Short Stories

In the country of Iqbal (1st part)

To my mother, to her so gentle hands.
  For all those children
  who work without age,
  anywhere in the world.
  Jacques Venuleth

  – Happy birthday, dear!

  Kevin blows out the candles. Delete them all at once. Around him, parents and friends shout and cheer.

  Kevin can now open the presents. She particularly likes this moment, when she rips the paper off the wrapping.

  They spoil him. As it happens every year.

  It starts with the envelopes that contain money, but what they love to open are, of course, the real gifts.

  Of the three packages, Kevin has realized which one is best, the one he’s waiting for. Save it for last.

  – Wow, it’s so beautiful! – exclaims.

  Just what he wanted: a leather ball, sewn. A professional blue and white player ball, even smoother and brighter than in your dreams.

  Take it out of the box, holding it with your fingertips, as if it were sugar.

  Kevin wanted a ball because Laurent, his neighbor, has one and never wants to lend it for long. However, it is much less beautiful. When they play in the square in front of the villas, whenever Laurent begins to lose, she finds an excuse to be angry. Grab the ball and walk away. And of course the game is over. It’s annoying.

  In the future, no one will ever interrupt the game as long as Kevin wants to continue playing; no one can suspend it against their will.

  Never felt so happy.

  – Give it up! Asks the father, holding out his hands.

  It’s your turn to grab the ball. Caress her, make her jump, what a desire to give her a good kick!

  – Give it to me – quickly cut short Kevin, who knows his father. When he holds a ball in his hands, he becomes a real child. It can spoil it unintentionally.

  – If you want to play, go to the garden!

  The mother knows them well, and already begins to fear for the furniture and adornments.

  Kevin doesn’t expect to be told twice and starts running away with his gift.

  Don’t even wait until you get to the pitch. He’s still in the middle of the terrace and wants to try the ball. Throw it to the ground and reach out to catch it…

  But you get nothing! The outstretched hands are empty. The ball did not bounce. It fell like gum on the brick. Not moving again, it was as if glued and soft. It would be a marshmallow.

  Amazed, Kevin bends down to pick up his treasure. Amazed, but not restless.

  This ball cannot be of poor quality. It was he, Kevin, who shot her badly… Or it’s the sticky tiled terrace, probably full of jam. In any case, it was an accident that will not happen again.

  Kevin clears the ball and gives it shine. He discreetly watches all the seams, but nothing, everything is perfect.

  The precise ball is grass. On the lawn will be reborn.

  Kevin walks away from the house and waits for the moment to reach the middle of the pitch to throw his toy in the air.

  Throws the ball into the sky as high as possible. Proudly, he sees her come down, smooth, bright, blue and white, beautiful.

  Watch her come down… and hit that soft grass carpet without the slightest desire to jump and have fun.

  There is no doubt, this ball has some defect, there is something that does not hit right.

  – So! Do not Cry! It is because the ball is not full enough. It often happens when they are young.

  Kevin had gone to tell his father his misery. Despite efforts to contain himself, the eyes are full of tears.

  The father buries his strong thumbs in the easily yielding leather.

  – What did I say! Come on, let’s fix this!

  Kevin blows and goes with his father to the garage. He is down, not smiling yet, but he has regained hope.

  Kevin’s father is skilled. In the garage, hung on the wall or stored in a drawer, there are tools that allow you to fix anything that doesn’t work well on earth.

  – Don’t move! I know there’s an air pump anywhere … Here it is, in this box …

  Insert a needle-thin tube into the air pump and firmly hold the recalcitrant ball between the knees. And soon gives her back the good face she should never have lost.

  – Come on, get her if you can!

  The garage door opens to the garden. The father throws the ball so hard that it should jump to the back wall. Kevin runs after her, laughing…

  But not for long!

  Full or not, the pretty ball stays in the grass after two or three panting jumps. It will never reach the back wall.

  Once again hope died in Kevin’s eyes.

  – You’re right – notes the father – some defect will actually have. Maybe a problem with the leather, I don’t understand … I saved the purchase slip. Tomorrow we go to the store to change it, don’t worry!

  Kevin shrugs: – Tomorrow, tomorrow!

  Not worried, but the party, your birthday, is today, not tomorrow! With a furious kick, he throws that soft rag into a corner, as it serves no purpose.

  Kevin decides to forget her. After all, there are other toys, real toys that like to have fun, reliable toys.

  At night, you still feel so angry that you still don’t want to mind that disappointing toy.

  – You can sleep outside, that’s what you deserve.

  But the father does not agree.

  – No, no, Kevin. Go get it and keep it. If you lose or damage it, you can no longer change it.

  It’s true. Kevin recognizes him. The father is right. Get the ball. He shoves it with his foot to the terrace like an old tin can, then picks it up without any care. At the entrance of the room is the laundry basket. Throw her inside.

  – Sleep well! – jokes.

  From now on you just want to forget it, but you feel so angry that you can’t do it. Before lying down, she can’t help but turn back to the basket where she left her:

  – You don’t admit what you did, you don’t admit it. In your place, I hid. You have no right to be so beautiful, to shine, and then to serve you nothing when we count on you. You have no right to empty yourself like that … An idiot, that’s what you are! I hate you! … I’m glad I didn’t show you to my colleagues. What a shame! … But never mind, do not lose the delay. Tomorrow you will return to where you came from, and I never want to hear from you again!

  Calmer after these harsh words, Kevin lies down and turns out the light. He is so tired that he would fall asleep very fast if behind him a strange noise if he did not hear.

  A strange noise, actually, like someone sniffing, like a child’s muffled sob. In the darkness Kevin rises and strains his ear.

  – You’re mean! – listens distinctly.

  Disoriented, turn on the bedside light:

  – Who spoke, who? Kevin asks, increasingly restless.

  – Here! – Decides to say the mysterious voice. – On here! In your ball!

  In fact, the voice seems to come out of the laundry basket.

  Kevin sits on the edge of the bed, facing the basket, not daring to approach. It’s impossible, can’t believe it.

  – A ball doesn’t speak! A ball has no mouth!

  – A ball has no ears either, and yet you spoke to me, you gave me a moral lesson for a quarter of an hour! Truth or lie? I even think you called me an idiot…

  – You escaped me…

  – You see, it’s not that simple.

  With his eyes wrinkled and his mouth open, almost breathless, Kevin fixes the container.

  – Go, don’t be like that. I will explain to you. But please, get me out of this laundry basket.

  Kevin obeys as an automaton. He approaches and lifts the lid. It is in fact the ball inside, the ball itself.

  Grab it cautiously with your fingertips, but this time it’s because you’re afraid of it. With his arms outstretched, he takes her to the bed and sets her on the mattress.

  – Stop it with these tapes! Come help me! Impatient the voice.

  Kevin gives a huge scream because the voice no longer comes from inside the ball.

  A young boy his age struggles to get out of the tiny valve hole. It has already released its head and shoulders.

  With both hands resting on the leather, try to loosen the rest of the body, and it is his voice that is heard.

  Kevin hides his face. He no longer dares to look.

  – No! It’s awesome! I came to the house of the king of medricas, or what? Come help me, I told you! I think I got arrested.

  Kevin is still afraid, but feels ashamed. Cannot continue to tremble. Makes an effort to get closer.

  It’s true that the boy is no monster. With very black hair and very straight to the forehead, is similar to any other child.

  Kevin grabs the ball, holds it firmly to keep it from sliding sideways, while his strange visitor pulls his arms harder and harder. – So, this! Hold on!

  It’s so strong that it breaks free in a burst, as abruptly as the cork of a champagne bottle. After a huge crash, he ends up sitting with his back against the wall in a corner of the room.

  Laugh. Her teeth flash in her stony face.

  Kevin laughs too. The fear was gone. Her heart is still beating fast, but because of the effort and the excitement.

  – It’s a serious case to get out of there. Good thing you helped me, if not, it was still there.

  Kevin shrugged. Agree, feel proud, but don’t even know what to say. You can not talk quietly, as if nothing, with someone left you do not know where. First of all, Kevin needs some explanation.

  The boy understands.

  – Do you want to know how I got here? It’s normal! I’ll explain to you, as I promised.

  She gets up and straightens the rumpled outfit: a long tunic, a kind of nightgown. Satisfied, he sits comfortably cross-legged on the carpet. Kevin settles beside him, his back against the edge of the bed.

  To begin with, the boy introduces himself:

  – My name is Iqbal… You are your name, Kevin. I heard your father call you that.

  – Did you hear everything inside the ball?

  – Of course!

  – And… (Kevin remembers his furious kicks) did you feel everything too? I must have hurt you! Excuse.

  – Don’t worry, I’ve seen other, much worse things where I work! By the way, that’s why I ran away.

  – Working… Running away… I still don’t understand! First of all, tell me where you come from.

  – I come from far away. I come from the country where the balls are made.

  Continued …

  Jacques Venuleth Au pays d’Iqbal Paris, Ed. Magnard, 2001

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