Sunday, 30 May 2021

Anish Sarkar, Prose 500 2021 Longlist

 All

"Mother!!” the voice screamed. It's been two months now. But everything seemed so perfect only a couple of days back. Who knows, time really flies. Heavy footsteps appeared on the staircase, and followed by a thud, the door swung open. "What is it darling?" She sounded so weary, sweating profusely. “Tell me, what is it?" Words faded into heavy panting. It was late afternoon. Sun's just about to set. The room was filled with a red glow. The dust greeted the sunlight like an old friend. “Please ma,will you shut the door? I have something to say to you." The silence was resounding, "What is it son? Is it your head? Is it aching again?" "No ma, it's fine, really, plea--" "Just lie down..." 

She disappeared and came back with a piece of cloth, which appeared to be very old, and ripped in places. Water was dripping from it. She hastily put it down on his forehead. “There son, feeling better?" The room was quite small, only a pair of window, a shabby little bed in the middle and a crudely distinct wardrobe, most of it was decaying slowly. But there was only one thing which was gleaming even in the dying effulgence. A very old piece of photograph. An elderly looking man was smiling widely, placing his hand on the shoulder of a young boy with surprisingly bright eyes, accompanied by a woman. Her face was calm with a soft twinkle at the edge of her lip. “Yes ma, a lot better. Now come and sit beside me."

The boy was seventeen years old. His father had passed away a year ago. After that they had to move to a lot smaller house, since they couldn't afford the previous building, the rent was too damn high. She sat beside him and caressed his head. Her hand was cold. She whispered into his ears, “What is it my boy?" 

"What were you doing?" "I was cooking your favorite dish." He grinned weakly. Warm touch of her hand had already numbed his sensation, his head was not aching anymore. He felt sleep slowly creeping through his vein. "Look ma. I don't think I can make it."  

The cancer was already in stage four when he was first diagnosed. The doctors did what they could, but the illness had already spread throughout his whole body. "Ma, do you remember, every day after returning from my school, how I made you play football with me. You hated that game-- after I broke my arm... And how you used to sing me lullaby every night before putting me into bed. How you used to hug me tightly in your arms after I woke up screaming from my nightmare I used to have."

The forlorn humming of a dove broke the silence. The blues were slowly turning into black.. "Ma, do you remember the little vacations we used to take, you, me and papa? We would go somewhere nice and quiet. You and me, we would chortle at every little joke dad used to make. And you never forgot to cook our lunches. We would play games and laugh. I still remember that one night, my annual result was out and I had failed in English. I was up all night, sitting alone in the corner, crying. I was a mess, and dad wouldn't talk to me. He was still angry. It was you ma, only you made me sleep that night. You were always there for me..."  She couldn't hold back, tears were flooding down her eyes. Her vision was blurring out." And remember you used to buy me chocolates and ice cream every time I was sad. How you kissed my cheeks and adored me." "Hush now darling. I will always be there for you..." "Ma! No don't turn away now-- Look into my eyes. Please, when I'm gone-- I need you to be strong, okay? Promise me you will be strong, promise me..." 

She held his hand tightly, “I promise..." The light had died out, the sun was no more... The room's now dark. The pressure cooker whistled for the fourth time. Her eyes were still dewy... An obnoxious smell furnished the room. That old piece of photograph, it was still shining, The elderly looking man was now smiling wider than ever. She whispered one more time, “I will be strong..."

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