I dusted the scrabble box and tucked it under my arm. It had been two years since I had last seen him. He was seated on the porch, reading a book. Always reading. When he saw me he inserted his bookmarker and carefully placed the book down. None of his books had dog ears.
“Good morning, Sir,” he greeted me with his palms pressed and a short bow.
As the headmaster in our village school I was used to being called ‘Sir’. Even most parents of my students called me ‘Sir’. There was a lot of respect attached to that title.
“You have grown tall, son,” I said. ‘Son’ was what I called him. Often I had told him stories of my real son. Only the happy ones. I didn’t tell him the story of my son walking out of my life because I opposed his marriage. I would mend that bridge some day. I needed to mend my pride first. I was not used to being defied.
I looked at the book he was reading and grunted in disapproval. John Grisham. I wanted him to read literature, not these pulp fiction novels. I never openly said so but I always tried to wean him away from the Sidney Sheldons and the John Grishams. Last time he visited his Grandparents I read him The Lord of the Flies. Afterwords he nicknamed everything around him lord of something. One of the cows on the farm was ‘the lord of the flies’ and their pet dog got the name ‘the lord of the ticks’. I was ‘the lord of the discipline’.
His Grandma complained to me, “Sir, he calls me the lord of his Grandpa.”
“He is the lord of the words,” I said.
She would always bring me a cup of spiced tea when I visited. Her husband and I would gossip and argue for hours. Most of our discussions would end on how the new generation had lost all the culture of our generation. That was one subject that united every one from my generation.
“Ready for a game of scrabble?” I asked the boy.
“Always,” he grinned.
It didn’t take him long to learn and love the game when I taught it to him three summers ago. Early on I would let him win once in a while. Now it was getting tougher and tougher for me to win. We played with a time limit for each move and his younger mind was much sharper than mine.
Three moves into the game he played EUPHORIA. “Good word,” I said.
“I am good,” he grinned.
That was deja vu for me. When I first played scrabble with my wife, we were a couple of shy students who barely knew each other. She played the word ORNERY and I said it was a good word. She replied that she was good. I played TURD with the D attached to the end of CHAFE. She said that was a good word too. I told her to stop kidding me and that she knew my word was a turd.
“You taught me that word,” the boy said.
“Yes. You told me how euphoric we were when we got our independence and in our euphoria we didn’t realize the mistake we were making by splitting the nation.”
“You remember,” I was impressed.
“Sir, your time is running out.”
He liked to say he had good news and bad news. Once the bad news was that his Grandparents had called a priest home for performing rites he would have to sit through but the good news was there would be sweets. Once the bad news was that he would return home next week but the good news was he would be back next year. Today he said he had only good news.
“What is it?” I asked.
“The good news is I don’t have any bad news,” he grinned.
“You know you could spin it the other way and say you only have bad news and that is there is no good news. It’s a case of viewing the glass as half full or half empty. But I am glad you picked the positive outlook.”
He was occupied with the flies around us. He would cup his palms and manage to trap a fly in them and then let it go.
“Stop playing with flies and play me,” I said.
He looked at the board and then played WISE. “There. I played you,” he said. “I could have played SIR but this gives me more points.
“Oh, you smiled,” he added “I don’t think I have seen you smile, sir”
His Grandpa cut fresh coconuts and we drank the water from it. The boy loved coconut water.
“These boys grow so quickly, don’t they?” his Grandpa said.
“Too fast” I said. “You are cleaning their diapers one day and the next one they are beating you by 100 points in scrabble.”
I hated losing at scrabble but when the boy beat me I felt proud.