Life

‘Auntie?’ , implored Ashima cautiously.
Her aunt Pamela, who was making hot chocolate for her favourite niece managed to mutter a faint ‘hmm?’

‘I am 25 now.’

Pam smiled.

‘All grown up, eh?’

‘Remember the question I asked you years ago and you told me you’d tell me when I was 25?’

Pamela handed her a mug of deliciously heavenly chocolate as she sank into her bean bag beside the young woman.

‘Of course I remember Ashi! Well, how time does fly!’

Pamela didn’t know how to begin but she decided to start with a routine query,
‘Tell me Ashi, have you been in love?’

Ashi eyed her delightful aunt with hesitation before lowering her guard.

‘On and off, I think I might have felt something bordering on love.’

Pamela chuckled.

‘And I hope that you get lucky, my dear.I hope that one day you’d be in that place where you just want to spend your life with someone, married or not. That you’d want to watch your child grow through trying times.’

‘For me, I never had that happy chance.’

Ashima raised her brows in mock disbelief.
‘You are telling me that you never fell in love, auntie?’

‘Oh, no, I did. I did fall in love so many times. Or I believed I did. In retrospect, everything is a blur.
In retrospect, everything seems a lost opportunity. At least that is what some people keep reminding me.’

She smirked.

Ashima knew only too well that Pam was referring to her brother, Ashima’s father. He had only lately resigned to the fact that his 51 year old sister was not a bitter woman who kept to herself because she hadn’t married.

‘But you never felt the need to have someone close to you most of the time?’

‘Ashima, I had my books!
I had my students. I had young, eager minds waiting to be sculpted. I did not feel the lack of a family.
Sometimes I did feel lonely. But you see, you can feel lonely in a crowd. If it is meant to be, you can drown in your own loneliness as you sit with your arms wrapped around someone.’

‘And it surely gets painful at times, Auntie?’

Pamela placed her mug on the floor. Ashima couldn’t make out her aunt’s expression as she bent but when she looked up, her gaze seemed distant.

‘I’m sorry if -‘
She began but was cut short by an impatient wave of her aunt’s hand.

‘I do not know Ashi, why the world wants to believe that I am resentful because I chose my way of life. Isn’t that wishful thinking? Like I manage to break away and you’d make such a fuss about it, and say youre sorry about my life, making me question my own choice at times.
But that is just how the world works. You ought to be a wretched wreck if you decide to do anything that they dont sanction. It gives them the satisfaction of saying, ‘I told you so!’
But you see, I have had my books clutched tight, drawn close to my chest on some nights and I cherish that.
I have had my students look up to me and that is enough.
I have this family. You are enough.
I sing and dance and draw and make friends.
This too, is beautiful.
As beautiful as walking into the sunset holding hands.’

‘And if I ever wanted have the joy of watching a child grow into a wonderful, kind person, I have had you. Nahi?’

Ashima fought hard to hold back tears. She alighted the wickerwork chair and walked up to her aunt.

Bending down, she wrapped her hands around the woman, tears streaming down her cheeks and onto Pam’s shirt and said,
‘Yes, ofcourse, yes.’

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Fear II

I heard footsteps in my room.
Someone stood for a moment right beside the bed. That person hurriedly moved towards the bathroom to ensure there was no one hiding and shouted something in a language I had no knowledge of.
He ran outside, and they ambushed someone in the very next room.
I felt suffocated as the smell of gunpowder reached me.
Outside, sirens blared on patrol cars.
The assailants must’ve spent about five minutes in the other room.
There were two of them, talking to one another.
And then, there was silence after the last footsteps down the corridor had died down. I slid the door of my closet.
Even with all the commotion around, the cacophony dropped dead as I tried hard to strain my senses as to find out if they had really left.
Cautiously, I stepped outside and stood for a second. On tip toes, I moved towards the door.
I stood holding it, moving just my head to peek outside. To my right, I saw the couple lying in a pool of blood, still holding hands. I headed left, and reached the room of the next door. I could take deep breaths now. But for reasons beyond my comprehension, I still was breathing scantily between the gulps of air I took in to hold. I was no longer in the closet. I will never know why I did that.
Another explosion. It rocked the hotel as if there was an earthquake. I clung to the wall. My legs felt funny. They were failing to hold me up.
I heard voices, coming from the end of the corridor where the terrorists had moved to. And footsteps. This really, was the end of my life. I gathered all my strength and focused it all on my feet.
But they gave in. I fell headfirst on the creaky wooden floor, but not before catching a glimpse of armoured officers rushing towards me.

Aparajita

Fear I

I was standing at one of the windows, watching the parade that day from the third floor.
Suddenly, amidst the noise, three explosions down the length of the road had me falling down on my knees and covering my ears. I looked up and saw people running, flesh strewn about the road and the some of the exhibitions had caught fire. There was just too much to grasp. I was in a panic, sitting there, staring immobilised.
And it was then that I saw,
A pick up van arrive and its tyres screeched as it pulled to a hault. At least ten men came scrambling out of it.
These men wore masks. They opened fire at those who were fleeing and the second a siren was discernible, they separated in groups of three and entered three buildings.
And I saw them entering the hotel I was in.
I just couldnt move. I could hear gunshots downstairs.
I rose and looked at the open door. My thoughts went to my husband who had gone down to bring breakfast.
I saw a couple run past my room and I ran straight to join them.
But I stopped midway when I heard the woman scream. And then, multiple shots.

Was I going to die?
I heard commotion in the hallway.
Mechanically, I sprung into the closet space and slid its door close.
And I held my breath.
I switched off my phone lest it started ringing.
I no longer remember, how long I was in there.
I think I spent my entire life hiding out in that closet.
Almost as if all that had transpired in my life before that was lost in a haze. There was no beginning and I saw no end to that endless wait.
I was like a bullet mid air.

Aparajita