoniously dumped the rest of the candy bar, less than half eaten, into the nearest bin. On espying Darryl’s outraged expression, he shrugged and said, “Too sweet.”

Too sweet. How can that be a bad thing.

But Darryl had heard this same refrain many times before, and from many different people. It always boggled his mind to hear phrases like “Too much cheese,” “too much chocolate,” or “too much meat.” He could not understand what they meant when they said it was too much of a good thing. The idea, like Quantum Physics, lay outside the boundaries of his understanding.

Well, if I can’t fix it, I sure as hell can cater to it.

And so thinking, he stumbled upon his masterpiece. He resolved to create a candy bar that lost none of its original sweetness, but was tinged and accented by a contrasting flavour, so as to avoid offending the tongues of those who could not handle too much of a single flavour. Now that it had occurred to him, he marvelled that no one had thought of it before.

Never the type of guy who procrastinates, Darryl immediately set off to his little laboratory, armed with a carton of snickers bars and a whole arsenal of different flavours to test on them.

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Many weeks passed without event. But we must not allow ourselves to be misled by this. ‘Twas but the temporary withdrawal of the ocean before the onset of the tsunami.

On that fateful day, Darryl resurfaced, triumphant, holding a box aloft in his arms a la Lion King.
His eyes strayed ne’er a moment from his path as he resolutely traipsed on toward the friend who had set this ball rolling.

His friend, having not heard from Darryl in weeks, neither in person, nor through digital media, looked on bemused as he spotted his quirky friend walking towards him, face aglow with the radiance of elation, holding a box of what appeared to be candy bars towards him.

“I’ve done it,” he exclaimed. Every syllable quivering with the weight of achievement.

“Done what?”

“Lime flavoured Snickers.”

“What?”

“Don’t question me, just give this a try first. We can talk later.”

So saying, he handed his friend the candy bar.

“You know, I have eaten Snickers bef…” his voice trailed off as Darryl impatiently held his hand up and gestured enthusiastically at the box.

“Shut up and eat up.”

And so he did. The first burst of flavour surprised him, it being nothing near what he had expected. And the shock of it caused him to choke on the morsel. An expression of doubt and dismay crept across Darryl’s face. But that quickly changed as his friend recovered and began to chew in earnest.

The obsession of parents with announcing every little achievement of their kids to the world at large, with no regard for whether that information was required or relevant in any way, is somewhat an indication of the thrill a creator feels at watching his creation flourish. Darryl partook of this thrill, albeit in a slightly less glamorous manner. He watched with glee as his friend stared at the candy bar in astonishment, as if close inspection would reveal the source of this new pleasure that had been bestowed upon him.

For the next two minutes, Darryl enjoyed the intermittent animalistic groans and sounds emanating from his friend. Finally, three candy bars later, his friend managed to gather his breath and speak.

“This is fucking good stuff, Darryl! I could eat this forever.”

“So, this isn’t… too sweet?” asked Darryl, in an almost menacing way.

“Heck naw, man. Oh, my God, this is… Oh, God,” he groaned, grabbing a fourth candy bar from the box.

Darryl gave a smile, which, to a close observer may have looked like a smile constructed more of condescension and patronizing emotion than genuine joy. It was the smile of the victor who was delighted with the fact that he won, but had not been given enough of a challenge to be able to respect his enemy.

“Hold on,” his friend cried at Darryl’s receding figure, “D’you got any more of those?”

Darryl walked on.

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The manager at Frosty Fares Supermarket sat on a plastic chair, fanning himself with insurance forms, staring out at the dusty street into which, it seemed to him, humanity itself was forbidden to wander. It was a Wednesday afternoon, and business was about as slow as it had ever been. His mind, however, was a million miles from his petty financial concerns. His thoughts flew along with the gulls, on a distant beach a long time ago. The lingering touch of that feminine hand was still to him as vivid as it had been all those years ago. It was his fondest memory. The last remaining memory of life when it had been worth living to him. He could almost feel the breeze, and taste the salty tinge of the sea. It tasted like lemons to him. Strange, he thought to himself, that in all these years, it was only today that he realized it had tasted like lemons. It had always been a vague, pleasant sensation for him, but today it was tangible and substantial.

“Good morning, sir, and a good day to you.”

Jeremy, the manager, shaken from his reminiscing, assumed his customary expression of perpetual suspicion and regarded the man standing before him.

“Well, whatchu gonna be wantin’ then?”

Darryl extended his treasure till the box lay right under Mr. Jeremy’s nose. A look of understanding crossed the elderly man’s face as he realized he had found the source of lemon scent.

“I wondered if I could promote my candy bars at your supermarket, sir. I will, of course be giving you a commission. They’re a new kind of candy bar, sir, and I’m sure they’re gonna be the next big thing.”

Jeremy, struggling to recover from the nostalgic effect of the scent, acquiesced before he had a chance to properly consider what it was that he was agreeing to. However, it did not seem a bad deal to him. After all, it would be nice to have some company around the shop.

And so, Darryl set up his stall just inside the main entrance to the supermarket, hands trembling nervously. His confidence had taken a severe blow this morning.  His efforts in creating the perfect candy bar had taken a toll on his performance at his real daytime job, and today he had been asked to vacate the premises, besides which he was behind on his rent.

He was aware that if he did not make it big with the candy sales, he was in fairly deep water. And he had also learnt the hard way that he was not a particularly good swimmer in deep waters.

The passage of the next few hours did nothing to ease his anxiety. A total of two people had crossed the threshold in the past three hours. One of them, diabetic, had scurried away with a squeal of petrification when Darryl had magnanimously offered her a free sample. The other had simply ignored him as if he were a Christmas tree decoration.

With half the day gone and not even a glimmer of an opportunity, Darryl began to fidget nervously, as sweat beads began to crystallize on his forehead. Every tick of the second hand sounded like the footstep of the Grand Inquisitor, approaching him to smear him with the filthy garb of a failure.

Cutting through the damning, self-indicting daydream came the floating, singing voice of a child. Darryl snapped out of it in a millisecond, training his eyes and ears towards the entrance. In walked a mother and daughter. The mother, about 30, seemed to emanate exhaustion. She seemed to have had the life sucked out of her and went about her task like an automaton, unseeing, unfeeling, out of force of habit. The child, on the other hand, seemed lively, sprightly, full of gumption and energy. It seemed obvious to Darryl that it was she that was the cause of her mother’s threadbare state of anatomy.

Darryl watched closely as the mother wearily, but systematically, worked through the list of items that she needed to purchase. She had barely finished scouring the first isle, when her child began to show the first signs of boredom. Soon enough, she abandoned her mother to the mundane existence of practicality, and set off on her private exploratory adventure.

That was when she spotted Darryl, a handsome man with a pleasant face, beckoning to her. She also detected a faint, but pleasant, scent from about his person. Being a child, this double sensory bait  was overwhelming for her, and she positively ran down to his stall.

Darryl, sensing his first sale, knelt to speak face to face with the child, but before he could say a word, she had run past him and snatched the box with his candy in it. Taking a moment to savour the scent, she exposed the chasm that was her oral orifice and consumed half the candy bar in her first bite.

Darryl watched closely as her eyes shut in delight. Her mouth worked slowly and leisurely and her entire body seemed to shake with pleasure.

“Djis Kvntvn pbnjts?” she asked Darryl, still shaking.

“Sorry?”

“Djis Kvntvn pbnjts?” she asked, louder, petulance now creeping into her voice. She looked strangely blue to Darryl, and the frothing at her mouth certainly did not make her any prettier to look at. Darryl shuddered at the predicament the weary lady must be in, being given a child as terrible as this by providence.

“I’m sorry, I can’t understand you,” Darryl pleaded, seeing his chance of making a sale slip away.

The child began to positively throw a fit. She lay on the ground, screaming, writhing, her mouth frothing, her body convulsing, thrashing about.

The din brought her mother flying out of the aisles.

“WHAT HAPPENED? WHAT’S WRONG?” she screamed.

“I… I don’t know. She seemed to be trying to say something, I cannot understand what she is saying.”

He looked up to see the mother had not been listening to him at all. She had a look of the most sickening horror plastered upon her face. Darryl followed her eyeline and his eyes hit upon his box of candy bars.

“D… D…. Does that contain p-p-p-peanuts?” the lady whispered.

The blood drained from Darryl’s face.

—————————————————————————————————————

Darryl walked along the bridge, morosely gazing out onto the river. Homeless, unemployed and hungry, he had lost all he had to lose in life.

But the fact that took stomaching, and that he had not yet been able to stomach, was the failure of his enterprise. The fact that the idiocy of one petulant girl had robbed him of his life’s calling, of fulfilling his role in society as that of an innovator extraordinaire. That he had been allowed his 30 seconds in the spotlight, but not for a feat of intellect, but for the corpse of a child, that was a particularly bitter pill to swallow. It was tougher for him to digest that than it had been for the girl to digest peanuts.

The news in the following weeks had been characteristically ruthless, killing off any chance Darryl had of starting his life over. The furore the child’s death had created had caused collateral damage as well, Mr. Jeremy being forced to shut down his beloved “Frosty Fares Supermarket” under severe pressure from activists.

Stepping over the railing of the bridge, Darryl gazed into the cold, grey expanse below him, and, taking a deep breath, he plunged.

——————————————————————————————————————–

Hours later, the screams of a few children alerted the neighbourhood to the fact that something was not quite right down by the riverbank. On investigation, two bodies were found, lying side by side.

Forensics later confirmed that the first body belonged to Mr. Darryl Johnson, aged 24. Time of death was approximated at 2 PM.

The second body was identified as Mr. Jeremy Sachs, aged 49. Time of death was approximated at 11 AM.

——————————————————————————————————————

This was the tale of lemony snickers and a series of unfortunate events.

The Pun Chronicles #5 – The Joys of Silent Jenny

Jenny Talbut sat, morose, in her room, facing the wall. Deaf and mute since birth, gazing at the blank, white wall was her way of shutting the world out, since she presented the only fully functional sensory organ with zero stimulation.

The world around her had degraded, Jenny thought. Or else it was her perspective that had refined itself to the point where she could see it. Everywhere, she was surrounded by false charity. People everywhere would feel sorry for her, but no one would befriend her. Because that would take a real effort. An effort no one was willing to take. One can’t post efforts on social media. Effort did not get likes.

And so, she sat with the sympathy of the world bestowed upon her, but the companionship of none.

But Jenny possessed one characteristic that no amount of seclusion could hamper, that no amount of superficiality could denigrate. Jenny had smarts. Forced to take an extra effort to experience the same things that others could experience effortlessly, Jenny’s brain had trained itself to be quicker, sharper and more resolute than most. She had grit, and an abundance of it at that.

This determination had given her the drive to clear her A levels and now, University awaited her.

University!

Just the thought of it sent thrills down Jenny’s spine. University would be the Eden that would morph all her malformities into likeable peculiarities. Universities, to Jenny’s mind, were a melting pot where all manner of queer and quirky people intermingled to create an intellectual miasma wherein everyone could be themselves and yet be no stranger than the rest.

There weren’t many universities that had the facilities to educate deaf-mute students in the field that Jenny had chosen. Careful research had whittled it down to two realistic options. However, as one of them required a significant investment in terms of relocation and tuition, all of Jenny’s hopes and dreams rested on one University and one alone.

She had written to them after months of concerted research and superhuman effort allowed her the confidence to send her essay in to apply for the scholarship. Now all that she longed for was confirmation. That email was to be her affirmatory glory. Her ticket to normalcy. Her mortar for the rebuilding of her confidence. Everything that she had worked for depended on that one mail. She had searched online for copies indicating the nature of the letter that is received by applicants that are accepted. From what she could find, the mail was an unassuming receipt, stating the tuition fee that the applicant was required to submit at the time of admission. Nothing more, nothing less.

Jenny Talbut’s mind leaped from fantasy to fantasy, from one in which she spearheaded the opening up of various avenues of employment to the deaf-mute, to another where she overcame her natural obstacles to nevertheless reach the upper echelons of her field of study. She did not dream small. Her imagination tolerated no boundaries.

Even as she dreamt of glorious victories, a letter dropped in through the slot in her door. The world stood still as Jenny recognized the insignia of the much sought after university. Holding her breath, she slit open the envelope and, pulling out the letter, glanced through the contents at the speed of light.

And what emotions ran through Jenny’s mind as she read the following text printed across the surface of the letter:

“Fee- mail: Jenny Tal.”

Mute Elation.

The Pun Chronicles #3 – A Secret to Die For

“I tell yer, Huck, there ain’t no risk in it,” said Linus, voice quivering with excitement. “That ol’ shanty there’s been sittin’ like yer mama’s ducks, just there for the tak’n.”

“What’s my mama’s doctor got to do with anything?” Huck asked.

Linus and Huck had wasted away their teenage years chasing dames, mostly unsuccessfully. This was partly because an extended habit of chewing tobacco had wreaked havoc with the boys’ set of dentures, and partly because they had an annoying habit of cracking a joke every so often and clapping their audience on the back with an uncomfortably hard slap. Some lasses may go in for that sort of stuff, but there certainly wasn’t a surplus.

Now approaching the age where their parents were starting to get fidgety and were beginning to hatch plans to turn the boys out of the house to fend for themselves, Linus and Huck realized that they needed some sort of gameplan to provide for their luxurious habits, albeit temporarily. For weeks, their unimaginative minds had come up with nothing, barring a few brutish plans to mug passerby’s or to con the residents of the old age home into paying them for some ponzi scheme.

It was only now that Linus had spotted his opportunity and hatched a plot that would have put Mata Hari to shame.

“All right, let’s give it the ol’ run o’er one more time,” Linus said, “Do you got yer notebook on yer?”

“I don’t know how to write, Linus,” said Huck.

———————————————————————————————

Tom Finnigan’s star had been rising fast within the Police Department. He had everything going for him. He was married and settled with two kids, something the experienced Sheriff of that precinct always encouraged. He had a good, honest face and he could piece the puzzle together quicker than most. An all-rounder would be the colonial term for it.

At home, his wife was as satisfied as a wife could be in those parts. She had her hands full with the kids all day, and when Tom returned from duty, on the days he didn’t put in extra hours, he made sure to spend some time with her and the kids.

All, in short, was as well as could be hoped with his life. And yet, if one caught Tom in an unguarded moment, when he was unaware he was being watched, one would see a forehead wrinkling away to make way for his furrowed brow. One would see his eyes shift suspiciously, and hear a low, worried muttering. A stream of consciousness soliloquy aimed at oneself. A stream of self consciousness.

The reader would be forgiven for asking what cause Tom had to worry. The cause, as it so often is, was that Tom had dipped his pen in more than one inkpot. There was another woman, who, if the metaphor was not clear, was the second inkpot.

The “extra hours” he had been putting in were real enough, he had just lied about where he had been spending them. And he had taken to accepting bribes in order to account for the additional income that comes with working extra hours.

All these factors lay heavy on Tom’s conscience, almost as if they lay on his brow, weighing it down.

He was not worried about getting caught, he had made sure of that. He had found a neat, old shanty in the suburbs, sufficiently dilapidated from the outside to not warrant a second glance, or to not warrant a warrant; and sufficiently neat on the inside to avoid the second inkpot from spilling over with consternation.

———————————————————————————————

“Now, listen well, Huck. That shack over there has more to it than meets the eye. Why just yesterday I seen Tom Finnigan lug a dress’n table in there. And I tell yer, where there’s a dress’n table, there’s a woman, and where there’s a woman, there’s sure to be jools. And it’s the jools we’re after, Hucky boy.”

“But how are we to get inside,” Huck asked, “I sure as hell don’t know how to pick locks, and isn’t old Tom a policeman?”

“Now don’t you worry your wee noggin about tha’ ol’ chestnut, Hucky boy. Why, we have the dirt on Tom, now, don’t we?”

“We do?” asked Huck, uncertainly.

“Huck, youse is dumber than an inbred platypus that been smacked upside the head with a broadsword. What do you think Finnigan does in that shanty with a lady that ain’t his wife? I can tell yer they sure ain’t calling on the Lord, that’s for sure.”

The light of knowledge flickered on inside Huck’s head. His interest piqued, he now listened in earnest, eager to bring the plan to fruition.

“Now, as I was sayin’, there’s sure to be jools in there. But we can’t get at ‘em while Tom’s away, since none of us know a darn thing about lock-pickin’, and Tom sure as hell ain’t gonna appreciate us walkin’ out with the jools while he’s in the house. So what we gots to do is, we gotta spook ‘em outta there so quick they won’t have the time nor the wits about ‘em to lock the door behind ‘em as they make a run for it. Then we walk in, nice as you like, and get what we came for. But here’s the important part, Huck. Yer can’t let Tom get his eyes on yer. Get that fact wedged into your think-box. He can’t lay his eyes on yer. If that happens, it’s all over.”

———————————————————————————————

On that fateful day, Tom and Stacy, which was the name of his second inkpot, whom he thus affectionately called st-inkpot, met as usual at the shanty, unaware of the storm that was about to disturb the calm waters of their romance.

The lovebirds had just sat down to dinner when they heard a large crash right outside the bedroom window.

“MAKE SURE TO GET A PICTURE!” shouted Linus, in an intentionally loud and artificially thick voice.

Inside the house, Tom and Stacy shot out of their seats in an instant, Stacy screaming incoherently while Tom strained to stop his knees from trembling as he saw his world crashing down around him. Stacy fled, pell-mell, in a state of undress, uncaring, unheeding and scampered down the street into the night.

Tom took the same approach, but in a slightly more sober vein, taking quick, measured steps towards the door. It was his calmness in the face of disaster that was to prove his undoing.

Linus watched with glee as Stacy reacted exactly as he had predicted she would, but his laugh died halfway as his eyes sought in vain for a glimpse of Tom Finnigan.

Huck, who had whipped himself into a state of frenzy, did not stop to observe these events, but ran, cackling diabolically, into the shack before Linus could utter a word of warning. Three steps into the house, he stopped short, having run straight into Tom, who was on his way out.

The silence was broken by a belated patter of footsteps that brought Linus to the door, confirming his worst fear.

With the situation as it was, Tom’s mind was swamped by a whole spectrum of emotions, thereby hampering his usually sprightly speed of thought. Huck, at the best of times, was never quite quick on the uptake. And thus it was that Linus’ mind was the first to jump into action and arrive at the solution.

“Yer gotta kill him, Huck. That’s all there is to it.”

“Huh?” Huck balked at such an extreme course of action. His mind was still recovering from the shock of seeing Tom Finnigan face to face.

“He saw yer, Hucky. You gotta kill him. He saw yer.”

Huck, still coming to his senses, asked, “Who saw me?”

“Tom. Tom Saw-yer.”

Once again, the spark of understanding flamed the haystack that resided between the ears of Huck. And, without a further moment of delay, he raised his pistol and shot Tom Finnigan.

Linus and Huck stood staring at Tom’s body. Once again, Linus’s mind reacted first.

“All right, all right,” he thought to himself, “Just a li’l snag, that’s all. We can still get what we came for. I’ll go in and start searchin’ around for the jools, and Huck’ll bury Finn.”