|Creative Writing Competition 2012 India|
|SETTING||Terrace OR Bedroom OR Living Hall|
Editor’s Choice: Family Short Story – A Blind Spot
The thing that I hated most while growing up was the summer holidays. It meant that I had to pack my suitcase and board the train that would transport me from my boarding school in Howrah to Bolpur, my hometown. It would mean spending a month within the walls of an old two storied house with Ma who hardly spoke to me and sharing space with a strange man.
Every year the name and face would change, each with their own set of idiosyncrasies, yet there was a common thread which tied them all together. Middle aged men – aspiring writers, poets, scriptwriters, sporting a week old stubble, tobacco stained teeth and a receding hairline. They covered their bloated bodies in a sheer dhoti-kurta which would have stains of last night’s chicken curry.
I disliked them all.
The first time a stranger came to live with us, I was seven years old, too timid to question Ma but not naïve enough that I couldn’t understand what was happening.
One of the rooms in the ground floor was converted into a guest room. A bed, a table and chair and a steel almirah were the frugal accessories that adorned the room. Babai’s Remington was placed on the table. During the night the door would be fastened shut. I tried not to think about what happened behind the closed doors in the darkness of night, but at times the noises made a mockery of my will power. I would bury my head under the pillows, drowning out the noises and my thoughts.
During the day, while passing through that part of the house, I would catch a glimpse of a man typing away furiously. The tuk-tuk of the typewriter echoed in the silence of the house. The stranger bent low on the typewriter, attentive, sweating, swearing, smoking reminded me of Babai.
All these men seemed to be botched replicas of Babai, each of them carefully handpicked by Ma.
Ma looked distraught and wore the look of a helpless, fragile heroine of the Black and White era lamenting the loss of her lover. The hair strands had managed to break free from the bun that was carelessly tied and now lay scattered. Beads of perspiration rolled down her forehead and neck, her eyes were red and swollen. A giant drop of tear rolled down her eyes. Her breath came like huge sobs.
She stared hypnotically at the typewriter, her eyes glued to the sheet of white paper that was tucked underneath, one edge of it fluttering in the wind, daring her to read the words on the paper. She clutched one end of her sari and without a warning sat down heavily on the bed, and broke into a heart rendering wail. I hung around at the door of the room, swaying in rhythm to the rise and fall of her wails.
Finally I gathered enough guts to speak what had been bothering me ever since that innocuous paper had been discovered.
“Why don’t you read it first?”
The wails came to an abrupt halt. Her head jerked up and she flashed a pair of angry eyes at my impudence of questioning her judgment. That it was a suicide note from Babai was not something she doubted.
Babai had gone missing since morning. When Ma went to his room carrying with her the usual morning tea, she was greeted by an empty bed. She waited for thirty minutes thinking he had gone for an early walk but when there were no signs of him even after two hours, she had panicked.
“Mishti, wake up!” she shook me vigorously. “Babai is nowhere in the house”
I bolstered her search efforts and went running down the streets of the neighborhood and its neem tree lined side alleys. I knocked on the doors of sleepy, unshaved, half naked men who were Babai’s friends only to be responded in the negative. The next six hours were nerve racking, thick with suspense and despair. As afternoon ebbed away and there were no signs of him, Ma started losing hope.
And then the letter was discovered.
“You read it (she sobbed) I can’t bear to read his words”
I walked silently and pulled the paper from underneath. It was a short letter written using the typewriter.
I cannot live this life anymore. [A wail broke in the background as I read these words] I am in love with another woman and cannot continue to lie to you or Mishti anymore [The wail stopped abruptly and a dead silence followed]. It’s a tough decision but I am convinced it’s the right one. I am leaving, don’t try to contact me.
It was the last thing that Babai ever wrote using that typewriter.
I looked up at Ma. She looked pale, her eyes were wide from shock and she stood still, leaning against the wall for support. I went and hugged her, the only solace that I could offer. I wanted to do something more but ideas failed me. She didn’t reciprocate and continued to stand still.
Something told me that she would have preferred a suicide note.
One by one all traces of Babai’s presence was wiped away from the house. His clothes, books, records were all piled up in the courtyard and set on fire. She stood and watched patiently the items getting destroyed by the wrath of the fire, reducing to mere ashes. If an item strayed away from the fire’s clutches, she would pick it up and calmly throw it back into the vortex of the mayhem. Later she washed the courtyard with buckets of water drawn from the well.
There was nothing left of Babai in the house. Except the old Remington. For some reason that I couldn’t fathom at that time, she didn’t throw it away.
Soon the word spread around and gossips floated. We started severing the threads with society. Perhaps it was the other way round. Ma stopped going outside, I went only because I had to go to school or buy groceries for the house.
“Look who goes” a mocking voice called me from behind.
I paid no heed, hoisted my school bag on my shoulders and continued chewing a candy and humming a Kishore da song under my breath. The sound of running feet fell on my ear which was followed shortly by a stone striking me on my back. I swung angrily.
A group of children from my school stood in the distance, making faces and jeering at me. A boy broke into a rhyme:
There was a girl, Mishti was her name
She lived with her mother who was no Dame
So her father left them, which is such a big SHAME!
Propelled by anger, I picked up a big piece of rock and taking aim, flung it in the direction of the boy. Engrossed in singing, he failed to notice the flying rock which struck him with a loud crack. The next moment, a stream of blood gushed down his face and his clothes, scaring the entire group and me as well.
I fled away and locked myself in my room. An hour later there were loud knocks and banging on the front door. We tried to ignore it, but when the banging was accompanied by shouting and threats, Ma could no longer avoid it. Reluctantly she opened the door. I hid myself behind the curtains and watched.
Ma never once flinched or spoke out. She listened to the words ‘whore’, ‘bastard’ as calmly as she accepted the prasad from the priest in the temple. After what seemed like half of my life on this planet, they finally left. She went up to her room and closed the door. I followed her, but she didn’t seem to notice. I pressed my ears against the door to hear for signs of life. For a long time I heard muffled crying. I curled up at the door and soon fell asleep. When I woke up I was in my bed. Ma sat on one end of the bed looking out of the window. Without any preamble she passed a sentence that sealed our future forever.
“I am sending you to a boarding school in Kolkata”
The words were like a death knoll and I stared at her incredulously. A multitude of thoughts whizzed around in my brain.
“Who will buy the groceries?” That was all I could come up with.
She smiled. And then she burst into a laughter that had a haunting ring to it. It was then that Ma decided to keep a boarder. I was packed off the next day.
Eight years of this change and I still dreaded walking through the door of the house. I dreaded the thought of coming face to face with another look alike of Babai, sitting behind the ill-fated Remington.
The typewriter was revered by Babai. He would spend hours cleaning the dust away from the keyboard, filling the cartridge, rolling in a new crisp white paper, lighting a incense stick, praying and then almost as if he was doing an holy act he would punch the keys respectfully, typing the novel that would never be published.
Once an object of reverence, it was now being defiled by strangers with their greasy fingers and lustful eyes. A Xerox of Babai, punching away on the typewriter, Ma sitting on the chair, encouraging, looking at him but not seeing him, insisting that they make love on the table beside the Remington. Every year a new person looking like Babai would surface and Ma would try to fill the vacuum and fail miserably.
The door was ajar and I pushed it open. From the guest room a gay laughter could be heard. A man and a woman. The thought of another strange man in the house made me loathe my existence. I dumped my bag on the floor and walked towards the guest room.
“Mishti” my mother called out lovingly. She looked like a young girl as she giggled uncontrollably. My eyes were riveted at the person sitting beside her. Eight years had changed him a lot or perhaps I found the strangers more familiar.
Babai was back.
Life slipped back the way it was, as if the last eight years were a chapter of a novel that was later edited out. The only thing that was new was the empty space, which was once occupied by the Remington. Ma sold it off to a kabadiwala for 100 rupees.