Picture Prompt 3 – The Waiting Room

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Sunil’s old, mangled hand cradled the phone back as he bid his son goodbye over the phone. He sighed at the slight twitch of his hand, wondering about all the things going wrong with him like an overused machine that has never been oiled and serviced before. Our body is a machine and no matter how well it is serviced it falls apart slowly but surely. He wondered how much more would the machine have to malfunction for him to finally fall apart. He wished he could go like Mr. Vardhan, who passed away in his sleep. It did shock the inmates of the Old Home as Mr. Vardhan played cards with them the previous night and cracked all juvenile dirty jokes that made them laugh their guts out. Yet, Sunil wondered, why they were shocked at all, were they not waiting for this ultimate day. The Old Home was more like a waiting room of a doctor’s clinic where patients wait for their names to be called.

Lost in his thoughts he looked out of the window into graveled path that led to the main gate. A car was waiting and a few people were getting off, the head nurse and the Doctor were also there greeting a young man and a lady who seemed old but not that old either. Sunil felt a strange smell of familiarity in the air. He wrinkled his nose and sniffed in the air almost like an animal. Yes, there was something in the air, that he couldn’t fathom, which felt familiar, known, almost like from another lifetime. Sunil went out into the lobby to peek in and find out if there was a new tenant.

As Dr. Tiwari led the reluctant and fretting  aging lady through the door, Sunil’s heart skipped a beat. Could it really be? After so many years, she looked the same, albeit much older but it was her alright. Those deep-set eyes, that little nose, those pink lips, they were unmistakable. Her face, her laughter, her hair, her complexion, the way she looked at him, were forever imprinted in his brain. Even from a distance, even after an eternity, he, Sunil, could recognize her. He stood mesmerized, paralyzed to the spot. What game was fate playing with them? In all these years was this the only time and place to meet again. But the bigger question was, ‘would she even remember him?’.

As they crossed him, he softly whispered her name, “Ira”!

She turned around and stared at him with expressionless eyes. Suddenly those eyes gleamed and she smiled. “Do you know him ma?” asked the young man,who was walking by her side. Ira just stared into Sunil’s eyes with a strange tenderness.

“I am sorry uncle, my mother is suffering from Alzheimer’s, she has probably mistaken you for someone else,” the young man offered an explanation embarrassed at his mother’s sudden sociability with a strange man.

Alzheimer’s! Sunil’s heart froze. Ira, dear little, lovely Ira, his Ira had forgotten everything. But wait, she did recognize him, despite his appearance going through a sea change. Or was it just someone else in her mind.Or did her hearts finally find a way out.

He remembered the first time they had met. They were kids; he had kissed her to stop her from crying when she lost her shoe. Much later, before he went abroad for his higher studies, they had kissed like never before, like never parting souls. He promised her that he would return and she promised him that she would wait. The memory of their togetherness that evening was etched in him for life. Her breath, her heaving bosom, her scent, her trembling lips, her softness, he carried with him ever since.

“Mr. Dey would you please take Mrs. Irawati Bose inside. She seems comfortable with you and maybe you can show her around and make her feel at home. She was in a state of shock at an unfamiliar surrounding but she seems to be fine after seeing you,” Dr. Timari almost winked at him.

“Sure doc, will be happy to show her around.”

Ira looked at Sunil and stretched out her hand as if signaling him to hold it. Sunil looked at her son, who was surprised by his mother’s bold behavior. Sunil smiled and took her hand and as they moved away slowly from the startled party, and he whispered, “Ira, our wait is finally over.” Overwhelmed with joy and a powerful emotion of seeing his first love, he bent over and kissed her.

“Sunil,” Ira muttered her eyes beaming and a brilliant smile on her face.

The light finally dawned on him. This waiting room of an Old Home was not just a queue to travel to their final abode but also to a place, where a lifetime of desire and turmoil was permanently resolved.

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Picture Prompt 1 – The Chase

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As the train pulled away from the station, Shireen sat near the window filled with trepidation of what might happen if the rioters accost their train. Her heart went out for both the Muslim and the Hindu families, they had all lost everything, people and possession. What had come over them she couldn’t comprehend, what made friends thirsty for each other’s blood, what is in us that made us worse than animals!

Shireen, had lost too. Her entire family was lynched by Riyaaz and his gang. Riyaaz was such a good friend of her brother. The thought infuriated and filled her with murderous rage but no matter what she felt she couldn’t come to terms with the fact that she could kill Riyaaz. She should feel like that, he after all executed her family, but surprisingly she didn’t.

Madhav had coaxed her into joining his party ‘vishwa hindu seva’, where they mostly hunted out the Muslim families and tortured and killed them, the very same way the Muslims were pillaging on Hindu properties and mercilessly butchering them. Each worse than the other. Shireen could not go ahead with the plan. She just couldn’t put the dagger into Riyaaz. She wanted to, she meant to, but she couldn’t, memories of their childhood, their friendship came fleeting past and she stopped short, she missed the opportunity.

Madhav and his followers of men and women scorned her. She had betrayed her clan; she was a traitor and punishment for treason is either life or excommunication. Shireen had run that day. She had no family and no friends left anymore. Riyaaz and Madhav both were after her blood.

Her reverie was broken as the train came to a halt. She heard someone say, “bhaijaan she must be here!”

Shereen pulled down the burqua over her face. She was trembling inside. Silently praying to that unseen spirit who has not been helping any of the mere mortals thus far.

The train started again. She could hear Riyaaz’s voice calling out to the others. A chill ran down her spine. In fact Riyaaz had sent his men to different compartments to search her out while he himself scoured the one she was in. He whipped out a photograph and was showing everyone. The women shied away, some men swore at the photo. He then moved briskly towards the berth she was in, a beautiful photograph of Shireen in hand.

She had looked through burqua to see his eyes. They were bloodshot and hungry. She looked down again at the photograph. It was a black and white group photo of Nusrat, Riyaaz, shivani, madhav, some others, and herself. As her eyes moistened, the brilliant smile each one had became blurrier. A tear trickled down. How could Riyaaz forget those mirthful, footloose and fancy free days. Those days of utter bliss when they held each others hands and strolled through the mustard fields. The day he took her face in his hands and kissed those full red lips. How could he forget they were friends, more than friends. That day when she went to end Riyaaz, all she could remember was the kiss amidst the yellow flowers and how she trembled at his touch. She couldn’t go through with it.

As we all shook our heads, Riyaaz spat in disgust. He warned the group about the girl, who if spotted in the train should be immediately handed over to his men. She was armed and dangerous and could cause havoc. Shireen sat numb listening to the lies and the venom he spewed against her.

As Riyaaz stomped away, a hand came from next to her offering an apple. A crimson red, shinny, gleaming apple, reflecting the face of the lady offering. She looked bewildered at her. She had her veil off her face and Shireen could see the beaming eyes and the radiant smile. It was Nusrat. She whispered “Shh, everything will be fine, Shireen.”

The Innocent

 

kids

“Daddy, I am sure there is a monster in my room,” cried Billy.

I was tucking Billy in his bed.

“No Billy, there are no monsters.”

Billy didn’t look too convinced.

“Ok, lets check the room for monsters,” I said.

I looked under the bed and shook my head, “No monsters.”

I went up to the closet looked into it and turned to Billy, “ No monsters here either.”

“Can we sleep now sweetheart?”

I kissed Billy on his forehead, switched off the lights and shut the door behind me and walked off to my study.

As I was settling myself to complete my unfinished work, Anjie knocked.

“Is he sleeping?”

“Yes.”

“How long will you be up? Come to bed.”

I smiled.

“Someone wants to be naughty tonight.” I winked at her.

“Daddddyyyyyyyyy”

Billy’s yelp terrified us. We ran to his room.

“What is it Billy?”

“He was here, daddy, he was here,” Billy was sobbing.

The window was ajar. I went to it to see if there was an intruder who tried to force himself in through the window. But there was no one there. I shut it tight.

“There is no monster Billy boy, it was just a bad dream.”

“No daddy, he was here. He said I had taken his place and it was his bed.”

I hugged Billy and stroked his head.

“Look at me Billy. You have taken no one’s place. This always has been your bed.”

“Daddy, he said mommy doesn’t love me as much as she loved him.”

I stared at Billy for a moment. That was not a statement I was expecting. We never really spoke of Steffi, his mother, my wife or rather ex wife.

“That’s not true sweetheart. She loves you very much. It’s just that at the moment she is not to well to be with you. I told you that didn’t I? And Anjie is like your mom. She takes good care of you, doesn’t she?”

“Yes daddy.”

Anjie came up to Billy and hugged him.

“Do you want to sleep in our room today, darling?” she asked.

Billy nodded vigorously.

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Something about Billy’s question, rattled me. Though I did tell my son about his biological mother, we had an understanding that we will not speak of Steffi and Billy was quite comfortable with Anjie and she too loved him very much.

Steffi was never the same after Rob. He had a congenital disorder of the lungs and the poor dear couldn’t make it after his first birthday. Billy came into our lives most immediately after Rob passed away so that Steffi could forget the sad period in our life. Unfortunately Steffi was got deeper and deeper into the abyss.

Somewhere I missed Steffi, we had such a wonderful time together. She was one of the funniest, sweetest person’s I had ever met. But it was not to last.

The next morning I visited Stef. She was at the St Barbara’s Institute for Psychiatry.

Dr Antulla was around so I went out to enquire.

“Hello Ryan, here for Steffi!”

“Hello Dr. Yes wanted to find out how she is doing.”

“Ryan, Steffi’s fits of violence have diminished. But she seems to have gone into the world where she has conjured up Rob as a 6 year old. She claims he is around, and they talk and laugh and play together.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“Come I will show you.”

We went to the room where Stef had been living for the past 5 years.

There she was, her hair neatly in a braid, in her hospital clothes, sitting and talking to someone or maybe herself.

As I walked in, she looked up and smiled.

“Ryan, Rob is back. Can we go home now, please!” A tear trickled down her eyes.

Her words disconcerted me, but I tried to act as normal as possible.

“Where is he Stef?”

“Ryan, this is Rob, can’t you recognize him!” She cried aloud pointing her fingers into the nothingness before her.

“Oh Stef!” I went and sat before her. Held her hands and squeezed it.

“Stef, there is no Rob here. It’s me Ryan. I am sitting before you. You have Billy at home. Do you remember Billy?”

“Stop it Ryan, stop telling lies! I am sick of your lies. Rob was right you don’t love Rob or me; you love the other woman and her child. You don’t remember Rob, your own son!” Steffi screamed writhing with anger.

I touched her shoulders.

“Don’t touch me, you..you scoundrel. You have abandoned your own son. You hateful piece of shit!” Steffi screamed, shook my hands off violently and stood up, looking around for something or someone.

“Rob, Rob where are you Rob!” she exclaimed

“You scared her Ryan, go away. Let me be with my child. He is an innocent soul but he will not forgive you ever,” Steffi was shaking with anger.

I stared at her in bewilderment. I felt a deep sorrow gnaw at my heart. What has become of my Steffi! How will I ever tell Billy that his mother doesn’t remember him!

I felt a hand shove me off. It was the good doctor who came in with a nurse. One of them held Steffi tight and the other put in a needle through her.

“Let me go, let me GO!” She yelled kicking her feet.

“That will calm her nerves for now,” said Dr. Antualla in relief.

“You should go now, Ryan. Come only when we ask you to.” Dr. Antulla was firm.

I did not know what to think. Billy’s experience and fear from last night and Steffi’s ranting about Rob seemed inexplicable.

The entire drive back I had a feeling of misgiving whelming up.

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I flung the front door open and ran to Billy’s room. He was playing with his toys. I heaved a sigh of relief seeing him peaceful with his playthings.

“Daddy!” Billy ran up to me.

“How was your day, kiddo?” I picked him up and brought him to the kitchen where Anjie was making dinner for us.

“Daddy, the monster came to me and said, he will be with mommy from now on so he will not bother me anymore,” said Billy with a laugh.

My heart skipped a beat hearing that.

“Really, that’s good. Then you can sleep well tonight, right?”

We chit chatted for sometime, had our dinner and I went to tuck Billy in.

“Goodnight Daddy,” he kissed me.

I sat there till he fell asleep.

When I went out Anjie was waiting for me, “what happened today? You look all shaken up?”

“Steffi, she err, I don’t know what to think Anjie!” I said worried.

“What did she do?”

“She sees Rob everywhere and she has built her own world around Rob. Doesn’t remember Billy at all. She went ballistic with me today.”

I started sobbing.

“Anjie, she is with our dead son who was barely a year old. She sees him and talks to him, but she has no recollection of the son we have and who is living amongst us. She is missing everything about Billy.”

“How can the dead come back Anjie? This is not happening is it? I am at a loss, I don’t know what to do!” I wailed.

“You are not making any sense. Such creepy things are for the movies.”

“Daddyyyy…” It was Billy again. We dashed to his room. Billy was on his bed and had turned pale white.

“The monster is under my bed daddy.”

I looked under the bed. And there were a pair of eyes staring right back at me and looked almost like Billy.

The child muttered innocently, “daddy, there is a monster on my bed….”

Experimenting with short stories

I had literaly nothing much to do today so was getting quite nagging and cranky. To keep me busy and from his hair my husband suggested I try my hand at writing a story. This is what came up eventually, after much deliberation.

Angel

It was our 17th anniversary. I was all decked up and admiring my self in the mirror. At forty, I looked remarkably young I thought to myself, and of course had not lost my charm. In fact with age I had attained grace and elegance along with sagacity. I looked at my watch; Niraj was late as usual. I looked back at the mirror and felt I needed to add in a bit more powder, since waiting for him would wane the powdered effect. ‘Maybe a tad bit of the lipstick too,’ I thought aloud.

The bell rang incessantly abruptly breaking my preoccupation with my dolled up self.

“Wait Niraj! You are late and you want me to fly and open the door for you.” I yelled out as I quickly went for the door.

“Niraj…” I trailed off as I opened the door. Standing before me with a huge carton in hand was not my husband but a young man in his twenties.

“Yes, who do you want?” The irritation in my voice was quite palpable

“Err Mrs Sharma?”

“Yes.”

“Hi, I am Vidyut’s son.”

I was stunned for a moment. Of course how did I miss the uncanny similarity in features! I stared at him for a moment, speechless.

“You must be Arun, come in,” I said finding my composure and voice as well.

“Actually I didn’t come to sit, I came to give you this box.”

“What’s in it?” I inquired curiously.

“I don’t know, but I think… you know why don’t you have a look at it?” He said choosing his words carefully.

“I don’t understand. Why are you giving me a box and why are you being so secretive. Listen, why don’t you just come inside and tell me everything.” I uttered with finality.

I moved back, and Arun stepped inside. I took him to the living area, asked him to be comfortable. He laid the box down and plonked himself on the sofa.

“Now tell me.”

He sat straight, shifted his weight a little and said slowly and softly, “Last year dad passed away. When he was in the hospital, in his stupor he only spoke of you. Called you many times.”

I sat stumped, dumbstruck. I could see Vidu’s smiling face, those dimples when he smiled. Felt the softness of his touch, the warmth of his arms.

“You know aunty, my parents never loved each other. Dad did whatever he could as a father, as a husband, as a son and a son in law to the best of his ability. But he was never happy. The only time he found true happiness was when he met you. The moments you spent together were enough for him to spend the whole lifetime. You remember the ‘Bridges of Madison County?’

I nodded. My eyes couldn’t see Arun too well. Maybe it was the moisture; maybe it was because my mind was transported to my Vidu.

“You gave it to him. When he was sick he saw it over and over again. Made my mother and me pretty mad you know. Then one day, when he was pumped with morphine and other drugs, he called me in and confessed being in love with you. Something he could never do when his mind was alert. He asked me to find you and give you this box. Also, asked me to put in the ‘Bridges of Madison County’.”

I burst out in tears.

“You know I should be furious with you and dad. But I cant. I know exactly the day you met and shared time together. He came back home beaming and glowing like he had lived an eternity of peace in one beautiful moment. I thank you for that. You will never be able to comprehend the enormity of your presence even in your absence, in our lives. Somehow it all made us better people.”

He looked around in the room, searching for something. He walked straight to the dinning hall got a tissue and handed it over to me.

“Don’t cry aunty, be happy for him. He has finally found his peace.” Saying this, he walked out.

I remember all too well the day when I met him at the airport. Niraj was always busy, always working, even on weekends he was out on business trips. I knew they were not all business some were pleasure trips too. I had intercepted emails and we had had a huge confrontation in front of our children. I had decided to take a few days away from him and went off to my parents. It was at the airport that we met.

We had casually started chatting with each other but as the flight got delayed and eventually cancelled, we had more time to talk about each other’s lives. I was so hurt by Niraj and Vidu’s voice was so comforting that in a moment of weakness and also perhaps, somewhere seeking validation from the opposite sex, I blurted my life story.

He was very kind, heard me out and even consoled me, saying no matter what my husband did he actually love me. There were moments in a man’s life when he loses his way but the only place he would return to, is home.

I could hear him like he was sitting right next to me.

“Vidu, why could you not tell me you were not well!” I wailed.

My eyeliner that I so adeptly put on my eyes was dripping down my powdered face, which I was fussing about sometime back.

I opened the box and there lay the movie and a stack of records that we loved to hear. They were our songs. The stack had Joni Mitchel and Joan Baez. I didn’t have to look further I knew what all was there. I picked up ‘Bridges’ and looked onto the cover; Clint Eastwood and Meryl Steep, smiling at each other. Vidu was a far cry from Eastwood, but then, I was no Streep either. He was like my protector, my guardian angel; he was with me when I was at the lowest ebb of my life. He saved me from drowning in abject misery. He was my angel, my gift from God.  I would often tease him ‘teko buro’ because of the fast receding hairline. But he didn’t mind that, the only offence that he took was when I called him my angel. I could see his face and I remembered those lines from ‘Bridges’:-

‘I see your face before me
Crowding my every dream
There is your face before me
You are my only theme
It doesn’t matter where you are
I can see how fair you are
I close my eyes and there you are
Always’

He was the most beautiful man with the most beautiful face, and I, let myself lose him. I let him go when he wanted me to be with him. Never bothered to get in touch again. If he could reside in some corner of my heart then why could he not reside with me in reality!

My relationship with Niraj had never been the same again and yet I never allowed Vidu to inch into my life take Niraj’s place. Were my children the only excuse? Or was I scared of the world and the society at large, raising an eyebrow, demeaning me. I gave up a world of happiness and love for some meaningless people and the so-called society to be a perfect wife in an imperfect alliance. I had never been with another man the way I had been with Vidu, even though our warm and sometimes passionate encounters were few and far between.

As I put on Joni Mitchell on the turntable, I heard Niraj screaming my name,

“Anju, we are late, are you still powdering and decking up, don’t bother, nobody will look at you.”

I paid no heed as I shut my eyes, thinking of that night at the airport hotel, our quivering hands touching each other, discovering each other for the first time, as Joni drifted in

‘Bows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way’.

angel