Thursday, 13 February 2014

Write...Edit...Publish : February 2014. What's in a face?

This month the prompt at Write...Edit...Publish is “What’s in a Face?” and it has been buzzing around in my head the whole fortnight, like one of those songs you can’t stop humming no matter how hard you try.  Thanks, Denise for an amazing prompt.  I ended up writing reams - flashes and a short story, a spoof, poems; but fear not, I shall not force all of them on you :)
I am posting the flash that fits the word limit best, though there is nothing very Valentineish about it.  Not much of a VDay fan, me.  Sorry.


The bell has just chimed the hour, and I can almost see that dusty clock face down the corridor if I close my eyes.  Just a few hours to go till sunrise.  The dawn breaks every day and a circle of light hits the blank wall opposite me.  I have watched that for the last month.  Not tomorrow though.  Tomorrow I will be out of here, and there will be no-one to notice how a fuzzy moonlike patch coalesces into a hard, crisp disk.  A round hard face of light.

I see a lot of them.  Faces, I mean.  They have been good to me, generally.  I have no enmity left to sort out with anyone.  One of them had said to me, “You remind me of my father.  His eyes too were like yours, full of an unfathomable peace.” 

I had wanted to ask him what his father did for a living, but he had answered that himself by saying he had been some bigshot police officer.  Not a peaceful existence by any stretch of imagination, and no resemblance to me either. Unfathomable peace, indeed.  Must have made a killing on the kickbacks and confiscated goods.  Just shows.  The unlikeliest people and events endure, there is no accounting how things pan out.  But I have given up the peeves.

Some religious holyfellow turned up yesterday and offered to talk to me.  Anything I would like to say, anything I would like done now, tomorrow, anytime?  He too had a face full of a smarmy peace, awash in a kind of pseudo-serenity, and for a minute I had this wild impulse to tell him what is what and where exactly he could put his offer, and watch that smarminess crumple into shock. But then I did not.  Told him I was godless and if he won everybody here over then he would soon go out of business.

“Repent, O sinner,” he chanted in a melodramatic voice, “while there is time.”

I was tired of his drift already, so I told him politely to shut it.  Besides, I had repented, very formally, written a pretty letter about it as per regulations, but the outcome had not been much.  Repentance did not look like that moksha thingy to me, and could he go now and leave me to my own devices?

The clock seems to be melting its hands from the hour and reforming them at the half-past in one instant, rather Daliesque, the single chime rings clear in the darkness.  A half hour less now.  It is not just time and clock faces that come crowding around me as I wait sleepless.  Many others too form and dissolve like that light patch, waft in and out on the walls of my brain.  My mother’s, my brother’s, my wife’s.  My friend Amro, if I can call him a friend under the circumstances.  And the three king’s faces, the spade and club staring directly at me, the diamond in profile across the shabby, grease-spotted baize table.  The hard defiance on Amro’s face as he knew his luck had run out finally after such a long streak, his trick finally lying exposed in the diamond king in my hand.   A betrayal summed up in a sharp card face.

He said he cheated just that once, but that was a lie too.  I saw the reason for his winning streak clearly, nothing fuzzy about it.  He argued perfunctorily, he knew I could not do a thing.  I was a policeman with an impeccable record and an embarrassing addiction that was illegal as well; I was pinned flat like a bug under glass, my helplessness showing.   Things got ugly, what else?  My revolver was handy.  He did not see it coming, we had been more like twins than friends. 

I see that face here, with the neat round bullet hole in the neat round face.  A different kind of peace.   I had felt the same need to wipe that pseudo peace off his face too.  And I did it, kept at it till they came in and got me.  Worked it out of my system.  As I said, I have no enmity left with anyone.  His wife had to use some other body part to identify him, that is what I had heard later.

The whole city united in the demands for justice.  The activists bayed for more blood, this time mine.  Vicious. Police atrocity.  Brutal.  Some of the words that wore thin with use on the media reporting the juicy bits.  It did not touch me, not what the papers said, not what the strangers said.  My wife aligned herself firmly with Amro’s wife, I got to know that they had joint weeping sessions together.  That somehow bothered me more.  But not any longer.  We each find our comfort where we can, she is entitled to hers, I to mine.

These people have done what they could.  The lawyer steering me carefully through the lower court, the high court, the mercy petition to the President, the works. The holymen and women offering me routes to salvation.  The psychiatric counselling by long-haired motivated medico types. The eccentric journos trying to find the human interest angle.  All as per rules.   It has been rather intriguing in a way, standing on the other side of the dock.  If I had not combined policing with gambling, if the revolver had not been there, loaded; if I had not defaced him.  If. If. If.


The clock is chiming again.  One, two, three, four.  They will be coming any minute now.  I will be out of here very soon.  I wonder what they find when they remove the mask from the face afterwards?  Whether it reflects the final freedom of death.  If it wears the sense of inner peace, or just manages to showcase the bodily struggles of death.  Either way, I will never know. And in the final accounting, it no longer matters.

WC - 995
All feedback welcome.

Two points that I think I should mention in context.  One, Indian law has provision for capital punishment for extreme crimes, and execution is by hanging.  And two, gambling is illegal in India except in small enclaves like Goa.

And I would like to ask your opinions on using verb contractions - okay for just dialogues, not okay for the narrative, okay for both depending on context?  Do you think a story written in the first person reads easier/warmer if contractions are used?  I've left out contractions deliberately in the flash because this isn't a warm story.  Do you think it makes a difference anyway? Thank you.

Read the other entries and/or join in with yours over here



  1. Contractions are all right in dialogue and allowable in the rest of your prose especially if it is first person narrative. If third person, you should stay away from them as much as you can. But all of this is subject to change over time.

    Profanity is allowable in dialogue but usually not in the rest of the story. It is your prose so follow your instincts.

    Great absorbing flash fiction. And you are right: not very Valentine-ish!

    1. Thank you for that very specific answer. Appreciate it.

      Valentine-ish elsewhere on the blog. :)

  2. I can't answer your question on verb contractions. I only know something works, or not, as I read. This read very well, so if it is a grammar no-no, my opinion is to ignore it for this writing. This had beautiful flow, tone, inflection. I got a visual of his looks and dialect from the voice and personality. This was really good Nila.

    Intense, evocative, creepy. What a life this fallen cop lived.


    1. Thanks so much, Donna. I go with gut feel too, don't have a clue about writing "rules". But read somewhere lately that contractions are generally a no-no for the narrative. So is the present tense, I am given to understand. I tend to use that pretty intensively too. :)

  3. Hi Nila. This was heartbreaking! I always get twitchy reading/listening to songs about the final night before an execution - 'The Clock in the Tower' is one song that comes to mind. And you don't hold back either! Such emotion in your prose. You weaved the reasons for his execution in seamlessly. Interesting that: 'It has been rather intriguing in a way, standing on the other side of the dock.'

    English grammar questions: The only time I don't use contractions is when my character is foreign and speaking in English, as most people who have English as a second or third language, usually avoid contractions. Formal prose is another time not to use them, but in dialogue you need to be true to your character. Would they use contractions? If so, use them, so the dialogue reads truly.
    Yes, and profanity...I don't swear, so if my character need to, I use it in the dialogue or interior thoughts. The narration is always without profanity. We have to use what we are comfortable with...

    Not everyone will agree with my words, as all writers travel to the beat of their own drum. Nothing is a hard and fast rule.

    Thank you for posting such a great entry for WEP. What are you going to do with all the other writing you did?

    Your entry didn't have to be Valentine-ish!


    1. Hi Denise,

      Ditto on the profanity. I don’t really use swear words in any of the languages I speak/write, so use them in dialogues only if the character/situation calls for it. I’m pretty free with the contractions, it’s just the way I write as I think, (so handy for the word limits too ;p) and then take out some of it in the editing if it all feels too weird and overwhelming. Read an article by a publisher recently saying their preference is for writers to avoid contractions in the main narrative. So I thought it would be good to know what y’all think.

      I have truly enjoyed writing to this prompt like no other for some baffling reason :) thank you once again for it. The other writing – some of it is too long for a blogpost. The spoof’s on an Indian epic, part of the Hindu scriptures, some people might find it offensive for all I know. Folks getting increasingly touchy and intolerant nowadays. You might have seen the recent hou-ha about Doniger’s book being pulped by Penguin India. The poems I might post here in due course.

  4. I enjoyed your story and theme resonated with me. Peace or pseudo-peace may eventually come with death, who knows ~

    Cheers ~

  5. Thank you for the explanation of gambling and the death penalty in Indian law. It's a fine line that makes somebody turn and you wrote it clearly. It is a thought provoking piece.

  6. Thank you both for reading, Grace and Sally.

  7. I like your dark, dark story. Nice what you did with the concept of "what's in a face." Very nicely crafted.

  8. Hi Nilanjana. Sorry it's taken me so long to get to your place.
    I loved your take on the prompt... you did an excellent job!
    This stream-of-consciousness piece flowed effortlessly... as if you just sat down and wrote it in one sitting... (did you?)
    I think contractions fit with the "interior" style/voice and also the context, the fact that he's sleepless and probably apprehensive, his thoughts running rampant, jumping from one scenario to another, on the eve of his 'release'.

    1. Hi Michelle, and no issues. Thanks for your feedback, though have to admit that I can't remember whether I did it in one go or not.

  9. Wow....really an intense piece of fiction!