Saturday, November 10, 2007

Porter: A Brief History of Treason

I remember quite clearly when I was about 6 or 7, I got thoroughly scolded by my eldest sister for not keeping my room tidy. As she was leaving the room, I made a rude gesture (I show her waka) and she just so happened to turn around at that moment. She saw my hand mid-air, palm facing her, fingers extended, and a defiant look on my face. She came back and gave me a memorable beating. After that, I made it a policy to keep my rude gestures mental and unseen to the human eye.

There was another incident not too long after that. I had just emerged from the toilet. My sister called out from downstairs

‘Porter, what is that horrible smell?’

“Smell? I can’t smell anything”

“What do you mean you can’t smell anything? Did you just use the toilet?”

“Yes, but it didn’t even smell, and I flushed”

Next thing I knew, my sister was bounding up the stairs, handkerchief tied over her nose and mouth. In her right hand, a loaded canister of some lilac airfreshner, in her left, a can of Raid. I’ve never been able to figure out what the Raid was for…to kill germs? To further suppress the (imagined) stench? To prevent flies from finding ground zero? She began to spray away the moment she saw me in front of my room. I had to get out of the way.

She sprayed generously from both cans all the way to the bathroom, and then she went postal when she got inside it. I reckon she must have emptied both cans in there. After that, she ordered me to go and take a bath in my father’s bathroom.

“You’d better scrub yourself very well because I will inspect”

I was angry, and I contemplated another rude gesture but the memory of the last beating was still too fresh and raw in my mind and so I did as the dictator had ordered.

I got my chance for revenge a few days later. I waited until my sister had gone into the toilet one evening and then I took a can of Raid and started spraying away outside the door.

“Who is that?” she called out, startled. I kept quiet and went on spraying.

“I say who is there? Porter?”

“Yes, aunty” (she made us call her aunty in those days. Such was her tyranny)

“Porter what’s going on there?”

“Nothing aunty”

“What is that sound? What are you spraying?”

“I smelled something. I think there’s a dead rat around here. I’m spraying Raid because of the smell, and to kill the insects that will be looking for the rat”

She kept quiet for a while and then she said “you evil child, you had better leave that place before I come out and descend on you. In short, go and kneel down in my room and wait for me”

I was standing covering my mouth with one hand, trying not to laugh out loud. As I turned to go and observe my punishment, I couldn’t resist one final spray. There is no need to recount what happened when she came out of the toilet that day. But let’s just say that I didn’t receive any presents from my sister/aunty the following Christmas.

A couple of years later, my father’s lady friend found a note inside her car after one of her numerous overnight visits. The note was scribbled on a plain sheet of paper. Its message was simple, and the lettering was large and quite legible. It read:


She almost fainted when she saw it. My father was not at home, and so she went upstairs to his study and began pacing until he got back. Downstairs, there was a buzz, we weren’t quite sure what had happened, we could only speculate.

After about 10 minutes, my father summoned the household to his study. He told us what had happened. The lady sat quietly, glaring at my older brother and me with hateful eyes. My father then began to narrow down the list of suspects. The cook had been busy all day, besides she was very fond of Madam. The gateman couldn’t write a single alphabet even if his life depended on it. Our cousins had just come from the village the previous day, and they could not have formed an opinion about the lady in so short a time. And so it went until the only two people standing in the study and facing the hateful gaze of the woman and the certain justice of my father were my brother and I.

My father then asked us to go and bring our school notebooks. After some handwriting analysis, my brother was fingered as the culprit. My father said even though he had ‘tried to be clever’ by changing the way he constructed his letters, his W’s were unchanged. My brother would be grounded for a week. He would write a letter of apology, in his original handwriting, to the lady, and wash her car whenever she came (and slept over). I thought I was off the hook until my father turned to me and said

“Porter, I notice the note says ‘we hate you’. I can only imagine that you and your brother had agreed on this”

“No, I didn’t…”

“Sharrap!” he barked, and then he went on. “You will also write a letter of apology”. With that, he dismissed us. I went to my room and even as my brother was biting the top of his biro, agonizing over what to write, I wrote a very brief letter that went something like this

Dear Aunty,
I am writing to apologise for the note you found in your car today. I am sorry that somebody in this house does not like you. I don’t know the person, but I would like the person.

The lady was furious when she read this. She took the note to my father and he summoned me once again. He read it aloud to me and asked me what I meant by ‘I would like the person’

“Oh!” I exclaimed, feigning surprise “It’s a mistake, I meant to say I would like to find the person”

“It’s a lie!” the woman screamed.

My father asked her to calm down and let him handle it.

“Now look here Porter, I know you are trying to be very clever. I am now convinced you were the brains behind that note even though your brother was the one who foolishly wrote it. You will go and write another letter of apology, this time without any mistakes. You are also banned from watching TV for a week.” I thought I saw just the slightest hint of a smile playing on my father's lips.

With that, he sent me away. He knew he had given me a very painful punishment. I still like to think that my father was somewhat amused by my treachery. He wasn’t a humourless man, and in his youth, he’d been a bit a rascal. There were rumours that he’d been the leader of a group that burned the blackbook back when he was in secondary school. I think he was secretly proud of my naughtiness.

As for his lady friend, she became very paranoid and she was always on our case from then onwards. However, about a year later, she had a major falling out with my father and the day she left, my brother and I were smiling broadly and waving mockingly as we opened the gate for her to drive out of our lives.