Stories

Cornflower Blue

Roshanara was moving through the street, striding across the pavement confidently. Thinking as she paced, contemplating to the proud sound of her sandals slapping the cement.

Delhi had reached the fag end of August, and the rain settled into its avenues like an ignorant guest. Leaves floated on, adrift on temporary streams, and the wind, pregnant with sticky humidity, assaulted all that walked against its tide. The sky was a cornflower blue, with white whispers fading in and out across its skin. Her cream cotton dress clung onto her, her body wrapped in a film of perspiration and a faint pungency that mixed into her jasmine attar. Her cocoa tresses, alight with golden tips, pirouetted along the current.

 

It was just after class. She had plugged in her music and listened to ABBA as she walked towards the metro station. The songs fit in as if soundtracks to a scene in a rose-tinted film. The pop romance of the 70s almost transported her into another world. She often thought about these things. Looking at the trees, the sky, the roads, the smoke from the cigarette perpetually between her long wan fingers; gazing with glazed eyes to the sounds of the patterned melody, she would imagine herself being somewhere else. Somewhere foreign and expensive. A place with cleaner air, prettier people, colorful sweaters and sunset autumns. A place with a river walking along its streets, adorned with old cafes strung with sophisticated women talking slowly and loftily in an indecipherable tongue, being scooped out by juveniles on bicycles as they lazily rode on into the lilac evening. She would imagine walking like that beautiful lonely girl in all the films she watched. She could be running to catch a tram. She could be dancing. In all these scenes, Roshanara would imagine herself being better than she was. The Roshanara of her daydreams was iridescent. Luminous. She was beautiful. She was the object of envy, lust, admiration, joy, bliss. She was bliss. She was carefree. Unbothered. Happy, like the pixie girls in the movies. The Roshanara of her daydreams wasn’t alone. No. The better Roshanara was thin enough for that phased out aesthetic the real her saved on Pinterest boards. She was reading great literature, stuff too hard for the real her to commit to. She was flirting unabashedly, having a copious amount of sex. She was living and breathing all that the inhibited libido of the real her fantasized about. The Roshanara of her daydreams was listening to ABBA too, she was also walking along the same street, in the same rain, against the same wet sky. The Roshanara of her daydreams, however, wasn’t coming from anywhere or going anywhere. The Roshanara of her daydreams lasted till the chorus and then evaporated.

 

It was calming, this disassociation from the present. Calming for the brief ethereal moments where she forgot everything but the song and the dream. Brief. These moments only lasted until the chorus. After that, the song became routine, predictable, sung-out, tired. The second time around, she would nod to the chorus unconsciously, the tune now fading out in the wake of new thoughts and trepidations spilling in. It was the same typical shit of yesterday and tomorrow. Time slavery, loneliness, failure, dying alone, ex-flames and living someone else’s life. It was the same cycle. Chorus after chorus. Like a retarded song with three lines and a beat like a venereal disease.

 

Roshanara, though constantly depressed by the vicious loop, would muster her best efforts to escape. It seemed like escape was the only exit from her mind. She thought about that a lot too, how she’d escape far too often. She would escape into mindless conversations with people she swore she loved. She knew her promises and declarations were superficial. She was only grateful for the momentary release they offered. Which is why all her relationships failed. Once her gross deformed insecure self had successfully captured the goose, she would fuck it and drop it immediately. She would say it’s boredom. She would even blame it on its shortcomings. But she knew on the last day, just as she knew on the first, as well as after every time she promised she loved it— she was wasting time, and would eventually waste more with someone else once they had dried up and shriveled like a grape sucked of its resin. She would watch films, shows, plays. She would read. She would visit. She would swim, run, walk, masturbate, sleep, starve, eat. Sometimes, she would even study. But that loop would continue to play in the background.

 

When it got too loud she would cry and break. It got loud in the mornings. It got loud when she was in her car. It got loud when she was smoking alone. It got loud when she stared at her naked ugly body in the mirror. It got loud when she ate too much. It got loud when she stepped on the scale. When she embarrassed herself. When she was confronted or insulted. Sometimes, it was loud randomly. Like a surprise boner, it would come out of the blue, when she was unprepared and had nowhere to go. Most times, when it happened publicly, people could see it play. Her face often gave it away. Or her hunger. Or her rare silence. But when it got loud, their consolation couldn’t drown the base. No. It would only fade when she would distract herself. Escape. She thought about that a lot. She thought about ways to escape, almost as often as she would think about all the possible deaths offered to her at that moment. It was a fun game she played.

 

She tore her headphones out of her ears and stuffed them hurriedly into her backpack. It was raining again. She walked faster and stood under a tree, staring at its foliage, amazed at its efficiency. It was pouring, but only the occasional droplet found its way through the green leaf umbrella. She zipped her bag open lazily and felt around for her pack. Her wet fingers placed the thin cigarette between her teeth as the other brought out the blue lighter close to the tobacco tip. Ignition. A pull and a cloudy sigh. It was a comfortable routine. The taste of the smoke sat in her throat and she licked her lips dry. She couldn’t calculate the wait, rain being unpredictable. How the once perfect panorama had now rudely descended into being a loud nuisance. Loud, she smiled.

 

In class earlier, they had talked about how the word ‘husband’ came from ‘animal husbandry’. A husband, therefore, was essentially the caretaker of the pack. The one who sheltered, fed and bred the animals. Many marriages did have a husband. The Caretaker. In a patriarchal prototype, it was the male. In a conventional setup, it could still be the male. In a progressive unit, one could argue that there was no husband. Or that both of them were the husbands. But for single people, single women, for Roshanara, everyone had to be their own husband.

A woman who was her own husband.

She smiled as she took another drag. Her face was a little numb now. Her fingers trembled. The nicotine was cutting off the synapses.

 

A woman who became her own husband.

 

What an empowering sentiment. A craftily worded sentence for independent people. A craftily worded sentence to make lonely people feel better about themselves. Pigeon shit is lucky, so is the abnormal birthmark tainting your skin. White lies for lonely people. Lonely. Yes, lonely. A word she could empathize with. Roshanara was her own husband. Had been for quite some time now. Ever since they moved to the big city. Peeled away from the comforts of a small town and a close-knit family, thrown to the wolves—left to fend off for herself. She could’ve involved her parents. But could she? It was much too embarrassing to confess what she was going through. The bullying in the new school. The sadness. The isolation. The loop. All gifts of the city. But she was proud of her silent struggle. It had made her who she was. She now knew how to escape. How to use people like she couldn’t before. She was her own husband, yes. The more she thought about it, the clearer it became.

 

Roshanara imagined herself being in a controlling relationship with the typical abusive husband, just like she was with herself. A husband who would fuck her almost every night, but cringe at the sight of her nudity. A husband who would taunt her with every meal, every ensemble, every poem, every question, every vulnerability. Her husband didn’t care about what she felt. He wasn’t one to censor his words. No. He had dreams. He hoped she would be a certain way. He didn’t like her, it was a loveless marriage. But they had grown accustomed to each other’s voices and couldn’t remember the pre-marital silence.

 

She laughed out loud now. Yes, she was her own husband. She was his property.

 

It had stopped raining now. She threw away the bud in a puddle and pulled her phone out of her bag. The Kinks played Waterloo Sunset and the sky was a cornflower blue again.

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Stories

Fortune

Her worn out flats slapped the pavement as she strode out across the street and into the bazaar. It was Tuesday, so as per convention all local craftsmen and farmers had displayed the best of this season’s harvest in the weekly market. Luscious rose-coloured apples, bulbous tomatoes, long swollen bottle gourds, fat sprawling pumpkins and a heap of muddied potatoes eyed Shahada as she looked upon them greedily, thinking of all that she could concoct out of these fresh bounties of the earth. Further along the path, she came across the long pile of handicrafts and clothes sitting by their parent artisans. Intricate wicker chairs and baskets adorned the floors as fine muslin, silk and cotton fell from the long stands lining the path along the pavilion. Their luxurious colours, in multitudes of shades, all shone out proudly in the glistening sunlight of July.  Following the handicraft section were the long counters choked with faded silver junk jewelry encrusted with fake stones, which gleamed as if they were real diamonds.

 

Diamonds.

The thought of that handsome stone sitting on the dainty pedestal that was a simple gold band. She imagined a sunbeam pierce the rock as it sat on her elongated finger, and gleamed at the thought of a million rainbows that would shoot out of its refractive surfaces.

Rainbows.

That’s what marriage would bring. The grandeur that was an Indian wedding. How illustrious she would look in the arduous folds of a blood red silk sari, thick with heavy gold embroidery, looping in pearls and tiny crystals. How magnificent she would look as she would walk towards the altar under a flower-draped pergola, waltzing with feminine grace. The embodiment of all that a bride should be. Her generously lined doe eyes would look up from the kohl embracing her waterline and meet the eyes of all the guests— quietly staring with a suppressed smile, awestruck as if looking upon some form of divinity. And why wouldn’t they look awestruck? That day she would really ascend to the gods, even if only for a day.

 

Shahada wasn’t one to fantasize unabashedly in the open court of the marketplace. She wasn’t one to stand in the middle of a bustling street, lost in thought. But it was easier to float into her hopes for tomorrow with the prospect of a ring meandering in her near future. It all began when she went to a renowned fortune teller two Tuesdays ago. It wasn’t just any soothsayer or a smooth talker. He wasn’t a quack or a con artist. He had the vision. He had the gift. Meena’s cousin’s husband’s sister swore by him. He was never wrong. So one fine day she strode into his purple marquee and sat herself down on the plush cushion seated on the carpeted floor. The entire room was a royal shade violet and consisted of a sprawling teak table, a stack of tarot cards, an old parrot poised on a long wooden staff attached to the floor, an intimidating crystal globe and another cushion for the maestro himself. It was all very well thought out and professional, Shahada noted as she looked around with a piqued interest.

 

“Hmm… so, my child, you want to know about your future? Look into the mystical beyond? Flesh out the blurs of tomorrow? Have, for yourself, a fresh prediction?”

Shahada could only nod aggressively, now more enthusiastic than ever, animated with the magic of this fantastical situation, curious about the outcome.

Pleased at her easy submission to this façade of his glory, the fabled clairvoyant felt himself getting hard. There was an unsurpassed eroticism in this blind acceptance. This prostration of nubile young girls. Desperate for him, and just as gullible. Easy pickings.

Shahada was a young twenty-something middle-class girl with a good face and attractive figure. ‘Marriage’ was the typical prophecy he doled out to her type. Ask a nobody to guess the inevitable and he just might.

And so, back in character, he swung his head back and rolled his eyes into his skull. His bony and frail hand, heavy with the weight of fat colorful gem-laden rings, reached out to touch her chest. He hummed loudly, swung his head clockwise for a couple of seconds and then suddenly shot up straight.

“Two Tuesdays from now, in the blue darkness of the evening, a diamond glimmer will emerge from the dark and forever change the course of your life.”

 

It was decided. Diamond. Shimmer. Forever change. Two Tuesdays from now Shahada would be getting married.

Oh, how she rose and chirped and sang and squealed with happiness. It was everything and more. Never mind that she didn’t have a suitor as of yet. It will all fall into place.

 

“A hundred rupees should do it”

 

And so her life really was changed forever. Today was the fated day. And yes, there was no suitor yet. But who knows? He could be anybody. He could bump into her in this bazaar right now. He would fall in love with her immediately. Her slovenly appearance would look soft and meek and sweet. He would immediately propose. It was fated.

More than fated. It was a fact.

 

And so, she walked beyond the haggling women fighting for iridescent fish, beyond the sweet smell of freshly-spun dazzling sugar floss, beyond the kaleidoscopic display of clothes, dancing as if afloat on a cloud in a Bollywood chick flick. It was, after all, the best day of her life.

 

However, as the evening grew nearer, her faith in destiny became impatient. She paced across the house, manically running towards the balcony at the slightest sounds from the outside world— hoping for a Romeo on his knee with a red rose in his hand. Or a carnation. Or a lily. Yes. Lilies were nice. White? No, yellow. No white. Yes, holding a white lily, maddened with ardor as is suitable for a patient of unrequited one-sided love. But it was already six. Shahada was angry at his audacity. How dare he refuse her? Who does he think he is? Does he think she would come to his house and ask for his hand in marriage? And does he think she’d say yes after this pathetic display of laziness and/or arrogance? What gall!

 

Wait. What if he got lost. Her uncle always got lost in the park right across the street. In the evening, with the typical electricity shortages, the park can be as confusing as a jungle. The sheer amount of times she had to look for her uncle and guide him back home. What is her husband was lost? What if he was afraid of the dark? No, gross. She isn’t fated for a wimp. He’s just lost. He isn’t used to this, he comes from a big city will full-time electricity and well-illuminated and well-mapped parks. Yes.

 

So, she would obviously have to go out and look for him.

 

A sudden gusto possessed her as she sprang out of her salwar kameez, which was already the best pair she owned, and rolled on another— the one her mother wore at her engagement. She remembers looking at it as a child, as her mother dreamily dozed on about her mediocre meet-cute story. She knew then, that her meet-cute would be the stuff of classic cinema and literature. It would be devastatingly romantic and would put Romeo and Juliet to shame. And that salwar deserved more than her mother’s pathetic needlessly exaggerated tiresome story. So obviously, it was one of the few things she kept after her mother’s death.

 

Her chappals slapped the steep concrete stairs as she raced down the floors of her building and made her way into the park from across the street. It was dark, as expected. And the light was cut for the entire area. The stars, however, were out. As they are in all epic romances, thought Shahada as she strode across the darkness confidently, smiling to herself. Just then, she heard a faint rustle. In the loud silence that often takes over in power-shortages, even the hopping of crickets and the flopping of lizards creates a racket. The rustling grew, followed by the crunching of leaves. He’s here, she thought excitedly as she turned towards the sound, staring into oblivion expectantly, high with exhilaration and anticipation. The stride became quicker and turned into a run. She opened her arms in elation, ready for the last embrace. She only began to see the two shining lights moving towards her as she felt a huge body knock down her own. She could smell the blood on his breath and felt the weight of his paws pinning her shoulders to the ground. Shahada stared into the gleaming white eyes of the tiger as he snuck down to her neck and plunged his blunt teeth into her throat, tearing it out.

The stars disappeared from the darkness that seeped into her frozen eyes.