Monday, December 14, 2020

Burden of Proof

 


I wake with a start, gasping for breath, drenched in sweat. Above me, the thin blades of the fan lie unmoving, as if holding their breath in solidarity. Inwardly I curse, damn power seems to out again, wretched start to the day. Beside me, Arun keeps up his rhythmic snoring, fitfully sleeping like a baby without a care in the world. Why do I feel like we exist in different universes? Mine filled with images from that cursed night that I cannot escape from, and his content, serene one that I cannot seem to even touch the periphery of.

The glaring neon on the bedside clock blinks 05:24 AM. Logic argues that I try and drift back to sleep. But my mind counters that any semblance of sleep is beyond attainment now. I swing my legs over and walk over to the island by the kitchen. The ice-cold water running down my parched throat soothes not just my thirst, but also lends some comfort to my charged-up nerves too.

Mentally, I run the day’s calendar through my mind. I avoid thinking about it, but the more you avoid something, the more it takes center stage in your thoughts and actions. Dr.Mehta would be expecting me at 8 AM for yet another of her psychotherapy sessions, a series which has not borne any fruit yet. I wish one of two things could happen. Either I could unblock the images and events from the fateful night when we lost Aisha and attain some sense of closure to what pushed her to take her own life. Or I could squash the niggling thoughts of it being a suicide and just go along with everyone’s view of it being ruled an accident.

But the images, they do not let me breathe. They do not leave me alone. And just like that, they come back to life, swimming before my eyes, torturing me with their existence. It does not matter if I am awake or asleep. They live within me, lodged deep in my gut, pushing themselves up to my throat, choking me with the accusations. Of knowing what I know and not doing more. The remnants of reality. The knowledge that someone else was up there with Aisha that day. A bottle-green sweater. A little out of sight, a little to the side. But there, in deep argument. With Aisha. Aisha in tears. And then a blur. As I reach out to pull her back. Pure reflex. I do not realize what is happening, what I am doing. But I am already too late. I see the flash of black as it flies out into the wind. I hear the thud; my mind registers it. But I am mesmerized by the black scarf, now fluttering in the wind, slowly making its way down like a kite cut loose. I remember Aisha and I running behind those during the blessed days of Uttarayan. Aisha always caught them first. Aisha, I realize with a start. And I look around. And they’re gone. Both of them. And all that’s left behind on the empty terrace is me. Heavy with the burden of existence. Dazed with the burden of bearing witness. Raging with the want to know.

And I finally lean over to look down at her. I can feel myself drowning. I am gasping, choking. I feel the weight on my neck. Except, I realize it’s at the back of my neck, massaging it, massaging my back, soothing words being whispered into my ears. And I wake up, slowly.

“ … drifted off. How many times did I tell you to wake me up?” I watch Arun look over at me, the concern evident in his gaze.

I am silent. Still caught between the two worlds.

“… bad dream. I really think Dr. Mehta is bringing up unwanted memories,” I hear him say.

“I need to get dressed.” I am curt. I know he wants me to move on, wishes me well.

Arun lets me walk past him, but I can feel his gaze on me as I walk away from him and his world of emotional comfort that I know I should be getting into.

*** 

It’s only 9.15 AM but when I step out of Dr. Mehta’s office after our session, I feel like I have lived a few years in the hour. I feel drained of energy. Like every last ounce of life has been sucked out of me. And yet, despite all of that, I am not a step closer to making peace with Aisha’s death than I was this morning. Making peace. Making implies manufacturing. But can peace even be manufactured? It’s either there or it isn’t. Not willing to work that one out, I plop down on one of the chairs near the nurses’ station, regaining some composure so I can pay for the service and be done with the day. The nurses all seem to be away, possibly an emergency. Must be one of those rare quiet time slots of the day. I close my eyes, resting.

“Service with?” I hear a voice. Must be a new one, I think. The others all know me, by my multiple visits in the past couple of years. I open my eyes. Indeed. I have not seen her here before.

“Dr. Mehta” I counter, offering her a smile.

“Last name, ma’am?”

“Tandon,” I respond. Soon, she would be a confidante as well. Recognizing my tell-tale signs of anxiety and knowing how best to soothe me down in a mature manner, the way only nurses are taught to.

“Got it. Aisha Tandon.”

“Nisha. Nisha Tandon,” I correct her, and then I realize the significance of the moment.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. Nisha Tandon. That’ll be eight hundred please.”

I cannot speak. I feel my breath misting my face, I have to know. There could be a million reasons why she could have come here, to the only hospital in our vicinity, but suddenly hearing the name being read off a visit makes it important. I have to know.

Insanity takes over. I charge at her computer like a mad bull, pushing her aside and she falls off screaming, calling for security, arms flailing wildly. My fingers are pounding the keyboard now, my eyes scanning the screen like a raving lunatic. I hear the nurse whine beside me, holding her temple and I know I don’t have time. Aisha Tandon. My eyes zone in on her name; I feel them mist over. And I click.

And I realize it’s a consultation report. For a pregnancy. And it hits me squarely in the gut. Aisha was pregnant. How did no one know? Why would she not tell me? I could have helped her. Why did she not trust me? I cannot move. From the corner of my eye, I watch the nurse press the security button. And as they drag me away, my eyes come to rest at the top right of the screen.

Father’s Name: Arun Rajnath Thakur

And it all comes back to me in a rush. The black scarf. Aisha in tears. The bottle-green sweater blending into the shadows. His back to me. My arms flying out to catch her. Aisha listless. Her scarf finally coming to rest on a shrub. Me shaken, looking around, unable to digest the actuality. And then walking downstairs in a daze, watching the crowd, sinking into Arun’s embrace, leaving trails of tears on the bottle-green sweater. 
***

This short fiction is written for a dramatic writing prompt (below) on Reedsy




Friday, July 24, 2020

Benediction


So, I have been using prompts quite a bit to give me a push for those days when I fall short of imagination. Today's prompt is published by Writer's Write and tells me to write the first page of a novel that'll include the below 5 words/phrases

1. Tornado         
2. Autumn Shades           
3. 'You look beautiful'         
4. Berlin       
5. Butter Biscuits

So, here's my attempt.

PC : Pixbay
Her body ached from the fall, her knees bloody and burning all over. Bits and pieces of the butter biscuits she had been munching on, stuck to the insides of her palms. All around her, car alarms blared at varied frequencies, distant sirens of fire trucks adding to the cacophony. She pressed her palms to her ears to block out the noise but it had little effect. Gradually she became cognizant of other sounds adding to the din; people coughing, babies wailing, twigs crackling as they caught fire. The air felt thick with smoke and for a minute, she did not realize that she had been coughing hard as well, trying to suck in oxygen. Blinking hard, brushing away involuntary tears, she attempted to get to her feet.

Familiar buildings were now crumbling edifices, everyday travelers now wounded people. A town ravaged by the sheer force of nature. The autumn shades around her had turned a dirty shade of brown, covered in a kind of dusty veneer, a consistent symmetric hue all the way to the end of the street, as far as her eyes could see – rich greens replaced by the colour of the earth. The tornado had ripped her city apart and she knew it was not done yet. Not even close. The damage was just the beginning.

This was not the Berlin she had called home all these years, the one she had sought solace in when she had needed, no not needed – beseeched anonymity. Her mind raced back to the day she had set foot on its land, disembarking from the Eurostar in the darkness, lights from warm yellow street lamps conjuring up magical shadows. Soft music had wafted up to her, homeless musicians playing along the station for a few dollars. It was romantic in the true sense of the word. She had let out her breath in a slow exhale, finally allowing herself to feel the heady rush of freedom. And then, much to the amusement of a cloaked, briefcase-carrying, handsome yet tired traveler who passed her by, she had remarked to no one in particular, a rush of words that could not be stopped.

You look beautiful’.

And the charming city had smiled right back at her, welcoming her into its loving arms.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Delivery Route : Life in the Times of Corona


It’s Sunday. A good day to write. Today’s 100 word-bite is written on prompt #26 : Delivery Route from Writer’s Write July-20 prompts. Needless to say, it’s driven by the current scenes we find ourselves surrounded by.
Seated in the back of the vehicle, he drums his fingers on the cardboard box, lost in thought. It feels a little heavy to his touch, he wonders what could be inside. It’s a game he has always enjoyed playing, but not today. Today, he wishes he could just be done with all of this for good. He has to go back to his ageing mother and his little sister, keep them safe. Taking a deep breath, he unlocks the door and alights from the vehicle, stepping into the Covid-19 containment zone to make his last delivery of the day.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Hope In The Time Of Corona


PC: Olbios
There’s food and drinks, jokes and chuckles, boisterous laughter and mirth, songs and merriment. And yet, despite it all, the thoughts still swirl. Pushed to a corner, dormant in those temporary pretentious minutes of normalcy, but existing nonetheless. They make their presence felt when someone coughs as a joke and gets instantly reprimanded. They come to the forefront in the nervous glances we give each other when someone answers a call and then comes back grim faced. Discussions flitting from one to the other, those fleeting moments of ordinariness a support we hold on to. 

And yet, there they exist long after the evening is gone and the stars are out in the sky and I am left alone with my thoughts. There they exist, simmering under the surface of it all, lurking in the shadows. The restlessness. The uneasiness. Like a deep rumbling that indicates a storm brewing in the distance. Of the uncertainty that might continue for days. Or weeks or months to come. I feel it settle in slowly, deep within my bones.

That’s all there is now. All around. News, talk, caller tunes, awareness recordings, videos, forwards, stickers, hoaxes and memes. Inferno and Contagion. Biological warfare and conspiracy theories. The exhaustion of exposure. The tiredness of it over and over and over. The want to escape. The want of a mental haven. Print media, digital media, audio, video, social media. Numbers, percentages, ratios, graphs. Slicing and dicing by countries, by age factors, by symptoms. Obsessive tracking. Incubation period, recovery, mortality rates, opinions flung about. Charts soaring. World economies, the bull, oil prices, imports, recession. Charts tumbling. The crests and the troughs. In a world all encompassing.

And at the heart of it all, the people. People. Immediate families. Blood. Thicker than blood. Soul mates. Soul friends. Close friends. Our broader circles. Work. Travel buddies. School. College. Extended families. The blogger circle. Online friends. The neighbourhood group you hangout with and croon karaoke tracks with. The zumba group you enjoyed meeting with. Acquaintances. People who moved from strangers to friends to more than family. People who moved from strangers to friends to back to strangers. People who are somewhere in between. Overlapping, intersecting Venn diagrams full of people. Loved ones. Stubborn ones. Strength giving ones. The instant mood fixer ones. The ones that drive you mad with illogical demands. The irritating ones who beyond the realms of their eccentricities, seem like decent regular people. The other type of irritating ones who are, well – just that way. Those who you meet every day. Those far away. Yearning to be back with their own, but unable to. Caught in a web of travel restrictions. Eight billion of them around the world. Bound by a common thread. Who would have known, that the legend of the Chinese red thread could bind us this way too?

People. Eight billion. Or so I thought. And in the last four hours since I fell down the rabbit hole of thoughts, swirling and tumbling over, I realize that the Earth no longer holds dear four hundred kindred souls around the globe - specifically lost to the latest strain of killer.

More numbers, more percentages. Sharper crests. Sharper angles and spikes. Of out-of-stock sanitizers and masks. Of closed schools and colleges. Of examinations delayed. Of postponed movie release dates and suspended sporting events. Of cancelled travel plans and dreams being put off. Of ghost towns and deserted tourist destinations. Of locked down countries and declarations of emergencies. Of pandemics and epidemics. And then the debates. Over-reaction or the sinking-gut-feel omen? Panic induced mania or justified measures? But then, what other option is there?

And amidst it all, another pattern slowly emerging. Emerging subtly, but for sure. Of the number of people being airlifted and escorted back home. The number of trips being undertaken to try and extend help. Of doctors and whole labs being dispatched. Of quarantine centres springing up like mushrooms. Of medical professionals working round the clock, despite losing some of the most senior ones to the very same thing. Of support functions making house calls to ascertain health conditions. Of airport staff working more diligently than ever to ensure flight passengers do not mingle. Or that baggage doesn’t either. Of true instances of basic humanity. Of vaccines being worked upon. Of the race against time. And despite it all, I wonder, will these efforts make up for lost time? Thanos always was the wiser one, wasn't he?

Thoughts wandering, they come back to the focal point of it all. It’s true, the only thing certain is the uncertainty of it all. Deep down, the rumbling gets stronger. Tremors of the impending earthquake rising up to the surface. Like a dark sinister omen of things to come. Of days getting worse, much much worse, before they even start to get better. Is this a lesson, is this meant to be one? And if so, are we learning? Will it explode? Or will we, mighty arrogant humans brought to their knees by a mere micro-organism, be at least a tad successful in deflecting the catastrophe?

We have to. We absolutely have to. How couldn’t we? There is still so much more to be done. So much left to be said. To be listened to. To be learnt. To be experienced. To be shared. To have perspectives. To do the right things, right as we see it. To start from scratch. To meet people for a second time. Because often, the first times are messed up. To rise, to grow, to move beyond petty grudges, to mature. As individuals, as a community, as a race. Relationships to be built. Or re-built. Or learnt from. Experiences, but mostly the love, to be passed on to the little ones bouncing around, their kinetic energy a far more beautiful kind of infectious. Of all of it, to be left behind for generations to come.

And so, while we care for ourselves and those close to us, and send warmth for the ones afar, knowing that the only way is out is through, all we need is an assurance that our tribe comes out okay. The uncertainties still prick, the goose bumps still make an appearance. But at the heart of it all, hope still lingers. Just like before. Simmering below the surface. But here, the water is warm, the sun shines bright and the rays dowse the fields in a warm yellow hue. The soft ripples pick up intensity. Slowly but steadily. And someday, the cadence will drown out the ominous rumble. Of that, I am sure. A glimmer of hope and the spirit of resilience, that's all there is, but it will suffice for now. And with hope at its helm, with the passing of every day, we do the best we can. Steered by it, collectively, a civilization works on mending itself, identifying its flaws and implementing course corrections. Because, at the end of the day, what is the point of it all, if not to harbour hope?

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Watch and Learn

Today's 100 word-bite is written on a picture prompt from Pobble. The link to the prompt can be found here.

Photo Credit: Segei Ivanov, One Big Photo
The discarded plastic wrapper makes the faintest crinkling sound, but it is enough. The hairs on the back of my neck rise as Mama Bear turns. There’s no way she could be thinking it, but her reprimanding gaze sears through me. Beside her, I watch her cubs stiffen. Seventeen long seconds pass. Making only the slightest movement, I bend down, pick it up and put it into my bag, never breaking eye contact with her. Two seconds later, satisfied, she looks away. I let out a sigh of relief only to catch my own little one looking up at me.

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