Common Ground

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A cramped space this. I need to stretch, feel the earth under my feet. A little less talk and a little more quiet.

Thriving in closed spaces, you’ve mastered the art of contorting yourself, being stashed away.

The air is mine own. My mind lifts off- a sailboat in flight, the air my water, the water grounding me and the earth a vast expanse of ocean I float on.

You and I see the same road.

You are intent; and I never really look.

When did I begin to speak a different language?

Your eyes unseeing, uncomprehending, a thousand miles away.

Your every word, every drawn breath, every expelled curse- so easy to understand, mired in the world.

I surged ahead, wanting nothing.

And yet, here we are.

You lead, your eyes on the road.

I follow. My eyes also on the road.

The darkness is complete till dawn breaks.

The sky bursts. Clouds scud across the palette. Tints shifting settling into a golden hue.

Let us stop here and confront each other in enforced silence.

After breakfast at this lovely place, things will seem a little less intense, our bellies warm with pancakes, omelettes, buttered toast and hot coffee.

[200 words]

Priceless Joy Thank you for hosting this challenge. I’ve missed your challenges, missed writing and it feels great to be back and alive once again. Footy and Foodie, thank you for the photograph.

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A Game of Hornes

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Presenting-“The Cowntess Moasty-Toasty of the House Cocoamuff, First of Her Name, the Unburnt Toast Almost, Queen of all Ambling Bovines and the First Moos, Cowleesi of the Great Grassland Stretch, Breaker of Great Wind and prospective mother of Prize Heifers…”

A secret tryst in the barn, induced by unlimited Cocoa and muffins, Pat-a-cake being the predominant theme, Moasty-Toasty was christened after her gleaming brown coat reminded the others the toast was almost burnt before her first Moo.

The First of Her Name, and probably the Last. It won’t catch on, really now, would it?

The Queen of all Ambling Bovines, for Moasty Toasty has been known to emulate her mother, the Cowager, who was known errr, for  mooching. The Cowager has long since been forgotten, the public having such short moomory.

Thus, the addition First Moos.

Cowleesi,  note the eyes, the tuft of hair, the distinct resemblance. The sun never sets on the Prairies, Pampas,  Veld,  Rangelands, Steppes, and Savannah, Great Grassland stretches all.

The ABC diet, rich in asparagus, beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage contribute to the penultimate title.

Throw in handsome Angus, and you’ll have little Bullah, and Cownnie gamboling in no time at all.

Charmed.

[200 words] Sorry, went overboard!  😀

Thank you majesticgoldenrose for the photograph. A million thanks, PJ, for hosting Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers challenge! I had loads of fun with this!  ❤

 

Karmic Gears

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my life

a certain cycle

karma

a sequence

i haven’t set into motion

already spinning

it pinned me down

gathering

speed and strength

with every thought

word

and action

maybe even silence

and inaction

 

i have one life

this i know

keep

the machinery oiled

iron out

the creases and folds

while i still can

before i become one

with the elements

 

this life

already

a forgone conclusion

 

atonement

for my sins

are visited on

the flesh of my flesh

the blood of my blood

the wheel in my wheel

 

and that cycle

mine own

to stop

this spinning wheel

 

[100 words]

Thank you Rochelle for hosting Friday Fictioneers! Shalom!

Thank you, Sandra Crook , for the photo prompt.

Archaeopteryx

This is not my life. This is not me. This is the thought that pounds at my mind, never allowing me to be content with my lot in life.
This is not my life. This is not me. This is the refrain that courses through my blood, ringing in my ears, never allowing me to rest.

This is not my life. This is not me. For I am the missing link. I never knew that at first, but destiny led me to believe that only I am the connect between all that I am and all that I can be.

This is not my life. This is not me. Slithering among my fellows, revelling in the sun, I waited, this buzz in my head preventing me from basking in peace. 

No, this was not the life for me.

I wasn’t cold blooded, you know.

I wasn’t cold at all.

In me, there beat a heart, there pulsed a thought- This is not my life. This is not me. This is not my life. This is not me. This is not my life. This is not me. This is not my life. This is not me. This is not my life. This is not me.

This is not my life. This is not me.

This is not my life. 

This is not me.

I waited. I watched. Change embraced me, slowly at first and then with indecent haste. They stared at me with distaste. How dare I?

I realized once you accept the inevitable, things fall into place.

My scales soon shed, of their own accord.

My beating heart made the connect, completing the leap it had begun a million years ago. I felt different. But it felt so right. Oh, so right!

But the others. They watched aghast as I changed from within. Soon the difference was apparent. There was a certain degree of alarm and a whole lot of conjecture.

At first I actually care to make them understand. It wasn’t their fault, you see. It was all me.

I said to anybody who would listen-

This is not my life. This is not me.

They blinked in all their incomprehension.

My beating heart sang this refrain. Over and over again. This is not my life. This is not me.
My heart changed as well. I now had four chambers. My love for life pumped through every chamber- I didn’t know when my body turned warm. So much joy! So much peace! I was doing what I wanted to do! I was being me! Oh the possibilities that awaited me!

They looked at me balefully and coldly.

How dare I even presume?

Hiding in the cracks during the day, they slithered onto the warm rocks at nightfall, cold and unfeeling except for the one common thing they had for me. Malevolent hatred.

Grouped together ominously for comfort, they twined and intertwined and it became less obvious where one ended and the other began. They looked my way a vengeful collective of dark, brooding menace.

All I knew was solitude.

Solitude was bliss. Ignorance more so.

Vital life coursed through my veins. I flexed my shoulders and hopped about in glee! A kind one shushed me and motioned at me with a blink but I paid no heed. I tested my arms, wiggled my digits and spread the membranes that defined me. I flapped. Blood surged through me.

I took flight.

A serpent reared its head and hissed- You freak! You moron! What do you think you are doing?

I looked down from my primordial perch and shrugged.

I didn’t have an answer to that. I didn’t have an answer to anything, really. You see, sometimes there are no answers. You just are. Things are. And that is all there really is.

All through my flight, my heart simply told me -This is not my life. This is not me.

I repeated these words to the now coiling serpent who slumbered on the still warm rock.

This is not my life. This is not me.

They fell on deaf ears.

I spread my wings. I left my perch behind. Far behind.

I now could view my primitive life from a different angle. Oh, the pettiness of it all. The struggle for existence. The futility of it all. I flew. Every flight I undertook changed me ever so slightly. I became this fascinating creature, at least I thought I was and began something I knew was unstoppable. I didn’t understand it myself, but all I knew I had to try. Well, you see it was my job to try. If I hadn’t tried, you wouldn’t have had these beautiful creatures who dot the skies, who wake you up with their song, need I really say more?

Who am I?

Do you need names, labels, categories?

You see I don’t really fit in.

I never belonged. I am different. And the whole world knows me. Because I dared. To be unique.

For I am Archaeopteryx.

I am the missing link.

I dared to dream. I dared to try. Alone. Never let them hold me back.

Where am I now?

Frankly, I don’t know. 

And really, I don’t care.

I lived my life. I mean, I really did. 

I was real.

Now, I am a fossil.

I am reduced to a theory.

I exist in your dust laden tomes. 

And maybe even in your vestigial imagination.

I am the bridge that forged itself between the cold and the warm

Between the unfeeling and the aspirers.

I am the pioneer of flight.

It all began when I said to myself-This is not my life. This is not me.

So much joy! So much peace! Oh the possibilities that awaited me!

Missing

A Spectral Visitant

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The piercing whistle of the departing train recedes reassuringly. In the background, as she lights the lamps, crickets begin chirping. Night draws on, a tangible blanket, soothing her with pure darkness.

The peace crawls under her skin like a millipede makes itself comfortable under a rock, nestling in the moist darkness.

Three nights and days of solitude.

Alone.

She moves, tracing paths, in and out. The kitchen, hall, bedroom and verandah are all spaces connected by her movement. Clothes off the line in the verandah, are folded into neat piles, and stacked on the shelves in the cupboard. The kerosene lamp lit in the kitchen throws shadows on the soot-stained walls, the flame flickering feebly with the wind that howls at the gaps of the windows demanding to be let inside.

The house is, after all, more than a hundred years old.

An ancient relic of the colonial past.

Outside, the leaves of the trees rustle and the branches tap against the bedroom window.

She waits.

No, she has never been afraid. There is, in fact, a sense of solidarity and something really comforting about her presence.

A rustle of silk ushers her in.

A presence is what she is, most of the time.

On rare occasions, she manifests, a splendid vision in ivory silk and lace. She can even see the sheen on the pearls around her neck.

Tangible.

Her favourite space in the house is the window by the bedroom. The window against which the branches tap most urgently. She stands there looking at the church that is now a dark shadow etched against the shadows of trees. The candles still burn at the altar, for the old stained glass can be seen, the saints perpetually frozen in light.

She recalls how the room felt cold even on the hottest day in summer. He got up, many times, in a coughing fit, complaining he couldn’t breathe. She told him not to lie on his back. She could feel it too, something heavy, pinning her down, as she struggled to open her eyes and will herself to get up. Soon, she realized, resistance was useless and the feeling of oppression would soon pass. However, to make things easy, she shifted the cot, from the side of the window to the other wall, and then could sleep without interruption.

Except for the random episode when she would wake up feeling extra cold and the mosquito curtain would be lifted slowly, and she would shut her eyes tight, goosebumps heralding the intruder. Her hair would stand on end as she thought of all the Gods and Goddesses who could come to her rescue. After what seemed to be an eternity, the mosquito curtain would fall abruptly and she didn’t sense her presence anymore. When she opened her eyes, warily, she would sometimes see a figure stand by the window. She got into the habit of placing a chair by the window and was rewarded with the sight of her sitting there placidly.

She began to look forward to seeing her.

Their silent communion.

Of course she is not as calm and tranquil always. There are days when they would hear the persistent sobbing of a woman on the steps that led downstairs from the kitchen. He would complain to the watchman who ignored him, giving a perfunctory nod, while throwing a knowing look at the house. The wooden stairs would creak and the occasional pots and pans would clatter without reason. She would hastily rush to the kitchen to set things right.

Get rid of her? But why? This old place belonged to her. She belonged there. The old house. its rotting woodwork. The old ivy vine. The roses that bloomed wild on the overgrown shrubs. The mouldy walls. The crumbling plaster. The seeping walls. The high ceiling. It was hers.

She knew she was sharing her space.

She was just its most recent occupant.

She never told anybody.

Not even him.

He didn’t have the sensibility of even a cockroach.

You need to understand she has never felt safe with the living.

Family?

She clamps down. Her mouth is set. Shut.

Friends?

She laughs.

The living, she says, are too restless. Their struggle pointless.

Why doesn’t she move?

Another town? Another house? Another life?

No, thank you. She mumbles. Sometimes our paths cross. The living and the dead.

The dead are content. To haunt. To linger. To stay. Just to remain.

The living?

It’s the living you need to watch out for.

Sometimes you wish they were dead.

Eerie

Moi, Sass Queen Extraordinaire.

Look, I haven’t always been this way. Nobody starts off like this, OK. Nobody becomes Sass Queen just like that. There comes a time when you realize you’ve had enough. And that heralds the rise of the Sass Queen. She takes the Sass Crown and seats herself on the Sass Throne and takes control of her Sassy Life.

Before the dawn of Sass, I was as elusive as a neurotic fish in a vast ocean, hiding deep underwater. I had nothing to smile about. I had a lot on my mind. Things were not going too well for me. Hold that thought. A Sass Queen never cribs or whines about her pore ole self…no poor me syndrome.

So, in a world of other Sass wannabes, what makes me the original Sass Queen? You got it right, there has to be a list. Learn while you burn, lesser mortals! And then just burn!

  • So, here is the first criterion. I know who I am. You cannot tell me otherwise. Save all your pseudo-psychoanalytical drivel. Save your breath while you can, as well. You cannot tell me anything new about myself. I know what I am. I know I’m being ingloriously vain about my ability, but then you won’t find me in denial about anything ever. A Sass Queen just knows. And doesn’t care.
  • I don’t think I can be a better version of myself. At this moment the version of me is up to date, and don’t presume you know any better. What I am works for me, if you have a problem, deal with it. I ain’t gonna change for nobody. I am absolutely sass-worthily fabulous. So there!
  •  Bring on the vapid, insipid, uninspired, colourless, uninteresting, feeble, flat, dead, dull, boring, tedious, tired, unexciting, uninspiring, unimaginative, lifeless, zestless, spiritless, sterile, anaemic, tame, bloodless, jejune, vacuous, bland, stale, trite, pallid, wishy-washy, watery, tasteless, milk-and-water, flavourless (list compiled from Google), for that is what everybody turns out to be, in comparison to me. And I’m not exaggerating. Cause I be the original- The Sass Queen.
  • I believe in dressing up in my very own unique style and I do not follow fashion trends. I set my own trend, to hell with common opinion. And yes, I shall team an incongruous red, blue and black cotton blouse with a pink and white silk saree and get away with it. Somehow it all gels well with me. So bring your best criticism to me, and say I’ve made a fashion faux pas, and I will say yes, and look you in the eye, and you shall look away and crawl back into whatever you crawled out from, in the first place. So, do not give a Sass Queen your opinion. Nobody asked you for it. Ouch! That must have hurt!
  • I do not need your company. And for that matter anybody’s. I have my family, my students, and a very few friends who really matter. I smile at you, exchange a few words, but that is it. A Sass Queen is an enigma.
  • I can say a lot with my face. It’s pretty elastic and prone to be more honest than I am. See, I wouldn’t correct you in public, classroom excluded, I’m too refined for that, but you will know, if you are looking my way. You’ll know, the next time, at least. So when you see me roll my eyes and give you that look, and fix that glare on you, you ought to know it is time to shut up, or correct yourself. A Sass Queen is a woman of few words.
  • I know a lot. I keep my eyes and ears open and my mouth shut, most of the time. I know more than you think I do. Of course, when you get a little presumptuous or even a little obnoxious, I have the perfect line, to put the brakes on and cut you short. I shall always have the perfect comeback. You cannot ever win. If I am quiet, it is because I choose to be so, not that I am at a loss for words, ever. I am silent because, it is not worth it, or maybe you are not worth it. A Sass Queen knows when to speak up. And when she does, the world listens.
  • You can’t hold me ransom. Ever. I shall not do anything I don’t want to. Ever. I am not going down that road. Big mistake. And Sass Queens learn from their mistakes.
  • I don’t compromise on things that matter. My cup of tea. My routine. My life. My space. Back off, if I make you feel uncomfortable. Nothing else matters. Power. Glory. Name. Fame. All transient. Good while they last. Take them away and what remains defines the real me. And I am real. The me. Very real. The Sass. Absolutely real.
  • Sarcasm is my second language. There can be no greater criterion. Ever. And that makes me The Sass Queen.

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Thus spake the Sass Queen and the world stopped, to listen.

 

 

 

Hear my Prayer

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It is all a blur now.

My eyes, unfocused,

don’t see at all…

but I know it all.

 

The malignant star.

 

Who would it be?

My mother.

I never got to her.

Well, apparently, I did get to her.

In fact, I got her.

She went cold with me by her side.

 

The ice hurt.

I kicked , clenched, contorted and howled.

For hours

On a cold winter’s night.

 

Mother- slayer,

I devoured her soul.

I waited.

 

Rejection.

I tried.

I never felt warmth.

 

Soon

I felt

nothing.

 

the quilt useless

these brittle bones

shall now snap

like branches in winter

sap frozen.

 

I am ready.

Do me a favour.

In all your generosity…

 

Take me.

Now.

 

Generous

BEE PEE

It was time for Amma’s vacation again. Amma needed to get away from it all. So Amma huffed and puffed her way about the house and Appa saw it coming. Amma’s nostrils flared and her eyes had this fixed unseeing look about them. She stirred at seven in the morning when Appa brought her ‘bed coffee’. Appa trembled as he placed the tumbler on the bedside table. With good reason, of course. For Appa made the worst coffee ever.

He never used fresh coffee powder. The day-old coffee filter stood with its stale coffee grounds waiting to be revived yet again. Arrey, how much can you extract from something that gave up the essence of life a long time ago.  Appa boiled water and poured it with his trembling hands into the filter, spilling some onto the kitchen counter. The decoction that Appa managed to coax from the dying coffee dregs was a watery mess, completely unable to create an identity for itself, as coffee. Ditchwater, maybe. Milk added to it only made it worse…coffee fit for invalids. A heaped spoonful of sugar and Appa carried it to Amma who lay with her back to the door, facing the wall.

I knew Amma’s eyes were wide open, she was staring at bloodstains on the wall, caused by the violent flattening of greedy mosquitoes that feasted on all of us, sucking our blood, till their bellies shone like translucent rubies while they settled on the walls, unable to move for hours. They met a bloody end, but what did it matter, they had feasted well before meeting death. Amma was looking at them now and I wondered if she imagined seeing us all flattened like that as well, for if we disturbed her reverie, she would turn on us with such a look the blood would freeze in our veins.

So Amma stared at the wall, unmoving, unresponsive even to Appa whom she barely tolerated. Appa saw the signs even before we did and stopped nagging Amma about anything at least two days before Amma entered her ‘state’.

He resisted temptation even when Amma soaked enough rice and pulses for dosas, savoury pancakes that could form infinite circles on the heated griddle, for breakfast, lunch, dinner and breakfast the next day… The coconut chutney and the potato curry would be made and stored in huge containers, gradually undergoing irreversible changes. The coconut would separate from the rest of the condiments in the chutney, solid against a watery mess. The mint would turn itself from a fresh green colour to an unappetizing brown mess and give out a sour smell, indicating the ripe activity of bacteria. We would refuse to eat the curry and chutney by evening and the maid would throw it away as well. Amma would scoff and say that maids were so very impertinent and proceed to serve us dosas with sugar. Either you loved this innovative touch or hated it. And we hated it. So Appa would go to the little ‘Darshini’, the eatery around the corner, and have ‘Bisi Bele Bath’ and ‘Curd Rice’, both staple rice dishes, to keep ‘Atma Rama‘, his soul, satisfied, and I would look for pickles and chutney powder to help the dosas go down easily. We did not dare to make anything else, for it would be sacrilege to mess with Amma’s menu. Amma cackled as she recounted how Manjunath, the boy who had the ‘wet’ grinder appreciated her dosa batter and stole at least half a liter of it.

Aiyyo Manjunatha…why couldn’t you have stolen more?

Appa mumbled, ‘Dosey Sammaaradhane’ – a ritualistic adoration of dosas, a ceremony that literally went on for twenty-four hours and even more… and that drove Amma over the edge. Appa saw the mad gleam in her eyes and backed away. ‘No, no…’ It was too late. Amma had had enough.

The coffee that Appa had proffered to Amma grew cold by her bedside. Amma refused to get up till eleven o’clock. After that she got up and walked unsteadily to the dining table that nobody ever used for dining. It was a space where books, old newspapers, mosquito ‘mats’, unused cassette tapes, unwashed laundry, fresh laundry, dirty dishes and clothes pegs vied for space. She sat on a chair behind the table and traced patterns in the dust that had collected in a fine film on the table. She sat there for an hour and then, at noon, condescended to brush her teeth and sat there waiting for her coffee. She swung her feet rather insolently as she perched herself on a chair evidently too high for her. She sipped at the coffee I gave her and refused breakfast. Dosa, what else?

The maid avoided Amma as she glared at her, piercing malevolent darts, into her back, as she swept the dust and spread it evenly across the room. Appa had gone out and would not return till late evening. Amma retired to her bed and declared somebody was ‘pushing’ her from behind and she felt giddy. We knew what would follow. ‘Bee Pee… Nannage BEE PEE jaasti aaythu…’ You see Amma had hypertension. High blood pressure. High BP. And Amma took complete advantage of her ‘condition’. The friendly neighbourhood doctor advised Amma to take rest and Amma concurred. She lay in bed for at least a week. The neighbours would drop in to check on her and her reception of guests would differ from person to person and from time to time. Appa would tiptoe his way through the house, from room to room, a shadow of himself. I would end up cooking bland, salt-free food till Amma emerged from her ‘invalid’ state.

Appa would apologize to the women who looked hurt that Amma had not received them. I would get them coffee, while Appa made excuses for her condition. ‘You see, Missus is going through Menopause,’ Appa would say blithely, and the ladies would hastily gulp their coffee, hiding their embarrassment. Well, in that case Amma had been menopausal for twenty years now. I would glare at Appa from the kitchen but he would go on, oblivious to the ladies’ discomfort.In fact he took great pride in announcing ‘160/120…and she does not take any medicine…’ I would swoop in and change the subject but Appa always found a way to bring the topic back to Amma and he would say, ‘Please don’t mistake her…her heart is good…she is a good woman…her health is weak though…she is fragile…’

Believe me there was nothing remotely weak and fragile about Amma.

But Appa would know, wouldn’t he?

And Amma would emerge from her self-induced vacation and go about her day as if nothing had happened.

Take a look at her photographs.

She didn’t have Bee Pee when the first one was taken.

And the other one speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

I hope this meeting with Amma is memorable. Because, with Amma, one never knows…

Fragile

Warp and Weft

Warp. Yes, I am the warp. Taut and unyielding.

There is nothing distorted or twisted about me. Truth be told, I have been distorted and deformed by an act of depravity. To suit a skewed mind.

I gave up on freedom to be stretched, to be tortured into this flow of perfect tension.

Never had it easy. Nothing came easy. Nothing came. Nothing.

I strained at either end.  I was pulled taut and tight. When I thought I would break, they stopped. My strength tested, assured and rested till the next assault came by.

I waited till I felt nothing.  Nothing. Till she came along.

The Weft.

Weak and fancy, floating with ease, picked between my every fibre, she insidiously crept into my hidden spaces, where I thought there were hardly any, weaving herself into my lines, waiting for me to ease a bit, before she snaked her way further.

I arched, contorted every fibre to resist, but she came with her own yarn, of how she would create this magic, how she would help support my arching fibres, how she would make it easy for me to let go.

Obvious wrinkes appeared in the fabric that was now taking form.

All because of her.

She could not hold on strong enough. She could not hold her own when the strain appeared. I pulled and she complained she had no space to move, to improvise.

She now claimed all the attention. Nobody really cared about how rigid and steadfast I had been. All that mattered now was how bright and how colourful she made the world. With her improbable rigamole of false dyes, she now grew more demanding with her narrative.

It all made sense to me. Every filament of my being understood. I was holding on to somebody else’s saga. Every strand of my being rebelled.

I let go.

I sprang up and coiled with all the tension and then I uncoiled slowly and descended. I floated all the way to my descent.

She rambled on about how lovely the world had been with the colour she added to it. Well, I could not get rid of her.

Silence, please.

She reminisced about the good times we had had and ranted that it was over so soon. Why doesn’t she realize it is all over?

Silence, please.

She never let go. For she had inextricably woven herself into my form and could not find her way out. Would not, rather. She still hoped, I would pull myself up and she could be this work of art again.

I shook her off, all I managed was to make a few strands loose. Perplexing tenacity.

I wanted to be left alone. She wanted things to be the same. She had her way.

It suited her, you know. She could never stand tall, taut and unforgiving. She needed a frame to weave her magic on.

On our descent we were caught by a couple of inquiring rods that projected curiously from the rock walls of a fort.

Had they been strategically placed to foil covert assaults and random attacks?

Anyway, we were caught and I finally slumped, bowed to my fate and waited to collapse.

It wasn’t meant to be. Soon, they came with a frame and more rods to create this structure that I didn’t understand. What purpose could it serve?

Stump me!

My fibres relaxed and her hold on me relaxed as well. She slipped reluctantly, her tirade went on tirelessly, she could never allow herself to deteriorate.

I, however, wanted to decline into oblivion. Degenerate that I was, I wanted her to plummet to her fate, but she held on. And I had to hold on, this dratted supporting frame…

And so here we are, frozen in time, the gaps forming between us and widening with time.

A mere lapse in time will allow life and death to take its own course.

In the meantime, well, come to think of it, it baffles me, how we still create magic, you know…

A dance of light and shadows.

Predominantly shadows that loom large and dance whimsically, offering respite from the unrelenting sun.

She cannot stop talking about that either. As if the shade existed only because of her. Yes, she brought the shade in, along with me, but in a distorted world, only she gets credit for it. Rather, she unabashedly claims credit, ignoring my role in the entire matter.

My role? Oh, now completely forgotten, even by you…

You see, the tension, I created the vertical fibres that pulled with force. I set myself up. She came my way and decided to undulate from loose skeins to become my horizontal… I had been minding my business till then…Well, you know the rest of the story…She is the weft you see, and I remain the warp.

And I am defeated.

Nonplussed.

Shhh…silence now, for here they come, to seek welcome shelter from the sun.

Welcome, strangers.

Ah, blessed silence. Despite her.

 

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An incredible photograph by Jasvinder. Thank you for generously sharing this beauty with me. XOXO

Stump

At your service

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Unobtrusive.

Yes, that’s me.

I hover about tables, take orders, serve people. My presence is very often taken for granted. Nobody notices me.

Then one evening, I was noticed. It was too much to take. You know, you kind of get used to being invisible. When you are noticed you realize how much you have become part of the décor. And that hurts.

The conversation was muted at most tables. The obnoxious man was on his phone, oblivious to the other diners. Fortunately, he was accompanied by an elegant woman, draped in a black silk saree, who quietly told him to put his phone away or take his call outside. I swooped in as soon as he left. ‘More Jasmine tea, Madame?’

Madame nodded and pulled the ends of her shawl around herself tightly, while she studied the menu. Madame looked as if she didn’t want to be here. Sometimes I get the feeling people would rather stay home and have leftovers for dinner than make the effort to dress for dinner. Nobody dressed for dinner anymore. Nobody dressed up anymore.  Don’t get me wrong. Madame was dressed up alright. In fact Madame was the best-dressed lady in the restaurant that evening. But she seemed to be distracted, lost in her thoughts elsewhere.

The toddler in the corner found great joy in throwing assorted cutlery to the floor. Firdaus winced as he bent over a hundred times to pick up the same spoon. The toddler chortled in glee. The doting parents said nothing and Firdaus managed to turn a wince into a grin every time the supervisor looked his way. Hey, great acting Firdaus!

The supervisor noticed Firdaus’ agony and sent young Tony his way.

Firdaus ambled my way and mumbled within earshot, ‘Parents these days spoil children. If that kid were mine…!’ His  thinly veiled threat trailed away and he was no longer audible because Mr. Phone sauntered back to his seat and called Madame ‘Darrrrrling’ in a louder voice than before. I could imagine Madame cringe. I did not look their way, especially when he said, ‘Darrrling, are you ready to order?’ I busied myself filling water in glasses at my tables, when the dulcet tones of Madame reached me, ‘Excuse me, we are ready to order now.’

‘Yes, Madame.’

‘I will have cream of mushroom soup and  hot and sour chicken soup for my husband.’

‘Any starters, Madame?’

‘Prawns tossed in garlic herb butter and steamed chicken wontons please.’

‘What? Garlic herb butter? What in…’

‘Bottled water? Or…?’

Mr. Phone blustered, ‘We will have regular water. We are Bangaloreans!’

I smiled politely. Evidently Mr. Phone thought that was a witty answer and chuckled to himself.

He demanded, ‘What did you order? Is that enough? What is herb butter?’

Madame looked my way and said, ‘That will be all, for now. Please give us a few minutes to decide on the mains.’

I walked away to the counter to give their order as I heard her voice trail away. ‘Herb butter is butter which is infused with herbs. The herbs and garlic highlight the sweetness of the prawns….’

When I returned with the soup and starters, Madame was sipping at her Jasmine tea and Mr. Phone was checking messages on his phone.

Madame touched her plate to check if it was warmed. I liked that. She was somebody who knew what was expected in a good restaurant. Plates had to be warm before food could be served.

Mr. Phone put his namesake away and bit into a succulent prawn that was drowning in butter. He made a face and insisted that all the prawns be heaped onto Madame’s plate. Madame raised a bejeweled hand and Mr. Phone looked up, livid.

‘Give Madame all the prawns. I don’t want any.’

‘Please doggie bag the prawns.’

‘Do you fellows even know how to prepare prawns? That’s why I told you not to order anything fancy.’

‘Darrrrling’ was forgotten as he spat the last sentence out at Madame. Madame ignored him and smiled at me.

‘Please could you doggie bag the prawns? They are delicious. Perfectly sautéed.’

Madame’s attempt at salvaging the prawns infuriated Mr. Phone as he raised his voice and a few diners looked their way.

The supervisor made his way to the table while I went to the kitchen to get the remainder of the dish packed.

When I returned the supervisor’s supercilious smile had been wiped off, quite effectively, I must say, and he was being dismissed perfunctorily by Mr. Phone.

‘Darrrrrling, you know I don’t like stuff like that. Now these wontons…’

He took the sauces- soy, chilli and hot garlic and doused his portion liberally.

Madame was using her fork and knife and placidly biting into buttery chunks of prawn.

She wiped the corners of her mouth with the napkin and said, ‘Not all sauces at the same time, oh dear!’

‘That’s how I like my food. Waiter, come here! Get us the menu again.’

I took their order. This time Mr. Phone took over.

I turned and caught the surly eye of my supervisor. He didn’t look pleased. He was not having a good evening. His charms had not worked on most diners in the room. Obviously! He had a terrible knack of walking over to people who were in the middle of a conversation and asking them if they were enjoying their meal.  He tried that with a couple of parents who were seriously giving a sermon to their disoriented teen who looked as if he were a ready candidate for Death’s next kiss. They gave the intruder such a glare that he shriveled up visibly. The teen surfaced momentarily and catching sight of the Grim Reaper again, collapsed like a deflated balloon.

Mr. Phone and Madame had not made him feel good either. Mr. Phone had been downright rude. Madame had not spoken at all. In fact she had not even looked up till it was time to ask for the check. My supervisor skulked in the shadows, wounded.

I presented the check. Mr. Phone exclaimed loudly at the bill, cursed service charges and, predictably, did not leave a tip. He walked out speaking loudly on his phone and I was clearing the plates away when Madame walked in, a few minutes after leaving, under the pretext of picking up her doggie bag and slipped a hundred rupee note into my palm.

I murmured a hasty thank you. It was time to welcome the next guests who had been waiting for twenty minutes for a table.

She was a vision in white and seated herself. Soon she was absorbed in the menu. The woman with her asked for Jasmine tea. I poured the fragrant brew into the cups when she looked up and asked, ‘Have you had your dinner yet?’

I looked at her, a surprised drop of tea splashed onto the tablecloth spreading into a huge blot. I looked in the direction of the supervisor who was flashing an ingratiating smile at a couple who obviously wanted to be left alone, having requested the discreet corner table.

‘Sorry…I… ’

‘Have you had your dinner yet?’ She asked again with a smile and I realized she was asking me, of all people.

You see I was so used to being unobtrusive, almost invisible even.

‘Yes, Ma’am,’ I said, though that was far from the truth.

I filled her cup and turned away before she could see the little drop that escaped my eye, trailing its way down my cheek. More importantly before it could plop itself, to drown deliriously, in her cup of tea.

That wouldn’t be acceptable now, would it?

 

Plop