by Cherry Koshy
Darius was bullied. Until one bottle changed it all...
1. The Wishboners
If being good seemed more of a curse than a boon, it would most certainly find a place in little 10-year old Darius.
Darius, the good ‘lamb’ who stuck by the Bible.
Darius, the good boy who always finished his homework, well ahead of the others.
Darius, the No-Creases-On-His-Pants One.
Darius, the No Gossip One.
Darius, the Healthy One.
Darius, the Clean One.
Too much sugary goodness in there to choke up ordinary blokes. And that, judging by the code of the 4-member Wishbone Club in Class 9 in the All Mercy School was an absolute no-no to membership. ‘Goodness’ was an antiseptic, lovingly meant to be detested, while classroom anarchy where pranks equated to Having a Good Time was stylishly celebrated as the in-thing, the Cool Thing and every which way: very ‘Wishbone’.
Oh well, not the burn-the-windows-with-Molotov –cocktails kind of anarchy, but the Let’s-Make-Him-The-Butt-of-Pranks anarchy.
Needless to say, Darius found himself the unlucky target of the Wishbone Club, made up of a bunch of smart brats that included Jack, Homi, Clara and George who would find relentless ways to punish the poor fellow.
It began with a series of small evils, from sticking chewing gum on his seat to tearing off random sheets from his homework book, to sticking gruesome lab frog residue in his lunchbox.
About the only thing that wasn’t about half as victimized, was the water-bottle that he carried with him, one that was safe so far and…
“Gimme that!” a harsh, loud voice boomed into his ear from behind startling him from his thoughts.
The books and the schoolbag on his desk fell down with a thump and a roar of giggles erupted from behind.
Darius slowly and meekly turned around to find himself staring up at the mammoth sized Jack, the rat-fink of the Wishbone pack, flanking him fully from the rest of the gang sitting behind.
2. The Fight.
“I see you’ve got a stylish Mickey Mouse water-bottle there, compliments of your fantastic grade A performance from your dad, eh?”, Jack sneered, quickly pulling the bottle which sported those unique Mickey’s ‘ears’ as bottle handles from the bag on the floor.
“Finders keepers, eh gang? Besides our little Darius doesn’t need water now does he, he’s all well fed like a fattened calf anyways! What he needs is to go Wishbone Dry…hahahahahaha…”
This time, Darius decided enough was enough. He wasn’t going to be talked down too. Well at least he would try.
Summoning up his courage, he got up taking a step towards Jack who was ferociously busy gulping down the home made pomegranate juice from the water bottle.
“You give me back my bottle now Jack. Finish off that juice, I don’t care, but give me back my bottle.”
Darius’ words hung in there in the sudden silence of the classroom like thick fog for a minute that seemed like eternity. It was lunch break anyways and apart from the Wishbone gang, there really was no one else around.
3. Standing Up.
Maybe it felt like eternity, Darius thought, because Jack and his pack were too dumb and shocked to take in the meaning of his words that may have hit them like a jackhammer.
“Well, well, well… what did you just say?”, rasped Homi, butting in. “No one talks to our boss man like that! NO one!”
“Yep, you better take back your words darling, if you don’t want Jack and his Beanstalk punch ramming you in the face!” added Clara, with a nervous laugh.
“And from a stool pigeon like you! Oh boy, this should be fun when he slices you like a fish! Maybe you want to look in the mirror one last time before you ask that question again hot shot?” said George chipping in.
“ENOUGH!” shouted Darius now with all the might of pent up adolescent rage. “Jack, I am asking you to give me back my bottle!”
“Well, well, well…little Darius here has grown into Tiger Darius,” gawked Jack looking down on Darius, his eyes glinting fiercely as an eagle scanning its prey.
“Don’t forget who you’re talking to, you little puppy!”
He pushed Darius violently two or three times forward, till his back hit the wall at the end of the classroom.
“You want your precious Mickey do you?” sneered Jack while clutching Darius’ tie. “Well then, let’s see you make a grab for it! A mouse for a Mouse! Hahahahaha….” And with that he snapped the entire Mickey Mouse water-bottle into two, sadistically tearing out the ear handles, while smashing it with his shoes and pushing all his fierce weight on to it.
The rest of the Wishbone Club joined in like a pack of wild hyenas all laughing at Jack’s pathetic pun, while Darius looked on helpless and shocked, staring at his favourite Mickey, now a smashed piece of pulpy plastic.
He let out a loud scream and stomped hard on Jack’s shoes with all the strength he could muster.
“OWWW!!!”…. howled Jack like an angry wolf hurt by its prey. “You….You miserable little piggy!”
And with that, he leapt on Darius knocking him to the ground. Jack kept his punches coming in a series of endless volleys, and as much as Darius could do to duck some, he couldn’t avoid taking in a rather harsh beating.
A whistle blew hard.
Someone had called security in.
4. Professor Einsten.
The professor, a 55- year old man with long locks of grey to rival Einstein walked in, shouting “ Clear! Clear! Stand back all.”
In a matter of minutes, statements were given, telephone calls made to Darius’ parents and first aid was rushed in to treat Darius who had a broken nose that was bleeding profusely and a black eye.
Jack stood on the other end of the classroom with his pack, clearly annoyed with all the attention that Darius was getting with his parents who arrived on the scene.
Professor Einstein had a quick word with Darius’ father who now looked back with a rather strong glare at Jack.
Einstein then handed out some papers to Jack and his Wishbone members.
“What’s tt..this?” stammered Jack.
“What does it look like? It’s your suspension notice for 1 month. From now on you don’t walk into this class, till I have seen all your parents and that’s an order! This has gone far enough! We know everything you’ve been up to, and bullying doesn’t take you up as head of the food chain mister!”
“It’s the Wishbone food chain Sir”, Jack replied proudly with no trace of shame.
“Wishbone whatever!” retorted Einstein sarcastically and added, “About the one thing you bunch of no gooders should ‘wish’ for is how you have slipped in my book of good graces and more importantly, how far this incident is going to reflect on your grades now. For now…I suggest you pick yourselves up and get out!”
Jack stared back at the professor with an almost lion- like intensity and then at Darius.
But the one thing that seemed to catch him off-guard was the stare of Darius’ Dad. It almost seemed unreal, almost wolf-like, unflinching, cold red eyes that seemed to tear right through him.
“Let’s go gang, we’ve got no business here.” Jack said shifting uncomfortably and added looking at Darius, “At least for now.”
5. Dad's Gift.
The pain lasted for a few days and Darius was advised total rest for a week under doctor’s orders.
The morning began well, after a warm slice of toast with the usual ham and eggs, washed down with his favourite pomegranate juice.
Pomegranate juice. It brought back memories of his Mickey bottle. It was the one thing that he had prided himself with for so long among his otherwise ordinary school things, in an ordinary schoolboy nerd’s life.
And that was now gone. He gulped down hard.
“Morning son!” Dad walked into the dining room eyeing his son and wearing his Albanian off-white and brown sheep leather jacket that in sharp contrast concealed his wolfish corporate attire underneath.
“How are you feeling today, much better?”, his dad added cheerfully, while looking at his son with concern.
“I’m fine dad. Just a little pain in the arm that’s all, “ Darius chipped in trying to sound upbeat.
“I want you to know that you showed some guts down there. Takes a lot of pluck to stand up against four bullies. You did your old man proud! Having said that, let’s just keep away from those beasties whenever we can, right!”
“But dad, they were pulling the bottle away from me and all I did was…”
“I know son, I know”, his Dad interjected. “Believe me I know what it feels like to be singled out and overpowered, but…there’s always a way…” his father looked away in the distance for a minute, before completing, “I guess what I am saying really is that there are ways to settle these things, street smart ways when you’ve got to think like a fox. In fact, we do it all the time in the trading business, when the chips are down, but we find a way to go bullish…”
“Bullish?”, echoed Darius, clearly losing the strand of conversation.
“ What I meant is there’s always a time for everything.” He paused, giving that calm but arresting stare again.
“I know that nothing can compensate for that Mickey water bottle you lost, but…”
“How did you know what I was thinking Dad?”, Darius replied with a mixture of shock and happy surprise.
“What’s a Dad who doesn’t know what’s on his son’s mind?” he chuckled.
His father glanced at his wristwatch. “Let’s head towards the attic, shall we, there’s something I want you to have a look at, before I head to office?”
“Sure Dad”, Darius replied and hopped out of bed, slipping on his night shoes.
Opening the attic, both father and son stepped in, coughing in response to the dust gathered around a room filled with old music records, books, candles, VCRs, a broken TV, some hunting spears and a studded deer head ominously perched on a wall staring at them through dead pan eyes.
“One of the things…” his father continued, lighting up a candle on the holder and holding it upright to reveal a giant box with designs resembling something straight out of Jumanji …”or rather I should say… secrets…(here, his voice dropped low)…was this special something that my dad gifted me long ago on one of his many travels as a soldier in the jungles of Kenya !”
“The Box?” said Darius with a strange fascination, his pupils dancing wildly with excitement in the candlelight.
“No silly, “ laughed his Dad, “It’s this little piece of awesomeness…”, and so saying, he put his hands into the box to pull out what looked like an anaconda head shaped…bottle!
“Whoa, that’s both cool…and scary Dad”, replied Darius, staring with a degree of trepidation at the snake bottle that eerily glowed neon green in the darkness.
“Ah, don’t let that silly anaconda head scare you…you’ve got to admit… it looks cool though, right?”
“But why an Anaconda head dad… for a bottle, it’s kind of creepy!”
“Well that story goes back to…”
His dad broke off in mid sentence, glancing again at his watch, “Hmm, let me make this quick… As far as I can remember, legend had it that my dad was once out with his league of soldiers, fighting the wars in Kenya against imperialist rebels from Turkey in 1920, who threatened to take over large swathes of the sacred Ben Wa tribe that he was defending with his band of soldiers.
Pitted against the might of the Turkey warriors who had more advanced weaponry, the Ben Wa tribe found themselves at a clear disadvantage, with only their poor spears and lances to ward intruders off, but this was of course, war, not mere intrusion! They were also a tribe of just 80 families against a hoard of nearly 200 Turkish soldiers, so clearly no match.
7. That's Some Story!
“Don’t stop Dad, continue, please!” added Darius clearly into the thick of the story.
“Well, my dad was…like you, ready to pitch against anything that was challenging. He however had a master plan, days before the soldiers advanced.
Stationing his expert bunch of 50 strong soldiers at various points around the tents at trenches hidden by thick trees surrounding the village, he laid booby traps for the Turks by lining up mine triggered explosions with yards and yards of string surrounding the area, a pretty kickass idea at that time…and the unsuspecting Turkish troops in their crazy aggression stepped right through them, setting the explosions off…meeting instant death!”
“As a reward for his selfless courage in protecting the Ben Wa tribe, the leader gave him a huge leopard skin shawl and … this thing you see before you.”
“I have never figured out what’s so special about this, but there was some mumbo jumbo that dad wrote about in his diary, that anything drunk from this bottle had the power to strengthen the owner beyond belief. That it would absorb the energy from anything around it, much like how it is nowadays, when we absorb energy from people and surroundings around us – especially the darkest, animal-like beastly souls. The bottle was like this magical converter, converting their negative energy into ‘A-Grade invincible juice’, go figure! Hahaha…“
“Whoa…and have you ever drunk from this bottle?” said Darius, wide eyed.
“Well, I did have some mango juice from it on two occasions, “ his Dad chuckled, “Didn’t feel like much, though…I remember being promoted around that time with my stocks going up while my feisty office mates grumbled and swore at me as their shares nose-dived… ah, but that’s just freaky coincidence.”
“My point though is…you’ve got yourself this bottle and, well, you never know….”
Darius replied happily: “You bet, Dad. No questions asked. This snake baby and me are going to be friends all the way to school now! I’ve got just the water bottle I need!”
His dad flashed that happy wolfish grin.
8. The Final Jungle Battle
Wednesday morning came in like any other morning, but it brought the rains with it.
Darius looked out of the classroom window dreamily, happily at the dark clouds after that bright and harsh summer heat that had sapped his energy a few days ago.
He was feeling much better now with all the pain gone as he eased himself back in his seat as the bell rang for lunchtime recess.
He proudly took out the anaconda bottle from his bag along with his tiffin box of crackers. He was just about to slurp down his pomegranate juice, when he heard sickeningly familiar laughter.
The class was mysteriously empty again, but like a bad dream…the Wishbone Club had returned, the four of them now sitting behind him.
Jack banged the desk in front of Darius, startling him.
“Oh yes, my nerdy lamb, you thought we were goners? Like that was the end of it? Never thought we would be back, huh? Gimme that!”, shouted Jack reaching for the anaconda bottle.
“Oh no, you don’t, “ said Darius defiantly springing up from his desk and grabbing the anaconda bottle away from Jack’s clutches, just in time.
The four Wishbone members stared back at him like wolves eyeing their prey.
Darius had enough. He quickly opened the bottle and drank the juice gulping it down as fast as he could.
He then turned quickly, burping, coughing while the rest of the gang cracked up laughing.
“Ever seen a lamb make like a tree?” laughed Jack…”Just look at this coward…hahahaha…
He got up threateningly and the other three stood up in unison, each one wielding a steel chain.
Darius gasped, looking at them as they advanced.
Suddenly, there were a series of loud snapping sounds, as if some tree trunks were being splintered with an axe in a forest.
They all froze, staring at each other.
“What the…” George and Clara shouted in unison.
Those were the last words that escaped their mouths as the four of them found their skin shriveling, rapidly tearing off and falling to the ground, giant boils forming and bursting blood into the air, in copious amounts.
Amidst all the deafening and horrified screams that filled the air, Jack’s bulky frame suddenly caved in, his face melting profusely, skin tissue burning up into oozing, otherworldly liquid, as if radiation had hit him hard, his eyeballs falling out of its sockets, black goo hitting the floor.
A stench of rot filled the air and Darius gagged under it. His eyes were looking down this time, more with horrid fascination as he surveyed four pools of viscous goo, where the Wishbone Club once stood.
Darius stared back at the anaconda bottle, smiling.
The negative energy had been absorbed.
The lamb had become a tiger.