Posted in Fiction

The One That Got Away

Their conversations often bordered on the realm of surreal dreams, tentatively dipping into the exhilaration of uncertainty with bated breath. The short sentences were thrown back and forth with agility – stinging, soothing, keeping one alive. She often felt like this was where it was all supposed to begin and end and begin again, like the point where the curves of infinity met in this two-dimensional world of words. And in the real world, that point became an endless pole, the axis of her existence.

“I do not really want you to be happy, you know”, she murmured.

“Why do you say that?”

“I guess I am selfish that way. You aren’t entitled to happiness if the source is not me”

He laughed. She noticed how his eyes were a mix of brown and blue, like the end of the horizon where the earth met the skies. She could easily walk to the end of the world, if they were the destination.

“A bit of a burden, isn’t it? To be solely in charge of a person’s happiness?”, he asked playfully.

“I suppose so..”, she paused, “Especially when I have been so bad at it”

“It hardly seems fair then, when you acknowledge you are incapable”

“Nothing is fair. So why should this be? And anyway, it is all your fault.”

“Of course it is”, he laughed again.

She tried to remember what his laughter sounded like. She wasn’t quite sure anymore. Did it ring shrill against the wind, or bounce off the walls, or send waves of deep baritones that vibrated against her being? She couldn’t really say.

Of late she had started thinking of him constantly as the one that got away, and of their paths as being ridden with a series of unfortunate events of their own making. Who knew choices of youth would haunt you as an adult?

“Isn’t it funny how we all seem to be living different versions of the same life?”

“What do you mean by that?”, he asked, “Is this another of your discourses on non-duality?”

“No.. but I suppose you could think of it like that”

“What did you mean, then?”

“You know how we talked about how we go through the same motions again and again, over the years? The same lingering sorrows, the same insecurities, playing out in a loop?”

“Yeah”

“Well, it occurred to me how we are all doing simply that, as a society. Every person’s story has the same arc, lined with the same mistakes, the same regrets, the same desires to go back and change everything. We wish to re-write our stories, to tread a different path, and are so self-occupied to realize that our lives are recurrently playing out in front of us. Evolution has brought us technology and high-rises, and yet we are exposed as ever to heart-break.”

He looked amused. “An evolutionary cure for heart break. That will surely lead to a brave new world.”

She ignored the pun. “They ought to teach this in schools. How not to mess up your life. How not to jeopardize something rare and precious. How not to get tangled in a web of wrong decisions, and spend a lifetime trying to set them right.”

“So basically, self-help books in the school curriculum.”

“No! Not… It’s… You always ruin everything.”

If life could be thought of as a giant decision tree, she knew the nodes where things went wrong. The wayward phrases, the rash comments. The impulsive resolutions taken for self-preservation that ironically heralded what it hoped to avert. She took their story apart and looked for ways to put it back together, leading to the right ending this time. Maybe if this message never got sent? Maybe if she called to say she was coming? Maybe if she were better at letting out her feelings, or hiding them? Maybe if she trusted him a bit more? Maybe if she trusted herself a bit more? But no matter how hard she tried, they refused to line up, refused to give her the reality she wanted. In every path she took, he continued to remain a relic, a requiem. She fought against the tide of moments rushing past her, searching for alternative trails.

Will you travel in time with me? Perhaps we can go forward and change the endings. And thereby the beginnings.”

“Would it help?”

“I am not sure anymore”, she sighed.

“You are never sure about anything, are you?” He sounded bitter.

She felt a small storm of indignation rise in her heart. “Well, it is all your fault after all

“Why do you keep saying that??”

“Because it was you all along, wasn’t it.”

“What was me?!”

“Who never wanted to stay in the first place.”

She took in a sharp breath as it hit her; why the pieces couldn’t line up, why he always remained a relic.

He wasn’t the one that got away. He was the one that chose to leave.

Posted in Fiction

Story-Picking

His stories seldom carried names. They were like pieces of a puzzle, without definitive timelines or protagonists, just flashes of bright colours and emotions on a wordy canvass. They fell dangerously from his lips, as if cast to the wind with abandon – a million wispy seeds of a dandelion drawn from every bright yellow memory.

She liked catching hold of them as they came her way and trying to put them together. Fit them as well as she could, so it’d feel like she was right there with him, looking on when each moment happened. Like on the nights he spent under the purple stars or wandering the streets of a distant city with a pretty woman. She wondered if it could be thought of as treachery, this stealing of another’s nostalgia and making them your own.

Sometimes it irked her that the people were nameless and faceless. The scenes in her head were splotched at best, with the hues a bit runny and the textures mostly grainy, and the sounds quite muffled – you could never tell if the laughter that sprang up at the beach and the hills belonged to the same person, or if the shadow with the silver trinkets had eyes of gold or of green. But at other times, she felt relieved that he stuck to pronouns. Names made people too real, too important, and she preferred to think of them as expendable characters who didn’t really matter at the end of the day. Like the crowds at concerts who exist only to create a blurry background for your excitement. Names meant he cared enough to give them identity and carry them carefully from one story to the other; like their presence in that space made all the difference. And that wasn’t something she liked to think about. She preferred to let these fall to the ground. The lines were too stark for her to merge into them, and she always felt the faces frowning at the intrusion, letting her know she didn’t belong, reminding her their moments aren’t hers to hoard. She pushed back a twinge of jealousy and waited for him to speak.

“Did I ever tell you about..”, he began.

She shook her head no, and spread her arms wide, ready for another night of story-picking.

Posted in Fiction

The Miracle

He was busy comparing the numbers when the call came. He ignored the rings. The numbers.. those were more important. He would show them, of course. His wife and his daughter who thought that they could make him look like a fool and get away with it.

“So what if I liked buying lottery tickets?”, he muttered to himself.. “They smirk and laugh behind my back as if I’m an idiot. ‘Look at the statistics..’ ‘look at the odds..’ well, I say the odds are pretty damn great if I buy enough tickets!”

The odd win altered his confidence in a way that the thousand fails did not. He would obsess over the numbers, absolutely sure that he would one day win that million. Oh yes, he was sure. Perhaps it was the straw that he grasped at, knowing that nothing else he did could bring back everything he plundered and ruined; that he did not have the skills or the heart to work his way up the ladder like the common man, not toil from rags to riches.. oh no, of course not. He was nothing short of royalty, and that is what he would be again, once he won his million, and reclaimed all that he lost.

Once he won. It would be the miracle he needed to show the world. He knew that he would, and so he picked at the numbers again.. ticket after ticket, staring at the numbers that never matched anywhere. The miracle was still at bay.

The phone rang again, and he picked it up furiously, irritated at the bunch of paper that refused to turn into gold in his hands.., and then went still.

What was that.. his daughter? What about his daughter?

Dead?

Dea..

It was all very blurry. The funeral, the crowd, the nods, the sighs. Perhaps it rained a little. Perhaps it didn’t. Perhaps it was too sunny. He couldn’t say. It was too bright and too dark to tell.

And somehow it was still darker a few days later when another call came through.

“What was that.. a million..??”

“Yes, sir. Your daughter had named you as the sole nominee for the term insurance cover, hence the lump sum amount goes to you. There are some formalities of course. If you could please come over to our office, we could start… hello??”

Posted in Fiction

Yawns

You’ve all heard the story of big old Yawn, haven’t ya?

No??!

Well, well then.. gather around.

I’d start the story off by saying ‘Once upon a time, there lived a big old Yawn..’, but of course, it wouldn’t really be true, cuz they are all still alive. On yes, very much. Anyhow, I guess I should stick to convention.

Once upon a time, there lived a big old Yawn. He didn’t look like much, just like all of ’em other Yawns.. a thick grey mouthstache and a pair of ’em blue spectacles I suppose.. truth is, no one really knows what Yawns actually look like. We fall asleep way before we get a good look!

So, you know what Yawns do don’t ya. They are the helpers of Sandman, of course. Like Santa’s little elves. But then, Santa has only gotta work once in a year. It’s not an easy job going around putting little kids to sleep EVERY DAY, ya know.

Especially those little rascal toddlers that never go to sleep. But of course, there is no kid out there that Yawns cannot take care of. First, they take a massive breath in.. and with that they draw in all the tired energy from the kiddos.. and the kiddos feel all light and cool all at once. And then, before they know what hit them, they are literally blown over and away by a long loud yawn – a magical breeze that draws your eyes shut before you know it.. and as it washes over their tiny bodies, they get find themselves in the tales of secret Neverland that the rest of us adults never get to go to anymore..

Hmm..

Okay now, where was I? Ah yes, big man Yawn.. well you see, he..

Hello?

Hehe. Oh my darling sweet things, looks like the Yawns have done their magic already.

Nighty night, y’all. Guess that tale is for another night..

Posted in Fiction

Fireworks For Christmas

Shops glowed with Christmas lights as she walked down the street. Large posters everywhere announced special discounts on overpriced goods. People moved past in a hurry clutching bulging packages rustling with crispy newness. Joy is in the air, sang some elves stationed outside a toy store, with Santa nodding in agreement. She eyed them with dispassion. Festive seasons always brought out the cynic in her. Ballyhoo of goodwill on prescribed dates struck her as ridiculous. Humbug, she muttered, siding with Scrooge.

It was then that the world erupted in colors. Fire dragons flew from a lone roof top to burst into flames in the sky. Little phoenixes rose from them, coloring the night glittery red, green and yellow. The clouds crunched under their wings splitting the stillness. A child laughed. Something stirred. As she watched, the glimmer faded into a bokeh of memories. She stood still, remembering.

Christmas Eve. 21 again.

They walked around in the park adjacent to the sea, hand in hand, oblivious to everything else. The cool night air was still and soothing, like his whispers in her ear. Her quiet laughter fell like dew drops into the silence, discerned by him and no one else. They walked on forever, for in love every moment is eternity in itself.

She was the one who noticed the abandoned boat, half hidden by the foliage. It lay against the sand and reeds, just brushing the water, oars interspersed with the waves like fingers refusing to let go. It welcomed them without stirring. Side by side on the wooden thwart, she felt him graze her arm. She looked up at him with the hint of a blush on her cold cheeks. He pushed aside an untamed strand of her hair and held her face in his left hand. Across the shore, the sky became a flurry of hues. The last thing she saw before closing her eyes was a blur of golden sparks, before the feel of his lips simulated the same in her head and the world ceased to exist.

She opened her eyes 42 years later and smiled. Yes, joy was in the air.

Posted in Fiction

Red Bangles

This is something I penned for a short story writing competition some years back. The topic/prompt was Tears. It seems rather amateurish to me now, but I figured I’ll  post it anyway.

He saw her almost every day.

Not all of her of course. Now an outstretched hand with the blood red bangles, now a glimpse of the blue dupatta that waved at him in the wind. Sometimes the mere tinkling of her anklets as she ran down the street would suffice.

Every day as he walked home in the evening, he would linger there, right between the paanwala’s den and the cheap dhaba that sold much sought-after fly-ridden chaat , waiting till she appeared. And on some days she would not, even after he sacrificed three rupees on the dirty snacks as an excuse.

It was on a day such as this that he finally decided to venture into the dark alley that he knew only as her home. But a few wary steps later, his courage gave out. He was just about to turn around when –

“Hey, you!”

It was with a start that he located the voice. There she was, peering from a doorway. She of the blood red bangles and the blue dupatta. He noticed she had pretty eyes as she smiled.

“Hey you”, she repeated. “What are you doing here?”

He hesitated. Took a deep breath.

“Hi, I am Rahul. Can I be friends with you?”

She laughed, a tinkling sweeter than that of her anklets. The friendliness in her eyes gave way to curiosity.

“Why do you want to be friends with me?” she asked

“Well”, he began in a matter-of-fact tone,”I don’t have anyone my age where I live, and I see you every day on my way back from  school, so I thought maybe you can be my friend”

“Hmm..”, she said, considering the offer.”How old are you?”

“Turning 10 this summer”, he replied proudly.

“Then I’m afraid I’m a bit older than you”, she reasoned.

“Oh that’s okay”, he said. “I really like you, so I can make an exception.”

“I guess we are friends then”, she smiled again.

Rahul beamed. He was finally talking to.. wait –

“What’s your name?”

It was her turn to hesitate.

“Ch.. Charu”, she said, looking away.

He seemed pleased with the name.

“So what class are you in?”, he asked

“Oh, I don’t go to school”, she replied with a twinkle in her eye. “You see, I’m  a princess”

His eyes grew wide. “A princess??”

“Yes, a princess. I live here because I don’t want my enemies to find me”

The skeptic in Rahul spoke next. “Princesses don’t wear glass bangles, they wear golden ones!”

“I don’t wear them because that will give away my identity, idiot!”

Rahul had to admit she had a point.

“Okay then, tell me more!”

And she did. She told him of the armed guards who protected her and the old maids who waited on her. Of the snowy white bed she slept on. Of the delicious sweets she had. Of the golden plates and silver forks. Of the chandelier that sparkled at night. On and on, as the twilight set in, and the twinkle in her eyes grew brighter.

As enraptured as he was, Rahul had to admit he was getting late. He left with a solemn good bye and a happy promise to be back the next day. As she watched him walk away, she saw the snowy bed in her head. So much as a wrinkle and the Lady would hit her hard. The amazing sweets. Pinching off a crumb had the cook try to wrench her skin off. The cutlery. If they weren’t done just right, she could go without food for a day.

Of course, all this was way back. They would not keep her once she came of age. Now she was no longer a maid, but –

“Cherry!!”

Startled, she came out of the reverie. The twilight had darkened and she was needed.  Those big men with betel-stained teeth and sweaty odour always wanted her. Her innocence, they believed, would wash away their sins. Her body had long grown numb to their hungry touch, but somewhere inside her, a child still dwelled.

Which is why, as she crossed the threshold into where shadows alone lurked, the twinkle in her eyes fell away and dropped down her cheeks.