Tag Archives: fiction

Beloved

Mr. Hinkles has lived at the old cottage villa for 40 years. He is well known in the town. He wears an old woolen jacket daily. His face adorns a faint white beard and wrinkles on his face stand for the years of his life. He lives alone and follows the same routine daily. He does not seem to have any family. Mary Peterson brings him homemade cookies every Sunday. He is a war veteran and has a long history of American manhood behind him. But from past several years, he has called a small village in Tuscany his home. Roots, he says have power but there are other forces in life, stronger than water. There is a mystery that surrounds his solitude. Mostly people feel bad for him.

Everyday Mr. Hinkles wakes up at 6. He brushes his teeth and smokes his cigar sitting in the solitary chair in his patio gazing far into the field, his gaze piercing through the fog of the morning. There are two more houses next to his but they are far apart. After his cigar is done, he walks slowly to the kitchen. He warms water in a small bowl. He boils the herbal petals over the steam. This is an important step, he thinks to himself. He warms himself some bread and eats it with tea. He polishes his black shoes until he can see his own reflection in the radiant black. He washes and dresses himself in the navy blue suit and steps out of the rusted front door.

He walks about a mile and half when he meets, Lucy on the main street. She is all flustered up. As soon as she sees Mr Hinkles, the beads in her eyes sparkle.

“Jack, How are you, my dear?”

Mr. Hinkles old face splits into a gracious smile. “Fine dear, market is so crowded these days. I have to walk to the Himton junction across the corn acres just to get a few vegetables.”

“Yes, things are getting very busy these days.” They talk for a little bit when Lucy excuses herself in a hurry. He watches her disappear around the bend of the road, a sadness settling on his dark face. He slowly turns back on his journey.

He stops at a shop on the way, buys a wind chime and the daily newspaper. The shopkeeper asks about his wellbeing before Mr Hinkles exits out into the busy street again. It is a busy day and the crowd fills the streets of Tuscany. Life exudes in every activity around. There is not much to explain but the affairs of everyday life, selling, buying, rushing, worrying are written on every face. Mr. Hinkles hurries in his own hurry. He buys few more things along the way, but never stops to look behind.

A secluded road on side of the junction forks out. He quietly and surreptitiously takes the road. He walks for another mile until his footsteps stop on a small spot. The grass is lush green and flowers still fresh exude a soothing fragrance into the air. It is an often visited spot. The stone says but one word, Beloved.

He bends down wistfully, opens his bag, replaces the flowers, and sprinkles the rose essence all over. She loved the fragrance, he thinks to himself. He sometimes sorrowfully talks and sometimes simply sits there till evening every day. Some days he sobs silently, sometimes erupts into laughter. He has his lunch as though on a perpetual picnic that only temporarily breaks at night. And, he does this daily. And daily, the window across from the field opens and acknowledges his presence at least once. Beloved are those that remain even when they go away.

Creek in the Woods

Creek
The huge mountains loom over us and clouds move ever so slow hugging the tips of the mountain. There is gushing water flowing in the valley below. It is evening time and the air so fresh and the backdrop of the Himalayas simply majestic. Monica and I step through the bushes down to where the water is as the rest of the class drinks and eats in their snack break by the bus. We simply walk as the roar of the water get louder and louder. As we reach the bottom of the hill, we hear a loud noise from above. It is Shelley. She says something but we are too far to hear or care about.

The water is sliding up and down the rocks with so much speed that it feels there is a thick surf of foam on the surface of it. I can feel happiness rise and fall inside my heart like orchestra. We sit there for a few minutes. Then we start to collect rocks with salt sediments on it. When we go back up we are scolded by the teacher for running away like that. We giggle. Monica and I have been best friends for several years. After the tough preparation for the board exams, this school trip to the Himalayas is a much needed break. We climb back into the school bus laughing and cracking jokes. Happiness is an emotion that knows no end. As the bus starts to move we stare out into the light fog that is developing as the evening is progressing into the night.

At the hotel darkness shrouds the mountains but not sound of the gushing water from the open window of our crammed hotel room. I am happy beyond measure. Next day we slip out of the charades game into the fields outside our hotel. We run into the wilderness shouting and screaming. Both of us clad in denim blue jeans are inseparable and uncontrollable and this is perfect opportunity to exercise our want to break free. As we stop by the small stream of water, Monica starts talking about how Ram threw up in class when her pet frog jumped out of her bag. The whole class started screaming when the frog (Teddy) jumped around. I hold her arm to stop myself from turning over and my eyes water as we laugh so hard our stomachs would burst open. All of a sudden I see smile on Monica’s face turn into a deadpan expression as though she has seen a ghost. Her gaze is fixated on the right of my shoulder. I get scared and move to turn around and look and I do not understand why but she stops me and asks me to wait. I do as asked. I stare at her face begging her to say something. She holds me for about a couple of minutes and then says, “Look” pointing right behind me.

I turn around and find a small dingy looking house in the middle of the woods on the other side of the stream. Its shape and color make it easy for it to camouflage, no wonder we didn’t notice it from this close. Its old walls are clad with green leaves clinging on to its side. I cannot imagine anyone living in such a place.

“So, what happened?” I yell at Monica.

And, to add to my confusion, she asks me to hush and whispers in my ear.

It was awful, and I don’t want to talk about it. We should leave now.”

Monica is the most fearless person I know and watching her afraid perplexes me. Typically in these situations we rush to adventure and explore unseen buildings. We are always getting in trouble. Yet, I do not question her. I simply shrug and follow her out of the woods.

The next day at the mess she is awfully quiet. I probe her some more.

“Hey Monica, let us go back to that house to see what’s inside” I say to her.

“No”

“Why not? What did you see, tell me!”

This time, all she says is, “I saw a figure slip from inside of the house around it. There is something wrong with the house and I do not want to talk about it or go back there!” With that she leaves with her plate still full with food.

Days roll by; we go trekking into the blue hills where there is a sealed bungalow of the old King of Patiala. We see the beautiful pictures of his second bride and admire her expensive clothes and beauty with envious eyes.

A week passes by and we are an evening away from the day when we head back out of the mountains into the plains of Punjab where endless fields with yellow flowers shroud the earth as far out in the horizon you can see.

We are playing cards and Monica is losing badly, I must say. The group behind us is talking about ghost stories.

Shelley is the first to go.

“My grandmother sees ghosts in the bungalow we have in Shushrolley and does not let me visit that place until I carry a cup of raw rice in my bag.”

We look at each other and smile. Kids can be so funny.

“Oh that is nothing” proclaims Shaam.

He continues. “My uncle once gave a lift to a lady on his cycle through the fields of Ropar and in his rear view mirror he saw that the lady’s feet were inside out. He lost balance and fell but as soon as he recovered, he looked around for the lady and she was nowhere in sight.”

We laugh hushed, with our backs towards the group. Monica loses yet another game from me but insists for another. I distribute the cards again indifferently, when I hear Kavita’s voice behind me.

She is speaking dimly.

“Yesterday evening Radha and I played the ghost coin game. We never get anything. But yesterday the coin moved!”

Everyone exclaims with a loud hum!

“The ghost was very chatty. It told us that it lives very near to this place. It said there is an old stone cottage right behind our hotel’s outer fence in the creek and that he sees all that we do.”

With that everyone laughed.

“And let me guess he is here with us right now!” exclaims Shaam.

I drop the cards in my hand and both Monica and I stare at each other both thinking the same thing. At that time Mrs Bhattal hushes us into our respective rooms.

We follow each other silently.

The thunder is so loud that night that every time it roars, our hearts miss a beat. We do not sleep the entire night that night. Every minute noise passes through the filter in our ears and we listen to the deadening silence or a shriek out in the distance.

In the morning, when the sun dawns, we hurriedly pack our belongings and as we step into the bus we turn and look around for the last time in the direction of the cottage and the small stream. We are happy to leave the place. And, when we return to the vast fields of Punjab out of the canopy of green mountains we sigh a breath of relief.

Written on 6-13-2006

Blue Umbrella

I found a blue umbrella last evening sitting outside my shop. I close my shop at 7 daily. Punctuality is a second nature to me. Last night I turned off the light, stepped outside, jiggled my pant’s pocket for keys and locked my heavy 20-year-old door. And, as I turned around to walk, I saw this blue umbrella sitting on the second step. It still had picture-perfect round rain drops resembling pearls resting on its surface. What was peculiar about the umbrella was the shade of blue. It was not a common blue. How many times do you notice a shade of a color but this shade seemed almost inescapable to the human eye. I stared at the blue for a few seconds. I walked past the umbrella and looked around, not a person in sight. The storm, now silent, seemed to have rushed the crowd into their homes. I looked hard at both sides and turned and looked at the umbrella that was calling out to me, “I am yours, it pleaded!” I silently picked it up. But, an unnamed guilt ate at my mind the rest of the night. My innocent mind could not get past the idea of picking someone else’s (mysterious) umbrella from the street. I was guilty but also tortured by the mystery of the color and the thought as to why the umbrella was abandoned in the middle of a storm. My mom said that I needed to find someone for myself, that I was too alone. After you have been this alone, it starts showing in the form weirdness, she said. Maybe she was right, but God knows I was so unsettled by this small event that I could not rest my mind on another topic.

So, the following day as I brushed my teeth and stared into the wild haired half-awake person in the mirror, I decided, Yes! I am going to take the blue misery back to its second step. I combed my unmanageable hair, put my book in bag pack, turned off the TV, fixed the glasses on my nose, and picked the umbrella and hid it in my big bag.

It was sunny that day, a rest day for umbrellas. I bashfully but vigilantly opened the blue umbrella and put it back on the step I picked it from as though it never left it. As my fingers trembled I glanced around one more time searching for the owner of the umbrella to catch me, the thief of their umbrella, and hurried inside. The open sign jiggled all day long through the glass window by the wind. It made this quacking noise as it slammed against the glass window. Every so often I would look outside at the blue umbrella still sitting there. Why hasn’t anyone come to claim it? My misery only grew by the hour.

When poppy came in at noon she complained of the umbrella blocking the entrance and moved it in. I didn’t answer and took my book out to lunch with me. I ate at the nearest sushi place. I hate sushi but liked the grilled chicken they make over there. Its taste brought me back here once a week. As I ate, activity in the right periphery of my eye formed an image. Without turning I saw a couple of waiters whispering in my direction. I shut my book with a bang, put money on the table and scrambled my way outside without looking behind. How did they find out about the umbrella? Such was the guilt of a lonely mind.

Every night I took the umbrella home. Every night I stared at it angrily. And, every morning it traveled back with me to work. Poppy didn’t question it anymore. And even I got used to the umbrella, it is just an umbrella, I said. It seemed to belong perfectly in my gift shop. It just fit in. It was a little person.

Blue

Then one day when I was getting groceries from the new mart in town, all of a sudden the thunder roared and clapped. The dark grey clouds sped west. And, after a quick round of lightning, rain slapped hard on my face. I loved my red jersey. I wore it every Tuesday with my denim jeans and striped shoes my aunt Bethel gave me. As I drenched in rain, I was unhappy but when I remembered the blue umbrella in my bag, I smiled. I took it out and walked the rest of the way satisfied. My Blue Umbrella, Indeed! It’s mine, a voice whispered in my heart.

It rained for next three days straight but I was not worried. I went to the store across town for antique shopping, I visited my grandmother in Brooklyn and back and I walked across the Hudson River. I and my blue umbrella now went everywhere together.

On the seventh day of May a customer walked into the store. He was shabbily dressed and started haggling over dickens old book. As poppy calmed the old man down, some activity outside caught my attention. Two young men were outside. The one with the mustache was holding my blue umbrella overjoyed and excited.

His eyes were lit and he exclaimed, “I left it right here last week! I cannot believe I found it. I love New York!”

My heart skipped a beat. I felt helpless. I settled the account with the irate customer. But, when I looked outside the blue Umbrella, my blue umbrella was gone. I was sad beyond despair. I walked back that day with a heavy heart. I missed the umbrella. I missed its color blue. I looked at all my other umbrellas with disdain.

I never saw the man with the mustache again nor the blue umbrella that was found and then lost.