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The Dinosaur and the Cockroach

The Dinosaur and the Cockroach

By Jonathan Lee

Copyright 2015 www.jonathanleebooks.com

Shakespir Edition

Shakespir Edition License Notes

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please download an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not download it from Smashword , or it was not downloaded for your use only, then please return to your favourite eBook retailer and download your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

The Dinosaur and the Cockroach

 

Chapter 1

The Sweet Shop was a dinosaur in an age of shopping complexes and neon lights. Or perhaps it was more like a cockroach, small and hardy. It was really a shack with few comforts – the Sweet man having to sit on a wooden stool perched over an array of paper trays filled with goodies, patiently peering at the boys who dipped their fingers into them. The Sweet Man rarely got off his stool. On those rare occasions when he did, it took him no more than a step to shuffle to the tray furthest from him. Sometimes his hands trembled a little. In fact, he looked as ancient as his shack. But the interesting thought was that the domineering dinosaur trampled itself to death whereas the humble cockroach is still with us, scurrying around the concrete jungle, far removed from its ancient habitat.

Mun stood on his toes, his eyes on the lady transacting with the Sweet man. Her hair, her clothes, her mannerism – these escaped his attention: all he knew was that she was old, much older than himself ; but young, younger than his mother. Neither was he listening to the few words that she spoke. Instead his eyes were alert to the slightest turn of her face, body or hand which would indicate that she had completed her transaction and would be moving away. His impatience was like a cloud through which he was vaguely aware that the lady’s fingers were flirting with the trays of sweets hesitating here and there as if unsure which delight would give her most pleasure.

She was buying for herself, Mun realised, not for a son or nephew…she was buying for herself. Why would a grown-up lady be seduced by sweets? His father and uncles were his paradigm of adulthood. You’ll grow fat. Fat! Fat! Fat! Mun thought savagely.

When the lady finally moved off and his favourite tray of sweets was accessible again, Mun’s left hand descended upon it immediately, clasped exactly ten, turned over for the Sweet Man to count, while his right hand pushed a couple of coins into the Sweet Man’s palm. Without another look Mun turned and started briskly down the road, his mind already dwelling on his friends who should be waiting for him in the tuckshop. It was eleven o’clock in the morning.

With his schoolbag thudding on his back Mun came to the bend at the road where a footpath led to the Bridge overlooked by the Haunted House. Mun knew that the bridge and the haunted house were too far away to be seen but he clanked up anyway and caught sight of which in that glaring sunlight was worse than any creature he could ever imagine. He saw the Gang ambling towards him along the footpath. For an instant their eyes met. They were three bullies from the school beyond the canal. They had crossed the Bridge on their way to the Sweet Shop and were just about the breadth of a swimming pool away. Mun did not wait to ascertain their reaction; instead he turned away and ran for his life. The gate to his school was about the length of a football field away. He could hear the gang dashing after him. He shoved his sweets into his pockets spilling a couple onto the road in the process.

Mun never had to sprint so fast in his life, but sprint he did, with his bag flapping from side to side, his mouth gasping for air, his arms swinging about to counter the momentum of his bag. He heard their footsteps behind him, their shouts of obscenities and their laughter: they the hunters – he the prey. Panting heavily now, his heart pounding in his chest like a pile driver, his arms and leg muscles aching, a wild flutter developing in his stomach, Mun ran as fast as he could. The school gate was still some way off and the gang was already gaining on him. Oh god! Can’t afford a cramp now, Mun thought desperately. The gang was closing the gap between them. The school fence, he had reached the school fence and curious students looked at him from inside without any expression. Help! he wanted to cry out, somebody help! But he was gasping and spluttering incoherently. The gate. He must reach the gate. His thighs were aching, his legs felt as if they were made of lead and his speed was slowing down. Bastards, he thought and cursed at his pursuers mentally. Run! Faster, faster. Mustn’t let them catch him. They were almost upon him. The first of the gang reached out only to grab at empty air. Now!

Mun swung his left arm outwards, spinning his body to the left, his fingers brushing against the others arm, and hit straight into the gate with his right arm extended in front of him to break his momentum. There was a scramble as the guy behind him tried to grab at him but he managed to throw his body along the metal grille, felt the other’s fingers slip away, and pushed himself past the gate and down the driveway towards the tuckshop. He was stumbling now, his feet were giving up, but thank God! he could feel the presence of the gang falling away. He was in now. And they were out.

Trembling all over, his chest heaving, strength sapped, Mun crouched at the driveway facing the gate where the Gang stood, making dirty signs at him. There was nothing between him and the Gang, they could walk right up to Mun if they wanted but they did not. They did not because Mun was inside. And they were out. They knocked and rattled at the metal grille. They even placed their feet on the grille and hung there in the air for a moment, but they did not venture beyond the imaginary line where the space between the metal grilles ended and where the space belonging to the school began. After a few more obscenities the Gang departed, swinging their arms boldly as if they owned the entire road, making monkey faces at those who peered at them from inside the fence.

Mun slumped onto the bench where his four friends were seated and they eyed him quizzically. He was still panting, his face red and puffed up, his all white uniform drenched with perspiration while his head rolled from side to side as he struggled to speak.

Cheng, more introspective and intuitive by nature, could guess what had happened but he wore a look of detached curiosity void of sympathy for Mun. Watching Mun’s head swaying from side to side, he could not suppress the faintest curl of a smile on his lips, and glanced at Lam.

“What happened?” The question came more like a command than a query from Lam. There was no trace of child-like curiosity in Lam’s eyes for Lam behaved older than his age and went about his affairs exuding an air of confidence. In between gasps, Mun, now grinning and shaking his head, pointed his arms towards the road. Lam caught a glimpse of blue shorts on the road beyond the school fence.

“That stupid Gang!” he muttered and ordered Mun to give a detailed account of his flight from danger.

At the end of Mun’s account, Lam with much indignation told his own story of how the fat guy from the Gang took a seat beside him on a bus one day and began to wriggle and shove until eventually he was pushed off his seat.

“And the skinny one immediately jumped into my seat – my seat!” Lam repeated, “Bullies, robbers, cheats. Everyone of them.”

As they thought about Lam’s story Mok, the most rotund of the Group, recounted the episode where he was waylaid along the footpath and the Gang threw his school bag over the canal. He had to run all the way to the bridge and past the haunted house and along the other side of the canal to retrieve his bag.

The group turned to Soon.

For a moment Soon was lost for words. In his mind he saw himself in the bushes behind the construction site happily pocketing his matchboxes of newly-caught spiders when suddenly, the gang pounced on him from behind. After an eternity of struggling, teasing and bullying, they pinned his arms down and stripped off his shorts. That was when they discovered his collecting over an entire week- his king spider, queen spider and special striped devil spider. They were all his. But the gang simply confiscated them, releasing the spiders to watch them fight on the backs of their filthy hands. Engrossed in the battles, they threw his shorts back at his face and left him kicking at the grass and bushes. Thieves. Robbers.

The Group looked at Soon expectantly.

“Yeah, once they took my spiders too. Real bastards.” He answered lamely. Soon was a person of few words.

“That’s it,” Lam concluded, “We will meet at the bus stop everyday and come to school together. Eleven o’clock everyday.”

One by one the Group nodded. Even Cheng who had had no encounters with the Gang, who prided himself on never getting into any scraps. Brains, he thought, if u had brains, you could handle anyone. But he nodded anyway. As usual, Lam had the last and definitive word for everyone else.

===<>===

It was seven o’clock in the evening and Cheng found himself watching the television while his father was engrossed in his newspaper. A large group of people was waving and chanting with their backs to the camera. They looked like schoolboys in white uniforms except that they wore white trousers instead of shorts. This caught Cheng’s attention for he could relate to events in which schoolboys like himself were involved.

Someone was making a speech but he was certainly not a schoolboy. He was much older and everytime he yelled, the schoolboys joined him in a chorus and started waving their hands and flags. The screen changed and Cheng saw people running and throwing rocks and stones, burning cars and buses along the road; there was smoke and men in other uniforms holding rifles and truncheons. The screen returned abruptly to the schoolboys waving their flags in unison with the speaker in school uniform.

“Schoolboys fighting, “ Cheng muttered.

His father glanced up at him and Cheng repeated his statement. Turning to the television his father shook his head “They’re not schoolboys. Demonstrators” and continued with a frown: “They’re demonstrators. And demonstrations can turn bad, very bad. They get angry and become violent.” His father’s head disappeared behind the newspapers as he grunted, “Happened a long time ago- the 1950s. We don’t have them now.”

Cheng nodded. But he was watching the speaker whose expression seemed to alternate between intense deliberation and wild agitated gestures, his high forehead glistening with the heat of his passion.

“Schoolboys fighting.”

===<>===

Chapter 2

Mok crouched as low as he could in the shallow drain; he had to hide. He lowered his head till his nose almost touched his knees which were already in mud, but still his stubby legs and extravagant waistline would not be flattened. The drain was a mistake, he thought, he should have hidden behind that pile of bricks. For the umpteenth time in his short, plump life he wished he could be thinner, his body leaner and his contours more streamlined. Like Cheng. Or Soon. Good grief! Were his buttocks sticking out of the drain? Mok wondered. Furtively he raised his head and looked at the uncompleted house he was hiding from.

This was the construction site, separated from the school by a tract of bushes and rubber trees. The banging of hammers, rattling of chainsaws, and the clanging of pile drivers had been the bane of many of Mok’s more soft-spoken teachers. But Mok loved the construction site, not because the construction boom meant more jobs for people like his father, nor because of the stimulating imagery of bulging biceps stepping out of bulldozers into the arms of beautiful women bearing jugs of dark frothing alcohol. Mok loved the place simply because it was there that the group came almost everyday. They would watch the construction workers manoeuvre huge slabs of concrete into position, collect tile chips and marble pieces for souvenirs, play Catching or Hide and Seek, or simply chat amongst themselves in an uncompleted house away from those in which work was currently in progress. They would be in a world of their own until one o’clock when their lessons at school would begin.

The house that Mok peeped at was at the furthest corner of the construction site from the school and a hundred metre dash away from the haunted house. With that thought, Mok glanced to his back and immediately scampered out of the drain, scratching his thick thighs against the gravel and ran, shouting to his friends to warn them. The Gang had come.

Mun sprang up from under a staircase and saw the gang jumping from the window ledge of the house opposite in pursuit of Mok. Uncertainly, he stumbled backwards straight into Lam who was rushing towards the window.

“Come back here,” Lam ordered, pulling Mun with him. The gang had stopped beside the drain at the realisation that more of them were in the house. When Cheng and Soon joined the others at the window the group stood defiantly facing the Gang.

The confrontation began as a tirade of every obscenity and insult the boys could think of. If the gods had willing ears, every part of the body of ever boy would have diseased and dropped off there and then. Everyone’s sisters, mother and future daughters were subjected to ever degradation which their young minds could conjure. But as if restricted by some religious code, the fathers, brothers and future sons were spared: male relatives remained sacrosanct! Was it because the boys’ protective instincts for their fairer relatives were more vulnerable to insults? Or were male relatives always more distant and cold so that insults directed at them would be just so much water over a duck’s back? Perhaps it was the nature of the insults which made ludicrous to apply them to male relatives.

Imaginative though their young minds might be, there came a point of time when they ran out of verbal insults and the first volley of gravel came hurtling through the window. The Group returned in kind with whatever ammunition their hands could snatch from the floor and soon the air was filled with missiles flying back and forth.

While the Gang was in the open and vulnerable they had the space to dodge missiles thrown at them and space with which to launch their own missiles more accurately and forcefully. In contrast the Group could hide behind the window but could not aim and throw as effectively because they kept getting into one of another’s way. Whether by design or by the attrition of caution the boys progressed from gravel to pebbles to stones and rocks, each missile outweighing the previous one.

At first Mok hardly felt any sting when hit; he merely cursed and swore at the fact that he seemed clumsier than the others, but as the volleys continued he could feel the small cuts smarting on his arms and forehead. He dodged and the latest missile smashed against the wall chipping the cement. As the ferocity of the incoming missiles kept his head down, Mok found himself hiding more often than shooting.

Another dodge and suddenly Mok heard an angry yell from behind, felt himself pushed to one side and saw the blur flash of a large red object hurtling through the window. Lam had resorted to the pile of bricks! The brick missed its mark and shattered against the surface of the road while the Gang froze for an instance in the face of this new threat. Another roar from lam and another brick went crashing into the drain beside the older guy. The Gang beat a hasty retreat to the house opposite but the older guy decided to dash for a piece of brick as well. A shout and this time the brick hit the older guy squarely on his shoulder, knocking him backwards to the ground with a yelp! Enlivened with rage his short sleeves torn and bloodied, the older guy sprang up holding the broken piece of brick, braced his body and arm backwards in a short-putt position and was about to s hoot with all his might when a deep throaty yell came from someone to his left. The yell stopped him in his tracks. It was the yell of an adult- of authority. The older guy hesitated, looked around has if suddenly aware that his companions had deserted the fight, threw the brick into the drain and took off towards the Bridge.

Staring after them, Soon thought that they would follow the path that skirted round the haunted house to pass under its decaying porch and through the two wooden stumps, remnants of what had been its gates. But to his amusement, the gang gave the porch a wide berth, took briskly to the edge of the bushes, pushed their way through and waded in knee-high lalang to rejoin the footpath beyond the gate before disappearing from sight. They were afraid of the Haunted House. The though pleased him so much that he turned beaming to the others.

But Lam’s expression was troubled.

“Let’s get out of here. Quietly, in case that man decides to come around,” he whispered, leading the way to the rear of the house. There they took the path that ran round the other side of the construction site before turning towards their school. As they trudged along, the group gradually began to ease up, to laugh at the recent battle, to yell and pull at the passing branches in glee.

“Great fight huh,” Mok grinned and gave Cheng a friendly punch at the shoulder.

“Showed them bullies a thing or two,” Soon continued.

Even the usually reticent Lam chuckled a little, put his arm playfully around Soon’s neck and squeezed it in a stranglehold. Soon did not mind the temporary discomfort of looking out from underneath somebody’s armpit. After all this was their expression of merriment. Perhaps it was a method for inviting, or rather compelling attention to each other’s happiness. Perhaps it was the way to reach out for that physical contact which could complete the pleasure or share the joy. Whatever the reason, a gentler touch or a warmer hug would have been unthinkable. But a punch, a stranglehold – these were permitted by their unspoken rules. Never mind the slight pain or occasional discomfort; they were happy and that was what was important.

===<>===

Cheng stood at the bus-stop for a moment. Ever since the confrontation the group had not seen any member of the Gang for several weeks and the Group had been less punctual about meeting at the bus-stop, so that sometimes they would move off without waiting for latecomers. He noted that it was already ten past eleven, shrugged his shoulders and decided to walk alone. The school was a good ten minutes walk from the main road. Other than the canal which flowed beside the road most of the way, the road was surrounded by rubber trees, remnants of a vast sprawling industry that used to cover most of the island, reminders that this urban city was once capable of manna, milked from good old mother Earth. Another decade and even these remnants would be no more.

Cheng passed the Sweet Shop and his heart skipped a beat. Oh no that mean chap again! Cheng saw the older guy from the Gang who was lying at the footpath just beside the road where the canal veered off to the right. They guy seemed to be in pain. Cheng took a quick look around to satisfy himself that the rest of the Gang was nowhere in sight and moved on.

“Hey wait,” they guy said, jerking his head at the tree, “I fell.”

Cheng did not reply.

“Help me up,” they guy entreated, “please?”

Cheng stood with his arms akimbo.

“Help me, my leg is broken. If you help me my friends will be grateful to you,” the older guy pleaded, seeking to redefine the relationship between the Group and the Gang as one of mutual respect, calling for a truce and ending with rhetoric: “We can be friends can’t we? I really want us to be friends.”

Cheng frowned and weighed the situation in his mind. Surely the older guy would not harm him. After all the Sweet Man was not far away. So Cheng shrugged his shoulders, swung his schoolbag onto his back, crossed the road and cupping his hands around the older guy’s chest, tried to lift the latter from the back.

Then it happened. Cheng felt a hand clamped on his mouth, strong steely fingers gripped his arms and ankles and he was swept of his feet. He saw glimpses of the ground, of the top of the rubber trees, of the bushes, and faces now grim and angry, now wild and exhilarated. The Gang, Cheng realised, were all there to kidnap him. Where were they carrying him to? Cheng kicked and squirmed and tried to scratch and claw at the hands and fingers biting into his flesh. His foot found a mark on someone’s stomach and he heard a grunt, but the Gang simply dropped his feet and pulled him along the footpath like so much dead wood. He yelled and immediately hands were descended on his mouth in a painful vice. The Gang was muttering in low angry undertones as they heaved and pulled to negotiate the twists and turns of the footpath.

They shoved him into a bush and started kicking at him. Cheng hardly felt the sticks and branches poking and scratching at his flesh as he tried to avoid the feet kicking at him by getting deeper into the bushes to cushion most of the wanton assault. But those that tore through the openings in the bush landed on his legs, sending shots of pain up his spine so that he grimaced and screamed at them. This merely caused the Gang to yell back and kick even more furiously.

“You stupid idiot!”

“You chicken!”

“You bastard!”

“Little snake!”

“Wooden head!”

“No balls!”

“Smart ass!”

As the insults piled one upon the other, the kicks came sharp and painful because by then the bush and undergrowth had been partially demolished and offered little protection. Suddenly the older guy ordered Cheng to get up. When Cheng did not move, the guy grabbed his arm and gave him a pull that sent him crashing into the next bush. They shoved him around and he stumbled into hands, feet, tree trunks, bushes until the world began to swim and swirl around him.

Cheng could not remember the sequence of events which followed or how long he was abused. But suddenly he saw the flash of a fist, felt a punch hooked into his stomach and he was thrown backwards- empty space beneath him. Falling. And his back crashed into the bed of the canal, flattening his bag, splashing up a spray of water which soaked his hair and his face, contorted in fear and pain. He was too stunned to move.

The Gang hovered for a while and the older guy jumped over the broken railings but the other two grabbed and pulled him back. A short hesitation and the Gang disappeared from sight.

Cheng lay in the shallow water, afraid that his back was broken, started moving slowly first his arm, his legs, his head… finally he pushed himself up. It was painful but he managed; he was bruised all over but his hack was not broken. Thank God for that, he thought, his throat welling up with self-pity and he sobbed leaning against the wall of the canal, pressing his head against the cold hard concrete.

Lam paced up and down, kicking at pieces of bricks in the room and glanced at Cheng sitting on the floor staring blankly into space, his clothes torn and dripping wet, his forehead, arms and legs bruised and scratched all over.

“We must stop them once and for all.”

“We must beat the hell out of them.”

“We should break all their teeth.”

But it was obvious that the Gang would come back again and again, each episode more violent than the previous one and there would be no end to the fighting, no end to the beatings. Unless…

“We’ll kill them!” Lam said with clenched teeth. He glanced around at the others and for the first time, his confidence wavered. Silence. They looked down, trying to avoid each other’s eyes. What could they do? They were just children. But something had to be done. What? Silence.

Suddenly Soon snapped upright.

“I know,” his eyes gleamed at the others, “I know how to stop them.”

They looked to him for the light beyond the tunnel. So he told them of his observation at the last battle, his hunch about the Gang, his theory about the older guy and, yes, his plan. The group was incredulous but, as he filled in the details, padded up their imagination, cajoled them into making suggestions here and there, the idea took root and the Group became more and more excited as their scepticism gave way to delight. This was action. This was revenge. It would require a lot of planning and coordination, but it was just the kind of activity which could lift them out of their despondency. Even Cheng, cold and damp, smiled weakly. In the end it was Lam who declared: “We’ll do it!”

===<>===

Chapter 3

Alone, a bully may be mean but he would be avoided and through sheer loneliness and peer disapproval, he would have to moderate his behaviours in order to survive. Unfortunately the members of the Gang came from the same class and had each other for company so they remained bullies. That did not imply that they had the same character traits. Far from it. The fat guy was a lot of hot air but left to himself, capable of little action. The skinny one was cold and selfish while the older chap was the meanest of them all.

Life had always been unkind from the older chap’s point of view and he was determined to return it in kind. He played pranks on class monitors and prefects, stole from the stall keepers and strutted around, bullying others, exulting in his approximation of authority. School was sometimes suffocating, but it was also an escape from the tyranny of the home. So most of the time he was glad to come out early, meet his gang and hang around waiting for school to start.

But the evening was more lonely. His fat friend’s aunt took him home in a sleek black Honda. He could never understand why his friend condescended to such a routine. In his eyes his friend had subjected himself to a relationship of dependency, had traded his freedom for comfort and had been short- changed in the process.

It had been quite some time since he punched that skinny four-eyed jerk into the canal. The thought of how he executed the punch filled him with satisfaction. Neat. Professional. Mohammed Ali could not have done better; he thought and smiled a little as he trudged down the road.

School had just ended and he was heading for the bus-stop at the main road. Just then he caught sight of another of those boys in white shorts. Perhaps he could sneak up on the boy. Too late, the boy had seen him. The jerk! Sticking his tongue out and giving him the dirty sign. In front of his school mates too. This could not be allowed. His reputation and authority were at stake. The boy must be punished.

He stepped off the road towards the boy who was leaning against the school fence and saw the boy jump to his feet. Everyone was watching. Suddenly the boy turned and fled along the fence. The older guy threw himself into the pursuit, running and splashing through a pool of muddy water. He would make mince meat out of him. They tore through the undergrowth, ducking now and then to avoid the drooping branches. He would outrun the boy. After all he was bigger, tougher and had more stamina. Oh no, the older guy flinched inwardly. The little idiot was heading straight for the Haunted House. Didn’t he realise that it was already dusk? Was he unaware of the night creatures that lived in the Haunted House? He was panting now, his mind no longer on catching the boy, instead his pace slowed at the sight of the pre-war dilapidated bungalow bathed in the soft grey shadows as he contemplated the gory end that might befall the boy. Or himself.

His momentum carried him into a brisk walk as he gulped for air and approached the Haunted House with trepidation. The boy stood beside the porch and the thought that he might witness the death throes of that moron also excited him. He halted at the wooden stumps of the gates and the boy turned to stick out his middle finger at him again. The rotten idiot, he thought, quickly weighing his options, and decided to go for it: pounce on the boy and drag the moron back to the rubber trees for further punishment. He still hesitated.

“You chicken? Cluck! Cluck! Cluck! Cluck!” the boy yelled, backing right underneath the porch. “Chicken, co-co-co-keh!” the boy squealed with delight. He could not stand it much longer. Nobody called him ‘chicken’. Nobody!

He dashed forward and the boy scuttled into the haunted house screaming as he went, “Chicken! Chicken! Chicken!”

He hesitated at the sight of the rotten planks, broken cupboards and chairs strewn all over the room with an old alter nestling in the corner. He could hear the boy still yelling “Chicken! Chicken! Chicken!” up the staircase, so he hopped forward and with a crash the old alter fell flat, its earthen pot smashed against the floor. A flood of fear swept over him. He had upset the Gods! A sound behind him. He swung around and saw the wooden doors slam shut. His heart missed a beat and he rushed for the door, but it would not budge. He searched frantically for the door knob but there was none. He turned round again, his eyes darting to and fro. Then he heard the sound and the hair on his arms and neck stood on its end as shivers ran up and down his spine. It began as a low hum rising slowly in intensity and pitch until it sounded like the wind, but the sound did not come from outside. The sound was inside, yet muffled and hollow as if it came from somewhere deep… inside the house! It was a sigh, no it was a howl. It sounded like a screech, a moan; it laughed; it whined…

A flash of light and a boy’s scream came from somewhere upstairs. It had found the boy, he thought, looking around desperately at the boarded up windows. He clawed wildly, but the boards would not come off. Shit! He had to get out, he thought. Upstairs, the windows might be less secure. There was a lull and he waited. Perhaps it had gone away. It might have moved on. He had to get out quickly.

Gingerly he picked his way to the stairwell and crept up the staircase one step at a time. Silence. Everything was silent. He reached the second landing and found himself in a short corridor with three doorways upstairs. The one to the right should lead to the balcony above the front porch; the other two doorways were on his left and nearer to him. Thud! The sound came from below. What was that? He glanced nervously behind from one doorway to another, expecting to see some hideous apparition any moment. Where was that stupid boy? Was the boy still alive? Or had the boy changed into one of the un-deads? A torrent of questions swept through his mind. The howls and moans started again and he was sure there was a legion of evil spirits floating around him.

Oh God! No no, It had found him, he thought, filled with a new terror as he recoiled at the dense greyish white smoke coiling up the staircase like some sinister hand, groping, reaching for him. He was trapped! His hands groped for the nearest doorway. God help me, he prayed, vowing to turn over a new leaf, pleading for heavenly mercy on one hand and bargaining with the devil on the other. Anything, anything at all so long as he could be safe from It. His lips were trembling. He had to get away from that misty thing. Oh God – the window, let the window be opened. He crept into the room and backed towards the window, hardly daring to take his eyes off the doorway through which he could see wisps of that misty ethereal apparition.

Suddenly the room was bathed in a glow of light, accompanied by a scratching sound behind him. The window. He spun round in terror and screamed. Rooted to the floor, with clenched jaws and knotted hands, he screamed. The window was boarded up in a cross and leering at him above the cross was the face of a devil, its hair in wild tangles, eyes protruding, lips stretched in a fiendish grin and its teeth… its teeth half rotting, half dripping in blood. Its face was pressed against the cracked window pane, nose, cheeks and lips flattened hideously in a most nauseating manner. Run, idiot run. The mean bully, the admired trickster, the confident leader of the Gang cried out in terror. He stepped backwards, away from the devilish face at the window, tripped, stumbled and fled out of the room, kicking at the mist, flinging his arms at the imagined spirits.

Without thinking, without looking, he crashed and rolled over various obstacles towards the front of the house while the misty apparitions seemed to cling to his body, accompanied by the howling and moaning which echoed in his ears. Outside. The balcony. The railings. He climbed over the rusty railings, hung over the edge of the balcony for a moment… and then jumped. He hit the lalang with a thud! Pain shot through his legs to his hip bones but he crashed through the bushes and fled towards the field, towards his school, towards…safety.

“Hey Soon,” Lam whispered as loudly as he dared, “Come out. He’s gone now.”

Soon crept out from behind an old cupboard gripping and iron rod which he was holding for his own protection. He saw Lam standing outside the window of the second room, grinning crazily in the swinging light, his make-shift mask flapped over his shoulder. Lam gave him the thumbs up sign. There was a giggle and Mun’s head appeared at the window, his torchlight sweeping the room. Soon, carefully threaded his way down the staircase, as the air was still smoky.

“You there Cheng?” Soon called out, feeling his way as he descended one step at a time, fanning the smoke from his eyes.

“Yeah coming down now,” came the reply. The door downstairs was open and the smoke was diffusing through it. A light burst directly into his eyes and his arms jerked up instinctively to shield himself.

“This way,” Cheng’s voice came from the light source, quivering with mischief.

“Cut that out will you!” The light swept away to rest upon a kerosene can full of burning joss sticks.

The house reverberated with a moan which grew into a hollow grating guffaw.

“Mok still at the pipes.” Cheng observed, remembering that the sound was always loudest at the bathroom and kitchen.

“He’s enjoying himself alright.” Soon agreed, “Come on, let’s find the others.”

The rest of them were gathered around Lam giggling together. The eerie silence of the Haunted House could not entirely extinguish their jubilance. They went prancing over the Bridge, retracing their steps along the footpath while they traded versions of the terror they had created. As the Haunted House dropped out of sight the group became rowdier, laughing heartily and thumbing each other’s back, passing the place where Cheng had fallen into the canal without noticing. Revenge was so sweet.

“He really shit in his pants.”

“He was begging for his life.”

“No, he was crawling.”

“Should have seen his face.”

“Honest, he was crying, I swear!”

“Chicken, cluck! Cluck! Cluck! Cluck!” The last comment came from Soon taking pride in his four hundred metre run, his fear of being caught already forgotten by then. The whole group went clucking towards the Sweet Shop. They sprawled all over the pavement clucking away, holding their stomachs, tears of laughter in their eyes.

“Ooh, that was great.”

“Yeah, real great,” each of them agreed.

Eventually Mok suggested that they adjourn to the roadside stall to eat but Lam preferred the hawker centre a little further away. The others just wanted some place to sit where they could cool off with cold drinks.

“It's too far,” Mok complained, “I'm hungry- the stall is nearer.”

Lam rolled over to Mok, grabbed his collar and peered into his round eyes: “We’re going to the hawker centre.”

Soon might have been the idea man. But Lam decided. Once the idea gelled it was Lam who blazed the trail, led the Group to inspect the Haunted House, distributed the tasks, coordinated their rehearsals and picked the date for the action. Mok was in no doubt who made the decisions. So they went to the hawker centre.

Similarly Cheng was the one who figured out how to clamp the doors shut quickly at the Haunted House. And Cheng’s idea of the joss sticks was absolutely neat! A class one act indeed. Thus did the Group congratulate each other as they kept recounting their clash of the Titans in class, the tuckshop and even the bus-stop. The Haunted House episode was a shared experience that kept them together for a time.

===<>===

Chapter 4

But eventually, as the months passed, the Gang slipped further and further from their minds….

As usual Cheng was late again. At first, the frown on Lam’s face was full of concern, so brotherly. After all no one wanted to be thrown into the canal again. However with the Gang out of sight and out of mind, the frown began to seem more and more oppressive. The brother became the policeman. So whenever Cheng arrived late, he avoided looking at Lam.

Lam was stretched out lazily on the wooden plank. It was a hot day, the air was languid, and Lam was feeling lethargic. He took the cigarette from his lips, exhaled and watched the smoke rise and disperse towards the ceiling. Left to itself the smoke dissipated into…nothing.

“Yawn…aw, I’m so bored.” Mun announced stabbing his cigarette butt at the sandy floor.

“Yeah boring.”

“So boring I could die.”

“It’s private here,” Lam said without taking his eyes off the ceiling.

“But there’s absolutely nothing to do here.”

Silence.

“Let’s go and catch spiders,” Soon suggested

“In this hot sun?” Lam responded.

“The Haunted House,” Mok stirred from his corner, “we can mine the place and scare the shit out of anyone who steps through that door.”

“Nah, too much work,” Lam said.

Silence.

“Alright let’s go tee-gum tee-gum,” Mun chipped in, referring to a lottery where by paying five cents a child could choose a slip of paper from a board, tear open the slip and claim the prize indicated therein.

“Yeah, Cheng’s eyes lit up, “yesterday I won a bar of chocolate.”

“Really?” Mok’s eyes were round, “I didn’t know they gave away chocolates as prizes. The Sweet Shop?”

“No not our Sweet Shop. The other one – at the other end of the construction site.”

“Yeah, yeah okay,” Mun responded excitedly. “How about it?”

“Sit down will you!” Lam barked at Mun, “You’re getting the sand in my face.” Then in a more conciliatory tone, “they’re all the same anyway. Relax. Sit down.”

Lam could feel the three of them exchanging glances. It had happened before- the Group was getting more restless, more irritable. And those three donkeys had been exchanging glances. Lam closed his eyes. Donkeys! Braying, kicking donkeys. But they would stop their nonsense and come to their senses soon. After all it was scorching hot outside. There were cigarettes in the room. Enough to keep everyone happy.

“Let’s vote,” Cheng said evenly, looking at Mok and Mun.

“What?” Lam’s eyes sprang open.

“I say let’s vote.”

“What do you mean by ‘vote’?” Lam gazed intently at Cheng. Donkeys! Why could they not see that it was better here, no hassles, he thought.

“We vote when there are different opinions…”

“So we can see what the majority wants,” Mok ended for Cheng.

Lam was incensed now and he sat up. “Voting is like fighting. You want to get your own way, you fight. You want to get your own way, you vote.” Lam’s hands waved in the air in explanation, “See, no more unity, no more group.”

“Then how do we ever decide what we want to do?” Cheng demanded.

“The group decides,” Lam said.

“And how does the group decide?” asked Cheng.

“What do you mean by ‘how’? The group just decides,” Lam grated.

“Well when do we know the group has decided?”

“We know, that’s all!” Lam’s voice rose.

“How?” pursued Cheng.

“When I say so, that’s how!” Lam exploded, glaring at their inquisition, at their insolence.

“But you don’t decide for us!” Cheng cried out.

“I always knew what was best,” Lam yelled back, “I decided for everybody. When you were thrown into the canal you came to me. You had no complains then!”

“But that’s different,” Soon chipped in defensively.

“What’s so different?” Lam demanded.

“Things have changed,” Soon said.

“Nothing has changed,” Lam declared, “We are still the same. Tell me what’s so different?”

“Things were different then,” Soon shook his head.

“Yeah that was when the Gang were bullying us,” Mok carried on, “Now…”

“And now what?” Lam interrupted, “I was the one in-charge when we had to stand up to the Gang. Without me the Gang would still be here. And you’d still be crying your pants off.”

“But we have frightened them off,” Mok pointed out.

“So that’s it. When the Gang beats the hell out of you, you run to me. When I help you to get rid of the Gang, you gang up on me. Snakes huh!” Lam was half squatting and pointing his finger at them one by one accusingly: “Snakes!”

“We’re not ganging up on you,” Soon tried to reason.

“We just want to see what the majority wants. It’s fairer that way,” Cheng continued.

“Alright, you think that the Gang is no longer her. Suckers all of you. That’s just what they want you to think. They’re just across the canal. They can come over anytime. They can get over their fear of the Haunted House. See? We’ve got to stick together,” Lam ended breathlessly.

Silence.

“But we are sticking together. We just want to see what the majority wants. Besides we haven’t seen the Gang for ages. They’re gone. No more,” Cheng argued.

“Don’t give me that kind of bullshit!” Lam yelled again, “Alright, I say we stay. What do you say?” Lam challenged, glaring at each one of them in turns. Mun hesitated and turned to Cheng and Mok . Cheng glared back.

Soon watched the entire scene with disbelief. What happened? Why were they quarrelling?

“I say we vote,” Cheng insisted, “I want to go.”

“Me too,” Mok added, turning to Mun.

Mun’s eyes darted from Mok to Lam: “ I guess so.”

They turned to Soon. Soon was torn between desire to go with them and… what? Loyalty? Or plain cowardice? Soon shrugged his shoulders and said lamely “Think I’ll stay.”

Silence. Then the other three got up and paused to look at Soon. Cheng moved first followed by Mok, and Mun scurried after them glancing back in bewilderment.

There was a moment of silence as Lam puffed at his cigarette and blew the smoke at the ceiling irritably. Then he sprang into a sitting position, threw his cigarette out of the window. “Bastards, snakes, that’s what they are.” He glared at Soon as if challenging Soon to contradict him: “Idiots. Stupid idiots. Break up the Group. Just what the Gang wants. Stupid idiots.”

Silence.

“You saw the fight coming… should have given way a little. You were too stubborn,” Soon whispered hoarsely.

“I’m not the one to blame,” Lam shot back angrily, “those donkeys are too conceited to see how stupid they are.”

“Can’t you see that things have changed?”

“No they have changed.”

“No you don’t understand,” Soon shook his head exasperated. He could not understand, let alone explain, why the absence of the Gang was such a fundamental change, but he could feel it in his bones. Things could not continue as they were before. They had to change with the times, but Lam could not change.

Soon shook his head sadly as Lam continued to mutter angrily to himself.

When it was time to go, they simply got up and walked to school in silence.

===<>===

Soon sat staring at the television set. The events of that afternoon still upset him and he wondered whether they would meet again as a Group? Would they be together anymore. No more games? No more construction site? Soon felt miserable.

There was rioting on the screen and his mother thought he was absorbed by violence.

“Rioting, that’s called rioting,” his mother said.

“Huh?” Soon glanced at his mother and back to the screen. The scene reminded Soon of the confrontation between the Gang and the Group at the construction site. He had to lie to his mother that he fell off a friend’s bicycle that other day. It seemed so long ago.

“Those were the days when people had to struggle. They struggled for their livelihood, and their beliefs.” She paused to see if Soon was listening and continued: “But it’s all over now. We don’t throw stones or burn cars anymore.”

Soon was still staring at the screen expressionlessly, so his mother explained: “You see in those days there were communists. They believed in getting their way through violence. But things have changed now.”

Soon who was not really following her explanation, pricked up his ears at the last sentence. He did not understand the change his mother was speaking about, but he could identify with the sentiments behind that last statement.

“So you see things are much better now. It’s all in the past.” His mother concluded.

Soon could not have understood. But wasn’t it not only a few hours ago that he was telling Lam that things have changed? Lam had not understood then. The leader who rose to the occasion at every little crisis, whom the others had looked up to. They had responded to Lam but now things had changed and Lam could not seem to change his own basic qualities. Just like a dinosaur. Lam was too great a personality to be a cockroach, too forceful a character to be able to adapt to the changes.

Those thoughts did not come to Soon with the clarity of the written word. He could not dissect the events of that afternoon and identify the problem. Rather he felt those thoughts incoherently, intuitively.

Why can’t Lam feel it too!

===< THE END>===

Thank you for reading my story.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this story as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

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The Dinosaur and the Cockroach

This is the story of a group of primary school boys and bullies from another school. But read the next paragraph and you will see that there is another story hidden within this story. There is the impatient and go-getting Mun, the skinny and swift-footed Soon, and the fun loving and stubby Mok. The three of them rally around Cheng, the smart one always brimming with ideas, and ... most of all, Lam the confident and articulate natural born leader, . The five of them are confronted by three older teenagers from a nearby school. Will they bow their heads in shame or will they transcend beyond their tender years to out-wit their bullies? Through this journey, they discover the bonds that bind them together, and also the forces that drive them apart. In their own little ways, they show us what leadership is, and what it is not. This story was written at a time when street violence on political issues has been relegated to the distant past. Even then, it was evident that politics develop in an uneven progression. Political development in some countries has appeared like a dance : one step forward, and two steps backwards. If this is true of other countries, it was also true of Singapore. This story won a merit award at a Singapore national short story writing competition. In the award giving ceremony, this story was described as a political parable. This is obvious, once you know who is the man in white. It is a sign of political maturity in Singapore that this story can be enjoyed by one and all without fear or favour.

  • Author: Jonathan Lee
  • Published: 2016-04-02 16:50:07
  • Words: 8163
The Dinosaur and the Cockroach The Dinosaur and the Cockroach