Fiction

Perfect Brows 

They said her eyebrows were beautiful. They made her eyes look perfect. Neela had no choice but to sit before the mirror for an hour before her performance everyday. She stared at her reflection blankly while the other girls bordered her eyes with kohl, painted them with cheap eyeliner and shaped her eyebrows. Neela hated her work at the bar. While her mesmerising moves entertained the customers, her mind wandered away, free from the tangles of her red hair and folds of her shimmery dress. Her beautiful eyes went peeking into her childhood alleys, glancing at the mountains of her dreams, as she danced on. She never wanted to dance at the bar, where either they ogled at her thighs, or didn’t care. A sixteen year old Neela was left with no choice when her father lost his job and the responsibility of feeding seven mouths fell upon her.

She couldn’t complain when they tweezed and plucked her eyebrows to make it look perfect every day. Then covered her skin with cheap foundation to disguise  the slightly swollen skin under her perfect brows. She silently endured the pain. With every tug of the tweezer, they seemed to pluck off her freedom, her voice, her dreams, and her desires. They aimed for a perfect arch, sharp and beautifully carved- because it made her look sultry. Neela burned in agony and rage, her face rigid, as if set in stone.
Today was a special day for the manager. The bar was celebrating its one year anniversary. Neela was given a bright red costume, and was asked to dance longer.
However, when the senior girls came to dress her, they found the door shut from inside. Neela didn’t unlock the door even after repeated banging and yelling. They started to worry and was about to call the manager when the door flung open and Neela stepped out in a sparkling red dress, her face pale without makeup, and dangerously swollen skin, all red and slightly bleeding, at the place where her eyebrows were supposed to be. She had plucked every single hair from both her eyebrows. Her eyes looked at their shocked faces defiantly. Loud music played at the background along with raucous, drunk voices and the clanking of glass.

Via daily prompt:

Pluck

Fear

Mr. Bhusan was up at five in the morning as usual. Hastily washing his face, he opened the small window by the wooden table and got down to finishing his latest novel. It was the thirty-third draft, which he was about to discard, out of his eternal, persistent fear. Mr. Bhusan has remained an aspiring writer from his teenage, owing to the fact that he never managed to complete any of his works in over two decades. How could he? He has always suffered from an intense fear, almost like a phobia- his fear of unknowingly writing something that already exists. Of course the ideas could be similar, but what if his entire work turned out to be an unintentional copy of someone else’s work?

It all started some twenty-five years back, when Mr. Bhusan won a prize at his college for an essay. Since then, he decided to become an author. He confided in his sister his dreams, who had playfully remarked, “Beware, you might write something which already exists, and you won’t even know.” Alas, what was said in innocent humour proved to be Mr. Bhusan’s biggest fear. He wrote dozens of poems, expressing his love for doe-eyed women who he hadn’t met; tons of pages, novels about lost empires, heart-breaking tales about failed marriages and about anything possible under the heavens. But he never built up the guts to read them out in close circles of family or friends, let alone publish it. He wrote pages and pages and tore them down to unidentifiable pieces. There was his reason, lying in the open- who knew if some author hasn’t already penned down exactly the same things? He would be laughed at by the others. Or worse, people would call him a cheat. He was scared for a reputation which he hadn’t built, in the first place. He never had the nerve to show anyone his works. He stared blankly, his hands shook and the soles of his feet went ice-cold when someone even vaguely mentioned of his literary practices.

After years of struggle, when last Sunday, he almost convinced himself of the originality of his work, like he had done before on rare occasions, he headed to the publishers. But as always, halfway to the office, he had to stop. His heart beat crazily, sweat broke out all over his face and there were visions of him standing upon a podium and his readers throwing his book at him, along with paper balls and eggs. All he could manage was to take a sharp about turn, and walk back home rapidly.

But the good thing about him, or so he thought, was that he did not discard his dream of becoming a writer. So he woke up early in the morning everyday to finish a few hours of writing before he went to the kitchen to prepare lunch for his wife, who was a professor, and very particular about timing. Presently, he was intently working on his thirty-fourth draft, when his wife’s shrill cry broke his trance. “I don’t know how I fell for an aspiring writer and still staying with the same aspiring writer after nineteen years. My life is a farce!”, screamed an infuriated Padma. Mr. Bhusan sighed, and quickly got up to go to the kitchen, so that his wife could leave the house as soon as possible. She wouldn’t understand. He needed a peaceful environment to think, concentrate and write. Probably this time, he would make it to the publishers…

Via Daily Prompts:

Farce

Conveyor Belt

Raman stared earnestly at the conveyor belt, his face, a clear reflection of anxiety. A resident of the rural town of Mannpur, this was the first time Raman left his town, and travelled to the city on a plane. Dressed in a spotless white dhoti, Raman slowly and carefully went through each procedure until he got into the plane. 

Sitting stiffly with his seatbelt on and eyes closed, Raman somehow spent two hours and hurried outside as soon as the flight landed. With a lot of help from the ground forces, he found the conveyor belt. He was awed at the mechanism of the flat, moving belt carrying everyone’s luggage. He decided that collecting his stuff from the conveyor belt would certainly be the most fascinating part of his journey. After missing his luggage, and mistaking another’s for his own a few times, Raman finally gathered his bags after half an hour. The place was almost empty. But he soon realised that he didn’t collect his box of mangoes. He frantically started looking for his box around him. It was nowhere to be seen. The empty belt kept moving in a single direction. He tried looking for the flight staff, but he was the only person standing around the  moving belt. Raman walked all the way to the other side, then back. Didnt find his box of mangoes. Frustrated, he even tried peeping inside through the rubber strips. In a moment of wild despair he considered climbing on the belt and take a look inside, but decided otherwise. They must’ve stolen it- Raman thought. But he had heard that airport authorities take special care of passengers’ luggages. But what else could’ve happened to his mangoes? After waiting for ten whole minutes before the mesmerising belt, he turned around walked towards the exit with a heavy heart. He was convinced that his box was stolen. Raman was almost at the exit, when a solitary cardboard box came up through the rubber curtain. The lonesome box took a full round and a second one and came up for the third. Raman was already on a taxi, on his way to his hotel.

For a Day

It was an unusual day. He, with a torn towel on his shoulder,  zealously swept the floor and wiped the glass windows. It was a big day for the small roadside eatery. A film scene was to be shot at the place. The hero and Miss Priya would be shown drinking coffee. So he also polished the cups till they shone. Actually, he was more excited about the actress than anything else. He never missed her movies. She was beautiful. She danced well. Her voice was that of a nightingale. She was his secret fantasy.

He was cleaning tables when the crew arrived. Within moments the eatery was crowded with people, with cameras, large lights, microphones. Some people were carrying clothes. The actors were surrounded by security. He earnestly tried to look for Miss Priya. But there were too many people. His master welcomed a few important looking people inside and tried shooing him away, who was eagerly waiting for a glimpse of his favourite actress. As he turned to retreat into the kitchen, looking crestfallen, a man with a beard called out to him. The man wanted him to casually clean the tables in the background when the actors would drink coffee. For a second he couldn’t believe his ears. He would be shot too. He would be sharing a screen with his favourite actress. He couldn’t contain his happiness. Vigorously shaking his head, he responded in agreement. Later, during the shoot, he was lost in his effort in cleaning tables. Never in these five years had he cleaned that surface with such determination. His trance was broken by a fellow, who approached him and handed out two hundred rupee notes. When he looked up, he saw the crew packing up. The actors were nowhere in sight. None of the other important looking people were around. The boy handed him the money and left without a word. 

Quickly shaking off the vague feeling of sadness, his imagination took flight. Probably it was his start, he would slowly become famous, directors would notice his hard work and his fearless presence before the camera. And they’d call him. And someday, he too, would sing and dance with the lady of his dreams. He would hold her hands on mountain tops and near waterfalls, walk on white sand beaches, in ornate gardens, or on American streets. Twisting and turning in his small bed at one end of the eatery, he didn’t realise when he had drifted off to sleep, smiling to himself.

But on all the following mornings, he woke up to the yells of an angry master and carried on with work, the torn towel on his shoulder.

Scribble Series #6

I have been standing for almost a couple hours. This is getting harder for me by the minute. I can feel cold sweat trickling in slow motion down the sides of my cheeks, and patches of sweat on my eyebrows, tickling me uncomfortably. My glasses keep slipping off. Standing behind at least fifty people, in the considerably large hall, furnished with designer desks and chairs and cobwebs hanging from the yellowed ceiling, I’m profusely sweating in spite of the chilly November cold. I can feel an overwhelming numbness approaching my left leg. My wristwatch says I have half an hour before my next insulin shot, which I cannot miss. A quick mental calculation tells me that I only have fifteen minutes to reach the counter and finish my business after which I have to walk back home, wash my hands and feet, without which my wife wouldn’t let me take a step inside the house; and take the shot. I wish I hadn’t retired. Then I wouldn’t have to stand in this stupid queue every month, waiting to collect my pension. 

The queue is moving faster now. I check my wristwatch again. I still have five minutes and there are ten more people ahead of me. I can now see the man behind the counter. I stare at him like a hawk fixes his gaze upon his prey. The number of people before me reduces by the moment. And finally, I am standing behind just one customer. I wipe the sweat off my forehead with the back of my hand and re-adjust my glasses, regaining motivation to wait some more. But this customer seems to take an eternity. My patience magically vaporizes. The numbness in my leg is reappearing. Fresh beads of sweat break out on my skin. And there- she is done. As I eagerly rush to the front of the counter, a mechanical voice echoes across the hall- “All functions shall resume after lunch”. The man behind the counter throws at me a swift glance and leaves his seat. 

This story is purely a work of fiction and has no resemblance to actual services at the bank or any such sector. 

A Personal Favour

“So, are you ready to do me a personal favour?”, she ask me. I stood still, I did not answered. I was scared. Mother taught me to run from business like this. Mother told me that God loves good people. But I think I am good no more. I stealed. But I was so hungry. I got no food for three days and three nights. Nobody give me money when I beg. So all I take was one apple! That lady has so many apples. Look like a mountain of red. Then she call me a thief. She said she will call the police to put me in jail. But if I do her work, she won’t call the police. I say I will do her work, because I don’t go in jail. Think I can’t say no, even if she ask me to do some bad work for her.

“So now that you have agreed, meet me tomorrow outside my house early in the morning and I’ll give you a packet which you shall deliver, at a certain address”, the shopkeeper eyed the young boy sharply. He was clearly nervous, but she knew he wouldn’t dare budge from his promise. He was too scared to be put behind bars. She smiled scornfully at the ‘thief’.

When I reach her house this morning, she gave me a big brown paper bag. It was sealed. She didn’t say what it has inside. Just give me an address. When I ask her, she looked at me angrily. So I kept quiet. I started walking. It’s a faraway place. I has to walk fifty miles outside the village, eastwards. Today she gave me two apples to eat on my way. Maybe she isn’t that bad. Maybe she’s just acting around nice because she knows she given me bad work to do. But what’s in the parcel? I shaked it too many times on my way. Nothing. No sound, no movement. Alright, I don’t want to think. I feel very scared though.

As I walked and walked in the told direction, I finally reach a house. It was old, almost falling apart. Trees grew around it, the windows have no glass. I knocked on the door three times as she said to do. After some time, a man opened the door and look at my face. He was confused, but he smiled broadly when he saw the parcel in my hand. Grabbing it, he rushed inside. Meanwhile, a small dirty boy came and stood behind him and watched me curiously. He ask when the man left, “Who are you?”. I wanted to ask him the same question, but I said, “I am the delivery man.” “But mother never had a delivery man!”, he blurt out. Shocked, I ask, “Who mother?” The child replied happily, “My mother has a fruit shop in bazaar. Every month she sends fruits and sweets for us. But she broke a leg a few days ago, so we thought no sweets for us. But she remembered.”

I manage to ask, “Why don’t you stay with her?” The man called out to the boy at this point. Scared, he look back. Before hurriedly closing the door, he quickly whisper to me, “Because we are her sons from the other father.”