Open 2020, Short Stories - Madhavi S Johnson


Tik Tok tales

By Madhavi S Johnson  


The manager squinted through his bifocals as he gave me orders. "Don't let anyone enter the water. Guests should not come into contact with jellyfish".


I did not ask him what could go wrong. I also did not stop the hotel guest wearing tight red swim shorts from getting into the blue waters of the Arabian sea. It was my first day at work in the resort and I did not want any trouble.


I googled jellyfish on my Oppo smartphone while the guest enjoyed his swim. I found the following information on the net – 'jellyfish are free-swimming marine animals with umbrella-shaped bells and trailing tentacles. A few jellyfish are anchored to the seabed by stalks.' If I had reached the end of that part, I would have read that jellyfish attacked humans. A variety called box jellyfish caused severe injury, even death.


But, at that point, I heard a piercing scream. Abandoning my research on jellyfish, I ran to attend to the new business that had come about.


I saw a strange scene as I entered the pool-side restaurant. The manager was chasing a duck that had disturbed the peace of a white missy eating lunch. The duck pecked at her thighs as they revealed themselves temptingly through the orange lungi she was wearing. Hers was the loud voice I had heard. The duck had, in the meanwhile, gone to inspect the menu.I tried to chase the duck from one end while my manager tackled him from the other. The feathered fiend ducked under the table and deftly cut across to the opposite end of the restaurant. The manager stopped to catch his breath, lifted his head, and saw the man in red swim shorts step out of water.


"Who is that?" He bristled.


"He must have enjoyed his dip in the water," I answered honestly.


"I told you not to allow anyone into the water. Remember the jellyfish?"


"But he seems alright. The jellyfish must have been anchored to the seabed," I uncertainly showed off my newly acquired knowledge.


"That was refreshing," the guest declared entering the restaurant, dripping saltwater from every pore in his body.


The duck had had enough of hiding under a table. He flew straight at the man in the red swim shorts and pecked him on his head. What the jellyfish could not do at sea, the duck accomplished on land. The man was injured severely. There was a lot of blood everywhere. The boss came to inspect.


"I swear I will sue you guys for doing this to me," yelled the injured man when he was carried away in the boss's car.


I stood to one side, reasoning with myself. After all, I was in charge of the jellyfish at sea and not a duck on land. I was right.The manager got sacked. I was sent back to jellyfish watching.


The 'new' manager put me on other duties the next day.I was dispatched to meet guests at the municipal car park. The distance between the car park and the reception was covered with sand. I moonwalked on the wet sand carrying heavy suitcases. Then I hid in the toilet to escape detection. When I emerged after an hour, the boss's brother Amin was in the reception.


Amin was what you would call a Stepney in my country. Or a spare tire in yours. He had a reputation for checking guests out, without insisting on their bar, laundry, and restaurant bills were settled. The highly satisfied guests gave a five-star rating in Trip Advisor to the resort. Amin was never acknowledged for his marketing brilliance and was exiled from the resort for a month.


With our noses buried deep into my mobile, Amin and I settled down to watch tik tok videos. I heard a shuffle near the reception. The gentleman from room #110, whose bags I had carried through the wet Sahara desert earlier, peered at us.


"What is the wi-fi password? The one you gave me does not work."


Amin handed over the password for the office modem used exclusively by Arif, the boss and settled the matter swiftly. We again settled down to watch the video, the part where the hero kissed the heroine.


"The wi-fi still does not work. I have paid to occupy my room." The man was back. "Do I have to sit in front of you to use it? Is this the way you treat guests?" His voice was getting high pitched.


"Ha, room 106 is empty. The wi-fi works well there," I wanted to calm the guest. Amin and I had tested the wi-fi in room 106 the day before. We played 'hungry bird' on my mobile for an hour. The signal was quite strong.


Grabbing my idea, Amin, the proxy boss, 'promptly approved' my suggestion. The guest was installed in room #106. Both of us started a game online this time. Room 106 walked over again. It was as if we were running the resort only for him.


"There is no hot water in this room. Should I have a bath in cold water?" Why not? I wondered. It was, after all, a warm day.


Amin commenced his role-play sequence, we had devised to deal with demanding guests like him. "Go find out what is the problem with that geyser, you lazy fellow." He addressed me using a very insulting tone.


"Yes, sir, ok. I will do so right away."


"He is our esteemed guest, you idiot. Sort out the problem now," he persisted.


"Sorry, sir." I was most submissive.

Our guest got confused. These two people were glued to one mobile all afternoon. Now there was a hierarchy? So one was the boss and the other, a minion?


Amin continued ranting long after I had sorted the problem. Embarrassed at how I was being treated, the guest gave me a hefty tip once I bundled him into a taxi and conveyed my humble goodbye.


This time the boss appeared in front of us as we settled back into the game.


"You upgraded that guy from room 110 to 106? You idiots."


"106 was an Executive Suite. Did you charge him extra for that room?"


He paced up and down the hallway waving his finger at us.


"Whose idea was it?" He was menacing.


"Mine," pat came Amin's reply before I could open my mouth.


Pity Amin was grounded once again. I was sent back to jellyfish watching. The tip I got was split 50-50 between both of us – enough for a movie and popcorn.


I was at my lookout point, watching the ocean turn a deeper blue as the dark clouds cast their shadows on the water. It was calm, the air warm, and I decided to snooze behind the tall fancy grass that the hotel had planted on the walkway to the beach.


Wearing my Michael Jordan cap and dreaming of buying Air Jordan Nike shoes someday, I slowly driftedinto my world of daydreams.


"I watch you every day.”


Amina stood in front of me. A full-length burqa covered her from head to foot. She was Amin’s twin sister. She helped set the menu in the restaurant and did office work. On occasions, I said good morning to her.


“You are bored, aren't you? Why don't you read a book?"


Bored? I am busy counting the waves, the trees, surfing my Oppo. I am always busy.


But I replied, "I don't know."


Amina was not satisfied. "You know there are online courses to qualify further. Why don't you do one of them? Afterall you always stare into your mobile phone when you are sitting here."


She was beginning to sound like my father. I stared at the sand and Amina's sandals. Her nails were painted a lovely shade of light pink. A little crab was trying to dig a hole near Amina's feet. I wished I could bury myself in the sand too.


"Come to see me tomorrow in the office. I will talk to Arif and fix something for you." I kept my head down, staring at the crab, which scurried away. Amina walked away in the opposite direction.


The manager came to the waterfront and physically hauled me across to the office in the next morning.

"Sit down," Arif commanded me.


Amina watched us from the table across the room.


"You have finished your BA degree?"


It was the truth; I was a graduate, and he had done his research.


"You will do office work for three hours every day. Come straight here before you go for that jellyfish watching that you do daily." Arif's voice was forceful as if he would not take no for an answer. I didn't anyway plan to say no.


Amina's head was buried into the computer screen. I could hear a giggle.


I would have preferred to stare at the waves and watch hotel guests walking into the waters and getting into trouble with the jellyfish. But I turned up the next morning at the office. I needed the job. My father had been ecstatic that the boss had taken an interest in me. It was as if I had landed on the moon.


"Here, get these figures filled up in a spreadsheet and send it to Amina for checking," Arif walked out of the room. "And Amina, I will be back at lunchtime.”


Amina got up and walked over to my desk.


"This computer is password protected." I opened my mouth for the first time that morning.


Amin dropped by to check on me after I had finished at the office and run away to 'hide' on my jellyfish deck in the afternoon. I had filled the worksheets in half the time given to me and twiddled my thumbs until the three hours were up. Amina was busy and refused to make eye contact with me when I asked whether I could take a pee.


"How was it?" Amin relaxed next to me on the deck.


"Oh, it was cool." I tried to sound casual.


"Good, good," Amin was pleased. "Shall we watch a movie on Tik-Tok?"


"No, Amin. I am at work."


"You mean watching whether any jellyfish comes along in front of you?"


I sulked and did not reply. Amin got bored and walked away.


Five days of spreadsheet filling had enhanced my father's optimism. His son was well on his way to becoming the next resort manager. My father started planning how the income from this 'additional' work would be spent.


The first week went by, with fifteen hours wasted looking at numbers and filling spreadsheets. My life was more interesting than that. I decided to take matters into my own hands. I had unlimited access to the internet for the three hours I was in the office every day. I had plenty of spare time and the opportunity to daydream after filling up the spreadsheets. I started building a virtual hotel.


The hotel I designed had cool video screens and hot colour schemes. The front desk was parrot green, and the rooms were painted orange, pink, green, and yellow. The toilets were an electric blue, with fish and sea horses on the tiles. Water slides replaced staircases. Air beds and water pillows took the place of mattresses and cushions. Each tree had a swing, a hammock, or a treehouse on them.


There were shrubs and bushes with jellybeans on them that children could easily reach out and grab. Peacocks roamed the gardens showing off their plumes. A supersize aquarium welcomed children with colorful fish of various shapes and sizes. Hamsters on wheels entertained tiny tots. Butterflies flitted about under the bright sun.


I drew up plans for the hotel using the computer, right under the Amina's nose. She was far too busy. Arif was never there, and Amin did not care. I designed part by part of my nine-star hotel sitting behind the rickety wooden desk in an airless office room with grey, dirty walls. My hotel was for all persons less than a meter tall. This meant not just children but also adults who were that tall. Door frames in my hotel measured only two meters tall, and windows were located at floor level.


I posted the hotel designs in an Instagram account called the "Jellyfish Hotel." A world filled with psychedelic colors and jellybean berries and a restaurant on stilts over the water. My mini guests could look down on fish and if they were lucky, even jellyfish through the glass floor. The glass ceiling was open to the stars. There was a telescope in one corner. On a brilliant night, they could spot Sirius, Aurora, and the Big Bear.


I was on my way to expanding the hotel from a 30- bed to a 300-bed, when Amina interrupted my creativity, "You seem to be very preoccupied? It is already lunchtime, and you have still not left the office? The jellyfish miss you." She gave me a dimpled smile.


Many of my Insta followers were offering suggestions on the hotel design. One of them complimented me and asked me a question – "I am in love with your restaurant. I just grew slightly taller than a meter. Will I still be allowed to enter?


"What are you smiling about? You seem to have won a jackpot?" Amin stood in front of me. "What are you up to?"


"Come on, Amin. Let us go and have a Pepsi."


"But you still have 15 minutes to go before it is five," Amin quizzed.


"It is ok," I jumped off the deck and led the way. There were no swimmers around.


"Where were you yesterday in the evening, mister?" Amina asked when I entered the office the next morning. "I came looking for you, and you had vanished before five?" She sounded angry, or maybe she was amused?


Arif sat at his desk and watched our exchange.


"Morning, sir," I greeted him.


"Sit down." Arif walked towards me.


"Switch on the computer."

I slowly turned on the machine and put in the password.


"What is this?" He pointed to the folder titled JFH and did not wait for a reply.


"Open it." It was password protected.


I sat there, immobile for a few moments. My mind was racing. Should I tell Arif I do not know anything, or should I make a dash for the door? Or that I had already resigned yesterday but had forgotten to give him a copy of my resignation?


The virtual file containing the drawings of the Jelly Fish Hotel unfolded as I put in the password.


"You did this?"


I nodded. Arif paid my salary and had rights over me.


"You have an Instagram account in the name of Jelly Fish Hotel."


I nodded again.


"What BA?"I stared. I did not understand Arif's question.


"Where did you train to draw? In college?"I replied in the negative, shaking my head.


"Who taught you how to draw? Why are you doing these drawings?"He asked two questions in one go that required different answers. I had none to give him. I shrugged my shoulders.


Amin entered the room then. "What drawings? Let me see." He came over.


By now, all three siblings were towering over me. The rest of the office crowd watched us with curiosity. They would soon witness me suffering the ignominy of being sacked!

"You have not answered me. Why were you drawing these sketches of the hotel?

"I was bored." My father always said, my frankness would get me into trouble.


"You did these drawings because you were bored."


Amina smiled at me as if she knew this would happen all along.


"Did you copy them from somewhere, from somebody?"


This time I was sure. I shook my head.


"You drew them just like that. From thin air?"


I was even more sure. I nodded in the affirmative.


"Unbelievable." Arif still looked skeptical.


He walked away, shaking his head, and sat at his desk.


I braced myself to receive the bad news. I had been in employment for just under two months. My hours in the job were numbered now.


"I would like you to complete the designs. I have called my architect to come over and take a look. I was planning to build a theme park for kids."


Amin's mouth fell open.


"What do you think?" Arif insisted.


I was back to shrugging. I honestly did not know what to say.


"I can pay you for the designs if that's what you want. How much?"


"Let the architect first have a look. Then we decide how much to pay," Amina stepped in and rescued me.


The architect made grunting noises as he looked at my drawings of the 'Jelly Fish Hotel.' "Too loud. The colors are too bright, and the design is too too crazy, crazy…" he muttered to himself under his breath.


"What is the problem?" Amina sounded sharp. "His idea is funky, and it is meant for kids. Stick to his design, and just follow it." She seemed cross with the architect.I ran back to my jellyfish deck away from a stressful morning.


I was handed a handsome cheque at the end of the month. Arif must have been impressed with my designs, or Amina might have put in a good word on my behalf. And I had no cause to complain.


Wearing my new Air Jordan Nike shoes, I shuttled between the spreadsheets and jellyfish watching daily. My father bought a brand new television, and had enough left over to get that house in Kerala painted.


Amin and I watched a movie on the weekend. The popcorn and Pepsi were on me.



Madhavi S Johnson spent her childhood and teen years in New Delhi in India and Kitwe in Zambia. She was born in Chennai and spent her early career years working as a Copy Writer in an advertising agency in India. Her engagement in women’s issues and rights of girls led her into an interesting career in international development/ humanitarian work with UNICEF in India, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Kenya, Namibia and USA (New York). Madhavi is an itinerant traveller, curious and respectful of cultures, languages and social interactions. She lives in Ballarat, in the Victoria Region of Australia, and mentors’ young men and women from developing countries on organizational skills and self-development. Madhavi uses triggers from her real-life experiences and builds in a rich knowledge of cultural and social contexts while writing both fiction and non-fiction.


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