N is for A Nice Guy

NI was challenged to write noir fiction by a friend. Being that I’m utterly unfamiliar with the genre, all I had to go by was a sexy woman in red, a world-weary man, cynical lines and criminal intentions. I gave it a desi twist, imagining what the seamy side of my city would be like. Tell me if you enjoyed it. For today’s A to Z Challenge, I give you n for noir, N for a Nice Guy. By the way, if references to sex, crime, the underworld or prostitution bother you, please do not read further.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

N is for A Nice Guy

You might expect to find people who look like her about at that hour. People who look like her, but not her. If you were feeling peckish and in a mood for a certain kind of company, you wouldn’t be too far off your mark, to approach her. You’d have to have money though. This one does not look like your classic 300 rupees, by the hour, mooh mein lene ka extra sort.

She walked into my room at quarter past two. A red chiffon saree, so transparent, if it had been yellow, it wouldn’t have been visible at all on the smooth contours of her skin. The palluv bordered with black lace drew a sharp line from the corner of her shoulder down to the tip of her right breast. And if that blouse hadn’t been black, it wouldn’t have been there at all. Her hips, undulating around an impossibly low waist tuck, entered my room before her breasts did – no mean feat considering her proportions. That’s how I knew what she did for a living.

My first thought though, was that she was a hi-fi type, stumbled into my place for nasha. But I didn’t bother telling her that was 3 doors down at Abdul’s room. We’re not friends but why give away information for free? I have a clean chit, with everyone. I may not look it but then, look at where I live. Tinsel town those mediawaalon used to call it in the 80s. Tinsel tarnishes in three days in this weather and scratches like fuck.

My name is Mihir Kulkarni and I am a real estate agent. The only 24 hour estate agent in the city that never sleeps. I still can’t believe how stupid they’ve all been to never catch the significance of that. People need spaces, different kinds of spaces, any hour of the day. A kholi for 4 nights, a bed for 3 hours, a shelter for a kid for 2 days, a safe place to keep 6 petis…I’m the man that will get you these, cash upfront, no questions asked.

I looked her straight in the eye, lace bordered, red tinged watermelons notwithstanding. It’s about being a professional and letting them feel they can trust you. Anyone could be a client, even a Zeenat Aman lookalike in a chiffon saree. Men looking at her in the face couldn’t have been something she was used to. To her credit, she didn’t look surprised.

“My boyfriend is trying to kill me. Help me? I was told you were the man to speak to.”

she said.

So, a place to stay. 3-4 nights maybe. Till she could raise the funds to buy a ticket back home. I could tell she didn’t have much cash (where would she store it?). But she was a wild card. I couldn’t put her with Sheena and Maria – those girls were sweet but they’d probably run off to sell this madam’s high heels. Naveen had told me that they were to be off cocaine for at least a month while the cops were cracking down.

So I took her home.

She didn’t bat an eyelid when I opened the door to the Worli bungalow. But her eyebrows registered surprise when she saw my passport photographs lying on the dining table.

“This is your house?”

I opened the refrigerator and took out the daal palak I had made earlier. By the time I’d brought over a plate of rotis and sabzi to her, she was seated at the dining table. The palluv I noticed had been pulled over her other shoulder (not that it changed things much).

She talked as she ate, clipped words between small bites. Jabalpur was home. Parents who wanted to see her married, a 45-year-old widower who wanted to marry her, no dowry, same old story. Except she didn’t run away with a lover. She got a job with a local news channel. Two months later, they put together the money to come to Bombay, where the real masala was.

Sting, she said, wiping up the last of the daal palak with a roti. That’s what Sateesh had said would be the best way. Blackmail money or instant publicity – both investments in a future of media glory. They set their sights high, right in the beginning. No slow build-ups in this game. The name she told me, surprised even me.

Not a Khan, not a Kapoor but one of Bollywood’s reigning superstars. In addition to a wife and two kids, he also carried the distinction of Family Man. He’d burst on the scene with his first blockbuster 10 years earlier – a kesari-sweet film with 17 songs and lots of wedding rituals. He’d followed it up with a string of similar movies and was credited with bringing back family audiences into the theatres, hence the title.

But Sateesh thought he must have a dirty secret somewhere. So he fitted her with the instructions and the hidden cameras. She was nervous she said, but it all went well.

“Then?”

I said, leaning forward in spite of myself.

“We…yes. But I didn’t go back to Sateesh. I showed him the cameras. Family Man. He was angry at first, but he realized I was helping him. So he promised to get me out of the dirt. What life is there for the girl in a sting video?”

Ah, so that was that. I stood up and went in through the door to prepare a bed for her. I knew I should get back to work but I didn’t want to leave her alone. Her eyes were still downcast.

“I thought…you know, he really is a nice guy. What did I know? There are no nice guys in this industry. Now he’s trying to kill me.”

She stood up and the palluv slid off her shoulders, the hem pulling the tuck off her waist and the saree fell in little circles around her ankles. I was about to turn away when she turned around. Reaching around with painted nails, she edged the blouse strap off. And there, along the line of the slinky strap, was a deep gash, still raw with exposed flesh. When she turned around, I saw the bruises streaked across her breasts.

“There’s more. On my thighs. And in other places you can’t see even in this dress.”

That was when I noticed the line around her throat, lean like the imprint of a single slender finger. I had missed it earlier, probably mistaking it for a fold in the flesh. I reached out and ran a finger across her cheek, wiping away her tears.

“Come to bed.”

I told her.

“You are safe here.”

It was around 6 in the morning when I lay back and pulled out a cigarette. She turned on her side and looked up at me.

“You know, you really are a nice guy. You didn’t look like it but you are.”

I finished my cigarette before I turned to look at her. Then I stood up and pulled on my pants.

“Up.”

I told her.

“Time’s up.”

She widened her eyes. The cheek of it. It didn’t work any more on me. I had almost felt sorry for her. Almost, for a fraction of a second, I’m not too proud to admit it. Till she showed her true colours. Begging, begging me to gag her, to bind her up and hurt her.

I had it all on record. And the camera never even saw my face. Stung the sting. No Bollywood roles for a woman who had done this. S&M is new enough to India to have its takers but not for open consumption.

“It won’t even work as a leaked MMS. This is HD quality and no phone camera can give you that. Don’t try claiming that it was someone else, either. People saw you entering this place. And there’s those scars you had when you came in. I made sure those weren’t make-up.”

My phone was ringing. It would be my money. My first cash-after-delivery job but it was big bucks. The name of the caller flashed ‘SATEESH’.

“Even you tried to take advantage of me.”

she sobbed.

“Everyone has to pay their dues, sweetheart. That’s what you did to that poor actor, didn’t you? He hasn’t had a movie in a year.”

“I thought you were different.”

I picked up my phone and strode to the door. Then I paused and looked back at her.

“There are no nice guys in this industry.”

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

N is for A Nice Guy

*Image (without text) via adamr on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

L is for Letters I’ll Never Send

LI’m falling utterly behind. So I decided to post this already written story and catch up on the missing three later. Here’s another attempt at epistolary, this time in a more traditional, simple manner. Two letters I give you for today’s A to Z Challenge in the form of L is for Letters I’ll never send.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

Letters I’ll never send

My dear Lollypop,

I can imagine you dropping your iPhone, your nonchalant poise destroyed, if I were to call you that in person. It has been years since I called you that, after all. A decade and half to be slightly precise (as you once said). Yes, I remember. Kidster, I will always be your big sister. You and I both know, I will always be able to call you out on the elaborate opera you put up for other people. I can still do it.

You’re a master at it, I will give you that, Lolly. Silly boys, they are so dazzled by your fireworks, they never notice the things you do to them. You’ve had a good, fun run and I don’t grudge you that. Heaven alone knows, I can’t. After all these years

You’re 26 now, pop-pop. I can see your defenses solidifying into confidence. You don’t play those games with ma and baba, that you used to. I think you’re actually learning to be a little kinder too. Or is it just Jimmy that you’re that way with? It must be love, true love at last. I bet you’ve never told him that. But I know it. I know you, poppet. I wish we had not

Do you know what you are getting into? Marriage is a big thing. Look beyond the wedding. Are you sure you want to spend the rest of your life with someone who makes you different from the way you are with the rest of the world? Do you think he will love you as much as. You will probably think that it’s an indication of true love. Maybe it is. Will he still love you

But true love, is that a recipe for happiness, child? Jimmy is 31. He isn’t one of the boys you twist around your fingers easily. After the excitement has subsided, you might find that you don’t like the idea of someone who knows more than you do, who is able to see through your little dramatics.

You’ll be fidgeting by this point but I know you will still be reading. This is the first real conversation that you and I have had in 14 years, after all. My darling idiot, my namkeen poppet, my half-sucked lollipop dear, how I miss you. You were always my baby, even after we stopped speaking. I know you will never forgive me for changing as I did, inexplicably. I’ve never forgotten the injured look in your eyes, when I shut the door on your face for the first time, and told you, “Privacy is a thing, Lalita”. I think my calling you by your full name is what injured you the most.

I know this, Lolly. I know this because I never stopped being your big sister. And I know this because you allow Jimmy to call you Lolly. I know you’re trying to hurt me, by letting someone else share that special nickname. Mission accomplished, child. But it’s really more important that you look at what that is doing to Jimmy and you. I reiterate, he isn’t a boy. Tread carefully, now. You are an adult now, not a little girl whose big sister dropped her, without explanation.

These are my words to the wise and please be wise, Lollypop.

With all the affection of 14 years that I withheld,
Arpita.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

J,

Is this what you’re doing? The next time I see you, I want you to answer this question. Wear a white shirt if the answer is yes, a blue if it is no.

You may wonder what right I have to make demands, to ask questions. Fair point, I say. So I’ll give you an answer to buy back the right to question.

What happened in 1997? I missed my monthly date. It was the first time that had ever happened. Remember how we used to scoff at Hindi movies, where a stormy night was all that was needed to get a girl pregnant? I have never been on a hike after that.

Why did I not tell you? We broke up two weeks later. I wonder if Priya Shah ever knew all the relationships that she ended up destroying just by existing. No, I know you never had anything with her. I found out only four months later when she got engaged. It was too late by then.

What did I do? What could a 16 year old pregnant girl have done? We didn’t have iPill back in ‘97. Or Google. I went into the bathroom and hit myself in the stomach with a hammer twenty-four times. At some point, I also drank some phenyl. It tasted so bad, I got scared. I ran back into my bed and huddled under the covers. I woke up half an hour later, vomiting. And when I finished throwing up, I realized there was a pool of blood at my feet. I mopped it up and went back to bed. In the morning, my mother thought I had just got my period in the night.

Lalita knocked on my bedroom door that night, surprised to find it locked. She used to come to my room and snuggle up next to me sometimes. I shut the door on her face that day. She never came back.

She is nothing like me, a fact that I’m sure you’ve gathered by now. That probably sounds like she is easier to manage. She won’t leave you with a trail of questions. She won’t go into long silences when she is displeased. In fact she’s rarely displeased. She gets disillusioned real often though. It is now your burden and responsibility to keep her illusions intact, till the next time she spots a crack in them. Do not try to introduce her to reality. That privilege has been mine and I chose not to, years ago.

I’ve given you three answers and in return, this is what I want – your answer and thereafter, your silence. We could have had a family, years ago, but we didn’t. And now this is a chance to be a family again. Don’t destroy the chance as I did, in 1997.

I know you really are going to be wearing a white shirt the next time I see you. I will smile at you and show my pleasure at being introduced to you. And we will have a family dinner with my parents and your father.

Welcome to this family, brother-in-law.

A

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

L is for Letters I'll never send

*Image via Simon Howden on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

H is for Happiness

HI usually avoid religious references in my writing and on my blog. But this one was an idea that really appealed to me. I struggled with H on the A to Z Challenge, before deciding to settle on the most peaceful, simplest (but hardest) word of all – Happiness. And I could only think of one character to portray its essence. This is his story through my eyes. Tell me what you think. I give you, H is for Happiness.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

H is for Happiness

The Laughing Buddha shifted uncomfortably on the rexine sofa. His stomach was not made for chair-sitting. He had lifted one foot up to tuck it under the stomach, earlier. But in the time it took to lift it and fold it under his under-underbelly, the receptionist had glared at him. His stomach had bloated slightly and it made his smile shrink. Disapproval did not digest well. Daunted, he had put the foot back down. Now, ten minutes later, his stomach had returned to its good-natured flab. But the sight of the receptionist was enough to keep his legs in check. It was all very tragic. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on who was looking), discomfort digested quite easily and didn’t impact the shape of The Laughing Buddha’s stomach.

At long last, the receptionist sniffed in his direction and dropped a curt “Go”. He stood up laboriously and shuffled towards the door, casting a sunny smile in her direction. She didn’t even pause in her perusal of the spreadsheets. But he didn’t mind. His charms only worked on Earthly creatures, not management. Still, it was his nature to shed sweetness and light, so he did. Never mind if a little bounced off.

All the bosses were in today, he noted, as he shuffled into the conference room. To his dismay, they were seated around an oval table, with a hole in the center. There were no mattresses or even a beanbag in sight. All that furniture took up so much room. Maybe, he thought, as the meeting wore on, the disapproval would shrink him enough so he’d be able to sit on the floor. But, he knew the minute that happened, he’d sink into bliss and spread out again.

“Sit.”

said a boxy voice, breaking his reverie. It shattered into a few thousand fragments. But the suited atmosphere of the room made them all evaporate before they had a chance to fly in any direction.

“We’re here to discuss your performance and the plan for the year ahead.”

The Laughing Buddha barely heard them; he was too busy trying to wedge into the chair. Suddenly his stomach filled like a balloon. Grimacing, he swiveled the chair around and settled his little hands around the balloon stomach. The Voice went back to speaking but the waves of disapproval rebounded and mated with the sneering curiosity from around the room, making the room hot and heavy. The stomach would stay bloated for the better part of an hour now.

“Let’s get to the nitty-gritty. We can’t have your random order scatters anymore. It’s not cost effective.”

The Laughing Buddha’s eyes opened and he struggled to see through the gloomy darkness. It was very hard, when his sunny smile didn’t light up the way for his gaze. Words like nitty-gritty dented his mouth-bow a bit. No happy arrows could issue from it, while it was in this state.

“How exactly has this thing been working all these years?”

a metallic voice scissored across the room.

“He follows his stomach. The sunshine radiance sustains for a few hours. It is constantly replenished by joy sensations that he picks up.”

“Which is what, he keeps smiling as long as he’s having fun? And where does happiness come into it?”

“It works like a virus. He smiles, they do too. The joy endorphins go shooting and release into the air. He’s able to gather and store them. Just like a solar panel.”

“Solar panel, virus…does this guy know what he’s doing? No wonder it’s in such chaos.”

“There’s no need to get aggressive. It’s just simple chemistry. The system has worked well so far. He’s..”

“Then why are we sitting here?”

The Laughing Buddha had closed his eyes by now. It was too painful to keep them open in the zinging volleys going across the room. He felt the ache shift back in his direction.

“You’ve to stop shooting those joy arrow thingies as and when you feel like it, now. We have to have some order now.”

“Happy arrows.”

“WHAT?”

“Happy arrows, not joy arrows. He feeds on joy sensations. The happy arrows are for barren situations.”

“Which he has been issuing by the truckload, on will.”

The stomach deflated a touch. The Laughing Buddha’s mouth-bow upturned immediately and he let loose a happy arrow. Then he looked around apologetically. But they hadn’t even noticed. The Voices were still zinging disapproval darts at each other. He realized they couldn’t see the happy arrows anymore than they could feel them. The thought gave him sustenance. It floated out through his nostrils and settled over his form like a glass shield. And he settled back in his seat, his stomach spilling over the arms.

When he shuffled out of the room three-quarters of an hour later, he was still smiling. But he had forgotten his wisdom shield back in the room. It wouldn’t matter.

The receptionist crinkled her nose as he passed her, smiling in the opposite direction this time. He hadn’t even noticed the discarded wisdom shields lying scattered around the office, from all his earlier visits. Ignorance was his inexhaustible power source. She had seen this rigmarole play out every year for the past ten centuries. Then she drifted up and floated to the conference room. Anytime now, they’d be calling for coffee.

The Laughing Buddha was out in the world now, zinging his happy arrows around. This time, she decided, she’d just mark him off as ‘Cost Optimised’. She didn’t want his fidgety stomach on her precious sofa again next year.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

H is for Happiness

*Image via Lavoview on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

G is for Gift

GYou will recognise the story. I did this as part of an exercise to try out the epistolary format. Now here it is, for the A to Z Challenge as G is for Gift. Tell me what you think.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

G is for Gift

MumbaiHotshots.com

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Posted by: Prerna Natarajan
Posted on: 15:31, 28 January
Subject: Camera value

Hi,

What’s the asking price for a used Nikon D5100? It’s less than a year old.

Prerna

———————————————————————————————————————
Reply by: Sheetal Kumar
Reply on: 20:30, 28 January

My cousin sold his on Quickr.com. He got 15K.

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Reply by: K Mehta
Reply on: 01:24, 29 January

15K too low. Is it damaged?

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Reply by: Max
Reply on: 15:02, 29 January

Don’t sell it on the open classifieds. See if someone wants to buy it on the photo-communities.

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Reply by: Prerna Natarajan
Reply on: 15:45, 29 January

No, it’s in mint condition. Only 2 months old.

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Reply by: Max
Reply on: 16:30, 29 January

Why are you selling it then? Bored already?

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Reply by: Helen
Reply on: 18:35, 29 January

Hi,

I’ve been looking for a decent camera to start again. Prerna, can we talk?

Helen

———————————————————————————————————————
Reply by: Prerna
Reply on: 22:22, 29 January

@Max: Needs must.

@Helen: My email address is pnatarajan [at] moonsystems [dot] com. Please get in touch.

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MoonSystems Messenger

———————————————————————————————————————
PNatarajan: You there?

STiwari: Haan bol.

PNatarajan: What plans for 14th?

STiwari: I don’t even know who my date will be for 14th.

PNatarajan: Sigh. Lucky dog.

STiwari: Tell that to my mother. She thinks I’m lesbian, not single. What’re you doing?

PNatarajan: Same old, I’ll bet.

STiwari: 4 year blues?

PNatarajan: Actually 7. We were dating for 3 before marriage.

STiwari: You’re the lucky dog.

PNatarajan: Grass greener etc etc. I can’t think of anything to do.

STiwari: What about him? Doesn’t he have a brain too?

PNatarajan: J He’s a man. I doubt he’ll remember. Birthdays, anniversaries hard enough. Valentine’s Day really too much to expect.

STiwari: Only if he is blind and deaf and living on Mount Everest where there’s no connectivity. It’s depressing, all this hooplah.

PNatarajan: It is cheesy.

STiwari: Bloody hard to keep your head straight.

PNatarajan: Anything to spice up the old marital noose for us boring old hitched ones.

STiwari: J Please clean up the kitchen counter afterwards.

PNatarajan: Hah, I wish! Sex in the kitchen only happens on Romedy Now. And the only action our flat sees is the bam-bam-bam from Gears of War.

STiwari: TMI!

———————————————————————————————————————
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Quikr.com

———————————————————————————————————————

Product Type: Gaming Console
Brand Name: Microsoft
Located in: Andrea
Price: Rs.18,000
Condition: Used

Posted by: Arun Mhatre
Posted on: 2 February 2014

Ad details:
I’m selling an Xbox 360 (white colour). It has all the parts, including console. I’m also including 2 controllers (one wireless) and 3 game DVDs: Grand Theft Auto V, Cricket 2010 and Fables II.

The XBox is in very good condition, 1 year old. Mail me at arun.mhatre [at] gmail [dot] com. In your mail, please mention that you saw this ad on quickr.com

———————————————————————————————————————
———————————————————————————————————————

From: Dheeraj Dubey
To: Arun Mhatre
Sent:
Subject: XBox for sale

Hi Arun,

I saw your ad on Quickr. How much are you selling your XBox for?

Dheeraj

———————————————————————————————————————
From: Arun Mhatre
To: Dheeraj Dubey
Sent:
Subject: Re: XBox for sale

Hi Dheeraj,

I’ll sell the XBox console + controllers + 3 games for Rs.20, 000.

Arun

———————————————————————————————————————
From: Dheeraj Dubey
To: Arun Mhatre
Sent:
Subject: Re: Re: XBox for sale

Oh, I don’t want to spend that much. How much for just the console? You can keep the games.

———————————————————————————————————————
From: Arun Mhatre
To: Dheeraj Dubey
Sent:
Subject: Re: Re: Re: XBox for sale

Hi Dheeraj,

Actually I want to sell the whole lot. Without the XBox, I can’t play the games, right? What is your budget?

Arun

———————————————————————————————————————
From: Dheeraj Dubey
To: Arun Mhatre
Sent:
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: XBox for sale

Around 15K.

———————————————————————————————————————
From: Arun Mhatre
To: Dheeraj Dubey
Sent:
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: XBox for sale

You’ll need to buy controllers to use the XBox. And then games are not available for less than 2K each. Think about it.

Arun

———————————————————————————————————————
From: Dheeraj Dubey
To: Arun Mhatre
Sent:
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: XBox for sale

I can spend upto 17K. Give me only XBox and controllers. No games needed.

Dheeraj

———————————————————————————————————————
From: Arun Mhatre
To: Dheeraj Dubey
Sent:
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: XBox for sale

Make it 18K and we have a deal. I’ll throw in the games for free.

Only one small condition. I’d like to keep the XBox carton till 14th. After that I’ll deliver it to you myself. Let me know if that is okay.

Arun

———————————————————————————————————————
From: Dheeraj Dubey
To: Arun Mhatre
Sent:
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: XBox for sale

Why? Does the carton have any guarantee details?

You want cash or I’ll do a bank transfer?

Dheeraj

———————————————————————————————————————
From: Arun Mhatre
To: Dheeraj Dubey
Sent:
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: XBox for sale

No, no, I’ll give you all the papers along with the console and games. Actually I don’t want my wife to know that I sold the XBox.

Bank transfer is fine. You can do it when you come to take the XBox.

Dheeraj

———————————————————————————————————————
———————————————————————————————————————

 

For my gorgeous wife,

I’ve had a lovely view for 3 years. But perhaps your (ageing) eyes could use better. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Love,
Arun

Flipkart Order Summary

———————————————————————————————————————
2 items

Order id : ODX783406

Date         : 14 Feb 2014

Total         : Rs. 18, 820

Shipping Address: 24, Venus Apartments, Andheri West, Mumbai

Product Details:

Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-105mm        : Rs.18, 790

Giftwrap                                                      : Rs.         30

————————

TOTAL                                                  : Rs.18, 820

———————————————————————————————————————
———————————————————————————————————————
Arun,

7 years and I’ll finally make peace with my soutan. Wanna watch me beat you at your own game this weekend?

I love you.

Prerna

Flipkart Order Summary

———————————————————————————————————————
4 items

Order id : ODX844527

Date         : 14 Feb 2014

Total         : Rs. 19, 387

Shipping Address: 24, Venus Apartments, Andheri West, Mumbai

Product Details

Microsoft X-Box 360 Kinect Sensor     : Rs. 11, 790

XBox 360 Game FIFA 14                     : Rs.  3, 299

XBox 360 Game Assassin’s Creed IV   : Rs.  2, 999

XBox 360 Kinect Sports                      : Rs.  1, 299

————————

TOTAL                                                  : Rs. 19, 387

 

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G is for Gift

 *Image via patrisyu on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

F is for Fear Economy

FIn my previous storython last May, I created a fantasy world called Feardom. (See story 1 and story 2 that I wrote then). This is another Feardom tale for the A to Z Challenge. In my first draft, I was told that the universe wasn’t clear enough. I’ve revised it since then, but just in case, here’s some context: Feardom is a world of ghouls, monsters-under-the-bed, aliens and otherworld creatures. They manage freshly dead souls’ passage into Feardom or wherever else they may be bound, with all the expected errors, goof-ups and emergencies. They also run a fear economy, collecting, creating, processing and distributing fear across the living world. Feardom functions at night.

Now read on!

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

F is for Fear Economy

Koriko was lavender with irritation. The colour made it even more cold and bothered. Feardom was tepid on a good night. But this was not a good night. What night was, when your work was bothersome?

It twisted away from the desk, deciding it was time for some exercise. As it rolled about on the floor, its circumference returning to a perfect circle, order was restored to its fevered mind as well. Koriko had picked up the art of rolling yoga from a cult worshipper who had an out-of-body experience by mistake. The under-bed monster fraternity had decided against the practice since the practitioners got too wholesome to fit under children’s beds. Koriko hoped against hope its own Department wouldn’t find some stupid reason to outlaw it among its employees too. Roga was wonderful for its shape and mind.

As Koriko bobbed up to the glass window, it noted in satisfaction, that the sickening lavender had receded. It was not yet its sunny yellow hue but it would probably not be that way till this matter had been laid to rest. Rich clients were always difficult but dealing with Amutty was extra purpleful.

Koriko’s Department Stomach didn’t understand. His job was to process all manner of requests to the Loss & Relocation department and juice out maximum spirit. Spirit is all he cared about. Koriko chose to stay in this job because he was one of the few Feardom citizens who didn’t have the foul taint of guilt on him. Guilt doesn’t stick to ghouls; that’s what makes them such great Department Stomachs.

Koriko slowed in its rolling down the corridor, to check its reflection again. Almost beige now, it noted and decided it would roll all the way tonight, instead of taking its whizzer.

Inspector ‘Jiggs’ Jigaboo was hanging outside his precinct when Koriko rolled his way. Koriko brightened immediately at the sight of its old friend.

“On a Fitness roll, are we, Officer Koriko?”

he growled.

“Yes. I’m losing shape and I’ll go blue if I don’t do something soon.”

“Let’s take a glide. It’s a slow night.”

“Can we go in the direction of the graveyard?”

“Are you sure? You never want to go there.”

“Well…yes. But I’ve got an errand to run. And I could use some company, especially at the Bone Market. Roll me out if I get too faint.”

Jiggs growled and began gliding. Koriko pulled out of its slow spin and bobbed up next to him.

“I thought you might be busy tonight. Passed a fresh crop of new-dead coming in.”

Jiggs jerked in his glide.

“They’ll be stuck at the Netherworld pass for at least two nights. And more than a quarter of them will get rejected and sent back as near-death. Some of them may even come your way, Koriko, like that kid I rescued last moon.”

Koriko grimaced a perfect arc across its round face. That had been a nightmare, even for a seasoned Feardom citizen. 3 hours in Feardom when a guy is not dead was a gruesome problem for the authorities to clean up. The Bureau of Bureaucratic Nightmares didn’t like the living nosing it on its turf.

“There’s more and more of those happening these days. I think the Fear Factory needs to be called to account. Raw fear is proving too potent for the living. We need to go easy on them. Can’t have so many of them tumbling into Feardom in sheer fright, before their time’s up.”

“Try telling that to the authorities. All they’re interested in, is all that free fear that rolls off them, the instant they materialize here. Do you know Bone Collectors are sunlighting as fear scavengers now? Ixtra help us all.”

Jiggs growled, a wry sound.

“I’m telling you, those crooks will be the last ones in Feardom, after the rest of us have been vaporized or gone transparent. They can turn every trick in the book!”

“Some of them may even become grishoomy Department Stomachs!”

said Koriko, bobbing lemon with the gruesome conversation. It always felt good around Jiggs.

“We’re almost here. And you’re quite pale, Koriko. Are you sure you want to go in?”

said Jiggs.

“Oh, I don’t think I can go in. I’ll be so transparent, you won’t even be able to see me to roll me out. I’m waiting to see if I can catch a Bone Collector on its way in.”

“What do you want? Can I get it for you?”

Koriko turned a greenish hue. Jiggs felt its discomfort. He knew the Loss & Replacement department was notoriously secretive and Koriko didn’t want any trouble with its bosses. It was terribly mysterious that they were here in the first place. The entire department looked down upon the skullduggery of the Bone business and hated the Fear Factory passionately, as their biggest competitors. They weren’t very profitable but they got by. There was a call for that kind of thing, in a fear economy.

The Department of Loss & Replacement orchestrated displacements of objects, places and people to distill unease and panic. It was guilt-free fear since forgetting allowed people to absolve responsibility. As far as Jiggs could see, that was the only draw for Koriko, who was allergic to guilt.

Koriko had gone an alarming pink-tinged magenta now.

“I need a bone, preferably one with a streak of blood or maybe an attached tissue. It’s for a case.”

Jiggs bobbed. Since when did Koriko’s Department deal with such base things? Koriko’s pink splashes solidified into stripes now as it made up its mind.

“You know how we were talking about the death explosion? The authorities are trying to curb it. This is a test assignment. We’re experimenting with a guy who is too bored to live anymore.”

“Bored??!”

Jiggs coughed. He would never understand the sentient beings of this planet.

“Yes. So we’re going to introduce disruptions to keep him uneasy and interested.”

“You’re using fear as entertainment!”

Jiggs roared.

“What else do you think it is, on this planet?” Koriko countered, its face yellowish again. “Anyway, it’s not fear. Not yet at least. Just unease and mild panic. He probably won’t even feel that much, given how far he’s gone into ennui.”

“Your fancy Replacement orchestrations too good for him?”

Koriko rolled about unhappily. It didn’t like it any more than Jiggs but its friend didn’t understand. How could it explain that it had tried three different orchestrations but the man had just shrugged them off. Koriko was fed up with the Stomach’s grumbling but it wouldn’t be relieved till this case was closed. Their machinations with higher state thinking had failed; it was time to go back to the basics. Skullduggery was cheap and quick.

“Just get me the bone, will you? Foot bone, not one of the toes. Remember, with a little muscle attached.” Koriko grizzled.

Jiggs blobbed away to haggle at the Bone Market. Koriko spun in place, saying a thank you prayer to Ixtra. There would be much spirit in this assignment and it was thinking of taking a long vacation afterwards to recuperate. The sea might be a nice place to visit. There was no guilt underwater. Maybe it would ask Jiggs to come along.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

F is for Fear Economy

 

*Image via njaj on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

E is for Evil

EI’m really late with this one. This is E is for Evil, Saturday’s A to Z Challenge prompt. I struggled with finding the right E word. I wanted to do something dark and all the E words I could think of, were positive and bright (Exuberant. Elaborate. Excess.). Fortunately a friend suggested EVIL (how did I *not* think of that?) and the story began to take shape. Here it is.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

E is for Evil

She trudges down the gravel path, one fist held to her mouth. The other one is clamped over a doll. The doll’s golden hair is dragging in the gravel and the edges of it are dotted with black dirt specks already. She’s near the line of parked cars, next to the entrance now and there are three cars. Blue, white and blue again. The second bell rings and all the kids are inside already. Still she doesn’t hurry. Instead, she stops. She takes away her hand from her mouth, a little spittle string stretching from it. Rooting around in her pocket, she brings out a key.

A tall lady appears at the entrance.

“Rubina! Come in at once! What are you doing? Your classmates are already inside.”

Her heels make a tick-tocking sound on the gravel path as she hurries up to rush the girl in. The key has disappeared, not into the pocket, but elsewhere, hidden. The girl knows not to hide things in the same place more than once. A firm, smooth hand clamps over her wrist and pulls her towards the door.

Dragging along a little behind the teacher, she makes a scraping sound on the gravel with her shoes. But she stops suddenly and in a flash, sticks the chewing gum from her mouth, on the teacher’s tight skirt. It’s such a smooth motion, so light, the woman doesn’t even feel it. She will only see it later, in the laughter in the room, when the chair sticks to her skirt. Just the thought satisfies the girl and she allows herself to be herded to her classroom, without resistance.

It is geography and the master is drawing a map on the board. The girl yawns, her mouth opening wide. Immediately a gasp goes through the class. She looks around surprised. The boy sitting to her right edges his desk away, with a loud scraping sound. It makes the master turn around.

“What is this noise?!”

Everyone is staring at her and following their gaze, the master looks at her too.

“Rubina, come and sit down in the front desk. Come here at once!”

The girl stands up and gets out of her desk. Her classmates all lean away from her, as she passes to the front desk. There is an outburst of whispering.

“SILENCE! Go back to your maps!”

And he turns around. The class is silent. But she can feel forty pairs of eyes boring into her back. The girl on her left is not even pretending to look at her map, but is staring at Rubina openly. She’s the only one with a smile on her face. Rubina turns to look at the rest of the class. They’re all staring at her but no one says a word.

The girl on her left, Natalie, leans back and whispers to the boy behind her.

“See, I told you.”

The boy gapes at Natalie, too scared to look at Rubina. Natalie holds her stare and eventually, he is compelled to follow it to Rubina’s face.

Blood, he mouths.

When the bell rings, the class stays put instead of running about as they usually do. The master looks surprised but doesn’t want to be late for his next class so he rushes off.

Rubina gets up, to go back to her seat. Whispers turn into a rumble.

MONSTER.

She hears it and whips around, an unusual movement for her. And when she turns, she sees the trail of blood that she has left behind on the floor. She stares at it, puzzled.

Then, a pencil hits her sharp on the side of her neck. It clatters to the floor. She looks around angrily but she can’t tell who threw it. She decides to pick it up to see if anyone has etched their name on it. And when she bends, she notices the stream of blood down the side of her ankle. She looks up and sees the blood on her chair. There’s a streak down the front leg of the chair. And on the seat, there’s a spattered mess of red. Dead.

The kids get to their feet in unison and run around her and out of the class. She stays in position, crouching. When the last of the footsteps die away, she stands up. Reaching out a finger, she touches the seat. The blood has dried and crumbles at her touch. She traces a line through it, the red powder caking under her fingernail.

Suddenly a boy appears at the entrance of the class.

“KILLER!! KILLER!!”

he shouts and runs away.

Rubina looks down at her fingers. They are flecked with red and brown. She stares down at her ankles, one with a red streak and the other with a brownish wound. The marks on the seat match one ankle and the spots on the floor, the other. It could be true. She looks up, a little smile playing on her lips and surveys the class. One fist goes up to her mouth. What should she kill next?

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

E is for Evil

*Image courtesy mack2happy on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

D is for Dread

DI’m rather late with today’s, having been struck down by a hot day and Andheri in general. But the delightful Jai Ranjit pushed me to explore my creative limits and how can I resist a challenge? He gave me ‘D is for Dread‘ and challenged me to write a story that had a positive ending. Here’s today’s #AtoZChallenge. (and have you read A, B and C as yet?)

~O~O~O~O~O~

D is for Dread

We took our casualties. We took the hits, like men. Sticks and stones, there were some broken bones. But that John, he cries like a girl anyway. Some guys can’t handle Grade IV fire. We’ve left him behind.

There’s brief respite. We’re home with our families. The summer is beautiful. But we all know what’s waiting at the end of it. These past four years have been playground fights, in comparison.

It must be done. The women speak of it with almost demented cheerfulness. But at night, when I’m sitting on the steps, watching my mother shell peas, I hear her sniff and say, “He’s not ready yet.” I’m tempted to run out and hug her. But I hold back and trudge back to bed. The time for tears is past.

It went by so fast. Yesterday Monica walked to the end of the road with me. We didn’t say much. It was everything that we were walking together. When we reached my door, she said, “See you.” I nodded, unsmiling and turned away. We both know she won’t. By next summer, she’ll have forgotten me. In fact, this Saturday, I know she’s seeing another guy. He lives next door to Allen. Allen, my best buddy, he gave it to me straight. Or maybe he was just happy to see her go. Allen never liked her. Allen doesn’t like girls, never has.

But he’s a good friend to have in all times. Especially in times like the one we’re going to be having. We don’t yet know what their militia have in their arsenal. Everyone in my section knows I’m the bravest of them all. But I’ll be glad to have good ol’ Allen at my side, flanking me, especially when the bus drives up tomorrow to pick us up.

I lay out my uniform on the bed. It’s crisp and new. The unfamiliar colours, that I’ve only ever seen on the older lads are now mine to touch and wear, every single day. I hang them up carefully, turn off the light and try to sleep. I’m going to need my wits about me.

Tomorrow, fifth grade.

~O~O~O~O~O~

D is for Dread

*Image courtesy olovedog on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

C is for City

CI had an idea for a non-fiction piece when I realised today’s A2ZChallenge prompt ‘C’ would carry a story version well, if I said it stood for City. Tell me what you think.

~O~O~O~O~O~

C is for City

It was hot even at that hour. Summer was here. Rhea stared at the dial and patted her forehead. The girl who was supposed to keep the place clean had skipped the timepiece. Rhea had overlooked her misdemeanors once too often. It was time to let her go, she decided, waddling back. She slowed down her step as she passed a door. She didn’t want to wake her husband. Arrian was a light sleeper and he was going to wake up very irritable, after all the drinking he had done the previous night. Rhea didn’t want a tongue-lashing or something worse, the first thing in the morning.

Her daughter Alia came in carrying a bunch of roses. She stopped when she saw Rhea and the hand cradling the bouquet dropped to one side. Her slim form was draped in a low necked white dress. The fabric clung to her hips and its hemline was a little higher than decent. Rhea pursed her lips, trying to decide what to pick on first. The dress, she chose.

“What is that you’re wearing? And where do you think you’re going dressed like that?”

“Mama, I was just going into the garden.”

“For what? To plant those flowers?”

“No, I…I just cut them. I thought they would look nice. I was going to put them near your bed.”

Alia took a step to her right. Rhea started.

“Don’t go in there! Your father is sleeping. You know how tired he gets after his late nights.”

“Tell him not to drink so much then.”

“Go back inside! And stay there until you learn to behave like a well-brought up young lady. And put on some clothes!”

Alia pouted but didn’t budge. Rhea gave her a little shove. And when Alia didn’t move, she grabbed her long hair and gave it a yank. That would teach her to talk back to her mother. Pulling her all the way, Rhea continued scolding her in whispers.

“You’re not going anywhere without a palla. And today, you’re not going anywhere. Go to the kitchen. You’re going to learn to cook!”

Alia mumbled something inaudible but since she was moving, Rhea took no notice. She continued scolding her and as they passed the long hall, she resumed her normal volume.

“Where did those flowers come from? Tell me now!”

Alia yelped and there was a thudding sound. This was followed by various knocks and bumps. A few minutes later, Rhea stepped out and bolted the door. Daughters needed disciplining. Thank God Arrian had not been awake!

The little minx probably knew he wasn’t and that’s why she was acting up. And the flowers – Rhea hoped they weren’t from the gardener’s boy. One word to Sabeen and he would never walk straight again. Sabeen didn’t permit anyone to look at his sister. And as a lowborn, the boy had no right to even raise his eyes to look at Alia. Rhea poured herself a glass of wine and downed it in a single gulp. Arrian wouldn’t notice today anyway.

She heard the door opened and she turned, startled. It was Sabeen, his clothes disheveled and hair unruly. He reeked of alcohol too.

“Were you out all night, you wayward boy?”

Sabeen waved her off and slumped onto the mattress. Rhea rolled her eyes. As soon as she had one child disciplined, the other one turned shenanigans. Boys were so much harder to manage too. She thundered over to him, before she remembered that she was supposed to be quiet. Tugging his arm, she began frantically whispering,

“Get up and go inside, quickly! If your father wakes up and sees you in this condition…go in quickly. I’ll send in some food. Just go!”

But too late, she heard the door open behind her. Arrian was standing in the doorway, his eyes red, one hand on his portly stomach. Sabeen sat up in a flash. To their surprise, Arrian padded heavily past both of them and plonked himself down at the table.

Rhea hurried up to the table, wishing Sabeen would have the good sense to vanish. He was still rubbing his eyes.

“Shall I bring you some breakfast?”

Arrian waved her off impatiently. Then he gestured for her to wait.

“We have to start packing today.”

“Packing?”

“Yes. Tell the servants. No, don’t tell them. They will need to stay.”

“Servants? Stay?”

Arrian growled at Rhea in irritation.

“Woman, shut your mouth and listen!”

“Where are you going?”

Sabeen’s drawl sounded behind Rhea’s ample back.

“We are all going. You will go and start packing also.”

Arrian paused, scratching his chest hard. Then he let out a loud burp. And his humour returned.

“Master is coming. I received a message yesterday. They want to move back here. And they want me to manage their business affairs.”

Rhea gaped, trying to take it all in. Arrian smiled at her affectionately. Women were so simple-minded. She was probably thinking of her gardens.

“Don’t worry, you will have a garden there also. It will be smaller but that’s okay. You’ll be able to go shopping there. You’ll meet all the high society ladies. It’s the capital, after all. We’ll go watch the horse races at the Circle. I’ll even take you to The Circus.”

Rhea bowed her head. She was just wondering how long they had. But she didn’t dare ask. Sabeen did, however. He couldn’t wait to get going. No doubt, he’d be out chasing every girl around, the minute they set foot in the city. If he was this bad, here on the farm estate, there was no telling what he’d get upto with the crowd there.

“You will come to work with me every day. The master has agreed to let you be my assistant.”

And with that, Arrian put an end to any grand plans Sabeen had had a chance to make. Somewhat mollified, Rhea shuffled off to talk to the servants. She wasn’t sure what to think about Alia though. On one had it was a good thing they’d be getting away from the gardener’s boy. On the other hand, just like Sabeen, Alia would also be in bad company once they got there. It would be a lot harder to restrain the girl in city. Besides, Rhea had seen how the girls there dressed. Sabeen would end up killing somebody or Arrian would die of rage.

She sighed, sitting down on her bed. She didn’t really like the loud noises and flashy people in the city. She knew Arrian had wanted a lady who could impress the others in his circle but she had failed. She wished she was more beautiful or charming. She never knew what to say at big parties. She was a very good cook, and that’s what had made Arrian fall in love with her. He had been a lean, young man then and look at him now! But she hadn’t been able to spend her married days closeted away in the kitchen. Ladies of her station didn’t do that, he told her firmly. Servants did.

It had been a relief to both of them when they were able to move here, managing the farm estates. She liked it here. It was peaceful and beautiful. But she was a good wife. She knew her duty was to follow her husband wherever he went and try as hard as she could to make him happy.

She stood up and waddled slowly to her daughter’s room.

“Get up, Alia. We are moving to Rome.”

Alia jumped up, clapping her hands, the slaps forgotten.

“Yippee! Can I have a new toga, mama? And my own chariot?”

~O~O~O~O~O~

C is for City

*Image courtesy potowizard on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

B is for BFF

BAnother day, another story for the A to Z Challenge. I cheated, slightly. This isn’t a brand new story but one I wrote some time ago and had reviewed by a small group. They didn’t like it much. The main feedback was the lack of an actual story. I think this has less to do with a non-existant plot and more to do with inadequate writing. So I rewrote it. Tell me if I’ve succeeded. And uh, by the way, today’s prompt is ‘B’.

~O~O~O~O~O~

Best Friends ForeverB is for BFF

“I’m parching up, Janet! Get me some water, quick!”

Vera began retouching her mascara, her left eye large, a little reddish patch showing at the base of the eyeball. Janet knew every microcosm of Vera by now. Even the mascara had been chosen, keeping Vera’s stubby eyelashes in mind. They had had a tiff over it but finally the bridesmaid had won over the hysterical bride. Janet knew she had picked right. The midnight blue mascara toned down the reddishness in Vera’s eyes, that Janet had correctly anticipated.

“JANET!!! Now!! Don’t be such a slowpoke! I need water! Quick, quick!”

Vera’s hand jerked out a snap-snap. Janet stepped up to the table and put the glass down carefully, amidst the clutter. It made a neat little tock sound against the mascara tube and sent it rolling, the brush coming loose off the stick and plunging over the side of the table. Janet caught it just before it fell onto the white confection that formed the bridal gown’s base. Vera’s eyes had widened but Janet calmly pocketed the brush and picked up the glass. She held it out, right over Vera’s face. But her arm was rock-steady and after a few seconds, Vera turned back to the mirror.

“More, I need more than this.”

she snapped.

“Your lipstick will fade. That’s all you get.”

Vera narrowed her eyes but she picked up the glass. Ignoring the bendy straw, she sipped from the rim. Janet turned away, not really caring. She couldn’t care less what happened to Vera’s lipstick but she didn’t want to accompany her to the bathroom again and hold up her gown while Vera peed. Even the husband wouldn’t have to go through that indignity.

“There. How does that look?”

Vera turned, making a pouty face at Janet.

Janet stepped up to the vanity mirror again, scrutinizing Vera’s face. The lipstick was on a bit thick. It would start to cake into tiny pellets and once completely dry, it would start flaking. She leaned in a bit further, studying the eyelashes to see if the mascara would follow suit. Vera guffawed an explosion of sound and spittle right in Janet’s face.

“That good, huh? Ooh, I hope Victor feels the same way. Tonight, tonight, tonight. Oh my god, I’m so excited! You think he’ll be hot for me after all this effort? Oh I hope so, I hope so, I hope so!”

Janet stepped back, smiling. But when she turned away, she was rolling her eyes. That was all Vera chose to focus on? She pursed her lips. It would be over in a matter of hours anyway.

She opened the cupboard, surveying the contents of Vera’s going-away luggage. The cutesy clutch that she’d carry at the reception later was atop a vanity case. But the make-up was lying strewn all across the dressing table that Vera was seated at. Instead the case was crammed with utilities like the mobile phone charger and nail clippers. A glass bottle rolled about inside, as Janet pushed the vanity case aside. Vera had asked her to stock it up with birth control pills, two months ago. Janet allowed herself a tiny grin. It was stocked with white pills now. Some white pills. She sneaked a look back over her shoulder.

Vera was chatting on her mobile phone. Her hair was put up and her long neck descended into a curved back, a narrow waist and the voluminous skirt. That skirt. Janet had known it would be trouble. She had tried to convince Vera to choose the satin, midi-length sheath instead but to no avail. She had tried to tell her how uncomfortable it would be. But Vera had winked and said,

“It’s just the day. And after that I’m not going to be in it very long, am I?”

Janet told herself that that was the moment she had first thought it. The plan began right then. In the weeks that followed, she had had a chance to study every detail of Vera’s life. She knew her bra size (the real one), her period cycle, the date of her last electrolytic hair removal and when the stubble was expected to come back. The things that Victor didn’t know, would never know.

She tapped her fingernails together. Earlier in the morning, she had checked Vera’s mobile phone. There were dozens of messages to be deleted. Photographs and four videos too. The things that Victor might not know. Might not.

Vera giggled and then shushed into the phone. Janet wondered who she was speaking to, but she let it be. It would probably be her last flourish of fun.

Janet checked the clock. It was time to put on the pearl embroidered top that formed the bustier of the bridal gown. She stepped back to Vera’s seat and bent, pretending to smoothen the ruffles and check that the pins were in place. Vera gasped but Janet ignored her. The tiny, hard knots in the lace hem dug into Vera’s throat.

The clock chimed 11:00. Footsteps sounded in the corridor outside. But Janet was already there, nodding her ‘all’s well’. She returned to the bride’s room. Vera had her head down on the dressing table. A row of pearly buttons cascaded down her smooth back. Janet was proud of her handiwork. It was such a neat finish. No one could tell. The gashes were neat and fine, works of precision. The red stains would only show when the garments were taken off.

The orchestra struck up the wedding march. Janet raised her weapon. Then she rolled the lipstick back into its tube and dropped it into her pocket. And she turned to her best friend.

“Vera, it’s time. Let’s go get you married.”

~O~O~O~O~O~

*Image courtesy Victor Habbick on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A is for Anniversary

AA new writing challenge! This time it’s the A to Z 2014 challenge, that asks participants to blog every day of April (except Sundays). The name comes from the daily prompt of one letter of the alphabet. Today, 1st of April is ‘A’. I give you a story titled ‘Anniversary’. The idea for this piece came from a conversation with a married friend. I had a specific idea in mind that I wanted to convey. Tell me if I got it right, by telling me what you think is happening. And now on to the story.

~O~O~O~O~O~

Anniversary

It is the 1st of April. Rahul registers the calendar, still on the March page. It’s hard not to. He has shuddered at the picture of bright yellow flowers that some photographer thought was beautiful, every day for ages. It is beautiful, just like every other photograph in the calendar (he knows Suneeta would have made sure of that; she is immaculate). But beautiful things become commonplace with time. He figures he tired of it around the ninth day. Beneath him, Suneeta moves slightly to her right. Rahul lifts his left thigh slightly to allow her trapped leg to escape to freedom. They’re almost there now.

Suneeta reaches her arm around his back. The hold supports her as she moves her foot from one side to another, to get the circulation back. A string of dirt is hanging off the top of the cupboard but she doesn’t notice it. Her eyes are closed and her breathing is starting to change. Little beads of sweat appear on her forehead. She feels Rahul’s fingers brush them off and she utters a little cry. His hand is resting on her hair and its tugging on the roots. Rahul moves it away and clasps her waist. She relaxes, her eyelids fluttering slightly before they settle shut again. She imagines Ranbir Kapoor’s fingers, pulling the memory of them clasping a coffee mug, from last week’s talk show. The image jars a bit as Rahul’s stubby fingers pinch into her skin. But she has a sturdy imagination and she doesn’t let it faze her. She surrenders to Ranbir’s caresses, even through the rough grasp of her husband.

Rahul opens his mouth and flexes his jaws. They are hurting from the gritting. He read an article on bruxism last week and it has haunted him ever since. He recalls the illustrations of the unnatural, filed down teeth of those plagued with involuntary teeth grinding. It sends a little shiver down his spine and he shudders. Suneeta’s moan startles him. He must have spasmed a bit with that shudder, he realizes. So he holds fast to the image, letting himself imagine teeth that have been ground into grotesque shapes and strange lengths.

Suneeta reaches her climax a little earlier than usual. Today, she has given herself permission. She tried, beginning with Ranbir Kapoor. But after having her hair yanked, it was hard to return. So she surrendered and allowed herself the rare luxury. Besides, the idea of Dhirendra Shukla went better with Rahul’s firm hold. Dhirendra Shukla, building contracter. She is certain that’s how he would do it too. Men with hands like those would. It’s a comfortable secret nestled inside her head, where Rahul’s hands won’t go. It opens in her imagination, like the mogra flowers outside their window, that blossom in the heat and wither away quickly.

As usual, she doesn’t open her eyes. She will wait till Rahul buries his head in her neck and is ready too. It won’t be long now, though she might need to wait a bit more than usual since she finished early. He is moving a little differently today. She wonders why, just as his nose touches her shoulder and the smell of his hair oil permeates her nostrils. She opens her eyes.

The string hanging off the cupboard is fluttering like crazy in the breeze now. She can’t remember the last time she cleaned the top of the cupboard. Automatically, her eyes move to the fan whirring above. It looks clean, a uniform reverberating circle of white. It was cleaned just last Tuesday. 25th she calculates, counting back the days from today. The string wasn’t there then, she thinks. Is it a spiderweb? It’s too thick for that. There are no clothes atop the cupboard, only a Samsonite suitcase, the green plastic one. So it isn’t a stray thread. Maybe she just didn’t see it that day. Maybe it’s only visible from this angle. She smiles to herself. Nobody else is likely to have seen it then. She only noticed it today. It certainly wasn’t there the last time. And since she can’t remember when that was, it’s probably long enough for a dust trail to have formed by then.

Rahul starts to move faster and she shifts into action. Her arms hold him tight, one hand reaching up to cradle the back of his head. She also takes a deep breath, in preparation. And with judgment that comes from much practice, she lets out her breath, seconds before he collapses onto her. The sound of a heavy body landing on full lungs is unflattering, to say the least. That will not happen today.

Rahul rolls off her almost instantly. He knows her thighs will begin to hurt with the strain if he doesn’t. They lie, catching their respective breaths, after Rahul rolls off her. She stirs, pulling her nightie down, then starts to sit up. Rahul gets up too. She looks to him, surprised. He stands up and reaches for the calendar, flipping the March page over. Then he turns to look at her.

“Happy anniversary.”

he says.

Suneeta looks at the string hanging off the cupboard and then smiles back at Rahul. It has been a good one. One of the best in the last six years. Besides, 25 is a special anniversary.

~O~O~O~O~O~

A is for anniversary

*Image courtesy criminalatt on FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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