Sunday, 10 June 2012

Short Story 2012 Longlist, Debojit Dutta

Lac-dye Tale

She is too shy for comfort. At times, I can’t even find a way to start a conversation. At the most she would nod — maybe an inch of smile on her boldest days. Leaning against the door, gripping hard on the ends of her attire she would twist its ends in nervousness. I can notice sweat trickle down her forehead, as she talks. Talk? She mewls in a voice as slender as her being.

“What to cook for dinner?”  She would ask, making me feel like a guest at my own place. At times I would say, “Cook whatever you like,” in a bid to give her the liberty of being, a sense of belonging to these corridors. I still remember the day when we first met; though we never talked about it later inside these four walls. It seems now that we considered it taboo.

I remember sitting in the living room of her house, waiting. Conversation flowed all around me. Chatters, laughter and queries, I was interested in none.  In between they talked about her too. I could fathom when they nudged and laughed more. Amid the noise I could hear the giant wall clock tick in soliloquy, a sound I never before paid attention to. I noticed a minute lizard amble formally around its dial in a self-formulated pattern. Intermittently it moved its back to look at me. And then ignored.
More time passed, I finally enquired. My query was countered with a boisterous laughter, as if I asked why fishes couldn’t fly. Someone said she was busy gussying up. I skipped a beat and then it fluttered. It was an anxiety like never before. I took a sip from the glass kept on the table in front and then put it down silently avoiding further attention. I moved my eyes around out of self consciousness to check if anyone was talking about me or my actions.

A sudden clinking of sea-shells, coupled with that of bangles and anklets. I presumed she was coming. Those were the beats announcing her arrival. “Maybe the curtain is made of shells,” I thought. “It should be,” I assured myself. Among the beats, that of the sea-shells’ attenuated, while the other two continued in sync with her gait. Someone removed the door curtains from her way. I started raising my eyes slowly from her feet. 

She arrived in a combination of red and turquoise endowed benevolently with polka dots. I noticed a large tray of snacks and tea on those supple hands covered with ornamental designs. I gathered gumption to raise my eyes further and get a glimpse of her face, but failed. The same turquoise, red and polka dots covered her head and hid her face. Underneath it I could feel the same anxiety that existed beyond in my heart. Yet she didn’t or couldn’t move it away. Couldn’t shed her bindings. She stood behind the sofa, upright, unlike the leaning stance she uses now. I kept on gazing, the chatters around me dissolved to mist. After, maybe, half an hour they said it was time to leave.

Attendants from both sides stood up, greeted and embraced each other. I too followed, without taking my eyes off as she stood, as still as a mannequin on display. I felt intrigued to know if the lips behind muttered and pouted, if the eye-lids behind twinkled in bliss, fluttered in surprise and bowed down in sorrow. Over the years, I learnt the lips did all but pout and the eyes even in happiness would hide its twinkle.

It’s not that I never saw her before marriage. In fact, the day arrived pretty soon. That day, while the ritual of collecting water by the pond was being performed, I saw her face in water’s turbulence. Even the frills of the surface couldn’t curl her beauty. She was prettier than I had ever imagined. I believe the water agreed too. It played with her reflection. A hint of smile on her face, it showed in her eyes too and I envied the pond even more.

Rituals followed as it does and we vowed never to part. She cat footed into my life with her lac-dyed paws and left imprints never to be wiped away.

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