Gone nowhere – short story

‘Damn!’, Arun cursed aloud, banging on the printer which was producing irksome creaky noises instead of printing out the bills he needed.

‘Hey easy Arun’, said Shiksa walking towards him from her desk.

‘I need to get these ones printed out today itself and there are tonnes waiting for the coming days’, he said exhausted at his own efforts and squatted on the chair nearby.

‘Hey its all right. You go get these printed from some internet cafe and just call John later. He is still doing these repair stuff right?’.

‘Yeah.. I guess’, he mumbled back, still irritated. ‘I have been trying him all afternoon but his phone is switched off. It’s been some time since we called him last. I don’t know if he has changed his number or what.’

‘Hey’, she said softly, sitting down on the chair opposite to him and moving in closer. She took hold of his hand and started rubbing it with her thumb. ‘Do one thing. Now just go home and have a nap. I’ll make sure the bills are printed today. There’s a cafe near my home. It’s fine. All this business thing is getting to your head. Go have nap’.

She was right. The business pressure was really taking hold of him. It was his own idea to quit his previous job at the editing section of a newspaper and start a web designing company of his own. A month into starting up the company, he began tasting the bitterness of hardships in making a new business successful. Now, after nine months, the company was going on pretty steady but the profit graph showed not that big any progress for some time. He was able to add a few more rooms to his office and hire three more staffs, all fresh college pass outs. So, there were a total of five staffs including Shiksha and Ravi.

Ravi was Arun’s best friend from college and had joined his company as he was dismissed from the IT company he worked previously for playing DOTA using the company’s internet connection during working hours. Just three years in the IT field had made Ravi bespectacled. Arun was glad of his vision in that sense because even after almost seven years of continuously being in front of computer screen, his vision was perfect and crystal clear without having to depend on spectacles unlike a large percentage of his classmates. Shiksha and Arun were college sweethearts. Now their marriage was kind of not that far off thing as discussions were going on among the two families.

It was nearly seven in the evening when Arun woke up from what was supposed to be a nap. He glanced at his watch and jumped up from the bed. He had to go find John at his home as one more day with the I-will-work-when-I-feel-like printer would drive him nuts he knew. But it was late now. He gave one more try to Johns cell phone but met with the same switched off message this time too.

It was dark by the time he reached APJ Nagar. It was where he remembered dropping of John one day some months ago after he had done some repairs on the printer and the telephone at the office. It was the house at the end of the lane, he remembered and accelerated his bike forward. Most of the houses had a single bulb hanging outside and the colony was sure occupied by people who were not that well off.

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The house at the end of the lane had no lights on outside. It seemed as though no one was home. He sighed mounting off his bike. That was the last thing he wanted, driving up here at this time and finding no one at home. The street illuminated the house with its yellow light. At a glance, the house seemed like that of a bachelor’s, with a dusty sit-out and an unkempt courtyard. But he knew John was married and had a child or two. He rang the doorbell and waited for some time straining his ears for some movement inside. He heard none. After around a minute of waiting in silence with the only sound being the crickets crying, he was about to turn back to leave when he heard the bolt slide down and the door opened. A beautiful middle aged woman stood there looking inquiringly at him, who most probably would be John’s wife.

‘Hai I’m Arun. Is John home?’, he asked tentatively.

‘He isn’t home yet’, she replied, her voice smooth and melodious. ‘But he’ll be here soon. Did you call him?’

‘Actually, I have been trying his cell phone for some time. It’s switched off it seems’.

‘I remember John mentioning you at times. He used to visit your office for works rights?’

‘Yeah.. we are kind of good friends too’

‘Maybe you can wait inside then. He will be here soon’. She said opening the door wider.

He considered telling her to ask her husband to call him as soon as he got home. But he didn’t want John making any excuses the next day and besides there seemed to be something warm and inviting the way she was holding the door open. He wanted to go inside the house for some reason.

‘Ok then I’ll wait for him if it is all right.’

‘Yes, it’s perfectly alright, come on in’, she said opening the door much wider and walking in. He walked in her wake.

The inside of the house was dingier than it appeared from outside. He wondered if people still used incandescent bulbs for lighting, as the source of lighting in the room was one such bulb which gave an eerie appearance to the whole room. There seemed to be a television playing somewhere inside and the whole house seemed to smell of something that has burned in the stove. A boy of almost eleven years old  with big round spectacles sat on a chair next to the sofa where he sat. He was doing some homework it seemed and his expression showed that he was dead serious with his work. He didn’t even lift his head once to look at Arun. A small girl about three years old was running around the house with a plastic ball in her hand, throwing and kicking it. Despite of Arun’s protests, not wanting anything to drink, John’s wife went in the kitchen to make him coffee.

‘Hey, what’s your name?’, he asked the boy, who was still scribbling on meticulously.

He stopped his writing and turned his head slowly towards Arun and stared at him blankly without any change in his moody expression.

‘Your name kid. What’s your name?’, he asked again smiling uneasily.

‘Alan’, he replied and turned back his attention immediately to his book.

The little girl had now stopped her running and was watching them. Arun waved at her. She smiled innocently and came running at him immediately when he beckoned her.

‘Hello cutie, what’s your name?’, he asked softly, lifting her and making her sit on his lap.

‘Ma..aa.riiiiiiiia’, she mumbled unable to pronounce correctly. She looked at Arun as though she was expecting something. There was something extremely cute about her. The boy glared at her for some time and returned to his book. He didn’t like the boy.

‘Which class are you studying in?’, he asked the boy, trying to make conversation.

‘Seventh’, he replied without turning from his book. Arun noticed him adjusting his spectacles frequently.

‘He doesn’t like the glasses’, John’s wife came back, smiling, from the kitchen and handed Arun the cup she was carrying.

‘Why?’, he asked taking a sip.

‘He was having trouble seeing letters written on board for some time, but he told no one as he doesn’t like to wear glasses’, she said poking the child mockingly on his cheeks. ‘It was his teacher who told me that he needed to consult an eye specialist. Today I bought these glasses for him and he doesn’t want to wear them.’

‘But he seems pretty interested in what he is doing’.

‘Ha! you would think so. He was playing with the cooking stove along with his sister when I came home. Gave some scolding. That’s why all the moody face.’

Arun smiled. He missed these kind of things, his childhood.

It took him almost thirty minutes to finish his coffee listening to her talking about her children. She told him that she was planning to send the younger one next year to Kendriya Vidyalaya where her son was studying now. Arun found it amusing that she had even way far future planned for her children. She wanted the younger one to be a teacher and he laughed when she told him that her child would be teaching fifth standard.

‘Why fifth standard specifically?’, he asked, laughing.

‘I don’t know’, she replied smiling. ‘I feel like it’.

She wanted the boy to become an IPS officer. He had the calibre she said. But Arun seriously doubted if seventh grade was all it needed to assess the calibre to become an IPS officer. But he couldn’t blame the mother for whatever he saw in her child. He just smiled.

Immersed in her talk, Arun did not keep track of time. It was almost one hour since he had come and John was not there yet.

‘Maybe I’ll try his cell phone once again’, he said and dialled, still switched off.

‘I think I’ll better leave then’, he said standing up. ‘John might be late, besides mom had asked me to be home before eight. She needs to visit the supermarket or something. Just tell him that I had come, waited for him and ask him to call me right off. The works important you know.’

‘Okay I will tell him then. Sad that you have to leave now’, she said walking him to the door. The two kids followed.

‘Good night then’, he said waving his hand before speeding his bike forward. The boy was still gloomy and waved at him with some reluctance. The girl and the mother waved happily at him bidding him farewell.

*

Arun woke up the next day to the sound of his mobile phone ringing. He picked it up sleepily, it was John.

‘Hello Arun, good morning it’s me John. I just saw your calls. Is it your printer again?’

‘Good morning John.. ‘, he said sleep headed. ‘Yes, it’s the printer. Would you drop by the office today? Work would be a mess without the damn thing working. I had been trying your cell all afternoon last day’

‘Sure man. I’ll come by in the morning. Yesterday my phone’s battery had run down and I was out of town on a family trip. It was just today morning that we reached town.’

‘Wait! what?’, he jumped up, sitting on his bed now. ‘You were out of town with family?’

‘Yeah’, he replied. “Why?’.

‘Don’t talk rubbish John. I was at your house yesterday night and met your wife and children. She was the one who asked you to call me right?’

‘Arun, are you high or something this early?’, he asked flabbergasted. ‘As I said I was returning from a family trip with my wife and daughter yesterday night and it was today when I finally got my phone charged and switched it on that I saw your missed calls.’

Arun didn’t say anything. He was unable to process things. How can it be possible? He had been there right? Or… was it a dream or something? Things like these had happened to him. Dreaming and waking up thinking everything was true what that happened in the dream. But that feel lasted for only seconds before he came to his senses. This was definitely not a dream. Or was it? He was confused.

‘John. What’s your house address.’

‘House no fourteen, AVJ Nagar. Why Arun?’, his voice gave away his utter bewilderment.

‘It’s nothing. Call me before you visit the office. Bye’. He cut the line.

Now he knew. House number fourteen of APJ Nagar, not AVJ Nagar, it was where he went the last night.

He quickly opened his phone browser and typed in the address.

A number of newspaper articles and related links showed up. All were dated a year back. He clicked on the one at the top:

FAMILY KILLED IN GAS EXPLOSION

 

Delhi: A family consisting of a mother and her two children were burned to death following an            explosion which is primarily suspected is due to the leakage of cooking gas. Neena (34), her children Alan (12) and Maria(4) are the victims…………..

He averted his widened pupils away  from the phone. What the….. Only certain sentences registered in his mind.

The explosion took place at about six in the evening……… The rear portion of the house was completely burned down and ruined……… Their bodies were found burned beyond immediate identification……..

And there were pictures of the victims. The mother, the son and the daughter. Three of them were smiling. The same three faces he had seen yesterday. But the only difference was that the boy was smiling too and he had no spectacles on.

He couldn’t take any more. He abruptly got up from his bed and went to the wash basin splashing water on his face. He dried his face and took out his phone to look once again the article. The letters seemed hard for him to read now. He grabbed the magazine lying on his bed and opened it in hurry. He found it hard to make out the letters clearly. The letters were kind of blurred. He needed spectacles. Oh! how much he hated wearing one.

-ATHUL HAROLD

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Lucky Red Seeds

Lucky Red Seeds

” A photograph could be viewed in two different ways.

One: A person can have glance at it and take in the apparent beauty involuntarily.

Two: He can go beyond just seeing the photograph to observing each aspect of it, staring             at it for some time and develop a strictly personal emotion that the picture has                   invoked.

If you find yourself in the second category, you could say unquestionably that you      enjoy photography. ”

 

-Athul Harold

The Unseen- Short Story

The Unseen- Short Story

 

800px_COLOURBOX1199152His eyes scrutinized each droplet of rain racing down the window pane. He stared expectantly at them, wanting answers of questions that even he had no clarity about. Everything seemed vivid, like a sickening sheet of fog obscuring his vision and thoughts. The sun was sinking down the horizon casting a moody layer of red and orange upon the sky. He watched in wonder the carefree flock of birds making their way to their nests, chirping all along: how happy they were, nothing in the world to worry about, living each day as it came, living the present. But he did not want the present. He wanted the past. Yes he wanted it, his heart was yearning for those moments of what people called ‘past’ which were immaterial bygones of the present. He hated the present. He hated everything about it. The people, the buildings, the emotions everything. He hated himself. He wanted to live in memories ….. those beautiful memories…

 

It was seven years before that he met her- Anupama Rameswar.

 

The second day of college. That was when a nerdy looking guy from fourth year informed the class of the literature club meeting to be held that day. Being freshers, interested students were asked to attend the meeting. Siddharth always had a taste for literature somewhere, not that he was a prolific writer of any sort. He enjoyed reading which had become a habit of his from his sixth grade, the time when the classes where shuffled and all of his friends where in the other class. Those thick bundles from the racks of the library had kept him engaged until he developed new friends, but the habit didn’t leave him.

“I’m in for it. You coming?”, he asked Ajay, who was dozing off next to him owing to the super exciting mechanical fluids class.

“Huh! Literature’s not ma thing bro. I ain’t coming”, he replied, momentarily coming to his senses to show a thumps-down and instantly dozing off efficiently.

So five more hours later Sid found himself sitting on a plastic chair in the college main hall waiting for the meeting to commence. With only a few students present, he wondered whether the meeting was just for first years, which he later on knew was true. There was somewhat fifteen minutes for the scheduled time for the meeting to start. Which would undoubtedly extend to thirty minutes considering the usual norm of college meetings. He was seriously considering paying a visit to the college canteen to satisfy his stomach that was now raging for some food, when someone asked-

“Votttamisa?”. It was a girl sitting one chair next to him.

“Huh?”, he asked reflexively turning to her. Wow. He thought. Instantly he was furious at himself for not noticing her for all this time sitting beside him. Where are your man skills dude?

He stared at her captivating eyes as if his own were locked to it. The jet-black pupils were sure intriguing.

“What time is it?”, she repeated gesturing towards his watch, oblivious of her new-born admirer’s reverie.

“Ugh.. oh time … four-thirty”, he stammered a second later, after having a quick glance at his watch (which he suddenly found ugly and decided to have a new one as soon as possible).

“OK thanks”, she replied giving out a smile and turned away looking at the entrance.

I like that smile. He thought, smiling to himself stupidly.

She seemed to be bothered for the same reason as of the commencement of the meeting.Her hair was long and sleek with a few strands coloured at random places.

“It’s not gonna start till some time I guess”, he said tentatively after some time, wanting her attention back.

“Yeah… I was thinking about it”, she said turning towards him. “Hi, I’m Anupama”,she added stretching her hand towards him.

I like that nose. He made a mental note. It was straight without even the tiniest bit of curve.

“Hey?”, she repeated awkwardly shaking her outstretched hand.

“Um yeah you’re right”, he replied hoping against hope that it was the perfect reply.

“Are you okay?” she asked flummoxed, lowering her hand.

“Me? I’m all fine. What were you saying?”

“I said my name is Anupama.. Anupama Rameswar. First year Electrical.”

“Oh hi, I’m Sidharth. Computer Science.. first year”, he replied sheepishly, cursing himself for the awkward acting and shook her hand.

After a minute of talking it was clear that she too had been planning to pay a visit to the canteen in the meantime. So much to Sids glee they went to the canteen together and ordered a coffee and two samosas each.

Speaking about Anupama – she was the talker. The nonstop babble-on who required only minutes of familiarity to be triggered. She was from Tamil Nadu, the only daughter of an orthodox father and was staying with her aunt here in Bangalore. She had a brother two years younger than her studying in Tamil Nadu. Her mother had died years back in an accident. She did not have much memories of her. Her father was the one who brought her up, so the extra fondness she had in her voice when talking about her father needed no pondering over.

They talked for around twenty minutes in the canteen before attending the meeting ( which later on proved to be worthless).

It didn’t take much time for the two to be close. In the beginning, she would show him around the city on Saturdays. Her aunt being a resident of Bangalore, she used to visit the place once every vacation. So, speaking Kannada too was not at a problem for her. Tea and poori from the cart-eatery near the college and walking her to her aunt’s place afterwards became the usual drill of evenings. Lunch together in the afternoons sitting under the papaya tree in the college ground, occasional lime soda from the college canteen in during the breaks and the combine studies at her place for those common subjects …

All he could remember clearly as if it had been not that long ago.

 

It didn’t take him long to realise he was actually falling in love with her. He still remembers the day he talked about it to her. The dilemma, the anxiety, the rising beat of his heart as if it wanted to run away somewhere, everything he could feel as such in him now, closing his eyes for a moment.

The cacophony of the college youth festival was faint where the stood, under the papaya tree. It was all dark around them with the lone incandescent decoration lamp on the tree making them see each other with a yellowish tint. She was wearing a red lehenga with some blue at places. They were glittering studs attached all over the bottom part which reflected the light from the lamp. A few black metal bangles lay gracefully on her hands. She had some make up on as she would be up on stage after some time as a part of the chorus for the department band. But the make-up was light and unnoticeable as always which showed itself then only because of the yellow lighting. A simple necklace with a slivered chain lay on her neck, curving smoothly over her prominent beauty bone. The eyeliner was perfectly drawn and the earring which was big unlike the usual studs swayed lightly with even the slightest movement of her head. And the small black bindhi slightly above the level of her perfectly shaped eyebrows seemed to accentuate her grace.

“Sid, my program will be up any time. C’mon tell me. Is it that Radhika bother you again?”

“Umm… its not that. It’s… uh.. something else”, he managed to say. His heart began pounding hard against his chest like never before. His mouth was dry and sticky.

“The what is it? Tell me”, she said clearly worried about missing her program.

He could feel a vibration starting from his toe and spreading all way to his head, ending in a buzz there. He was afraid. Afraid of her reaction, afraid he might lose her friendship, which was something he never wanted.

He still remember the exact words he had said..

“Anupama.. I think I’m having feelings for you…I …um.. I don’t know… I guess I’m in love with you”. That was it. That was only what he could say. It was calmness for second after that, a sense of relief. But then the next moment regret and remorse took over. I should not have told her. I’m gonna lose my friend, I’m gonna lose her. His head buzzed with those words, like a fire alarm that seemed to blare way after the disaster.

She stared at him blankly, truly unable to process what he had said, what her best friend had said. There was a time in the beginning of their friendship that she had feared someday something like this would happen. But that thought was clearly out of question after a month of knowing him, the time by which they became as close as they were now, nine months from the time they met. She believed in her friend. She had taken him for someone different from the majority of men out there. He was her friend, someone who could hear her talk on for hours without any complaint with the timely nods and shakes wherever required. Someone with whom she could share almost anything, without that boy-girl indifference. Someone she trusted blindly. And now it was broken .. or was it really? She did not know. She did not want this to happen. She just felt a sudden urge to close her eyes and get away from everything around her for as long as she wanted. She felt exhausted somehow even though she had been pumping with energy a few minutes before.

She didn’t utter a word. She just turned and walked away as that, leaving Sid behind.

For a month that followed they didn’t talk. Anupama was avoiding him as much as she could. She was nowhere to be seen during the breaks when Sid went looking for her, she had lunch with friends from her class and she would leave as soon as possible in the evenings. She had blocked his contact and unfriended him on facebook. Even though Sid wanted to talk things out with her, he did not have the courage to visit her at her aunt’s place.

But it took some time for realisation to hit Anupama. Clearly her first thoughts were to avoid Sid completely. She was uncertain whether she would be able to do that, but she decided on it. But as days passed it became more and more difficult. She was missing him like anything. The jokes, the small walks, the open talks everything. She had actually given thoughts about what he had said after a few days. But Sid was her best friend. How could a romance life with him ever be possible? But she did not want to lose him. So days passed in dilemma and confusion. Slowly she began realising how important a part Sid had become of her daily life. She was happy when she was with him. And deep down she knew he would become a great partner. There had been no worries that a talk with him would resolve. So, is there any harm in them being a couple? It took almost a month for her to realise there were none. Only her perception needed to be changed a bit. And she knew she would be able to deal with it with much ease compared to the thought of losing Sid.

Three months into their relation was all it took for Anupama to realise that nodding a yes to Sid had been the best decision she had taken in her life. They were happy as much as anyone could be. They had their fair deal of fights and shouting. But a relationship with perfectly matched thoughts and beliefs would only happen in a utopic world. And there were only a few changes in their daily routine. Evenings were now spent more outside the college library. And Saturdays and Sundays were now never spent home. By the end of their third year in college, it seemed as if there were no places left in Bangalore that they hadn’t visited together.

 

All those moments they had together were still etched in is memory as clear as it could be.

 

College placements were kind of successful for both of them as both were placed in pretty good companies in Bangalore itself. By that time Sid’s parents somewhat knew pretty well about the thing going on between the two. During their second year in college, Anupama had visited his home in Kerala. He had introduced her to his parents as a friend from college and that they were working on a project together. But within a year it was clear to him that his mother had reached some conclusions about them. So, it didn’t take second thoughts mentioning about her to his mother one day during their third year’s semester break. She had shown some discomfort in her talking about Anupama being from outside Kerala, but the fact that she was from the same religion seemed to ease her substantially. His mother might have later on mentioned about the same to his dad. He hadn’t really talked about it to him. But there was always an unspoken understanding among the two.

Anupamas father had no idea about Sid, and she was pretty much afraid to talk anything about it at home. But her brother who was doing some scholarship course in US by the time they were in third year knew about him very well. The two of them had even talked over phone occasionally and he was pretty much cool with Sid.

Work had made the two busy but it didn’t keep them from spending time for each other. Most of the free times they were together and weekends would mostly be at Rahul’s place (only that she would go back to her aunt’s place in the evening). Sid was amazed at how things were going pretty good between the two even though break up stories were all around them to hear. But that stage was over in their relation, he knew that with some strong certainty. If they were to break up, occasions for the same were plenty in the past six years. But breaking up had never been considered an option by them and would never be, he was sure. All was going fine until that late winter night….

It was three years after they had started working that Rahul brought up the idea of turning a five day training program that he had to attend in Delhi to a see-around-the-city visit with Anupama. But she was diffident of the idea at first as she did not want Sid not focusing on the training and she would have to apply for untimed at leave her office too. But Sid was persistent that she finally agreed after some talking.

Sid did not take the car his company arranged for the journey as he would not be able to take Anupama along, without doubtful thoughts from the driver as the car would be an allowance for just he alone to travel. So, it was his own black Maruti Suzuki Swift that they chose for their journey.

The five days in Delhi were enjoyable to the core which made him really wonder how terrible would have been the five-day training without her. They visited the Quitab Minar, Akshardam Temple, Red fort, Gandhi park and of course the Taj Mahal any more places. It was as if they were back to their college days … The laughter, fun, and the excitement of exploring new places.

It was late when they began their journey back to Bangalore. Anupama had insisted on staying in Delhi for the night as it was late even though she would have to take one more day of her regular leave allowance. But Sid was by no way planning to miss office next day as his colleague Shiv would be treating them with a lunch in the KFC for his newly born child. So, they were on the road soon after their dinner.

The hectic working hours had deprived them of the joy of travelling places together. But the five days made up to it. All the madness of their college life had returned especially in case of Anupama. It was then that Sid realised how mature they had become from the time they had met. They were two young teens knowing very little about life back then. When Sid had told about how serious he was about his relation with Anupama to his friends in college, the were many who had advised him not be too involved as “relationships these days were uncertain”. He had nothing to argue with them back then, but now he had. He felt proud thinking about their relation, how his belief from the very beginning that they would not be that sure-to-break-up couples unlike what others believed proved true.

He took a quick glance at Anupama sleeping next to him, exhausted from the day. He hair was now shorter than it was during their college days, her skin was bright and perfect like before (which she would never agree to ), only that the days exhaustion was showing on it. Her eyes were closed peacefully with her hands tied in front of her. He smiled at the thought of how lucky he was. A perfect girl, a decent job and satisfied parents. Their marriage would happen soon, like somewhat within two years. Both of their parents had talked on it and had agreed to go on with their own child’s interest. Actually, he was unable to stop smiling, just like the day when Anupama talked to her after a month, telling him that she loved him. He had then thought that it would be the best moment of his life, but now he knew, it was not, this was the best moment, every moment to come were the best moments. Shiv was treating them for his new born child. He thought how good a father he himself would be, he had no idea. He was smiling wide now. Their child…their blood.. their future. Yes, he was lucky. Lucky like hell, he thought. He was amazed to find his eyes moistened.  Unbounded happiness too could make that happen, he knew then.

He was so involved and into all these thoughts that he didn’t notice a container taking the same curve in the road as he was. The steering had turned a bit too much to the left with the torque, but that was all that was needed…He had crystal clear memory of the seconds that followed…. the instant the left of the containers front touched the cars bumper, he came to his senses. But too late it was for anything to be done. His head turned immediately to Anupama….she had woken up… her face showed nothing but utter fear and panic… and for a second she faced Sid, turning her face… in that very second he experienced the teeth-clenching pain of broken dreams, guilt and helplessness… her expression then was unable to comprehend, but that was the very last time he saw a emotion play on her face…..

All that remained was guilt and memories….

i-was-assaulted-on-the-street-but-i-still-walk-home-alone-at-night-408-1428519902

– Athul Harold

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