Love thy neighbour – A short story


Vini’s mobile vibrated on the coffee table. She ran to pick it up. It was her friend Savita, who told her that she was sending her son, with the registration form for a summer camp for their daughters. Savita had picked it up earlier that day. Vini told her that she was at home and that Savita’s son could come to drop it off.

After waiting for nearly two hours, Vini had to step out. So she called Savita to ask when her son would drop off the form.

Savita sounded puzzled and said, “He dropped it off right after we spoke Vini. Wait let me ask him.”

Finally they discovered that instead of knocking on Door No :1600, her son had knocked on Door No: 1606, Vini’s neighbour’s house. Since nobody had opened the door, he had slid it under the door.

Vini laughed and hung up, but the real challenge was now. Next door to her, in 1606, there lived a disgruntled man in his late sixties.

He lived alone and had rebuffed Vini each time she had smiled or tried to strike up a conversation. He kept to himself mostly. He ticked off her kids if they talked loudly in the lobby.

She would have let the form go, but for the fact that Savita had paid $50 for it.

The old man lived by the clock and usually left home at 5 p.m. for his evening walk.

She hadn’t seen him in a while though and wondered what would happen.

At 4.45 p.m. she kept her door slightly open so she could hear him. She waited and waited, with no luck.

She could not meet him that whole week, and with just three days left to submit the form she was getting desperate.

Two evenings before the form was due, she heard his door opening. She dashed like a bolt of lightning, to claim the form, not caring if Mr.Grump would snub her again.

But coming out of his door was a little girl of about 6. Her cute pigtails bobbed up and down, as she smiled at Vini and called out, “Grampa are you coming? The lift’s here.”

Vini almost gasped when she saw the old man. His frowning face was smiling, he was humming a tune and there was a spring in his step.

He saw Vini and said, “Hello there. This is my granddaughter Tanya. My daughter’s visiting me after ten years.”

He shook his head in disbelief and smiled.

Vini smiled at this change. She asked him about the envelope.

“Oh that? Sorry..I thought it was one of those marketing mailers that keep showing up, so I trashed it. There was no name on the envelope, if I remember. Sorry, once again. Got to be off now. See you around,” said the man as he walked into the elevator with his granddaughter.

Vini stared at the closed door and didn’t know what to think.

Another $50 would have to go. She sighed but her heart felt good that the old man had found some happiness. Maybe that’s all he had wanted – some love and some family time. Maybe he had been terribly lonely.

The lost $50 was definitely worth it!

Her Idol – A short story


Twenty years ago

Madhavi stood in line, patiently awaiting the arrival of her idol, the music sensation Arun Swamy. To say that she was crazy about his voice was an understatement. She followed his life by the minute, and had nearly five big books with newspaper clips and photographs of him. Her room was plastered with his photos, she had every single audio track he had ever sung. Her family members rolled their eyes and tried to shake her out of this adulation, but she was a true and loyal fan. She had seen him from a distance a couple of times, when she had badgered her parents to be taken to Arun’s live concerts.

Now

Life had taken its own course, she had finished her post graduation in Mathematics and  listened to her inner voice to take up teaching. Marriage and children had happened. Arun was still there in her life, but now as a soft background track, that surfaced now and then, kindling all those sweet memories.

She had moved away from mainstream teaching to private tutoring. She was a fantastic teacher and soon came into the radar of the rich and famous, as the private tutor of choice for their children. She was picked up in the best cars, and travelled to the homes of the movers and shakers of society, coaching their children to take on the business empire of their parents.

Her fame spread, and one day she received a call from Arun Swamy’s office, saying that his wife wanted to talk to her.

Madhavi’s heart thudded with a teenage-like excitement. His wife told Madhavi that their son was getting consistently bad grades in Math and that he was taking his A Levels soon, and that they had heard about Madhavi…and could she help?

Madhavi was happy to oblige. Schedules and dates were agreed upon. Classes started at the Arun Swamy residence, but sadly for Madhavi there was no sign of her idol. He was never there at the times she visited. She smiled to herself at the irony of the situation.

Life went on in the same vein. The A Level exams got over. The private classes with Arun’s son were done. Madhavi got busy with other new classes.

Late in August that year, when Madhavi had just sat down to have her 4 pm coffee, the door bell chimed. When she opened the door, her idol stood before her, with his wife and son.

She was rendered speechless. She barely managed to splutter a welcome.

They had come with a bouquet and a gift. Then, for the first time she heard his melodious voice address her thus.

“Thank you for what you have done for our son. My wife tells me that but for you, our son may have failed his A Levels. A child’s Guru is the most important person in one’s life. We are deeply grateful”, he said.

They stayed back to have coffee, and left her with a heart bursting with happiness.

When it rained – A short story


Tanya was cooped up in office the whole day. She was a new entrant to the corporate world, and in her enthusiasm to learn, she usually ended up leaving work late.

Today, as she came down to the foyer, the sound of heavy rain hit her ears. The lobby was deserted, and she wondered what to do.

Calling a cab was futile, as the phone lines were usually jammed. Her studio apartment was a 3 km walk from her office. She usually walked it down, but with no umbrella, she was at a loss.

The rain showed no sign of abating; and left with no choice, she decided to make a dash for it.

As she ran-walked her way out, huge drops fell on her, causing her to shiver. She walked briskly. When she was a few hundred metres into her walk, she walked past another young lady, who was walking with an umbrella. As she crossed the lady, she called out to Tanya.

“Hello, why don’t you join me, seeing as we are headed in the same direction”, said the lady.

Tanya smiled and joined the lady, Veena, as they walked, making small talk. The lady told her that she worked in a private bank. Tanya told the lady that she visited the bank frequently, as she had an account there.

A little conversation, punctuated by sloshing shoes and heavy rain, as the two ladies walked on.

The wind played truant as it kept flipping the umbrella inside out. And that’s when Tanya saw it.

When Veena’s hand moved from the umbrella’s handle to flip the umbrella back down, Tanya saw the umbrella, HER umbrella, with the red and blue striped nail polish on its handle, for easy identification.

She must have left it in the bank on one of her trips there, but the nerve of this lady to use it.

The dynamics under the umbrella changed. Tanya’s conversation petered out with anger and disappointment. She was not sure what she felt.

Veena noticed this sudden cooling and lapsed into silence, wondering what had happened.

Soon, they reached Veena’s apartment complex.

Veena said, “So, Tanya. I will be off. Why don’t you take this umbrella with you. This is not mine anyway. The security guard at the office gave it to me saying that it had been lying in the office for over a month, and that no one had claimed it.”

Tanya looked surprised as she took the umbrella. Veena waved bye and walked away.

Tanya walked home with a heavy heart.

The Wish – A Short Story


ONE MONTH AGO

As the yellow studio lights fell on her, Avanti felt droplets of sweat forming on her upper lip and below her eyes.

She was minutes away from winning the ‘What’s your IQ?’ show. She had five more questions to answer. The make-up man patted her face dry and soon the cameras started rolling.

The quiz master asked the five questions and she got all of them right. She had won. Things were a blur as she was showered with glitter. The judges walked up to give her the prize money. The main sponsor was giving away a unique prize. She was asked to write down five wishes or dreams. The sponsor would endeavour to help her realize one of these five dreams.

FIVE YEARS AGO

Avanti clucked in diasapproval and looked at the handsome twenty-something man, who stood before her, giving his usual cheeky smile.

She worked at the Employment Bureau in her town.

The man said, “Do you have any updates for my job?”

She replied with barely concealed irritation, “Mr.D’Souza, we have your number. We will definitely call you if something comes up.”

But he stood there and said, “Will you come out with me for a cup of coffee? And the name’s Mark.”

She refused but he persisted.

He showed up there very often asking her out, sending cards and flowers.  She was quite irritated, as he never took her ‘no’ seriously.

One day, when she was already having a bad day, he showed up with a long stemmed red rose.

She was in a bad mood and threw the rose down, and said, “Do you know why I don’t like you? It’s because you are unemployed, and are just floating around without any purpose.”

He looked at her strangely and walked away. She walked away in a huff, and that was that.

That was the last time she saw him. He stopped coming to the Bureau. The flowers, cards and chocolates stopped.

She worried and brooded. Her womanly pride was hurt. Every morning, she looked for him, with no luck. Heart of hearts she felt that maybe she had started liking him a little. His phone was out of reach.

Life moved on. After about three years since she last saw him, she saw his photo splashed on all newspapers, and TV. He was hailed as the next big literary sensation. His books had become bestsellers.

She smiled to herself.

NOW

After the high of winning the quiz show, the sheen of fame was slowly wearing off. The sponsors had promised to call her within the month to let her know, which dream of hers they would help her realize.

She was back to the dull monotony of her job at the Bureau, all days the same.

After a month she received a call from the sponsor.

“Ma’am, we are making your Wish No:2 come true – A trip to the Amazon”.

She was a little disappointed but sounded cheerful and thanked the sponsor.

She then asked, “Were you able to speak to Mr.Mark D’Souza about my wanting to spend a few hours talking to him?”

“Yes ma’am, as that was your first wish, that’s where we started. Mr.D’Souza sends his regrets but has promised that he will send you a copy of his latest book, autographed by him”, said the sponsor.

Her trip to the Amazon was fantastic but there was a niggling worry about Mark that wouldn’t leave her.

She constantly thought about him and their past. Did he remember her? She could only wonder.

One day, finally, Mark’s latest book of short stories, reached her. She eagerly opened it to see his message.

She was disappointed to see that it was simply signed – ‘Dear Avanti, Wishing you the very best, Mark.’

She looked through the book and her heart stopped, when she saw a short story titled – ‘The lady at the Employment Bureau’.

She did not have the courage to read it.

Exchanging Notes – A Short Story


Ted covered his ears with the blanket, as the clanking of pots and pans from the kitchen started. According to the WMS (Wife Mood Scale), the clanking pans indicated that she was very angry. The verbal assault would start soon.

He pulled his tired body out from the warm bed, and ambled to the bathroom to shower in peace, before he faced the tirade.

Breakfast was just two slices of bread with some cheese thrown in. They were struggling to make ends meet and his lassitude was not helping any.

His wife worked as a part time nanny and part time domestic help in a few houses, but with both of them in their sixties and no savings, things were not looking great.

He had arthritis and struggled with knee pain. So, he did not last too long in any job.

Today was Friday, and the local supermarket received goods from all its suppliers on Fridays, so extra hands to unload were always required. Ted usually managed to get there early and earn a few hours of pay from the unloading and wheeling.

His knees hurt as he walked to the supermarket. It took him a good twenty minutes to get there, but he was in good time and signed up for the day.

Around 11 a.m. they were given a tea break. As he went to the wash room and ambled to the vending machine, he saw someone waving in his direction. He walked over. The man was tall and thin, wearing faded jeans and a black t-shirt.

“What?” asked Ted.

“Need a quick favour. I am one of the truck drivers who’s brought in supplies. I need small change to buy cigarettes, could you get me change for $50 from the cashier. I will give you a pack of cigarettes in return. I would go myself, but I need to be here to supervise the unloading. Company rules, you know?” he said.

Ted hadn’t smoked in a long time. He suddenly ached for a smoke. The old woman had taken away all these simple pleasures from his life by keeping track of every single penny.

The truck driver gave him the $50. Ted nodded and walked towards the cash counter. He knew Jenny very well and winked at her as he joined the short queue. When he reached the counter, he asked her for change. She asked after his health and gave him five ten dollar notes.

He went back and gave it to the truck driver, who came back in a few minutes, thrust a cigarette pack in Ted’s hand and walked away.

Ted was very happy as he imagined how it would feel to smoke after such a long time.

In the evenings, usually peace reigned in Ted’s home, as the day’s tensions ebbed away and both husband and wife sat down in companionable silence, to watch the news and a couple of other programs that were available for free.

As they watched the local news, Ted’s heart nearly stopped, when he heard that the police had traced some counterfeit notes circulating in the town, and that they had hit upon the gang’s modus operandi –  they exchanged counterfeit notes for smaller change. The supermarket where Ted worked was mentioned. The report said that the police would soon start finger-printing workers at all these locations, to help them with the case.

Ted’s blood ran cold as he suddenly remembered that he had touched the note. There was another thing that had struck him as odd, when the driver had given him the $50 – he had been wearing a pair of gloves. Now it made complete sense.

Ted decided to be sick with unbearable knee pain for the next few days. Metal pots clanking in the kitchen and facing a 100 on the WMS was an infinitely better choice than spending time behind metal bars.

He braced himself.

The Boat Festival – A short story


The village of Mayilakam and the areas around it, baked in the hot summer sun. The Earth was dry and the small river that flowed through the village had very little water left.

The people of Mayilakam were farmers and depended on the timely arrival of the Monsoon rain for their livelihood.

The rains brought joy, prosperity and  much-needed respite from the sweltering heat. The villagers marked the onset of the Monsoon season with a unique festival called the Boat Festival.

The local meterology department had predicted that the Monsoon would set in a week’s time.

The boat festival was celebrated on the third day after the rains started. The  river actually flowed through the village, through the backyards of all the homes, which stood on either side of the river.
During the rainy season, the water nearly came up to their back doors.

That year when the rains started, the villagers got busy with preparations for the boat festival.

The villagers made paper boats of different colours and shapes. They had become masters of this craft. Even children were quite adept at making these boats.

While the boats were being made, the village band was readying itself to play on the day of the festival.

The other and most important specialty of this festival was that inside each boat was a small pocket, where messages could be placed. The message was written on a piece of paper, folded, with the addressee’s name on top, put into a small plastic pouch and tucked into the boat.

The philosophy behind this practice was that all of them, who lived as a community, and who depended on rain water, welcomed the water and sent their boats down the river, where another group usually waited to pick up the boats and remove the message packets. The messages were sent to apologize to others, to profess love, to share love, to brighten up someone’s day.

Again, there were boats made up of black paper with messages that contained the bad qualities people wanted to change in themselves. These boats were allowed to float away, symbolically purging away the villagers’ negative qualities.

The whole village was happy, as the rain lashed and the boats floated down merrily.

As the band played, the messages were given out – two young women smiled shyly as they had received proposals from eligible young men; two brothers, who hadn’t spoken to each other in a year, hugged each other in remorse, a child who had lost her parents was adopted, the richest man in the village had gifted the village school its own computer center.

They danced, drenched in the rain, united in that moment of collective happiness, where they let go, and felt lighter in spirit, ready to take on another year of hard work on their land.

The Toothless Granny – A Short Story


The village of Marakad was far away from any town or city, comprising a small community of farmers who grew rice. Life went by at a pace dictated by the planting season and the harvest season. The people of the village were a happy lot.

In this village there lived a granny – who was in her late nineties – its oldest living member.

She lived with her sons, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

The village folk called her ‘The Toothless Granny’.

After her retirement from active life, she took on the role of investigator and village observer.

No incident, however small escaped her hawk-like eyes. She sat on the open verandah, anytime after 9 am in the morning, after a breakfast of rice porridge.

She sat with her legs stretched out and her back against the wall for support.

She had a small iron cup with a small pounding rod, in which she pounded cloves and cardamoms that she chewed throughout the day. The metal rod’s ‘ting ting’ sound alerted the village to her presence.

She stopped women, who were on their way to the market, asked about their shopping, gave liberal advice to squabbling neighbours, took away and hid the cricket ball that hit her once, when the boys played cricket, played with babies and sang songs to them in her cackling voice.

She ruled her family with a constant barrage of words, had a comment for anything and nothing, and from her vantage point, lived the lives and experiences of almost everybody in the village.

Her family put up with her various moods and chatter, the villagers tried to avoid her, but sometimes she sent word for them, and they came, if only out of respect for her age.

She took care of her health and appearance, and pulled up young ladies for their sloppy dressing. She was a matchmaker and a walking almanac of prospective brides and grooms within a 10 km radius of their village. Such a personality was she!

As with everything else, change came to the village. The village had suddenly become quiet. For the first few days, nobody realized it, then people started wondering. Then they heard that The Toothless Granny was unwell, and ailing with a bad chest congestion.

People dropped by at all hours to visit her and they could not bear to see her, so frail and quiet. They prayed for her recovery. Somehow the village had lost its charm, without their granny to chide them, scold them and watch them.

Somehow the key to the soul of the village’s happiness seem to lie with The Toothless Granny.

Ten long days went by, and then one morning the villagers heard the most joyous ‘ting’ of the granny pounding her mouth fresheners for the day.

People queued up to talk to her about the mundanities of their lives, their petty squabbles and everything else.

The village was alive once more.

Twilight Walk – A Short Story


Fiona had to run across M.G.Road, and walk about 300 m to drop off a set of documents to another office, and get back to her workplace to wind down for the day.

She grabbed her handbag, took the folder containing the documents, and left the building.

The Sun had already set and most office-goers were heading home, some in a rush, some strolling, others busy on their phones.

Hundreds of crows were cawing raucously in the twilight, catching up on the day’s gossip. Fiona smiled to herself, as she imagined what the crows would say to each other.

Traffic was heavy on MG Road and it took her sometime to cross. She quickened her pace. She walked down 1st Cross, took the second left, went into the office, dropped off the folder and headed back.

She badly wanted to have a cold drink. The humidity was stifling. As she walked back, there was a stretch of road where the street lights were not working. As she looked up to see the lamp post, she was grabbed from the back and forced against a wall.

A masked face pointed a knife at her neck and asked for her handbag. Fear paralysed her, as the handbag was snatched, and she felt darkness engulf her. She felt herself going limp as her legs gave way. She felt that these were her last moments. After that nothing.

When she came to, she felt water drops on her face. She could hear many voices, indignant, worried and lots of murmuring.

She opened her eyes and looked into ten or twelve pairs of eyes. They helped her to her feet and asked her what had happened.

She was too tired to talk and told them that she was okay and that she could manage. One of the women offered to drive her back. Fiona declined and said she could easily walk back.

Another man said he would walk her down to the office, just to ensure she reached safely. She agreed.

She thanked everyone for their concern and started walking towards the office.
The man made polite conversation. He looked like a banker or sales guy, well dressed, and she noticed he wore branded glasses. Smart, she thought.

The office building was fast emptying, as they reached the lift. He smiled.

She smiled and said, “I can manage from here, thank you so very much.”

He said, “No trouble at all. I will see you up.”

She did not want to be rude, and they got into the lift.

The door closed. And then he caught hold of her neck and pushed her against the lift wall.

“You silly woman, there was nothing in your handbag, except trivia, no money, no smartphone, nothing”, he said.

Her eyes widened in terror.

“I will not go back empty handed”, he said.

He snatched the thin gold chain she wore around her neck, yanked it off, pressed the lift for the next floor and disappeared into the night.

She then remembered that her wallet was in her laptop bag along with her phone. She rubbed her neck, which now had an angry red line.

What a day it had been! Phew!

The Search – A Short Story


It was raining heavily, as she opened the door to the flat. The rain had started without notice, and she was thoroughly drenched. Rivulets of water poured down her body, as she struggled with the many plastic bags, containing grocery and other mundanities that their home seemed to need every week.

As she entered, she heard the landline ringing. She clucked in exasperation, as she realized that the clothes that she had hung out to dry in the morning, were all swaying merrily in the rain. She ran to pick up the landline.

It was her husband, Jay.

“Hi!” she said.

“Hi! I need you to do something. I’ve forgotten an important paper that I worked on over the weekend. It should be in my chest of drawers, in one of the racks. It is a handwritten design drawing, A4 size. Take a photo of the paper on your phone and send it to me. It is quite urgent”, he said.

She said ok and hung up.

She changed into dry clothes quickly and went to the study. The table was in absolute chaos, but she had strict instructions not to clean it.

She sighed at the mess and got started. All kinds of papers were strewn around.

She started sorting through them. Lots of server designs, hardware architecture, proposals to customers; but no sign of the ‘paper’.

She moved from the table to the first of  three drawers. More papers, more chaos.

She continued to search. Second drawer, same story. She only had one more drawer, hopefully it had to be there. The third drawer seemed to be better organized than the others. Sheafs of paper had been bundled with rubber bands.

As she processed the second bundle, a smile lit her face, as she saw the bill for the gift Jay had given her for their wedding anniversary earlier that year. She had asked him many times, how much it had cost, but he had refused to reveal the amount. Now she knew. Her eyes widened in shock as she saw the amount, $10000! But wait, the quantity was for 2 bangles. Jay had given her just one of them.

She felt a violent shiver ripple through her body as she tried to understand what that meant. Had Jay not realized that the shop had billed him for 2 bangles and given him only one? But he was very very careful about anything to do with money.

Ice cold fingers clutched at her heart as she felt a deep pain, when realization dawned – maybe he was cheating on her.

Her senses were on high alert as she sent off a text to Jay that she could not find the paper. Then with a sense of purpose, she sorted through the documents again, looking for something, anything. Actually, she was not even sure what she was looking for.
There were only more papers of technical drawings.

When Jay called to say he would be working late and not to stay up for him, her heart thudded with cold fear, as she hugged herself.

She decided to call his landline number after an hour or so, just a wifely call to check and reassure herself.

When she called, he picked up on the second ring. She felt a wave of relief.

But the niggling worry started all over again. Should she confront him, or let it go. Why had he not giving her the other bangle. Whom had ge given it to?

She paced up and down. She waited up for him. She couldn’t survive the night without knowing about the mysterious second bangle.

He looked tired as he sat down to have his dinner.

She was too upset to talk and he was too tired to notice that she was not herself.

When the pressure inside her head reached bursting point, it rushed out as a powerful torrent of words.

“While I looked for that paper you wanted this morning, I found this”, she said, thrusting the bill under his nose.

He laughed and said, “So, now you know its value eh?”

She said, “But you gave me just one, but the bill amount is for two bangles, where is the second bangle?”

“Oh! that. You know, Mihir, my roommate from University? We bumped into each other at the jewelry shop. He was looking at buying something for his wife, just like I was. He liked the design too…so both of us bought it, he paid me in cash, as I was a member and would get more points added if we billed it together”, he said.

“So, why didn’t you tell me?” she asked.

“Hmmm, must have slipped my mind. Can you pass some of that yummy chutney here, please?” he said as he continued to eat.

Totally unaware that a typhoon had just tried to uproot what they had built over the last few years.

She sighed with relief.

The 50p Cashbox – A Short Story


The vegetable market was alive and kicking at 5 am in the morning, as trucks rolled in from different parts of the state, loaded with fresh produce – crunchy capsicums, lush tomatoes, slender drumsticks, healthy pumpkins – all kinds of veggies that shopkeepers stocked up. Vegetables that would find their way into people’s stomachs, only for the cycle to repeat itself the next day.

As the various shopkeepers opened their shops for the day, the truck drivers stood around sipping their morning cups of tea from one of the many tea stalls that dotted the market.

The market was a big labyrinth of alleys. At the end of the third alley was Raj’s Vegetable Mart. The owner, Raj, was already at the shop, overseeing the unloading of fresh stock, as his bare feet crunched across fallen cabbage leaves and gunny bags.

He looked well groomed and fresh. His shop was much sought after by customers, as he stocked some special vegetables that one couldn’t find elsewhere.

He was a shrewd businessman, his hawk-like eyes observing all the customers in his shop, like a CCTV.

The locals and regulars usually arrived between 9 a.m. and 12 noon. The market took on a whole new ‘avatar’ at this time, as women haggled with the shopkeepers.

The haggling gave both parties immense joy. Everyone went home happy.

At Raj’s shop however, haggling was not encouraged. He simply stated the prices and charged for every small thing. He did not give plastic bags with his vegetables, and charged 50p if anyone wanted one. No freebies to anyone. Despite all this he was successful, and people flocked to his shop for the variety, quality and reliability he offered.

He had two cash boxes in his shop. 50p from each customer went into one of these boxes.  Sometimes he haggled with his customers, when they asked for 5p or 10p back in change; change that was rightfully theirs. Most customers walked away without their change, as the amount was very small. All these went into the 50p Cashbox.

There was usually a lull in the afternoons. Business picked up again in the evening, till about 8.30 p.m.

Most shops closed only by 10 pm. But even here, Raj was different. He wound down by 8.30 p.m., emptied his two cash boxes and left the market.

He spoke very little, except when he had customers, so he was not missed much, when all the other shopkeepers gathered for a drink.

While they chit chatted and made merry after a long day, Raj walked a distance of 3 km, with a bag of fresh vegetables from his shop and the collection from the 50p cash box, to a Senior Citizens’ Home, where he cooked a sumptuous meal for the five residents, bought things they wanted with cash from the 50p box, read out articles from the newspaper to them, and gave them their medicines, before he headed home.

The next day, the alarm woke him at      4 a.m.  He showered, dressed and went to the market to open shop.