Underwater/Overboard

5

The words cut through me

Like compass needles in my thigh.
Like the time you pushed me in the pool,
And water replaced all air in my nose
When my throat and eyes burnt for hours

And you called it a fun game.

Your voice makes me wince
Each time you say a polite phrase
It seems like the worst taunt

When you hit my face
Broke my spirit
And called it love.

Your absence makes me wonder
If my heart can forget
Your relentless love and care
Your belief and pride and your

Faithlessness in myself.

It’s my turn to let go.
To save my soul
From you
Your Love

And myself.

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Leap of Faith

Image
I unbuttoned my suit. But wouldn’t that look too casual, if I go with an unbuttoned suit. I might come across as a passive guy. Oh, but closing both the buttons makes me look very uptight. And I’m anything but uptight, I never worry about small things. I know what I should do; I should just unbutton one of the buttons. Yeah that puts me in middle ground. I need tonight to be perfect. I need myself and everything else around me to be flawless. Should I call the hotel before I go in? I’ve already called them thrice, if I call them again the manager might slip something in the food out of anger. I’d better not call. I took out the box from the dashboard and slipped it into my suit’s inner pocket. I patted it twice for luck and went up the stairs to her house. I took a long deep breath and rung the bell. I waited a couple more minutes before ringing the bell again. I knew I would have to ring it again; she’s never ready on time. Just as I was about to place my thumb on the bell, I heard the door unlock.

I’ve read about love, about pure eternal love. I’ve heard about it in songs and I’ve seen it in those chick-flicks. But I had never really felt it until today. And it’s nothing like what they describe. I didn’t feel as if my feet had just been swept of the ground. Neither did I feel as if gravity had seized to exist. And the only thing churning in my stomach was sulfuric acid, there were no butterflies. No, I felt strong. I felt as if this is what keeps me on the ground. She keeps me here, she is what makes me stay, and live each day with the desire to live another. She doesn’t take away the ground below my feet, she makes me believe that I can stand on it more firmly than I ever have.

“Hey! What are you thinking, snap out of it.”

I winked at her and lend her my hand to help her climb down the stairs. If only I could ever put words to what I felt. I knew I never could, and she knew it too. Words were the only thing she took away from me. I was a restless and talkative man at other times. But when I was with her, all I wanted to do was to listen to her, to see her, observe the minute things that make her what she is. And today as she walked down those stairs with me, in her white dress, she made me understand why Poets, Singers, Writers and Artists try to define love. I went ahead and opened the car’s door for her. She took tiny steps when coming down the final few stairs, and it made my heart melt, for every smaller step meant that I had to wait more before she could be beside me. I adored her, as she descended down the stairs. Every layer of wind that cut across her face set each strand of her hair on a course of its own. And she didn’t seem to mind. But it wasn’t as if she looked like someone who doesn’t take care of herself. It came naturally to her. Her beauty was effortless.

“I’m surprised.”

I looked at her in fake denial. I hoped she didn’t know what I had planned for the night.
“Why are you surprised?”

“This is possibly the first time you didn’t ask me what my excuse is for making you wait”

“Well let’s just say I’m happy enough to have ignored that.” I shyly replied.

Her glistening white teeth smiled back at me. She was happy, she was happy to be with me. That’s the least I could do, I could keep her happy. I looked ahead on the road and a green signboard reminded me of the left turn that was to follow. I slowed down the car and looked for it. And just as I was about to turn back for having thought that I had missed it, a small cut in the road appeared out of nowhere. I took a sharp turn, for I was too excited to go back and turn slowly.

“Whoa! Slow down. Where are we going anyway?”

“Trust me. It’s a special place.”

She went ahead and kissed me on the cheek. It was her way of reminding me that I didn’t need to ask her to trust me. She just did. She leaned against the window pane and looked out at the lonely road that was ahead of us. I had wanted such an isolated place, and such a desolate drive, because I wanted tonight to be about just us. The place was perfect, but the journey was equally amazing. The road was narrow and was surrounded by huge majestic trees. I looked at one such tree, and realized how much it resembled every other tree. What made it different was not what was visible on the surface, it was what happened underneath, where its roots and the soil embroiled into an existence that lasted forever. Every tree was like a human, and the one i looked at, was still looking to partner with the soil. Maybe it will today. Right behind the trees the moon lit up in its pure magnificence and the landscape looked even more prepossessing under its moonlight; and so did she. I looked at her, gazing out the window, and I wanted to know what kept running around her mind when she was with me. I wanted to know what that incredible brain of hers’ thinks about all the time. But then again, I had all the time in the world to know, because she is going to be with me for the rest of my life. For tonight, I ask her to be mine.

She suddenly gasped and let out a shout. “Look out!”

As I had lost myself in her, I had forgotten about the road. I turned to face it and saw a man standing right in the middle of the road. I hit hard on the breaks; as hard as I could. The car shrieked under the constraint that was suddenly applied to it. It stopped, and had I been a moment late in stepping on the breaks, I would have killed that man today. The man moved away from the car and tried to protect his eyes from the bright headlights. I looked at him; he was an old man in ragged clothes. I needed to check if he was okay. I took out the key and unlocked the car. As I turned to open the door, a sudden thud on the car alerted me. A man had thrown himself on the back window. And then another thud, and then another. Three men were now pushing against the mirrors of the car. One of them unlocked the rear right door and got in. I froze in shock. But I knew what this was; I knew I had to protect her. I jumped on the guy who had slid into the back seat. I caught him by the collar and was about to punch him when I was pulled out the car by someone holding my legs. I twisted my neck to see who it was. It was the old man, and he did not look so helpless now. In-fact, he looked ugly, and evil. A crooked smile on his face reminded me of the most darkest and lifeless moments I have ever endured. I tried to fight back, to get my legs out of his grip. I bit at his hands and just when i had got myself free of his hold, I heard another thud. This one seemed close, very close. It felt as if someone had injected a stream of pain into my head. I touched it, and my fingers ran through blood; blood rushing out from the back of my head. And just then, I was hit again. This time the pain reciprocated. The pain was beyond what I could bear. But I had to get back to her; I had to protect her. I tried to get up, but my legs failed to respond. I tried and tried more, but they didn’t budge. I tried to punch them into life, but my hands felt powerless. The old man picked me up and hurled me into a nearby tree. I heard the box in my suit’s pocket fall somewhere on the ground. It contained the ring I was going to put on her finger as I asked her to marry me tonight. I wanted to spend the rest of my life keeping her happy, but here lay my body, with no potential to fulfill my promise. I turned to see, my vision now blinded by the weakness of the human body. Poets, Singers, Writers and Artists also write about heartbreak, and about feeling helpless in the face of love. And now I could understand what they meant, for in the last moments of my consciousness, I saw four men rip her clothes into pieces.

Sinking

It was 2 am in the night when his phone rang.
‘Sudha..please..attend it’ he commanded, half asleep. The phone kept ringing.

‘Sudha?’

Sudha lay silent. And the truth dawned upon him.
He opened one eye and threw his hand on the bedside table to grab his spectacles.

‘He..hello?’

No one replied.

‘Helloo?’

‘Hellooo??’

He banged the phone and returned to his deep sleep.

It rained heavily the next day. It was Sunday and Sunday rain reminded him of her. She would prepare a hot cup of coffee for him while he read his favorite book. There was a comfort in her presence. Something magnificent about the silence. Only this time, the silence pinched him. He wished someone would prepare him a steamy cup of coffee just like Sudha did. With less milk and extra sugar. He wished he had thanked her for that cup.

‘Thankyou Sudha..’ he whispered. She would have smiled. The same smile when she had served him tea for the first time in her maternal house. Oldage did many things to her but never dared to touch her smile.

The ringing phone disrupted his memories.

‘Hello. Col. Vimal Rai speaking.’

‘Helloo Vimal!’ said the jolly voice on the other end and he instantly knew who it was.

‘Col. Singh! How are you..’

‘I am good Vimal! My wife and I are throwing a party on our 25th anniversary day after! It would be a pleasure to have you there!’

‘Ofcourse! The 23rd you mean?’

‘Yes yes! Do bring Sudha along! My wife wishes to meet her!’

This part was the most arduous of all. Gathering the right words, repeating the incidence and hours of condolence.

‘Sudha..Sudha passed away four months back Singh’

‘Oh! We are..we are shocked Vimal..we are sorry..we couldn’t be there for you..’

‘That’s ok Singh..Will see you day after’

‘Sure! See you Vimal..’

Short and crisp. Just the way he wanted this conversation to be. He immediately noted down the date and the event in his diary. Without Sudha, it was hard for him to remember things.

He returned to the balcony to drown in his thoughts. He took his chair along by lifting it. No screeching noises. As soon as he held the chair to sit, he found his fingers buried in dust.

Oh, how he hated dust. The mere sight of it would bring out his worst temper. Dust in His house was absolutely unacceptable!!

‘Sudhaaa!!!!’ he yelled.

Later, he cleaned the chair with his old pair of undergarment. He hated this task. Even the dust missed Sudha. She would keep the entire house as clean as a rich man’s boots. In that moment, he sighed and whispered..’Thankyou Sudha..’

The doorbell rang. Foola ushered herself inside the house. He wanted to complain about the untidy mess all around but he didn’t know how to. Talking to maids was too shallow to him and these were Sudha’s matters to handle. Her department. But, he had to survive.

‘Ahem..Foola ji..its been two days and I have observed that..that the house is very dirty..especially the corners..and the floor below the table..and the bathrooms’
Foola stood aghast. He had never said a word to her in five years. She was so scared that she swallowed her pan as it is.

‘Sahab..I I don’t clean bathrooms. Sudha Madam knew it…And I can’t bend too much..you see.. I am a patient of arthritis.. Sudha Madam..knew..I will clean the corners carefully..’
‘Hmm.’

Even the servants missed her.

He wore his favorite black suit for the party that night. Just the way Sudha would have liked it. She would have worn that red saree with golden borders. Once she was ready, nobody could believe it was Sudha. Not even him. She would look marvelous in those gold earrings he had once gifted her. She would compliment him while wearing the black bindi in front of the mirror.

‘Looking nice Vimal’

And he would smile proudly.

‘You look beautiful Sudha..’ he murmured as he stood there staring at the bindi stuck on the mirror.

The party was monotonous. Everybody thought of him as a poor pig and offered their sympathies because everybody loved Sudha. He wished she was around so that he could tell her how Mr Dubey’s son was hogging on food. That Fat Goblet. She would have giggled.

‘Vimal! You musn’t say that!’

He locked the main door and changed his clothes. The bed desperately needed a new bedsheet. The yellow pillow begged for a new cover.

‘Vimal! Wait wait wait!’

‘What happened??’

‘Don’t you see how yellow it is? Let me change it.’

‘Not now Sudha..do it tomo..’

Even before he could complete, she would have snatched the pillow and changed the covers to shining white.
‘Now you may sleep’ she would smile with pride.

‘Goodnight Sudha..’ he chanted as he slept off.

The phone rang. He woke up in frustration. This time he knew there was no escape. He threw his hand on the bedside table and wore his spectacles.

‘He..lloo?’

‘Helloo?’

‘Hello Vimal’

Vimal was taken aback. He lost hold of all the words. Of language. Of senses.

‘Sudha.?’ he questioned.

‘Yes..how are you?’

‘Sudha?? Who is this???’

‘It is Sudha..calm down Vimal..’

It was her. He knew it. It was Sudha. Only her words had the power to silent his storm.

‘Am I dreaming??’

‘Maybe’ she smiled innocently.

‘How are you Sudha..?’

The leap of formality had never escaped. Even love couldn’t kill it.

‘I am fine Vimal’

‘I am happy to hear that..I missed you tonight..’

‘Did you?’

‘Yes..Mr Dubey’s son you remember?’

‘Oh yes! That sweet boy!’

‘He isn’t so sweet anymore. He has grown enormously fat and eats like a bear!’

‘Vimal! You mustn’t say that!’ she chuckled.

He was afraid the dream might come to an end. He didn’t want to lose this opportunity.

‘Sudha..I miss you..I miss your face..I miss your presence..’

‘I miss you too Vimal..I am always around you..’

‘No one cooks baingan ka bharta like you used to..’

‘I will cook it for you tomorrow’ she assured him.

‘How is Niketan?’ she asked.

‘Niketan is fine and so is Aditi..they returned to America last month itself’

‘Are they happy?’

‘Very much’

She breathed a sigh of relief.

‘I have to leave Vimal..will see you tomorrow’

‘Sudha! Sudha!!! Sudha???’

‘Yes I am here!’

‘Oh.. I wanted to say.. That.. I wanted to say.. Thankyou Sudha..’

He heard her smile. The very same lovely smile when they had gone out for their first dinner.

‘I have been ringing the bell for the past half an hour Madam Ji!! I am worried ! He usually opens the door in the first bell itself!! The milk! the newspaper..everything is kept outside!!’  said Foola frantically.

The neighbours ran to break his door.