Atukir – the mother queen

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Atukir – the mother queen

Atukir looked up at the dark clouds that swallowed the twinkling stars. She closed her eyes and raised her arms in a gesture of prayer. The first drop of heaven dropped on her lip and diluted the red into a salmon pink, another drop then chased the pink down to her long neck and yet another followed the drops as they got lost somewhere among the 67 ivory beads, strung in strands of hair that hugged her neck. Each bead a memoribilia she earned for saving the life of a fellow. Some while battling beasts, others nurtured by the milk of her breasts. That, in fact is how the great queen came to be known as Atukir. Atu- The God of life and Ukir- meaning milk. As a child Atukir sat by her fathers and deligently learnt to create tools. She was trained by her mothers to smell water from miles away. But it wasn’t until Atukir came to age that she chose to demonstrate herself to the fellows. It was when she birthed not one, not two but three fellows all at once that the tribe, for the first time came to know of her powers. And since then, she was accepted to be the Queen of the land and a nurturing mother to all her fellows.

It was many many moons ago that the tribe had last witnessed a single drop of heaven or had a meal. The land they dwelled on had turned warm and eventually cracked. The seeds they sowed were put to rest even before they could bear stems or leaves. The trees had sunken and then crumbled to the earth. Mother Atukir had first deviced a plan to leave behind the lifeless land and walk far and wide. “A handful of you will March to the side of the rising sun. A handful in the side of the setting sun. The rest of you, I shall lead, towards the smell of the water. ” She had announced after the 30th food-less moon had passed. The fellows were to meet again at their place of origin after exactly 15moons.

When the mother queen returned at the dawn of the 15th moon, it was only her reduced battalion there. The handfuls of fellows were nowhere in sight. The wooden pegs that were laid by the fellows still stood firm in the earth, forming a straight line joing the side of the rising sun to the side of the setting sun. “It is just us. They won’t return. ” Atukir whispered. Mother’s battalion too had lost fellows by the day.  They were now a tribe of a few with 3 new fellows who were born in those 15moons. “Oh mother Atukir, we have travelled far and wide and yet hungry. Has the rain God fallen asleep? ” A fellow female asked her. Atukir touched her own abdomen and silenced the growl that echoed in the empty space around them.

“Mother queen, has the Lord been angered by our deeds? Have we wronged him or angered you perhaps? ” Another fellow spoke. “Dear queen, forgive our deeds and have mercy. ” Said the third. Atukir rose to her feet and stumbled. She felt her powers drain at her feet. Her eyes scanned the stars above and a lump formed in her throat. “The Lord demands a sacrifice.” Atukir spoke, raising her hands up to the heavens. “My fathers, tell me at once what it is that will end our hunger and bring us a sumptuous?” She shut her eyes. A tear formed at the corner of her eye and dried before it rolled down.

She fell to the floor leaving behind a loud noise that shook the babies awake. When she awoke, the fellows sat by her side grieving. “The Lord wishes the blood of two infants. ” She spoke even before she rose to face them. “This moon will mark the day of the sacrifice. I will watch over their graves, ensuring their souls reach the Lord. While I stay guard, I will vow to save my fellows as they rest.” She said. Her lips trembled as she gently stroked the bald heads of the crying babies. The other mothers screamed in mourning that was silenced at once by Atukir’s widened eyes.

All prepartions were made. The tools were sharp enough to split into two a single strand of hair. The babies were covered in glorious beast skins. Ivory beads were stuffed into their noses to make sure that the soul didn’t escape prematurely. Then when Atukir held the babies at her breast, a fellow stood by her side and thrust the tool into the necks of the babies. Little drops of red splashed in the air and settled on Atukir’s chest and face.

The burial was an elaborate ritual. The bravery of the babies was rewarded with a claw nail and more ivory. When the fellows’ eyelids dropped, Atukir commanded them to rest and leave her alone with the souls. She chanted to the rain God prayers that fellows knew little about. Her growling stomach synchronized with her murmering.

When the sun rose the next day. The souls had risen to the heaven. Atukir sat beside the empty graves, her lips and stomach silenced. The earth was wet and the air smelled of life again. When the fellows woke up, they saw that the rain God had finally looked their way and showed the mercy they deserved. A fellow ran to Mother Atukir and fell at her feet. Another fellow dropped to his knees and thrust a string of fresh beads in her palm.

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Cyan love

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Cyan love

“No, this can’t be the darkest there is. The deepest black in nature is not because of a pigment but because of the structure of the fine fibres on the feathers of the bird of paradise. Bird of paradise, what an unusual name for a bird that dark. But the real black is Vantablack. Vermillion is purple but not as purple as blood. Blood smells like iron but not quite as metallic as copper. Is this a dream? Why does purple smell like methane? Does methane smell like purple? What’s crawling up my feet? Where are my feet? Oh, no, it’s happening again. Must. Stay. Awake. Food. Water.” Nina closed her eyes. Her mind had started to play filthy tricks on her. “Nik, I found you, I love you.” Nik was now undoing the thick ropes that wrapped her into a dying mummy. She opened her eyes, trying to free her arms, she stumbled and a loud thud brought her to halt. Her head hurt from the impact.

“She has a thing for you. I’m not going to waste that.” Colnel RK had told Nik. “There’s only one way to fight the apocalypse. All Cyans must get reinitiated and fight together. She has to do it. I’ll make her.” Colnel had spat when Nik pleaded to keep her out of this.

“Isn’t it enough that I’m here? I’ll do anything. She chose to never transform gain. Please don’t put her through this. ” Nik had protested.

“Nik, you’ll lose her and every other human  if she doesn’t… ” Colnel had walked out of the facility. When he returned, he had a plan. One that would need Nik to pretend that he was kept hostage, leading Nina into a dark alley where she would eventually stay locked into a coffin sized box until she transforms.

“Sir, we’re gonna lose her like that.” Nik said, his teary, bloodshot eyes looking Colonel RK in the eye. “She’s already way past the test limit. It’s day 13, for God’s sake.” “Cyans don’t tire that easy, Nik. Sure she can go longer. ” Colnel sniggered. The screen showed a high definition image of Nina breathing unrythmically in a pitch dark room. The woman he was starting to realize he might have been in love with all along. The thought of watching her die slowly through the lens of a night vision camera while a dozen other members of the Crew watched made him clench his fists. Every moment he shared with her during their crew days involuntarily danced in slow motion in his thoughts.

“Is this a room? A box? How long have I been here? Musk. The smell of musk. Wood. Rotting wood. She butt her head once again against the surface above.”35,331” she counted. This time, she was greeted by the sound of a dislocated splinter. She spat at the ceiling. It added an insignificant little dot on the previously wet patch. “35, 332. Come on.”

“Look. She’s almost there.” Colonel smirked at Nik. “About time she accepts it and uses her powers. She’s about to. Doctor, prepare for initiation.” Colnel breathed a heavy sigh. “Crew, get ready, we’re about to save the world once again. Against his own will, Nik’s clenched fingers left the captivity of his fists and rose to touch Nina on the screen. “Hang on. ” He whispered. “Do this. Please transform. For us. Please.” He said out loud. “Us? Did I say us?” He thought. The Colnel smirked, leaning back into his armchair. 

“Yes, I vow to be by Nik in sickness and health, until death do us apart. ” Her brain flashed images of Nik smiling back at her in a navy tuxedo, tiny blue wild flowers lacing his breast pocket on the left. His lips touched hers and her mouth went dry. She felt his breath on her upper lip. She opened her eyes again. A little white dot seemed to be suspended above her mouth. “Light, air. Must be close. 35,333”, she bumped her head against the ceiling again.

“I should have never listened to you. How could I? If I lose her today, it’ll be your fault Colnel. Dammit! Don’t fight it. Just transform.” Nik spoke into the screen. He ran his fingers through his 13 day old beard, thinking of all the things he wished he had said to her before bringing this upon her.

The sores on her back had broken open into wet wounds. Her clothes were still wet from the sweat, urine, blood and God knows what else. “35, 333, uh 35334.” That thud, was probably the last thing she heard. Light poked needles into her eyes. “Walk away from the light.” She wiggled in vain. “Can’t die.” Nina shut her eyes tight, cursing herself for moving the cloth that once blindfolded her. She felt a chill run along her spine. Her body hair rose from the cold and yet she continued to sweat. “Must tell him. If this is the only way… ” Nina pressed her chin against her neck, hard enough to restrict her airway, she crossed her fingers and drew three deep breaths whispering the words. The ropes snapped against her arms and thighs first. The liquid through her veins began to turn a tint of blue. Her internal organs felt like they were stitched together into one solid mass. She gathered her new found might and thrust her palms against the roof of the box. The impact was just enough to break it before she balnked out.

The screen momentarily lit up with a bright light before it. The lens went out and into focus again. “She’s done it. Let’s go.” Colonel patted Nik’s shoulder. Nik’s eyes widened. He stared at the vibrant Cyan skin that covered the screen. He knew what that meant. She’d broken her century old vow. For him. To rescue him from this staged kidnapping that colnel RK had dragged a really long way.

“I’ve got you. I’m right here.” Nik held Nina’s Cyan, exhausted frame in his hands. “Nik? Alive? ” She whispered. “Yes.yes.” He mumbled. “Make way.” A team of 7 feet something Cyans surrounded her. Nik slumped to his knees, beside the box that he had put Nina into 14 days ago. “Maybe, you should tell her how you feel about her. Oh and, welcome back to the crew, you too. ” RK crossed his arms and gleamed.

 

The bright red tie

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The bright red tie

The old hinges screeched in painful grief much like her own eyes, as she opened the oak doors of his ancestral cupboard. The cupboard housed that quintessential western design that perhaps translated into class and style in the early 1920s. A large hollow right at the top held a horizontal rod. His vintage blazers, jackets and a dozen pant suits hung by the wooden hangers. A few of her crisply ironed sarees peeked through from the extreme left of the rod on the other side of an invisible curtain that separated them from getting too close to his apparel. The two shelves beneath it held the drawers and a safety locker, one that came with a number lock and can be unlocked with a particular sequence of numbers. And although she had shared this house, this room, the bed and even this very cupboard with him for 16 years now, it may come as a surprise, she didn’t know the sequence of numbers could unlock the safe or even what it contained.

Her fingers shivered as she thought of what he had done to their teenage daughter. The weakness in her knees led her to hold onto the open doors of the cupboard, producing the same screech again. Only this time, it was drowned by some loud 70s music that evidently arose from the gramaphone in the drawing room. A daily ritual that he carried out to announce his return from his morning walk. Her feet hurried and she stumbled into the kitchen. Her cheeks reddened from the memory of the one time he wasn’t served his morning tea and newspaper on time. It had etched more scars on her mind than on her body. How late had it been? How long did she stare into the hollow of the cupboard?

She placed the tea cup beside the newspaper on the stool and stepped back, hoping it wasn’t too late yet. Her eyes occasionally darted in his direction. He took a long look at his wrist watch as if to drive the hands faster, his leg rhythmically shaking to the music. That meant she had made it through in time. Now she waited, her fingers rolling the corner of her saree into a sharp cone over and over again. When his watch showed 8.30, he picked up the cup and sipped on it before placing it back in its original spot on the table. A low pitched, high bass “Hmm” escaped his chest. It was cue for her to get out of his sight while he enjoyed his tea. She scurried back into the kitchen but stopped with a jerk. She looked back at him from over her shoulder, the finger fidgeting now growing quicker.

His balding head, like the setting sun over the horizon, held high behind the newspaper. She took slow, deliberate steps into the kitchen, overlooking him. She watched his grip loosen on the paper. The sheets fell to the floor like yellowing autumn leaves. His neck grew frail and his back left the comfort of the German armchair. His body shifted forward, his round belly bearing the weight of his entire torso.

Her lips curved in a half smile and yet drops of sweat raced on her back. Her hands froze on the pan and spatula. The pan was hot enough to burn her skin. She immediately recollected the real task at hand. She hurried back to the open cupboard. She tugged on the drawer located just below the safe. She stared longer than usual at the array of blue-grey ties that it hosted. Four neat rows of hundreds of neckties, perfectly arranged in a gradient. An ombre of sky blue to black. Her right index finger grazed over the rows gently like it done for every morning in the 16 years since their marriage. She smiled at the naive 20year old self who took pride in being able to choose for her beloved husband the tie that he would wear that day, completely clueless that, that would be the only choice she would be making for the rest of his life.

She reached out to the extreme end of the drawer, pulling out a bright red tie from the corner. She shut the drawer with a thud. She froze in place again, every cell, every hair on her body focusing on any sounds that she could hear from the drawing room. The music had now died down, the clock in the bedroom mimicked the sound of a ticking time bomb. She heard nothing. The pounding of her heart synchronized perfectly with the clock. She stared at the clock as her fingers began to work their way through the length of the fabric between them.

It was time for another one of his daily rituals. For the last time perhaps. She mounted her frail body on his lap and pushed his torso far back enough to be resting on the chair. She held up the bright red fabric that she’d tied in a circle. It framed his face perfectly, almost poetically. A brief snore startled her. His breathing grew steady again and she could hear his wrist watch ticking now. She had about 15 minutes left for the sedative to wear off. With fumbling but sure fingers, she placed the tie around his neck, overlapping his shirt below his stern collar. She felt his deep breaths on the nerve of his neck before pulling on the noose tight. Tighter, tighter, way beyond the usual threshold, until she could not feel the breathing anymore. She shoved his hanging tongue back into his mouth and closed his eyelids with her hand. She dismounted herself from his lap. A slap on his cheek would serve to double check. She had won this race. This race against time. For the first time she felt powerful. Powerful enough to end her daughter’s offender. She stared at his corpse and scoffed. Well at least he would always have a tie on in public. 

 

Child’s play

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Child’s play

For twenty years of my life now, I’ve been an adult. Well my birth-giver would beg to differ but I’d like to stick by the fact that I, Vikram Singh Raajput was a full grown adult by the time I turned 10. After all I am the sole heir and owner of the Gulabmahal Palace Hotel of Udhavpur.

The year was 2000, the Millennium year, when my Father, His highness Captain Gulabsingh Raajput died from food poisoning. At least that’s what they told my mother and a silly 10 year old me. But the peasants however, knew better. It was poison alright, the chemical that killed him. Except, what I wasn’t told was that he had brought it onto himself. His highness Gulabsingh was a heart throb amidst women and kids. Polo merchandise, the sport, leather knee high boots, authentic silk kurtas with a handsome mustache and all the works, my father was the kind of man that an entire generation of human males would be envious of.

Earlier, I said I was the sole heir to the palace, remember? Well, let’s just say I’m the only “legal heir”. As to the other boys and girls who share the same middle name as me(I call them that because they haven’t really grown up at all), it has always been my responsibility to make sure all their financial needs are met.

So since the day Gulabsingh decided to end his own life due to the shame of being caught by my mother while preparing to father probably another boy or girl, I have been boss. It was I who decided to convert the palace into a hotel. With a grieving mother and the other residents speculating if it was wise to let a pre-teen boy make socio-economic decisions that even the older citizens would shudder to make, I, alongside my board members made the impeccably right move over and over again. That too, in parallel with my graduation in Philanthropy and Humanities from, let’s say, the Indian version of an ivy League.

Through the 20 years of drawing inspiration from Mr. Buffet, reading about Miriam Makeba for my college thesis, trying to sustain with the many financial mistakes that my father had made, if there was a real difficulty thrown at me, it was kids. Children. Mothers of children, who left their infants at my doorstep each day because they apparently were offspring of my dead father.

Now why should that bother me, you ask? Because a single line in the will that hung like a sword on my neck would make kids in general repulsive for me. “All the children below the age of 18, who can be lawfully proven to be offspring of me, His highness Capt. Gulab Singh Rajput of Udhavpur are allowed to and must reside and be funded financially from the revenue generated by the palace.” It said. That left me, Prince Vikram, to take to be the nanny of these 21 poop slinging, mud munching, hair pulling toddlers who would be wrecking a havoc in my life.

“Ma ji sa, I don’t have any brothers and sisters, I don’t want any now.” I remember telling Her Highness. “Prince Vikram, your father will always be the King. His word is command. ” Mom had replied. Phew! How I’ve dodged Legos sprinkled around on my Persian carpet, smelled piss on my pure Egyptian cotton sheets, watched a pink pig, purple dinosaur, blue octopus, yellow sponge sing and dance on my television screen when I should have been watching CNBC.

The events occurred so that the inflow of attractive women of all age groups with kids of all age groups kept pouring in until recently. Each morning, I’d read the newspaper, sip on some Chamomile tea and validate at least one new probable “sibling”. Not today though. Today marks the day after the farewell of the last of my siblings. To be on his own after his 18th birthday of course. Oh! how I’ve waited for all those brats to turn 18.

“Tomorrow, I prince Vikram shall sip on my morning tea and idle around at the reception with my chin angled at the angels above and chest bloated like the share price of ITC right now. And perhaps I’ll put up a neat signboard that reads ‘Kids not allowed’ at the valets’. ” I’d told myself at bedtime last night.

I woke up, feeling lighter than usual today. My tea seemed warmer, the carpets cleaner and my sheets smelled divine. For the first time, as I walked through the lobby, I noticed eyes, eyes of women who men would want to be looked at by, staring in awe at me. “You have his charm. You look like a premium version of him Chhote Hukum. ” I recalled Munimji Sharma uncle telling me. A tiny smile perhaps peeked through my well kept mustache and beard. To my surprise, it was returned by a 20 something young woman who also now seemed to be talking to me or at me or in the same general direction as me.

“Excuse me, suite 203. Could you please help me with my things?” She said. Wait!? Did this woman, have the audacity to mistake me, Prince Vikram Singh Raajput, for an employee? That’s condescending and although my academic degree and political standing says it’s nothing to be embarrassed of to be poor, my Royal upbringing certainly says that it is derogatory, almost. So I looked up at her and began to say that I would arrange for it to be done. But, the 30 year old six pack bearing, single as a widowed love bird, son of a Gulab Singh man in me found myself following the woman’s swaying hips to suite number 203 with 2 mini elephant sized totes and a major elephant sized trolley bag. “She was polite after all.” I thought.

“I’m sorry I always over pack. You must be judging me as a lousy guest. ” She apologized. I smiled sheepishly, the Udhavpur student parliamentary debate winner at a loss of words. That’s a first. “You know, this used to be my ex- husband’s favorite place for summers” She said. The prefix “ex ” restored in me the vigor the word “husband” alone would have extinguished otherwise. I stared at her slender fingers as she held the door open for me. Her swan like neck reddening from the weight of her handbag straining her shoulder. I wondered how those fingers would fit between mine. I stepped in with the bags. “Vidula Sharma Rathore.” The tags on her bags read. Thick red ink scratched across the “Rathore” on every one of them. In my head it now read “Vidula Sharma Raajput”. No, “Vidula Vikram Raajput”.

While I was contemplating if I should reveal my true identity to her and ask her to be my Queen or whether it was too lowly of me, a royalty to have simpleton, shallow, Bollywood rom-com like fantasies like this, Vidula spoke “Oh, I guess I left my baby’s bag in the lobby.” I looked at her wide eyed. “Never-mind. I’ve got this.” She said. She looked down from the balcony overlooking the lawns beneath. A toddler waved at her with a Lego Pink pig in one hand and mud in the other.

Throw back Thursday

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Throw back Thursday

“No, Raccoon, I am not going to create a campaign based on some silly ancient ancestral ritual just because Dr.Eszett asked us to.” Menge announced, slamming his reptile claws on his now warm work rock. “But Menge, Dr. E is boss. And nobody crosses the boss.” Raccoon said, quickly slithering out his split tongue. “Come on Raccoon, this is not even fair. Really? Who even gave that thing a doctoral degree? I mean, what pride will we bring to our ancestors? I’m sure they didn’t live their entire lives in Human disguise to watch us pay tribute to some wacky old ritual from the 2010s. Besides, what has this got anything to do with selling real estate on Venus?” Menge asked, licking his face clean of the sticky mess all the screaming had created. “Menge, if you don’t do it, I will have to do it. You know that I know tails about pre-independence history, let alone humans. Don’t let Dr. E send me back to the 2010s for a case study.” Raccoon said, his voice shivering from the mere thoughts of it. “Ha ha ha, maybe it will be fun to watch you survive as a human. I wonder if you will develop a liking to their old school electronics. Really want to watch you travel without a porter.” Menge laughed, displaying the interiors of his mouth. The sun overhead had sufficiently heated all the work rocks and the waters surrounding the rocks were now glistening. Waves rose and crashed on to Menge’s rock as he turned off his internal body warmer. “Now, raccoon, if you could please leave me alone, I have other fish to catch.” Menge said as he slowly crawled closer to the waters. “Menge. Menge….” Raccoon cried out.
Menge allowed the rays of the sun to cover every scale with closed eyes and a half hanging tongue. Just then, Menge felt a tug. Someone had dared to disturb the best ad creator reptile of the universe, the great grand descendant of the Kanye God. “What the tail?” Menge hissed under his breath. “Damn those birds! Shouldn’t have let them live on.” Menge shrugged and continued to enjoy his UV therapy. “So, Lord. Menge. I hear you declined my orders to work on the campaign?” A shrill voice said. “Yup! Can’t do it.” Menge replied. “Didn’t ask you if you can. You must!” The voice replied. “And who might you be to order me? Don’t you know that nobody, not one lizard on the entire planet can order me? I’ve been in the business right from the start of global warming. That’s how experienced I am.” Menge said. “Yes. Nobody tells you what to do. Nobody, but your new boss, and that would be me.” Menge turned around to find Dr. Eszett, holding his tail in one claw and a freshly caught rat in the other. The scales on her body creating sharp shadows on his brown body. Menge had never seen a creature so beautiful since he hatched out 200 years ago. Wavelengths he didn’t even know existed covered her perfectly contoured body. Hints of green, blue, magenta and pink arranged in an aesthetic jigsaw. Colors that he never imagined could form anything beautiful when together seemed to have made the perfect canvas for her golden-brown eyes. “And about that Ph.D., it was your great grandfather who gave it to me, for my brilliant work in the field of anthropology as a human, on my internship trip.” Eszett said, releasing Menge’s tail. Menge crawled to face Eszett. His pupils widened as he stared at her tongue that slid out now and then from within the gates of her perfect yellow teeth. Her nostrils warmed the air around them and Menge wanted to breathe in the exact same air molecules. “so, this campaign is perfect to show our audiences. How we made the earth habitable again is the hook. Humans die, Earth wins, and we thrive. We’ll do the same to Venus. Perfect pitch for selling plots there.” Dr. E snapped her claws bringing Menge’s floating thoughts and dreaming eyes back to her. Claws like that of a freshly hatched little lizard. Menge’s tongue slid out to lick Dr. E’s face around her eyes. “Thanks, I’ll take that as a ‘Yes’. I want you to start work immediately.” Eszett said.
“So, Lord Menge, whatever happened to all the fuming?” Raccoon nudged Menge with his head. “Dr. E was here yesterday. She made a valid, intellectual argument. I couldn’t disagree. You see, Raccoon, I’m always open to accepting well-drafted logical explanations. It is after all the mark of an authentic lizard, unlike lame lizards that are named after useless extinct animals.” Menge snarled. “Oh! Now, I am the one with a goofy name? What about your new boss? Eh? What’s Eszett?” Raccoon grinned, displaying gaps from his missing teeth that the baby lizards around his work rock still held as souvenirs. “She? She’s special! So is her name. Like the ancient German special character. Eszett!” Menge murmured, his body warmer blazing and teeth shining as he smiled. Just then, Menge felt the familiar tug on his tail. This time he immediately turned around to find Dr.E. “Here!” she said, holding out a ticket. “I know you are an expert and all that, but I need you to be thorough. So, I’m porting you two to the 2010s. As human social media celebrities, of course. Oh, and I’m calling the campaign ‘Throwback Thursday’“.

A mother at last

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A mother at last

“Mr. K. Ramesh and Mrs. R. Sujata” the board at the entrance to her studio sized house read. A lush garden sprawled in front of the main door, teeming with flowers of every color imaginable cuddling next to one another. Wall sized windows made the squarish house look like a magnified ice cube. The turquoise drapes with coral roses spilled all over them were the only barrier between the dwellers and the ones passing by. An aroma of mustard dancing in a turmeric and oil bath filled the air in the garden. In the other side of the drapes Sujata was possibly ready to add the most important ingredients to her recipe. “Ramesh would’ve loved a Sunday like this.” She spoke to the young husband and wife duo, who were now skittering around the dining table. “Aunty, do you still miss him?” Arpita asked as she set 3 table mats on the table. “I can’t find the dessert bowls. Where have you put them Arjun?” Arjun asked from the other end of the store room that stood next to the kitchen. “First drawer under the frying pans.” Arpita replied before turning back to Sujata. Sujata continued to grate a piece of coconut that would top the dish. “So aunty, you still miss him?” Arpita asked. Sujata looked at Arpita with sad eyes and replied ” I’d like to think he’s right here, with me, always, just like he had promised.”
The hands of the clock on the living room wall ran in circles a little faster than usual. The three of them sat at the table facing their now empty plates. Their arms and legs hung flaccid from exhaustion post the wholesome feast. Arpita rubbed her belly with her palm. She gently felt the remains of the stitches that the C-section had left. “I’ll check on Minie” she said as she left the table for the first time in 2 hours. “This is the first real lunch she’s had since Minie.We just don’t get the time. Thank you, aunty for everything.” Arjun’s voice cracked like that of an awkward teenager.
“Arjun,you know I love you and Arpita like my own family. I keep telling Ramesh that you are a gift from God. Ever since you two have started living with me, my world seems more complete than ever. Now with Minie…. Well she’s my baby. ” Sujata patted Arjun’s hand. “Reminds me. I finally found the agreement. I’ll bring it right away and you can sign it.” Sujata left Arjun alone at the table.
Minie was at Arpita’s breast when Sujata entered the room. Sujata gently stroked Arpita’s hair. She brought both her palms together,encircling Arpita’s slender neck. Sounds of cracking knuckles echoed in the empty room. Arpitas eyes popped open at once and stayed shut forever thereafter. The resting baby continued to tug at her breast with her toothless mouth. Sujata walked back to Arjun now, panting and curling her fingers into a fist. Her fingers shivered just a little as she towered above Arjuna’s sleeping silhouette. He was like a son to her after all. “He’ll never let me have Minie.” She whispered. She cracked her knuckles one last time, before pressing her wrinkly fingers against his neck. Arjuna’s body wriggled under the strong hold of her palms. “Strong one, you are eh?” Sujata said, tightening her grip. Arjuna’s feet kicked the ground sporadically, pushing his body off the chair. The chair followed him to the ground with a thud that woke the resting baby. His hooded eyes and low pitched screams were muffled by the crying baby. Once he drew his last, Sujata rushed to Minie. “Just a few minutes longer. Amma will be back.” She whispered.

Months had passed since Sujata had filed the missing person’s report for Arpita and Arjun. The inspector clinked the iron gate that stood guard to the large garden. He spotted Sujata, and half smiled. “Inspector sir. Any news?” She briskly walked to open the gate for him. Minie, in her arms, crying loud enough to scare the birds from the trees. “No ma’am. But I’m trying.” Sujata’s eyes grew moist. “You have to do something. For my baby here.” She held up Minie to his chest. “I’ll do my best ma’am. I promise.” He spoke. “Shall I fix you some tea? Please come, sit.” Sujata said, as the baby continued to cry. “Ma’am, I just came to update you. I must leave.” The inspector turned on his heels. His own eyes moist now. Sujata watched him walk away. “Ramesh, we are finally by ourselves. My perfect little family.” She kissed Minie’s forehead. A few steps later, the inspector looked back to find Sujata rocking the baby with one arm and pouring water out of a watering can on a big patch of brown land with what looked like cacti growing out of it.

End of war

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End of war

They stood face to face, eyes locked on each other. Their arms outstretched, each holding devices; scribes to the other man’s death. One clad in Green with kohl bordering his eyes, the other in bright Saffron and vermilion in between his brows. The brows that held back little droplets of perspiration, knotted tighter as the other spoke. “Lower your weapon.” He screamed. His feet firm on the ground, immobile. “Don’t you dare.” Said the Saffron shifting his weight. Now the gait of an enraged lion, embodied Saffron “Put down your weapon, Green. I know, you can’t even operate that thing.”

“I’m not the Green you once knew. Try me. ” Green replied, clenching his teeth. “Look around, you have nobody left. Maybe we could become a team. Like old times.” Saffron said. “Don’t you remember, how we swam in the well and sang songs until dawn? The way we chased fireflies at sunset and snacked on freshly made jaggery and berries by the fields? Do you not recall, racing barefoot from tree to tree and rubbing clay on the palms of our feet? Have you forgotten how you ate the sour grapes and always handed the sweet ones to me? Do you not miss the days when we raided the streets on our bicycles and stole chickens from the old lady around the corner?”

Green’s lips had begun to twitch. The words rained on the barrens of his grief. And yet there weren’t any crops that would grow, because the seeds were in too deep. Green wiped the drops off his brow and said. “Of course I do. For, it was a time when all was pure. When you were a child and not a sinner and I was free of blasphemy too. It was indeed a time I’d want back, but we have walked far ahead. At the end of this road, nobody and nothing lives, except for the name of Lord. And for sinners like you, who believe that God is them and they are God, I shall serve what they deserve.” Green pointed at the hundreds of corpses that lay on the land. A sea of death, a mirage of worms diving in and out of open wounds and raw flesh, some hatching into their winged form and hovering over the stinking pile. An appendage here, an appendage there, a jigsaw that someone left midway.

“God? What God do you speak of? The one with no name or face?” Saffron smirked. “And if he were for real a God, how can a man bring him disgrace?”

“It’s ignorance like yours that he hates. And it’s my duty to retaliate, all your insults on his behalf, even if it means to end your life.” Green’s hand tightened around the weapon. “Maybe then you will see, when you are in pain and agony. That I was right all along. Should’ve praised my Lord when you still could. ”

“Huh, if that, you think will bring you maidens and life beyond this is in heaven, the Lord has lied. There is no truth backing your pride, perhaps my God, will assess your deeds and bestow upon you a fair deal. Sure, then, we can talk.” Said saffron.

“Your God who is made by man you mean? Covered in colors that man can see? If only you had ever tried, to come to the right side, with us, with the truth, then maybe you’d know what I mean.” Green shivered, and perspired at once. His finger caressed the trigger ever so lightly. “In the name of God” he screamed, spit flying out of his lips. Sound of two bullets pierced the clouds. A thick smog of disturbed bird flocks rose to the sky. Saffron and Green sank to the sea and became one with the jigsaw. Green closed his eyes and waited. Saffron knew his God was close. 3 days on earth to be precise, had passed before they met again. Reunited as kids by the well, running along the fields and rubbing clay on their feet.

Perhaps both their gods did lie to them. One a hermit the other a voueyer, Saffron and Green were now convinced, that neither was to win a war or even to wage it in fact, for their Gods didn’t care that much of what games these children played.

And this time around, when the fireflies danced, Saffron and Green lied down in the fields and wondered, if their Gods existed at all.