Short Story: Narrating the notion of Love and Fear
Author: Naval Langa
THE CLOCK HAS no time to rest. But my time is frozen. Sun might have warmed earth outside the hospital-room; moon might have cooled people’s bodies worn by fatigue; but I have lost feeling for such transients. For me the time has not resumed yet. Ajay laid on bed: attacked by the hooligans—three stabs in his belly. The doctors have struggled for the whole night with their surgical instruments.
Outside the hospital, there was crowd. Ajay's staffs. Suddenly the crowd shifted its attention. All eyes on a woman: the woman who ran in with visible madness. She cut the serpentine line of men and women queued up for donating blood. People immediately spared way for her: the woman who seemed to have forgotten to walk, to breathe, and to mend her clothes.
Her total stock of bones was possessed by uncontrolable trembling. Eyes: red, swollen, and tearless as stone. Staff nurses ran at the lady and drove her and her protruding pain inside. But she did not stop; she ran blindly, and struck her head with the closed door, the operation theatre door.
“Open it…” She screamed. Fanatically.
Her body collapsed on the floor. People seemed to know her. But they did not know how the trembling figure was attached to the patient. But I knew. I knew her; I was sure about her identity: she could not be other than the library ma’am—Ajay’s ex-lover, the woman with whom Ajay had desired to pass his life.
People get her pacified on a chair. Her face emitted a fact that how a worried lover could cry constantly without making a single piece of noise. I had not expected the figure that was sketched in Ajay’s diary, the figure that was written in the letter, coming before my eyes so painfully in flesh and blood. Charu, it’s her name, has chosen the path of social service and has distanced herself from the worldly subjects.
There was only one other notable incidence since that day: when Ajay regained senses and kissed my palm, it was the moment I regained faith. It was the moment I lost all the courage I had accumulated, and cried as a small girl who had lost and found her life. Thereafter, few teacups, a couple of dresses, a small comb, and some pieces of bread with tea: these are the articles I have touched for my own purposes.
I have lost the past, distant or near; I have only present, a sleepless present. Event manager in me has lost all the events and purposes, which arise in outside world. My beloved is hit at life; he needs someone besides him; I am here, twenty-four hours, sixty minutes.
It strikes midnight, the seventh midnight. Late December has squeezed out every drop of noise from the air. The night does not carry weight of any activity. It means all the gardens are mute at every leaf; the city is calm at every street. I put off table lamp; keep aside a partly read book. I feel like a tired seal. My limbs ache in between, but never complain. The limbs have, perhaps, stopped sending signals of pain to my brain. Seven nights, each one longer than any other, …and eyelids feel weight.
It is raining… I am on a bank… a river, flooding out of banks. Am I standing on sand or a rock? I am not sure. And there I see a woman, surfing on the water waves, trying to cross the river...
She is Charu, the library ma’am.
A quiver passes through my belly. My fear tells me: one day there would be a bridge, a new bridge, connecting both the banks. Or from the other side of the river, Charu with the oars of renewed passions would sail across the floating river. She would come with yellow flower in her hair… with breasts wet by milk… and snatch Ajay away… Onto her raft, she would carry him with all of my rose plants… to a distance, long distance. Charu is good at carrying the things of her past.
Suddenly everything disappears as in escape of the electricity in a theatre. It’s still raining. Heavily. From the water pool, there emerges a temple with colour of a deporting law. Bells ringing… Two marble statues of temple-guards, standing in front of the temple-gate, turn alive and start moving… They march into me... Black uniforms, hoods on. They have eyes, but no eyelashes; they have palms, but no fingers. Near they come. One speaks to me: your passport is expired. Go back to your country.
I distrust the scene. My passport cannot run out. Ajay, my love, is before my eyes, sleeping with comfort, the comfort of my warmth. But what about Charu? Is she still on the boat? No, she cannot be. She is a coloniser; and she has left the land without notice. My lips go dry. The serpent of fear wobbles. I know my life is a blank page, if Ajay’s name is not written on it.
A spate of grief, and the place and the time fail to prevent my sobs. On quite a strange noise, Ajay wakes up.
“Ajay, will you please… “
“What’s the matter, my dear? What happened?” He drags me near. “Sweta, my dear, tell me… why are you so sad?” Restless are his words; fearful are my eyes. Suddenly the room turns into a panic-stricken cell. “Sweta, everything is over now. Please. You… you’re my strength.”
It is not the time to talk and prolong the panic. He gently gets me nearer, fondles my back. “Ajay, I will die… If… if you... Ajay, don’t… don’t leave me…” I scatter some sleep-filled words.
“Please dear. Have some sleep, sweet… sweet… sleep… umm… I’m here…with you… going nowhere. Okay…? Now have a sleep.” He presses my head on his shoulder and keep patting my back. Slowly… slowly. I am walking along with him, on a green bank of river…hand in hand… drinking coconut.
ONE SLIGHT SQUEAK, and I am awake. The door—slightly opens up. Ajay is a deep sleep, and the night a blank hour. I go out to trace the noise. It is past three, and none in the city has reason to be out of bed in an attacking night when wind blows in arrows.
Despite the faint light in passage, flickering mysteriously, not sufficient to make out clearly the face of a lady at far end, I recognize her faltering feet. Her muted red dress moves to and fro like red and green flags. Looking at the key, terribly clutched in her fist, I can sniff the speed of her cerebral traffic.
“I… I can’t sleep. So…”
“Ma’am. Shall we sit for a while?”
“No. I… I will go.” The fog is wall-thick at horizon, portending heavy electric sparks in sky. Her lips are shut like doors of the castle of a mystery novel.
Charu has frequented at hospital during these days, but remained empty of words. She talked with Ajay. Once only. Thereafter she comes; she opens the door to look at Ajay, not glancing but fixing her eyes on him as if not to miss even a moment; she stands at the door, emitting her silent pain; and then walks away. On two of her visits she would come with hot food for two persons, put the basket before Ajay or me, and would not allow a single word to escape out of her lips. Her standing at the door, staring at Ajay, never looked like a trespasser’s act.
I have an active tool in my head to gauge Charu’s position. I have read Charu’s letter that she wrote while declining to marry Ajay. Does her letter proclaim absence of love? Certainly not. Only she had found herself unable to walk with Ajay. That was the text. The subtext: it is not an outright walk out from his life.
He is in her life, still. Ajay is an impression that is not eroded by the flowing of time-river between two banks. The border between two words, ‘lover‘ and ‘ex-lover’, looks wavy, terribly undefined.
“Ma’am. Please sit for a while.”
“No. But…you…you take rest…” She quickens her steps, as if the feet have gone rebellious. Her voice resembles to a frightened cuckoo’s. “Wait a minute, please.” I fly inside the room, glance at Ajay and hurry back. She is almost at gate; her steps are not decisive, but I have to run making up the distance.
“Ma’am, I need a talk with you.”
“Ma’am, I need a talk with you.”
Her stopping is a perceptible reluctance. It is my look around for extracting an agreeably place to sit side-by-side. I stretch my eyes through the veil of fog. Stark silence, hardened by shivering loneliness, has blanketed the surround. We keep walking. Before exiting hours of deadly cold night disable our limbs, we, the pain-struck souls, settle in a restaurant that contains grey-stone tables, chairs with cold cushions, and a truckload of derelict air. No other occupants, except some frames of human-like faces with out-sized moustaches, like the man’s who is dozing at counter.
Initial sipping of tea fail to open Charu. Her lips are dry as sand, and face looks as if she has taken a lifelong vow of silence. I want her to speak about I am still unaware. But her eyes are stiff on the fumes rising high from her cup.
“Ma’am. I think, we don’t need introduction, but…” I sense a battle of nerves over her face, the face that has carved out her own path and decided not to marry a man like Ajay: Living with Ajay would have been a permanent passport for happiness. But for the moment, her face shows that she is carrying the sorrow of my share, too.
“Ma’am, I’m… we all are scared by the incidence. Tell me something. Otherwise I will believe that you are using the weapon of silence on...”
“Do you love him?”
Her gaze comes straight on my eyes; her swollen eyes pour out entire stock of pain into one query. Her tears, shaped as undersized grapes, roll out of red eyes grape-by-grape. The frozen fire is melting. But the query makes me blank for a while.
I have never been weak at replying; but it is hard to respond. Yes, I am unable to live without Ajay; I am mad for him. Wherever I go, east or west, all the roads end at his gate. Is it the love? Or am I still to allot a name to the stream that flows between me and…. ‘Sweta, I feel like a tree without leaves when you are not around.’ That is how Ajay displays his love-land. But I am requisitioned to answer.
“Ma’am, I have planted some roses. In the vacant spaces of his home.”
Charu presses her lips and fondles my hand. When she touches my hand, I realise she might have a weak tongue but she has a heart that pulsates with neat love. Thinning of fog makes our faces clearer. What I cannot see, I do imagine: Charu has not slept well from the moment we all are here, at hospital; she is unable to bear Ajay on a patient’s bed; and she is going through an unbearable mental turmoil. Then comes a revealing. She has not taken food since Ajay is admitted. I order two sandwiches and force her to eat.
“Ma’am. Ajay wakes up at six o’clock. Let us sit…” I try to extend her company on the way back. She looks slightly comfortable.
“I must go now. Take your care, too. And please don’t…don’t leave him alone and…” Words fail to come out. But her hand is on my head. It clearly seems that her commitment to the social service has swayed over the emotional land of the library ma’am.
The lady opens the car-door, settles on her seat, and drives away. Her car neither makes noise nor exhausts suffocating smoke. It simply drifts into a distance. I stand on the road until the car turns into a dot—a dot looking like a flowered rose.
The fog has abated. I am ascending the steps to be at Ajay.