The Returned

Keyword: Witching-hour

On the mound by the sea … under the shroud of darkness deeper than the black of a starless night … the grass a stubble of strange grey blackish in the darkness … and the air stifling with the sweet scent of decay … floral, thickly spread … like butter slathered on toast … like jasmines putrefying in a tub full of water … like spring days drained off all joy and color … I stand. Where many have stood before me, who knew of this place, and the legend. Making offerings … of flowers and blood, of bones and gems, of the salt of the earth, of tears … prayers sent up into the unknown on knees, with folded hands, sealed lips. Eyes open, or closed. Who knew grief could make believers out of men? Make them see hope in what was before just wind and air?

A tiny figure emerges from the waves. Dragging his feet across the wet sand. Snarling at the waves biting at his heels.

Could it be that this is my boy? Pulling himself free from the clutches of eternal darkness to reach me. Returned to me by the sea. All because I wished so … At some kind of magical, witching hour, zone that granted wishes, if felt strongly enough?

He has a gash across his lower lip now. A cut across his forehead. And a limp that wasn’t there before.

His smile doesn’t touch his hazel eyes. So warm and full of life before …

And his head is full of weed and worms.

But I am prepared to love him. Keep him safe from the world … this time.

“Mommy,” he says, his arms spread out before him. His tiny body covered in bruises and cuts.

I run to him, fall on my knees, and kiss his fingertips, shriveled from being under water for so long.

“Mommy,” he says as I hug him, drown him in kisses. But this time, I can see the sharp, pointy teeth instead of square, white rows. His claws dig into my skin. Pinpricks that draw blood on touch. His eyes dance with sinister delight. Not bright hazel, but a dark blood red. And he says, “you didn’t think I would forget, did you?”

I pull back from him in horror. “But …” I say. But the wind snatches the words out of my mouth and hurls them into the sea. Like worthless stones cast away for good. And where his head had rested moments ago, his teeth sink in and blood oozes. Like a warm, thick syrup.

And I find myself drifting, following him back into the sea.

Gladly.

Relieved.

I had hope for a chance to redo the past. To make things right. To rebuild what was broken. In our family. In me.

But then, this is what he wants now.

A life for a life.

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To Young Harriet, with Love

1.

Plump, red tomatoes lay blanched, skinned, and sliced on the black marble counter-top imported from Italy. The spicy-syrupy marinate in the crystal bowl grew stale with each passing hour. Mrs. K. Suhasini paced the wooden floor of her centuries-old colonial-style cottage, debating the wisdom of venturing out. For the recipe demanded raw sugar: an ingredient whose existence she was unaware of, and which consequently could not be found in her well-stocked kitchen.

To Suhasini, the dilemma was of taxing proportions: She could add regular sugar to the mix. But if she did, it would mar the authenticity of the dish. And she was learning to cook authentic Chinese after all. Shopping was an option, yes, if only it were a Wednesday.

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Reflection

Keyword: Reflection

Mr. Ranjan had never stolen a rupee in his life. Not when he was a kid short on pocket money and the latest Amitabh Bachchan movie was playing in the cinema hall. Not when he had a rich college roommate and had an unpaid tab at the campus chaiwala running into months. Not when he got a clerical job at the local water board and was newly married and couldn’t afford to to buy a home or a car or go anyplace nice.

He struggled from day to day, slogging over paperwork that others only unearthed for a hefty price. And for what? his wife asked. A framed photograph on the company wall? They lived like poor while all his colleagues bought cars and fridges and microwaves and grew fatter on meals cooked in pure ghee.

But Mr. Ranjan did not mind. When somebody praised him for his honesty, his heart would swell with pride.

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