The Proposal

The fifth short story submitted to the TOI Write India competition. For the other stories click here

Author Prompt

“It was still dawn when I stepped out of the cab and walked towards the entry gate of the Delhi airport. The early morning February air was pleasantly cold.

I was travelling to Bengaluru to attend a college friend’s wedding. It had been four years since we graduated from the same college. This wedding was also going to be a reunion of our batchmates. But what I didn’t know was that the reunion would begin much ahead of time; right in the queue in front of the airline counter.

I was almost sure it was she. Same height! Same long hair! Same complexion! Curiosity had my eyes glued to her. And then about 60-odd seconds later, when she turned, she proved me right. My ex-girlfriend stood two places ahead of me in that queue. We had never met after the college farewell.”  by Ravinder Singh (For more about the contest/rules click here).

The Proposal

It was still dawn when I stepped out of the cab and walked towards the entry gate of the Delhi airport. The early morning February air was pleasantly cold.

I was travelling to Bengaluru to attend a college friend’s wedding. It had been four years since we graduated from the same college. This wedding was also going to be a reunion of our batchmates. But what I didn’t know was that the reunion would begin much ahead of time; right in the queue in front of the airline counter.

I was almost sure it was she. Same height! Same long hair! Same complexion! Curiosity had my eyes glued to her. And then about 60-odd seconds later, when she turned, she proved me right. My ex-girlfriend stood two places ahead of me in that queue. We had never met after the college farewell.

Heart thudding, I ducked to avoid meeting her. After her brutal rejection, it had taken me long to find my balance again. I was in a happy place now, thanks to Avani, my guardian angel. I was finally over Sonia. But going by my current heart rate, I suddenly wasn’t quite so sure.

I took a quick peek ahead. Sonia had reached the counter. Relax Nikhil, I told myself, she might not be going to Bengaluru. Even if she is, so what? Best if you stay away from her, some sane inner voice warned me.

But then when had I ever listened to it. Besides, fate had other plans.

A little girl came toddling forward. She tottered and would have tripped over my suitcase. I swung her away to safety half expecting her to scream blue murder. But she chortled in glee and waved her clenched fists only to hit me squarely in the eye with the toy she was clearly escaping with. “Ouch!” I yelped although I couldn’t help but warm to her infectious joie de vivre.

“Nika!” an all too familiar voice scolded. My heart plummeted to my stomach and I unexpectedly felt bereft as Nika was plucked from my arms. I felt naked and exposed. Myriad emotions assaulted me. I had a desperate irresistible desire run away and hug Sonia at the same time. What if she treated me like a stranger? What if she didn’t? I was terrified of making a fool of myself. With a vague idea of delaying the inevitable, I turned away and focused on rubbing my eye.

“I am sor…Nikkss? Oh Niks is that you? So good to see you!” She slid an arm around me and held me close whilst Nika gurgled in my ear.

With a sense of relief, I gave up avoiding her. “Hi Sonia,” I mumbled awkwardly, not quite the suave confident branch manager that I actually was. I coughed and tried again. “Good to see you too.” I raised an eyebrow. “So what’s Nika short for?” Nobody could fail to admire the pretty picture of mother and daughter. Yet, in her jeans and top, Sonia looked barely old enough to be out of school. She had never been fat but now she was almost painfully thin and fragile. Her eyes, easily her best feature, were still deep and mysterious.

Her tinkling laugh washed over me. “Yeah I still have that habit,” she said with a touch of apology. “Nayanika, say sorry to Niks.” She pressed a kiss on a chubby cheek and gave her a cuddle.

Nika offered the most unrepentant of smiles and lisped, “Shollee Inks.” I fell in love all over again – with Nika and Sonia.

“Hang on a minute will you while I check in? Going to Bengaluru right?” I said.

She nodded. “It’s going to be a pain what with the flight being indefinitely delayed.”

“Let’s grab a coffee shall we? I guess we are on the same flight.” I said as we compared boarding passes.

By the time I had queued up and paid for the coffee, I regretted my impulsiveness. Didn’t I say Sonia was best avoided? The voice growled.

Oh, go take a hike I mumbled silently and strode over to the ladies waiting for me. “Coffee for you and a brownie for Nika.”

“Oh she won’t have.” Sonia broke off a piece and popped it in her mouth.

“I’m guessing she will. Like mother, like daughter,” I said softly. Her gaze skittered away. “Hey Nika,” I said briskly, “do you want to try a brownie?”

“Blownie.” Game, Nika grabbed it and stuffed it on her face. Plastered, she chomped on it happily and slurped. She held out her chocolaty chubby fingers, “Mole!” she demanded imperiously.

I shot Sonia a triumphant look but she returned an exasperated look. “Exactly why I told you not to give it to her. Look that the mess she created.” She grabbed the last piece and ate it all up except for one tiny bit, which she put into Nika’s mouth. “Come on, let’s get you cleaned up. Keep an eye on my stuff.” She walked off to the washroom.

Nika was irritable and cranky by the time she came back. Sonia struggled to calm her down but with little success. I watched helplessly. “She was an angel just a little while ago.”

“She is an angel,” Sonia said. “It’s just that she is hungry. If only she would let me prepare the formula, but,” she shrugged helplessly as Nika clung to her wailing.

“Here, let me try.” I said rather foolhardily. “Nika, come let’s go see airplanes, whoosh!” I didn’t give her a chance to protest as I swung her into my arms and loped off to the huge windows. Luckily a plane had just landed and distracted Nika. “Plane! Whoosh!” she informed me and gazed at it interestedly for a moment or two. “Nonia?” her lower lip trembled and her eyes filled with tears.

“Yeah, let’s go find Nonia!” I planned on taking a long detour but she cottoned on pretty quickly and switched on the siren. I hurriedly changed directions and peace reigned as I restored her to Sonia.

“Where’s her father?” I asked despite myself. “It’s tough to travel alone with a toddler.”

Sonia’s face clouded over and her throat worked convulsively. “We filed for divorce over irreconcilable differences.”

“I am sorry.” I hated myself for feeling vindicated.

“It’s been awful Niks.” A dam seemed to burst. “Right from very beginning it has been a ghastly never-ending nightmare. Except for Nika. If it weren’t for her, I would have surely jumped off the nearest roof by now.” She shuddered and clutched Nika close.

“Don’t say that!” I was horrified. “Nothing is worth your life.” After all I had learnt that lesson the hard way.

Sonia shook her head. “You have no idea how much I regretted parting ways with you Niks. You have absolutely no idea! I wish I had never given into Dad’s antiquated ideas of caste and status. It’s not fair Niks,” she cried as she turned to me, “what was my fault? All I did was obey my parents and look where it landed me.” A tear rolled down her cheek. She hastily brushed it away.

“Shush Sonia,” I muttered casting a nervous look around, “don’t blame yourself. We have been conditioned to obey to our parents. Besides marriage is a gamble. You win some and lose some.” I shrugged. “Maybe that’s why I never could take the plunge.”

“Lucky you,” she said dully. “Dad is after my life to get married again.” She shook her head. “My divorce hasn’t yet officially come through, and neither have I recovered from the trauma, yet he wants me to jump into the fire once again.”

“Maybe he is just trying to tell you that you should not let this tragic experience sour you. He wants you to get married again and lead a normal happy married life…”

She looked at me, disbelief was written all over her face. “I can’t believe you are defending Dad!” She gently rocked Nika, whose eyes had begun to close. “I have to consider Nika, her safety and well being.” She looked up pleadingly at me. “How can I trust another man? Be sure that he wouldn’t harm Nika in any way – be the right father figure for her?” She smiled wanly. “Unless it’s you of course.”

My heart thumped madly. “Are you proposing to me Sonia?” I asked carefully.

Sonia shrugged. “There is nobody else I trust more in this world.”

“What about your father?”

Sonia flushed. “That’s a low blow,” she mumbled.

“Why hint at things you know are not possible?” Old forgotten emotions flared up suffocating me. “Do you know how long it has taken me to move on? Why are you hell bent upon playing with my…”

“Please Niks.” she put a hand on mine. “I am sorry I hurt you. Can we start all over again? Please?”

“What about your father? His objections? None of it has changed, has it?” I lashed out in bitterness and anger.

“I will convince him.”

“How? You couldn’t convince him four years ago.” I vacillated between hope and despair. Could my wildest dreams actually come true?

“I will convince him,” she insisted. “I was young and foolish then.”

“But what if you can’t?” I persisted. “Whom will you choose this time?”

“I will convince him,” she parroted. She looked around. “Damn it, how delayed is our flight? Here, hold Nika will you? I need to use the washroom.”

Sonia disappeared and as if on cue, Nika began fussing which blew up into a major tantrum. Harried, I walked about trying to distract her but she wasn’t interested, until she caught sight of a little girl eating an ice cream.

“Ice cleam,” she demanded tearfully. Relieved, I purchased one for her. Instantly appeased, she was all delighted smiles and gurgles. She gave it a dainty lick.

“Nika!” Sonia snatched the ice cream from her and threw it in the dustbin. “What the hell Nikhil! Did I say you could give her an ice cream?”

I was aghast. “It was just an ice cream for heaven’s sake! She woke up and was howling so I thought…”

“Next time leave any thinking regarding Nika to me,” her eyes shot daggers at me as she took Nika away, “she is my daughter…”

Blood rushed to my head. “Is this how much you trust me?”

Sonia stilled. She dug out a chocolate from her bag and handed it to Nika. “Sorry Niks. I didn’t mean it that way. Actually Nika has a bad cold…”

“So what exactly did you mean Sonia? That I come a poor third in your life?” Bile rose up and choked me.

Sonia’s wide lustrous eyes filled with tears. She held Nika close. “Please don’t twist my words out of context. I admit I am rather possessive and overprotective about my daughter but…”

My phone rang. It was Avani. “Hello.” I said.

Avani immediately cottoned on. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Our flight has been further delayed by an hour.”

“But that isn’t why you are upset is it?”

“I am not upset.”

“Of course you are.”

I sighed defeated. I never could fool Avani. “Don’t worry, I am fine.” I calmed down and my voice softened. “I’ll speak to you later okay? Bye.”

“Who was that?” Sonia pounced.

“Avani.”

“Avi! That mousy ugly looking nobody?”

“Sonia!” I was taken aback by the vicious attack. “Don’t talk about Avani like that.” I swallowed. “If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be here today.” I looked down on my clenched fists and then raised my eyes to look at Sonia bleakly. “When you left me I was completely shattered.” I broke off, unwilling to revisit those agonizing days. “Avani gave me a second chance at life with her unconditional love and support.”

“Avi was always a sucker for sob stories,” Sonia sneered. “Don’t make the mistake of confusing her pity for love.”

I looked at Sonia in sudden dislike and everything fell into place. I felt light and free.

“I would rather take her pity and unquestioning friendship over your selfishness.” I shot back.

“Don’t be an emotional fool Niks.” Sonia’s eyes hardened.

I shook my head. “You mistake Sonia. For once I am being practical. With Avani, I would always come first. But with you, I would never be quite sure.” I paused. “A convenient caretaker perhaps?” I nodded casually and walked off jauntily feeling as if I had been released from prison.

I couldn’t wait to meet Avani.

“Nikhil! You are so late! Are you okay? I have been waiting…”

“Whoa Avani. Relax!” I shrugged off my bag. “I am fine. The flight…”

“Yes,” she brushed me aside impatiently, “but you sounded so upset…”

I held her by the arms. “I was, but now everything is just perfect.” I gave her a warm hug.

She gave me a quizzical look. “Now this is a first!” She dragged me to the sofa. “Tell me all.” She patted the sofa invitingly.

“I met Sonia and her daughter at the airport.”

Avani stiffened and she eyed me warily.

I sighed. “She’s getting a divorce and sort of proposed to me.”

Avani’s eyes widened. “So what did you say?” she seemed to be holding her breath.

For an answer, I went down on one knee and pulled out a ring with a flourish, “Will you marry me?”

Avani clapped a hand to her mouth and stared at me with eyes round with shock. Her face cleared; she clapped her hands. “Oh, is that how you are planning to propose to Sonia? What a beautiful ring!”

“No you silly girl,” I smiled. “I am proposing to you my love.”

“But why?” she gasped, “I thought you…”

I stood up and pulled her into my arms. “I know – I thought so too! But the fact is I love you. Life without you is meaningless…”

“What!” Avani moved away twisting her fingers. “I never thought…I mean I never meant for you to…but I don’t…” she looked at me pleadingly.

“Don’t what Avani?” I asked gently. “Love me?” I looked at her knowingly. “I know you do. But never mind, even if you don’t.” I squeezed her hands. “I have love enough for both of us.” I said grandly. “You have been my pillar of strength. Now it’s payback time…”

She withdrew her hands. “Payback? But for what?” Her voice gentled. “I was just being a good friend Nikhil.” Her soft doe eyes looked at me anxiously. “I am sorry if you got the impression that I love you.”

I stared at her uncomprehendingly.

Avani flushed guiltily and looked away. “Perhaps you remember I had submitted a proposal to Harvard?” She met my eyes. “Well, they liked it and offered me a teaching assistant-ship. I join next month.”

So what did you think? Look forward to reading your comments, suggestions, thoughts  – thanks. Click here for more short stories or here for more about the blog.

 And while you were busy partying over the weekend, I had a little blast of my own and posted another little story Although I did miss the deadline 😦  Anyway since you are here, might as well skim over that as well? What’s a few more words (with a picture to boot) right? 😀 Thanks!

And don’t forget to leave me a note (or two, or three — yea am greedy that way 😀 )

SPF: The Troubleshooter

Hello! (gasping for breath) here I am with a short story (within 200 words) for the Sunday Photo Fiction (22/5/16).

157-05-may-22nd-2016

The Troubleshooter

Words 194

“Pia!” Molly snatched the glass from her.

“I never had a blue drink before.” Pia said sulkily.

“How was it?” Sid flicked it a longing look but a glare from Molly quelled him.

“Papa will be back with his guests any minute.” Molly fretted while Pia was quite unconcerned. But then she was barely 4 years old. “He will be very angry.” Molly warned.

Pia’s lower lip trembled and tears filled her eyes.

Sid rushed to help. “If I tilt the table like this, Uncle may not notice anything.”

“Sid!” Molly rushed to stop him, casting an agonized glance at the French windows. “Do you want to break the glasses?”

Chastened, Sid busied himself with a rubber band. Pia wandered over to him. “I want to play too.”

Molly looked at them in disgust – why did she always have to clean up after them?

Molly picked up a glass of water. She stretched up on her toes, and with her tongue sticking out, poured it over the blue drink. After a quick level check, she topped the yellow drink as well.

Molly smiled in relief. Now, nobody would realize anything was amiss.

Not quite sure if I am in time or not but still, here goes - do let me know how it was!

Save

Thinking…

Hello! I know what you all are thinking – now what 🙂 And you are right! As usual, I am up to no good, poking my nose into stuff that are not my business. But what to do – Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers (photo prompts and 100 word stories) has me hooked. I find it fascinating how a single prompt can inspire such a diverse range of stories – quite remarkable. Anyway I couldn’t quite resist, so here I am with another attempt. But first the prompt.

waves
Copyright Rochelle

Thinking…

Word count – 99

There was a gasp of horror and a crowd gathered.

Help! Someone save her! Mommy, take me along, Mommy I want to swim too! Someone do something! Hurry!

The waves thrash her body dragging her deeper into the ocean. Floating all alone in the sea under the blazing sun. Until the predators arrive one by one, to nibble at her flesh. She lay passive as they swarm all over pecking at her mortal remains.

Unknown hands drag her daughter away. She is alone. Then the predators arrive…

“Mommy?” A hand tugged hers.

Shuddering, she stepped back from the edge.

========================================================================

Do let me know what you think. And for amazing stories on this photo prompt click here. Perhaps you could even participate! Click here for more Short Stories or here for more information About the Blog

For the readers of Moonshine, here’s Chapter 62 and a little something for the fans of Calvin 😀

Quote for the day: “A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.” Graham Greene, The End of the Affair

Have a great weekend all of you and dont forget to leave me a note 🙂

Weather Woes

But first some good news! After days of patiently putting up with my rants about the weather you certainly deserve it 🙂 I am pleased to report that finally the weather has take a turn for the better. Believe it or not, on Monday, the temperatures plummeted from a sizzling day temperatures of 47 0 C to a pleasant evening at 27 0 C.

A thunderstorm accompanied by a shower overcame the sun (for the moment at least) and brought cheer right back into our lives. Even the staid seasoned trees look positively thrilled – clean green and fresh. I cant help but be infected by their silent but all pervading joie-de-vivre.

On the flip side, several flights were delayed or cancelled. But the respite couldn’t have come at a more timely juncture. Things were quite awful in most parts of the country and temperatures at the India-Pakistan border were higher by 10 degrees or more. Actually am not sure there has been any relief for the army jawans who patrol the borders in the most unbelievable heat and dust of the Thar desert. According to newspaper reports, they were able to roast papad by just placing it on the hot sand and cook rice by just keeping it out in the sun for 3 hours.

And then there was this tragic incident. A villager, while entertaining guests, forgot about his camel left out in the heat with his legs tied. When he remembered and went out to release it the camel turned violent. He picked him by the neck and threw him down, he then chewed off his master’s head. The camel went berserk and 25 men struggled for over 6 hours to bring it back under control. Poor camel – the heat must have literally fried his brains (my sympathies and condolences to the villager’s family).

That’s all on the weather front for now at least – for this isn’t the end of summer. So as they say cheer up the worst is yet to come. And memes like this are bound to crop up (again and again) before the mangoes bid their final adieu for the season.

IMG-20160521-WA0011(1)

But let us make hay while the sun shines – oops wrong quote ;). Make every dull day count 😀

And now on to Moonshine – Chapter 61 and Calvin. All those rooting for Hobbes raise your hands 😀

Quotes for the day

“Pray don’t talk to me about the weather, Mr. Worthing. Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else. And that makes me quite nervous.” ― Oscar Wilde

“Don’t knock the weather. If it didn’t change once in a while, nine out of ten people couldn’t start a conversation.” ― Kim Hubbard

Before you go, do leave me a note, about the weather if nothing else (go ahead make me nervous)

Save

It’s Complicated

The fourth short story submitted to the TOI Write India competition. For the other stories click here

Author Prompt

“In the middle of the flight, Kiara woke up to go to the washroom. When she returned, she was too lazy to push her way into the middle seat. And with Rishaan readily offering to shift seats, the seating arrangement changed. With 20 minutes still remaining for the flight to land, a sleep starved Kiara took another power nap, this time holding Rishaan’s right hand more firmly. Rishaan’s other hand, though, nervously moved to touch Diya’s. Her heart skipped a beat. Diya pulled her hand away. But a defiant Rishaan held her wrist again, this time firmly and more reassuringly. The changing behavioral dynamics between the three perhaps gave out a foreboding of what was to come in Goa.
When the flight landed at the Dabolim Airport, Rishaan felt uncanny…his excitement seemed replaced by an unknown fear that he found very difficult to decipher.” by Tuhin A Sinha (For more about the contest/rules click here).

It’s Complicated

“Darling!” Rishaan enfolded Kiara, his wife, in a bone-crushing hug and showered her face with kisses. “What happened? Oh look at you poor sweetie, so pale and wilting. Are you okay?”

Kiara clung to his familiar warmth and burrowed closer to him seeking comfort and strength. “Oh Rishaan, I am so glad you are home,” she blubbered. “Somebody was here! He tried to strangle me and throw me over the balcony.” She burst into gut-wrenching sobs as the memory of those horrific moments overwhelmed her.

“Who was it? Did you recognize him?” Rishaan shook her.

“No.” Kiara sniffled. “He was wearing a mask, it was dark, and just as suddenly he dumped me and vanished,” she trembled and shook, “he must have heard Sunita enter…”

Rishaan frowned. “Sunita? Why was she even here? She leaves by four o’clock doesn’t she?”

“Yes, she was God sent I guess!” Kiara laughed shakily. “She forgot her mobile.”

“Thank God.” Rishaan hugged Kiara.

Rishaan lodged a complaint with the police. A cursory investigation was undertaken and security beefed up. Yet, several days later, Kiara was still shaken and often woke up screaming.

“Let’s go for a holiday,” suggested Rishaan. “How about Goa?”

Delighted, Kiara threw her arms around him. “I would love to.”

So, here they were at the airport, checked in and waiting to board their flight.

“Be right back,” Kiara murmured. Rishaan smiled and blew her a kiss.

Life was so unpredictable mused Kiara. Till about a week ago they weren’t even talking to each other and now off on a romantic get-away!

Over the last couple of years since they had been married, the Rishaan she had known before their marriage seemed to have disappeared. And of late, all they did was fight, especially about money. In fact before the accident, things had deteriorated so much that they hadn’t been on speaking terms for almost a week. It had all begun when he wanted her to invest in a business plan of his – buying and selling property.

“What nonsense Rishaan,” Kiara had snapped, “beats me you come up with such ludicrous ideas? Do you have any idea about how the real estate business runs? Besides, don’t you know the market is in a slump right now?”

“Yes and that is exactly why I need to jump in right now. All I need is capital.” He waved his hands dismissively. “Don’t worry, I got it all worked out, contacts, property, everything. Within a few months I will pay you back. With interest.”

Kiara narrowed her eyes. “If you are so sure, why don’t you borrow from the market?” she watched in satisfaction as he flinched. “Look Rishaan, I don’t want to be negative and uncooperative, but the fact is you have frittered away all your money on various impractical business ventures and I refuse to let you do the same with my money.”

She paused and took the plunge. “In any case, I have been thinking that Dad wasn’t fair in making me the sole heiress,” she swallowed, “I do feel bad for Nikhil. He doesn’t deserve to be cut off like this, so maybe…”

“What!” Rishaan was instantly up in arms, “You intend to share your inheritance with that good for nothing brother of yours, but you wont lend me the money? How fair is that?”

“My brother is good for nothing? What about your evil, scheming grasping mother?”

The conversation had deteriorated from that point onwards and their relationship had hit an all time low.

Until the murder attempt and now it was as if they were a couple of newlyweds. Yet something wasn’t quite right. An eerie feeling had been dogging Kiara since the day of the attack – who would want to kill her? Could – could it be Rishaan?

She didn’t want to believe it, but a gut instinct kept nagging her, alternately making her feel guilty and giving her nightmares. Stop being so melodramatic and fanciful, she had castigated herself a million times. And even though she had been excited at the prospect of a Goa get-away, later, misgivings had assaulted her. Why was he being so nice to her? Was he hatching some plot to extract money or worse?

Frowning Rishaan scanned the airport – their flight boarding had been announced and Kiara hadn’t yet returned. Damn the woman, where the hell was she?

“Rishaan, look who I bumped into? And guess where she is going?”

“Hey Diya.” Rishaan clasped her hand and shook it warmly. “After a long time huh?”

Diya smiled and nodded. “Yeah almost 5, no 6 years right?” She looked at them both. “So you two did get married. And didn’t even invite me.” She pouted.

“You were the one who disappeared right after college Diya,” Kiara reminded her. She elbowed Rishaan. “I think she had a crush on you and couldn’t bear that you preferred me over her!” giggling, Kiara said in a loud whisper.

Diya flushed and her eyes flickered. “Rubbish.”

“Just ignore her Diya.” Rishaan jumped in though privately, he agreed with Kiara. “Tell us, where have you been, what have you been doing? And…”

“Whoa, hold your horses Rishaan.” Diya held up her hand as if shielding herself. “I have been here and there, doing this and that. Come on, let’s proceed for boarding.” She started walking.

“Are you alone?” Rishaan looked around.

“Yeah,” Diya said a bit defensively, “my boyfriend and I just broke up and I needed a little pampering,” she shrugged, “so here I am off to Goa alone.”

“Good for you.” Kiara gave her a quick hug. “Why alone? We’ll be there.”

“Are you crazy? You love-birds won’t want me hanging around.”

“Oh but we do, right Rishaan?”

As Diya moved ahead to show her boarding pass, Rishaan deliberately hung back. “Why are you forcing her to join us? I thought it was going to be just us?” he frowned.

“Of course Rishaan.” Kiara smiled and linked her arm with his. “But it will be fun to have company don’t you think? Diya is a great gal and,” she grinned wickedly, “it’s always nice to meet an old flame isn’t it?”

“What nonsense Kiara. It will be so awkward and embarrassing.” He glared at her. “I thought we were going to reconnect and here you go and invite Diya.”

“Come on Rishaan,” Kiara whispered hurriedly as they cleared the gate and boarded the bus, “just trust me okay. It’s going to be fine. Poor thing, she is so upset, didn’t you see? Breaking up is never easy. Hey Diya, what’s your seat number? Let’s sit together shall we?” In the airplane, Kiara coaxed the gentleman sitting by the window to give up his seat for Diya and they sank down jabbering incessantly.

Rishaan sat mutinously in his seat feeling very frustrated and irritated. Things were going to be difficult with Diya hanging around them. After the first failed attempt, he couldn’t afford slip up again. He gritted his teeth and clenched his fists. Dammit he had it all worked out – the rocky beaches of Goa would have provided the perfect setting – one misstep and her fortune would be his. But Kiara seemed to possess the Devil’s luck – first Sunita, now Diya.

Damn, damn and triple damn.

He looked over towards Diya in a calculative manner – her clothes screamed money. Maybe she still carried a torch for him, maybe he could…his lips curled as he picked up the in-flight magazine.

There was a lull in the conversation. Rishaan looked up to find that Kiara had dozed off. He smiled apologetically at Diya. “She hasn’t been sleeping well for the past few days.”

“I know.” Diya nodded. “She told me. I wonder who would try to kill her?”

Unwilling to pursue that line of conversation, Rishaan leaned over and brushed his thumb over her cheek. “There’s something here. All gone now,” he murmured softly.

Diya’s eyes flew to his. They bore into hers – warm and intimate. Her eyes fluttered and fell on Kiara. Diya turned to stare determinedly out of the window.

In the middle of the flight, Kiara woke up to go the washroom. When she returned, she was too lazy to push her way into the middle seat. And with Rishaan readily offering to shift seats, the seating arrangement changed. With 20 minutes still remaining for the flight to land, a sleep starved Kiara took another power nap, this time holding Rishaan’s right hand more firmly. Rishaan’s other hand, though, nervously moved to touch Diya’s. Her heart skipped a beat. Diya pulled her hand away. But a defiant Rishaan held her wrist again, this time firmly and more reassuringly. The changing behavioral dynamics between the three perhaps gave out a foreboding of what was to come in Goa.

When the flight landed at the Dabolim Airport, Rishaan felt uncanny…his excitement seemed replaced by an unknown fear that he found very difficult to decipher.

“Guess what?” Kiara said as they disembarked, “Diya is staying at the same hotel as us!”

Rishaan froze as alarm bells went off – this had to be more than mere coincidence.

“Great.” He mumbled.

As they waited for their luggage to arrive, Rishaan said to Kiara, “Do you have the carpenter’s number? I forgot to cancel his visit.”

Busy chatting, Kiara handed him her phone. He turned away and hurriedly flicked through her email. His eyes hardened. Kiara had not only booked Diya’s ticket to Goa but also her hotel room. Now why would she do that? Did she suspect something? And of all the people in the world, why Diya?

He handed back her phone.

Just then a man staggered as he attempted to pull off an unwieldy heavy bag off the conveyor belt and crashed into Diya. She steadied but her purse fell on the floor scattering its contents. With a muffled curse Diya bent to collect her stuff. Rishaan too knelt alongside her and picked up her eyeliner, lipstick and a few visiting cards. He stared as Diya snatched the stuff from his hands and stood up mumbling, “Thanks.”

Rishaan casually lumbered to his feet but not before he had neatly pocketed the visiting card stuck under the wheel of their trolley.

“My pleasure.” He smiled.

It was only when they were seated in the taxi did he look at the card. It was a simple plain card yet the contents sent shivers down his spine. Diya Sharma Private Investigator. Only an email address was provided.

Sweat beaded his brow. Kiara was on to him. She had hired Diya who was a private detective. Inexplicably he felt betrayed – how could Diya do this to him? On the plane, he could have sworn her pulse had raced at his touch, her breath hitched while her eyes – no, he was sure she still loved him.

He had to play his cards carefully.

As they walked on the beach, Kiara couldn’t resist the lure of the waves. As she splashed about and played with the waves, Diya and Rishaan stood apart watching her.

“Why did you suddenly vanish after college?” Rishaan asked abruptly.

“That’s in the past.” Diya didn’t look at him.

“Okay fine. So tell me what exactly are you doing here?”

Diya laughed lightly as she turned to him. “I told you, my boyfr…” she broke off at the accusing look in his eyes, “what?”

“This.” He handed her visiting card. “And Kiara booked your flight tickets.”

Diya was silent. She looked up at him. “Maybe you should join us.” She offered him a small smile.

“It’s not funny.” Rishaan ground out.

She raised an eyebrow. “And attempting to murder one’s wife is funny?”

“Is that why you are here?” shocked at the direct attack, he blustered, “to catch me red-handed? Put me behind bars?” He cast a look towards Kiara to make sure she wasn’t looking this way. He slipped an arm around her waist and gave her a warm squeeze. “I thought you loved me.” His voice dropped to a husky murmur and his warm breath fanned her cheek.

He felt her shiver. Her lashes fluttered and dropped under the intensity of his gaze. “It’s not like that Rishaan.” Her breath was uneven. “When Kiara called me with her suspicions, I had to come.” She met his gaze limpidly. “I had to save you.” She cleared her throat and moved away. “Kiara’s coming. We’ll talk later.” She smiled and waved. “I have a better plan,” she muttered to Rishaan before walking over to Kiara.

“Did I interrupt something?” Kiara asked.

Diya looked at Rishaan. “We were just arguing over what to do next.” She grinned. “We are going shopping and then Rishaan is treating us to dinner.”

Dinner was primarily a mishmash of covert searing glances, warm breaths, furtive, amorous touches and doublespeak.

Later, Rishaan gave in to his baser instincts and knocked her door. “Diya!” he enfolded her in his embrace.

“Rishaan! What are you doing here? It’s almost midnight, what if Kiara…”

“Don’t worry. I slipped her a couple of sleeping pills.” He cupped her face and looked deep into her eyes. “Sweetheart,” he began huskily.

Diya’s eyes fell. “Come inside.” She pulled him in and shut the door.

Inside, he tried to pull her into his arms but she pushed him away. “We need to talk.” She pulled on a robe over her flimsy nightwear.

“I guess,” said Rishaan. He tucked a stray lock behind her ear and ran a finger down her cheek. “What better plan were you talking about?”

“First let me clear this.” Diya held his gaze. “You want to get rid of Kiara permanently isn’t it?”

Rishaan nodded.

“You were the ‘intruder’ who tried to throw Kiara off the balcony wasn’t it?”

“Yeah so?”

Diya sighed. “So, don’t you see Rishaan, any accident, you are going to be the prime suspect?”

“Yeah I realized that…”

“But what was your plan?”

“I was kind of hoping that the rocky beaches would provide the ideal setting for Kiara to slip and hurt herself fatally.”

Diya shook her head. “It’s not so simple Rishaan. A thousand things could go wrong. What if…”

“Yeah yeah, I realize that now,” he cut in, “but if you are with me, I am sure we can come up with a foolproof plan to kill Kiara.” His eyes gleamed with a fanatic light. “And then we could live happily ever after.”

There was a click and the door opened. Kiara stood there. Beyond her, in the corridor stood a couple of policemen.

Dumbfounded Rishaan stared from one to the other.

“Diya!” he found his voice, “I thought…

“You thought I loved you and that’s why I left when you and Kiara decided to get married?”

Rishaan’s eyes widened and he paled.

Diya slipped an arm around Kiara and pulled her close. “We are going to live happily ever after.”

So what did you think? What was your first reaction?! Look forward to reading your comments, suggestions, thoughts  – thanks. Click here for more short stories or here for more about the blog.

 

Pssst for all those who were busy partying over the weekend to drop in on my blog I got news 😀 I had a blast and posted two more (unscheduled) short stories. Now it’s up to you to read and decide whether I shouldn’t have wasted my time or (importantly) yours. In my defense, they are really short – in fact for one of them the title is longer the story (well almost). Okay fine be that way…

The Wait for the Waiting Room

Hello All! Looking forward to a relaxing weekend? So am I! But like I said before it’s hot and in an attempt to keep my mind of the blistering heat, I tried to pen type a flash fiction (a story in 100 words or less) inspired by the photo below. Hope you like and will perhaps even participate! Details and links after you read mine 😉

 

https://rochellewisofffields.files.wordpress.com/2016/05/jhc7.jpg
Photo credit: J Hardy Carroll


Word Count: 100 (not including the title)

The Wait for the Waiting Room

I shivered as I took my evening walk around the campus– home for me but hospital to most.

An auto stopped beside me. A middle-aged lady poked her head out and asked, “Where’s the patient registration counter?”

“That.” I pointed. “But it is closed now.”

“I know.” She smiled. “I have come to queue up for it.”

“But the counter will open at 8 am.”

“Yes but by 6 am the queue extends well beyond the gate of the hospital. If I join the queue by 3 am, I can be assured of a doctor’s appointment for my ailing husband.

 

Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Fields’ Friday Fictioneers - a story in 100 words or less inspired by the above photo.Get writing or you could read all the other stories here.

 

 

 

 

Haiku Season

It’s awfully hot (470 C/117 0 F with 60 % humidity) and there’s no sign (or hope) of any let up. I wonder how long people (and the birds and animals) can keep up in the face of this relentless blistering blazing sun. Something is surely going to give and soon. So far electricity is on our side (touch wood and fingers crossed) but with demands and loads soaring, a breakdown not only seems inevitable but imminent.

And somewhere I feel guilty – it wasn’t this bad just a few days ago. Methinks the sun got a bit cheesed off on my obvious partial and support for the amaltas and decided to show  who the boss actually was. As a result, despite me bragging that I wouldn’t miss the unfolding spectacle for anything, I am now ensconced in the darkest corner of my house, curtains tightly drawn to keep out the sun, light and view.

The irony of it didn’t escape me:

googling images
amaltas bloom
outside my window

The only good thing is that I managed to come up with a half way decent haiku! And get the stamp of approval from the reigning Haiku Queen herself (after a bit of rewriting of course).

Wondering who the Haiku Queen is?

She is none other than our very own smr. She won this year’s grand prize winner of the prestigious IAFOR Vladimir Devidé Haiku Award 2016 (no surprise for me – I always knew she was brilliant).

sunny afternoon
a shadow
on the mammogram
Suraja Roychowdhury, United States

Her submission was chosen as the best one out of a record 680 submissions from 60 different countries. My heartiest congratulations to her and best wishes for many more such finely crafted gems.

The other submissions are pretty awesome too – if any of you enjoy haiku it is worth it to check out the link above. And if you like, you can read more of smr’s awesome haiku and even better tanka (and some pretty cool poems) at Allpoetry.com. Registration (though free) is mandatory.

On to Calvin now  – he is feeling pretty neglected I can tell especially what with Hobbes ragging him no end.

 

Quote for the day:One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.”  JW Goethe.

I know Moonshine does quite measure up to any of the above but still if you insist 😉 here is Chapter 60: Making Dreams Come True

As usual, I look forward to your comments and smileys 🙂

The Trap

A short story written for the Indispire Edition Number 117. And the prompt is:

Just when everything started looking fine, the phone rings…[Build a story] #TringTring

 

 The Trap

Naveen rubbed his hands as he cast a critical look around the room. He straightened the bed sheet, tweaked a cushion cover, pushed the sofa back by a millimeter and nodded in satisfaction.

Perfect, everything was just perfect.

Well maybe not that patch on the wall by the TV. He frowned. Hadn’t he told Sheetal to get it repaired and painted? He would have to remind her when she returned from her mother’s place, which would take quite some time, he thought with some satisfaction.

And for now, he shifted the bouquet by the TV. Not bad he grinned to himself as he patted himself for the foresight. He hadn’t planned on bringing flowers or anything for that matter. He had other things on his mind in any case. But then the florist shop was on the way and he remembered that girls liked flowers and stuff. So he bought a huge bouquet and as an afterthought – a single rose.

For her.

To celebrate her first visit to his home – and about time too! Naveen shook his head he had been struggling to make headway with Reeva for ages now. But she was as slippery as an eel. But he was a determined and a patient stalker. Besides, the fun was in the chase.

He dimmed the lights of the room and lit the candles in front of the mirror. He stared at himself in the mirror – his eyes gleamed and his face was shadowed. He bared his teeth in a macabre grin. Reeva! Oh Reeva! Come to me Reeva! He chanted softly under his breath.

He looked at the clock. She should have been here by now. Doubt struck him. Was she even coming? Or perhaps she had got lost. He took out his phone and grimaced. Damn, no network. Again. He needed to change his phone ASAP.

Just then the doorbell rang.

Naveen threw the phone on the divan and made a dash for the door but then restrained himself. He took a deep breath and smoothed his hair and then with studied nonchalance opened the door. “Hi Reeva! Right on time,” he bowed low and ushered her in. “No problem in finding my home I hope?” Naveen gave her a covert look over. He almost stumbled and fell.

Reeva was looking gorgeous in a slinky short black dress – no jewelry and no make up. Except for those kohl-lined mesmerizing sultry doe-eyes.

The luscious lips parted to reveal perfect pearly teeth. “Hello.” Her voice was husky, low and seductive.

He turned away to get a grip on himself. “Please have a seat.” His voice was hoarse. He had never seen this side of her! He had been ready for another round of coaxing and cajoling, but this Reeva was… he coughed. “What news they blather on and on about these days on TV.” He picked up the remote. “You know these news channels have really lost it! You wouldn’t believe but one channel was actually going berserk over some…”

“Did you call me over to talk about the news?” She pouted.

Dumbly he shook his head. Holding his eyes, she reached out and put her hand on his and switched off the TV.

Naveen’s breath caught in his throat. “Reeva.” He reached out for her. But she dodged him.

“I am starving.” She complained. “You did promise me dinner. That too cooked by your own hands.” She poked him while her smoky eyes teased and flirted with him.

Naveen swallowed and bowed. “Yes of course. Give me a moment.” He returned almost instantly. “Sorry, I seem to have been very remiss as a host. Have an orange juice,” he held out a frosting glass.

Reeva chewed on her lip and cast him a smouldering look under her lashes. “Umm I was kind of hoping for a Bloody Mary.” Her voice was laced disdain and disappointment. She met his startled look limpidly before dropping her air. He sagged against the cabinet and put a hand to his heart in exaggerated relief.

She giggled.

“Reeva! You nearly gave me a heart attack.”

She smirked triumphantly and walked around the room delicately sipping the orange juice as he busied himself in the kitchen. Boy, Reeva was even more interesting than he had thought.

Naveen usually targeted naïve gullible girls who were suckers for his poor-battered-husband avatar. They almost always fell for his brave martyred look perfected over the years.

But with Reeva he had had to go one step further – glitter of tears in his eyes. Only then had she succumbed to his heartfelt request for ‘one magical evening for a lifetime of memories.’

In keeping with his assessment of her, Naveen had expected Reeva to be more withdrawn, stiff and proper. But she had surprised him – first with her choice of dress (so not the Reeva he knew) and now the tempting seductress.

But who am I to complain?

“Here’s your dinner Ms Reeva,” he sang out gaily as he put the tray on the table. “As promised, food cooked by me. But then only simple dal and rice – and one mixed vegetable – hope that’s okay?” he asked anxiously.”The only things I know.” He grinned engagingly.

She inclined her head regally before sliding into the chair he had drawn out. “You forgot the raita and the salad.” He leaned forward and stole a quick whiff of her perfume, which was driving him crazy – among other things.

He felt faint and dizzy. He took his seat opposite her and tried to steady his nerves. “Yes well, that’s only if you cannot manage to consume any of the other stuff.” He explained in a  self-deprecating tone – another hit with the ladies.

Her rich laughter broke out sending shivers down his spine. His heart warmed. Careful, now don’t you go falling in love with her, he cautioned himself.

“How is it?” He asked with barely restrained eagerness.

She chewed, swallowed and nodded approvingly. “Pretty good! Well done.” She clapped her hands. “I am impressed. I didn’t think you could pull it off.”

He flushed. “It’s nothing.” Ravenous he dug into his meal only to spit it out with a yowl, “Yuck! This is awful.” He shuddered. “The dal is completely burnt. How can you eat it?”

“No it’s fine, quite prefect in fact,” she insisted as she continued to eat.

Unable to bear it, Naveen snatched her plate away and pulled her away from the table. “Please don’t do this.” He pleaded. “ I am terribly sorry. Let’s go out for dinner?”

Reeva shook her head and met his eyes full. “I don’t want to go out.”

His heart skipped a beat. “Of course not. Let me order something.”

She nodded.

“Food will be here soon. Shall we dance?” He offered his hand.

They swayed to the music and as the tempo slowed, Naveen gathered her close, half expecting her to pull back. But when she didn’t, his heart starting thudding madly.

Cool it man, cool it, he urged himself. Take it nice and slowDon’t scare her away.

Just when everything started to go well, the phone rang.

He froze. Who could it be? Why the landline? What about his mobile? He picked it up his mobile. Oh he had forgotten to switch it on.

The phone kept ringing – loud and insistent.

Could…could it be Sheetal? He turned but Reeva held him back by the arm. “You really a terrible host. First it was the TV and now it is the phone…”

“Please just one moment, who knows it may the home delivery guys?”

She let him go.

“Hello?”

“Mr Naveen Kishore?”

“Yes? Who is calling?”

“This is the police.”

Naveen stiffened. He lowered his voice and turned his back. “Yes? How may I help you?”

“We got your number from the mobile on a dead woman. Yours is the last dialed number.”

“Dead woman!” Who…?” Surely it wasn’t Sheetal?

“That’s what we wanted to know. We could Whatsapp her picture but your mobile…

“It’s working now. Please send it.”

His phone pinged. He stared at his phone.

“Who is it darling?”

A cold clammy sensation engulfed Naveen as he looked from the picture on his mobile to Reeva.

The phones slipped from his nerveless fingers and his mouth opened in a soundless shriek of terror as ‘Reeva’ dissolved into a gaunt skeleton.

A bony hand rattled as it raised itself and caressed his cheek. “Come on honey, let’s dance.”

Do let me know what you thought! And if you would like to read more short stories click here

 

 

Hot on the Trail

Not so long ago, just two months ago to be more precise, I was busy Chasing Spring – remember? And I had hinted then that I was hot on the trail of something else as well. It is time for the unveiling.

I was trying to track Mother Nature as she dealt with the changing seasons – the bitter chill and frost of the winter to the unrelenting merciless sun rays  – with her usual no-nonsense nonchalance and elan.

Tip: Taking a leaf from Mother Nature’s kitty, for best results, scroll down at a leisurely pace.

Here’s the first set of pics taken on 12 March 2016 around the campus

And then comes the next set taken about exactly a month later, i.e on or around 12th of April 2016

The temperatures skyrocketed as we slipped into May. Whilst mere mortals writhed and groaned under the weight of the blazing sun, she decided if you can’t beat them join them.

Now just hold your breath:-

I dare not draw the curtains even in this heat for fear of missing out the breathtaking sight of the Amaltas in full glorious bloom – enough left over to carpet the roads as well.

I am completely bowled over, fascinated and enthralled by the complete wardrobe overhaul without moving an inch!

And all from thin air…

I wonder if trees get a headache while in the sun? If not, I am all for being born as a tree in my next life 😀

After this, I wouldnt blame you if you didnt much care for Rajani’s escapades – well anyhow here’s Chapter 59.

And a bonus short story – The Trap – do let me know what you think!

Checkmated

The third short story submitted to the TOI Write India competition. For the other stories click here

Author Prompt

She willed herself to not check her phone to see if he had replied. It had been about three days now. She hated that she was constantly checking his ‘last seen at’ status and yes, he had logged in just five minutes ago. Yet she couldn’t stop herself. This sinking feeling to find absolutely no communication from him was becoming unbearable, almost torturous.

And then, just as she sat down in her chair, her phone vibrated. With her heart thudding in her ear, she unlocked her phone and stared at the screen. Finally! It was his message.

But when she opened it and read it, she nearly stopped breathing. She didn’t know if he was joking or not. What was this?” by Preeti Shenoy (For more about the contest/rules click here)

Checkmated

Stuti switched on the landing light and let herself in. Soumesh wasn’t home – the stillness told her that. Besides, after 30 years of marriage, Stuti could sense his presence before she could see him. Where could he be? He hated going out and even if he had to, she had to make arrangements, remind him, nag him…

Stuti dumped her purse and lunch bag on the dining table. She walked through the house, switching on lights, checking. Finally, she knocked hesitantly on his studio door – his sanctuary, which he guarded jealously. It was his private space, his world where he created – painting, sculpture, whatever struck his fancy. Nobody was allowed in, not even her, without his explicit permission. Not even to clean it. Once in a while, Stuti would throw a major tantrum. He would then ungraciously allow her to clean up all the while hounding her, “Don’t touch that,” or “it’s meant to be like that,” and even, “use a wet cloth but don’t look at it.”

Stuti had laughed. “Why don’t you clean it yourself?”

“But why should I? I am fine with the nonexistent dust.” He raised an eyebrow. “You are the one obsessing. My studio is air tight, sound proof, there is no scope for any dust.”

“This is Delhi my dear artist, if you have air to breathe, it is dusty.” Stuti countered.

“Yeah right.” Soumesh flicked her nose. “You know what my theory is?”

“What?”

“Dusting is an excuse to enter my private space. A way of getting back at me for banning your entry here.”

Stuti knocked again loudly. There was no response. She pushed at the door and it yielded under pressure from her hand – her breath caught in her throat – had something happened to him? After all he was no longer in the prime of his youth – neither of them were.

Finished and half-finished works of art dotted the room. Stuti carefully traversed the room, looking for him under the table, behind the curtain (he was quite capable of hiding just to give her a scare, a punishment for daring to enter his studio) but then there was no sign of him. Where could he be?

Stuti paused in front of a covered easel – the brush on the palette, thick with black paint, was still wet. Hesitating and mentally apologizing to Soumesh for intruding, she picked up the cover. She stared.

A grotesque black painted face stared right back at her with its red tongue sticking out. Over the face, he had left a curt sticky note ‘Going out for few days.’ There was another note on the right hand corner –‘Aha peeking without my permission I see.’

Stuti’s shook her head. She looked around carefully – if she knew him, there would be another note for her – yes, it was stuck behind the door.

‘Didn’t check the note on the easel? I am missing and you don’t even look properly?’

Stuti couldn’t help laughing. She could never win with him –damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Stuti hummed as she shut the door behind her. This was a first, alone at home. It was a different sensation Stuti realized – to be alone with somebody in the house and to be alone by oneself.

Hungry, Stuti went to the kitchen. She served herself a bowl of cornflakes and garnished it with some fruits and nuts – she sighed blissfully and dug in. She loved unconventional meals – cornflakes, toast and cheese, banana milk shake but Soumesh frowned upon such things. “That’s not a meal. That’s a snack.”

“But I like it.”

“But if you eat that you wont be able to have your meal. And I refuse to eat all this alone.” And that had been that. Stuti had given in and made his wishes her goals – it was easier that way, especially with just the two of them. Besides she adored him.

They were an unlikely pair and their engagement had caused quite a stir. He was a struggling artist and she a probationary officer at a bank. But like they say – they were meant to be. Their circles were so far apart their chances of meeting were almost nonexistent. Yet, she had caught his fancy at a wedding and he had pursued her quite shamelessly. She was of course terribly flattered by his attention – but what nailed it was that he made her laugh. That and his differentness, his honesty, often brutally so, “I don’t know why I bother with you. You really are nothing much to look at – too mousey by half.”

Yet the glint in his eyes gave her goose bumps. “It’s your eyes – they haunt me, if I could just take your eyes, I wouldn’t ever come back to you.”

“Run Stuti run while you still can,” he advised his lips twisted, “I am not right for you. I have nothing to offer – no money, no status…”

“Anyone can have that. Art is something rare and precious,” stars in her eyes she had retaliated. “Besides, I have a vested interest. You will be able to help our children make their school files. You see I am awful at art and craft.”

The tragedy was that she couldn’t bear children – her tubes were blocked. Alternate options were limited back then and finances even more so. He had withdrawn into his world – shut himself up. Guilt-ridden, Stuti ploughed on – she made him her baby. One that never grew up needing constant mothering and caring. She encouraged him and nurtured his art – given him the complete freedom to pursue his passion. A night owl, he slept during the day while she was away at the bank working. By the time she came home, he was busy; and this happened for days and often weeks on end.

He was there, yet not there.

“How do you tolerate it?” Friends and relatives often marveled.

Even Soumesh had asked, “Why do you put up with me? I am irritable, rude, selfish,” he spread his hands helplessly, “I wouldn’t, why do you?”

“That’s exactly why, my dearest temperamental artist,” she said as she melted into his arms, “to save you from you.”

And it was true. He had no head for anything but art. He frequently forgot the world as art consumed him. If she hadn’t been there, he would have probably starved or burnt the house down. A man of strong likes and dislikes, Stuti guarded him from his ‘irritations’ and willingly entertained his few chosen friends. Frustrated and suffocated in a world that did not appreciate his vision, he often took out his angst on Stuti, his shock absorber.

Stuti soldiered on, instinctively knowing he was meant to shine, rule the world of art. It was up to her to provide and create a situation that would achieve this.

Her belief and his art finally paid off, he was recognized and feted all over. A sense of gratification enveloped her – she was the artist, she had created him. All the difficult times were behind; they would together reap the harvest of their hard work. But then he flew the nest and traveled the world, while her work kept her tied. Yet she basked in his success from afar.

Then as it is wont, he hit a plateau. An artist, who is busy selling his art, has no time for art. Dazzled and lured by the world’s adulation, Soumesh drifted away from his art and his muse deserted him.

Out of public glare, he would drop his pretense of the suave flamboyant debonair artist. At home, he became the conflicted reclusive monster determined to destroy everything – even his friends deserted him.

“Soumesh, please talk to me.” Stuti pleaded over and over again. “Don’t keep it all bottled up inside. At least pick up the paintbrush, something will flow out. At least try.”

“Oh so you will teach me art now? You think you know better than I do. But what do you know of art?”

“No…nothing, I just meant…”

“I know what you meant. You meant that I should pretend to be happy and crack jokes like an idiot when my world, my art is slipping away from my grasp. Don’t you know, nothing in this world means to me as much as my art? I would rather die than not be able to…”

“Please Soumesh, don’t talk like that. I am worried about you. I love you…”

“I am fine Stuti, just fine. I am like this only. If you love me, you will let me be.”

He shut the studio door on her face with a finality that cut her to the core.

But don’t you love me? If you love me, come out please Soumesh. I cannot bear to see you like this. The words remained unsaid and the door remained shut.

And now he had disappeared.

His unexplained disappearance rankled. Try as she might, she couldn’t really find an excuse for him. As she brooded, the spark of resentment grew. As did the doubts – did he really love her or was she just an efficient housekeeper?

She willed herself to not check her phone to see if he had replied. It had been about three days now. She hated that she was constantly checking his ‘last seen at’ status and yes, he had logged in just five minutes ago. Yet she couldn’t stop herself. This sinking feeling to find absolutely no communication from him was becoming unbearable, almost torturous.

And then, just as she sat down in her chair, her phone vibrated. With her heart thudding in her ear, she unlocked her phone and stared at the screen. Finally! It was his message.

But when she opened it and read it, she nearly stopped breathing. She didn’t know if he was joking or not. What was this?

Looking younger, fresher and brighter than she had seen him in months, he stood on a beach with his arm around a young girl. The picture was captioned – ‘The love of my life’.

Stuti’s heart stood still.

But wait – that was no paramour – she was clearly his daughter. She zoomed in on the picture – yes no doubt about it – the same smile, the same stance.

Even as she stared at the photograph, a barrage of messages followed.

‘Coming home with Kriti. Should be in time for dinner.’

‘Make something special.’

‘Fix up the spare bedroom for Kriti.’

Stuti stared at her phone. How typical of Soumesh not to give any explanation, offer any justification. To expect her to take this in her stride, no questions asked. Only he could do that.

No, only she could do that.

Stuti got up to fix herself a cup of coffee. She stared at the lights out of the window. Soumesh never had an affair that she was sure of. Not because he wasn’t capable or wouldn’t. But because if he had, he would have been the first to tell her – he was almost an obsessive confessor.

So who was the mother?

Out of nowhere, an image flashed across her eyes from many years ago – before they were married.

“Movie and dinner?”

Stuti was surprised and flattered. He didn’t believe in such things. Besides, he was broke. “What did you do, rob a bank?”

He had grinned, albeit sheepishly. “Actually I stocked up a bank. A sperm bank.”

Kriti was a carbon copy of her father and Stuti loved her like her own. Poor girl was quite cut up about the loss of her adoptive parents – father to a freak accident and mother to cancer. Worried about Kirti’s future, the mother had extracted donor details from the bank and contacted Soumesh. Skeptical, he had insisted upon DNA testing. Now that she was no more, Soumesh had brought her home.

All fine and acceptable, except…

“Why did you hide all this from me?” Stuti finally burst out one day.

“I didn’t hide it. I just…just didn’t tell you.”

“Isn’t it the same thing? You knew about this for weeks. Yet you never told me. Why?”

Soumesh looked away. “You know why.”

“No.” Stuti crossed her arms. “You tell me.”

He shrugged. “It’s just that I didn’t want to be disappointed needlessly. I was petrified of having my dream – our dream – shattered once again. I guess I wanted to be sure before…”

“But you had the DNA results before going to meet her didn’t you?”

He nodded.

“So why didn’t you tell me then? Why leave me stewing for three whole days. You really do take me for granted don’t you?”

Soumesh reddened. “I…I wasn’t sure if I would be able to accept her as my daughter. I had to make sure.” He looked at her sulkily. “If I had told you, you would have insisted I do the right thing, whether I…my muse could live with her or not.”

Stuti glared at him. “I don’t believe this! What if she had been our long-lost daughter? Would you have vetted her first then as well? What if she had not matched your standards? Would you have abandoned her? Would Kriti and I have had to kowtow to your decision regarding her suitability to ‘qualify’ as our daughter?” Her voice rose.

“You are over-reacting Stuti, it’s nothing like that.”

“No Soumesh, it’s exactly like that. You really are very selfish aren’t you?” Stuti’s fists were clenched and her eyes were blazing. “All you can think about is yourself.”

“Yeah.” Soumesh shrugged. “I have often wondered how you put up with me. I wouldn’t have been able to.”

That was it. No apology. No contrition. He really was impossible.

All the fight went out of her. “I really should have taken your advice and run long ago.”

He stood there wooden and expressionless. “It’s still not too late.”

She turned away as tears clogged her throat. After 30 years this is what he had to say? When all he had to do was take her into his arms and mutter a half hearted sorry? She was just a housekeeper for him. And now he had his daughter…

Pride stiffened her spine. Fine, so be it. She bent down and dragged out her suitcase.

He coughed. “Surely you are not leaving now?”

“Why?” she rounded on him, “do you want me to serve out a notice period? Handover my ‘job’ to Kriti?”

He withdrew. “No. No I meant at least look for a suitable place – somewhere close to the bank. Delhi traffic is so bad.”

“Thank you for your concern,” she bit out, “but the Noida flat will do just fine.”

“In that concrete jungle? Oh no, I refuse to stay there.”

Stuti stared. “Are you crazy? Only I am going there.”

Soumesh glared at her. “Are you crazy? If you go, I am coming.”

“What nonsense Soumesh.”

“Didn’t you hear me? I couldn’t put up with me.”

So what did you think? What was her reaction? What was your reaction?! Look forward to reading your comments, suggestions, versions  – thanks. Click here for more short stories.