THE BOYS AT PRIMARY SCHOOL
We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
When we were children, our missionary would speak these words. His voice was like a parakeet’s, musical even when it didn’t mean to be. That summer, our missionary ran off to the bush, returned with a dead snake, and spoke, We sing sin, don’t we?
We left that country and came to this one in a large operation that involved two aero planes and a bilingual stewardess. The missionary preached to us in the hull. He lacked socks but carried the voice of God in his heart.
“Do you and you know the meaning of this?” he asked. “We Jazz June?”
We agreed we did not know, though certainly we believed in our suffering. It was our suffering, a backpack of clothes, and a whistle we each tied around our necks, that would lift us across oceans, a naturalization center, and into the Laboratory on Kenneth.
When first they procured us purple rimmed sunglasses, we snickered repeatedly: We real cool. The doctor who wore a golden chain laughed and laughed. They pinched us for the sake of correcting our posture, an attention to detail we liked.
They placed us in a room of soft walls. A sugary music…. Then somebody outside turned up a dial, and the music was loud, and the room shook and fell. We huddled; one of our ear’s bled.
The assistants to the doctors were beautiful in the way that made us think of Victoria Falls. They had names like Mindy; they massaged our arms and asked about our mothers.
“When we were young, we left school,” we said.
“This is why you are why you are now,” they said.
They let us smell their collarbone, which was powdery and sweet. Thus we begat ourselves in the soft room, and when somebody hurled in the thousand frogs, we did not squeal. The frogs did not move overmuch but sat watching us, curling their tongues, time to time. Were they instructing us on how to lurk?
When one of us grew lonely, they brought us back the missionary. Now it was he, who turned on the other dial outside, who flooded the soft room with a murky sludge, which slinked towards our feet. There is no one way to describe the pleasure we felt when they projected onto our sunglasses the image we loved: a cow being milked in a weedy pond. Remember, they said, once you cursed your mothers, though it was she who brought you the word of God.
The missionary loved the land and thus cared for us from youth. He fitted a sack over our eyes and led us from the room. Outside, in the grass, he let us drink from a clay pot. Then he poured jugs of water over our heads, long after we were done.
“This is what it means,” he said. “To Thin Gin.”
We returned to our room and curried the water from our skulls, dipping and angling our heads this way and that. We felt sated, removed of all secrets. There was nothing to us but the walls, the music, the incomplete paint.
Afterwards, they did not visit for days. We grew hungry, and full of discontent.
We said: “Our time is precious here. Let us be loved in the way a wolf is loved.”
In rage, we turned the music on ourselves, and one of us turned up the dial high, until most of our ears rang in one good hum.
Then we saw upon our sunglasses the missionary and the one they called Mindy, a meeting which ended in a terrible embrace. If you have not wrestled with a hyena in the bush, you cannot imagine their struggle. And yet, when it was done, neither walked away triumphantly.
Some say it was the paperboy who freed us. That when he came he wondered aloud at the frogs, and we told him stories from start to end.
“We die soon,” we said. “We are happy you have come.”
“We?” he said. “You are thin, lopsided, and full of lack. It is good there is not more of you.”
Others say a rogue among the doctors, who disliked the smell of frogs. Either way, in a town close to the border, we learned to drive, we learned to eat with spoons.
1 From Gwendolyn Brooks’ The Pool Players.
JAI CHAKRABARTI is a writer of poetry, fiction, and algorithms. His work has appeared in Barrow Street, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Rattapallax, and other journals. He is an MFA candidate at Brooklyn College.