By Shantanu Baruah
4th of July long weekend was around the corner. This year we planned to drive down to grandma’s place but at the last minute, the plan was abandoned. Dad had some urgent office work and mom had no courage to drive the kids all by herself. Though we insisted, pleaded and screamed, it fell on deaf ears. And no matter how much we swore to behave, going to grandma’s place was not happening this time.
I was disappointed thinking about all the fun I would be deprived of. At grandma’s place, we could be us. No one could dare interrupt us from our proceedings. It doesn’t matter how upset our parents were, grandma always came to our rescue. My name is James and I am eleven years old. We are three brothers and I am the eldest. Maurice
is two years younger to me and David just turned seven. I pretend not to show, but I am glad to be the eldest. There were many benefits to be the eldest. The most important one was my indisputable claim to be the chosen leader of the troupe. While I claimed to be the boss, Moe never bought into my professing. He claimed to be in equal ranks and would often give a valiant fight to my authority. Despite our age difference and our never-ending squabbles, we remained inseparable.
Often jumping, crawling and screaming, we were a sight to watch. While we called it fun, mom labeled it as a nightmare. Our innocuous behavior usually triggered when dad was not around. It was not that we were scared of dad but for reasons unknown, we invariably behaved in his presence. While at home we fought like there was no tomorrow, a step outside our dwelling we were bonded souls. And I made sure no one would dare bully Moe and Dave.
It was a lazy Sunday morning, a day before the 4th of July. I woke up way early than my usual rising time. I craned my neck to check on my brothers. Both were in deep slumber. After several minutes of blankly staring at the roof, I decided to detest the comfort of the bed. I casually sauntered to the kitchen where dad was busy brewing coffee. He looked at me suspiciously and with a gruff tone exclaimed, “What are you up to, young man?” I stared at him with nothingness trying to understand the context of the question.
Often answering to dad’s innocent queries had put me in trouble in the past. So, this time I decided not to speak. Getting no response from me instigated him and he snapped, “What do you want?” He was still busy with the coffee pot, and luckily, there were no probing eyes I had to deal with.
This time I responded with a timid voice trying to gauge his hidden agenda. According to my experience single syllable response worked the best in situations like this.
“For school, we have to drag you out of bed and on holidays you wake up at 7:00 AM” he shook his head in disbelieve. I left the place without getting my Z bar. It was an easy choice – managing hunger was far better than facing dad’s barrage of questions. I headed to the basement. The left corner of the basement was our play zone. No one dared to visit this place except for the three of us. Mom called it, “visit at your own risk arcade”. For once
I knew she wasn’t sarcastic.
The place was crowded with Lego blocks, cars, race tracks, baseball bats, game CDs – all thrown haphazardly in no particular order. There wasn’t a single day when anyone had escaped this place without a trip and fall episode. Mom gave up cleaning this place a long time back. She tried involving dad but that didn’t help either. It was an unstated protocol but, on their mind, they had given up on getting this place organized. And it worked to our advantage, as when we were here no one bothered to trespass.
While waiting for my brothers to wake up, I planned for an ultimate car race. The one where the cars crashed and periled in the quest to win. I started connecting the disarrayed tracks to form a spaghetti of complex twisted serpentine race lanes. Once done, I picked two cars and I was ready to flag them off. Though I had my favorite car earmarked, I wanted the race to be fair. To avoid my mind from instilling any biases, I kept the starting point for the cars to be at an equidistant from the finish lines. The cars were on an elevation to gain momentum. Once satisfied with the layout it was time for the countdown. I positioned the handheld barricade and started counting, 3 – 2 – ….
Right before I could say one, I saw Moe tripping over a pretend bridge and rolling over the race tracks. My thirty minutes of hard work came crashing down and I couldn’t do anything to save it. He laid there with surprise-stricken eyes trying to comprehend the damage he imposed. I was furious and before he could get his balance back, I pushed him further down. That didn’t go well with him and he grabbed one of the racing tracks and swung it hard on my back. I felt a sharp pang and before I could bounce back, he escaped my hold and ran towards the stairs.
I was burning with rage. The fact that he could overpower me troubled me more than my ruined arcade. I reclaimed my lost stature and ran after him. I searched for him everywhere – in the living room, behind the fireplace under the dining table and every other place I thought he could hide, but he was nowhere to be found. I heard mom calling my name as I ran two flights up to reach our room. I didn’t respond, for I knew she would want me to stop chasing Moe and I was in no mood to stop. He was not there in our room either. I almost turned around when I saw Dave
looking at me with a curious pair of eyes.
“Have you seen Moe?”, I was out of breath because of constant running and blurted the words with great difficulty.
“No, can I help you find him?” came the response. He knew he missed the fun and wanted to join the party. I ignored him and searched him in the master bedroom, the closet and the bathroom, but failed to find his trace. I rushed back downstairs. Mom was standing right where the stairs ended with her arms resting on her hip, demanding an explanation for the morning ruckus. I looked away from her and noticed that the front door was a tad open. And then it struck me. He must have stepped out of the house. I tried dodging mom and almost succeeded but then she
got hold of my hand.
“Mom let me go,” I exclaimed with frustration, but she was in no mood to listen.
“What is wrong with you? Why are you after your brother? Didn’t you promise me yesterday that you won’t fight with him anymore?”
For once I thought of letting her know that it was not me who started this, but I knew being the eldest was not helping this time around, especially when it was time to explain how bad your younger sibling was?
I smiled at her and declared, “Who said we are fighting. We are just playing a game and now you will make me lose.” I planted a ploy and it worked. Although, I believe she knew I made up the story, for reasons best known to her she let me go. Our house was at the dead end of the street, the last dwelling at the cul-de-sac. Few feet behind our house was a raised meadow and right after the boulder was the woods. We often go to the forest to play our favorite tag game. I was certain he must be hiding there. I took the house as a shelter and without exposing too much of my torso prudently scanned the backyards for Moe. It didn’t take me long to find him. He was hiding behind a tree looking directly towards the house. I gathered all my energy and ran towards him with all might. He saw me coming and he lurched forward. My strides were long, and I had the early mover advantage. After a few minutes of wild running, I was near him. I caught his shirt from behind and soon we are on the ground fist fighting. Another advantage of being the eldest, I was never scared of putting up a real fight with my brother. In my belief, Moe could never beat me. I wrestled him down and thrashed him to my satisfaction. He laid motionless on the ground and appeared defeated.
I got up with pride and started walking back towards home when I sensed some steps approaching with urgency. I turned back and saw Moe running towards me with a stick in his hand. I should have known, Moe would never give up easily. I dashed towards the street. This time he had the early mover advantage. I was fearful of the stick, as I was not too far from his swing. And in that hullaballoo, I saw a green color paper on the corner of the street. I stopped
running forgetting about the danger lurking behind and picked up the paper. It was a 50-dollar bill. I turned around and screamed, “Look what I found!” and waved the bill to show my proud find. Moe froze. The hand with the stick remained raised and his eyes widened with astonishment.
“That’s so cool. You’re so lucky.” He exclaimed, his eyes oozed disbelief.
“I will give you half of my find. After all, I found it because of you.” I declared.
“Thanks,” he said with smiling eyes.
And we both walked back home with glee. Mom met us at the door and couldn’t believe we were not fighting anymore. She smiled and asked, “What do you want for breakfast?”
“Pancakes” we screamed in unison.
Shantanu Baruah is a writer driven by passion, a healthcare leader by profession, and a poet with a creative bend of mind. His work has appeared in Indian Periodical and Little Rose Magazine. You can read more of Shantanu’s work at http://www.ckonfab.com