Short Shorts


It was a complete betrayal, a breach of faith and an affront to my self-respect. I have braved the heartless sun burning my insides, the lashing rains that threatened my existence and the lonely winter nights that have bought tears to my unseen eyes. I wondered what you were up to when you sowed those seeds all around me, all the way to the far horizon where my gaze stopped to scan for crows that may peck at those seeds, putting paid to your dreams, though you never shared what they were. Many months later after a sunny beat-down had knocked me out, I woke up to the delightful sight of yellow flowers filling my view. I wanted to hug you and at that moment I would have even blown a kiss at those ghastly birds that I was to shoo away. I knew you had planted the sunflowers for people to admire their beauty. And I could glow tall in the middle of a sea of yellow. But then you had other plans. Schemes that would fetch you more wealth. Overnight my solitary moment of joy withered into a pall of gloom. You snatched my yellow bed of happiness from me. The blooms of my dreams expired and you used them as fodder for your cows.

Every day when he went past the field, cycling to his school and back, the boy would see the man balancing on a pole like an exclamation mark. Rather, he later realised, the man was writing questions to heaven with his unfurled hands floating in the wind. He would twist and turn and often lean towards the ground as if he could not decide whether he wished to kiss the earth or soar to the skies.

One day the boy mustered enough courage, not difficult in his childhood innocence, untouched by reality, to go up to him and enter his mindscape. The man’s wide-open head, blown aside by stones of stormy thoughts, aroused the boy’s curiosity. His simple demeanour was inviting enough for him to ask what he had on his mind, lonely in the middle of an untended growth in tattered clothes day after day.

He was walking with a great sense of confidence. Often when he was depressed he would take this recourse. The swiveling glass doors would bring a flutter of fleeting thoughts of all that he would be taking back. A sudden burst of LED lights, an explosion of inspiration, the chimes of piped music playing in loops, and he is inside the picture and it is clear. As he pressed the button inside the lift it would set the controls for the heart of the sun. One that would light up his dreary life — his wallet throbbing with life as the lift skipped the floors that he had discarded with disdain. Those floors did not offer the rays of hope that would fill up his shopping cart. He would check himself in the mirror in the lift before getting out and losing himself among the bevy of beautiful bodies basking in the glory of their plastic bags sporting labels that would make his heart skip a beat. He wanted his hands too to feel the consoling tug of the weight of all the stuff he was to buy today. And then he would tell himself like a corporate executive tells his friend one day after work when they meet at the club for a sundowner: 'I am relocating. This work is getting to me. I am looking for a better quality of life.' He would bid adieu to these dry leaves, this daily drudgery of meaningless actions among mice and men. He would find salvation when he is elevated to the top of a towering structure of steel and glass.

I met her when the sky above sported a stroke of vermillion as if it was a bride that had parted its hair for a dash of sindoor.

We took to each other in a flicker. She would sit by my feet and make fun of me in an attempt to straighten the twitches on my forehead as the plants around us sent up cones of furled leaves and the flowers added another shade of white as her silken voice joined the breeze from the lake.

'Make your arms a hammock for me,' she once said even as I knew nothing was like anything else.

I knew, like the poet, that not even the rain had such small and brittle hands as mine. I can make a bed of moonlight, I offered. I can make a cradle of afternoon breeze. 'Hammock!'

I sank into sadness and said: 'My life is shorter than that of a firefly.'

She reminded me of the Arabian proverb: 'When danger comes, sing to it.'

I hummed a tune as I made a hammock for her. My hands twigs from a tree. He has been coming here every day at the break of dawn and been at it. He would carefully make space for himself among the dense green that had engulfed us. He would carefully place his tripod and arrange his equipment and then he would click away. I would watch with amusement as he would fidget with his trousers, pulling them up, as they slid down his thin waist while he was adjusting the shutter of his camera. Why was he looking at me with such rapt attention? He was perhaps looking for yet another angle. After all he needed a sizeable number of shots to make up for his photo-essay titled ‘Of Cabbages and Kings’. And good ones too. Which is why he also took snaps of me in all possible light that the sun offered and held back. He even took the risk of standing in the open while the sky shivered with flashes of lightning.

All that remained now for him were a few portraits of me in the moonlight. He was waiting for the full moon. Me too. I was waiting for him. I needed to fill myself with a breathing life. I survived on humanity.

You can never predict when a swing will be set without swings. Kiku could not, despite being an integral part of the Kalawati family. Her husband would never have allowed this wilderness. After all, this was where Kalawati’s two children, Somu and Seeku, played just inside the fence and a little away from their modest house. When the couple were away working in their fields I was father, mother, witness, a raiser of children as jokes and laughter would blow through me like a breath through the hollow of a reed. Once the family returned after a hard day at work, Kiku would watch little by little the night turning around. Until one night, unsuspectingly, it stopped.

When morning came, Kiku saw a crowd gathering around and the police taking out four figures wrapped in white and laying them on the ground where little feet had pounced in glee just the other day. Unlike them Kiku cannot bury himself nor can he look for a noose to hang from the sky. Perhaps he can seek solace in the fact that heroes die standing.