Disclaimer (or whatever you want to call it)
Every year I take part in SA Writer’s College short story compo.
I like writing.
It makes me come alive.
I didn’t make this year’s shortlist. Well done to those who made that list!
Although I didn’t make it this year, I will still keep writing. Writing is a part of me.
So I thought I’d share my ENTRY with you anyway.
Feel free during a coffee break or something to read this:
A lot happened that week. It was as if each day had more than twenty four hours in it. It was a Tuesday in the autumn of 2014, when that very peculiar thing happened:
My brother and I were in the town square. That’s where a lot of the students met after their college classes. There was always a hive of activity. The focal point was the stunning water feature. Around it was a well-kept piece of lush looking grass. (Much respect to the town council who did the gardening there.)
After stressful classes, a bunch of us would often meet there, either to catch up or just to chill. There was a coffee shop owned and run by a quirky barista who always wore floral shirts. He’d tell his customers that he was just trying to keep the memory of Madiba alive. His cappuccinos were the best.
There were benches for shoppers to sit. For the skaters, there were rails scattered around the courtyard of the town square. Red Tulips and yellow Roses decorated the flowerbeds bordering the live stage area. (Over the weekends there would be live performers; both musicians and poets.) Groups of girls would regularly sit on the grass: chatting away, taking selfies and listening to their iPods. Autumn leaves danced over the cobblestones in the light breeze. Another picturesque afternoon.
It was indeed a hip place to be.
My brother and I had planned to meet 3:00pm at “Joe’s Milkshake Bar” next to the coffee shop. We were fans of Instagram. So we were capturing some shots of the afternoon sunlight spilling down among the students. We got some good shots of the skaters and even some sparrows nibbling on the left behind crumbs.
On a nearby lamppost, I noticed the poster advertising the new Taking Back Sunday album: Happiness is.
It was on one of those thin Masonite boards. The one string that had it fastened up had come undone. My brother was kneeling below it. He was trying to capture a ladybug on a blade of grass lounging in the sunshine.
It all happened so quickly!
I momentarily glanced at the Special’s poster on the shop window, then. THUD!
I saw that my brother was lying on the ground, the Masonite board lying next to him. Not trying to conceal its guilt.
I dialled Emergencies. Ten minutes later they were lifting my brother onto a stretcher. He was lights out! I saw the bump on his head. It was abnormally huge.
Happiness is. Yeah right! I thought to myself as I tossed the poster in the nearby bin.
He came around about an hour later in the local hospital. Stanford Heights.
He was discharged and that’s when it all began…
As we walked through the waiting area of the hospital, I noticed a very strange thing.
The little restless toddler from earlier sat still. A smile arrived on his face.
The baby that sat in the blue pram stopped crying.
The young couple, I had saw fighting in whispered tones, held each other close. Love accompanied their connection.
The eleven people, all waiting there seemed at peace as my brother and I walked by.
It wasn’t like that earlier, I swear. I had cycled home from the town square. Fetched the car and headed straight for the hospital. I had remembered thinking how restless that waiting area had felt as I walked through to the room where my brother was recovering.
As we walked outside through the push doors, I heard the earlier commotion start up again. It was as if peace accompanied us to the outside world.
The afternoon sun welcomed us in the carpark. But I noticed that my brother looked quite downcast.
“Are you okay? Are you in pain?”
“Nah, I’m not in pain. I just feel kind of emo.” he replied.
“Well, you probably just need a good sleep.” I winked at him and shook my head. “Odd boy, you are.”
She was at it again. My mother moaning about so many of the usual things.
(She’s such a worry wart.)
“The petrol price is going up again. I’m not sure if I can afford another price increase. The supervisor has been asking me lots of questions at work. Is she going to fire me?”
Blah, blah, blah. I stirred my Cornflakes as if I were mixing some magical potion.
“Mom, you need to stress less.”
Then he walked in. And she was a different person:
“What a glorious day!” “Isn’t the sunshine just so wonderful?”
What, who is this person? Who abducted my mother? I looked to my brother. Did he just wince? I’m sure I saw his face flinch as if he was in pain?
My mom kissed us both and headed off to work.
“How are you feeling, Oliver?”
“Pain wise, I’m all good. I don’t feel any discomfort. But man, I had some seriously messed up dreams.”
He went on to share them with me. They were dark. And he had dreamt a lot. Dreams (or should I say, nightmares) for a lot of people. His poor mind.
Prior to the accident, we had set that morning to go pay the TV licence at the Post Office for our mother. We only had lectures on Wednesday afternoons.
Oliver said he was still keen on coming with me. He needed to get out. He hated having ‘cabin fever’.
I knew going to the post office was going to be a mission. The government institutions in our country are so darn slow!
As we got to the entrance, I could see the queue was already thirty people strong.
Shucks, I thought with it being the middle of the month, this place would be quiet.
Oliver had left the actual licence paper in the car. So I offered to wait in the queue in the meantime.
You could feel the despair in that place. I looked around. People wore frustration on faces unapologetically. A middle aged lady was speaking rather loudly on her mobile phone rebuking the poor victim on the other side. She was going on about the other person being selfish and not appreciating her.
Does this lady think we care about her woes? So inconsiderate!
Funny, how contagious negativity is…
The queue consisted of the first lucky fifteen able to sit and wait. While the rest of us stood wishing the line to shorten quicker. I saw a man with a grey beard wearing a blue shirt and some flacks. He was sitting in the fourth chair rocking his legs up and down. Clearly, he had elsewhere to be.
I was worried he was going to wear his soles in with that amount of tapping.
Then Oliver came in. And it happened again. The mood of the room changed. The lady on the phone expressed her love to the person on the other side. She was smiling. The tapping man stopped. He seemed so content. The fidgeting in the room was replaced with happiness.
Then I saw the anguish in his face. And he was holding his stomach as if he were suffering from severe cramps.
What is happening to Ollie?
My brother retires to his room. His shoulders slumped.
Wow, he really has been looking emo…
We had another errand we had to do. We needed to get some banking; student loan issues sorted.
And that morning turned out to be the worst morning ever. And weirdly extraordinary at the same time!
Ollie and I sat comfortably in the maroon sofas. We were chatting about the latest football scores and headlines. The bank was moderately busy when they came in. Six of them wearing balaclavas. They each held an AK47. (A gun you don’t want to cross paths with.) Fear entered with them. A moment of panic shot through the staff and clients. The obvious ring leader shouted for us all to lie flat with our hands stretched above us.
I heard the teller behind the nearby counter weeping.
Those guys were efficient. And all had a particular role to play. And all seemed to be running smoothly for them. The tellers were filling the bags with cash. No customers were attempting to resist them.
They had plan everything well. Except one thing. My brother.
What is he doing?
Oliver stood up. Then it seemed like everything was in slow motion. He just looked at each one of them. There was something about his gaze. One by one they each lowered their weapon. And ignored the bags of cash. They then kneeled in surrender. The security guards on duty jumped into action and cuffed the six men.
Relief and happiness and cheers filled the room as everyone stared at my brother in amazement. Then as if he couldn’t stand the weight of it all Oliver collapsed.
I got to ride with him in the back of the ambulance. He didn’t look well. There seemed to be a darkness that filled his face.
As he lay there in agony I thought of those past few days. Oliver had seemed to change the mood of each place. As if it were an ability or some superhero power. First, the hospital. Then at home. Thirdly, the post office and then (just then) the attempted bank robbery. However, all those negative feelings of the people from each situation had accumulated into one massive emotion that my brother had to bear?
Was it Spiderman that said with great power comes great responsibility?
It was hardly a time to be quoting fictional characters. But like I had said before, “it was a strange week!”
My brother ended up in the room next door to the one he was in three days before. My mother and I sat in silence as Oliver slept. There is always an eerie feeling about the quietness in a hospital.
I had woken up with a fright. My mother had left. The comfort of the couch had called me to stay the night. The drip was still attached to him.
I wonder if he has woken up yet.
The nurse came in and did the usual tests. She said he hadn’t woken yet. I was worried. The nurse professionally hid her concern.
It had been such a long weekend. Waiting with the words on my lap. I had been reading a Lee Child book. But not even Jack Reacher could distract me from the anxiety that accompanied me.
Then she walked in. She was breathtakingly beautiful. She wore her gorgeous smile with ease. I also noticed how the darkness of the room seemed to lift as she strode towards my brother’s bed.
I said “Hello, and who may you be?”
All she did was raise her finger ordering me to be silent. I complied. Then she pulled out an iPod and docking station from her backpack.
She seemed to be looking for a particular song.
Then the scariest thing happened.
She pulled out the plug of the machine that was monitoring my brother’s heartbeat. I freaked out and jumped up towards her.
She turned instantly and punched me in the gut.
I had dropped to the floor, winded.
Then she plugged in the power cable from the docking station into the then vacant plug socket. She pressed PLAY:
“You live your life like you’re not in control,
Like you’re playing a role
Flicker flicker fade,
Destroy what you create and wonder why it always ends the same”
The words filled the room. The mystery woman was nowhere to be seen. I looked to the screen on the iPod. The artist was Taking Back Sunday. Then I remembered the sign that fell on Oliver.
“I had the most amazing dream!” Oliver said beside me. He was sitting up. His faced seemed aglow with happiness.
The following Tuesday 3:05pm
We were sipping on our Milo milkshakes.
I looked out the shop. There she was. That stunning mystery woman. She winked at me. She had just hung up a sign on the lamppost. It was the same poster as the previous week: