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Ken Mangroelal – Eight micro fictional stories

Ken Mangroelal schreef voor de Argentijnse schrijver Sergio Gaut Vel Hartman acht microverhalen; ze mochten niet langer zijn dan 300 woorden.


Ayuthaya, Wat Mahatat, Thaland. Foto © Michiel van Kempen

The Grandfather Clock

I inherited an old Dutch pendulum clock from my mother. It belonged to my great grandfather. When his sweet-seventeen-year old only daughter came home pregnant from a young man with the wrong skin colour, he halted the ticking of the nineteenth century clock as a clear sign that she no longer existed for him.

As angry as his God, he expelled her from the house, the country, to a foreign land.

She begot seven children, the fruits of her loins, he never saw.

After his death, may God have his soul, the pendulum clock landed in an auction. My mother was so lucky, after much praising and bargaining, to get hold of it. But the key to wind the clock was missing.

My mother had a key made. But she didn’t dare to wind up the clock. She became ill, and grew more ill the more she thought of the clock.

Soon thereafter she died.

I inherited the clock from her.

I’m ready to wind up the clock. See if I can lift the curse.


The Beach

A huge billboard with the blown-up picture of young ladies on a beach stood in a field just outside the outskirts of a village I happen to wander into.

I came nearer. Maybe I stood there too long, but I can’t remember. The next thing I remember is that I was walking along that beach. It was a hot day.

I took off my clothes and dived into the sea. How refreshing!

When I had cooled off I got out of the water to collect my clothes. To my surprise they weren’t there anymore. I looked around. The ladies might know what had happened. I covered my private parts with my hands and walked towards them. The nearer I came, the more they screamed.

Two officers, alarmed, came to their rescue. They wanted to handcuff me but I kept my hands where they were. A young lady helped me out. She wrapped her skirt around me so I could be handcuffed in a less shameful way.

In the police station they questioned me. They never believed my story of how I got to the beach. Nor could they trace my identity to any world known to them.

It happened fifty years ago according to their calendar and some hours ago according to mine: my transition from a cosmopolitan to a stranger in the world.


The Disease

He lay on a stretcher bed in his oversized silk pyjamas under the shadow of an almond tree in his little orchard. He knew no better place to comfort himself from some strange feeling that he couldn’t define.

In a way it was unnameable and showed no symptoms or signs that could lead to its cause or source. No western medicine, yin yang or Ayurveda could come up with a reasonable explanation or therapy, though he followed their advice and even tried some of their unpalatable decoctions.

Now one afternoon just after siesta time, three or four men from his village walked up to his stretcher. He had his eyes closed and kept them closed even when they stood now in front of him.
They started questioning him.

“Have you wronged your wife or slept with her during her period?”

“No,” he said, “we quarreled as good husbands and wives do and… she’s blessed with the menopause.”

“Have you burnt a Christian Bible in your library, as I heard?”

“O no,” he replied, “it caught fire. The Torah and the Upanishads were saved I guess, though soaked with foam from the fire extinguisher.”

“Have you eaten lately the meat of a sacred bird or spat on a spot where the spirit of one of your forefathers…”

“No sir, I never spit on the ground, I find that disgusting.”

After some weeks he got up from his stretcher bed and dressed himself in his best clothes.

“I know now,” he said, “this unnameable disease is life itself.”

The Corridor

It was dark when we went down the stairs and walked into a corridor I once visited in a dream.

It was lit sparsely by torches. Every now and then I could see parts of the dark faces of my male companions. No-one spoke. We were all absorbed by the sound of our footsteps and their echoes through space.

Sometimes we passed doorways to the left or right. Some were open and some blocked.
I broke the silence and asked one of my companions:

“Why are some entrances blocked?”

“Oh, dead simple”, he said. “ we wander through your lifetime space. The blocked doorways stand for the choices you’ve made, the paths you’ve chosen. The open doorways for the alternatives you left us. We owe our existence to the choices you never made. So we fulfill the lives you missed out.
Soon we’ll leave your past and arrive in the here and now. Some of us will go on walking toward your future. Others will walk back to your past. Here you’ll make your next choice and decide the future of us all.”

And then he disappeared to the left.

I stood there for a while wondering what to do next. Then I walked on through the corridor past open doorways, possible futures and, by chance, toward the transcendence of my lifetime space.



“Ghosts, have you ever seen one?”
“Oh, many”.
“What do they look like?”
“Hard to say. They can take any form imaginable and even beyond”.

“The first one I saw took the form of a dancing spider web between tall cactuses in the light of a full moon. The last, I saw recently when camping in the mountains.

I was lying in my tent with the entrance opened to the mountain against a pitch-dark night, wondering about the secrets of the twinkling stars.

He stopped right in front of my tent. If he looked at me, I can’t say because he was amorphous and faceless. What I clearly heard him say in a language he either guessed or knew I would understand, while pointing to a vase was: “These are my ashes, from which I’ve arisen as a Phoenix. I’ll carry them to the top”. And then he walked on.

On his way up he threw now and then a handful of ashes in the air, out of which little white doves sprung and started circling nervously above and around his imaginary head.

From my encounter with ghosts, I’ve learned to look at the world free from any presupposition or prejudice.

He continued on his way up. He walked faster than I ever could. Sometimes he jumped and climbed like Spider-Man, for the sake of a comparison.

When he had reached the top he must have disappeared in the cloud above it. I heard him recite commandments or mantras.

Then he drifted away”.


Second Opinion

Her husband opened the bedroom door slightly. She was sitting on the edge of the bed staring towards the window.

“And,” he began, “have you made up your mind? They’re waiting for your permission.”

She didn’t answer.

“We’re running out of time, the life of our baby, our little doll…”

“Yes, I know”, she said.

“What’s keeping you?”…

She turned around and said: “a second opinion, I want…”.

“You know,” he said “there’s only one surgeon on the island”.

“I know,” she thought “that’s the trouble”.

He slammed the door. She heard him starting the car and driving away – to the hospital, she imagined.

She stood up and looked at herself in the mirror. “Am I going mad?” she thought. In front of the reflecting glass, she saw what made her freeze.

She and her best friend were playing with their dolls on a quiet afternoon when the boy next door – now the island’s only surgeon – stepped in. He joined them as the doll’s doctor. He opened up his practice in the corner of the veranda.They came to see him with their dolls.

He examined hers first. “Oh, oh,” he said, “a serious complication, an acute inflammation in the stomach region. Operation without delay”!

So she left her doll behind and after some time he called her back.

She started screaming when she saw it. The eyes stared lifelessly at the ceiling and a deep gash ran vertically down its rosy belly.


Master and dog

The old sheepdog was chained to a tamarind tree in the back yard. It’s fur coat looked dry and dusty, without shine. Every time it tried to break loose it was jerked back into the confined space determined by the radius of the chain. It paced up and down, whining and howling now and then. As a free dog, chained, it felt humiliated.

His master looked at him from the house. After many years he had met with a woman. On her first visit the dog growled nastily at her. She panicked.
She said she wouldn’t come and live with him unless something was done about the dog.

He knew the dog was dangerous and that it also had a strange pedigree: it’s grandmother was born on the day of the failed assault on Hitler.

The man took a long last pull at his cigarette. Then he blew out the smoke that whirled bluish in front of him.

A memory of him as a child stole into his gaze. Their neighbour chasing his dog in the yard with a baseball bat. The dog, dead scared, broke through the fence and was never seen back.

There must be simpler and more humane solutions he thought.

There were animal homes. He went to see one. It felt like bringing your child to an orphanage. After some days the woman called and ask if the dog was still around. Yes it was still around but…

She didn’t want to hear that part of the story and she hung up.

He unchained the dog and prepared it a nice meal. He took it out for a walk along the coast and for a swim. It did them both good.

He slept peacefully that night.

So did the dog.


The Violin

I couldn’t recite the first line of his secret book, but I could of the original his was based on.

The commander looked at me angrily. Then he pointed to the left the direction I had to go.

On my way to a building futuristic to me, I saw smoke coming out of a chimney in the distance and smelled an odour which up to then I couldn’t define.

I thought of home and of the university library books I was now unable to return in time. They all dealt with the greatness of German music and philosophy. And of the people in the train. Their writings on snippets of paper held out of the windows and let go.

In the building they gave me pyjamas like an outfit to wear. I wore it with dignity.

A violin saved my life. They ordered me to play for the people on the death row.

You will not understand but I never played so well. I played the classical tunes we unfortunates knew better than our suppressors.

And I will keep on playing until my dying days for their resurrection.




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