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 Love, Twisted Tales

Sleeping Beauty

In days of yore, a young lass

pretty as pretty could be,

her tresses gilted in gold,

azure eyes sparkled with glee.

At age, her parents invited

men from places far and neigh,

she slept assured true love will

find her in her reverie.

Years passed unaccounted for.

No one broke her thousand winks.

No prince ever came for her.

Parents crossed the rainbow bridge.

Their once pretty girl–with grey hair,

clouded eyes and sagging skin–

died in her sleep…

I wish she’d done something, instead.

Posted in Love

Unrequited | Poetry | Sher

You said “I do” but you didn’t,

Inception of love eternal lost in the forbidden,

Love unrequited wishes still

For chances endless until you return.


Qubool kar be hua nhi. Irshad kho gya zina me kahi.

Teri ashanai me hume fir bhi musalsal mukarrar ka hi irada h.


Author’s note: An English Quatrain (verse with four lines) translated into Urdu Sher (couplet)

Posted in Love

Mourning | Lantern | Sher

Trees

ceased flowering

mourning the one

who deserted ruined garden,

in disgust.

Jinki yaad me shazar pe gulo ne ugna chood diya,

Unhi ne hikarat se sunsaan gulistaa chhod diya.


Author’s note: A Lantern (Japanese style of poetry with 1, 2, 3, 4, 1 words) translated in an Urdu sher (couplet). Mine is “nearly a Lantern” because the last line has two words.

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 Love

Gum (Lost)

Ab aaye ho? Mujhe dhoondhte jana.

Ek arse se kisi ki yado me gum hu.

___________

English translation:

So, you’ve finally returned? Find me before you leave again.

For ages, I’ve been lost in someone’s memories.

___________

Author’s note: Sher are couplets in Urdu that tell a complete story.

Posted in Random Thoughts

Samandar (The Sea): Sher

Jis samandar ki lehero me tair ke laut aaye hum,

Suna he ki log usme doob ke paar ho gaye.

_________________________________________

Translation:

The ocean that I swam in and returned from unscathed,

I’ve heard, has drowned many and let them pass.

______________________________________

Author’s note: In Urdu poetry, a Sher is a couplet, where two lines present one thought or story.

Posted in Love

At Fault

You told me it was in my best interest–

the yelling, the barely restrained anger.

Then,

You told me it was all my fault–

the yelling, the unrestrained anger.

Now,

You tell me I deserve it–

before all hell breaks loose

everyday…

Posted in Love, Nature

My Neighbours: The Conservative

It is slightly stuffy but it is home and I love it. There is a lot of room to walk around and food hangs from the sealing everywhere. It is rather dark for the lack of sunlight, but who needs to see anyway. It is unsafe on the surface, what with all the sunlight and the monsters that roam the earth. I hardly go up except when stormwater floods the tunnels. My life is quiet but safe. It’s a lonely existence but company is overrated.

She wanted a ‘life of adventure’. I had assumed she would see the fault in her ways and return to our molehill. Afterall, who likes to eat from dustbins when they can get fresh roots? But…

Sometimes, I walk to where my tunnel runs beneath the nest she built with an uncouth rat and hear the soft pattering of little feet that are her proginy. Those are the moments when I wonder if a life of adventure wasn’t as bad.

I guess, I’d never find out.

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 Love, Nature

Heartache

I picked up the flower that had fallen from her hair. It still held her fragrance.

Ever since she moved here, I followed her around, hoping she would look at me and never look away. Often, I would walk behind her, right past her, in front of her…

But she seemed to look right through me.

Then, this guy came and held her from behind. She squealed in terror. Naturally, I attacked him. But instead of supporting her saviour, she hit me with a stick and called me a ‘stupid bird’! Worse still, she kissed him!

I’ll never love again!


Photo by Raimond Klavins on Unsplash

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, Love, Twisted Tales

Down to Cinders

The Merchant

I’ve never been so wrong footed in my life.

Last Saturday, at the party, I was sure the duchess was flirting with me to secure her third husband. Her first marriage had left her a rich widow and the second made her a widowed duchess. Now, with no sons, it seemed natural to look for a third husband to take care of all the accumulated estate…someone like me with tremendous wealth but no title. I had spent the golden years of my life building myself from a nobody to a prosperous businessman and the next few enjoying the success and money. I had been with numerous women but none of them really left an impression, except their lip colour on my shirts and their hands down my money pouch. At 41, I’m running out of choices. It’s high time for me to find a wife too, so I lead her on. I knew I’d never love her but she had class.

But as she invited me home for lunch, she moved the topic to her daughters who, according to her, were both the finest specimens of the fairer sex–beautiful, charming, intelligent, well-read and well-versed in arts. She mentioned looking for grooms for them and ‘hoped I would find them agreeable’.

Something did not add up. If they were even half as good as their mother, they would have a long line of suitors of their age. Why would she want them to marry me who is double their age? For my money?

Curious, I accepted the invitation.

Today, as my carriage drives into their estate, I see a long-running crack in the magnificent garden statue; unkept flower beds; a water fountain that has long dried out; and the wooden floor under the porch creaks…the beginning of the end.

So, money it is…

I knock and a rather pretty girl in her best house-help uniform answers the door. Ella, as she introduces herself, bids me to enter. Her eyes downcast, she informs me, “The Duchess and her daughters are out for an ‘urgent chore’. She has requested you to wait for them. They’ll be back later this afternoon.”

It doesn’t make sense, unless they have found someone richer. Or may be, the announcement of the King’s ball to find a bride for the Crown Prince has averted their gaze to greener pastures.

I should just leave. But Ella is clearly apologetic. Her eyes are pleading me to understand that she isn’t responsible for all this. She is embarrassed at her employers’ indiscretion. I had been there too many times. In my early jobs, when I was a nobody, my employers put me upfront to deal with angry customers. If I leave now, she would think of me as arrogant. For some unfathomable reason, I don’t want her to think I’m arrogant. So, I step inside to wait for the hostess who wouldn’t return for a couple of hours.

The Maid

It’s all too weird. My stepmother has kept me up all night to finish my endless chores before he’s due. She ordered me to get presentable to wait upon this guest while they all dealt with this ‘urgent chore’, whatever it is. Why even one of them couldn’t stay back is totally beyond me.

Why are they avoiding him? Doesn’t he have enough money to their liking? His two-horse-drawn carriage is certainly worth four times our own. He looks regal, right from his formal suit, diamond cufflinks to his silk tie. His brown wavy hair has a slight sprinkling of greys.

Maybe, they think he’s too old to consider…Well, they are wrong. He’s quite handsome and fit, unlike their noble suitors whose age you could guess from the size of their girth. When he introduced himself, his smile made me gasp. He smells like the Arabian perfume that father used to love.

Right now, I feel for him. Once I gave him mother’s message, he looks downright embarrassed for being so easily dismissed. He was clearly expecting to meet my step-sisters. May be, it is better he doesn’t. Marrying them would lead to lifelong shame-facing. I serve him tea and try to be good company.

We talk about books that my sisters have placed strategically in the drawing-room to be able to brag in front of the suitors that they have read them. I tell him of my favourite place in the world, my father’s library. He’s curious, so I take him on a tour. He looks around the library in awe, touching book spines like they were made of flower petals. His fingers are hardened with old marks of callouses. I wonder if he’s had a past like mine. We talk about more books. He laughs. It’s a nice, open laughter without pretence; one that I can get used to. I offer him my favourite book to pass the time while waiting.

Back in the drawing room, he points at the piano, curious who plays it. Too lost in his voice and too busy trying to not stare at him, I blurt out the truth, “It was mine before father passed away…” I clasp my mouth at the admission.

“Yours? Are you the daughter of the late Duke?”

I nod quietly, glancing at my clothes–clean but far below the status of my family, knowing how far-fetched the story seems. Will he mention it to mother? She will burn me at the stake…or in the oven…

But his eyes hold no judgement, only understanding, “So, after your father died, she took over the estate and turned you into housemaid?”

I nod again.

“Is there anything I could do to remedy your situation? I could request an audience with the king. He is just. He would ensure you are provided your share in the property.”

My eyes well up at the unexpected sympathy, “Thank you for the offer. I, too, could have applied to the king. But I’d rather stay home and sweep the floor than drag my family through dirt.”

The Merchant

Ever since I saw her, it has been difficult to look elsewhere. My eyes had been drawn to her face. But now, I see her in a different light.

Is she for real? She cares for a family that reduced her to a maid. Her little hands in the lap are full of calluses from the daily hard labour. I can see the blue marks peaking out of her shirt sleeve where she had been hit with a cane over and over. And she doesn’t want to change that for her family’s honour?

I cross the distance between us to where she stands. She looks so vulnerable as she looks at me with surprised gaze. I take her hands in mine, as gently as I can, “You know, Ella, I always thought that women like you had ceased to exist.”

Her hands fit in mind perfectly and her face is a picture of subdued beauty that comes from forgiveness and love. Suddenly, I know I will not be able to forget this face or walk out of this place leaving her behind. It is clear what I have to do.

“I came here seeking a bride. I think I’ve found one–if, of course, you’ll have me. Will you?”

She’s surprised and hesitant, “I’m afraid, it won’t be appropriate, considering I am just a maid. I won’t have my father’s name or property to bring along.”

“I don’t care about the title and I have enough money to last several lifetimes. All I care about is whether you like me? Would you like to spend your life with a man like me who doesn’t have a family title, but who fell in love with you the moment he saw you?”

She blushed a deep red and nodded sheepishly, “I think, I did too.”

The Duchess

“Of course, you have my blessings, my dears. I’ll arrange the two of you to get married this Sunday. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be much of a fanfare because the time is short…”

I don’t think they cared for the size of celebration any way.

When we had returned, Ella was in his arms, as I had expected. She’s captivating even when covered in cinders from the oven. Being dressed decently and left alone for two hours was more than enough to bring a marriage proposal. As for Ella, she couldn’t wait to be shot of us. She would have married a horse, had it proposed her, just to get away from us.

So, now that all has gone according to my plan, she will be married a week before the Royal Ball. Thank goodness for that too! Of course, we will need to hire household help, so it wil be a little inconvenient, but with her out of the way, my beautiful daughters are sure to win the Prince’s heart.

Posted in Love, Nature

My Neighbour: The Diva

My mom always said, “Never judge a bird by its feather.” So when the time came for building a nest, I thought I’ll give humans a chance. I didn’t like judging them based on their feathers, or the lack thereof. I am not really averse to humans…just a little wary because they are so large and uncoordinated. They flap their wings all day for no reason but never take flight. Though, some credit is due because they continue trying. They never really give up, unlike most other creatures who are now using their wings to walk.

I also appreciate the way their trees are always breezy. I often sit on the branches of their open window and the breeze is just there when there is none outside. Someone told me it is because of the three-legged sloth that hangs from the top of their tree and the breeze comes when it moves round and round. I tried talking to one of them if it was true but he seemed a quiet one.

Well, it’s hot right now and I don’t fancy staying outside in the sun while sitting on the eggs. So, when I started property hunting for a nest, I thought I’ll build it inside one of these breezy hollow trees. A couple of mynas referred me to this tree mentioning that the resident humans were rather gentle on other creatures ever since the last revolution and their recent treaty with the resident mice, spiders, bees and wasps. Also, they had mentioned that the owners offered free food to feathered neighbours. All this seemed rather too good to believe. But again, I wasn’t judging them yet. So, I thought, I’ll check out the property to see if it was worth the risk.

It is one of the usual hollow trees where humans live–very thick trunk, no leaves, no fruits, huge open windows, full of useless stuff. You can hear the constant dripping of water that seems to be ever present for humans. At the window, I could not feel the breeze and the three-legged sloth on the top wasn’t moving.

The humans were still asleep (Lazy bones!) so I decided to take a quick tour and then wait until the sloth wakes up. I sauntered inside. The branches on the top seemed promising for a nest. As I started to check them out one by one, one of the larger humans woke up and saw me. He woke up his mate and pulled out his camera. I thought, well, if that’s what it takes to please them…I posed for him. Big mistake!

Meanwhile, the smallest one woke up and started giggling. I was glad they approved of me; that would make them good neighbours. Or so I thought. I was so wrong!

After some time, the largest human got up and touched one of the square mushrooms that grow from the inner wall of the tree, said something about a ‘fan’. Well, I was rather glad to have him for a fan and I would have accepted the mushroom gift, but the female shouted, “No”.

Jealous!

Then she shouted something that sounded like ‘bird wud hurt’ and the first guy dropped his hand never plucking the mushroom. I would say, I was rather dissapointed by the lack of hospitality. Now, as I continued checking the branches as earlier, this female wouldn’t leave me alone. She started waving her hands menacingly, shouting “Shoo” on the top of her lungs.

“Shoo, yourself woman!” I decided, I wouldn’t be driven out by a jealous female. So, I hung around waiting for her to give up. The male placated her once and all three of them went out of the space closing the opening behind them. I was so glad for the peace and quiet. I tried waking up the three-legged sloth just to see if the breeze of this property was worth the hassle. I tweeted at him. I pecked him. But no use.

Then the female returned brandishing a pitchfork at me…

Okay, not a pitchfork, but one of those long branches these humans weild at times–‘wroom’, I think. She started pestering me with the soft side up, swiping pretty close but never making contact. I was startled at her hostility, I must say. You would think, I had stolen her seeds or something! At first I jumped around from branch to branch. Then I decided to fight back.

“Eat dirt,” I shouted and pushed down the dirt that was collected on the branches right on her eyes. She rubbed them and they were all watery. We faught like that for quite sometime until both of us were breathless.

That’s when she retreated never to come back.

I stayed there another hour but the three-legged sloth slumbered on. Then I just left. I was tired and hungry, and honestly, I couldn’t live in the presence of a hostile female. What if she blames me for leading her mate astray. What impression would that leave on my guy? I wish I had brought him along. Then, her guy would have seen right away that I was taken and he wouldn’t have hit on me in the first place.

Sigh! Jealousy, thy name is woman!

Posted in Love

The Master

There are dogs and, then, there is ‘The Dog’;

The one that owns you right from the moment your eyes meet;

The one who silently commands you with puppy eyes to pick it up;

and marks you as his own territory by fervant licks;

The one who ties you around its wagging tail

and rules your life then onwards.

It’s too late until you realise that you’ll be

feeding him out of your hand, buying him toys,

taking him on walks, cleaning after him;

become his slave for the rest of your life…

It’s too late because you are already ensnared in the trap

the little four-legged cupid had set up for you…

You have lost your heart…


For some reason, I’m missing you a lot, Master Bruno...

Photo by Nathaniel Bowman on Unsplash