Cardcarry’s parents had died and left him no property. None of his relatives were willing to help either. So he had no choice but to drop out of school and roam
the neighbourhood, begging for subsistence.
Cardcarry used to be stout and fair-complexioned when he was much younger but the years of hardships and sorrows had worn down his body. He was now a thin boy in dirty clothes. His bony eyebrows jutted out above his sunken eyes, which bore signs of the misfortune that he had faced so early on in life. It was obvious that he could no longer cope with the difficulties he encountered in his country.
One day, he decided that it was enough and that he
would look for a better life in a foreign land. Knowing well that he would not be allowed to travel on his own in the only ship that ferried people in and out of his native island Iska, he succeeded in convincing one of the travel- lers to take him aboard the ship as his own child. This man’s name was Watermount Stata, and he was going to Besieg, the capital city of Gudasi. He was black with a frail body. The hair on his head was spotty grey.
The ship departed the island when most of its inhab- itants were still asleep. The only luggage Cardcarry was travelling with was a torn plastic bag in which he had kept some clothes. He wore a pair of old jeans trousers, a short-sleeved shirt and a pair of slippers.
“How old are you, boy?” asked Watermount.
Cardcarry thought for a while and then turned to face Watermount. “I do not know my exact age, but I’ve heard people say that I was born on the day of the arrival of the first batch of white builders on the island. Some say that was in 1960, while others date it as far back as 1947. They call me little Cardcarry.”
“You are no longer a little boy, youngster! Why on earth should you accept being belittled by such a name? You should be sixteen by now. If my memory is correct, I first saw the white builders when I was in my fifties. That was in 1964,” said Watermount.
“Adding another date to the list confuses me more.”
“The date I gave you is not from a history lesson. I was an actual witness of that time.”
“It is nice to learn that.”
Watermount rested the palm of his hand on Cardcarry’s shoulders. “I will not ask for your real name, as it cannot be of much use now. In addition, I do not want to dredge up any bitter memories. So let me focus on your trip instead. How come you have no identifica- tion documents?”
“I used to have some but the house I was living in caught fire, and all our belongings were destroyed. I had nobody to help me get new copies of my documents. The aunt I was staying with had a heart attack and died after losing all her property and money in the fire,” replied Cardcarry.
“Didn’t the schools you attended keep some of your papers?” asked Watermount.
“I had attended one school my whole life, and when they relocated, I did not have their contact.”
“That’s terrible! What was the name of your school?” “The Antelopes.”
“The Antelopes,” repeated Watermount. “I knew that
school but I have learned that they have re-established themselves somewhere in the north of Tetris. Access to this city is strictly monitored, but I can always try. Maybe luck can be on my side. You can stay at my house while I search for your school.”
“Thank you so much, uncle,” said Cardcarry.
“My name is Watermount Stata. You can call me Watermount. Just Watermount.”
“All right, sir.”
“Do not respond to me with ‘Yes sir’ but with ‘Yes Watermount.’ I want us to become very good friends.”
Cardcarry was quite uncomfortable calling people of a certain age by their name. He was about to say a “Thank you sir” when the man gently patted him on the shoulder. That action changed the tone of his communication. He was silent for a moment and said, “I dearly wish so too.”
The ship was to sail for two days before it reached Besieg where Watermount lived. The journey was tiring. Only one meal was to be served around midday – a mea- sly vegetable soup with half a loaf of bread and an apple or banana as dessert. Apart from the shops on the ship, one could easily buy food from the hawkers who wandered inside the vessel. These sellers created a ruckus that could keep one awake for hours. Watermount signalled at one by waving his hand, high above people’s heads. The hawker walked up to them.
“Good morning, what are you selling?”
“Okolemme and bassit, sir.”
“What kind of food is that? I have never heard such
names,” said Cardcarry.
“Okolemme is a variant of the vaskir food that is sold
at the port,” replied Watermount. “The same ingredients are used to make both, but this one is healthier because it undergoes hygiene checks and is well packaged. As for the bassit, you should know that only this one girl sells it. It is her own recipe that the ship officials and travellers are so fond of. It is a mixture of minced plantain, wheat flour, and honey which is then dipped inside whole milk and steamed. Take whatever you prefer.”
“I want to try the bassit,” said Cardcarry
“Okay. Give us two bassit,” added Watermount.
“Will you take some drinks, sir?” asked the hawker. “Water will do. Give us two small bottles,” Watermount
The hawker handed them the water. “The bassit and
the water cost 250 callars.”
Callar was the name of the currency used. Watermount gave a 2000 banknote to the hawker who
exclaimed, “That is a big note sir! No change.”
“That is all I have.”
The hawker asked nearby sellers for help changing the note, but to no avail. She then told Watermount and Cardcarry, “I will leave my merchandise here and go around to look for change. I should be back in a moment. If some people come to buy stuff, please try to get change from them. The okolemme costs 150 and the bassit 100.”
“All right. Hurry up,” replied Watermount.
The hawker made her way through the crowded deck to the shops where she was able to get somebody to break the 2000 banknote. By the time she got back, Watermount and Cardcarry had sold all that was left in her basket. She was surprised and very happy upon seeing her empty bas- ket. “Has all my merchandise been bought?”
“Yes, and you owe it all to my boy Cardcarry. He’s determined and good at selling things. He had people queuing up for your okolemme and bassit. You should have seen him! He borrowed my hat and was shouting ‘Buy yummy okolemme and bassit. Okolemme 150, bassit 100’! Like a professional.”
Watermount handed a fistful of banknotes and coins to the hawker. “Goodness! I am so grateful to you all, especially to you Cardcarry,” she gushed. “I am leaving at the next stop. Of all the days I have been selling on this ship, today has been the most fruitful one.”
The hawker counted her money and then reached for the purse hanging around her neck. She took out 150 and gave the money to Cardcarry. “Please accept this modest sum as a humble token of my gratitude. I am quite overwhelmed with joy. My name is Combie Agin. More than half of my life has been spent on this ship. So anytime you board it again, ask for me. We sellers know each other.”
Cardcarry evaded Combie’s stretched hand. “I cannot accept the money. I was just lending a hand. I did not expect any reward for the sales I made”
“Uncle, please convince Cardcarry to accept my gift. I will not be happy if he refuses to take it.”
Watermount snapped the money from Combie’s hands and pushed it inside the front pocket of Cardcarry’s jeans trouser. “Here, you have it. You must take the money since she is insisting. You do not need it right now, but it could be useful in the future.”
Cardcarry frowned but accepted the money. “That was not necessary, Combie. I thank you, and I hope we will meet again soon.”
“I whole-heartedly wish so. Take good care of yourself till then,” Combie replied.
“Take care. Goodbye.”
Combie turned to Watermount and said, “Goodbye, uncle.”
“Goodbye, and take care,” replied Watermount.
By the time Watermount uttered his last farewell to Combie, the ship was already manoeuvring to dock for its first stop at Natty harbour. Natty was a coastal town that served as a transitional site between Iska and Besieg. The ship would dock here for five hours. After resting for about half an hour, Watermount and Cardcarry got up from their seats, deciding to stretch their muscles. They paid a visit to some of the shops on the deck where Watermount bought a new pair of shoes and a coat for Cardcarry. Then they disembarked and strolled around the harbour.
“It’s so cold. It would have been unbearable without the coat and the shoes. Thank you so much,” said Cardcarry in a trembling voice.
“You are most welcome. You look smart now. I got you those clothes because I know how harsh the weather can be around this time of the year. Also, I want us to leave a good impression on people so they think well of you to begin with. I cannot be well-dressed and leave you in torn clothes.”
“That is kind of you.”
As the two strolled side by side, they came across a group of people who had formed a circle around a man. “I take any four cards and let you choose one. Then
I mix them up, face down, on my table, and if you can point out your card to me, you win 450. Else you give me 150,” said the man, presumably a magician.
He picked four cards from a deck and asked a ran- dom person to choose one. “This is just to show you how it works,” the man added. Then he displayed the chosen card for everybody to see and put it down next to the other three in a row on the table in front of him. After mixing them up, he asked “Now can you show me the card?” They all failed to point at the good card.
“Now who wants to play for real?” said the man.
After watching three people successively lose to the man, Cardcarry went forth boldly and handed out his 150. He was the youngest among them all. After the boy had chosen the ace of hearts, the magician went on to mix the cards.
“Point at your card,” the man said after he had arranged the cards in a row.
“Here it is,” replied Cardcarry, pointing at the right- most card.
The man turned the card around, and it turned out to be the right one. “The ace of hearts, that’s my card. I won!” exclaimed Cardcarry, jumping up and down.
“Give the boy the money,” the magician ordered the person who had been collecting the bet amounts till then. Inside of course, he was not happy that he had lost.
“Uncle, can I play again?” asked Cardcarry after tak- ing the money.
“Better keep what you have gained.”
“Just once more?”
“No,” replied Watermount. “You are the youngest
here, but you beat the magician. Let us keep that pride.” Watermount was amazed at the boy’s prowess, but he forbade him from playing again and they continued walking. “The way you got the 150 from Combie and this 450 from the magician really amazes me. You must be blessed with luck. You have become rich all of a sudden,”
“Funny enough, when I was in Iska, there was never
a single day that I held such an amount in my hands. It was hunger and strife most days. I tried many little jobs without success.”
“Poor you. Life can be hard at times, but I have already had proof that you will do well in Besieg. I am confident things will soon turn for the better.”
Watermount and Cardcarry entered the harbour fish market; a large variety of fishes were laid onto tables. Carps, mules and sharks made up most of the display. The noise of vendors and customers haggling around them was deaf- ening. Suddenly Cardcarry felt a series of soft pats on his back. He turned around. Lo and behold, it was Combie.
“Combie!” he cried out. “I did not expect to meet you again so soon. I am happy to see you.”
“Nice to meet you two again. I came here to buy fresh fish for the house. We have met again by pure luck. I have not stopped thanking you in my head since we parted; I will never forget the great help you have given me. Look at all these good carps I have bought because of the money you helped me earn. I wish you could come home with me so we could all enjoy a good meal; I will make it from a special recipe, just for the two of you.”
“We are sorry but we have urgent matters awaiting us at home. We promise to come by another time,” said Watermount.
“Yes we promise,” added Cardcarry.
“All right, I will keep your promise deep inside my heart. By the way, are you father and son?” Combie asked. Cardcarry was about to say no when Watermount
quickly responded, “Yes, we are.”
“You must be the happiest father on earth with such an adorable son,” added Combie.
Watermount patted Cardcarry on his back. “Indeed. He is an interesting boy.”
Cardcarry assumed Watermount was protecting him by hiding his life story. “He is indeed and so are you, Combie. You are also a pretty girl.”
Combie’s face brightened up at the compliment. Her teeth sparkled in the glow of the harbour lights. She was around the same age as Cardcarry but shorter in height. The skirt she wore exposed her sturdy legs.
“Really? Thank you,” said Combie as she untied her long tresses and shook her head.
“My son is talking about things I would not like to involve myself in. We need to go back to the ship now as we have to verify our luggage.”
“Bye bye, Combie,” Cardcarry said, smiling pleasantly at the hawker. “It was a pleasure meeting you again.”
“The happiness is mutual. Farewell to you too, and do not forget your promise. I look forward to seeing you again,” replied Combie.
They parted ways, again. A few alleys later, Combie was out of sight. They could now see the ship at a distance. Watermount knew that the ship would stay for two more hours and that, given the pace at which they were walk- ing, it would take them at least forty minutes to reach the ship. Cardcarry, on the other hand, could not stop think- ing about Combie.
When they finally reached the ship, they verified their luggage and sat down.
“We have a little less than one hour to go,” said Watermount.
“We have come back too early,” remarked Cardcarry.
“It is better this way. At least we are sure of not missing our ship. Do you know what a Rubik’s cube is?”
“No I don’t. What is it used for?”
Watermount rummaged in the front pocket of his coat and took out the said object. “I do not travel without one. It helps me pass the time.”
“It is a big dice,” said Cardcarry, weighing the cube in his hands.
Watermount took the cube back. “You are right some- how. It is a large cube with rows of distinct colours that are all mixed up. One has to twist the cube until each side has all rows in the same colour. Do you understand?”
“If my mind does not deceive me, I think I do. Mix them and hand me the cube,” replied Cardcarry.
“I will mix it lightly and see if you can restore the side colours,” Watermount twisted the cube a few times and gave it to Cardcarry.
Cardcarry first stared at all six sides before proceed- ing to try and solve it. He twisted the cube, flipped it around and gave it more twists. He repeated this cycle for a moment and then shouted, “I have done it. Check the colours.”
Watermount inspected the Rubik’s cube. “I marvel at your prowess. How on earth did you solve the cube in such less time? Though I did not thoroughly mix the colours, it was still difficult for a beginner. You must be a very intelligent kid. Maybe you have played it before.”
“No I did not. I swear. This is the first time I have even seen such an object.”
“Then you solving it might have been pure chance. I am going to give a second mix and see how you perform. This time I am going to take my time, I warn you.”
“I will wait for you.”
After being satisfied that he had mixed the colours of the cube sufficiently, Watermount handed it over to Cardcarry. “This time if you unravel the colours, then I will know you are a gifted boy.”
“It looks harder to solve his time,” said Cardcarry gaz- ing intently at the cube.
“I will be timing you this time. Ready? Go.”
Cardcarry gave the cube an initial twist. “This cube is really mind-bending.”
“Yes I know. I have played with it for many years,” said Watermount.
Cardcarry then kept quiet while he worked on the cube. He gave it swifter twists, turning it around each time to check the positions of coloured blocks. As the ship captain blew the ship horns to signal that it was about to leave, and the travellers began hurrying in to their seats, Cardcarry began to lose focus. “I am a bit lost in my reasoning now, with all the noise. I will continue when the ship leaves the harbour and it is more serene around. Please do pause the timer.”
“Ok, I will allow the pause,” replied Watermount.
All the travellers were now seated and the ship was leaving the port. Cardcarry was ready to resume solving the mind-boggling cube. He waited until the ship had run through the waters for about half an hour before telling Watermount that he wanted to continue solving the cube. “Uncle, you can resume the timer now.”
“You did eight seconds already. You may now resume. The timer is on.”
Exactly six seconds passed before Cardcarry shouted, “I have done it again. Check it out.”
“Wow!” Watermount exclaimed. “This is unbelievable. You solved the Rubik’s cube in just fourteen seconds. I can never beat you, even with all my experience. With little practice, you could outwit many people. Did you know that Besieg’s best player’s time with the cube is eight seconds?”
“No I didn’t. So you think that I can beat his record? How old is he?”
“He is nine. His name is Ratmut Kazz. His parents bought him a Rubik’s cube when he was just four. So he has been playing with the cube for more than four years. You are just starting, and you have already done an exceptional time of fourteen seconds!”