Thursday, 15 August 2019

Short Story 2019 Longlist, Sonal Singh


Touché Baby


‘Yep! I’m gonna be there on time. I swear no sweat.’ I spoke into my phone, trotting into my house.
‘Sure? You won’t ditch like last time?’ my friend asked.
“Duh! No yaar*, that was just once. C’mon, cut me some slack. See, I just have to change and then I’ll be outta here in a jiffy.’
‘Okay. Seeya* soon. Muah*! Ciao*.’ 

Call disconnected and back in my room, I mentally contemplated what to wear. I was a bit rushed for time. Tonight’s party was a last-minute plan. Usually, our plans were pretty elaborate, but today’s was spontaneous. I was excited. We all were. We had been stuck at home for the longest due to exams. Now freedom, partying and shopping beckoned. I couldn’t wait to see my BFF’s*. Oh! It was gonna be epic.

Humming a tune, I opened my cupboard to pick a dress. A mound of clothes cascaded down like a waterfall. Yes, literally fell on top of me and settled in heaps on the floor.
 ‘Damn! I should have cleaned this out earlier.’
Muttering, I fished in the fallen heap for the dress that I wanted, picked the rest and stuffed them back in, as best I could
‘Later.’ I thought, as usual procrastinating.  I was already running late.
I was about to shut the door when...

‘Ugh! What’s that smell?’ I wrinkled my nose. Something smelled pretty bad.
I sniffed my armpits. Disgusting, I know. But, I am a teenager. I am messy, unkempt and disorganized. It’s not that I am lazy. No sir, not at all. It’s just that the day has 24 hours and I have a thousand things to do and cleaning my room is not a priority. Nope! It just is not. Yeah, I know, a typical teenager!

Anyways, my room is littered with discarded clothing, footwear, and books. There is more trash on the floor than in the actual trash bin that Mom has so thoughtfully provided. In a corner of my room sits my beleaguered desk that groans under the weight of the books and knick-knacks that it carries. The bed, which occupies center-space in the room, looks like a war zone with the assortment of clothing and bags that I leave heaped atop it. I do occasionally make the bed but mostly I just shove everything to the floor at night before I sleep and in the morning I again heap everything atop it. The system has worked well so far. I see no reason to change it.
However, I have to say that I am pretty fastidious about personal hygiene. Trust me; my beauty regimen could give any Bollywood diva a run for her money. So, it behooves to reason that the only clean place in my room is probably my dressing table. I keep that well arranged. Well, honestly speaking the amount of time I spend in front of it preening or trying out makeup styles makes it impossible for me to function if the table is messy. So, by default, I keep it clean. I know, I know...pathetic excuse. Quit rolling your eyes at me. Didn’t I say I am a typical teenager?
‘Sniff...sniff.’
I sniffed under my armpits. Nope, it was not my armpits. ‘What then? What is it that smells so bad in here?’ I wondered, puzzled.
Whatever it was, it smelled pretty rancid. The room had been fine last night. I mean, I had slept in it and there had been no odor then. But today it reeked. How?
‘Gosh! What is it then?’ I pondered, chewing on my lower lip. Warily I contemplated the bursting seams of my cupboard. The poor thing looked like a pregnant cow ready to pop out its calf, so badly did it bulge with the amount of stuff it carried.
‘In there? God, no...I hope not.’ I groaned eying the stuffed cupboard. ‘Mom’s going to kill me if it’s something dead and decaying in there.’
Bemoaning at the injustice of this happening to me right when I had to get ready to attend a party, I looked at my cupboard. I knew I had to clean it. No two ways about it. Mom always did laundry on Saturday evening. So today she would be poking around in my room to check for soiled clothing and to put away fresh ones. I usually cleaned up my room a little before Saturday, nothing much, just enough to pass Mom’s eagle-eyed inspection. But the previous fortnight had been manic with exams, submissions and all and I had had no time. Now, I was in huge trouble if Mom came by and smelled what I had smelled.
‘Shit!’ I thought.
You see Mom’s pretty big on – ‘Time and tide wait for no man’ and ‘Tomorrow never comes’ and all that crap; while my philosophy is pretty banal – why do something today when you can put it off till tomorrow. Mom never lets an opportunity pass by to tell me the virtues of time and of doing things on time. Leaving my room in its current state and going for the party would surely have got me grounded faster than an ailing aeroplane. Could I risk it?
‘Shucks!’ I despaired, my brows knitting together in a frown. I weighed the pros and cons, mulled over how Mom would react and eventually decided to stick around and clean up the mess. It was the easier out.
 Mom’s temper is quite legendary in the family. I mean, even growing up her brother used to call her ‘The General’.  When enraged, she puts even our ferocious Doberman to shame. He literally cowers under the bed when Mom flies off into one of her famous tempers. Yes, she is that dangerous when incensed! She is also quite the stickler for punctuality and cleanliness and I am constantly at the receiving end of her tirades. Personally speaking, I suspect, she has a touch of OCD (not mild but chronic) but I would never say that to her face. Jeez, obviously!
‘Well, I better get on to it then. No use dilly-dallying.’ I concluded unhappily. A mammoth chore waited. God! How I hated cleaning.
Anyhow, I called up my friend, rather morosely shelved the plans for the evening (got an earful too and also an ‘I told you so’), and started sorting out my stuff. I pulled all the clothes out of the cupboard and dusted the interiors which had probably not seen the light of the day in ages. A spider scurried for the dark crags in the aged wooden cupboard. Poor thing, he probably thought he had a web for life. Alas! His dreams were shattered by my duster much like mine for the evening had been. Zealously I scrubbed the interiors and lined the shelves with fresh paper. Strangely, I did not find anything decaying in the cupboard. Odd!
Then despondently I eyed the mounds of clothing on the floor and in my room. Heaving a deep sigh, I hitched up the sleeves of my shirt and systematically started sorting out stuff.
Who knew I had so much stuff! God, unbelievable!
I sorted the clothing into neat piles, hung up the dresses and untangled the assortment of scarves and belts. Finally, some semblance of order returned. I admit, once the cupboard was arranged, it looked right out of a fashion catalog. Every inch looked well organized. Believe it or not but in the process, I even found a few sets of clothing that I hadn’t seen for ages. Amazing...right? I know. I couldn’t have been happier.
Once done, I mentally patted myself on a job well done in record time. The room was still messy but that could wait. I was beat man... totally. Not in my nature to tackle so much in a single day. But I reckoned I had done enough to pass mom’s inspection today.
 ‘Yay!’ I thought giving myself a mental fist bump.  ‘Phew! This is more cleaning than I can handle,’ I surmised and sniffed again to check for the offending smell, ‘Sniff...sniff.’
Damn! The malodor was still there. Belatedly I realized that it was not emanating from my cupboard. No wonder I could not find anything in it.
‘Where then?’ I pondered stumped, gazing at my messy room.
‘Oh darn! I guess I’m going to have to clean the whole room out.’ I concluded mournfully. ‘The smell has got to be coming from somewhere.’
Resignedly I set upon the task. It was not like I had anywhere better to go. I started with my desk, smacking it with the dust cloth.
‘Achoo!’
Clouds of dust rose up. They were probably annoyed at the intrusion. After all, they had been lazily slumbering on my desk for quite some time. Sadly, they also activated my allergies.
‘Damn! Not now.’ I moaned grabbing a tissue.
  ‘Achoo,...Aaaachoooo!’
Eyes watering and sniffling into the wad of tissue, I refused to give up now. ‘Allergies be damned!’ I thought irritably, my obstinacy kicking in. ‘I gotta get this done today even if I have to sneeze my head off.’
So, I continued on my ‘Mission cleanliness’. I picked the litter off of my bedroom floor and trashed it all, even a stale piece of biscuit from which a line of ants trailing. Yuck!
I collected all the soiled clothing and put them in the clothes hamper, all in one tidy place for Mom to pick up later. I looked around for all carelessly discarded footwear and stowed them properly in the shoe rack. Finally, I tackled my bed. Oh! That was quite a mammoth task. Believe it or not but I changed the sheets and fluffed up my pillow, neatly tucking in the fresh sheets under the mattress. Everything was done to perfection, just like mom liked. I felt pretty proud of myself actually.
I allowed myself a tentative smile. ‘Yep! Well done...this sure looks great.’
‘Sniff..sniff.’ I sniffed again, one hundred percent sure that I had got rid of the offending odor.
Oh darn! The odor was still there!
‘What the hell!’
The only place that I had not cleaned yet was the space under the bed. I knelt, stuck my head under the bed and sniffed, ‘sniff..sniff,’ almost gagging in the process.
There it was, the offending smell. I bumped the top of my head under the bed as I attempted to retreat for the stench was particularly offensive there. The culprit – a rotten piece of potato.
 ‘Well, nothing to it now. I guess I need to clean under the bed too.’ I thought.
As I fished for it, I almost gagged again. It gave off an offensively putrid smell and I picked it up and with a hand covering my nose. I swiftly dropped it into the trash bin and took that out of the room. The potato was so rotted that there seemed to be actual live things moving around inside, maggots or something. I shuddered, wrinkling my nose in disgust. I rushed to open the window to let the room breathe.
I wracked my brains but still for the life of me I could not remember ever stashing a potato under my bed. It was all very odd but at least I had found the source of the reek and had dealt with it. I was safe from Mom’s ire.
Finally done I looked around my room. It was pristine. Now that the offending potato had been trashed and some room freshener sprayed; it even smelled fresh and clean – all citrusy.
‘Virginally pristine,’ I thought and giggled at my joke.
But at that moment I realized the import of Mom’s words that procrastinating never helps. Things needing attention need to be tackled in time. It’s always better to tackle things head-on and act in the present rather than procrastinate and repent at leisure. I had very nearly ended up repenting today.
As I looked around my clean room, I resolved never to let it get messy again. I had learned my lesson.
*************************
Outside the room, Mom smirked slyly.  ‘Touché, baby!’
Her ingenious plan to plant a rotten potato under the bed so that her daughter cleaned up her room, had worked. Her daughter had been taught an important lesson to procrastinate procrastinating and act on time.

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