It was the weirdest
summer I ever had! The weirdest... and the coolest! And I’ve got
to thank Mr Rip Van Wrinkle for all the weird fun. No, his name is
not really Mr Rip Van Wrinkle, but somehow that name just stuck on
in my mind after our first meeting- possibly because he looked so
much like a wrinkled old version of the fairy tale character!
Mommy and I were visiting an aunt of mine in Atlanta for a month
this summer. Dolly aunty lives in an old rambling brick house, not
in a neat little sub-division like we do. I just love her house. It
is ooold- with dark corridors, an even darker basement and a huge
huge courtyard, big enough to play baseball in! The courtyard is
fenced, and leads to open green space that seems to stretch on in a
narrow rectangle for as far as the eye can see! Dolly aunty said,
sometimes neighbors camped there during summers, besides a gurgling
brook that was a little ahead from the house. How cool!
Anyway, it was a week into my visit, and I was through with
exploring Dolly auntie’s smelly basement, and backyard. I was
beginning to get bored. How was a 12-year old boy supposed to spend
his day with no other kids to play with? I wished Mommy had let me
bring my X-Box along. Dolly aunty didn’t have any video games,
because her son Andy is away at college. I wished cousin Andy was
home. He is smart with electronics and stuff. He even has a room to
himself in the basement, full of gizmo thingies.
Well anyway, as I said, a week into my visit, I decided that I would
explore the little brook in the outer space (that’s what I called
the rectangular area outside the courtyard). I put on my sneakers
and sneaked out of the courtyard gate, when I knew Mommy and Dolly
aunty were gossiping about their husbands. Usually, when they do
that, they get so absorbed that they are lost to the world!
I ran in what I thought was the direction of the brook. Luckily
there was a narrow pedestrian made pathway along the thick grass.
Soon, when I looked over the shoulder, Dolly auntie’s house had
disappeared from sight. All I could see was a thick, mysterious
shroud of trees. Ahead of me was another courtyard gate, much like
Dolly auntie’s. But where was the brook?
Maybe 12-year old boys are supposed to have fun during their
vacations. That’s why my snoopy feet went on their own up to the
old gate. I peered in. Wow! This yard looked even more fun than
Dolly auntie’s. It had a small pool, a tennis court, and in the
open garage was parked a vintage Ford! Boy, this was an exciting
find! In the middle of the courtyard, snoozing in the sun was a
wizened old man with a flowing beard, a beige hat pulled over his
face. He sat in a garden chair, his feet propped over a low stone
bench. He looked so much like a fairy tale character. Much like a
sleeping Rip Van Winkle. Mr Rip Van Wrinkle, I said to myself.
I was as quiet as ever. Don’t know how he suspected that there was
a snoopy boy at his gate. He opened his eyes and looked directly at
“S-sorry sir,” I stammered. “I was looking for the brook…you
know the brook where people camp…”
Mr Wrinkle gave me a sunny smile. Ooh what a relief! He was not mad
“Come on in boy,” he said. “I could do with some young
company.” He motioned me to come in.
I gingerly opened the gate, walked up to the old man and nervously
held out my hand.
“Hi, I’m Rohan.”
“Rohaan,” he repeated, as he shook my hand warmly. “Nice name.
Will you be my friend Rohaan?”
I like people that treat me like an adult, and I took an instant
liking to Mr Wrinkle.
That meeting was the beginning of my friendship with my summer
buddy. He was sooo fun! We built flyovers and bridges with 20-year
old blocks- the kind I’ve never ever seen in my whole life. Mr
Wrinkle took me to his basement train room, which had a huge railway
track, complete with a little station, colorful trains and
crossroads. Apparently the tracks were over 80 years old, and was
first put together by Mr Wrinkle’s dad!
The basement even had an actual bomb shelter! And a chemical lab
with real test tubes that smelled like… putrid flesh!! How
thrilling! Mr Wrinkle’s basement was way more fun than Dolly
auntie’s; even better than Andy’s thingy room.
We played tennis and catch ball. Mr Wrinkle’s energy amazed me. He
even tired me out. But whenever I got thirsty, I could just drink
water directly from the tap in the yard and flop down on the grass
for a while.
I loved coming over to Mr Wrinkle’s every afternoon. I didn’t
have to sneak in everyday. I told Mommy and Dolly aunty about my new
friend. Dolly aunty seemed to know the jovial Mr Anderson (Mr
Wrinkle's real name) down the street, so Mommy allowed me my
afternoon trips. Of course, I didn’t tell her I was drinking water
from the garden tap, or she would have had second thoughts about
sending me over to my new friend’s.
Well, that was one thing about Mr Wrinkle. He never ever let me
inside his house. I usually went to the basement through a door that
opened into the yard. But never could I go into the actual living
quarters- not even to the kitchen for a drink. Hmm…a little weird.
“I’m guarding something for my son John,” Mr Wrinkle would
tell me with a wink. “Once John comes home, you’ll know what it
Mr Wrinkle loved riddles, and so did I. But this riddle didn’t
amuse me one bit. I knew he had a son John who was away at war in
Iraq, and that he waited for John to come home. But what on earth
was he guarding!! And why was he keeping it from his best buddy? I
smarted a little with indignation. But Mr Wrinkle’s war
stories soon caught up all my attention, and the mystery of the
house was soon forgotten.
And so passed the summer. Sadly, it was time to pack up and leave
Dolly auntie’s. It was the day of our departure, and I had to
absolutely visit Mr Wrinkle and say goodbye. I promised Mommy that I
wouldn’t stay long.
For the first time since we met, Mr Wrinkle was not in the yard when
I reached. I tried to yank open the door to the basement, but it was
latched from inside.
“Mr Anderson,” I called out. “Yoo-hoo Mr Anderson, this is
Rohan. Where are you?”
I knew I was forbidden from doing this, but I how else was I going
to find my buddy? I climbed the short flight of steps that led to Mr
Wrinkle’s kitchen, and rapped on the door. Thankfully, I heard
footsteps in the kitchen, and presently the door opened.
It wasn’t Mr Wrinkle though. It was a tall young man, with a short
buzz cut and red shot eyes. I knew that this had to be John.
“How may I help you?” he said.
“I was looking for Mr Anderson,” I said.
The young man turned his face away.
“Are you John?” I asked him. He nodded. A thought suddenly
rushed to my mind. “Mr Anderson was guarding something for you.
Did you get it?”
John’s eyes opened wide, but he didn’t say anything. Maybe he
didn’t trust me enough.
“Mr Anderson and I are best buddies. I’ve been coming over here
every single day for almost three weeks now,” I assured him.
He shook his head and ran his fingers through his short hair. “I
don’t know what you are talking about boy,” he said, and his
voice broke. “When I reached here last night, I found my dad’s
body lying on the kitchen table. He had been dead for a while.”
John turned and disappeared into the kitchen.
“Wait!” I whispered, “No way. I saw him yesterday. He can’t
have been dead for so long…”
“Mr Anderson!” I yelled as I ran around the yard. “I got
to talk to you. Come out and see me.” I had a thousand visions
going through my hot head. The fly-overs and bridges we built, the
slow chugging trains in the basement, the putrid smelling lab,
drinking water from the garden tap, Mr Wrinkle sitting on the garden
chair, sighing, “I’m just waiting for John.”
I flopped on the grass, and held my head in my hands. Suddenly it
all made sense to me. I knew that Mr Wrinkle wouldn’t come see me.
His job was done. He had left.
I knew what he had
been guarding for John, for over a month. His own body!!.