Friday, 30 December 2011

A Cup of Coffee

Lizzie has honest eyes, but she tries to hide them, and her face, in thick make up. She knows that the natural beauty she has is better than the made up beauty she gives to the world. But there is no other way. She has to be made up, the way a hooker is supposed to be. No one will think of her as a hooker if she just looks like a girl who is too confident of her natural beauty. So, she makes it a point to have the flirty scarlet and pink lipsticks and super shiny gloss ever ready in her clutch purse. Her eyes are always drowned in kohl. She experiments with various skimpy dresses and always sports nine inch stilettos. She eats a lot of chocolate, but is able to stay in shape, for her age. She has bad ankles and dry skin, and her eyes water too much. She has to pay a lot for the hair remover to give her legs a decent look. But who cares?

John is waiting for her near the department store. He is the first one who is seeing her for more than a week. That is, it’s been a little more than a week since they met, and he hasn’t dumped her yet. It’s almost like going on steady with someone, though she knows that it isn’t going to be. He is to the heavier side, the kind the guy from the ghetto would make fun of. She had the shock of her life when she ended up in the ghetto last month. She never imagined that handsome guy in the mall to be from the ghetto. He wore a clean white t-shirt and new denim jeans. But his den was horror of horrors. Anyway, he was a decent chap. He didn’t harm her, though he rambled on about the hypocrisy of the world that excluded him. Excluded him from what? She never considers herself to be excluded from anything, anywhere. There is a space for her everywhere. They just use her for their pleasure, she knows that. But she knows how to exploit them as well. Everybody around is exploiting everybody else, she knows that for sure. So, what’s wrong with being a hooker for a while, she thinks.

She throws a smile at John and they start walking towards the next street. There is a moment of silence before John says, “I write smut stories in the nights. I’m an insomniac, of sorts.”

“You should let me read them someday”, Lizzie says for the sake of it. She doesn’t like reading smut stories. It’s too much of one thing or the other, and always from the male viewpoint. She wondered why people cared for them these days. But John says that they are back in the market, and he can even make a living writing them, if he left his day job.

John is ugly. That’s what she thinks. Nothing comparable to the guy from the ghetto. She wasn’t going to settle down in the next few years, but when she saw that guy, she thought she wouldn’t mind marrying someone like him. But he was from the ghetto. What a room he had! Not even a place to sit, just a decayed chair and the floorboards all agape. And that grey tomcat on the window and its menacing look. She felt relieved, whenever she thought about how she was out of it faster than she imagined. He said he respected her profession, and knew that he was not an ideal client for her. One must respect such an attitude, but what a place where he lived!

She makes a deliberate effort to hold John’s reluctant hand. He just wants to escape from the crowd, and conversation is just an excuse to divert attention from the uneasiness. “Shall we have some coffee?” she asks. She genuinely needs to drink something.

“I can make it for you at home,” he says as she is almost dragged through the street. Lizzie just goes mindlessly in the direction he pulls her. She knows that this is to end soon, but wonders why he turns up every evening, near the department store.

The guy from the ghetto was right, to an extent. She’s getting abused, royally, on a daily basis. Here’s a guy who writes smut stories in the nights, after abusing her. Just another one. She wonders why she doesn’t feel like the guy from the ghetto. Perhaps she belongs to a different creed altogether. The guy from the ghetto can make it big if he wants to be, but he’s deliberately staying away from opportunities. He bites his anger down as he plays basketball, all by himself. Just like the way she bites her pride down every time she is reminded that her services are paid. Just a cup of coffee is what she needs now, but he’s reluctant to have it with her in a public place. It’s not good for him to be seen with her for five minutes in a place where people may identify him. She just walks, or lets herself dragged, through the street.

“You know John, I must write stories too.”

“Really? Smut stories?”

“No. I won’t think of it. It’s for men. Only men.”

“Who told you so? You must read mine. Anyone can enjoy them.”

“I am thinking of writing stories no one can enjoy reading.”

“You’re crazy.”

“Yes, I am.”

John slows down a bit, sensing something wrong in her tone.

“Hey, what’s wrong? You’re not feeling well?”

“Did I say that?”

John looks at her face and starts walking faster.

“John, you enjoy this, eh?”

“Yes, I guess so.”

“But your hands are cold, and reluctant.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I doubt whether you enjoy this walk. It takes a long time to reach your room.”

“I’m waiting to reach there” he says, with a naughty smile.

“I would have enjoyed this walk, but it’s not so...and I would walk till the end of the world if we weren’t to reach that room, ever.”

John stops again. He looks closely at Lizzie’s face and withdraws his hand from her.

“Lizzie, are you saying that you don’t need to come with me today?”

“Yes”, she says, nonchalantly. “Not today, and never again.”

“Okay. There you go. Is there anything I can do for you now?”

“Nothing. Thanks for everything.”

“What are you going to do now?”

“I’m just going to have a cup of coffee from here. Bye.”

“Well, may I come with you? Are you alright?”

“No. Sorry, too late.”

She turns away swiftly from John and walks into the cafeteria. She feels free. She feels like that guy from the ghetto.


Note: This story is an independent one, though there is an earlier story by me, A Casual Encounter, to which you can connect the part about the ghetto man. However, it is not necessary to read that story to understand this one, because the fragmentary thoughts in the mind of Lizzie about this man is made deliberately so. The link is for those who are curious about the life of the ghetto man.

Image Courtesy:

Notwithstanding Christmas

 Louis de Bernieres: Photo by Jose Varghese

Notwithstanding Christmas: Longing Beyond Life 
in Louis de Bernieres' 'This Beautiful House'

Please do click here to read a review of 'This Beautiful House' (a story from Louis de Bernieres' collection Notwithstanding), originally published in THRESHOLDS, Chichester University, UK.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

An Angel Drove By

I love to stare at the fog. I can make things emerge out of it, if I really need to. My eyes are not great - the real ones and the inner eye as well. It's all foggy at its best, on a good day like this. But it helps a lot to stare at things, since that's all I can do. My limbs don't move as fast as my mind, and I can't read or write - with the bad eyes and fragile hands that keep shaking all the time. I am waiting for my angel.

No, it's not the unreal angel. The real one. My daughter, who drives 20 miles every evening just to come here. She brings me food, and comfort, and the best conversation possible. That keeps me alive till the next evening. She's an angel. She drives back home after the two hours here, to her unreal world. He family. Her career. She's a supermom.

She's an angel for a daughter, but she quarrels with me at times.  She says it's stupid for a man my age to pretend that he can live on his own. She threatens that she will take me by force to her home in the big town. For what? To keep me like a museum piece in the spare bedroom? To let me breathe that ugly air in the fourteenth floor? To make me ask for help every time I want to move around in the ever changing interiors of her apartment?

My questions silence her, but she jolts back to interesting conversation all the time. About her office. About the nasty work conditions there. About her children who are funny and strange at the same time. About how her husband treats her like a princess and a doormat at the same time. About the fast moving life in her town which she loves and I disapprove of. She calls me a village idiot. And I'm one.

But I am better than what Tolstoy would make fun of. I'm better than Ivan Ilyich. Because I'm in charge of my life. Never let others order me around. When I'm on my deathbed, I won't care for what others do. First of all, there won't be anyone around. This is my world. The one I created. The way I like it. This is a foggy paradise where I can create and destroy  sceneries and characters. Even ideas. I give birth to ideas that are no more transferred to paper. I nurse them for a while. Sometimes I wring their necks too soon. Sometimes I keep them beside me, like pets. I feed them a bit. Sometimes I abandon them after a while. They starve to death. It's beautiful. Perfect.

It's a pity I can't read anymore. Or may be it's not. There's a lot of reading of the self left to me. It's a pleasure doing that while I wait. My gate is always open. I can't tend the garden. And so it has become even more beautiful. The plants which were once garden plants have become real plants. They used to mock me earlier, challenging me to prune their freedom and joy with my useless hands. But they are kind to me these days. They treat me like a curious museum piece in the world I created.

I don't know whether the house will collapse before me. My daughter says she will bring someone in the weekend to do some maintenance. But no more painting, I say. The smell of paint makes me feel as if I am already in hell. It's like someone pouring gasoline over you, before setting you alight. No, they don't do that anymore in hell, my daughter says. They grill you on coal - that's a slow process. That's tougher than getting deep fried. Count yourself lucky if you are deep fried, she says. It's almost certain that I will lose my paradise once I die, and I won't care whether I get grilled or deep fried.

There are cities that I haven't visited. Beautiful cities. Ugly cities. There's only so much a man can do. In a lifetime. What a lifetime! I've had fun. Of all sorts. But I felt empty too. Many times. But I don't feel empty anymore. I know there is beauty beneath the fog. The real fog, and the fog in my perspective.

I hear the car approach slowly, from beyond the fog. That's the one that carries my angel here. She's coming here, just to see me. I am so selfish, to make her do that. And to say that I will be alright even if she doesn't come. I pretend not to see the tears in her eyes when I say that. I know that it hurts her. But that's proof that she loves me. Even angels have to give proof of their love. I know I'm nasty. But I won't be in control if I'm not like this. I can afford this. Because I have my angel. She's almost here, and it's the end of my days' wait. Let her tear the fog off to pieces for a while.


Image Courtesy:

Sunday, 4 December 2011

A Casual Encounter

     You think that only a murderer, high on weed, detached from all things virtuous, could inhabit a place like this. The floorboards are not worth fixing. There, you've got to be careful, or you may just fall through them to a world which is equally morbid, if not more than this one. But have you ever wondered how these places come into existence? I bet you never had the time for that.
     I'm sorry I can't offer you a place to sit. The chair over there is not a chair. It's just the bones of a chair - what the mites have left after savouring its sap. Well this is not the kind of place where you can imagine spending an hour, even under compulsion. But I live here, sleep here every night, under compulsion. Why? Oh you really need to know why? Because I have no other choice.
     I use the common toilet downstairs, wash my two pairs of clothes in a bucket of water, and get them dried here, in the same room where I sleep. Well, I'm sorry there's no drinking water here. I have trained myself to live without water every time I step inside this room. I'm really sorry about that. We should have collected some water from the shopping mall.
     So, you didn't imagine me to live in a place like this? Yeah, it's true that one can't assume things about others - from their way of dressing, or talk, or the look in their eyes. No, I never lacked confidence despite what you think of as a lowly existence. Hey, no need to defend yourself. I know that you are trying to hide your impressions, but I know for sure that this is what you think about me. And how can I blame you? It's really a lowly existence for sure.
     Don't worry - there is no one around this place. That gray cat on the window is a harmless one. It's well fed - I share my food with it. You may not find a happier cat in proper houses. Just like, you won't find a man in good shape like me in those houses too.
     Now that you can't sit down anywhere, the only option is to lie down somewhere. Oh, or if you find my bearing too good for my dwelling, and want to leave, you are free to do that.
     I am a gentleman you see. I can spend my energy on another round of basket ball play, all by myself. I'm used to that. That's what I'd been doing for ages - biting my anger away, working hard, earning enough to keep myself and my cat in shape, and never hurting anyone. If you need to escape into the outside world, you are welcome. You are free to find a place of your own in a soft feathery silky bed, and get abused royally, by those rich fat frustrated idiots.
     I know you won't stay back for me even if I pay you well. Please do leave then. I respect your profession, and I know that I'm not an ideal client for you. 


Concept/Image Courtesy: