Dec 1, 2011

On the badminton court

His eyes focused on the black mole on her right foot - vivid, familiar, and enticing as always. Despite himself, he looked for the blisters which he knew had long healed. He daren’t look up for fear the others would see his eyes. He sat with his head bent, looking intently at the white hospital tiles, seemingly mesmerized by the pattern of 4 regular white squares interspersed with a lone brown; couldn’t wait for the entire ordeal to be over, and had it not been for her aging parents, the years that stretched between the two families, he doubted he’d be present.

It was strange but not once did he feel like touching her, that familiar pull to thread his hand through her thick hair & pull her close; or run his thumb over her lower lip with a slowness that’d made her gasp and look at him pleadingly. That there would ever be a time when he could resist reaching out and pulling her close, was something he’d never imagined. The touch was all they’d ever had; when the words had betrayed them, it was their skins that spoke eloquently; in her small cluttered apartment, on his terrace, in busy airports, and cramped changing rooms – they’d allowed the madness to overpower them and left traces of a love that had stopped breathing a long time ago. 
Yet here he was once again after a gap of seven years. Seven long years of  a furtive peace and thankfulness that he’d finally found someone else who didn’t make him feel haunted all the time; someone who didn’t always expect the world of him. Now, those seven years had come to an end – in a dirty hospital room where four patients struggled for an elusive peace and privacy.
 Suddenly he arose and went over to stand beside her. As he looked down at her sunken cheeks, the sharp nose that he’d loved to tease her about, he wondered at the stillness that emanated from her. It was difficult to remember her without her nervous tic of pulling at the ends of the shaggy bangs that framed her face, to see her lying still instead of pacing restlessly, fuelled by nervous energy as she puffed on one cigarette after another. In all the years that he’d known her, he’d never seen her still. Now her chest was still; all was quiet within. The stormy turbulence of 33 years had finally ceased. 
He sat down and couldn’t help his eyes travelling over the familiar mole once again. Her toes were unpainted – a sight as alien as her lying on the bed without trying to cram all her thoughts into a babel of incoherence. She had abhorred make-up, but nail polish had been her single vanity.  Crimson, orange, pewter grey, and green – he’d reserved his usual scorn for them, but had secretly smiled at her exuberance.  
Almost immediately his mind jumped to a particular evening they’d spent in a small hotel in Rishikesh. They’d travelled all the way from Hardwar where she’d had much fun floating the diya and flower baskets in Hadki Paori in the Ganges. Her squeals, her radiant smile, her childish excitement, the glow from the hundreds of diyas floating in the water, it was one of those rare moments when everything came together and was perfect. Later at Rishikesh, she’d taught him how to paint her toes. Despite his complete disinterest in the beginning, he’d soon come to enjoy it. It was in keeping with so many other things he did because his initial reluctance would soon be overcome by her enthusiasm. None of the other women he’d known, and there had been quite a few, had come so unfettered, so free. He still remembered the evening they’d first had sex.
 
You’re losing weight! are you fine? 
Hey..hi…I am good. 
No, I am good is no good. It is I am fine or I am ok. 
Oh, I forget, you’re the English major. 
It’s not that, at all. I am good sounds pompous. Let others decide if you’re good or bad. Smile
Silence
You’ve known me since you were a kid. Am I good or bad? 
I think you’re very good. You’re the best. Shy smile
Slow, lazy smile. Silence. Pinches her cheek.
Do you want me to pick you after college tomorrow? We could go pick up those goldfish for your bowl. I spoke to a guy at Manish market and we could check him out. 
Flushed. You did? !! Of course I’d like to go tomorrow. Does he have the Indian variety or the Turkish? I have read that the Turkish ones learn to emote with you orer a period of time while the Indians are just dumb. I want the Turkish ones. Buuuutt, wont it be rather far for you to come all the way to college? I could meet you at the park? 
Look, I just said we will check out what he has. I have no idea if they come from Turkey or Syria! And, if I said I can come, it means it’s no problem. Unless you have a problem with me picking you up? 
I was only thinking about you. Why do you get so easily irritated with whatever I say? 
I don’t. You imagine it. 
Silence
Why are you so silent? You want me to leave? 
No baby. Stay. Just some things on my mind. Thinking. 
Tentative. Have you been thinking about me? 
Yeah. 
Silence
Do you want me? 
More than you know. 
Silence. 
If I were to take you home now, you know it’d lead to hanky panky? 
Laughing aloud. Yeah? And then what? You know I can’t give you anything. That works for you? 
It does. 
I don’t understand you….really I don’t at all. How can it work for you? How can you be so flippant? Voice rising now. 
I am neither deaf nor flippant. You don't  understand me, how can you even begin to understand my love? It doesn't matter.

 
And that’d been it. Not a word was exchanged & after a while, she’d beckoned to the waiter, paid the bill, gently taken his hand and brought him to her tiny apartment. He was in a daze, it was as if he was looking at her from amid dense fog.  She’d caught him completely by surprise and the pleasure of her hands as they worked their way across his body, was a feeling he had never forgotten. 
Yet, that was not when he felt protective about her. That had come much before. 
She’d been three when their family moved to the quarters below in the steel township managed by the company their fathers worked in. Their fathers were colleagues and she’d soon become his sister’s best friend. The 12 years that separated them ensured she was never anything more than a pesky nuisance, a precocious girl with stubborn ways who always borrowed his cassettes without seeking his permission. He’d hated that about her. Later when they were married briefly, she’d raid his clothes.  He pretended to be angry and smiled at her mockingly, but deep down he was always oddly touched. In the end, she’d been the one who protected him, not the other way around. Though, all he’d ever wanted was to shield her. 
Ever since the incident on the badminton court. 
During the summer holidays, the badminton court became a beehive of activity. Boys and girls of different age groups congregated there since 7 in the morning to make the most of the outdoors before the heat became unbearable after midday. While the older children played their game, their younger sibling sat on the clubhouse steps under the shade, enthusiastically cheering and clapping for their older siblings. She’d always be there with his sister. 
He must’ve been around 16 then when the incident took place. He’ was engrossed in the game and was startled to hear a loud wailing. He looked around to find her rooted to the middle of the sun-baked cement court on her bare feet, wailing loudly as the heat scalded the tender insides of her bare soles. She’d sauntered over to him to tell him she wanted to go home and had forgotten to wear her sandals. Instinctively, several of them had rushed to pick her up, but by then blisters had covered her tiny pink feet. As he carried her inside, he’d been aware for the first time in his life, of a feeling of absolute terror, terror that he was solely responsible for something infinitely precious to him. Mingled with this terror was the awareness that he would do anything to protect the little girl in his arms. Never again had he experienced that same tenderness, that same terror for anybody else again in his life. 
It had always seemed odd to him that she had no memory of an incident that was so deeply etched in his consciousness. Often when he worked late, he’d stand quietly for a few seconds in front of the bedroom door, at daybreak, or after a night when he’d promised to be at home with her; he’d stand there with a sore conscience knowing she had finally fallen asleep with disappointment in her heart. He couldn’t even begin to count the times. At last his tired feet would remind him that he had to go inside and he’d press the door handle which he knew would creak halfway down. And she would wake up, look at him with sleepy eyes, more angry than hurt, until he slipped under the duvet, snuggled up to her body and felt its stiff resistance melt. But she wouldn’t give in. She’d quietly turn he back to him. And then he would stroke her more, kiss and nibble at her, be her servant until she was sitting on him, no longer the queen in her slumbers, but purring and moaning, wanton and offended at the same time. 
Later, lying beside each other in the darkened bedroom, he’d often recount the day on the badminton court. The script never changed and she’d fall asleep in his arms almost immediately afterwards. Now, he wasn’t so sure how much of what he remembered of that incident and used to tell her was actually true, and how much he’d made up to please her. Like she always assured him, it didn’t matter. 

6 comments:

indiana said...

“Bend a people around the shape of what they have lost, and let everything mirror its absent form." :-!

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written, but left me with a hollow feeling.

mh

vaidegi j said...

hmm.. the seductive art of story telling!! :)
i think the practice period is over. and now for some real stuff!big stuff! serious.
images stay and haunt, as much as the words! :)

drift wood said...

indiana:

Every loss is not 'loss', no?

mh:
you know, it left you with 'something', hollow/happy whatever and that leaves me happy. :)

V:

No practice, gal. c'mon! And i'm getting tired of thanking you. :)

Anonymous said...

As mentioned, I'm back. :)
The question is, can you now write the same story with a different ending? :)

mh

drift wood said...

mh:

This one i cant. :)