Some people , those with excitingly lavish lifestyles may say their days
began with a bang. But in thirteen year old Bishaden Quampela's quiet
uneventful life the bang she heard was more like the resounding blast of
nuclear war heads raining down from a sky barely touched by the sun.
Rolling over she opened one tentative eye and lets it rolls over the
grayness of her bedroom. The readout of her digital clock stuttered in the
gloom before settling in to a steady pulse flashing 12:00am as if it were
some warning against impending doom.
The room was small, from her bed it was three paces to the door. Next to
the door on a small three legged stand was an even smaller two knobbed
television set reminiscent of those from the time before plasma, above
which was a small window looking out on the side walk and central garden of
Quampela compound. The alarm clock broadcasts its warning in flashing red
lights from its vantage point atop the T.V set, below the little window.
Above the bed was a window larger than the one it reflected across the
room, thin curtains hazed the view of twelve feet of dried grass cutoff by
an ever higher brick wall. Other than a small bureau against the wall at
the foot of the bed there was no other furniture or decorations in the
little cell of a room at the end of a long echoing passage way..
The radios placement had nothing to do with the fact that Bishaden had a
tendency to hit the snooze and roll over if the clock was too close to her
bed but because the room only had one outlet which serviced only the T.V
or the Radio but never both at once. Groaning with the effort Bishaden sat
up and peered out at the still predawn dullness that was her life. Nothing
moved in the yard beyond her window. Not even the wind stirred the far from
living branches of what once was a hibiscus hedge. Maybe before she was
born it bloomed but now only skeletal fingers scratched at the pane of her
The empty fountain was a shadow in the center of the would be garden. The
round cherub cast a lugubrious glance at the chipped vase he held as if
watching the essence of his soul pour forth for the birds to dance in. His
smile was chipped and weather worn as was the vase from which his invisible
Nothing stirred on sidewalk outside her door nor on the tall brick wall
surrounding the Quampela compound. Bishaden lets the drapes fall back in
place wishing that she had never awoken as she heard footsteps echoing in
the brick and mortar halls outside her room. Obviously the bombs were
dropping in some part of the house and the entire family was being roused
from their beds at this ungodly hour so they all could have a say in
thwarting the missiles. When it rained it poured.
"Shadi! Shadi get up , come quick !" Tampulo's annoying voice reached her
even before the boy had thrown open the door. He stood in his underwear
shoulder length hair a disheveled mess. If not for the briefs he wore
anyone could have mistaken the scrawny ten year old for a girl. Not that
they would of course, there was too many controversies in the Qumpela
family already and insulting the son of eldest member would only bring down
the wrath of the gods on everyone's head. Besides, Tampulo was Bishadens
uncle and disrespect was not tolerated even in children. So instead of
commenting on the boys appearance Bishaden simply threw her pillow at him
as she stood straightening her floor length linen shift.
"Whats going on out there Pulo-kutty?" She asked slipping her feet into her
house slippers and tossing the pillow back on her bed as she left the room
shutting the door behind her.
"Gunjan's gone too far this time you wont believe it ! Sarmehi and Tavallah
are in it too!" The boy grinned with pleasure , his dark eyes sparkled as
he told of the chaos that roused the whole of Quampela compound this early
in the morning. It was not usual that he knew of something before his older
niece did , he reveled in his accomplishment. If only because she were
allowed to sleep in the main household Bishaden would have seen the fight
first hand .
They followed the sidewalk around the central garden, at an even twenty
pace interval other corridors opened out on their left leading to
elsewhere along the outer wall. To the right of them the circular expanse
of the drying garden was an constant presence. The despondent cherub still
hovered balanced on the tip toes of his left foot, wings in a frozen
flutter waiting for his life force to cease its constant flow.
The Garden was once a jewel centered in the heart of the compound. It was
said that the man who built this place brick by brick built it from the
inside out, wrapping the buildings around the garden. The very hallways,
all twenty of them were spokes on a wheel each inevitable leading to the
heart of the great maze of interconnected houses and stalls endless spiral
stairs and elegant arched walkways and closet sized boxes at the end of
forgotten passages where children were forced to live because of a mistake
made by a parent. Now the jewel at the heart of all this extravagance, the
prize at the end of the rainbow the light at the end of long echoing
corridors with domed ceilings and intricately worked friezes depicting the
best that ancient Rome had to offer lead not to some wonderfully enticing
vision of paradise in a bottle but to a barren field just as dilapidated as
the rest of the crumpling vision left by a man to with talents ambitions
to opulent for this world .
The main hall of the Compound was wide and spacious. Double doors stood
open at the end of this extravagant corridor the two children slowly
approached. Large plant holders stood empty but still added grandeur to the
barely lighted hall, the geometric patterns designing each of the kraters
were a Greek inspiration. The cracking stucco textured walls were painted a
dull brownish-gold .The color of 'the sun setting on the walls of Venice'
as the children's great-great-grandfather called it. Now looking at the
chipping paint and cracking stucco Bishaden wondered what her great-great-
grandfather would say if he saw what his legacy had become. A raucous
bickering hell house. Voices rebounded up and down the corridor bombarding
the kids with obscenities and half guided insults as they drew closer to
the wide open doors.
Inside was a roiling mess. There was obviously three divisions standing in
the wide entryway. The center group consists of Kali, Bishadens aunt,
Tampulo's cousin, and several of the elder members of the Quampela clan.
They talk quietly amongst themselves , every now and then looking to one of
the other groups awaiting some form of confrontation.
To the left of the door stands Gunjan in a pair of bark slacks and a white
T-Shirt he is a stunning vision of perfection his new girlfriend Michele
Patel from Jersey stands next to him her white shift the same as the one
worn by Bishaden was no less than flattering on her curvaceous body. Golden
threads hung around her small shoulders as looked from person to person as
if trying to see into their souls. The brooding Vishan stood solidly beside
his cousin and best friend. Sarasvati and her foreign husband Drughan
stands around them both anxious and shifty Drughan keeps his green eyes
averted trying to make as little eye contact as possible while Sarasvati
fixed the room with a scowl daring anyone to step up to her.
The last and loudest group is most of Tampulo's family. His father sits in
the only chair in the entryway a tin folding chair brought in to
accommodate his deteriorating condition. He coughed every now and then but
these body wracking spasms could barely be heard over the voice of Malusia
the daughter of his late sister and cousin to his son. Malusia had a short
temper and was boiling with anger her face resembled a burnt beet as she
paced arms waving as if directing traffic if cars could fly. She wore a
long red sleeping gown which swirled around her red slippered feet.
Matching her stride for stride Sarmehi agreed whole heatedly nodding his
head vigorously at her every word the smile on his face would be no more
appropriate if his continuously bobbing head were to fall off his needle
neck and roll across the room. He was a small man roughly two heads shorter
than his raving cousin and always plotting a way out of doing his part on
the Family business. Also amongst this raucous group the timid Tavallah
seemed far out of place. He wore only a pair of light blue cotton pants and
a small shiva pendant necklace on a cord around his neck. Although not
religious he was very superstitious and known for seeing signs in the
simplest of things.
Working herself into a blinding fury Malusia yells her cousins name and
stamps across the room only to meet face to face with her male reflection.
They were so much alike in features that she Vishan had taken pride in
confusing the elders into a stupor in their youth . Now that they were
older they hardly spoke. Malusia scowls at him for a moment before trying
to push her way around clawing at Gunjan around Vishan's head.
"I will kill you you sorry excuse for a man! How dare you bring more bad
luck on this family haven't we suffered enough for your brothers problems
!" she demands thrusting herself into Vishan. He gently lowers her wrists
and speaks softly.
"Lusia , Lusia what has come over you! It is no business of yours who
Gunjan marries ! You can not tell him who to love all we can do is support
each other .If you cant do that then we cant call this a family we're no
better than pack of apes in the jungle! This fighting is useless. I will
not see it. It will not be done. You talk to your uncle and explain to him
that times change ! People grow and learn. The world is out there. Just
because you have never left these wall do not mean that others cannot come
in. This isn't life it's a prison!" Vishan's soft spoken speech was
endearing and heartfelt but it did nothing to cool the flames of hatred in
his twin. She glowered closes her eyes then in a frightful display she
launches a new attack bringing up the past , events she never saw things
she was never a party to yet throwing them in his face like flowers against
Malusia argues openly with her brother Vishan. Her once beautiful face now
contorted with anger as she screamed obscenities at her older brother. He
stands his face darkened with a boiling hate that he loathes to let loose.
He takes the abuse silently, teeth clenched so tight that his jaw muscles
bulge at the sides of his head, his temples pound with unrestrained fury.
No doubt he was silently yelling back at her ruthlessly thrashing her, but
only inside. Vishan is the calm one he bites back his fury and slowly
closes his eyes, Malusia takes this act of restraint as a show of
superiority and explodes again slashing at him with pounding fists. He
braces himself arms at his side fists clenched tightly lest they move of
their own accord to strike her.
Kali rushes forth to drag her older sister back. Like her name sake Kali
was dark and vengeful but she hated to see the family at odds with each
other. They were mostly sisters and brothers, Vishan and Malusia are twins
the oldest two. Kali and Sarasvati are also twins but they had different
mothers from their older siblings. There is also Digah , Laeidad and Kenny.
But they have each gone their separate ways leaving the family to 'seek my
own destiny!' as Kenny so righteously put it. Kenny was a western taught
scholar, at the age of sixteen he had already graduated from Oxford in
England. By twenty four he was teaching psychology and ethics in America.
At twenty nine he had refused the bride the Family had produced for him and
taken an American wench who immediately set out to destroy the family. When
quiet plotting came to open hostility Kenny took his American bitch and
left but not wholly. The other two , Digah and Laeidad never gave the
courtesy of an excuse for their departure they simply disappeared into the
abyss of western thought.
Uncle Thaid helps Kali restrain Malusia, he always sided with his dark
young niece, she was the most reasonable under pressure. She thought
clearly and saw things from every angle before making a decision. She was
what ever man needed in his life. Thiad smiled shrewdly as he hustled his
niece into an envelope of open arms. Durmah scowled at her and comforted
the anguished tears as Kali stepped up once again to do battle with those
who would change their ways of life.
Malusia's screams hit Bishadan deep. Not the veracity of how it was said
not the piercing wails or the stamping spitting cursing but the words she
said. Bishaden had always respected Malusia as a shrewd business woman but
now she saw her as a demon straight from hell with all the trimmings. The
bad words spoken of Bishaden's father coupled with the fact that he had
left her behind ,or been forced to. The girl turned away from the door as
Tampulo hurried as to not miss any more action. His grin was a wide and
devious as Sarmehi's but his held innocence not malice. She began to walk,
her slippers whispering soothingly on the concrete walk way. The sun was
just biting through the gloom ,an orange ball just half way above the
sloping roofline. Bishaden watched it climb into the sky, watched the
spiraling flight of a large bird on the wing, enjoying the freedom of the
sky. She closed blotted her eyes on the sleeve of her shift. When she
looked up again the sun had cleared the roof and beamed down on her but the
light could not drive away the coldness which had seeped into her bones
with Malusia's fiery words. Somehow she had wondered into the Garden, the
cherub fixed her with a sad smile as she looked up into his worn marble
She tried to hold his stare but rock is stronger than an unwanted bastards
nerve. She blinked and began again this time her lower lip trembled with
bottled fear and self-pity. She was strong , she knew she was. She hadn't
cried since she was seven when her father supposedly came for her and left
with out a word only catching a glimpse of him from a window as he climbed
into a black car and drove away forever. She bit back the rising emptiness
that tightened her chest and focused on the little cherub again if she
could conquer him , if she could conquer rock than she was truly strong but
as she gazed into the cherubs face a tear found its way from the statues
smile squinted eye down his left cheek and splattered on the rim of the
vase he held. She turned away in disgust . Even the statue felt sorry for
her she was such a pitiful site that she made a statue cry. Bishaden
couldn't hold back her tears any more she sat in the shadow of the smiling
cherub and cried her heart out as the sun rose and beamed down on a day
that started with a bang and was destined to end in a whimper.