Friday 15 September 2017

Short Story 2017, Featured Writer, Chandrika Krishnan

Rude Awakening

I really don’t know what a fix is… I never did drugs.  It was just that this new situation was very addictive and I was transfixed.  It changed everything and I felt helpless.  This was ridiculous but there I was.  I, a much married man, just could not help myself being affected like some callow youth looking at a star, but that was how I felt. The impact of her limpid eyes looking deep at me was an arrow straight into my heart and it was enough to reduce me to a complete marsh-mellow. 

When I got up in this morning, it was just like any other day. I woke up to the nagging of my wife, saying how much she had to get done. I can’t really blame her. I know that I should give her a hand in getting the breakfast ready, or get the lunch boxes packed or at least help her to fill the water that comes twice a week and this being the ‘water day’; it was all too much for her to handle all alone. But Neeta, my wife of twenty odd years, always raised my hackles by her querulous tone.  She went ‘on and on’ about the ‘unending chores’ and I could feel myself becoming more and more mulish when it comes to me giving her a hand to handle all that life was throwing onto her lap. Lower middle-class was the term that best fit us and hence the convenience that comes with affluence was missing from our lives. It was a humdrum life with its never ending battle both at the workplace as one of the many clerks in the local post office eking out a meager living and at home living in a small shared ‘excuse of an apartment complex.’

I locked myself in the toilet with the newspaper that I had managed to bring with me with a great deal of stealth. Now, no one can begrudge a man while attending to nature’s call, right? This was my usual way of avoiding the chores. I did not consider myself selfish. It was all Neeta’s fault. She just did not know how to handle me right. I came out of the bathroom just in time to bid my children good bye who walked their way to school along with other neighborhood children. 

I looked at my wife dispassionately. Her sari was stained with some oil and turmeric and tied up to allow easy movement. Her hair was put up in a haphazard bun that had more to do with comfort rather than style. She had a set look around her lips and I sighed again knowing that there would be more of the same lecture, ‘you never help me,’ and ‘I have to do a lot of things,’ and ‘there is no maid too as we don’t have sufficient money to pay her,’ in accompaniment with my cup of tea and breakfast. How I wish that there would be some change in my life from the usual humdrum existence. The scooter as usual failed to start. 
“Why can’t you get that repaired,” Neeta grumbled. 

But I had a reason for not getting my two-wheeler rectified. The scooter would sputter a little distance only to give up around the corner. It was right outside the shop where a young shop assistant had caught my fancy a few days back. She was new and attractive. It gave me time to fiddle with my scooter and to watch her at her work for some time. I knew that I was too old for her yet, she was not too much off my thoughts. To date, she had not given me much of a signal. The scooter came to life and I was getting ready to leave when out of blue, she looked back at me and smiled her slow, appreciative smile and I was completely bowled over. My heart did a happy dance and my nerves sang with abandon. I never realized that such an attractive girl would find me interesting. That just proves the adage that if you were sufficiently persistent, things would work out for you. She gave me a clear come-on and I found myself doing small chores for the family. I started paying attention to my wardrobe and got a couple of brand new shirts though the bills made me wince a little. After a few days of this silent albeit meaningful communication, I mustered some courage to ask her out to watch a new movie and a walk along the beach and she readily agreed.  

God had finally listened to my prayers to help me out of this unexciting life. Even Neeta’s harangue was music as I simply shut off her talk. I prepared with a great deal of care for an evening out with Koel. Yes, I had learnt her name and she indeed was a sweet girl like the bird. My cup of happiness was full…              
“What happened to you, papa?” asked my eleven year old Suraj. “How come you are helping us fill water? Don’t you have a newspaper hidden under your vest?”
“Hush,” said his sister Preeti, who was a couple of years older, “We are not supposed to know that, mutt,” and they both sniggered. 

Yes, I was helping around the home more. I was pulling my weight and doing more chores.  The family that I had hitherto taken for granted was what gave me some solace to my sore heart. The girl Koel if that was her name, along with her accomplice had done away with my gold chain, ring, watch, money, and pride when I had taken her out for a walk along the beach.
I wondered if Neeta knew the actual story of how I had actually lost the gold that her parents had gifted me. She wanted to come to the police station when I had told mumbled some story of how I was robbed at a knife point but had managed to fob her off.  Like the ‘ hidden newspaper’ this too might not have missed her eye for the afternoon talk among the women folk was how a ‘ young girl’ with her accomplice was hoodwinking men in the neighboring areas. Truly, there is no fool than a middle-aged one!

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