Stopover

Keywords: Bus stop

She is always there at 8. At the bus stop next to the florist. She sits there tapping her foot, watching the open sky change hues over the vacant lot across the road. Sipping the coffee she brought from home. In a thermos. Softly humming a song. The air around her alive and full of promise. She sits there, not once checking her watch. Only pushing off when the first of the daily commuters arrive, when it’s time for the 8.45.

I ask her why she comes here. There’s a perfectly beautiful park two blocks down. Is she here to meet someone? Could I interest her in a bunch of fresh peonies or a freshly brewed cuppa from down the street?

Nah, she says. Gives an easy smile. A strand of hair swaying across her youthful face. Though she’s no beauty, there’s a brightness about her that’s hard to miss.

You can sit here a while though, she says, patting the empty space next to her. If you’re not in a hurry.

She gives me a once over. My attaché, the crisp business suit and tie, shiny shoes polished to perfection, reflecting my scrubbed clean face, hers if I move in any closer, are not doing me any favors.

Sure, I say and sidle over. But only for a while.

The bus comes and goes.

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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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Placed a Piece in The Drabble

Got my horror/suspense drabble, The Mist, published on The Drabble. This is my second piece here (first was Hostiles). It’s a good place for small pieces, 100 words or less. Not many out there. So discovering this place was such a delight — for not all stories are destined to be novels.

If you know of any other mags (online, offline) that accept short shorts, micros, drabbles, etc., do share below in comments :). Thanks for reading!

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.

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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The Jam

Keyword: Maybe

“So what’s the fuss about?” Joy asks, looking over my shoulder. All the honking and screeching and graphic language has gotten his attention, and he has abandoned his roost with a perfect view of the television set and is now finishing his breakfast by the window, spreading bread crumbs along the sill.

“Don’t know,” I say, leaning out, trying to avoid the shower of crumbs. “This has never happened before. Normally, there is hardly any traffic. And today, the whole road’s blocked off till the very end. Maybe there’s been some ghastly accident and the cops have cordoned it off.”

A few motorists try to wriggle around and backtrack, but get trapped in a zigzag pattern by the onslaught of incoming traffic. The other roads must be clogged as well.

“You think somebody got shot? Like a drive by?” he says.

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Reboot

The world’s falling apart. My world, the world around me; going up in ravenous flames like the Californian woods, with the roar of Greenland’s glaciers crashing into widening oceans, with the rage of tornadoes ripping through the Midwest like angry gods settling their differences with crazy arm sweeps.

Towns are dying. Worlds unknown, cultures unheard of are fast turning into dust. Like Atlantis and Avalon and others before them — great giants brought to their knees by temperamental gods.

The earth’s cracking up, like my heart, releasing the spirits long trapped in its bosom. The rivers are no longer flowing, but are mere stagnant, withering pools.

The bogs are burning, the woods are burning, the air, the seas, our homes are burning. It’s only a matter of time when we will all go up flames. And the wars we rage within and with each other, over land, oil, food, water, over love even, would cease to matter. Or matter more, more intensely than before … For what else would be there but now?

The seasons have already lost their color. One long, dry spell of white hot blaze. Blades brown and crisp like crackling crunch under trees naked with shame. Time, it seems, has given up on healing us as well.

Our atmosphere is a paradox. Thinning and bloating up at the same time, with foreign molecules worse that CFC fattening up on heat and the sun shredding away the ozone layer.

The preacher says there’s nothing like global warming. That climate change is God’s realm. Like life, like death. The scientists and leading thinkers disagree: how can you be so blind when it’s staring right in your face?

And I wonder if God has a kill switch, a restart button to reboot the whole damn world, my heart, and let them start all over again.

The Locket

img-thing

Keyword: Locket

It is in the bottom drawer, hidden behind her sweaters and shawls. A simple gold locket, sparkly new and heart shaped, hung on a simple gold chain.

What am I doing here, looking through her things, you ask?

Well, it’s not in my habit to go snooping around in my wife’s dresser, if that’s what you’re thinking. Not that this would be considered snooping. The house belongs to the both of us. And by extension, this dresser and its contents. And if you must know, I am looking for a shawl. A light one that looks stylish, but is warm enough to counter the unseasonable chill downstairs. It’s for the mother-in-law. You may say she is the source of this sudden chill. Her lipstick smudging the wife’s pristine glassware is frosting everything. What can I say, Meghna likes things a certain way — her way.

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To End or Not to End

How should I start this story? For to tell it, there has to be an ending. And that is the most vexing part. All stories have one. To tie all plots, answer all questions, tell us who ends up with whom. People are lost without them. They consult fortune cookies, i-ching, the stars to jump to the end of the day, their life, just so they know that it all ends well. People were not meant to cope with the great mystery that life is. To most, it is as cruel as the friend who thinks wrapping gifts like a Russian nested doll is the funniest thing ever. To such friends one should say, you’re no Hitchcock. And besides, his “thrill’s in the anticipation” principle only holds true till the coin flips your way.

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