Tag Archives: shortstory

Twenty Steps

I had smelled the perfume before. Its fruity aroma upset me more than the effect of her nimble hands pulsating through my aging arms, up my spine and down to my legs. I talked to my trembling feet, “Dare not collapse on me now. We got to make this journey of twenty steps, mere seconds away.”

“Are you okay, Sir,” she asked me, her bright red lipstick blinding my cataract-operated brown eyes.

“Eh,” spoke an unrecognizable voice emanating from my interior.

I may have had the unmanageable, grey beard, a collapsing turban over my head, deep wrinkles on my face I turned away from in the mirror, but I remembered another time vividly. A time when I could walk on my two feet.

Camilla’s perfume, lipstick and the worst of all, her hands holding me in double embrace accompanied by another stewardess following us with her hands on my back certain of my fall, played with my mind. The experience proved to be more painful than the pain that incapacitated me. Because I failed to make the journey of twenty steps with my head held high, relying on my two feet, I was a giant mass of crumbling mess to the glaring eyes of the seated public hearing the screech from my dragging feet, my ill-drawn caricature of lips, and my watery eyes.

Ten steps in, a wail slipped from my lips forcing Camilla to stop. Half my size, I could tell she was exhausted.

“Are you okay, Sir?” she asked.

I wanted to tell her I could carry her down the aisle with herculean strength. My wishful thinking accompanied me to old age defying wisdom.

Another “ah” sound and a nod signaled Camilla to continue. Through hazy vision of the packed airplane, my eyes saw a different view – one of breezy fields of gold, on sunlit Indian summers.

I could see a set of beautiful, hazel eyes and trembling lips uttering last goodbye. I felt the tug of defiance and the wild chase behind her auto rickshaw with speed my legs had forgotten by now. That was the last time I saw her, my love, one of my loves.

Just like that, arrived my seat too cramped for my body and so did the demise of my disgraceful twenty steps. Camilla tucked me into my seat and fastened my seat belt like I was a baby. Despite the difficulty of her latest chore, she kept the smile on her face intact. I pictured her as a lover. For my heart remained young, fierce, and hungry. “Maybe in afterlife,” advised an inner voice.

“Is Amritsar your final destination, Sir?”

She surprised me with the question.

Now seated, no longer humiliated by having my manhood shrunk to the size of a peanut and having taken a few sips of water, my quivering voice made a comeback.

“Yes.”

She smiled as though waiting for more.

“Going to a funeral.”

“Ah, I am sorry. A family member?”

My heart choked. She stood there unwilling to depart.

“Closer than a family member,” I said.

“Ah,” she nodded, “A friend?”

Nosy Camilla. Maybe, she too saw me as a lover. I should make a move.

“Better than a friend.”

Camilla waited with a faint smile on her face. An attendant tugged on her shoulder, and I labored to turn in my aisle seat to take in her sexy gait to the rear of the plane.

She was young, too young to be told I flew to the funeral of a lover, another lover active in my dying brain. Some would argue my brain concocted my love. Camilla was too young to be told I lived my life without her whose funeral I now flew to. She was too young to know the other endings to lifelong loves, the unsuitable endings to unrequited love. I wanted Camilla to hunger the bookish love. I wanted her to have the bookish love unlike my life.

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and focused on the hum of the plane’s engines. An image appeared in front of my closed eyes. I became a dashing, tall, athletic figure. I smiled. I was young again. And I flew.

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.

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.