WSPI-2012-03: Masks – Unusual Short Story
This short story is participating in Write Story from Picture India 2012 – Short Story Writing Competition.
Dimpy is a very sweet child. Her caring and understanding nature often bewilders me and I end up asking myself-‘Did she really come out of me’? I have my own reasons for this peculiar doubt despite being her mother-When I was a six year-old tot myself, I used to bring the house down with my wild antics and crazy games. The pain I gave my mother during childbirth was nothing compared to the pain she endured for nineteen or twenty years after that. Twenty years, to be exact. Now, when I see my quiet child, without a streak of naughtiness in her, I feel ashamed.’ Why couldn’t I have been more like her’? is the question that keeps taunting me from time to time. Judging from her overall behaviour, it looks like she has not inherited anything from me-not my large appetite, not my overt fascination with the colour pink (At one point in my life, all the clothes I wore were pink) and not, of course, my trademark stubborn attitude. In my opinion, she is the spitting image of her father-calm, composed and cool at all times. The most astonishing aspect is that, like Raj, Dimpy also tries to suppress my gargantuan temper using nothing but her sheer prowess of polite persuasion. I sense the same depth of concern in her shrill voice when she says,’ Mama, your nerves need some rest…’ every time my red-hot anger reaches a new high.
Unlike other children her age, Dimpy is remarkably sensible. She has a laudable understanding of things and the way life works, which is too early for her .This is the part of my lovely daughter that worries me a little. She has few friends, spends most of most of her time reading Enid Blyton or staring at pretty much nothing. I am scared whether her preference for solitary refinement will end up in her being a recluse for life. She is a typical Capricorn child in all respects, except she isn’t overwhelmingly proud or insolently stubborn, thank God. She might as well grow up to be a poet, I hope. Due to my busy office schedules, we do not have many exchanges during the day. But, at night, a little before bedtime we stage the “Mother and Daughter” hour, where I conveniently don the hat of a master storyteller, weaving stories about princes and princesses, little elves and pixies, evil sorcerers and magicians, thus unravelling mysteries of fantasy. The common bit in all these stories is that however conflicted and impossible may seem the situation, the good always manages to triumph over the bad.
So now, with few minutes to go before a climax is revealed, I see Dimpy’s face already acquiring the mode of complete exhilaration, accentuated by a sigh of relief; the hope that the prince/princess in the story will not lose to some mean, evil bad guy. Little does my poor child know that in life, one seldom gets that lucky. She quickly switches to another topic. She tells me to narrate how Raj and I met. Like always, I will not disappoint her today also. I never disappoint her, it is a habit I know will only denigrate her chances at surviving in this game we call life. I know I have to change it someday. I tell her the usual flowery girl-meets-boy love story, one I have titled “The eternal love story of Raj and Priya”, something I have constructed on the lines of a soapy Bollywood movie. I am sure she loves it, her eyes gleam with excitement. She giggles throughout the story, occasionally breaking into unstoppable laughter. Children and their innocence-both are priceless non renewable gifts. To make my story more believable, I show her the two orange-red demon masks hung in her room. I tell her how we picked it up on our honeymoon to Sri Lanka. Within a split second, she queries-‘What is a honeymoon?’, to which I give a blunt reply of ‘Something you do after marriage…’.I know she isn’t fully convinced, I can say by the way she twitches her ear. She only does that when she is in deep thought. Happy that I am free to go for the rest of the night, I kiss her goodnight and tuck her in bed. ‘Can I keep one of the masks next to me?’ she asks before I get to put off the lights. I shudder, but I know I can’t show her that. She will quickly understand from my facial expressions. ‘Sure’, I say and give her one of the masks. When I begin to move out of the room, Raj appears from nowhere and quickly holds me in his arms. I presume he has been eavesdropping. I hold him tight, the very thought of our very first encounter, ten years ago, sends a shiver down my spine. I wish I could pull out the mask of the domineering mother that I am currently wearing and show her how truly scared I am. I wish she would know one day that those masks were not picked up during any honeymoon; they were mementos linked to a horrific phase that had brought her parents together.
‘If you want to forget something, learn to believe that it never happened’-I keep repeating this in my head as I close my eyes to sleep. The sad truth is that things like these are better said than done, I am sure the schmuck who wrote the lines could have not agreed more. The more I try to compel myself to stop thinking about it, the more it comes charging at me like ravaging bulls. While sound sleep is still a distant dream for me, I can see my husband snoring away in pleasure. What is it with men? Is their memory as weak as their emotional capacity? I know I cannot afford to complain. He has been a supportive husband and a great father. God has been immeasurably kind. It is nothing but wrong for me to ask for Raj’s company in sharing this pain with me. He has made peace with his past; I wish I could do the same.
I feel like my senses are lingering in the days of yore. The college trip…it was not supposed to end on such a tragic note. When they had first announced the tour, I remember how excited Deepak and I were. Being ardent lovers of Art and History, a tour of the hills in Orissa looked like a perfect marriage of culture and aesthetics to us. Deepak was my best friend; well, he was certainly something more than that but I hadn’t let him know. I presumed the journey would land me the perfect opportunity to pour my heart out to him.
My head is paining…the same wincing pain is slowly eating me away…it is a warning; a warning that picturising those bygone moments will make reliving them worse than ever.
I am trying to sleep; the turning and tossing is doing me no good. It is leaving me restless. Then out of nowhere, Deepak’s frightened white face appears in front of me, he is screaming…’Help Priya…help’. The entourage is a dark, dense forest. The tribals, the masked men are taking him away. They will soon chop him into a million pieces. I can hear the clatter of their knives being sharpened…it gets clearer…and louder, then silence befalls. Dead silence mutes the atmosphere and the scent of fresh blood blocks my nostrils. I am tied to a tree; I do not know where the others are. Professor Chaddha’s decapitated head is lying in a pile next to the tree. Am I next?-the question keeps resounding in my head. Soon, a masked man comes next to me, reassuring all my worst fears. He is speaking in broken Hindi-‘Do you think he has a mole on his cheek’?, referring to the stranger tied to the same tree as I am, his back facing mine. I don’t answer. It is like I have gulped a morsel of my own fear. He picks up an axe lying down and swings it at me. He doesn’t hit me. I understand that it is a cue for me to say something or die instantly. ’Yes, he has a mole….’.., I say, knowing not what the consequences may be. Nothing happens. The masked man continues the same exercise at the other end; he asks the stranger if I have dark brown eyes. He answers correctly; I have dark brown eyes that are scared to see anything right now. The game continues…it is quite simple…two strangers who have never seen each other should answer questions about each other. A wrong answer is equal to blood. More wrong answers mean more blood, until somebody drops dead so that the other can also be eliminated.
I wake up with a start. Raj is fast asleep. I take his hand and press it firmly. I am so glad I had been partnered with Raj for the game which was nothing but a sick excuse for hunting human beings. It was an ordeal that martyred my best friend, among many others. Raj and I are the only living survivors of the savage trial; he had come to the same tour from a neighbouring college. It was a miracle that we knew nothing about each other and yet, had got all the answers right. It was just a proof for the fact that my fate was inextricably linked to his; we were meant to be together in a way that destiny paved for us. As for the orange-red masks, we picked them up so that we would learn to appreciate life more. They know everything, they were lifeless witnesses to the turn of events that resulted in the existence of Raj and I as husband and wife; not excluding the birth of Dimpy.