Tag Archives: Flash fiction

The outsider (55-er)

‘Take her on our vacation?? You crazy?’, she exploded.

He remained silent.

That night. He was stretched carelessly on the mat. Near her. Sometimes talking. Sometimes laughing. Watching their favourite show.

She swallowed hard.

Realising, that mother and son shared a bond so deep, that she herself was yet to fathom, in her year-old marriage!

Lips unsealed (Short story)

Groups of ill-paid chauffeurs gossiped over a smoke. None of them paid attention to the car in the darkest corner. Nobody cared, really. It was just another car. Tinted glasses, fully rolled up.

From the rear seat came muffled sounds. Floundering hands, unsure of their next move. A young couple, in their early twenties. Half-children, half-adult. Clandestine visits to the local video store had resulted in them getting to watch several tapes that read ‘Tom and Jerry’ but which were more than just a cat vs. mouse tale. They had a vague idea of how lips were to be used. Lips that parted feverishly, lips that burned. Lips – old, but still amateur. It was no wonder, considering that ‘boys from good families’ would never dream of even looking at a woman, let alone kiss her!

As the boy finally moved to the driver’s seat, the girl whispered nervously ‘Are you sure?’

‘Don’t worry… they absolutely adore you!’, replied the boy, giving her a final kiss on her full lips. She smiled. They drove over to the old quarter of the city, where his family lived.

‘Our lord has finally arrived!’, a frail-looking woman taunted as he walked through the rusty iron gate, and splashed his face with cold water drawn from the well. He didn’t reply, but gave her a quick hug instead. ‘Hungry, Amma!’ he muttered. The girl joined her palms and bowed her bead, in a gesture of greeting. ‘Welcome home, dear daughter’, the older woman replied.

Dinner today was an extravagant affair. Different varieties of rice, dhal, coconut-garnished vegetables. A feast in honour of the girl who was to be daughter-in-law. Relatives of various shapes, sizes and age had been invited. They introduced themselves. She smiled, trying hard to remember their unfamiliar names. At dinner, he sat beside her, licking his lips as he relished his favourite dishes.

When he had gulped down the last sip of sweetened milk, it left a moustache of white cream. ‘Look at your future husband! Twenty-five years old and still such a child!’, they teased. She blushed. The evening regaled with laughter and fun! By the end of the evening, she actually relaxed a little, and enjoyed the teasing smiles and affectionate innuendoes from the older women of her future husband.

Soon, it was time for him to take her back home. ‘Girls coming from good families’ didn’t venture out this late at night, they emphasised.

They took a detour through an abandoned road. It suited them just fine. An hour later, he took her to her home. As she tossed about in her bed that night, unable to sleep with excitement, she ran her soft fingers over her cracked lips. She blushed, as her body tingled with excitement. She thanked her stars, that her mother, with eyes like a vulture, had not noticed anything unusual about her that evening.

Back in the car, the boy tuned in to his favourite radio station, and set the volume as loud as he could. He was so much in love. He was happy too, that his family had accepted the girl of his choice. Under normal circumstances, a boy of an upper-caste family marrying into a family that was not Brahmin, would have caused an outrage. Luckily for him, his parents accepted the girl without any visible animosity!

By the time he returned home, the lights were all out. Not wanting to wake up the sleeping family, he walked around the dusty path to the back door. He was surprised to notice an open window in one of the bedrooms. Silvery moonbeams cast long shadows, and carried out the soft sound of late-night whispers.

‘These women!’ he thought, and smiled to himself. ‘They seem so excited about my wedding! Chattering away at this late hour!!’ He discreetly edged towards the open window.

‘You are a fool!’, he heard an angry voice.

‘Hush!’ came the reply.

‘A bloody fool. Had I been in your place, I would have never allowed that lower-caste girl into the family!’

‘I am helpless’

‘Disgraceful! He wants to marry into those, whose impure names are never ever uttered by the same lips that chant our sacred texts!’

‘What to do? He just announced unceremoniously that he had DECIDED to marry this girl! We had no choice!’

‘Stupid woman. People of our caste do not allow untouchables into our house even! And here, we have that little vixen taking over our lives!’

He stared in disbelief. The evening had gone off so beautifully. They had all been so excited, and so happy. But behind all that, the unspoken truth was being unravelled.

He peeped into the window, and squinted until his eyes could see the shadows. A woman sat on a coir mat, her head in her palm, as if she had lost everything. In the light from the candle, her eyes seemed swollen, with crying. She covered her mouth with the edge of her crumpled cotton sari, as if she had lost everything, and had nothing left to say!

As he slowly recognized the shadow of his mother, his lips parted in shock. His mouth went dry. He desperately needed to get away. But he couldn’t move a step. He felt numb. A silent tear rolled down his cheek, and disappeared into the dust.

‘How could you…. Amma !!!’ he sighed, and walked back towards his car. After all that he had heard, he could not face his family, not just yet.

As he tiredly walked out into the night, he felt nothing but the relentless throbbing of his swollen lips.

 

The train

The doors shut, and the surging crowd pushed Ram into a corner of the compartment. The train was packed. He took in a deep breath. And smelt Dior. Mesmerised, he hunted for its owner. There she was, standing next to him, a voluptuous nymph, clutching a red leather handbag. A long gold chain plunged down her neckline, bearing tiny letters in rubies, “Tina”.

She pulled a pink journal from her bag, and jotted something. “You can’t write much on a moving train!”, Ram said, to break the ice. She glared. He flashed a charming smile. Her luscious lips, painted in soft hues of pink, returned his smile and she looked down. Ram looked away. Then, she looked up. And their eyes met, more than once.

The compartment was cramped. A baby started crying. The mother, a rather plump, but pleasant-faced woman tried to pacify the child. “Don’t cry, Darling. We’ll reach soon!”.

Tina tried to concentrate, but the baby’s cries pierced through the compartment. She raised her manicured hand and delicately massaged her temples.

As if to distract herself, she suddenly turned towards Ram and said “I’m an events manager..”. Ram nodded, surprised.

“You know, Jo, the famous actress, is having her first baby-shower ? I’m organizing it!”.

“Fantastic!”.

“There’s so much to do! Look at this list!”, she continued excitedly, and showed him the journal.

“Cake…Invites…

Streamers…Starters.. Cocktails….”

“Interesting”, said Ram, surprised to see the words sprawled haphazardly, in big, childish letters.

“Its a wonderful event for a woman…” she turned the gilt-edged page…”I’ve even designed Jo’s outfit. Isn’t my drawing beautiful?”

Ram nodded.

The baby in the compartment wailed. Tina shut her ears. “Babies are such a pain, aren’t they?!”, she whispered loud enough for the mother to able to hear.

Ram winced.

“I mean, they just cry all the time. And the dowdy-looking mother! Can’t she tell the kid to shut up?!”

Ram shifted uncomfortably, and looked apologetically towards the mother. And angrily at Tina.

“What?! Its true. Children are demons!”, Tina scowled, looking more ugly than he could imagine.

The mother seemed oblivious to Tina’s rude comments. She lifted her baby out of the pram and rocked gently, until the sobs receded. The baby smiled, a lovely dimple forming in each cheek. The mother smiled back and kissed her forehead.

“Phew!”, said Tina, and resumed her monologue. She wrote down something on a page, tore it out, and pushed it into Ram’s hand. “Call me sometime!”, she said, with a feminine tilt of her head.

Ram looked confused, then slowly crumpled the sheet and pushed it back into her hands.

“Tina, your journal’s attractive .. Only on the outside”.

He looked away, towards the mother and child.

The next stop arrived. The mother pushed the pram towards Ram.

Ram put his arm protectively over her and said “I’m sorry I couldn’t help you when our baby was crying, Meera. I just couldn’t move through the crowd!”

And they made their way out.

And we gathered…(short story/incident)

I stood in awe of our neighbour’s apartment. Teakwood furnishings, glass cabinets, exquisite showpieces from around the world. In short, something that I wanted our house to look like. As we stepped out, and reviewed our unfinished apartment, I noticed something on the opposite side of the road. A tenement of smaller houses. Old, and evidently poor. Loads of black children played around, walking in and out through the chipped doors. I felt strange. I was a little afraid.

 

Friends came a-visiting the next day, and as we sat around the coffee table, chatting about petty things, we could sense an uneasy air around us. Something was happening outside these four walls of concrete, that none of us could gauge. In retrospect however, I think all of us knew, but simply didn’t want to acknowledge the fact. That our life was about to change.

 

It happened the same afternoon. My friend Aarthi (I even remember her name, after all these years) and I fought all the way on the staircase, over whose paints and brushes were of better quality. We returned home to interrupt a small conference that was going on in our hall. They were mostly our neighbours (including a Muslim man, with high contacts with the government, who left his wife behind at home to entertain his worthy colleagues!!). They looked very grave.

 

I peeped out through the window, and saw unusually frenetic activity in the opposite side of the road. But they were not all the black children that we had seen earlier. I stared again, and saw a lot of familiar faces (including that of my mother’s) having a meal at a big over-crowded oval-shaped dark-wooden table. All of a sudden, I realized that my own house was teeming with the black families. They were all over the place. And finishing off all our rations. “What will we do for food?”, I asked. “Eat the jam”, someone answered. I wondered how I could eat jam without bread! But there wasn’t any time to think, or even protest.

 

The blacks had swapped houses, and more importantly, swapped places. They had completely taken over our home, our place and our life. What scared the life out of me was that we had been pushed into their place…homeless, impoverished, and literally, under siege.

 

After the meal was over, presumably the “last supper”, they rounded all of us up at the top of the hill. It was crammed. There was no place to move. One wrong foot here, and we could very well be sliding all the way to the bottom of the hill, and onto the highway, so that even if we survived the fall, the speeding vehicles would vanquish us.

 

And suddenly, there was a commotion. Nobody knew who caused it. And the next thing I could remember was that the hill was empty! I remember seeing a colourful box-like toy hanging by a little bush.

 

Many years later, we met again. Purely by chance. We sat around the coffee table. There were four known families. Sadly, there were just one or two members from each family. Aarthi was gone. We sat with mugs of coffee in our hand, and talked in monosyllables. We re-lived. And shuddered.

‘Wishes’

Leela entered the cramped apartment. It was dark. Her daughter was not around.

“Amma, Is Sneha sleeping already?”

No reply.

Leela slipped the handbag off her weary shoulder, and looked around.

Amma sat leaning against a wall, her face covered with one end of her sari.

Leela walked towards her. “Not another attack, please!” she prayed, and gently touched her shoulder.

Amma uncovered her face. Her eyes were red and swollen.

“What happened?”

Suddenly, Amma got up fiercely, and threw down the stainless steel pot of water that was near her. Clang! Then followed a series of clothes, utensils, and finally, a small brown book.

“What is this, you brazen animal?”

“What are you talking about, Amma?”

“Here, this book…”

“My…my…diary! Where did you find this? Did…did you read it?”, Leela stammered, turning red.

“…and its a good thing we did!”, Amma replied bitterly.

” ‘We’ ?”

“Yes, Appa and me. Sneha found it…”

“…And you took it from her and read it? How could you?!”

“You shameless hussy! A mother of a child, don’t you know your responsibility? Your life’s objective is to bring up Sneha, not find yourself a mate!”

“How can you say such a thing?”, Leela’s eyes smarted.

“Read this: ‘…..I met someone interesting today…our fingers accidentally brushed over coffee, and I felt something…’ “

“Amma! Its private. And if you must know, yes, I did meet someone. I’m human too!”

‘….Went home early, only to find Sneha had a cold, and needed to see the doctor, for the umpteenth time…I am so tired…’.

“You are tired of your own child? Heartless woman!”

Leela’s feet ached. She wanted this to end soon. “Yes….I am tired…of taking care of others, ALL the time…!”, she retorted. “Don’t get me wrong! I love you, but sometimes…”

Practised tears of self-pity streamed down Amma’s face. “Oh! So now, we’re the burden! Fine, Appa and I will leave this moment, for my brother’s house. Isn’t that what you want?”

‘…I wish … I had time..to be alone.. read a book…sing aloudlaugh a little…take Sunil’s movie-offer…”

“Stop reading!! For God’s sake, have I lost the right, to even WANT to be happy? “

“Leela! How dare you talk to me like that? Remember your status before you utter another word! If only my son were alive today…! A wayward widow he has thrown onto us!”

Leela staggered backwards.

“You killed my son, you witch! And now, you want to LIVE ! You will rot in hell!”

Leela couldn’t bear it anymore. She ran into her room and began packing a suitcase with their clothes. Sneha turned in her sleep and sucked her thumb. “My baby!”. Leela thought. She stared at the beautiful face, and suddenly tiredness swept over her. She sank onto the floor - a tired, helpless heap.

Outside, Amma picked up the diary and ripped it apart. Her rage subdued, she hobbled into her room.

The papers were now strewn all over the floor.

‘…I wish…but I won’t..because I can’t !” was the last journal entry.