Showing posts with label Short Stories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Short Stories. Show all posts

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Analogy

Sad Girl Dark

“A very good evening to you! This is Mark, how can I help you?”

This was the fifth time Ella had dialed the customer care number. This time she couldn’t hang up. The voice was deep, soothing, almost irresistible. She felt like it could comfort her, if not heal her.

“Mark?” his name slipped from her lips, unknowingly.

“Yes ma’am, is there anything you want to speak about? I’ll be glad to help you.”

There was a lump in her throat. Ella wanted to speak, but the words simply lingered inside, refusing to come out. The more she struggled to unleash them, the more unwavering they became.

And then, seconds of silence followed.

“Ma’am? Is everything alright? Do you want to complain about a product you purchased from us?"

Ella could only manage to squeeze out a feeble ‘no.’

“Ma’am?”

More silence.

She wondered if he would just cut off the call now. No, call center executives cannot do that. They aren’t allowed to do that; she assured herself. But why isn’t he saying anything? She seemed to be hearing her own heartbeat racing.

“Mark?” after a seemingly never-ending minute or two, Ella finally spoke.

“Yes Ma’am, I’m listening.”

“Have you ever been lonely?”

She could hear the exhalation from the other end, loud and clear. Was she pissing him off?

“Is there anything that’s bothering you, ma’am? I can sense that. I could be of help if you share.”

Smart guy! He’s choosing his words carefully. He knows the calls are being recorded.

Ella knew she had asked a silly question. Why on earth would a stranger divulge his personal life at his workplace out of the blue? That too when he knows he is being tracked?

Still, somehow, this realization seemed unacceptable. It deepened the cracks in her aching heart even more. So, here was the bitter truth – she couldn’t say it to anyone. Not even to a stranger. A hot drop of tear slid down her cheek.'

“Ma’am?”

She fought back to keep her tears from falling, but couldn’t.

“Um?,” her voice shook, the tone ill-defined.

“Are you crying?”

She couldn’t hold any longer. Her sobs turned louder and her tears hotter.

“Mark? Can you stay on the call? Just for a while? Please?”

“Sure thing, ma’am.”

“Thanks.”

He didn’t seem pissed off anymore. Mark was relaxed, kind of considerate this time.

And Ella cried her heart out. No, she didn’t want to share her story. She just wanted someone to be there…to hear her weep at midnight, to let know that she’s in despair.

When the sobs finally died down, Mark spoke, “Are you feeling better, ma’am?”

“Um,” Ella replied.

“Would you like to get some sleep?”

“No, I’m fine.”

Another minute of silence followed. Call center guys are supposed to strike great conversations, aren’t they? What was keeping Mark so hushed?

“You know, I’ve been a nasty person. I’ve made terrible decisions, upset everyone associated with me. I’ve been the bad guy everywhere, hurting people who love me. I’ve loved and lost and had revenge. A lot many times,” Ella spoke in a single breath.

“Don’t blame yourself ma’am. We are all humans after all.”

“Do you think I’m a bad person?”

A stranger’s opinion shouldn’t have mattered. But, somehow, for Ella, it did, from this guy.

“Not at all, ma’am. I'm sure you are a beautiful person from inside. Not everyone has the courage to own up their mistakes. You’re crying in the middle of the night, and that shows you still care.”

Flattery, eh? Wasn’t he bothered about the calls being recorded now? But it was his voice…it felt like some sort of ecstasy pill – extremely pacifying.

“You have a nice voice, Mark. Has anyone told you this?”

“Yes, ma’am. My wife did.”

“Lucky girl. Do you love her?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Does she love you?”

“I think so.”

“You think so? Why aren’t you sure?” So, Mr Mark did have his insecurities!

“We don’t live together anymore.”

“Why?”

“She left me.”

“Is she as nasty as me?” Ella asked.

“You’re not nasty, ma’am. And she isn’t either. It’s just that…she passed away last week.”

Ella felt like she was hit by a thousand volts of electricity. She hung up. It was like a reflex action. Without speaking another word, without a goodbye. She was terrified. Her heart was thumping more than ever, her hands shaking.

What if she never got a chance to apologize?

She picked up her phone and typed a status on her Facebook profile...

Life’s too short for battles and revenge, for tears and sobs. Every damage can be repaired until death. Beyond it, we don’t know what lies.”

She was sure he would see this. But, would he ever come back?

Monday, 28 September 2015

The Best Online Deal Of My Life And The Story Of The Missing Pink Choker Set

A few years back, I had ordered a few tacky-looking jewelry sets from a leading eCommerce website (today, I wonder why I did). The deal was nothing unique. There was a pink choker set with large, dangling earrings, on display, and three other multicolored scoop shorts of weird designs. I was into my first job and enjoying the liberty of spending self-earned money to the fullest. Perhaps.

Best Online Deal Ever
So, I had placed a COD order with a Rs 2000 plus something bill. And, I was excited. It was the first thing I was going to buy with my salary. And it felt great. I eagerly waited for the delivery date to arrive. However, the product never came. The tracking tool on the website said it ‘had already been shipped.’ So, I sent back an e-mail inquiring about my order. Luckily, their response was quick.

“Dear Miss Deka, we are extremely sorry for the inconvenience and delay caused. Your product will be delivered tomorrow at 4 pm by so-and-so person.”

The wait was on. The delivery boy came the next day with a big package. I handed him the cash and quickly rushed inside the office to open it. There were three packages. The pink choker was missing. And one of the other two sets was broken.

So, there was another e-mail inquiring about the missing product and the replacement of the broken set. The response was quick again. “Dear Miss Deka, we sincerely apologize the inconvenience caused. Could you specify the model numbers of the two products?” The model numbers were mailed. And there was another response. “Dear Miss Deka, we are sending the two products at the earliest.” I was overjoyed and almost felt like a VIP. So, this means that the broken set need not be returned.

Five days later, another person was in my office, this time with a smaller package. The replacement was there, but the pink choker was still missing. The eCommerce firm had sent me a different set instead. So, there was some more emailing and complaining. More “Dear Miss Deka, we are sending the two products at the earliest” responses followed. A month later, I had three pieces of a set that wasn’t even included in the deal. And the most interesting part was, the firm had not demanded their return as of yet.

However, I was at my wit’s end. How could they not deliver my pink choker – the one because of which I had chosen the deal in the first place?!? So, I decided to try a trick this time. I hunted for that extra set on their website, noted its model number, and e-mailed them that I had not received the set. To my amusement, the pink choker was delivered this time. Wonderful, wonderful feeling! So, I had spent Rs 2000 plus something for 8 pieces of jewelry, had not I? Double profit, it was!

Sometimes I feel bad that I never inquired anything about returning the extra sets. But then, even they didn’t, did they? So why bother? For me, this was the best online deal of my life. It’s funny how I have never worn the pink choker. And about the extra sets, well, they were given away as gifts. Oh come on, you don't have to take it otherwise, do you? :) :P

Jewelry jackpot

Saturday, 28 March 2015

বোৱাৰী

ময়ূৰীৰ বিয়া হৈ যোৱা আজি প্ৰায় এমাহে হ'ল | আহ! কি জে দিন আছিল সেইটো! সেইদিনা তাইৰ কাপোৰেই চাবা নে মেক-আপেই চাবা! সাইলাখ দেৱী জেন প্ৰতিমা |
Photo credit - WeddingsOnline

মানুহে কয় 'লাভ মেৰেইজ' কৰা সকলৰ চেহেৰাত হেনো তেনে এটা উজ্জ্বলতা থাকেই | তাইৰো আছিল | পিছে লাভৰ ঠাইত লোকচান হ'বলৈয়ো বেছি সময় নালাগে নহয়...| বিয়াৰ দিনা যিডাল হে বতৰ ! পুৱাৰে পৰা নেৰানেপেৰা বৰষুণ | মানুহ নহ'ব বুলিয়ে ভাবিছিল তাই | গুৱাহাটীত বৰষুণ হোৱা মানেই বিদ্যুতৰ লুকা-ভাকু | গছৰ পাত এটা লৰিবলৈকে নাপায়, দাদাহঁতৰ দিলকেইটা আগতেই গাৰ্ডেন গাৰ্ডেন হৈ যায় -" বাঃ ! কি বঢিয়া চাণ্ছ !" দীঘলঠেঙীয়াই দেখা দিলেতো আৰু কথাই নাই..এক্কেবাৰে গাখীৰতে মহৰ খুঁটি |
পিছে আমাৰ মানুহবোৰো কিন্তু কম নহয় দেই ! কি ৰ'দ, কি বৰষুণ একোকে কেৰেপ নকৰে | কাৰেণ্ট নাই নাই, গাৰীত তেলতো আছে | ন' টেনচন, বিয়া জিন্দাবাদ! আমাৰ ডাঙৰ দাদাই ক'বৰ দৰে "বাদ দিয়াহে, আমেৰিকাতো বৰষুণ হয় |" কোনো প্ৰব্লেম নাই | মুঠতে বেয়া বতৰ সত্তেও ভবা মতেই বিয়াখনত যথেষ্ট মানুহ হ'ল |
ময়ূৰীৰ কিন্তু মানুহ অহা নহাৰ টেন্চনতকৈয়ো বেচি চিন্তা হৈছিল ভাবী 'জইণ্ট ফেমিলি'টোক লৈহে | আগতে তাই বিশেষ একো ভবা নাছিল | কিন্তু জোৰোণৰ দিনাৰ ঘটনাবোৰ দেখি তাইৰ এতিয়া ভীষণ চিন্তা হৈছে | সেই যে  হাঁহিলে দাঁতৰ আলু ওলোৱা মামীয়েকজনী আৰু শ্ৱোলে চিনেমাৰ 'কালিয়া'ৰ দৰে লগা মাহীয়েকজনী ! উঃ ! কি যে  চকু ! এক্কেবাৰে যেন জেঠীয়ে পৰুৱা গিলাদি একে কোবে গিলিহে থ'ব ! তাই বাৰু এই মানুহকেইজনীৰ লগত কেনেকৈ চলিব ? কি কুখ্যণত যে তাই ৰাজীৱক কথা দি পেলাইছিল ...! ছেঃ ! এতিয়াতো উপাই নাই | বহুত পলম হৈ গ'ল… |
…বিয়াৰ ভাগৰ মাৰ নৌযাওঁতেই ময়ূৰী পাগঘৰত সোমাল | মানে পৰিস্থিতিয়ে তাইক সোমাবলৈ বাধ্য কৰালে | ইনস্ট্ৰাকটৰ হ'ল হাঁহিলে আলু ওলৱা মামীয়েকজনী | দেখি তাইৰ বুকুখন চিৰিংকৈ গ'ল | মনে মনে তাই ভাবিলে 'হে ভগবান, বচোৱা |' তাইনো এতিয়া নিজৰ বিলাই-বিপত্তিৰ কথা কাক ক'ব ? কোনে শুনিব ? ৰাজীৱৰতো ছাঁটোও দেখিবলৈ নাই | এৰা, এতিয়া তাই ঘৰৰ মূৰ্গীতো ! ক'ত আৰু পাত্তা দিব ?
সি যি কি নহওক, সেইদিনা তাই তিনি কিলো মাংস ৰান্ধিল...অকলে অকলে | ঘৰত কোনো কালে একো কাম কৰি নোপোৱা ময়ূৰীৰ বাবে সেয়া আছিল ত্ৰয় জিনি অহাৰ সমান | পিছে ন-বোৱাৰীক ইমান সহজে এৰিব নে ? খাবলৈ বহি 'নিমখ কম হৈছে', 'জলা বেছি হৈছে', 'আৰু অলপ ভজা যোৱা হ'লে ভাল আছিল' ইত্যাদি কত কি মন্তব্য ! সেইবোৰ বতাহত ভাঁহি আহি ঠহৰ ঠহৰকৈ তাইৰ কাণত পৰিল | সেইদিনা তাই ভাতেই খালে নে চকুপানীয়ে খালে ক'ব নোৱাৰিলে |
দুদিন পাছৰ কথা | দুপৰীয়া তাই অকণমান সময় বিচনাত দীঘল দিছিল | মানে ভাগৰত লেবেজান হৈ অলপ জিৰণি ল'বলৈ বিচাৰিছিল | যৌথ পৰিয়াল | যিমানবোৰহে কাম ! সেই 'ৰামচে ব্ৰাদাৰ্ছ'ৰ ভূত বাংলোৰ দৰে প্ৰকাণ্ড ঘৰটো সৰা-মছাঁ কৰা, পৰ্বতাকাৰ বাচনৰ দ'ম ঘঁহি-মাজি ধুই পৰিস্কাৰ কৰা, গোটেই ঘৰখনৰ কাপোৰ-কানি ধোৱা, ইত্যাদি ইত্যাদি | তাতে আকৌ ঘৰটোৰ বাসিন্দাসকলে গোগ্ৰাসে এগাল এগাল গিলে | যেন আকালত মৰিবলৈ ওলোৱা জীৱহে ! এইবোৰকে ভাবি ভাবি তাইৰ চকু দুটা মুদ খাইছিলহে মাথোন | হঠাত্ প্ৰৱেশ ঘটিল শাহুৱেকৰ | লগত 'কালিয়া' মাহী |
"বোৱাৰী, ঠিকে আছানে ? গা বেয়া নেকি ? দিন দুপৰতে বিচনাত পৰিছা যে ?"
আচলতে তেওঁ ক'ব খুজিছিল - "বোৱাৰী ! দিন দুপৰত আনাহক শুই থকাটো মহাপাপ ! নাজানা নেকি ?"
ময়ূৰীয়ে ভিতৰি ভিতৰিগুজৰি গুমৰি থাকিলেও ওঁঠত চুইচ টিপা হাঁহি এটা লগাই ক'লে "নাই মা, এনেয়ে..." তাইৰ কথালৈ কাণ নিদি শাহুৱেকে কালিয়া মাহীয়েকক উদ্দেশ্যি ক'লে - "জান' তৰা, বোৱাৰী যে আমাৰ ৰাজীৱৰ লগত ইমান মিলিছে - দেখাই-দৰ্শনে, পহাই-শুনাই, সকলো ফালে | হেৰি নহয়, আমাৰ ৰাজীৱ আকৌ পহাত বৰ চোকা আছিল নহয় !"

আচ্ছা, তাৰ মানে মাকে পুতেকৰ মেধাৰ বিজ্ঞাপন দিবলৈ আহিছে ! অৰ্থাত্ আওপকীয়াকৈ তাইক 'ডাউন' দিবলৈ আহিছে - ময়ূৰীয়ে মনে মনে ভাবিলে | শাহুৱেকৰ বিজ্ঞাপন চলি থাকিল |
"আমাৰ ৰাজীৱে মেট্ৰিকত 86 % পাইছিল জান' ! হায়াৰ ছেকেণ্ডেৰীত তাতকৈয়ো বেছি | আৰ্টছ্ পহিব খুজিছিল | মইহে জোৰকৈ চায়েঞ্চপহিবলৈ দিলোঁ | আজিকালি আৰ্টছ্ পহি কি লাভ, নহয়নে তৰা ?" তাৰ পিছত ময়ূৰীৰ ফালে মুখখন ঘূৰাই ক'লে - "পিছে তুমি হায়াৰ ছেকেণ্ডেৰীতকেনেকুৱা ৰিজাল্ট কৰিছিলা বোৱাৰী ?"
আমাৰ অসমীয়া মাক-বাপেকবোৰৰ মনত ল'ৰা-ছোৱালীয়ে মেট্ৰিক-হায়াৰ ছেকেণ্ডেৰীত ভাল ৰিজাল্ট কৰা মানে প্ৰত্যেকেই মোটামুটি একো একোগৰাকী 'চেলিব্ৰেটি' | শাহুৱেকেও ৰাজীৱ চেলিব্ৰেটিৰ দখ্যতাৰ গুণ-গান গাই গ'ল আৰু ময়ূৰীয়ে নিৰৱে সকলো শুনি থাকিল | কালিয়া মাহীয়েকেও কটা ঘাত নিমখ ছটিওৱাদি মাজে মাজে ৰাজীৱৰ সৰুকালিৰ দুই এটা ঘটনা সংযোজন কৰি গ'ল | মাষ্টৰৰ 'ভেৰী গুডে'ৰে ভৰি যোৱা ৰাজীৱৰ বহীবোৰৰ কথা, গা মূৰ পিহি মৰম কৰাৰ কথা ইত্যাদি ইত্যাদি | সেইবোৰ মাকৰ দূৰৰে কথা, ৰাজীৱৰো কিজানি ইমান মনত নাই যিমান কালিয়া মাহীয়েকৰ আছে | ইউনিভাৰ্চিতীৰ গ'ল্ড মেডেলিষ্ট ময়ূৰীয়ে নিজৰ কথা লুকাই ৰাখি ক'লে - "নাই মা, মোৰ ৰিজাল্ট সিমান ভাল হোৱা নাছিল | মোটামুটি ঠিকেই আছিল আৰু |"

ময়ূৰীৰ কথা শুনাৰ লগে লগে শাহুৱেকৰ মুখখন  আমাৰ দাদাৰ থাৰ্টি টু নট আউটৰ দৰে হৈ গ'ল | য়াহু ! কেনে মজা ! শাহুৱেকক আৰু কোনে পায় ! সেইদিনা ৰাতিৰ সাজ তেওঁ নিজেই ৰান্ধিলে | ময়ূৰীক একো কৰিবলৈকে নিদিলে |
দুপৰীয়া বিচনাত পৰা মহাপাপটো ময়ূৰীয়ে পিছদিনা আৰু নকৰিলে | তাৰ সলনি ৰাজীৱক কৈ লেপটপটো খোলাই ল'লে | তাই নিজে নুখুলিলে | তেনে কৰিলে বা আকৌ কি বিপদ হয় ! ব্যাসৰ মহাভাৰতখন অশুদ্ধ হৈ যাবও পাৰে ! কম্পিউটাৰটো 'অন' কৰিৰাজীৱে তাইক ইণ্টাৰনেটৰ কানেকচনটোও লগাই দিলে | হওক তেও, বিয়াৰ ফটোবোৰ আজি ফেচবুকত দিব পাৰিব | ষ্টেটাচটো 'মেৰিড' কৰিব লাগিব | পিছে লাগিল কেণা, কম্পিউটাৰটোত হাত দিছিলহে মাত্ৰ, ওলাল নহয় মামীয়েকজনী ! সেই যে হাঁহিলে দাঁতৰ আলু ওলোৱা, কথাই কথাই খুঁট ধৰা.....! ময়ূৰীৰ ভবা কথা মনতে থাকিল | ফেচবুক কাট খাই গ'ল | ঘৰৰ মানুহবোৰে ইতিমধ্যে আকাৰে ইংগিতে তাইক কেইবাবাৰো বুজিবলৈ দিছিল জে ইণ্টাৰনেট চোৱা ছোৱালী মানেই বেয়া ছোৱালী | মামীয়েকৰ প্ৰৱেশ ঘটাৰ লগে লগে তাই আছৰাণিৰ দৰে এটেনচন প'জ ল'লে আৰু ডেক্সটপৰ আইকনসোপাকে খোচৰাত লাগিল |

"তুমি কম্পিউটাৰ চলাবও জানা নেকি ? " (অৰ্থাত্ - তুমি কম্পিউটাৰ কিয় চলাবা ? তুমিতো বোৱাৰী !) "আগতে কম্পিউটাৰৰ ক'ৰ্ছ কৰিছা ছাগে | নহলে জানো....|" ময়ূৰীৰ পেটে পেটে হাঁহি উঠিল | "নাই মামী, মই কম্পিউটাৰ চায়েঞ্চত এম-এছ-চি কৰিছো |"

"অ' হয় নেকি ? তেনেহ'লে তাৰ পাছত বি-এছ-চি নকৰিলা কিয় !?" ময়ূৰীয়ে হাঁহিবই নে কান্দিবই ধৰিব নোৱাৰিলে | তাই একো নামাতিলে | আজি তাই ফেচবুকত ষ্টেটাচ দিব - 'মই এম-এছ-চি কৰি থাকোঁতে বি-এছ-চি কৰিব পাহৰি থাকিলোঁ |' লগতে এটা জিভা উলিওৱা স্মাইলি এটাও দি দিব.....|

আজি ময়ূৰীৰ বিয়াৰ এমাহে হ'ল | তাইৰ ষ্টেটাচটোত ইতিমধ্যে এশটামান লাইক্ পৰি গৈছে | কোনোবাই আকৌ কমেণ্ট কৰিছে - 'হেই, হাউ ইজ মেৰিড লাইফ্ ?' তাই উত্তৰ দিলে - 'দৌৰিচে, থ্ৰি জি স্পীডত দৌৰিচে.....!'

Maladies of the Lily White

Poor beggar girl, Photo source: DeviantArt
Jani had her home in a slum. Her mother used to sit underneath a canopy at the turning of the small alley which ran across the blighted area, selling small stuffs. Her income was meager. Some extra money would pour in once in a blue moon, and there would occasionally be provision for tea as well. Jani had always seen that routine, her mother never tiring and setting up her little shop every morning with new hope. She had never seen a life beyond those dusty streets and dingy huts. Her mother would narrate stories about the city to her, about the big tall buildings, the buses and cars, the busy streets and the orange street-lights, the fancy restaurants and flashy shops, and she would dream about being there someday. The house she was living in was a one room accommodation with a leaky roof and brick walls, matted with ages of black soot. There was a small bed in the corner with a soiled bed-sheet covering it. There was no money to buy another and so they slept on it ever. A rainy day would be tough and they would spend hours putting buckets under the leaks, emptying and re-filling all the while and praying for the downpour to stop. Dinner would usually be a plate of white rice at most, and on more fortunate days, they would have lentils and some vegetables. Life was difficult for them, but they were content. Jani’s mother had stitched a cloth doll for her sixth birthday. The little girl adored it and would show it off to her friends, comb its hair, offer it false food and sleep with it by her side at night. She never parted with her doll. She would enjoy the attention of her friends and would spend hours boasting about her prized possession.

Monsoon had settled in, the rain bringing with it a lot of distress that year. The gutter nearby was overflowing with stinking murky water. The area was flooded and dirty, diseases spreading and people dropping like flies. There were frequent visits from NGOs and relief centers. But the scene was going from bad towards worse. Medicines didn’t suffice and food was scanty. Jani’s mother too, was down with high fever, some kind of deadly flu, the doctors said. She had become pale and thin. The free medicines had failed to work and the poor girl didn’t know what to do. A night after the relief camp had withdrawn her mother’s condition worsened. She kept throwing up the whole night, her feet cold and body shivering. Jani was scared to sleep with her. So, she slept on the floor with the doll by her side and lulled herself to sleep. Her mother died that night; Jani was left all alone.

The coming days were tough for Jani to cope up. Initially, the neighbors would pity her and offer food from their small shares. But as the days passed, the warmth in their voice lessened. The shortage of and greed for a full time meal and all the bitterness of their miseries had hardened their hearts. The rain had got heavy and the roof leakier than before, and finally one ill-starred night, it crashed. Poor Jani had no shelter now. Though she had survived the accident, she knew that there was more discomfort coming her way. She hugged her doll tightly to her bosom and cried the whole night, fighting the rain and cursing her fate, wishing she were dead, and at the crack of the dawn, she made up her mind to leave the slum forever, oblivious of the future.

So, she bundled her belongings up in the soiled bed-sheet. There wasn’t much to carry. Just few old clothes, a stale piece of cooked meat, which one of her neighbors had once offered, a packet of white chalk which her mother had given long back, and her favorite, the cloth doll. As she walked past the small alley, Jani remembered the good old days with her mother and her friends. She approached the turning where her mother used to set her canopy up. The rain had swept away the temporary set-up, leaving only a pool of mud instead. The oilcloth that her mother had once used to save the puny shop from rains was half buried in mud, and a stray dog sat there, happily munching on a bone. She envied the dog with all heart. She tried to chase it away, suddenly feeling immensely possessive about the thing that once belonged to her mother. But the animal was reluctant. It gave a huge carefree yawn and reverted back to its chewing. She tried a few more times, but failed. Jani was frustrated, her heart heavy with the failure to retrieve her mother’s oilcloth. Just as she was about to give up and leave, the dog came to her wagging its tail. It had smelled the meat in her bundle. But, Jani didn’t have the slightest idea about canine behavior and gave a feeble attempt to shoo it away, confused and scared. But there was a sudden sharp bark in reply, giving her a strong panic attack. The dog plunged upon her bundle in an attempt to discover what it had smelled. Jani freaked out and after a brief struggle managed to tear the bundle out of its mouth. A terrified Jani then ran for her life, clasping her bundle tightly and not daring to look back.

Exhausted and shaken by the unexpected aggression, she arrived at the city at mid noon. It was exactly how her mother had described it to be- busy and flashy ever. She found her place underneath a peepal tree growing near the road-side. There was a woman selling fruits at a distance. She had tied her one-year old baby boy by his right foot to the lamp-post nearby, restraining him from wandering into the streets, and was busy attending to the customers. Her voice was hoarse and she sweated even in the shade all day long. The fruits in her basket reminded Jani of her empty stomach. She opened up her package hoping to find the piece of meat. But there was no meat. There was a large tear in the bed sheet. So, the dog had succeeded in its attempt after all! She searched for her other belongings. She had her frocks and the packet of chalk intact. But, her treasure, the doll was gone! That night, she slept underneath the tree with the bundle as her pillow, crying in hunger and despair, chewing the chalk pieces she had and longing for her cloth doll by her side and had a dream about her mother narrating stories about the big city.

A tickle in the ear woke Jani up early morning. It was the dog from the slum licking her face. It had followed her to the city and was now sitting beside her, wagging its tail, its tongue out. The previous day’s tiff was still fresh in her mind and this time Jani was more angry than frightened. The beast had stolen her food and taken her dear doll. With much spite, she grabbed a stone lying nearby and threw it at its head. The dog let out a weak whimper and skipped a few steps back. Satisfied, Jani went back to sleep. A few moments later she felt the tickle again. Annoyed and disgusted, she got up to hit the dog again and stopped suddenly. It was her doll; the dog was holding it in its mouth. It came towards her, this time with more caution, and settled near her, putting the toy at her feet. Jani was viewing the whole drama silently and could not believe her eyes. She had found her doll again. And she had found a new friend as well. She patted the dog’s head and said, “Thank you. Will you stay here with me? I’ll call you Kala”. The dog rested its head on her lap. Kala had reciprocated her love.

The next day started bright for Jani. An apple had accidentally rolled down from the woman’s basket into the streets. She had found it while taking a stroll nearby and taken it to her place. Kala had found a bone to chew upon. A light breeze was blowing and they were dozing off under the cool shade of the tree. Kala would raise his ears once in a while, paying attention to the slightest of sounds. But, Jani was soon in a deep slumber, dreaming about her life in the slum. She saw herself in her mother’s sari, the cloth doll in her arms and Kala following her, barking at a neighbor of hers. Then she saw her home. Someone was cooking inside the kitchen, might be her mother. Just as she was about to call her from behind, she felt a tight slap on her face and woke up with a start. The fruit seller lady was standing there, anger showing all over her dark face. Jani noticed her black unclean teeth and fuzzy hair and shuddered. “You took the apple from the streets, didn’t you?”, the lady inquired, dominance distinct in her tone. She gave a nod and there was a slap again. “Now pay for it”, screamed the lady. “But I don’t have any money”, Jani answered, a little frightened. The lady was furious now. “I don’t sit here all day to do charity! If you don’t have money, give me something else. Show me what you have in that dirty pack of yours”, she pointed towards her bundle. Jani quietly opened it. Kala was watching her with great observance. The lady ransacked the bundle, scrutinizing the things in it, until her eyes fell on the cloth doll. She took it in her hands and muttered to herself, “My son is going to love this”. She turned towards Jani and bluntly said, “I’ll take this.” The poor girl was already in tears. That was her mother’s last gift. She could never part with it, never. She snatched it back from the lady and snapped, “Anything, but this.” Jani’s words were like a huge blow on the fruit seller’s superiority. Enraged, she put her hands forward in an attempt to grab the doll from her. But Kala was already alert. He pounced upon the lady, almost pinning her to the ground. The lady was in a state of shock. Kala’s sharp barks left her no choice but to leave the place. After she was gone, Jani hugged Kala and thanked him, and promised never to leave him.

That evening, Kala was run down by a car. Jani was outside a baker’s shop, picking up a half eaten cake from the dustbin nearby when she heard the brakes screech. Kala was dead by the time she reached. His intestines were out and bathed in blood. The car driver geared off not bothering to look at what had come under the wheels. Passersby did a "tch-tch" and a "tchu-tchu" and went away. The fruit seller lady gave a sinister smile and was back to her business, shouting in her hoarse voice even more enthusiastically. Suddenly, the city no longer seemed like what her mother had described. Jani cried by his side till midnight, indifferent to the dust and the traffic in the streets. She had lost a friend.

Early in the morning, when the road was empty and the dust had died down, Jani slowly went to the peepal tree and brought back her soiled bed-sheet. She picked up the bits and parts of Kala’s cold body and carefully wrapped it up in the cloth. She took him back to the tree and started digging the ground with her bare hands. But the ground was coarse and Jani was just a child with not enough strength. Even after a couple of hours of desperate struggle she could still not dig enough earth to lay Kala’s rotting body. The sun beams were slowly dawning through the darkness. The street lights were dimming down and cars and buses were beginning to run again. Jani noticed that the fruit seller was back with her baby. Keeping the previous day’s tiff and all her fear aside, she went to her and asked, “Can you help me out? I need to dig the ground to bury my pet dog.” The lady looked at her as if she were a criminal. “Go to hell! Both you and your flea bag!”, she thundered. Jani thought for a moment and said again, “Please, I know you didn’t like him. But he is dead now.” After few seconds of silence the lady said, “Fine. I have a knife. But you’ll get it only when you give me the doll. And yes, give me the knife as soon as possible. I have a lot of work to do. I don’t sit here all day to solve other’s problems.” Jani nodded a silent yes.

So her mother’s last gift was soon gone. A grave was dug out neatly for Kala and he was rested in it. Jani was heart-broken and silent. She wept by his grave and slept by his side that night. And, she dreamed of being at her home again. And in her dreams she saw her mother in the kitchen, cooking for her. She smiled at her and welcomed her with open arms, “Where were you Jani? I’ve waited for so long and missed you so much. I’m glad that you’ve returned”. Jani felt the warmth of her mother’s cosy bosom.

She was happy. She was home again.

Guilty

It had been raining for two days at a stretch. My usually bright room had started to look gloomy and there was a light stench of rotten food in the air. I guess it was coming from the common garbage heap outside.

Image credit: FirstPost
No, not the neighbors’ fault. It was just those municipality people. Well, they hardly showed up. And adding to my woes, there was no electricity in the locality. The place I used to love had suddenly become a pain in the rear. I had lost my umbrella and there was no way I could go out or call a friend over. I was bored to death and helpless. My phone was dead, the battery in the laptop all drained out. I was hungry, but there wasn’t any food in the refrigerator. All I found were some old biscuit and a big, dusty packet of noodles. Not bothering to check the expiry date, I just cooked some and gobbled up a bowlful. Nothing so far had tasted any better, I swear. Satisfied and full, I lazily dumped the bowl in the sink and myself on my cosy bed.

Sleep is a tempting state, I must say. All the big pour and the gray room were slowly taking me into a deep slumber. I was enjoying it....lazy me! I wasn’t bothered about anything then, not about the not-so-favorable times, not about the mountain of work back at the office and not even about my nagging mother. I was actually feeling good that the phone wasn’t working. At least I didn’t have to stand the curt remarks of my boss or answer my mother’s hourly rings to inquire if I was okay.

Then suddenly, shattering all my peace, came a huge knock at the door. I sat up on my bed, almost getting a brain freeze. Pissed off and bitter, I reluctantly went to the door and checked through the peephole. It was a child, a boy, 10-12 years of age, all drenched in rain. He knocked again and this time with more desperation. His hands were muddy and so were his torn clothes, eyes sunken deep into the orbits, face unclean and feet without shoes.

Beggar! I thought. Of late, the locality had been facing this problem of bugging beggars. I was pissed off more! Just as he was about to knock again, I opened the door sharply. “What do you want?”, I snapped at him. He was taken aback and slowly put a shaky hand forward, too terrified to speak. “I don’t have money. Now go”, I snapped again and slammed the door. I checked again. He was still there, much in a state of shock. Then, suddenly he gathered himself slowly walked away. I watched him till he was gone, and then I heard a faint cry... “I was just....hungry."
A sudden surge of guilt overpowered me. I opened the door again. But he was already gone, the rain making it impossible to see further. That night, I could not sleep at all. I tossed and turned on my bed like an insomniac, wishing I had taken back my words. I could have given him my share of noodles, maybe the whole packet. I could have made him take a bath and give those sunken eyes some sleep. I was full of remorse. The rain was slowing down and electricity was back. All the possible reasons of my gloom were gone. But, my mind wasn’t calm. Time and again I could hear his voice, mocking me, cursing and taunting me. What had I done??

Morning came like a sharp blade of heat. The rain was gone, my room bright again. I had stayed up the whole night and was feeling sluggish. Nevertheless, I got up from bed, took a bath and had a quick breakfast of my old biscuits. I was having a terrible headache and desperately needed a painkiller. So, I dressed up and headed towards the chemist shop nearby. The streets were still muddy, but the grass was cleaner and greener. The rotten food in the garbage heap was still stinking. And, I could see a small gathering of people, probably discussing the issue.

As I was walking past them, I heard one of them say, “He must have eaten something from the dustbin.” With a thud in my heart I stopped and turned towards the heap. There he was, lying near a trash bag, a rotten piece of bread in his muddy palm. His mouth was slightly open, a layer of whitish foam dripping, and his sunken eyes, wide open. He was looking at me....yes, at me, questioning, accusing. I could not take it any longer. It was as if the sky was crashing onto me, my surrounding fading. The ground no longer held me firm. I was blacking out.

I had murdered him.