When the first limp noodle appeared in the pocket of Charles’ trousers, he chose not to dwell on it, and said nothing. He was with friends and they were sitting in the park at night, smoking cigars stolen from one of the boys’ fathers.
“You always throw up the first time,” said one of Charles’ friends, as he blew a cloud of expensive Cuban smoke. Charles glanced at the single strand of spaghetti tangled through his fingers with mild surprise and tossed it aside hastily, then accepted a lit cigar from the boy to his right.
“How is it?”
He coughed. “It’s fine.”
Charles continued to find spaghetti in his pockets. Sometimes it would appear in his grey school trousers when he put them on in the morning. This was not so bad. He could dispose of it quickly. Sometimes it would appear during class. He would have to wait for the bell until he could throw it out, and for the remainder of the class he’d be horribly conscious of that damp, unpleasant weight against his leg. He would fixate on his pockets, desperate to empty them of spaghetti, and he’d lose focus and shamefully have to ask his friends for their notes later. He began arriving late to classes, unprepared and disorganised. He forgot about tests, didn’t submit work on time, and was always excusing himself to use the bathroom. He said nothing.
A biology teacher asked Charles to stay after class, worried about his recent decline in performance. She was a young and kind teacher who worked hard. She had secured her first job at the prestigious school through familial connections. She felt a great need to make a difference in the lives of each and every single one of her confused students, and was deeply concerned with the observable drop in Charles’ test results.
Charles’ usually languidly complacent face was contorted with misery. His wrists trembled and his lip quivered.
“Is something wrong, Charles?”
“I’m concerned about your last test.”
“I’ll do better next time.”
“I do hope so.”
Charles’ wrists trembled, his arms trembled and his body trembled. And his spaghetti trembled.
“I have spaghetti in my pockets.”
“Oh,” the teacher did not know how to respond. Her heart went out to the poor, shaking boy whose hands were too big for his body, his nose too long for his face and his pockets too full of pasta. “Your pockets?”
“Usually. Sometimes… my blazer.”
“It just appears there.”
“You don’t put it there.”
“Not very much.”
“It’s okay. It isn’t very much.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. It’s hardly anything.”
Charles’ voice dropped to a whisper. “Sometimes it’s penne.”
“It will get better.”
He said nothing.
The spaghetti got worse. It was endless. He said nothing.
As soon as Charles rid his pockets, more would appear. His mind was constantly occupied, constantly waiting, anticipating the next opportunity to duck into a bathroom and dispose of the spaghetti. He started to hate dressing in his school uniform, knowing that by the time he’d tied his tie, he would have to empty endless spaghetti out of his pockets. After weeks of dispensing increasing amounts into various bins, potted plants and drains, Charles became quite tired of the whole ordeal. He was moved to a lower biology class because of his failed tests and never saw the kind biology teacher again. He stayed in bed, spaghetti sliding out of his pyjama pants onto the sheets. He said nothing.
After days of skipped school and feigned illness, he mustered the courage to speak to his parents, who, as any parents would be, were worried.
His mother had cooked spaghetti for dinner. With mushroom ragù. Charles stared at the plate in front of him, trying not to weep.
“Mother. Father. I haven’t been well,”
“We know, and you haven’t wanted to see a doctor. We are very worried,” said Charles’ very worried parents.
“I don’t think a doctor could help me.”
“Then who can?”
“I don’t know. You see, the problem is my pockets.”
“What is wrong with your pockets?”
Charles drew a deep breath much like the deep breath of cigar smoke he had inhaled when the first noodle appeared. He looked down in shame.
“There is endless spaghetti in my pockets.”
“We don’t understand, Charles.”
He said nothing. He stood up, pushing his chair back and reached both hands into both trouser pockets, pulling out handfuls of spaghetti, dropping it onto his plate, on top of the lovely mushroom pasta and garlic bread. He reached into his pockets again and pulled out more spaghetti. His face grew red and his eyes watered and his throat was acrid. Charles’ father’s mouth grew thinner and thinner and Charles’ mother’s knuckles grew whiter and whiter. His plate was buried under a mountain of spaghetti when he stopped, hoping that his parents would understand. It would be okay, he thought, for them to just know about it. They didn’t have to make it stop. They just had to understand, and maybe let him stay home on days when there was a particularly large amount of spaghetti in his pockets. It would be okay, he thought, if they just knew, and felt sorry for him.
“That is a lot of spaghetti.” said his father.
“And this is causing you trouble?”
“Well, why don’t you just eat it?”
“It isn’t that simple, father.”
“I don’t see why not.”
Some spaghetti fell out of Charles’ pocket and splattered on the floor.
“Have you tried?”
“Yes.” This was the truth.
“Well, try harder.”
“You can. Just put your mind to it.”
“Good.” His parents resumed dinner. Charles stood there, spaghetti dripping out of his pockets. He said nothing.
He went to school most days to stop his parents bothering him about it, although there was no point. He attended his sports training, music lessons and French classes mindlessly, absorbing nothing. His mind would be in his pockets and he’d go from class to class with no recollection of what had happened. He fell behind by such an extent that he was sure he’d be expelled. He couldn’t tell his friends. He thought that if they really cared and wanted to help, they’d have noticed a change, and would have asked. They’d ask why he kept disappearing between classes and ask if there was anything wrong, but they chose not to notice, despite Charles’ significant decline, and if they chose not to notice, they would not want to be told. It wasn’t as though they would be able to do anything in any case, thought Charles, although he continued to yearn for someone to simply ask him “is there spaghetti in your pockets?” to which he would reply “yes, there is,” and they would say “I’m sorry to hear that,” and although this would not stop the endless spaghetti, it would have made Charles feel just a little better. But nobody did ask, and so, he said nothing.
Charles’ body was found in his room, pockets overflowing, rancid, decaying spaghetti spilling out of his dead mouth, spaghetti entwined around cold fingers which had torn at his throat, marked by ribbons of skin crusted with blood.
“He seemed fine to us,” said Charles’ friends. “He didn’t say anything.”
“If only he had told us,” said Charles’ parents. “We didn’t know it was this bad.”
But he was dead. He said nothing.
Words by Prema Arasu