At my grandmother’s house, where I seem to have spent half my childhood, there was a large bottle of gum, which, one of my uncles told me, had been sitting there since he was a little older than me.
It belonged to my grandfather. No one ever mentioned it. Once, when my younger uncle wanted gum, I carried it to him, but he told me to replace it and bring him the other bottle, which was new and which would be replenished once in a while. My grandmother never used proper gum – she preferred using sticky rice.
I always stayed at my grandmother’s during my vacations, and would return home when they were over. I only noticed the bottle of gum sometimes – it was tardy of my family, but not suspicious. (Considering this was an age when I doubted my parentry and held the firm belief that I was adopted, it must actually have been non-suspicious to an extreme.)
My grandfather died a few years ago. I was not yet out of my teens, and felt I was the most important person in the world. Due to this, my interest in his death was limited to how it affected me and how I might use it in a story. I made a few false starts after his funeral, but these came to nothing.
My grandfather had very little. He did have delusions of grandeur, and he had told me once that he wondered how his children might squabble amongst themselves for his wealth. I passed this information on to my father, who laughed and said that my grandfather didn’t actually have any money. After he died, his clothes were donated, his books were divided among the more religious of his children (like most old people, my grandfather, once he had realised he was to die, had Found God). The bottle of gum was ignored. I stole it.
I kept it aside for a few days, to heighten the excitement. Then, I made sure my door was locked, and I opened it. I stuck my finger inside, and I touched liquid. I brought it out again, it was sticky, but it was red. I reasoned that old gum is not fast-sticking or nearly as adhesive as new gum, so I licked it. It tasted of blood.
I upended the bottle on my computer table (making sure to keep an old newspaper underneath it), and about a hundred tiny soldiers fell out, dressed in clothing dating from the Raj, with beards reaching their shins and each covered in blood from head to toe.
“Who are you?” I asked them.
Two men, presumably leaders of two factions, stepped forwards and told me that they made war. With each other, of course, said one and the other grinned. Of course, they had assumed my whole family knew. And perhaps it did, or perhaps my grandfather was a selfish bastard who never told anyone.
“My grandfather is dead,” I told them.
They asked me, rather coldly, as if I had offended them, what my point was. So? was what one of them said. And would I be kind enough to let them back into their bottle if I was done with them. And, said the other one, would I please be more careful, now that I knew they existed, when I got them out of the bottle again.
The next time I visited my grandmother, I asked her about it. She told me that most of the family had known about this – she obviously would, but my father and his siblings as well. I told her how, even when they had heard that my grandfather had died, they had shown no interest in stopping their warring. My grandmother asked me: if God came down today and asked all of us to stop living because he wished it, would I accept it?
I accepted the explanation, and felt that it was very wise of my grandmother to know such things. It was between then and now, after getting a bit of reading done, that I realised my family didn’t actually understand any more than I did. I’ve kept the bottle far back in my cupboard, behind my mess of clothes. I’m hoping they’ll kill each other before someone opens the bottle again. Or just suffocate.