No matter what happens to you later in life, if you’re lucky, some memories from your childhood remain and continue to make you smile. Radishtop was a key character in one such string of my memories.

Almost two decades ago, before my parents died, I used to laugh a lot. I used to laugh at everything. Nothing in the world could fail to amuse me, most of the time.

One day, one of my friends, who’d pinched my cheek while I was hysterically laughing, had screamed, “Oh my goodness, Mina’s cheeks are so muscular!”

“What is that supposed to mean?” the other girls had screamed, guffawing.

As middle school girls, that was our default mode: screaming and guffawing. I laughed more than the average middle school girl, which was why I was known for laughing a lot, but that didn’t mean that the average I was being compared against was “normal” when compared to the rest of the society. Nothing in middle school is ever normal. I mean, someone pinched my cheek while I was laughing. Why? I have no idea.

Anyway, that momentous incident gave me the ridiculous nickname, “Muscle Cheek.” That quickly turned into “Muscle Chick.” Since I was an average middle school girl with average muscle mass, everyone found that hilarious.

By the time summer vacation came along, my nickname became “MC” and “MC Mina” and other such silly, middle-schooly things. I laughed at every one of those variations. Everyone in my year laughed. Four-hundred navy-uniform-wearing eighth-graders, who thought they were all grown up because they weren’t like those seventh-graders who’d been wearing school uniforms for only less than a year. All of them laughed, and I laughed, and the world used to be marvelous.

Then, summer vacation. Me and my friends walk down the street, arm in arm the way girls do. Laughing at things. Giggling. Checking out boys. The usual.

Something green rushes out of the hair salon, right in front of us.

We scream, per middle school girl protocol.

The green something isn’t something at all. It’s a person. A lanky boy with alarmingly bright green hair sprouting up toward the sky, like a healthy plant. Like…

“Radishtop!” someone said.

We howled with laughter. Strangers turned around on the street to see what was going on. The lanky boy’s entire face turned pink. Naturally, that made matters worse. Now he really looked like a radish, a whole one, not just the top.

After summer vacation, no one called me Muscle Cheek, Muscle Chick, MC, or MC Mina anymore. Radishtop was the star of our class.

He’d shaved off all his hair. All we could see were the black stubbles, freshly grown.

Some teachers challenged him. They asked, “Are you rebelling against the system?” which only made us pay more attention to Radishtop. (The irony being, those same teachers had always been the ones who’d demanded that the students cut their hair shorter. You see, what such “teachers” want isn’t a specific hairstyle. If you grow your hair long, they want you to cut it to prove their “authority.” If you shave it off, they think you’re rebelling. At thirty years old, I can say for certain: if your so-called authority relies on other people’s hairstyles, it’s probably nonexistent in the first place.)

Enough with the teacher talk.

The point: despite the lack of green evidence, the Radishtop story had circulated over the summer. He’d become the hot new celebrity.

I took my descent from the randomly-famous-kid throne with dignity, by not letting anyone notice that I would’ve liked to keep my various nicknames. And soon, Radishtop began enjoying his stardom. Numerous tiny details were buried in the fun:

That part about how he’d actually wanted to dye his hair in orange, not green, for example. Also, why he’d gone to a hair salon, to begin with, which back in the day, had been mostly reserved for women.

At first, he’d asked his barber. That man had found it outrageous that a middle school student would want to dye his hair in such a ludicrous color. Never mind that it was summer vacation. Students were students, even in summer. The barber then proceeded to call his parents to inform them that their son was about to do something crazy.

Radishtop took all the money he’d saved up and ran to the nearest hair salon. That hair salon happened to be one that the local women never went to, because the one hairdresser who worked there was simply horrible. Of course, Radishtop was unaware of that key piece of information. Thus, the hairdresser managed to somehow, magically, turn orange dye into a green one. Shocked at the reflection of his green hair in the mirror, Radishtop stormed out of the salon, refusing to pay—at which point he ran into me and my friends.

Then he kept running. Where to? Home.

Then he remembered that his parents hadn’t wanted him to dye his hair. He couldn’t help but remember, because his mother was waiting for him, ready to kick his ass. (How literal or how figurative, I do not know.)

All that was neither heroic nor cool.

But people didn’t have to know all that. I bet there were some students, especially the seventh-graders, who had no idea why Radishtop was called Radishtop. They just liked That Older Boy Who Is So Popular.

All that attention from the opposite sex, to which he happened to be attracted to, compelled the lanky boy to start going to the gym.

Which helped him realize that he was quite talented at running, jumping, and doing pushups or sit-ups.

Then, all the stars aligned. The boy who’d been lanky in comparison to other middle school kids kept growing. I heard that in high school, he grew a head taller. In college and in the army, he grew another head taller.

And to top all that, guess what? He had stellar grades. Radishtop, before he became Radishtop, hadn’t been popular. That meant that he hadn’t suffered the side effects of early stardom. Therefore, he’d studied hard, just as his parents had wanted him to. By the time he’d made the life-changing decision to dye his hair, he already knew that he could ace every test that he was given, if he tried.

No wonder he was recruited so easily. Extraordinary test scores, extraordinary physique. The guy was overqualified for most any professions that required both, such as army officers, pilots, etc. His parents, at first, didn’t like the idea of their son joining the police force. They’d thought he was going to be a doctor or a lawyer, easily. But alas, their son had a passion for the tangible, the corporeal, and the bodily.

Too bodily, maybe. He had an unflinching morbid side that allowed him to stare at the victims’ bodies for hours on end without feeling sick. And that was useful. Although the station where he worked was located in a nice neighborhood and its residents didn’t participate in many direct fistfights, when something did happen, it happened big:

Murders of politicians’ lovers. Kidnappings of ambassadors’ children. Disappearances of key witnesses in white-collar crime trials.

Radishtop loved the excitement and challenge of his job—which was why it would’ve been nice to have someone as capable as him around me, when I was going through the aftermath of my parents’ death. Back then, as a teenager, he wouldn’t have been the detective he was now, yet. But even then, he would’ve been the person who was going to become that detective. The core of a person stays, no matter how young or old—unless something traumatizing happens. I could have used his core.

But soon after the debut of Radishtop, we’d lost touch. I’d moved away, to my relatives’ neighborhood. All my years of smiling at nothing and being called “Muscle Chick” were put behind me…

…until I ran into Radishtop because of one particularly tricky hit-and-run case several years ago. I never could’ve recognized him based on the image of a green radish from middle school. But he recognized me. He said I hadn’t changed one bit.

A total lie, I was sure, which nevertheless pleased me. And since then, Radishtop had helped me with several other tricky cases. One time, for example, a team of thieves at a department store was communicating with each other through morse code. I hadn’t realized this until Radishtop had pointed it out. I mean, morse code! How do you think of such things? How do you think of committing theft at all? These days, people had way too easy access to criminal methods, in my opinion.

Anyway. Now, here.

Only two blocks away from the police station where Radishtop worked, there was a park. Many benches were made of wood, but some were made of metal, so that Radishtop could wipe off the rainwater from the seat with a handkerchief. (Yeah. He was that man. One who carried handkerchiefs, not just a pen and a notepad.)

“Very gentlemanly of you,” I said jokingly.

“What makes you think I did it for you?” he said. He sat on the spot he’d just wiped off.

Deliberately, he looked away. By the time he looked at me again, I was patiently raising my brows. He grinned and wiped the adjacent spot too.

“Thank you very much,” I said, all formal and all grown-up. “And I’m very sorry I called you… that in front of your coworkers.”

“Ah, no big deal,” he said.

He neatly hung the handkerchief on the armrest of the bench. What an optimist. Only a person like him would hang a soaked handkerchief in the hopes of drying it in this humidity. I wouldn’t have bothered.

“It’s just that… I have an image to maintain,” he said.

“What image?”

“I’m known as the tough detective, you know?”

“You? Tough?”

“Yes. Me. Tough. See these muscles?”

He flexed. We chuckled. It felt nice to meet Radishtop again… until I remembered why I was here.

© 2022 Ithaka O.
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This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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