It’s time for the first RFW Challenge of the year! With the New Year there are some changes there, the challenge will now be monthly, with an extended word limit and time frame. Must admit I like both the ideas. Higher word limits mean more elaborate, fleshed-out stories to read (what fun!), and the new deadline means more time to come up with one and also greater leeway to tell it, all entirely welcome.
Membership is not mandatory for participation, so if you like writing, then do go over and see if you want to give it a try.
Here is my entry for this challenge:
Vikram shakes a spoonful of sugar into his coffee, stirs it and brings the mug through to the sitting room. A quick sip later, he sets it down; on the lace coaster Anita had got, that looks as frozen snowflake-like as ever. So many things in this room, in his life are so completely hers that it’s practically impossible not to see her everywhere. In the stuff she’s left behind, the clothes and the books, her collections of milkjugs, old handwritten letters, brass oil lamps, newspaper cuttings; she’d always been a great one for squirreling. Friends had helped him pack them off, the ostensible bits anyway. But many frozen snowflakes in the gullies remain unnoticed; refusing to melt.
He still wishes that things had worked out different. Sometimes, back from work, he absent-mindedly thinks that he must call her, calculating the time difference as a reflex almost. Then he remembers and comes to himself again. No-one knows that she is still there on his personal gadgets, password-protected among his Skype contacts and cell-phone shortcuts. A photo of them both, grainy and indistinct, still preserved in one of the rarely used flaps of his wallet. Shot in their final year at the university, she looking at the camera unsmiling; his face is flung open in a wide smile, his eyes trying to look wicked and not quite making it.
He had teased her about that fortune-teller. They, with friends had visited the winter fair, and trooped into the astrologer’s marquee. The old man had looked at Anita’s palm and face and mumbled stuff about her past life, mostly accurately. Vikram had known Anita right from childhood, the two families had lived close by.
The chap had stroked her palm, and peered at it; and then mumbled, ”What you think is love now, isn’t. Real love will come late.”
She had withdrawn her hand sharply, and let the next person take her place. It was ridiculous nonsense of course, just some harmless fun among friends. So he had teased her afterwards, but she hadn’t laughed, her irritation mounting at his banter. A little later, some friend had clicked that photo, a sharp silence in her face forever captured in monochrome. He had got a copy and carried it in his purse; he always did think that she looked magnificent when she was annoyed. Somehow the photo had taken on an extra significance, an added shade of humorous defiance when they had got married later. He had never removed it, stuffing it in all the successions of wallets that he’d used in over two decades. He had never had any occasion to think of the astrologer or his predictions. He’d never had much use for astrology anyways.
They got married, moved a couple of times, then Vikram had got an offer abroad. He had wound up his life and moved, and she’d followed him after she found work there; things had fallen into place in uncommonly lucky ways. The children came, and the beam of their love widened to include babies without weakening its focus on each other. The kids grew up and first Sam went off to university a whole continent away. Then Vir and Vidhu followed, but were somehow unable to settle down. So after much discussion she had gone to look after them, leaving Vikram alone and a little at sea. It had been difficult to get used to the empty nest, a lot emptier than he had bargained for.
For several months he had felt unsettled; hard done by because he had to come back to a dark home and eat alone; robbed of the pleasure of seeing the children’s sleeping faces at the start and end of day; the rooms stripped of their laughter and rivalries, the bickering over the TV remote suddenly acquiring a shine now that it had gone entirely quiet. But he had gone about building his solitary life slowly and painstakingly, employing his empty evenings to pick up a hobby, rekindling old friendships, and acquiring a deeper understanding of himself and the culture he lived in. And a sudden empathy for many co-workers living here without their families. He had coped somehow, moved into a smaller home that didn’t emphasise their absence in such an unnervingly pointed manner.
He and Anita spoke every day. They wrote emails and texts, on screens large and small; shared photographs and updates, in too vehement an attempt trying to erase the distance. They met every holiday. He never doubted that they would resume their old life from where they’d left off. And they had done, too; she’d come back once the offspring were settled and there remained no excuse for her presence there. But something about her, and perhaps him too, had irrevocably changed. Picking up the threads of the relationship turned out surprisingly difficult. It felt like having to relearn to live together all over again.
They’d had a baffling number of arguments about complete trivia, shockingly vicious, the painful aftermath lingering for days. One night she’d been disproportionately angry about some piffling serving spoons, claimed to be her favourite suddenly, of which he’d had no inkling. It had ended with the absurd idea of moving back with the kids.
He’d tried reasoning but she was impervious. He’d lost it then, at her playing the victim always, supposedly uprooted at every whim of her family. Did she think he’d had it easy? She at least had had the children. He’d had nobody. Did she even know what being truly alone was? A silly argument had somehow morphed into a life-changing one. He’d suddenly remembered the strange prediction. Was there somebody else? She’d said nothing, just looked at him appraisingly for a long moment. And then gone back.
That had been a year ago this New Year.
Vikram finishes his coffee and picks up his cell. Who knows, perhaps it’s time to go wooing again. He dials a number; and waits.