Sunday 10 June 2012

Short Story 2012 Longlist, Arpa Mukhopadhyay


Date: 14th November
Year: 2008
Event: ‘VerveCross’, our annual college bash
Mood: Exhilarated!
 It was our last college fest and we were having the time of our lives. With no parents at home and no nosy neighbors in the new building that I and my family had just shifted to, all my restrictions were at bay. I could reach home whenever I wanted to (read: any time before 3 a.m. was out of question), and in whichever state I wanted to (read: state - inebriated)
Importance of the day: My life was about to change.

“Amanda, you sure you’d reach home safely from here?” Raj yelled out of his car. “You think I’m drunk, don’t you?” “Here check this out”, I swirled and tapped my six-inch stilettos against the floor. A couple of twists and turns later I completed my favorite dance step and winked at him. He nodded in appreciation, smiled at me and then drove away. I had been dropped off right in front of my building, from where both of us assumed I would reach home safely. It was the last time we attended VerveCross and oh what fun we all had - danced till our legs hurt, partied till we ran out of booze, and screamed till our lungs fell short of air! I climbed up the stairs and started walking towards my door. I had a myriad of emotions running through my tired mind. The four years of engineering, the excitement of going to college, the bunking of lectures, the onerous task of finishing assignments on time, the first flush of love and then the pangs of the broken heart, the so-called study night-outs and the parties that followed them, the horrid examinations and the sighs of relief when we managed to scrape through them all – none of these moments were ever going to come back. There was a certain discomfort in the air. The night outside seemed more silent and sullen than ever and my liquor consumption only made it worse. I trod my weary way through the corridor and finally reached home. The only sensible thing that my now-nonsensical mind felt right was to get inside my quilt and sleep all of it off.  And tired that I was, it really wasn’t difficult at all! Zip – I popped into my bed, and Zap – I was lost in lazy slumber!

I don’t know how long it had been since I slept. I however remember waking up with a start. Lightning flashed, thunder roared, and there was a sudden torrential downpour. I looked out of the window, unable to understand the sky’s sudden outburst in the middle of a calm and peaceful November night. There was something queer about the whole setting. But it was the lightning that grabbed my attention. It glowed instead of flickering and it was shaped differently. It was more elliptical than linear – in fact it was almost saucer-like! Before I could start reacting to the mysteries lying outside my window, something else diverted my attention - a severe headache that I had suddenly began to experience. I realized it was the much-dreaded migraine attack. I usually got these when I drank a tad too much!
I got up from bed to get some medicines, when my eyes fell on my reflection in the mirror of the cabinet. Something was amiss! I looked so pale. My colour! I had lost my colour!
I decided to ignore it, took the medicine and jumped back to my bed. I needed some good sleep. I put in a decent effort to get some, but sleep eluded me. Why? I must have been really disturbed. Was it what I saw in the mirror, or the eerie silence in the new house? Was it the weird shape of the lightning? Or was it just the migraine? Was I visualizing things? Or was I plain scared? Staying all on my own was totally my idea and how I regretted it now!

I tried reaching out to my parents in Kolkata but I realized that the phone lines were jammed. Unable to stand the mysterious silence any longer, I mustered up some courage and decided to go look at my reflection in the cabinet mirror again. And Lo!  This time around the image had a scar!
Quivering, I moved away from the cabinet and tried to turn the lights on. But even they wouldn’t budge. With time however, my eyes got accustomed to the darkness. I slowly reached my window and decided to look up in the sky. There was no lightning. Instead there were scattered clouds this time. I felt relieved. Whatever I had seen must have been a figment of my imaginations. Happily I started drawing the window shades when I noticed something peculiar. On the ground, right under the clouds, there lay a gigantic white mass!

I retreated in fear and turned around, only to see my reflection in the opposite window as well! I took out my pencil torch. The reflection was smiling, almost as though mocking at me. The scar I wore was brighter, and this time I didn’t look pale. I looked blue!

If there was an expression on my face, it could only be that of horror. How could my reflection in the window smile then? I rushed to the cabinet. No image! Sudden realization dawned upon me - there really was no mirror in the cabinet. How then do you explain the image in the first place? Was it not a reflection at all then? It had seemed to me a perfect mirror image though. Now I was sure I was hallucinating! I never knew four pegs of vodka would give rise to such visions, but knowing that I was hallucinating actually worked in my favour. It converted my fear to curiosity.

It had been a dreadful day and what was the worst that could happen anyway? From that point on, I decided to play along. Could there really be someone ‘else’ in the room with me? Was it an apparition; or someone else who resembled me?  Cerebral that I had always been, I chose the latter. As a child I had always wondered if I was really unique in this whole universe. I would love to meet someone just like me. Well I’m sure some childhood fantasies come true, because there she was – walking towards me. It was time to face her!

She stood in front of me, smiling in all her blue ethereal beauty. Her long curly tresses, her large magnetic eyes, the beauty spot on her right chin, the serene look on her face and her enchanting smile made me feel honoured to be her look-alike. Yes she was real. And it wasn’t me with the scar. It was her. It adorned her right cheek, and she wore it very gracefully.

I could feel myself brimming with excitement. It was time for the introductions: I spoke for the first time in what seemed like – ages ‘Hi, I am Amanda. Who are you? ‘ADNAMA, ADNAMA’ ‘uoy teem ot ecin’ she squeaked. I couldn’t understand a word of what she spoke. I asked her again, and she repeated the same. What on earth was Adnama?

 Another flash of lightning later I saw her face suddenly twitch and deform into a sight, I couldn’t bear to see. I cringed looking at the malign expression on her newly morphed face. Beauty or Beast, what was she? And why was I stuck there? Hallucinating or not, this time around, I was really scared!
She screamed ‘ereh morf yawa teg’ ‘ereh morf yawa teg’. I heard her words reverberating in my ears. She stretched her right hand and there appeared a bright sword in her hand. Realizing she wasn’t really keen on being friends with me, I made a run for the corridor. I stumbled across something and fell. I knew I was nearing my end. All of a sudden, I looked up and saw it wasn’t her. It was a monster – a hideous, malicious, and very ugly-looking double-headed monster! I could still hear her voice in the background - ‘reh morf yawa teg’ ‘reh morf yawa teg’. Now there were two of them! What were my odds against the two really? I am sure my inquietude got the better of me because I still don’t remember what happened next. I was sure one of them would get me and I would be found dead the next day.

I woke up on my bed, my cell phone ringing by my side. It was mom. She said she was coming back by afternoon and asked if all was fine. I told her I was alright, just had a terrible nightmare the previous night. She asked me to take care and hung up. I could still not forget what happened. It seemed so real. I was glad it was just a dream, glad that I was still alive. I made coffee for myself and started reading the newspaper. ‘Huge crater observed. Networks jammed and unexpected lightning and thunder showers in the newly developed township of Raka’. ‘Our correspondent reports very few inhabitants were around at that time of the night. No one really knows if these events are interlinked. Some scientists have gone to an extent of declaring - ‘it could be a UFO at work’.

My coffee gone cold, I was still trying to convince myself that it really was a dream. I wanted to go back to sleep, but someone came knocking at my door. It turned out to be my neighbor who had shifted that morning, and she seemed anything but convivial. She pointed out to innumerable unintelligible scribbles in blue in our corridor. She made herself quite clear- rub off the marks or forget your peace of mind! I read out aloud. ‘EYB, YRROS –Adnama’. I realized I was squeaking, and not speaking, quite the same way my lookalike did. My neighbor stared at my face and left me alone in horror. I looked at myself in the mirror. I actually had a huge scar - on my left cheek! It was REAL!

I went to the window and looked out. There really was a crater. So it ACTUALLY HAPPENED! Then how was I still alive? I saw a bouquet of blue flowers near the window. It wrote ‘Adnama’. I was nonplussed. The sword, the monster, and her facial changes - what sense could I make of them all? Was the sword not for me then? Were they fighting each other and not me? Was she a savior and not a predator?

 I stood in front of the mirror. All my doubts seemed to vanish in thin air. I got the clue! I reversed the letters - Adnama read ‘Amanda’. I tried to recollect everything else that she spoke or wrote. EYB, YRROS – sorry bye’. ‘uoy teem ot ecin’ –‘ nice to meet you’. ‘ereh morf yawa teg’ – ‘get away from here’. She was actually trying to save me. How I wished I could meet her again. But all she had left behind was my scar -which by the way had to be on the left, simply because hers was on the right. She was, in the truest sense of the word – my ‘mirror-image’
The police was at my door asking me if I knew anything about what happened the previous night. I looked at her flowers, thought for a minute and said ‘no - none that I can remember.’ I didn’t want to close on an opportunity to meet her again.

Date: 21st November
Year: 2009
Event: My wedding
Mood: Excited
It had been a year and I had almost forgotten the entire ordeal, the only thing that reminded me of Adnama was my scar which was itself on the verge of getting erased. It was the night of my wedding and I had developed a severe migraine. I was getting ready in my ‘bride’s room’ and as it has traditionally been in our Indian marriages, even your bridesmaid leaves you cornered in your room to have a glimpse of the groom when he comes riding on his beautifully decorated wedding horse. So I was all alone when someone came in with some flowers. I assumed it was yet another wedding gift, and nodded for her to keep them on the table and leave. She left and suddenly I felt my scar burning. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I went and checked the flowers. They were blue and had a note which read ‘gniddew yppah – Adnama’. I remembered her gait and the sari that she wore. I had to follow her, meet her, greet her, talk to her, and thank her. I ran out of the room, my scar still burning. Unfortunately neither could I spot her, nor was I allowed to run around in my red benarasi for long on my wedding night.

Incidents like this continued. My birthdays, my wedding anniversaries, new years’ or diwalis - she never forgot them. My husband was a bit uneasy in the beginning but then realized he could never track the source, let alone the police that he had informed. I, on my part never revealed my experience to anyone.

But it was never to be. I could never meet my friend from another world when I was in my senses. She once appeared in my dreams. I guess that was the only time we talked to each other.
 She revealed that she belonged to Redler, a habitable planet 20 billion km away from earth, orbiting around the star - Carulum. She represented the Intelligentsia of her world, and worked as a senior scientist for ASNA, Redler's advanced space research agency. She was the inventor of the Ad-scanner - a probe launcher, based on ME waves, that travel at a speed thrice that of light. Identical that we were in thoughts, she launched it first to find a specimen like herself. The Ad-scanner could scan within a 30 billion km circumference, and it had stopped at exactly 19.899878 billion km. Her experiment was a success and elated, she set out to witness the miracle herself, far away from her permissible territories to Earth by ASNA’s secret spaceship, thereby violating the contract on Redlerian privacy. The monster, her rival at the agency took full advantage of the situation and followed her to earth.

She explained how important it was for me to never reveal her identity. It could affect both our lives. The monster wanted to kill me because I came to know of their existence. It was the Redlerians’ most guarded secret.
I had no choice but to accept my fate. ‘Just promise me, you will never let go of this secret’, she said. ‘Just promise me, you’ll never leave me’, I retorted.
And we both kept our promises – at least for a long time!

Sometimes my scar would glow in the night and I would rush to stand near my window to see if history ever repeated. But all I ever saw was a faint light in the sky. I knew it was Adnama, saying hi to me. Sometimes, when I hurt myself – the scar would glow and the pain would disappear. It was Adnama, watching over me. If I felt sad, the scar made me happy. If I felt angry, the scar soothed my anger. If I felt lonely, I knew I had company. The scar was a part of my life and I knew it connected us both.

Date: 14th March
Year: 2011
Event: My birthday eve
Mood: Upbeat
A few years had passed thus. I had my migraine pain again. Only now, it was so excruciating that I felt I would die. I rushed to the window and saw twinkling lights. I had a small telescope that I had to bring out. It felt as though two massive bodies were up to something. It seemed to me - a fight; and my glowing scar said Adnama was in one of them. I prayed, with all my devotion. I tried to rub my scar and reach out to Adnama. Nothing worked. My headache got so severe that I couldn’t take it anymore. I succumbed to the pain and fainted. The next day mysteriously, my scar disappeared. I did not even want to think about the unthinkable.

 It was my birthday. I kept waiting for my flowers. They didn’t come. Seven months later, it was my anniversary. No flowers! I knew I had lost her. She had broken her promise. She had left me.

Date: Today
Year: 2012
Event: My declaration
Mood: Somber
It has been a while since it all ended. The emotional turmoil that I have been going through about the promise that I had made to Adnama had to stop. I made up my mind - to narrate my story. And I feel much lighter now. Not because I felt hurt, not because I wanted to break free, and definitely not because she had broken hers, but because I wanted the world to know the truth. I read about aliens everywhere, watch movies, television series on them - watch how cruel they are made to be, and read how much destruction they cause.

If there really is anyone out there who’s willing to lend a true, empathetic ear, I would want him to know: ‘Yes I knew an alien, if that’s what you would call her. She was from a place, far away from my world and yet she was closer to me than my real sister. She looked just like me, but she cared more than I ever could. She was smarter than our scientists and stronger than our fighters. She was as protective as our mothers and as friendly as our sisters. But most importantly she was more human than all the human beings that I have ever come across.

She was Adnama- Amanda’s alter-ego and she was indeed very special!’

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