“Sirshak, let’s watch this movie together.”
Sirshak turns on the TV, puts the tape in the VHS player and goes back to where she is sitting. The movie then begins.
Casablanca of Morocco was a free French colony during the Second World War even though France was occupied by the Germans. It was one of the last transits to America and also the most difficult one. The film opened with a patriotic French anthem and a very crude depiction of earth sitting on a table accompanied by traditional narration in a neatly prepared hand painted map. It portrayed a bleak situation of an ongoing war and a horde of problems refugees had to deal on their way to the American freedom. After the ‘classic’ opening, the movie dived into a very set like bazaar with very actor like actors where an announcement was made about a fatal attack on a German train from which two important visa documents were scurried out by the Anti-German revolutionaries dealing in underground. The usual suspects were rounded out on the premise of the Prefect of Police. However someone was shot dead trying to flee the interrogation. Surprisingly there was no entry wound or any blood, just a theatrical murder.
A plane, an old German model landed on an airstrip. From which came out a stern man, an important man by the look of it. He had on a Swastika badge. He was tall. One of the French officials received him at the airport. He had on a peculiar hat. The stern man was Major Strasser while the latter was Captain Renault. Maj. Strasser was apparently from The Third Reich which probably had a reputation, which was why he was sent to supervise the security concerns in Casablanca. The short captain assured him of the security of the region and also revealed about an arrest that would be made later that night at Rick’s.
Rick as described by the officials, his employees and customers had had a very high reputation to maintain but the actor pulled it off in a single shot when he wore that un-wearable white jacket like his skin. And also he refused to drink with some aristocrats, just so he could follow his principle of not drinking with customers. That was why one of the customers called him, ‘snobbish saloonkeeper’. He was just a regular acentric, witty and charming lead that every other movie in thirties and forty had. Nothing special.
A strange looking man called Ugarte with even stranger expressions came in the club that night to hand Rick the stolen visa documents. He urged him to keep it safe.
Sam was on that night, he was one hell of a singer, that Sam; a prized possession of Rick who never intended leaving his boss even when he was offered a lucrative deal by Ferrari, the leader of illegal market in Casablanca.
Rick with his sleek talks and suave had already won Renault on his side. They made a wager about escape of Victor Lazlo who was visiting Casablanca with his wife on his way to flee to America. Apparently Lazlo was a big deal and had a big reputation, so big that even Rick admired the guy for his achievements.
As soon as Major Strasser entered the café, Ugarte was captured as expected. The officials celebrated with subtle interrogations with Rick who when asked about his nationality, in keeping with his wit said, he was a ”drunkard.” He was good.
Rick was good. He was the best flyer in the regiment. Laced with space lasers and jet thrusters, he was bound interstellar. Sam, his co-pilot was rapidly maneuvering the plane between the asteroids. Rick was shooting Mig-blasters at a bunch of enemy ships; he was destroying them at his will. They were fleeing his sight as fast as they could but no matter what they tried he always gained on to them; his new quantum propulsion engine was unbeatable in the whole Star system. But those fries were just a consolation prize; his eyes were on the big fish, a specific ship with a large Swastika sign. It was Maj. Strasser’s star bomber. Rick concentrated all his firepower and blasted the bomber, the bigger the ship, the easier the target. Almost all of them hit a bull’s eye. The strike from such powerful cannons broke down all the deployed shields of the Star bomber thus blasting its intergalactic ass in the oblivion of the space.
The night that would harbor great many ordeals reached its climax when a tall man entered Rick’s with a beautiful woman. He was cleanly shaved. And the woman was an exquisite beauty. The man that everyone talked of, that tall man was Victor Lazlo and the woman his wife Ilsa. They were on a run from the Germans that was why it raised a serious concern for Strasser and his men. But Renault on the forefront of buttering things up reached them and complemented Ilsa saying,” I was informed that you were the most beautiful women ever to visit Casablanca, that was a gross understatement.” She took the complement with grace.
Ilsa called the pianist Sam whom she recognized from Paris. Sam had his piano on wheels! She requested him to play ‘The Song’. He denied, saying that song was forbidden at Rick’s by Rick himself. But Sam had to give in to her persuasion and played ‘As time goes by’ in his own peculiar style. A beautiful style. However that was cut short when Rick barged in…as expected…right then he met Ilsa…again.
Traditions broke that night when he drank with Lazlo and Ilsa. Those traditions were supposedly built to be broken, they were for a dramatic exhilaration, a cheap shot, but it worked nonetheless…smoothly. Lazlo, Ilsa and Rick, the three vertices of a triangle and a point in space, Renault sat on a table and exchanged love, admiration and skepticism like four good gentlemen. Eventualy Strasser came to the table where the couple received a hostile invitation for the next day.
When everybody left and the bar was closed Rick stayed there waiting for Ilsa. There he rekindled his days with her in Paris. Apparently they were a thing back then. But Ilsa who never aged and Rick who was always old parted in a tragic way when she stranded him at a train station in Paris. He had nothing but Sam and an apology letter from her, whose ink gradually washed away in the heavy downpour.
“Where were you?” Ilsa was worried.
“Right where you left me… Paris” said Rick dusting off gunpowder from his white Jacket. They were in a park with nobody except two kids playing swing at the back. Then there was calm for a moment, they gazed at each other’s eyes and slowly Ilsa enquired, “Where’s your ship?”
“Seized by the Germans”
“Did anybody see you?” she asked with great concern.
“I was careful. I said goodbye to Sam at the train station and flew in a jetpack to you. I’ve hidden it in that school” he pointed to a school across the street.
“Let’s run away before the Germans get here” she said and added, “Let’s fetch that jetpack.”
“Wait” sighed Rick
She turned back. He held her close and found her to be more beautiful than ever.
“Here’s to looking at you kid”
As expected Ilsa came later that night to explain herself but witnessing Rick was no more the man he used to be, decided to give it a rain check.
The next day in the office of the Prefect of the Police, Lazlo and his wife appeared for their rendezvous with Strasser and Renault. There they were informed about the death of Ugarte, an accomplice of Lazlo, in captivity. Poor Ugarte! As the tension built Maj. Strasser tightened his strangulations on the couple to prevent them from fleeing Casablanca.
Some unsuccessful attempts in the illegal market and a looming threat on Lazlo brought Ilsa back at the gates of Rick, this time to express her undying love for him. The timing of it seemed suspicious to Rick at the beginning but once he heard her part of the story he couldn’t stop but fall back to her.
There she expressed her desires to stay with him forever and urged him to think for both of them. She cried.
“…he cried and cried but King Midas could never turn his daughter back from the gold.” Yamala Ma’am read. “The moral of the story is: Do not be greedy. It never does well to anyone”, she concluded. Everyone seemed satisfied.
“But why didn’t he wear gloves?” Sirshak raised his hand.
“I’m sorry!” Yamala Ma’am gestured him to keep his hand down.
“Ma’am, why didn’t he wear gloves?” Sirshak asked keeping his hand down. “He could have saved her!”
“Because it was hot” someone yelled. Everybody laughed. Poonam smiled.
“But that’s not the case here, is it?” the teacher smiled. She was used to him, the whole class was used to him asking questions at the end of every stories.
“He could’ve been happier, could’ve saved her!”
“Say Midas wore gloves, say his daughter never turned to gold; would that make for a good moral? That way King Midas would’ve stayed greedy, won’t he?” Yamala Ma’am replied with questions. It kept him busy; meanwhile she turned the next page and went over to the board to assign the class their homework. Everyone frowned.
A man in a white jacket and a beautiful woman passed the hallway.
“But she died” Sirshak was disappointed.
”She had to for all the other children to understand what greed brings to people and their families. From that day on people will think of King Midas and what happened to his daughter before they try anything greedy. It was a lesson for everyone…a greedy person will never be happy.” Yamala Ma’am tried. She knew she was only wasting her breath. Nothing she told would ever amount to anything. She knew his mind was not there anymore.
It wasn’t. He wished the story didn’t have a moral. That way the King wouldn’t be bound by it and the girl wouldn’t have to die. But it was all there. The story was over. Its end was there. No matter what, she’ll always stay dead. Even if he wrote another story, it’ll just be a version; he could never save her from the real one.
He tried to save Ilsa. He ran some errands and made arrangements. He sold his café to Ferrari and struck a deal with Renault.
Once the plan set sailed, Renault found out he had been tricked, he cunningly informed Strasser about Rick’s idea of letting Lazlo escape. Once they reached the airport, Rick revealed Ilsa that he was never part of the plan and Lazlo needed her more than ever. She was baffled by his sacrifice but kept on moving along with a broken heart. Her expressions were gloomy, and her lips were devoid of smile. Her hopes were shattered. Rick said to her one last time, “Here’s to looking at you kid”
Strasser came right in the middle of the take-off. He could’ve ruined everything. He would never let Lazlo leave Casablanca. That was why he called guards even when held at a gunpoint. He dared Rick to shoot him, which Rick actually did. He SHOT Strasser. The man fell down in total disbelief. He got what he deserved. It was a long time coming.
The plane flew way into the mist, sharing melancholy with sky.
“Aren’t you sharing that?” Poonam asked.
“Share what?” Sirshak questioned.
“Chocolate…what chocolate?” he acted indifferent.
“The one in your right pocket” Poonam said pointing towards his pant.
“Oh! That one…” he exclaimed. “…it’s not mine”, he lied.
“Whose is it then?”
“Lier” she accused Sirshak. “I know it’s your favorite chocolate…If it’s Sandeep’s then why are you carrying it?” she asked with suspicion, “You are lying, aren’t you?”
It was a major dilemma. Poonam shouldn’t eat chocolates, but she found out he had one. As stubborn as she was, her soul won’t rest until she had a bite out of it, even the littlest one. But Sirshak couldn’t give in to her stubbornness, he had been strictly instructed by Poonam’s parents, not to give her any sweets or chocolates, even if she insisted. And boy, she was insisting!
She was a diabetic, her mother had told. Sirshak had asked about this to his father who told him she already had high levels of sugar in her blood, so anything extra might be dangerous. Even his father had warned Sirshak not to hand any sort of sweets to her. He had promised he would never.
But promises are made easy, kept difficult.
However, Sirshak decided he would not hinge away from his promise, this time.
“You shouldn’t have it. You know it’s not good for you” he tried convincing her.
Poonam rose from her swing and stood in front of him.
He stopped swinging too.
“Just a little bite” she pleaded, “one itsy bitsy bite. Nobody’ll know” she insisted.
Sirshak was not going to fall for her sweet talks. He just sat on his swing set, observing her persuasion techniques.
“I’ll give you my Pokemon card.” Bribery’s what she’d come to. “Whichever you want” The proposal was definitely tempting but there was not going to be any sort of transactions that day.
“I’d have given it if it was sugar free, I’d have given you the whole bar.”
“You shouldn’t have shown it in the first place if you weren’t going to share it” she complained. “You’re acting like Sneha. Sneha’s greedy and nobody likes her. Are you Sneha?” she asked.
Sirshak nodded. He smiled.
She was annoyed by his persistence. He was impressed by her.
“I won’t tell your mother about what happened to your Encyclopedia” keeping herself calm, she made a light threat.
“You can say whatever you want” he gave her the permission.
“Bishnu aunty” she yelled. “Bishnu aunty…this Sirshak…lost his Encyclopedia” her voice gradually lowered into a whisper.
Nothing. He did nothing to stop her!
Poonam was infuriated. She tried threatening him once more, “Give me a bite or I’ll tell about your bicycle” At this point she was already yelling.
Sirshak sat there smiling letting her make those hollow threats.
“I’ll tell everyone that you don’t like any movies…not even ‘The Lion King’” her voice raised an octave. She was putting on an extra effort. Her face was turning red.
Should he be concerned, Sirshak asked himself.
He should’ve left right then. He should’ve walked away. But he didn’t.
Flustered, Poonam stamped the ground. Her rage was boiling off the roof.
“Give me the chocolate…” she yelled.
“Or…or…” she stammered.
“Or I’ll tell everyone, you see faces in clouds” she screamed.
Sirshak rose from his swing.
Poonam stopped. She stood there without moving an inch, with her mouth shut, revisiting her chocolate debacle.
She knew she shouldn’t have said that. She realized it wasn’t right. You never say something out loud, something that’s been sworn to secrecy.
He walked past her, didn’t even look at her.
He walked with Captain Renault.
The soldiers were ordered to round up the usual suspects for the murder of the Major. At the end Rick told Cpt. Renault, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Sirshak turns the T.V off.
He walks up to the window and pulls the curtain. It’s started raining, nobody’s outside.
“Rick should’ve been with Ilsa”’ he says.
Sirshak’s a little boy who refuses to go with the flow. He might have just been eleven but he’s smarter than most kids his age. That is why it was plain boring for him to hang out with them. He rather would be watching movies inside than play outside. Moreover, his parents were quite busy, they were always away and almost all the time it was him who had to wait and look after the house-which he didn’t mind doing. So, for a kid who stayed aloof most of the time it was obvious he had limited friends, one to be exact-that one too he’s not so sure after recently.
Today is Saturday, sky’s overcast; gloomy and cloudy-much too overwhelming for me to go outside, Sirshak thought. He slides a curtain in the living room window just a little and looks through, several of the neighborhood kids were out already.
The Thapa’s are right across the street; Binita and Binod, their two kids who went to same class even though having a couple of year age difference between them, are playing with their dog ‘Sweety’ in their veranda. The Pomeranian wags its tail tirelessly while its master tries to teach it to give a paw. Luring the creature with ‘Glucose’ biscuit whenever it followed what it’s told, it’s a simple device Binod thought fit for training his dog.
Right beside the Ashoka tree near the Thapa’s, Rita and Susi are counting carefully as Nilima scores higher and higher in her chungi. A hundred and four they sigh at last as Nilima gets tired and drops the chungi, thus bringing an end to her record breaking run. She throws a light fist in the air for her unprecedented triumph, Rita drops it at fifty and Susi can’t score more than ten. Why those Sharma sisters even bother competing with her?
Abigya is on his bike; riding up and down the road, being an only son his parents were much too cautious whenever he went outdoors. That might be the reason why he still rides with the training wheels even though he’s already ten. Susi is eight and she had outgrown them a year ago. He’s such a sissy Abigya.
Further down the road, Shirish and Utsav are playing football. They are both thirteen, say plyan-tik to penalty and still consider themselves to be the best in the ward.
This is an ordinary start to a normal weekend, nothing unusual except for the weather, even though ten in the morning, it’s almost as dark but the neighborhood is buzzing with blithely enthusiastic kids. After a while all of them will go and plant themselves before TV, watch the matinee show and then come out to talk about the movie they’d just watched. It happened every Saturday. Ordinary kids getting overwhelmed by generic movies, unimaginative plotlines and shabby songs, that was the ritual, it applied to all except for Sirshak. He wasn’t easily impressed. Up until now there hasn’t been a single movie worth his admiration. Mediocrity bothered him and clichés too. But nothing bothered him more than the endings of every movie. It killed the possibilities. He couldn’t make his peace with endings of anything, for that matter. However, Sirshak liked watching them even though his mind drifted off every time to venture some new adventures along the way. Maybe that is why he loved watching them so much.
As gloomy as the day is, the wind blows ever so slightly, a leaf detaches itself from the Ashoka tree but for some reason it doesn’t fall on the ground and remains suspended. Sirshak cranes his neck to examine whether there is a spider-web nearby the trunk-just then-suddenly someone emerges from the Joshi’s. Is that Poonam? He squints his eyes and looks carefully, surely enough it is-Poonam.
She comes strolling down the road; seems disoriented, detached; devoid of her usual self. Her expressions are gloomy and her lips are devoid of smile. Sirshak knows exactly why it is.
Poonam then comes unwillingly towards the chungi playing trio.
“Can I play?” she asks folding both her hands in front of her blue skirt.
“Yes”, Nilima agrees and then proceeds on explaining the situation they are in,” but mind you, I am at one hundred and fifty one, Rita is at seventy three and Susi just scored twenty five. You’ll have to begin at…” Just then Poonam’s eager eyes wander about Sirshak’s house as if searching for someone-someone important. Sirshak dodges her sight- a narrow escape, he thinks. Then briskly closes the curtains to hide below the window sill…after a while he takes a few light steps and throws himself in the living room couch. He’s alone-again.
Mom and Dad won’t be back until a couple of hours. It’s still cloudy outside and there’s nothing he can do inside-unless-why doesn’t he watch that movie aunt Indira gifted for his eleventh birthday?
Quickly he runs towards his room, goes straight to his bed, kneels down and pulls out a carton from under the bed. There’s a carton labeled ‘Watched’ which is overflowing with movie tapes. He then slides it back to where it was and pulls another one labeled, ‘Not watched’.
Sirshak plunges his left hand in that carton, also filled with movie tapes, trying to fish out the right one. There were all sorts of films there; dramas, actions, horrors anything and everything. Impatiently he flips the box over and all the tapes fall on the ground making a pile. He turns every tape and reads the title at the cover but no such luck; there wasn’t the one that aunt Indira sent way over from the US.
So he looks for it around his room. It is messy, of a fairly standard size and has yellow painted walls, “yellow disperses the light better” his dad used to explain whenever he complained about that dull color. Whatever the science is, it didn’t feel as good as blue though! Sky is blue, the blue whale is blue, light sabers are blue…Poonam’s favorite skirt is blue!
The room has a small sized bed where the blanket and bed sheet are undone, just the way they were when he woke up that morning. A study table with a chair is beside the bed in front of a window that faces the Poudel’s living room; sometimes Shirish shouted from there and they would talk, not really a talk, it was Sirish who yelled and Sirshak would just participate with reluctant nods here and there. There’s also a cupboard at the tail end of the bed. Even though he wanted a computer in his room, his father insisted it’d be of much better use if it remained in the parents’, to compensate for that though they bought him a fourteen inches color TV set that sits right next to the door now. His clothes are all over the room, on the chair, on the bed-scattered all over the places. Crumbs of biscuits and packets of Wai-Wai littered the floor, overflowing the dust bin. A half-eaten bar of chocolate is sitting on his table. But the major share of that mess is contributed by his only secluded-sacred hobby-Movies, more precisely-Movie tapes. It’s like Monarch butterflies in spring, rain in July, sharks in Jaws; they are everywhere. Exhausted by the look of it, sometimes his mom repeated Elliot’s mom from E.T,” This is no room. This is an accident”; his room is a housekeeping tragedy.
Finally, Sirshak finds what he’s been looking for, inside the drawer of his study table; a brand new cassette of a pretty old film; it’s a classic- claims the cassette. An adult male wearing a stylish hat and a grave expression as well as a beautiful lady emoting grace, embellish the cover of this black and white film made in 1942. Further, name of the cast is written on the lower end, ‘Humphrey Bogart’, ‘Ingrid Bergman’ and ‘Paul Henreid’. And, the title of the movie itself is written in big-vintage letters- ‘CASABLANCA’.
“Classic eh…. let’s see if you stand a chance”, challenged a little ego in that little boy.
So, tape in hand, Sirshak goes back to the living room, it has a bigger TV and a VHS player. The TV rack has multiple cabinets, the upper one holds some dolls his mother bought from Sumi aunty, home-made dolls. The central cabinet has twenty one inches Sony TV and a Daewoo VHS player. The lower one holds a few Karuwa his parents received as a token of love from different offices they had been to. And it also holds some certificates of all the family members; however Sirshak has the best ones in his room, especially the one he received in a drawing competition as well as in Story writing competition.
Sirshak turns on the TV, puts the tape in the VHS player and lies on the couch. The movie