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Archive for the ‘Short Fiction’ Category

Afternoon.

 

 

The afternoon rain always bothered her.

 

She loved the sudden kaalboishakhis of the evening, which brought with them the smell of fresh grass, wet winds and jasmine. But the light monotonous drizzle on damp June afternoons made her uncomfortable. Restless.

 

She flitted from room to room in the tiny two-bedroom apartment that she called her home. The bright red Chinese table clock on top of the T.V. said it was 2:45 pm. He wouldn’t be back until five, at least, and her son would hopefully be arriving at around four. She was glad Amit was coming home early from the boarding this summer. After all, this would be his last summer in the city. She wanted the three of them to go on a holiday – a nice, proper one, preferably to the hills. They would be beautiful just before the rains started. She remembered early childhood memories of going for the family holiday to Darjeeling every summer during this time of the year — the air would be heavy with the smell of rain, the early morning mists would stay longer then usual, wrapping the town in a white coverlet of dream and sleep.

 

The clock struck three.

 

It had been so many years since she’d been to Darjeeling. Or even on a proper holiday. Not counting his numerous conferences, of course, which all took place in bustling corporate houses threaded together by a mass of overcrowded roads, all across India. Large, dynamic cities, like this one.

 

 And it had never been the three of them together. It was always with a Mr. Sharma or a Miss Rathode and then he would always be busy answering phone calls while she would be left to finish all the new Agatha Christies that she’d bought from the airport. No, this would be a proper holiday. With just the three of them. She would talk to him about it as soon as he got back home.

 

This time of the afternoon was always lazy – dragging itself slowly and heavily, like an old, wrinkled man shuffling away from the fire, not wanting to leave its warm shelter. And the rain made it worse, with its quivering patterns on the window… She would usually have taken a quick nap, re-read old magazines or even gossiped with the young daily help who came to ‘do’ the laundry; but today the help wouldn’t be coming, she didn’t feel like sleeping and the rain made her keep looking up from the old copy of Desh she was trying to read. She decided to give it up and wandered to the window, watching the raindrops trickle slowly down the glass leaving behind faint traces, which would later have to be scrubbed off. She tried to remember the song that her mother always used to sing on rainy afternoons, while plaiting her hair in the verandah or re-arranging the clothes in the old, mahogany closet near the window…

 

She suddenly remembered she’d promised Amit that she’d clean out all the junk from the large wooden trunk in his room, which had acted as a store-house for old, unwanted things for many, many years. Amit wanted to arrange all his old books there now that he would be going away sometime later this year. She decided that this would be as good a time as any since after Amit arrived there would be meals to cook, his bags to unpack, his clothes to be washed and general fuss over him. He, of course, would brush it off with a cursory hug and a lightly admonishing “Ma! Amar boyesh hoye geche” and then shut himself up with his laptop. She knew he was old enough to look after himself (and he was a responsible boy, after all) but she liked taking care of him, no matter how hard Amit teased her about being an old mother hen or a fusspot. She almost wished Amit were a little boy again, so that she had to run after him with his meals and teach him fifth grade geography. Or untie his shoelaces for him. All those growing-up years had been wonderful. Certainly for her, and she hoped for him as well. It had ultimately been worth all the sacrifices she’d made.

 

The old trunk had been a family heirloom of sorts. Her great grandfather had bought it from Turkish merchant decades ago, impressed by its wonderfully patterned lid and the rich, glossy texture. Over the years, it had gathered grime, stains and memories, sitting beside the four-poster bed in her mother’s room, until she’d brought it over to this apartment after her wedding. She’d known it for as long as it could remember, and the trunk had always evoked a sense of solidarity. She had put her old, faded, half-broken possessions carefully in its heart over the years and promptly forgotten all about them, reassured by the security the trunk had always seemed to provide. She felt an odd pang of disappointment as she sat down to clear out the trunk, as if she was violating its existence in some strange way.

 

The first thing out was a bunch of old shawls that she no longer wore. They were soft still, and smelled of naphthalene: a smell that always reminded her of the old closet at home. She shook herself a little. Her mother’s place. She was home now. At home, matter-of-factly putting away old rubbish to make new space for her son’s books. There was nothing remotely nostalgic or contemplative about that. Perhaps it was the rain. It made her what she’d generally heard being termed as ‘moody.’

 

She rolled up the shawls and put them to her right, ‘The Things to be Gotten Rid Of’ – she made a mental note. Next out were old stationery, her cooking books and Amit’s old school notebooks. And then, as she searched through a pile of moth-eaten books, she stopped. Her hands quivered for a second. Then, slowly, as if with a lot of effort, she took out a pair of ghungroos: the metal jingles on the traditional red velvet jangled, breaking the silence of the room.

 

The pitter-patter of the rain had suddenly grown fainter. The jingle of the ghungroos seemed to overpower all other sounds, drowning everything else, bringing back a flood of memories. She saw herself at the General Dance Competition at school, with this particular pair of ghungroos on her feet, holding up the special prize for Extraordinary Performance in Dance. She saw herself at her dancing school, with her guruji smiling at her as she confidently picked up the first prize. She saw herself at the National Dance Show where Mr. Sarabhai had come up to her, and congratulated her on her performance… and then, suddenly, the storm of memories petered out into a light drizzle and then stopped. Abruptly. She remembered tucking away this special pair of ghungroos, a few days before the wedding, solemnly folding away a bit of herself under a few old books. And there it stayed, well hidden, in this old, secure trunk.

 

She put them on slowly, warily, as if they were fragile creatures which would melt away at touch. Then, she stood up and took a few tentative steps. The sound of the jingles rang loud and bold. Hardly what she was feeling. A strange sense of vulnerability came over her. Even though she knew there was nobody in the house, she jingled through the apartment, closing a window here and there. As she walked, the old familiar sound seemed to run through her veins, making her almost giddy with pleasure. She took a twirl in the living room. And then another. And then another.

 

There was no music. She needed none. The music played constantly in her head, as she danced long forgotten steps. And as she danced, she realized what she found disturbing about the rain. It made her restless: it made her remember. As she danced, she realized how long she had been away, away from herself. As she danced her whole body vibrated with a freedom she’d forgotten and she wondered: was it worth it? Was it worth it to trade this exhilaration, this wonderful sense of contentment for lonely June afternoons? For evenings trapped in two-bedroom floors? Did anything else really matter?

 

She could have gone and on. But she stopped to rest her body a little; it had grown old with years of disuse. Her mind was elsewhere. She wanted to fly, to break free and dance. Only dance. To the end.

 

She sat fingering the tiny metal beads on her ghungroo for a long time after that, thinking thoughts that had never seemed important before.  She was surprised at herself. Surprised and dismayed. The rain had stopped; the sun was slowly filtering in through the drawn curtains, falling on old shawls and old books.

 

The doorbell rang.

 

She was startled. For a moment, she sat there with the ghungroos still in her hand. The clock said it was 4.30. It was probably Amit at the door.

 

The doorbell rang again and she gave herself a shake. Then, slowly, deliberately she picked up the pair of ghungroos and placed them to her right, with her old shawls.

 

It was Amit. She smiled and gave him a hug. And he said, “ Ma! What, on earth, were you doing? I was standing here for the last ten minutes!” 

 

————————————————————————————

 

Sohini Pal is currently occupied with the complex and confusing process of being alive. Incidentally, she is also in her Second Year, English Honours at the Jadavpur University, Calcutta. 

 

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The Drive

 

 

‘Speed it up there,’ said Zhievo impatiently, ‘Go on, step on it!’

 

‘I will man, keep your knickers on,’ Marco retorted back. It was the one solitary word which made them catch each other’s eye and then completely lose it as they burst out laughing at their own fun like little kids. They must have cracked their ribs in a few places by the time they were ready to let go of their little fragment of humour. As they drove down the smooth road in the dark of the night, the darkness was broken only by the pair of narrow beams from the headlights of their car.

 

Marco was behind the wheels and continually rubbing his eyes hard to shake himself awake from the dizziness the drinks had given him. Zhievo didn’t bother with anything as such – he loved the way alcohol disillusioned him and made him struggle to even stand up straight. At that precise moment, he was quite enjoying the zigzagging pattern the car was proceeding in. The darkness cooled his senses and he wanted it to stay that way, he was falling asleep as he kept staring out at the blank canvas of the sky. He loved this feeling of flying he was experiencing. He threw his head back on the seat and continued to enjoy the upliftment.

 

‘Dude, you mind? What the fuck are you doing?’ snapped Marco as he screwed up his eyes to concentrate on what was ahead on the road.

 

‘What? What did I do?’

 

‘Stop stretching your legs onto my crotch, I’m trying to drive here!’

 

‘You fucking insane? Why would I ha-’, Zhievo had to stop midway as he realised where his legs were and quietly moved them back to proper position in his seat. ‘Sorry, stretched a bit too much. The Jack Daniels… man! Tell you what, he is a dude, he’s freaking amazing!’

 

‘Jack Daniels is not a dude, not any more at least. Now, he is just a bottle of whiskey.’

 

‘Wrong. He is an empty bottle of whiskey. See?’ Zhievo held up the empty bottle for Marco to verify the claim.

 

Again, it was one of those moments when you just look each other in the eye and then lose track of everything around you as you struggle to stop laughing like a drunken maniac.

 

‘Gosh Zhi, how’d you finish that entire bottle? I only had about two swigs from it!’

 

‘Easy, you open the bottle, and then you bring it closer to your mouth. Got it so far?’

 

‘Yeah,’ said Marco who was now finding Zhievo’s comments more helpful in getting rid of the slight tipsiness he still felt. He let him carry on.

 

‘Okay, then…’ Zhievo paused for a moment trying to figure out the rest of it. Then he suddenly snapped back into concentration. ‘Then you get your lips around the mouth of the bottle, then tilt it upwards and drink from it. See, easy as fuck!’ concluded a thrilled Zhievo.

 

‘Fucking hell, you’re an absolute piss-head, that’s what you are. To empty an entire bottle of whiskey is mental! Seriously dude, get a grip.’

 

‘Oi! What’re you telling me to get a grip for, huh? What else was I supposed to do?’

 

‘What are you on about now?’

 

‘No seriously, what was I supposed to do? You were in there, fucking your girl, and what was I supposed to do? Fucking go in and watch? That would have been a better pastime, wouldn’t it?’

 

‘Hey… hey! Where’s this coming from, man? Cool down!’

 

‘I don’t care where it’s coming from, it’s already here so deal with it. Now, what was I supposed to do? Tell me! You’re in there have fun with that whore and it becomes a crime to even fucking drink whiskey?’

 

There was a silent pause. Thoughts kept running through the heads of both men as one of them continued to drive down the dark road. Thoughts, mainly jealous and piping hot in Zhievo’s head, but Marco – what ran through his head was beyond the capacity of words. It wasn’t rage he was feeling. He was used to his companion’s ways and he half-expected outbursts like these every once in a while, especially after a drinking session. He managed to calm himself down and spoke slowly as he said to Zhievo, ‘Bro, listen to me here. It’s alright if you drink not just a bottle but a whole gallon of whiskey or whatever shit it is you want to. But. You. Do Not! Refer to my girlfriend as a whore. You get that, man? I’m telling you once, won’t do it again.’

 

‘I’m sorry man… sorry bro… didn’t mean to… I’m gutted now, sorry…’ Zhievo stared around for some time and then asked, ‘Say, is there any of that good stuff still left?’

 

‘Yeah, there’s still a packet left in the back seat.’

 

As Zhievo shoved himself into the back seat and began shuffling, looking for something, he broke into a song – ‘She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie…’ He paused for a moment as he picked up what he was looking for. As the glee began to get brighter in his eyes, he remembered the song he was halfway through and decided to finish it, ‘COCAINE!!!!’

 

On a little plate of glass, he emptied the contents of the packet. Then he gathered them into little thin lines. Rolling up a piece of paper into a nozzle, he ran one end of it over the lines while the other end was inserted into one of his nostrils. The other nostril was held shut by him to maximise the effect of whatever he was doing. When he was done with it, he was sniffing and breathing heavily. His eyes were slightly red.

 

Marco wasn’t interested in what was going on at the back seat any more, but he knew something now. Something had been bothering him a lot ever since Zhievo called his girlfriend – his Claudia – a whore. All of a sudden it became very clear to him; it all became so simple to him that he felt relaxed now.

 

‘Man, this stuff is amazing! I love it!’

 

‘That’s good. You should always love good stuff.’

 

‘Fuck yeah, I should and I would! But man, I want to tell you something.’

 

‘Really, go on then.’

 

‘Your girl, you do know your girl right? She is a fucking sizzler, that’s what she is.’

 

‘Oh Yeah? That’s good to hear.’

 

‘Yeah man, I’m telling you, her fun bags. They look a lotta fun to me. No wait, I’ve got it. They’re like mountains, huge fucking mountains.’

 

‘Interesting.’

 

‘Her tits remind me of the Rockies, and you want to hear something funny? I’ve never even been to America.’

 

‘You could then someday, it’s a nice place. I’ve been there.’

 

‘Damn right you’ve been there! Especially to the Rockies isn’t it huh? You like the Rockies, you motherfucker!’

 

‘You could say that.’

 

‘That’s right man, but tell me one thing. Why do you have to fuck her each time you bring me along to meet her, man? I kind of don’t like it.’

 

‘It’s not like I do it on purpose, man. But you know what our job is like; sometimes you just got to fit these visits into the little gaps we get between our work, and you just happened to be with me today when I managed to take some time out.

‘You know how it is with us – shipments arriving almost everyday, loading them, taking them across the country to where they’re meant to be dropped off. Where’s the time? We got a couple of days’ gap before the next one arrives, so I thought why not.’

 

‘But you still always got to fuck her, huh?’

 

‘Maybe.’

 

‘Fair play, man. I don’t blame you. I mean that ass… It makes me want to bang her hard then and there! That whore gets me stiff each time I see her, man!’

 

There weren’t any more pauses now, just a loud flash and a bang. There was then a long period of silence in which Marco continued to drive on.

 

 

A little later, in a house somewhere in the suburbs, a phone rang in the middle of the night. A man in his housecoat and tousled hair, just woken up, yawned his way across the hall to pick up the call.

 

‘Doug, it’s Marco. I’m close to your place, going to pick you up in a couple of minutes. Need a hand in dumping something off in the river. I’ll meet you outside the backyard.’

 

‘What’s the matter now, in the middle of the night? There any problems?’

 

‘I’ll tell you later. Just meet me outside your backyard, alright?’

 

‘Okay, I’ll be there.’

 

 

A few hours later, as Doug and Marco finished the little job that had suddenly come up, Doug had to clarify something that had been bothering him ever since he was picked up by Marco in his car and had seen blood splattered all over the front seat and the window. He had guessed whose it was, but there were more questions he had to ask.

 

‘Marc, what happened? What went wrong?’

 

‘Nothing.’

 

‘What do you mean, nothing? Hey, do I look like a fuckhead to you? Tell me what happened. He was your fucking partner for Pete’s sake.’

 

‘Telling you man, nothing happened! Plus he was going to die anyway. Once he did a whole packet of coke over a neat bottle of whiskey, he was never going to live much longer. It was obvious. I thought I could wait till morning for the coke to react with his system and the booze.’

 

‘Well then maybe you should have. It would have been much neater as well.’

 

‘Yeah, I thought that too. But I couldn’t. Things got a little too out of hand, and I couldn’t wait anymore. Anyway, how’s Bonnie doing? You don’t want to go back home right now, do you? You up for a pint at the pub nearby?’

 

————————————————————————————

 

Abhijan Barua is a Journalism student at the University Of Glamorgan, Wales, and a football addict and musicaholic. He has a bit of a gift at having dark thoughts all the time.

  

 

 

 

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Gaunt

I could only make out the silhouette of a person in the punctured darkness of the alleyway. I was drunk tonight. I groped for the bottle next to me. The bottle fell down and all the liquor got drained in the sewer close by. I cursed. This was the only bottle I had for tonight. The person was approaching near, looking oblivious. My head felt dizzy.

 “Well, another addition to the homelessly drunk. Maybe, this guy might lend me a few fags,” I thought hopefully. Only when the person passed by did I realize that the person was a girl. It was seldom to see a lady down here. I grunted.

 “Well let her be. Ain’t any girl who could lend me some fags let alone some booze,” I thought miserably. A little further, the girl stumbled and fell.

 “Watch it there lady!” I cried out.

She didn’t listen. She stumbled on some broken glass and fell again. The glass etched some cuts on her skin. I mused whether to help her out or not. She started trudging again.

 “Maybe she’s drunk but that doesn’t make her deaf does it,” I muttered. I got up on my feet and started walking towards her. She fell again.

 “Hey lady! Wait up.”

She got up but didn’t walk this time. I finally got close to her. She was kneeling and breathing heavily. The streetlight close by was casting its light on her. The dupatta on her head was casting a shadow on her face. I knelt in front of her.

 “Do you need any help?” I asked kindly. She continued breathing but did not reply.

 “You shouldn’t be here. This is not the time for a girl like you hang out here. Do you live close by?” Again she did not reply. I felt disgruntled.

 “Let me take you home. Where do you live?”

Finally, she raised her head and then I saw her face illuminated by the light. I felt like screaming. There were bruises on her cheeks and blood was clotted around her nostrils and her eyes had sunk as if she was petrified. She gasped hard, fell down and fainted.

I felt petrified. I did not know what to do. My brain started clogging. I did not want to leave her alone. Not in this place. I groped tufts of my hair like a lost man.

“Should I take her to the hospital? Is she dying? Is she ok?” All these thoughts started racing my drunken mind. I stood there motionless.

“Help,” I whispered. Every time I saw her face, I flinched. “Please help. Help.” I kept on whispering.

And then, the girl gasped, sucking air into her lungs like a vacuum pump.

 “Who have you got there Babu oye?”

I looked behind me. If I wasn’t afraid before, now I was about to lose my wits.

 “Babu oye!” Zaka snarled. “Who have you got there?”

Zaka’s eyes fell on the girl lying on the gravel. He started licking his lips. “She looks like a pretty girl. I think I can have her for tonight.”

“I see you are way too much drunk tonight Zaka”

 “As if you are not ol’ Babu!” he snarled back. “Who is this girl?”

I did not reply.

 “I asked who is this girl you bastard?”

 “I do not know,” I replied.

 “Well then. She belongs to me,” he remarked gleefully.

 “She does not belong to you,” I whispered.

 “What did you just say?”

 “She does not belong to you,” I said in a firm tone this time. “She needs to go to the hospital, she is hurt.”

 “She needs to go to hospital, she is hurt,” Zaka mimicked. “Phoo. She belongs to me.”

 “I cannot let you do that.”

Zaka’s eyes glinted. “You won’t let me do that? Is Babu going to stop me?” He took out his dagger and started waving at me.

 “Put it down Zaka,” I whispered.

 “Scary, isn’t she? My precious?” Zaka cackled.

 “Put it down Zaka. I do not want to hurt you”, I whispered.

And then, all of a sudden, Zaka charged at me and struck his dagger in my arm. A throbbing sensation surged through my body and I screamed and fell down. He then plunged his dagger in my leg. I screamed wildly, trying to hold off Zaka, He started kicking my face. I knew I was about to die.

And then suddenly, the girl screamed. Zaka’s attention got diverted. I tackled Zaka to the ground. We exchanged blows and then again Zaka was on top of me, gropping my neck. I was losing my breathe fast. My lungs started to collapse. He kicked me in the chest and all the air left my lungs. I started wheezing. I could not get up.

He left me and started walking towards the girl. He came very close to to her. She screamed.

 “No. Please. No,” I choked. I got up on my feet. Zaka had ripped off her shawl off her face. I started trudging towards them. I hit him on the back. He snarled and attacked me again. For the third time I was pinned on the ground. And all of a sudden, all that anger that had welled up in me the previous night exploded again. I threw Zaka back. I took his dagger and plunged it into his stomach. He squealed like a pig. But that did not stop me. I stuck the dagger in his stomach again until warmed blood started splashing my face. I had turned into a madman. And then, Zaka was dead. The dagger fell from my hands. I started running. Tears were streaming from my face. I ran. I did not see back. I did not care. I was a murderer. Again.

————————————————————————————

Omair Anwar is a 21-year-old writer studying engineering at University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore.

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The Homeplan

Rings of smoke clouded and protested against the grim atmosphere which prevailed in A’s room. They seemed to have joined a farewell procession which collectively chose to be silent, and yet somehow managed to sing smoky blues. They were somewhat like relatives mourning the death of an old member of the family tree. They would all wail and shout for a while, as if it was more of a tradition than something they felt like doing. Then they would disperse in different directions and get mixed up after a while, as if some unknown overseer, being angry at them because of their fake behavior, had punished them by killing their identities. As for the smoke, A had only his cigarettes to blame.

The entire house looked like a messed up maniac’s haunt. Of course, A was only partly responsible, since he shared this mess with many other alphabets. There were three to four others, and A could not recall all the names right at this moment. It hardly mattered, as more often than not they would have punctuations and alphabets from other languages crashing at their abode for a few nights. They lived the perfect Boho dream, reveling in their oddities and unusual ways. What most of them did not realize was that they had gradually fallen more in love with these eccentricities than with the sense of purpose with which they were all once united.

A was a painter by profession, lethargy and lack of other options. Painting had always been his first love, or that is what he thought, but now he knew better. Like most other artists (in the most generous sense of the term, and if the Artistic Alphabets Association would permit him to call him one), he obviously hardly failed to appreciate and admire other works of art. There would be a song or two which would do more than just make him hum along. There would be scraps of papers and photocopied skeletons claiming to be poems which would do their bit to set him up for a flight of fancy, and inspire yet another painting. Then there were some movies which would drive him deep into a contemplative mood. But it was really painting which occupied his heart and soul, and thus, his expressions in the form of scraps, papers and canvases lay scattered all over the room. Sprinkles of colors, broken palettes, and middle-aged, mediocre paintbrushes were spread out all over like blotches of colors designing a joker’s gown, and laugh in the process.

A would have never wanted to get out of here, and had been eternally in love with this way of a leafy life, had he not met Qé. Qé had dangerously beautiful eyes, which always looked like they were capable of sucking the soul out of anybody. And that Qé successfully did, only in a far more loving manner than A thought Qé was capable of doing. Qé took A out for cups of coffee and movie screenings. Qé introduced A to the world of achievers – well, some of them at least seemed to live up to their names. It was a world which mainly contributed to A’s disillusionment, since he thought all that these achievers were doing was just patting each other on their backs. Now that they had had their fair share of success, they could care less for working for the wellbeing of others, which was, ironically enough, something that had given them their fame and success some time back. It was as if now that they had carved out their paradise, they wanted to cling on to it more than anything else, and wanted to bar everybody else from sharing it. It was a world of betrayal, which initially swore allegiance and friendship, but never lived up to it. For A, it was a world of shady dreams which ran successful motels, but never took one to his home. It was a world nonetheless.

A wondered which world he really belonged to. And then Qé helped him along the course. Qé made A dream of creating a better world, and then they dreamed together. They were alphabets belonging to different languages, and yet they wanted to make a Paradise for themselves. A Paradise which would keep just the two of them together. A Paradise which would let them play their favorite songs, watch their favorite movies and paint and write in peace. A Paradise which would have Amaranthus adorning their garden. A Paradise which existed in the realms of both their imagination as well as a possible reality. A Paradise which never did mind their occasional excesses when it came to planning it. And they did plan. Plans of slowly building and nurturing it. And then A made the sketches.

The Paradise always overwhelmed A with its dreamy visions. In due course of time, sketching the Paradise and planning the home became one of A’s most favorite occupations. A would fill every scrap of paper he came across with puny little sketches of the ideal house A and Qé dreamed of making their own. The number of rooms was never really the issue. What was more important for them was how they would design it, and how they would live together. And then the designs continuously kept changing. They would have silly little fights about what kind of pictures and photo-frames would adorn their walls, and in what colors they would paint the rooms.
    
    “The balcony will have a few flower pots, and then there would be a hammock.”
 
    “I do not have a problem with the flower pots, but let us just have two rocking chairs instead of the hammock.”

    “Fine. But then you will have to let me paint our bedroom in blue.”  

    “No way! It is gonna be painted in white, and just have mellow blue lightings! That had already been decided upon!”

          “Am not gonna put up with all that! I have already cut down on my studio space just because you want to have a more spacious loo! So that you can have a large bathtub! Am not compromising on this one!”

And that was how they spent most of their mornings and evenings. At the local university campus. At the rooftop of A’s mess. The other alphabets never made much of a fuss. They were too occupied with themselves to notice these two lovebirds crashing deeply into the potholes of love time and again. Besides, some of them were lovebirds themselves, going up and down in the loony Lovetown. It was a town which existed for everybody as an alternate reality, as something that helped them to get away from reality. Escape? No. They never thought themselves to be escapists.

It was more magical than magic itself. A and Qé would spend hours on the roof, hiding behind the water-tank, and holding hands while they would watch the sky lulling the clouds on its lap while adopting different shades. They would read out Rilke and Neruda to each other, and listen to Knopfler occasionally, always a hit while sitting under the open sky. Rings of dreams entailed each other, and sailed deep into the sky, building invisible highways where their imaginations could always run wild, and deep down below, their mouths and hands.

Then came the time when it all came down to nothing. Boiled down to vapor. LOVE-ing was never the issue. Just that the two worlds and the two languages could not meet. It did not happen suddenly, but sedated and slow-poisoned A and Qé into accepting the Truth, into being Practical. There were potholes now on the highway too. To avoid accidents, they had to drive in different directions. No, they could not drive together. They could not help getting too involved, which would only mean a lapse in concentration, and thus disaster. Qé sailed off to where she had come from, and from there, to discover new languages and learn them.

It has not been many days since Qé left. Or has it? Somehow A feels that Time is now warped, and is going to remain that way for the rest of eternity. How does it matter how the clock ticks? A is the least bothered about whether it runs in a clockwise or an anti-clockwise direction. If A could, A would twist the arms of the clocks. Drive them null and void. Ironically, the clocks have had that effect on A which A always wanted to have on them.

The rings of dreams have been replaced by the circles of smoke. They run after each other and then overlap night after night. It is as if they exalt in playing out an orgy. The Paradise still exists, and the Amaranthus still blooms. But they do so only with the help of violent brushstrokes on cheap canvases. The one final homeplan which A had sketched and both A and Qé decided to stick to, lies unnoticed and unattended, peeping from under a magazine placed on a table near a window. The homeplan can still see the highway of dreams which run all the way up to the sky. But it can not take flight. Held captive by the weight of the magazine, it just flutters in the breeze. 

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Antoreep Sengupta is an Undergraduate student of English at Jadavpur University, Calcutta.

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Day of Darkness

 

 

She was taking a walk, exploring the unfamiliar city, learning its street corners and lamp-posts, determined to accept it as her new home, rather than waste time pining for her old. There was something about that house though, something that made her stop and stare in wonder. It was very different from the ones surrounding it, and had a strange loneliness to it, despite its external splendour. Impulse compelled her to walk up to it and knock.

 

There was no answer.

 

She tried the door, and it was open. She looked around in amazement at the mysterious yet beautiful paintings that adorned the walls of the room she was in. She bathed in the haunting melody that filled the entire building. The aura of the place enchanted her, and yet saddened her as it felt empty, and cold. It was as though the house had been bereft of life for many a sun, and somehow repelled her defiling presence, yet pulled her in to restore its vitality.

 

As she walked, she felt the music pulling at her, guiding her, caressing her. She followed it, and found herself in a room, no smaller than the one she had come from, but it somehow felt a lot larger. The walls were bare, and in total disrepair, near broken in parts. There was a window, which was shut, with cobwebs hiding its glass. In one corner was a piano, one that had the look of an old oak that has seen much more than it could care to remember. Sitting in front of it was a boy – who couldn’t have been a day older than seven, yet with a deep remorse in his eyes that made him much older than most – playing the piano, reading off a sheaf of papers in front of him.

 

She sat down behind him, hypnotized by his presence and his music. After what could have been an eon, the boy turned to her and beckoned. She joined him at the piano, and together they played. A gay tune of hope, of joy and of great passion. The music united them in soul, and she saw the room transform through his eyes. She thought she saw the walls splash with colour. She thought she saw the window throw itself open, and the sunlight streaming through. She thought she saw the long-lost soul of the room return. She thought she saw a glimmer of a spark in the boy’s eyes.

 

But as she joined the boy in soul, she felt him pulling away. Her heart screamed with the pang of separation, but he didn’t hear. He had remembered how to play the music he had once forgotten. She had reminded him, and he no longer needed her. She rose to leave before her heart was entirely rent asunder, when she suddenly felt the boy clutch her hand. Little fingers clawed at her in desperation, and she turned to see his fearful eyes imploring her not to go. She had learned her lesson though, and she cast his feeble protests aside, to leave the house, not hurriedly, but deliberately.

 

A year later, having cast the day to the inaccessible deeps of her memory, she passed the house again. As she looked at it, she saw the boy standing at the window. Recognition struck her. She almost turned towards the house. He however stared past her, as though she was no different from the others passing by. His eyes were no longer sad.

 

They were dead.

 

She walked on, with a heavy heart as he shut the window.

 

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Abir Dasgupta took his ISC examinations this year from Salt Lake School, Calcutta, and has no idea where he’s going to go after this.

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The Visitor

It was already late in the evening and people were entering the pubs in groups of twos and threes. Most of them appeared in a good mood as they laughed and joked while ordering their drinks. There were of course, low-spirited ones as well, something or the other not going right in their lives. But it wasn’t just the happy and not so happy who were there that night.

There was this man, watching from the opposite street. He was not in the cleanest of clothes – a slightly tattered grey jacket, a baggy pair of trousers, shoes worn out from years of dragging along the streets, and he had a hat. It was tough to tell his age but he looked close to sixty, and the state of him did not make a pretty sight out on a Saturday night. It was a typical Saturday night by the way, music blazing, heartbeat rising, pulses throbbing. People dressed in their very best in a bid to appear attractive and desirable; full of laughing and drinking, making merry till it was merry no more.

But this man here, he just stood outside, he didn’t even move much. His brows were twitched in dazed confusion, his unshaven face covered with a slight smile, and his misty eyes fixated on the pub across the street. His gaze seemed glued to it; watching the others through the window enjoy a night out. He looked like he wanted to go in, but he seemed indecisive. Then he began to take small steps in the direction of the pub. On reaching the door, he pushed it open and entered slowly. He looked around him and felt a bit intimidated by the large number of people in there. No one noticed him entering though, they were too busy having a good time themselves to see who came in or left. So he was left feeling almost invisible on walking in and it stayed that way until he approached the bar with unsure steps and a barman looked up at him from behind the bar.

‘You all right there sir?’

‘Erm yes. I erm, could – could I get a pint of Brains please?’

‘Right away sir’, He went away briefly and came back with his drink, ‘That’ll be £2.60 please.’

‘Oh no, you have it wrong. I don’t have to pay here you see.’

The barman was amused and gave a little laugh at what he thought was surely a joke. ‘That’s very funny sir, but that’s £2.60 please.’

 ‘No, no it’s not a joke. You don’t understand, I don’t have to pay here, I never had to pay here.’

‘What are you talking about? This is a bar and you have to pay for your drink, this isn’t a free giveaway,’ the barman said.               
                                       
‘But I know the owner,’ the man replied.

‘You know the owner?’ The barman laughed as he was beginning to think it was a joke. Surely it had to be a wind-up of some kind, possibly a couple of his mates behind it. This guy would probably turn out to be a friend he hadn’t been introduced to yet, just all of them taking the mickey out of him, ‘You’re joking, I get it. It’s a pretty good one mate.’

‘No no, why should I joke? I really know the owner, his – his name is Ulstrich Novy, and he’s my friend.’

‘You’ve got it wrong. There’s no one of that name here.’

‘Yes, but this is my house.’

The barman stared at him blankly. ‘What? What are you on about?’

‘I’m saying that this is my house, you can’t make me leave it.’

The barman was not quite sure what to say. Obviously the man had had some kind of a breakdown or suchlike, he thought. But what he should do here, he couldn’t quite figure out. If it had been some ruffian acting too smart for his pants, he could have asked the bouncers to take care of them. But this wasn’t something for the bouncers, he thought. They could easily throw him out but still the barman decided it was best to call his boss; the owner of the pub. The owner could sort this out.

The barman asked a colleague to fetch the owner for him. When he came, he did not look in the mood for a chat. He was a busy man and he just wanted to sort out whatever the issue was.

‘Ah we have a visitor have we! What’s wrong?’

The man blurted out, ‘This is my house sir, you can’t throw me out.’

The owner looked bemused and then looked at his employee, ‘What’s this? What’s going on?’

‘I reckon the guy has gone mad sir. He was asking for a drink a minute ago and then started talking about living here and not paying because he knows the owner,’ the barman replied.

The man by now had begun to mumble strange things to himself. Most of it didn’t make any sense to the others. ‘This is my house, yes it is mine, can’t throw me out no. No they can’t. I’ve been working for so long here as well.’

The owner wasn’t amused one bit. He had a business to run and had no time for this.

‘Why haven’t you kicked him out? Didn’t have to call me to do that, just throw him out. He’s a nutter,’ he said to the barman. Then he turned to the man, ‘Here mate, enough of your rambling, it’s really funny, now leave. I don’t have time for the likes of you.’

‘You cannot make me leave, I live here. This is my house.’

‘Your house?’ laughed out the owner. ‘Yeah right, and I bloody own Downing Street! Come on, get out of here!’ He began shoving the man out of his bar. He was having none of the nonsense, he had a place to run and crackpots like these could go and jump in the river as far as he could bother. But the man couldn’t quite understand why he was being treated so harshly, he probably hadn’t said it right or maybe not loud enough.

‘No, don’t throw me out. I know the owner here, Ulstrich Novy. Call him please, he knows me,’ he pleaded.

‘There isn’t another owner here buddy, just me. And I’m no Ostrich Navy or whatever the name is.’

‘You are lying!’ The man was getting visibly upset now and had an extremely confused look about him; he couldn’t figure out why his words weren’t being believed here. But the owner was not going to have any of it; he dragged him out through the door and shoved him down on the pavement.

‘Get out and stay out, nutter! Know the owner, Ulstich Novy! Yeah right, that’s what my business is here for, isn’t it? Mad cappers like you!’

The man was stunned as he picked himself up. He couldn’t quite believe what had just happened to him, his eyes had gone moist with shock. He had no choice but to walk away slowly, mumbling to himself as he went.

‘They all throw me out of everywhere. Work, they threw me out. Home, they kicked me away. Even here it’s the same. Everywhere I go. Why do they throw me out? Just don’t believe me, just don’t understand?’ He continued walking and faded away into the dark.

The bar owner had stood inside watching the madman disappear. When he had gone away, the owner turned to go back to his work, as his eyes fell on something that was lying on the pavement just outside. He went outside and picked it up. It was an old voter’s identity card, possibly dropped from the pockets of the man he had just thrown out. The photo on it was quite old, but the young man in it resembled the other man very closely. Surprisingly in fact, he was quite good looking, felt the owner. Shame he was such a madcap, he thought. But what surprised him even more had nothing to do with the photo, it was the name printed next to it. It read – Ulstrich Novy.

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Abhijan Barua is a Journalism student at the University Of Glamorgan, Wales, and a football addict and musicaholic. He has a bit of a gift at having dark thoughts all the time.

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The Train Arrives

Some people say life can be a fairytale. It can be an enigma, a mystery and a cruel experience for us – Heck! I say, it is anything but a fairytale. People come; they stay for a while and then they leave. They just have to – for one doesn’t value the people who stay with you. I stand here in the shadows of darkness, amidst the sound of silence and among the humanity of animals. I stand here staring at the sun which emanates too much darkness for my liking. I stand here on a platform waiting for my train to arrive. I have been standing here for so long that I, myself, have forgotten how many trains have come. They have come and they have gone, taking the people away with them. Yet I stand here.

 

Sometimes you have to let go – let go of the people who care for you, who love you and who would do anything for you. I know that my time is near too. My train will arrive too. I will have to depart. I will have to part away with the people I love. I don’t want to but I will have to. How depressing does it sound! It is depressing indeed. Soon I will be passing the blurry city lights – distorted by the high speed of the train. Maybe life in cities is blurred anyway. My life is hazy, yours is too. Who would make us realize that? I ask myself and look for the answers in sound of silence.

 

Why do we need a loser to make the winner’s day? Why does the past leave its stains on sheets of our memory? Why do we paint walls of our conscience when we know that we are hiding our own selves? Why do we find ourselves while looking at the mirrors of obscurity? Why do doubts scream at our faces when we finally decide to be ourselves? I don’t quite know how to feel what feeling really is. I don’t quite care about caring. I don’t love anything about love. I do hate to hate. But when it comes to loving love itself I am confused, baffled and bemused. I hate to leave, I really do. But we don’t have a choice, do we? Everyone has a train to catch – everyone has a confirmed ticket for the land of the missing. So, don’t miss me when I am already missing.

 

Here comes my train. Have to leave now.

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Ahmad Hassan is a 24-year-old, recently graduated from Lahore University of Management Sciences. He has a fantastic, though eclectic, taste in music which he loves to indulge in daily.

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