The Blue Scarf


I had written this story for Times of India’s Write India Campaign using Chetan Bhagat‘s prompt. Well it didn’t make it but I’m not the one to feel sad. (Well maybe a little.) So I hope at least you guys like it.

 

She sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf. No, it was no use going to the police. They would not believe her.  After all she had killed her ex-husband. What difference did it make that he had come to kill her? She had already killed their marriage. When she had divorced him, he had called her a murderer. She had no problem with that. It was easy to forget the things he said, though she had not, she could not. She had smiled at him and said he had murdered a lot of things when he slept with her sister.

She looked at the cursed scarf again. It had been his first gift. How glad she was that day! She would have done anything for him, almost had. But then things changed. Their marriage became tainted with grunge of everyday life and a ghost of love, fueled with sheer will and weighed down by responsibility. Then came the fights, the accusations, the taunts. Days would pass when they would not talk to each other.
Then, he began paying attention to her again. He started bringing flowers and taking her out to dinner. They began going to the movies and spent more time together. When she saw him at her sister’s when he should have been on the office trip, she didn’t cry, she couldn’t cry, she laughed. How many times had she repeated the words and still never known its meaning. Husbands are chiefly good as lovers when they are betraying their wives. Yes, Marilyn Monroe was right. She thought it would hurt, it did not. She bit her lips to bring tears but tears didn’t want to come, only blood. She realized in the court why she could not cry. She had not loved him in a long time. She could not tell but she knew love had fallen out of their marriage long ago. Maybe the day he slapped her or the day he used her as a thing to please himself without loving her. No, she did not know when but she knew she had stopped loving him long before he betrayed her.

***

He came to her house unexpected, drunk and in a rage. Her sister had dumped him too. She felt stupid for opening the door without checking. Flower delivery. Men never learn better tricks and women never care to check. He said it would be like he had never left and had forgiven her for treating him like a dog. She felt her spine go weak and her nerves chilling.  For the first time in her life she feared this man. Before, she had felt all the emotions; love, anger, hate, but not fear. She had not known this man. Even when he had slapped her when they were fighting on the balcony she had not seen him. Or perhaps he was not the same man, someone else in his body had taken control, haunted him. Lust and anger possessed him, desire and rage; an intent to murder.

When she asked him to leave, he yelled and abused. She looked around. There was a vase on the table by her left side. She moved closer to it as he shouted how he had done everything a husband should do and still she was never satisfied with him. He said how he had done everything a lover should do and still her sister was not satisfied with him. He abused both of them, linking them to their father and brother. She picked up the vase and hid it behind her. If he came close she would know what to do. There was a time, she could not remember when, she couldn’t wait for him to come closer so she could kiss him. Now, she was clutching the vase to save herself.

He raised his head, looked at her and smiled. There was something in his eyes she had never seen. Something she had read in stories of Lovecraft and Poe and King. Utter malice. Desire; a desire to kill. The vase dropped with a shattering noise. It became a thousand vases at once never again to be the one it was before. Its fragments lay between them, reminiscent of what their life had been. She tried to speak to him, maybe she could talk him into leaving. But her words left her like tears had years ago. She cursed herself for being so weak and stupid. She was alone with her trembling self and a man she had once loved like he was the only person that mattered to her but was now about to kill her.

***

‘Do you want something else, ma’am?’ the waiter asked.
Yes, she wanted to escape the mess she had created by murdering her husband. She wanted to go back to her normal life and live like nothing had happened. Was that possible?  No she didn’t think so. So no, thank you.

‘Another cup of coffee,’ she said.

The waiter smiled and turned to go. ‘What’s that ma’am?’ he looked back and pointed at the scarf.

‘The knife I killed my husband with,’ she smiled.  She had no idea what made her say that. She was never good at lying anyway.  The waiter laughed and left.  Truth can be funny sometimes.

***

Karan reached into his back pocket and drew out the knife. The knife Manisha would hide in her scarf hours later.
‘I don’t trust any of you. I will now trust this. This is my baby,’ he kissed the cold steel. There was some blood on it.

‘Oh, don’t worry. It’s your sister’s. Both of you will now truly be one blood,’  he laughed at his brilliance pointing the blade at her.

She looked at him in horror, unable to move, unable to even crouch down and beg for mercy. No, she will not beg. No matter how this ends, she will not beg. She still could not grasp the news he had given her. Her sister? Was she dead?  The child had not even seen anything of the world.  Why had he killed her? For what? What did she do to enrage him? Perhaps she would never know no one ever would.

He came at her slow and lunged. She ducked, there was enough time. His drunkenness had made him sluggish. He could not focus. How had he killed her sister then? In the bed? In the shower? She pushed him with all her strength and his head collided against the wall. He cursed her and dropped the knife to hold his head. Blood gushed out and dripped down his face. She bent, not careful to keep an eye on him, to pick the knife. He kicked her in the guts and she fell, unable to shriek, her breath knocked out. The knife was a prize, whoever got it, won.

He picked it up and brought it down. She moved, not completely avoiding the strike, the knife tore at her jeans and cut her leg, spilling her blood like water from a fountain of youth which was now old. She held his hand tight. Though the knife’s edge cut into her wrist, she did not let go.  He raised his hand and she felt her grip loosening. She kicked him in the shin and brought the knife down, going into left side of his abdomen. She wanted to hurt him enough for her to escape but not so much that he would die. He struggled then fell down. After he stopped moving she leaned closer. He grabbed her hair and shrieked, thrashing his limbs wildly. She stabbed him again and again and again.

He lay motionless, his eyes open and accusing. Blood gushed out of his wounds and stained the mattress below, forever. Please God! She prayed again, let him be dead now. Let him be dead! He was. She broke down, the tears and words that had left her came rushing back and she cried until all the weight from her heart lifted.

***

She put the cup down and picked up her bag and the scarf. It had all the memories she had shared with him. Their first meeting, their marriage, their love, their fights and finally their death. She too had died in some way with him.  A part of her that she had believed was good. That did not exist anymore. She was a criminal, a sinner. She stepped out and walked to the police station as rain began to pour washing everything but not her guilt.

***

Manisha was running to meet Karan outside the college. She should have left early but the class wouldn’t end. She should have fixed her hair but there was no time. Ugh! Probably he wouldn’t notice that. He was not like rest of the boys. He was sweet and caring. She smiled as she crossed the canteen. Yes, he waited there looking at his watch, thinking how late she would be. He was the only man she had ever loved, she would ever love. She knew she would marry him and they would live happily, loving each other because nothing else in the world mattered. As if they were meant to be together. She came closer and calmed her breathing as she ran her hand through her hair.
‘No use saying you are late again, is there?’ he asked.

‘No,’ she smiled.

‘I have something for you,’ he gave her a wrapped box and smiled, touching her arm. She tore the wrapping and opened the box.

There was a blue silk scarf in the box. The best gift she ever had.

***

Image courtesy: dxpepper.wordpress.com

A Drunken Night


It was another drunken night. Another one of those one night stands. Shila woke up dizzy and still unsure of where she was. She looked around and barely recognized her room. Then she looked at her side and the man she had hooked up last night was still there, snoring. She couldn’t see his face but he had an admirable physique. Who was he? She could barely remember. She had a blurry image of meeting him in the bar last night and they had talked of Tom and Jerry or something like that before they were in her car making out. When was she home? Probably after midnight because the guard was asleep. The man turned and Shila rubbed her eyes to bring them back to focus. ‘Wow! He doesn’t look bad,’ she thought. ‘Bad? He is kind of yummy actually.’ Big forehead, large eyes, curved lips and a little stubble, a man she would be ready to go on a date with. The man woke up with a lot of twisting and turning as Shila smiled at him.

‘Would you like some coffee?’ she asked him. She never asked guys for anything. They were all turned out as soon as they woke up or she woke up. Except a few who had lingered to get her contact number. She denied of course.

‘Um… sure. No cream though,’ he said wearing his pants.

‘Don’t have any,’ she got up and moved towards the door, ‘would you bring the newspaper from outside?’

‘Yeah. I’ll bring some samosas as well,’ he replied.

Oh no! He too!’ Shila thought. When a guy left for bringing anything he never returned. It was an understood sign.

‘I know what you are thinking. I’ll be back,’ he smiled.

‘Whatever works for you. I’ll be in the kitchen,’ she pointed and left. After some time she heard his footsteps behind her. She turned to see he was standing at the kitchen door smiling.

‘You didn’t go,’ she turned back to the coffee machine.

‘The door is locked,’ he came closer.

‘OK, I’ll unlock it,’ she turned and saw him looming at her, ‘what do you want?’

‘How about a kiss? I’ve been meaning to ask for it since I woke up, but you are quite tense,’ he moved closer.

A kiss? I’ve been meaning to ask him that ever since I woke up!’ Her cheeks turned crimson.

‘I know,’ he said as if reading her mind and massaged her lower lip softly with his thumb. He pulled her closer and their lips brushed against each other and he sucked on them hungrily, but tenderly. Shila enjoyed every sensation running through her body and gave in, invading him, tasting his soft tangy smell of sleep and alcohol.

‘You taste like soft, fresh cream,’ he said between the kisses.

‘I thought you didn’t like cream,’ she pulled away.

‘Not in my coffee,’ he pulled her back.

‘That’s OK,’ she kissed him back.

They moved back to her bedroom as he tugged on her lips and she unbuttoned him.

‘I still don’t know your name,’ Shila said after an hour or more.

‘Then you must be quite eager for me,’ he smiled.

‘Shut up. I bet you don’t know mine as well,’ she hissed.

‘We are just two strangers here. But I answer to name Arun,’ he said.

‘So Arun do you know what to call me?’ she got up but he pulled her back.

‘Will Shila do? I saw it when we came in last night,’ he said.

‘You’ve got a memory then. But I need to eat. I’m tired and famished,’ she got up and he pulled her back again.

‘You wait here. I’ll bring something,’ Arun stood up and went to the door.

‘OK. There is a restaurant close to the building. They have great food,’ she said.

‘I’ll be back in ten minutes,’ he said and left.

They all say they will be back but they never are. You just wanted to make a good morning and so did I,’ she thought and got up. She was scarred so much by her past experiences that it was not possible to believe that anything good can happen in her life. She made coffee and sat at the sofa. Arun, if he decided to come back was already fifteen minutes late. She went to the balcony. Wind was cold and sun was hidden in clouds. The Sunday morning was not beautiful. No mornings were anyway. She had been living like this for more than three years. She had a perfect job, great salary, great friends but no family. She never cared for her parents much who had disowned her because she had left her torturing husband and came to Delhi. They blamed her for not working on their marriage. He blamed her for not working on their marriage. She was fine with living alone but she also wanted to be close with someone and this quest led her to night clubs and random one night stands.

She liked it in the starting but then it started boring her. They were all alike, good-looking and mind numbingly stupid. She was tired of them and wanted to get out of all this but week after week she found herself back in the club picking some random guy, a little of this, a little of that and they would fall like logs of wood on her. But Arun, Arun was different. He actually listened to what she was saying. And she certainly remembered him passing out before they made it to the bedroom last night. Nothing had happened then. It was in the morning when they came as close as two people could be. But even that didn’t matter, because he was gone just like the rest of them and wouldn’t come back. She moved closer to the edge of balcony. It had rained last night and floor was somewhat slippery. She moved too close to the edge and slipped, falling for a hundred foot drop. As she hit the stone pavement her last thought was, ‘no one came for me and I’m dying, alone.

People rushed to the dead body as blood spread on the pavement giving it a tinge of black redness. They stood watching, speculating, talking as Shila took her last breaths. From a distance Arun came rushing with flowers and a plastic bag in his hand. He had seen her too close to the edge and wanted to warn her, but she looked lost. He came through the crowd and fell on his knees close to her and said softly, ‘Shila I had promised to come back, see I’ve come. Don’t go now.’

Why Did I Love Him?


When a man falls in love with a woman he becomes insane but when a man falls in love with another man he is shattered. When a man falls in love with a woman there is hope but when a man falls in love with another man there is nothing but despair and sadness alone and I am friends with this despair and sadness. There is no hope for me. I do believe it is better to be heartbroken than keep wondering what could the answer have been but can I stay intact after the heartbreak? I do not know. Why did I love him? Of all the men in the world my heart went to him who is not even remotely curious let alone be gay (this is what I think, I yet do not know anything about his sexual orientation). Even if he was horny enough to let me please him I would have been the happiest man alive but the cruel, cruel fate plays very unfair. It places the best meal in front of a hungry beggar and when he is about to touch it (snap!) the dream is broken. My story is one of madness and lust. I was physically aroused way before love entered to ruin my paradise of desires. This is not a sweet love story. You have been, as they say, warned.

I was not interested in going to that stupid wedding of my mother’s cousin. For God’s sakes those people didn’t care if you fell down a trap hole! But unwillingly I agreed to go only to avoid the lengthy arguments. I have little patience with arguments starting with you’ll do it because I said so. At the wedding after all the introductions and welcomes I sat silently with my brother thinking about how I would have utilized my time had I not come here to get bored at a dramatic wedding.

I was about to literally kill myself with the boredom in all the pomp and show when I saw him. My jaw did not drop as reader might think, instead I instantly hardened. It was lust at first sight, at every sight. He was actually drop-down-dead gorgeous and I had to shuffle myself carefully on the chair so as to avoid hurting me by the tight jeans I was wearing. He had short stubble beard and penetrating black eyes which churned my insides violently. He was coming towards me with a cousin of my mom and I thought I would burst with lust and joy. I did not. Instead I was introduced to Abhishek an engineering student at some college in Greater Noida and we soon fell into talking about much nonsense from religion to politics to conspiracy theories (actually I was talking he was listening) and god alone knows what other idiotic stuff. I did not fell in love with him then, I just felt the sudden urge to kiss him and tell him that he was driving me mad. How well he looked in that checkered shirt and black jeans. Here I was babbling on and on and everyone sitting with me telling me not to bore them but he said he was interested. He wanted to listen!

Well my joy did not last long as it was close to midnight and we had to take our dinners and that’s what we did. But after that we (me, my brother, the cousin and Abhishek) went to the roof and talked about other things. Well since all three were into engineering they talked while I looked at Abhishek unblinkingly thinking only about the pleasures I wanted to have but couldn’t. How much I wanted to touch him then, smell him, feel every cell of his by my tongue is useless to say. I was being driven mad with desire and lust and there was nothing, absolutely nothing I could do. When I again started speaking and others told me to stop boring them he said he wanted to listen. He was interested in me! Fine whatever I was blabbering but still! This great guy with lustful good looks and soft, scruffy musical voice was interested in listening to me. How much thrill that sent through my brain and navel and me then! ‘Oh dear God please’ I prayed with the deepest core of me ‘please let me be with him, just once.’ But apparently God does not much care about people so my prayer went unheard and I came home wondering will I ever see him again?

How much I wanted to kiss every inch of him; his little scar by the chin, his soft and thin lips, his dancing eyes, his long fingers, his chest, his stomach, him. But my lust had to remain thirsty and thirsty it remained. We had exchanged numbers and when many days later he called I couldn’t talk because I was busy (what a fool!). I called him after a few days and his roommate informed me that he was in shower. I felt jealous of the water then! How lucky it was to touch all of him. I imagined him clad in falling, glistening water droplets and lost myself for a moment. Then I brushed away that thought like a fool I was. We continued to chat later on and looking at every picture of him I would only think how good-looking he was until slowly and I do not know when I started feeling more than lust, more than pure carnality. I started feeling love.

How much the thought hurt me! How much I cried after this knowledge! Here I was still struggling to accept that I am a homosexual and then I fall in love with him with the old classic cliché of head over heels! From then on to this day I have cried in his name, laughing at God and the universe for their cruel play, never cursing them but only me. Ah Abhishek! When you became love of my live, passion of my dreams, colour of my desires I do not know. All I know is that I love you; I love you more than I ever thought it would be possible to love someone. I love you more than I myself am able to understand. Abhishek! Abhishek! Abhishek! Abhishek! Abhishek! Abhishek! Abhishek! Abhishek!

I cannot remember a time once in whole of the last year when I did not think of him. At first I had thought it was just a crush, physical but that was a lie and some part of me knew that. In this one year I had virtually stalked him, finding his every picture available, trying anything and everything to start up a conversation. Sometimes I wondered if he knew. Did he know that I was madly, hopelessly, irrevocably in love with him? Or was he totally oblivious to the fact that all I wanted to do was to grab him and kiss him till my last breath? All I wanted to do was tell him again and again that I was mad about him. Oh! What wouldn’t I give to be with him just once? What wouldn’t I give to touch him once, kiss him, let every inch of me run lustily through every inch of him? What wouldn’t I give to never let him go? Everything. Everything!

I do not want him to think that I want something from him. I do but I know he cannot give me what I want. So I pray for him, I will pray as long as I live that may God always keep him smiling, laughing and content. Perhaps I will meet a glimmer of him in a distant future or in a new life and when I do I will always remember how much I have loved him. How much I wanted to shout out to world that I love him. How much I wanted to whisper in his ears silently as I looked deep in his eyes that I love him. I love you Abhishek, I will always love you.

I do chant his name with my every breath and I know it sounds weird and poetic but it is not so in a way and it is so much in a more subtle way. Love is poetry indeed, weird and classic, bizarre and intriguing. I have no proof to prove how much I love him except perhaps my tears and my heart where he has taken a permanent residence. If I could say something to Abhishek I will tell him again and again that I love him, I love him from every cell of mine. I will always love him, I love him when the wind blows, when sun rises and sets. I love him when it rains and I love him when it’s cold. I love him when its morning and birds leave their nest. I love him in the evening when they come home and I know I have nowhere to go.

More than Friends; Boyfriends


As the clock struck five Rohan got out of bed and looked outside his window. The full moon had hung low on the horizon last night. Now the sun was preparing to rise. The flowers in his garden danced slowly with the passing breeze and their fragrance lingered along. ‘Has it been really that long?’ he thought going to the window. He had met Aryan in the library three years ago. Later when he thought of it, it sounded such a cliché thing. Meeting in the library, kissing after a few cups of coffee, sleeping on fourth date, morning breakfast. But it was not. With every act followed the fear, the guilt. They were outsiders, unaccepted.  Everything they did was to be a secret; they belonged to a cult and had to remain where they belonged. Though both were out to themselves (and to each other) no one in the whole world knew they were different. Friends and family were important. They couldn’t let them go. And family and friends wouldn’t let them be themselves.

After two years of dating when the word started to get out and they were confronted they decided to come out and face the facts. There was no escaping and they decided it would be much better to let the people close to them know that they loved each other. Those who were not OK with it could walk out of their lives and they pretty much knew most of them would. What they didn’t know was that who would stand by them. A year ago Rohan and Aryan decided to invite everyone for the Holi* party and tell them that they were not ‘more than friends’. They were boyfriends.

XXX

Rohan woke up at four thirty in the morning on Holi. It was the best time of year; March, celebration of life, colours and love. Aryan still laid asleep, his lower body was covered with a soft blanket while his chiseled torso was unclad. His black hair fell softly on his forehead, lips curled in smile of some pleasant dream. Rohan got out of bed and sneaked in the drawing room where he had colours hiding below the sofa. He passed by the dressing table and got a glimpse of himself wearing shorts. His hair was messy and cheeks were shaved. He smiled with the idea of colouring Aryan in bed. He got the colours from below the sofa and hid it behind him just in case Aryan was awake. Stealthily he came in the room. Aryan had covered himself completely now. Rohan came closer and slowly lifted the blanket. Aryan was not there. ‘What the…?’ he thought and turned. Too late. Aryan was standing before him with a mischievous grin, his hands behind him.

‘No Aryan, don’t even think of it,’ he began uncertainly.

‘Why big guy? It’s OK for you but I can’t do it?’ Aryan’s grin widened and his hands came out dripping red.

‘No, it’s just that…’ Rohan backed.

‘Just what, my love?’ he came closer.

‘What’s that behind you?’ Rohan pointed with a scared look.

Aryan instantly looked back and Rohan ran past him laughing.

‘That trick won’t save you today,’ Aryan followed him and caught him in two long sprints. ‘Got nowhere to go baby!’ he said and threw his hand softly on Rohan’s face making it red. Rohan rubbed the green colour he had on Aryan’s face with his both hands. They looked at each other, and rocked with laughter till their stomachs hurt. ‘Happy Holi Rohan,’ Aryan said amidst laughing hiccups. ‘Happy Holi Aryan,’ he replied stifling his laughter. They came closer when the laughing fit subsided and their lips met slowly, their tongues explored familiar territories like new. They tasted each other and Aryan was reminded of orange juice, sweet and sour and tantalizing. They stiffened and hardened, it was pure joy. Their hands explored every part of other, touching, caressing, massaging, taunting. They kissed passionately as they moved from drawing room to bedroom. They lay on bed feeling bliss till sun came and shone on them from the window (where Rohan would stand a year later gazing at the horizon) for a wonderful day ahead.

They got up and showered together, kissing and loving again and then went out to play Holi with their friends. They visited everyone they knew in town, painting them with a million colours, dancing, discussing nothing and everything, taking them to visit others, painting them and so on. Lots of sweets and snacks and sherbets and some thandais# at every house made this day what they always do, a blissful festival. They invited people close to them in the evening at Rohan’s house (they still lived in separate houses or so everyone knew) and came back painted and looking like coloured freaks. They showered again and got most of the colour off. Some was still left on their ears and face and their hands were totally black.

Just before people started coming they looked each other in the eye, smiled and kissed softly. Rohan said, ‘no matter what happens today, I love you Aryan, I will always love you.’ Aryan smiled and whispered in his ears, ‘I know you will and so will I. I love you too.’ And they both knew that they were right. People started coming and amidst chatter and occasional laughter Aryan and Rohan were worried. They passed on the food, made some jokes, smiled and greeted everyone appropriately but they were worried. They knew many would leave never again to return in their lives and it was scary. Losing the people they cared for. They would be dead for them or maybe worse, a taboo. They would never mention their name ever again. Both the guys knew that and tried whatever they could do to release their tension.

Aryan went to his parents who were booming with laughter after few shots of thandais and called them in the bedroom. Across the room Rohan was talking to a woman and followed them but waited outside nervously. It was better that Aryan handled his parents first. He could not clearly hear what was happening inside and that made him more anxious. Then he heard sound of a crash and another and another. He went in to see that Aryan stood close to his father, his head hung low and cheeks red. It was not a crash; Aryan’s father had slapped him. His mother was sobbing softly by the end of the bed. Aryan’s father was abusing him furiously and stopped in mid-sentence as Rohan opened the door. ‘What do you want?’ he snapped angrily.

‘Wait outside Rohan, I’ll manage this,’ Aryan said in a quavering voice.

‘Manage this? Manage this? There is nothing to manage, you faggot!’ his father roared.

Aryan was glad music in the guest room was louder than his voice.

‘Please uncle, don’t,’ Rohan came in the room and closed the door.

‘Who the hell are you to tell me how to treat this worthless son of mine?’ he roared again.

‘He is my boyfriend. We are dating for over two years,’ Aryan said. His mother started sobbing more noisily.

‘Boyfriend? Ugh! Are you mad? I’m going to kill you both,’ he slapped Aryan and his face contorted.

‘Enough uncle,’ Rohan came by Aryan’s side.

‘How dare you?’ he said and raised his hand to slap him but Aryan caught his hand in mid-air.

‘Don’t even think of it,’ he said, his voice coming on the angry edge.

‘So this is what it has come to? What next? You will slap me now? We taught you, cared for you, loved you unconditionally for this day? What a great son you have been! You spoiled our name faggot! But don’t worry. God will take care of you and people like you. You will burn in hell,’ his father roared and turned away in utter disgust. ‘Mala, let’s go,’ he said to his wife. She looked at him with swollen red-eyes and said something unintelligible.

‘What?’ he roared back.

‘He is our son,’ she said stifling her sob.

‘He is no son of mine anymore. And if he is yours I am not your husband,’ he said and left.

Aryan’s mother looked at her son for a second before she ran out sobbing. Aryan crashed on the bed heavily, hid his face and wept. Rohan stood there watching him, his heart pumping madly, tears building up but he was unable to move. After hours or minutes when Aryan’s weeping turned into hiccupping sobs Rohan gave him a glass of water.

‘C’mon man. It was not that bad. You just got three; we still have to see my ma going into full tantrums,’ Rohan said sitting beside him.

Aryan looked at him sadly and turned away. After a minute or so he said, ‘Will we go to hell? Does God really hate us?’

Rohan put his hands on Aryan’s shoulders and hugged him. ‘Look,’ he said ‘there is no God other than life itself. And as long as you love life in all its forms you are safe.’

‘Fair enough. But does that mean I have to love you as well?’ Aryan said with a smile.

‘Till the end of my life,’ Rohan said.

‘Till the end of my life,’ Aryan agreed.

Rohan now called his parents in the room and his father sat on the bed staring at the ceiling and his mother, as he had predicted, was throwing full-on tantrums. She begged him to visit some Baba and get his grace. ‘The disease will go away, and you will live happily. You will marry a girl, a beautiful girl and have wonderful little children,’ she said as she threw her hands in all directions and made whimpering noises.

‘Ma, it’s not a disease and even if it was I will choose it in all my lives to be with Aryan,’ he said.

‘I don’t know what to do? My son! Please God, don’t be so cruel! What have I done to deserve such fate? I visited your temple everyday and I fasted and I never turned a beggar away. This is what you are giving me for my piety? Please don’t do this to me! I’ll go to Haridwar** and will invite five hundred one, no no, one thousand one Brahmins for feast. Please save my son! Please God!’ she sat with a thump and began praying.

‘Ma, will you stop that?’ Rohan said.

‘Stop what? Oh my God! You do not know what you are saying. There is some devil in you. You are possessed,’ she began praying more furiously.

‘Stop everything you are doing. Your trading with God, this praying, everything. I am not haunted or possessed. I am fine,’ he said irritably.

‘Fine! How can you say…?’ she was interrupted by her husband, ‘he is not possessed and he is not sick. There is nothing you or anyone else can do.’ He looked out the window into the night.

‘You men are stupid! You don’t believe in anything. I tell you, I am going to Babaji first thing in the morning. He will know what to do. He is a miraculous person. He will surely cure our son,’ she said.

‘He cannot be cured. Let’s go,’ he stood up and looked Rohan in the eye, ‘I love you son but I cannot support you. Perhaps I am too weak, too human. If you need anything call me otherwise you will have to be a stranger for me, for my family. I am sorry I can’t be with you.’

Rohan saw genuine tears swell in his father’s eyes and for first time after he had hit puberty. He felt so much love for his father that it hurt to know he won’t be there with him anymore. Rohan’s father left and his mother prayed and urged for him to come with her to visit Babaji. He denied and she left promising to drive whatever demon haunted him out.

‘That was intense,’ Aryan came inside.

‘Yes,’ Rohan replied, his eyes swelling with tears.

‘This is too hard,’ he said. ‘Yes,’ Rohan looked at him.

‘Relax Rohan. It’s OK if you cry.’

That was the cue. Rohan broke into soft sobs, his shoulders shaking and voice faltering as he said, ‘I can’t believe this is happening to us.’

‘It happens to everyone Rohan. Life gives us many jolts before we come on track,’ Aryan hugged him.

‘Let’s tell these people together. Those who want to stay can stay and those who want to leave can just do whatever they want,’ Rohan said standing up. They kissed for a second and came out and stood in the center.

Aryan said loudly, ‘friends, we wish to tell you that we are gay and love each other. We will understand if it shocks you and you decide to break all contacts with us. Those who are not OK with it can choose to leave. We won’t judge you.’

The guests were taken aback by such a blunt statement. Some had heard rumors about it but thought it was just gossip. Now this direct confrontation was shocking. They did not know what to do. Should they stay? Should they leave? After some initial shock and indecision a man stood up, muttered something unintelligibly and left. One after another people started leaving and the hosts realized only two girls and four guys were left in the end smiling at them.

‘You people are staying?’ Rohan asked.

They all said they were.

‘We kind of already knew that,’ Sameer said.

‘And wanted you to come out,’ Shweta said standing up.

‘So you are not leaving?’ Aryan asked astonished.

‘We love you jerks and will stand by you no matter what,’ Sneha hugged them.

‘I will stand too but I am so high right now my head is spinning.’ Vinay said with red eyes.

Rakesh and Sonjoy came and hugged them. ‘We are proud of you,’ Sonjoy said.

‘We all are,’ Rakesh added.

After that they danced and drank long after midnight and left late in the morning with a mess behind which was cleaned by Rohan’s maid who continued to jibe about drunkards. Aryan and Rohan started receiving calls for therapy and one night Aryan’s mother called to say she loved him but she could not go against her husband. Aryan replied he understood and they talked for more than an hour. She also talked to Rohan and told him to take care of her son. Rohan’s mother on the other hand after Babaji’s tricks failed left going to his ashram and started searching for another enlightened master to cure her son. She once heard someone say that an enlightened master won’t change anyone because they can’t see anything wrong with anyone. After that she never spoke of her son.

XXX

Rohan looked back in the room. Aryan slept peacefully, his black hairs falling on his forehead. He went to bed and stood by Aryan’s side, he leaned and kissed him softly on the lips and felt the kiss back. He whispered, ‘I love you Aryan.’ Aryan opened his eyes and smiled. Sun rose and birds left their nests to explore the world as their bodies and minds became one.

———

*Holi is a festival of colours celebrated generally in March. It marks the end of harvest season when grain comes from fields. For more information please visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holi

**Haridwar is a major Hindu pilgrimage, located in Uttaranchal. For more information please visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haridwar

#Thandai is a cold drink made with mixing cannabis leaves in milk. Other main ingredients include almonds, saffron and sugar. For more information please visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thandai

Homosexuality is still a crime in India and many other countries. People are fighting to change the laws. For more information please visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_in_India

She Saw Dead Roses


… And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.

—Friedrich Nietzsche

The last house on Maidan Street was abandoned for over a hundred years. It was an important household in its time of glory and was filled with visitors and guests. But that was a long time ago. Legend has it that the housekeeper killed his mistress after she refused to sleep with him. He cooked her and served the meat to the guests. When inquired about the mistress he only laughed and said, ‘she is with you. She will always be with you.’ A week later he went missing. Some thought he went mad and ran away, others who had heard him die never said a thing. But when they looked at each other their eyes seem to say the tales of horror that house held. Those who heard him die heard him shriek in agony of pain and denial, ‘I killed you! I served you to your guests! I killed you! You cannot be alive!’, they never steered from their beds or chairs. They knew what was happening. They knew it will happen again and again and again.

A shrieking silence pervaded the house and if anyone passed by it they did not remember or could not remember or would not remember if they saw something. Kids would dare each other to look inside the house and whosoever looked, always saw an incandescent green light. It made them sad and miserable and many kids later tried to commit suicide. Two died within fifteen days. They had burned themselves. One was five and another seven when they found their mangled bodies, meat cooked and smelling like feces thrown in blazing fire. People of Jhunsi like others in world living near such houses knew that the house was haunted and would never talk of it, not even if someone died.

On one gloomy day with sun hiding behind the clouds who grumbled angrily and wind dead in some remote corner of the world, Priya (who went to Kidz Academy and studied in grade two and had pretty brown eyes with ‘soft plump cheeks’ as her mother used tell her friends) played with her friends Manish and Nikita on the street while their parents slept or did whatever adults do when kids are not home without knowing what horror lurked by the corner of the street. Manish had sent the ball flying in the ‘Creepy House’ as the kids called it and it was decided that all would go to search for it. No one seemed to remember that the house was haunted or if they did they did not believe it or if they believed they did not care.

Priya looked at both sides of the wall which was once painted orange and had now turned ugly yellow with green patches of guilty moss sprouting from various places. The house looked as if a troll slept under his bridge and would wake up any moment if he heard some nasty kid trip-trap on it. Eerie green light seemed to illuminate it against the dark clouds. The children pushed the old rusty iron gates open and it shrieked angrily, its rotten hinges giving way miserly. They stepped inside quietly. There were dead and broken leaves and branches in weeds and they were afraid to make any noise. Priya turned her head to look around her to make sure no one was watching them. When the utter stupidity of her action struck her she uttered a high-pitched laughter but stopped suddenly as she heard many voices laughing with her, dry and cold voices they were. Rotten and dead voices coming alive from some spell broken by an ignorant child who walked into the castle without a thought. The laughter stopped when she was silent. Probably the echo, she thought. Manish and Nikita glared at her and told her to shush as they moved forward.

‘Is somebody here?’ Priya shouted and as she realized how dry and hoarse her throat was she shuddered. ‘Is somebody here?’ her voice echoed like cackling of wolves. She wanted to get out now. It was too much for her. But she wanted to go in too. The house looked so beautiful, so inviting, so cozy. (She wanted to get out. Why was she here anyway? To get a ball? No. To get… To get… She did not know. She could not remember.) She moved towards the towering house tugging at her golden black hair as she went. Her white frock trailed behind her. ‘Are you mad?’ Nikita whispered loudly. ‘What are you doing?’ But Priya did not care, she wanted to go in the house. The house was beautiful and inviting. ‘Let’s get out of here, I am scared,’ Manish spoke with a quavering voice. ‘Priya, let’s go,’ Nikita tugged at her hand. Priya looked at her gloomily and pushed her away. She said after a moment, ‘You go, I’ll follow,’ her friends turned away and ran out. The old rusty gates closed swiftly after them. They shouted for Priya to come but she would not listen. She could not listen. The house wanted her. The house was calling her.

She turned away from the gates and looked at her beautiful house. Yes, it was hers, if she wanted it. She moved slowly and stood on the porch stairs. (Why was she here? She did not know.) Somewhere far away she heard clouds rumbling. Clouds? No, it was the house, the house was breathing. It was waiting for her to come back. It was lonely without her. Now that she was here again it was happy, it was breathing and it was coming alive.

She looked at the black windows and saw smoking yellow light with green fumes coming out of them. There were some people looking at her gloomily. (Who are they? Why are they sad?) She looked away and fixed her gaze at the wooden door with monster faced handles to knock. The monsters were laughing at her, daring her to come inside, telling her that she will have fun. Many other kids did too. They were inside. They were playing. They were waiting for her. (Why was she here? To get a… only if she could remember.) But she did not want to remember. Oh it was so good to be numb, to get lost and not care at all. She wanted to go in the house and play with other kids. But her friends were outside. What friends? Those friends will grow up. These kids will not grow up. No one here grows up. And anyways they did not care for her. If they did they wouldn’t have left her in here. But why did they come here? (To get a… she could not remember.)

She stepped on the stairs and heard it crack vehemently under her tender pressure but she did not seem to care. She wanted to go in. She wanted to be with others. She wanted to have fun and play and dance. Dance? But there was no music?  (She came here to get a…) She heard music roll out of the windows, out of the creeks of the door, out of every pore of the house. The house was inviting her. She was special. It was her house. She wanted to dance on the tunes. The tunes were enchanting, unharmonious. The music was so good, so unearthly, so soothing. She wanted to lose herself with its tunes. (But she came here to get a…)

She stepped further on the stairs and lifted her hand to hold one of the buckles so she could knock, she could join the fun. Her feet felt something. She looked down. There was a spherical thing rolling softly. She picked it up. What is it? (She came here to get a…) She tossed it out and heard some children shout. Who were they? Why were they shouting near her house? What is out? There is no out. There never was an ‘out’. There never will be. What children? It was just the wind. There is no one except her and this beautiful glowing house. It is her house if she wants it. There was everything inside if she wanted it. She could have it, she could have it all. She knocked heavily on the doors with its monster handles beating on their faces. The house groaned and shrieked and shook by the noise. The wooden doors flew open with a loud noise in complete darkness; all she could see was black. Priya gazed into the dark and saw her eyes going on and on in search to fix them on something. She gazed into the abyss for long and then abyss gazed with two red fiery eyes at her.

She was suddenly gripped by an unknown fear. Her legs trembled and she sweated furiously. Her teeth began to chatter and she found it hard to breathe. She could smell it. She could smell the eyes, like rotten meat but much worse as if it was being burned, as if poop was thrown in fire. She gasped as she saw the eyes grow wide and wide. She wanted to run but she couldn’t. (She came here to get something, what was it? What was it?) The meat burned and her nostrils flared by the smell. The eyes moved closer and closer. The eyes grew wider and wider. She could see the hunger in them. She could see the lust in them. She could feel deadly anger in them. She felt her limbs go numb. She wanted to run but her legs were paralyzed. They wouldn’t move. She wanted to shout but no words came out of her, only a gurgling noise. She turned to run but stumbled and fell on the ground and her face hit the wooden stairs sending crashing pain through her jaw and into the skull. Her mouth was filled with dirt and wood chunks. She spit it out with some blood, she had cut herself. She touched her face and her hand felt warm liquid gushing out of her cheeks (soft and plump). It was blood. Her dark-red blood was on her hands, on the stairs, in her mouth. As she tasted her blood she could sense the eyes on her, they were coming closer. They were coming for her.

She came here to get a ball. She realized with horror that she had it. She had it but she threw it. She lifted her frozen legs again to run. She took mouthfuls of dank and rotten air with the smell of burning meat and burning poop mixed together and tried to move as she felt hot wind on her neck. Except that it was not wind, it was breath of the monster. She turned and saw the monster with burning red eyes and sharp yellow teeth protruding from its rotten mouth. Before the monster lifted her off the ground and dug its claws in her she saw its scarred face from which little pieces of meat dangled like ribbons of a careless girl. Priya smelled the monster and for a fleeting moment was reminded of dead roses. It ripped her head off and crushed it as the blood spurted on its face which started to change. It sunk its sharp teeth in the red flesh of the girl’s meat and drank her blood with slurping noise, like a cat enjoying her daily milk. As the blood revitalized it, it began turning more rapidly. An eye of Priya saw a woman in white gown with golden black hairs with brown eyes and soft plump cheeks standing with her dangling body before it too lost all consciousness.

People of Maidan Street went to console the child’s parents and saw them hanging together by the ceiling fan. Police searched both the houses and found no trace of blood or anything suspicious. A report of missing child like many in India was filed and the case was considered solved or not worthy to be solved like many others in this unfortunate country.  When the police left, Nikita and Manish saw Priya standing at the gates of ‘Creepy House’ and jeering at them. But she was much different, much beautiful, unearthly and dark. She was calling them to have fun like other kids did, like she did. They looked away but they would come, they would come another day. Priya knew it. They knew it. Next day everyone returned to their work as usual and children played without a care in the world. No one talked about it ever again, even when Nikita and Manish died and some families who were lucky enough managed to leave. The house was coming alive while children continued to die.