Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A short story

It’s 9:30am when she drifts out of sleep, panic rising even before the glance at the clock.
She knows she’s late as she realigns her awkwardly sprawled limbs that still hurt from last night.
The ill child is sleeping in the crook of one knee, she curses as she slips the bondage of motherhood, cursing the pain that flows in the inert limb, cursing the many hours of sleep that she has lost over these three years.

He lies asleep on the floor, on the bed made for the child, a gentle snore that today sounds like tin grating on tin.

There’s so much to do before she can get to work, and there he lies, sleeping with no worry in the world, oblivious to her night of mothering and aching joints.

Shouts, word jabs and slamming of doors later, she’s crying in the bathroom, the cigarette soothing her nerves, convincing her conscience that nicotine makes for a better person.
She works hard, brings in the money, raising the child, while he stumbles behind failures, alcohol as salve, playing Age of Mythology long after the woman and child have fallen asleep.
Why, she wails in the bathroom this morning, why does he make it so difficult for me?

It’s a long day at work as always, unrelenting deadlines, the symphony of a brain and fingers that spew five thousands words at random. Mechanical creativity. There’s no joy from doing what she loves: there’s only the means to pay the bills. The bills that refuse to stop piling up, till she’s left feeling marooned, stranded on a tiny surfboard facing the largest wave of her life. Fear is an unrelenting anchor.

That evening she comes home to a quiet house. The child is away at a relative’s home, He has not come home from work yet. There’s a few pleasure still left she thinks: a long shower, some time alone, a newspaper to be read in peace. It’s a bad time for the world, the paper says, and she recounts the killings, the maiming and the lost investments that she’s been reading about.
There’s a tiny anchor story that almost misses her attention: Factory owner commits suicide. There’s a faint alarm in her head, she scans the case quickly. Typical small scale establishment, rising raw material and labour costs, increased credit interest ratios, some payments that never come through. And then the noose tightens, thousands multiply into lakhs and then into crores, and no elephant-head God perched on the entrance deters away the line of creditors that bite into savings, into peace of mind. The factory owner has a wife and two school-going kids. They never knew things were this bad.

It’s an unsettling feeling, one that she has avoided thinking of. She has seen him avoid calls, come back home with a look that is more defeated than fatigued, speak lesser than the monosyllables he usually grunts in. These days he doesn’t even fight back, taking his dinners in the dead of the night, when neither man nor machine can claim his space. There are no arguments, there are only one woman’s opinions as he listens on, flicking channels on a tv that’s on mute.

She walks out to the terrace, feeling strangely frightened about her tenth-floor skyline. She’s seen him stand there nights in a row, staring at the mighty night sky, willing it to attack him as well, his cigarette going up in smoke without touching his lips.

She wonders how it must feel, the weight of the scion’s mantle, the weight of a family’s expectations, of dreams that are decaying. The son who they reared to turn around fortunes, who now fights every day refusing to give in to the fatality of the erring planet on his horoscope. What powers him, day in and day out, he who believes in no god, for whom faith is what he puts into his everyday actions, very unlike her definition of a spiritual lifejacket?

She wonders whether he dreads coming home to her nagging, the constant fights over alcohol, the news of hiked fees at the child’s school. She remembers the carefree boy she fell in love with, the one who could sleep for days, cocooned by his dreams.

That night he walks home later than usual, finding his way in the dark to the bed where the woman and child sleep together, protruding limbs interlinked with blankets and a teddy. He stares at them, sleeping peacefully, unaware of the storm raging in his heart and soul, protected from a fate that caught him unawares, dragged him into an alley and socked him hard, leaving him on the ground with the taste of defeat in his mouth, bitter and burnt like a mixture of blood, sweat and dirt.

He wants to awaken her and say so much, grab her hard and will her touch to scrub away the fear that clings to his lungs, making it difficult to breathe, to talk. He kisses the child, his sweet-smell bringing a faint smile, a smile of love that’s truly unconditional. But there is no space for him on that bed tonight. No space to fit in his 30 years of lessons learnt and unlearnt.

He heads out to the terrace, the night moon waiting for their everyday rendezvous. The sky is unblemished, clear of clouds, a gigantic mirror that makes his tiny errors seem larger than life. There, on the edge, he pauses, gasping for breath in the still night. He knows he can’t abandon them, but it’s so easy to just close his eyes and fly away, seek understanding in his last remaining refuge. Sleep like he’s not slept in months, healing his wounds in those hours of blank mind and sound.

She watches him from behind, a hand clutched on her neck, too afraid to scream. She calls him back, but no sound emanates from her throat, and yet she calls out to him, willing him to hear her, willing him to see their love as it once was, unscarred by time and circumstance and jaded words.

His closed eyes carry her image, a laughing care-free girl who swamped him with her love, her life dotted with daises and books. There’s another face juxtaposed on that slim girl, it’s her, but harried, chin propped up with hands, threatening her gloom with smoke spirals in the bathroom.
His eyes flutter awake, pushing his last refuge away. There’s much to do before he sleeps.


momstir said...

Hi, I'm back. tell me more about the story, I am intrigued. So much the story of all our lives, of lovers who have changed beyond recognition.

u okay?

Nino's Mum said...

Welcome back. The post was just something I needed to put down - am okay, thanx :) 'al otro lado del río'.

OrangeJammies said...

I had to read this, go away, come back after a day and tell you it's beautiful. Painful, but then most things that ring true have a grain of pain... non?