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.
I had long wondered why my family had the tradition of eating peanuts on long winter nights while sitting on the bed, preferably, inside the quilt. It is certainly warm but considering that peanut shells and their inner pink foils tend to stick to the quilt cover until washed, and makes them look dirty and forces us to wash them more frequently, it seemed like a lot of work for a little bit of warmth.
Hence, I tried to break out of the age-old tradition and eat peanuts at a table yesterday. I began to break open the shells using my fingers. That’s when it happened…
As soon as I would turn my head to talk to my daughter, who talks non-stop, peanuts would jump out of my fingers, land on floor and dive for cover. I would look around, meaning to find the lost bounty, to wash and eat it anyway. But to no avail…
The peanuts would just vanish in thin air. Frustrated at defeat and adamant on finding them anyhow, I moved the furniture and everything within three feet radius, even sweeped the floor using a broom so that, at least, we won’t step on them. But somehow, they managed to avoid me.
That’s when I realised why we eat them on the bed and inside a quilt–to trap them…
That’s what I am doing tomorrow too–I will wash the quilt covers later!
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!
Day 1: Walking up that winding mountain road in the moonlit night, I look up again. There stands the temple, partially hidden behind the mound of grey rocky slope, looking ancient, bleak and sad. I shouldn’t be able to see it at all from this angle, but somehow I can. I don’t question the vision though. The place has a lonely aura as if no one has visited it in the longest time. But still someone certainly had recently because it has no dust, no cobwebs.
Don’t ask me how I know that–I haven’t reached there yet.
I walk slowly, for the road is full of colourful shops lit by yellow light, like old days. Colourful stone jewellery hangs from the low ceilings and is laid down on the table display…nothing of real value but too pretty to ignore. I’d stop every now and then to hold them in my fingers, maybe try them out in front of the mirror. But my heart wasn’t in it. Then, the urge to reach that temple would grip me and I’d begin walking again, only to stop at the next shop…
Day 2: There are stairs winding between shops, going up and down and up again. I am bone-tired and a little lost. I want to take rest but the temple is pulling my heartstrings, and the compulsion to keep looking for the path keeps me weaving through the crowded marketplace built on the stairs. I look up at the temple at an angle where it should not be visible. But there it is, still too far, still the lonely mysterious place partially hidden behind the grey rocky slope. How I wish to see it up close…
Day 3: I walk that mountain road again, making my way slowly through the shops. I reach a crowded temple, vibrant with pink walls and huge deities that fill the entire room making it a tight fit. It isn’t where I want to go but the crowd of temple visitors jostles me until I fall in line.
The urge to seek something else builds within, making me restless with the crowd’s antics. I push against a houseful of humans until I finally find a way out. I am now on an upward unused grey path that leads to an open gate flanked by high walls. Once I reach the top of the grey rocky mound, I look down. There it is, the temple I seek…
The temple looks mysterious in the moonlight. It is as lonely as ever. I am drawn towards it like a moth to flames. I know, I’m not supposed to go alone in a place where no one else ventures. But my feet take a life of their own. I walk inside.
The darkness is not oppressive. It is releasing.
I stroll around between the many pillars, relishing the serenity. I reach a pair of sliding doors that look like an elevator. I inch closer. There is no visible button but the lift opens for me. There is one more woman there, looking lost in peace. Not sure where she came from. But I step inside anyway as if I know what I’m doing. The door closes behind me. There are no buttons but the lift moves downwards, which does not surprise me.
The lift stops after a long time, or maybe a few seconds. Time does not make sense anymore. The door opens and both of us walk out in a long lobby. The ceiling is too high and invisible to me. There is light on both ends of the long room, but that is to be expected. The place is crowded too but there is no jostling. I look back, the lift door is closed. I know it would not open for me anymore, not that I want it to.
People walk around peacefully at a casual pace, there faces grey and devoid of all emotions except eternal peace. I am here to join them. I begin walking at a casual pace, knowing I have an eternity to explore.
The last thing I hear is the final beep of my heart monitor. I know, now, I’m free.
I was in grade 10–fifteen-years old and a book nerd. I was denser than my brother’s ten-pound dumbbells when it came to the matters of heart. It was easier to do ten wrist crunches in a second than to make me understand the cryptic language of would-be lovers. I knew more about Maneaters of Kamaun, thanks to late Jim Corbett, than teenage boys and what went inside their ever-busy brains.
Having studied at co-education schools, I had quite a few male friends. But when it came to heart-to-heart, they steered clear of me. Though, it could have something to do with my ‘incident’ with the class bully where I knocked some sense in his brain, literally. Or, it could also be the light ‘mustache’ I had grown over the adolescent years. Whatever the reason, the boys in my previous schools avoided any chances of a one-on-one with me.
When I moved to Aligarh, the boys in the new school, however, were quite ill-informed. They knew of my love for old songs and painting. Also, I looked less like a lioness now that I had cleaned the facial hair. It was a welcome change to have friends who weren’t scared of me.
After my first month in the school, I was moved to section D, which was a teacher’s nightmare in the best of days. There was a gang who never took classes and were always found roaming the corridors. The most ‘influencial’ boy of the class, let’s call him A, was their ring leader. The teachers were afraid to report them. Others caused enough noise to raise the dead. Nobody listened to the teachers. Our class teacher was also the school vice-president and never available to know what was happening.
Somehow, I never got to see that roucous part of our class. Initially, I was too busy with catching up on the work done before I joined the school mid-session. Later, I began noticing that during empty hours (when the teachers were missing), my class sang–all of a sudden, A had developed a love for singing. He was good at it too. Often, he would sit on the bench behind mine and begin singing. Meanwhile, nobody dared to speak or may be they were too enthralled. He attended classes everyday now, which was a first. Thanks to his newly well-behaved presence and active participation in studies, our class was too well-behaved to believe.
Soon, the bench behind me became the hub for all wannabe singers. We often played Antakshari whenever there was time (a game of replying to each other in songs). In the hindsight, I have a sneeky suspicion that some of them were trying to impress me. I can’t be sure, of course, nobody ever proposed me.
Except one day after school, when I was dragging my bicycle towards the clear road that had enough space to ride it, A caught up with me.
Okay, before I get into the detail, let me clarify one thing–In small-town India, dating is not a thing. Arranged marriages are preferred and going out with boys is looked down upon. At least, that was the case at that time. So, you didn’t ask a girl out just like that.
You talked about the weather…and family…and things she liked to do in her free time…and about her friends (to gaudge if there was a potential competitor)…and how there’s nothing much to do in small towns… If the girl hesitated, and you still had brains left, you scooted. If she answered all your questions in a pleasant tone, you asked about her plans on the day when you wished to take her out and wait for her reaction with abated breath. If her day is free, you talked about your plans and if she’d like to join.
A followed all the required protocols. While we were stuck in the traffic jam caused by the several hundred bicycles and thousands of young adults pouring out of their daily prison, he talked about the weather, my family, my non-existent social life and my interests and the lack of things to do in a small town. (a pretty dull conversation, if you ask me). Then, politely, I asked about his interests.
A grabbed the opportunity with both hands and plunged, “I love watching movie. Infact there is this latest movie (he named a Salman Khan’s latest movie) that I’m planning to watch but I’m not sure.”
I was human enough to get curious, “Why not?”
“I don’t have company.”
That was my cue to say, “Really! I’d love to watch it too.” But as mentioned in the first para, I was dense enough to not understand the cryptic conversation and missed the cue. Instead, I got more curious. How could the other guys not watch a Salman Khan movie. He was the God of Indian adolescent tribes. His posters were up on every male wall I knew, “Why wouldn’t you have company?
I guess, A wasn’t ready for that. I had been pleasant enough so far and hadn’t winced even once during the entire conversation. So, in an ideal world, I was supposed to ask him the time and show up for the show. Instead, I am asking a probing question. So he got derailed, “Ahhh…because the timings clash with namaz…” (He was a Muslim and so were his friends.)
Again that was my cue to say, “Oh! No problem, I’ll join instead.” But I missed the cue again and chimed in, “Really? Then, I think you should go for namaz instead as well. A movie isn’t worth it.”
A nodded his head, forced a smile on his face and bowed out of the competition, dragging his bicycle in the opposite direction. He looked rather disheartened, if you ask me. But I could be wrong, afterall, I was too dense to understand the matters of heart.
I had never hunted in this area before but I had been dying to get a tiger’s head for my collection for years now. One of my friends found this forest on an environmental website. It boasted of a uniquely high tiger per kilometer ratio as compared to the rest of the world, and with good reasons too. Tigers are revered here, so, local poachers don’t touch them. There’s no law against hunting the endangered species in this country though. I guess, the government assumed that the religious fear was enough a motivator.
Anyway, I got a quick tourist Visa, gathered my hunting gear and flew here. In a country where tigers are revered, I couldn’t directly ask people where I could find a tiger to kill. So, I went around the long route. After the first day of sight seeing with a local tourist guide, I tipped him heavily. Then, I said something like, “I just wish it was a little more exciting than that!” I talked about my hunting trips. He immediately promised to find someone to help me, which he did within the hour.
The ‘help’ was a small shrewd man who offered his services based on a hefty fee per day. We started small with hunting foxes, then, gazelle and wild boars. I tipped him generously after each day’s game, increasing the amount with the size of the game, nudging him to find something even more exciting. He gradually warmed up to me suggesting bigger cats–Serval, Cheetah, Leopard… I told him, “But I’ve done them all in. The only big cats I’d be interested in now would either be a Lion or a Tiger. Of course, I knew the area did not have any lions.
He hesitated. A long pregnant pause that had me wondering if I had gone a little too fast. Should I have waited a few more days? Should I have hunted the Leopard or Cheetah first? But that would have killed several days of my trip, reducing the days I had left for Tigers.
After what felt like an eternity, he admitted reluctantly, “There’s a place in the forest where tigers throng. That is the only place where you are sure to find then. Mind you, we never hunt them. There is a curse in that place. Anybody who goes hunting there ends up as either dead or raving mad.”
Old wives tales, of course! “I’m not afraid.”
He looked at me with the resignation of a parent who knew his child was beyond hope. “Okay! But this time, I won’t stay with you for the hunt. I have a family to provide for, so, I can’t afford to be cursed.”
It took immense effort to stop me from rolling my eyes. “Sure, but you can show me where it is, right?”
He nodded quietly, “Yes, but it will cost a lot more–I’m risking a curse and a possible death. I’ll take the money in advance today, so that I can hand it over to my family, just in case, I don’t return.”
I knew he was exaggerating to hike up the amount. He wasn’t even going to be on the hunt. But I hadn’t travelled across the world to save pennies. If the website was to be believed, the number of tigers in the area guaranteed a trophy.
The next morning, he came back with supplies for three days, a goat, two labourers and tools to create a hunting platform. When handed over one of my heavier guns, the labourer started backing out, muttering in native language. I looked at the ‘help’ to translate but he had horror written all over his face. “At no cost should you fire your gun until we’ve returned. Firing the gun draws the tigers in.”
I could not help rolling my eyes this time. Thankfully, they didn’t see me. “Come on, the boom of gunfire scares animals away…”
“It might in other places, but it’s different here. You’ll see soon enough.”
We travelled as far as we could in an old jeep. Then, we walked on a well-beaten trail. Apparently, a lot of people walked through that part of the forest without any weapons. So much for risking life!
We left the trail and entered deeper into the forest. After an hour, we stopped near a tall and sturdy tree with high and strong branches that gave me enough cover without obscuring my view. The ‘help’ ensured, it was impossible for a tiger to climb. I knew the last precaution was unnecessary but he insisted, “You will be thanking us three days from now.”
The labourers began building the hunting platform. The ‘help’ tied the goat in open view and arranged its fodder while I smoked a cigarette relishing in the tiger calls. The website was right. Too many tigers live in this area. Not sure how though. Tigers are rather territorial. Usually, there is no more than one in several kilometres. But in this place, it sounds as if there is a huge ‘pride’ living in close vicinity, only, Tigers don’t live in prides. The biggest group would be a mother with two cubs.
By noon, the platform was mounted and the ‘help’ said, “Are you sure you want to do it, Sir?”
Mentally, I laughed at the superstition. Overtly, I just nodded.
“Alright,” he pointed towards north where trees seem to thin. “There is the temple of Kyarr over there. The only survivors from a hunting trip in this area were found hiding there–completely mad, mind you, but alive. So, if the situation gets out of hand, try to make a dash for it. I’ll return in three days and collect whatever is left of you.”
With those parting words, they left.
I settled in the platform on the tree, hid behind the leaves with gun in position and waited. It wasn’t long when the goat started bleating. A tiger walked in. I guess, it wasn’t hungry because it wasn’t stealthy. It sniffed, the goat bleated and the tiger looked straight at the place I sat. Somehow, it knew I was there. I had a clear shot but the intensity of its stare made my hands shake. I fired but missed.
That’s when all hell broke lose.
All of a sudden, 17 tigers rushed out of the bushes around me, roaring and tearing at the tree. The tree was rather sturdy and impossible for an animal to climb but, in my bones, I knew it can’t last against so many tigers. I fired several rounds but, weirdly enough, hit none. Soon, I was out of bullets.
I wondered whether the guide had reached home safely. I wondered when he will return. I had travelled across the world to be here, but now I couldn’t wait to return to my family. I clung to a branch fiercely and prayed to see my wife and daughter one more time.
After an eternity of scratching away the tree bark, they began returning to the shadows of the forest but one of them remained stationed beneath the tree. I had a suspicion, he’s waiting for me to get drowsy and fall down. After a couple of hours, as the rush of adrenalin subsided, I started getting drowsy. Crazy as it sounds, another tiger had come in and relieved the first one from ‘duty’, which means they were working as a team. I could see that three days from now, one of them would still be here. Which means, my help would never arrive.
Dusk arrived and the last rays of light fell on a shining piece of metal–the pinnacle of the ancient temple. The wise words returned to me–“If the situation gets out of hand…” Well, the situation was certainly out of hand. I couldn’t stay the night here. May be, the temple could offer a better shelter. I could hide in the inner sanctum and close the doors. Other people have survived, haven’t they? There was no point waiting to die here. I would rather do something.
I couldn’t carry my baggage. It would slow me down. My guns were all useless without the bullets and my knife would never reach the tigers before they reach me. So, I used them to create a diversion. I dropped my bag down first, threw my gun as far as it would go in the opposite direction, and then my knife ahead of it. The tiger took the bait and ran towards them. I jumped down and dashed towards the temple. I ran like my life depended on it. I didn’t hear any tigers behind me but I didn’t stop to find out.
I reached the temple in one mad dash. It had no boundary so entering was rather easy. I ran inside the prayer hall and turned to close the doors. There were none.
“Don’t worry. They won’t hurt you here. You aren’t carrying weapons,” a pleasant female voice made me turn around. She was sitting on the empty stone throne on the pedestal. “Priestess,” I thought.
“I had shot several rounds at them a few hours back.”
“But you can’t anymore.” There was no question in her voice. She smiled dazzling me. “Please make yourself comfortable until your friends return for you. If you are hungry, you can have these fruits,” she pointed towards a basket at her feet. With those words, she left the room.
I hid there for three days until help arrived. The first night, I ate like crazy but slept fretfully. All the while, I heard them roar close by occasionally, just outside the periphery of the temple. Not sure what was keeping them out though–the temple had no doors to close. It wasn’t fear that kept me up. It was the woman–I kept thinking about her smile, her face, her grace, her voice…
The next day stretched before me with nothing to do. My smartphone battery was dead. I tried missing my wife and daughter, but I couldn’t. All I thought was ‘her’. I craved for her with the intensity of a man dying of thirst in the desert. But however I tried, I could not recall the colour of her clothes. I had been so taken in by her face.
At dusk, she returned with a fruit basket. I think, her clothes could have were made of tiger skin…I can’t be sure. All I could remember was her face and dazzling smile. She asked me if I was well. I wanted to say that I was dying to see her again. But all I could manage was a nod. She left the basket in the same place and left with the dazzling smile. I wanted to stop her and ask her name. I wanted to ask her how she knew my language and about my friends; where she lived and why she returned only at dusk and only to deliver the basket; why she never said a prayer in the temple; where was the deity anyway.
But the words stayed lodged firmly in my throat. All I could manage was to look like a dumb thunderstruck tree.
The night was spent pretty much the same way. The tiger roars kept waking me up. When I slept, I dreamt of her. I had difficulty remembering my wife’s name. Heck, I couldn’t have remembered my own name, had I not brought my ID with me. The morning was spent waiting for the dusk to arrive so that I could see her again. I gathered wildflowers that grew within the temple boundaries. A tiger was manning the place. It gave me hope that my ‘friends’ wouldn’t be able to come and I wouldn’t have to go away. I could stay here forever, seeing her everyday. I held the flowers lovingly in my arms until she came, afraid to put them down lest they get dirty.
When she came, I all but jumped up. She placed the basket in the same place and looked at me. I meekly held out the flowers. She accepted them quietly with a smile that almost made me swoon. She turned to leave. I couldn’t hold back anymore. I might have to leave tomorrow. How could I go without knowing her name? Or rather, how could I go at all?
“Please don’t go,” I begged her.
“Do you need anything else from me?” her voice was teasing.
“I…I don’t even know you name,” I blushed to the roots of my hair like a school boy.
“I thought you’ll never ask. People call me Kyarr,” she replied.
“Oh! I thought Kyarr was the deity here.” She kept smiling.
“I…My friends are due to return tomorrow. I was wondering… thinking that…I…Would you…” I couldn’t bring myself to say the words. What if she says no? What if she considers it an insult? I know nothing about her. She could be married. She looks young but people marry early in this part of the world. Heck, even I’m married! What was I even thinking?
She waited for a few seconds. Then, probably realised I wasn’t going to finish. So, she simply said, “I know your friends come tomorrow morning. I guess it is the last time we meet.” She was still smiling.
“Would you like to come with me?” I blurted out, then lost all the courage and looked at my feet.
“I can’t. I’m needed here. But thank you for asking.”
It hurt to see that there was no pain in her eyes. She was smiling as always while my own heart was ripping up in pieces. “Will you at least stay the night? I just want to look at you until I leave,” I knew I was transgressing some social boundary but I couldn’t remember it…
“I can but you might not like how I look after dark. That’s why I haven’t been staying here for the past two nights.”
I could hear the warning in her voice but I was past caring now. If it was the last time I was looking at her, I didn’t care if a few hair came out her bun. Come to think of it, I can’t remember how she wore her hair–Was it a bun? Pig tails? Or did she leave them loose over her shoulders?
She’d still be the only one I love. “I insist.”
Agreeing, she sat on the stone throne on the pedestal. Then she gave me that smile that melted my knees…
and turned to stone…a magnificent stone Tigress.
My helpers returned the next day and told me the goat was still very much alive. I told them about Kyarr but they didn’t believe me. They said Kyarr, the stone Tigress, has always been there on the pedestal. She was the temple deity.
They said the curse that was turning me mad.
I would like to believe them and forget all about her, but how can I? My dreams are full of tiger calls and my every waking moment is spent thinking about her. Somehow, her being a tigress makes no difference to me. She’s still the one I love. Often I see her walk away from me. I call her. I beg her to stop but she just gives me a smile that would make me follow her anywhere. And then, she keeps walking until I can walk no more. Once I fall, I crawl behind her until I faint. When I wake up, I find her gone. My bleeding feet and knees don’t hurt. My heart bleeds knowing I’ll never see her again. I tried booking a flight to return but my wife…I can’t recall her name now…she won’t let me go. I think she’s jealous. Can you please make her understand, Doctor? You do believe me, don’t you?
The Doctor looks up at me with eyes filled with pity. His voice belies his words. “Sure I do.” He stops the recorder and makes some notes in his pad. “Let’s discuss your dreams in more detail tomorrow.” He signals a male nurse to escort me to my padded cell from where I couldn’t escape and walk until my feet hurt and crawl until my knees bleed…
Today, I woke up to a beautiful sunny day and decided to spend a bit of time lying down in the sun. As a result, I got to see a lot of flying bird underbellies. The Indian crows look Majestic from below, considering their underbelly is all black as compared to their grey upper body. The green pigeon’s green is even more evident from below. A pied myna’s all-white belly takes away all the resemblance from its family.
It also reminded me of perspectives and how things change from the way we look at them. The same person is different in different settings–a corporate stiff-board, a vicious manager, a caring colleague, cheerful friend, a loving parent, a happy neighbour, a demanding spouse, a playful sibling and a loyal child…the same person, looked at from different angles. How many lives do we live in a day?
It was as if all my life I had been walking towards that door. Should I let this stupid instinct override my practical brain? Or should I just turn back and keep wondering for the rest of my existence? Because whatever happens, I’ll never be able to forget it.
Usually, I am not like this. I am a straight-headed guy who puts his brain ahead of his heart. That’s the only way I survived after being dumped at an orphanage as soon as I was born. Without parents to wipe my tears and siblings to trust, I had no one to love or care for me. They say you don’t miss what you never had. I disagree.
All my life, I have worked hard to stand up on my feet. And once I could afford it with my own humble means, I have travelled across the country, stopping in places I liked, taking up odd jobs to pay for the stay. Though, not sure why, every time I felt as if something was amiss though I knew not what it was that was missing. And now that I stand in front of this door, my heart knows this is it.
But my brain warns me it is just wishful thinking. I hesitate. Honestly, this is the first time I have stepped here. I just reached the capital city of the state via bus a few hours ago. I was looking at the map for places to stay and see when I saw the name of a small village in the periphery of the city. The name caught my fancy. So, I took the next bus to visit it.
It’s a place of a fairytale—rolling green hills dotted with grazing sheep and cows, a lake with brightly coloured fishes and waterbirds, and small farmhouses. As soon as I got down at the bus stand, the fresh air hit me with full force—my breath hitched. It was surreal. The place was familiar as if I have spent all my life here and I was just returning home. Maybe, I saw it in a movie or one of the calendars in the orphanage’s office, or maybe, in my dreams when I was hoping and praying for a home. A prayer that was never answered…
Wind with a faint whiff of woodsmoke and homecooked meal pulled me on a well-beaten path. It looked familiar, like a childhood memory—there…but not really. The fields on both sides were almost ready for harvest. People worked in them as their children ran wild in muddy shoes and clothes that had seen better days. I never had that childhood but could almost picture myself in their place.
A farmhouse stands at the end of the path. The simple building is made of stone and its garden is a riot of colours. The simple door is framed with flowers…
I’m spellbound. I stand outside for an endless moment, wondering if I should knock. Deep down, I know, I must knock that door and find out who lives here, and whether I am finally ‘home’. My practical brain shouts at me to leave while I am still sane. It reminds me that I can’t find ‘home’ by knocking on random doors but my soul is tethered to this place, atleast, until I get my answer. The truth may hurt me but it will, atleast, let me leave so that I don’t spend the rest of eternity standing at a stranger’s door. So, I knock.
The door opens. An old man with kind eyes and a wide smile greets me, “Hello there, son! How can I help you?”
I hesitate, “Hi! I’m a tourist. I was just looking around and I couldn’t help coming here. You have a beautiful garden!”
His smile grows even larger until his eyes are barely visible. “Ah! My wife would be delighted to hear that. Why don’t you come in and have a cup of tea with us?”
Not waiting for my reply, he ushers me inside the simple, cozy home where an old woman with smiling eyes greets us. Probably it is the newness of it all, but their simplicity breaks through my initial reservations. As I sit sipping tea after tea with them, we talk about our lives, as if we have done it everyday—as I had dreamt of doing with my family for all these years, if I ever find them. We smile at our simple pleasures, laugh at our pain. They talk about their children and I imagine how it must have been to be raised by such wonderful people…I tell them about my own humble beginnings, laughing at the memories of bad food and caretakers who didn’t care.
They don’t offer fake sympathy. They laugh with me and offer more muffins, though they wipe their eyes secretely when they think I’m not looking.
I change the topic and talk about my traveling adventures. They talk about seasons and crops; their children who are in the city with their families, not interested in the ‘backward’ lifestyle of the village; complain about having too many rooms and no one to live in; worry about having too much estate but no one to manage in the future as they get older.
Though they don’t say it, I can sense their deep loneliness and the feeling of being discarded by their own family, and I can hear it echoing my own longing to belong…somewhere…to someone…
Sooner than I’d like, the day comes to a close. All I’ve done all day is wolf down the tea and muffins fresh from the oven, and meals twice my average meal-size, and talk to the strangers who make me feel wanted. No sight-seeing. But it feels enough, as if all my life I have travelled only to reach them. I wish I had found a connection—some relation with them, however distant—so that I had an excuse to return. Alas, no such luck. The thought of leaving makes me ache all over.
It is close to the time of the last bus to leave. Finally, I force myself to utter the words that have been weighing on my heart, “I think, I should leave now. It’s getting late.”
After an uncomfortable silence for a second, he counters, “But you never saw the place. You can’t leave until you are done sight seeing,” She joins him, “Tell you what? You stay with us for as long as you like it here. We have spare rooms. And I am baking cake tomorrow, so I’d love to have someone to share it with.”
My heart swells until it is ready to burst open but I try to tamp it down, “But I can’t impose on you. You just met me. You barely know anything about me.”
“Son, we know enough to trust you. Would you like to stay a few more days and provide company to a couple of old codgers?” His words and smile are mocking but his eyes are solemn.
Hesitating, she adds to what he said, “I know you come from the city and are used to the luxuries it offers, but maybe, you’ll like the sights and the slow pace of life here? A lot of city people are moving to villages now a days, you know. Maybe, give it a chance before you go back to live your city life?” The offers is casual but her eyes say differenly.
From the corner of my eyes, I watch him cross his fingers, and I know what I had to do. “I would love to stay longer. But be warned, I might never want to leave. Some day, you might have to throw me out forcefully,” I say jokingly while my heart thumps as if I have run a marathon, “But I have two conditions—one, you will let me work on your farm, so I can pay the rent. Two, hopefully, you’ll let me have those muffins everyday.”
He laughs out loud and claps my back while she hugs me happily.
A lot of you already know my best friend M through my post–The Curious Case of M&S. She’s my soulmate, except for the romance part.
We had rediscovered childhood together at an age when most women try to act grown up. We had run amok on streets ducking angry cows, eating unhealthy food, just loitering around on the pretext of finding coaching centres, attending those coaching just to be around each other during summer breaks…well, you get the drift.
What I didn’t tell you is that our common love is painting. We met during our Bachelor’s at our painting class and it was love at first sight. We were the fiercest competitors and best friends. We had entered competitions together, exhibited paintings together, experimented with colours and dabbed with different styles.
I was her biggest fan…the kind who collect waste paper after the other, literally. So, she used to carry out five-minute experiments on scraps of paper, intending to throw them away. I used to collect these little gems. Some may find it a little creepy–stalker-kind of behaviour. But I knew someday, I’ll sell them off as M’s first and become a millionaire. I had that level of confidence in her skills.
She is the best painter I have come across, and I have met some some really successful Indian painters during Bachelors. After she finished her Masters, she had to take a long career break due to the reason the world knows as marriage and children. Now she’s back in full force and raring to go.
She paints both for love and money. She has created some illustrations for my site under the pen name Ammpryt ART.
She also has a website that has her contact details in the About page. So, in case you are thinking of some custom-made paintings that you can print, she is the go-to person. She also has a design shop on redbubble.com by the same name (Ammpryt ART). They print your chosen designs on blankets, mugs, t-shirts etc and deliver at your doorstep. There are a bunch of Red bubble links in her blog, though she hasn’t figured out the blogging part properly yet. Do check her site and let her know your thoughts about her designs.
We are currently working on our first book–a story compilation with some kick-ass illustrations. Wish us luck!
His right hook was stronger than his left hook. So, he gathered the coriander leaves together with his left hook and waged a war against the errant leaves with his right. But they kept falling out, reminding him that quality of his remaining life depended on the new set of fingers his new bosses had ordered for him, if he was to keep his current job as a housekeeper and cook.
For 34 years, he had worked at a warehouse, using his pair of sturdy hooks to carry and store the wares to be housed, never missing the set of flexible fingers that his contemporary robots sported. So, when his owner decided that his model was too old to be repaired and sold him to willing owners, he felt jilted. New beginnings weren’t easy at his age. But having a new owner was better than being thrown in the junkyard, so he went quietly.
His new owners, an old man with a broken front teeth and an equal old squat woman with a traditional nose pin, took him to one of those ‘lesser’ engineers who work for the masses. How humiliating it was to be standing in the place along with all sort of riffraff!
Then came the big blow…He wasn’t fit for the new owners who needed a domestic robot. Being new to the whole robot-thing and not knowing better, they were fooled into buying an old industrial robot with hooks unaccustomed to the nuances of household work, especially cooking–a delicate art–that need a set of flexible fingers instead of hooks. His owners had openly regretted the choice, calling him a tin-box!
There could be no greater insult. He was made of Aerosteel used in making spaceships! He suggested them to rent him to another warehouse. He offered to work overtime to pay back their money. But even he knew it was a long shot. There was no guarantee a warehouse would hire a 34-year-old robot with obsolete technology.
That’s when the ‘lesser’ engineer became his saviour. He suggested updating his program to ‘Househelp’, and getting him two set of fingers, both easily available on GooglyFace.com. Since the fingers weren’t coming cheep, the old couple needed some persuasion. But they eventually relented since they had already invested 78 thousand bucks on the tin box, and ‘another 7 thousand wouldn’t kill them’.
Hence, the engineer quickly updated his program to Househelp before they could change their mind, deleting his Warehouse program by accident. He offered to order the sets of fingers from a ‘friend’ who would give them a ‘discount’ (his discount being 30% more than the market rate but the old couple would probably never find out).
So now, he was ‘home’ with his new owners awaiting his new body parts, and praying to God, if there was a God for robots, that the engineer would know how to install the fingers properly, else he would be stuck chopping coriander with a pair of hooks for the rest of his life.