Friday 5 October 2018

Short Story 2018 Longlist, Anisha Dutta

Destined Silence                                                

Preparation leave prior to Examination on Masters’ Degree started for long six months. Parents of Arianna suggested her to spend the period in Uncle’s place on remote suburb. The place is solitary calm devoid of noises and city disturbances. It is prime time to avail of long leave for examination preparation. She should not lose the opportunity to concentrate exclusively on study.

Arianna instantly realized that actually she is shifted away from companionship of Maroon. Maroon is a nice well behaved young chap, brilliant in career. Yet her conservative parents do not like Maroon. Nothing wrong goes with Maroon. Only objection is that, Arianna has developed a fascination for him. Arianna has not yet been adult. She is in the last year of her teen age period. So she did not go on confrontation but surrendered. She prepared herself to leave.

She packed her stuffs and took lots of postal envelopes. There will be no connection with Maroon in this period except exchange of letters. So, at last Arianna reached uncle’s bungalow. She was too lucky to occupy a single room with attached south facing balcony. Over and above she chanced to own a study table just in front of the window. Uncle has recently joined a new College in Suburb where township has just started to develop with most modern facilities. She loves greenery and nature. She arrived in evening. At night so much excitement was waiting for her, she couldn’t imagine even in her dream. At the dining table she was relishing good food with uncle, aunt and her two cousins Shiny and Pearly. Shiny is ten years younger than Arianna. She is in the fourth standard. Pearly is a little girl of three and is very much attached to Arianna from her babyhood.

Suddenly a weird croaking sound in few seconds interval coming from the garden alerted everybody. Listening attentively uncle identified that this is the typical groan of a frog caught by a snake. All rushed to the balcony and uncle flashed the torch. Really a snake was slipping away with a frog half being already in its mouth.

As dawn broke and Arianna stood on the balcony, the paddy field just on opposite side crossing the road welcomed her. Green crops are swaying their soft branches with the flowing breeze. Cultivation is running so close to her room. She is overwhelmed to get this bonus in this visit. Day was Sunday, a rest day. After breakfast Ariana just walks out to see the college premises under guidance of Shiny and Pearly. Shiny advised Arianna to take some rice grains. Few peacocks and deer are still found in the neighboring forest just encircling the college premises. At first they started to take a round in the residential area of the staff. The open fields contain flowery plants at random. Almost every owner of the quarters allotted to them are maintaining small garden fenced with hedges. Temporary bamboo gates are covered with creepers. She was so delighted to have looks on plenty flowery plants. She collected seeds of an unknown flowery creeper and decided to sow the seed just in front of her balcony to raise it on the brick work by the side of the railing.

They are about to cross an open barren field. The ripen crops are already cut. Only a loner cotton plant stands spreading branches almost totally covered by fully blossom dark red flowers. She lifted her head high gazing at the charming beauty of the dazzling flowers in full bloom on tips of the branches of the tree. Instantly she was frightened to see snake just lying and enjoying sunshine. She is about to yell and stepped behind owing to reflex action. Shiny laughed and cleared that is not a snake just the old skin of the snake released and left by the creature on natural norm. She is relieved and the three entered the forest. It is a forest not a scary jungle inhibited by wild animals. Various kinds of trees, plants, bushes, attract her eyes. There is no regular path to follow. They are intruding pushing bushes and making their own way. Her dress was once caught by thorns of a creeper. She needed Shiny’s help to release herself. She was very much astonished to notice most of the strong and tall trees are coiled by creepers. Perhaps when the creepers were young having soft stem, they needed the support of the tree to climb. 

But now the stems are turned hard and seemed to be equally strong and hard as the trees. The scenario reveals that trees are captivated and trapped by the creepers. They reached a spot where three medium sized rocks have reserved their seats amidst wild grasses. One big peacock with spectacular tails spread is sitting on one of the rocks. The two peahens are just leisurely walking slowly and picking up soil particles with their beaks. Shiny reminded Arianna to throw rice grains on ground in front of the birds. But too enthusiastic Arianna put some grains on her palm and started calling the birds in welcoming voice. Her hand is forwarded to the birds. The peahens may be scared to respond. But the dare devil peacock jumped from the rock and smartly stepped forward. Now Arianna is scared, but pretended to be brave in presence of two younger sisters. The Peacock pecked its sharp beak on her palm. Arianna yelled and stepped back. Grains are scattered on the ground. Shiny gave a loud laugh and Pearly clapped. Not even a full day is passed, but Arianna has gained lot of experience. Returning the bungalow, she sowed the seeds.

The bungalow has two wings. Uncle and aunt use the eastern wing. The kitchen, drawing room and Arianna’s bedroom is in the western wing. So she is also favored by her own privacy. Next morning, she unpacked her stuff and arranged the study table. Shiny has her fixed school hours. Pearly has not yet been admitted to school. She shares her little world with Arianna. Aunt makes herself busy in household chores. Uncle lives in his own academic world. Next morning, she met Ocean in her teen age curiosity.

One week is passed. Arianna received a letter from Maroon. Immediately she replied with detailed narration of her enchanted experiences focusing each tit-bit. She did not forget to mention about her single separate room with own private balcony, the horrified event of witnessing slow swallow of frog by the snake, the exciting scene of agriculture just within a few yards, her stupidity to be scared looking at the abandoned skin of snake, her visit to the forest with the cousins meeting the birds and pecking of peacock on her palm, collecting the seeds of a beautiful flowery creeper. Above all she is overwhelmed with sublime solitude of nature.
Uncle is the departmental head. Ocean is the junior most. Eventually they have to face each other several times, but no interaction occurred. College hours start with a siren break. The staff members follow the road in vicinity of uncle’s house approaching the college. Arianna spotted Ocean, while engaging in watering plants on the pots. Ocean comes to collect keys of the department. He is too shy even to lift his eyes to Arianna. Arianna drops the keys lightly on his palm even without a little bit of smile. Ocean is too hasty to flee on his way. At the right bending of the road where pair of tall eucalyptus plants sways their slender branches, he definitely turns back. Just allowing momentary pause he casts a glance through the gaps of network of leaves to check presence of Arianna on the balcony.

At lunch break, staffs are on their way back. This time also siren break alerts Arianna. She watches through window from her room. If Ocean be shown along with other inmates, she does not show her up. But as soon as he is noticed coming alone, she stands leisurely, posing herself totally disinterested.

Three weeks are passed. Second letter from Maroon reached Arianna. He has written ‘You study in science stream. I was not at all aware of your deep emotion regarding flora and fauna. Also I am much impressed with your keen literary sense in writing. Really I appreciate and admire. But as I have gone through the letter from top to bottom just in searching one sentence “Maroon, I am missing you’’. It is not there. I am disappointed. It is good to know that you are enjoying your stay there. Also, you are glad even being far away from me. I am getting jealous. No, no Just I am kidding. Enjoy and be happy.’ Arianna put the letter in the envelope and left aside.

She is alerted by the siren break at four in the evening. College hour is over by four. Now Arianna is confident that as rush of returning crowd will be totally over, Ocean appears. Normal time to cross the road is no more than two minutes. Ocean takes five minutes by slow walk playing with the bunch of keys throwing and catching. At the same time Arianna gets busy caring the plants. Is this daily event just a coincidence or a wishful approach from both sides? Daily schedule of Arianna to appear on balcony is tuned with timings of passage of Ocean to and back from college. Any way her planted creeper is growing rapid and buds have started to appear. Next week the creeper becomes covered with full blooming flowers.
She volunteered to accompany Shiny to board school bus. Aunt is pleased and Arianna is benefited. The same road passing the college leads to the bus stop. Workshops buildings are to be crossed. On her way she chanced to locate Ocean as Instructor to Engineering students in the field work. It is much better to exchange glances within shorter distance than remote visibility from balcony.

Two young hearts came close to each other. The seed of love sprouted bearing a tiny plant of desire. The soft stem of emotion produced two tender leaves of passion. The intense hard root pierced the heart of Arianna in deep dolor. One afternoon, it was already four thirty. No trace of Ocean is visible. Arianna became impatient. Watering the plants was over. She now started to pick up the withered flowers and clean up the dried leaves. Suddenly she felt somebody’s intense look pinching her. Instant reflex action made her alert. She noticed with simultaneous rejoice and surprise that Ocean just reached directly on the front road of her balcony crossing a diagonal narrow path through the field. Next day onward, that diagonal path leading directly in front of Arianna’s balcony was chosen by Ocean.

Two months are passed. Third month is going on. Arianna received third letter from Maroon. She felt no urge to reply prompt. After two days she wrote that now she is very busy in study. She may be excused from writing letter frequently. She wrote about alarming siren break four times the day. But she did not mention that her daily scheduled has been tuned with these siren breaks.

Arianna can’t study for whole day. Also she has no friends here to interact or chat. In the afternoon Shiny is out to play. Arianna must relax. So she started to take little Pearly in the nearby park in the afternoon. Pearly enjoys swing. Arianna pushes the swing to cheer up her. Soon Ocean is noticed to walk on the adjacent road. But no verbal interaction occurred; neither was needed to quench the thirst of the silent lovers. Only several exchanges of glance are occurring every day. Six months almost passed. Arianna’s final examination is ahead. Last day before her departure dawned. In usual course morning turned into noon. In the last afternoon Arianna is wandering in the park. Ocean is walking on adjacent road. Gloomy afternoon approached sad evening turning dark lamented night. All left the park. Arianna is walking aimlessly. Ocean is moving with a slow simple harmonic motion swinging like a pendulum. Suddenly most timid, ever-silent Ocean became courageous. He rushed to have a hasty entrance to the park and stood in front of Arianna face to face. Arianna had not hidden her glances. She looked straight to the eyes of Ocean. But Ocean failed to voice his emotion. None uttered a single syllable. Arianna left next morning.
*     *
Ten years are passed. Arianna has again come to her uncle’s place with her little one-year baby. This time it is a stop gap to shift to new place where her husband Maroon has recently been transferred. Within one or two months’ new flats will be arranged. Immediately he will come to take his wife and baby. The long gap of ten years has changed the scenario of Uncle’s family. Shiny is now a sophomore in City College. Pearly is grown up and studies in ninth standard. She is allotted the same room with same romantic balcony exclusively for her personal use. Being hesitant she could not inquire about Ocean. But within two or three days she came to know that he is still an employee. But she dared not to ask whether he is a family man or still single. She thought, if Ocean be married, it will be a shock to her. If he be still unmarried, then her conscience will make her guilty. Better let it be in dark. She does not want to know.
Ten years back, when she first came here, college was just born. All the departments started with two or three teaching staffs. Only the First Year students got admitted. Now the college has turned into a big institution the roll strength exceeding thousand. Five student hostels are running. Number of departments has also been increased. Total staffs including academic and non- teaching section is also high. Obviously large number of families crowded whole college campus. She could not find the calm quiet attractive beauty of the place as she experienced ten years earlier.

The paddy fields are removed. New college buildings, workshops are built on that area. So that narrow familiar diagonal path has left no remnants. All the tall trees are cut down. Wild bushes and grasses, complex creepers are cleaned. Nice Forest has been totally vanished with peacocks and deer. Arianna is shocked to notice that the favorite flowery creeper of Arianna might have been withered up. That place is now occupied by money plant of aunt’s choice.

But the college is still following traditional rule. The opening and closing college hours are alerted with siren break. The front roads are so much crowded particularly at the scheduled hours of starting and closing, it is impossible to stand or walk freely on the balcony ignoring the curious gaze of the passer by. Arianna tried to watch the road to spot at Ocean at least behind window staying inside the room. But no positive outcome is received. One week is passed, she failed to trace Ocean. The bearer of the department daily comes in the morning to collect the keys. On every dawn break Arianna perishes an expectation of Ocean if chanced to get the keys. But it does not happen.

Most of her time is now occupied by her little angel. Yet so emptiness prevails all around. Dull days are just suffocating Arianna. She could not come out of the dolor of losing something most precious. Leaving her baby under aunt’s care, one afternoon she was out in search of the seeds of that special flowery plant which was once growing with her passion in full vigor yielding nice flowers of emotion. Astonishingly she found and planted on the same place beside brickwork. One corner of that memorable park is visible from her balcony. Shiny is too old to be pushed on the swing. Also now she has her own friend circle. If she wished, she could have easily follow routine of daily evening walk in the park. But crowded park did not attract her. So, she abandoned the idea to have a visit there.

Dawn breaks and day begins to fade in the evening merging in night. A full dull disappointing day is over. One morning just at the siren break, the door- bell rang. Arianna opened the door casually with the bunch of keys to hand over to the bearer. She looked at the eighth wonder of the world. Ocean is standing straight in front of her just in the same style with erect neck slightly turned on his left. She found no remarkable changes in appearance, bright energetic and blooming. Arianna tried in vain to smile a little. Ocean extended his open palm and Arianna just dropped the bunch of keys on his palm.

Following his old practice, he almost fled on rapid speed. Arianna hurried to the balcony. She was sure that Ocean must turn his head at the right bend of road where that pair of eucalyptus trees still stood as old witnesses of their romance. And he did. The past ten years of Arianna’s life is instantly deleted. Eternal time itself made a pause. Marvelous moment clicked the snaps of the two cores of heart.

Her baby cried in the room and she rushed to reality. Then onward Arianna occasionally is getting the scope to hand over the bunch of keys to Ocean. Yet none of them is interacting as if both are dumb. Meanwhile Maroon’s letter reached with the information that family accommodation is arranged. But it seemed to be difficult to get leave from new job. Can’t Arianna manage to come with the baby alone? Uncle objected. Ariana might face trouble on thirty-six hours’ train journey with the little baby. Uncle suggested ‘I am asking Ocean to reach you.’ Arianna could not utter a single syllable. She just nodded showing her consent. Her heart was whirled in vortex of passion. She was flooded in emotional tide. Would this miracle really happen!

Uncle arranged for their railway tickets and reservation scheduled on the coming week. So! At last they will interact. By nature, Ocean may be extremely introvert. But it is practically impossible to spend thirty-six hours, sitting side by side without any interaction. Ocean can no more remain silent. He must speak. Arianna herself is a talkative personality. She won’t allow Ocean keeping mum. Definitely they will not talk about any serious issue. Neither any past topic nor any future commitment will be discussed. They will not repent over past days. They will not dream for any upcoming expectation. They will agree to forget of any passion or romance even it still exists in the core of their hearts. Arianna just wants to talk. Any useless talk, unimportant gossip, stupid chatting anything is permitted. Only silence won’t be allowed.
At last the day just prior to their departure dawned. Arianna welcomed the morning with a cheerful mood. The doo- bell rang. Arianna opened the door to face Ocean. She could neither smile nor speak but hurriedly went inside the room to get the bunch of the keys and dropped on his palm as usual. Ocean did not show any special response, but left following his natural fast speed. As he left, Arianna became too annoyed on herself! Why she is so shaky till today? Tomorrow night they are going to travel together for long thirty-six hours. Should she not show a little interest to greet with soft smile! Any way spontaneously she pacified herself. It is just a matter to wait for another thirty-six hours. Then they will be free to talk lots.

It is about eleven at night. Arianna has packed everything. She is very particular in this context contrary to habits of Maroon. She does not leave anything for the last moment. Being totally satisfied, she is just going to retire in bed. Most surprisingly, the door-bell sounded. Who is in the urgency on such late night? Arianna immediately concluded, sure it is Ocean. Her sixth sense predicted so. He is the proud chap to come to change his decision at the last minute. Definitely he will tell that it is not possible for him to accompany Arianna. Any lame excuse can easily be shown. Angrily she opened the door. Maroon is at the door step. Dutiful husband has personally come to take his beloved wife and baby.

The most unexpected event probably turned Arianna silent for forever. Uncle has also come out of his bedroom. He is too delighted to declare ‘‘Thank God! You are so lucky. Obligation from Ocean is no longer needed. Maroon will use the ticket bought for Ocean.’

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