Dear Lovely Followers, Friends, and Random Readers of “In Hot Pursuit…”,
You may have noticed that since business picked up, I’ve begun posting weekly. You may also have noticed that last week’s post is late, which isn’t, incidentally, due to any lack of committment on my part, but rather to the OCD I suffer from when it comes to writing short stories, which has severely delayed me (not for the first time, and probably not the last.) By this you may indeed infer that I am preparing a short story for you that is hilarious, but as it is turning out to be a rather a long short story, I feel compelled to post it in two parts, in time for next week, and the week after. Since, however, it was however completely out of the question to leave you guys hanging too long, I am this week posting another invaluable short story –which thankfully, is quite short.
My deep thanks to all those sympathetic (though bordering on pitying) Followers who have been kind enough to send me the stories of their own Pursuit of Happiness, either to make me feel better, or simply to inject me with hope. You are beautiful people, thank you!!! I have obtained their permission to share some of their stories with my readers , so here goes for number 1) of a few selected short stories I shall be sharing with you from time to time. Enjoy, and do comment as much as you like!
Oh yeah… the weekly report. Erm… there was ONE message worthy of note, recently. I opened it up because it began so well, and immediately regretted it. It was from some dude in America who can’t spell (or, even worse of a crime, refuses to) and is apparently looking to set up a train of worthy Kenyan females to ‘pop’ on his next visit to Nairobi. My delete button actually beeped resentfully at me that evening, and I don’t blame it. It is already smudged and scarred beyond recognition.
The Audacity of Singeanthropus Astropithicus
Like most well-ranked High School graduates, when Jane entered into college life, she quickly surrounded herself with a posse of five like-minded college girlfriends, with whom she went everywhere and did everything. The Girls, who were from all four corners of Africa, got along spectacularly well, to the point where they are still in touch today. In their day, status was everything, and being a University Student was one of the most prestigious among young people. There were certain things a Proper University Student did not permit themselves to do, particularly if they were female. Having battled their way to further education and thus established a firm path to career and professional success (despite both active and passive male opposition), she most certainly did NOT hang around the Wrong People. The WPs did things that most college students now do as a matter of course, such as: skip class, party all night, not mind whom they were seen about with, dress like a wino, become a wino… you get the drift.
Such girls, because they successfully taught people to treat them with respect (working hard, excelling at sports, participating in debates, attending dances but adhering to early nights, and cold shouldering those who didn’t meet the standard by behaving likewise) were considered the Elite Crew of the university, and there were any number of girls trying to ingratiate themselves into the group, let alone men throwing themselves out of windows to date them. John, however, was the privileged and much envied male who actually earned the honour of dating all of the Girls –at once. (Don’t get excited, I’m about to explain.)
John, who attended the English Literature class with the all the Girls, was a quiet, intelligent fellow, whose lack of straightforward good looks were much redeemed by a good sense of humour, superceded by excellent manners. He had much impressed the Girls, not only by discussing difficult topics intelligently, but also by treating each of them with an almost asexual gentlemanly interest. His first offer to carry their books did not end, as they expected, with a self-invitation to ‘coffee’. To their amazement, John continued to leave them safely and cordially at their dorm room doors with a wave and a prompt about-turn, and it was the Girls who finally had to invite him in to tea. His funniest remarks held no sexual connotation, and in the rare occasions where he threw an arm around one or other of them, it was with the familiar elan of an affectionate brother. In short, John was non-threatening, and this earned him the status of Gentleman Friend to all of them. He became the only man they ever went out with, and it became a semi-serious joke, at dances, that when one of the Girls was asked to dance by another male, she would first lean over and ask for John’s permission or approval, before she could accept. Having learned that he frequently declined it, it even became a matter of social ranking, among the men, to be in John’s good graces. Without them, they could have no access to the Girls, and having any one of them condescend to grant a man the time of day was considered quite a feather in one’s cap.
One morning, while battling the books in the library, Mary, a Tanzanian, and one of the Girls, was interrupted by a greeting from one of the ugliest men she had ever seen. Being an unadulterated giggler, the poor girl, busy suppressing this tendency, was only able to grasp from the ensuing conversation that he was a fellow countryman, and that she had been pointed out to him as such. After the necessary greetings had been exchanged, Mary excused herself as quickly as she could, and ran to the bathroom to cry out her laughter, where she was discovered by Jane, half an hour later, still recovering.
“What’s wrong with you?” Jane exclaimed, alarmed at finding her roommate supporting herself against a bathroom wall. Mary burst into new peals of laughter, but was eventually able to gasp.
“I saw Singeanthropus…”
At this, Jane joined her in hearty laughter. Singeanthropus Astropithacus, you see, was the name the Girls had very rudely concocted to describe Seriously Ugly Men.
“Where? Where?” Jane cried, wiping her eyes. Mary gave her a watery smile.
“in the library… He came up to me to introduce himself because he’s also from Tanzania.”
Jane cried with laughter, and joined her friend against the wall.
“You poor, poor girl!” She gasped. Her eyes widened. “Oh, NO. Is he going to be a problem? Come calling on you every day and joining you for lunch and everything?”
Mary’s eyes widened with alarm, then their eyes connecting, the girls promptly burst into laughter again, so hard indeed, that they ended up on the floor.
Singeanthropus, as it turned out, was a Third Year student, and for at least a month, Mary was able to remain relatively safe from his eager attentions by using the excuse of their rarely convergent class schedules. Being a well-brought up, polite girl, however, she was unable to rebuff him in an obvious manner, hoping against hope, every day, that her cold civility would eventually manage to put him off.
Note to Girls: Cold Civility NEVER, EVER works with Persistent Pests. If someone is barging himself into your life and you don’t want him to –tell him so Straight. Don’t be shy, and don’t mind if you’re rude –they’ll get over it (or begin stalking you, in which case you MUST tell the Authorities.) Just close your eyes and speak the brutal truth, and do NOT, I repeat, do NOT apologise for it. It’s not fair to you to let him make your life uncomfortable, nor is it fair to him, if he genuinely doesn’t realise that you can’t stand him. If you need some adequate phrase to use, please e-mail me.
Cold Civility did not work. Mary frequently found herself dreading to walk down university paths in case she ran into him, and took to lunching in strange corners of the university quad, while the Girls waited for her in the cafeteria and wondered what was going on with her. The only person who knew of her friend’s persecution was Jane, who found it hilarious that Mary couldn’t speak her mind and just tell him to blow off.
One Saturday morning, Jane dragged a tired, depressed Mary to the library, in order for them to research an essay together that would count towards their final year grade. With the help of generous injections of tea, the girls were able to get into the work and had succeeded in planning most of it by lunchtime, at which point Jane stretched luxuriously, and declared that they deserved a good lunch. Mary agreed, and both girls made their way to the deserted main cafeteria, where they might discuss their progress over the good food that materialised only on weekends –probably because this was the only time the chef wasn’t resentfully under pressure.
They had just begun dessert when a shadow fell over their table, and Mary mournfully looked up to find Singe beaming at her, apparently floating in a very clean, very yellow oversized shirt.
“Mary!” The tall thin reed of a man reproached her, “I haven’t seen you around for AGES –have you been sick?”
As Mary, by concentrating, managed to swallow rather than choke, and began some rueful creation of an explanation, Singe’s eye had fallen on dumbstruck Jane –and remained there.
“Who is THIS!” He clamoured admiringly and interrupting Mary, his bulging eyes almost completely out of their sockets. Mary looked from him to Jane, then began to smile.
“Oh! This is JANE, my ROOMMATE.” She said enthusiastically, now grinning wildly at Jane. Jane, whose synapses were threatening to go on strike if compelled to send an accurate message of Singe’s appearance to her well-insulated brain, then back again to her eyes, remained very still.
“JANE,” cried Mary, trying to call her roommate back to herself, “this is Singe… er… Geoffrey. My countrymate I told you about?”
Jane looked at her as though she had just beamed down from Space.
“Jane is my roommate, Geoffrey…”
“Geoffrey?” Jane finally murmured, her eyes stretched to their limit. Singe, feeling he’d made an impression, but not realizing which, confidently threw himself into the seat next to Jane’s, and extended a worn, ugly hand.
“YES! I’m Geoffrey!” He cried happily, following the pronouncement with a painful hearty laugh.
Jane, not knowing what else to do as she had also been well brought-up, gingerly put her hand in his, and shook it with a plastic smile.
“Nice to meet you, Geoffrey.”
“It’s even nicer to meet you!” Geoffrey laughed again, making the hairs stand on both the Girls’ necks. Mary, taking pity on her friend, stood up abruptly.
“JANE, if we want to make that Volleyball game by three, we really should get going…” Jane sprung up as though stung, and was at the cafeteria door before either of the Tanzanians could react.
“Well… er… Geoffrey,” Mary mumbled, as a way of taking leave, “we have this essay…”
Geoffrey was around the table and by her side like a shot.
“I understand, I understand,” He said brightly, taking her hand in both of his. “But please let me call on you one of these fine days. I would very much like to see Jane again.”
Feeling rotten, Mary gave in to good manners and him their room number, informing him that they were usually back from class by six in the evening.
“Please, please don’t be angry with me Jane,” Mary begged, as the girls slowly made their way back to the library. “I really, sincerely didn’t know what else to say! I mean he’s a countryman after all, and we sort of have some obligation to look after each other somehow… Jane, please…”
Jane who slow pace had dictated their walk, now stopped. As her glazed eyes slowly lit upon her, Mary suddenly realized that Jane had mentally been far, far away.
“He’s ugly, Mary,” Jane now said in a musing tone, almost academic tone, linking her arm with Mary’s and resuming their walk. “I mean he’s really, really ugly.” Her tone, Mary realised, might have contained a bit of awe. “He’s so ugly, it’s fascinating.” Jane murmured. Mary felt a swoon coming on.
“What?!” She voiced, alarmed. She stopped, forcing Jane to stop with her. “What are you saying?” But Jane was back, and shrugged airily, pushing them along the path again.
“I’m saying it might be interesting to see him again.” She grinned frankly at her friend. “I mean, ugly people are people too!”
Completely taken aback, Mary went along to the library without another word.
Singe officially called in to see Jane a couple of days later. When the girls had arrived from class, they found the older man cutting a horrible picture by the door of their dorms. As Mary involuntarily shuddered, Jane couldn’t help grinning at the sight of this presumptuous scarecrow. While they all exchanged pleasantries, Mary, feeling that it was the least she could do, made tea and set out a plate of biscuits on Jane’s partioned side of the room, then discreetly retired to her own, where she sat rigidly upright, listening hard to the ongoing conversation. For a while, Jane and Singe exchanged standard information on their homes and their families, Singe eagerly, and Jane more reservedly. Those questions exhausted, there was a short silence, then Singe enquired on Jane’s plans for education, career and family.
“Oh I have no intention of getting married any time soon,” Jane told him frankly, “I must have a profession, and I do take my work seriously.”
“Yes, of course.” Singe replied, sounding utterly downcast. To her surprise, Mary soon heard the sounds of Singe’s leave-taking, upon which she immediately ran over to Jane.
“How on EARTH did you make him leave after just one cup of tea and half a biscuit?” She cried admiringly. Jane smiled widely.
“I wasn’t warm, I guess.” She shook her head in a superior manner. “THAT’s how you get rid of Persistent Pests, Mary. You tell them either with your mouth, or your demeanour, that they’re not welcome in your life.” She filled up her mug of tea, and threw herself happily on her bed with a biscuit. “He shouldn’t bother us again. Now, fill up your mug and come and sit so we can discuss our research.”
When the girls came back from class the next evening, Singe was waiting for them. As Jane’s heart fell and Mary’s eyes began to water, they both realised that the man was dressed to the nines in a white shirt so immaculately clean, it crackled. What was perhaps more horrifying was the he also held a large bunch of red roses, which he dared to present to Jane in front of everyone that might have been hanging around. Puce with embarrassment, the girls felt compelled to bundle him into their rooms, out of sight, and once there, naturally, they had to offer him a cup of tea. Once again conversation lulled, then Singe suddenly began speaking of his own plans for the future. As an engineer, he would make a lot of money, he declared, focusing his bulging eyes on Jane. Enough to keep his wife extremely happy, and of course neither she nor his children would lack for anything. Horrified, Mary felt the giggles begin to bubble up her throat, and promptly excused herself to go to the restroom. Jane, who’s astonishment was only equal to her embarrassment, was rendered completely mute for the next few minutes. This silence, unfortunately, Singe believed was due to her having been duly impressed, and shortly after Mary’s return, he took his leave of the girls with a wide, gap-toothed smile, and a promise to return the morrow. As Mary helplessly burst into laughter, Jane felt genuine tears sting at her eyes.
“It’s NOT that he’s interested in me,” she fumed to the rest of the Girls that evening, over a rare glass of wine, “it’s he actually thinks he has a chance!” The Girls, barely recovered from a two hour laughing session over Singe, burst into giggles once more. Jane stood up, outraged, and began to pace. “I’m TOP of my class, I’m the STAR of the Varsity Volleyball team, I’m on the Dean’s list! Who’s he?”
“He’s old, and out of it… and did I mention, UGLY?” Mary quavered. The Girls writhed with laughter where they sat or lay.
“Oh my Lord, we have to meet him!” Gladys cried, getting up to refill glasses, and giving Jane a sympathetic hug. “I’m sure he’s not that awful.” Jane and Mary looked at each other and promptly burst into tears of laughter.
“No, no…” Jane gasped, leaning against the window for support, “that’s an excellent idea. After class tomorrow…”
“…you should all come over for tea!” Mary concluded instantly. This idea spouted a gaggle of voices raised in anticipation of high drama, and it was quite late when the group separated, each girl going to bed satisfied at the thought of tomorrow.
The Girls could barely concentrate on their classes the next morning, and, as it always happens when you’re looking forward to something, time spend an inordinate amount of time passing. By four, excitement was at fever pitch; the Girls had confided in John, and promptly invited him to come along to tea and see Singe. John, while voicing his uncertainty at the political correctedness of classifying anyone as a Singeanthropus Astropithicus, had been quickly infected with the Girls’ excitement, and, at six, happily laden with all of their books, led the way down the path to their dorms. The guffaws began as soon as Mary winked and jerked her head in the direction of the curious scarecrow-like figure standing before their dorms, in a billowing blood-red shirt that had been starched until it cried out. Politely, nevertheless, John and the rest of the Girls introduced themselves to Geoffrey, and Jane thanked him for the expensive tin of biscuits that he presented to her. After a suitable period of small talk, the company politely retired to Mary’s side of the room, where they promptly began wiping off tears of silent laughter, pinching each other, and trying to listen in on Singe at the same time.
“How is your essay going?” Singe asked politely. Jane smiled tightly and pointed at a pile of papers on her desk.
“Slow but steady, thank you. How are your studies?”
“Fine, fine,” Singe replied absently. There followed a short silence. “So, how long will your studies take?”
“Three years, four at the most,” Jane replied flatly, gazing longingly out of the window for a moment. She tried smiling at him again and added. “Then of course I’ll do my Masters, and then possibly my PhD directly.”
Singe gazed at her in horror.
“But when will you be free to marry?”
Jane shrugged dismissively.
“These things always work out somehow… Biscuit?”
But Singe was now overwhelmed with a need to Speak.
“I have 35 shirts and 12 trousers.” He stated impressively. There was a pause, then a collective howling began from behind the partition. Jane, carefully setting down the tin of biscuits, felt her tears begin to streak down her face.
“Excuse me,” she murmured. She ran over to Mary’s side of the room, and collapsed onto her bed screaming with laughter.
Apparently, this was all that was needed, because Singe was never seen at the Girls’ dorm again. Today, they still laugh at the very mention of his name.