Fiction

Soulmates in the cabin

I like talking to the mute, or the gagged, they are the best listeners but they never keep still. I am therefore writing, for you my mute listener, the reader.

~

The clouds are back by the time I am done washing. I watch the water going down in the sink, the fading red looks as ugly as the greying sky. It will start raining soon, that persistent rain which mocks you. I hate this fucking place and it might be time to move on. Maybe I am getting old, I feel tired and sink into the chair, drinking whatever I get hold of. They all taste the same, probably because they are all the same. I stopped caring about these things long ago. A numbness fills me and then, maybe after a few hours because it looks darker outside, I am wrenched out of my place.

“Do you really have to kill me,” she asks in a voice that is cold, almost inhuman, one that feels simulated and if there is any inflection it is only in her eyes. They shine with the calm intensity of the insane.

She is bound to the chair that is now placed at the centre of the cabin, facing me. Avoiding those eyes I walk towards the table, which thankfully is still in its place next to the window. Grabbing a bottle that is not empty, well, almost empty, I take a swig at it and then notice the table is slightly askew. Maybe it is the window. This is the reason why people hate furniture. I have reinforced the front door with steel but the door to the bedroom is tearing apart. There are gaping holes from which, if you peer hard, you can see the white sheet on the bed. I hate this place, it stinks of death.

To answer her question, no I don’t have to kill her. I don’t answer though, it feels like a sin to talk to these soon to die people. No wonder they send a priest to the cells. I don’t have to but I will kill her. It’s something I love to do, and in my opinion, taking out a life from this world is a bigger accomplishment than bringing a new one into existence, the latter might seem noble but is absolutely unnecessary.

A new life comes blank, almost like a piece of meat, another errant drone to the already swarmed up planet. A thriving life on the other hand, is full of dreams, hopes, agony, stories, an uncertain future and such existential elements that suffocate the individual. Deep down we all want it to end, to not wake up to another morning, to not live another day of the future that would soon become our past. A past from which we won’t learn anything new. I am like, no not just like, but truly a messiah for these poor souls. You may think of me as one of your justice systems that condemn the proven guilty, the guilt I work with is about existence without a reason.

She moves the chair disturbing my line of thought, making me realize how I hate you, the reader who will undoubtedly judge me. But I must go on, not for my redemption but for your education and if I sound pretentious, it’s because I am not getting carried away with the story forgetting you.

She is looking at me without fear, something that’s unexpected. Fear is what drives me to do the honorable act, without it these people are no different than children and I have never killed, or could ever kill a child. Children won’t appreciate what they are being saved from, they need to grow up to digest the dose of enlightenment.

“Why are you staring at me like this, are you done sermonizing,” she asks, the same voice again.

I don’t answer but I can’t take my eyes off her. It’s as if not her words but her voice, or is it the eyes, that are asking me questions. I don’t like questions, they are like shackles that you know how to get out of but in the process you know you will lose a bit of yourself. I look expectantly into her eyes searching for that fear, instead what I see now is something that can only be called abhorrence.

Being intimidating is honorable, but being despised. It is base. It makes me feel little, insignificant like a worm, or a gruesome spider, an abomination that I am not. I hate her for this. But something about her checks even the hate spewing out freely. I take another swig, a generous one. Does it taste like tar, maybe it’s the sound of rain splattering against the glass.

“You are in trouble, ain’t you,” she asks smiling and in a smug voice now. “If you are not going to kill me, release me. Let’s run away from all this.”

“Where,” I ask, immediately hating myself for it. It was on impulse, and yes, I am in trouble because I have never been impulsive. She keeps smiling, but it doesn’t seem fake anymore.

“You are irritated because you have realized the futility of your life. There is just no justification, no martyrdom for you, no reason for anything, is there?” I pick up the gun and shoot into her eyes. Surprisingly, I miss and I have never missed before. She laughs and deservedly so.

“See what I mean? It doesn’t solve anything, you are as worthless as I am, except I have a clean conscience. You on the other hand,” she pauses to sigh, “You know what life is?”

“Beat it! I don’t want philosophy, save it for your admirers.”

But I know, I feel it deep down that she is right. At times she sounds too familiar. Outside there is thunder and it looks like it’s going to be a premature dusk, did I say I hate rain. I must get done with this fast and leave this cloud-ridden town. It seems like I am repeating. But that’s what I have been doing, repeating the act over and over again, all my life. The guns have changed and so have the people, both insignificant in their transience. I may be thinking of righteousness and glory, but who am I kidding. Glory has been found in many disreputable places, but it has never been found in a rut.

“Ok you want to know about death, is it?” She looks at me coldly, as if she won’t even waste her time judging me, unlike you.

“Death is the end,” I can’t help it, I look for another bottle to fill my mouth with whiskey if only to stop talking to this horrible woman. Thankfully there is a sound outside, of tyres screeching to a halt, it must be Chuck. I hate drama and people who act with flourish. A silence follows, and in it I move swiftly and untie her. Then opening the bedroom door, I switch off the light and watch her silently blend into the darkness.

He bangs hard on the door, the same antics. I take my time to open, he barges in brandishing a gun that looks too big for his hand, and seemingly with a purpose that’s too much for his brains.

“Did you take care of the body,” he asks trying to remain calm.

“No, but I will. Why are you here” I look towards the bedroom, his eyes follow.

“In there?”

“Yes, I like to fuck the dead.”

He looks taken aback, sick bastard.

“Don’t even, it’s in my car. Just go away.”

“Well, you better get done with it. I am taking over, but I don’t want to waste time or bullets on you, just make sure you go clean.”

“I have a gun too, you know.”

“And you are talking? Weird shit too. Your gun is a lost cause and you know it better than anyone.”

I can see her eyes smiling through the big crack in the door. Chuck seems alarmed.

“What is in there”

“Nothing,” I say finding her eyes irresistible, “and if you want to do it yourself, take these keys, it’s in my car. Go”

“I am sorry buddy, but I have to make sure you are not up to some sick game here, don’t want no tricks. I definitely don’t want to leave hot trails,” he points the gun at the door and fires three shots.

I love the sound, and the silence that follows, It is however interrupted by drops of water trickling down the roof. He looks at me with pride and starts walking towards the door.

“Don’t go in there,” I say it with such urgency that he stops, realizes what he has done and moves further.

“Don’t open the door,” I plead, but it’s unheeded.

He walks into the room and then I see him flying out as if pushed with a monstrous force. There is a look of dread in his eyes and the face is contorted in a fashion that no human language would have the words to describe it. I see a puny stream of red slowly flowing away from the head, but not as slow as the realization that creeps up within me as I find myself standing at the doorway. I drop the gun.

“Grotesque, isn’t it, why do they send us the frail,” she is standing next to me and looking intently at the body.

“You don’t have to do it you know,” I say, miserable.

“Are you tired of me, you want this to end?”

“No, but there are other ways.”

“Of course there are.”

She turns and wraps me in the familiar embrace. Everything starts to seem normal, I feel at peace. I can hear her thoughts echoing in me, and I know she knows it too, it’s like we don’t exist in this moment. I can feel her breath on my neck, she smells of whiskey. Or is it me, I look around.

“Do you want to tie me up again,” she asks with excitement, already on the chair.

It has started raining again. I hate the rain.

***

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Fiction

The legend of the dragon warrior

Princess Elizabeth never wanted to be a princess, at least not after she found out what it took to be a princess, and what more it took to be the princess of Camelot. She looked out of her window at the people below moving carefree, women without escorts, kids playing with reckless abandon and she wondered yet again how happily she would trade her life with theirs. Her vision traversed the walls of the castle and settled on the green wilderness. Something always stirred within her when she looked at the undulating meadows flanked by pines and the deciduous trees. But then the houses in the small clearings among the trees caught her eyes filling her with a sadness, if only these people were friendly she would have had a much different life.

The castle city was surrounded by barbaric chiefdoms all vying to get a piece of Camelot, its eggs in particular. Prosperity of the city was solely based on the unique breed of fowls it boasted of and which didn’t survive outside of the walls. The meat exports were soaring but it was the eggs that were sought for from faraway cities. Besides their exotic taste, they were of great nutritious value and didn’t rot over days, even in the hot weather making them conducive for long distance trade. Out of diplomatic and military pressure from the consumer cities, the clans provided safe passage to the traded goods to and from Camelot. They too gained in the process from taxes but each of the clans desired to rule Camelot one day.

The castle was made of rocks, a shade of greenish black like the volcanic rocks found in that region. With a spire rising high as if piercing the sky the palace looked formidable yet beautiful. The walls of the castle were however ill designed with many wings vulnerable due to the terrain of the surroundings. There were mounts looking down upon the castle at these places, providing enemies with vantage points and high ground to launch devastating aerial assaults. The reason Camelot still stands was not because of its valiant kings or a great army, both have always capitulated in the face of the most trivial of attacks. It is the fear and the legend of the dragon warrior that never failed to appear whenever Camelot had been at brink of annihilation. No one knows where it came from, or how and where it vanished after decimating the aggressors.

Elizabeth’s father Arthur was the last king, and for that matter the only king who ventured beyond the castle to put an end to the threat of the barbarians once and for all. There are many stories of his valor and victories but he never returned and became a legend himself. Some say he died fighting David, the hornbeam, the great barbaric regent. Some say he stayed too long among the heathen to become one of them and died from an unknown disease, but the most popular version is that he was the dragon warrior and having accomplished his work he went back to mother fire. Elizabeth grew up believing her father was a great man and that he was still alive, if she harbored the idea of him being the dragon warrior, it was deep within her heart rather than in her head.

Her favorite pastime in the confines of the palace was engaging in sword-fights and honing her skills at archery. She was raised by her mother who was a strict disciplinarian, ruling the city and her with as stern a face as any queen ever had. The queen was beautiful with chocolate hair, black eyes and a porcelain skin, everything about her was perfect and in correct proportion. Elizabeth, with her golden hair, green eyes and a nose that went red at every emotion came out too colorful to end any exercise on finding resemblances between the mother and daughter. This fueled the rumors surrounding her birth, of the king being away and the queen doing penance day and night in the temple, and then the unexpected birth of the princess one moonless night.

The only thing mother and daughter had in common was their love for the temple of the dragon warrior. Elizabeth was allowed to visit the temple once every month, the queen being queasy about her going out of the palace due to recurring reports of her planned assassination. No one wanted another queen, it suited neither the statesman within the castle not the clan chiefs outside who already feared the dragon and didn’t want, of all people, a woman leading the dragon. The temple was a huge structure at the centre of the city with the face of a dragon looking fierce with enormously large emeralds for eyes. The townsfolk claimed that the eyes glowed and came alive in the moonless nights but too bright to make eye-contact.

It was not the structure or the eyes which impressed the princess but the feeling of being at peace when inside the inner chamber. It had a small mound with a flat top that was popularly called as the egg basket in which you put flowers for good luck. The prevalent notion was that if dragon warrior accepted your offering and prayer it would bestow blessings upon you in the form of a golden egg. The queen was always uncomfortable when asked about the veracity of these facts. For answer, she always looked at her daughter dreamily till her eyes got all watery. As for the daughter, she didn’t care much for these stories because what mattered more was how safe she felt in the calming embrace of the cool air trapped inside the temple.

When she turned 25, there was a ceremony to initiate the process of matrimony after which suitors could come up and show why they were worthy of the princess. Maybe the inert dragon warrior will come as a suitor, maybe with his dragon, the princess dreamt. However, nothing of the sort happened and the clans which had been getting powerful over time blockaded anyone who desired to go to Camelot. She soon gave up on thoughts of elusive love and spent more time practicing various aspects of warfare, from the generals and the statesmen. To everyone’s surprise the clans united that year in order to attack Camelot yet again. People panicked and flocked to the temple, everyone looked up to the sky, not a speck was left unattended to. As expected, the dragon warrior didn’t appear. The army and the ammunition was prepared to be led by a queen for the first time in the history of Camelot.

Elizabeth’s protection and security was strangely tightened up by the queen in the wake of this development. It infuriated the princess who itched to go fight alongside the army. Instead as a compensation, she was allowed access to the small platform on the spire from which she could have a clear and panoramic view of the proceedings. The war started a bit too soon and she felt restless and helpless watching the walls starting to crumble as slowly and steadily the clans marched forward with their artillery, their beasts and contraptions overpowering the enervated defenders of the castle. She joined the citizens looking at the sky, not just hopefully like them, but with a determination that felt strange even to herself.

She was now certain her father, the dragon warrior will swoop down upon the enemies wrecking havoc and drawing cheers on the other side, she could almost feel the presence. Nothing of the sort happened even though she became more and more certain of the imminent event, the itch to be in the arena had now started to burn. She could hear the sounds of the horns used by the barbarians as a symbol of victory, and couldn’t stand the surge of energy that shook her body. She lost her poise and along with it her grip on the glinting metal of the spire, it felt like liquid in her hands and she plunged down with an alien force.

All she could see now was the eyes of the dragon warrior on top of the temple looking at her with it’s green fierceness. It instilled an unchecked wrath in her heart that flowed to every part of the body as she flapped her wings, nothing surprised her now as she rose looking at the enemy troops celebrating already having breached a few of the walls. The hatred brimming up inside her felt justified and she let it pour upon them, the green fire lighting up the sky and the land alike. A fire that consumed not just the armies and their bearings but every thought, every particle of her being, she was pure energy and then as abruptly as it had started she ceased to exist in an instant. The queen looking at the wondrous spectacle had tears in her eyes but a pride too. A pride befitting the mother of the dragon warrior, except she was not.

This post was written in response to the prompt
Mythical, from calmkate.

Standard
Fiction

When the roses turned orange – 2

[2]

He didn’t get a chance to talk to her for months after that, but he did see her face at the window more often in the mornings. Sometimes he stood there waiting till he saw her and nodded before he continued. There was no sign of the young man or of roses. The plant had taken up to looking like it’s surroundings. A scent of neglect wafted in the air. Kishan felt restless everyday as he passed the house. Many thoughts kept him occupied those days, maybe the young man was her husband and she keeps looking out of the window expecting to see him come any day. Maybe she is the daughter and not the daughter in law of the elderly couple, and her husband was in armed forces stationed in Kashmir. Maybe they were siblings, and her husband is a third person. But nothing happened beyond the thoughts.

Today is the collection day. He knocks at the door and waits. An unfounded dread fills him as he looks at the dying plant. When no one answers he goes around the house as if on impulse, maybe because this never happened before. Someone always answers at these houses. Instead of signs of life he finds a rusted tap and a plastic can. He fills it with water and waters the plant without thinking, it soothes his anxiety. The soil looks dead, almost plastered. He rushes back to his house to get a shovel and a bag of plant manure from the shop. Digging around the stem to loosen the soil, he mixes the manure and pats the soil back to level. There are no flowers but the plant has life, it will survive. He is pleased with himself and had almost forgotten about the people when the front door opens.

“You did a good job, Kishan,” she says looking sallow with sunken cheeks and a forced smile. A little girl stands hiding behind her dress.

“You surprised me madam, I knocked and knocked. Why didn’t you open. How are you, is everything ok? You don’t look well. Is your husband here.” He stops himself from saying more, the damage he realizes has already been done.

“I love the plant too,” she says in a weak voice looking at the plant.

His attention goes back to the upturned and healthy looking soil and he feels a happiness surging.

“You must be tired, do you want a cup of tea?”

“No madam, I must go. I will come tomorrow for payment.”

“Where do you have to go,” she says without emotion but with a confidence that startles him, “wait here I will make tea. Meanwhile Pihu will give you company, won’t you Pihu?”

Pihu giggles producing two tiny dimples. She seems to be happy at the turn of events. Does her mother have the same dimples, he wonders.

“Do you want to take a walk in the garden,” he asks more to the mother, who nods with the same forced smile.

The girl releases her mother’s hand and instantly grabs his and is already dragging him with all her might. He relents and follows the lead as she goes all over the garden. The weed must be grazing her legs but she shows no signs of discomfort, instead she laughs without reason. They spot an anthill that gives her a little scare and the loosening hold on his finger tightens. Kishan remembers someone saying that one’s children are reflections of one’s inner spirit. He feels good looking at Pihu. Maybe all she wants is to hold his hands and run into the wilderness, he dreams the impossible.

“Enough exploring,” mom shouts at them, “there might be insects or even snakes.”

She is sitting on a chair in the porch with a cup of tea. There’s another chair placed at the other end and next to it his cup of tea. He sits on the steps, sips the tea and says thanks.

“People have stopped caring. I was moved by your gesture at saving the rose plant.”

“Madam, are you well. Is everything ok?” He has not forgotten his earlier question and the way her focus shifts back to the plant tells him she hasn’t forgotten either.

“Do you have a family,” she asks instead.

“Yes, a son.”

“Oh I am sorry.”

“No need madam, she is not dead, and most probably not sorry either,” he says with a sardonic smile.

“You are right, they are not sorry,” she says, lost. “It’s not the moving caravan but the cactus that feels sorry for itself standing alone in the desert, deserted.”

“But the cactus survives in the desert, give it water and it will die.”

“Yes Kishan, sadly it does. Maybe what it wants is not water but company,” she lifts Pihu on her lap.

A cactus with a flower. He finds her looking at him, not angry because he has been staring, she doesn’t seem sad either. She just looks, with her keen eyes, as if not afraid of what she might find.

“Thank you madam, I will go now. Bye Pihu.”
Pihu says bye and waves, while mom nods and looks away.

[3]

Every month on the collection day, he now has the cup of tea on the steps while she sits on the chair and they talk. It is mostly about the resurgent plant, the desolate garden, Pihu and Rohan, the bookshop, and everything mundane till she interjects something odd, something poetic that makes both of them conscious. The other chair is always placed where it was the first day. He likes it’s presence. Sometimes the parents join, even though for namesake since they just listen with glazed expressions on their faces. But they too make sure the empty chair remains so. It makes him wonder if it is for him or the lost member of the family.

~

Years pass as these talks take a more philosophical and more personal tone, but it’s done with so much ease that he doesn’t feel embarrassed and she looks too happy to be bothered with implications. Life on her cheeks are back and her dresses are more colorful, at times he finds her nails painted and lips glossy. He wonders if she too looks forward to these meetings.

“Pihu went to std 1 this week, would you imagine,” she says with a mix of pride and tenderness.

“Rohan is in fourth but the school is not good, madam.”

He had been complaining a lot lately, about teachers scolding for no reason and bullies making it difficult for him at school.
“He is a bright kid, maybe that’s the reason why he is having troubles.”

“Why don’t you try the Army school, they have to take students from economically backward sections. I will get the forms.”

“That will be wonderful, our kids studying in the same school. I wouldn’t have even dreamt of it,” he says with a smile.

“Oh I know what you dream about,” she says playfully, a tone he often forgets she is capable of.

“Of roses?” he suggests and they laugh.

“Roses? I thought there was just one, do you see more,” she asks after a while, looking at the plant.

“This one is beautiful, and so full of life.”

She looks at him and agrees, “Yes, after years. Thanks to you.”

“I think there’s something in the soil, I have stopped adding manure long back.”

“It’s the love, plants feel it and are not ashamed to acknowledge.”

“You are probably right madam, we humans have many reservations,” and they look at the flower together, fighting the reservations.

“Call me Radha,” she says with an earnestness she reserved for the most important matters.

“Madam, is that your name?”

“Of course it is, do you think I will invent it to have fun.”

“Yes, you would.”

“Well it is Radha, and the joke is not just on you,” she says with a wry smile.

~

It’s the year of Rohan’s board exams, he studies hard, till late in the night. It amazes Kishan to find his son so determined and so full of ambition. He himself never had any ambition, he just followed wherever life took him. Rohan talks about going to IIT, about doing MBA, about Pihu who he insists in calling Neha. When he sees Kishan worried he assures him that studies can be funded with bank loans. But Kisha’s worries are not for finances, he has been saving over years. He now owns the newspaper distribution of the south part of the city, not because of his endeavors but because his employer never had a family and Kishan proved to be a worthy successor. The bookshop was flourishing too, people were reading more, everyone wanted education for their children. What worries him is Rohan’s ambitions, he knows it is good but ambitious people are never happy, and in their struggle to achieve more they end up hurting themselves and the people they love. He hopes Rohan doesn’t turn up like his mother.

He doesn’t have to go to people’s houses anymore, either for deliveries or collection. But he makes the monthly trip to the Cantt. Everyone knows him and he knows the secrets of many families, their joys and sorrows, their history. The last stop is invariably Radha’s house, she inherited the house along with ancestral property of the parents, as she still calls them. She never unveiled the mystery of the young man, the only thing he knows is that he didn’t get a share. The house looks the same though Radha has aged. If she was elegant before it is now highlighted by the grays, the high cheekbones have gone higher and the dimples deeper, but her eyes remain the same, distant yet longing ones.

~

“Rohan is going to join a sport-shoes firm, multinational he calls it. The pay scares me, but what scares me more is he is going to be a salesman, reminds me of someone.” Kishan says sitting on the steps with the cup of tea.

“You are too old to be sitting down, c’mon the chair wont bite.”

Kishan dismisses with a wave and looks at the chair. Maybe he could have moved on to the chair, but that phase and that window is now gone. He finds the steps comfortable, everything about his life is peaceful.

“You worry too much old man,” Radha says with an indulgent smile, “Pihu tells me they love each other and plan to get married soon, in the court.”

Kishan doesn’t like the idea of the no-frills wedding any more than Radha, he would have preferred to have a grand wedding. They have the money and not enough ideas on how to spend it. They give each other company in their helplessness around the only children, knowing their opinions wont count. The children might have gotten closer but Kishan sits as apart as he did since the first days of the acquaintance. The distance between him and Radha seems as unassailable as it was on the first day they talked, a distance that feels artificial, affected because they feel each other’s touch in every moment, every whim, every event in their lives.

“Our children are doing what we couldn’t do.”

“What do you mean by that,” she asks with some petulance.

“Fulfill our dreams that is,” he smiles.

“Yes, I hope they will be happier than us, and won’t need a plant for the roses to bloom.”

They look at the rose plant, now old but with new offshoots. The flowers look bright in the orange sun, it floods the porch too taking both of them in its wake, melting the distance between the chairs with its glow.

***

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Fiction

When the roses turned orange

[1]

Kishan realizes he has has woken up early, yet again, like he used to do when he had the job. He looks outside the window at the overcast sky, it makes him sleepy again. In order to avoid the ugly stare of the clock on the wall he switches sides disturbing the curled up boy who grumbles and then mumbles in his sleep.

“It has been more than a month,” Lakshmi says with a sigh and more than a hint of irritation. Kishan switches back so as not to see her face, she has been egging him for a confrontation since he lost his job in the shoe factory. But he isn’t in a mood. The clock ticks away with disinterest, a bit too loudly though. Maybe time is getting frustrated with him too.

Coming from a family of shoemakers he loved the work and had the skills too. He was perceptive and innovative at work unlike the migrant workers from neighboring states who had come looking for better jobs, or any job for that matter. Everything, including his life had come to a halt suddenly when the factory was closed down, apparently for violation of environmental norms. Kishan knew it was a sham, the real reason was politics, and change of fortunes between the two parties that ruled the state alternatively. He had to get a new job and even went to the other factories looking for one. The modern machines used in the bigger firms didn’t leave much to the imagination of the shoemaker, or the worker as they were now called. He had decided he would do some menial job instead of watching machines churning up shoes like broiler chicken. These new age people will never understand that every shoe has its own character, with either a minor flaw, or a special touch, a certain softness or a luster that stood out. Progress has killed the spirit of the shoe, and the individual too, now all that he finds are workers and shoes alike that seem artificial, identical to a perfection.

He gets up reluctantly and avoiding Lakshmi slips into the busy street, scouring for jobs again. The jobs had been getting scarce over time, today however he is determined and without giving much thought he settles for delivering newspapers in the morning and sitting in the books and stationary shop of the owner in the evenings. The pay, to start with, is at par with his earlier job but this involves cycling, a lot of it and early in the morning. Besides the two apartment complexes where he could use elevators, he had to cover the whole of Cantt area where the retired men from armed forces had bought big pieces of land and thus houses, with beautiful gardens, were plenty and spaced apart. He didn’t mind the exercise, for a shoemaker he had an athlete’s body with strong bones, understated but but strong muscles and a high forehead that gave him the appearance of someone who had more promise than what he delivered.

The first week was exhausting, but he saw less of Lakshmi. She had been complaining about his choice of jobs. It’s her friends and family who she has to answer, she says. If there was any love left after Rohan, it had been ebbing away from him towards her friends, who kept her occupied till late evenings. The second week brought news of Lakshmi having an affair with a man who was a salesman of a reputed shoemaking firm and often visited the city. The third, of her missing from home one afternoon when he returned tired from the deliveries. The fourth week confirmed her exodus from the stagnant life to a life full of promise and travel, something she always wanted. Kishan however loved Lakshmi, he always blamed himself and his inability to keep her happy for the coldness that had crept into their relationship. He was heartbroken, and remained so for a few days till Rohan asked about his mother.

“She went with her fairy,” he makes up a story with his mother finally finding a fairy to take her to wonderland. “She had no choice but to leave, you just can’t say no to fairies. Also, she couldn’t take them with her because every person has a unique fairy,” he consoles a skeptical Rohan. “One day your fairy will find you too, till then you have to be a good boy.” He had to tell the story every night. Guided by the motivation to make it convincing to a boyish brain, it grew less fairy like and more magical and fantastic over time. Along with his son he too started believing in the story and shared the happiness and wonder for the lucky mother.

He had to bring his son to the shop in the evenings for there was no one to take care of him back home. Being a quiet and well behaved boy he was not only allowed to move around the shop but he impressed the owner so much that he was lended books with pictures, those expensive ones to read. Nothing made him more happy than watching his son reading with all attention, lost in the world of books, much different from his father’s.

If anything came close to this, it was the exhilarating feeling that went over him as he went cycling in the Cantt, the canopied roads flanked by mahua trees with old banyans at intervals. Most of the houses had big gardens tended to by gardeners while the old watched and gave instructions. Among the beautiful houses there was one that stood apart, like a black sheep. With an unkempt garden and the walls painted in a shade of worn out gray, it looked drab except for the plant of red roses that seemed to be misplaced, like a queen overlooking a destroyed kingdom. Behind the plant was a window that faced the gate, with glass panes reaching almost to the floor. Kishan always paused for a second in front of the gate, to admire the flowers, the stark contrast and sometimes he felt like he saw a face in the window looking back at him.

At the beginning of every month he had to collect the payments which led to familiarity over pleasantries. In a few months Kishan was at the listening end of stories, anecdotes of knee pain and fragile hips, wistful tales of grandchildren and disconcerting complaints about offsprings. The rose house owners were an elderly couple with stern faces and a constrained vocabulary unlike their neighbors. They had a son who looked young for his age and was handsome, even jovial as he made jokes about Kishan’s moustache. But his appearances were rare, and only on weekends. So he was surprised when he was greeted by a face that wasn’t stern or facetious, of a lady who reluctantly returned his smile, a smile that had formed inadvertently and inappropriately. She had a baby girl in her arms who looked like an overgrown fruit because of its color and the clothing.

“My parents have gone for health checkup. Here is your money,” she said looking at him questioningly.

“Namaste madam, I am Kishan. I saw your face behind the window many times.” He knew he was going beyond the acceptable etiquette, but he was out of control like a bicycle with a dislocated brake. “Beautiful! the roses, I mean..” He found himself fumbling with words and took the money and left.

At the gate, he looked back to find her staring at him surprised and then she turned to look at the plant.

She was beautiful, not in the way Lakshmi was but beautiful with an easy elegance as if she was aware of it but didn’t give it much importance. Kishan laughed at himself on harboring thoughts that were alien to him, maybe because they were about a woman who was not Lakshmi, he never dreamt of the impossible. But scoffing at himself or pedaling faster than his heart, couldn’t shake off the giddiness, the smile left his face but settled itself in the wrinkles around his eyes.

When the roses turned orange – 2

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Love, silence and a few words… (8)

“Can you drop me at my place,” Nikhil asked, realizing immediately that it must have sounded well rehearsed.

“Yeah sure,” said Megha, mildly surprised and then led the way to the car. When she was about to start the car, Nikhil said Wait with some command. As she turned to ask why, she found him leaning towards her and then he pulled her towards him. Their mouths were now almost grazing each other as they looked into each other’s eyes, none making a move. Nikhil was trying to think what to do next, without much success. He felt intoxicated by the smell of Megha, or probably it was her perfume. It was strong and spicy reminding him of exotic flowers he hadn’t smelled before, a smell of love maybe. With her heart trying to beat its way out of her body, Megha couldn’t keep herself in check and kissed him with a passion as if this was their last kiss before they parted for good.

“Keep quiet and drive,” interrupted a heavy voice. It went unheeded till Nikhil was knocked back to his seat, too swiftly for him to react. Megha screamed but no sound came out as she was dealt in the same manner and instantly lost her
consciousness. Nikhil could hear the frantic discussion as if happening in a big hall far away and he saw two guys moving Megha to the back and a third taking the wheel. He tried to turn around to look if she was safe but the pain in his neck moved downwards as if piercing the spine fading out his vision.

“Drink” commanded the youngest member of the trio holding a dirty bottle of water. He looked too young for the job, probably just entered his teens. There was however no trace of nervousness on his part. Nikhil touched the back of his neck to check the pain which had subsided and was now a periodic throb. Megha was huddled close to him on one side and a heavily built guy was sitting on the other side. The mobile phones were gone along with their wallets, which were being investigated by the man in a white turban whose was at the wheel.

“Four ATM cards and three credit cards,” he said in a gruff voice startling Nikhil and Megha.

He looked back and continued, “ok so here is what you two will do, we will stop at the relevant ATMs, you go inside and take out the cash as much as the withdrawal limits allow.” He sounded like a man who was used to giving orders, definitely the leader of the pack.

“Any smart moves on your part will be dealt with smarter moves,” he said as if remembering something he had forgotten. Then in a satisfied tone, he added “not that you look smart.”

“Madam looks classy though,” said the schoolboy turned gangster. I looked at Megha who was looking at him wide-eyed as if in wonder, or maybe it was fear.

“Don’t harm us, we will get you the money,” Nikhil managed to keep anxiety out of his tone. The leader brandished a gun with a smug look, one of those locally manufactured ones that had the reputation of misfiring in the hands of the shooter after the first few shots. This one looked new and had a shine, most probably still virgin. Nikhil’s thoughts were interrupted by Megha’s hands as they surreptitiously slid into his.

Megha was scared out of wits, till now she had been reading and fretting over the news of such crimes, which had in the recent times become more frequent and more violent. She felt the need to be brave and to stay composed but as soon as Nikhil had addressed the abductors and she saw the gun, she succumbed to the wave of panic, sinking and in the need of holding on to something she clasped Nikhil’s hands. Nothing happened though, the leader was at the wheel with the boy next to him. No one spoke, especially the third who sat next to Nikhil on the other side. He seemed to have something concealed under the loose end of his white turban that fell below his chest. They were driven to the ATMs followed by the inconspicuous companion, the only thing that betrayed his presence was the feel of something poking at their back, something of metallic hardness.

The leader seemed satisfied with the proceedings but the young man fidgeted and kept whispering into the leader’s ears. A firm and audible No after a few minutes put an end to the whispering and schoolboy now sat sulking, intermittently looking back at them, with malice. The silent guy had an ominous air around him, silence in such situations being more scary than the scariest of the words. He looked disinterested, and looked out of the window on his side into the dark of the night and the deeper dark of the bushes growing wild next to the road that were whizzing past. Megha too kept checking on him with furtive glances, he seemed composed enough to be cold-blooded.

They drove around the outskirts of the city, driven with a precision on the locations of the ATMs, even the guards on duty appeared to give subtle nods when they saw the leader. These locations were however far apart, it took long and made them stop to refuel. They were asked if they needed tea or something to eat. Schoolboy not keen on hearing negatives brought a bottle of water and gave it to Megha with an awkward smile that made him look shy. He quickly went away and didn’t look back.

As the night progressed, Nikhil and Megha started to relax and wished for the ordeal to be over soon. The only doubt that lingered was if they will be left unharmed once all the cards were done. Holding each others hands and sitting close so as to keep as much distance from the silent one, they thought about the kiss. Nikhil felt the urge to kiss her again, it would definitely scandalize these guys. Did he really want to kiss her again, he felt the awkward dissatisfaction creeping in. Now that he was with her and going through this drama, which would only make their bond stronger, he felt disinterested. It was much better when he had no hope, was being scorned. Reciprocated love leaves you with the same taste of success that you get when you achieve something only to realize you could have aimed for more. Megha remembered and regretted being reckless but then maybe it was their last kiss, she didn’t want to think of the kiss, of Nikhil or love, all she wanted was to get out of the situation alive. She remembered the news story of the victim getting hacked to pieces, would people be able to find which piece was her and which Nikhil. It will be a shame to die like this, like poultry. She needs to do something about her life, she thought. If Nikhil brought anything good it was the sense of new beginnings, of possibilities, she had been giving up on things a little too soon.

Once the last card was used they stopped on the service road next to the highway and everyone got out of the car. They were all looking at the leader to say something, but he took his time, probably enjoying the attention. He just stared at Megha and Nikhil.

“I know where you live,” the leader spoke finally ending the suspense, “so don’t attempt to tell anything to the cops, not that it matters because we also know where the cops live.” He winked at his mates, the schoolboy returned the gesture slyly but not a muscle on the silent killer moved. Maybe he was plotting to take over the reigns. He would make a better leader, one who is unreadable, unpredictable.

“We won’t and you have got your money, please let us go,” Nikhil pleaded.

“Can we have the car back,” he added as an afterthought and ended in pain as Megha nudged him hard with her elbow.

The leader laughed and the silent one turned to look at Nikhil. Schoolboy took a step or two but was held back by the leader who said, “Now that you have been treated like one you have started to feel like a hero, is it?”

“No, no, I mean sorry,” Nikhil blabbered, “please don’t kill me, us.”

“Ok, but you need to be taught some manners,” came the harsh, booming voice of the silent one surprising everyone. The leader started laughing heartily and the schoolboy joined in after some hesitation. Nikhil relaxed and started wondering where they were, looking around. Megha’s eyes were however glued to the three and she knew something was going to happen, something bad. She wanted to warn Nikhil but he seemed to be lost in his world gazing at the nothingness around. Just then in a flash, the silent one snatched the gun from the leaders hands and shot at Nikhil. As if in reflex, Megha dived taking Nikhil down with her. She heard the gunshot, a little too loud than how she thought gunshots should sound, and a pain shot up in her knees as she passed out.

There was a hint of sun in the sky beyond the weedy bushes as Megha woke up and saw Nikhil lying next to her holding his head in a hand soaked in blood. He wasn’t moving, she shuddered and passed out yet again.

~

Nikhil woke up on a bed that reeked of hospital disinfectants and found GD and Sameer looking at him with knowing smiles. Shruti stood a little behind in disheveled hair that made her look a bit scary. He spotted a drop of tear running down her face as he smiled back at all. Megha walked in looking more pretty than she, with a smile that radiated love and leaned down to kiss him. Nikhil tried to rise up but was held back by the pain on the left side of the head, he touched instinctively. The left ear was bandaged, gone. He started panicking when the still smiling, angelic Megha leaning over him said in the softest voice he had ever heard that she loves him. He was now sure this was heaven as he got woozy and Megha turned into Shruti, with a pensive yet eager face. He fought the creeping delirium and realized that the faces were not transforming in his mind but he was looking at Shruti and then something snapped, he relapsed into a blissful sleep.

~

Megha woke up with a start at the sound of the alarm. The alarm didn’t last beyond the third beep as it was deftly snoozed. Yet again. Why does he set the alarm on weekends when all he wants to do over the weekend is to go to the mall and watch movies. She wasn’t going anywhere today and she wont relent, with a resolute happiness she went back to sleep.

The mall was crowded for no apparent reason. It seemed the whole city had poured in having found nothing better to do. The little boy was restless being held back by his mom. He wanted to run between the people, it was like a maze and just too tempting. He soon found his moment when mom leaned towards dad to say something. Running into the crowd he looked back with glee, he loved getting chased by his parents. When he finally managed to get hold of the imp, Nikhil was out of his breath, at least none of it to spare in scolding the incorrigible brat.

“You should do something about your ears, I can’t always shout or talk into them,” came an annoyed yet sweet and mellifluous voice.

“You never say much and I give up after a few words whenever we sit down to have a conversation,” she now sounded bitter, and yet the voice felt soothing as ever.

“But Shruti, if I do that I won’t be able to love you every time you say those few words you manage to say.”

They smiled at each other, a private smile that didn’t impress their son. He kept tugging and pulling his hands away from the grip.

*****

Click here if this post didn’t make sense

Previously: Love, silence and a few words…(7)

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From a crack in the wall, continued…

The wall looked more beautiful today, maybe it’s the same but in his relief at finding it again, establishing that it was not a figment of his imagination that was making it seem enchanting. Breathing heavily, Tam reached the stream and closed his eyes thinking of cold refreshing water and he was granted enough to soak him to the burning heels. He tried milk, honey, wine and it worked every time.

To test further, he tried ice-cream but nothing happened. It probably works only for liquids, he thought, examining the surface of the wall. It was made of layers of multi-colored rock, formed it seems over thousands of years. He touched a layer that seemed pink and the surface came off like butter kept out over a warm night. It smelled sweet and when he tasted it with the tip of his tongue he couldn’t believe it was strawberry ice-cream. Licking it he felt it was the best strawberry icecream he has ever had, maybe second best. The best was when he had done well in school his father had taken him out for the first time for a treat. He was so happy but when he had looked at his father there was a disappointment, he had potential and could have done better he was told.

Something flickered on the rock above. He stepped back to get a better view and couldn’t believe his eyes, his father’s face was looking down at him more real than how he was imagining it, and it had the same disappointed look. Tam was spellbound and he waved stupidly, the father on the rock surface seemed surprised and waved back smiling. Could he ask just about anything he desired from the wall. He thought of the woman who he fell in love the first time in his life, though she never did. The picture immediately changed to a version of woman as he often dreamt of, with the exact seductive look on her face and the revealing clothes. This made him think of his wife and kid, he felt pity as he was sure she would be tending to their son besides doing all the chores he didn’t do. The image of his wife, frustrated yet working flashed immediately.

Thoroughly intrigued and excited, he decided to get to the bottom of this wall, or the top. Climbing however wasn’t an option due to the steep angle and lack of foothold. He walked into the ferns that flanked the sides, walking parallel to the wall and finally found an opening. As soon as he was on the other side, the scene transformed into a barren expanse, there was sound of machinery coming from the top. The wall on this side looked like a contraption with thousands of chambers dug out into the rock. Each chamber had a miniature Tam working on a piece of machine protruding out of the wall, with a slot from which a retractable appendage seemed to be coming out with instructions. The Tams appeared sad when idle and looked furtively at the glass windows separating the chambers, the slits on the windows were closed. It was as if they were afraid of seeing one another. As soon as the protruding limb came with a command the Tams got busy, with a sense of purpose.

Some of the chambers had people in it. Peering hard he could make out his father in one, irritated by the Tam questioning him, when all he seemed to be wanting was to go off to sleep. There was one with the toddler sitting ignored while the Tam looked unhappy with having nothing to do. There was one with the seductive woman who was being made to wear clothes she hated. His wife in another chamber looked forlorn as she worked to fill the vessel with wine, or was it milk. There was a chamber with books on a table and its Tam was reading something and typing into a keyboard.

Tam couldn’t decide on a single emotion or response to the scene, he kept looking at it mesmerized till he spotted a sleeping miniature Tam in one of the chambers towards the top. He was being prodded by the probe which finally managed to wake him up.

Tam woke up and realized he was late for work. He looked at the window with the shades closed and had an urge to think about his life, and what it all meant, but he shuddered at the thought and got up, eager to go to work, there was too much of it piled up already.

This post was written in response to the writing challenge From a Crack in the Wall. I have not conformed to the word limit because try as I may, I am not cut out for flash fiction. When I sit down to write a story, I try to emulate the great and immerse myself in it, most of the time this is forced but I notice the stories eventually manage to get out of my hands and flourish on their own.

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Love, silence and a few words…(7)

Megha had come back from the wedding, single, drunk and happy, with an annoyed Ma. Ignoring her, she directed her thoughts to Sameer. He was such a nice guy, the type who can’t help being a gentleman even when they are encouraged to be not so gentle. The way he was pitching hard for his friend in love was cute, more so as he got more drunk and more inarticulate. He might have been naive but he managed to make Megha think about Nikhil seriously. Nikhil, from what he has been apparently confessing to his friends, did seem serious about her. Also, now that she wasn’t his colleague, Megha argued with herself, she might as well meet the guy, if only to understand what he finds so attractive about her. It will be like an adventure, she thought. This attraction could be solely based on the lure of the taboo. Falling in love with an older woman, and one’s boss at that qualifies as taboo, especially in today’s world where people spend more time in the office than outside. Well, if she fell in love with Nikhil it would be equally taboo, not to mention the shock it would cause on the caste crazy Bansals.

Thrilled with these thoughts, she dialed Nikhil’s number.

Nikhil couldn’t believe when he saw Megha calling, he paused for a while and decided to stay calm and not let his excitement put off Megha.

“Hi Megha, how are you.”

“Hi Nikhil, do you still love me?” She giggled.

“Don’t make fun, you know that so well. We are destined to be together, who would have thought Sameer and you will get together in the manner you did.”

“Yeah the Gods want us to be together, the least we could do is to go on a date.”

“Yes. We must, now?”

“Of course not, let’s meet in the evening, and please stop being so desperate.”

“See ya,” he said and disconnected to show he wasn’t desperate, at least for more conversation.

Nikhil couldn’t think of anything to do till evening, he tried rehearsing what to say but didn’t like what he came up with. There was also an uncertainty creeping in, did he really love Megha or was this a passing fancy like the many he had after Shruti. Unlike his past relationships that were based on mutual attraction, this was an initiative taken by him. There were no sparks and the only chemistry was what happened in his heart as he thought of Megha, a love that transported him away from the world as he faced her only to be wrenched back by the resounding voice. Maybe he could ask her to speak softly. At least the flaw was behavioral or probably physiological. With Shruti it was hypersensitivity, of being unreasonably emotional for which he had no solution but to plead or agree with her on things he felt strongly about. Why do women have one flaw that you can’t ignore. Shruti used to answer that by calling him shallow, and she was probably right, delving deep into women was too much effort. Megha was much more mature than the women of his past, it gave him hope, of the type that comes with some vexing uneasiness.

Megha hummed a tune she thought she had forgotten as she debated on the appropriate makeup, she couldn’t remember the song. Mayank was good at guessing the song from her humming, he was bad at singing and she bad at guessing. She thought they were perfect and then the songs faded away in the space each demanded of the other. She wanted to grow professionally while Mayank, who was doing well at work, wanted more time with friends, those that he had been neglecting. This space that Mayank wanted turned out to be filled with whiffs of floral perfume and a silence that kept growing till it pervaded every nook and corner of the house. Sometimes it had felt as if both were helpless in front of this silence and their meek attempts to fill it ended up losing to the inane drone from the TV. She never figured out why Mayank lost interest in her, what did she do or not do to repel him away. He never gave a satisfactory answer frustrating her even more, to the extent that it made her leave him for good. She scoffed at herself, getting ready to meet her young irrational lover, like the Megha of those days would have done if she saw her now. Maybe Mayank had no answer and he just drifted apart without knowing why, maybe there are no explanations, just like she couldn’t explain why against all her instincts, she was going to meet Nikhil. The little voice in her head asking these questions had over time taken a back seat while a valiant resurgence intended to defeat the all the deafening silence around her had grown to significance.

Nikhil reached the venue a little too soon, in a cab as his car was out for service. Finding a cab on the weekends was getting difficult with most people preferring cabs over driving themselves. The place Megha had chosen was a little away from the city, one of the garden restaurants that were filling the suburbs.

“Hi Nikhil”, Megha beamed, reminding him of how she did that every Monday when Nikhil came to her office with the answers to the emails ready for her to send across.

“Hi Megha, you look beautiful,” Nikhil said marvelling at how the color of her skin matched the color of the table top.

“So, you really do love me.”

“How is everything at the office,” she asked cutting off Nikhil who was on the verge of saying something, wondering if it was a question or an acknowledgement.

“I haven’t been to the office after you left, the HR have been trying to contact me and getting frustrated I would guess,” Nikhil said relieved that they were off the topic.

“Oh, you must go, all the projects would have been stalled,” Megha checked herself and smiled, “I know. Fuck the projects!”

They laughed and the conversation moved on to Sameer, the wedding night and Kasol, in which Megha was very interested and asked for details. It was easy talking to her, unlike what he had anticipated.

“It’s amazing how life takes you to new places and people and yet you keep looking backwards at your past that has lost all its novelty,” Megha said thoughtfully after having listened to the details of Nikhil’s trip. She felt happy and Nikhil seemed to be so great at talking, and telling stories, something she would have never guessed. He looked thinner and now that she was evaluating looks and not his work he seemed to be more attractive than intelligent. It was pleasing to know that an attractive guy thought she was pretty. She decided it was enough exhilaration for a first date and called it a day.

Love, silence and a few words… (8)

Previously: Love, silence and a few words…(1-6)

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