Monday 15 September 2014

ShortStory 2014 Shortlist, Parul Jauhari

A Minute

2245 hrs: He was sitting with his friends. They sat and joked about the new professor of pediatric surgery. Turns out he looked like a rough and tough retired army colonel, but he carried a baby pink cell-phone. It was hilarious! They kept trying to keep a straight face in the lecture hall today too, but every time they saw the professor’s cell-phone, they had to bite their lips to avoid smirking. And now, after a couple of beers, the smirk had given way to vulgar guffaws as they howled away.

2246 hrs: She sat at the desk. It was about time she cleared her cupboard. Especially the bottom-most shelf! It had been years that she’d even seen what was inside. Every time she opened her cupboard, a mere look at it bothered her. But the bundles of paper piling out looked threatening, and she always managed to look away. Well, not today! A clear cupboard is a sign of a clear mind, and God knows she needs that!

2300 hrs: His laughter became a little forced as he glanced at the clock surreptitiously. My God, his friends did turn into complete jackasses after two pints! The joke had finished being funny about ten minutes ago. Now it was only the alcohol causing the laughter, and he wasn’t so inebriated. He pretended to look at his wristwatch and lied, “Chalo, I am going to my room now. Need to do some work for the pharma lecture tomorrow.” 

“Look at Mr. Punter here! Abbey, sit back and relax man. What will you do studying so much of pharma?”, said Jackass Number 1.
Arre, let him go.  He wants to top the batch and become a professor. Then he can carry a cute little baby pink cell-phone too!”, said Jackass Number 2.
He gave them a grin. It was moments like these when he wondered how on earth he came to be friends with these gregarious apes. Well, they were brilliant chaps when sober. When sober… that was the problem- they hardly ever were. Shaking his head slowly, he left for his room.

2301 hrs: “Aaaahchooo!” She knew she should have cleared the shelf earlier. Not only was the dust suffocating her, her insides squirmed at the thought of all the creatures that had made her untidy shelf a home. Already, two small spiders had been found and thrown into the dustbin, and now as she put her hand in, she just hoped no rat babies lay within its grasp.
The rats had decided to bless her with their absence, and so finally, the last book came out safely. She looked at the mess of school books, diaries and papers that lay on the bed now and at once repented the fact that she took up the challenge.
“Never put off until tomorrow, what you can do the day after tomorrow”, she quoted to herself; smiling as she remembered Mark Twain’s famous quote on procrastination.

2315 hrs: He felt a sense of peace and solitude as he closed the door of his hostel room behind him. How he loved the silence of the room at the end of each day! Ironically, he had chosen to stay in a hostel to avoid the eerie silence at home. Silence which gave his mind enough space to remember things he never wanted to even think about. And yet, by the end of each day, he grew tired of the constant chattering between friends. The fun seemed more forced, the laughter became more feigned and his friends seemed more like strangers who would never know what he truly was.
At the end of the day, he yearned for the very thing he had run away from.
‘You can run away from the darkness, but your shadow will always follow you.’

2316 hrs: Tired of sifting through notes, she now turned to the diaries. As she picked up the big red one kept in the corner of the bed, a class photo fell down. Her high school class photograph. She shuddered as she looked at herself in the photograph. How horrid she’d looked! Two of her could now fit into that old school blazer! She remembered how much she hated that school for the very same reason. It is difficult enough to go into high school as a ‘new kid’. It is pure hell to go through it being obscenely fat and unfashionable! Even though a high-schooler is mature enough, she vaguely remembered having fantasies of bombing the place or at least hoping for a localized earthquake strong enough to demolish the place.
“Even now I wouldn’t mind using a death ray on some of my ‘classmates’”, she thought laughingly.
And then she saw an impish face in the photograph… It was Him. She smiled as she remembered every incident about Him as if it were just yesterday. That first day in class when she entered a noisy class full of strangers. Either people stared, or they were too preoccupied, as she chose an empty seat to sit on. Only one person came forward. It was Him.
“Hi!” he said.
“Hi, I’m Aditi”.
“I’m Prachit.”
“Did you say Rachit?” she asked doubtfully.
“No, PRACHIT!” he shouted over the din, still bearing his impish grin.

2330 hrs:  His cellphone glowed in the dark. An sms. “Oye, want to go to the Parantha Point?” He stared blankly at the message. He should probably go. Being with friends is better than lying here alone. But something inside him squirmed at the thought of going outside and sitting there with friends, kidding around and laughing. Because that’s what he would eventually do. Even in the most depressed of moods, he joked. Especially in the most depressed of moods, he joked. It was like a protective armor, to hide from people what he was really like. He hated that habit of his. He sometimes wanted to tear off that armor, to tear off that grin from his face, but it had become what he was. An armor. And he was trapped underneath it.

He remembered reading somewhere that even if you think you have a chance to smile for one more time,  that is a reason for you to live. And he believed in it. And so, even if everyday seemed to be a struggle, he fought for survival. And yet, he felt so tired. So… isolated. He was surrounded by friends, but he still yearned for that one person who would understand him. That one person who would bother to look underneath the armor. His problems had no solution. But maybe that one person could make it seem alright to have those problems.
He’d waited for 26 years. That person never came. And now, he just wanted to be at peace. He wanted to go home… and yet, he didn’t know where home was.

2331 hrs:  He turned out to be the most popular boy in high school. But unlike most ‘popular’ students, he was actually popular for being a good guy. As high school slowly turned into a ‘hell of ragging’, he was the only one who helped. If notes had to be borrowed, he was the first to offer his. If a teacher was being rude, his quiet joke from behind her bench would make her smile again. In fact, he actually saved her from so many awkward and embarrassing situations. The impish grin never left his face, whether he was helping you out, or pulling a girl’s hair. He pulled her hair too. She pretended to get angry, but secretly, it felt nice to be treated a part of the class. Even now, he hadn’t lost his habit. He kept posting silly statuses on facebook, but whenever she posted a sad one, he’d message to find out the reason.  
He was her first crush. The reason she started taking care of how her hair looked. Whether a clip looked better, or a rubber-band. The thought of such a silly thing made her laugh even now!
She had always wanted to tell him how much she liked him. But he was so popular. Always surrounded by friends. Always fooling around. After high school ended, she thought of meeting him again, but she wanted to be perfect for him. So the meeting was always put off for a time when she ‘lost just 2 more kgs’. Then he became a doctor, so she put off the meeting for just one more year till she ‘became something’.

But one day, she had promised herself, she’d tell him how much she cared for him.
As she looked into the photograph and saw his laughing face, she decided…
That day was today.

2357 hrs: He tossed and turned restlessly in his bed…
 It just wasn’t worth it. All the struggle. All the haunting silence. All the loneliness.
He sat up in his bed, and saw the small ampoule on his desk.
Everybody says taking your own life is sin. But ironically, no one cares when you are alive.
“And no one will care when I’m dead.”
He filled the drug into a syringe. A lethal amount, lethal enough to kill him painlessly in ten seconds…

2358 hrs: She reached out for her cellphone. Smiling, she typed into it quickly,
“Hi. Do you want to meet up tomorrow? There’s something I want to tell you.”
2359 hrs: And he injected the drug into his vein.
0000 hrs: And she pressed SEND.

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