By Shivani Bhasin
The house was like one of those picaresque models – huge, bubble-gum-like and easily spotted on the covers of magazines like good housekeeping. It was an incogious sight in a city like Bombay, which squeezed its people into tiny tin cans, ruthlessly discarding what would not fit. The house evaded a sense of surety; surely it belonged here, surely more plastic shanties opposite were a mistake.
Its inhabitants included a middle aged couple, who we shall refer to as mumma- papa for narrative convenience, and their nine year old daughter. Guarding his family since his acquisition six year prior was an old French bulldog called Bruno.
The girl was precautious and therefore and rather precious. Her parents had the indulgent tendency to scrub and clean her from morning to night, like one might to a particularly rare vase. They dressed her in frilly summer frocks and obnoxiously large flower head bands and quizzed her on her capitals and rivers of the world. She began to resemble a trophy, equal parts nostalgia for the British Raj and Bournvita Quiz Competition. The girl was also lame in one leg, but that is a foot note that we shall seek to add when fit.
The girl, as previously mentioned, was reasonably intelligent for her age. She draped herself in boots and imaginary creatures, as sibling-less children are want to do. Especially the lonely and lame ones. She despised the safe confines of her house, the persistent coo of her parents and the old, drooling bulldog too.
In her mind, dogs were the filthiest of creatures, sniffled with lavish loyalty to indifferent masters. She viewed this as a sign of extreme stupidity and subsequently aimed a kick or blow at her dog when she felt utterly vexed. Here’s a slap for the pink frock! Here’s a punch for asking me to recite ‘Where the mind is without fear!’
The dog never responded and this made her angrier till she hated feeling like a bully.
On Tuesday evening, Mumma-Papa were called away on urgent business. This was a rare occurrence in itself and they has left with strict instructions for the girl to stay at home. The dog was put on baby-sitting duty. The girl bided her time and they left the cage with her crutch. She had read about koels hoofdkussen crows by putting Koels egg in crow nest and wanted to experience the treachery for herself.
In here haste she tripped over a rock and fell, crutch splayed at an awkward angle. Slowly, the wind was around her, lifting her short and revealing here lily white underwear. She felt mocked by the wind. She was afraid that nobody would help her up. In time she heard the old, ragged bark of her dog. It wrapped its big, black body around her and released a long wine. The barking dog and the lame girl remained huddled together as the sun made way for night
THE TROPHY DOG
By Kanika Jain
“This is terrifying,” he muttered his eyes transfixed on the stuffed models displayed against the pink wall. “Its showcase of trophy dogs.”
“Don’t say that,” she laughed, running her hands over the golden fur of the Labrador dog next to her. “These are all the pets I’ve ever had .After they died I couldn’t bear to let them go, so I had a taxidermist preserve them for me. And here they are.” Her out stretched arm swept the room’s view
He gaped at her, his throat dry, his feet fixed to the floor. He wanted to say something, he could feel the urge convulsing through him in jolts, as if he were being electrified. At last he managed a meek question “You’ve have had a lot of dogs, haven’t you?”
“I’ve never been without one” she said leaning in towards him. “My father loved dogs too. ‘Dogs are upright as a steeple, and much more loyal than people ‘he used to say. She giggled again .
He flashed a nervous smile at her. Her laugh amplified the current racing through him, or maybe it was her appearance –the messy dark hair, the magenta hue of her dress that matched the walls of the room as if asserting her feminine power .The colour burned into his eyes.
“Your father sounds like a smart man,”
“Well” she said, tapping the nose of the dog in front of her. “I don’t know if he was right about dogs, but he was definitely right about people, especially himself.”
“And how is that?”
“He left us when I was little; eloped with some artist and broke my mummy’s heart.”
“I am sorry,” he whispered, although he was not sure if he meant it .He could feel nothing but the surge of electricity through his palpitating body .
“Oh it’s alright.” She beamed at him. “I don’t think about all of that. I don’t need to .I have my dogs to keep me company. Don’t you think they are so much interesting than people?”
He tried nodding at her but he could sense his neck drawing back into his shoulders .He felt smaller and smaller, or it was she who was growing taller and more majestic with each passing moment .He could not tell he was too distracted by the shifting heat. It was as if someone had wrapped him in a thick, furry blanket. He wanted to ask her to adjust the room’s temperature but he could not recognize his own voice. It sounded garbled and fierce, the words unintelligible. Instead he walked towards her and gently pawed her feet.
She picked him up and brought him closer to her face, so close that their noses almost touched.
“And now I have you. Aren’t you adorable?”
A War Hero, They Say
By Prakruti Maniar
“I’m sorry, I didn’t quite want to kill you. I’m sorry .I’m sorry .I’m sorry”
“Wake up Joe, It’s just a dream, just dream now. The war is over” Clarrisa splashed a little water on her husband’s sweaty, teary face, gently patted his check, He stopped mumbling, but his eyes remained firmly shut, it was like he didn’t want to wake up.
Still in her light, silver grey satin ueghgee, she bent down, planted a breezy kiss on his lips. “Baby, you’re home. Please wake up.”
Joe’s eyelids battered at first, and then caught sight of his wife’s dusky skin, shining like polished wood in the moonlight.
“It was the same dream again. The guns were blaring around me, I could hear screams and war cries. And then I pulled the trigger. I didn’t want to.”
Clarissa knew this story. Joe, her forty three years old husband had returned two months from the overseas war, after fighting for three years. The first few nights had been terrible; he would cling to her as the darkness fell, lie awake for hours, tremble violently till she caressed him and put him to sleep. He was a child; the doctor had called it something, she didn’t remember: It was common for soldiers to feel like this once back from fierce battles, he would get better.
And he had. This trembling insomnia had been replaced with a recurring dream, about a month after her returned; he later told her she had been his last kill and it was his most difficult one.
Joe, now fully wake, stared at a point over her shoulder: she knew it was his army badge; the one that he could now proudly flaunt. “My Papa’s warrior. This is his trophy.” Their eight year old son would say. Clarrisa looked into his eves. The moon showing clearly in their blackness.
“Did you love her?”
The words came out before she had time to think
“What?” He looked genuinely surprised. “It’s Ok. I’d get it. You were in that strangled, full of strange people for four years. Casual attractions are bound to spring up.”
He fixed his gaze on her now. She was so beautiful, He thought to himself. “It’s not that. No, I didn’t love her. I didn’t. But that was the last strike before the peace was called. We were stoned, drunk, celebrating our return. Someone had an idea: one last kill, they said. We went hunting in the dark. I didn’t have to kill her you know. She pleaded, she pleaded till her tears ran dry. I still pulled the trigger Claire. I still did it. I had the power, but I failed my responsibility.”
Drained, he once again drifted into a deep sleep, the frown lines deep, and the crew cut greying, silver in the moonlight. The curtain ruffled in the breeze.
Clarissa got up and hid that “badge of honour.” Her husband didn’t need to relive his horrors every – night.
By Khyati Mehta
It was half past 4 on a gloomy Saturday afternoon when Nick strolled to Dr. Brown office in his disheveled avatar – ill fitting shirt, dusty shoes, unkempt hair and of course the un-groomed beard.
“How are we feeling today Mr. Galloway?” asked Dr. Brown in her cheery voice. It was a long time before Nick responded “Spiteful, I’d say”
“Well, that’s an eloquent way to put it” signed Dr. Brown who was both surprised and irritated. After yet another long pause, Dr. Brown finally spoke. “I know how hard this has been for you Nick. But it has been almost 4 months since your wife passed…”
Nick’s blank faced almost stooped Dr. Brown but she continued. “Look, I know it’s not easy and I sure as hell know I should get you to work on this for yourself first. But at the moment, think of Aaron. Your 4 year old boy does not deserve to lose you as well.”
Dr. Brown looked at Nick as she spoke. The top button of his unwashed shirt looked like it was barely hanging there and his lips was hidden somewhere in the foliage that passed for a beard. The mention of Aaron had worked – the blank look was replaced by something else – agony, motivation, she couldn’t really tell.
The rest of the session went by a lot more smoothly. Dr. Brown got Nick to at least begin to get back to reality. She was very pleased with herself especially considering this was only Nick’s third session with her.
He promised to show up on the following Saturday and stood up to leave. As he passed by the reception’s desk, a quote on the desk calendar caught his eye. “Happiness is a mysterious thing. It be found somewhere between too little and too much” – Ruskin Bond.
He sighed as he stepped outside. His dusty shoes were not spared from the constant drizzle as he walked to his car. The rain began to wash off the dirt, to reveal just a little of the rich walnut brown colour that lay hidden under.
By Anoushka Agrawal
I think it’s hilarious that your disease effectively becomes you. You don’t just get cancer, you become cancer and from them on you are stripped of all tings human.
It’s hard enough for me to forget that I have breast cancer without constant reminding but the ribbon makes sure I never do. It’s everywhere – the doctor’s badges, on the hospital door, inked onto hospital files. That pink piece of cloth tied up prettily in a bow representing everything that cancer is not. Cancer is not pretty, not smooth as silk and definitely not pink.
There it was again – the blinding light. The one I see during and after each round of chemo therapy. By eyes squeeze together in an effort to block it out but I never can. Blinding light to me is yellow – chrome yellow. A colour I absolutely despise. The colour reminds me of jaundice, the disease that killed by best friend 3 years ago. Interesting who colours represent disease isn’t it.
“You’re thinking out loud” a chuckle said. It came from the old man who had shared my hospital room with me ever since I can remember and I hadn’t heard him speak until now.
“I’m sorry about your best friend”, he quietly said and I exploded.
I told Mr. Mehra that no, he isn’t the least bit sorry because he never knew Ameya. He’s not 18. He does not have cancer. He doesn’t live every day wondering, what if – what if I had known, what if I had made sure I had the experiences that an adolescent is supposed to have. What if I, aphelia, a girl who was always accused to be too dark, too short, too unintelligent had told Ameya how I really felt. What if I told her that I loved her? What if I accepted then what I’m struggling to accept now?
Another older man walked in with snow for hair and a hunch for a back. He walked right up to Mr. Mehra’s bed, kissed his lips and say down, his hands clasped around Mr. Mehra’s. Mr. Mehra chuckled again “I was 18 once – dark skinned and short. I was never academically inclined. My family found out I was seeing another boy soon enough. They locked me up all day so that I never saw him again. Cancer is physical and terrible but this turned unto a psychological illness which overtook me. When they finally let me go, I ran. I was 30 when I began a new life and 80 when dementia began to end it. Here I am at 85 with illness upon illness that no therapy will ever cure. I don’t remember anything and I don’t know what to do”
I stared, aghast. What was I to say – I’m sorry? Instead I asked, “And what happened to the boy?” Mr. Mehra closed his eyes and grinned. “I married him”, he said. Mr. Mehra made me matter by making himself matter. He made me Ahiliya again.
By N. Aninthitha
Rays which once held warmth now glistened upon the gray cobwebs. Dust speckled the old rocking horse. His old rocking horse. Shards of glass lay down crushing a happy family in its embrace. Her fingers caught the glass causing her to wince in pain and cradle her hand but it was the picture which caused her heart to ache the most.
. . .
Pacing up and down the hallways always seemed to calm her down but not this time. Her finger, now bandaged, curled together in anxiety. “Mrs. O’Brien?” called the nurse rushing out of the closed room. “Yes?” she replied abruptly coming to a stop. She turned, her face full of anticipation, her worries uplifted for a moment, hopeful even. The nurse hesitated, her eyes flitting around the sterile hallway settling her gaze on the floor. Mrs. O’Brien carefully made her way, the sound echoing with every footstep. Her hand caught the door handle, pain shooting up her injured finger. She face was in a grimace and she watched in awe as the blood seeped through the thick gauze, a single drop staining the chrome yellow floor. The nurse broke her trance and gingerly swung the door out, motioning Mrs. O’Brien to enter.
What she saw made her heart ache with grief. Countless machines were hooked onto a tiny figure, lost in a tangle of sheets. Needles poked every inch of his skin, some drawing blood. He opened his eyes, fluttering as if in a daze. She was still standing at the doorway, torn at the sight of her son.
“Walter?” she barely whispered upon noticing that he was barely awake. “Mum?” a tiny voice sweaked from the bed. She made her way to him seating herself on the stool beside the bed. Her eyes caught his, he smiled and whispered, “Can you sit by me mum? Please?” his blue eyes pleading with hers. She caught her breath and laced her fingers with his. “Of course my son, anything you want.”
She gingerly took her place on his bed and took a long gaze at his face, memorizing every detail, a sad smile dancing on her lips. He caught sight of her bloody finger and opened his mouth in question, but she gentle shook her head, delicately placing her finger on his cold lips. He mumbled in protest, but slowly closed his eyes, her fingers smoothening down his hair.
Thinking he was asleep, she sighed. “Oh Walter! Why did it have to be you? Please don’t go, Walter. Please…” she sobbed, clutching onto his cold hand. “Only a miracle can save you now” she whimpered, lifting herself up. His tiny hand clutched hers, with all his strength. “Those who don’t believe in magic, will never find it” he whispered. She looked back, her eyes full of love and hope and gentle kissed her son’s forehead. “I do, my son. I do”.
A single tear fell on the chrome yellow floor as his eyes gently fluttered.