Little Jimbo lay awake in his bed. He rolled to his right and, using a Lego brick, drew patterns on the wall. Within seconds Jimbo switched to his left to fiddle with the errant thread on his blanket. When he realised that he might unthread the whole fabric, he curved his hands and reposed prone, kicking the footboard.
Tossing and crumpling the mattress until it was like sleeping on mounds of potatoes, he peeled off the blanket and sprung up. Sitting upright, Jimbo unfurled his neck to inspect if his head brushed the ceiling. He glided his finger above his hair and then measured the air between the roof and his hair tip by dragging it up. A smile spread on his face. Only a few more inches, he thought. He gripped the ladder and climbed out of the top segment of the bunk bed.
The bottom layer of the bunk bed lay deserted. Jimbo’s annoying older sister happened to be travelling on a study tour. So, he had the room to himself. Holding his breath, he pressed the light switch. Unfortunately, the sleeping house sometimes echoed the tiniest creak, waking up his parents. Although his parents slept on the floor above, Jimbo suspected that his mother possessed the uncanny ability to discern even the variations in his breathing. He squinted as the bright light flooded the room. The clock displayed 15 minutes past 12. Jiggling his tush, he grabbed the mirror and grinned at the reflection.
Happy birthday Jimbo. You are eleven years old now.
He proceeded to examine his jaw and ran his fingers on his dimpled cheeks. Not a bristle! His shoulders hunched. A sigh escaped his pursed lips, sounding like a whistle. Plonking on his sister’s chair, Jimbo fished a pencil from the holder on the desk and inhaled the bubble gum scent. A mischievous glint shone in his eyes as he slid the drawers. Snorting, he rumpled the collection of chocolate wrappers his sister had amassed. The lower shelf remained closed, adamant to his attempts at prising it open.
Clicking his tongue, he moved towards the door, grabbed the doorknob, twisted it quietly and thrust his neck out. The neon lights from a hoarding outside, flashed green and red glitter into the living room. From the bedroom, he tiptoed out. Jimbo’s gaze fell on the coffee table and the rectangular box wrapped in a sparkly paper. Jimbo felt his heart leaping to his mouth. Then, clutching the parcel, he scurried to his room.
‘To dearest son Jimbo, Happy birthday – mama and papa.’
For a few seconds, he wondered if he should wait till daylight to receive the gift from his parents to unwrap it. Then, with a shrug, he gently stripped the paper, mindful of the rustle. Every year his parents gifted whatever he demanded. But, this year, Little Jimbo requested for nothing and shocked his mother with a proclamation.
“I will not be little Jimbo from tomorrow. A grown-up. So, you can choose any gift.”
Jimbo was excited to know what lay inside. He weighed it in his hands, felt the sides, then scratching his head, opened the box. His eyebrows stood vertical. A collection of books! Jimbo wondered if his mother had misunderstood it to be his sister’s birthday. Apart from the schoolbooks, Jimbo had never touched another paper.
He plucked a book and read the title. Taming of the shrew by William Shakespeare: abridged version. More books from the same author trailed. Gawking at the cover pictures, he checked the number of pages; each had a minimum of 100 pages.
Bah! How do they expect me to read these many pages? And who is this baldie at the back of the book? In a funny costume and beard. I have seen him somewhere.
He pushed the books to the corner of the table, inaudibly moving his lips and biting his nails.
I should have asked for a video game. For trying to be a grown-up, I am being punished. I am not reading these books.
Little Jimbo’s thoughts galloped. He crept back to his upper berth. The tips of his mouth dipped to meet his neck.
“Jimbo, wake up.”
“Whaaat? Who are you?” Jimbo rubbed his eyes and peered at the funny man.
“I am William Shakespeare,” he said, stroking his beard.
“You are the bald man from the book! But what are you doing here? How did you get into my room?”
“I came to wish you happy birthday.”
“Thank you. Are you a wizard? Your dress is funny.”
“Er, you can say that. I am a wizard of words.”
“Whatever! I am not going to read those books. You can take them back.”
“Dear Jimbo, give it a try. You might like it. Although these books are not exactly for kids.”
“Who says I am a kid? I am eleven. I am a big boy. I can read them!”
He leapt from the ladder, skipped across the room and lifted a book, Romeo and Juliet. Jimbo blushed at the cover picture of the entwined couple. He kept it aside and chose, The Merchant of Venice.
William Shakespeare settled on the sister’s chair and watched Jimbo.
“Why did you keep that book aside? You are red like a tomato!”
“Argh! Don’t you have anywhere else to go? Staring at me like that.”
The midnight visitor chuckled. “I have nowhere else to be. Thou art my ….”
“Wait, what is that language? I have seen it in the Bible!”
“Ah, that’s the English spoken in my days. The language used to be excellent, not LOL, ROFL or YOLO like how you speak nowadays. Now, look at my book. I wrote such elaborate masterpieces. But these are so thin. Wonder if it has the whole play.” William Shakespeare ruffled the pages.
“Mamma scolds us if we use LOL and all. Look here, what did you say your name was?” Jimbo closed the book, checked the flap and continued, “Your name is so long. Can I call you Will?”
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet.”
“Hey! That’s what is written on the picture with the red rose in mamma’s room. How did you know that? Did you go to their room as well?”
The funnyman guffawed. Jimbo placed a finger on Will’s lips.
“Which planet are you from?! If you wake my mamma in the middle of the night, she will box your ears.”
“Oh, OK. Will is fine by me, Jimbo.” Will winked.
“That is such a huge collar in your shirt. So pretty uncomfortable it looks.”
“This is the type of collar that was considered fashionable in our days.”
“The shape of your head is funny too. Like a egg!” Jimbo held his stomach and shook with laughter. Then he lifted a palm to his mouth and controlled it.
“Like AN egg.”
“Yeah, that’s what I said.”
“No, you said ‘A egg’. It should be ‘AN egg’.”
“Gawd, you sound like my English teacher. Vowels and consonants. Look here Will; I do not like to read schoolbooks or others. My parents are already punishing me by gifting me books. On top of it, you are correcting my language. Now Will, will you let me read? Don’t stare at me.”
“Sorry, I will turn to the other side.”
“Let’s do one thing, Will. It says that you wrote these, so why don’t you narrate these stories to me? It saves me from reading. I love when my granny tells me bedtime stories.”
Will was silent, lost in thoughts, twirling his moustache.
“Hello, what are you thinking?” Jimbo snapped his fingers at Will.
“To be or not to be, that is the question?”
“To read or not to read, I have no confusion. To listen to you would be so much fun.”
Will leaned back in his chair and began the tale of the star-crossed lovers. When Will reached the scene where the lovers meet on the balcony, Little Jimbo squirmed. Will discerned Jimbo’s discomfort, stopped in mid-utterance and pulled Jimbo’s chair closer.
“Your time will come, my lad. Read this at your pace. Now tell me do you write poems?”
“Me? Poems? No! But there’s this girl Juliet in my class….”
“Ah, so you are a little Romeo yourself.”
“Very funny, ha-ha. OK? Juliet loves poetry. All the boys write poetries for her, but I could never write one. Perhaps you can help me?”
“Why not? But to write, you must read a lot. So, I can see that your sister is the reading type.”
“Yeah, she’s a book worm. Mamma says that often to her, read a lot so that you can write. So soon, I will write one on my own.”
“That’s my boy.”
“Mamma was watching a programme on HBO. I think it was about you. Someone dressed up like you acted in it. You have a son, they said.”
Will’s eyes clouded. He pulled himself from the chair, padded to the window and gazed at the tree with the swing. Jimbo, quite precocious for his age, sensed a shroud of grief. He grabbed a water bottle and offered it to his new friend. Will blinked back his tears and took a swig of water. Then combed his long fingers on little Jimbo’s straw-coloured ringlets.
“I had a son. A little boy like you. Golden locks of hair, chubby cheeks. Very naughty too.”
“I am a good boy. Not at all naughty. How old is your son?”
“Well, he is eleven years old, just like you. That is why I decided to visit you tonight. Moreover, you had my books with you.”
Will bent and touched Jimbo’s shoulders and planted a kiss on the forehead. “Happy birthday, dear son.”
“Hey, don’t be sad. I will read your books, Will. OK?”
“Thank you. It is getting late. You need to get back into bed. And I have to go too. I don’t want to surprise your parents.”
“OK, Will. Thank you for your wishes and for writing these books. Once I complete reading all these books, maybe you can return so that we can discuss them.”
“Oh sure, but how long will you take to read all of them?”
“Hmmm, maybe a year. Will, I don’t like reading, but look, I am trying, OK.”
“Then I will visit you in one year. That would be your twelfth birthday.”
“Yes. By then, my head would touch the ceiling. See, there is a book here that’s titled, Twelfth night!”
Will vanished as he had appeared. Soft snores pervaded the cosy bedroom.
“Wake up, Jimbo dear.”
“What? Are you back again?” Jimbo opened his eyes and stared at his parents.
“Back again? Who are you talking to? Happy birthday, kiddo.”
“Thank you. Er, nothing, no one.”
“I can see that you have already opened the gift.” Mother lifted the book that lay open on his chest. She looked at the title, Romeo and Juliet and looked at her husband.
Jimbo puckered his lips when father clasped mother’s hands. They locked eyes for an interminable time.
Jimbo leapt from the bed, startling them.
“What is wrong with you guys? Can someone tell me the reason why papa is grinning?”
Jimbo’s mother curled her fingers on his nape and smiled. “Your papa and I had played the roles of Romeo and Juliet on the stage during our college days. So, this book is close to our heart. This book is the one that brought us together.”
“Your mamma is a big fan of Shakespeare’s writings!” Said, papa.
“So, that’s why you are gifting me these books? And you have those weird sentences hanging on the bedroom walls?”
Jimbo’s mother playfully wrung his button nose and pecked his cheek.
“There’s been a mistake, actually. These books are not for you!”
“Yes, I knew it! I wondered why you would get me BOOKS?” Jimbo punched the air.
“The guy from the mall called me last night about the swapping of the parcels. Your papa will collect the right gift and give these back. Someone is waiting for them. You will get your video game!”
Little Jimbo watched his parents carry the books out of his room. His parents continued to gaze at each other with dreamy eyes. Jimbo dashed to the washroom, swiftly completed his clean up. He walked to the room where papa was arranging the books into a bag. For a while, lost in thoughts, Jimbo lurked in the corner.
“Papa, may I ask you something?”
“Can I keep these books? I am a big boy now; maybe I should start reading.” Jimbo tugged the tag on his nightshirt, waiting for an answer.
“Oh, sure. You can keep them. I can pay for these today if you want. Are you sure that you want to read them?” papa wiped his glasses and perched them on his nose.
“Yes, Will is a nice man. I want to read his books.”
“Oh! My sunny boy wants to read William Shakespeare.” Mother loped towards him and enveloped Jimbo in a cuddle. She zealously foisted moist kisses on his face.
“Ewww, mamma.” Little Jimbo swabbed his face with his nightshirt and extricated himself from her clutches. He moved to the table, collected the books caressing the back cover. Jimbo jerked as he assumed that Will had winked at him. Then, hugging the books to his chest, he marched to his room.
And from that day onwards, Little Jimbo astonished his parents. Lost was the little boy who lunged from the top of the stairs scaring the cat. The kid brother, forever irritating the teenager sister, was never seen again. The demanding son who infuriated the parents had mellowed. Little Jimbo had indeed grown up. His teachers, who sent notes to his mother complaining about his boisterousness, now recommended books.
A book accompanied Jimbo wherever he went. When the family visited the cinemas, Jimbo read during the intervals! His grades at school perked up. Jimbo perused the dictionary often and consulted his sister or mother on the usage and pronunciation of difficult words.
Jimbo was heard spouting verses of Shakespeare! He developed a keen interest in writing poetry too. Life moved on as Jimbo imagined himself as Cesario, courted by Olivia; sometimes, he was Duke Orsino courting Olivia from the Twelfth night. Other days, Jimbo sported a melancholy mood as Antonio in The Merchant of Venice. The days he was Romeo, euphoria engulfed him, and he walked around with his head in the clouds, a spring in his steps. A dreamy look etched on his face.
Jimbo penned a love sonnet for his Juliet. The best that she had ever received from her brood of admirers. A shy Juliet rewarded him with a peck on his dimple.
Mother marvelled at what had happened to her little boy—excited to go to school and to spout Shakespeare? My genes had a slow start, but how they are growing, she thought as she wiped tears of happiness.
The year came to an end, and Jimmy had finished reading all the books written by the bard–the abridged versions. As his 12th birthday neared, Jimbo was restless. His mother consulted him about his birthday gift for this year. Jimbo asked to be taken to the public library and requested a membership!
He clutched the membership card and idled in his room, waiting for his friend. Jimbo coaxed his sister to go for a sleepover with her friends. He had the room all for himself. Jimbo watched the needle on the clock move like a snail.
Soft snores pervaded in the room.
Will Will come, or will he not?! That is the question.
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