Rose Villa

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David noticed the tiny advertisement in a local newspaper and on a whim, he circled it.

As the evening sun sprawled its crimson rays with abandon, David set out towards “Rose Villa”.

Soon he found himself staring at a quaint looking building which had an eerie air around it.

As he knocked, he was greeted by an old woman. He found himself rambling through a dusty staircase. But, he was surprised to see that the room in the attic was all lit up and freshly minted.

“You liked the room, son?”, Mrs. Fernandes asked delightfully.

************

It was three AM.

The wind rattled the shiny windows and woke him up. Soft murmurs filled the room and he turned all sweaty and scared.

I must be dreaming, he told himself.

“David…David…”

His hair stood on their ends as he heard a familiar voice.

Beads of sweat trickled through his brow. Jumping out of his bed he ran hastily towards the staircase while the whispers transformed into loud shrieks.

“Mrs. Fernanades”, he called out.

Each room peered at him emptily.

But, a framed photograph made him freeze.

In what looked like a family portrait, Mrs. Fernandes stood next to ‘her’.

Stella. How is that possible? I..with my own hands….

Bang…

He was swirled through the air.

Trembling, he went for the main door.

He turned the door knob and came out.

After running a few meters, he turned around.

There lay in front of him an empty piece of land strewn with graves, where once stood ‘Rose Villa’.

The headstones displayed all sorts of names.

And then he saw it. His scream broke the sinister silence as a bloody hand pulled him in.

*****

Mrs. Fernandes looked lovingly at her granddaughter. She smiled before disappearing into nothingness.

***

Photo by Vidar Kristiansen on Unsplash

Published here first : https://artoonsinn.com/2019/10/rose-villa/

Posted in Flash Fiction, thriller | Tagged | Leave a comment

Numb…

woman waiting

It is a vicious circle.

But…

In my thirty years of existence, if there is one word that would describe me aptly- it would be ‘meek’.

But, I did not want to be a sissy anymore. I could be bold too. This wisdom dawned upon me, during one of those many conversations that I had with my friend Rhea.

Rhea was like a breath of fresh air. Her effervescence was bound to rub on me. I had befriended her some months ago in my Yoga classes. Boy, I was smitten. She really listened to me and we talked about possibly everything under the sun. I did not intend to talk about it initially. But, looking at my disgruntled face, she held my hand one day and asked me what was it that was wrecking my life?
“You don’t have to endure this. Trust me. If something is decayed, we need to get rid of it, rather than hanging on to it”, she exclaimed.

As she animatedly narrated the details of her encounter with ‘him’, I looked at her agape.
***************

And so here I am today, wondering and second guessing myself.
I am visibly trembling like a rusty leaf. Why am I so afraid? It is my call after all.

I look at the pale crimson wall that stare at me and the words on the poster scream out loud as if pushing me to take the plunge.
‘Winners don’t quit, quitters don’t win’.

Do I really need it? Is it so bad? It lasted so many years and here I am suddenly giving up.

But, I have to do this. Just then, my phone rings and pushes me out of my reverie.

‘Husband calling’, the words flash on the shiny screen. I cannot possibly talk to him now. I do not need any distractions.

My current predicament is making me aghast. I guess it is time.
I stand up and walk inside. Damn, it is chilling.

He looks at me, smiles and closes the door. I shiver and instantly have gooseflesh all over my body.

I so wish to go back. But, the bewitching smile stops me right in my tracks.
Cautiously I head towards a lone chair that is perched in the brightly illuminated room. Suddenly, I have cold feet.

No, I cannot do this. What am I doing here?

Bad memories of me as a teenager appear, flashing like a sudden downpour. It had been disastrous then. It won’t be any better now.

I stand up and hasten towards the door. Just then, he turns back and calls my name. He comes close to me and looks at me straight in the eyes.

“Please, be seated mam. You need not be scared. It is just a wisdom tooth removal surgery. The tooth will be extracted today and then you will have to come back to me after a week for the check up”.

I sigh.

It is a vicious circle.

Photo By: Mohammad Gh

Posted in humour, Short Story | 2 Comments

Happily Ever After?

wheelchair

The quaint alarm clock buzzed and Laxmi woke up with a start. She covered her eyes with both her palms and sighed. Another day stared at her and all she could do was move forward and dance to the tunes of life. Well, what else could she do?

She looked at her son Varun, who slept blissfully next to her or so it seemed. Yesterday night was one of those dark and fiendish nights when yet again she felt helpless and it was difficult to even think about the agony of her boy. The seizures had come again. It left him miserable and as he slithered groaning loudly, she stared at him with listless eyes.

Laxmi felt tired to the bones this morning. She felt spent and it had been ages since she had slept through the night, but she could not afford to sit back and relax. Varun opened his eyes drearily and looked at her, while he drooled like a one year old. Laxmi felt a surge of painful emotions wrap the innermost chasms of her being. The seventeen year old was wrought with suffering and she often questioned the strange ways of the Supreme power. Laxmi who was once a devout Hindu had slowly but steadily turned an atheist as she meandered through the journey called life.

Laxmi’s reverie was broken unceremoniously by Varun. He said something and Laxmi instantly understood and mentally chided herself for not being prompt enough. The slurring speech was the gift of Cerebral Palsy and had become one of the few sounds that reverberated in the cream coloured walls of the dilapidated house.
But, Laxmi could make out what each garbled sound meant. She could decipher those sounds and she felt alive whenever she heard those incoherent babbles because for her it meant her son was alive and he was there by her side.

As she took out Varun’s heavy diaper, he winced. She understood why a teenager who was forced to lay bare himself each waking hour would feel wretched and ashamed. But, she had no choice. When he was a kid things were not so bad. But, as he grew the solemn silence of the house was steered by fits of rage and the quiet little boy was now perpetually angry. He would growl incessantly for hours and Laxmi made an earnest attempt to calm him down. She would hug him, she would put on the small television set that stood in the room on that rickety brown stool and at times she would merely sit next to him and caress his hand. She even thought that it was merely a phase but, to her dismay, the mood swings persisted.

Laxmi wanted to be by Varun’s side at all times. But, she did not have the luxury to do so. Meals had to be prepared. Medicines had to be bought. Basically, she was to run a house and cater to the needs of her ‘differently abled’ child. ‘Differently abled’ yes, this was what she was told by that suave looking bespectacled doctor the other day. Laxmi wondered how people coined such ‘mumbo-jumbo’ to give solace to such children and their parents. But, did it mitigate the suffering of these innocent souls?

Laxmi’s life ran a programmed course. But, of late she felt that she was struggling and she would often find herself gasping for breath. Age was catching up and the finances were falling short. Her only income was the menial amount that she could procure from renting the room upstairs. But, with the staggering medical expenses and her failing health, things were turning dismal for them.

She was no longer the broken yet stout woman both in spirit and body. Lifting up Varun for his ablutions was getting increasingly cumbersome. Taking care of a disabled child had taken its toll on her. She was miffed easily these days and had to make herculean efforts to keep her temper in check. After all, two disgruntled souls could not do much to the existing pall of despair that loomed large over their humble abode.

More than once in the day, Laxmi would inadvertently think about her husband Umesh. Umesh- the scoundrel who chose to run away from her and from his only child. Umesh- who was spineless and who made her feel responsible for giving birth to a child with special needs. And Laxmi lived on, wrecked with guilt for years together, and cursed herself for her son’s woes. It was only years later, when she was categorically told by the on duty counselor at the government hospital that she could let the possibility sink in, that it was not her fault that Varun had to endure insurmountable pain each waking moment of his life.

It was like any other day- mundane and squalid. The distinct smell of medicines pervaded the room like always. Laxmi had just finished feeding Varun. It took her half an hour to make breakfast for the two of them. But, it had taken more than one hour to feed Varun. It was all the more of an ordeal today as Varun had difficulty swallowing each morsel. Porridge had predominantly become their staple diet because eating solids was becoming a nightmare for the boy. Laxmi mechanically brought a bowl of water to clean up Varun.

And then it happened.

He flung the bowl and pushed her violently towards the wall. Seizures followed. Laxmi was caught unaware. She remembered feeling a stab of acute pain and then she blacked out.

Laxmi opened her eyes groggily. What had happened, she tried to get a grip over herself and slowly she got up. Then it dawned upon her. It all came rushing back like a thunderous waterfall. “Varun…”, she called out.

There he was. He looked at her and silence spoke a thousand words. An errant tear trickled down his eye. Laxmi ran towards him and hugged him. They bawled together till exhaustion got the better of them.

“Water, Amma can you get me some water”, Varun whispered. Then it hit her. She looked at the old black clock, the one with the backdrop of running horses that was erected on the wall like a lone lizard. It was six in the evening. She had been unconscious for hours. And Varun, who lately could not even move around his wheel chair, sat there- alone, desperate, waiting for his mother.

She quickly got a bowl of water and fed him. He hastily drank up while some of it fell on his shirt. He slowly lifted his hand and touched her head. She realized she was hurt. She wasn’t bleeding anymore but there was a sharp pain that emanated from the wound. It was ok, she wanted to say. She understood his angst, she wanted to say. But she could not say anything. She just smiled.

That night she could hardly sleep. Her mind was rattling with thoughts that unnerved her tormented her and would not let her sleep one wink. She knew that her son was dependant on her. She always knew. But, today she actually witnessed how helpless he could be without her. She shuddered as she contemplated the enormity of the situation. She had never felt so helpless before. Tossing and turning in the bed, soon she saw the first rays of sun form a shadowy reflection at a lone corner of the room.

She rose from the bed and gently caressed Varun’s hair which fell unabashedly on his forehead. He needs to get a haircut, she made a mental note. Today, she would have to step out to get the groceries. She would have to again request the sullen old lady next door to watch over Varun for a while.

It was breakfast time. Varun was awfully quiet today and Laxmi did not make any attempt to break the silence either. Silence hung between them like an uninvited guest.

“Ammaa, I don’t want to livee, set me freeee”, Varun squealed.

Laxmi could clearly understand his words. But, she feigned her ignorance and looked the other way. “Let us go for a walk today. The weather is good”, she said instead.

In the coming days Varun would often repeat those words and Laxmi began to dread them. But, in the quiet of the night she would often think about their future. She would cry covering her mouth with a pillow and would think of the pain that her son had been enduring. But one single thought haunted her the most- Who will look after him when I am gone? She had no one to turn to. Her parents were long dead and Umesh, well she did not know his whereabouts and even if she did, could she count on him, who left his own flesh and blood at the drop of a hat.

It was a cold wintry morning. Laxmi woke up in the wee hours of the morning. She took a bath and stood in front of the small statue of Lord Ganesha that stood in the kitchen window. She closed her eyes. As she opened the discoloured kitchen cabinet, she shivered. Mustering up all the courage, she took out a small bottle. She poured milk in two glasses.

In the bedroom, Varun was still asleep. She nudged him and he woke up with a jolt. He looked at her questioningly. She put the glasses on the table and with trembling hands poured the liquid in both the glasses. He looked at her and smiled. She helped him gulp the glass of milk as tears trickled unabated. She then picked up her glass and drank it with a sense of urgency.

“I am sorry my love”, Laxmi whispered.

“I love you Ammaaa”, he cried.

Both of them shivered and hugged each other. He laid his head in her lap and she embraced him for eternity.

*****************************************

Author’s Note: I do not in any way intend to romanticize suicides rather I condemn them. This story is just my way to get in the skin of a hapless mother who unfortunately has to take the extreme step. I have read many such real life stories in newspapers and this is just a fictional piece.

Photo by: Patrick De Boeck

Posted in parenting, Short Story | 8 Comments

The Unhappy Prince

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I stare at the blackboard as the class progresses with a dreary pace. When will this class get over, it is insufferable. I wait for his class with bated breath. And here he comes. God, Professor Mohanty is looking at me. This man can literally see through me. And I wish I could see through his shirt, which conceals the chiseled body of his. Shhh hold your horses. Keep the evil and forbidden thoughts at bay. Concentrate…
**********

Two bodies are entwined. Me and him. We kiss with an urgency. I feel ecstatic. My heart flutters and I feel as if I am galloping on a horse. Majestic and amorous at the same time. I open my eyes and it is him- Professor Mohanty. His lips curve into that characteristic lopsided grin. I wake up with a start.
Man..What is happening to me?
Sweaty..scandalized… scared..
Surreal..scintillating..satiated..
This cannot be. This is blasphemous.. What is wrong with me? Two men? No, this cannot be happening. It will pass..it shall pass.
**********

English class. Be still my heart.
Oscar Wilde. Picture of Dorian Gray. I have loved reading Wilde’s short stories.
Happy prince, The Canterville Ghost. This should be fun.
‘Art for art’s sake’..hmm interesting concept. I dig for it completely.
Time passes so quickly when Professor Mohanty is teaching. He is not just a looker but he has a certain aura around him. The way he reads out from those literary tomes. I am smitten. Is this love?
**********

I am at the library. Wilde..Wilde.. here he is.
He was a beauty, this man. ‘Flamboyant dressing style’..woahh. Known for his plays.
Ohh..charged for ‘gross indecency’. Involved with a younger man… Jailed for two years.. I am trembling. I cannot breathe. I should leave. Rehan, my best friend, beckons me, “Hey man, what is wrong with you? You look pale.”
I have to go. I need to leave.
Get a grip. Now.
**********

Dreams … the mirrors to our sequestered soul.
Me and him. We are making love.
Sheets ruffled.
Emotions disarrayed.
I look at his cherubic face. Oscar Wilde…
I wake up with a frenzy. This is bizarre.
Who am I?
I whimper then I howl. Tears could not possibly cleanse me. Why on earth is this happening to me?
**********

Rehan and a group of boys chattering, “So, this Oscar Wilde was actually wild.”
Uproars.. Sneers!
I join in.
I laugh.
I deride him. I am uneasy. I despise them..I am angry. I am angry at myself, at them, at Professor Mohanty and then of course ‘him’, for being so ‘wild’.
Well, I cannot be like him. Look where it got him! He was charged for ‘indecency’. He loved a man. Love as in he ‘loved him’ you know. And it was way back in the Victorian times. He was put behind bars. Obviously! He was not an honourable man. What if he was a writer par excellence. He was convicted. I am a decent guy. I cannot commit a crime. I come from a reputable family. I am not a freak. Am I? I cannot love another man. Can I?
**********

Professor Mohanty is standing right there. I look at him and my heart skips a beat. We have to submit our critique on Wilde next week, he says. Is this infatuation? But, why am I infatuated with a man? Why? I should divert my attention. Yes, this should work.
Who is the most popular girl in our class? The one the guys were talking about yesterday…what was her name? Damn, cannot remember! Oh, there she is. I should ask her out. She looks like an angel. Should I go now?
Tomorrow, tomorrow I shall..
Everything will be fine then. I am not a misfit. Dad is wrong. I will prove him wrong. Just because I did not want to join the family business, he doesn’t get to cast aspersions on me.
I am ok. I will be ok.
**********

The paper is due today. I was up all night. My mind is like a dark abyss and I am falling deeper and deeper into the pit. It is dark and bottomless and I am lost. I cannot see anything. Who am I?
I turn in the paper. I take a sigh of relief.
I am done. I am exhausted. I cannot take this anymore.
Am I forgetting something?
Yes, the girl… where is she? May be tomorrow. I feel caged.
Will she know? I don’t deserve to be with her. I am an imposter. Yes, that’s what I am.
Breathe…breathe.
**********

Professor Mohanty walks in. I try to look away. I should look away. He hands out our papers. I grab my paper. I got an A. Like seriously? How? I am hyperventilating.
Professor Mohanty asks me to meet him after the class.
I shake like an autumnal leaf.
Does he know? No…
How can he? I never said a word. May be he could make out. Oh God, I was leering at him the whole time. Of course he knows.
His cabin.
My hands are cold.
This is it. Shame on me. A disgrace to the family.
The talk is over. I am transfixed.
Professor Mohanty gives me a glass of water. I gulp it down my parched throat.
He knows. I am such a fool. I wrote an entire page about Oscar Wilde’s homosexuality and how he was not a criminal, how I am not a criminal. F**k. I divulged more than what was asked. He could read between the lines. He said he would help me see a specialist, a counselor. He said it is ok to feel lost. Denial is the first stage he said. He said I am not a freak. He said I will be fine. Love is love, he said.
Tears are trickling down my cheeks unabated. Gosh, I am a mess.
But,
I am not a loser…
I am not a loser…

This was first published here: https://artoonsinn.com/2019/06/12/the-unhappy-prince/

Posted in love, Short Story, Social Lens | 2 Comments

The Ruins…

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The loo* blew taking along with it a flurry of sand and Dhani pulled her odhani* and covered her eyes hastily.
“Kathe reh gayi” *, Manu bai questioned as she helped her put down the three pitchers of water that Dhani had been carrying.
Dhani adjusted her kanchli* and sprawled on the ground. It was an ordeal each day to bring water meandering through the hot sand. The dry and arid land stood in contrast to the variegated attire and persona of the people of this small desert village in Rajasthan.
For Dhani it was home. It was amidst these tawny terrains of Kuldhara village that she transformed from a little girl to an alluring beauty. “Roop (Beauty) has its consequences”, her mother Manu bai would often tell a naïve Dhani.
The Palliwal Brahmins lived in the village and led an uneventful life.
Salim Khan was a man who was abhorred by one and all. He was an unscrupulous fellow and the Palliwals swore at the sight of him. He was the Diwan* and he would levy heavy taxes on their produce.

Isn’t it perplexing as to how a singular moment can change the course of life for someone?
There was stillness in the air. Dhani was merrily treading the dusty lane with two of her friends. Their colouful odhanis shone in the scorching rays of the sun and the mirrors reflected back prismatic hues.
Just then they saw Salim khan, who sat on his camel like a king sits on his throne- majestic and with an air of arrogance. Their eyes met for some fleeting seconds. Dhani felt shivers run down her spine.

Then, it happened.

The village Sarpanch called Dhani and her mother to his small haveli*. Manu bai was apprehensive and wondered why the Sarpanch had beckoned them.
“Manu bai , Salim Khan came today. He wants Dhani. If we do not concede, then God help us. He threatened to levy more taxes and make our lives a living hell”, Sarpanch sa spoke with an urgency.

“What will we do Sarpanch sa”, Manu bai exclaimed and her voice trailed as she looked at her daughter.

“Sometimes there is no happy choice Manu bai, only one less grievous than the others”, Sarpanch said decisively.

The next day as the sun emanated its first rays on the Kuldhara village, something was awry.
The village stood gaunt and abandoned. The villagers had made a choice. In the stillness of the night thousands of them left the village- their home.
************
Today, centuries have passed. But, the dilapidated ruins of Kuldhara are a sight to behold and a major tourist attraction.
Dhani meanders through the decrepit alleys of her home. It is a sacred place for her- A place where her own people stood for her honour.
If only they did not have to make a choice!
A group of tourists walk towards the relics.
“Did you see a shadow”, one of them shouts.
Dhani disappears in thin air.

Glossary:
Loo- Loo is a strong, dusty, gusty, hot and dry summer wind.
Odhani- Piece of cloth worn by Rajasthani women over their head.
Kathe reh gayi- Where were you?
Kanchli- Blouse/shirt worn by Rajasthani women.
Diwan- Chief Treasury Officer
Haveli- Mansion
This story is based on the myth of Kuldhara ruins in Jaisalmer (Rajasthan).

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