“These qualifications are handed out to people in underdeveloped…er…developing…countries on the basis that something is better than nothing” gravely intoned the official at the Department of Education and Science, dismissively handing back Sunil Herath his clip file. “…not intending to be nasty”, was thrown in as an afterthought. Sunil was left to arrive at the inevitable conclusion that he was not qualified for a teaching position in the United Kingdom. Until that moment, Sunil had fondly believed that all that promised to be his entitlement to a glorious future in a new land, was contained in that clip file.
Vexed though he was, he could not deny that the official was right. He had not worked as a teacher in his own country, although he had invested the last few years of his life acquiring teaching certificates awarded by the education department of southern Australia. As a 16-year old school leaver, he had won a Foreign-Aid correspondence scholarship leading to a diploma in primary-school teaching. While engaged in low-paid, mind numbing, routine clerical chores at the municipality during the day, he had pored over cyclostyled notes and paper-bound texts sent by Air Mail from Australia most evenings at home. He assiduously completed all assignments. Accumulating the annually awarded modular certificates, he fervently hoped that someday these would provide the key to a better life. It did not occur to him that it was pertinent he had never been inside a classroom in a teaching role. Continue reading “Wash and wipe”
In the thin early morning hours on the day that Dyke Debenham was born, the stars were not serene. Montgomery Debenham, Dyke’s father, tired of anticipating the impending birthing, chose to leave the waiting room, walk outside, and await in the patient’s patio behind the hospital. Lighting a cigarette from the tobacco that made the Debenham fortune, he gazed up at the stars twirling in their journeys. Every so many minutes a star, from the Pleides Meteor Shower, shot across the sky, dipping like a flat rock about to skim over a placid body of water. The night that Dyke was conceived an obscure pact was concluded, for though the Debenhams had a daughter, they did not have a son. Dyke entered this lonely world a few endless hours after with his dad in attendance in the fathers’ waiting room. Born weighing eight-and-a-half pounds, he was no less a handful growing up, the scion of the vast Debenham Empire. Continue reading “The travails of Dyke Debenham”
As I walked the Prairie Path early one evening (around 7:30 I believe), I saw the sights that by now were beyond familiar to me. You see, I walked this same path most evenings around this same time. Dinner was over, and I had no desire to sit mindlessly in front of the television. I always chewed not one but two sticks of gum while I walked, and I noted that my chewing action and my steps kept perfect time.
And as I strolled, I saw them. The dentist engrossed in his smartphone while walking his white and black pug; I imagined he was either watching episodes of that TV series “Deadly Dentists”, or looking at x-rays of the teeth and gums of the patients he would see tomorrow. The young mother (Kathy was her name) pushed her son in a stroller slightly ahead of me; I watched as her ponytail swung side to side with each step, for unlike me, she did not stroll – this was exercise for her. I saw the blue house with the two identical front doors side by side (not French doors you see; each of these doors was fully framed and had a doorknob on the same side – the right). I imagined that each of these doors led to a different era in the life of the house, a time warp of sorts. Maybe one day I would stop and test my theory. Continue reading “The Path”
There is a lot to be said for saying nothing. It is a secret that the sterile air in the hospital room knew all too well as it scratched against my eyelashes like a wind in tall grass, glossing over the previous occupants. The white sheets, crumpled and depressed, betraying the intended look of cleanliness.
‘Winnie. Winnie, wake up,’ the nurse said from behind the white-washed tunic as he guided a wheelchair through the door with a serviced tone, like his vocal chords had been dipped in honey and enrolled on a people-skills course before being installed. And yet quite impersonal, I thought.
‘We are just going to take you down to theatre, my love,’ he said, half looking at her, and half herding her like a commodity he was used to dealing with. ‘Let’s get you up,’ he continued, practically unfolding her from the mattress. Continue reading “Saying something”
Standing about Saul Soderberg’s bed this early in the morning could only be pensive doctors or nurses on a mission. He refused at first to open his eyes. From the medical gibberish, a dizzying onslaught, especially that early in the day, the sacramental palaver could only be coming from someone with a medical degree. With his eyes still closed he tried to remember exactly where he was, and to what end. He opened his left eye to find the doctors, all in lab coats as white and unblemished as an orchid, listing over the left side of his bed. One introduced himself as Feldman, an attending physician in the neurological department of Beth Israel Hospital. Both eyes opened. He pulled his bed sheet to his chin. “Do you know why you’re here?” The rest of the doctors stood about the circumference of his bed looking a generation younger than Feldman. Looking at him as though he was an inchoate being, they said nothing, merely observing. Continue reading “Ancient Mariner”
The hotel is haunted, or so the old man tells me. I feel out of place here, a place where there are two weddings today and the architecture is dazzling and where it seems like I’ve stepped back in time. All I have with me is my backpack, yellow with flower patches sewn on it. There’s a sign that says “Observation Deck, 52nd Floor” in neat handwriting near the elevator. I press the elevator button. A woman comes to stand with me, her face young and round, wearing 1930s dress and a wistful smile.
“Are you going up to the deck?” she asks me.
I nod and fiddle with my backpack straps.
“It’s a nice view.”
The car gets there then, and I don’t have to make any more conversation. I think about why I am here. Two days ago, I decided that I was tired of everything in this world and that the best place to go was Chicago, and the best thing to do was to book a hotel room in an old hotel, and all I needed with me was my backpack.
Captain Graham was uncomfortable. He disliked London clubs, but here he was, drinking tea in one. Moreover, he was sitting opposite Colonel Child, a man he always hoped to avoid.
“Glad you could come,” Child said.
As if I could refuse, Graham thought. I can hardly ignore the man who was my commanding officer in the Military Mounted Police.
“Now that I’ve retired from the army,” Child continued, “I run my family’s insurance business. Among our policies, we insure the Sea Wolf Cup, one of the silver trophies of the London Guards regiment. It’s a very valuable item dating from the seventeenth century.” Child puffed at a cigar and looked straight at Graham. “And it’s gone missing.”
“A costly claim for your company, sir,” Graham commented.
“Not if the cup is found and returned,” Child replied.
When Graham said nothing, Child leaned forward. “Look, you’ve been a retired army investigator for almost a year. Since Christmas 1908, wasn’t it? You should use your skills. Finding the cup is just the job for you.”