Posted in Life and After

The Maze

Author’s note: This is my second attempt at a “first-line story” to break what we all know as a writer’s block. The first line of the story was suggested by GP. I hope I did it justice. 🙂


She wandered aimlessly through the maze, wondering what the surprise was when she emerged.

Her father was holding her hand, of course, afraid that she too will run ahead of him like her brother did. She was constantly barraging her father with questions he had no answer to—how did he know where to turn and which door to take, and how would they find their way back when they have found her brother.

When, and not if…her faith was absolute—nothing untoward could befall her seventeen-year-old brother. He was her hero—fearless, invicible and undestructible.

The maze seemed to be going on forever as they went door after door looking for him. She was sure he would have reached the prize by now and must be waiting for them with the trophy in his hand; or may be it would be a really big teddy, like the one she saw the other day when her brother had taken her to the market. The thought perked her up and she quickened her pace, pushing the doors open before her father could stop her.

She felt her brother before she saw him. The smell of his favourite deodorant and the familiar sound of his favourite love song album filled the room that, she suddenly realised, was his bedroom. The sense of dread filled her heart and her gut told her to close the door before… But, like every time before that, she couldn’t stop herself.

Her brother’s body hung from the ceiling fan—tongue lolling, eyes popped out…

She was screaming until her husband shook her out of the ‘nightmare’ and held her against his heart as he had done for countless nights in the past eight years and her parents did for many more years before that. She sobbed until she drifted into an uneasy sleep, hoping against hope for a dreamless night.

And to think that her brother died believing that no one loved him…


Photo by MontyLov on Unsplash

Posted in Life and After, Love

The Last Straw

Author’s note: This is my first attempt at first line stories. The first line of the story was suggested by Fraggle. Thank you, FR. I hope it loves up to your expectations.

The death of the goldfish is the last straw.

My tail is twitching with agitation. I want to kill Gilly. I’ve been telling her since day one not to overfeed Goldy but she’s been constantly offering him treats for tricks when she thought I wasn’t looking. And now as I return from work, Goldy floating sideways in water, eyes closed, close to the cove roof while Gilly is looking at me sheepishly from the far corner, waiting for the sharp rebuke that is sure to come. The weight of the life lost is coming down on my shoulders making it difficult to stand.

I can’t always keep an eye on her. I’m a single mother with a job to keep. Apart from my regular job at the Shell and Pearls art shop, I work three nights a week at the Oceans One Disco to pay for Gilly’s tution. So, she’s alone after study hours. I adopted Goldy, hoping he’d give her the much needed company. I hadn’t considered if, without adult supervision, my young daughter would be able to keep him alive…

I sit down heavily on the ancient coral reef seat that once belonged to my great-grandmother. How did my mother manage to raise me and her mother before her, since none of our fathers—the stranded sailors—stayed long enough for us to grow up. They’d rather catch the first ship back home. But in those times, mermaids raised their children together in large schools so there was always someone elderly to take care of the young ones while mothers foraged for food and wannabe mothers foraged for sailors. I remember clearly the hours I had spent hanging around in open ocean with friends and elderly mermaids, learning how to sing, dance and read. I had a happy childhood.

But now, as the city of Atlantis grows to the outskirts and unfamiliar faces become a common sight, it isn’t safe to leave behind our children out in the open. So, schools are limited to a few hours a day with classes held in closed rooms, and children are sent back to empty homes to fend for themselves. Gilly has to spend uncountable hours alone and I had believed a pet would make her happy. He did too as her constant companion and friend. But now, he’s gone, and I’m not sure I’ll risk another life again.

A deep sadness settles in the pit of my stomach. Goldy wasn’t just a fish; he was family. He was my responsibility too—another one I failed at. Should I rebuke Gilly for being a careless owner? But she must also be grieving…

I look at her and am greeted with expectant eyes. I open my arms to Gilly and beckon her to me. She shouts with glee, “Didn’t I tell you, Goldy, she loves me too,” as she swims in my lap, and Goldy rushes forward to join her, leaving the play-dead act behind.

I roll my eyes to show I amn’t affected by their little drama, but my heart throbs happily, beating a steady rhythm against my chest, trying to drive away the memories of ancient pain.

Posted in Life and After, Random Thoughts

I and Me

“So, did you find me yet?”

“Ouch! When was the last time you cleaned this place? It’s cluttered with regret and anger.”

“Don’t evade the question.”

“I’m trying but it’s too dark in here. Can’t see a thing.”

“I know. It’s long since I saw any light.”

“You’ve covered the windows with deception.”

“Yeah! Coming up clean is long overdue.”

“Help me help you. Shed some light.”

“It hurts my eyes

and ego.”

“Fine! I’ll still find you somehow.”

Posted in Life and After, Nature

Predictable

The moonless night hid me well, clocking my dark coat to the point of invisibility as I stood in the corner observing her. I was hungry and she was alone at the stand, waiting for the bus, looking around nervously—an easy prey. She wasn’t grand but she’d have to do.

I moved towards her stealthily. Just twenty feet…

Ten…

Five…

She shivered as she sensed me. Her face ashen and eyes wide with fear, she looked around trying to find the source of her discomfort.

It was now or never for me, so I stalked closer—close enough to rub my back with her leg—and gave a low growl. Finally, her eyes spotted me.

“Hey little kitty, are you lost? Are you hungry?” I purred in affirmation as she picked me up and grinned widely. “You don’t have a collar. Do you want to come home with me?”

Humans are so predictable!


Dedicated to John Melone for his crazy cat poetry and to Prashanth’s Ikru and his northern lights

Posted in Life and After, Love

Bridled

My feet were killing me. I had spend yesterday’s Sangeet (Music and Dance) ceremony limping around in two-inch heels. It was as if I was continuously walking downhill. The fear of slipping and falling on my face made me clench my toes and within a few minutes, my calves and feet began complaining. I was the only one at the party who wasn’t able to dance at all.

And today, in a couple of hours, I will be expected to walk to my future husband while wearing these three-inch stiletto monstrocities. My cousins specially ordered these online bacause they loved me and wanted to make my day special. I wish I could stop them but it seems like all my life choices had been taken out of my hands ever since I agreed to marry.

I looked away to think of something else and my eyes rested on my lap, on the appalling red lehenga dress I was wearing—my mother’s choice. The equally red dupatta sat at a distance leering at me waiting for its turn to wrap me in its folds, its golden lace trimming and countless stones winking in the light.

The air of the room reeked of hair spray as the beautician tried to stick my short, spiky hair to my scalp in an attempt to hide my obvious boyishness. The large fake hair bun she had attached to the nape of my neck with a hundred pins was weighing my head down. Soon, she’d cover it with what seemed like half-the-flowershop, and paint my face with primer, concealer, foundation, face powder, face glitter, eye-shadow, kajal, eyeliner, blush, lip-liner, lipstck, an assortment of bindi

I had a sudden urge to throw on my favourite t-shirt, jeans and sneakers, and run away—if only my feet would stop hurting…

My phone vibrated.

“How are you holding up?”

“I’m running away.”

“Take me with you. They are making me wear a brocade sherwani. I’m melting in the stifling heat.”

“At least, you won’t wear heels.”

“Can you sneak out for a minute?”

“They won’t let me leave the room until they are done painting me.”

“Well, then, I’ll have to do this formally. See you in a minute.”

What was my future husband doing outside my home a couple of hours before our marriage? Why wasn’t he home preparing for the marriage procession? He was the only silver lining in all this craziness—the only guy who didn’t flinch at my obvious boyishness and career choice as a travel guide. What did he want to talk to me about now? Did he change his mind?

A knock on the door brought me out of the reverie. One of my cousins let my groom in, giggling uncontrollably. My parents were tailing him, clearly worried by his sudden appearance two hours before the time and without his family too.

He gave me a smile of comaderie, “So, I was looking at your video from yesterday’s function. I kept waiting for you to dance because your had once said that you loved to, but you just sat there, trying to smile and failing. Then, I realised you will be required to wear something even fancier today…”

I couldn’t understand where he was going with this speech. It didn’t seem like a matter urgent enough for the unexpected visit. However, he came closer and sat down on one knee next to my chair, a shopping bag open next to him. “I decided to be your knight in the shining armour, so you could dance with me today.” He took off the fancy heels from my aching feet, and slid on a pair of sneakers.

Finally freed, I fell in love.

Posted in Life and After, Random Thoughts

Lost and Bound

So many dreams shatter every year,

Lives lost and tears shed,

Coz we can’t step outside the role

Thrusted upon us the moment we were born

Against our wishes.

——–

We are molded to accept it

As our nature and our destiny.

——-

There is no question of not falling in line.

I am the woman: The fairer gender? Homemaker? Caregiver?

You are the man: The stronger gender? Bread winner? Protector?

You can’t cry.

I can’t stop.

——-

There is no question of not falling in line.

So many dreams shatter every year…

Posted in Life and After

Stuck

My shoe was stuck. Hurriedly, I tried to pull it off but my feet won’t come out. The train was due to arrive any minute.

I was sweating by the bucketload but it wasn’t helping. My feet seemed to be glued to the sole of the shoe. It was always like that. Every day the same time, I’d be late and try to hurry across the railway line, and then, one of my shoes’d get stuck. The train would, then, arrive…

…and run me over.

Here we go again!

Well, there’s always another time…

Posted in Life and After

Fighting Fate

It’s a long night,

safe, for now, in the swan’s feather,

delaying inevitable.

.

Precariously balanced,

wind threatening to topple me over,

onto the thirsty ground.

.

I grieve over the fate

all falling droplets meet—

before me and after.

.

I wonder…

I pray…

I hope to be better.

.

Dawn wakes me.

No longer falling, I rise in a cloud

to be one with the sky…


Free photo by Erik Stine on Unsplash

Posted in Life and After, Twisted Tales

The Dress

Author’s note: This is a painting-promt story based on my four-year-old daughter’s painting ‘Stork in Dress’. Please don’t look for logic. There is none.

Long ago, a stork was in love with a princess or, to be more accurate, in love with the long, flowing dresses she wore. He wished he could have one for himself. He spent long fruitless hours standing alone in the pond in front of her window in the palace grounds, looking grumpily at the princess.

One evening, when the drowsy sun dipped its feet in the carmine horizon and an orange moon rose in the star-studded sky rubbing its eyes, he saw something that looked like a large insect near the pond. Contemplating eating it, he stalked closer. The ‘thing’ magicked the beautiful rose bushes to look like cactus with flowers–he realised it wasn’t an insect but a sprite. Sprites are eternal mischief-makers with magic. A plan formed in his mind.

Taking her by surprise, he caught the sprite in his beak by one arm. The sprite cried out in pain, “It hurts! Let me go.” With his mouth still closed to keep a grip on the fae, he muffled out, “Promise to give me anything I ask for?” Writhing, she cried, “I promise!” He let her go and sat her on a rock.

The sprite was angry but fae can’t lie–she had promised and would have to give him anything he asks for. But, there is always a loophole, so, she asked, “What would you like me to do?” The stork said, “I want a dress just like the one the princess is wearing today–the one with rainbow colours.” The sprite thought for a moment and smiled, “So shall it be, then. I will weave you a dress out of light.”

The stork was excited beyond words. The sprite quickly called upon her powers. The lake waters shined like crystals, splitting the light of the setting sun and the rising moon into thousands of colourful ribbons. The sprite quickly wove the ribbons of light in to a dress even more breathtaking as that of the princess. The bodice shined on its own and sparkled against the palace’s crystal windows drawing gazes of the residents.

At the sprite’s nudging, the stork greedily put it on, but his wings would not fit in.

“Oh! The dress looks rather weird on your thin waist and legs, and your wings cannot enter it’s sides. Would you like a human body to go with it too?”

“Oh! Of course!”

So, the sprite mumbled as the stork looked at his reflection in the pond, admiring his gradually changing body: human legs, stomach, chest, hands, neck, hair…

…and the sprite vanished. He still had the stork’s face!

He was irritated in extreme. Now he will have to catch the sprite again to complete the change. In all this excitement, he missed the fact that he stood in the palace grounds smack in front of the princess’ window as half a human in a dress that shined like a beacon. The palace servants had seen him changing his body without spotting the tiny sprite. Now all of them ran towards him, brandishing swords and pitchforks, shouting, “Monster! Monster!”

He attempted to fly away but his wings were gone. He tried to swim away in the pond but his dress, now wet, pulled him down, nearly drowning him. He came out of the pond somehow hoping to run away, but too many men surrounded him. No one asked him questions.

He never saw when his life-blood seeped into the rainbow dress he had wrested out of an irate sprite.

Posted in Life and After, Nature

My Housemates: The Mistreated

And just like that, they’ve thrown me out…

When I was brought home, everybody had rushed out to fawn over me. Ever since, it was all the way downhill for me. For years, I was the most abused creature in existence–people walked all over me. They threw things at me without faintest sign of remorse. In fact, one rainy day, when water seeped in from the windows, I was left to shiver in cold. Nobody thought of mopping me up until the next morning!

Now that I am old and frayed at the edges, they’ve left me out for the garbage truck to pick up. Life is so unfair!

Posted in Life and After

The Plan

How much time would it take to build a coffin by hand?

He wasn’t fond of the job but, atleast, he will have one when he dies…soon, considering it was one of the last trees on Earth. So far, he had recharged his Oxygen cylinder using the tree that lived in his yard for the past 57 years but storm uprooted it last night. He wasn’t rich enough to afford buying Oxygen…

Even if the coffin is ready on time, who will lay him in it? Everyone he knew was already dead. Should he lower it in a grave and hop in while waiting for his cylinder to empty?

Who will cover it with soil?


Photo by Jeremy Hynes on Unsplash

Posted in Life and After, Love

The Long Walk

It is a long walk down the aisle. My father holds my hand reassuringly while my mom sobs in the pew. He stands with the pastor looking perfect as ever but I can’t bring myself to smile.

Is it too late to cancel?

Is it wrong to wish for something other than perfection?

I pass by her and, for a second, her entire face lightens up but, then, the lights go out again. Her red-rimmed eyes mirror mine.

Is it too late to cancel?

Posted in Life and After

Bermuda Triminiaios Periodiko (Bermuda Quarterly)

Summer Solstice edition

Month: Junius, Year: 593618 Anno Poseidon

Page 2

Is this the Beginning of the End?

In our last edition, we had revealed the heinous government policy of shooting flying fishes for target practice in a blatant infringement of Right to Life. The public uproar that ensued forced the government to change its policies, enforcing the use of mechanised manaquinns for practice instead. In this issue, yet again, we are raising concerns against mindless shooting by government officials for a completely different reason.

The concern stems from a recent report by Dr Hammerhead, a famous Ecologist claiming that the quality of water around the Atlantis Triangle has deteriorated greatly in the past couple of centuries. It now contains dangerous levels of Iron, Aluminum and Asbestos. Earlier last year, his team was contacted by the head of Coral Tribes Council (CTC) about the discolouration of their ancestral sites across Atlantis. Upon furthur research, it was found that that ancient Coral colonies that form the top spires of Atlantis Castle since the beginning of times are the most affected. A detailed study clarified the reason being the concerning levels of Asbestos, Iron and Aluminium in water.

The report has come right after last month’s environmental report on the changing ecology of Atlantis Triangle, claiming a twenty-fold rise in microbial infestation in the area in the past couple of centuries and swelling number of poaching and illegal hunting activities by rogue Sharks, raising the risk of biological imbalance.

While these reports may seem disconnected, they are linked closely together to mindless shooting and the Atlantis Ship-wreak yards.

Some of you might be aware that Atlantis Triangle has three large Ship-wreak yards, each situated on its three corners. They were created to dispose off the human ships shot down by King Poseidon to ‘safeguard his territory from illegal infiltration’. Now, these yards have grown large enough to look like iron islands peeking out of the sea because of the numerous ships and flying planes collected over the centuries. The spaces between ships provide ideal hiding spaces for poaching Sharks. Their woodwork and the stuff-humans-wear they carried has rotted for years causing microbial infestation in the surrounding areas leading to breathing problems and various skin and gills infections. The Iron, Asbestos and Aluminium from these ships are now part of Altlantis water causing the said Coral discolouration.

The research team has suspicions that the same could also be the cause of tail-scales decay in the senior citizens, the expanding numbers of eye-problems in Cyclops population and early aging signs in otherwise immortal sea-nymphs. According to Dr Hammerhead, it would require a detailed study of entire population of Atlantis to understand the exact effects and funding worth several million sea-oysters.

When we contacted King Poseidon for his comment, his first reply was that of causal dismissal. In his own words, “I have read the reports and am arranging some strong waves to be sent to wash away the minerals from the area.”

When we asked if he finally plans to stop shooting ships and flying planes, he said, “I will continue to do what it takes to keep my territory safe. I can’t secure all oceans due to the amount of vigilance required but I will not let those pests infect my capital.” He also commented on human intelligence, saying, “They just don’t stay out. Even after losing so many ships and planes, they haven’t learnt enough to mark out our territory as hostile and give it a wide berth. Instead, they send ships that can deep-dive to search for their lost ships. Such Assfish!”

When we commented that humans can’t see the city hidden below water and have no way of marking the territory on waves, the King blamed us for supporting the ‘enemy’ and threatened to use his trident on us. While leaving, one of the guards escorting us threatened to turn us into fried fish if we did not cooperate.

Meanwhile, CTC has called out King Poseidon’s bluff saying that he is just missing old times when wars with Zeus came often; that he is itching to use his trident on someone or something. They are protesting against the mindless shooting and resulting ecological problems by building colonies in the middle of palace gates, blocking the main pathway.

We urge you to support them in their cause by joining the mass protest at the Whale Bone park this Dies Solis being arranged by the FishMatters organisation. Let us pledge our support to our fellow citizens and save our environment and cultural landmarks from desecration.

Posted in Life and After, Love

Why

Something was off.

I could feel it from the moment you walked in our room

on our honeymoon–

something amiss in your face, your eyes, your smile–

something vital.

I spent the night awake, wondering what it was

and why it mattered.

Every time I thought of you,

I felt it.

Every time you were around me,

I couldn’t find it.

I wondered what was amiss,

and why it mattered enough to give me sleepless nights.

Years later, I found it

in the eyes of another man.

It was Love.

Posted in Life and After

The Sacrifice

The sun hangs at the horizon leaving a trail of blood in the sky. The hot summer evening is thick with anticipation as the Sadhu casts a circle of protection in front of the Peepal tree. Unintelligible murmurs of incantations fill the silence as the old couple quietly watches the proceeding with apprehension. The goat they had raised as their own child is tied to the tree, bleating, pleading for its life. It is inconsolable, as though it already knows the impending doom.

The old woman sniffs and the man suppresses a groan. They have no choice. Their youngest daughter is now 20 and past the age of marriage. They have tried finding a groom but she’s a Manglalik. According to her star chart, anyone who marries her would die an early death. Of course, they don’t believe in any of it but other people do. They are desperate and ready to marry her off to anyone, even a widower with children, so that she would have someone to take care of her once they died. But no luck so far. Their sons, her brothers, had assured them that they would take care of her but it is hard to trust.

A couple of days back, this Sadhu appeared at their doorstep, asking for alms. At first, they were afraid to look at him–dressed in a black loin cloth, with ashes from shamshan (cemetry) on his forehead and a necklace of human bones. As soon as he saw their daughter, he had proposed a solution–a ceremonial marriage of their daughter with the Peepal tree and the sacrifice of a black goat to ward off the bad luck. Their daughter had cried for hours, declining to let her favourite goat die but it is the only black goat they have.

The Sadhu has chosen the old Peepal tree in the forest for the ceremony. As he started drawing the red circle, they had requested him to consider another Peepal tree with a better reputation but failed to convince him. In the day light, it looks harmless enough but the receding light leaves shivers down their spine. The stories of the evil spirits ring in their ears as they look at their daughter sitting in front of the yajna fire inside the circle. Prepared as a bride in a set of red blouse and Banarasi sari, and all her gold jwellery, she looks a picture of loveliness. Yet, there is no joy on her face, only resignation to the inevitable. Her palms still held wet henna that her mother had hastily applied last minute and never got the time to dry.

As the sun threatens to drown over the horizon, they step towards the circle of protection. But the Sadhu waves them out. “The circle protects only one person apart from me. Your daughter is part of ceremony, so she must stay. The rest of you must return to the village right away before night falls and spirits awake.”

The girls eyes widen with fear, “Amma, don’t leave me alone!”

“Of course, we won’t, dear. Baba ji, you never said that we have to leave…”

“And what will you do here? Protect her from the evil spirits?” Suddenly, comprehension dawns over his face, “Oh! You don’t trust me around her…the man who spent the past 25 years rejecting all his body needs–sleep, food, clothing…everything…in pursuit of God’s way…You dare blame me of wanting to befoul your daughter.” There was an edge of menace in his voice that brings them down on their knees.

“Please, Baba ji, don’t be angry. You must understand the predicament of parents of an unmarried daughter. If we leave her behind, tongues willl wag.”

“In that case, you can take her back. But the ceremony has already started. If she leaves midway, I cannot guarantee her safety. The spirits of the Peepal will haunt her forever…” The Sadhu lowers his voice lightly to hide the rising temper, “If you stay outside circle, the spirits will possess you. If you step inside, I will not have enough power to protect any of you and it will endanger your daughter as well.”

The last beams of sunlight fall on the bride’s face streaked with tears. She seems petrified with fear. Thay can’t stay and she can’t leave the circle. The Sadhu commands with all the force he can summon, “I am not here to waste my time. If you want me to help her, you leave now. Else, you can take her and damn her to a life with demons. I don’t care either way…”

The silence that ensues enrages him further. He gets up to leave but they hang to his feet, begging, “Please forgive us, Baba ji. We are leaving. We will return in a couple of hours…”

“Do not return before dawn until the spirits are asleep again or I do not guarantee your safety.”

They hang their heads and leave immediately, promising to return for the crying girl with the first light.

The night is spent pacing around the house waiting for the day to break. When the anticipation overshadows fear, they return with their sons long before the birds wake. The forest is still dark and the yajna’s fire is visible from a distance, cackling with power. The Peepal tree is a monster with open jaws daring them to come closer. A limp, thin, ravaged girl with torn red clothes hangs from a low branch, her Banarasi sari tied around her neck. The Sadhu lies outside the circle of protection with the ceremonial knife stuck in his throat.

The goat bleats in mourning.

Soon after, the village talks in hushed voices about the spirits of Peepal tree who have now acquired a taste for young female flesh. As for the torn red cloth in the fist of the dead Sadhu and henna on the hilt of knife–such things better be left unspoken…