If I could cast a spell that would turn Zachary into any other species on earth, I would make him into a piranha.
He ate like one.
He could gobble up food meant for three – in three minutes – and then demanded for more.
He had told me with his usual self-deprecating manner, “It’s okay if I get fat… it’s not like they will notice my figure when they are noticing my skin color, ”
“Yes, imagine being fat, all those extra flesh encased in shiny black exterior…one could never miss such fine specimen of human elegance, I am sure.” was my charming repartee.
Zachary visibly gritted his teeth. “What is it with you and being racist?”
“What is it with you and being manipulative?”
Zachary fell silent.
See? Being a smart person, he got the point.
When we were in year 1, I was always extra-careful – oh, it was a painful year – not to bring up anything that would make him feel self-conscious about his being black. After all, I made him my best friend, and it wouldn’t do to hurt one’s best friend’s feelings, right?
But then, I started noticing that Zachary only seemed to be sensitive about ‘racism and discrimination’ when he was trying to induce me into feeling guilt-ridden, so that he could manipulate me into agreeing with whatever harebrained notion he happened to possess at that time.
The truth was, when it came to being manipulative, I could give people lessons! So Zachary did not fool me for a very long time…- ehem, only a few months. Well, 12 months to be exact. The whole of year one, to be precise.
Gradually, I ignored all his guilt-inducing comments that he articulated with such dramatic flare. Whenever he said “It’s not because it’s raining, right? You just don’t want to play football with me because I am black and dirty. ”
“That’s right, black, dirty and then sweaty.” I said with my face straight. WHAT was it that made him think I would enjoy football with or without the rain?
The other day, he tried to manipulate me into joining a stupid fishing trip by saying, “What is it about fishing that you hate so much? You really don’t have to come up with excuses not to be seen with a black kid, all right. Just say it.”
“Say that you are too racist to want to go fishing with me.” His eyes sparkled. He was too sure that he could win me over. But I was more ruthless than him.
“Yes, I am too racist to want to go fishing with you. It’s exactly because I am racist that I am sitting next to you for lunch every day – just to enhance the contrast between your skin color and mine.”
He was speechless with my cruelty. But as he had always been quick and smart, he got the point. That was all that mattered.
Of course he got the point, right? Never in a million years had I thought that he might actually believe what I said as a complete truth rather than my attempt at rebellious retaliation to his obvious manipulation.
So imagine my shock when one day he refused to go to lunch with me.
“Hurry up, Zach. It’s lunch and I am hungry.” I whined.
“Never mind, you go on first.”
“What? You’re not eating?” I gave him a look that spoke volume of my absolute amazement.
“Nope. I don’t want to go to lunch today. Wouldn’t like to give you the opportunity to enhance the contrast between my skin colour and yours.” He pointedly remarked. His eyes sparkled, mischievously.
Oh, God! He was my best friend, but I could not believe how close I could actually get to strangling his scrawny, shiny black neck! I was THAT exasperated with his consistent, resolute endeavour to manipulate me with his drama.
With a huff and a roll of my eyes, I harrumphed my displeasure and spat him my ultimatum, “Don’t come begging to join me for lunch for the whole of this week.” I thought it was generous of me to have punished him for a mere 7 days.
I was disgruntled when he smiled brilliantly and said, “Don’t worry about a week. I could stay away from lunching with you for a whole month.”
“Okay, Piranha. We’ll see about that.”
Zachary simply laughed – the sound grated my nerve endings.
What Maria didn’t know was : it’s Ramadhan. It’s the fasting month.
The fasting month gave me the opportunity to pay her back for her cruel remarks about ‘enhancing the contrast between our skin colors’ crap. Let her think I was sulking. It would be deuced funny just seeing her tripping over herself to apologize to me for, ehem, hurting my sensitive feelings. Let her think I was launching a private hunger strike as a silent protest towards her cruel remark. (okay, so she was right; I WAS manipulative. My only excuse was: it worked last year.)
If I could get Maria to feel just a tiny twinge of guilt (something I haven’t been able to do since last year), I would consider Ramadhan a blessing indeed.
He would die if he kept this up any longer. I could not believe how utterly obstinate he could be when it came to proving a point.
How could he do this to me?! When he was friendless for being the only black in the school, I befriended him.
How could he do this to me?! For one whole year, I had followed every single asinine, idiotic, moronic little scheme he had conjured up just because he always played the ‘racist’ card! And stupid that I was, I thought I was sparing his feelings.
How could he do this to me?! Why couldn’t he let me win – for once!
“Your one week is up. You can join me for lunch today.” It was I who had to go to HIM about going for lunch. He could not even beg properly after his one week punishment was up.
“No thank you. I told you, I won’t be joining you for lunch for one month.”
I gritted my teeth. “It’s not fair. You started this fight. I punished you for one week. If you let it, we will call this fight over. How dare you counter-punish me with one month! Your idea of punishment is not even original! It was MY idea to boycott you with lunch! If you are so clever, try coming up with something else.”
“Go ahead and die of hunger. See if I care!”
But I cared.
He did not eat for lunch. He did not even drink any water. How could one survive one day of school without drinking water? How could he NOT devour the whole bottle of Evian after basketball yesterday?
Was it my fertile imagination or did he now look just a little bit like he was about to die? All those dry lips and sunken eyes…
I had to do something. There was nothing to do but to force-feed him. By hook or by crook, I would make him eat.
When it came to dealing with Maria, plans had a way of backfiring.
Just when you thought you could get her to do your bidding by playing the racist card, she decided to develop immunity to feeling guilty.
Just when you thought you could grieve her into apologizing for her lack of guilt, she decided she would stop grieving and start putting some action.
She called up two of the biggest kids in school to haul me up into a storage room on 3rd floor, who then proceeded with tying both my hands behind my back most painfully. When I made my protest known by kicking them around, they frustrated my attempt at righteous indignation by tying my legs together at the ankle. Whenever I opened my mouth to scream in fury, they put morsels of food into my mouth! When I tried to spit out what they have most forcefully fed me, Maria clamped my mouth shut with both her hands. The worst thing of all, Jack – the gigantic kid – pushed against my lower jaw so that I could not vomit out the contents of my mouth.
I wanted to tell them that I wasn’t dying. I wanted to tell them that I was fasting! I wanted to tell them that I had enough nutrition during iftaar and sahoor. But whenever I opened my mouth to attempt an explanation, they grabbed that golden opportunity to feed mouthful of food into my mouth.
I was so angry; especially when Maria thought she was consoling me by saying “Don’t worry, all this food I am feeding you is halal. I made sure of it.”
It was enough to make me cry if it wasn’t so hilarious! She thought I was worried about halal food? When I was anxious about preserving my fasting?
I wanted to scream with frustration, but then they would only put more food into my mouth. But the urge to scream and spit some fire was so overwhelming. I was just so angry being subjected to this….TORTURE.
“Finish the food, that’s the only way we will let you go.” Steve – another giant – gave me his ultimatum.
After 15 minutes of eating in between bouts of screaming, the food supply was finally consumed. They had the audacity…the temerity…th-the GALL to actually clap their hands and give each other multiple high-fives, as though they have completed a successful mission at the stake of their lives…
Maria actually had tears in her eyes, “Now, you are not dying. You look so MUCH better now.”
It wasn’t fair for him to be sulking with me just because I was trying to keep him alive.
If he had just explained to me – nicely and reasonably – what Ramadhan was all about from the very beginning, I would have understood and left him alone.
If anyone had ruined his Ramadhan, it was himself and no one else.
I refused to take any responsibility of his God being angry with him for not fasting.
“Why would God be angry with me? I WAS fasting. If God would be angry with anyone, it would be with you. You forced me to eat.” Zachary fumed.
“I was trying to keep you alive. God knows I am kind. He wouldn’t be angry with me. “
“Okay. Maybe God is not angry with you or with me. But I do hope God is angry with Steve and Jack. My jaw hurts; my arms hurt and my whole legs hurt.”
“That’s better. Let’s put the blame on Steve and Jack. It was MY idea, but I didn’t ask them to hurt you in the process.”
“Oh yeah? So what did you imagine would happen when you dragged those giants to haul me up into the storage room?”
“Well…they wouldn’t have hurt you so bad if you had cooperated.”
“Now you are blaming me for trying to hold on to my fasting?”
“No. I am blaming you for AGAIN trying to manipulate me by not explaining the whole Ramadhan thing to me. I have changed my mind; maybe God IS angry with you after all.”
We did not speak to each other again for the rest of Ramadhan. And then came the day of Eid – the day that marked the end of the fasting month. I noticed that Zachary came to school a bit later than usual – Miss Pike had granted him some morning off for his Eid prayer.
He came to me just before lunch and sheepishly offered me a tentative smile. “I brought some food for you for lunch.”
“Now, we are talking again?” Okay, I couldn’t help it. One month of silent treatment and he thought he could just pretend like nothing ever happened? Like I would let him do that so easily?
“It’s Eid day. Everybody forgives one another during Eid, don’t you know that? It’s like common sense.”
When he put it that way, I did not have any other choice, did I?
I would die first before I let him think that I didn’t have any common sense.