Sunday, October 11, 2015

They Were Dolphins, Chapter 8

The boy’s foster parents were nice-seeming elderly people with greying hair. The boy thought they stood entirely too close to each other. The elderly man seemed like he had his arm permanently around his wife’s shoulder as if she might escape one day and he needed to hold her.

They smiled a lot and spoke slowly, as if the boy couldn’t understand them. The boy could understand them, but they spoke with the kind of formal diction that the boy heard on the radio and television. The boy himself became conscious of his patois which a kind of pidgin spoken by the locals. The boy knew how to speak in the formal dialect, like he did in school, but at home he was used to slipping into pidgin. He did not want to always feel like he was at school, even when he was home.

The foster parents greeted the boy warmly. They stiffly introduced themselves and awkwardly bent down to give him faint hugs. The woman smelled of jasmine (jasminum sambac) and hibiscus (hibiscus arnottianus), which the boy liked a lot. He had never met a woman who wore perfume before. The man smelled of dust, smoke, and dry leaves. He did not like the man much.

The foster parents’ house was quite large and fancy. It was even fancier than the hotel room that he had stayed earlier with his mother’s friend. The boy felt uncomfortable in the big, clean, cool house. He had no earthly possessions except his dirty clothes, which they promptly took from him unwillingly.

They showed him the bathroom (his own bathroom!) and urged him to take a shower. They showed him the amazingly white and large cotton towels he could use to dry himself. They laid out neatly pressed and folded clothing for him to put on. They apologised too much for not knowing his size. They promised they would get him clothes that fit better once they knew what he liked.

The boy looked at the shoes they had placed on top of the neat pile of clothes and was discouraged. He had never worn shoes except on Sundays at church. So not only was every day at home a school day, he presumed, every day would be like a Sunday in a stuffy church as well.

They left him alone, naked, in the bathroom. He decided he couldn’t escape easily yet, so he went along with the charade. He tried to fiddle with the confusing faucet in the tub and couldn’t get it to come on. He spent a long time with the knobs, turning them every which way but couldn’t get the water to come out.

He called out for help and they answered almost immediately. He assumed they were listening outside the door. The kindly an showed him how to operate the shower and apologised for not showing him earlier. The boy was sick of all the niceness, but he put up with it for now until he could come up with a better plan.

The boy did not have to go to school for a while since he was only temporarily at the foster home. Their house was in the city where there was a lot of noise from cars and people moving around constantly. The boy’s room was extremely quiet at all times, and he missed the bubbling white noise of the neighbour’s tank.

The foster parents took the boy to a carnival to win the boy’s favour. The kindly man won a plush banana and gave it to the boy. The boy was so grateful that he teared up and hugged the man with genuine feeling. He clung tightly to the banana for a long time and took it with him wherever he could.

The boy ate a lot of sugary and fried foods at the carnival. When they were sitting under a tent to watch an animal show, the boy felt ill. He told the foster parents he wanted to yak. They didn’t know what he meant, but something about his body language must have indicated what he meant.

The man pointed back toward the top of the aluminium bleachers. The boy walked up and heaved the contents of his stomach over the railing. It fell quite a way and splashed noisily on the cement below. Several people turned around, but tried not to notice once they figured out what was happening.
Feeling much better, the boy trotted back and sat with his foster parents to enjoy the show. They marvelled at his candid unselfconsciousness. Even though they secretly marvelled at the boy’s nature, they feared it.

They went to a restaurant the evening after the carnival. The boy had never been in a restaurant before, that he knew of. He was confounded by the menu and having to use utensils. He had held a fork and knife before, but not ones that were made of metal and weighed so much.

After pretending to enjoy a salad and his plate was taken away, he noticed a piece of lettuce sitting in a spot of dressing on the table. He aimed his finger carefully to shoot the lettuce off the table. He flicked it so fast that he couldn’t see where it went. He immediately forgot about it.

He noticed the foster mother was reacting strangely and the foster father took a napkin to clean her face. She was shocked and offended and kept looking accusatorily at the boy. He couldn’t figure out what her problem was. He saw another piece of lettuce on the table and flicked it into the restaurant aisle. This time, he tracked its flight as it landed on a waiter’s pants as the waiter rushed by. He thought that was hilarious.

The foster father wiped down the boy’s side of the table to remove any debris. The boy thought that was being a spoil-sport.

The boy had kicked off his uncomfortable shoes underneath the table. He got up to go to the bathroom in his socks. The foster father noticed and told him to put his shoes on. They boy did so, but took them off and hid them under a booth when he turned the corner. Coming back, the boy got lost and couldn’t find the seat. The boy wandered around and went into the kitchen to see what was going on in the back where all the waiters hustled and bustled.

There was a panic in the restaurant, but fortunately the boy was reunited with the foster father who was anxiously looking for him. They went on a search for his shoes, which were now inconveniently placed under a distinguished couple’s table. The foster father apologised profusely and seemed very embarrassed. The boy was glad he got his shoes back, not to wear them, but to have them. He was not used to owning a lot of things.

The boy realised that evening in bed that he was getting used to the silence of the big house. He also noticed that he didn’t mind being clean and having new clothes to wear every day. He was becoming more human, and more “normal”, if “normal” was like the foster parents. The boy saw lots of people who walked around the city who resembled the foster parents, so he agreed, they must be normal.

After a week, the social worker showed up at the foster parents’ house and told the boy his relatives had been located. His grandparents on his mother’s side lived on the mainland and he would go live with them. The social worker explained that she would take him to the airport and he would fly in a big airplane over the ocean and meet them.

The boy didn’t understand words like “grandparents” and “guardians” very well. He only knew familial terms like “mother” and “brother”. Beyond that, these terms were a mystery. The boy asked if he had to wear shoes on the airplane. The social worker laughed and said that he did have to wear shoes all the time on the mainland. The boy was extremely upset at this news.

She asked him to get his things (the two changes of clothes in a backpack and his plush banana) and they got into her car. They drove to the airport and waited for a long time to get on the airplane. The boy was calm only because he had no idea what was going to happen. The boy was comfortable not knowing what was going to happen. He was only uncomfortable and scared when he knew what was going on.

The social worker sat with him the whole time and laid her hand on his shoulder. He felt uncomfortable with the close contact and imagined her long fingernails were talons that would dig into his skin.

As he boarded the plane he was escorted by a flight stewardess. He held her hand and walked climbed the stairs onto the DC-10. He felt strong holding his banana but his feet were still uncomfortable in the confining shoes.

As he sat buckled into his seat, the boy noticed that he hadn’t thought of himself as a dolphin recently. He was satisfied that he no longer wanted to be a dolphin. He realised he didn’t want to die. His invisible armour was thick and indestructible and he welcomed whatever would come.

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