A Letter from Gibs to Gabby

This is kind of personal. Should this letter to Gabby fall into your hands, I suggest you don't read it. If you do, do me a favour, forget it soon after. If you insist on an explanation, I must be blatantly forthright with you, I don't have one. "Who is Gabby anyway?" you ask. Never mind, except that my life has been all topsy-turvy, and am looking for an escape hatch. And here I go, to do what I am set out to do, to write to Gabby seeking for some sort of deliverance from duress.

Dear Gabby,

I'm Gibs Dave Alba, the youngest of the three sons of my parents. You know that, don't you? As also the fact that I don't remember having seen my father, except in transit. Refreshing your memory, as I was assisted out of the birth passage, Father was being escorted out of this world. Our eyes locked for a brief two winks and he moved his lips to tell me something, or so I thought. It was garbled. He raised his left hand to make a sign, his right interlocked with the angel of death. It didn't make sense. In all honesty, I don't enjoy having a pounding headache, but if I must figure out what it is that he was trying to say, I must endure it.

As for my mother, even before I could call her Mom, I heard her say,
Come on Gibs, grow up. Remember, Papa was a sharpshooter for the President of a free India.

Further, Santhanu's rejoinder never ceased to resonate in my head,
Get set brother, ready and go; fire Gibs, fire, rat-a-tat-tat …

Ever since a million question marks have trampled on my head. I wonder if Mom and Santhanu were on the same page trying to say the same thing as Father did? What do you think Gabby? This poser goes far back into my childhood.

At an age when I kept moving the colourful beads on the abacus to count in multiples of five, I had an idea. Consequently, I was hard-pressed to crawl up the long-ribbed bench, the kind you find at a lawyer's office, and from there on to the table and a rack just to have a feel of father's wall-mounted Remington 700. Gabby, to this day, I don't know what it was that knocked me down and gave me a broken ankle. I can vouch for it that I was sure-footed to the nth degree. It was just like the time I nearly broke my skull trying to connect with Father through a series of questions I posed on a planchette. I was a tween then. In answer, down came the ceiling fan getting my head between the blades in its vice-like-grip. All this while my forefinger ran wildly back and forth over the letters on the board amounting to, "G-E-T-L-O-S-T." It was scary Gabby, to say the least. And there's more.

I was 22, and a medical salesman at the time. It was my first working lunch out of town. I remember that it was a no-nonsense place with six tables of four-seaters each and two more of two each. I took the two-seater nearest the kitchen, that way my food could land from the pan onto my plate, the instant it was ready. You know how finicky I'm about eating piping hot food. I chose kuri- mutton curry simply because the words kuri and mutton were synonymous unlike chicken-mutton and pork-mutton on the menu that left me muddleheaded. The mix-up of monikers made me wonder if my father had anything to do with it to drive me out of the place.

To amplify my predicament, to the extreme corner of the room ahead, on the other two-seater, was this man, a Commando. Gabby, believe it or not, like me he was dressed in a grey safari suit; like me, he had on one of those gold-rimmed dark glasses and like me, he also had a heavy ring on his right forefinger with nine gems encrusted in it: ruby, diamond, pearl, coral, emerald, turquoise, garnet, sapphire, and cats' eye.

He looked like a still from an action-packed movie. As a pillar of salt, so motionless, he sat. For reasons best known only to him and his ministering angel, he seemed to be staring at me and I stared back. I'm mindful Gabby of the fact that you don't quite approve of demeanour of the kind. But don't you forget that I'm the son of a sniper and Mom wanted me to always behave like one. Moving on with my dilemma, I saw that Commando take a sip of water from a dull ribbed glass. I did the same from mine except that mine was chipped at the rim. Subsequently, I saw him lost in thought and tapping the table pitter-patter with his pudgy bejewelled forefinger, the others stiffly resting on the tabletop. I followed suit. He didn't wince, and I chose to figure out what his problem was. My impulse having got the better of me, I turned around to check if, after all, he was ogling at the lady seated at the rearmost corner at the four-seater, on my end. To my bewilderment, in her place of minutes ago, I saw the doppelganger of my Commando, identical of built and semblance, and in a grey safari suit, too. I shook my head savagely to check if I was beginning to see things in doubles. The vision didn't fade. Fazed, I remembered Santhanu's “rat-a-tat-tat” and made sure that my handgun was in place buckled over my sock, just in case. Gabby, I want you to know that I did take my time to pore over the scene which seemed quirky at the time. What I can't get over is the way you subsequently admonished me on my recounting the entire escapade that transpired between the Commandos and me. You went near ballistic and said, Gibs, why do you get into a predicament of this kind? Good Lord, don't you see that those were two of them on either side of the room, your Commando at the far end of the room, and his cookie-cutter copy with his squatters' right at your end? Isn't that what you figured out eventually?

In which case, I wish to ask you, what were they up to Gabby, what on earth? Oh, never
mind, you will never understand.

Gabby, the last thing I would do is to accuse you of aping me word for word. But you did just that, didn't you, except that your parroting was loaded with sarcasm and your lampooning was in poor taste? Each time I visit this little town, the recollection of your words and taunts leave me agitated. You mocked me by echoing my words, Excuse me, may I share the table with you?

Besides turning red in the face, and reprimanding me for using frenzied vilifications, you persisted in having answers to your ceaseless inquiries,

Seriously, how could you have gone on and on with your tirade annoying that commando? If you please Gibs, whatever made you take a seat opposite him, at his table, hmm? I know that you will point a finger at your rat-a-tat-tat and say it had something to do with your father. I must admit that I was stupefied at the way you took on, your side of the Commando. Mind you Gibs, I will never forget, not in a thousand years, how the tables turned. The security cameras have captured footage of you bolting from the scene with your spindly legs, jumping over walls, gaining crosses, and streets. Gibs, in the first place, don't you realize that it was unwise of you to have needled those men the way you did?

How you rattled me with your countless jibes Gabby. Your ongoing rant and commentary on all that I said and did were exasperating, to say the least. I further remember your censuring me for creating that scene,

I saw it disengaging Gibs, I saw it disengaging from the way you were alleged to have cocked your head to taunt the Commando at your corner. I'm appalled at you for having laughed into his face with your characteristic mouth spray ridiculing his name, "Endin Mirkal Chandrababu, Rayalaseema," having read it from the polished brass clasp on his safari coat.  "Some name that, Endin Mirkal," you repeated and laughed some more with your uvula dancing in public view, that's what you did Gibs just in case you have another version of your tomfooleries up your sleeve after all these months. To make matters worse, didn't you say that you went after him in the manner of an inquisition to ask, "Mirkal from Andhra, what brings you here to Hassan?"

"Not Mirkal, it is Endin Mirkal," the Commando corrected you Gibs in a measured tone and you didn't care. He didn't see the sharpshooter's DNA in you and didn't perceive the need to answer your every question either. Nettled by his defiance, you admitted to me that you screamed bloody murder with your sonorous voice. So much so, I could easily have heard it at the far end of this town with these, my ears, I would have Gibs, I certainly would have if I were around. Everyone about the no non-sense place heard it too, didn't you say?

With amplified rage, you thundered, "Jarkal Magane, bido bai, bogolo hesaru." (son of Jarkal, speak up, bark your name), and to my consternation, didn't you also say that three things happened to you that instant?

Gabby, I implore you to be pragmatic and consider the rationale for what happened then. I swear on a pile of Bibles that I'm not a fibber. I did in fact, see Father desperately making a sign to me with his left hand; I heard Santhanu and mother repeat the same thing parrot-fashion; and in the meantime, my target pulled himself up, full-size, flashing an official-looking card, SITA something with the Government of India lions staring me in the face(Suppression of Immoral Trafficking Act). That was it Gabby, that was it. I was out and over the wall before the twosome moved in my direction to get me. Why do you think I sprinted out of the place, the way I did?

Just a thing or two Gabby. I quite agree with you that a wedded couple ought not to keep secrets between them. Believe me Gabby, I'm serious about it too. But come on, don't push me to come clean before her. She'll then have evidence enough to lock me up for my Don Quixote act as you allege. In any case, she worries enough about having to share her bed with me after what happened.

Those many years ago, she was heavy with baby and me with the excitement of fatherhood. And the handgun rested under my bed unbeknownst to her. I remember you telling me off for imagining that I owned a Kalashnikov,

Gibs, there you go at it again, isn't it only a Swiss knife?

As I didn't like interruptions, I remember shutting you up with a shoos. Let me for once and for all bare my heart to you Gabby and be done with the ordeal. I recall the precise moment and why it happened. I saw Father's left-hand tracing signs in the air and all of my 6' 2" jumping out of bed with an urgency to decode what the old man was trying to say. But for some reason beyond me, there I was all set to stab a son, a son yet to be born, for attempting to appropriate my secret from my father. How could he? I tried to explain it away to my wife as a nightmare, fatherhood nerves, and call it what you may. She would have none of it. Besides, she won't let me forget how I stood over her with the Kalashni…. sorry, I mean the Swiss knife to thrust it into her womb. And she doesn't trust me with my son anymore.

Not after the way I snapped rowdy Sheena's backbone for abusing women, making him look like he has spina bifida. He collapsed like a pack of cards and his face resembled a blank canvas with not a tinge of the colour of libido left in him. I don't regret it Gabby; I don't want you to fear my potential, it is so unlike me unless, … How I wish I could convince you that I have tried, several times, to jump out of my skin to be rid of any trace of the sharpshooter's DNA and the Kalashnikov, I mean the Swi… if only for the comfort of my boy's nakedness and his warm dribble on my bare chest. Gabby, I want you to read on and you'll see that I tried. God as my witness, I did. I insist you read my letter to the last letter. My doctors will vouch for it. They were baffled by my prognosis. And they didn't see what I saw, a gradual mutation in my body. It was worse than a dog-eat-dog situation as my body had turned upon itself. At first, like Sheena of Shivamogga, my bolts and nuts came loose. I was more of a heap than a man. Next, the left side of me became so emaciated that I was no longer one whole, but two discordant halves pasted together. And the medical fraternity gave up on me.

Then came the unsolicited barber to attend to me. Strangely, when I looked at him, it felt like I was looking at Father's mirror image. You ought to have met him Gabby. Intriguing as he was, we shared the same birth date and year and more strangely, he had my father's initials¬¬¬¬-- G.D.A. marked on his card. He saw what the doctors didn't see. I told him that I had not willed the mutation and he said,

I know.

He looked at me long and hard, considerately, or not, I couldn't tell. At the end of it, he said, Go home Gibs, feed your left and starve your right side till you find your balance.

That said, he left the scene in a hurry. I never met him again.

As for my Swiss knife, and by the way, there never was a Kalashnikov, to begin with, and my Father's Remington 700, I have flung them into the Triveni Sangam at Talakaveri. Let no man attempt to retrieve them.

There, I've come clean at last.

Ever grateful,
Dated: 9.9.1999
P.S. I trust you enough Gabby to never let anyone be privy to my ordeal. I've earned the much sought-after reprieve from harrowing pursuits and rest assured that I'll no longer seek the company of my father.

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Among some of Matilda’s favorite things are the sight, taste, and feel of freshwater, the splendor of verdant vegetation, the innocence of young children, and the playfulness of fledgling animals. The one thing she spurns is social discrimination. Matilda is a self-published novelist and a short story writer. One of her short stories made it to the Honorable Mentions list of 2019-2020 International Short Story Contest organized by Twist & Twain. A collection of her short stories is on the anvil for future publication.

Matilda Pinto
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