the-south-asian.com February 2003
FEBRUARY 2003 Contents
Page 3 of 4
'KNOCK AT EVERY ALIEN DOOR'
RUM - RUM
Days passed without any sight of Rum Rum, and then he
appeared one day with a tik-tiki, a small lizard, in hand. When we protested
that we certainly didn't want any lizards, since the place was full of them.
Rum Rum patted the creature and grinned. "Eat bugs. Sahib."
Rum Rum smiled, put the lizard gently on the ground, and watched it scamper away.
"Sgt. Baker's looking for you. Rum Rum." Another voice from the group rang out with laughter, knowing the cruel taunt would bring the expected conditioned reflex. "He's going to put you under the shower."
Rum Rum took off in a run, until one of the soldiers ran after him and finally overtook him, trying his best to explain that it was all a big joke. It took a concerted effort on our part to eventually reassure him, so that he felt comfortable enough again to follow us around making the usual nuisance of himself.
"Guess what happened to Rum Rum." My friend Mark found me the next day just as I was coming off duty.
"That bastard Baker finally did it."
"You don't mean what I think you mean."
"He and that moron corporal what's-his-name dragged Rum Rum under the shower. Can you believe it The bastards finally did it."
I felt anger rise in me like a flame; I knew Rum Rum would never trust any of us now, and all because of a boor like Baker. At one point my anger was so great that I thought of going to him to tell him what I thought of his treatment of Rum Rum. But then a redeeming thought occurred to me; it was Baker who had found the corrugated metal for Charlie Gonzales' roof. I let the matter drop.
"Let's go to the village and find Rum Rum. Maybe --"
"That won't work now," Mark said. "It's too early. Give him time to cool off. He might just come around. Let's give it a week. If he doesn't show up, we'll go see him."
"That sounds reasonable."
When the agreed on week arrived with no Rum Rum, we decided to wait another week, reasoning that he had been absent that long before. Then we would go, gifts in hand, to woo our little friend back to the base. And we did go; Mark with a pocketful of candy, and I with a paper weight -- one of those glass bubbles that snows when you turn it upside down. It had always fascinated Rum Rum, and he played with it constantly whenever he was in my quarters.
The village where he lived was over a mile away, and we waited until late afternoon when the heat of the sun was less fierce. We came to the edge of the village where we saw a woman squatting over a small stone oven cooking a dosai, or rice cake. When we inquired about Rum Rum, her face presented something of a scowl as she looked up at us as if we had rudely interrupted her. She said nothing, the bright red thali on her forehead proclaiming her wifehood. We moved on.
No one seemed to be around; we had experienced that feeling once before when we had visited an Indian village. We waited, not knowing what to do, and we were about to leave when a voice said quietly, "Sahib." We turned to see an Indian move out of the shadow of a hut toward us. As he approached, we both recognized him as one of the laborers at the base. Although we didn't know his name, we greeted him warmly as a co-worker. His gamcha, or head band, was the same dirty one we had always seen him wear.
"We're looking for Rum Rum," I said. "Would you tell him we're here. We have brought something for him."
The Indian was silent, staring at us as if he didn't understand.
"You know Rum Rum," Mark said, measuring height to his own waist. "The little boy. That's the only name we know him by."
"Rum Rum is dead. Sahib."
Mark and I looked at one another, each waiting for the other to confirm what we had heard.
"Snake, Sahib." The Indian struck his chest smartly with his fingertips. "Bite him here."
"When did it happen?" Mark said.
"Last week. Sahib."
We stood there locked in an awkward silence until the Indian broke it with what, under the circumstance, seemed like a rather flippant remark. "Kamal do good work for G.I. Joe. You see Kamal at Army tomorrow, Sahib. Do very good work."
If this was his way of asking for a little extra baksheesh. Mark and I didn't heed the request. We walked away in silence, the sun hanging on the horizon like a red balloon. We stood for a while on the narrow levee of a rice paddy. Mark emptied his pocket of the candy by throwing it, piece by piece, into the chalky water of the paddy. I followed suit by tossing in the paper weight. Somehow it seemed the right thing to do for Rum Rum.
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