My Cousin Obed






Ezra Azra


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© Copyright 2023 by Ezra Azra

Reading Tea Leaves by Harry Herman Roseland, 1906, oil on canvas - New Britain Museum of American Art. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Reading Tea Leaves by Harry Herman Roseland, 1906, oil on canvas - New Britain Museum of American Art. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On one occasion Obed's mother yelled at him, "Every hair on your head contains a thousand lies!" He was about thirteen years old at the time. There were other adult family members there, in the backyard. All were shocked. After yelling at her son, her firstborn child, auntie Ruth stormed away back to her home, a few blocks away.

The only reason everybody was shocked was because nobody had ever taken seriously whatever Obed said, because from birth, Obed was mentally slow, DNA doomed.

Auntie Ruth lost control because for the first time ever, a telling fact that every adult in the family knew, but never spoke, was spoken by Obed, a thirteen year-old child who was mentally retarded.

Auntie Ruth, who had never been married but who was the mother of four children after Obed, entertained men in her home when the children were at school. Her claim was that she could read the fortune of a person from the spread of tea leaves left in a cup after that person had drunk the tea. Auntie Ruth claimed the men who visited her in her home when all her children were at school, were paying tea-drinking customers in search of their futures. Auntie Ruthís claim was quite believable if only because every adult in the family had auntie Ruth read their leaves a few times a year, at no charge. There never had been a report that anyone ever benefitted materially from auntie Ruth's predictions of the future, but this seemed to not discourage men from seeking advice from auntie Ruth about their futures, when all her children were at school.

Auntie Ruth received no men customers on weekends and on public holidays. Nor during the month of Summer school vacation.

Each reading took up to half-an-hour. Auntie Ruth made and poured the tea. There was no extra charge if, during a session, auntie Ruth went into a trance and spoke as a family member of the customer.

Nobody found out how Obed came to find out about, or just guessed, that his mother's fortune-reading business was merely a cover-up for immoral shenanigans. Did Obed think he was the first in the family to learn the sordid fact? Nobody asked him. He was not the first. By the time he snitched to granny on his mother, in our backyard, just about every adult in the family had known or suspected or guessed for years about auntie Ruth's immoral shenanigans.

It was long after auntie Ruth had died of natural causes when I was an adult that I took to guessing auntie Ruth was, in some moral context, more retarded than her firstborn, Obed; and that he had inherited his DNA handicap directly from her.

While Obedís mother was living, everybody in the family, including me, was content to believe the culprit was Obedís father, whoever he was.

Auntie Ruth had named Obed after a person mentioned in the Holy Bible. She never tired of mentioning it to family members that she hoped to live long enough to see Obed's son named Jesse, and Jesse's son named David.

At an early age we children, all of Obed's siblings and cousins, exploited his DNA handicap to our advantage.

We manipulated him to steal for us.

We knew that if he were caught stealing, there would be no consequences to him because every family adult felt sorry for Obed on account of his DNA misdirection which, in all fairness, could not be held against him. It was not his fault that he was doomed a victim at conception. It was not Obedís fault that his DNA, like that famous Rabbit, took a wrong turn at Albuquerque. After all said and done, was it not in righteous forgiveness-sympathy with DNA-cursed persons like Obed that that famous poet wrote the poem, ďThe Road Not TakenĒ?

And there could be no consequences to us children because, first, we always took precautions to be loudly heard, by any
nearby adults, to be engaged in games far away from the scene of Obed's ongoing criminal behavior.

And there would be no consequences to the rest of us children because, second, we had taken care to thoroughly convince Obed to believe that by not mentioning us if he were caught, he would be like a super hero all of us read about in comics.

We read comics with Obed. Always, we gave him the superhero roles to read, with passion: Superman, Captain Marvel, Aquamarine, Green Lantern, Sub-Mariner, Aquaman, Garth. There was no cunning intent in us in doing this because all of us loved pretending we were super heroes. We saw no DNA-prescribed impediment in Obed when we were reading comics with him. The evil of exploiting this equality with us was a gradual and unplanned thing; we were children.

His favourite super hero was Captain Marvel Jr., the Blue Boy, whose mortal avatar is Freddy Freeman, a DNA-crippled man, like our Obed. We loved seeing and hearing how happy Obed was every time he got to call out loudly the magic word that transfigured poor crippled Freddy into the almighty super-handsome Blue Boy: Shazam! We especially delighted in Obedís pronouncing the word in different ways.

At one time, Obed asked us to change his name from Obed to Shazam. He agreed with us when we said he should keep Obed because if his name was Shazam, it would not be special to him anymore since all of us would be using it whenever we spoke to him; even when we were not reading comics with him.

One way we children, his siblings and cousins, exploited Obed's mental deficiency to steal for us was when the family adults engaged in pickling fruit and vegetables.

One stage in the pickling of green mangoes was when the sliced salted and spice-soaked bits of the fruit had to be exposed under glass covers, to the sun. We struck at that stage.

When there were no adults nearby, one of us would hand Obed a small paper bag, and whisper Shazam in his ear, to change Obed from Freddy into the Blue Boy. Captain Marvel Jr. would then go quickly to the glass covers and deftly remove pieces of mango from under the glass, and put them into the bag. He would make sure that he brought back enough pieces for each of us to have two pieces. Any extras would go to Captain Marvel Jr.

There was a fact that meant nothing to me in those days, but which took on a huge significance many, many years later when I had long lost contact with Obed.

Whenever Obed, as Blue Boy super hero, had to bring back loot to share with us, he never failed to bring back enough for all of us to have an equal share. There never were more pieces to allow the Blue Boy super hero to get a share larger than any of the rest of us.

Obed morphing into the Blue Boy super hero was a marvelous sight, which we children never fully appreciated. Although Obed never spoke while he was the Blue Boy, his actions and posture showed no signs of mental retardation. His movements were quick and precise, with a tasteful hint of showman histrionic flair. His posture in every way did righteous super hero stature heroically proud. Old man Shazam in the sky who threw down the lightning bolt that morphed mortals into super heroes, would have been every bit proud of Obed.

In those poverty days, there were rare occasions when there was enough food to warrant a whole-family meal at a table. I recall only two times because at those times the adults allowed Obed to teaspoon the sugar into the cups of tea. The strict rule was, not more than two teaspoons, to adults as well as to children. Some of us children resented that Obed was the only one from among us who was given the honour to serve the sugar. We did not encourage our resentment because Obed always surreptitiously gave us children three teaspoons of sugar.

Another remarkable ability Obed had which was not particularly appreciated by any of us, adults and children, was his ability with numbers. Whenever we played games, nobody cared to have Obed on their team because he was an utter klutz at every move. However, his genius with numbers made him the best scorekeeper; especially since he remembered every number without needing the help of pencil and paper, both rare commodities in those poverty days.

The family had an ever-running Solitaire (Patience) seven-columned card game competition. The adults taught us children how to play. Obed was the only one of the family, adults and children, who won every time he played. Eventually, somebody rewarded him with his own pack of cards.

Years later, long after I had moved on and had lost contact with Obed and most of everybody else in the family, I found out that auntie Ruth moved with her children to another town where she was employed at a casino, providing Horoscope interpretations. Her casino kiosk was such a success, she was able to secure casino jobs for all of her adult children.

By the time Obed died, auntie Ruth had been dead many years. She had lived long enough to know her Obed had named his firstborn son, Jesse. She was long dead by the time Obed became a grandfather, and insisted his firstborn grandchild be named David.




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