Amor Mio: Short Story

man-and-woman

Man and woman. Image source: 

litttle-princess.deviantart.com 

 

A naughty sip of sunshine kissed her pouted lips as her eyes looked far, far below at the sun-kissed dome, the long, defiant tower with its crane-like neck housing curious visitors of the city in its esophageal tract. The voluptuous sculptures, the fountains yet to squirt their orgasmic waters, seen from afar, filled her with a desire to open up with spurts of gushing, forbidden rain. The streets of San Antonio, Texas bore the remnants of the last night’s copulation with the Christmas lights, everywhere the happy star dusts of a faded, died out light of the earth blinked, as if inviting her enormous trailing memories and yearnings. The throngs of passion broiled, dying till their finishing embers as she woke up, disembodied, groggy from sleep and the night’s own coercion into a practiced, empathized, mutual intimacy.

Slowly, diligently, she shoved herself away from the crumpled bed and stood up to walk a few feet to reach the giant, wall-to-wall transparent glass door of their hotel room that overlooked the city’s bustling downtown. There, the illuminating Christmas lights and music had created a heady concoction the previous night as they came back from their indolent strolls from the Market Square, the quaint Mexican market and the tourist’s hub, the cascading Riverwalk.

“Let’s raise a toast to our new beginnings, my wife, and a happy new year to be merry and blessed.” Neil had touched his glass of margarita to hers and made a clinking sound, which converged with the music being played in the local pub-cum-restaurant, the symphony spilling over the place.

In the fresh morning sun, Shalini looked down at the floor right next to the bed where her flip-flops, her silk blouse, her red, flowing skirt, her silken lingerie lay scattered since the wee hours of the night. She couldn’t remember if it was Neil who undressed her, layer after layer, as he would often do, or if she had done it herself. All she could remember, following the hangover of the previous night was that he had untied her hair and caressed its strands, each stroke of his finger awakening a bruised, pent up libido within her as the tears in her eyes eclipsed everything around her in the silhouetted darkness of the room like a thick, unforgiving mist.

Was it a tiny flickering of a being, a struggling embryo that died in its mother’s inviting womb yet again, gushing out in clotted blood and crushed, maimed flesh?

Was it a soft, rainy dream, trampled yet again from the ruthless remembrance of a life she had lived, as if in a previous birth?

Was it that dangerous liaison of years back, rearing its ugly face, when all that she had brought along with her as she ran away from it relentlessly was a breathless, deadening terror? Was it the terror of being slashed, the terror of kicking feet and abusive fists, the terror of the bulging walls of a dream that came crashing down, yet again?

What was she thinking in the waning moonlight that glimmered in the languid waters of the Riverwalk as she sat at the patio of the restaurant? What did she say to Neil, looking unmindful at the other tourists who came to dine out, holding a lobster tail dipped in garlic butter in one hand, while with her other hand, she grabbed the glass of Margarita, wishing to crush the glass to shards till her palms bled to death? She didn’t remember. She only remembered that a loose, waxy dribble hung from her mouth as she chewed on the food, one that housed memories, slanted truths, all drowning under the bottomless pit of her mouth.
Threadbare, barely out of the clumsy wraps, she wandered amid the ruffled skin of the clowns on the streets she has stalked the previous evening in her little pursuit of happiness. She thought of spooning out the thick cream out of the pie with the fork dangling in her cold hands that she remembered with queer, practiced clarity as she roamed amid the humming semblance of the relics she might have visited in some previous birth. And as she sat in the ferry amid unknown faces, relishing the placid waters of the Riverwalk, she hummed the lyrics of a dead singer-composer’s songs, reverberating in the air bustling with conceited human cacophony and charbroiled animal meat.
In the deadly quiet of her hotel room in the twentieth floor, it was all about silence and waiting–a long, silhouetted wait to sleep sublime under the cocoon of thousand unknown stars in a faraway galaxy, stars who do not know the tainted flesh of the humans. Late into the night, the game of thrones between two bodies had scoured the arid air inside the room, the body of an Adam and Eve of the spoiled, betrayed earth.

For once, she longed to tumble down, far, far below the wall-to-wall stained-glass door and see her naked, unbound soul go out to hug her nemesis, to touch and grip the utmost rim of her life. For once, she longed to plant a long, wet, last undying kiss on the dribbling mouth of her man fumbling with the used bedsheets in his sleep. She glanced at him with the corner of her kohl-smeared eyes, as she longed to smash open the stained-glass door with a gash of her bleeding wrists, to slide down the expanse of the building, falling down, violent, headlong, in the vortex, waiting with sure, steadfast arms, waiting to engulf her in an avalanche of sleep.

*****************************************************************

As always, Neil did not sense the first changes that sprouted in Shalini’s mind. As a norm, he should have been the first to notice them. But his pretty, ‘eccentric’ wife moved through her days in an unperturbed stance, her hair dangling in loose, dark brown curls on both sides of her shoulders as he came back from work, wishing in his mind to love her some more, but ending up not displaying his affection. He didn’t always know how her mind was cutting through, traversing in dangerous directions. Neil, on his part, lovingly relished the affectionate licks and hugs of their pet dog Bruno, the moment he would fling open the door. He would see only her frantic, squirrel-like movements all around the house, quietly inhaling the steam from the coffee being brewed on the cooktop, and the wafting aroma of her strong feminine essence that he recognized as he entered their domestic domain.

Did he know since the first year of their wedded life in the quiet, suburban town of Texas which became their home, that she was strumming her obsessive thoughts in the deep, innermost recesses of her mind? Did he know the dormant volcano inside her when she peeled potatoes or onions in their kitchen, worked on simple dinners of chicken and rice, when she vacuumed the carpets, or bought home her choicest vegetables from the farmers’ market? Or did he care less? Because when the two bodies brushed against each other, exploding, contracting, towering above each other in the dark, frenzied bed as they made love to each other in the messiest, yet most delicately loving way, and he savored all her feminine juices, all he thought then was that there was a glimmering, inviting light at the end of the tunnel, one that would suck away the most debilitating abyss that she sometimes surrendered to?

…… “So, for how long would you say such things have been going on with her?”

At the psychiatrist Dr. Jones’ plush office cabin, Neil sat, suddenly cautious of the urgency of his visit, woken from the stupor of his momentary daze following the long wait.

“I told you already, she had an abusive past, and she had a really hard time, struggling with it, and breaking herself free from it…I should have…I should have noticed it a bit earlier, I think.” Neil replied.

“Hmm, I see some of that in the case study my assistant had prepared, and it is quite common too, to have a history of this sort, for manic depressive patients that we see on a regular basis…but yes, in your wife’s case, she seems to be acutely sensitive.”

“First thing, can you tell me how is her equation with her family? Anyone in her family except you, with whom she has had a painful history? What do you think?”

“Shalini, my wife is the only child of her parents, born in Delhi, India. Her mother had succumbed to kidney failure in India quite some years back, and life was difficult back there with her alcoholic father. She had a godmother in Delhi, an entrepreneur woman named Ms. Padamsee who had introduced her to Rajesh, her first husband in a local jalsah, a poetry reading and musical event of sorts, in Delhi.  After a few meetings in regular intervals, she had thought of Rajesh as the antidote to all her pain at home. He appeared to be a sweet-talker, and had his ways with women. Also, he owned a corporate event management company in Houston, so he was quite well-off, financially. They didn’t wait for much long after the courtship. Her godmother arranged for a quick registry marriage and she flew away to the US as soon as she arranged for her visa in the country.”

“I can understand…I bet she was lured, and why not! So, do you know if she tried to get in touch with her family, or her father in India after her husband started abusing her?”

“It was of no use, actually. In fact, her father is in this country now, for the past four years, and seldom visits her. He married Ms. Padamsee, her fairy Godmother, who was no more a fairy now, and they both moved to Connecticut soon after. The last time I had got in touch with them was to invite them both for our wedding, and a Thank You card reached my home, along with a gift card from Macy’s. That was the end of it all.”

“That is sad….Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to ask you if you think something in the recent past might have triggered her sudden neurotic phase?”

Neil paused a bit. “Ummmm, not very recent though, but she had a miscarriage, quite a traumatic one, before she separated from her first husband, and she….she remarried…me.”

“Hmmm, I see….so does she speak of it to you? Or get hyper-sensitive?”

Neil nodded his head in assertion, gulping a steady influx of unsaid words, words which he would perhaps gather and break, construct and deconstruct, striving to know the rumbling, pent up thunder that was Shalini’s world.

“And also, may I ask, have you both as a couple thought of having a baby after all this? Now that you have been married for over two years?”

“Yes, we have…we have discussed this, quite a number of times….” He stammered a bit.

Some weeks back, when he had parked his car in their garage in a rather quiet, chilly winter evening, the loud, erratic barks from Bruno echoing from a distance seemed a tad bit unfamiliar. As he walked into the passage leading to the family room, the dog was in tatters, distressed and lost, literally dragging him to the far end of the passage which led to the main bedroom. There, in the hardwood floor, between the space of the dresser and the bed, she lay, her long tresses disheveled, her eyes loosely shut, with crystal drops of tears coating the corners of her eyes, streaming down her cheekbones. She sweated profusely in her sleepwear, which was the first thing which struck Neil as he stooped down to touch her, and then, discovered the whitish, semi-liquid discharges spilling from her mouth, all the way to the nape of her neck.

“Oh God, she must have thrown up a bit, just a while back”, he said to himself as Bruno started to scratch on some sticky remnants scattered on the floor where she lay.

“Shalu, sweetheart, wake up! What did you do to yourself, you crazy girl? See, I am back home! Look at me for once, damn it!” He had blurted out.

In the wooden dresser to their left, the container of her blood pressure medicines and a number of other medicines she took lay, angled, the lids opened. He looked at the remaining number of the pills, mocking the tumbled down promises of trust, love and the life-long companionship with which they had vowed to each other the day Shalini had come to his two-bedroom apartment in Sugar Lane, Houston, burying her face in his inviting chest, desperately pleading him to arrange for her divorce, so that she could free herself from that scumbag of a husband, Rajesh.  He had felt an inexplicable chill climb up his spine with her tight, cozy embrace, sweetly teasing him before the torrents broke open in that deep, sultry July evening almost three years back.

“It doesn’t rain in Delhi, the way it does here.” She said.

“Well, it doesn’t rain in Durgapur, my hometown too, the way it does here.” He replied. An alien rain with a familiar promise would unite them some day soon, they prayed together.

He knew in his heart of hearts, since the night they had met each other in the news year’s eve party at Rajesh’s furnished condo where Shalini moved around, awkward, with submissive, cat-like steps following her husband’s commands, that she was a lost soul, stuck in that quagmire of a home that was not really hers. He would whisper in her ears months later, in one of their passionate, clandestine weekly meetings that one day, if he could claim her absolutely, they would set their new house built together, brick by brick, on fire. The fire that would consume both of them on a high tide night, when they would drown in each other’s essence.

….He raced up to dial 911 and call the emergency. “There has been a medicine overdose…yes, my wife. We need to save her, quick.”

******************************************************

“You bring me good news from the clinic,
Whipping off your silk scarf, exhibiting the tight white
Mummy-cloths, smiling: I’m all right.
When I was nine, a lime-green anesthetist
Fed me banana-gas through a frog mask. The nauseous vault
Boomed with bad dreams and the Jovian voices of surgeons.
Then mother swam up, holding a tin basin.
O I was sick.
They’ve changed all that. Traveling
Nude as Cleopatra in my well-boiled hospital shift,
Fizzy with sedatives and unusually humorous,
I roll to an anteroom where a kind man
Fists my fingers for me. He makes me feel something precious
Is leaking from the finger-vents. At the count of two,
Darkness wipes me out like chalk on a blackboard. . .
I don’t know a thing.”

Gazing at the pages of her favorite Sylvia Plath’s book of poems, she lay in her bed, beneath the bland linoleum ceiling, the lonely, cryptic walls of her room in the hospital engulfing her, tearing her into shards and bits…Did her story begin in the night of her nuptial bed four years back on that grey, permissive December night in that lodge in Noida where, in between the rough, unburdening crests of sex, she thought she had been one with her man, Rajesh? Her man, who would revere her, nurture her like the sacred touch of the wine he had made her sip from his glass?

“This is the best birthday present I could have ever asked for, Minal masi!” She had splashed her long, curly hair around Ms. Padamsee’s gleeful cheeks and bid her goodbye, along with the handful of other wedding guests and slid under the plush cocoon of the lemon-froth curtains of the hotel room where the man, her new husband watched her peeling away, bit by bit, pouncing at her, laughing.

Did her story begin in the following spring of the next year, when she flew all the way to the United States, crossing the anonymous crowd, grasping in her palm the frothy bubbles of the promise of a new light inside her that was flickering inside her queasy stomach?

Inside the banquet hall of a very posh convention center at Herman Park, Houston, where the classy corporate guests of Rajesh were busy raising toasts to their own symphony, she had turned down the glass of Bloody Mary.

“You know, I am six weeks pregnant. I was dying to tell you, but checked myself. If I did, you wouldn’t have allowed me to fly all alone from India.” She had said, wrapping her arms around Rajesh’s neck as he started to crouch on the bed beside her.

“What? So soon? Are you sure it’s ours, and do you want to keep it?” She remembered him frowning, irritation flickering over his face as she tried hard to gobble the first hard chunks of the truths surrounding him and her moorings in the pale, yellow light of the room.

He had crushed her, trampled over her night-gown, tearing it apart, as her petit frame lay in the middle of all his cussing, temperamental, hysteric bouts, pleading to him in the obscure dark of the bedroom where his kinks, his fetishism spilled all over her. She wondered if her story began when he would suddenly come home early in the evenings, with pink and white roses and a resplendent diamond ring for her, looking at her middle finger with awe as they splurged on exotic seafood in that new restaurant in town. Those were also the dimly lit evenings when she waited for him to come back, drunk, stroking her nape and digging his fingernails deep in her skin. “Bitch…one hell of a bitch. You’re only my bitch.”He would shout, vain, irrelevant.

What were the people that surrounded him in his whims, she wondered, when he bent over to kiss her hair, and then, burst open in a sudden fury?

“Who is it that your hair smells of? Having fun, you whore, when I am not home?”

“You know it’s not true, Rajesh. I work from home and do not go anywhere without you.”

The deep beige walls, the milky white of the window blinds and the murky red of the designer curtains creaked with her hollow shrieks. She had been a doll of his twisted desires, a doll with the perfect pout and the thick, mascara-laden eyelashes which housed her burnt-out days, days when she woke up to his obsessive compulsive wants, days when her limbs, her torso, her abdomen and her loins strained with the pain of bearing the seed of his obsessive wants that he had fostered inside her, in the name of matrimony and the sweet seduction of a sanctioned love. Then one day, in a violent daybreak, the seed, almost a half-grown fruit inside her, spilled out of her in bursts of blood.

“It cannot be mine, it is never mine, you bitch! In every party I take you to, in every party I host at home, you have to catch the eyes of a man and flirt with him, eh? You just used me as your easy ticket to fly away from your filthy, middle-class home, didn’t you?”

His vehement kicks and rash shoving, slapping hard at the lyrics she had woven with him in the narrow alleyways of suburban Delhi, had sliced through the half-formed body of a cursed embryo, breaking it into splinters and shards.

The next day, Rajesh had come to visit her in the hospital. He held her pale, fragile hand and kissed the diamond on her middle finger again, convincing her that it was he who had admitted her, after all, begging of her to forgive his drunk, disastrous aberrations, give her one last chance. She lay there, groggy, scraped off, not knowing how long she would have to grit her teeth and hold on to whatever semblance of sanity she still had within her.

…………….Was it the smell of the fresh beige paint of the walls yet again, two years later, in the quiet suburban home that Shalini had built with Neil in Plano, Texas, as she discovered, working with her books piled up, working with the soapy bubble of the dishwater, that yet another seed was sprouting in her body? Would it be the true token of her deep, basal yearning to live, shedding her morbidity aside, she wondered. Bruno, the pet dog wagged his tail and smelled her belly, as if sensing an omen, while she washed him clean in the bathroom, craving for some fleeting moments to dance to the music being played amid the sweet household mess.

************************************************

“You are finally mine, Shalu. What would be the first thing that you would wish for, in our new life together, tell me?” Neil has asked as they had roamed, carefree, hand-in-hand amid the gentle sea breeze in Galveston island near Houston, guilt-free, elevated with the dream of their togetherness for the first time since Neil had met her in the presence of Rajesh as one of his ex-clients.

“To get the hell out of this city, and make a home in another part of this state, or a different state, for that matter.”

“You know what, I just had this surprise for you! I had applied in a few places since the court proceedings of your separation was going on, and just got an offer from an insurance company in Plano, near Dallas. What do you think, we should move there?”

“Yes, it’s about time we do that, maybe.” She said, with a sweet, lingering sigh.

“Okay, your highness.” He had replied.

Shalini still felt the sweet tug of that moment, with the sea purring like a naughty pet cat, the music, the pull of the sand beneath her toes, as the salt still stung in her eyes. She had never again visited the island after this. Her divorce with Rajesh, obtained with the help of one of Neil’s friends in Houston, now a thing of her past, choked her at times like a sudden siren rushing on in the distance. But Neil had often, in the bed and in the other rooms and beyond, spoken about, wanted to usher in new beginnings, despite being shut out from his orthodox Bengali family in Durgapur, India for marrying a divorced north-Indian woman, almost two years older to him. A new beginning, a luminous oasis in the midst of a desert, a new child implanted in her womb again, at the zenith of the consummation of a love affair that made her change her moorings all over again.

“It’s ours.” Her deep, resonant voice cut through the musky scent of his bare breast. A He, or a She, doesn’t matter, she thought to herself. Since its inception, Neil had kissed the welcoming spring in her tummy, and flaunted in its ownership. The thought of the new being inside her had engulfed her like a thick, rolling fog, like the shoulders of the lovers who had switched roles in her life. The antidepressants that their family care practitioner had prescribed for her during her tremendous trying times went off her shelves, and the hypertension symptoms she had, emerged at times like a secret tide, then slowly dipped underground again.

“Can I talk to Indraneil Sengupta? This is the nurse from Dr. Rogers’ office, it’s regarding your wife’s pregnancy.”

“Yes, speaking. What is it, please?” Neil’s voice shook as he received the call during the first hour in his office.

“Well, Mr. Sengupta, the preliminary ultrasound of the baby your wife is carrying was fairly good, with a steady heartbeat and all. But the recent prenatal screening she was scheduled for last week came out with some…some findings…and we would…”

“What do you mean? What happened to our baby?” He shouted, cutting the caller mid-sentence.

“Well, Mr. Sengupta, I am afraid there are good chances of the baby having a genetic birth defect, or a chromosomal disorder. The test results indicate a type of down syndrome, but there can be more specific findings…”

“And can I ask, what are the chances?”

“Well, as of now, the tests indicate a good 80% chance of the fetus growing with the disorder…”

As he stood in his cubicle, gripping the cell phone, his feet staggered. “I am sorry again, Mr. Sengupta, for…for having to tell you this…” the nurse stammered. “We know the medical and psychological condition of your wife already, so we decided to contact you first, regarding this. But you both have to come and visit Dr. Rogers to discuss the condition in details, and your wife has to go for some further tests, so that the diagnosis is confirmed further. And then, we would discuss with you what options you can consider.” She added. The last part of her words, a blurry melange of words and sounds, failed to register in his senses. He flopped down on the floor, close to his desk.  …………………………………………………………………………………………………

The thin mist of the fall was rearing its head as Shalini looked up at the contours of the sky kissed by the skyscrapers and the evening lights which were just beginning to explode in the nightscape about to descend on them, a cool, gleaming red, blue and fluorescent yellow. At the topmost floor in the observation deck of the Reunion Tower, five hundred feet above the city of Dallas, an icy stillness settled in her heart as Neil caressed her shoulders lightly in the presence of other onlookers.

“Please try and understand, be a good girl and listen to me. We cannot keep the baby, it would be too risky for you to give birth to a genetically challenged baby, and too risky for us both to nurture it for life. Please, Shalu, not this time. We saw the videos and the slideshows of a baby with such conditions, didn’t we? How could we cope with the fetus developing abnormally, with a number of physical and mental problems? How would we battle with it all our lives, have you any idea?” Just a week back, he had pulled her towards him to let her thaw, melt in his arms in the blanketed warmth of their bed. He took some time off from work, to coax her into the termination of her pregnancy.

She walked straight towards one end of the geo-deck, brushing aside the other visitors immersed in the panoramic views of the cityscape, capturing the illuminating wonders of the Thanksgiving lights in their cameras and smartphones. “Happy Thanksgiving!” The couples and the families romancing around, taking pictures, were flashing cheesy smiles while bumping into each other, the way Neil had done with her too, in his attempt to pull her away from her pitch-dark private hell.

From the vantage point, she was seeing the city lights, the sleek glass layers of the urban buildings, the dark luster of the veil of the glass window, and wondered what to be thankful for at that moment. The doctor whose surgical instruments probed deep inside the far end of her cervix and ripped apart her half-formed embryo just three days back, the flesh parts and the blood, gushing out of her, controlled with the intervention of nameless nurse attendants? The icy, steely stare of Neil and the doctor while they discussed the procedure of this termination and signed the paperwork? Or the litany of his monosyllables with which he bulged into her wound on their way back home? Their hands that moved together, seeming out of sync now, the practiced curves of their bodies reunited in bed again, with hopes woven again, much against the diktats of their ruthless times?

The journey back from the loose mirth of San Antonio to the plain, unswerving sameness of their everyday lives in Plano, Texas plagued him like an invisible, surreptitious wound. In between his staccato bouts of making love, and journeying together, they both fumbled for words, knowing they could rip their hearts out while their car raced past the long, stretching sameness of the interstate.

Words, in all their littered ambiguity as he called his parents, his younger brother in India on the way, curtly wishing them a happy new year, wishing the foamy bubbles of their estrangement would disappear at the long stroke of the night. Words, the silky rain and their drip-drop delight which he ardently wished and prayed, would come to their only sister Lily in their old, cobwebbed Durgapur home, washing down the tags of an ‘abnormal’ girl that their neighbors, their relatives, the people surrounding them had hurled on her. Lily, the dim, twisted smile, the dribbling mouth, the frog-like croaks that never became songs as she sat, wraith-like in her pale grey wheelchair amid the din and bustle of the everyday paraphernalia around her, etched in his soul’s canvas like an unresolved story. Lily, who comes back, by and by, to haunt him in the faraway land, the fourteen-year-old, the brainless, ‘spastic’ girl at the threshold of her puberty who had curled up, cold, motionless in her wheelchair one summer evening, years back, with her eyelids shut, the dark, red river of her menstruating cycle splashing the floor as it did sometimes. Only, that day was the finale to the grin painted with her crooked teeth, the finale to the questions in her life’s uncharted miles, questions which she could anyway never ask, burnt to ashes along with her in the crematorium.

“Oh God, did she die, just like that or did they end her life?”

A forced finale, the neighborhood gossiped, something his family might have wanted all along, while Neil, her eldest brother packed his bags and flew away from them all to attend an MBA program in a University in Houston, in search of greener pastures.

Why couldn’t he tear open and show his gashes to Shalini in all these days they had been man and wife? What stopped him as he clasped her hands and strove hard to kill her pain, one stroke at a time as he promised he would tend to her wounds? What stopped him from shouting out, as she sprung up in his arms and wished with all her might that their baby, the conjoined flesh emerging out of both of them must be given a chance to be born, whatever the odds might be? Could he open up to her now, peeling himself in the layers unknown to Shalu, once they reach home, and tell her there was still a bountiful rain waiting for them both at the end of this jagged road they had trudged? A welcoming rain which might usher in, once he confesses, squeezing her tight that he has also been a betrayer in her life, swallowing his own share of thorns.

“Don’t forget the appointment with Dr. Jones, the psychiatrist, coming up on Friday, Shalu.” He said, stroking her shoulders with one hand while driving. The rain might plunder the streets, their home, and their beings, any moment now.

dark rain

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Book Review: Knitted Tales by Rubina Ramesh

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The cover of ‘Knitted Tales: A collection of emotions’

When I first browsed through the pages of Rubina Ramesh’s maiden short story collection ‘Knitted Tales: A Collection of Emotions’, the blurb of the book gave me the impression that the stories would unfold the dark, grim and intriguing side of the human mind and the harsh truths that spill out as the inevitable consequences. But as page after page unfolded the subtle nuances of every story in the collection, I realized that the book was much, much more than a collection of dark, intriguing tales and the twists and turns and emotions that define each one of them. It was, in reality, a journey, a revelation of the quintessential human saga which spoke of the fragility, the vulnerability of the human soul, on one hand, and on the other, the strong, feisty, spirited flow of human life as well. Keeping this in mind, I would say that all the stories are defined by the sheer fiber of pathos and the captivating secrets evoked by the storyteller in Rubina, be it the unfolding of an eerie past rearing its head out of the closet in ‘A Secret in Their Closet’, the unfolding of the raw emotions of anguish, betrayal and thwarted trust in ‘Lolita’, or the unleashing of the stark, heart-wrenching tragedy in ‘Suvarnarekha’.

Keeping in mind the colossal trend of theme-based anthologies in today’s times, categorized in easy, water-tight genres of romance, thriller, supernatural, horror, feminist stories or children’s literature, here is an anthology that captivates even more because the myriad themes it represents makes it a massive, yet delectable canvas. For me, as I read it, each story filled in the gap of the earlier story, though they were not technically interconnected stories. However, the undercurrent of loneliness, deceit, agony and the fragility of being a human shines so strong in most of the stories that often times, while reading, I felt one story feeding into the emotions of the other. The narration, sometimes pacy, dramatic and sharp, sometimes lyrical and full of cadence, compels the readers to get at the heart of the emotions of the protagonist of every story. So be it the immigrant mother and her daughter who confront racism in ‘Chicklet’, the fiercely introvert filmmaker Abhijit who wronged his wife and the lady-love of his growing up years in ‘Forgive Me, For I Have Sinned’, the tremendously intriguing wife Raima with a clandestine online friend in ‘No Regrets’, or the vulnerable Jyothi in ‘The Other Woman’, somewhere the storyteller makes them all splinters and shards of our own unacknowledged selves, and we cannot help but get drawn into their fractured walls.

The element of the dark and supernatural is yet another strand which makes this assortment of stories of elemental human emotions so delectable and engrossing. Right in the first story of the collection, ‘The Secrets in Their Closets’, I had been startled with the stark revelation of long-buried crimes and the way the narrator revealed it in astonishing, shocking spurts. In ‘Betrayal’, the ghost of a dead husband presents a riveting, shocking tale of a conjugal life gone awry, a tale of domestic violence where the festering stench of morbidity seeps through the senses of a sensitive reader. In both ‘The Missing Staircase’, and ‘Cliff Notes’, the last story of the collection, though the themes are diverse, the narrators in both the tales take the element of the supernatural in its most elemental form and build it up to a crescendo where the readers are transported to a world, sinister yet irresistible, a world which we are compelled to explore, tearing apart our comfort zones. In the final analysis, I would say it is an extremely courageous and compelling book by Rubina where she has shown that the true power of a storyteller lies not only in writing intelligently crafted tales, but churning a world of tantalizing, memorable emotions out of the tales. ‘Knitted Tales’ is mostly successful in accomplishing that, where the last page makes the readers yearn for more.

Definitely a recommended read for lovers of short fiction.

Know more about the book and read all the reviews here:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32446826-knitted-tales?from_search=true

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Author: Rubina Ramesh

Park Street

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How can my love hold him when all I have is my ebony morning,

bruised, breathing like a wrecked car? Didn’t I smell like

pungent rain when my poems scratched old wounds, and I

swirled and swirled, stumbling down into our own emaciated shadows?

My voice, the storm of heat, spinning, and spinning into spirals of words

and songs, songs that seep into the cutting edge of me, choke him.

My man, the voice dangling in my furtive black sky, the nameless,

sacred scar I wrap around my asphalt neck, bruises me.

I find him under my crushed ribs, my blood, heart

and scarlet light, waving at the splintered ME.

(Inspired by “A Losing Battle” by the phenomenal poet Kamala Das)

In between the neon lights that burn, fade and resound, in between the petal dance of footsteps and the wildflower kisses of Moulin Rouge, I trudge, forlorn, lost, unveiled. Ah yes, the perfumed streets that house the metronome beats smile at me, like a coquettish woman. The euphoria and the gluttonous poetry of Peter Cat, Flury’s, the dazzling vignettes of the hotels, bars and the VIBGYOR of the shining cafes seep into me.

“Hey, Raai, where are you off too? And when did you come to the city? Wow, one month back? Where have you put up? Didn’t even know you are here!” An old face, a flicker of a few trivial moments, an exchange of a few fading words and a slithering repartee. There, our wandering feet disperse in different routes. Do these faces emerging out of the routine crowd startle me anymore? I wonder. I flash an unaffected smile stamped on my cheeks for a few fleeting moments, babble a couple of inconsequential sentences and move on. An old intoxicating drug works on my mind’s reflexes, as I burst through the haphazard crowd of the sprawling, the innocuous, the nostalgic Park Street.

I make my trail, clogged, blocked, bursting open, in spurts. Lovers chase each other frantically, running restless, stumbling over the silvery labyrinths of the bars, nightclubs, and those unloved, chasing their mocking mirages.

Which is more sweet? The chill running down my spine as I gulp down a few more sips of the frothy margarita, the voice of the vocalist performing inside Trinca’s, the fanatic rain of the acoustic guitar he is strumming, or the taste of the kisses that that assail the lovers’ slippery mouths?

“This is a cocktail mix of a bit of gin, a few ounces of vodka, a few trickles of the juices of my fragrant love, and some more. Taste it, and don’t forget to enjoy it with a handful of cashews. Sheer bliss, you know.”

“I…I don’t think I can handle this…I never boozed ever, in my life.” A young feminine voice mutters, under her raging breath.

“Ah, you never know the magic unless you are under its spell. It’s the New Year’s Eve, my darling, don’t chain your free spirit, not today at least!”

Their trembling hands clasp each other, their breaths press heavy against each other, their ardent mouths and lips smudged in a hot lava of a lingering want, their bodies intertwined, melting in the dim, seductive silhouette of the evening. This evening, the musing of the hour when she becomes a wildflower, is mine too. This frenzied evening, she reclines in the voluptuous embrace of the first love of her life. Her womanly desires start pirouetting, surrendering to his testosterone urges. I see, I set my feet in the old, forgotten hills, valleys and creases of my own self, more ‘girlie’, more light, breezy, unblemished, years younger, with a hazel-eyed, bearded lover guy…it is just the gnashed, resurrected language of memory, where the giggling and the steam of seduction, the brushing against each other come alive, like glasses clinking with ice.

I know them all, I have seen, felt, played with them all in another life–the scented petrichor, the cocoon of the translucent light where I had deflowered myself, the fierceness of virgin passion pouring over the kohl lined eyes of the night. I have known the crescent moon spilling her ivory blood over the gushing hearts wandering, lingering in the mad mob of the New Year’s Eve. Yes, the new year it is, the ushering of yet another series of sunrises and sundown, a ritual of the joie de vivre of a broken-winged world. A world, festering, yet looking over the vicissitudes of life, today, grinning ear-to-ear, taking selfies while kissing, nibbling, limping in its dazzling light.

“Oh, well, wait a minute….who is that tall, dusky, light-feathered girl, smoking in that extreme left corner of the bar?” I move, in awkward steps, a few yards closer. She looks obtusely at the psychedelic lights and the mad, conceited footsteps and voices that surround her. A bulky, bespectacled middle-aged man seated across her in that cozy booth, tickles her feet, her knuckles, the soft mounds of her thighs peeking from the slit edges of her silken skirt.

“Isn’t she a known face, the ebony hair, the faint sparkle in those eyes spelling out old acquaintance of a familiar train route, amid the din and bustle of the Sealdah station? Putul, her nick name, and Reena, her school name that she despised?”

My fervent soul sought the petite, spirited schoolgirl I knew a decade back, tracing the curves of her eyebrows, her soft, sylvan smile which often escaped her lips when her friends surrounding her grinned and giggled, her dark, brooding eyes stirring something in my inner core.

“Do call me Putul, Raai didi, I am like your younger sister.”

“But why not Reena? It is a lovely name too. Isn’t it?” I would ask, in an irresistible bid to tease her, as we plunged our bodies and made our way amid the sweaty jostle of co-passengers in the hard, wooden seats.

I had seen her red, flustered face, the animated laughter of her school friends inside the train compartment and the irked, pissed off tone of her voice when they would tease her with a refrain in Hindi:

“Tere bin kyaa jeena/Reena, haseena, de de dil, dil de mujhko Reena.”

I remember her sharp, juvenile face glittering with an inexplicable sadness that lurked, like a sour reality rolling over and settling in the lumps of her throat. Her school friends sang medleys of Hindi songs in the antakshari game which we all played inside the train, indulgently, and she sometimes joined in the sessions, humming a few lines, albeit hesitatingly.

“Who calls you Putul at home?” I had asked her once.

“My father, my Babu. You know didi, he works in a toy manufacturing company in Howrah, and named me Putul the day I was born, the day he completed one year of his employment there.”

“And your mother? What does she call you?”

“Reena was the name my mother gave me the day she admitted me in school, rhyming with her own name, Meena. I hate both, Meena and Reena.” Her lips trembled in an unknown rage.

“But why?” I had asked, my voice awkward, trying to make sense of the looming clouds brewing inside her.

“There are boys, younger boys, men, older men who step in our house, time and again, whistling, calling out to her as ‘Meena Kumari.’ My father, Babu and she fight like cats and dogs in those dark nights, the old bed of our tiny bedroom creaks and their shouting voices tear apart my peaceful sleep. I feel like running far, far away…I cling to Babu late at night and try to fall asleep, my mother trembling, weeping…. forget it, didi. Which station is it, by the way?”

Day after day, she would emerge in the same compartment, with the same old braid, the same wrinkled, pale school uniform, the same old tattered schoolbag sitting heavy on her slender shoulders. She would drift away, slowly, unassumingly as the train came to a screeching halt in her destination.

Aren’t those the same brooding eyes, coated with layers of eye make-up and kohl, staring nonchalant, at the dim, phony surroundings? Aren’t those the same soft, feminine cheeks and pouted lips, resting beneath the cheap, lousy make-up, faintly spelling out an untold story which might never come out of her closet, unguarded?

“Putul, is it you? How are you?” I almost shout, my vain voice stumbling over the mad mirth and revelry of the evening, trying to walk a few more steps closer to where she sat. “Putul!” I wave at her and try to come even more close, as I watch her look around, following the cues of my voice, and giving me a cold, barren stare for once before looking away. The man accompanying her flirts with her nimble fingers, her torso bent against him in an unabashed surrender.

A minute or two. I keep staring at her as she dwindles in his broad arms, I suspect, under the spell of a strong alcoholic beverage. My eyes sting, as I follow them, surreptitiously, like a creepy apparition. The man shoves her body with inordinate care and takes her along, away from the cozy booth where they sat and frolicked, away from the bustling bar and walks out with her, staggering, in the neon-lit by lanes.

“Yes, yes, I will be done within a couple of hours. Give me a call back when you reach the hotel and then you can pick us up.” The man flashes a nuanced smile, attending a call on his cell phone, while with another hand, he grabs the young woman’s arms, inhaling deeply into the creases and folds of her tight, body-hugging shirt.

“Reena, hey, wake up now, baby, we are nearing the hotel, you see!” I sense him utter in her smudged ears.

I forget where I should have been by now, I forget where I am headed to, and in a frenzied zeal of discovery, I start following their trail, as the man leads her surrendering body to the dim lights of the plaza that ends at the nearby Park Hotel. Within minutes, they get lost in the labyrinths leading to the lounge and then, I know, to the forbidden, paid, momentary pleasures of the plush hotel room that the man must have booked to nibble, chew on her, suck her dry.

I run, run and run, the color and the euphoria around fading in my eyes, dangling in front of me like a monochrome landscape. I falter a number of times, trampling over the droning voices of fleshless street urchins and ebony beggar kids, torn, unbuttoned. There, in the ground that I tread now, teardrops have trickled down the cheeks of cheap, phony prostitutes whose meandering ways have been too easy to condemn, whose sultry tales have been too hard to gulp down. My palms wipe my truant tears, a frail moment of surrendering to the volatile tides of homecoming. Five years, it has been, five truant, yet cajoling new year’s eves since my old flame Bhaskar, that tall, lanky guitarist had spurred me on to my surrendering in that same booth inside Trinca’s where another Putul, another Reena smolders and burns today. Is it the same way how I had burnt years back, in hope of a heady, adventurous voyage of love, in hope of a home and a pure, glorious bed some day?

Do my tears have the same salt that have made theirs? Do my yearnings have the same wrinkles, the same stretch marks, the same glory, the same sin that have conjured theirs?

 

***********************************************************************

Young, gleeful, make-up laden faces giggle, peer over each other in the lush comforting zone of Flury’s, gorging on the buttery cakes and chocolate pastries. The warm embrace of the posh bakery adorns their saliva, and they lose themselves the wintry fog of their smudged conversations. I sit, hunched in a corner, burning in those familiar tunes, yet a few light years away from the idyllic cacophony. The bus-stop, the burst and cackle of bodies waves at me from a few yards away. I know I have a destination for now, a towering hospital building at the farthest end where these deceptive, silken lights melt and drown, a general cabin where a once noisy father stares, wordless now, lying prostrate in an overused patient bed, benumbed into a dysfunctional reality.

The dark, chocolatey crumbs of the black forest cake of Flury’s melt in my hungry mouth, and a freshly lit incense of a guileless childhood returns. A childhood when the father brought in our suburban home heavenly slices of the same cake, culinary delights from the same bakery shop and wove stories of the opulence of the New Years’ Eve party in Park Hotel where he would join his colleagues, get a bit drunk, forcefully, and return home with a hangover he would be unwilling to admit.

“How are you feeling today, Baba? Any better?”

I enter the room he is in, overlooking the window, from which he stares at the silhouettes of the vast expanse outside. He nods, in half-acceptance, half-denial, as always, since he has been on the rehab session of the neurology unit, hanging vicariously in the thin rope of a diminishing memory.

“Do you remember the date? It is the 31st December, the New Year’s Eve, you should have seen the lights of park street today, such a sight!” I see the glimmering streaks of a faint remembrance pushing the boundaries of his dementia-affected brain. He smiles, and winks at me.

“Now, now….be a good boy and eat a slice of this cake I bought for you…remember Flury’s? How does it taste like?” I gaze at his moist eyes, and wipe off his tear-laden cheeks, and while I do all the talking in the somber hospital room, I fill his mouth with small crumbs of the cake, one little spoon at a time, and wait for his brain to convey its aroma, its essence, the fleeting atoms of its memories.

“See…how you smile! You do remember having it before, right? Now can you say ‘Happy new year’ loud and clear?”

“Happy new year…” his feeble, jittery voice reverberates in the room, cutting through the raw wounds, the rough-hewn edges of a frail, long lost childhood, swaying in the arid air between us. “Happy new year” is the only coherent phrase he can utter, for now, while swaying his head in the warm, monitored confines of the hospital room. I can feel him silently questioning the year, the happenings around, the years that have passed in between. The grey clouds of anger, making up, the losses and the revival that he had chased for all those years have dispersed, and what remains is a tiny blob of a moment in time.

“Seven more days, I think, and you can take him back home with some medicines and don’t forget to continue the restorative therapies, though dementia is an incurable ailment. Try treating him as you treat a young toddler, and take one day at a time….and yes, happy new year! Go and celebrate.” Dr. Abir Roy, the young, muscular neuro-therapist squeezes my hands as we stand close to the elevator, and share meaningful glances, those of empathy and the hint of a reassuring love, waiting to eclipse me if I ever respond to it, willingly.

“You have my number, Raai. Hope you will keep in touch once you take him back home. I will wait.” His parting words slice through the cold silence of the hospital and linger in my head while I meander in the streets, looking for a cab that will drive me back, further north, to an empty, hollow home.

……“Raai didi, it is me, please take me in, I am Ree…ummm, Putul. I am stranded alone here; ekta taxi-o jete raji hochchhe na (no taxi is willing to give me a ride).”

I am startled for seconds, shaken out of my pendant thoughts. My heart thumps loud in my chest, not the least bit prepared for this unforeseen finale to the evening. I give a silent nod to the driver, as he opens the door to the cab’s back seat where I sit, huddled in a corner, my face, my nose perched on the open window, inhaling the evening revelry of my festive city. She sits next to me in the backseat, just as she would sit in the train compartment years back, the shy, hesitant schoolgirl, and we both remain silent, our minds fumbling with the proper words to start any exchange, whatsoever.

“Didi, should I take you via B.T. Road, or do you want another route?

She was the one to speak first. “B.T. Road dhoro, bhai. I will get down at Dunlop.” And then, for the first time in the car, she grabbed my hands.

“You are angry on me, na? You called me, back there in Trinca’s, and I couldn’t…. kotodin pore dekha bolo to? (Imagine how long it’s been that we met?)”….she paused, and gulped the choking silence between us. “How are you, Raai didi?”, she enquired, with an ineffable warmth that has evaded me for long.

“What about that man you were with, in Trinca’s, who escorted you to the hotel? Wasn’t he supposed to give you a ride back home?” The spineless jerk! I mutter, wordless, under my breath.

She paused, let out a sigh, and suddenly broke open in peals of laughter. “Oh, that old ox, Mr. Bajaj? His wife called him back home… there has been a family emergency, with his mother-in-law having a sudden massive stroke! He quickly ran back home. You should have seen his face, didi, right at the moment when he was having the fun of his life!”

I gulped down a big lump and it settled in my throat, awkward, painful. When had she initiated herself in this murky adult world, this point of no return?

She added, as if reading my thoughts instantly.“He used to come to my mother some time back, until his eyes caught a fancy for me a couple of years back, and Ma relented…chharo didi, they are all the same, but their papered notes smell fresh and tempting, and those are what truly matter….

She looks out at the window of the cab, forlorn, lost. “I will go to visit Babu tomorrow, let’s see if I can surprise him on the first day of the new year.” She suddenly says.

“Where is he? Don’t you stay together anymore?” The feeling of disbelief tickles my throat.

“No didi, not any more, since our old house was pawned, following his lay-off from the toy factory. Ma had arranged for a small flat in the Dunlop area from Mr. Bajaj, and we stay there now….you won’t really mind if I take a couple of dregs, will you? She takes out a pack of cigarettes from her bag. “Babu is in a rehabilitation center near Nimta since the last five years, his deranged brain driving him to substance abuse and what not!” The cab speeds past the mad, dizzy streets and trudges along the busy highways. “Shaala haraami!” She cusses, looking disdainfully at the huge traffic ahead of us.

“But what about you, Raai didi? Didn’t you leave Kolkata with a job quite some years back, the last time I heard about you? So, you are back, finally? And did you marry yet?” She gazed at me intently, her unbridled curiosity killing me, one stroke at a time.

“Yes, I left, five years ago, but I have just been back…” I sigh, and flash an inconsequential smile, then pat her back as my parting gesture. “Bhai, please stop me right here.” I instruct the driver to halt in the bumpy lanes, leading to my new North Kolkata home. “And do drop her safely in Dunlop, please.” I pay him the taxi fare, and wave at her for one last time, looking into her questioning eyes throwing darts at me, as I cross the street and keep walking towards my empty nest.

How would it have been if I had lifted the fog of secrets hovering over my life in suburban Mumbai where I had been lured by Bhaskar, my first love, to the slippery quagmire of a bar singer’s life? How would it have been if I would tell her of the endless evenings and nights when my voice had rained songs, one after the other? Did anyone know back then, that none of the ears listening to them felt how I kept burning, while offering them a plastic, unreal slice of myself.

“Listen, Raai, you have to abort the baby, we really have no choice than to wipe out this ‘mistake’ we committed….just give both of us a few more years to make more money; then, we might marry and have a family. OK? Happy, baby?” His calculated words, his sly, manipulative stances had carried sparklers, illuminating my pensive soul, while both of us tried in our own, unique ways to climb the tight rope that leads to a glitzy, yet thorny musical life. How would it have been if Putul knew the storm, the deluge that ripped apart the love nest I had built with him in the evening when I had to succumb in a stranger’s arms inside a dingy, half-lit studio?  Ah well, an agent in the music industry, promising to give us both our first big breaks must have his own rightful share, isn’t it so?

“It’s really not a big issue, you know, certainly not worth crying and whining, if you want this deal to be struck.” Bhaskar had grabbed me from behind, kissing the nape of my neck that night, begging of me to let go. And yes, I did let go, for quite a long time, I did believe a home with him would be possible at the end of this crooked journey, once we both would find our moorings in the music industry. I did believe, till the day I found him burying himself in the quagmire, choosing the easy route of an agent supplying pretty females to his co-called ‘musical’ clients.

“It is not easy for any of us, Putul, it has not been easy, being on this fiery trip, scalding from scalp to toes, yet never giving up on the chance to find the closures of our journey. I came back to find a closure to mine, and I am sure in a few years, you will find yours’, as well.” I knew the tracks of our lives were forged together, by the battles that we had lost, the battles we might win some day.

Jinxed Interlude: Short Story

(1)

Tireless, she meandered. The city, a painted whore with her chipped off nail polish, her smudged kohl that seeped into the burst of the echoing calls, her smashed lips, gnawing. The cars cruised their way into the zigzagging highways. The numbness burnt her, as she shrunk, slowly, surreptitiously, into a shadow of dark circles, seething, lingering in columns of smoke, burnt out conversations and the stinking froth of forgotten kisses.

dark rain

Enter a caption

Image Source: imgarcade.com

The mist and the sporadic orphaned tears that stung in Amrita’s eyes, appeared known, all over again. But why? Hadn’t the grief that had birthed it, long been murdered? There, she had emerged under the same flyover, five years later, looking with her intent, yet distant eyes at the people swarming out of tunnels and chaos, sweating, swearing cuss words, waving hands, smoking.

“Was it here that I discovered Joydeep first, in that dainty little coffee shop, where the chaos of unknown voices spiraled out of control?”

“Was it here that my curls went flying with the unrestrained peals of laughter when we celebrated our first year of dating each other?”

“Was it here that we left our entwined skins in a wreck of washed out memories, amputating our existential texts?”

“Was it here that our differences and distances soared, sinister, dark, between the burst of our growing silences?” She asked herself in between the abrupt halts of traffic signals, shuddering, as she tried holding on to the embers, long frozen.

“What was the silk rope that tied me to him and his professed love?” She thought. It did bruise when she wrote her last love letter in a plea before splitting up; it did bruise when their fingers and lips slipped into each other, into the metric lines of the poem of their thwarted union.

Back at home, the relationship wasn’t a secret anymore, where every single soul asked her if she was really ‘committed’ to that wayward, bohemian indie musician guy who refused to have a career apart from his touring rock band.

“Have you ever thought if it is a momentary whim without a sound future for any of you? Have you gone nuts, thinking you can walk out any time with a worthless, aimless boy while you don’t even know if he is capable of providing for you? …Well, so you are going to provide for him, is that the idea? How do you think it can work?”

She gulped in all of it, occasionally creating a havoc, shouting her heart out, occasionally choosing to brush it all aside, till the last day they met at their most frequented park.

“Joy, Can you please return all the letters I had written you in the mad haze of these years? I don’t think you will need those thousand stupid lines anymore. Lines about our future summer rental in a virgin, Gothic island with an ochre pool where kingfishers swim, where granules of strawberry and pink roses swim in the tranquil water. Lines about our future twins, a boy and a girl who appear and vanish with swift switchboard clicks, whose cherubic bodies sway, wax and wane on a leafy swing, the boy and the girl carved in our mashed up images, in our bones, blood and the palette of my primal wants….”

She handed him another letter, this, the last one.

“I do not know what to say if you insist on breaking up today, right now. Only let me take your hand in mine, for one last time before you let me blow away in smithereens.”

“Do let me go.” She had pleaded, her mind scrubbing hard to wipe out their censured years of being together.

At the New Year’s Eve party, in the heady concoction of cocktail drinks and enthused friends lurking in between smudged teardrops that she rubbed off, vigorously, she covered up with fake grins and smiles. Her throat exploded as she gulped the thorny pain. Those were the friends, the faces who had conjoined both their fates, those were the ones who watched them twittering, chirping in the magic spell of the silhouetted evenings. Those were the faces, voices who engaged and disengaged themselves in various phases of their turbulent love song of three years.

“….Ah, look at them, don’t they look snugly fit in each other’s arms, aren’t they just made for each other, a picture-postcard couple?”

“…..A very happy three years’ anniversary of being together, Joy and Amrita, officially, as a couple. When are the marriage bells ringing? When do we get to have the big fat treat?”

“….Look, don’t you think you should take charge of things and move on? When is this guy going to talk to your parents and ask for your hand in marriage? Or, are you guys going to just live together without legal encumbrances?”

“….You know, just cry your heart out, today, for one last time, and leave it all behind you.” The voice of an old friend, a bestie, for that matter, and the pale crimson light of the large, dark room emerged in her eyes, and the words, bulging, buoyant, choked her. Those were the several voices, distant, near, playful, indolent, soppy, withering, swimming across the dark undercurrents of the ocean she plunged into, half-forgotten names, faces fermenting in the restless undulations.

*****************************************

To be continued…

The Stillborn: Short Fiction

Image source: dict.space.4goo.net

 

In a crumpled bed of blood and free-flowing love, my child is born. Let me hold him close. Let me look at him him in his fairy-winged sleep. Let me bathe him with my milk and unrestrained tears, that had awaited his first cry, sprouting open, unfurling the soft petals of his sleep.

“Nurse, please tell me if it is a boy or a girl!”

“A boy? Oh, my bunny boy, I did dream about you with your curly locks, your drooling mouth and tattering footsteps, chortling away. And I would love you all the more if you were a dimple-chinned, chubby cheeked girl with soft, precious fingers, curling up to my face…..”

“But where are you, my child of delight, my baby boy?”

I can feel his tiny fingers folded, resolute, his curled up limbs, his body like a sonnet, unfolding before eternity. Do let me hold him close until his cry merges in whirlwind, in spirals, in harmony with my never-ending lullaby.

****************************************

“The patient is still in a delirium. We will still need to keep her under strong doses of morphine and narcotics to deal with the postpartum pain and stress”, the nurse walks out of the recovery room to work under the instructions of the team of the doctor, other nurses and the midwife.

“The baby boy was stillborn. We are extremely sorry for your loss. It happens sometimes with premature deliveries, and there were complications since the first trimester.” The young nurse and the aged midwife came up to the perplexed, anxious family waiting outside the surgery room. They were trying to console the bewildered young man who had dreamed of holding his offspring of love in his arms at this very instant.

A helpless, insistent bout of tears flowed, vulnerable, dismayed, followed by the inevitable act of settling down with the bitter truth, the query and the striving to move on.

“But how is my wife doing? Can I go and meet her now?”

“Well, you can, but at this point she is still not in her senses, you see—she is having intrusive thoughts, intense distress and is delusional. She is asking to see the baby, believes that he is alive. We are trying our best to revive your wife. She should be back to her senses soon.”

“How are you, sweetheart? See what I brought for you!” He came to her and hugged her.

“You know, both of our parents, your sister, your nephew, my little niece, all are waiting for you in the reception lounge. Get well very soon and we will take you back home. Ok? Now be a good girl and eat this favorite pudding that you asked for before coming here.”

“Have you brought our baby boy? Where is he? Does he have my curly hair, your hazel eyes and the pout of your lips?”

“Sweetheart, listen to me. You love me, don’t you? For my sake, you have to recover, and be strong, really strong…” he implored on her, held her tight, trying to feed her a spoonful of the food she had loved.

The muffled tears, the feeble shrieks and yells echoed in the plastic silence of the surgery room. The tears of both intertwined in the room, just as they did a year back. A tiny embryo stopped moving and came out of the nurturing comfort of the womb and splattered on the bathroom floor in spurts of blood, battered and slain. With frosted, shaking hands, both of them craved to pick up the pieces, the tissues, the scattered formation of their love that lay afloat, surrendering, dying.

“Listen, we diagnosed her with some Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) problems. It is sometimes an after effect of childbirth, especially after delivering a stillborn. We really need some invasive medical interventions and antidepressants to bring her back to normal.” The medical team reentered the room, requesting complete privacy.

….I don’t care a hoot for the tingling wave of pain in the folds of my muscles, for the soreness, the swelling of my nerves, my bones, the monitor and the machinery, the bubbles of conspiracy lulling me to sleep. I won’t succumb to the call of sleep till I hold my crying baby, till I don’t feed him. Bring him to me; I want look into the verse, the melody of his face, the valley of my body gleaming with the first ray of my newborn’s smile.

I am not a part of this vicious silence, this numbness around. The room stinks with your hushed conversations, your measured intrusions and the smell of sedation. Whose demon hands plunged into the room and plucked my cherub?

“Is that you, or is that the nurse? Who took away my baby? Is he still sleeping in his nursery? When was the last time that I fed him?”

The questions, the frail voice, the clattering of teeth and writhing, the urgency and the disbelief was numbed, silenced with a couple of injections as the medical team came back to the room.

…In my inviting arms, I rock and lull my baby to sleep. Sleep, my precious child, while I tickle and caress your angelic face.  All this while, my body had been bursting open in pain and surrender, to see him cry, to settle him in the soiree of my bosom. The silence of the room is numinous, resounding. I hum, in voiceless notes, my unsung lullabies.

Note: This short fictional piece is a humble dedication to mothers who have lost their little angels in the process of childbirth. Most of the narrative written in a ‘stream-of-consciousness’, poetic voice of a delusional mother who believes that her newborn is still alive.

 

A Fistful of Want: Short Story Published in Readomania

My short story ‘A Fistful of Want’ published at Readomania, encompasses the emotional journey of the protagonist Anupama and her husband Aurko in a time span of twenty years. Sharing a short excerpt from the story here:

“She was astonished by the clarity, the sure, unwavering, relentless urgency in his voice which played against the stings of her emotions as she decided to meet him that day. The city was a bejeweled crown of torn memories. In every street, shop or station, her smoky eyes had looked into her drifting shadow trudging in the pursuit of a soulmate, dissolving like a short-lived dream. Where would she meet him in the endless labyrinths of torment that the city streets had led to?”

“Give me your choices. Near Esplanade metro? Inside Rabindra Sadan? Or, what about Park Street?”

None of the places, which had once engrossed her like a child, had any thin semblance of nostalgia and beauty left for her. They pinched her with further pain, like salt in the wound. He waited for her outside one of the less frequented, new cafes in Salt Lake, which he took enough pains to locate, following her curt directions over the phone. Like two carefree children, they stuffed each other’s mouths with imported chocolates to celebrate their first face-to-face meeting.”kolkata city image

To read the full short story published at Readomania.com, do visit:

http://www.readomania.com/story/a-fistful-of-want

River Deep: The Pain and Dance

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Mother-daughter love. Image source: us-indiaartculturecenter.org

My special new year gift from ‘Cafe Dissensus’, a fictional narrative of a mother and her daughter, their patriarchal trappings and their shared wounds. As a woman, as a mother of my two girls, this will remain a piece extremely close to my heart. This is also my humble tribute to the battered women of India, suffering the evils of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and the evils of female infanticide. Thanks to Mosarrap Hossain Khan and Mary Ann Chacko for publishing this modest attempt of storytelling that I indulged in, and my special thanks to the members of ‘Rejected Stuff’, the wonderful poetry and writing group in Facebook for inspiring me to write this piece. I also dedicate this story to my two daughters Srobona and Sharanya, and to all of my friends who are blessed to have daughters. Let us celebrate and cherish them, always!

Sharing some excerpts from the short fictional piece with you here:

“A dash of turmeric, dollops of garam masala in the skillet. She cooks the crisp air of her desires that evaporates with the simmering, hot lentils. She scissors her desires into shreds, while a bird dances in her throat. She swallows its rebellious song along with hard chapatis and slaps. A mighty shout stiffens her, followed by cussing and thrusting, entering her in the dead hush of a cramped bedroom. Inside her, silence swells, grows out of her, seeking shelter in every cell of her body. The silence is the gulmohar tree of her long forsaken home, the rush of sunny faces, and the sweet soil of her childhood town.”

Copyright: Lopa Banerjee. December 2014

To read the full narrative/story, do visit:

http://cafedissensusblog.com/2014/12/30/river-deep-the-pain-and-dance/