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.

#Ideastory: Party

Party

I’m throwing a party, she says,
and you’re not invited.

Fine, he replies,
Then be sure not to send me the bill.

#Ideastory: Language Lovers

IMG_20131217_132716

Your love is so much traas, she says
Your words are such bakwaas, he replies

They walk into the literary festival hand-in-hand.

*If you like this you might want to check out my photostory collection or my Instagram stream

#Ideastory: Glasses

Love is blind, he says and falls asleep.
So cliched, she thinks
But she takes off her glasses
And snaps them in half.

#ideastory

View on Path

#Ideastory: Photograph

Five of us in this photograph, she says,
I wonder where the rest are.
Six, he thinks,
I was behind the camera.

But she’s already looked away.
#ideastory

View on Path

#Ideastory: Poetry

IMG_20131216_145226

Poetry,
comes rolling out of my pursed lips,
like smoke curling under the door.

Somebody’s going to get burnt soon.

*If you like this you might want to check out my photostory collection or my Instagram stream. This appeared earlier on my blog in text.

#Ideastory: Postbox

My mind is a postbox, she says,
Of letters I’ll never send
I’ll keep the postage ready, he says,
In case you ever change your mind. – at Prithvi Cafe

View on Path

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