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Sarah Aineh

Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible

Thank You for the Tea – a short story

Tea-and-Biscuits

It was the summer of 98, exams were over and done with, and the holidays were in full swing. We spent the summer holidays swimming, reading Tinkle comics, eating mangoes that we plucked ourselves from the trees in our backyard, and preparing bottles and bottles of Rasna squash, our favourite flavour of which was, again, mango. We would put these bottles of juice in the fridge and empty one of the bottles on an ice tray so that we could enjoy mango ice cubes later in the day. In the evenings, we would go to the park right across the street, and we would play on this particular tree which had long, low-hanging intertwining branches. We would pretend that this was our space-ship, and that we were travelling across the galaxy to save the universe.

My sisters and I would go swimming at the club every alternate morning, waking up early so we could enjoy the pool when it was not yet crowded. One morning, when we were returning home after swimming, we met a girl on the road. She was wearing a yellow salwar-kameez, and her hair was neatly plaited, and I saw that the tip of her plait reached her waist. She wore glasses and carried a sling bag, but she carried it as one carries books, holding the bag close to her chest, as though she was afraid she would lose it. I also noticed that she had a unibrow.

The girl approached us, and spoke to my mother. I didn’t hear what she said because I was walking a little ways behind my mother and my youngest sister, but I saw that the girl started to walk alongside my mother.

“Who do you think she is?” I asked one of my sisters.

“Probably a saleswoman” she replied. My sisters and I bantered back and forth about different topics and didn’t pay much attention to the saleswoman.

We reached home, and I was surprised to see that the saleswoman was following my mother as she entered our house. For a brief moment, the saleswoman turned to smile at us. I didn’t like her, because I knew she was trying to sell my mother something we most likely did not need.

My mother asked the maid to prepare some tea for our ‘guest’, and I went to take a bath, fully intending to scold my mother after the saleswoman had left. As I shampooed my hair, I thought “I’ll tell her that it isn’t just us children who shouldn’t talk to strangers, that she ought to be careful too, and what if the saleswoman was a criminal, because women could be criminals too.” After I finished my bath, towelled myself and put a shirt and shorts on, I went to the living room. The saleswoman was just leaving and I heard her say to my mother ‘thank you for the tea’. After she left, my mother cleared away the teacups.

“So what was she trying to sell you?” I asked, as I followed her into the kitchen where our maid, Juhi was making puris for breakfast.

My mother laughed and said she wasn’t trying to sell her anything.

“So who was she and what did she want?” I asked, intrigued. My sisters were now watching TV in the living room, they couldn’t have cared less about our visitor.

“She said her name was Amil and that she had run away from home. She didn’t tell me where she lived but I suspect she hasn’t wandered far.”

“She ran away from home?” I asked, confused. I was only ten at the time, and I classed people under two groups only – children and adults. The girl had looked to be a bit older than the oldest girls in our school, so she was definitely an adult. I had been under the impression that adults could do whatever they wanted; it seemed incredible to me that a grown-up would want to run away from home when they didn’t have anyone to tell them to do their homework or eat their vegetables or to wake up early. “Why did she do that?”

“Well” my mother said as she seated herself down on one of the dining chairs. “Sometimes parents tend not to be very supportive of certain decisions their children make. When you’re young, we can scold you and try to influence you in a good way to the best of our capabilities. Then you grow older and you become more and more set in your ways, and then the parents are no longer able to exercise that influence anymore.”

I blinked, not understanding what she was trying to say.

“I’ll give you an example. You love to play basketball, right? Now, I can tell you that you can only play until a certain time of day, and then you have to get inside and do your homework. But suppose this love for basketball continues till you’re say, twenty, and I tell you to concentrate on your studies, but your only dream is to become a national level basketball player, so now there’s just a couple of adults arguing about what is right for whom. And I, as your parent, in my earnest desire to have you spend your college years well so that you can have a good future, pester you all day about your lack of interest in anything other than that sport, and thereby miss a very important point, which is that basketball makes you happy, and in attempting to take away the very thing that makes you happy, I contribute to your increased state of dejection, albeit unknowingly.”

“So she was unhappy because her parents didn’t allow her to do something that she wanted to do?”

“It wasn’t so much not allowing her as it was not affording their acceptance, and it wasn’t so much her wanting to do something as it was her wanting to be someone.”

I nodded, though I still didn’t fully understand.

“I told her” my mother continued, “that I could only convey to her what a parent might feel on learning that their child has run away. That, perhaps, we fail to realize the hurt that we cause our children but that everything we do is out of love, and that if she could somehow find a way to talk to her parents, she might find that there are a great many things they would be willing to give up rather than their daughter.”

“And what did she say?”

My mother sighed. “She didn’t say very much. But I hope she goes back home.”

Later in the evening, my sisters and I were in our backyard playing pretend that we were the Famous Five, our cat Pizzazz reluctantly and uninterestedly playing the part of Timmy. My father had just gotten back from the office and he and my mother were sitting on the verandah, talking and watching us play.

I went inside the house and into the kitchen to have a glass of water and as I was on my way back out, I heard my parents talking.

My father was saying “Yes, they spoke on the phone, but for tonight, and perhaps for the next few days, she’ll be staying with their relatives.”

“That’s a relief” my mother replied. “Not that I was worried about her. She seemed capable enough of taking care of herself. But I wanted her to realize that she needed to talk to her parents the way she spoke with me, a complete stranger she had just met. Maybe it wouldn’t have solved all her problems but it would have been a start.”

“By the way, what did she say when she approached you?” my father asked.

“She asked me the time, and I knew she was lonely because I could see her wristwatch peeping out from under her sleeve.”

And I had thought she was just some woman trying to sell my mother cheap cosmetics. I had noticed not only her unibrow, but also the pit stains on her tunic, and the gaudy bright pink elastic band she had used to tie the end of her plait. Suppose she had asked someone other than my mother the time, and suppose that person had noticed only the things I did, and not the fact that she was broken-hearted and lost, she might have gone wandering further until nobody knew where she was anymore.

Like I said, I was only ten at the time. I couldn’t understand what it was that a person could want so badly that it would drive them away from their family. If my parents didn’t allow me to play basketball, I would’ve sulked for a few days, but I certainly wouldn’t have even considered leaving my sisters or my parents.

I did think about Amil a lot though. Days later, I’d ask my father whether he had made any phone calls to enquire about the girl, and he’d tell me that yes, she had gone back home and the rest was no longer our business. I’d sit on my area on the spaceship tree and wonder whether she eventually spoke to her parents about what made her so sad, whatever it was, and whether her parents were good enough to not argue about it anymore. I’d wonder if she was finally happy, and found myself hoping against hope that she was.

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Among Wildflowers

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Only once did I see them up close

A three second breeze, a dither,

I chanced upon the wildflowers

Iridescent for my sake

So it was that I lay among them

And what a view had I of the sky

Bounding, boundless, from cloud to cloud

And if all of eternity I were to spend

Amid the blossoms, and abloom,

Forgetful of the daily presentiments,

Of the duties to which I am bound,

Of they who I must answer to..

 

What momentary insanity did strike me?

To believe I had the freedom to tarry

I have no business among wildflowers

But one last look before I go

 

Long after I leave this place

The beauty will remain

They will dance the same dance

And I will stay the inanimate.

New Book – Zeb and the girl

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Hello! My new book titled Zeb and the Girl is available here.

You can also buy it on Amazon, Flipkart, and Shopclues.

Happy reading, and I hope you enjoy reading this story. I sure enjoyed writing it.

 

 

Amber Eyes

ambereyes

Eleven years we’ve left behind

Mellifluent songs she sang in rhyme

The lips she painted red as wine

And elfin gaze still stay in mind

 

She left eleven years ago

She said goodbye and shut the door

Melancholy sighs and nothing more

A hasty see-off by the shore

 

In a still second, I remember

That most perfect of all liars

But her amber eyes like ember

My heart, they set afire.

 

The Giant on the Balcony

boy-looking-out-window-in-the-rain

 

Dear Earl,

I know you said not to write until after some months, but Mamma said at dinner last night that any of us could drop dead any second because no-one knows how long we’ll live, and I think it was leading up to the usual stuff about Heaven and Hell, but it got me to thinking well what if you suddenly drop dead and I never ended up telling you about the giant in the balcony, so I thought that even though you did tell me I should only write after it’s been a while or else the other kids would make fun of you for receiving a letter from home too early that I should definitely write to you and if the other kids do make fun of you, you can just tell them it’s cos we can’t decide when we’re gonna die.

Last week, I got real sick again, so sick that I had to be taken to the hospital, and I had to spend four nights in Room 101 on the third floor until I got well. Mamma stayed those nights with me, and I always fell asleep before she did and woke up before she did.

So the first morning, when I woke up pretty early, I opened the curtain just a little bit so I could look outside. You know how there’s an apartment building across the street and you can see the people that live there through their windows like as though you’re looking at dolls living in a doll-house? Well, I was looking straight across once, and I saw a man on the balcony, and I immediately got scared because he didn’t look doll-sized or anything. I mean, I don’t understand physics as well as you do, but I was sure if he was that size in that distance, then he had to be some kind of giant. The giant came out to the balcony and sat there reading the papers and drinking from a cup. I watched him the entire time he sat and read and drank and then he went back inside.

When mamma woke up, I told her about it and she said ‘uh-huh’ like how she says ‘uh-huh’ when she’s busy with something else and isn’t listening to a word you’re saying. Instead she told me to take my medicines so I could get well again. I kept looking out the window so that I could show mamma the giant but he didn’t appear again until about maybe 4 in the afternoon which was when mamma had gone down to buy some juice for me. He stretched out his big hairy arms and yawned and simply stood there leaning on the rail for a while. He caught me staring at him and he waved at me, and I didn’t want to be rude but I looked away as soon as he noticed me. I kept looking at the door and then back to the giant hoping mamma would come in just in time to see him but he went back inside and mamma missed him again. I told her so, but she couldn’t concentrate on anything other than making me drink the juice and take my medicines. In any case, the juice tasted even worse than the medicine, and drinking it almost made me throw up.

The next day, he came out to the balcony again, and this time, after he finished reading the papers and drinking his tea, he bent down to pick up something and then he put the thing on top of the rail, and the thing turned out to be one of those hairy dogs whose eyes you can barely see, I’m sure you’d know what they’re called if you saw it, Earl. It was white and grey and the giant combed his hair just like how Joanie combs her Barbie doll’s hair, and by the time he was done, the dog’s hair was all straight and not shaggy like he was when I first saw him, and he looked real happy, especially since the giant kept feeding him treats, and later the giant got a beach ball which he placed on the dog’s nose and the dog balanced it for a full minute. I told momma about it but when I mentioned how the giant’s brushing of his dog’s hair was similar to Joanie with her Barbies, she suddenly remembered that she had almost forgotten to ask Uncle Eric to pick her up from school and she didn’t pay any more attention to what I was saying.

You know those drawings I used to make in kindergarten of the sun coming out from the mountains and birds shaped like ‘V’s’ in the sky? Well the giant made a painting almost exactly like that on the third day, except his birds didn’t look like V’s at all, even from afar, and his sun wasn’t yellow but more like orange-red, but I think he did a much better job than me. In the afternoon, I was crying because I felt dizzy and I really wanted to go home, but the giant hung a dart board on the wall next to the door that was as big as his head and I swear to God, he hit the Bullseye every single time, and I was so amazed, and I asked mamma later if we could get a dart board and she said it’d be the first thing we did when we got home!

On my last day at the hospital, I saw him again, and this time he was wearing a vest so I could see that he had muscles just like He-man’s. When he stood at the door, he bent down and lifted a barbell, you know, like the ones Uncle Eric has but these ones were bigger. After lifting about ten times or so, he put the barbell down, took a step forward and picked up a barbell that was even bigger than the first one, and it didn’t look at all like it was any effort for him. After this, he took another step forward, bent down and picked up an even much much bigger one. And at that time, mamma came in saying the doctor said it was ok for us to go home, and I said ‘mamma, come look!’ and she looked out the window just as the giant bent down probably to pick up a fourth barbell, but mamma didn’t have enough patience to look out the window for more than two seconds, and she immediately started packing my things and helping me get dressed to go home.

Just as we were about to leave, I saw the giant lean on the balcony rail. He was patting his dog with one hand, and waving at me with the other, and this time I made sure not to be rude and I waved back at him and he smiled happily at me, and I smiled too, and I thought he seemed like a nice person after all and not scary at all.

Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that much, I’ll write a longer letter next time. I’ve been playing darts these days and I thought it’d be easy but it sure isn’t. You gotta write back and tell me what boarding school’s like, I’m sure it beats being home-schooled anyhow. But mamma said I might come join you in some time if everything goes well. She’s gonna take me and Joanie to the circus this weekend, they’re in town for a month and Joanie wanted to go see the elephants, and I told mamma circus is for small kids and that I didn’t wanna go but she’s taking me any way and I’ll write all about it in the next letter, but only after you send me a reply for this one.

 

Love,

your brother Peter.

 

The Paralysis

A  nightmare forest

Under pouring rain,

My body is awake and asleep.

The throbbing, the pounding

Of this frightened heart

preventing repose,

Upsetting the balance

of the otherwise disciplined,

Spinning bed and raging head,

The universe set to explode,

And still I’m still.

In the midst of this consumption,

the looming presence of

The Fear;

My muted screams unheard

Help me, please wake me,

Comfort me even with nightmares,

Save me from the in-between.

Already the rain and rotation subsides,

Now I’m blanketed in evanescent calm.

 

(Note: This poem is about sleep paralysis, which I’ve experienced a number of times. What happens is I’m in this almost-awake-but-not-quite state, and my bed starts to spin with this loud whirring sound. I try to move but I can’t, and when it happens, it’s always accompanied by this feeling of terror. I scream but no sound comes out. Sometimes, but not always, there will be a presence in the room, beside my bed. I can never make out what or who it is, I’m just aware that it’s there, and I’m scared of it, even though it doesn’t move or speak. Most of the time, I know exactly what’s happening, and that it’s all in my head and none of it is real. But it’s still always terrifying as shit when it happens.

What was Yesterday

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What was yesterday
But a distant daydream
Wooded shelters in rain
And shows of love near water

What if this lie was truer
than your most honest day

But again time beckons us
She grants no more favours
She wakes the sleeper and tells
that Grey skies will never be Blue

And the sun will still rise
and it will still set
As though the world never
did turn upside down

This time tomorrow
You will be far from me
and there just left to wonder
What was yesterday

Moonch

black-moustache-clipart“You see that man over there selling pani-puri? He’s been sitting there for hours and he hasn’t had a single customer.”

Seven year old Rohini sat next to her dog, Bittu on the steps of the verandah as she watched the man across the road sitting idly on the pavement next to his pani-puri stand.  She ran a brush over Bittu’s long coat, and said to him “Maybe his pani-puris aren’t so tasty.”

Bittu yawned and rested his head on Rohini’s lap. He didn’t care much for pani-puris.

A little later, Rohini was getting ready to go cycling to the  park. She opened the gate, pushing the cycle along by its handles. Bittu followed excitedly. The pani-puri vendor hadn’t moved an inch. His stall held a wooden box, three pots covered with lids, and a large bowl stacked with puris which he had covered with a transparent plastic sheet. She felt sorry for him, and reached into her pocket for the ten rupees she had been saving to buy ice-cream for herself and Bittu later.

“Five rupees worth, please” she said to the man. He stood up, and she saw that his shirt had a number of holes in it, and that his shoes looked as though they would fall apart any moment.

The man smiled without saying a word, and began to prepare the first pani-puri. He crushed a puri with his left thumb and almost at the same time, put the filling of potatoes, sprouts and onions that he had prepared beforehand. He then added a spoonful of tamarind chutney in the puri, immersing it in a small bowl filled with flavoured spicy water and handed it to Rohini. As soon as he did this, he started preparing a second one with equal speed.

Rohini took the puri and broke a bit of it to taste it.

“No, no” said the man, looking at her and shaking his head. “Not like that. You eat it whole. Go on.”

Rohini did as he said. It was the most delicious pani-puri she had ever tasted.

The man prepared four more pani-puris, which Rohini devoured. She handed him the ten rupees; he smiled and opened the lid of the wooden box on his stand, placed the ten rupee note in the box, and took out a shiny five rupee coin, which he handed to Rohini.

“Thank you” said Rohini.

“You’re welcome. Have a nice day” replied the man. He sat down again on the pavement, wiping his forehead with a red rag that he had hung on the side of his stall.

Rohini said “Let’s go, Bittu” and as she turned around, she saw a strange, dark man across the street, standing next to their gate. She stared at him because he had the longest and blackest moustache that she had ever seen. It looked almost as though the moustache didn’t really belong on his face.

A second later, she heard a loud bang, and the man fell to the ground. She turned around and saw the pani-puri vendor aiming a revolver in the direction where the man had stood.  He deposited the weapon somewhere in his dhoti and ran across the street towards where the man lay on the ground.

Just as he bent down to examine the man, a white van stopped in front of the gate, blocking Rohini’s view of the two men, and a few seconds later, the van sped away. The fallen man was no longer on the ground.

The pani-puri vendor walked to where Rohini stood, frozen, Bittu by her side. He knelt down and said to her “Rohini, what were you about to do this evening as you came out the gate?”

“I was going for a walk with Bittu till the park.” She didn’t ask him how he knew her name.

“And what did you do?”

“I bought five rupees worth of pani-puris from you.”

“And what else?”

“And..”

The pani-puri vendor smiled at her kindly. He had big brown eyes that reminded her a bit of her own father, who was presently at his office, and would come home at 6pm as always, asking Rohini’s mother for a nice, hot cup of tea.

“And then I went to the park” she said. “Come on, Bittu.”

She walked along with Bittu and looked back only once to see the pani-puri vendor pack up his things. She wondered where he hid the revolver now, and then realized that must have been what the wooden box was really for.

Rohini had a feeling she would never see the pani-puri vendor ever again.

Foe

haunted-lake-green-park

They are angry

All parts of this reluctant whole

Nutcracker put to use to find

I am not poetry

No valiance, resilience

Instead the hazy scenes

Of electric chairs and tethers

Looking glass with no lies to comfort

Never was I beauty

I would no more heed the voice

If not stifled by such silence

One more dip in the icy lake

My poor blue feet..

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