Thursday 15 August 2013

Short Story 2013 Shortlist, Sayujya Sankar


She stood in front of the fire on a wood-burn-silent-breeze-crackling-smoke night. She was a night time lone walker. She had left the confines of her car to stubbornly take a solitary stroll in the midnight air. She felt slightly unsafe- as though the eyes of the people of the night were boring into her back, and maybe they were. She was quiet, though. She did not want to move, and yet a sense of restlessness invaded her body. From the corner of her eye, she could see some of the homeless women and children looking up at her scrawny self from their sprawled positions near temporary shacks.

She was a young woman- maybe in her mid-twenties- with nothing to gain and nothing to lose in life. Her life was ordinary, simple, unimportant. She wore a simple red kurta and black patialas, with a soft scarf winding about her neck. Her dark, black hair hung in loose curls about her shoulders. Her eyes were thickly lined with mascara and eye-liner. Her lips were tinged with red, as though her lipstick had rubbed off through the course of the night. Her earrings were small droplets of red. Her feet were clad in simple chappals and small toe-rings twined round her little toes. There was a single black anklet round her left foot. She carried a bag that was a mismatched green.
Her life was dull, in a get-a-job-buy-a-car-and-house-and-settle kind of way. She stayed in a single bedroom apartment in a not-so-posh locality and went to bed night after night, alone on a bed, with a tired ache in her heart and a wetness between her thighs. She longed for something to fill her up- to complete her. Her loneliness, she felt, needed to be complemented by another existence, or a purpose of being, that she attempted, night after night, to satisfy by herself.

When she had seen him… well, he had been tantamount to the perfect escape. She had never known him, had never loved him. He had been a college acquaintance and they had met after years of not even knowing about each others’ existence. And in one drunken night she had decided to turn to sex as an escape- as many of her friends and peers seemed to do. She had never done this before. But her friends had seemed to find something in it, and she wanted to know what they had meant by the sheer ecstasy of intercourse.

For them- her friends, that is- their bodies took them to another world, a realm of being that meant something, that gave them something to look forward to, something that would take them away from their mundane lives. And she had wanted to feel that flight of freedom, of unison, of passion, that something which gave temporary meaning to the everydayness of life.

She was nothing like ‘the’ standard notion of pretty. She had an oval face lit up only by her sense of individuality. Her eyes were a gorgeous shade of dark-chocolate-brown, which heightened her smile. Though she was very thin, she considered herself an ungainly woman. She was neither fair nor dark. She was an in-between brownish something that on Indian marriage sites would be called a “wheatish complexion”. She definitely did not think of herself as wheatish, though. She did not think of herself as tall, or thin or uninteresting. She thought of herself only as ‘I don’t care’.

Yet, she was surrounded by a babble of friends who had wanted her to alter herself. Her prettier friends asked her to put on some weight- “look healthy,”they said. Some of them asked her to change her style of clothing- accessorise more often, wear better earrings, fancier clothes or buy matching bags! The more rebellious ones wanted her to get a tattoo where nobody would see it, or streak her hair in shades of brown or red. But she was tired of these voices in her head. And so, she had gone there with an almost rebellious attitude- dressed in a not-so-sensible fashion, knowing that she would not be noticed. She would be on the sidelines of that party, and she was alright with that. She was not particularly interested in the people. She had just wanted to drown her evenings in alcohol and music.

They had met there, not bothering to speak much with each other throughout the evening. They had loitered by the bar long enough to acknowledge the existence of the other. They stood there silently, consumed in their own thoughts, their own worlds, only vaguely noticing each other. He had been dressed in official wear- a colourless shirt with an equally boring tie to suit it. His hair was tousled, as though he had not paid any attention to it. His eyes were blank. She could see that he lived in a world of fancy-watch-and-fancy-shoes not very unlike her own self.

With enough alcohol in the system, it had been easier to contemplate intercourse. Their kiss had been passionless and their intimacy seemed to take them further away from each other. He did not seem to care about either her or even the sex. It seemed mechanical, as though he, too, wanted to fill a void in his life. She could feel him breathing deeply against her, and yet she could not explain the feeling of isolation that swelled within her even as they were being as intimate as they could ever be.
 When she had opened out her legs to him, she had let escape a sense of privacy, as though she had given away something that had been hers to keep. Not that it was impinged upon her. Even though the intercourse had been of her own volition, she felt drained and empty, not the happy exhaustion that she had anticipated. This was not how it was supposed to feel, she thought! Not all the movies, nor all the books portrayed someone as feeling so void after the beautiful act of intercourse.
Now, here she was alone in the night, walking through the dark alleys of the night, standing in front of a burning fire wondering why she had been so disappointed with her first experience of intercourse. He seemed to have enjoyed himself, with the dark blankness in his eyes, but his groans of joy seemed to have meant something. His grip had been intense, as though he wanted to achieve something by it- almost like a desperate hope for something that he could not find. Hers was a silent coming. Quiet. Like the night. She had felt nothing. She had responded not with emotions of desire, but with a necessity that she slowly began to feel was unimportant- as though her coming had no consequence to life or love or her loneliness.

She had turned around to face the homeless women who were staring dolefully at her- don’t take away the heat from our fire, they seemed to be saying reproachfully. She saw them with their dishevelled saris, and with their men and children beside them. She wondered what it had meant to them to spread their legs in front of a man- if it had been only to their man. Was it with expectations of ecstasy or was it sheer necessity or was it forced upon them? She shuddered as she saw their silhouettes flickering in the fire, becoming a million faces of faceless women with faceless stories thrusting themselves upon her single, unimpressive narrative of loneliness. The children all tired and crumpled lay in a huddle in the corner.

She had sneaked out of the room without waking him up. He had asked for her number, maybe hoping for some more nights of meaninglessness, but she had evaded him. Later, she left him a note on leaving- Thanks. He would probably be confused, or angry, or maybe even indifferent. But she knew she had to say it. He had spoken to her in ways which words could not speak. The blankness of his eyes reflected the blankness of her world, and she knew that he was an insignificant spec in the universe. Like her. Like almost everyone around her.

A moment of revelation…
Before it vanished like the thin wisps of smoke. She sighed as she walked back the short distance to her car. Inside the soft cosiness of her car, she felt safe, as though the real world- the world that could catch you unawares- had been left behind with the fire, and the reproachful women and the world-that-slept-on-the-road. She felt safe in her money and her riches and in this safety was a sense of bitter disgust.
She reached her apartment, with the small dull yellow light bulb hanging outside, awaiting her return. She turned the key, opening and then shutting the door behind her in the stillness of her home. The outside light went off. She dumped her keys and bag on an empty chair, wandered to her bedroom and lay alone on a single bed, with a wetness between her thighs.

No comments:

Post a Comment