A weak heart (microfiction)

Anoushka smoothens out the non-existent creases on her well-fitting maroon skirt with both hands. The slender brown hands, terribly unsure of where to rest, how to move, how much to move. Them randomly reaching up to her head for no reason and then hiding behind her back to hold and comfort each other.

As she hears footsteps approach, she jumps up to stand. Her sharp black eyebrows jump up in unison. The hands now form sweaty tight fists by her sides. In walks his mum, an elegant lady in a long blue linen dress and a light white cotton scarf casually wrapped around her neck. A soft smile adorns her face. Her eyes sparkle with kindness. She holds out her right hand, leaning into the young lady with her upper body. The room warms up. Anoushka’s muscles relax and a smile surreptitiously escapes, mirroring the one shining at her.  Her twinkling, perfectly set teeth contrast magnificently with her silky chocolate skin. She radiates utter relief.

“How do you do? Matthew has spoken so much about you.”
“Anoushka. I am good. Thank you. I am happy to be called Anu. Thank you. How are you today?”
“I am very well but my husband is not too well. Matthew is with him now. He should be here soon.”
“I hope it’s nothing serious.”
“He has a weak heart. He has had for some time now. The doctor was in last night. He has advised rest and altered some of his medications. He is rather delicate today.”
“Ah! I am sorry to hear that. I hope he feels better soon.”
“I hope so too. It would have been nice for you to meet him today but now I think it might be better to wait till he’s better.”
“Sure. Whatever you think appropriate.”
“Well, just the colour of your skin would be enough to give him a heart attack.”

A letter

Darling Saagar,

It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon in mid-August and I am missing you. To say ‘I miss you’ is like saying ‘I am alive’. I think of all the evenings and weekends I spent at work while you were home. At that time, I thought I had no choice but now I know I did. I thought wrong. I think of the time we were walking through an ‘Ideal Home Show’ and you wanted to buy a brown leather bean-bag for your room and I said no. I thought you should have more floor space. Again, I thought wrong. These thoughts are sets of darts that fly in uninvited at supersonic speed and leave parallel rows of bleeding abrasions behind.

This summer has been exceptionally glorious but Nature at large is annoyed with us I think. There have been flash-floods, droughts and heat-waves in most unlikely of places, forest-fires and famines, violent volcanoes and earth-quakes. I wonder what you would’ve made of the burning Middle-east, Mr Trump, Brexit and North Korea. If only Electric cars could solve all the problems of the world.

They say the longest journey is from the head to the heart. I made that journey in one second – the second I knew you were gone. You won’t believe how many real friends and real conversations I now enjoy. I also read a lot more. I wonder what you think of my new reading glasses – metallic purple frame. Yes. The time has come. After carrying them all over the world in a red polka-dotted Cath Kidson case for more than a year, I have finally started wearing them.

While clearing up a corner of the study I found a set of drum-sticks that belong to you. They looked well used. ‘REGAL TIP USA But Naked’. 🙂 I held them in my hands like you would’ve. You remember how we competed in the game of ‘chop sticks’? One shrimp, one string of spaghetti, one edamame bean, one grain of rice, half an edamame bean and so on… you won every time. You rascal!

Yesterday, the ‘Old people’s’ radio said that ‘Friends’ was the most streamed TV programme on-line. I remember how our opinions about Rachel clashed as though she was the most important person in our lives. FYI, I’ve still not changed my mind about her.

West Norwood High street has many more cafés now – Thai, French, Brazilian and Portuguese. I feel a stronger sense of community is developing here. The new improved South London Theatre is putting up some great shows and a new Cinema is being built where the Library used to be. The streets and cafés miss you too my darling.

I attach a picture of your beloved drum-sticks for you. I could write, not just a letter but a whole book for you but, another time. I hope wherever you are, you’re having fun.

I love you.

A big huge soppy bear hug,
Mamma

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‘S’ is for…

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S is for Saagar.
For Simon and Sangeeta.
Sudden shocking jolt
For shameful silent suffering,
Suffocating grief
Secret sobbings,
And survival.
Like one strike of lightening
Sucking up a few lives at once.

S is for surreal memorial services
Soul-searching and seeking
Sometimes screaming out-loud
Shattered dreams, salty tears,
Super-flowing goodness
Softened humanity,
And sweet memories
Strewn across the wooden floor
Like techni-coloured glass beads.

S is for simplicity
And sweet
Sensitivity
Sparkling smiling eyes
Spicy savouries
Salvation and solace
Soulful stillness
Shiny haloes and surrender
Like the curve of a weeping willow
Stooping down to kiss the ground.

S is for sharing
Speaking out loud
Small things
Saffron rice and saag-paneer
Saturdays and Sundays
Seeing Samsara
Self as everything
Like the stars, songs and strings
Of guitars, and drum skins.

S is for solitude
Silence and serendipity
Sublime sun and sea
Sunflowers and sushi
Shirts and silk ties
Socks mismatched
Subtle messages from beyond
Like smoke signals in the distance
Sent out by friends from before.

S is for stigma of suicide in society.
Stashes of hidden sadness
Shrouded in small dark spaces
So little support and understanding
Such little compassion
Screened behind sports-cars
Suntans and scotch.
Like a corpse in the room
tip-toed around.

S is for serendipity. Sweet child of mine. 

Breakable

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A long time ago, on a Sunday morning at a village fete I saw a beautiful black-clay handmade earthenware pot. I wanted it. He said that we shouldn’t as it might break. We brought it home. A long time ago, it decorated our home for a long time.

He said if something is breakable, there is a real chance it will break, no matter how much we feel it ‘should’ not. Each time we looked at it our hearts warmed like the insides of fur mittens. He said nature had its own laws of demolition. That was a long time ago.

Another day, we brought another sweet fragile thing home. It was delicate as a little bird. It claimed all our love, our time and our sleep. It cooed and cackled and played silly games. It decorated our home for a long time. Each time we looked at it our eyes sparkled like north stars and our hearts overflowed like rivers breaking  banks. He said the cement of our love would keep us all intact and together. Forever.

We forgot that this thing was breakable. And we were breakable too. He said even if we moved across continents and oceans everything would be alright. He said even if we had nothing we would be okay. He said nothing would break. That was a long time ago.

Now the black-clay handmade earthenware pot from a long time ago sits in the centre of our living room, on a glass top coffee table, looking pretty. It’s breakable.

(Anaphora: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anaphora)

Road signs

One turn of the pedal after another, cycling along happily, cocooned in my own contentment, sliding into a meditative state by the repetitive action of the legs, almost zoned out, I was within a mile of home. The afternoon was warm and a caressing breeze was gracefully nullifying the warmth, making it dream-like. Out of the blue, a loud rude honk shattered my trance and sent a shock up my spine. What was the point? If there isn’t enough space for him/her to overtake me, it’s not my fault. What does he/she think he/she’s going to achieve by making a racket?

There was nowhere for him/her to go. He/she had to follow me. This was the perfect opportunity for me to do something I have never done before but wished I could – show him/her the finger! While keeping my attention on the bike ride, I put my right hand out at right angles and stuck a finger out. Oh! That was my thumb. Saying completely the opposite of what I was trying to say. Cancel. Delete. Try again. Out went my arm again and this time it was a finger but it was the index finger! Wrong again! Take it back. This was turning into a joke. I was obviously incapable of doing the simplest of jobs while cycling. I had to give it another try. Got it right this time. Yay! Success at last although I suppose by now, he/she is thoroughly confused  – ‘well done’ followed by ‘one’ or ‘don’t you dare’ followed by ‘ I am annoyed with you’.

A few yards ahead, I stopped by the side of the road, letting him/her pass. On the next road, we were met with an almighty traffic jam. I spotted the silver Saab I had interacted with before. I merrily trundled past him on my bike, with a big smile on my face, humming a little tune to myself. There was plenty space for me. Only if honking could help him now.

(Moral of the story:  Practical skills get better with practise. I need practise.)

Rascal Moon – A short story

His substantial shoulders supported a shapely head of midnight black hair – a Number 1 on the sides and a Number 4 on top. When he was born his grandmother had made him a small blue cotton pillow stuffed with black mustard seeds, for his head to assume that gorgeous shape. His skin was the colour of almonds. His wide creaseless forehead came down to a pair of perfectly symmetrical arched black brows underneath which two deep brown wells belied his 20 years. They were a cocktail of ancient wisdom of an old soul, dark torment of a lunatic and pure white innocence of a toddler. Nose, as if borrowed from the Buddha. A lazy stubble, almost deliberate. Smile, bright and generous as a Moroccan sky, giving him wings.  A shy dent in the middle of his chin. His man-child voice, lightly raspy yet gentle, had a penchant for accents. His favourite was Vietnamese. A peculiar whiff of teenage-testosterone tinged perspiration plus Lenor floated around him.

Despite his age and size, he delighted in the physicality of affection. He would douse his head in coconut oil to encourage Cleo, the family dog to lick it all off. She loved the taste of it. They rolled and tumbled on the floor like kids immersed in a game of ‘dog and head’. His ability to connect with others, be it man or beast was superhuman. In all his solid self-assuredness, all he wanted was to belong.

His drum kit was his Mecca. His passion for ‘rock’ percussion anchored him to the Earth. Strangely, this softie’s songs were – Catatonic, Heartless, Chimaira, Smoke and Mirrors, A Semblance of Life, Bleed, The Blackening. The dinner table often shook rhythmically as he sat playing imaginary drums with his fingers on his thighs underneath, carrying a faraway look in his eyes. If he wasn’t creating rhythms on the bonnet of a car, a table top, a random plate, a serving tray, a window sill or a Djembe, he was inviting them to flow into his brain through his ears and the world disappeared.

The rascal Moon turned green. Its beat was better. It thrusted its powerful yet silent, surreptitious rhythm on him. It got him like a mongoose gets a snake. His consciousness started to expand and contract with the pulse of the lunar cycle. As the tide rose, his beautiful head exploded. As it ebbed, he shrunk into nothingness. He couldn’t belong to anyone or anything. Not his shadow or his drums, his friends or his Mum, his beating heart or the air in his lungs. He couldn’t belong to his smile. He took refuge in the ritual of neatly rolling tobacco, blowing smoke out of his Velux windows. There was nothing anyone could do. All his kin watched the pendulum swing with impeccable timing.

The wretched Moon forced acknowledgment. On the brightest night that autumn, the young man typed his last message on Facebook: “Bigass mooooooon. Innit?”

                                                  ___  ___  ___

(Middle English lunatik, from Anglo-French or Late Latin; Anglo-French lunatic, from Late Latin lunaticus, from Latin luna; from the belief that mental stability fluctuated with the phases of the moon)

 

Room 9 – A short story

One dank dark evening I walk towards my hospital thinking, ‘why me?’.

5th night-duty in a row – running around screaming babies, stressed out labouring mothers and their families. A place where temperatures and emotions run high. I love it and it kills me. My sleep cycle is mushed up into a ball and my head is scrambled. I want to turn right around, head home and dive straight into bed. But there is one more night of madness between that bed and me.

The master-board directs me to Room 9. I get changed into scrubs, one size bigger than usual, just for comfort. I get my hair out of my face and bind it in a scruffy pony tail. I sling my mid-wife ID lanyard around my neck. It’s heavy. I look in the mirror to check if the concealer has successfully hidden the semi-lunar hollows under my eyes. It hasn’t. Well. Do I really care? One more night and then I can get back to normal until the next time. Deep breath!

I am told to expect Mrs Natalie Cunningham, 33, in the next few minutes – first baby. Cunningham! Hmmm. Nice. I smile a feeble smile. I prepare the room and look up some of her records on the computer. She seems unchallenging.

A wheelchair is being pushed down the main corridor. She’s slight. She smiles politely in between contractions. All she has is a bump. He shoulders and ankles are slender, like a teenager. Her skin, clear and radiant. Her face, kind and content. She knows how to breathe in synchrony with her contractions. An ideal patient. She apologises before calling her husband. He’s visiting his mum who’s not well.

“Hi darling. I am in. Don’t panic. All is well. Come when you can. No rush. Plenty of time yet.”
“Can you pick up the i-pod from home on your way? I forgot to pack it.”
“Great. Thanks. See you my love.”
He’ll be here soon, she says. I check her in, get her changed into a hospital gown, put on some monitors and settle her down. She’s easy to work with. Thank God!!!  I leave the room to get a few things from the store.

I return with the drip stand and such after about 8 minutes. She’s not in her bed. The man bending down to plug the i-pod into the wall stands up. He’s Matt. Matthew Cunnigham. My Matt. I freeze. He looks up and clocks me. After 3 years and 4 months.

“I am 28. I want to travel and keep my career options open. I am not ready for a family” he had said.
“I am” I had said.

That was that.

The bathroom door clicks open and Natalie declares that her waters have broken. I want to snap back into work mode but I am paralysed. I need air. There is none in the room. I leave. Someone swaps into my place. I creep into a quiet, dark corner and sit. For as long as I can remember.