Death was the first to go. I spliced it out. One diseased strand at a time.
Then came fear. Then stupidity. Both holding me back from realizing my true potential. Both keeping me from seeing what I, the world could truly be.
Laughter, who needs that.
Tears, toss it out.
Speech, pointless. Words just confusing. When tech can communicate for us, read our very minds.
Who needs love of music and arts when there are bigger questions of science and God and everything in between and beyond still to be explored. Mankind to be pushed into space.
Little by little I lose myself. All the unnecessary bits.
“See you tomorrow at 7 then,” I remind Deepa before getting off the school bus. “We’re so going to have an awesome time!”
“Yeah,” grins back Deepa, grooving in her seat, to the amusement of others, “the best! You sure your Mom’s okay with it? She isn’t worried about, you know,” she shrugs and spells out the word B-O-Y-S.
“Of course, she’s cool. Temporary insanity.” I shrug back.
If she isn’t yet, she will be, as soon as Dad gets here.
“See ya,” I wave from the sidewalk. Sunny mimics me and I thump his soft, silky-haired head. I’ve already doled out my entire collection of tenners to him. At least he should act the part. “Go to your room and act sick, will you?” I tell him. “But not too sick. Remember, you get better as soon as you see Dad. I don’t want to spend the entire weekend babysitting you and Mom.”
Three days to “doomsday” and Mom turns into this zealot baba follower who refuses to do anything but watch Baba ka Darbar all day long. Remote in one hand, phone in another. Ordering a thali the moment a new prayer service goes live.
“How come he’s live?” I say, munching on crackers with toppings of ketchup and mustard sauce, our gourmet lunch for today. “Shouldn’t he be hiding somewhere, performing some ‘yugya-shagya’ in secret?”
Mom shudders at this and looks about fearfully, as if waiting for lightning to strike and smite us all out of existence. When that doesn’t happen, she finally speaks. “Baba has his ways,” she says mystically, “and don’t be disrespectful, Rinku. I have taught you better than that.”
“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?”
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.
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!”
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.
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.
As he bit through what was left of a half-chewed apple salvaged from a dumpster, he saw an ad for a peon at the City Museum of Natural History lying face up in a pizza box, stuck to some rotting cheese on the lid. It was a sign from God. And he thought, why not? He had nothing to do till lunch. And however it turned out, he had nothing to lose either. Not even his dignity. Which had been the first to go anyways.
As days passed and the sun continued to rise and set behind the frozen sky, the fat lady shrank and shrank.
This worried the villagers no end. They had made peace with a possible return to the dark ages, as it were. Even a world without rain. Or other worldly possessions now out of their reach. The Mayor was certain there was enough wood, water, and seeds to keep them going for a few generations, if not more. But all that planning and calculation would be meaningless if Mrs. Godse were to come falling down, or go flying out, which may be the case in the end, wouldn’t it?