I had always looked at the staircase and wondered what could be behind it. The staircase didn’t seem to be in the middle of the space. I am sure they attached it to a wall with screws, a half-window half-wall. The window covered with a translucent piece of bright yellow tin. You couldn’t move the staircase, and so couldn’t reach the half wall. The railings had a lot of gap in between, but you still couldn’t see the half window. There was a translucent tin sheet on its journey of opacity. The stairs spiralled down, to a place I still don’t know. They removed their shoes at the landing. I was certain of a dark room which the stairs led to, its windows covered with tinted glass. Tinted glass windows was not too important, but the bathroom was a large dark hall with black flooring, tinted windows and a tub in the middle of it. I never peeped in to check if the tub had water, I was scared. The room had hidden treasures. Not hidden, they were all placed in the open darkness of the room. I wanted to climb down, but I never did. I don’t remember why. I didn’t tell anyone about my truth, not because they’d laugh, for I didn’t think they would laugh. I climbed up and down the stairs. The railings were covered in cobwebs. They weren’t fresh spider-webs glistening in the sun. There was no sun at the bottom of the stairs, nor at the top. The stairs were red, not a bright red. The railings were black, neither shiny, nor faded. They existed in their shade of black, like most railings do. And they were beautifully carved. Or not. Maybe they were just ordinary. The shoes- they were mostly sandals, old, wearable at home. I can’t remember if there was a bulb hanging from the top, a dim yellow bulb…I think I want to sit on the steps. Dust on the stairs, it is an old building nevertheless. And worn out cobwebs on the railings. I can draw shapes on the dust. I should have just climbed downstairs. I wasn’t scared whatsoever. I wanted to wait, to grow up to know if I would still believe in treasures and go look for them down the spiralled…no, it wouldn’t be a skeleton still. If only I had known that I would lose it all, lose my staircase! If only I had known, I would have climbed down. I’ll probably never know ever if the stairs led to hidden treasures stored in the open, it’s a road that crumbles behind you as you move forward. But God, I would love to know what was behind the staircase, maybe the tin has rusted, and falling off, and I can see without dismantling the staircase. Otherwise, storing it would be a problem, I cannot twist it more than it already is, and you can’t fold it either. Someone has to hold it the entire time I look out through the half window, and it’s too heavy for one person. What if I want to look out of the window the next day again? The ice cream vendor sells a different flavour everyday. The half window probably has intricately designed grilles and I can’t put my hand out. It is unlikely though, because I’ve never seen convincing silhouettes through the tin. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll find faint scratches on the floor from where they have dragged the vessels out.
Polonius said of Hamlet- Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.
A frenzied flurry of pain,
Follow the same old pattern,
Jump from one blood vessel to another-
Bursting each open.
Faces move past in a blur, like streetlights through the window of a speeding car.
It’s the first step I take every time.
Second, I pause at each face.
I am belted on to the driver’s seat, my left foot on the brake.
A maddening reluctance to feel safe, a desire to fall step by step,
Into a dark abyss of repetition. Of methodical heartbreak every time.
Like scientific results of frenzied experiments.
Maddening results repeated every time.
Who evades the fall? I ask.
Those who speed past faces…fall into an unimaginably circular habit,
Of not falling at all.
Keep going back and forth
To new faces and old,
New faces and old.
Because human actions are a methodical folly-
Repeated in circles and circles more.
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:
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:
She was selected as the bride after her in-laws were convinced of her knee length hair, culinary skills, housekeeping and middle school education.
Today, they scolded her for not earning enough after her husband lost his job.
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.
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.