Friday, September 14, 2007

cries and whispers

The street was enveloped in cries and whispers—soft sobs and wispy utterances. The early evening facade had worn itself out. The honking and buzz that would normally stun eardrums had retired to basements and garages. Now, all that one could catch from the insouciant air were cries and whispers.

He hacked and took a swill from the quarter. The whiskey had sunk down to its dregs. “Soon, it’ll be over,” said he, “and I’ll be down on my knees.” And yet he couldn’t think of anything to stave off the vermins. They were drawing closer in search of a decrepit mind to lay eggs in, to hatch and multiply, to build a home in. What a maze, he said to himself. Every moment is a step toward the inevitable, with that tautness of resolve a little weaker.

Engrossed, he almost stumbled upon a scraggy lump on haunches. An unkempt kid was sifting through the garbage for something meaningful—a discarded loaf of bread, a rotten apple, a few morsels. Anything that would stop the walls from closing in. The boy was rummaging through a pile of filth with a single-mindedness borne out of hunger. “Here, take this,” said he and dropped the bottle onto the heap. The boy didn’t look up, and he waited, for no one, before continuing to walk ahead.

A distant light shone upon a fetid pool by the street, like a bitter moon, making him look up at where it came from. The letters above the iridiscent source were delicately woven into one another in a tapestry, to form a name. His strides lengthened in the direction of the glow; he was almost running when he reached the wide glass doors of the store. The exterior had the signature of someone who cared for it; yet, it wasn’t pleasing to the eye, possibly because it was not done in a tasteful, social kind of way. The mannequins on the storefront did not resemble any that he had ever seen—a group of magnificently clothed women eyeing a female nude. Her eyes were barely open, as if the lids had cascaded a moment earlier, and her body was in a reposeful posture like it didn’t depend on balance. She wasn’t sculpted to perfection; only her blemishes were sculpted perfectly. If she was suffering, she didn’t show it, although disguise didn’t seem to be one of her ways.

Pulling the glass doors apart, he entered the store.

“I’m sorry, sir,” a very respectful voice ventured. “We’re
closing now.”
“Are you? I have barely come in.”
“I understand, sir, but we really are closing now.”
“Really?”
“Yes, sir, we are closing. Now.”
“No, I mean you really do understand?”
“Uhh...what do you mean?”
“I saw your shop from a distance and I came in, almost running. It is beautiful.”
“Well, thank you, sir. We are glad.”
“Who is we? You keep saying we. Who’s we?”
“I mean our shop, this shop,” stuttered she, unclasping her hands and spreading it outward to indicate the domain of we.

The light from the rows of lamps fixed on the ceiling and walls, turned up or to their sides, had bathed the floor in a sheer, yet private, shadow. The softness of this ambience contrasted with only the unfiltered shafts illuminating the rows of clothing hanging languidly on trolleys.

He gazed intently at each piece, mindfully soaking a pristine charm while disregarding the fumbling requests of the storekeeper. It was as if he was in the thick of one deep emotion, while the edges of another had blurred themselves.

The clothes were all hand stitched, each waiting—uncompromisingly, patiently—to blend with the personality of the discerning buyer. Above each was a snippet providing the idea behind it or photographs related to it, as if each were a persona with a singular history. Halting, continuing, he read the notes attached or peered at the snaps, reading between them or blowing them up in his head for finer details. Then his gaze fell upon the photograph.

It was an open coffin. An old woman lay in repose inside, her eyes sunken, and her body shrouded with petals strewn all over. A beautiful wreath circled her torso. Surrounding the woman were a group of people, her bereaved family possibly, captured in a grieving moment. All but a little girl, who was looking straight at the photographer. Her lips had parted into a wide smile and her shiny set of whites spoke of two brushings daily. Oblivious of any need to conform to an accepted emotion for that moment, her eyes entrusted the onlooker with a sublime innocence. She vested all the belongings of her newly lived years with the gazer, asking nothing in reciprocation.

It was a summer long past. He was two weeks from turning five, and life was just beginning to lend itself a shape. It was the evening his nana had died; it was a time when grief incited in mourners a silent wish to destroy all existence in their purview; it was when the photographs were being taken, during the funeral. An aunt first noticed it.

“Look at this child! He’s smiling! What a wicked little thing this child is! Aye, why are you smiling?”
“Because mummy said you should always smile in a photo,” replied he dutifully, slowly, and then rolling his eyes upward, trying to fetch another important reason from his young memory, lisped, “And mummy also told that
nana went to heaven; so, I should be haaaappy.” He had always been a sprightly little one, always happy to explain and seek.

“How dare your mummy say that! You little brat, don’t you know that your nana died? And do you see the others smiling?”


In a fit of rage, she slapped him hard. His mother, always subdued and demure, took him away and locked him in the storeroom until the end of the ceremony.

Long after he had been brought out, he still remembered those burning cheeks and a pair of eyes running itself dry.

“Sir, we need to close now,” reminded the storekeeper.

“Why do you have this photograph?”

“The dress below that, you see, was ordered by the old lady in the picture, ironically as her funereal attire. But she passed away before that. So, our M’am has put it up for sale. She also has put this photograph up, I don’t know why or how she got it. She has weird tastes, I can tell you. But if you’re spooked by that kid in the photo, then ya I know how it is. Looks creepy, doesn’t she?”

“Yes, she does,” he replied, sealing the conversation shut.

13 comments:

Shishir said...

Loved it..beautifully written. We remember events(scoldings or punishments); we to this haven't figured out the reasons for. Already thinking about one from childhood. he..he..

Sonja said...

Simply beautiful.

Pscyhe said...

Loved it! A cold shiver and a knowing smile...

Ergo said...

Oye, when are we doing drunken TGIF?

L'Innommable said...

Not a lot of free time, so I haven't read your stuff yet, but here's the link to that song you liked!

http://www.localkid.co.uk/francois/mp3.htm

satyajit said...

shishir: thank you.. i know what you're saying :-)

sonja: ah, my lovely trainer!

psyche: get well soon!

ergo: hahaha...lets do it soon i guess..

L'innommable: suit yourself..i had downloaded that song..my ulterior motive was to get you to post more such links :-)

Charl said...

Yes yes, we absolutely must get drunk this Friday. It'll be my return to alcohol after 7 months ::glazed look in eye::

nutty said...

reading your post I actually felt a shiver run down my spine!

I felt sorry for the guy and his childhood memory but at the same time the girl in the photograph had a slight resemblance to the kid in "The Omen" so I didn't know which it was ... pure innocence or pure evil!

well done!

L'Innommable said...

Your writing strikes me as impressionistic. Is that what you're going for? It's quite good!Oh, and I like that word... insouciant.

Is this part of a more complete story, or just a short story itself? Perhaps I should spend some time reading the rest of your blog to figure out if there's more to this story.

Pscyhe said...

I WANNA DRINK THIS FRIDAY TOO!!! NO FAIR!!!

satyajit said...

nutty: hahaha..a horror story!

L'innommable: impressionistic had never occurred to me..i just write

I had first come across insouciant in Reader's Digest perhaps

This is a story in itself, if at all you can call it that way...I write about childhood experiences here and there but there's no continuity; so, if you browse through, you'll find stuff that may be disjointed

And thanks a lot! :-)

psyche: not-so-young lady, patience is thy name

shantanu said...

Well recounted. But where did you get the idea from ? Is there something behind the story that I missed ?

satyajit said...

shantanu: thanks. There's no story nehind thid that you missed.