Saturday, 15 August 2020

Harsha Shastry, ShortStory 2020 Longlist



THE PRESENCE

Does someone or something EXIST!

Synopsis:

Losing someone dear always has numerous psychological effects on humans. Here in this story, one ‘unnamed woman’ has its effects too. Having recovering over a serious tragedy, she has to continue her life with her young Son as usual. However, the state of utter depression makes her find a new way to lead life happily, as if nothing has happened. She begins to pretend and she continues her life being in a dreamy world. This exactly scares all around her, her friends, her maid and most importantly, her Son too. Is there someone who can unravel the mystery of her minds?

Or is it really true what the ‘unnamed’ woman is feeling and sensing?

THE PRESENCE:

It was three O clock and my son has just returned from his school. After giving him slices of three different fruits, few biscuits and a cup of coffee, I picked up my mobile and started dialing. At the same instance, I heard the ring of our landline phone. I kept my mobile down and hastily reached the land phone and picked it up before my little son could venture.

“Hi, yes I had my lunch, what about you? Yes, he has just arrived, he is eating his snacks. How was your day? Yes, I know same routine; can you come home early today? We can plan for a movie, if possible – Arjun would love to go. Don’t worry everything is fine here, oh! I haven’t decided yet about dinner, you men all are always like that, you only think about breakfast, lunch and dinner. Hey, listen; don’t yell at people in office just like you do here, ok Sorry baba, I am only teasing you. Listen, don’t forget to take short breaks, don’t go on sitting in front of the system for hours. Listen, my mum might come tomorrow or day after, she has just called. Yes, she is fine, yes baba; everyone is fine. Hey listen, I know, you don’t have much time,” I looked around and reduced my voice to a bare whisper.

“Listen, don’t bring chocolates for Arjun, yes, I know he loves it, but it will only harm him. Don’t you know about the Sheila’s daughter, she is so little and yet have diabetics, yes, believe me - mother’s instinct is always right, let your son get angry, I will manage, ok baba, see you soon, drive slowly, ok? Bye.” I kept the phone down and came back to kitchen - only to get a strange hostile glance from my son. I ignored him completely and sank into the inner core of Magazine.

“Mum, I am going to playground.” My son announced looking at me uninterestingly.

“Fine, but do come back before it is too dark and make sure you don’t fall down, ok?” I pressed the last word hard.

“Ok, mum.” He said in a submissive tone. Yet, my instincts told me that his eyes are lingering long on my face. Once again I ignored and kept my eyes on the magazine. After a short while, I heaved a sigh of relief when I heard the sound of front door’s auto lock. It’s time to unleash my tears!

**

It’s almost seven and I can’t help myself from going out and peer out my neck. Today, instead of my husband’s face, I caught the sight of Saroja, one of my ex colleague walking towards our home.

“Hi.” I greeted her cheerfully.

“Hi.” She returned it very awkwardly.

“Come in.” I invited hesitantly.

“I had come to Big Bazaar, thought of seeing you on the way.” She pointed her fingers towards the Big bazaar which was on its twilight and walked in. I quickly scanned at the contents in her big bag.

“Where is Arjun? Is he..” Saroja stopped her question awkwardly.

“He is doing his home work, he is just fine?” I replied hastily.

“How are you?” She asked again looking hesitantly at my eyes.

“I am fine as ever, why do you ask so many silly questions?” I snapped at once, although I knew I am behaving quiet rudely. But then, I think I am changing fast, for good or worst, only god knows.

“Sorry, I mean, I just wanted to say that sometimes -” Saroja began, but I stopped her.

“Look Saroja, I really don’t want to hear any ‘Vedhantha’ now. My husband would be coming home soon, I have to cook dinner.” I said discouraging her at once and wishing she would be gone, although it was I who invited her in. I hate people instantly when they try to advice me bringing all high Vedhantha of world.

She looked bewildered and taken aback. Yes, these days I have learned to snap and tell facts on the faces of people, and make my friends and relatives choke – same thing happened with Saroja.

“Sorry, I – I will carry on, I will come some other time, please take care.” She stood up and walked away quickly.

I locked the door and ran back to kitchen. I had understood that my husband has not kept his promise yet again. But then, I am not angry with him, I can understand his work pressure. Poor fellow! He has to work long hours for our sake. Movies can wait; we can go to movie any other day. He must be tired; he has to endure those long meetings and never ending arguments at office. I started making onion parathas for the three of us.

After another hour and a half, I opened the bed room door of Arjun. His eyes were glued on a game in computer.

“Arjun, dinner is ready, come and join us?” I asked him.

He fingers stopped punching the control keys and after a short while, he tilted his head and threw a long pathetic glance at my face, finally he said.

“I would rather have here.”

Kids and their world! I didn’t press him and silently went to kitchen and placed two parathas and a cup of curd with some Sabjji. I carried a big glass of water along with the tray and placed it on his table.

“Mama, when is granny coming?” He suddenly asked in a very humble tone.

“Probably tomorrow, why do you ask?” I was curious.

“I am scared.” He announced with his bent head. I at once ran and hugged him.

“What is there to get scared? I and Papa will take good care you, don’t we?” I asked looking at his eyes.

He threw many soft sobs and finally said, “I would be happy with granny.” I silently brushed his hairs and came back to dining room. It is very difficult to understand Kids these days.

“Shall I serve you?” I asked my husband.

“-----”

I knew my husband; he would never talk over the dinner except nods and hand gestures. I silently placed two plates and served parathas.

“Too tired to talk.” I enquired casually. Again he said nothing, however, I have to talk, otherwise I would not be able to eat my dinner.

“Hey, shall we plan a small tour this summer, perhaps, to Singapore? Yes, I and Arjun would love to go and I know you too. I know your silence is acceptance, I will inform Arjun, he will cheer up. What? Sabjji is tasteless? Well, I think I have forgotten salt, sorry dear, don’t get upset for little things now, here, let me pour salt.” I said in a soothing voice and poured few grains of salt on his Sabjji and mine as well. We continued to munch while I chit chatted on the movie that I had watched today afternoon on TV.

“It was really a good movie, I like her character, Damini is innocent yet so strong. I also loved the connection between she and her husband. Rishi kapoor too acted well. There should always be a strong never ending bond between husband and wife, isn’t it? A strong bond can sustain anything, anything in life, isn’t it?”

**

I love the way my husband whispers. Even when he knows that our son is in other room and fast asleep. I like his husky whispering voice. First, his hands would caress my waist and linger long on my belly button.

“Hey, stop that, will you? I feel tickled. Shall I cut my long hairs and trim it? These days no one likes long hairs; it is out of fashion you know. I knew you would never agree. Truly, you are an old hag, hey, don’t hug me so tightly, you know I am like a flower and you are like a wolf ha ha. Now, now don’t get angry, I was teasing you. You know I love the way you hold me in your arms, yes I want this way, aha, I feel so safe being in your arms, ok baba, I know you are tired and want a good sleep, good night, by the way I am going to cook your favorite breakfast tomorrow, ok baba, I will not talk now, good night.” I pulled the bed sheet and covered myself with a thin smile on my lips; I knew I would have a peaceful night.

**

Next day, after a busy morning schedule, that is after the departure of little man and big man, I sat for a little rest. Suddenly, I remembered something; I quickly went into my wardrobe and removed the black suit of hubby. It has to be given for dry cleaning, tomorrow we are supposed to attend a relative’s wedding. I packed it in a paper cover and waited for Lalitha, my housemaid. Lalitha came as usually and finished her household chores rather early. I didn’t comment on her hastiness and not on her half minded work, I ignored it completely. I was not like this, usually, I would pass hundreds of comments asking her to sweep below the sofa, Refrigerator. I would comment on the unresolved floor stains or I would point out my fingers on the collars of shirts.

Just as soon as she ate the breakfast that I gave her. I gave the packet and asked her to give it to dry cleaning.

“Is this your sari?” She asked me showing curious glances at the packet.

“No, it is his suite, we are going for a wedding and you know, how he wants his suit to be perfect.” I smiled recalling the incident of last time.

“Sorry I – I can’t do it.” Lalitha said in a protesting voice.

“What does that mean? All I am asking you is to give it to the dry cleaning shop, is that too much to expect?” I asked controlling my rage. I have helped her many times in her hard times and had been given more money than any other house.

“Sorry bibiji, I – I can’t do it, I won’t do it, please for god sake. Please understand -” She began to blabber.

“Look Lalitha, don’t make me mad over a simple issue, just give it to shop, it won’t take much time.” I said giving her a final warning.

“I won’t do it madam, please, please, I am in hurry, I – I have to go.” Lalitha started walking away after keeping the paper packet on the sofa.

“Then, get lost forever; don’t show your face to me again, you are an ungrateful woman, I am such a fool that I helped you so much.” I screamed in extreme rage while Lalitha looked at me unbelievingly and left with continual sobs.

What the world is coming to? Even a housemaid doesn’t listen to my simple commands and yet they demand handsome money and all kinds of favors!

I continued to muse over.

**

After lunch I switched on the television and began to browse through channels uninterestingly. I stopped at a channel (a Hindi serial) where a small girl was crying and people around her (her family) trying to complete the rituals of a widow. They banged her both hands on to the floor, they rubbed the Sindoor of her forehead and forcefully removed the ‘Mangala Sutra’ of her. I don’t know why I got so enraged that, I did a stupid thing, I hurled the remote control on to the screen with such force that the screen broke into uncountable shreds.

After five minutes, I realized that, my son, after his return, would want to watch his favorite kids TV series ‘Chhota Bheem.’ He would get very hurt and feel very low if he missed that. I have to make some arrangements before he turns up. I knew only one way, call my husband and confess my mistake and get his permission to use the joint account to repair the TV.

I dialed his office number and expected to get an open question as “What happened?” as soon as it answered. Time and again, when I call him at odd hours, he would open his statement as “What happened?” but today, it was different, I think he was in a merry mood and hence he answered with, ”Hello, yes Madam”, and I spoke. “Honey, I did a mistake, please don’t scold me. I – I broke the TV, the screen is broken, I – I have to use the joint account so that they can repair or replace a spare immediately so as not to upset Arjun, please say ‘yes’, I know you will - ”

“What? What are talking about?” The voice said at the other end.

“I know dear, it is difficult to digest bad news easily, but I will explain it to you when you come back home, now, all I want to tell you is that I am going to use the joint account for that purpose, ok? Thanks for understanding, bye.” I cut the connection so as not to give him a chance to scold me further, he can do that later, when, he is at home and when he is in relaxed state.

Next, I called our regular TV repair shop and told him about the problem (Don’t tell my husband, I offered him extra money!). He arrived soon and took the set away and promised to get it replaced with new screen in few hours. (Extra Money always works fast!)

True to his words, he did his job and brought back the set with new screen before Arjun’s return. I thanked him heartily and tipped him well. I know, my hubby will not agree with me here, but then, he can’t understand a mother’s heart, I spent extra money so as not to upset our only son and to me it was worth more than the money I spent.

**

It’s so irritating and so frustrating and so feeling downhearted when your own mother ignores you (I mean me, I mean her own Daughter!) and locks herself with (my son! My blood!) her grandson, the moment she arrives first. But then, the life is such and I have no option but to accept it. I did that and kept on waiting for her to come out of my son’s room.

After a tiring half an hour she came out lifting my son as if he is still a small baby. She gave him his favorite chocolate and sent him away to his room.

“Do you know what you are doing?” She asked me sharply.

I was confused, I expected her to be compassionate with me, but she was not, she was hostile.

“Why? What did I do?” I asked sitting on the dining table.

“You are scaring people; you are scaring your own son.” She said after a long thinking.

“Scaring? Me? Mama, what are you talking about?” I asked trying to recall any mistakes that I had done.

“Dear oh dear, please accept the truth, everything will be fine.” Suddenly my mother’s tone changed into soothing voice.

“Truth! What truth?” I asked still being baffled.

“That your dear husband is dead.” She whispered with tears in her eyes.

I just couldn’t answer anything. I know he is dead. Yes I clearly can remember the day when I received the call telling me about his accident and his death.

“Why are you behaving so strangely? I can understand the trauma, but you are a brave girl, I never expected you to act like this and scare your own son.” My mother voice had disgust in it and I started to cry at once.

“Do you know what people think about you? They think you have gone mad, but I know the truth since I am your mother, no, you are not mad, you are very much sane, yet you are behaving strangely, please tell me why, please?” My mother literally begged me.

I continued to sob ignoring her pleas.

“Please dear, answer me, I need to know, NOW, please?” My mother took hold my hand and looked deep into my tear filled eyes.

“Mama, I know you all think me as crazy, but believe me, I am fine and I am in very much senses and I know that my dear husband is dead.” I spoke my heart at last.

“Yes, I am listening, but why this strange behavior? Why are you pretending?” My mother pressed me.

“I will tell you mama, I will. You know how much we loved each other and how happy we were until this -. Ok, yes, I am a strong woman and bore the tragedy quite well. But my husband has taken a part of me with him, a very vital part – my own heart. Now, you know well that a person can’t live without his heart and yet I am living, because, I go on pretending that he is alive, at least in my mind. It gives me solace, it gives me strength and it gives me a purpose to live on. Although physically he is absent, I can feel his presence mentally, spiritually and heartily and hence, I pretend. Otherwise, it would be difficult for me to live normally, yes, I know I am scaring people including my own blood, but believe me mama, I have to do it, otherwise, I will be dead. I – I can’t tell you anymore, please understand me mama, it’s his presence that I am living with, the presence that no one could understand but me, his faked presence is a life to me. But then, it is not for long time, I will recover, but until that time, bear me mama.” I said and hugged my mamma.

Well, I won’t tell my mother that my dear husband has just clapped at my speaking skills and showed his thumps up.

Who would believe that my dearest soul is really in touch with me?

Life continues....

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