KakapoMr Joshi, it looks like Sir is going to be tied down a little longer,” the lady at the reception barked out without taking her eyes away from a crossword she was working on.
Mr Joshi, it looks like Sir is going to be tied down a little longer,” the lady at the reception barked out without taking her eyes away from a crossword she was working on.
Ms Prabha, as the students called her, wasn’t known for her cordiality. At 25, starkly pretty, and employed as an assistant to the principal of the high school, she’d been an object of desire for many of his more hormonal friends. But Sameer had always felt a deep, unseating dislike for her. Did it cost to be nice?
“How much longer, I’ve been sat here half an hour?” Sameer asked.
Ms Prabha just shrugged, without looking up.
Irritated, he got up and stepped out into the corridor. The school was silent as a doorknob. He walked over to a low wall and planted himself on it, and let out a deep sigh. Patience had never been his forte.
From the adjoining classroom a deep baritone voice wafted into the hallway. Sameer looked at his watch—11:20 am, fourth period, Thapa Sir. What was the old bat ranting about today?
Craning his neck, he peeked into the room. Thapa Sir, the 62-year-old Math instructor, was admonishing the usual suspects seated at the back of the room, sending others into fits of laughter. His eyes scanned the room as he tried to find his old seat. It was taken. Niraj, the boy who was occupying it, was leaned over on Asim’s desk, sharing, what Sameer imagined, was a snide remark. Both the boys burst out into controlled sniggers.
The sight left Sameer disconcerted. How long have I been gone? He thought to himself. Six days and it is as if I never existed. Did any of them miss me? Did they even notice I am gone? What happens when I am really gone? How quickly stuff moves on.
“Mr Joshi, are you with us?” Ms Prabha’s high-pitched voice pierced through the corridor, startling Sameer. “The principal will see you now.”
By midday, the sun had climbed up the cloudless sky and was bearing down pitilessly on the asphalt.
The beetle had waited for this moment all morning. When he had stirred at dawn, last night’s heavy rain had washed everything anew. But more importantly, it had washed away a host of earthworms onto the concrete driveway. He’d spent the morning fixated on just one. The darn thing must have been six inches long—so succulent, so helpless, wreathing, unable to get away. Yes, the worm would make for a nice meal, all he had to do was bide his time.
And now, that time had arrived. Patiently, he inched towards the worm, now baked stiff by the afternoon sun. The concrete was burning like a furnace, but how sweet the prize would be. Good things come to those who wait.
Then, suddenly, without warning, he felt a large shadow rise like a tidal wave. And before he could retreat, it crashed.
“Gross, man, I think I stepped on something,” Sameer said, scraping his shoe on the concrete, forming a black smear as he did, “I think a beetle.”
“Ah, just an earthworm,” Asim replied, without looking down. “There were dozens of them here this morning. All dead already. When is your flight anyways, re?”
“Tomorrow. I just popped in to grab the principal’s recommendation. Still need to go home and finish packing,” Sameer replied, still scraping his shoe clean on the concrete.
“So soon, man. Didn’t even get the time for a proper farewell—a Proper one, you hear?” Asim said, elbowing Sameer on the ribs.
“You know, man, everything just worked out so suddenly.”
“I know. You’re not even going to finish the school year.”
“I got into a highschool there, you know that already. Senior High School, in Ie-O-Wa”
“Ie-O-Wa,” Asim repeated, “Sounds so far away. I don’t understand why you just don’t finish high school here and find a college in the US next year, like all of us are doing. I don’t understand all this rush.”
Sameer looked away, he didn’t have an explanation.
“Listen, Sameer,” Asim continued, “I mean, I know this must be a great opportunity, but ever since last year, you’ve not quite been the same. Like something is bothering you but you’re not telling. And you have such good grades, a Resume all of us envy. You’re bound to get into a good school next year on a full scholarship. Anyone of us would have loved to be in your shoes. I guess, I don’t understand why you are rushing.”
“You know how things have been since Dad died,” Sameer said, turning back to his friend, “All the debts are closing in. Mother is worried we will lose our house if things don’t change. And I’m worried that if I don’t go now, I just might never be able to. Next year, I don’t think I’d be able to focus on college applications.”
“You’re right,” Asim finally conceded as the second-half bell rang out, “Listen man, I didn’t mean to bring you down. Good luck with everything. We’ll be in touch, yeah? And next year, when I get into a college there, we’re going to go on a long road trip, just like in the movies.”
Sameer smiled. “Sure. I need to go back to the principal’s office to grab that recommendation too.”
“Alright man,” Asim said, bringing out a hand for a shake. When Sameer reached to meet it, his friend looked dead into his eyes, “Remember who you are, Sameer. You’re meant to fly. One day you will soar above everyone else. Take care, my friend.”
When Sameer walked out of the principal’s office, Ms Prabha was still fiddling with the crossword.
“The principal said he gave you the recommendation to have it attested?” Sameer asked.
“Yep, he sure did. It is here, do you want it?”
“Do I want it? That’s why I’ve been here for the past two hours!” he said, frustrated.
“You should have told me,” Ms Prabha shrugged. “You’re just sitting there all bundled into a ball.”
Sameer walked over to her desk.
“See this?” Ms Prabha held up the crossword, finally looking up at Sameer. “Do you know this word? I’m stuck. That recommendation letter said that you’re really smart.”
Sameer sighed. It had been a long day already and it was going to be a longer night still.
“I don’t have time for this.”
“Come on, I promised myself that I wouldn’t Google the answers today. It’s just one word.”
“Fine, what is the hint?”
“A secretive, nocturnal bird from New Zealand that can’t fly and hides from others during the day and comes out of the shadows at night.”
The words hit Sameer like a pile of bricks. “What?” he asked nervously.
“A secretive, nocturnal bird, that can’t fly and hides from others during the day and comes out of the shadows at night.”
“Try Kakapo,” he said, half-talking to himself.
“Wait, what did you say?”
“K-a-k-a-p-o; six letters.”
“K-A-K-A-P-O, that’s it!” Ms Prabha began to shout, before arresting her excitement. “You really are smart. K-A-K-A-P-O. How does anyone even know such a word?”
“I just do,” Sameer replied, snatching the letter from her hands.
He reached inside his jacket and drew out his passport and wedged the envelope behind the flight tickets that was already in there. His eyes lingered a while on the ticket. Kathmandu-Doha-Paris-Mexico City, it read. That’s where the road stopped. Where from there?
“Good luck in America,” Ms Prabha yelled out as he walked quickly away with the question still fermenting in his mind.