Short Stories | Episode 2: The View from the Umpire’s Chair

What's Up?

Do more of what makes you happy!”

This is part 2 of my creative writing piece loosely based on my childhood. The journey began in Episode 1 Sun Shower Kids. I regard this as my own personal ‘The Empire’s Strikes Back‘ to the original ‘Star Wars‘ i.e. bigger and better.

My drawings are still prehistoric as I’m still using the stylus (as previously explained). I never quite mastered the stylus-to-screen art. Lucky for me the drawings suit the content.

This memory goes through the gamut of childhood emotions; laughter, heartache and pain. Furthermore, the story also goes through the imaginative and competitive nature of kids, as well as some nasty consequences.

And most of all, it presents the theme of family love and bonding.

Well, I hope it does anyway.

Main characters:

Cousins

  • Billy
  • Rafael (Joe’s brother)
  • Joe (Raf’s brother)
  • Nicholas
  • Julia
  • Liz

Without further ado, I now present: Episode 2.

**********

Episode 2: The view from the Umpire’s Chair

The flashes come every now and then. I remember the little adventures I used to have as a kid in the family compound.

I can still see their faces as if it were yesterday.

It all began a long long time ago…

The household was quite manic again like most weekends. It was breakfast time and there were bodies jockeying up for position in the kitchen; bread was in the oven toasting, bacon was frying in the pan, cutlery was being passed around and a couple of people were sorting out the drinks. Some lucky few were already seated at the table having overlapping conversations.  Liz and I were seated next to each other having completed our table-setting duties.

Your cousin Nicholas is coming to your Aunt Kate’s house” my grandmother said directing the statement towards us.  “That should be good. You two haven’t seen him now for a couple of weeks”.

1 breakfast

Nicholas was 5 years old and we were only a couple of months apart. He would frequently join us in anything we occupied ourselves with and particularly followed Rafael and Joe when he was about.

Yay! We haven’t seen him for a while now.” I replied. “I really like Nicholas!” The last time he was here, he brought along his new Matchbox set which I marvelled at. I only had plastic cars to play with.

Mum, the boys are going to exclude us again!” Liz came crashing in on the conversation. “They always do that when they get together.” Liz was referring to the fact that she would be left to her own devices with Julia. On this weekend, there would be more boys than girls in the compound.

No we won’t!” I swiftly replied to excuse our behaviour. It was only last week when Patricia and Alicia, our cousins from our aunt Jen, stayed over on the weekend. I certainly did not complain when I was the only boy in the house.

Perry, can you please make sure that you do not exclude Liz and Julia on any games.” My aunt Mimi hollered from across the room.

I turned around with a frown to face Liz. She greeted me with her tongue out. It was a normal sibling-like relationship we had.

After breakfast and the morning cartoon, Liz and I excused ourselves to see what our cousins were up to.

Mum, we are going outside to see what the guys are doing!” I exclaimed while motioning Liz to follow.  This was, of course, the code word for ‘we will see you much MUCH later on’.

The morning shows were indeed over as we saw our cousins Rafael, Joe, Julia and Billy standing around the mango tree at the back of our house. It was a majestic tree, approximately 10 metres tall with a heavy set trunk, roots that cracked the pavement around it and strong stems that reached out in all directions. The tree has been with us for as long as I could remember and during different times of the year, the leaves cradled mangoes; new mangoes came out with heavy green colours, others that have been there for a while had an inviting yellow tinged to them and many more were in-between the ‘just arrived‘ and ‘fully ripe‘ stages. The in-betweeners were our favourite as it would have this distinctive almost-ripe sweet taste to it, with a kick of sour green mango too.

Billy and Rafael were clearly sizing up a challenge.

What’s the bet I only need 5 shots to get one of those down?” Billy said to the rest. Billy was a few years older than Rafael and was creeping towards being a teen. He always came across as being confident and self-assured, particularly around Rafael who liked to challenge the older boys.

You’re on. I’ll bet 5 marbles on that.” Rafael retorted.

Billy takes his slingshot[1] from his hip pocket and picks up a small stone from the ground.

Go Billy!” Julia screamed.  Julia had no favourites but tended to side with the person whom she thought would win.

Billy positioned the stone in the middle of the rubber band with his thumb and index finger holding the stone in place. He closed his left eye and aimed with his right while extending the rubber band. He took a couple of seconds to focus…then:

Whoosh!

The stone nicked the side of one of the mangoes, enough to spin it around in circles a few times over, but not enough to knock the fruit off its stem.

You’re not going to take my marbles!”  Joe quipped to his brother Rafael, sensing the danger in his brother’s bet and the tendency Rafael had to borrow marbles from his younger brother.

This is your game and not mine.” He continued.

Lucky shot.” Rafael answered back with a hint of surprise in his voice.

Billy sneers at Rafael, clearly disappointed he missed and potentially irked by Rafael’s snide remark. He picked up another stone off the ground and aims at the mangoes once again.

WHOOSH!

The shot whizzes past the same fruit, missing its target by inches.

Take your time Billy” I said sensing that the last shot was rushed compared to the first.

Billy takes his third stone off the ground and gently tosses the stone up-and-down his hand.

This is 3rd time lucky. I call this one ‘The Mango Striker’.  Are you ready for it guys?” Billy said with confidence naming the fateful stone.

Yes!” we all said in unison, except for Rafael who had a mixture of doubt and fear in his face.

Go Billy!” Julia repeats her cry.

Whoosh!

2 MStriker

‘The Mango-Striker’ found its target, releasing a mango beside the original target from its stem.

Billy…Billy…Billy!” We all chant his name in praise.

Billy triumphantly re-enacts his winning moment by pretending to cock his slingshot with an imaginary stone while hissing “Ssssstriker! Oooh yeah! Mango-Sssssstriker!

Sssssstriker!

***

Liz and I retired in the Umpire’s Chair half an hour later.

Moments ago we witnessed Billy present Joe with the winning mango, which Joe then proceeded to eat in front of his big brother. Rafael retaliated by climbing half way up the mango tree and shaking the branches around him. Several mangoes hit the ground and when Rafael came back down, he started chasing Billy and Joe with mangoes right around the family compound.

Julia was quite pleased with the mangoes, so much so that she brought a handful back to her house.

Liz and I had a mango each and we retired to our favourite spot; up the Umpire’s Chair on Court 1. The tennis courts were only completed 2 months ago and the Umpire’s Chair was already our favourite.

What do you suppose that cloud looks like, Liz?” I ask, pointing to a passing cloud directly above our heads. We played with our imagination quite a bit when we were young and at times, study the world above our heads. We used to lie on the grass and imagine that the heavens would represent the earth by shaping her clouds in her likeness. Since the tennis courts were built, the Umpire’s chair made us feel closer to the heavens.

Liz pondered on the cloud for a few seconds and replied back “Looks like a ball of cotton to me.

Good guess but I’m thinking of something else.” I said.

Liz looks at me for a moment, as if my face had the answer.

“It’s fairy floss, right?” she finally said.

“Nice try…” I said in a casual but triumphant tone. ”..But it’s a sheep with a very thick coat.” I replied having already studied the cloud previously from afar.

You see, there’s the head at the top,” I said pointing at one part of the cloud which had a distinctive ball of puff protruding out of the cloud’s body.

“And the body is that big ball of fluff in middle,” I wrapped up. “That fairy floss of yours.

Can you see it?” I continued.

Yes I see it now.” Liz responded. “Ok, now it’s my turn.”

Liz takes a long pause. I studied my cousin’s face and saw a girl almost a year younger, intently searching for a shape hidden in the clouds. She made contorted looks which made her appear unhappy with the clouds on parade. She took a few more moments before suddenly, her imagination opened up:

There. That one! It’s kinda long” she says excitedly pointing towards a cloud.

3 clouds

I see it. Is it a living thing?” I asked.

Yes it is.” Liz replied.

Is it an animal?” I continued to pry.

Yes it is.” she looks my way, half annoyed that I filtered the answer.

Land animal or sea?” I tested my luck further.

I can’t give everything away.” she said. “That’s cheating!

You’re welcome to do it too you know,” I started to say. “But that’s ok, I’ll try to guess.”

Is it a lizard?” I had a swipe at it.

No. It’s a snake! You can even see the scales!” she exclaimed while pointing at bits of the cloud that was missing from the main part which did, upon my own admission, appeared like scales. Of course some lizards have scales too but this was beside the point.

That’s not fair!” I said. “You only gave me one guess. I was going to have another one.”

Sorry.” Replied Liz as she tried to hide a smirk in vain.

I gave her the same look I did during breakfast. In reality, I understood Liz completely. I knew that I also had the potential to pull quick ones like that, and so I couldn’t really blame Liz for shutting down the guessing game quickly.

Julia’s voice breaks our silence: “Guys, Nicholas is here!

We both headed down the umpire’s chair to where Rafael, Joe, Billy and Nicholas were.

Hi Nicholas, how are you?” Liz said greeting our cousin.

We have a few mangoes,” I excitedly interrupted before Nicholas could respond. “You should have seen Billy with his slingshot. What a dead shot!

Rafael interrupts: “Don’t forget who retrieved the most mangoes!

Just before Billy could return the friendly fire, the voice of my aunt Millie breaks out “Billy! There’s a big mess of mangoes here on the ground!

That was Raf, aunty. That was Rafael and his temper!” Billy responded.

Well can you both get here this instant and clean up this mess in the backyard!” our aunt commanded with serious intent.

I told you to clean it up, didn’t I?” Billy whispered quietly to Rafael.

Rafael replies by mimicking Billy’s words “I told you to clean up…I told you to clean up.”

We watched Billy and Rafael stroll towards the back of the great big house, towards the mango tree and our aunt who had her arms folded by now.

Come on guys.” Julia interrupted. “Let’s go to the front before they call us to sweep too.

Julia was really good at getting out of chores around the house and was usually one step ahead of everybody else in sensing incoming work.

We arrived outside the gate of the family compound where my great aunt Kate’s house faced the street.

I’m not allowed to have slingshots around the house,” Nicholas explained. “Too dangerous for the neighbourhood.

Nicholas family lived less than 10 minutes away from us, but in a more densely populated part of town. His mother was a little bit stricter than most of my aunties with kids. Or at least, this is what Nicholas would have us believe when we hear his ‘I can’t do this and that’ routine. I am quite certain that he would have had more freedom had he lived in the family compound; the adults trusted us to look after each other.

I would have hit a mango down too had I had one.” Nicholas continued while picking up a small rock.

Watch that small can over there in the dirt.” Nicholas pointed to an empty can standing upright about 3 metres away.

Clang!

The echo of the can rattled through the air suggesting that the tin can had no contents inside it.

Let me do it.” Julia stepped in with a rock of her own. Her shot is off-course and landed a metre away from target.

By this time, Joe, Liz and I equip ourselves with our own ammunition in an attempt to equal Nick’s shot.

My shot misfired by a small margin hitting the dirt to the left of the tin can.

That was using my right hand guys!” I reminded them of my re-training[2].

At least, that was my excuse.

Whizz

Joe’s narrowly misses the target. “That was close.” He said.

Clang!

The tin can falls to its side as Liz stood tall.

That was easy.” Liz replied triumphantly. “It’s not that far you know.”

Well I would have hit it too on my second go.” Julia said as she turned around to face the street with a stone in her hand. Without warning, Julia aimed at an empty parked car by the road and threw her stone at it.

CLANG!

She hit the car just on the front passenger side.

We all looked at each other in shock. This was taking it to a different level; the target was definitely bigger, a little bit further than the tin can, but due to its size, it was still an easier target to hit. More importantly however, this was someone’s car.  Although we all knew this, the sense of doing the right thing and telling others to do the same didn’t come naturally at that age.

That’s what I would have done to that tin can.” Julia said with conviction.

Nicholas picked up a rock and followed suit. He also hit the parked vehicle and turned around with a broad smile.

Ha-ha! This is easy!” he said looking our way.

Joe, Liz and I find ourselves instinctively picking up our own little rocks out of peer pressure. We hit the car with a consecutive clang, clang and looked at the others and giggled.

No sooner had we stopped when Julia repeated the cycle and pelted the car with more projectiles. And where one child starts, the others soon follow.

4 incident

It was at this point, after a few seconds of hitting-the-parked-car, the incident happened.

SMASH!

Screeeech!

We focussed our eyes on another car that has grounded to a halt by the side of the road. The entire back window of the car was smashed in with pieces of broken glass littering the side of the street where it just parked.

We look at Julia who was clearly panicked.

Oh-oh.” she whispered quietly.

The driver’s door suddenly opened accompanied by an almighty voice:

“What the hell?”

That was our queue to bolt and we all ran back into the compound as fast as we could.

***

The moments immediately after the incident were a blur.

I can remember being questioned by my aunties and uncles: “What happened? Who threw the rock that smashed the car’s window and ‘for the love of god’ – What were we thinking?

I remember staring at the ground and explaining at length.

It wasn’t Liz and I uncle, it was Julia.” I would tell my uncle Nathan.

But was it really Julia’s fault or was it merely a group of kids caught up in the moment. The fatal stone could have come from any one of us.

***

The day after the incident I remember looking for Liz after breakfast.

Liz, where are you?” I called while walking around the house. I looked in all the usual places but could not find Liz.

A-ha” I thought, imagining that Liz would be hiding in my grandmother’s room. Liz had an affinity for going over some of Nan’s jewellery at times.

I headed up to Nan’s room and found it empty. I even checked under the bed just in case she was playing an early morning hide-and-seek game with me. But the room was empty.

I sat on the bed momentarily to think; I’ve practically searched the entire house and couldn’t find her. My eyes made its way to the window where the morning sun was shining through. From a distance the light bounced off a silhouette sitting inside the umpire’s chair.

5 umpires chair

I rushed down in a hurry and headed over the empty courts.

The morning silence was deafening. The usual buzz emanating from the compound was not there on that day.

Liz, whatever are you doing here?” I asked. “Nanna is going to the markets today and I wanted to ask if you wanted to walk down with her?” I continued.

We’re not allowed to go out of the compound for 2 weeks.” She replied weakly.

Huh? No one told me that?” I said.

I look at Liz closely and noticed tears in her eyes. A few moments ago my uncle Nathan laid down the law before he left for the day. I missed this event altogether.

I can’t take things back.” Liz started to cry.

I know Liz, I know.” I said while I placed my arm around her.

We both looked at the sky and let our minds wander. The clouds were very heavy that day which suited us just fine.

**********

Now I really cannot end this story and say “Another wonderful piece of my childhood I carry with me” like I did in the initial instalment. This was a dark cloud that was hanging over my head for a long time. We of course learnt our lesson and thank goodness the road outside was not a major thoroughfare and therefore, the vehicles that did pass, did so at a slow and steady pace. The concern here of course is that no one was hurt.  And no one was, thank god. That was my last memory of being allowed out of the family compound with a mob of cousins.

Perhaps a little bit more background into the great family home too. The family home in my stories was a large house, which had all the hallmarks of a grand old castle from memory; there appeared to be countless rooms which housed approximately 9-15 family members living at any one time. There were 2 other houses in the family compound, but none would equal this in size and warmth.

I started asking my mum for an old photo and I was redirected to a Facebook page of an uncle:

7 the castle

I suspect that this snap was taken just after its completion – way before my time. I’m not that old.

**********

I’ve mind-mapped the ‘next episode’ and will get that out around June-July (if I’m not side-tracked by other little projects).

Until then, I hope you enjoyed this short story as much as I have exorcising the demons in my closet.

And once again I assure you that no one was hurt during this incident.

photo (15)

PC @ MMA


[1] More commonly referred to as a ‘tirador’.

[2] I was a natural ‘lefty’ at birth you see, and growing up in a Catholic country back in the day, left-handers would be associated with the devil. It’s quite funny but there are small things that I still naturally do with my left hand rather than my retrained right hand. But I do find this practice a bit odd as I suspect that there are still people out there, in this day and age which are correcting their kids of this evil.

5 thoughts on “Short Stories | Episode 2: The View from the Umpire’s Chair

    1. Thanks Mati! Even though you differentiate the right from the wrong, kids still cannot fully process the consequences of their actions. I believe adults do too :(

      There’s also a theme of herd behaviour here. Something of which people naturally do.

      Thanks again for all your support!

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