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Archive for the ‘Short stories’ Category

Thank you Kellogg’s! You have restored my faith.

Am sure most people will agree that we have become so jaded, that we do not expect to win or receive gifts from major companies doing a promo. I also admit, albeit sheepishly, that I have also accused them of arranging for “someone on the inside” to win the promo or hogging the promo gifts.

In this day and age, good old Kellogg’s has proved me wrong. They ran a fun promotion where one can claim a free book from a list of 30 titles (***while stocks last), if we can show proof of purchase of two Kellogg’s products. 

I even faced technical difficulties on my IPad whenever I tried to go into the claims page. Pays to try a different device – my hardy android phone.

I sent away my claim with all the hope of recovering a stone in the well. I was told that the “book is on it’s way “!!! Yeah right and Big Ben will strike 13!

The eternal optimist that I was, not believing for a second it was getting sent, I was surprised by an email from them last week that it was despatched. 

Yet again, the cynicism coloured my reaction to the email. I thought to myself – ” Nah they are lying….it’s either they kept it themselves or NZ Post was going to lose it conveniently”.

But voila!!!! Guess who got their book! So thanks again Kellogg’s. Here’s to more small surprises in life.

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“Oi, You!!! Molaga looked up from his digging questioningly. Understanding that I meant for him to come in, he walked back towards the patio door. “Uh-uh…What are you supposed to do???”. He paused and looked up at me just as he was about to enter the house. He knew the answer all right. He just thought he could get away with it. Meekly Molaga swept his paws on the door mat and obediently stood on the spot waiting for me to haul the hose in to spray water on his paws. Once he was clean he pranced back as if he was calling it a day and clonked on to his bed, panting.

I shut the french windows and picked up the newspaper and pen, headed back to the bedroom with my Coffee mug. Setting the coffee and paper on to the coffee table by my bay window seat, I plumped up my “Eat Pray Love” Cushions (that’s what I call it) and settled my back into it.

Eat Pray Love Cushions

Boy I love those cushions. If you are thinking that these cushions bore the design of the book cover or Julia Roberts smiling on my cushion, you are definitely wrong. I call them that because they are just cushy and plump like the one in the movie when Julia Roberts reads a book relaxing against the cushions in Bali. Ahh…sigh!!!

The pleasures of life…..

I turned my attention back to the paper taking a sip of the wonderful brew. My eyes scanned a list of Vacancies available. I was looking for a part-time or casual job on the weekends that could teach me a bit about art or gardening or one of those areas that I class as ‘Nice to know’.

‘Mystery shopper for vineyards assessments”- Talk about getting drunk on the job.

‘Earn while you lose weight’ – Paper runs. Boring!!!

‘Community support worker for Children’ – Challenging!

‘Potter’s barn/Antiques store help required’ – That now caught my interest. I made a circle around the ad and got up deciding to give them a call tomorrow.

Antique love

Being a huge fan of learning on the job, I decided that I was not going to attend courses or seminars to learn something new. I wanted the rush, thrill and excitement of creativity flowing between my hands. And learn about things that one could only pick up on the job. To have the feel of my imagination turning into a piece of art. Or learning the secret mysteries and journey of a well travelled artefact held more excitement for me than sitting behind a projector with the tutor droning on a monotone.

I put out the lights and climbed into bed with memories of the day swimming back into my mind, the last conscious thought being my coffee with Brody while Molaga settled himself at my feet. I stared into the ceiling reliving our parting scene.

Embarrassed by my own gesture that I had reached out to a total stranger and having had a conversation of what felt like partaking on a very personal part of someone’s life, I rubbed my eyes trying to wipe the memory, mentally distancing myself. But the images just kept flowing ….fading into a black and white movie starring me and Brody, I could see the scene play out almost live.

I saw myself giving a moment to Brody to gather himself, I bent down and ruffled Molaga’s head and stood up prompting Brody to stand up as well. I coiled Molaga’s leash on my palm and gave Brody a half-smile and nodded my head to one side, shook his hand and said – “Thanks for the coffee…,and of course the Biscotti!”. “Rrrufff!!!” said Molaga. I guess he was saying thanks too.

“Hey I owe you remember???”, replied Brody. I waved him off and turned away with a smile, Molaga at my heel. Brody called out – “Hope to see you around sometime, my HERO”. He yelled the last word out for everyone to hear.

I got into the car my cheeks burning hot.

Side view mirror

I drove off without another glance at Brody but watched him on my side view mirror to find him staring at the back of my vehicle fading away into the distance.

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Having reached ahead of me, Brody stood on an un-parked spot as if to reserve the spot for me. I got off the vehicle with my pawed friend in tight leash. Grimacing about the agonies of containing my mad canine especially when passing or stopping by an eatery, I walked with Brody till the front of the cafe.

He turned around and asked what he could order for me. I told him – “Just a strong hot Flat White, no sugar would be great. Thanks”. Brody went in to order while I found a table for 2 and settled down Molaga who started eyeing the cafe and back at me, begging with his pitiful ‘Poor Me’ whine and soulful eyes. I was just deciding whether to treat Molaga or not when Brody came with a packet of Biscotti and settled onto his chair.

Molaga on his best behaviour

And of course one can guess who Molaga’s new best friend would be. The traitorous mutt! He sat erect in his most well-behaved posture in front of Brody as if to say -“Hi! I’m a good dog on my best behaviour. So I deserve a treat!!!” Brody asked if it was OK for him to give the Biscotti to Molaga. And I just nodded my acquiescence. He smoothed Molaga’s golden head while the mutt munched and grunted on his treat relishing it every bit. Brody asked what his name was -?

I replied saying that his name was ‘Molaga’ meaning ‘Chilli’ in my mother tongue Tamil. He found that amusing and repeated the word ‘Molaga’. Molaga looked up as if we both were nuts to keep calling out his name while he was very much there. He turned around to look at me, as if to say -“Duh…”

After a few awkward moments of silence, both Brody and I broke into speech at almost the same time. I asked – “So are you from around here…” and he came with -“So do you like living in Auckland?”. And I told him I’ll answer first and replied that “Yeah. I do like Auckland. It’s a melting pot. Love meeting people from different walks of life! It’s been great so far. Knock on wood!”. He leant back and said “In reply to your question, yes actually. I have lived here pretty much my whole life. Best thing about this particular suburb is one gets the best of the country and city life”. I nodded and lapsed into silence.

View of Auckland

I observed him quietly sitting across me. There was something about him. He seemed to be on edge yet I could sense an inner struggle in him to act normal and relaxed. Up close, I sized him up concluding he probably would be about 5’10 – 5’11, toned & athletic looking, nice features with chestnut-brown hair and bright hazel eyes. A boy next door type.

He moved his chair forward a bit, and leant his elbows on the table joining his hands as if in prayer. He said -“About what happened just now, I am not like this…you know!!” I shook my head and replied – “Hey look, let’s just put that behind us and go our own ways. It’s no Biggie! You did buy me coffee to make up right?”

He started replying -“But you don’t deserve….

“Here’s the lady’s Flat White and the Gentleman’s Caramel Latte. Enjoy your coffee”, said the waitress smiling nervously hedging around Molaga. If only she knew Molaga up close. He was such a marshmallow once he gets to know someone.

“As I was saying, I shouldn’t have turned on you when all you were doing was try to help”. He took a deep breath and exhaled, looked up at me and said -“I had one of my panic attacks. I normally get them when there is lightning and thunder”.

My expression softened with understanding and said ‘Oh! I understand.” I was unsure if I could ask the next question and wondered if it would get too personal. But I went ahead anyway, -“So do you take any counselling and do you try to avoid wet weather outings?” For a moment he looked mortified and as if he was not going to answer it then he shrugged saying -“Tried both, been there, done that. What else can I say?”

I thought to myself, ‘Well that was short’. But didn’t answer any of my questions that were running at the back of my mind. ‘What made an adult like him be scared of thunder and lightning’. I mused to myself – ‘Perhaps a bad experience in childhood!!!’.

After we both took a few swigs of coffee, he straightened his spine as if to gather some strength. He spoke in a demurred voice -“I hate thunder and lightning, coz my dad died on one such night. And I get these attacks because it reminds me of that night…..images of a heavy downpour, flashing lightning and the horrendous sound of cracking thunder….fills my ears”. I didn’t want to interrupt him looking at him lost in painful memories, his eyes losing a bit of the brightness it had earlier.

Fear of lightning and thunder

 

He looked up with a drooping sad smile and pulled himself together saying – “Look at me telling my life’s story to a complete stranger”. I thought to myself that some of his behaviour at least made some sense. And my hand reached out to him on its own to comfort his palm, I squeezed his hand gently as if to reassure him.

He seemed embarrassed by his opening up to me the way he did and his cheeks flushed a bright tomato red. He withdrew his hand from mine.

I told him, “This is perfectly fine. Did you know it helps if you actually talk about your issues”.  He nodded accepting I was right but I knew in my heart that he didn’t buy that philosophy one bit.

 

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Fuming at myself for putting myself and Molaga at risk, and all for what – an unknown stranger??? I decided I was not going to do such a stupid thing again. I told myself I should thank my stars that I will never be seeing him again and that I should be glad he walked off the way he did. Cursing myself and asking what I was trying to prove out there, I gathered up Molaga’s leash and tugged him along. The rain had slowed down to a light drizzle. Huffing a sigh of relief that I was almost at the top of the track and sighting my car only a few yards away, I scanned the area for the urchins with the fear coming back to niggle my mind that they may come back to attack.

I reached my car glad that there was no one else about with the exception of an SUV. I loaded Molaga into the rear seat of my vehicle, shut the door and turned to open the driver seat door only to find the jogger standing right next to the driver’s door looking at me as though in anticipation. I was quiet and looked at him directly in his eyes questioningly – “Now what?”

 

The Olive Branch - Picture Courtesy http://www.decorativetileshop.net

He held out his hand saying, “Hi, I’m Brody!!! I am really sorry I behaved that way. And I just wanted to say thanks for coming to my rescue. I really don’t know why I behaved like that…I really appreciate what you did out there….I…I….” He was a deluge of words all of a sudden and he was hanging around unsure what to say next because all the while he was apologising, I still had not shook his hand and I was giving him a stern impatient glare.

I saw he was indeed sorry but my ego within struggling whether to give in or not. I looked around everywhere but him and then grudgingly nodded my head in acknowledgement, held out my hand and said -” Name’s Dhriti. That’s OK”, my good manners coming to the fore.

And Brody smiled a slow uncertain smile which turned into an apologetic expression of not having caught my name. He replied -“Nice meeting my saviour. Sorry I didn’t quite catch your name….”. I spelled it out for him – “D-H-R-I-T-I” and pronounced my name again. He mimicked my name and almost got it right. So after the name practice, I signalled pointing to the car plastering a fake polite smile that I had to head back.

He stepped back giving way and let me board my car, with him still hovering near my car. I wound down my window and called out a “Bye” and started the vehicle. He bent over the driver’s window  and asked – “Do you mind joining me for a cup of coffee…err..you know…just as a…. emmm… just as a thanks??? There’s a decent cafe just up the road ahead of the round about.”

I did not see that coming….uh uh. I hesitated my expression uncertain what to make of it and what to do about it. I didn’t want to sound reserved and at the same time understanding his need to offer his thanks in the form of a coffee and call it quits…which is exactly what I would have done myself had I been in his situation. I asked him “Now…???” And he nodded his head eagerly. I said “OK…a hot coffee would be nice.”

The Unexpected Coffee

He pulled his keys from his jacket, gave me a sailor’s salute and jogged back to his SUV. I looked at him belting himself confused by his reactions. I thought to myself, just when I was thanking my stars that I never would be seeing him again, this happens. I conclude I can’t seem to grasp the ironies of my life sometimes and that I just had to go with the flow really.

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A weather to fit the mood

Panic and fear were my first reactions when I heard the commotion. The sight of the unfriendly jogger lying on the ground paved way to a hurricane of anger within me, surprisingly not at him, but at who had done this to him.  A rush of adrenalin surged through me and I charged at the urchins with Molaga at my side. Even during this, my satiric humour took over. I thought to myself that I was the Damsel (well not exactly in shining armour) riding to the rescue of the knight (in distress). And Molaga, well not exactly my noble steed, I chose to think of him as the Noble Canine.

I quickened my pace and stopped sharply two feet from the gang. As if to command the urchins attention, Molaga gave a series of loud barks. The urchins were startled and backed away to one side hurriedly away from the jogger. I didn’t see the jogger, I was trying to focus on the urchins and remove the immediate threat off the scene. I schooled my face with my best stare and put my left hand out forward as if to ward them off and yelled – “Can’t you see he is in pain? Back off or I’ll set my dog on you!!!”. Three of the urchins exchanged quick glances amongst themselves and fled. The last one was still undecided whether to take me on and Molaga or run for his life. He gave it a half-hearted shot anyway and said, “Look at him, a loser. A lost case. Eh!” and made a sniggering noise as if to win me over. My hate for foolish acts of bravado mounted, I rolled my neck and sighed and loosened my grip on Molaga’s collar and all I said was -“Molaga….” in an undertone. Panic split his face and he careened off without another word.

After scanning the area quickly for any further threats, I squatted beside  the victim and gently put my hand on his shoulder. I rolled him onto his back and bent over him to check for any injuries. Molaga also fretted on my side sniffing the jogger from time to time, his forehead marked with worry wrinkles. He even tried to give him a lick on his ear as if to wake him up. I shook the jogger gently to shake him into consciousness. He rested his head on the ground and exhaled loudly. He opened his eyes in a state of confusion and fear, he raised himself weakly on his elbows and bent his knees. I noticed his startlingly bright hazel eyes, dilated in fear.

When he saw it was just me and Molaga, he relaxed his crouching position and ran his fingers through his hair in relief. I immediately reassured him – “Hey it’s okay. Are you all right? Are you hurt anywhere?”. No response. He looked at me uncomprehendingly as if I were talking to him in Greek. His expression changed to one of exasperation and then anger. I could not even begin to fathom the reason for his misguided anger. He stood up jerkily and dusted his rear without realising he was going to get more mud on his clothes. He raised his right hand to his forehead, as if he was tensed and in the midst of a mental battle. He then looked up and said in a stilted tone -“I am not like this usually okay! Just…just…leave me alone” and he spurned off without a backward glance.

My jaw literally dropped at his weird reaction. I just couldn’t believe that I was brushed off like this and that too when I had put myself at risk to save him from that gang. The ungrateful wretch left me standing in the pouring rain, the disbelief cementing me to the ground.

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Molaga playing 'Fetch'

When I reached home, it was to find Molaga just as I had expected, hanging around the window, wagging his tail off at the sound of my car hoot and jingle of the keys opening the front door. And not a second inside, he was all over me like he hadn’t seen me in decades.  His unconditional love was gratifying and always a welcome feeling that I appreciate every single day.

So after our evening pamper and cuddle session and my quick freshen up, I walked up to the window to check if the sky was clear enough to go for our evening walk. Vacillating in my decision, with my mind leaning towards taking a rain check on that walk, I turned around to tell Molaga that, only to find myself cornered into changing my decision. I should say forced to change my decision. It was as if my golden brat knew I was going to tell him “No walk today”, he stood there with his big brown puppy eyes, the leash hanging off his snout, a silly wide grin pasted on his face.

How could I say no to this puppy? So I took the leash and smiled down at him saying -“You win”. And we drove down to the nearby regional reserve. This particular one was one of our favourite hangouts called “Waikowhai”. This place had a nice winding and sloping path leading up to the beach. “Waikowhai” is a Maori word that literally translates to “Kowhai by the Water”. The “wh” in the word Waikowhai is pronounced like “fa”, so the pronunciation goes something like “Why-Ko-Fa-i”. Kowhai is a beautiful yellow bell-shaped flower that is very native to New Zealand (as pictured).

Kowhai

Waikowhai is one of those unique parks which boasts a wide-spread vegetation lined with native trees and plants alongside the pathway leading up to the waterfront. The shore itself is encrusted with pebbles, sea shells, rocks, sea weed, driftwood etc. On the right side of the beach are cliff walls sporting a dog exercise area nearby where our canine friends can be unleashed and are able to run with wild abandon. One would think it was a white sand beach if it weren’t for the crunch of sea shells under your feet. With the very picturesque setting and salty air beckoning us, we started our trek down the slope.

Molaga let off the leash was a lot subdued today making things a lot more easier for me. As we made our way slowly, I saw a bunch of urchins hanging around a bench. I could hear their guffaws and rude noises long before I reached them. I ignored them and made my way past them entering the exercise area. I picked up a dry driftwood and threw it far into the water. Molaga ran into the water with all the excitement he could muster and went to fetch the piece of wood. He brought it back and dropped it at my feet, and shook himself dry and of course spraying all the water on me in the process. He then stepped back two to three steps backwards at an angle and shuffled his front paws front to back as if to mimic the throwing action. After playing “Fetch” for a while, we trudged on a bit further down the beach. The temptation to sit on a rock and dip my feet in the water was very compelling. I sat gazing into the horizon when I heard the splish-splash on wet sand as if someone was running on shallow water. I turned to my left to find a lonely jogger running back towards me and onto the path leading back to the car park. He was tall and brawny, dressed in dark running shorts and rain proof jacket covering his head. I nodded and smiled at him in a friendly manner expecting him to return the smile. Um, wrong! He looked at Molaga, then me, scrunched up his eyebrows, narrowed his eyes at me and jogged past me without even so much as a nod. His sharp stare made me feel edgy. So much for friendly smiles, I thought to myself. I shrugged my shoulders trying to get the hazel eyed stranger off my head.

As if to dampen my mood further, the sky just then decided to cry on me. I quickly whistled to Molaga and we started our trek back to the car park. As we made our way up, the rain started pouring and lightning and thunder flashed in the sky.

The way up was very steep and more tiresome and the wet weather didn’t help one bit making the already loose soil slushy. The concrete tiles were running with muddy rain water.

Suddenly I heard a commotion up ahead of me. Even in the rain I could hear that eerie yelp like that of a wounded animal. A noisy scuffle broke ahead of me on the walkway. Molaga’s ears perked up and he started growling from his throat. I knew he had sensed a threat. I kept a hold on his collar and peered through the sheet of rain. There in the distance, I saw the jogger cowering under a tree with his face between his knees crouched in a foetal position as if in pain. Three out of the four young urchins were swarming him with insults, mocking remarks and rude gestures. I wasn’t sure if they had attacked him but he seemed to be writhing in pain as I saw him clenching his stomach.

I knew friendly smile or not I had to help him then and it had better be fast!!!

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“How much do I owe you, love?”, asked the wizened old gentleman as he peered down at me pushing his spectacles down the bridge of his nose. I replied back saying -“That will be $85.00 Mr.Kusac!”. “Ah now, is that an increase in the prices I am hearing?”, he asked. I said “Yes, indeed sir! That is exactly what it is. The rates for the materials and books have gone up unfortunately and there you go, all the students are bearing the brunt of it”.

“Ah young lady, you have just sweetened the deal for me, by calling me a ‘student’, making me feel like a youth in his prime”. He pulled out some bills out of his wallet, handed them to me and said “Here you go, now that’s settled”. He gave me a toothy smile, nodded his head as though saying goodbye and half turned. Changing his mind though, he turned back around and asked -“Not to sound rude or intrusive, might I ask you, what your name is and where you are from young lady?”. I smiled at him secretly smiling with the knowledge that I knew I was about to be asked that question. I flashed my dimples at him and said “My name’s Dhriti & I am from India”.  He raised his eyebrows and nodded his head as though he approved of it. “Ah! Yes! Yes! That’s wonderful. Now what does your name mean again?”. I replied saying -“It means Courage”. Mr. Kusac smiled and shook hands with me signing off with a “Its been a real pleasure meeting you Ms. Courage. Hope to see you around soon”.

I smiled turning back to the filing cabinet to file our latest enrolment Mr. Kusac under Handmade pottery(Level-3).

My work place never ceased to amaze me. Everyday I saw different people from different walks of life, making their way into the Community Learning Centre, some thing common amongst them all. A thirst for knowledge and a passion to keep themselves busy as bees.  I have worked here as a course facilitator for nearly 8 months now and ‘bored’ was never a word I could associate with this place. I taught “Sign Language” and “English for Migrants”. More recently, I took on some of the administrative duties temporarily while the usual Administration Support went away indefinitely to support her pregnant daughter. Both the roles giving me a good opportunity for me to make some extra greens and a great way to meet new people.

Almost done for the day, with just the quick wind down meeting at the end of the week with the rest of the teachers pending. The clock ticking closer to home time, I worked extra zealously finishing up at the front desk picturing Molaga bored to his bones waiting at the window for me. And then for that much-needed jog for the both of us. I only hope it doesn’t rain until then. Molaga here I come!!!

Molaga waiting

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