by Anja Reitlinger
When the distant chatter drew closer and a heavy scent of manure permeated the air, I couldn’t help but feel excitement course through my bones, despite the feeling of foreboding that this was a very bad idea.
Almost warily, I walked a few meters behind my Dad, his gait growing more confident and excited with every step. It was weird to see him in a mood different to his usual slump. He shot me a look, his brows furrowed and his expression stern.
If you ever breathe a word about this…
As if I ever would. I’d probably get into bigger trouble than him.
People of all sizes and shapes streamed to the big entrance gate; soon we marched through it and I couldn’t help but crane my neck to take in as much as possible. Balloons were attached to a massive inflated gateway, I could hear the gravel crunch under my sneakers, shouting and neighing intertwined to weave a sound-carpet of anticipation and excitement.
“Come on, I still have plenty to do,” my Dad scolded, his egg-shaped head barely turning around to address me. He made a beeline to the teller to verbalize his bets. My heart was pounding in my ribcage. This was what it was all about: the yelling, the fights, the fact that I had had to pull out of my class’s spring trip because there was no money…
“Aye, Jimmy,” a red-faced man behind the desk said with a heavy Southern drawl. He looked a little like Santa Claus’s deranged, troublemaking twin brother. His white hair and beard had a yellowy touch, his teeth were crooked, and his nose didn’t look red from jolliness but rather a drink too many.
I peered over my father’s shoulder as he examined the race card and he subtly elbowed me away and gave me this look again.
Don’t breathe a word.
“And who have we here?” Santa’s twin asked and looked at me. I tried to melt into the background as I usually did when the attention was on me, but there wasn’t really anything to melt into.
My Dad grunted and gave me a cursory glance before burying his nose in the race card again.
“The arcade is closed, so I had to take her.”
Her. I didn’t even deserve my name, nor the acknowledgment that I was his. Ruddy-faced Santa nodded in sympathy to my father and took his bets, whistling when he saw the race card. “Not bad, Jimmy, going all the way today, I see.” My insides clenched. I knew Mom had earned an employee-of-the-month bonus last month for all the extra hours she’d worked, but it didn’t look like she’d get to enjoy it for much longer. She’d be furious–even more so if she knew I’d come with him.
You should have stopped him. How could you do this to me?
“Today’s the day,” Dad said excitedly. “He’s back, and I know he’s gonna win me a fat bunch of money.” The two men laughed.
“It’s all anyone can talk about,” Sot Santa said. “Have fun, eh.”
All in all it could have been worse, I thought. We were at the racetrack, munching on the food Dad had generously bought us. It was better than yet another seven hours alone at the arcade so Mom could “get her stuff done,” and Dad could come here to his big little secret. I observed him from the corner of my eye and couldn’t help but wonder at how different he was here. His chest was puffed out; people acknowledged him. He looked less aggressive. I’d always wondered what he was doing during all these hours–betting, gambling, maybe an affair, even. I took in his bald, shiny head, beady eyes, and ruddy expression. No affair, maybe. Who would want any of that?
“Hey, Jimmy,” a woman called from the stands and waved. She approached us and I couldn’t help wondering how she could walk without keeling over. Her bosom was so extremely ample she looked like a real-life Barbie. Well, apart from the fact that her face had numerous lines from what I assumed was an over-fondness of sunbathing, cigarettes, and alcohol.
“Gloria,” Dad gushed and shoved me down the bench to make room for her. “Couldn’t miss today, could you? You put any bets in?”
Gloria nodded gravely. “Absolutely. I can’t believe he’s back after last year. Everyone thought he’d been sold off at a slaughter auction.” She laughed shrilly, as if the subject of slaughtered horses was a source of great humor. After she’d collected herself, she spotted me and a curious look struck her heavily-lined face, as if she couldn’t quite decide whether I was part of “Jimmy” or just rudely listening in on their conversation.
Dad picked up on her look and shifted on the bench uncomfortably.
“My girl,” he said, as if it was the world’s greatest embarrassment to have a daughter. “She’s usually at the arcade on Saturdays, with my buddy Hal, but they’re renovating, so I had to bring her.”
That was, actually, a lie. The arcade was being renovated, but I could have still spent the day with Dad’s buddy Hal, but after the incident, I was not to be left out of sight, apparently.
Gloria nodded once more and gave me a fake smile before returning her attention to my Dad. “So, what are the odds, do you think?”
Dad shrugged nonchalantly. “Who can say? He’s been out of the game for a while, but he was the best. I’m sure they wouldn’t put him back if it wasn’t for a huge comeback.”
I saw Dad’s eye twitch and knew his nonchalant act was just that–an act. He was nervous. Whatever this was about, he had a lot riding on it, and it scared me. Absent-mindedly, I stroked the paling scars on my wrist. I’d stopped cutting after the incident, but when I felt anxiety pounding through my head, it still sometimes helped to touch them, to know I could bleed dry if I ever needed to disappear.
Suddenly, there was a commotion down at the racetrack, and horses were being led to their starting gates by little men in ridiculous outfits. They looked like they were readying themselves for competition…
You can read the full text in Nightfall, coming out May 10th!
by Alisha Saikia
Do you remember that time
When evenings were free spirited
The calling bell could ring anytime
And you would have unannounced guests
Next door neighbors, family friends or your favorite cousin.
Suddenly the humdrum of homework
Would be replaced by some laughter
Sometimes a guffaw even
A mehfil, a jalsa…
And the bustle of Ma going in and out of the kitchen
Making that delicious chai nashta
That everybody was waiting for.
I remember that time
It was some twenty years back
Tucked away in the creaky crevice of the timeworn ancestral house.
Do you remember that time
When the nights were uninhibited
The conversations were endless and easily became all-nighters
The evening walks transcended to midnight strolls of self discovery, spiritual encounters and countless songs
And the smell of raat ki rani
Lingering around the nose
The taste of onigiri
Vivid on the tongue.
I remember that time
It was some ten years back
Shrouded in the shadows of the yellow lit streets of the city of Djinns
Folded somewhere within the warm embrace of Tsukuba-san
I remember that time
It was unplanned, undesigned, spontaneous.
Nothing like now
When life operates within a schedule
When there is a date, a time and an hour for everything.
Measured meeting with your lover,
The clock is ticking.
Passionate moans at 8 o’clock in the evening,
Conversations and daily updates only while cooking,
Evening walks, not even a thing
And ‘spontaneous’ meeting with friends
Well it’s probably taking place this autumn
It was planned last spring.
Mehfil and Jalsa- A gathering for entertainment
Chai nashta-tea and snacks
Raat ki rani-Queen of the night (name of a flower)
Onigiri- Rice ball (Japanese delicacy)
Tsukuba-san –Mt. Tsukuba
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