The Smiling Woman
"Amma, look!" she said, picking up the frail edges of the newspaper, too heavy for her tiny hand. Her little finger pointed towards a colourful photograph of a smiling woman that stood in stark contrast to the lifeless news in black and white. Frowning, the little girl's mother dropped the platter she was washing and took the newspaper in her wet hands. She pushed back the little strands of hair that dangled in front of her eyes and slowly traced her calloused fingers over the picture of the smiling woman. She was draped in a drab brown saree that was pulled up to her head with a hundred and twenty creases.
"Chitra…" the name escaped from her lips almost like a whisper. Oh how much I missed this smile, she thought as her daughter jumped and yanked the newspaper away in one hustle, running out of the mud house. Her pigtails danced in the air as she raced down the barren grounds of Chenappady village bare feet.
"Chitra aunty state first aah!" she screamed on top of her voice waving the newspaper like a championship belt. Bent backs working under the sweltering sun straightened and rose up. Watchful eyes of flibbertigibbets peered through wooden window grills. Pedalling feet stopped midway. Country kids joined from all four directions and ran along with the little girl, nudging her and raising their eyebrows in question. They pushed their way through a moving flock of sheep as the shepherd cursed the kids and raised his oak staff in the air.
"Chitra aunty state first aah!" The kids cried in unison and ran along the parched terrain and down a stretch of yellowish brown sward. A thatched hut stood against the sprawl of dead grass outside which hung a broken slate with the words "CHITRA TUITION" written against it in big bold letters.
The children burst into the low entrance and into a dark ill-lit corner of the hut. A boiling pot sat atop red logs blazing with fire and a scrawny figure stood next to it. She felt someone pulling her hand and dragging her out of the hut. Her fingers involuntarily clutched the pallu of her saree with which she covered her face. Out in the meadow, she tugged her arms under the saree, her cobalt black eyes flinching, trying to adjust to the sudden brightness. The little girl put her arms around her neck and climbed behind her back, clinging on to her shoulders. She brushed the newspaper on her face as three little boys danced in circles around her. The gaunt woman picked up the newspaper and opened it, as a fast-blowing wind striked, taking two sheets of paper along with it. The quivering sheets which rested between her fingers beheld a bright photograph of her with the words, "20 year old village tutor tops Kerala HSE boards," printed underneath.
The winds beat again and she released her fingers. The papers flew away as the gale tossed and turned, flipping and flinging them like a toy. The tall grass brushed against her shins and she ran inside the hut, putting out the fire. The children surrounded her and she held them in a tight embrace. Her bun loosened and dishevelled hair fell down her shoulders. She closed her eyes gently, planting soft kisses on their heads. She smiled.
August was on the brink of September. The autumn zephyr sang, turning the frosty green leaves into golden brown. Busy walking feet scratched the ground crushing the lifeless fallen leaves into chunks of orange dust which danced in choreographed circles in the whirling wind. Late as I had always been to catch my school bus, I neither had the patience nor the mood to stand and stare at the ravishing weather. I ran along the streets carrying my thirteen pound school bag, praying to God that these naughty leaves shouldn't dare think to make my slippery feet trip. Both my arms were outstretched pushing behind everybody and everything that blocked my way.
'Oi, watch where you're going!' shouted an old woman whom I ran into.
'Sorry!' I cried, never looking back, for I cannot endure the anguish of missing the bus again and walking back home to find my father guffawing at my predicament. I have heard and known fathers who encourage and take pride in their children's achievements. But mine was just the obverse. Nothing makes him more content than laughing at my misfortunes. And should he find me calm and composed, his ultimate goal shall be to land me in misery. Such a lovely father. I adore him.
The bus stop was just a couple hundred yards away and yet how it transcends to miles everytime I start off late, I do not know. From a distance I could see two little green shirts with pinstripes floating in the air like magic which meant that my bus was yet to come. The only good thing about such a bad uniform colour was that it was easily conspicuous. Oh how grateful I am, I thought and smiled, and as anticipated beforehand, one of my feet slid to one side and I fell on my back scratching my limbs and tearing the knees of my pants. For the very first time in my life, my cumbersome schoolbag did me a favour. It saved my head. With my hands stuck to the tarmac like a monitor lizard, I cursed the dried leaves, autumn, nature, mother earth and all sorts of things that my head could think of, only to realise that the real culprit was my wonderful shoelaces.
I tried to sit up and rise quickly before someone might find me and make the scene more embarrassing, but as I forced myself to get back on my feet, my eyes sensed something strange in the skies and a mystifying melody shooted through my ears. A bizarre act was being staged up in the wide blue yonder and I couldn’t take my eyes off. Twelve birds which I fathom were either hawks or kites with their feathery plume a shade of brown, black and dun were circling about in the sky like spinning coriander leaves in a seething cauldron. There is a giant light pole by the next corner of the road junction where my bus stop rests and a metre opposite to it stands a cellular tower. A few birds were perched on the light pole while a few others were settled on the tower and the rest of the flock was rolicking in the cloudless ether. So deftly and smoothly their wings cut through the air like a polished knife slicing through butter. One particular bird, with larger wings and a wider breast than the others never broke its flight to alight on either of the resting places but kept flying incessantly. Wide-eyed and open-mouthed, I kept standing there, trying to decipher this baffling sorcery that was transpiring before me. Soon, the puzzle became clearer and yet I couldn’t believe the picture that it created.
The prodigious bird was trying to touch the other birds that were flying and once caught in its touch, they alighted on the cellular tower. The exhausted ones lulled on the light pole whilst the ones in the flight tried to release the birds on the tower and set them aloft. In other words, they were playing tag! How unbelievably remarkable, thought I, hands in my pockets, head elevated.
‘Lost your way, young lady?’ asked an old man with a greasy beard and tousled hair. His eyes were as black as the darkest night sky and though old he was, his features were strikingly handsome.
‘Oh no, sir,’ said I ‘but do you, by any chance, know of a way that could take me up there?’ I smiled, pointing a finger towards the birds and turned my gaze back, for I cannot bear the sorrow of missing one second of this extraordinary spectacle that was conjuring overhead. The old man rolled his eyes and smacked his forehead, heading athwart the streets and disappearing into the proletariat throng.
‘How come nobody has taken any interest in this?’ I asked my heart which replied back in silence. A sudden honk came from a distance which my eardrums found vaguely familiar. A dark figure, short and stout dressed in a khaki shirt and pants rolled up at his knees stood at a distance, staring at me.
‘Crap!’ said I and scuttled quickly towards the conductor.
‘Daydreaming, are we?’ he asked as I entered the bus. I did not reply and hastened to my seat trying to suppress the smile that was plastered hard on my face. I tried to look up at the sky through my window. A few birds caught my eye and I checked my watch. It had been seven minutes straight and the bigger bird was still afloat in the air, its manoeuvres adroit and dextrous. Our house is painted brown and I never quite liked that colour. But now, everything seemed to be in hues of sepia—brown birds, dried leaves, rusted cycles and tanned Indians.
‘Beautiful brown,’ I whispered, as my school bus moved forth, but the sight of watching the brilliancy of the winged creatures lingered in my mind.
In the evening, as I took my seat in the bus again, one of my friends walked past me to join his busmates.
‘Still smiling?’ he asked with a chuckle. I had known him for ages, but that was the first time that I noticed that his eyes had a shade of umber brown.
‘Still smiling.’ I said and leaned my head on the window, closing my eyelids, reminiscing the magical memory.
This Is Enough
How interesting those trees are, aren't they? With leaves and flowers of a hundred different shades. Light, dark, big, small, soft, spikey… Some grow tall and headstrong, pushing back the others whilst some crouch back obscure, grovelling behind boughs. New ones sprout, old ones fall, but in the end they all become part of the same deep mass of dead leaves awaiting slaughter under somebody's feet. Interesting, verily. I relish the delight of observing these wonders that unfold before me. The sleight when dawn breaks lobbing the first rays of magical colours, wafting the fragrance of damp earth, arousing the stout, speckled rooster which yowls aloud, bestirring the diligent peasants and beauteous milkmaids who tie their tresses up in a bun, most certain that they shall soon be drenched with diamonds of sweat. Anon shifts the sky from orange to yellow, to white, to golden, bathing the auburn fields which shimmer and gyrate frenetically to the melodies of mottled thrushes that compete with the finches. I strive to imitate them, listen to them closely and attempt to do the same in my oud, but must I say in solemn civility that it has been nine years and I have only failed to reach their perfection.
Butterflies flutter and fly into the city bustle where little boys roam about, uncouth and unkempt, beating their brushes against their shoe-shine boxes and sit in rows, shouting aloud in their youthful voices, "Shoe-polishing! Shoe-polishing!" Before they can get their hands any dirtier, I spare them my wild plums and hardy kiwis which they accept with anxious smiles and tender eyes.
At noon when the sun is scorching hot, men lie sound asleep, their plump paunches stuffed with delicious food moving up and down tuned to the rhythm of their snores and women gather in secret meetings whispering labrish through windows. Evenings when the chill breeze strokes the flowers to droop, kneading through the mesmerising gloaming which escorts a tempting crepuscule, come back the cattle to their homestead after an arduous day of grazing, for early tomorrow will arrive the milking-men with large empty silver pails. In the fullness of time, pops up the moon, so alluring in every shape she takes, calling her starry troop to light up the welkin. Primaeval birches in the woodlands, with trunks as white as snow, gnawed by black cavity as if they were mantled in coats of zebra skin, shoot up into the skies, piercing through the heavy mist, seeking to grasp light from the invisible shafts of coruscating celestials. Sprawling junipers, prickly pines, blunt hazels, outlandish sycamores accord shelter to dainty warbles and prudent rodents that slumber in the cradling arms of midnight’s breath as owls and crickets carol them lullabies.
What more do I need? Can there be a better life with greater eternal rapture than that which I bestride on this earth? Nay, I daresay: this is bliss. This is abundance. This is an elegant sufficiency. This is enough.
Dressed To Die
Ground shakes. Bombs detonate. Fresh blood spurts squirt on the red earth. Screams rise up from the bowels and die sharp with the click of a trigger. Severed arms and heads lay on the naked ground blanched with a ghastly shade of white. A Russian soldier brushes his face on his sin-imbrued sleeve, and sits on a big basalt boulder. Behind the rock she hides, wrapping her torn maroon sweater around the little boy's shoulders, pressing her hand against his mouth. Her mother had died, her father and sister had disappeared. Hot tears roll down her flushed cheeks as she cowers her body, for what could she do but put her head down and pray for Batman to jump out of her pulp fiction and come save her country. Death is coming, of that she was sure, but that part of her mind still questions, “What have I done my Lord to die?”
The Lord God Made Them All
A faint earthy smell of fresh petrichor lingered through the air like a magical serenade. Coal black clouds boogied across the sky, opening up so gently to pour beads of mellow raindrops which soon beat and bickered on the clean sunshade. Chelsea rested her elbows on the window-stool and cupped her chin in her hands, staring out into the night. Drawing a heart over the condensed droplets of the glass window, she pulled up the casement, allowing the rain to caress her delicate cerise palms. She then folded her hands, and brushed her elbows, strapping her satin robe a bit tighter as her soft flaxen hair horripilated like a million needles from her silken skin. Colourful bright umbrellas started blooming quickly down the street like azaleas at the crack of dawn.
“Kwarh,” her little boy mumbled in his sleep. She turned and sat on his bed, stroking his flushed pink cheeks. Pulling the edge of the bedsheet a bit up, she kissed his warm forehead and smiled as she switched off the lights and sneaked out of the room, not making the slightest noise. She walked through a series of white rooms with little furniture and went downstairs, her hand running smoothly on the varnished wooden railing. A big television screen welcomed her as she went into the main hall, moving her hands around her neck to keep warmth. Winston sat slouching on the dove couch, dressed in checked blue pyjamas which smelled of new fabric. A dark woman in her late forties, her hair arranged in an old-fashioned style on top of her head stared out of the 40 inch television. She had a perfect looking face with big brown eyes and natural black hair that was just beginning to grey. Chelsea brought her arms forward and looped them around his shoulders, allowing his head to nestle under her chin.
“My dear comrades, we were all born equally…” the Congresswoman’s strong voice said from the speakers. Her fringe of hair, cut straight across the forehead danced as she talked suiting her intelligent and sensitive face.
“That woman’s definitely winning the elections. Just too good at canvassing,” Winston tilted his head up, his blue eyes staring at the upside-down face of his wife. Her sandy blonde lines of thick eyebrows which arched down at the ends, twitched into a frown.
“Come on, what’s wrong with her? She’s a great leader!” Chelsea said, pinching his hand slightly. He chuckled, switching off the television set and turned towards his wife, taking her cheeks in his hands.
“I know you’re going to vote for her,” he said with a little rise in the corner of his mouth, a stocky sweet smirk. She scratched her head a little and rolled her eyes, turning towards the direction of the glass window where spurts of rainwater flowed down like the cascades of Niagara. Winston breathed in a little and stroked her anomalously youthful cheeks.
“Nice weather, huh?” he said, pushing a chunk of hair behind her ear. She smiled, revealing her fine, pointy teeth.
“I hope this never ends,” she said to her husband.
“Me too,” he whispered with a strange light in his bright blue eyes. He kissed her forehead and pulled her close to snuggle against his chest.
The rain’s white noise sounded like a heavenly timpani. Leaves and branches of elm trees brushed in discreet whisperings. Baby birds ensconced close to their mother’s breast. And from a distance a nocturnal observer watched them all in tranquil silence.
Strong, puissant winds swept the city. Angry obsidian clouds spat out gouts of rain. Gummed up rheumy eyes shut tight with every single cry of hers. He brushed back with his calloused hands the dark coily hair which curled around on her little forehead. Drenched all over and shivering every second, the rainwater stripped his shrivelled body to the bone. Jeremiah wrapped her in a piece of rag and held her close within his tattered coat trying his best to keep her warm. He shook her body slowly, sending her to a gentle slumber when bold colossal electric streaks of a bright forked lightning tore the sky into four parts, vaunting its mighty prowess, paving way for a violent thunder which rumbled and roared conjuring a new batch of battering blood curdling rains.
The little girl fulminated again into a series of unceasing cries as the tent roof toppled and fell to one side. Ada crawled slowly beside him, taking the child from his arms.
“Tis alright, sweetie, tis alright. Look a’ Mama! Look a’ Mama!” She tried comforting the adamant kid. Her eyes fluttered as she put one hand under her belly, feeling the boy who kicked from inside. She tore a strip of cloth from her gown and wrapped it around her baby. Rocking the child in her arms, she sang a rhymeless lullaby kissing her back to sleep.
“Will this ever end?” Jeremiah growled as the downpour increased, dropping down gallons of water-bombs. He put one hand around his wife and held her tight. The tent collapsed a bit more and hit his head. He pushed the polythene sheets a little and stared out at the street. A television set nestled inside a local retail store which sat opposite to their crumpled tent.
“We were all born equally…” The Congresswoman’s voice travelled through the sounds of devilish drums from above and into his ears. Jeremiah chuckled and tilted his head down, shaking it wildly.
“Sweedart,” he said to the little figure on the television. “We ain't born equally. No, we ain't.”
The nocturnal bird hooted from a distant cottonwood tree. It flexed its talons and pressed the bough of its perch and lowered its body a bit down. It then held forth its ankles, pushing the whole body forward and opened its umber wings, hopping into an astute flight with one swift leap. It set off into the buffeting rains and flew through the deep dark ebony skies. Under her lay a bizarre city, festooned with pleasure and pain, life and death.
Two lovers walked under one red parasol on their first date, the girl collecting raindrops in her hand and splattering them onto the boy’s face. A peasant sat smiling inside his little hut, its thatched roof crumbling down over him, thanking the rain, for now his crops would grow well. A basenji stood sniffing at the body of a refugee, struck dead by a lightning; died without a proof, died without a birth or death certificate and no one to care if he was dead or alive. A rich couple fondled each other, enjoying the natural air-conditioner, whilst in the next street a doomed family sat on the asphalt pavement, trying to keep each other warm and alive. An old lady grumbled about her garbs left to hang in the clothesline being doused in the rain. A Congresswoman pushed back the reporters and paparazzi who blocked her way and got into her matt grey Mercedes, smiling to herself that her speech would make the headlines. A weatherman stood on a busy street wearing a raincoat and was reporting into the camera in front of him that the rains were expected to last not more than an hour, whilst in the background a wealthy merchant cavilled over his business losses, not realising how lucky and blessed he was.
The bird went on soaring upwards and jiggled its body altogether, whirring its wings, shaking off the water droplets from its feathers. Funny, is it not? How many dimensions this world can behold.
Decades Wrapped In The Dark
Perhaps it was summer. Perhaps it was spring. But the same miasma of stinking sewage stench sauntered in here. The Suakin Island Reformatory, ah the irony of it, was neither jail nor prison. It was a place where sanity was purloined. It was the netherworld of eternal damnation. A building designed especially for those who got no bail and received no parole.
A thousand men, young, old, pickpockets, peddlers, poisoners, assassins, all incarcerated for life in solitary confinement, caged in separate boxes placed one above the other like a mucky beehive. Each cell was a hollow cube, barely four feet high; can't sit straight, can't sleep right. 115 concrete blocks, I had counted and counted and counted over again, ran around me, only to be broken by the thick metal door which had a little square with evenly placed iron bars, shut over by a wooden roll down through which they supplied two loaves of dry bread and stale water twice a day. And that too was cut off every time there was a mourning in the constabulary. A lavatory pan sat by the end of every cell, with no water supply. It didn’t matter if you hadn’t come here as a criminal, but if you go out, you sure will be one.
How many years I have been here, I did not know. How many men had died in this cell, I did not know. Standing on my knees, I clasped my hands together, praying to God, beseeching him to take my life. Sometimes I wished for these taciturn walls varnished with schadenfreude, to eat me up. Sometimes I would hold my breath and tighten the grasp on my throat, trying in vain to escape from this agony. Alone. Famished. Alive.
I lay there scratching the ground, with nothing left but my twisted spine and crooked body. Footfalls of cap-toe shoes approached. I put my hands over my ears, wringing them and hit my head on the floor. Someone had died. I pulled my hair and screamed as the sounds came closer. One day they'll come for me too, I thought, but why not today, oh why not now? The footsteps came to a momentary halt as they stopped by my cell.
I gasped, walking on my knees, inching forward to the tiny square. Jangling keys danced through the other side of the door. They only opened your door twice—once you're dead, or worse, for physical torture. The key made its way in, sliding through the door, making a total of five audible clicks. A final note of heavy clunk like a Timneh parrot rolling its tongue and mimicking the sound of a trigger on an empty gun resounded and the door was pushed open.
"Please," I cried, "I beg of you, please don't hurt me." Having lived in the darkness for many long years I couldn't open my eyes. I put my arms over my eyes, trying to block the rays of light that stampeded on me.
"Stand up, old chap," he said, hitting the ground with his truncheon. I moved my arms slightly, my palms still stretching forward in an attempt to obstruct the light. I could fathom he was a young cop, buzz cut, clean shaved, clothed in a perfectly pressed dark blue uniform. When I first came in they were in khakis. God knows when they changed it. I thrust my hands on the floor, standing on my knees and slowly placing my shins forward. As I stood up, my head hit straight on the roof and I fell on my knees again.
"Come on old chap, wake up. You’re being released! Your boy has come to pick you up," he said in a directive tone and walked into the cell, tapping my shoulder with his truncheon. This wasn’t real, I was very sure about it, but the pain in my knees argued the obverse.
"I have no son," I said, staring into his silhouette face. "I have no kids."
"Oh really?" he bent down, removing my handcuffs. “Then consider yourself lucky!”
"Water," I gasped, falling on the ground. My eyelids fluttered pushing me again into the pitch black void. He slapped my face thrice, grabbed me by the collar and shook me altogether. Muffled voices and fast-moving footsteps tried to wake me up, but in vain. The darkness could not be shaken off. And there was the pain, the pain in my bones. When they lifted me up, it ran through my whole body. My feet failed. I couldn't rear up. I couldn't move, speak, or open my eyes.
It could have been a few hours, or maybe more. When I tried to open my eyes I saw flashes of images. I could make out a burly man in his mid-forties standing in a distance talking to the young cop I first confronted.
"He was telling me he had no kids," he said to him, his eyes focused on mine.
"Ah, he's been here for a whole twenty three years. What do you expect him to remember? Did you try asking him his name? He would have probably told you he was never born!"
Chuckles followed as I turned my head, trying to decipher the place I was in. A car. A classic Chevy Kingswood.
"You ready for home, sir?" a voice asked, almost scaring the wits out of me. A friendly young man with short blonde hair, neatly gelled to give it a smooth look asked me, his head turned towards my direction, hands steady on the steering wheel. I did not know what to say. I did not know who he was. But for some reason, his face seemed vaguely familiar. I shut my eyes tight, trying to escape from this phantasmagoria. This will end soon. And I'll wake up in my hollow cube again. Scratching the metal door, counting the concrete bricks, casting about for bread crumbs, I'll be there again. Alone. Famished. And perhaps, alive.
Chapter 6 : Survival
They sat on their seats, all five of them, waiting for the ferry to take them home. A thousand hands scratched their spaceship, fresh blood splattering every second on the glass windows. Clint’s eyes widened as he saw little objects flying in the skies. Five jets were approaching them. Their saviour had finally arrived.
Clint clapped his hands “All set?” His fellow troopers lifted their thumbs up, two of them nodding their heads. He gesticulated something to Jules and he winked back. Clint could see clear nervousness in Dale’s eyes, but he would make it; that was sure. Their spaceship’s roof opened slowly as the sun’s scorching rays poured in. A little ladder extended to the ground as Dale climbed on it, his body working agile. Before the zombie beings could process what was happening, he had raced to his jet.
Margo went up next, fast and sure footed as the next jet opened its door for her. A few got hold of her arms, trying to devour it, but the thick fabric that covered her gave no purchase. Jules climbed right behind her, rubbing the sweat on his forehead with a wet handkerchief as a hundred bodies started climbing over the rooftop. Jules gasped, stamping on their fingers with his thick shoes and caught hold of the sliding door. Climbing in, he pulled the trigger of his laser gun as fifty creatures curled back like a tortoise into its shell. But that lasted no longer than three seconds. When the next jet dropped to pick Brad up, a thousand living corpses had climbed on the rooftop like an army of deadly tarantulas. Normally when there was a loud sound or huge explosion, mortal souls stayed away from it. But this was just the obverse.
Brad hurried, galloping over their heads when an orange haired man with bloodshot eyes got hold of his back-pack and pulled him down.
“Shit!” He muttered under his breath, thrusting his hands on the corpses undead when another woman with long bloody nails choke-slammed him down. These are the soldiers and athletes America wants, Brad’s thoughts surrounded him, only to be woken up by the sound of gunshot that came from underneath. Clint was shooting bullets from inside, clearing the way and getting on top of the spaceship. He hauled Brad back up to his feet, his fingers never restraining to press the button of the habile laser gun.
The old man stumbled as he walked his way into the jet when a little boy of barely twelve pulled his left foot. His fingers clenched tightly around his white boots and in seconds his teeth had prodded in. Brad’s face went red as he jerked away, reaching for the jet’s door, pulling the boy along, who was getting ready to take his next bite. With the little knife he held in his pocket, Brad cut his foot altogether, right above his ankle as his ragged breath started to sound moribund and waning.
“What the hell, Brad!” Clint shouted, only to be answered by the tight shut of the sliding door. The jet took off, carrying a single footed Brad Marconi as the final vehicle of hope came to pick up the last one alive. A thousand hungry beasts had gathered all around him, ready to tear him in shreds. Many had started climbing on the jet, banging on to its inky metal surface.
“A perfect checkmate,” Clint mumbled, rotating himself around, shooting with his gun as he moved, only to see a hundred zombies curl back and somersault into thousands. He slid his hand in his pocket, the other hand busy playing the game of life or death when something collided with his fingernails. It was Margo’s micro bluetooth speaker she had left back in StarShip. She always listened to senseless twaddles where people spat out fifteen words per second and claimed them to be beautiful songs of mumble-rap.
His eyebrows twitched in irritation and he tossed it towards the real banshees, still shooting with his gun. The switch had somehow flicked on and the voice of some man who probably had some problems with constipation started blurting out words fast and loud enough to make one go mad and damage one’s eardrums. At that very moment, all those nasty creatures left Clint in the corner and had started towards the speaker like menacing mad monkeys fighting for the last mango. Before their hands could take hold of the speaker and accidentally press the “off” button, Clint had raced into his jet and the door had shut automatically behind him.
He put on his seat-belt, breathing through his mouth gasping for breath. Closing his eyes shut he leaned his head on the glass window which the zombies were scratching with their jagged crooked nails. He could hear the pilot passing a radio message that Captain Raymond was safe and on his way. Glitching images of Carla and the little girl he never knew flew past his mind, breaking to dust and all he could perceive was her laughter calling on to him.
Élysée Palace, France
Flakes of grey ashes lay cold in stacks on the porcelain ashtray. He opened a new flip-flop box and picked out a fresh cigarette, placing it carefully between his dark dry lips. A frail old man dressed in a pristine white coat sewn with perfect golden buttons stood near him, his thumb pressing the lighter. He inhaled deeply as the sparks of fire hit the paper roll, hoping the nicotine would calm his rattling nerves. His dark eyes gazed from behind the frameless glasses at the grey smoke that grew taller, twirling into a fine line and drowning the room once again in the nauseating smell of carcinogenic stench.
A nimble young man with long grown hair entered the room, his cleft chin nestled in his thorax, fingers busy fiddling with a bunch of papers and a portfolio. His soles had barely stopped making noise when a gruff voice coughed as if trying to show some signs of its existence.
“Bonjour, Mr. President,” he said, his stare fixed on the silver brooch pinned to his pocket, making sure their eyes never met. He mouthed back the long dead greeting of acknowledgement, taking another deep drag and channelising the smoke to escape from his nostrils in two different directions.
“We got to know that the number of casualties in the United States have increased rapidly to almost seven million, leaving only a quarter of their total popul—” André’s words were cut sharp by the president’s gruff voice who interrupted, casually puffing his cigarette.
“Why, are we talking about the United States, Doctor Laurent?” His crooked black eyes stared discreetly into those auburn ones.
“They have it,” his sockets jerked as he tried to stare back. “Fighter jets.”
On the spur of the moment, those dark eyes widened in genuine surprise as his lips moved to utter words of “how many” and his fingers spread out, making impulsive gestures.
“Hundreds of them,” André said, almost whispering, his face beaming slightly.
Following a violent cough, his voice steadied again. “Why didn’t anybody tell me that our feud with the United States had died?” He wore back his usual expression, placing the half-smoked cigarette in the ashtray and pushed it with his fingers as it rolled to join its kin.
André detested himself for being so under a person’s thumb. He knew very well that someday, he was going to burst out, but he never anticipated it to be that day. “Mr. President, our only foe right now is this virus and its prisoners. This, you know, will mark the end of our race if humankind does not unite. We are never going to win if we gouge out old problems and make new enemies. Mr. President, this is no war of man-against-man. You can’t just sit there with your dead eyes, watching the world die and waiting for death to jab its fangs at you. Do something!” He exploded, not realising how loud he was and that he was slamming his fist on the antique glass table, shaking the ashtray and the little golden tumbler near it.
But Quessmann was calm as always, observing his lead scientist closely, admiring his speaking skills. These young men, he thought, they talk like they have brains all over their body and that everyone else is a dumb doornail. The old servant pulled the chair back as he raised from his seat. He turned left, walking slowly, heading for his chamber.
“Any lead on the Russian case?” he asked, not turning back.
“We’re still working on it,”André sighed, adjusting his glasses, followed by a pause, “Mr. President.”
The leather boots stopped moving, making way for Charles’ voice. “Perhaps you should send a message to the United States,” he said, his hands around the doorknob.
“That we need their help?” André asked, his voice suddenly transforming from angry to rude to excited.
“That we are ready to help them.”
Picture credits : https://wallpapercave.com/fighter-jet-desktop-wallpaper
Chasing The Birds We Made
She stared at me through her wide red rimmed eyes, unblinked, adorned by dark black circles stretched in perfect curves underneath. Her hair was unkempt, her dress torn, her skin all wrinkled and tattered. Those stationary irises looked at me as if engrossed by something inches behind my skull. I forced a smile and clutched her hand, my thumb rubbing her phalanges. Her cracked lips slightly opened to reveal her yellowish brown decaying teeth that crammed inside like émigrés in the last train. Her expression displayed no emotion at all, trying to convey the buried truth of pain untold. Her pale cheeks navigated in to divulge her classic dimples that talked of those days when none of us would have imagined her to become a sick seed growing in the dark.
"Seriously, you don't want me to walk you home?” I asked, standing on my knees, pushing the wisps of ebony hair behind her ears.
“Ah, darling, I’ve been in this shit for three years. I can manage,” she said, brushing my hand aside, her eyes glassy with morphine.
“See ya then,” she said, one hand, working on the wheelchair, the other waving to me. I hesitated, then finally raised my hand. This wasn't the girl I grew up with. This was not the June I knew. She inched down the sidewalk, using her hands to turn the wheel and propel the wheelchair that encased her twisted torso and a pair of bell bottoms covering what remained of her crippled legs. A few people on the street collided with her vehicle, but she never seemed to care at all. She heard, saw, felt nothing. It was as if the whole planet moved in turbo speed whilst the world of her own was put on a pause.
A few feet before her way, she could see a beauteous little girl, walking on the pavement, holding her mother’s hand. A red ribbon, matching her tiny boots, was tied around her flaxen hair in a cute hippie style. June smiled, her dimple smile as she moved past her.
“Mama, is dat a helicotter o’er there?” she asked, her forefinger pointing to the skies where a mini chopper came flying through a clump of white cotton clouds. June’s heart skipped a beat and she stopped moving for a while.
“Jessica?” she called out my name just to check if I was still there. She opened her mouth again, trying to call a bit louder, but before she could finish the first syllable, I dashed across the sidewalk, almost tripping, and pushed the wheelchair in supersonic speed.
“It’s going this way!” I shouted into her ears, turning the wheelchair right in the bend which led to the next street.
“Jesus, Jess! What on earth are you doing?” she panicked, her bony fingers curling around the handlebars, holding them firmly. “The people, they're looking at us!”
She spat out words in the air, her brain unable to process the current situation. You could count all my thirty two teeth in that cheshire smile that was plastered on my face.
“Do you mind?” I yelled, speeding up my pace, my head rolling up and down, fighting in this quandary on whether to follow the helicopter or to focus on the road.
“Well, not really,” she mumbled, slowly loosening her grip and tilted her head up to get a good look of the flying chopper we were following. We were close; in fact, we were ahead of them. “But seriously, how old are you? Five?”
I shook my head, letting out ripples of laughter blend in the air and replied, my lungs expanding, my legs moving like pistons as I roared up and down the sidewalk. “Darling, I don’t care if I am five or forty five. Aeroplanes and helicopters, they're my thing.”
She closed her eyes and spread her arms in the air, allowing the hasty wind to entangle her thick black hair. She then opened her eyes which now saw nothing but the endless skies of clear blue to realise that it was the helicopter that was now following us.
“Jess,” she cried as fresh pails of tears rolled down her cheeks. “I am flying! I am flying!” This was exactly what I wanted. This was the June I wanted to see.
I came to a halt at the junction where humongous vehicles usually moved on the main roads on a typical Sunday morning.
“I am Jessica and this is my friend June!” I shouted at the skies, looking at the direction of the chopper, my hands cupped around my mouth.
“Don’t forget us!” June shouted too, playing her part as the word ‘us’ came reverberating back. The chopper flew past us as we watched it go in silence with a childish gleam of achieving something big surfaced on our faces. We waved to the skies maniacally as if burning fires were crawling over our calves. We then looked at each other and moved our hands in rapid circular motions like a spinning top, making sounds of toco-toco-toco, trying to imitate the helicopter.
I sat on the road of tarmac, my hands stretched back for support, laughing out heartily. Pearls of sweat surfaced on June’s forehead as she brought forward her shoulder to rub them away with her sleeve.
“It was flying so low!” I cried, bending my knees up and wrapping my arms around them.
“I know!” she squeaked back, running her tongue over her lips. The pale cheeks had turned ripe red and the queasy expression had long disappeared.
“You know what?” I said, looking into her eyes. “Perhaps, I should do this.”
“Ah Jess, it’s alright. You don’t have to walk me home,” she said as her glabella sunk in to create tiny little lines that grew out to be furrows in her forehead.
“Oh yes, of course, I am not going to walk you home,” I said, standing on my feet, stretching my knees and dusting off my harems. I rubbed my palms together and clicked my tongue, winking my left eye. This was definitely going to my diary.
I was actually turning on my laptop when I heard this helicopter and jumped out of my room to watch it. That was when this idea crossed my mind. I have my Economics exam the day after, but I know very well that if I don’t write this down now, I am never going to write this in the near future. We can deal with the exam later, this is what matters right now. So here we are! Hope you all like it ^-^ And I better get back to studying!