The bump


courtesy of alienbee.net

courtesy of alienbee.net

1990

Tammy watched the little boys zoom across the grey concrete on the playground. They screamed and yelped and made their voices deeper as they stopped, turning and facing their enemies with their fists on their hips. They were superheroes, with their coats buttoned around only their necks and their hoods turned up on their heads.

Tammy desperately wanted to join in. It looked like so much more fun than playing ‘Mummies and Daddies’. For some reason, they always picked her to be the daddy and today, she really did not want to play the part of someone who went to work and came home and demanded dinner. But then, she had an idea. It was genius! She could be a Superhero Daddy! That could be her job! The other girls looked at her as if she had lost her mind but then, miraculously, they shrugged and said, “Okay, then.”

Tammy zoomed off, attaching her own grey duffel coat around her neck, like a cloak. She ran as fast as she could, and she knew, with her new trainers, she was pretty darn fast! She felt the wind whip her hair around her face and sting her eyes. She gulped the cold air and drank it in, thirsty for more. She glanced back at the girls and they were content. She just kept on running!

But then, everything went black; her knees were throbbing, as was her forehead and her elbows. She saw her bare knees first and noticed the blood, the miniscule gravel pieces trapped in the cuts. She wanted to cry but fought back the tears when she saw the boy sitting in front of her, her mirror image, rubbing an emerging bump, the size of an egg, on his forehead. Another superhero.

She grinned at him and he grinned back.

“I know you,” she said, “You’re in Miss Ham’s class.”

“I’m Josh. And you’re Tammy.” His voice was quiet, soft. Tammy liked him instantly. It helped that they were in the same year.

She wanted to say something more, but a crowd had gathered around them. Mrs. Samuels had appeared and was directing Snivelling Samantha to escort the two fallen, to the first aid room, which in reality was the disabled toilet.

They walked side by side, following Samantha, as she wiped away the mucus that stubbornly, eternally was attached to the end of her nose. There were only two chairs in the cubicle, and one toilet. Samantha left the two wounded, whilst Tammy took the chair and Josh took the toilet bowl. The lid was down. Mrs Barnes was already sitting on the other chair.

“So what have we here?” She looked at the both of them, her hair in tight grey curls on her head and deep, deep wrinkles adorning her face like war paint, even and dark. Her tone was pleasant. She smiled and Tammy wanted to be as brave as possible in front of the teacher and the boy.

“We bumped into each other and fell over. We grazed our knees and elbows and hit our heads.”

“Let me have a look, then.”

Mrs Barnes examine Josh first, gave him an antiseptic wipe and asked him to clean himself up, while she examined Tammy. She then handed Tammy another wipe and asked her to do the same. Meanwhile she opened the small freezer and took out an ice pack. She gave it to Josh. “I’m afraid you’ll have to share,” said Mrs Barnes, genuinely apologetic.

She took out a pair of tweezers, rubbed it with something and proceeded to take out the debris from Tammy’s knees. Conscious of Josh’s eyes, Tammy fought back the tears. It was awfully painful but she would not cry, she told herself.

Josh did cry but his tears were silent, trickling down his face leaving streaks, lighter than his skin, cutting a pathway through his freckles. At the end of it, they both received stickers, like medals and a note to take home. It was also Tammy’s turn for the icepack, but it was warm and soft by the time it was handed to her. She left it on the chair.

“You’ve both been really brave. Well done! I’ve cleaned up your knees and you’ve both got plasters on them. If the plasters fall off, it’s not the end of the world. You don’t need to come back for another one. Oh, and don’t forget to take the note home to Mum.”

The instructions were clear. The bell had rung, indicating that playtime was over. Tammy looked at Josh and smiled. They didn’t really bump into each other again after that.

But they did become friends.

 

 

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Reality


Reality

The iPad screen flashed images of an annoying little man in sunglasses, dancing to an annoying little song that Swetha had heard too many times over the last six months. Her children had been tampering with YouTube again. She tapped away from the screen and was back onto her Facebook page. It was full of pictures of her friends’ children and of glib quotes that Swetha would have found funny and insightful yesterday, but today she was unimpressed. She ‘liked’ not a single one.

Despite being fully awake, despite having washed her face and brushed her teeth her eyes felt heavy. She considered turning the iPad off and going back to sleep, but her children would be up any minute and although the maid would manage them, it also meant that she would be going back to bed to her husband.

She glanced over at him, from the bedroom door and fresh tears rolled down her face. She looked away, walked away from the bedroom and towards the spare room. The clothes were drying on the rack and she picked up a pair of faded joggers. She put on her socks and trainers, picked up the house key and left the flat. Outside was muggy and she could feel droplets of moisture crawl down her back, soaking her t-shirt. But it didn’t matter how fast she moved or how painful the stitches, the words she had read on her husband’s email, just the one email, the night before, stayed static in her mind’s eye. Black on white. Black and white. “I will always love you” “You have brought meaning to my life” “Our time together, every moment is precious.”  

It was coming up to their 8th wedding anniversary and Swetha could not believe, would not believe that this was happening to her. The man she had married detested any kind of deceit. He refused to pay the bribes that would make life more effiecient for them, he refused to tolerate even a white lie from his 6 year old daughter and here they were, far from anything that was familiar to them, confronted with the biggest lie of all, their marriage.

Swetha had left the comfort and familiarity of the United Kingdom, with her children to come to Kolkata to support her husband in his new venture. She hated the bathrooms in their rented flat, she hated watching the resident lizard climb the wall, she hated the fact she had no purpose except to play the good ‘wife’ whilst ‘playing house’  in this joke of a city. It was too hot and humid. She never felt clean because of the bathroom threw out the raw stench of sewage every time she had a shower. It did not matter how clean the toilets were! There always seemed to be a thin layer of dirt encased in another thin layer of perspiration that clung stubbornly to her skin minutes after washing. The overhead fans gave her a headache and the air conditioning was too expensive to run constantly. Swetha just longed for the British spring and summer. In the six months she had been here she had missed the snow, the snow drops, her mother’s rhubarb and custard tulips and most of all she missed the cool breeze you got, no matter how hot it got.

She thought back to early days of their romance, before they were married. She remembered meeting him in the park in the spring. The magnolia trees were in full bloom, the tulips and daffodils were just dying back and the trees were covered in white and pink blossom. Back then, Swetha had told Vijay that they would have to visit Japan for the annual Sakura festival.  “We’ll travel the world together, just watch and wait,” he told her.

He was so full of confidence, she remembered. She could wish for the moon and he would be able to make her believe that it was possible. But reality sets in pretty quickly after the kids arrive, she thought ruefully to herself. It wasn’t about Swetha and Vijay anymore, it was about the children. He would give everything for them.

The children! What would happen to their children? They would come with her, back to England. She thought quickly. He wouldn’t be able to handle them. She would allow him to visit whenever he wanted. They loved their father, she couldn’t deny them that.

She stopped jogging and caught her breath. She sat down on a bench and let her breathing return to normal. She was out of practice. Vijay always nagged her to go running; endorphins and keeping in shape was important. He was quite fit himself. He took care of what he ate and he liked to look good. He was classically handsome, Swetha thought. He had that Clarke Kent, Superman quality about him, with his rectangular glasses and neatly gelled hair. She called him her hero. Again, the tears fell. She reminded herself of Alice in Wonderland; alone and stranded in a strange place, with tears so huge that they would drown the little creatures scurrying around at her feet. She felt like a helpless, lost child.

The wind suddenly picked up and the dirt swirled around her. Waves of dust hit her face and the clouds darkened overhead. She laughed…pathetic fallacy, they called it, she recalled.

The children would be up now. She ignored the pain in the pit of her stomach, and the desire to vomit. She had to confront him, before he left for work. She would not fight. She would tell him she saw his email by accident because he left it open on the laptop before he fell asleep. She would tell him she needed his card to buy tickets back to the UK for her and her children. She would stress that she wanted nothing for herself but he should consider setting up something for the children, in terms of funds. She would go back to work and her mother could look after the little ones. She had worked it all out. She did not need him any more. It was cold and to the point and love and emotions played no part in this conversation. She would not beg for him to leave the other woman, whoever she was and she certainly did not plan on falling apart in front of him. She would, instead, tell him she was disappointed in him. She would file for divorce as soon as she got back. There was no point in trying to work things out as she would never be able to trust him again.  Finally, she would demand to know who SB was and how long the affair had been going on. He owed her that much, at least.

Back in the foyer of her building, the air conditioning hit her and momentarily made Swetha forget. But once in the lift, as she pressed the button to her floor, Swetha felt the nausea return. She was suddenly claustrophobic, terrified of returning to the pokey beige flat with the dirty sofas. She dreaded the confrontation and the fake smiles she would give her children as they rushed to hug her. She simply didn’t want to see her husband’s face but things needed to be said.

As she turned the key in the lock and walked into the flat, Swetha noticed it was still quiet. The maids were busy already though, quietly washing and chopping. The children were still dozing and her husband was sleeping peacefully. A part of her ached to lie down next to him, to fit her small rounded frame against his longer, more angular one. She desperately wanted to rest her head on his chest and feel the rise and fall of his breathing. But underlying it all was the urge to double up and howl in pain.

“Wake up.” She said the words quietly but forcefully.

 The man on the bed stirred and grumbled, “leave me alone, it’s too early.”

“Get up, it’s important. We need to talk.”

There was something in her voice that made Vijay open his eyes. She was upset. He could hear it in the steady insistence in her tone.

He sat up and looked at his wife. She was still beautiful even with her dark circles and frizzy hair. She wasn’t that old, but she insisted on anti-wrinkle cream. She had an awkward grace that he loved; she was clumsy and artful, at the same time. She was intelligent, sharp but incredibly naïve. She was the mother of his two children and he was eternally grateful for her trust in him. To hear sadness in her voice, broke into his sleep and shook him awake.

“What is it? Are the children OK?”

“Your email was open, I read your mail to SB.”

“Oh, you found it?” Vijay yawned, grinned and rubbed the back of his head.

“Do you think it’s funny?”

“I think it’s a bit embarrassing! You weren’t supposed to find it.”

“Well, that’s obvious! Who is she?”

Vijay looked again, listened again. Things had not gone how he had planned. Swetha had found the emails. This was not how he envisaged on telling his wife about how he felt. Their anniversary was in two weeks time; he thought he might wait until then. He had been sending SB emails for a few days now. He resolved to send her one every day until the morning of his wedding anniversary. He had opened an email account in her name and sent them all there. sbloveofmylife@jmail.com

He became serious. “Think about it, Swetha Bhavanandan! Who do you think SB could be?”

Swetha blinked the tears away and ran into her husband’s arms, sobbing until she thought her heart would burst!

Just then, the rains came.

 Devjani Bodepudi, Hiland Park,

Kolkata

29.5.13

 

 

 

 

 

Inspiration


libraryAfter reading this blog http://spontaneousditties.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/absolute-certainty-and-infinite-confidence/ I was inspired. I was inspired to write again, to put aside my fears about criticism and failure and just write because I love it. My writing is mediocre at best so I know there will be critics. This woman explained what I felt, as a child, as an adult, extremely eloquently that she rightly deserved being ‘freshly pressed’

So here’s my offering. I have taken inspiration from my new surroundings but by no means is it wholly accurate. I hope you like it.

The Learned Lady of the Library

Mr Biswas walked leisurely along the red clay path of the well established and relatively verdant complex of Hiland Park. Frangipani blossom and white jasmine filled the early evening air with a sweet heady perfume that brought to mind an old sweetheart who wore flowers in her hair. His cotton-white Kurta, delicately embroidered with the traditional katha stitch of West Bengal, floated comfortably around him in the evening breeze.  The moon was full and rising luxioriously in a quickly darkening sky. Mr Biswas imagined himself in heaven.

Mr Biswas, the retired widower was on his way to one of his very favourite places; the Hiland Park Clubhouse Library. It was the one place he found occupation and solace after his wife’s death two years ago and now it held something more for Mr Biswas…at least, the promise of something more.

He ignored the sleeping street dogs that seemed to have increased in number recently and he ignored the flickering lampposts that stood guard in awkward angles after the Nor’westers hit the city the night before. They needed new bulbs but that did not matter. For now he only saw his destination.  

The Clubhouse loomed large before him, rising out of a makeshift moat. Its glass-fronted façade, with hundreds of rectangular eyes, seemed to question the ex-journalist; “are you ready for this?” they seemed to ask. The answer was a resounding, “Yes, I am!”

Briefly pausing to check the time on his phone, Mr Biswas ascended the wooden steps to the Clubhouse reception and made up his mind that he would take the stairs, rather than the lift to the 1st floor. He wasn’t that old, after all! On the way, he felt his stomach flutter, he wondered if it was indigestion, but concluded it was that mighty emotion, called Love. 

His wife had died of stomach cancer. It was heartbreaking to watch, to feel so helpless against all the pain and inevitability of it all. But when she was gone, although Pranay Biswas would never admit it to anyone, it was a huge relief. In his mind the suffering was finally ended, his wife’s and his own. In the early days of the marriage, Biswas was content but soon became frustrated. His wife was not his equal! She struggled to see the beauty of poetry and refused to read the English novels her husband plied her with. In Mr Biswas’ mind, his wife, although educated, was coarse and lacked taste! The last few years of their childless union was filled with nagging and resentment. Nothing he did pleased her. Nothing she did pleased him. They fought about the most mundane things and when they lay down at night a sleep filled, fumbled grope in the dark was the best they could hope for. In the sweltering heat of Kolkata, Pranay Biswas could find no warmth. 

On reaching the first floor, Mr Biswas checked his refection in one of the gigantic circular mirrors that hung upon the wall. What he saw satisfied him: A full head of hair, white like the cranes that stood on the riverbank, a pleasing angular face, still quite fair with a moderate yet appropriate number of wrinkles for a 64 year old and sharp, discerning eyes that missed nothing!

The double doors of the library opened outwards, automatically; a modern feature that delighted the patrons. To Mr Biswas, it seemed like the doors welcomed him, ready to embrace him, like a father is ready to embrace his daughter’s groom.

The butterflies in his stomach grew worse and his heart pounded painfully in his chest. He was giddy and was glad that the object of his affection could not see the beads of sweat forming on his brow.

He had rehearsed a strategy in his mind for approaching the Learned Lady of the Library (he did not know her name) but his mind went blank as soon as she appeared from behind the shelves titled Bengali Fiction. He quickly ducked behind the Modern Romance section and picked up a book. The lady did not seem to notice and continued to the reception desk to check-in the books that had been returned by other patrons. Mr Biswas cursed himself! What must this Learned Lady think of him? Modern Romance! Tagore would have been clichéd but at least it would have been cultured! He consoled himself with the thought that she may not have noticed.

He had seen the Lady a few times, at least, although always at a distance! He liked the way she seemed so shy when talking to the other staff. He was amazed with the way she just picked up the books and efficiently and effortlessly put them back on the shelves, barely glancing at their titles. He was staggered by the way she patiently scanned each book and their barcode with unspeakable grace but most of all, he knew, with all certainty, that this woman, this Learned Lady of the Library was his intellectual match. He just knew! She worked in a Library, after all!

Today, the Lady was dressed in a pretty pink churidar, fashioned out of cotton, lightly embroidered, very much like the kurta he was wearing. Of course they were made for each other! Her hair hung down her straight back, in a simple black plait. Her parting was free from the red vermillion that signified she might be married and it was impossible to guess her age although she was definitely somewhere between 45 and 55. But Love does not know numbers!

Biswas remembered his strategy and aimed straight for the English Poets section. He quickly found the book he was looking for; a collection of Love Poems by Lord Byron and found the page with the poem that seemed to best describe his dusky Lady, ‘She Walks in Beauty’.  He headed back to the reception desk and plonked his book on the counter.

“This is you,” Pranay whispered nervously to his Lady. They were alone. She looked blankly at the open page. She blushed. This obvious expression of coy acceptance made Biswas want to cover his angel’s face with kisses. He waited, though, as this was not the place.

She spoke, “Sorry, Sar, ami Angreji porte janina.”  I can’t read English.

Biswas was flummoxed.

But just to clarify, there came an impatient voice from right next to his Lady, “Pinky, golpo kore shomoi noshto na kore, tara tari, dui cup cha baana!” Instead of wasting your time chatting, quickly make two cups of tea!

The voice turned to Mr Biswas, “Sorry, if the maid was bothering you. Just this book?”

Devjani Bodepudi

23.5.13

Hiland Park, Kolkata