How I remembered those first three days at camp. I raised hell. I wouldn’t make friends with a soul; didn’t go to a class and refused to play ball, which was mighty hard for me to do.
Most kids there were about my age. I had every one of them beaten in height. My head was always sticking out of a crowd like a temple dhwaja stambha hovers high above all other buildings in any little Indian town. Only thing was , I, found myself wishing I could have pulled my head in like a turtle. Blazing red hair and several thousand freckles to match, made me a perfect target. I tried to be inconspicuous, but no luck. Those counselors had me spotted every time.
“There’s Mc Rastogi. What’s wrong with that boy? He’s driving us crazy.”
“You’re not kidding; he was in my cabin one night and I gave up. Not ordinary tricks like we have every year; pie beds and frogs in beds does Mc pull. Oh, no! He ties all the sheets and blankets in knots. It only took me and the other boys over an hour to get them untangled.”
“He took the slats out of my bed and I ended up on the floor. He climbs up on the rafters like a monkey. If lights are supposed to be off, he turns them on; if we have them on, he turns them off. And contrary, you might as well try to talk to a wall; he either pays no attention whatsoever, or comes back with answers I could never dream of myself. Yet, he doesn’t deny any of the things he does.”
I had everyone stumped. I was a city boy. I laughed at their nature walks; I laughed at swimming and handicrafts, cause I didn’t know how to do them, and didn’t intend to learn.
“ I’ve seen all this stuff in the movies. Even better – jungles, wild animals – beat that! – Ya can’t! This type of talk was about the only kind of talking I did.
As I walked along the edge of the field, my third night there, I watched the ball sail into the air and two figures running across the makeshift 22-yard pitch. All I could really see was Padigar Road, crowded with fellows playing ball, and hear the yelling and shouts of cheering. We always played till dark and probably would have kept on by street light except for the faithful cop on his evening rounds. It wasn’t that the kids were different; it was the place, and I’d locked my mind against camp and thrown away the key.
Then, I saw Rustam, the caretaker of the recreation area, sitting on a tree stump there ahead of me. He looked like he must have been sixty-five or seventy years old. The wrinkles in his dark face and hands made him look like he’d been drying up all those years. He didn’t have a beard, but the lower part of his face was covered with a gray fuzz. His hair wasn’t long; it was simply uncut looking.
I’d seen him around once or twice, at a distance, however, he never looked different, including the thin cloud of smoke which engulfed his head as if it were held there by some magnetic force. A funny, bent, and worn pipe clenched in his teeth was the culprit responsible for the smoke.
His leather jacket and blue jean pants, light blue from wear, were as much a part of him as his arms or legs. The overall picture was a funny one.
[Continued... My New World - A Short Story - Part Three]