Mostly Flash


The short fiction, flash and otherwise, collected here. In case you're not too fond of poetry. I am okay with that. It does funny things to the brain, poetry does. But it straightens out in a flash. The brain, I mean. Not the poetry. That is much like a mongrel's tail, can't be straightened, especially if rhymed.


Click on the title to read the entire story...



Not many people put up B/W photos on their profiles now, the vast majority of photography is carried out in colour, often overmanipulated, too vivid to be true with a million filters available at the touch of a single button. So it’s intriguing when one comes upon a stark portrait like that – a lady in the fashions of decades ago sitting formally at a Victorian table with an outsize art deco radio, a vase of flowers and a silver framed photo. Too senior to  have an independent social media profile, so I assumed it was the job of a  grandkid. Which, you told me later, was true, it was uploaded by you, she was your grandmother. Your picture was the one framed in silver, your babyface partially visible and anyway too blurry to see suns and moons anywhere. I liked that idea – the invisible profile pic. Meeting the requirement of being pictorially present without giving anything away, quiet, private, a little quirky. Also a tribute to your grandmother whose death anniversary had just passed. I liked that even better...


Life is like the tides, rising and ebbing on a preset schedule that brooks no interference. They lift and snatch away unmoored things, washing them out to sea like so much driftwood. They fling around mammoth size logs as though they were matchsticks. The shores receive them and are changed forever, infinitesimally and yet, monumentally...


Please don’t return this too, unopened like all the others. Or worse, tear it up without reading. It’s been just eight years but it feels like I have been sending you these letters forever, reaching far back into some earlier births aeons ago. I keep thinking what can I do to make you understand? -  to make you see things differently, to get us back, if not on the same track, at least on tracks close enough for you to appreciate where I am coming from. And where you are heading. How can I make you understand?!

 

Together, we are more beautiful, more resilient - more armoured in our love for each other - than anything else in the universe. And apart, we are just broken human beings, isolated in pain, unable to handle problems, unable to handle life. The weakest, the worst versions of ourselves...




Saroja is accustomed to rise before daybreak. By the time she finishes the dawn worship, her much younger, twin brothers are here for the first cups of  tea.  That too is a habit, her brothers in the house every morning. Saroja is a striking, willowy woman, her features regular; thick hair, greying close to her scalp, two small silver wings at her temples, discreet and  symmetrical.  Her large eyes are beautifully sculpted into their sockets, irises deep black.  Her husband at his most romantic used to compare them with the black waters of a lake in sparkling sunlight.  Her irreverent, much younger brothers call her “dead-lake-eyes.”...


Once upon a time and place far away – but close enough still to rattle, so don't get too comfortable  – once upon such a time and place, an unclaimed child grew up in the blind lanes of human indifference. Like a weed he took root in the cracks in the paving stones of ruthlessness and grew on a staple diet of mockery and offhand cruelty – daily kicks and cuffs and brushoffs. He was soon adopted by a petty vendor on the lookout for free labour in exchange for the meagrest of keep.

 

As he got to his teens, the vendor, the closest thing he had known to a parent, died. But he had learnt by then to be agile, hardboiled, forbiddingly spartan with a suppressed but ferocious grudge against society...


Tangerine

I’ve always known it. Because sometimes I am born as Abudriven to a life of crime because I’ve voiced an inconvenient truth, sometimes I’m Rudraksh destined to witness evil, disguised as a divine plan.  I am the match girl who froze to death on the streets of Copenhagen, I’m the child worker scarred for life in the fireworks factories of Sivakasi. I am the refugee toddler whose drowned body has washed up on an island beach time after time. There is no end to my suffering. And to my resilience. My mothers’ agonised screams echo down from the beginning of time...

A Fine Yarn 

The truth, they said, will set you free. In this case, it did just the opposite. Abu’s fate was sealed the moment the truth was uttered - he was 7 at the time, not old enough to realise the benefits of lying.

 

The Books of Wisdom, the Fabulists, the Clan Elders, the Keepers of the Lore - they tell you only half the story, half the truth.  They truncate beginnings to hook the listener. Fob him off with a neat ending where poetic justice is seen to be served. The whole truth never makes a good tale, it’s too boring, too inconvenient, doesn’t deliver the critical mass of dramatic punch.

 

You probably know that the ruler carried on without batting an eyelid. Have you never wondered what happened to the boy?...


Small Windows

It takes only a few years. For worlds to fall apart. For rooms to stop breathing. For windows to go blind. The climate is unforgiving. The land is too fertile for its own good. A banyan can take root anywhere. In the cracks. Beside the exposed pipes. Wherever there is a toehold.

The garden used to be fragrant with jasmine. Not any more. The squatters were here till last Monday. It took endless visits to the thana. Under the table, over the table, sunlit, bulblit negotiations.  The local AdSP finally had a word with the goons. The squatters magically left the next day. But traces remain. Ugly blue plastic awnings. The smell of stale urine and unwashed bodies. Stink pressed hard into the cracks. Bald patches on the ground. Where the lawns once were. Deep holes in the earth for bamboo. The marks of tent pegs and scaffolding. Holding together canopies of borrowed space and time... 


The Preference for Sons

This move sucks. Big time. Even Tofu – that’s my dog, hates it. But grown-ups! They must pretend. Some crazy idea to always say it the way it should be. Everyone’s pretending they’ve been waiting to come here like, forever.

I keep hearing that our people prefer sons. Complete bullshit, man. The minute my sister gets into NUJS, the entire family comes trooping here. Why? Because her fastidious highness can’t stay PG like the rest of the world. Can’t put up with the public at the hostel. The mattress isn’t thick enough for the princess, you see. I said it over and over again. I didn’t. Want. To move. Did anyone pay any attention? So, who’s got the preference? Sons, indeed!

And my school sucks too. Except Vishal. He’s in my music class. But for the rest – oh, god. Unbelievable. No pool. The field’s half the size. The buildings are so old. Probably built when the Brits were here or something. The whole freaking city looks like it’s a smelly leftover from the Raj...

The Recovery


What can you do?

He comes back from the hospital after the transplant, a chance at a second life, and you are afraid even to smile, to show how happy you are in case you attract the wrath of the gods.  The post-op at home goes well, except you are still in the adrenaline-charged ultra-vigilant mode after it has stopped being necessary. You are afraid to let go of fear, that’s your comfort zone. The Lakshman Rekha beyond which you haven’t ventured for a long, long time.

At first you don’t notice anything different, if his manner is a shade brusque at times you think nothing of it, attribute it to the cascading pain that's part of recovery. But as the pain diminishes, the difference escalates. The way he brushes off your hand tucking his sheet, the way he brushes off your suggestion of sitting in the garden. But still, you make allowances. You are used to making allowances. That too is within the Lakshman Rekha, well-trodden, familiar territory. You are filled with a love that can forgive anything. You're too happy to sweat the petty stuff.

But it doesn’t stop there. The eyes on the pillow change subtly, a totally strange patina of roughness, direct, bold, searing...


Unravelled Yarns

I sit next to him with the paper and colour in a beautiful woman with long hair holding out a fruit to a man in a resplendent garden with apple trees. And a snake. He insists on the snake. Who wants to wear a sari with a snake?

As it is young women nowadays do not always wear traditional Bengali saris, there is a lot of choice now – lehengas, shararas, anarkalis and even memsahebi gowns. His grip on reality is tenuous. Our traditions themselves are unravelling. I see it every day at the studio where I work. But I do not argue with Grandfather. There is no arguing with him.

“Ivory on green.” He murmurs when it is finished to his satisfaction. “Only the fruits picked out in deep red.”

Those, as it happens, are his last words.

Nothing I’ve told you so far is true...


Bullseye 

I let myself into the kitchen. The door closes with a click that is reassuringly familiar.  I’ve known the footpath leading up to the back porch since childhood. The same diamond patterned light comes through the window grille and dapples the floor where I dropped a heavy kettle years ago and cracked the tile in a diamond pattern of its own. My mother is there - a halo of cinnamon smoke, gossamer thin cotton, steely determination and wisps of steel grey hair coming undone from her plait twisted up high on her head.

“You look like a ghost, child. Have some tea.” She still calls me child - that too is reassuring, familiar, a maternally motivated, comforting white lie.

The water has just come off the boil, the tea is fragrant but thin, I take it with double my usual measure of sugar. My hands tremble as I stir it. I need something much stronger – brandy? acid? rat poison?...

Min Zaman

A split second passed before she realised what she had said.  Her unease bloomed into fear.  Mushroomed from the pit of her stomach, smashed against her heart and squeezed out the air from her lungs.  She had no idea where the rejoinder had come from, what language she had spoken...


A Postcard from the Village

Sukhada stopped where the main gate had been, and looked at what remained.  The entry gaped open, the walls were charred black, a heap of burnt rubble.  The graceful louvered windows had been reduced to cinders along with their frames, the terrible heat had distorted the wrought iron bars before they had worked loose and fallen in a tangle of metal.  Sukhada’s head swam as she recalled the postcard.

'They were more than fifty strong, armed with machetes and torches.  They dragged the menfolk out.  Our esteemed mother protested, and was shoved back.  She fell and stayed motionless.  They went through all the rooms, helped themselves to what they wanted.  I hid behind the sitar, huddled under the dust-cloth and recited the Durganaam, thinking if the Goddess wishes my baby to be born She will let me complete the chants.  The house became quiet presently. I went to our mother and called her but she made no answer...

Storms and Uniforms

The force of the winds took Shankar by surprise. They roared and wailed like a huge demonic crowd, felling whatever came in their way. Even deep within the cave, Shankar was pounded by its power. Water trickled down the rock walls in a million tiny torrents, churning on the uneven floor – a small maelstrom mirrored the external storm inside the cave.  It went on endlessly, the downpour and the raging winds. The sun set somewhere far away above the rainclouds, the last dim light faded. Shankar switched his torch on at intervals, afraid to exhaust the batteries.

Halfway into the second night a huge, long crashing wave of sound pierced the cave. He felt the impact jarring right through him, the gust of spray suddenly cut off. The noise of the storm suddenly receded somewhat, tapered off into a weaker version of itself. Shankar switched his light on, was the beam getting yellow? and directed it towards the cave mouth.

A large tree had fallen, catching other, smaller trees in its naked branches, interwoven into a monstrous tangle...  

Ambiflextrous

So much of a picture, of a situation even, depended on the interpretation, on not just the doer, but also the one done to.  New meanings surfacing from an old, much thumbed flipbook, a cherished keepsake of a lost loved one. She inhaled deeply and collected herself ...

Because Memory is a Bridge

Ram and family live off the land, nomads in the forests of Central India somewhere. There, one day, the sister of King Ravan of present day Sri Lanka (Lanka in the epic) invites the brothers for a...um...quickie. Ancient Indian society was obviously sexually far more emancipated than now. Anyways, Ram politely excuses himself on account of wife being present. Lakshman excuses himself on grounds of being married, probably because he didn't fancy the lady too much. She persists, remember she's a princess, not used to such churlishness, whereupon an altercation ensues and Lakshman, annoyed, notches off her ears and nose, adding injury to insult. She marches off home and demands Ravan avenge her forthwith.


Ravan abducts Sita in retaliation and imprisons her. Ram and Lakshman search for her, and get to hear she has been seen with Ravan... 

Leftover Lives

It did not take very long, after all.  She had thought the selection would be excruciating – how does one define essentials for a one-way once-in-a-lifetime, excruciating trip such as this? Her grandmother’s knitted blanket, kept over three generations, was that just baggage to be discarded now? How would the texture of life feel away from these rooms - the front door hasp worn smooth with use, the curtains she had got, shredded now by the conflict but still bravely rippling in the front room? ... 

The Overlap

Heba was quiet.  She had not known that he nurtured ambitions that would take him away, so far away! from the family, from her.  When had he grown so independent? She looked at his hands with their strong but delicate fingers, long, tapered, the knuckles looking absurdly vulnerable, yes, an artist’s hands.  As she watched, those hands picked up a small sketchbook and were rifling the pages, each containing a drawing of a man with his back to the viewer, walking away, his back receding a little further in each drawing so that when they reached the last page he was only a dot on the horizon.  Saeed was smiling softly, he shuffled the flipbook faster, the figure receded from somewhere close to an unbridgeable distance in seconds. 

Heba stirred uneasily, she knew she must not let him do this and willed him to stop, she must not fall into that trap again. But Saeed continued to flick the pages over and over, the leaves rustling in the quietness of the room. She reached out to arrest the movement, to hold his hand and still it, but he spun out of her reach like a puppet jerked by strings, and now both the man in the flipbook and Saeed were receding, becoming smaller and smaller as they smoothly glided away.  Her limbs felt heavy, frozen. There was a sudden, icy flare of fear in her heart as it caught her in its coils and she knew there was no escape...


Three Ways of Looking...at Constellations of Meanings 


The sun leaves smudged finger marks on the sky as he disappears.  Smoke-lilac, bruise-purple, ash-pink, burnt-rust.  I feel like taking a pot shot from the hospital window.  The glass pane is large, divided into three. So many things are divided into three.  Day and Night and the In-between times. Heavens, Earth, Underworld.   Left, Right, Centre.  Faith, Belief, Rituals.  Daughter, Mother, Dust.

She is named for a companion to one of the Seven Sages, she taught me that constellation in the sky herself. It’s the only one I can immediately identify looking up more than forty years later wherever I am in the northern hemisphere. 

“It’s a question mark in the sky.  See?” And I had traced it out with a childhood finger and seen.  “And that one in the middle of the downward stroke? That’s Great Sage Vashistha.  Look a little closer, do you see another? Not as shiny as the others, but she’s there.  That’s the one. Not as conspicuous as the Sages, but always constant, always shining, sticking close to her partner. She’s a good star to have on your side.” 

The worst kiss

He had stalked me for days. His lips were rubbery, too large, too wide open, hot-wet and slimy.  Gross didn’t begin to describe it.  He was taking his time too, as if he was wooing some swooning heroine in some crazy version of a Brontë romance.  The worst kiss ever. And his limbs were like bloody suckers, I pushed at him hard but he hung on like one of those tree-huggers. How could this be happening?  Why had I allowed it in the first place? I groped for the knife, found it and slashed upwards. He broke away with a repulsive sucking sound that made even my toenails curl. 


I sat up, my chest heaving, my heart beating a frantic tattoo against my ribs.  My head swam with a potent mix of emotions – disbelief. disgust, outrage, abject terror.  I shut my eyes and tried to get a grip.  When I opened them again... 

Milk. Blood. Money.

As he watched, the insides of the cases slowly began to blur, much like a snow globe gently shaken.  A flurry of flesh coloured fragments swirled around, faster and faster, and he realised with increasing horror that there was something liquid in there, the masks had been pickled. In a few seconds the cases were obscured, the masks appeared to be disintegrating in front of his eyes.  It seemed to Piyush that he had stood here forever watching these fragments of tissues whirling around.  By and by the bits gradually slowed down and reconfigured behind the glass of each case.  To a place and time that seemed disconnected with every realm of possibility.

A riverbank, on the distant horizon a low flat pink palace, a dust-coloured oblong blob marking an ancient city.  The water muddy and wide, silky-slow, its edge crowded with a thick fringe of reeds beyond the ghat. A woman with a mewling bundle on the last step... 

Roadblock

A fresh landslide had opened up a huge gash of reddish mud on the mountainside.  Small, ominous dribbles of soil and gravel trickled down on the verge even as Laval peered out.  Thick greenery dipped drunkenly into the wound from its edges.   A line of labourers, mostly women, he noted in an irrelevant aside, ferried loads of fallen soil on woven cane baskets, the bands balanced on their foreheads like bandanas.  Their line moved across the road, along the queue of cars for some time, and then down till the last figures became tiny dots of bright colours.  An ordinary lorry stood by to receive the debris, it too made toy-size by the distance.  It must be all these slopes, the gradient does things to one’s perspective, distorts stuff into looking smaller than it should, he thought.

“Why don’t they use proper equipment, speed things up?” Laval muttered to himself, then raised his voice and asked. “How long do you think?”  


The Mannequin

Sometimes he would set two mugs on the counter-top and pour out the coffee while half asleep still, black and rich like she preferred, and then come to when the dark liquid splashed into the whiteness of the ceramic, and correct the number with a stricken face which there was no-one to see.  He would hurry into the institute and perhaps an undergraduate student with a swinging thick bob and a similarly crazy-beautiful shoulder-blade would stop him in his tracks thinking that she had finally given in and come looking for him here, and his heart would leap into his mouth and then sink instantly back at knee level when the girl would turn her face and wish him respectfully and she would be nothing like the one he had thought her to be, transformed from his fantasy into his student after all, in just a half-swivel of head.  He learnt to live with a residual level of disappointment always swilling inside him.  Coping kept him busy, and distracted as well.


Meanwhile, the mannequin turned out to be habit-forming.  He remained unaware, but his steps would automatically slow while he passed the shop in the morning, she was usually dressed up, ready in the daily ensemble, looking him in the eye...


Fall fable

Take the heart.  The heart’s the dragonfly. It’s the grasshopper, that sings all summer and takes leaps of faith, from grass to leaf, from leaf into sky, halfway to the stars and falls back to the grass again, nonchalant.  Who vaguely knows that winter will come but will take care of itself.  Meanwhile the ant, oh god, the ant plods on.  Eat.  Sleep. Hoard.  Clean.  Eat.  Sleep.  Hoard. Clean.   The ant is the body, and her demands must be met, at all times.  Punctually.   To-everything-there-is-a-season-and-a-time-to-every-purpose-under-the-heaven kind punctually.  You know the type.  There’s one in every neighbourhood.  Earnest.   And sternest.  And lectures everybody far and wide about the importance of being both...  


The no job

“I need a no job.  I’ll get no peace otherwise.”


“A no job?” I repeated tentatively.  I wasn’t sure I had heard right.  I could see what Kory had meant.


“No no no.  A know job.  For Surbhi.  You know what’s happened, don’t you?”


“Surbhi?!”


“Not Surbhi, yaar.  Surpi.  Surpi.  P for pandemonium.  That’s what going on out here. Madhouse.”


"Ah, Surpi.”  Surpi was the sister.  A regular foot-in-mouther.  And though I didn’t get his drift, still I was in complete agreement.  A madhouse was exactly it. “No, I don’t.  What’s happened?”


He groaned, “Well, here’s the short version.  She made a pass at some man or men, and one of them nicked her nose off.  And she’ll give me no peace till I get her vengeance.  And a no job.”...


Spills

The water felt unusually cold in Pratik’s cupped hands, and even colder against his shut eyelids.  He quickly found the towel, and as he emerged from the folds, his eyes fell on the mirror.   The shock was unnerving, though this was not the first time.  He dabbed his face again, and scrutinised it closely.


The changes were subtle - his eyebrows arched now at a minutely different angle, his earlobes sat flatter against his head, his lips were narrower, the jaws a shade wider, and the stubble on it a darker chestnut. He looked down at his hands, the veins were corded, the skin flaky, the fingertips squat, squarer nails, and rough.  The forearm shorter somehow, bulkier than his; limbs of an older person, older than his twenty-eight years.  He looked back into the mirror, and shuddered.  The eyes were the most frightening of all, a different person looked out of them and back at him, ruthlessly cruel eyes, without a shred of compassion or humour. Just like a serial killer's, he thought wryly.  


He came out and sent a text to his boss, working was not an option today... 

Moonlit Waters III

She had a soft spot for this agnabee, this foreigner who could be her own son give or take a year or two, but so different.  He did not treat her like she had no feelings, though he said little and smiled even less.  He always left the flat tidy, the dirty dishes stacked neatly in the sink, the laundry cleanly sorted into piles to wash, his slippers aligned next to the door, the newspaper folded crisply on the table.  To her it conveyed a sort of respect, one that a young man may show to a distant aunt, he treated her more like an elderly family member than a cleaning woman.  Called her aunty too, not Umm Mahmoud.  He was a strange one, this man.  He had a hurt child’s eyes in a taut face that looked much older than he was, and it was that way even when he came first, before all that business of the wife coming and then leaving and then the sudden divorce and the flat being back to a bachelor pad...

Moonlit Waters II

Abeer was back again at Fayoum; this time there was no discomfort, no weighing of words to say or not to say, just an easing into a place which felt long familiar, as though he had grown up looking at this grey-blue water right from childhood.  Waded into it knee-deep many times, splashed in it and sputtered at its saltiness and fished in it on winter afternoons.  There were places like this, he came upon them suddenly without any signs or warning, strange places but intimately part of him, of who he was, or had been at some point of time, and his memories looped back and touched their own beginnings in one huge arch, silent and comforting in a sweep of timelessness...
  

Moonlit waters

Abeer pulled up the withered stalks violently from the planter.   Late Friday afternoon in spring, the terrace was bathed in a diffused light preparing for sunset.  His terrace had sunlight the whole day, the summer months were pitiless here on the top floor.  So he just could not understand this, why none of the seeds he planted grew for him, why they shot out an eager tendril and then sighed and died.  He looked at the earth clinging to the dried up roots, and shook it back into the planter.  A little residue remained on his hands, black and almost sticky.  The most famously fertile soil on the planet, earth that had supported growth for millennia, yet he could not make anything bloom on it.  He shredded the bunch with unnecessary violence, and they crumbled into bits the same colour as the desert. 

A few things had changed over the years, he had changed too, much to his own consternation.  Catch him trying to grow sunflowers and moonflowers and hibiscus in containers!  His need had always been for dead stuff, voices trapped in dead machines and played back with their bass and tonal qualities immaculately preserved.  Dead words traced onto dead, pulped and pressed trees, rather than ones shouted and sung live around his home.  Beautiful eyes painted on canvas, their fixed gaze over his life and its sterile neatness, accepting, uncritical...


Bottled

The beach was deserted early morning, few joggers were out. Fishing boats were silhouetted against the light, upturned mini-crescents far out in the metallic, sparkling waters.  There were sudden sparkles in the sand as well – bottle caps, flattened cans, ringpulls, glass shards caught in the sunlight, sharp, deadly.  The hordes would descend in another couple hours, the fast-food stalls would open, the entire beachfront would be transformed – a brash bustle of uncaring day-trippers and resort-hoppers.   


Ratan ran careful not to step on anything that could slice his bare sole open...


Mrs Osmond says I must write a journal, but nothing ever happens to write about.   The idea of pen and paper diaries is ridiculous, who writes those nowadays?  Just suppose some moron came snooping and found it?  A blog is so much more interesting.  And safer.



There’s just a high wall at the end of the garden to look out onto.  I can hear the cars on the road, but none of them stop at our gate.  I go to school and come back. Spend the afternoon on the little balcony off my room. Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I sit there at night too.  Take my laptop there, it’s pleasanter than indoors.

 
No-one can see me there if I sit down; the railing is a a thin slab with little star-shaped holes in it.  Like fancy peepholes.  Mama is rather keen on privacy.  Can’t imagine why.  Not as if there is anyone looking.  The nearest neighbours are half a mile away.  Like I said, nothing ever happens.  It’s really hard doing up posts with the shitty life I lead.  


I don’t expect Mrs Osmond will understand though.  Adults are so over-the-top demanding.  She will go ballistic at how often I don’t write...


Sleepless.


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...

Seeing Red.  And White.

Kushal woke uneasy, as though a dream had laid a huge weight across him that awakening wasn’t meant to shake off.  The ceiling was unfamiliar too, and flustered him before he remembered he had come away from home, and Maddie.   Maddie.  Madhavi.  They had bickered, a perfectly pointless disagreement.  It seemed incredible as he lay in the mussed but clinically impersonal hotel bed. When had he started caring about such nonsense? what she wore, the way she dealt with the baggage of a gen-next immigrant, whether she wore her marital status on her sleeve...


How do you know where to draw the line?  Time out of mind you have been hearing it, “Play nice. Take turns.  Share.” And honestly? What choice is there when you are the eighth child?  True, treated a little special initially because eighth children are special, particularly if they are sons.  Well, you know the story about Lord Krishna being the eighth child.  But you are the youngest, and resources are stretched, your father’s business of jute sacks is failing because there’s a growing world of plastics out there. You learn from the very beginning to make do.  With hand-me-downs.  Books and shoes.   Coats with holey pockets.  You make do with sharing spaces. Affections.  Attention...  

A Tough Customer.

It has been easy this far. For a city with such a record, no extra security measures are in place. 

“Have they already forgotten? 1993? 2006? Not even a metal detector in the whole place. Really!”  He jostles into place at the queue for the unreserved carriages, holding his single case carefully close, disguising its heaviness with a light, three-fingered grip.   No-one gives him a second glance, another unshaven college kid in a scruffy T-shirt and large shades, going home on an impulse without advance reservation.   He smiles a little.  These people are such fools, they imagine they are invincible, when no-one is.  Well, they’ll find out soon enough, he thinks to himself; and then wipes the smile off his face swiftly. 

The queue moves forward as the train pulls into the platform.  He notes the route, the next stop will be at another end of the city on the long journey east.  He can recollect the map faultlessly, though he has never stepped here before...

One Step Backwards.

A profusely blossoming branch of cassia taps against the facing window, a hoopoe pecks at the lawn in the early sunshine.  Doa hums a little and then stops abruptly.  Too many problems, the old order upended, the changes so fast that she doesn’t know what to make of them.  The revolution came like a sandstorm out of the Sahara and blew away everything.  The whole nation drunk on its promise, heady with optimism - things would get better after the dust settles.  But all she knows is that it hasn’t settled yet. And she knows that Karim has not worked for months now...
The Right Words.

I was in love with that asphyxiating desperation only youth can muster.  We spent more and more time together, I spent more and more of my scholarship money on things most unscholarly, it’s a familiar story.  The only difference was the end.  Instead of the usual dust up, Paul robbed me, then beat me almost to death, and left for good.  Friends picked up my pieces and put them back together.  I had failed my exams, had no money, had no stomach to ask my parents back home for help or explain the whole sordid saga.  So I made a patchy recovery, stayed on and worked at whatever meanly-paid jobs I could find...
 

The Guardian of Letters.

...all that remains here to see him through all his losses are the letters.  Bits of paper that Bharati wrote as she got ready to die.   Two years she’d had to prepare, and she had used them to make pickles, rows and rows of jars, and to scribble those odd conversational notes, an instruction manual for coping; straight talk tucked into desks and closets, messages in bottles and jars.  Well, the pickles had finished a long time ago. But her letters are there still, in the empty jars, inside the closets and cabinets; read and reread.  Bharati’s voice still echoes around him in this house; he can access that comfort whenever he wants.  Though he hasn’t quite made out till now what she meant by “So must you” – what? Remember that they were together till her death, or remember it till his?  He’s chosen to till his end, not that it’s a choice.  One can’t remember or forget on demand. She was absurd sometimes.  Abin smiles a little and looks down again at the note in his hand... 

I'm NOT Wearing Your Ring

“It’s all a little fuzzy, but I dreamed of a royal ring on your finger; and a Great Sage in a fury cursed you.  And the King forgot you, he didn’t come back, though you waited for him.  I saw the ring slip off.  And a huge fish swallowed it. And you were humiliated in the royal audience chamber, and your son ran into the forest with a lion. I haven’t had a wink of sleep Shunckoo, I don’t know what all this means. I wish you’d wait till your foster-father is back.”

“Oh, Anu!  You poor thing! Of course the king will come back.  He loves me beyond any doubt.  Why would he marry me otherwise? Just calm down and stop worrying.  Everything will be fine.”...
  

Birthday Madness

The reams of formalities, the microbial security scanning, all the endless paraphernalia over finally, Tony walks briskly into the departure lounge.  It is already filling up with waiting passengers, empty seats are few.  It hits him again with fresh force, he really is on his way to meet Larissa!  This journey is a first for him in many ways.


Oh, how I hate my beautiful friend

Myra isn’t beautiful in the conventional sense, she doesn’t fit the mould.  Her real beauty lies in things no-one notices, in the shape of her ears, for instance, behind which she tucks in her hair with a two-fingered movement, breathtaking in its grace.  In the slant of her collarbones, from where her honey warm skin falls away in the most absurdly tender plane.  And her eyes, those great wide hazel eyes with their thick fringe of lashes.  Looking as though she can look right through me, but of course she can’t.  Above all, her beauty lies in her unaffected ignorance of her own charm...


Not exactly a Fairy Tale

Cindy came into the room limping a little, her feet were killing her!  This particular pair of evening shoes was wickedly uncomfortable, she really didn’t know why Rex insisted on her wearing them on every possible occasion.  She didn’t know why she continued to pander to his wishes in this either.   She sank down thankfully on the couch in her bedroom, glad to take the weight off her feet. 

Molly was still waiting up, bleary-eyed and moved in closer to help, but Cindy was irritated beyond measure just now by her timidity and subservience, by her toeing the line unquestioning, much as she, Cindy herself, was used to do.  That’s all they did, each woman of them, from Cindy down to the last poor female chit in the staff... 




2 comments:

  1. Nila, of course I haven't read all of this, but it's brilliant the way I see so many past WEP challenges here. I'll be back when I'm not collating emails LOL. Oh, I'm going to immerse myself in this December challenge and yours is a fabulous beginning! See ya later!

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    1. Yes, you have Denise, each one of them has been read and commented upon by you at the time of the first posting :) All written for the RFW and WEP...thought I'd bring the whole thing up to date for this milestone. The Dec Challenge is going to be a bonza, no kidding!

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