|Apr/May 2004 fiction|
"Where is my parcel?"
The Resident Officer glares at Eesang the postman.
Eesang shrinks back. What could be worse than this, he wonders. It's bad enough that he's had to see the RO today, a visit he'd never make willingly. Usually, he drops the mail in the front office and moves on. Now he has to answer for a parcel he knows nothing about!
The RO settles more comfortably into his smooth leather chair. Twirling his curly moustache, he studies Eesang through his gold-rimmed monocle. "This letter here," he says slowly but with a tinge of anger, "is not for me. It is addressed to the pastor of the Forneeso Mission Church. I, meanwhile, am expecting a parcel with a book in it. Where is it?"
Eesang, beads of sweat glistening on his forehead, shifts from one leg to the other and mutters something under his breath.
"What did he say?" the RO queries the interpreter, who's been watching the whole affair with roving eyes and cocked ears.
Eyes lighting up, the interpreter scratches his near-bald head. "The-mother-that-gave-birth-to-me! I've entered slippery soup today!" he finally interprets.
The RO scowls. "And what does that mean?"
"Master," says the interpreter jovially, "it means, 'I'm in trouble! Thick trouble!'"
"Damn right, he is!" the RO spouts, slamming a reddened fist on his table, thereby making Eesang jump with fright. "He'd better produce the parcel with the new tax regulations book that HQ said they were sending down, else there'll be the devil to pay."
Shaking his head, the interpreter gives Eesang a pitying look. "The white devil," he begins solemnly in the language only he and Eesang understands, "says that today you'll meet his father in the next world if you don't produce his parcel. Where in God's name have you hidden this crazy parcel of trouble?"
With his heart racing and his knees wobbling, Eesang begs with his eyes and hands.
"May the devil take me if I have hidden this man's parcel. I swear I don't have it."
"I think the devil will take you either way," says the interpreter, his brow a picture of sober thought. "Best to give up his parcel if you have it than suffer in the next world as well."
The RO, impatient to say the least, rounds on the interpreter. "I hope all this mambo-jumbo is going to produce the parcel, because the Colonial Office is dead set on having those new regulations implemented on the first of next month."
The interpreter shuffles around and, glaring at Eesang with officious anger, interprets: "Now he says killing you and I won't do. Our wives and children will be food for the devil, too."
"But I don't have the parcel!" Eesang wails.
"Ask him how he took delivery of this week's mail," the RO commands, giving Eesang a searching look.
"How did you collect the letters?" the interpreter says to Eesang.
"The same way I usually do," Eesang replies, his voice crying the tears his eyes have not yet revealed. "I stuck out my hand, and the chief gave them to me one set after the other."
"Then?" the interpreter prompts.
"Ah, my brother!" Eesang exclaims, shock evident in his tone and eyes. "I don't eat letters! I deliver them!"
The interpreter grunts, trains a furtive look on the RO, then quickly points a 'serious matter' finger at Eesang. "When the chief of postmen gave you the sets," he says, his chest puffed out to its fullest capacity, "what did you do?"
Cowering, Eesang answers in his mind at first before it occurs to him that his mind is not accessible to the interpreter. "I put them in my pockets before setting out," he explains, pointing at the oversized pockets of his brown khaki postman uniform.
"Show me how you did it," the interpreter demands, straightening up.
With shaky hands, Eesang points at the pockets, two on the chest and two on the hips, as he explains. "The letters for the primary school go here because it's my first stop. Those for Gor'men Hill go here because it's my second stop. The church is third so their letters go here. The chief's palace is last so it goes here."
The interpreter snorts. "You can't read, Eesang," he says, smirking. "How do you make sure you don't make mistakes when giving out the letters?"
"That's easy," says Eesang, suddenly beaming. "You think a postman knows nothing. Ha! You are mistaken. I sing out my stops and tap the relevant pocket as I march about making my delivery."
"Show me," orders the interpreter.
Eesang starts to keep time while singing and tapping his pockets: "Primary, Gor'men Hill!" And then, "Church-Forneeso!"
"What the devil is afoot?" the RO wonders aloud as Eesang carries on with his delivery rites. The interpreter explains.
"By Jove!" the RO swears. "The confounded fellow might still have the parcel on him. Tell him to bring out the letters for the church."
The interpreter does the RO's bidding, and Eesang produces a neatly wrapped parcel from his 'church' pocket. The RO snatches the parcel and reads out the address.
"'To the Resident Officer, Government Hill, Forneeso Village.' Well, I'll be damned!" the RO cries. "See here," he shouts at the interpreter. "Have this monkey of a man changed forthwith! Can't have him making a cake of me!"