It was a wet-season day in the tropics. Swollen clouds swept in from the south and squatted over my house. A massive clap of thunder shook the floors and gave the signal for the clouds to discharge their load. A gentle drumroll of rain on the roof built to a thrumming crescendo. The temperature dropped instantly by ten degrees. Through the window I could see water flooding off the roof, a curtain enveloping the house. The roar of rain drowned out all other noises.
No one deserved to be outside in that.
The doorbell rang. It usually had the decibel count of a nuclear warning siren, but I could barely hear it against the background clamor. I put down my book and peered out the front window. Even under the best viewing circumstances you could see only a small portion of anyone standing at the door. Perhaps a profile of buttocks and, if you were lucky, the back of a head. But with the rain the way it was, I couldn’t see anything.
I hesitated. Mum was at work and I was home alone. Not normally a problem, but the weather made me wary. Who would be out in such a downpour? To my mind, there were only two possibilities—a mad axe murderer or a religious fundamentalist. If I was really unlucky, it would be the latter. I suppose I could have pretended not to exist, but I’m a person with a social conscience. The weather was foul. I’d have let in a cane toad for shelter and a mug of cocoa.
So I opened the door.
The man was below medium height. Actually, well below medium height. He was wearing a white shirt and a broad silk tie decorated with Santa Clauses. He held a dripping bag in one hand and swept sodden, thinning hair from his eyes with the other. Niagara Falls flowed over him. His clothes stuck to his body and as he shifted position I heard the squelch of rainwater in shoes. He looked at me and blinked rain. A small smile, hesitant, unsure, played around his lips.
“Hello, Calma,” he said.
“Dad!” I yelled. “My God! Dad! Don’t stand out there in the pouring rain, Dad.”
His smile broadened.
“No,” I added. “Piss off!”
And I slammed the door in his face.
My local grocery store glories in the name of Crazi-Cheep. It’s one of those places that advertises on local TV channels by assembling a cast of plug-ugly employees dressed in spectacularly nasty uniforms and forcing them to sing a song with banal lyrics, written by a tone-deaf lower primate. The employees all look embarrassed, and so they should. You could force slivers of red-hot bamboo up my fingernails and lash me with rusty barbed wire and I still wouldn’t do it.
The employees are very young, presumably so the company can pay them about two dollars an hour and pass on the savings to customers. Crazi-Cheep closes the checkouts by degrees during peak times, so ultimately there is a line of fifty people at one register, staffed by a pubescent operator prone to pimples, lank hair, and narcolepsy. You can visibly age in one of their lines. Not that anyone would notice, because most of the customers are so old they’d be candidates for carbon dating.
Crazi-Cheep is not high on my list of not-to-be-missed shopping experiences.
This, however, was an emergency. I braved the depress- ing canned music—a compilation CD probably entitled Major Manure of the Seventies—and took my place in a line whose length might have been justifiable if they were handing out free hip replacements. The old lady in front of me was certainly a worry. It was only the fact that she wheezed from time to time that indicated she was still breathing.
Time passed. I grew a few centimeters and the old lady shrank a few. The CD was on repeat and a particularly annoying track came on again. Finally it was almost my turn to be served.
In Sicily they call it the thunderbolt. I read about it somewhere. It’s when you see someone and all these hormonal reactions kick in. Your heart thumps, you sweat profusely, your stomach dips to your shoelaces, and bits and pieces you didn’t know you possessed start tingling like you’ve been plugged into an electric socket. Well, that’s what happened to me when I saw . . . him.
I don’t want you to think I am a shallow, superficial person, so I won’t start with his physical appearance.
Stuff it. Of course I will.
He was tall and rangy. As I watched him scan a tin of Spam (and he did it so effortlessly, with such grace and ease of movement, like a balletic sequence), I caught the hint of lean muscles flexing beneath the uniform. I could picture him on a beach, the sun reflecting off defined biceps and pectorals you could graze your knuckles on. His face was classically sculpted, high cheekbones framing a pert and flawless nose. His eyes were deep brown, liquid with sensitivity and hidden passion; his olive skin gleamed beneath the overhead fluorescent lights. During a particularly tricky scanning maneuver, involving shrink-wrapped bok choy, he parted his full lips to reveal faultless, even teeth. Glossy black hair fell in a perfect curtain over his left eye.
Basically, he was all right, if you like that kind of thing.
As for his personality (the most important factor, of course), well . . . hey, how the hell would I know? I stood there with a glazed expression on my face, like someone had smacked me around the head with a frozen chicken carcass. Luckily the old dear in front of me was not the most efficient of customers. The Greek god had finished scanning her groceries and she was gazing into the middle distance with rheumy eyes.
“That’ll be twenty-five dollars and fifty-five cents, please,” he said.
I loved him for the “please.” What a polite and consider- ate young man! And his voice was like honey dripping over truffles . . .
“Hey?” said the crone.
“Twenty-five dollars and fifty-five cents, please.”
She looked amazed, like the last thing she had been expecting was to have to pay for the groceries. I knew what would come next. She’d burrow into her bag for her wallet, which would be right at the bottom. She’d pull out bus passes, framed photographs of her grandchildren, a prosthetic leg, and a packet of surgical bandages and each item would be placed carefully on the counter. Finally, when she had accumulated enough mate- rial to fill a dumpster, she’d find the wallet, count out the sum in nickels, and painfully repack. Then she’d want her FlyBuys card, which would be in a secret compartment at the bottom of her handbag, and we’d go through the whole process again.
This time, though, I wasn’t complaining. It gave me the chance to drink in every detail of Jason’s appearance. Jason. He had a little name tag. I love the name Jason. Don’t you love the name Jason? It’s classical and conjures images of flashing swords, short tunics, and Golden Fleece. I was so struck I didn’t have time to panic. It hadn’t occurred to me that once the old lady had hobbled off it would be my turn to be served and, for a moment at least, Jason’s attention would be focused on me.
When he turned to me, my hair clogged up with grease and four pimples spontaneously erupted on my nose. I wanted to die.
And then it got worse. I remembered what I had been standing in line for half a millennium to purchase. It was clamped in my hand. I froze. I wanted to turn back, but forty-five pensioners were behind me and they didn’t look friendly. With a sinking feeling, I placed my purchase on the belt and watched it slide towards Jason.
Feminine hygiene products. Or FHP, as I like to call them.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Am I Right or Am I Right? by Barry Jonsberg. Copyright © 2007 by Barry Jonsberg. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.