An extreme sense of boredom has lead me to record myself reading this out. Yes, I know it’s an added torture for the poor souls who decided to read this. Deal with it.
There were only a few twenty pence coins left. I had promised to light at least five. She liked the small pool of wax it became after burning the wick down. This was the least I could do for her. I wanted to be beside her all the time, it never got tiring in situations like these. Although, it looked like I’d have to pick up a few more shifts if I wanted to pay the rent, bills and still give her the adequate treatment. She deserved more than I could give her. I knew I had to do this, it wasn’t as if she would be with me forever. Then again, it didn’t take much to keep her happy. These candles made her happy. So, did the lilies.
I only used to come here on Sundays; even then it was only to keep her company. I saved up the stray coppers now, just to make sure I had enough. It was a ritual. I didn’t know how long it would last. I was afraid that once I lit the candles, everything would end there. As I ran out of the church every night, I prayed to every supreme being I knew to keep her smiling and waiting for me at the bed. This was often followed by a quick slap to remind me that the bed was not where I wanted her to be. I wondered if all this was because of the Sundays I missed. Were they punishing her, instead of me? It probably wasn’t a good way to turn me towards the light. I still went there, of my own accord. I would do anything. We only had each other.
My nights were filled with the sounds of vials clashing against each other. I never knew if the sounds were my own sweat slithering down this clammy body or if it was just blood red viscous liquid seeping through those tubes into her. She had been like this for quite a few months now. It was spreading, killing one cell at a time. I wasn’t too impressed with the lack of hope I saw in some the doctor’s eyes. I didn’t ask too much of them, I just wanted her back to the way she was. She had only been deteriorating ever since she got here. They would not even let her go out. They tip-toed around her, as if she was about to leave us any moment now. However, as soon as I asked if I could take her out, they shouted down their protests claiming it would be too much for her. They were stifling her in there. She did not say a word.
The silence killed my mind. I wanted someone to talk to me. I wanted them to reassure me. She hadn’t said a word since they broke it to her that she didn’t have long. They had asked her to stay strong, as if that was under her control. This was two weeks ago. Her eyes looked vacant when no one was around. She still had a book at hand. It seemed to be the only thing that hadn’t changed. As soon as she saw me, her eyes struggled to conjure up that old shine. Her coarse fingers ran along my wax dipped palms. A smile flickered along her face, they gave me hope. I lit more candles than usual the next night. I knew they would change something. I even mumbled the prayers written on the plaque. It was rather chilly. I knew I had to see her immediately.
There was something about the streets tonight. Everyone seemed to give way for me. I knew what I had to do. If they were so sure that she didn’t have long to live, they shouldn’t waste their precious time doing nothing. I knew that she’d hate to spend her last days in such a sterile environment. I would get her out of there. I would rescue my damsel. She had a penchant for Wodehouse. I could pick up the book for her later tomorrow. They were selling the last buds of the day at the station. This was how I should do this, I guess. Clutching the wilting lilies, I ran along the quiet corridors. The doctor looked like he wanted to stop me. I rushed past him. Though, there wasn’t anyone waiting. There was no smile awaiting my visit. The table lay bare, not even the book was there. My world was slowly crumbling. I felt a warm palm on my shoulder. There was an apology. I had not been given enough time to prepare. I couldn’t even turn. It was all turning into a clear wall of white. I dropped the lilies, stems still covered in wax.
Among the masses of black and white, she managed to look demure even in gossamer. These were tough times for her. The rain poured down silencing everything else. With every droplet that splattered across the pebbled path, she knew water pooled in the forgotten well. She needed to know who she had become. She shuffled along the cloistered halls. Times like these were hard to come by here. The leaves soaked themselves in the abrupt rain. The parched earth flaked no more. This was a time that brought relief to many. For her, this meant something else altogether. Devoid of mirrors, devoid of human forms, she had increasingly become uncertain of her existence. A step, another one, just a few more to what would confirm her presence. It would just be a glance. Though, in this world it would be these little things that took away much more from you.
Her bare feet, cold now, the numbness had spread from her heart if there was one. The heart was not one of her concerns anyway. For her, every curve of her face reminded her of each glance she had been subject of, the genuine ones as well as the lustful ones. She saw those no more. Time went by yet it refused to heal. There wasn’t anyone around anymore. In her days of madness, she found respite at the nunnery. Those were the days, when even the most enamoured glances were deemed unsatisfactory by her. Her derision towards others overtook her need for appreciation, momentarily at the least. She damned herself to a world where the only longing glances were towards life in death. Where peace should revel, narcissistic rage still mutinied. It grew and couldn’t be contained in her mind no more. Then one night, Death found them one by one, while she remained untouched. Being the one who kindled the flame gave her time enough to stay clear. She’d seen them run out, no joy in death for them. There were a few who renounced it all, upon reaching the well. It wasn’t enough. If not fire, water took them.
Months went by, years too. Time seemed to have given up on her. She didn’t know if it had to do with all the still masses of black and white. Now all that plagued her mind was each of the glances. Did they ever look at her? All the looks she’d memorized tangled themselves in her mind. She ventured out and found that the habit received not glances of the previous nature. Was it the habit or was she no longer the same? In rage and rejection she tore off the habit and in return she was stoned. The world had changed. Return was all she could do. She longed for a pleasing glance. A mirror would do, but they’d shattered in the fire. So, each step she took frantically towards that forgotten well. So close; she rushed. The rain slithered across the path. It was just a slip or did she trip on those masses of black and white? It was the well that devoured, another one.
She knew what she’d become. Nothing. Not even a reflection. There were just ripples, from the rain that still poured.
“Antha Chocolate puthussa?evvalon?” 30 rupees. He didnt quite like the way his pocket felt empty,and Chocolate was a luxury he couldn’t afford. But then,his daughter meant the world to him. No suffering was too grave to forgo looking at that lovely,lovely smile..It was a million dollars.
She loved chocolates. The way her eyes lit up each time he surprised her with a bar of chocolate, such occasions were few and far in between, sent him into raptures of joy, and for once made him feel truly contented and free from all trials and tribulations life threw his way, and life was certainly very liberal in that respect, a village barber struggling to sustain his own offspring, his bundle of joy, problems were aplenty. He barely scraped through each month, and then it was a whole new month of uncertainty, toil and frustration. There were times he felt glad that…
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Roof tops, her favourite haunt. She had learnt from the best. Though, there were always things that could be improved upon. This was their world, which loomed below her. This is no tale about charming men with leonine manes prowling alleyways or the same men revealing their grotesque carnivorous faces to unsuspecting victims. She was none of those. She was just a voyeur. A voyeur who has mastered the art so well, that the only way forward was to capture those beauties. Shedding the passive observant role, she took part in life actively. Eyes cast around the perimeter where each red bricked chimney mirrored the ones surrounding it. She was hunting. It was getting tougher for them all these days. There were certainly many others waiting to pounce right away as she circled her new territory. A house was becoming absolutely necessary. It was certainly time for her to fly off the nest as most homes cannot stand the presence of two alphas.
She had no troubles talking to people. Human beings loved all the attention they got, especially from the raven haired beauty that oozed radiance. She watched them all first, a lesson learnt that from her father. His work was of precision, of vigilance, of subterfuge. Shadowing him she stepped into the world of voyeurism. She was trained young, like many other little ones in their families. They watched, just like vultures eyeing carrions. Her mother pointed out how father kept all his tools in the contrabass case. His methods were drilled into her impressionable mind. First they had to lull the prey into false security, and then their venom was shot right into the human pores. With an inert body at hand all they had to do was flay the tender skin and choose the best cuts. The best days in their lives were when her father came home with a heavy case. Laid out carefully in the case would be the hide of the finest specimen found in the streets of London. Each line she saw on their faces, the scent of fear that still permeated from their languid body and the taste ever so divine that drove them to such extents were never forgotten. Like dark enclosures etched with the cave man’s drawings many more humans awaited their discovery. She too hunted them each down with great pride.
Although, it wasn’t obvious to anyone that behind every bewitching smile she bestowed and every favour she did there was towering tab waiting to be collected. To them she was the young lone female with all but her music for company. Humans believed in whatever that kept their world stable. This was precisely why they never questioned why the contrabass was never heard playing even though she seemed to lug it around everywhere. No one ever entered her house. They would’ve found the damp smell in the room strange. They might have found the pond in the living room quirky. Why, they might have even found the creepers clinging to the walls beautiful. But, they would never know. When the neighbours’ son didn’t return from school no one suspected the lone female with her face brimming with innocence. How could they when she was kind enough to bring over the most delicious cottage pie for the deceased’s family? Nor did they have doubts when the old lady in the house opposite disappeared without any trace. A young woman would certainly have nothing to do with the exuberant cocker spaniel found dead with its throat slit. The thrill she got out of killing right under their noses was certainly going to her head. Her pride was reaching its limits. With pride came fall and it did seem that it was just around the corner lying in wait for her. As hunger was the clawing monster that tugged every string of her plotting brain, it sure did cause her slip up every now and then.
Each house was being canvassed by the police. Questions after questions were being repeated. No one had any answers and the one person who did was in no mood to give any. She had stored enough food for months ahead, yet the monster didn’t like lying low. When you start considering hunting as a sport, a day away from it becomes excessively irritant. Kids were easy enough, so were overpowering the elderly. What she needed was young meat that would struggle against her strength. Food which would put her raging mind to rest. Her methods now were much cruder than the ones employed by her father. He killed them while they lay unconscious as his venom spread thoroughly. For her, it was an all-consuming carnivorous ritual. She killed to conquer. It is precisely when you forgo the purpose of your abilities that you make mistakes. She was about to make one, a huge one.
She knew this wasn’t her game but she needed the change. The old woman she killed last didn’t even scream out as the claws ripped along the trembling vocal cord. The overworked heart stopped beating before that. She was put off by the faint musty smell and the dry skin. The body shall be pushed through the pond into her world after a few bites. There would be others who’d be more than happy to receive it. Her Aunt Esk sure did stock up on all the octogenarians. She remembered seeing those bodies lined up like terracotta soldiers. She never wanted to turn out like that. She lived for the present that kept pulsating vigorously with each passing moment. Every person she hunted became a part of herself. The faint scent of orchids you smell if you ever came near her was from the little girl she once met in an alleyway years ago. Oh, and the raven tresses that keep cascading, was courtesy of a beautiful young woman encountered on the tube. Why, even the tattered contrabass case she carried had belonged to the man who busked in the underground tunnel at South Kensington Station. She was only a little girl, at heart anyway. While humans walked around showing off, the green-eyed monster on her raged. It made her do so many things, so many vile but exquisite things. She had hoped to gain the old lady’s peace from the last kill. Such abstract concepts didn’t seem to transfer so easily.
Mistakes will be made at every new attempt. That’s why you needed to experiment countless times. She was about to try again. The cheerful woman brimming with life had caught her eye on day one. While the happiness seemed infectious, there was only so much that could be shared. As she crushed the cookies brought over and listened to the incessant talks about her adorable son, all she craved was for the joy bursting through the seams. She wanted the inside, out. She knew she’d need that blissful porcelain skin as her hands brushed against her jovial neighbour. Most importantly, she knew that the monster jumped up with joy encountering a new prey. The thought of waking up with a mind at ease and a smile on face played intricately beautiful symphonies in her heart. She had started noticing how no one talked to each other. Even her smiles were spurned. She knew this was to be her last hunt here. Vigilance and hostility were slowly enveloping the hearts of the inhabitants of this quiet suburb.
She crept along the wall towards the back of their house. The cold air sent a chill through her. She longed for a fire, strong enough to burn down her desires. The quietness irked her and was slowly diminishing her resolve. It was so unlike the street. The ambience was adapting itself, similar to the time when she lay quietly on a hunt. This silence seemed almost too well constructed. It couldn’t have been any quieter as she helped herself in through the window. She was agile and the darkness posed no trouble, but the unnatural regularity in the prey’s breathing baffled her. She found her way easily and pressed her palm violently against the woman’s mouth. The glaring lights went on abruptly and it shimmered of her sharp fangs. There were too many eyes glowering down on her. In their eyes she saw treachery reflected. The first stone was cast. They had caught her out.
As she fled the room, they chased her into her own lair. The eyes said it all. There was revulsion, there was disappointment and there was pure burning anger. She knew they would tear her to pieces. She knew she had to escape. She needed to the rush to the pond, into her world; into the safe haven. They were all around her. Closing the doors on their faces wouldn’t help now. The house was in flames painting a dominant picture over the quiet sky. Smoke found its way through to her slowly. She felt slight splashes of water as the house tumbled down brick by brick. There were ear piercing screams. Screams that caused your heart to ache with melancholy. Charred remains of a body were found. It was enough to calm their inflamed hearts. No one wanted to be on the desecrated land a minute longer. No one wanted to turn into a monster. They let the fire burn until the remains were no more. They slept peacefully, their losses avenged feeling quite warm.
Somewhere a few miles down emerged a raven haired beauty from the slow moving Thames. As the water trickled down her slender frame the rays hurt her singed arms. Clear water weaved its way through her, leaving debris on the surface and what could be a scar was no more. She shook her long tresses and walked along with a resolute face. Life on earth had its pitfalls but there were always scores of opportunities here. The bell tolled on the shop’s door and she walked out with a new contrabass case. If you looked carefully, you could see the smile that sets the tabs towering. As humans believed in whatever that kept their lives stable she had many more chances to transform them, inside out.
For a tale along the same crooked path, do read On a 9 to 5 Day. Thank you! :)
Sending people off to this treacherous island had been the royal family’s hobby for eons now. The smirk slowly spread across their smooth faces as we left begrudgingly, knowing that most of us won’t make it back. It used to be a joyous game for them. Bets were placed on whether we’d bring back enough venom to murder the enemy’s barbarous armies. I know we weren’t the most innocent. I know I’m lying through my teeth as I say I don’t deserve this. Yet, somewhere deep I knew I won’t let this body turn to dust so soon.
I was kicked out of the cart. The guards wouldn’t even risk a few seconds out here. One of them would stay at the safe perimeters preventing any escape. I’d have to walk miles to get where they’d ordered me to be. The outlines of hell could be seen on the horizon. You knew you were bearing witness to death and utter melancholy. I knew I had to grab a bark of the Upas and get back home breathing, as soon as I can. That’s all I had to do. Poison myself slowly in order to buy my freedom. Why freedom, you may ask. The royal family didn’t just send common citizens to gather poison for their infamous arrowheads. No, they sent criminals, men with pasts unmentionable. In exchange for bringing Death home, we were free to embrace Life.
The bare tree in the barren earth that bore witness to the folly of men was much more visible now. It was a lone pole, standing defiant throughout all these centuries. A flash of lightning and I mistook it for a scythe. Surrounding it were ivory coloured skeletons adorning the dark infertile land. Nothing grew here, except the Upas. This was where life ended. The bodies of my fellow men laid out to display. The inert bodies do not tell you about their criminal pasts nor do the masks of horror on their decaying faces. Their bones clutched at their chests, grabbed at their necks. As strips of flesh peeled away, the poison slowly corroding into their marrows, you couldn’t help but falter and flinch. The cold stony crags have been accumulating Death for an eternity now. The sky slowly turned a deep Prussian blue and the sun went down on my hopes.
My steps started to falter. The key to my free life was in death. I had been holding my breath in for a while now. It was taking longer than I thought. The effluent was finding its way into me through my pores. It was slowly strangling my struggling lungs and trying to smother out the last few breaths of air keeping me alive. I wanted to gather the poison and go back to the palace and shove the vials down the King’s throat. I wanted to see how he’d like the taste of his own medicine. All that seemed like a mere fantasy as pain bit into my innards sharply. I kept saying to myself that I wasn’t weak. I could survive this. I could always run back and rot in the prison cell alone. That way I knew I’d live a few more years. Then again, imprisoned within four walls wasn’t exactly what you’d call life.
Making up your mind as death appears near is an easy feat. Arming up was necessary for this. There wasn’t any time to be squeamish or respect the dead. I grabbed the nearest bones I could find and sharpened up the end of a femur. I was leaving this place alive. I had always found it much more easier to retreat than to step forward. It had always been my tactic after every crime I committed. Shameless, you may say. To survive in this world, I had given up my pride ages ago. Clinging on to the rocks I edged towards the perimeter. I had an advantage. The guard never expects anyone to return from the Upas, especially not so soon. Not even he would’ve known what to do to a deranged man running with his arms flailing. I was transformed into something inhumane. As I struck the femur through his fleshy neck, I heard the spine crack faintly. The look on his face mirrored the horror I saw on my decaying comrades.
At this moment, I was the deadly Upas with venom trickling down my veins. I stood there alone in that barren land reeking of poison. Just enough poison to be drained into my specially made vials. No, I had no intention to get to the tree in the first place. I wasn’t your usual pea brained, head first think later thug. I’d walked just far enough, far enough to poison myself; close enough to hold onto my life. Leeches. I was putting all my trust on leeches. They were just like the greedy tax collectors who came knocking on our doors asking for more. They never had enough. Never enough, until someone decides to put a dagger through them and the piece of fat resonates a soft boom as they hit the dusty ground. That was the first crime I committed. With each one I did, it became easier.
Now as they drank my blood, that part of me, that poisonous part of me slowly disappeared; or so I hoped. Coming face to face with death changes some men around. As I sped away in the cart, I was a man, an important man, a man who’ll be needed. Hung around my neck were vials of poison, safely contained in dead leeches. There were men out there who would kill for these. Then, there were men out there who would kill with these.
I belonged to the latter.
Note: The painting of The Upas, or the Posion Tree in Java by Francis Danby. My latest discovery at the V&A Museum.
Sitting beside the window, all I could hear was the chugging. It would only take a few more hours. Had I been away for too long? I haven’t seen them for so long. I knew they would’ve picked me up if I let them know.
I first saw her on my first newspaper run in the summer. Uncle had shown me a new way around the village. Cycling past the broken gate, I could smell the lavenders. Like the wind chimes, her voice had that special clarity. I’d stopped and had a peek at her tending the gardens and talking to those flowers. Over the months people had to be satisfied with the late newspapers. I knew by the end of the summer what I had to strive for.
I moved forward tentatively. I’d wanted so much out of life. Every time I achieved something I knew there was something better out there somewhere. All this while I was away, I knew I’d find it somewhere far away. Was it too late to come back? Would she still be here? Why did life always pose too many questions and not enough answers? I could still smell the lavender and hear the wind chimes. I yearned to hear the excited young voices again.
Every paper round was special. There were always lavenders. They always looked lovely with her long, tender hands nurturing them. The days I didn’t find her in the garden, she’d be sitting under the oak tree, just by the stables with a book in her hand. She’d always be speaking to someone or the other. Sometimes, it would be to children to whom she offered the flowers rather too kindly. I’d hoped that one day I would be at the receiving end. Rather too often, I’d hoped she would notice me. Then again, a peeping tom wasn’t always welcomed whole heartedly. Though, life always did have surprises in stock for you.
Journeying home alone was certainly a new experience. Not knowing what lay ahead of me took me back to those moments when you’d wait keenly for that one girl you loved to say yes. This certainly felt like that and more. I wondered if it’d be more effective if I arrived again on a cycle. Though I doubted very much on whether I’d exude the innocence and charm of those early days. That scared me more than the changes that may have occurred to her. To me, she’d always be the girl I saw surrounded by lavenders, with the long auburn hair. On a nice summer day, you could see the rays glistening off the long locks. Today was one of those sunny days.
Summer was coming to an end. I’d been worried on what I’d do once I’d have to return. I was going to miss the flowers. I had grown accustomed to seeing everything in a periwinkle shade. I shall miss the voice of the one who tended those beautiful flowers. It was my last paper round. I had slowed down and treaded slowly towards the gate. The fragrance was overwhelming. Eyes wide open; I stared at the delicate hand stretched forth with a bunch of flowers. Then, I knew that this was only the beginning.
I could see the gate from here, it was still broken. Some things were always constant. There wasn’t anybody bearing flowers for me…yet. I could hear children, those excited young voices. As I stepped past the gate they ran across to me hands outstretched bearing flowers. Whilst I realized that the joys of life were never far away, their mother smiled tending to her namesakes. From that smile, I knew that my life was always back here, with my Lavender.
PS: This one has been dedicated to my dearest sister Dhaya and our charming doctor Aaron who have been bugging me to write a happy story for ages. :)