Cherry Blossom

She stood tall and proud. And beautiful. People came from afar to admire her colours, her grace, her beauty. Spring brings forth with it a new feeling and a new batch of tourists. They would stand in her shade and admire her. Some in words, some in song and some just lie there and stare wistfully at her boughs.

Sometimes, new parents would visit her. They would lovingly run a hand down her body and name their baby after her. They would pick up a fallen flower and adorn their baby’s head with it. They would spread out a blanket, open their picnic basket and they would dream new dreams while laughing in her shade.

Sometimes, people would come to click pictures. Pictures with her, her flowers, and pictures in an artistic expression- with the falling petals in the flowing wind…

Everybody loved her. Everybody admired her. They called her the nation’s treasure. And they took care of her well. People were assigned to prune her and keep her pretty. They were assigned to make sure she was watered well and adequately. People to make sure that nobody scratched her bark or cut her branches. She was guarded for her beauty and protected for her splendour. And there were people assigned to sweep up the fallen petals every dawn before sunrise.

She was old and slightly bent. Her spine had been straight and upright once upon a time. But, life had challenged it’s strength and life had won. A son with a twisted leg and a husband that drinks; a daughter who killed herself and a spirit that’s barely holding on to life… She makes her way every morning to the park and in the park, she makes her way to the tree.

It’s beautiful, they say. It’s our treasure, they say. We should protect it, keep it safe, make sure it lives on forever…they say.

She looks down at the petals dropped by the wind, scattered on the earth. They radiate around the trunk with a nonchalant disregard for the boundaries of space and limitations of time. She looks down at the sweep in her hands and sighs; with a disregard for her.

She curses the tree. She holds it responsible for her bent back and broken spirit. She calls it names for looking so pretty and causing her pain from behind that veil of beauty. Each soft petal swept by her broom cements the hardness in her heart. They become the bricks, their stems the mortar and the wall builds up inch by inch, until its high enough that she can’t see beyond it anymore.

So, she hates the tree. She curses it beautiful flowers and their glorious showers. She mutters her harshness all the while she tends to it and every day, she doesn’t notice it-

A leaf in the corner withers and withers, but fears to fall.

*END*

Advertisements

Cherry Blossom

She stood tall and proud. And beautiful. People came from afar to admire her colours, her grace, her beauty. Spring brings forth with it a new feeling and a new batch of tourists. They would stand in her shade and admire her. Some in words, some in song and some just lie there and stare wistfully at her boughs.

Sometimes, new parents would visit her. They would lovingly run a hand down her body and name their baby after her. They would pick up a fallen flower and adorn their baby’s head with it. They would spread out a blanket, open their picnic basket and they would dream new dreams while laughing in her shade.

Sometimes, people would come to click pictures. Pictures with her, her flowers, and pictures in an artistic expression- with the falling petals in the flowing wind…

Everybody loved her. Everybody admired her. They called her the nation’s treasure. And they took care of her well. People were assigned to prune her and keep her pretty. They were assigned to make sure she was watered well and adequately. People to make sure that nobody scratched her bark or cut her branches. She was guarded for her beauty and protected for her splendour. And there were people assigned to sweep up the fallen petals every dawn before sunrise.

She was old and slightly bent. Her spine had been straight and upright once upon a time. But, life had challenged it’s strength and life had won. A son with a twisted leg and a husband that drinks; a daughter who killed herself and a spirit that’s barely holding on to life… She makes her way every morning to the park and in the park, she makes her way to the tree.

It’s beautiful, they say. It’s our treasure, they say. We should protect it, keep it safe, make sure it lives on forever…they say.

She looks down at the petals dropped by the wind, scattered on the earth. They radiate around the trunk with a nonchalant disregard for the boundaries of space and limitations of time. She looks down at the sweep in her hands and sighs; with a disregard for her.

She curses the tree. She holds it responsible for her bent back and broken spirit. She calls it names for looking so pretty and causing her pain from behind that veil of beauty. Each soft petal swept by her broom cements the hardness in her heart. They become the bricks, their stems the mortar and the wall builds up inch by inch, until its high enough that she can’t see beyond it anymore.

So, she hates the tree. She curses it beautiful flowers and their glorious showers. She mutters her harshness all the while she tends to it and every day, she doesn’t notice it-

A leaf in the corner withers and withers, but fears to fall.

*END*

The Mute Swan- Part 4

The days were getting warmer. He was getting more than one toe into the water. And she was laughing more often.

“I’m with child,” she announced one day and he thought he could never feel happiness such as what he felt in that moment.

They took the process one day at a time. She seemed to get even more beautiful with each day and he seemed to forget that ball of panic in his belly with every other day.

He would sit for hours with his ear to her womb and the other ear listening to her voice. For it was her most favoured occupation in recent days- to talk to the baby, to tell stories to the baby and by extension to its father.

He heard about kingdoms and queens, about bevies on the water and wedges in the sky, about winged warriors and water festivals. He learnt, unintended though it may be, about her origins, about her family and about her life in the past. He also memorized, subconsciously though it may be, all the stories.

Why did he do that? He didn’t know. Every time he asked himself that question, the ball of panic in his belly would throb painfully and he would give up.

When the pains started one night, she was sleeping in his arms. She woke up with a scream and dry eyes and not a tear was shed over the next 12 hours of labour.

The baby was a little girl, with wispy white hair and grey eyes.

“She looks like me,” she whispered when she held her child for the first time and for the first time in 9 months, she shed a tear onto that beautiful blonde head.

Also for the first time, she held her little baby close, drew in a breath and started to sing.

It was a lullaby. It talked about dreams, about wishes on stars, about stories shared on a cozy night. It talked of memories, of fantasies, of a mother’s love for her little child. Grandmothers and grandfathers remembered days long past and shed tears into their pillows. Mothers and fathers everywhere hugged their children a little closer and sighed in contentment. Little babies all over the world slept without a wrinkle that night.

Everybody slept. Except for her. And except for him.

He held her hand and pretended to not notice the tears his beloved was shedding. He placed small kisses on her palm, on her arm, on her hand from time to time and pretended his heart wasn’t breaking a little more with each kiss. He snuggled up next to her, pulled her into his arms and pretended those weren’t his tears on her shoulder.

As the song wound to a close, as he whispered a shaky I love you into her ears, as she placed a final kiss on her baby’s head, her eyes closed.

And they never opened again.

 

*END*

The Mute Swan- Part 3

He held her in his arms. Her head rested on his chest. His heart beat in her ear. She said it calmed her. He wanted to know why she needed to be calmed.

He wanted to know why she cried when he talked of summer. He wanted to know why she hid those tears. He wanted to know what makes her happy. He wanted to if he made her happy. But, most of all, he just wanted to hear her voice. For the rest of his life.

So, one day, as they lay intertwined under the stars, he asked, “Will you tell me a story?”

“Certainly,” she smiled and snuggled up into him more.

He heard her take a deep breath. He heard her think. He heard her let it out and then, he heard her voice.

“Once upon a time, there was a beautiful swan in a lake far far away. She had a beautiful plumage, an exquisite beak, the most dainty legs and the most graceful wings. But, the jewel in her crown was none of these. What she was known for, far and wide and oceans across, was for her voice.

Her voice was mesmerizing. You only had to hear it once to be held captive for ever by it. It had the perfect pitch, the perfect rhythm, the perfect lilt. Swans would come from all over the oceans to hear her sing just once.

But, the reality that met them was a beautiful swan with a most beautiful voice who just refused to sing. Every time a request came to her ears, she would smile and say, “Not yet”. Nothing anybody could say or nothing anybody would do could cajole her to sing. She was promised gifts of the highest order, there were competitions with the greatest prizes to make her sing, swans would even bring in dying requests for her to sing. But, nothing moved her.

Eventually, everyone gave up. She had gained the reputation of arrogance, of malice, of heartlessness. Even though, she was none of those. She was ostracised to live a life of loneliness.

However, she fell in love and the swan loved her back. They got married. Her partner never asked her to sing. It surprised everybody. They talked about it, they gossiped about it. But, the couple did not care. They loved, they made love, they lived with love. Soon, they had a little cygnet and they were the happiest family in all of the oceans.

The world had all but forgotten the beautiful swan with the beautiful voice.

Then, one night, the wind brought a song upon its lips.

It was a lullaby. It talked about dreams, about wishes on stars, about stories shared on a cozy night. It talked of memories, of fantasies, of a mother’s love for her little child. Grandmothers and grandfathers remembered days long past and shed tears into their pillows. Mothers and fathers everywhere hugged their children a little closer and sighed in contentment. Little cygnets all over the world slept without a wrinkle that night.

The next morning, swans from oceans across were clustered in front of the beautiful swan’s nest. They wanted to see her, they wanted to hear her voice, they wanted her to sing again. But, their wishes were not to be granted.

One look at her partner’s grief stricken eyes told them the news.

“It was time, she said.” he announced to the crowd and walked away.”

She kissed him softly on his chin. “They called her the Mute Swan and this was her story.”

He drew her closer into his chest. His heart was beating faster. There was smidgen of panic taking root somewhere in his belly.

“She would die if she sang?” he asked in a voice struggling not to choke on the mysterious lump in his throat.

“No. She sings only before her death,” she knew he would feel the wetness of her tears if she didn’t stop them. But, they were beyond her control now.

“Look at me,” he took her beautiful face in his hands and looked at it with his empty eyes, “Let’s never sing, then,” and he kissed her for the first time.

**

Picking Up The Pieces

“What were you thinking?” squeaked the mouth on the floor.

“What were you thinking?” Colonel Batra shot back.

An entity with one arm and half a leg dragged itself over to the mouth, “I’ve often been told that I should stop running my mouth.” A toothy grin flashed from the mouth now nestled in a dirty palm.

Batra sighed. “What was I thinking?” he thought to himself as he looked around. His butt- a piece of his butt was missing and as a man rather fond of his butt, he was determined to find it.

He walked past two fingers and a kidney. Something that looked like a Gluteus beckoned to him from the left and he pounced.

“That’s mine!” a severed hand clamped over his leftover finger.

He jumped. “How on earth are you doing that?” he whirled towards the one-armed entity and snapped.

“I’m using the force,” the solemnity in the mouth’s voice didn’t match the twinkle in its eyes.

“Damn kid…dead and still joking around…” Batra grumbled as he pulled his hand away.

The entity was now beside him and offering a piece of flesh with its single hand. “Why don’t we think of this as my version of an olive branch?”

“My butt!” Batra snatched it from the hand and pressed it into his torn behind. It merged seamlessly into its place as if it had been waiting for the opportunity.

Batra sighed in relief. “I always thought my butt was my best feature,” said the 50 year old army officer.

“It is a nice butt. Felt quite meaty,” replied the 23 year old terrorist.

Once upon a minute, they had come face to face- gun to grenade. The officer was defending his base from the bomber; the terrorist was promoting his belief through the bomb. There was that split second when their eyes met. Then, they were dead.

Later that day, a terrorist cell will make a legend out of the young man’s name. Later the same day, the old officer would be honoured as a martyr that died in the line of duty. Neither had wanted to die. But, in that split second none of these thoughts entered their heads.

“Seriously, what was I thinking?” Batra mumbled as he hopped towards the wall, his leg tucked under his arm.

“The question should be: why didn’t you think?” came the cheery voice from behind him. The head was now re-attached to the torso and the entity ceased to be an entity and became a person. He slid down the wall beside the now fully-reassembled officer. “Don’t you need your fingers?”

“I only need one,” Batra held up his hand with the single remaining middle finger.

The terrorist snorted and opened his mouth. Then, closed it. The smile slipped from his face as he looked up at the officer he killed.

“Do you hate me?”

Batra moved the facial muscles to rise his eyebrows.

“That looks very weird when you don’t have eyebrows.”

“And whose fault is that?”

The young terrorist’s equally hairless face flushed. “Sorry…” he mumbled.

“What’s your name?”  Batra asked to break the silence that had fallen between them.

“Abrar,” came the quiet answer.

“Age?”

“23”

“First gun?”

“.22”

“Mine too!”

Abrar looked up with wide eyes at the excited officer. Slowly, his face creased into a smile.

“I used to love my rifle. I was only six then, so it was almost as tall as me. But, I would clean it every day and I would love to hold it, even if I wasn’t shooting!” Abrar fell back against the wall as the memories assaulted him.

“Ah…I know that feeling.”

The silence that fell between them now was more companionable.

“Do you hate me?” the terrorist’s question thickened the air again.

“I did. I hated you so much I would have shot you without a second thought.” The air became thicker.

“But…you didn’t.” the small voice almost lost its way in the miasma between them before reaching the officer.

“I know. I was surprised too,” Batra shook his head and shrugged. “But, what does it matter? I’m dead now. So, if it’s anything to you, I don’t hate you anymore.”

Abrar nodded. “At least, you died a hero,” he whispered.

“So did you,” replied the martyred colonel, “Just…to a different set of people.”

The air lightened and the companionable silence returned.

“You know, I read the Koran,” Batra started.

“Oh?”

“It’s a book open to interpretation,” he turned to look at his partner in death, “Just like any other religious book.”

Abrar nodded. “Yes, that’s true.”

“Then, did you ever wonder how it would’ve been if you had adopted a more peaceful interpretation?” Batra’s lopsided eyes didn’t leave the young man’s lopsided face.

“All the time,” came the reply, “But, it didn’t matter. Because good boys don’t ask questions. They follow orders and I wanted to be a good boy.”

“Ah! People-pleaser, aren’t you?”

“That’s my weakness.”

“So, let’s say you meet Messiah now. What do you think you’ll say?”

The dead terrorist guffawed. “What were you thinking? That’s what I’d say!”

Batra laughed, “I thought good boys didn’t ask questions?”

“I’m dead now. What does it matter?” Abrar winked. “So, what would you say?”

“Ah…” Batra let out loud sigh, “I’m not much for talking. But, I believe it’s a sign that the only finger left on my hand is the middle one.”

The terrorist placed a hand on the officer’s shoulder. “You have a lot of growing up to do, old man.”

“And you have a lot of Sorrys to say, young terrorist,” Batra shrugged off the hand from his shoulder, “Let’s go. It’s time.”

 

 

The mourning comrades had lit the fire, one in consecration of a martyr, another in desecration of a terrorist. Leaping flames consumed the remains of hero and villain alike and nobody noticed a well-shaped butt and a toothy grin walking away.

 

*END*

Mask

The room was dimly-lit and crowded. Tendrils of smoke curled towards the ceiling; vibrations from the beat spinning in the corner crawled through the walls. The people were masked and swaying. Sipping a drink, smoking a stick, a couple kissing against a pillar; some talking, some dancing; all lost in the beat and in the moment.

I didn’t know any of them. None of them knew me. We were masked people escaping the reality of our lives, of ourselves and converging in a nondescript location for a nondescript party.

Nobody asks for a name, for an ID. No one offers me a drink, but the bar stood by the door welcoming those who wanted it. Nobody questions me as I join the throng on the floor, swaying into their mix. I usually needed a drink to loosen up. But, that day, in that room, under that mask, I wasn’t me.

Somebody offers me a hand. I take it and he spins me around. I laugh as the Joker-masked person catches me with an arm and pulls me close. We dance the next beat together before he lets me go, I let him go and we become a mass of people again.

A dancing train was forming and I join the tail end of it matching my step to theirs. The sound of laughing makes a heady mixture with the disco beat. We stop being masked people and become our masks. The brown eyes of an Audrey Hepburn catch my eye and pull me out of the train and onto the bench.

I slip in beside her and she offers me her drink. I refuse. I don’t need alcohol tonight. I lean in close and whisper into her uncovered ear.

“Dance with me.”

I could hear her laughter. It was clear. It was tinkling. It was mesmerizing.

I place my hand on hers and thread our fingers together. I guide her to the dance floor through the crowd which had gone silent in my head. I slip my hands around her waist and pull her close. In that moment, only she and I existed. We start swaying to a beat in our head rather than the music shaking the walls. Her hands were around my neck; her face close to mine, brown eyes staring into black. I didn’t know who she was; she didn’t know who I was. But, right then, on that floor, she was mine and I was hers.

We dance until our feet hurt; as sweat runs down our backs; as lips meet lips, we dance under masks where she isn’t who she is, I’m not who I am. We dance into a night which had no place for the trappings of the day. We dance until music stops and we could hear our hearts pounding, breathing, trembling. A lingering touch, a lingering kiss…and we let go.

I make my way home just as dawn breaks through the night sky. I take my mask off, shed the sweaty clothes and crawl into my bed. For a second, I feel like a stranger in my own bed. Then, the light hits my window ending the night…my mask was off, my ID card was lazily spinning on my bedstead and I was me again.

*END*

Image Credit: Hide Behind a Mask II by Catliv (Deviant art)

Memory of a Shadow

She remembers today.

 

“Daddy! He’s following me again!”

 

Dressed in black;

 

“He’s coming to get me! Daddy!”

The man turns, laughs and scoops up his daughter into his arm.

 

Standing by her father for the last time;

 

“Is he gone now?”

The little girl hides her face in her father’s shoulder, “I don’t know. I don’t wanna look.”

 

This time, she looks.

But, all she finds is the shadow of a gravestone made of granite.

So, she cries. She cries for the father and for the daughter. But, for the memory of the daughter’s shadow…

She laughs.

*END*