short story


Excuse me, can you please let me have that window seat?”…..I looked upward from the book I was engrossed in reading and was faced with two quiet, greenish grey eyes. For a fraction of second I was caught up in the unusual colors of those deep eyes. “hmm..but..”

“I know this seat is allotted to you but you were so engrossed in your book that I thought it might not make any difference to you whether you are on window seat or not”…she said substantiating her request with a valid reason even before I could complete my sentence.

otherwise too perhaps I was not in a hurry to complete my sentence or for that matter saying much as some how I preferred to listen to her soft velvety voice.

“Is the seat next to me allotted to you?” I asked, collecting myself. I remembered that the name in the passenger list for that seat was a male one.

Just a little hint of smile reflected on her otherwise placid expression and she said,”No, but I had requested the gentleman of this seat for a change and then stopped there as if she had said all that she wanted to say, but my askance glance fixed on her face compelled her to go further. With a small sigh of helplessness she continued……”well, you know it’s a whole night journey and the comfort and convenience of a window seat passenger depends a lot on the person beside him. I am traveling alone and after looking around I just thought I will be more comfortable here.”

I vacated the seat for her. She mumbled a thanks and settled on the window seat. I opened back my book and tried to pay all my attention to it.

The bus started moving. It was quite dark outside. By the time the bus crossed the city limits it had started drizzling. It was already late so most of the passengers had settled down to rest with the lights off, windows closed. The window by her side was still open and she sat facing it. I tried to steal a glimpse of her face from the corner of my eyes but could not have a fair look. Her loose hair waving with wind covered her face

After futile effort to concentrate on reading I closed the book, put off the light above and rested my head on back. She did not react to anything and continued to look outside. It was not a heavy downpour but a continuous drizzle when rain drops hand in hand rush to meet earth. The way she sat the drizzle was not affecting me but she definitely must have been getting wet. She did not seem to bother about it and kept the window open and continued gazing in the dark without changing her posture. After some time tiredness of a hectic day took over me and I dozed off.

Somewhere in the middle of night I woke up and found her sleeping. She appeared to be in deep slumber, face to my side, her dark brown tresses covering half her face. Tiny, very tiny droplets studded on her hair were shining like diamonds. A single drop of water or was it a tear drop rested on her cheek bone trembling with her breath. How I felt like touching that drop…..but something on her face checked any violating thought. What was that….a thin film of sadness lurched there on her face….it was different from quietness or placidity. I felt like pulling her head protectively to my chest and cradle her like a little baby.

It was still raining. Few bouncing, dancing drops landing on her hair and shoulder. I stood up very slowly and leaned cautiously to close the window without disturbing her sleep. She did not wake up but my closeness while leaning made her snuggle to the seat.

I sat down slowly and then drifted to sleep. When I got up next, the bus had reached the small, quaint hill station. She was awake and watching outside the window in her earlier posture. It had stopped raining but the sky was still downcast . The passengers were getting down one by one but she sat there unmoving. I took out my luggage and was ready to move. I wanted to take leave of her, to say few parting words but the way she was resolutely looking outside, I did not dare to address her and got down from the bus.

Getting down I saw towards the window but she was not there. Perhaps she was waiting for me to get down and now she herself must be taking out and arranging her luggage. Well, somethings are best to be left at that…..I had already booked my room in a hotel so I hired a taxi and left the place.

After freshening up and having breakfast I was ready to visit the place I came for. It started raining again, heavily. I could not have gone out in such torrential downpour and had nothing else to do. I walked towards the window . It faced the backyard of the hotel. The hammering rain blurred the view. A wall of water rose between earth and sky. Rain and stormy wind lashed the tall trees. They swished and bent helplessly and rain danced maddeningly.

I tried to focus beyond the boundary wall of the hotel. The sheet of rain made it very difficult still I could make out the crosses here and there on the graves. It was a cemetery. My heart was heavy and the sight of solitary crosses guarding the graves bearing the heavy, pelting blows of rain made me sadder.

Finally the weather got better but still it was drizzling, wind too became softer. I woke myself up from the reverie and collecting my raincoat proceeded towards the destination. Reaching there I entered the office of the care taker. He was expecting me as I had already talked to him. Yes, I was there to visit the grave of my cousin Robin. Robin and I were very close to each other since childhood . Three months after I left for USA for higher studies Robin had met with a fatal accident in the hills where he came to spent time with his newly wed wife. The body was in such a bad shape that our family decided to bury him in a cemetery here only.

I was not there for Robin when he needed me most. He had married Simi against the will of family. Though he talked to me almost daily during his pre-marriage conflicting days, I could not come down to him due to my preparations for the exam and then every thing happened so swiftly. Otherwise too, my family had never accepted Simi. Robin’s death within two months of marriage made them sever all ties with her. My younger sister told me that after the accident no body even bothered to know where and how Simi is. They did not even go to meet her in the hospital. After claiming the body and the burial, they left the place.

Now after five years I was here to be at Robin’s side. The smouldering pain in my chest, suppressed for so long was getting heavier.The care taker offered to accompany me to the grave but I refused politely. I told him that I wanted to be alone with him.

It had almost stopped drizzling but the ground was muddy and full of puddles. The trees leaned on the gravestones and dripping drops slid towards epithets sobbing. Sudden spurt of weeds and grass in rainy season made the cemetery look green but the unkept order added to the loneliness of graves. The silence there was palpable.

On the gravel path as I turned towards Robin’s grave, I stopped abruptly. There were two persons sitting near it. A lady and a kid. Perhaps she sensed my presence and turned to look back.

“You…!!!” I uttered. She got up with a bewildered look….”You followed me…!!!”

“No, I came to this place to visit Robin only …I am Mark, Robin’s cousin from USA.”

“Tina aunty’s son…!!!”

I nodded…”you?”

“I am Simi”

The kid was standing beside her hugged to her leg, uncomfortable in sudden appearance of a stranger.

One look at kid’s face and my heart missed a beat. As if Robin of childhood was before me. But how come no body in the family knew about child.

My confusion was perhaps writ large on my face. “I myself was not aware of my pregnancy at the time of accident” Simi started telling me. “When I became a bit stable the doctor in the hospital told me about it. I was discharged from hospital after two months. I tried to contact, tried to tell but …….”.she fell silent.

I opened my arms to the boy. He looked at me curiously but did not move. Simi nudged him, I moved forward and took the child. She stood biting her lips and trying to control her sobs. Looking Albert on my lap had opened her wounds.

Instinctively I stretched my free hand towards her and embraced her. We three stood there hugging one another. At the far end wind cracked through the dark and dense clouds. It was still drizzling softly……..a drizzle with a promise of clear bright sky.

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I stand there decked in all finery. The glittering starry lights drape my exterior. Today from rooftop to the ground floor every room,hall is brightly lit.  Bright colored festoons adorn each door . Rich thick rows of red roses and sparkling yellow marigolds  adorn the freshly painted grand front door. Fast dance numbers are continuously blaring out of the music system installed in the open courtyard near the gate. Rustling silks,glittering jewelry,booming laughter, teasing giggles— every atom of my being is reverberating with joy and happiness. I am brimming with life still deep down there in the dark interiors of earth the stones of my foundations are moist with the  unshed tears remembering the hands ,who laid down them some 25 years back with so much love and dreams.

The hands of my first master,who converted a patch of rough land into a home for his family. He must have been a young man in his late 20s when he started giving shape to me brick by brick,inch by inch. I still remember how enthusiastic, choosy and particular was he about each and every specification. He wanted his home to be just perfect. Loosing his parents at a very young age he never had his own home since he could remember.  Being shunted from one to another relative as per their convenience and needs every time a new wall rose around  him  and he coiled in the dark corners of his being. No body could fathom his craving for a little bit of stability, a small quiet niche for himself. His heart was full of muted cries,suppressed emotions . No body had an inkling of the passive storm raging in his heart. He heard quietly the discussions among the relatives of their being full of kindness and humanity to take care of an orphaned child. But that was not the whole truth. However he was very young and knew that to survive in the world he needs the shelter of his uncles and aunts. but all this time with clenched teeth and fiery determination he waited for his growing up ,his completing education.

The day he joined the bank, he felt that his dream of having his own home is about to be realized. Even before he became eligible for housing loan he started looking for a plot in a good location. He wanted to settle for the best in his means. And then he finalized this east facing piece of land in the upcoming colony. It was just few steps away from the central road of the colony.just perfect as it being away from the main road, the peace and privacy will be intact and in the future his own family will enjoy the facilities and conveniences of being near to the the main road. How he deliberated over all the finer details while chalking the future  plans for  his home.

How I came to know about all his these dreams and thoughts ? I know, you are thinking that I had not come to my being at that time. Right you are . but from the day the foundation stone was laid down he bared his soul to the earth and air of the place. The unshared pain, the agony of the loss of his parents all the torturous memories he tried to bury deep under my foundation and started dreaming about a bright future as the walls started rising.

By the time the structure of the three room set of the ground floor was erected ,he had another good news to share with me. His marriage to a girl of well established family has been finalized. I can still recall the happy note of his voice while he discussed a bit altered plan of my lay out and design with the mason- in- charge. He wanted to add one more room as this girl had two younger sisters and one brother and he wanted them to visit and stay with them quite often. The thought of having a big family around him was like the first shower on dry, parched earth.

And the day he performed the house warming pooja with his young bride was perhaps the most fulfilling moment of his life. Then started a long phase of selecting  home decor and furniture items. I can still visualize his curly top bent on various home interior magazines and brochures scattered on floor.

Sound of steps on the staircase broke my reverie. Who can come upstairs at this time? Whole house is abuzz with the activities in the ground and first floor. Who would want to come to the dark solitude of the rooftop ? Oh it”s Biji, the old grandma of the house. The dragging of feet and the heavy breathing gave her away. If not Biji,who else ? I should have known it.Though she had neither met nor known my earlier master yet besides me she is the only one who often remembers the family. She very slowly opened the lock of the small room at the corner of roof. The doors creaked a little. They always do as if protesting . Inside them the past is kept alive. When Biji forcefully  kept few of the items and pictures belonging to my first master along with all the family members, I too was quite perplexed. But gradually listening to her unburdening herself in the solitude and privacy of that room , I gathered it was not for that unknown family but herself that she needed to preserve the past. But that is altogether a different story. My mind has started wandering away and getting lost in various alleys. I am getting old and the burden of untold secrets, unshared pains of my occupants is taking it’s  toil.

Through the open door I could have a glimpse of the lovely wooden cradle  he bought for his first born, his little princess. Due to  Biji’s  regular care and upkeep it still shines and the red, yellow, greens have not faded. With the sight of cradle came flooding the memories of those happy times. Four years after the baby girl, arrived the son of the family. How fulfilled and complete he felt. Life went on pretty smoothly. During all this period his soft spoken, smiling wife lingered by his side almost like his shadow.  She never demanded anything and always agreed to what he said or decided. Some times he  almost wished her to throw tantrums, quarrel and argue about petty things like wives of other people. But the very next moment he chided himself and thanked God for such simple hearted life partner.

He felt the first pang of disappointment when his daughter was about six or may be seven years old and the school teacher pointed out that  the girl took time to pick up the things told in the class and mostly kept to herself. She did not mix up with other kids like a normal child. But so caught up was he with the  belief of his world being perfect and happy that he refused to see anything unusual in it. He started spending more time with the daughter to teach her and make her understand, learn. But with the passing of years he had to admit that her princess has some …… problem. As his sisters-in- laws got married and were busy in their lives and mother-in-law too could not visit them due to growing age and increased frailty, the home started showing sign of mismanagement. He realized slowly that all is not normal with his dear wife too. She too suffered from minor mental, behavioral disorders. He watched with great concern the cracks in his happy world but with all his might he tried to keep  it intact. However  son was his pride and constant support in maintaining the order. As he advanced in his career ,the work pressure and responsibilities too increased. On the other hand the conditions of both mother and daughter deteriorated. Now returning from office he had to  spend  time in kitchen and arranging the home. He wanted his son to remain unaffected from the gradually getting more and more depressing atmosphere of the home, so he sent him to boarding school. Now he was alone to fight with daunting circumstances. And he did face it with exemplary courage. However the increasing pressure, stress and strain proved a bit too much to handle. With horror he watched his world slowly crumbling apart. The layers of dust on furniture thickened, food items rot, clothes lay scattered all over the place.

Sisters tried to help but some how the mother and daughter developed a dislike towards the people who tried to rectify their ways. They gradually shut themselves in the house. He too  was slowly cut off from the social circle. He did not have enough time to maintain and reciprocate the relation. Perhaps not enough will and wish too was left. Now he felt defeated. destiny has been cruel to him. He suffered bouts of depressions. He still wanted to take care of his family. He loved them. They were an integral part of his being. He went for his treatment and went on pulling along. In the mean time the son completed his engineering and secured a job too.The boy was the only flicker of light in otherwise dark world of his.

For last few months he was feeling that he is loosening his hold on himself. For wife and daughter the doctor had already told that there is no hope of any improvement in their condition. He used to serve them food before leaving for office and when returned found the dry plates lying there on the dining table. Some times they not even took bath . He arranged for care taker too but none of them proved to be of any help. Rather all of them took advantage of the helplessness of his wife and daughter and took away valuables from home. The struggle made him tired to heart. He lost the will to fight anymore. To maintain his own sanity was proving difficult for him.

That day his son informed him that he had bagged a scholarship to study further in a prestigious foreign university. After a long time I saw him brimming with happiness. He applied for a ten days leave from office as he wanted to get the home readied for his son. He wanted his son to have loads of pleasant memories before flying to far off destination. The boy was to visit home after a week. I too heaved a sigh of relief and prayed to God for his revived spirit but our this happiness too was short lived.

Only a day of his leave had passed when he got a call from his one colleague informing him that in his disturbed mental state he has overlooked certain procedures/entries in office which gave enough room to miscreants to commit a fraud and now the bosses are preparing to frame him. He contacted people and tried to sort out the things but to no avail.  With the passing of each day it became more and more clear that there is no chance of his saving himself. he has to bear the punishment which could be imprisonment too.He shuddered to think about the condition of his daughter and wife in his absence, the mental torture, social embarrassment of his son. Would the boy be able to proceed to study under such circumstances ? he knew he would not leave his mother and sister unattended and sacrifice his career ,his dreams for their sake. He knew his boy would not run from his responsibilities. He was his son. The thought of his son brought a smile on his face. But how could he bear to see his son ruin his life.

I still remember him muttering incoherently” I know I am haunted with some black powers, nothing good could ever come across around me. I am cursed.” and there after his jaws clasped into a stony silence.

The boy arrived at his appointed time and both father and son shared all the plans. After a long time I smiled and laughed. Both father and son cleaned me and tried their best to restore my lost glory.

It was the last day of his leave. He had to report to bank next day and people there were waiting to serve him notice . All this time they were busy in strengthening the case against him. That night he talked to his son for long hours. he went down the memory lane remembering the time when both the children were kids. The son too enjoyed it. he knew his father would feel lost without him. He assured him that he would write a mail to him daily as talking frequently from there would not be possible. He told that once he would be back after completing the course he would take all of them with him at his place of work and he need not work any more. It would be easier for him to take care of mother and sister once he did not have pressure of office work.  All four of them would live together. He listened to his son silently with his heart brimming with love and eyes overflowing with tears. It was late in the night when the son drifted into sleep while he lay awake on his bed.

At that moment I too was having mixed feelings. I was happy that the boy is so caring and concerned but the thought of impending doom and probabilities of shattering of his dreams made my heart heavy. Poor boy was totally unaware of the circumstances his father was facing. Later on when he would come to know about it, I know, his heart would be full of remorse and deep sadness. But presently he was blissfully resting in the arms of deep slumber.

The night suddenly grew very still. I don’t know why but an eerie feeling gripped me in it’s clutches. I remember myself shuddering but then got relaxed, the gloom and depression had taken over this home for such a long time that happy moments made me unnecessarily apprehensive.  With a shrug I loosened myself and slowly surrendered  to the arms of peaceful night.

bang…bang…bang….I trembled with the sound of three gun shots. It was early morning and I had not yet woken up when the gun shots resounded. Seconds later shrieks of the boy ripped me. On the bed lay motionless  bodies of the mother and daughter. Their blood coloring the white roses of the bed sheet into deep red and my master lay in heap on the floor near the bed. He shot them point blank in sleep. They did not suffer any pain….how could he let them feel it, he loved them so much.

Long after the three bodies were removed,the dry stains of blood  on floor, on walls seemed like his tears. I could feel his touch, his caressing. I was his dream. He shaped me, nurtured me and even after he was gone he clung to me. People termed me haunted. For months I stood in utter darkness alone. They feared me, avoided me but every night when the moon shone over me I could feel him smiling through that lone star. He gave me company day in, day out and then one day Biji crossed my threshold like a boon to end the curse.

Was Biji not afraid of me ?  Why she coaxed his sons to purchase me? Was the low price of the property only reason. No, she in her life had to two abandon her two homes. Every time she started from scratch and piece by piece built  homes full of life and then had to leave them due to political disturbances, riots. In me perhaps she saw the reflections of her those homes and wanted to make me alive once again. Down within her she hoped some one unknown must be showing that concern and respect to her memories too.

Those who live  the pain and loss can only understand it. Those who are shattered can only restructure. She had known sufferings,borne loss and found her way out of the depth. Her experiences, her struggle had made her develop a sensitivity, an understanding of life and filled her heart with compassion, gentleness and a deep loving concern. She infused life in me.   I was once again filled with life and laughter.

After lighting the lamp before the family picture of my first master she was going down . People were calling her. The groom party was about to leave to bring the new bride to me …. fresh dreams were to take shapes, new beiginings awaited ……

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

h

 

 

h

 

She lay there on the floor , wrapped in one of her those dull coloured sarees.  There was still time to dress her for the final adieu.  People have started streaming in.  everybody entered the room with bowed head not just because the solemn occasion demanded so but because they were in habit of treating her with a deference.  When in her presence the head and eyes as if lowered by default. Even the people much elder to her felt regard for her.

She was hardly sixteen when her parents were killed in a road accident. She was left with three young siblings and a bedridden grandmother. Overnight from a bubbling carefree teenager she was transformed into a mature, stern, tight lipped adult. She donned the role of family head and locked her dreams, choices and even her real self deep down inside her.

A large number of people were there in the room but silence reigned. If at all someone had to discuss something  urgent, of utmost importance, they tip toed out of the room and even there they talked in hushed tones. Her presence anywhere commanded that impact and she still was very much present there.

Suddenly the three year old son of the youngest sister Nima said aloud,’’  Mamma! Anni is smiling!’’The surprise was writ large in the voice of kid too. Everybody’s heads snapped up and their gazes fixed with wonder on the slightly curved lips that gave the impression of a naughty, vibrant smile. Her face looked much younger. It exuded a kind of freshness.  Nobody present there could remember her smiling when alive. Some of them were stunned, some felt sad, other felt really very heavy in heart.  Though most of them could not decipher their own feelings rightly. Did they feel tricked, deceived, sad or simply felt surprised.

I, her only friend from the teenage time knew how Ashi must be relishing the prank she has thrown on the people there. This was her trade mark smile from the times long back.  Whenever we saw her with that smile spread across her face we knew that she is ready to share the plight of some innocent victim of her harmless jokes and pranks. Ashi has finally let that lonely teenage girl caged inside that stern. strong demeanour escape. It somehow made me feel at peace. She is liberated now.

I slowly got up, walked to her room and searched deep in her cupboard. Somehow I knew it must still be lying there. Finally I found it back in the farthest corner under the piles of  loads of papers, wrapped in the same cover, the shocking pink duppatta with glittering magenta border, which Akash gifted her on her 15th birthday. I took it out and spread it on her body.

Now she was ready to start her journey onwards………