A Matter of Courage / by Rafiq Ebrahim

     It was a cool summer afternoon with a gentle breeze blowing in through the window, and Sam, never missing an opportunity to rest, lay curled on a sofa. He had just finished his weekly column for Happy Times, a suburban paper, which had employed him as a columnist. He was supposed to write a column for the youth every week and for that he was paid handsomely. He liked his work, for it afforded him a lot of time to rest and relax which it seemed was the purpose of his life. The column which he had just written and emailed to the paper dealt with the importance of relaxation. It was captioned How to Relax and Win the World.


     Sam closed his eyes and was peacefully meditating when he heard a loud bang on the front door. He got up, opened it and saw Julie, breathing sonorously. She seemed highly disturbed as she rushed in and collapsed on an easy chair. Sam smiled and looked affectionately at her, for she, apart from being dashingly beautiful, was one of his best friends. “Hi, pretty, how on earth are you? It’s always a pleasure to behold you.”


     Julie heaved an audible sigh.  Unable to read the significance of such a sigh and seeing wrinkles on her forehead and tears in her eyes, Sam put in, “God is in His Heaven and, from your expression I understand, all is not well with the world at this moment. What ails you, young beauty?”


     “I don’t find this world a proper place to live in any more,” said Julie, her voice quivering with the presence of woe within.


     Sam blinked his eyes and his heart sank, seeing her in distress. He took out a bottle of orange juice from the fridge, poured some in a glass and gave it to her. “Here, have some and tell me what exactly has happened to wreck the peace of your delicate mind.”


    “Do you know that Max and I love one another madly?” she asked.


     Sam gave a visible start, for this came as a terrific surprise. “Do you mean to say that you love that Halloween creature? Why! Even the wildest of all creatures, take King Kong for instance, wouldn’t hesitate to accept its defeat at the hands of Max as far as looks are concerned? ”


    “Beneath the rough exterior lies a loving and caring heart,” said Julie.


    “Is this love mutual?”


    “He loves me with all his heart and spends his leisure hours at the gate of my house; at times peeping in through the cracks in the wall, and at times moaning audibly,” she said with dreamy eyes.


    “Disastrous as it seems, but advisable for you two to get married soon.”


    “A big obstacle has come up in the way,” she said, spilling some orange juice on the carpet. “This morning Max saw my daddy and asked for my hand in marriage.”


    “What was the outcome?”


    “Dad told Max that instead of seeking my hand, he should go to a zoo and seek asylum in a cage.”


     Sam laughed out loudly.


    “What’s so funny about it?” she asked.


    Sorry, Julie, but I must say that your old man does have a sense of humor.”


    “Never mind about his sense of humor. The reason I came to you is that I need your help. I have a plan which would definitely make dad accept Max’s proposal.”


    “What if he doesn’t give his consent? Can’t you go ahead and marry that anthropoid ape, defying your dad?”


    “I can, but I don’t want to, because in that case dad would disinherit me. I don’t want to lose dad’s millions!”


    “You are right; money does matter. Tell me about your plan,” said Sam, anxious to know what was going on in the frail mind.


     Julie exploded, “Sam, do you know that my dad considers you to be a lunatic?”


     Taken aback with this information, Sam yelled, “He considers me what?”


    “Loony!  In other words, plain senile. He is quite positive about that.”


     This time Sam spilled the orange juice, not on the carpet but on Julie’s shirt, for the shock on learning this had made his hands vibrate.


     Julie observed his discomfiture and added, “On occasions, dad has referred you as a congenital idiot; at other times he says that you are afflicted with the severest type of feeble-mindedness.”


    “That’s enough,” protested Sam, raising his hand. “And what makes him think that I am a nut?”


    “Once when you came to see me, you had put on a bright yellow tie, and then last week he saw you in orange shoes. Reading your columns in Happy Times confirmed his belief.”


    “Old Mr. Fred Cornfield seems to be a despicable character. What’s wrong if I wear a yellow tie or orange shoes?” Sam put in.


    “Don’t call my dad a despicable character. Now, listen, the reason I came here was to ask you to help me.  If you come to see my father seeking his permission to marry me, he will do some deep thinking. Of course, he would reject the proposal outright, but he may then reconsider Max’s proposal. How do you like the scheme?”


     The glass fell down from his hand and something like a grunt escaped his mouth. “Sorry to disappoint you Julie,” he said, wiping off sweat from his forehead and taking a deep breath. “My nerves are not that strong that I could involve myself in this sinister scheme…” he couldn’t finish for he saw tears in Julie’s eyes. The spectacle touched his heart, for he always had a soft spot in his heart for damsels in distress, and this particular damsel was one of his best friends.


     Julie got up, turned her face away and remarked, “Sam, this day you have failed to help a true pal. Let it be written in the annals of your history that from today you are no longer that angel who always used to flit hither and thither to relieve young innocent girls in their predicaments.”


    “Wait!” shouted Sam, for he was moved to the core. “Come back. Declare to the world that no friend ever goes disappointed from here. Let’s discuss how your scheme could be put to use.”


     She rushed to him, a flush on her cheeks and a twinkle in her eyes. She would have readily taken him in her arms, had he not started pacing with frowned concentration like Napoleon Bonaparte, but there was a difference. His nerves were performing somersault at the prospect of meeting the old guy, whereas Napoleon Bonaparte in similar circumstances would have put his chest out and gritted his teeth bravely.


     The pros and cons were weighed carefully and it was decided that they should go to her home and confront Frederick Cornfield immediately.


    “Sam, I suggest that you put on your funniest dress. Why don’t you make yourself look like Curious George’s guardian ‘The Man with the Yellow Hat’? Surely you must still be having a yellow hat, shirt and trousers? You were looking so stunning in that dress last Halloween night that a pet monkey in the neighborhood rushed to sit on your back!”


     Sam donned the costume and accompanied her to her place. Mr. Frederick Cornfield was a short, thick individual with a dome-shaped head on which were a few remnants of hair. He was resting on a pool chair beside the small family pond in the compound of his house, munching nuts- almonds, cashews and walnuts. He believed that nuts are the only nutrients that instantly boost your physical and mental vigor. Seeing Sam, he uttered a groan. Sam came nearer, but not before knocking down a flower pot by the pond. He picked it up and put it back on its place, “Sorry, sir. It was very clumsy of me to do that.”


    “In your life, I am sure, you must have done clumsier things than knocking down flower pots, and you will continue to do so. It is because you are mentally unbalanced. Your every act, your every word confirms my belief that you ought to be certified. Why! Look at the yellow dress you are wearing,” said Cornfield, putting a nut into his mouth and cracking it hard.


     It was time for bravery, thought Sam. “Oh, Frederick the Great, stop munching nuts. There are other things more important in life than nuts. I have come here only to tell you that I wish to marry Julie.”


     Cornfield goggled. He got up from the chair and moved around, possibly looking for some heavy object to throw at Sam. “Believe me, my would-be father-in-law, Julie and I love one another madly,” said Sam, keeping himself at a safe distance from the old man.


    “Am I to understand that Julie too wants to marry you?” asked Cornfield, picking up a walnut from the plate.


    “That’s what I have been trying to make you understand,” said Sam, adjusting his yellow hat.


     Frederick Cornfield moved around faster, breathing deeply. At last he said, “Young man. I am positive that from your very infancy you are mentally deficient, and as such only a girl with a very low mental capacity should marry you. You must be aware of the fact that my daughter Julie is one such girl. Loony young man, I have no objection to this match. I shall see that both of you are married at the earliest.”


     Sam felt as if a bombshell has exploded near him, then his ears got fogged and a thin mist covered his eyes. His nerves jumped like a hooked fish. The most unexpected had happened. He turned right, then left and dashed out to meet Julie.


    “Julie, a disastrous thing has happened,” said Sam, breathlessly.


    “He didn’t throw that heavy metallic vase at you, as is his habit; did he?”


    “He did nothing of the sort. He accepted my proposal!”


    “What!” she yelled, and the effect of the yell was such that Max, Julie’s heartthrob, who was lurking outside the gate, looking in through a crack in the compound wall, jumped inches high in the air.


    “You and your sinister scheme!” said Sam. “Now what are we going to do? Get married?”


     Julie got thoughtful. “A new idea has just flashed in my mind,” said Julie, always full of queer ideas.


    “Keep me out of its execution,”said Sam, raising his shaking hands.


    “Listen, there is only one thing we can do. You go back to see my dad immediately and utter some harsh words. You may also insult him. Enraged, he would turn you out of the house, and naturally, would never agree to make you his son-in-law.”


     That seemed to Sam a pretty good idea, but to speak harshly to an old nut-munching person whose favorite hobby was to throw heavy metallic vases at his guests needed steady nerves. He gathered courage, took a deep breath and went to see Cornfield again.


     The old man was now reading Tom and Jerry comics. “Come in, come in, sit down and read some comics.”


    “Comics?” uttered Sam. “Do you think I should waste my time on comics? It is only the children and withered old people who find pleasure in reading comics. I just came in again to tell you that you are an old oaf!”


    “Old oaf!” said Cornfield, taken aback and upsetting the plate of nuts.


    “That’s right. Old oaf with capital O. That’s why hair have said goodbye to your head. That’s why your stomach has revolted against you and is coming out inch by inch every day; that’s why……..


    “Enough,” said Cornfield coolly. “I know what senseless things a feeble-minded person can utter, but it really takes courage to insult one’s future father-in-law. I am indeed glad to learn that my future son-in-law, though loony to the core, is a courageous fellow. I always admire people with courage.”


     Sam now shivered like a jellyfish. God! Why on earth did he involve himself in Julie’s outlandish schemes?  Drops of sweat began to form on his face and he ran out, but Julie was coming near the pond. He met her halfway.


    “Now what?” she asked, frightened.


    “I said raucous and bitter things to your dad, but he took everything calmly, and instead of turning me out, said that he admired courageous people.”


    “Courage!” she said, looking up at the sky for a few seconds, as though she was struck with another of those bally ideas. She then smiled contentedly. “Wait here Sam, I will be right back.” She went to the gate and said a few words to Max, who was now sitting on the compound wall like Humpty Dumpty. When he heard what Julie said, he clenched his large, rough fists. Then both of them came in.


    “Nincompoop!” roared Max.


    “I beg your pardon, young ape-man,” said Sam.


     Max laughed like some prehistoric animal, moved his apelike jaws and said, “Pretty boy, I don’t think that a little dip in the pond, which by the way contains a number of fishes, would do much harm to your looks.”  Saying so, he approached Sam with fire in his eyes. He rolled up his sleeves, showing enormous hairy arms and bulging biceps.  At the same time Julie screamed. Cornfield got up from his chair and came running towards them.


     Max advanced, caught hold of the shirtfront of Sam, and with a light push threw him into the water. Sam was taken by surprise. He came out bewildered. Max caught him again, raised him up in the air and threw him again in the pond.


     To Sam, it now seemed useless to come out, for the brute was bent upon keeping him immersed. He brushed aside a small fish that was keen on entering his nostril.


     He saw Cornfield smiling and delighted, shaking hands with Max “Courage! Sheer courage! And determination to throw one’s opponent down! I admire you young man in animal form. Are you still anxious to marry my daughter?”


     Max uttered a grunt, showed his big white teeth in a smile and nodded vigorously.


     The old man looked with a benevolent gaze at him and Julie, put his arms around their shoulders and said, “Come my children, let’s go inside and make plans for the wedding.”


     They went in. With some effort, Sam came out of the pond, water dripping through his hair and clothes. He tried to control his shivering, but couldn’t. Removing a fish from his front pocket, he quietly got away, swearing never again to help a damsel in distress.

Rafiq Ebrahim is a freelance writer, contributing to various magazines.  He has also written three novels; the last one, BEYOND THE CRUMBLING HEIGHTS, is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.