Benji, Fluffy and Squid
IT WAS another Saturday morning. The side door closed and Mum was off to town as the theme tune of Julia struck up. I sat shelling peas in front of the telly.
“Can’t I be in your club,Earl .J. Wagadorn?” Corey Baker beseeched. “I’m your best friend.”
A small white worm wiggled about in a pod. I picked it up and fired it through the window.
“This is our secret private personal club.”
As little Corey Baker was negotiating his way into a secret club on the telly, other negotiations were going on outside my window.
“Fluffy is a fighter. I see him fight with your cat before,” said Squid’s voice.
“That’s just how dem is, but it ain’ no real fighting."
“You gotta help me, doh. I can’ find Jet and if I don’t show up, ting going get vex.”
“I don’t know why you deal wid him,” said Benji. “I tell you that the worst people get into cockfighting and dogfighting…de worst.”
“I feel he would do something to me, yah know…,” said Squid.
I inched over to the TV and lowered the volume slightly on the Corey Baker swearing in. “Do you swear that you won’t talk about the secret club to anyone, even if they torture you or kill you?”
“Man…if de shoe was on de other foot, I would do it fuh you,” said Squid. “It’s only a blasted fowl.”
There was a little silence.
The wood creaked and I froze.
“Fluffy can’ fight!”
“So you won’ help me.” There was a dry laugh. “I can’ believe dis.”
I crept back to the window and sat.
“Benjamin, Squid save you life…if he don’t turn up wid a cock to fight, I feel Ratchet would hurt he bad.”
My heart thumped. Fluffy only ever fought off the idle threats of a house cat; maybe that would count for something.
“Awright.” Benjamin didn’t seem to think that it counted for anything. He saved Fluffy and raised him. Fluffy slept in the house when he felt like it–in Benji’s room sometimes. Fluffy was family. To Squid and Ryan he was only a yard-fowl and there were plenty running about in Reid’s Rd.
There was a silence and I could tell that Benji’s eyes were fixed on something in the distance, the way they did when Mum asked him how come he got home so late.
“Where it is?”
“I going bring Fluffy,” moped Benji. “You say it is at three, right?”
“No no no.” Squid wasn’t taking any chances. “I would take it now and you could come at three.”
Benji was cornered. It’s then I realized: it’s a terrible thing when someone saves your life. It gives them the power to take it back from you, piece by piece.
Maybe Fluffy sensed something. They spent quite a time looking for him before Squid and Ryan left empty-handed. “You bring him, den.” Squid was serious.
“Meet us at that big tree in front of the school, Saturday morning. Ten o’ clock.”
“Yeah, Corey. You’re almost an Avenger!”
Here society was sprawled on its back, underbelly exposed waiting to be scratched. And when it was, it cursed. Not because it was angry or happy but just because it was what it was.
Infernal cursing, crowing, squawking. Cheryl shivered in the heat. “Who brings a friend to hell?”
“Sorry. I just want to see what happens.”
We couldn’t really see anything from behind the ring of wretches. The noise escalated and so did the squawking. This wasn’t a massive crowd–about sixty-five people perhaps. I wasn’t sure how much was at stake, but enough to stir up the pack.
At the shout of some mad man, the crowd noise died down and there was tentative squawking. A mother knows its child’s cry and I distinguished that squawk from amongst the others. It started, surprised then angry. I inched forward and looked through the vignette of limbs and underarms to witness an inferno of red, yellow and black feathers swirling, rising into the air and flapping. The flapping was fierce and Fluffy’s squawking was drowned out by louder squawking, fiercer squawking, more seasoned squawking. Fluffy’s squawking grew thin and lonely. No one came to save him from these blades. Why was it he could sense Benji nearby and not feel his rescuing hand?
Then after fifteen minutes it all stopped.
“It ain’ done yet!”
“Three more minutes.”
“But he nearly dead,” cried a voice clear and distinct amongst the rabble. Cursing ensued, then it went quiet.
In a minute the fire of feathers rose into the air again, the ring moving this way and that as the fire got closer. I elbowed my way closer. And I felt myself changing. A part of the flame burned lower and lower and flapped on the ground. On the other side of the feathery furnace I saw Benji changing even more. The higher flame still had vim left and beat at the lower flame. It was a long three minutes, a pointless three minutes. Cheryl was right, this was hell. Only the deepest, saddest resided here. Benjamin was changing. His outer layer of softness had been singed off. Fluffy was a warm era in our lives–a special time that we never noticed was special, but were only noticing now that it was threatened.
The squawking settled to only one. The next squawks were the louts collecting money. None cared about Fluffy. I’m sure Squid took Fluffy into the ring, but was too embarrassed to pick him up from his spot in the dirt. Benji did. He took off his shirt and wrapped the limp body in it. Holding it in his arms he walked through the cursing mob. Squid had more pressing matters to attend. Questions to answer, like how come his rooster performed so poorly after it had won previous fights. I suppose those who were more observant figured out that it wasn’t Jet. But that was Squid’s business.
He looked surprised to see me but he didn’t speak. I put my hand on his shoulder and walked with him. Cheryl followed behind until we reached her turn-off. “Belle, I gone, hear?”
“Thanks,” I said.
Fluffy wasn’t quite dead.
Benjamin stayed up all night, sitting by the clothesline with Fluffy in his lap. I think I heard him crying. I think I heard him say, “Sorry, Fluffy, man.”
The fireflies swarmed around and frogs whistled a requiem. Scooby sniffed Fluffy and lay down beside them. Felix circled at a distance as if to say, “It wasn’t me,” then spiralled in when he felt safe. It drizzled a bit, but no one moved, not even Felix.
* * *
For a couple of weeks I didn’t hear much talk of Squid, and then one Saturday when he came by calling for Benji, Benji kept silent in the house.
Ryan came by with a chick as a peace offering, but Benji said it was all right and it was not about the commodity of the chick, but that Fluffy, that specific fowl, meant something to our household. So Ryan took it back home.
One morning Jet turned up in the neighbours' yard. How he got there, we don’t know. But they complained bitterly that our fowl was in their yard, flying about and causing confusion, and we knew that Fluffy was dead. Benji went to coax the bird down from the paling and realized that it was Jet because a small razor was still attached to his right leg.
He reasoned that Squid lost money and got a beating because of Jet’s disappearance and there was no telling what he might do to the bird once it returned.
“I saw him set a hare on fire before, for no reason other than to watch the ball of fire jump up and down,” Benji said.
“De noise that thing make.”
Benji put Jet into the basket of my bicycle and rode with it somewhere far away.
After that Benji was free. He, Ryan and Squid again became as thick as thieves.