The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes
Mamta didn’t need an alarm to wake her up every morning. She was among those blessed early risers who found themselves unable to sleep beyond their routine waking up hour, even on a holiday (she loved holidays for she could spend more time at home).
Just the sight of her welcoming hall way was enough to pull her out of the grip of sleep. Her house looked the best at 6 a.m.
She was as perky as her neighbour’s parrot during the morning hours. She moved about with confidence, finding herself alone in the apartment (it was hard to believe her luck even though it had always been that way). It was different in almost every home she knew of where mornings spelt noise. Lots of noise. Microwave dinging, children crying, husband whining. So she considered herself blessed in this regard also.
With no one to interrupt her, she first concentrated on relieving her eyes of its morning discharge. Her colleague, Madhu, always greeted her with a flashy smile but all Mamta would notice were the dots of white that began the dark kajal borders of her eyes. It put off her day. At least half of it, till lunch. By then she would forget about it as Madhu wouldn’t cross her path after the customary greeting. Thankfully, Mamta thought.
She then strolled over to her stereo and cranked up the volume before settling down on her straight-backed chair (any other kind made her uncomfortable). RJ Paresh’s husky voice always made her day. He set the rhythm for it (no other RJ ever had that kind of effect on her). And if it were not for Madhu, the rhythm would have lasted well until she came back home in the evening. She could just avoid Madhu or even better tell her upfront that her eyes (mostly her carelessness) disgusted her but she consoled herself thinking that it was only a second’s greeting. Why should it bother her so much? Maybe she should stop being so particular, or maybe the world should stop expecting her to adjust, she thought as she stared at her stereo. It was a gift from a colleague. It was so precious to her. What would she ever do without it? She couldn’t even remember the mornings when she didn’t listen to the radio.
Paresh announced that this would be his last show. He had decided to move on but this shouldn’t offend his listeners in any way. Reasons were personal. Hope they understood. It was unexpected for him too. He then played a track that was most wanted by his listeners in the hope of pacifying them after his shocking revelation.
Mamta heard it clearly but pretended as if he hadn’t said anything about this being his last show.
She set her favourite mug (an Archie’s mug with an inscribed best friend quote on its exterior ,now devoid of black tea with a pinch of lemon juice, good for digestion) carefully on the coaster so as not to make a ring on the tablecloth(white lace). The table too was a gift, from her mother. It was comparatively smaller than the one her mother owned but then again, her mother’s living room was larger. But nevertheless she loved it.
She avoided calling any children home for she had learnt her lesson well when once she had agreed to look after a friend’s twin boys for just an hour and later found scratches on the edges of the brown table. Since then she reminded herself never to invite kids over, if required even put up a warning banner, but then people would surely think she was crazy. Wouldn’t they?
Better to avoid it than confront it. She thought.
Abandoning her mug, she went over to her money- plant pot (it brought anything but money since she installed it) beside the table; she inhaled the air around it for she knew it emitted oxygen in the mornings. At night, she avoided sitting anywhere near it.
She smiled to herself; it was so blissful at home. She knew it’s every nook and cranny like one would of his or her spouse’s body.
If she ever spotted a peel in the wall paint or a tear in the upholstery or a crack in the sink, it hurt her but she looked at it as another reason to love it more. To pay more attention to it. She would make a note of it before leaving for work but the whole day she would be edgy just wanting to flee her office and return to tend to it immediately. She even did so once when she had noticed her ceiling fan blades had grime on its edges. She left office on the pretext of having a bad stomach. The satisfaction that she found after cleaning the grime was unexplainable like most of her sentiments. No one would understand them but herself and her apartment. That she was sure of. All her hard work was worthwhile as it loved her back. Always bringing a smile to her face in her lowest times. The smile that made the corners of her eyes crinkle and sometimes tear also (if she was way too grateful for its presence).
But she couldn’t let that incident recur. What if someone found out about her maniacal love for her apartment? They would just scorn her emotions and call it loneliness.
She seemed independent to the world, no one knew how dependent she was on her home, without which she couldn’t imagine a day (she never went away on vacations).
She approached her wooden curio stand on the opposite wall of the hall; she swiped her finger across its surface to check for any dust though she had dusted it yesterday. She was satisfied to find just a few stray particles on the tip of her finger which were probably already there before from the handle of her mug (she would have to check that too). After all, she was careful not to open the windows for fear of the hall being showered in dust.
For sunlight she would draw the curtains first thing as she woke up.
She turned around to see her furniture and spotted her cushions. Instinctively she reached for the small vacuum cleaner she always kept behind her sofa (she missed the amoeba patterned pasta stain on its edge or she would have started working on it first) and vacuumed them. It took her about ten minutes to thoroughly clean them, they were only three but big. She had handpicked them from Home Centre. Their beige colour matched the tiles.
She got carried away with its beauty; the act of beautifying it, the satisfaction that she was solely privileged to enjoy its beauty, which happened almost every time she engaged herself in cleaning her home. When she realized she was late, she scooted from the sofa, into her bedroom and changed into her formal clothes (prior ironed and neatly laid on the bed).
She quickly brushed through her hair, not letting the loose tufts that escaped her head go astray, (even in a hurry she wouldn’t abuse her apartment) she circled them round her index finger to toss them in the dustbin on her way out.
Before leaving the house she had to take a last look at the apartment, to see if everything was in its place. To satisfy her paranoia that nothing moved around while she was changing and nothing would by the time she returned.
After a cursory glance at her hall (for she was late for work, next time she would have to plan when to vacuum the cushions, of course she had a time-table. She would just have to control her instinct to re-clean) she left the apartment with a satisfied smile.
If she had taken notice of the pasta stain, she wouldn’t have left the apartment, she would have been late again and then her colleagues would have found out of her paranoia.
But luckily she missed it. She could survive another day by pretending like it was all okay. As if nothing bothered her, like the germs infested bus seat (she couldn’t afford a car, yet, she would soon) or shaking hands with her clients (often male, who knew where those hands were a moment ago?) or Madhu’s discharge rimmed eyes…
She would get through another day of pretence. But wasn’t that what everybody did? Pretend to adjust? She could sense discomfort from miles away like a police dog. Everyone around her adjusted. So why couldn’t she? But she wouldn’t want her apartment to adjust to her fancies. She would change herself but she loved it the way it was. Whatever she did for it was what it demanded of her not the other way round.
After an exhausting day, she left office late, her mobile kept buzzing in her pocket but she didn’t bother to check the caller’s name for fear it was someone from office. They would definitely ask her to stay longer.
She wouldn’t give a damn. Her home was waiting for her. Home is where the heart lies. So true. At least for her it was. She knew some of her colleagues wanted to stay late at work to avoid going home.
Every evening on her way back home she imagined it as a lover expecting her return after a long tiring journey (jetlag and all, not just a day’s work), embracing her, reminding her how much it missed her, thanking her for caring for it so much and doing the same in return, just being there for her as her concentration was not so great due to the jet lag, maybe that’s why it came as a shock on seeing it ablaze when she alighted the bus (she had had to wait for the next bus).
Today she didn’t understand why it looked so angry. Where had she gone wrong? Why hadn’t it shown any signs of discomfort? Or silent protest?
Its anger escalated with each rising tongue of flame, saddened at her not having acknowledged her love for it in public, its ego set on fire.
Mamta collapsed on her knees, praying it was just a nightmare. And when she would open her eyes her home would be there with its arms outstretched.
But in her heart she knew it was too late. She felt helpless. Unable to stop it from leaving.
The flames now engulfed the sky, reaching higher by the second. It had destroyed itself totally in turn destroying Mamta totally. Revenge. But for what? They couldn't be happy without each other. It knew that. Then why was it doing this to both of them?
Had Mamta missed something? Maybe her cursory glance had set it off. Maybe today morning she should have been thorough in caring for it like every day.
Or maybe she should have just never left home. Or she should have at least arrived on time.
Why didn’t it show any signs of contempt? Why did it leave without a prior warning? Why?
Why after all the love? The sacrifice? The long hours of caring for it (not like a nurse tending to a terminally ill patient but a mother looking after a sick child).
The crowd that had gathered to witness the spectacle of the crumbling apartment murmured their opinions.
Some gasped at the ghastly sight, empathizing in silence. Some shook their head saying, ‘It’s just another house. She’ll find another one. Maybe a better one. At least she’s safe.’
But in the deepest recess of her heart, Mamta wished she had gone along with it. To wherever it was now. Away from her reach.
The flames danced before her eyes mocking her love.
The scream that escaped her throat scared spectators in their tracks.
That scream gave away all her years of pretence for it was the scream of mingled voices.
The voice of a mother losing her stillborn, of a best friend losing its soul mate, of a lover being cheated upon, of an adopted child unaware of its biological parents’ whereabouts, of a paralyzed patient awaiting euthanasia grant, of a refugee awaiting homecoming, of RJ Paresh diagnosed with vocal cord paresis.….except her own voice.
For her voice rose above all. Incoherent. It reached the sky pleading for her lost love to return. To re-unite. To forgive.
All she received in reply were the dying flames of her loved one’s funeral pyre, refusing to sync with her plea.
Her voice came crashing down; destroying whatever was left of her. Even hope.
My Bio: Michelle D’costa a.k.a The Bookworm is an Indian writer/editor raised in Bahrain. Her prose/poetry can be found in many online/print journals like eFiction India, Big River Poetry Review etc. Her writing has won international contests, recently being the Runner-up of poetandgeek.com poetry competition 2012. She accepts feedback from her readers on her Facebook page- http://www.facebook.com/MichelleWendyDcosta?ref=ts.
It was time for my family to look for marriage proposals for me. Amma decided that only a job would get me a girl. A job that paid. Something. Anything.
Seema slathered bathing gel onto her calloused palms. Oh! How much she craved these hours of solace. She had to be quick though there was still an hour to go before he would arrive.