Superstitious – Part 1

Keyword: Superstitious

“You are not going to the school dance, and that’s that.”

Mom quits on me mid-argument and walks off.

“But that’s not fair,” I say, chasing after her into the living room. “Everybody’s going. Even Sheila with two left feet. And I will be the only one who won’t. And everybody would have a wonderful time, but me. Mom, are you even listening?”

She is searching for something under the daybed. Not finding it there, she checks around the sofas, and then behind the doors and beneath the window curtains. “You’re in eight grade,”she says dropping the edge a curtain. “How bad can it be?”

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The Adventures of Mollie K – Chapter 7

Orlinda was right of course. Shelly loved her. Why wouldn’t a three-legged frog hidden in her cupboard, behind all the clothes, in a box with punched-in holes do that? It longed for fresh air. And every time she let it out to play, it got just that. It was a wonder that the squishy, bouncy creature didn’t just fly out the window and hop back to the brook behind the dorm.

Shelly didn’t croak. Either it didn’t know how to, for want of similar four-legged companions, or just didn’t think it was worth its while to chat with the overbearing Ollie, who just loved it to bits. Like it wasn’t an ugly, green frog, but the prettiest doll in the room.

Mollie cracked a smile. She could already think of a hundred wicked pranks to pull on all the unsuspecting dwellers of the dorm.

“Why not stuff it in that Long Hair’s bed and see what happens?” she said.

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The Adventures of Mollie K – Chapter 6

The room where Mollie was to spend the rest of the year — or more — was on the first floor of the four-story middle school dormitory, a ten-minute walk from the main school building. The station wagon parked in the driveway was gone by the time Sister Maria got downstairs, having attended to various administrative matters on her way. Dusk had turned the sky azure and the school empty … but for a few senior students hanging about on the front steps, exchanging notes. The dorm wasn’t buzzing with much activity either.

It was adequate, this room, like her sisters’, except with fewer beds. It had two of everything—beds, chairs, cupboards, study tables, and table lamps. The bed by the window with a beautiful view of the woods and the brook was taken. The bed next to the door was to be hers.

“Now, unpack your things and come downstairs in fifteen minutes,” said Sister Maria. She tapped the dial of her wrist watch and smiled. “That’s 7 by the wall clock. Now, hurry, scoot. You haven’t got much time if you want the best piece of Mrs. Banerjee’s delectably sweet and tarty apple pie!”

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The Adventures of Mollie K – Chapter 5

Black Fort Ridge All Girls Boarding School loomed large on the horizon, like a red-brick vulture training its eyes on its prey from high up, ready to swoop down and grab it the moment it felt safe. In the fading noon light, it looked even more ominous.

Mollie shuddered at the thought of entering this cavernous fortress of no return. If her mother had been there, she’d have wrapped around her legs and begged her to take her home. But then her parents had just stood by the driveway, watching her being hauled away by the Great Tyrant M. Not once attempting to stop her.

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The Adventures of Mollie K – Chapters 1-4

CHAPTER 1

The madcap house at the end of the street was as quirky and messy as its dozen inhabitants. The couple who had bought this place decades ago was not too great at planning, to begin with. They never planned to settle down at one place … or have a big family … or a big house. But after thirty years, nine kids, and a pet hen, they might as well have.

The house had grown around them, kid by kid, room by room, whim by whim, and now looked more like a house of horrors at an amusement park than a regular home on the prim-and-proper Willow Street. Some windows were oblong, some oval, others round. Framed by wood panels wide and thin, horizontal here and vertical there, and sometimes just nailed together haphazardly, like patchwork. The rooms were all differently sized and shaped as well, much like the various inhabitants. Some tall, some squat, some long, some shapeless, and some as small as a phone booth or closet. It was, to most, a big, fat, ramshackle house tilting sideways, sprawling at odd angles to the overgrown lawn — like a fat, old, penniless aunt with shingles leaning on a cane, eavesdropping on the neighbors next door.

Hoarders of the first order, Mrs. and Mr. Khatri had stuffed their home with “repurposed items”. They could easily be the founding fathers of backyard recycling, the way they went about it. If something had broken or was defunct, why fix it or toss it away? they said. Why not find a better use for it instead. And so they had trunks for chairs, stacked bricks for coffee tables, sofas fashioned out of blankets, and patchwork curtains from clothes that no one cared to use. The walls were covered with newspaper clippings from food, travel, and culture sections of the daily newspaper, interspersed with glossy magazine covers chronicling the political and fashion history of this great nation (“borrowed” from their neighbors of course), while stacks of unread books and worn-out music cassettes and CDs grew into floor-to-ceiling length shelves. Old dressers filled in for kitchen cabinets and clothes made for fancy décor, scattered as they were across the floor, on the back of sofas and chairs, when not tossed carelessly on table fans, banisters, and door knobs. Even their hen, when it stopped laying eggs, functioned as an alarm clock that rang at odd hours of the day.

The same hoarder’s logic extended to the kids as well. And since minding kids was not their idea of growing old, after the first three, they saw merit in raising kids in pairs. They’d take care of each other, they reckoned, and raise themselves without much oversight. For Mrs. Khatri kept busy creating universes and skeletons in her oblong studio, and Mr. Khatri had a carpentry shop to run from the shed at the back, and they seldom had the time or the inclination to discipline anyone.

And so the kids ruled the roost in this amusement house, wreaking havoc on the neighbors and at school in waves of two. That is, till they came to the odd one out. The youngest of the lot, the naughtiest of them all: a scrappy young girl named Mollie.

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Second Best

Keyword: Second-best

The door swung open and a young woman in an elegant black cocktail dress entered the room. She had a cigarette pack and a lighter in one hand, skillfully balanced along with a clutch.

“Hope you don’t mind,” she said lighting up, even though it was a smoking room. “If I don’t have one right now I will lose my mind.”

Neeru grabbed Sanjay’s glass and gulped down whatever little remained of his beer, wincing at the bitter taste. Her own wine glass lying empty on the table. She glared at her as if willing her to leave the room by the sheer power of her venomous stare. She didn’t like the intrusion. Wanted to be left alone. It was enough that Sanjay was here, trying to placate her. Playing the trusted family friend. It isn’t true, Neeru. He still loves only you. You are reading too much into things. Right. Reading too much into the late night messages, the scent of jasmine on his collar, his impromptu book tours, and that no-reason-smile on his face.

She made a move to get up, but there was nowhere else to get away from the gossiping crowd. Besides, he was downstairs, with her. Whom she thought was “her.” And she didn’t trust herself to behave.

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The Audition – Conclusion

“That’s your home?” said Ridhima. Marvelling at the four-story mansion that sprawled before them surrounded by acres and acres of fresh green, manicured lawns. Against the azure sky, it looked like a scene out of a fairytale. Whoever knew there was so much open space in a city like Delhi. If she was still angry with him for keeping such an important fact about his life – his family – a secret from her, it was fast dissipating. Getting replaced by childlike wonder and awe. A kid lost in a candy store.

Somewhere at the back of her mind, he feared, realization may be dawning that this grand place, this entire estate, could someday be theirs.

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The Audition – Part 4

“Is that you, Moonish?” said a voice he had all but relegated to forgotten parts of his memory.

He thought he had seen the worst of it when Chanchal from HR had come over for his documents, a little after a month of being made permanent.

“Mr. Ghosh,” he’d said, “has little to do with practical matters … such as paperwork. You’re practically a ghost in our system, Mr. Moonish. We don’t even know if that’s your first or last name.”

“Both,” Moonish had grinned boyishly, flashing his newly fixed pearly whites, at the thin, studious-looking man looking up at him all earnest, blinking rapidly behind his thick, horn-rimmed spectacles, near opaque.

After treating the man to hot tea and samosas at the nearby tea shop, Moonish was promptly guided to a photocopy-wala who also dealt with forged certificates on the side.

He hadn’t seen this coming.

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The Audition – Part 3

Among the new hires was a young woman, Ridhima, same age as him. Bright eyes, though plain-looking. Her most striking feature her chin. It gave her character, a fullness of the mouth. And though he couldn’t take his eyes off her, to her he was all eyes and hair. At least at the beginning. When she avoided him off hours.

He reeked, she told one of the other guys. Hadn’t he ever heard of cologne?

It was that that had him install a shower in his bathroom and invest in a soap more expensive than cafeteria lunch. But he realized that just smelling nice wasn’t going to be enough. Not if he wanted her to notice him as a person … as someone she may see a future with one day.

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The Audition – Part 2

As the word got around, people came to the museum especially to see him. He was a one-man show. There to entertain.

At first, he merely hung about the installations in a ballroom-like space. Moving from one set to another. Acting like a hunter spearing a wolf, or sharpening a tool made of stone, or scratching two rocks to ignite a stack of twigs. But after a few days of this, he soon tired of the routine. The forced stillness was contrary to the freedom he felt in his bones. The urge to move about, interact. To experience everything anew. And not just linger in a corner and wither away into the evening when everybody went home, the museum was sealed closed, and he returned to the streets. To the life of a nobody.

He was more than done with this life.

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