As I bustle through my daily life, quiet conversations with you play themselves out in the stillness of my mind. Whether kneading dough, taking clothes out of the dryer, grinding spices, or doing dishes, we talk of this and that, and everything else. They are dialogues we could have had for real, but which now take place only in the shrouded corners of my mind where imagination reigns supreme. Eerie silence, cold as frost, has filled the gaps left by words that once flowed freely between us. These imaginary exchanges are what shield me from the ice, keep me warm.
Once I found a mask and put it on.
It did not matter if I was sad or forlorn. People saw the grinning face of the mask and smiled back. I was thrilled, vowing never to remove the mask.
One day I felt tired of being mistaken for the mask. I wanted to be the real me. So, I tugged at the mask with all my strength, wanting to peel it off. But it wouldn’t come off.
Terrified, I cried. Yet those around only laughed.
Behind the mask my tears fell unseen as realization dawned: I was now the mask.
Written for 100 Words On Saturday 7 Prompt : MASK/S
I am a light sleeper. If the person sleeping next to me were to move an arm even ever so slightly, I wake up as if the Great Wall of China has come crashing down in my vicinity. So it was no surprise that I woke up with a jump and was sitting up in bed when I heard the sound. It felt like a loudspeaker had blared in the stillness of the night. It was not an unknown sound though, just the familiar musical notes of my phone announcing that I had a new message. What was it doing belching out messages at me so late into the night? What time was it anyway?
I craned my neck to check the time on the clock on the far wall of the room. The radium dial said 2 goddamn a.m. I was disgruntled. Enticing sleep back when once I have woken up is not an easy task and involved inviting flocks and flocks of sheep to be counted. Who the hell was sending me messages so late in the night or rather, so early in the morning? I watched my wife sleeping, lost to the world, and sighed envying her. She could easily sleep through an earthquake if need be. I debated whether I should ignore the damn message and try to start counting sheep. But sleep had fled too far, and curiosity had bitten me badly. Checking the phone for the message seemed the next best thing to do. So I reached for my phone.
In the top left hand corner I could make out the blinking white envelope. So I hadn’t imagined it after all, I thought, putting to rest the niggling doubt that it had been a dream that had woken me up. I managed to slide the notification panel down and screwed up my eyes trying to decipher the number. It was an unfamiliar one. This better be good, or someone was going to get an earful from me on the morrow, I decided. I touched the screen to open the message. Nothing, I mean, there was no text that I could see, even faintly, only a splash of colors.
It took some time in my sleep befuddled state for it to register that it was not a splash of colors, but a picture. There was a bit of blue and brown and yes red too. But mostly it was black all around with a slash of white in the middle. I cursed under my breath. I needed my glasses to get to the bottom of this. Putting them on, I gave it a second look and gasped. The grinning face of my son stared back at me. What the hell did he think he was doing sending me grinning pictures of himself in the dead of the night? Granted there was only one picture not pictures, but whatever…. It was one taken at close quarters. His already huge nose (taken after me, I smiled with pride) looked even bigger in the photo. Self-clicked, I concluded. But why oh why wake up his old father in the middle of the night only to have him look at your bulbous nose prominently displayed? And the slash of white had revealed itself to be his teeth, all thirty two of them right below it. No, of course I did not count them.
There it was again, the message tone. I almost dropped the phone as it vibrated in my hands. A second message had arrived even as I was trying to decipher the first. If it was another photo of his I was going to call him up and give him a piece of my mind, 2 a.m. or not, I told myself. I quickly opened it. This time it was in text form. ‘Dad!!! Open the door!’ it read. Open the… what?! I hadn’t solved that one when immediately on its heel followed the third message, ‘Surprise! Surprise! I am home! Dad, please DON’T wake Mom! OTD!!!’
OTD?! Oh right, Open The Door. Oh Narayana! Guruvayurappa! He was at the door. That picture had been clicked at my own front door. That’s why something had looked all too familiar about the background. But it being night, everything was mostly black that I hadn’t guessed. Narayana! He was standing out there sending messages instead of ringing the bell. Cheeky as ever, I noted, smiling involuntarily. But, but how…. How was he here? He had said his leave had been cancelled, that he couldn’t make it this time. All that could wait for now, I told myself. Now I had to open the door and let him in.
He had requested that his Mom not be woken. Not that I could, even if I tried. Even an elephant’s tread would have gone unnoticed by her. Still, I tried to make as little noise as possible and moved quickly and cautiously towards the front door. It is tough to accomplish that when you are as old as I am and your joints creak, refusing to be rushed. Thankfully unlike me, the well oiled front door opened smoothly and noiselessly. As soon as it was open I was enveloped in a bear hug. I felt totally dwarfed. When had my son grown so tall and strong? I used to be the My Daddy Strongest around here till sometime back.
I tried to put on a stern expression, and glare reproachfully at him. What did he mean by all this drama? Why had he said he would be home only next month? Why hadn’t he let us know beforehand that he was coming? But of course instead, I grinned like a contented old Papa Bear who has just found a beehive.
Is Mom asleep? My son whispered in my ear. Yes, yes, I nodded. But the house could fall around her ears and she wouldn’t wake up till morning. It had always seemed a miracle to me how she woke up at 5 a.m. sharp without the aid of an alarm clock. Shhh…, cautioned my son, wanting me to lower my voice, not so loud, she might hear you. I rolled my eyes, as if we could even if we wanted to! He agreed on that and laughed softly. Tomorrow I am going to walk down for breakfast and give her the surprise of her life, he said still whispering. I nodded again and bent down to help him with the bags. Leave them there Dad, he hissed, I’ll take them!
Obediently I turned, leading the way back inside the house and literally jumped out of my skin. I had bumped into something or someone just beyond the door. I stared open-mouthed. It was my wife, standing arms akimbo. She had actually woken up from her sleep? I was dumbstruck that it could happen at all. Not in the thirty five years we had been married had she ever done that.
“What do you think you are doing out in the cold at such an unearthly hour? And what’s so hush hush? Why were you whispering?” she asked me in a belligerent tone. Then she spotted the son behind me and let out such a shriek that I staggered back in its aftermath. So shrill had it been that I was sure the sleeping birds in the neighborhood trees must surely have fallen out of their nests and were even then dusting themselves off the ground wondering what had hit them. She had by then pushed past me, and was hanging on to the son’s neck happily chanting, ‘You are here! You are here!’
I glanced at my son, eyebrows raised. I don’t know whether he could see it in the poor light, probably he could, because they are now all white against my brown skin. He had such a comical crestfallen look on his face. His plan had backfired. Oh well, what do they say about well laid out plans of mice and men? That applies to ad hoc plans as well, I guess.
Written in response to the Creative Writing Challenge: 2AM Photo
My heart was leaping up and down in joy. It implored,
”Please, please say yes!”
The emphasis was on the last word. I felt one with the unbridled enthusiasm it exhibited. Just then I started at a sudden noise. The head had made an indecipherable sound of pure annoyance. It was followed with a stern command:
I stood between the pair confused, torn in two. Who should I listen to, my heart or my head?
Come to think of it, WHO am ‘I’?! The question stumped me for the moment taking my mind off the problem at hand.
Well I could be the heart, I mused. I’d love that. The heart was always nudging me to do things that I loved. I smiled thinking of some of its more exotic suggestions and how I had jumped into it with passion. But my smile vanished when I thought of the predicaments the heart had led me into so beguilingly. And how could I forget the pain, the intense searing pain I had ended up feeling. Not so good.
Maybe it was better that I be the head. It got me out of those very predicaments the heart pushed me into without a thought. It brought me ashore safely each time, instead of leaving me to drown in choppy seas. The head was the one who saved me from certain destruction. But when I thought how the head never let me do anything remotely fun, my face fell. I sulked at the thought of how the head kept saying no to almost everything.
Hmm… but all this did not answer my question. Who was ‘I’, the heart or the head? How could ‘I’ just be one of them? Wasn’t ‘I’ both? Then why were these two pulling me in different directions? They were still fighting over whether it should be a yes or a no. There was a crazy buzzing sound in my ears.
“Chhup!” I screamed at them.
Other heads turned to look my way. I ignored them. This was between my head, heart and I. We had to settle this once and for all.
A new thought struck me. What if ‘I’ was neither head nor heart? May be ‘I’ was an outside entity, merely presiding over head and heart? Then why were they directing me to do this or that? Ha, did they think I was a sucker? Shouldn’t they be the ones doing my bidding? This was getting more difficult by the second. The buzzing was getting more intense.
“Please say yes…” whispered my heart gently, sweetly, reminding me it was waiting patiently.
“NO way!” hissed the head determined to keep voice level to the minimum, afraid perhaps to enrage me.
“Chhup!” I screamed at them again. “Let me think!”
Now there were definitely more heads looking my way. They were whispering too. I heard them in spite of the buzzing.
“I am the one who thinks for you.” the head said in a superior tone, “and I say ‘No’!”
“I am the one who feels for you and I say ‘Yes!’” the heart was not about to give up, it seems.
I had had enough of this tomfoolery. I was going to show them who was boss among the three of us. It was me of course. I calmly extended my hand towards the plate on the table.
“No!” bellowed the head
“Yes!” trilled the heart.
I bit into the piece of Black Forest cake and neatly took away half of it into my mouth. I could hear the heart cheering me on. Then I threw the other half on the floor and jumped on it till it was spread all over the shiny floor. The head’s wry amusement when I threw the cake stopped when it realised I was still relishing the piece in my mouth. They both were now silent.
This would teach the buggers who was the boss around here. ‘I’ was and would remain the boss. The head and heart could not rule me. ‘I’ was superior to either of them. I was alpha. Ha! I felt smug satisfaction for having outwitted the dumb pair. I laughed and laughed. I could not understand why Mom was sobbing though. She had been cheerful when she arrived.
“Mom, bring me another piece of cake next time.” I called after her as she walked away. “I gotta show them who is boss!”
I was laughing when they took me back to my cell. I was still laughing as they locked me up.
Revolve a story around this line ‘My heart was saying “Yes” but my head was saying “No”‘.
What do you do when you are forced to spend the day accompanying your fussy old aunt while she does her annual shopping in your city, especially when you are eagerly awaiting a mail? You turn yourself into an unwilling martyr and as soon as she is done, you literally (and discreetly) sweep her off her feet and dump her, along with her many bags and parcels into the train she wants to catch, wave down the first available auto rickshaw, and with a sigh of relief sit back as it takes you homeward. Your feet are killing you anyway and home is the place to be, with your feet up and a couple of cushions to support your back. But before that comes the mail, you tell yourself.
Once you reach your apartment complex and the lift has deposited you on your floor, you unlock the door, quickly walk over to boot up your computer and then go make yourself a nice hot cup of chai. You badly need it. Then, steaming cup in hand you go back, seat yourself in front of your computer, and quickly sign into your account.
Your face lights up when the site finally loads and you catch a glimpse of the first mail in your inbox. It is just the one you were hoping to see. Your heart constricts and tears fill your eyes seeing the spread of pictures. The hands and feet look so tiny. The puckered mouth reminds you so much of your own baby at this age. Now your own dear one has given life to another. The magic of life amazes you.
You take your time and go through each and every picture, your contented daughter with her daughter in her arms and her husband beside her in the hospital being one of them, secretly wishing there was a magic wand to move days forward to the one when you are to take the flight to go meet them all, most important of them being the little imp who you haven’t met so far, who was even now staring at you from the computer screen. You are already under her spell. You just know in your heart she would grow up to be like her mom.
After a long time you sigh and reluctantly move to the next mail. Your eyes idly go over the words contained in it and you suddenly freeze. The blood simply refuses to course through you, having turned to ice or so it seems to you. The hairs all over your body are standing up in an effort to warm you up, but fail miserably. You have started shivering and you hope someone would switch off the fan since you can’t move yourself. But there is no one else in the house and even if they were you are doubtful you could have called out to them. You are frozen from head to toe, an ice statue. How could your vocal chords function under the circumstance? Only your eyes are capable of moving, and they read over and over again, the words on the screen.
Abruptly you snap out of your immobility and start laughing hysterically. You realise what has happened has been by an error on someone’s part. Imagine that, nothing but a bloody error on someone’s part was what had put that mail in your inbox. Even as you laugh, you start crying. Tears stream down your cheeks, but you angrily brush them off with the back of your hand. Your laughter is now slowly transforming to anger. It builds up ever so slowly, a small white flame of rage growing and filling your being. The ice has disappeared, instead you are now a burning volcano. ‘How dare they? Right under my nose too!’ you think.
The rage brings on fresh tears, but the tears of anger have now turned to ones of helplessness. You are back to feeling chilly once again. This is the chill of vulnerability, of loneliness from which you know you don’t have an escape. Not in this life. You have been betrayed. And now you are sobbing, like a child, at the treachery inflicted on you. Your head is bent and shoulders have drooped in defeat. You cry silently.
After a long while, when the tears have stopped, you lift your eyes to read the words again as if to check the status of the wounds they have caused inside you. A strange uneasy calm settles over you. You are actually glad someone was in a hurry or careless enough to make a wrong click thereby copying messages to you that were actually not meant for your eyes. That action has revealed to you how you have been trusting two unscrupulous people most of your life, two people who did not merit the faith you had placed in them.
You wonder how you could have been such a fool. Your best friend and your husband were cavorting behind your back, meeting clandestinely and having a roaring affair. Now you understand your husband’s obsession with his phone, the way he was always texting, checking for messages. The sudden walks out of the room while attending calls, the monosyllabic answers to whoever he was speaking to when you were near, which had bothered you, but which you dismissed in the general happiness you felt in your daughter’s newfound happiness, all acquire a new meaning for you in the present discovery of truth.
You get up slowly, thoughtfully and walk to the balcony and stand for long staring at the comings and goings on the road below. Your husband’s infidelity strangely does not come as a surprise to you. You realise that you already knew in your heart and over the years had just inured yourself to the blatant signals that came your way. But your best friend? That is hard for you to take. You have grown up together, gone to the same school, shared your lunch box, and exchanged dresses, secrets about crushes and more. You are practically sisters.
Even after your respective marriages you both have kept your friendship going, as strong as ever. In fact it was you who have taken care of her two children when she took a year off to go study abroad. The only thing you never shared with her had been your misgivings about your husband’s possible indiscretions of which you had no proof, just a feeling of uneasiness. For some reason, you tried your best to hide it from her.
All of a sudden you notice the familiar car on the road coming towards your apartment block. Your friend is at the wheel as usual. You remember that it was you who taught her to drive. She turns left driving through the gate of the complex and you watch as she smoothly parks her car in the allotted space. You know you have been an excellent teacher. She gets out, looks up and waves on seeing you in the balcony. You wave back. You are standing too far up, so you are glad there is no need to smile. You watch her walking to the entrance of the building and walk back in.
At the sink you pour cold water over your face, wiping away all traces of your earlier emotional breakdown. Some lip gloss over your wan lips and a little kajal for your eyes perks up your appearance. You rummage around in the dressing table draw and find what you need. It feels cold in your hand. You feel you are ready. You know you won’t be disturbed for the next couple of hours at least. With exceptional calm you walk to the sitting room and seat yourself on the sofa facing the main door. You hum a tuneless song under your breath and wait patiently for her to walk in.
‘You go home and check your Emails. You read the second mail and freeze…’. Begin the story from here.
I secretly believe Radha plies my mother with all her favorite goodies because she hopes that that will stop her, my mother that is, from talking for a while at least. Poor Radha, I could have told her that she was bound to fail, but I did not have the heart to. My mother is an inveterate talker and I have been living with her all my life. The only times that I have seen her silent was when she went to sleep at night, that is if she was not talking in her sleep as well. I wouldn’t entirely put it past her to do that. After all I haven’t stayed up all night to check if it were so.
Radha, who by the way is my wife, is an optimist. She feels the mouth watering goodies she makes will silence my mother for the time necessary to chew it at least. But my mother who appreciatively gobbles it all up, nevertheless goes on talking even with her mouth full.
When it comes to her babble, she spares none. Her husband, children, the household help, the vegetable vendor, the postman, in fact anyone who came her way fell victim to her verbal diarrhea I know it is unkind on my part to say so, but then a fact is a fact, though I’d never say it to my mother’s face ever.
My own son who is just four is not so kind. Ammoomma, Bittu usually says in that exasperated cute tone of his when his grandmother wants to talk to him about what he had done in school, don’t disturb me! I am watching Chota Bhim! This pulls up my mother short for a few seconds. No one has ever spoken to her thus in her life. She was the darling in her own home, an only child born to parents very late in life. My grandparents cherished her I am told and when she married my father, an only son himself, his own parents doted on her. So she got away with her chattering everywhere. It is a different matter with Bittu. He loves Chota Bhim more than Grandma. It is another matter that once Chota Bhima is off the television screen, he is back in her lap.
Mother is a diabetic. Recently she got a sore on her foot which was not healing at all. She as usual was not listening to Radha or to me to go see the doctor. I know that mother is terrified of hospitals. But then this is no matter to be neglected. I told her that she simply had to go to the hospital, no two ways about it. Nothing wrong with my foot, my mother insisted. Like hell nothing was wrong when she is a diabetic too.
“Mom, don’t be childish. You have to come with me and Radha to the doctor. That wound has not healed in so many days! This is serious” My voice had risen a decibel in my frustration. I mean there is a limit to foolishness. I knew that stubborn look on my mother’s face. It meant I would fail in changing her mind. Throwing up my hands in irritation I looked imploringly at Radha.
“Maaji, remember what the doctor said the last time? If the wound does not heal, gangrene will set in and your foot may have to be amputated,” she said matter-of-factly.
Trust Radha to spell things out without beating around the bush. I know why I am in her debt always. She says things in a way I am too scared to put into words.
“Ammamma talks too much!” a voice piped in.
“This is not the time Bittu! Go and play with Didi,” I said sharply.
He was very fond of the neighbor’s daughter who took good care of him and was patient enough to read out to him from time to time. I wanted him to go and be with her while I sorted this out, with Radha’s help of course. I was in no mood to listen to Bittu’s ramblings, besides he was being rude to his Grandma. Sigh, I had not even reminded him of that yet.
“It is true!!!” he declared unfazed, “Ammamma always talks, that’s why it won’t heal!”
“What’s all this nonsense?” My irritation levels were rising now. Radha was also staring at Bittu puzzled as was my for once silent mother.
“Silence is a great healer. Didi told me so. It is there in her text book.” said my son.
Write Over the Weekend theme for this weekend: Weave a story around this proverb, “Silence is a great healer’.
This is about a beginning, one that I could not even begin to imagine at the time, let alone see. As far as I could see, I was in the middle of an end. Around me, as far as the eye could see, there were only swamps, the swamps of end. Their sense of anticipation as they waited for me to make my decision was palpable. I was tiring myself out walking in circles on pathways that took me nowhere. They knew I’d reach a point of no return and then would choose their certainty over anything else. The knowledge made them complacent in their wait to gobble me up and burp in satisfaction.
One morning I woke to find an apparition in the mirror. She wore crumpled clothes that looked slept in. I wondered who she could be. Her hands were like sticks. Unkempt hair framed her gaunt and haunted looking face. Her eyes seemed as if she had been crying from the day she was born. Who was she? What was she doing in my mirror? More importantly how had she got there? It was my house, my room, my mirror. I opened my mouth to ask her to leave. I needed the mirror to see myself.
She said the same to me. With a shock I realized the reflection in the mirror was I myself. But… but… Where was the cache of diamonds I stored in my eyes? Had I misplaced them somewhere? I had become so careless. The stock of pearls I freely drew from and distributed so thoughtlessly to anyone I met seemed to be lost too. Silkiness had deserted my hair leaving it rough to touch. I looked down at the shabby dress I was wearing. When had I last had a bath and change of dress?
I tried to recall where she had disappeared, the girl I knew, the one who danced in the rain. I searched for her sunshine smile in the reflection in the mirror. She looked back at me as searchingly. The aura of defeat we saw affected us the same way. It crushed us. We cried, together, my reflection and I, in racking sobs, for our mislaid dreams. We had lost. The swamps were beginning to look so much more inviting today. There lay our escape. The coolness of their slimy mud would soothe our feverish souls.
I don’t know when the realisation dawned, but it did. The sobs stopped abruptly as I examined the new evidence. Why was I standing helplessly watching myself getting lost? Who was I expecting to come along and guide me out of the maze? Was it they who pushed me in or those that stood by watching the fun as I desperately sought a way out? Why did I think from among those who did not care either way would arise a savior? I glanced at the mirror at the puffy eyes and tear stained face staring back at me. That was certainly not the person I knew.
Somewhere along the way, the outside had succeeded in creeping into the insulated inside and wreaking havoc with who I was. My self confidence lay in tatters all around me. I made a spot decision. I was going to pick up the same pieces and stitch myself a new dress. In time I would learn to darn it so well that the stitches would not show. We promised each other that, my reflection and I.
For now I had a quick wash, changed into fresh new clothes, combed my errant hair into place, applied kajal to my tired eyes and adorned my forehead with a bright red bindi. I glanced into the mirror and smiled. My reflection smiled back at me. The swamps miraculously receded into the distance. I hoped soon they would be just a distant memory. The pathways still looked convoluted and intimidating. I could not yet see a way that led out. But determination had been called into service to see me through these hardest of times. I could see it in the eyes in the mirror too. We nodded to each other, my reflection and I, before we walked away, to our dawn of beginnings.