|Creative Writing Competition 2012 India|
|THEME||True Love Triumphs|
Funny Short Story – Shakespearean Love
Up there in the sky, shades of grey swallowed up the tinges of orange and yellow and the sun was retiring back to its humble abode to give way to the waning crescent moon. The light autumn breeze sweeping through, Wirkinshire, a suburb in Northern England was at its playful best. Quite often, it gently cascaded the crusty brown leaves in neat, immaculate piles bordering the streets and at times, it strode across with an astonishing ferocity twirling and whirling them around in small circles before strewing them across in all possible directions.
While many rushed back to the confines of their home to seek shelter against the chilly breeze, the members of some stately homes of Wirkinshire considered it their imperative duty to socialize with the crème de la société. By an ill stroke of luck, Richard, was born into one such household where it was staunchly believed that it was a moral obligation to grace every social gathering with their presence and restraining oneself to familial interactions during the evenings was considered to be a deplorable crime. Though just 19 years old, Ricky was already convinced that he had seen enough parties to last for the rest of his life. He used to set out for long solitary walks in the other part of the town which was occupied by the so called “lower section” of the society and stood on the pavement casting envious looks through windows whenever he saw families gathering together at the dinner table to have their last meal of the day. Very often, while he used to stand there ruminating over how blissful and contented life would have been if he had the fortune to be on the other side of the glass window, somebody had to take the pain to come up and draw the curtains to wade off this intruder. A couple of times, he was also mistaken to be a mendicant and was offered a loaf of bread.
However, nothing could deter his intense longing to lead a reclusive life and be a part of the society where gregariousness was not an indispensable attribute. But, were it not for this incumbency which imposed upon him the requirement to attend a theatrical performance of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ along with his family and the innumerable others in their social circle, he would have never had the opportunity to meet the pretty damsel who he decided was his ‘soul mate’ at the very first sight. In the beginning, he had seen her as Juliet, a girl hardly seventeen years of age with a heavenly face, plaited coils of dark brown hair and dark blue eyes like the vast ocean. Ever since then, the second seat from the left on the front row would be reserved for ‘the guy who comes in that brown overcoat’ who appeared unfailingly every evening exactly at six. After about a couple of months, he had seen her play everything; from Joan in Henry IV to Miranda in The Tempest. He listened to her enraptured as she delivered her dialogues memorizing them word to word until he knew them all by heart.
To say that all this while his presence went unnoticed by the pretty lass, whose name was Julia, would be wrong. Never had she seen anybody return night after night earnestly and sit right through the entire play without showing even a slightest trace of ennui, boredom and déjà vu. Although the outwardly appearance of this man was like what PG Wodehouse would have called a ‘kindly guerrilla’, Julia felt strangely attracted towards him. It is not for the chronicler to reason why as were it not for such occasions, it wouldn’t have been said that love is blind.
To say nobody other than this jeune fille noticed this man would also be wrong. The theater manager prided himself on being a shrewd observer and he had enough experience to know for a fact that the drive behind such an unflinching devotion to watch theatrical performances had to be much more than a deep-seated love for literature. His astuteness also told him that the situation necessitated a claimant need for an external agent to intervene and set the ball rolling.
On that particular evening, filled with the ’milk of human kindness’, the manager was finding it hard to resist playing such a pivotal role in this love story that had immense potential and went to meet this man as he was about to leave after contently watching ‘Romeo and Juliet’ yet again for the umpteenth time. After having thanked him for being ‘such a wonderful patron’ and appreciating his ‘genuine love for art and literature’, the manager told him that his theatre would not have done as well were it not for people like him and of course, his casting crew of which Julia was an integral part. Ricky, who till now had just led the words whiz z past his ear, stood erect the moment he heard the name Julia. So Julia she is, he thought! The manager noticed the sudden interest the mere mention of the name kindled in this young man and proceeded to shower praises on Julia calling her ‘a jewel in the crown’ and the man listened on with so rapt an attention that he wouldn’t have known even if a fly entered his gaping mouth. Through the course of this exchange, the manager very cleverly managed to pass on the message that he had also heard Julia praise this man who had been a regular visitor for the past couple of months and had made her admiration for him very publicly known.
The prudence of the manager has been appreciated before. It was once again this commendable quality that made him envisage that this man who solitary turned up day after day, was one who priced human relations much more than wealth. He tactfully revealed to Ricky that she came from a family that had just enough to make both ends of the day meet but was very well-knit. This piece of information made Ricky’s eyes glow with admiration. As the conversation, which was more of a panegyric drew to its end, the manager turned to leave. And then, as though an idea had struck him like lightning, he whirled around his axis and asked Ricky if he would like it if a meeting with Julia could be arranged. Despite every piece of scientific evidence pointing against him, Ricky was utterly convinced that his heart had skipped a beat or maybe a couple of them. His eyeballs sprung out of his sockets and he nodded his approval with his tongue swinging out. If there was anything that was needed to complete this stark resemblance to a hungry dog, it was a wagging tail.
He immediately pulled out a piece of paper from the pocket of his long brown overcoat which had been his constant companion ever since his enchantment with Julia and had now become an inherent part of his identity, scribbled a few words and folded and then again, refolded the paper before handing it over. He asked the manager to deliver it safely to the hands of his beloved and left after having thanking the manager so profusely that he had to put in a considerable effort to wriggle his hand free.
When told that there was a message from the ‘man in the brown overcoat’, Julia almost leapt up in the air and blitzed the bit of paper off the manager’s hands. With trembling fingers, she managed to open the paper which had been folded multiple times, much to her irritation to reveal a message which read as follows:
‘I owe a great deal to Shakespeare for were it not for his plays, I wouldn’t have been privileged enough to set my eyes upon you. Quite often it is said that the characters in his books were real and were in existence at some epoch of time. Near the west end of the city is a graveyard where it is said these people are buried. Meet you there at 9 tonight. I’ll be there in the same brown overcoat I have made appearance in for the past two months! I might also be wearing a top hat as its quite windy today!
Vivre l’amour! A bientôt!
Julia threw a fleeting glance at the watch which told her that she had just an hour to get there. Without even bothering to change, she stepped on the streets wearing the same gown in which she had played Juliet that night.
The silver light of the moon now pierced its way through the clouds. Julia reached her destination well in advance with another fifteen minutes to spare. The gate of the graveyard was festooned with cobwebs which had to pushed away. After struggling with the rusted latch, she finally found her way in. The mist had begun to set in. The atmosphere was eerie and the crunching of her footsteps could be heard very distinctly as she walked over the parched leaves that carpeted the ground. Though she would have suggested a better place to arrange for a clandestine meeting, she had no other option but to accept this small ‘tribute’ to the man to whom she owed her career and now probably, her future. As she walked across constantly searching for her beloved, her eyes caught sight of a distant silhouette draped in the same brown overcoat she recognized so well. There was also a top hat! And why not, it most definitely was a chilly night. Perfect! She skimmed through the stretch of land between them and hurled herself onto him clasping her hands around his neck. The next instant, she lay out there on the ground and the figure she had seen previously vanished into thin air. Had she been hallucinating? No…an emphatic no! She was sure she had seen him standing right there. Was it a ghost? Her ears then started to take notice of even the slightest sound that was being produced. The shadows of the bare branches seemed like a cat waiting to pounce upon its prey. She could hear the distant clanking of bells, hollow sepulchral tones and once in a while she was sure that there was something that was watching her from a distance.
She was definitely right at that, for the ghost of Romeo which had been the victim of the dangerous attack by this female intruder had hidden itself behind a tree. It stood there examining this human having the face of a beauty and the soul of a beast trying to gauge what it might do next.
Julia, who was now quailing with fear, broke into a run towards the exit. Ricky had arrived and had his back turned to the gate as he was paying off the cab. As Julia reached the gate, the sight of the overcoat and the top hat yet again was nothing like a solace. Feeling assured that she had been entrapped forever in this dreadful place, she whirred around and ran back towards the graveyard and hid herself behind a tombstone.
Ricky, who turned around to find his beloved running in the opposite direction couldn’t help patting himself on the back for having found such a wonderful girl and having made such an awesome choice. How playful, how so-love-the-thrill-of-it kind of a girl, he thought.
He ambled into the graveyard nonchalantly. He had been preparing for this moment which was what had delayed his arrival by a couple of minutes. After taking in a fresh breath of air, he spoke:
“My beloved Juliet!
Arise fair sun and kill the envious moon
Who is already sick and pale with grief
Speak my angel! Where art thou?”
As, these words resonated all across the graveyard, the ghost of Juliet arose from the grave driven by the urge to respond to her Romeo’s call. She floated around in the air, lay sight upon her star crossed-lover who stood right in the middle of the graveyard wearing the overcoat and the top hat that he had carried with him to the grave. She drifted towards him from behind, and whispered in his ear:
“Oh Romeo Romeo! I shalt no longer be called Juliet!
I’d rather have wished to be Rosalind and be bestowed with the fortune of leading a life with thine, my love whilst I was alive!”
And then she glided back into the trees and was nowhere to be found when Ricky turned around. Once again, after being mightily impressed by the rightness of his decision and after congratulating himself a great deal for having the luck to have found a beauty who was adventurous and was blessed with the courage to play hide and seek in a graveyard , he responded:
‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet!
Henceforth, Rosalind shalt thou be!’
As Julia crouched behind the tombstone quivering with fear, the words of her supposed beloved came as a deadlier blow. Had he arrived? Was it possible that it was him at the gate? And if it was him, who was it that he was speaking to? Was it another girl from the theatre Had the manager been wrong in handing her over the letter? Rosalind…yes there had been another girl who had played Rosalind while she was playing Celia in As You Like It. And yes…..the very same girl had been a part of all the plays she had enacted in. Not in the lead, of course! But had it been this second rate actress he had been interested in? Assailed by doubts and worries, she forgot all her fear and was on her feet for she had decided to her confirm her suspicions.
Meanwhile as the ghost of Juliet drifted around, her true lover, the ghost of Romeo caught her by the hand and hugged her in a deep embrace.
Julia, who witnessed this romantic scene from behind a tree a few meters away, stared disbelievingly at the silhouette of the man in the overcoat which hid the face of the woman he was clinging to. Tears welled up in her eyes and she started walking away in a fit of pique. Barely had she walked a couple of meters when she was held back by her hand. She turned around to see that it was Ricky. She had wished never to see his face again and here the man was, having the audacity to stand in front of her and what’s more, to stop her. She whisked her hand free and produced a movement so swift that when Ricky came back to his senses, she was already out of sight. He did not know what exactly happened but he had the distinct impression of being slapped with a fish right across his face. Valiance was a quality he appreciated but this had become a bit too much! It seemed to him that his choice was not, after all, completely worth the adulation that it was being accredited to.
As Julia made her way through the graveyard squealing “This is just not fair!” , the three witches presented themselves singing ‘Fair is foul and foul is fair, hover through fog and filthy air’.
The ghost of the fool Gratiano, saddened by the sorrow of this pristine beauty floating around the place in her silver gown, made itself available at her service. Julia, initially shocked by the presence of this ghastly figure, , started retracing her steps back and asked wiping her tear streaked face, ”Who are you?”
Gratiano replied back saying,
“Fear me not, my fair lady, Let me play the fool.
The course of love never did run smooth.
Upon the heat of thy distemper, sprinkle cool patience!”
“Huh! cool patience, you say!” , snorted back Julia, “What of the injustice that I have been subjected to?”
“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt,
Traitor thou call thine master,
Who erred not but once in wearing the attire that made him resemble the ghost of Romeo
Who thy saw locked in a tight embrace with the ghost of Juliet
Thine master strides towards the gate with a heart weighing a thousand pounds
My fair lady! Make haste! I bid thee farewell”
Julia realizing her mistake rushed towards the gate where she saw Ricky in his overcoat and the top hat walking dejectedly with his head hanging low. She called out to him and the chronicler need say no more than quoting Shakespeare once again for the nth time in this narration, “All’s well that ends well”!
PS: As far as the brown overcoat which formed the basis of the entire pandemonium is concerned, it seems that it is probably one of those few rare outfits that has managed to still remain in vogue despite the rapidly changing fashion trends ever since the pre-Victorian era. As to that huge accomplishment, this short narration shall be a dedication.