Tag Archives: Short stories

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.

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

15K too low. Is it damaged?

———————————————————————————————————————
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.

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

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

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

Why are you selling it then? Bored already?

———————————————————————————————————————
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.

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

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!

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

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

Sept Shorts04: Book Lovers

I spent May stretching my story-telling muscles with the MayShortReads. In the later months, I looked back at the stories and found a pattern of the heavy & dark. Murder, self-harm, sexual abuse, cheating, voyeurism and masochism all showed up. Even when there was humour, it was either irony or borderline dark. So in the Sept Shorts exercise, I impose another condition on myself. I intend to keep this a month of fun reads – humour, the more easygoing kind, romance, the sweeter sort and horror, the good ol’ chills & spills variety.

As it turned out, this imposition weighs heavily on me. I struggled for a week and as a result I’m 7 stories behind already. But I finally wrote a light romance! It’s longer than my usual but I hope that makes it better, not worse. Read on!

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

The high-pitched notes of Jingle Bells on muzak were ringing in the air. Priyanka could hear it even as she stepped into the building lobby. She ran across the floor, slipping slightly on the mudtracks left by footwear that had been trampling through the monsoon. The lift was still there as she turned the corner but an assortment of cartons stood between her and the grills. The lift grills were pushed open with a carton that was lying right on the grill track. Priyanka frowned, mentally cursing the ineptitude and thoughtlessness of the owner of those cartons. She didn’t want to have to climb up ten stories.

There was a sound of something being dragged across the lobby floor and she turned. A man was hefting what looked like his entire wardrobe behind him. As he neared the lift landing, she saw he was clutching the handle of a strolley in each hand, a soft leather bag balanced precariously over one of them and a backpack over his shoulder. He looked up apologetically as a drop of rainwater ran down the side of his face, from his hairline.

“Sorry, sorry. I thought I’d get everything in, in one go. And there was no one else around, you know…”

Priyanka pursed her lips and gave a tight little nod. There were so many boxes on the landing that there was no room for him to enter it, along with the suitcases. Clearly, it was a bad idea. She looked around the landing and counted seven cardboard cartons.

“You’re moving in?”

“Uh, yes. Tenth floor, I moved into 1005.”

He replied over his shoulder. He was kneeling on the floor now, fiddling with the strap of one of the suitcases. Priyanka wondered what was in each carton; none of them had labels on them the way she would have put, were she shifting. She looked down at the one nearest to her feet. The flaps were straining and she could make out glossy paper inside. Books, ah.

The man stood up, stacked the suitcases on top of each other and laid the leather bag, then the backpack down on them.

“Heh, bad idea, I see. Gimme a minute. I’ll get the carton out of your way and you can take the lift up.”

He hopped over the randomly strewn cardboard boxes and bent down to pick up the one in the grill track. As he stepped back, the grill slammed shut and the lift whisked upwards immediately. He turned around, shamefaced.

“Sorry!”

Priyanka smiled. She supposed she could afford to wait another couple of minutes. Besides, she was curious about how many of the cartons held books.

“How about we move the remaining cartons out of the way so people can get out of the lift?”

And without waiting for an answer, she bent and pushed the carton (the one with books) into the corner. He followed her lead and brought over his carton to set it down over the one she had just pushed. The others would have to be lifted, she saw. But she couldn’t budge the first one an inch. He came up from the other side and lifted it up easily and together they carried it over to the carton stack.

“Heavy, huh?”

he grinned,

“These movers aren’t used to clients who read a lot.”

Another book carton, Priyanka noted and smiled. As a booklover, she could well empathise.

“I would have taken the cartons of books out first too.”

she said, hoping she was right.

“A fellow book-lover, then? No wonder you didn’t hate me for holding up the lift”

His laughing eyes met hers over the top of another carton. Priyanka could feel pages rustling on her fingers as she clutched the bottom of the carton.

“What’s this got? All magazines? They feel loose at the bottom, unlike the other two.”

“Comics.”

he said,

“What book-loving guy would be caught dead without those?”

“Such a boy thing.”

Priyanka scoffed, before she caught herself. Flirting with the new guy in the building? What was she thinking? But he did have a nice smile. Nice eyes. And other things, she thought, the sight of him bending over to pick up the first carton, flashing through her head. Then there were all those books.

He didn’t seem to have noticed though, as he picked up the last carton all by himself. It was a smaller one and he didn’t bother setting it atop the others.

“This one’s the most important.”

he mused, almost to himself.

They stood side by side waiting for the lift to return, for awhile before he thought to introduce himself.

“Oh, I’m Miheer.”

He said, pulling his right hand out from under the carton he was carrying. But before she could shake it, the carton slipped and he clumsily caught it from falling. Priyanka laughed.

“You’d better hold on to that one if it has your favorite books. I’m Priyanka.”

The lift arrived and an irritable Mrs.Rajendra waddled out. She came out with her eyes narrowed, ready to decimate whoever had held up the lift for that long but when she saw Miheer, a big plastic smile pasted itself across her heavily lipsticked lips. Miheer’s charm wasn’t confined to young women only, Priyanka noted, cattily.

The lift zoomed back up the second Mrs.Rajendra let go of the grills. Priyanka didn’t mind though. She wondered which books Miheer had put in his ‘favorite’ carton. Mrs.Rajendra was acquainting herself with the new, goodlooking neighbor. Priyanka wondered whether she was going to stand there all day, inviting him over to tea but eventually she said goodbye and left.

“Looks like heavy traffic in the lift today!”

Miheer exclaimed, turning to her.

Priyanka suppressed a giggle. Surely he couldn’t have been referring to Mrs.Rajendra? No, it must be the lift going up and down before they could catch it.

“So which are your favorites?”

said Priyanka.

“Lots of them. Wilbur Smith, some Terry Pratchett, an occasional Dickens…”

Priyanka nodded, approving. She wasn’t big on Wilbur Smith but a Pratchett fan she could warm up to.

He paused, looking at her suddenly. Then he looked down at the carton he was holding again.

“But you know, those aren’t the only ones in here. In fact, I doubt there’s a single Wilbur Smith in this box. Lots of books I’d never heard of before I saw them.”

“Oh? Lucky finds are always wonderful. And books that are gifts.”

“These are more like the first. Very lucky finds. I found every one of these books in a raddiwala’s shop.”

Oh, raddiwalas! Priyanka felt her heart glow. All the happy discoveries she had made at roadside second-hand book shops! He seemed to be watching her for a reaction. Suddenly, he set the carton down on the floor.

“Can I tell you a little secret? All the books in this carton came from the same person.”

“Someone gave you an entire carton of books? You’re very lucky! I wish I had such friends!”

“No, not exactly.”

He said as the lift clanged to a stop in front of them.

Mr.Parekh, the building secretary got out. Priyanka caught the grill door and held it open, looking over her shoulder. But Miheer was engrossed in a conversation with Mr.Parekh about paperwork. Ruefully, she said bye but neither of them appeared to hear it. So she let the lift doors shut and pressed 9 on the lift panel.

It was a whole week before she saw him again. It was a Sunday morning and she was only going to buy a lightbulb so she didn’t bother dressing up much. There he was, looking at the building noticeboard in the lobby landing, looking even better than the last time she had seen him. He was dressed in a white tee-shirt and jeans this time with running shoes. He turned and greeted her as she approached.

“Settling in okay?”

she asked.

“Absolutely. I know this area well.”

“Oh I see. You’ve lived around here before?”

“Some friends have, across the road. I’ve only been in Mumbai about 5 years now. But I liked this area. This seemed like a nice colony too.”

“It is, I think. I’ve been coming here since I was a kid.”

“You don’t live here?”

“No, my aunt does. I come by every few days to meet her.”

Priyanka wondered if he had noticed that they’d begun walking towards the gate. He seemed to be accompanying her. At the gate, though, she stopped.

“I guess this is bye for now?”

“I thought I’d walk you to wherever you’re going. Umm, you don’t look like you’re going anywhere far away.”

Miheer said.

Priyanka frowned. Did she look quite as disheveled as that? He was ever so slightly tactless. But she nodded anyway and said,

“The shops at the end of the road.”

They chatted as they walked. Miheer pointed to the raddiwala as they passed it, with its piles of newspaper and magazines hanging from a single corner, along a clothesline.

“This guy probably gets 80% of his business from me!”

“Really? I haven’t come here in ages! Since Amazon and Flipkart came up, I haven’t actually set foot in any book shop. I don’t even remember the last time I bought a secondhand book!”

said Priyanka.

“Online shopping is great, of course, but there’s something extra special about secondhand books.”

Miheer said.

“Well, I like the smell of a new book, with its fresh pages.”

“Who doesn’t? But you know, raddiwalas sometimes have books that you don’t find in bookshops anymore. Even the online ones.”

“That’s true. Only, there are so many books vying for attention, that I don’t really mind if I don’t find the one I’m looking for. There’s always ten others I can read instead!”

They stopped at the crossing and waited for the signal to turn red. Priyanka took out the little notepad she always carried and jotted something in it, as they waited.

“You write down your shopping lists?”

He seemed amused.

“Doesn’t Miss I-only-shop-online prefer her mobile phone to a humble old notebook?”

Priyanka didn’t reply. The light had changed and they were crossing now. Imagine him noticing a small thing like that! She didn’t generally show her little notepad to anyone else. Everyone was so gung-ho about their smart devices, these days.

The hardware shop was just across the road and they stepped right in. Priyanka opened her notepad on the counter to check the rest of the list, while the salesman went to test the bulb. As she was paying, Miheer returned from his perusal of the wiring and peered into the notepad. Priyanka saw him and wondered whether he’d want to continue accompanying her on her shopping soujourn. But he was very quiet as she paid and they left the shop.

It wasn’t till they finished the entire list and were walking back that he finally spoke.

“Would you like to come check out my book collection later this afternoon? I’ve been unpacking them and I’ll be putting away the last ones today.”

Priyanka stiffened. Their pseudo-date had been going very well until now and it had been easy to forget that Miheer was a near-stranger. So, despite the temptation to say yes, she said she was leaving before lunch. He shrugged, nonchalantly and she felt deflated that it mattered so little to him. When she got back, she showered and left immediately, fearing that Miheer would see her around later. She didn’t want him to think that she had lied to avoid going to his place.

Priyanka half hoped he would ask for her phone number. But he didn’t even send her a Facebook friend request, like the guys in her social circuit would have. Perhaps he wasn’t online a lot. She didn’t even know what he did for a living. The internet remedied that for her, however. On her next visit, she discreetly checked his last name. It was literally jumping off the dusty resident list in the lobby, since it was the newest addition. A little snooping online told her that he worked for a multinational bank. She was only surprised that he had the taste that he did. All the banking types she had known so far, liked to spend their money on flashy, lavish gadgets that showed off how much money they made. A second-hand bookstore seemed the least likely haunt for someone like him.

On an impulse, she picked up a Terry Pratchett from her collection and walked down to his floor. This was two weeks later and she hadn’t seen or heard from him. Ordinarily she would have forgotten about a guy who didn’t seem to show any interest. But passing his flat every couple of days for a fortnight had worn her inhibitions thin and temptation won out. She felt a little more confident, after all the information she had gathered about him. And just to be certain, she also told her aunt she was going to speak to her downstairs neighbor, before she left.

She rang the doorbell, clutching the Pratchett for luck. She had thought to bring along ‘Good Omens’ and she hoped it would hold true. When there was no answer, she rang again and then immediately thought better of it. She was coming off really desperate! Should she make a run for it? Just as she turned away, the door was flung open. Miheer stood there, a grey teeshirt sticking to his body. He was wearing black trackpants and his hair was dripping wet.

“I do believe I’ve caught you at a bad time.”

Priyanka said, grinning.

He looked abashed but he stood aside and invited her in.

“I’ve…uh yes…give me a minute, can you? Sit down, make yourself at home.”

he said, gesturing vaguely, before disappearing down the corridor.

Priyanka stepped in and looked around the room. It mirrored her aunt’s flat in design, except it looked out over the back of the colony instead of the garden. There was a beanbag next to the French windows but she didn’t sit down. Her attention was drawn naturally to the rows and rows of books lining an entire wall behind. As she reached out to touch them, she realized they were stacked on a sliding shelf. Two more sliding shelves revealed themselves behind this one.

Bigger Bookcase

Bigger Bookcase (Photo credit: juhansonin)

“I thought you’d like that.”

He said softly. She jumped. She hadn’t heard him come back into the room. He was dressed in a pair of jeans now and a fresh red tee-shirt. How did the man clean up so good, in a couple of minutes? It wasn’t fair. Priyanka needed at least half an hour to look that fine, after a shower.

“How about something to drink?”

he said, moving to the kitchen. Priyanka hadn’t even looked in that direction of the room. Unlike her aunt’s house, this one had a little kitchenette to one side, separated from the hall only by a counter. A bachelor probably didn’t need a big kitchen, thought Priyanka, smiling at the notion. Her online research hadn’t turned up his marital status.

He held up a jar of tea leaves. She was surprised. Most people served coffee. She didn’t know anybody else in her generation who drank tea.

“I just finished this one. Have you read it?”

She asked, holding up ‘Good Omens’. Miheer brought over two steaming mugs of tea and set them down. As she sipped, he picked up the book and turned the cover. Priyanka watched him smile.

“Pratchett is great, isn’t he? Wodehouse is the only other one that can make me smile at the first page itself.”

“You like Wodehouse more than you do Pratchett.”

It sounded more like a statement than a question. Priyanka wondered at that but she replied.

“You can’t really compare the two, can you? I mean, they’re both humorous but Wodehouse is much more classic. In his period and his style.”

He chose a few books from the first sliding shelf and brought them over to her. When Priyanka looked at her watch later, she was surprised to see it was nearly evening. She was nestled comfortably in the beanbag and looking over her shoulder at the bookshelf, when he stood up. He walked over and slid the hindmost shelf back. Then he turned and beckoned her over. She stood up, wondering.

“Remember that carton I was carrying, the day I moved in?”

She nodded.

“Your favorite books, right?”

He grinned, seemingly unsure. Then he sobered and gestured to the bottom two rows.

“You know what’s even better than a good first page? An good inscription.”

He said, holding up ‘Good Omens’. She watched as he opened the book. On the first page, right under the title, she had written,

‘A few solitary bars on the piano, a brand new bookstore and tea, with old faces on new people.’

Below that was the name of the bookstore and the date she had bought it – three years ago. Priyanka didn’t know anybody ever read those inscriptions. She liked writing a little note to herself with the date and the place she’d bought the book, before she began reading.

“Did you re-read the book? You bought it years ago.”

Miheer said

“No, I inscribe books when I buy them. But sometimes I end up reading them only later. When you mentioned Pratchett at our first meeting, it made me think of this one so I started it.”

said Priyanka, blushing for no reason she could imagine.

“I thought so.”

he said and pointed to the shelf again. She followed his gesture and knelt to scrutinize the books that were almost hidden away at the bottom. She recognized one, two….wait a minute, every one of the books in those two rows.

“Go ahead. Take one out.”

He prompted.

She chose Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’, knowing but not quite believing what she’d find there. And there, just as she had thought, were her own words scrawled across the title page in the inscription that read,

‘A new book is like a conversation with a new person…an investment – one that could turn into the reward of a lifetime relationship or the memory of an unpleasant experience or even sink into the abyss of forgotteness.’

“That one was nice, obviously. But it didn’t say anything about you. Others did. One of your Harry Potter books just says ‘Quarter-Life better damn count for something!’”

He bent and pulled out another book. It was Milan Kundera’s ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’. She remembered it well, from that time in her twenties when professional confusion and personal mayhem prevailed.

“This one had notes on all the pages, in addition to the inscription.”

He had opened it to a page that she had scrawled in pencil,

‘If love be murder,
I’d be dead in your arms tonight.
I am, wiped of the burden of being me.
I’m flying, flying,
soaring through skies
on wings dripping away my old self
as they melt in the warmth of you.’

Priyanka stared at him. It was bizarre, almost spooky, seeing her old books but also hearing her own words repeated back to her.

“I found one of your books at the raddiwala on my first visit here. Then I found a couple of other books also with your inscriptions. After that, I’ve picked up at least one of your books on every visit to the raddiwala.”

“You make it sound as if I wrote all those books.”

“You wrote those inscriptions. I was amazed at how often a book that I picked up, interested, would have an inscription by you in it. At first it was just nice knowing someone else shared the same taste that I did. Then it became like an ongoing story. The dates, the bookshops, the little things you chose to write in those inscriptions.”

“I….I never thought anybody else would read them. And I gave away all these books when online books came into being. It was easier to store them. You know how it is in Bombay flats.”

“Yes, I do. I still like the feel of a real book though. And one with a special inscription is…well, special.”

Priyanka smiled, turning away. He couldn’t possibly mean that. Could he?

“I mean…I know you didn’t write them specially for me…or umm, anyone. But it was like peering over someone’s shoulder, someone who had so much in common with me. I liked thinking that I was a part of your life, even if we didn’t know each other.”

“So how did you…?”

Priyanka began.

“That day, when you took out your notebook at the electrician’s shop? I recognized your handwriting right away. I’ve read your inscriptions so many times, I’d know it anywhere! That is to say….umm, well, I hoped I would meet you some day.”

Priyanka turned to face Miheer.

“Perhaps I secretly wished someone would read them, when I wrote those inscriptions.”

The next week, Miheer had a new sliding shelf fitted in. He’d need one for all the inscribed books that would be joining the others. Priyanka helped him stack the shelves. It was time for tea.

Banned Books #4

Banned Books #4 (Photo credit: ellen.w)

Sept Shorts03: Mehtavian Maths

Young Adults fiction & Tween fiction are categories I still enjoy. These are the genres that sustained my love of reading and delivered me into the lifelong love affair with books. Here’s my first attempt at a short story for young readers.

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

“Nasreen Shaekh!”

Mehta ma’am…no, her voice, ricocheted off the classroom walls, like bricks.

“Yes’m”

Shaniya squealed, in a fake voice, just as another voice rang out clearly,

“Present, teacher!”

The class giggled, holding up their textbooks in front of their faces. Mehta ma’am looked up, suspiciously. Her eyebrows pressed into the bridge of her spectacles, forming an angle as sharp as an arrowhead.

“Nasreen?”

she repeated, her cautious snarl hanging in the air, waiting to settle on its victim.

Nasreen stood up and said her PresentTeacher again. The Mehtavian unibrow reached its pinnacle. Then it flattened as she moved on to Nilesh Shah. Nasreen hissed ‘You idiot!’ in her direction and sat down. Shaniya’s cheeks flushed. She hadn’t even realized that Nasreen had come to class. That’s why she had attempted to give a proxy attendance for the first time in her life. On top of that to risk it in Mehta ma’am’s class….she would only have done that for Nasreen! They were best friends and partners, after all. Why would she call her Idiot?

Her gaze shifted to Nasreen and the group sitting with her. They were smirking while Nasreen muttered something only they could hear. The blood drained from Shaniya’s cheeks. She looked at the friendship band still brightly coloured, on her wrist. She was very fond of it and made sure it didn’t look raggedy the way friendship bands got after awhile. Nasreen had an identical one but Shaniya could see she wasn’t wearing it now. Her eyes prickled but she sucked her breath in and held it till the surge subsided. She wouldn’t let those awful girls get the satisfaction of seeing her cry!!

The attendance taken, Mehta ma’am picked up the textbook. Shaniya opened her exercise book. Seeing her homework ready and correct (she knew it was!), made her feel a little better. Maths was her strongest subject. So she had never had to endure the Mehtavian unibrow, which routinely pointed at weaker students and tore into them like a giant claw.

“Children, have you done your homework?”

Mehta ma’am demanded.

class room

class room (Photo credit: yewenyi)

Shaniya turned the pages of her book, waiting. She wanted to smile smugly at the group that had laughed. She would have all the right to!! No doubt, most of them wouldn’t have done the homework. And those who had, would have gotten most of them wrong. But she kept her eyes on her book. The unibrow jutted towards the third row. Ravi, its intended victim, shriveled under the force of Mehtavianism. While he was under fire, Shaniya felt the desk shift and turned to find Nasreen back in her seat. What was this now?? She stared but she didn’t dare ask, while the unibrow was still on fire.

They did the rest of their sums in silence as Mehta ma’am raked the rows, poking holes into their classmates, left, right and center. The neighboring row all got a unibrow attack. By the time she reached the group that Nasreen had left behind, it had turned into the Terminator.

Mehta ma’am was even more diabolical than Shastry sir who exploded even more often than the chemicals in his laboratory! BOOM! PACHAK!! Chemistry was always like that. But Maths was unpredictable. You could never tell what Mehta ma’am would do. Today was extra horrible. Three students (all of those who smirked when Nasreen glared at Shaniya) were sent to the princi’s office. Two were made to stand next to the blackboard on one foot (Each student on a foot, not two people on one foot).

Shaniya sneaked a look at Nasreen’s book, while Nasreen’s back was turned, watching the explosion in horror. Nasreen had many of her sums wrong!! But Shaniya had no time to warn her, before Mehta ma’am turned into their row. The unibrow was much flatter and the Mehtavian breathing smoother as she approached.

Nasreen was sitting next to the aisle so it was her turn first. She stood up and began to read her answers out. Shaniya could see the unibrow getting pointier and pointier. By sum 4, Nasreen panicked and paused. Shaniya knew she was trying to look into her book. But instead of moving it slowly her way, she looked up. Nasreen caught the full blast of the Shaniya scowl (as it would come to be known). She stammered and lost her place. Still, Mehta ma’am didn’t say anything (Shaniya had been expecting a punishment by this time). She suddenly realized that the teacher wasn’t paying attention. So Shaniya began mumbling the answers instead. Nasreen started to repeat those answers instead of the ones in her own book (everyone knew Shaniya’s would be the right ones).

“270 degrees….Angle a and Angle b….7 cm…”

At sum 10, Shaniya closed her book. Nasreen, repeating the prompted answers continued,

“Corresponding angles…..45 degrees…Line YouIdiot.”

The unibrow turned into a dragon (no, it didn’t really). But Mehta ma’am’s screaming voice was heard for the first time in that class. And Nasreen Shaekh got to be sent to the princi’s office. As Mehta ma’am said, no one had ever dared to call a teacher an idiot before!! Shaniya smiled to herself as she shut her exercise book (with all correct answers). Mehtavian Maths was her best subject.

Sept Shorts02: Cryptic Chimichangas

So today’s story – two regular people, trying to be interesting to each other, playing mind-and-heart games before their bodies do. I call this ‘Cryptic Chimichangas’ for two curious dates with two different people, who by a strange quirk of fate, share their birthday.

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

“You think I’m so something, don’t you?”

She turns to take a sip from her glass. She sips regular water like it’s wine. It’s not even bottled water, just plain old ‘regular water’. Rahul can’t tell whether she’s frightfully pretentious or unimaginably gauche.

“Yes, you most certainly are something.”

He replies, solemnly, even though he has absolutely no idea what she’s talking about. Being steady is the only way to deal with her, he has decided. So he keeps his eyes on her even as she coolly surveys the other tables, stares at the cigarette shop across the road and makes wry expressions as she looks around their table.

“Yes. I’m temperamental.”

She says abruptly, turning to look at him. Her fidgety gaze gone, her eyes are fixed on him, guileless and open.

No kidding, Sherlock, he mutters to himself as he busies himself with the menu. She continues to regard him as he painstakingly reads the starters, the main course, the desserts, the beverages and then the main course again. He can still feel her eyes on him so he goes back to read the descriptions under the starters names again. By Chicken Chimichanga, he’s ready to explode so he jerks his head up angrily.

She’s biting her lips and studying her nails but she looks up the minute he does too. Great, now he just feels petulant.

They work their way through the Chicken Chimichangas in different ways – she takes neat half-bites of each piece, like she’d rather be doing something else. He eats up an entire one, thinking how inadequate it is and then remembers to slow down, for good manners. He’s very hungry but her measured eating makes him think he should slow down. So he starts to tell her a story instead.

“So it’s been a crazy week, working like madness to finish that damn presentation. Then I didn’t open my mouth once during the presentation. Just let them roll on with all the lies. And then yesterday this client says the ad doesn’t cue the product to be sexy.”

He stops and there’s a slurp-splotch-ting as she delivers another half Chimichanga onto her plate, with her fork. She looks up, inquiring gaze and it makes him sweat.

“You know, sexy. I mean, sexy???”

“Yes, I get it. Tractors, sexy, doesn’t make sense.”

And then, as if it just occurred to her that it might be polite to do so, she explodes into laughter. He’s annoyed, then flustered and then a little abashed at his poor joke-telling skills. But she’s still laughing.

“Try putting it into the item number in Dabangg 3.”

She gasps the words out in between snorts and chuckles. She is not a pretty laugher. But definitely an infectious one, he thinks and gives in with a smile.

She ceases finally and pats her mouth daintily with her napkin. And then she says,

“But of course, you probably don’t know what Dabangg is, do you? Bollywood and all that.”

“Yeah, I don’t really like that shit.”

he says before he can catch himself.

“But I know what Dabangg is.”

“Of course, Mr.Majid Majidi.”

She visibly smirks.

“Yes. That sounds like a starter to you, doesn’t it?”

“Chicken Chimichanga. Majid Majidi. Yes, well done.”

She replies but this time she’s not smiling. She looks away and frowns at the floor. He wants to apologize, to tell he’s sorry for sneering at her. No one likes being condescended to.

“Oh look, the sky’s turned yellow!”

She leans down, almost flat on the table so she can see under the awning. He follows her gaze and sees she’s right.

“Refraction. That’s what causes that colour.”

He says, remembering his eighth standard science textbook.

“Refraction happens everyday.”

She darts a gaze to him but her tension has melted and her attention is drawn back to the yellow sky.

He tries again.

“It looks like the fried cheese on top of the Chimichangas.”

She laughs but she doesn’t turn to him. A few minutes later she mumbles something about the colour of paradise. As they step out, she impulsively reaches for his hand. And she looks right into his eyes when she says,

“You’re a little something too.”

Dabangg

Dabangg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chicken Chimichanga @ On The Boarder Mexican G...

Chicken Chimichanga @ On The Boarder Mexican Grill & Cantina (Photo credit: Roger Penguino)

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