Saurav Mohapatra - comic book writer

author, artist and bona fide geek

Tag: short story

[Short Story] Place of Many Doors

Somewhere out there is a door.

Sometimes a door is all that there is.

#

She checks her reflection in the window pane of the Raymond’s shop. She pats her shirt down flat across the tummy and heaves a sigh of relief.

“Thank God! It doesn’t show yet.”

She draws a deep breath and rounds the corner of State Street. She can see Ajay sitting in the café looking nervously at the Curzon Road entrance.

She shakes her head.

That kind of describes aptly their recently concluded relationship.

Love was never a problem. It was just that they could never match their expectations. If their life together were to be this café, Nandini always entered through the State Street entrance while Ajay expected her to come through the Curzon Road one.

Finally, it had gotten to a point where he had decided it was better to call it quits than to carry on. She had respected his decision and that had been it.

That was a month ago.

#

She awakens in a strange place. The first sensation she gets is that of emptiness. The place is a big white… nothing. She feels the void wrap around her like a misty blanket, the vast expanse of nothingness ironically triggering a bout of claustrophobia. There is nothing to see, or to hear, a truly silent null.

She is confused, too confused to be afraid. She tries to make sense of it, but her brain refuses to grasp even a tiny sliver of a context. She finds not even a tiny knob to hang her thoughts upon.

Just a big empty place full of nothing.

#

She stands at the café door, willing Ajay to consider the remote possibility that she might have entered from the other end. After a while, she gives up and starts walking towards the glass doors. The door chime sounds as she opens them and that catches his attention. He turns to look at her. Maybe she is imagining it, but she thinks she can spot a brief flicker of disappointment on his face that she had chosen to enter through this entrance and not the one he had picked for her in his mind.

“Easy now, girl! Be focused. This is really important.”

She does a few repetitions of the deep breathing technique she had learned from the Tai-chi book and walks up to the table.

By the looks of it he is already on the 3rd pack of the day. The ashtray on the table is crammed with butts, some still smoldering.  She wonders if he has any inkling of the news she is about to break to him.

She orders an Earl Gray (no milk, no sugar, as usual) and sits there. Neither of them speaks for a while. Finally Ajay breaks the silence.

“So, how have you been?”

There is a hint of awkwardness in his voice. Nandini is nervous too. The ancient Chinese practitioners of Tai-chi apparently didn’t cover meetings this soon after a break-up.

She has thought of this moment and rehearsed what she was going to say a thousand times. But her mind betrays her and she forgets the opening words.

“I’m late.”

As she blurts out the words, she realizes that getting straight to the point perhaps is the best opening she could hope for. The subject she is about to broach had no right or wrong approach.

“Oh, it’s okay. No biggie. I came a bit early, was in the area.”

“No, Ajay. I’m not talking about that. I’m L-A-T-E. This is the second period I’ve missed. I went to the doctor day before yesterday. I’m pregnant.”

There! Just like that she drops the bombshell in his lap.

Ajay is transfixed. His hand is stuck midway between its arc from the table to his mouth. It takes him a solid minute or two to regain composure. He puts the cigarette in his mouth, but changes his mind the next instant and stubs it out. He stares at the dying wisp of smoke that curls up from the ashtray.

They sit like that for a few minutes. There is no conversation. A few times, either of them tries to say something. The words just get stuck in their throats. After a few of these false starts, they just give up and sit staring at each other in silence.

#

She thinks she can see some sort of dark shape form in that white haze. Perhaps her mind is playing tricks on her, but she decides to find out.

She walks towards it.

As she gets nearer, she can make out the shape.

It’s a door, a plain old wooden door with shiny brass door knob.

Even though there’s no light, she thinks she can see the knob gleam. It’s almost as if it’s beckoning her to open it and step through.

She stands there for a moment. She stands there for an eternity. She debates in her mind whether or not to open it. She doesn’t know where she is, neither does she have the foggiest notion what lies behind the door. Her hand is on the knob, yet her body is frozen by indecision, taut with the tension of inactivity.

“What the hell! At least something is better than this nothing.”

She turns the knob and steps through.

#

“I’m telling you strictly FYI. Don’t read anything else into it.”

She decides that the silence has gone on for long enough.

“Uh-huh.. you? How? Wow! This is all very sudden.”

“Ajay, did you hear what I just said? Don’t read anything else into it. I’m not here to guilt trip you. We’re history. I just thought you should know.”

She can’t help firming her tone as she speaks. She feels guilty about that the very moment she says it.

She had been up the whole night trying to debate whether or not to tell Ajay. Now that she had told him, she feels that she should never have come here.

But somewhere deep inside her, she feels glad that she did. It was also his child. Even though they had parted ways, there had been a time when they had been in love. Just for that he deserved to know.

She tries to remember their time together and how the world had seemed like a perfect place.

#

The door opens to a meadow.

It is beautiful. A stream flows through it. She thinks she can hear music, like the soft clink of silvery wires tapped with a delicate crystal wand.

“I have died and gone to heaven.”

She feels a mix of panic and ecstasy at the same time.

The place soothes her troubled mind. She stands their trying to make sense of it all. There’s a part of her that wishes to remain here, yet somehow after a while the place seems emptier than the void she had just been in.

She can’t put her finger on it. Maybe it’s the sameness of it. It seems like a fixed tableau, never changing, never altering a bit.

“Well! I AM getting bored of this Norman Rockwell shit.”

As she soon as she thinks this, another door appears in front of her.

#

“I don’t know what to say, Nandini.”

“Then don’t.”

She doesn’t know what she expected out of this, but she can tell this isn’t going well. She had to speak to someone and she is secretly glad that she had told at least one other living soul about her situation. But now she wasn’t sure if Ajay was the perfect confidante in this matter.

“I… I… Are you absolutely sure that it’s mine?”

“Men!  So predictable. I’m telling him I’m going to have his child and this is all he can come up with.”

She cannot help snickering even in this situation, abeit it happens entirely in her mind. That response was just… so Ajay.

“Yes. The doctor’s office called last evening. I’m two months pregnant.”

“Oh boy!”

Ajay looks like he is ready to cry.

Damn! That’s the last thing she wants now. She nervously looks around the café to see if anyone is looking. She feels that hard not in the pit of her stomach tighten and all of a sudden she feels very sick.

#

She is sinking.

The door had opened into a quagmire. As soon as she had stepped through, she had started sinking into the quicksand. She was up to her waist now in it and it wouldn’t be long before it engulfed her completely. She tries desperately to break free, flailing her arms in futile attempt to swim in that gloop.

The muck completely restrains her lower half and she can no longer feel her legs. The harder she tries to break free, the stronger it seems to get.

She has sunk till her chest by now.

She tries harder.

#

Ajay bursts into tears.

She hadn’t expected this. When she had decided to come here, she just wished to tell him and walk away.

“Ajay, please don’t do this. Don’t make this harder for me than it already is.  Please!”

The crying subsides, but he keeps on sniffling.

“It’s all my fault. I should’ve never left. If only I had known!”

“Please!”

He raises his head and looks at her. His nose is red like a child’s after a bout of cold and his voice sounds like he’s gasping for breath.

“What do you plan to do?”

She had asked herself this question a thousand times last night. Now hearing him articulate it, she feels that she is back at square one. The truth is she doesn’t know. Not for the first time in her life, she is unsure of everything.

She doesn’t know what the hell she wants to do.

#

She is up to her neck now in the mud. Her arms are barely above the quicksand and she is getting tired.

Resignation has set in. She doesn’t want to fight anymore.

She stops moving and waits for the inevitable.

#

“We… We could get back together. We could get married.”

“Stop it, Ajay. I didn’t come here for pity. It was a mistake.”

She starts getting up, but Ajay holds her hand.”

“No! No! Nandini, please hear me out. I want us to be together again. I was a fool to walk out.”

Now people are definitely looking at them.

She feels the tingle in the nape of her neck as she realizes that they are now the center of all attention in that small smoke filled café. She feels like time has paused around her. She looks at him, his eyes pleading with her. She feels the knot in her stomach tighten further. She has that somehow vaguely familiar feeling that she is sinking deep into something primordial that is sapping her of all feeling of being alive.

She feels her body and mind go numb.

#

It’s up to her chin now. She can’t see them, but she almost feels her numb arms dangle lifelessly by her side. She feels utterly helpless.

Her body is not responding to her mind and slowly she feels her mind giving up too. Her thoughts have crawled to a standstill. As she sinks even further, she feels the cold mud engulf her entire being.

This is the end.

“No!”

She surprises herself with the violence of her own thought. She feels as if something inside of her is crying out loud, lashing out with all her strength. In that briefest of instants, she feels her mind fire with the last spurt of energy left in her numb form.

She understands. She has made a decision.

She stops moving and closes her eyes. She slides completely into the quagmire and she opens her eyes.

A door appears before her.

#

She looks at Ajay with a level gaze and even he can feel the intensity in her eyes. He stops bawling and lets go of her hand.

When she speaks, she feels as if she were out of her body and is hearing her own voice from a distance.

She doesn’t care who overhears her words or what they think of it. She has made up her mind.

“Listen to me carefully, Ajay. What we had was once wonderful, but it’s over. It’s no use for you to come back out of guilt. It would just be the same shit, over and over again.”

“B-but, I thought…”

“As I had told you before, I came here because I felt you had a right to know. I have made a decision and the best you can do is to honor it and support me one last time.”

#

The door opens back to the meadow. Something has changed. It feels different, as if someone has breathed life into it.

She sees a cottage by the stream and there is a bench there overlooking the meadow and the woods beyond. She walks over and sits on it.

She doesn’t know how long she sits there, nor does she care. For once in her life, she is at peace. Her trance is broken by a sweet sound of laughter that sounds purer than the untouched snow on the hills, the voice of an angel calling out to her.

“Mama! Mama! Look at what I found.”

She turns to see a little girl running towards her.

Nandinit smiles and walks towards her. The child is excited and is jumping up and down with  enthusiasm as only a child can.

“You must see this, Mama. Come.”

The girl grabs her hand and she lets herself be led towards wherever the child wishes to take her.

They cross the rise in the heart of the meadow and there on the dip, she sees the most beautiful sight she has ever seen.

#

“I’m going to have this child and she’ll be mine alone. You needn’t worry. I’m not going to ask you for child support. You’re welcome to your life and I wish the same favor from you. I want you to have nothing to do with me or my child.”

He is crestfallen, but somehow he seems to accept her words.

She turns and walks towards the front door of the café. She can hear him sign and when she is almost at the door, she thinks she can hear him start to weep. She resists the urge to turn and look back.

In front of her the brass door knob gleams as if beckoning her to open it and step through. She opens the door and steps outside.

#

There on the meadow, mother and child behold the wonderful sight of an infinite number of doors, each looking different and glowing in the morning light. Each door beckons them to open and step through.

Nandini pulls her daughter close to her and they both start laughing with joy.

THE END

Author’s Note
This story was the winner of Sulekha.com/DNA-Me short story contest and was published in the Nov 2006 Issue of DNA-Me. I had to edit the story down to 1000 words for publication. The version posted here is the longer / uncut version with some changes made. It was the first time I had to write something non-genre and for a publication geared towards a female audience. I’m really thankful to Sathya Saran, editor DNA-Me for choosing this story and working with me on the condensed version.

The first two lines are part of a writing prompt I used to write a story called “The Door”. I loved the line so much I wrote this story around that line.

[Short Story] A DEATH BY ANY OTHER DAME

I see her swing her arms. Can’t fault her aim, she connects dead center on my nose. I feel it crunch and shatter like some cheap three day old cannoli. For a scrawny little dame, she packs a mean punch. I’d known a few like her back in the day, back east when I used to run with the DeLucci crew, all velvet and Chanel on the outside and steel on the inside, a dame after my own heart.

I feel woozy, not necessarily from her punch, takes helluva lot more than one punch from a dame to knock me out. I think it is the stake through my heart that is kinda messing with me right now. That and the four others she got through my palms and legs.

I’m pinned to this mesa wall like some two bit messiah on his wooden cross. Lady knows her vampires, looks like she spent a lot of time planning this.

Guess I deserve this, for being stupid.

But then I was always a sucker for dames, if ya know what I mean.

#

(Two Hours Earlier)

I’m on a roll. I hit the lucky seven three times in just under an hour, must be my lucky day.

I see her across the floor, in a va va voom red dress, every inch the femme fatale.

I’ve had my dinner not so long ago, a tasty little dish in a slinky black dress. She tasted like smoked redheads usually do, two parts perfume, one part cheap menthol cigarettes with a seasoning of moonshine. I’d stuck my fangs deep in her throat and had drank my fill, sucking the life out of her and enjoying every bit of it. Her body I dumped back in a dark alley. Didn’t bother to find out the name, they are all the same in this town. Ya don’t try to remember the names of hookers and alleys. Just do your stuff and head on out into the night. Funny thing is they all look the same, been in one means ya been in all of ‘em.

Now that I was hungry no more, I got other itches to scratch. I straighten my tie and hit the strip.

The dealers out here know me. I mean not that I’m a bloodsucker, but the bona-fide high roller part. I get chips worth ten grand, no nickels and dimes for me. I do the roulette first, double my take in an hour and move on. I’m at the crap table when I first see her.

I sense her watchin’ me from where she sits. I sneak a peek and find her still staring at me. Eye contact is inevitable. Her kissers are as red as her dress and I let my eyes wander on down her cleavage right down to the low neck line.

Suddenly another need knocks at the door. I feel it grow like a drop of ink on starched white linen sheets, pretty soon she is all I can think of.

I walk over to her.

We chitchat for a while about meaningless things. I check my watch, still a good two hours before sunrise.

A couple of drinks and I find her willing. We take my car.

She drives.

I let her.

#

We go way out into the desert, under the starry sky, where there is nothin’ but the stars, Joshua trees and the two of us.

She stops the car and leans over to kiss me.

Her smell drives me mad. I can’t resist.

We go outside.

She leans back on the hood with all the subtlety of minx in heat.

I move in hungrily.

Strange! I usually feed once in a night! But right now I hunger for her.

I lean over as if to kiss her throat.

The fangs are out.

#

I’m falling. I never felt her stab me. She slid the stake in like a stiletto, one quick jab and she got it right in the ticker. I feel numb in my chest like someone just held me in a tub of ice water for an hour.

I find it difficult to breathe. I fall back gasping. If I wasn’t dead already, that would’ve done me in for sure.

She picks me up and sets me against the hood. She says something about her child. I think I fed on the little one.

Yeah! As if I remember! Water under the bridge, babe! Men gotta feed. No regrets there! I say as much. She spits in my face.

She pushes me off the hood and back against the wall of earth behind it. She drives the stake in deeper and pins me to the wall. She opens her purse and takes out a mallet and four more stakes. As I said before lady did her homework.

As she is hammering in the spikes in my palms and my feet, I say something about how her child tasted.

She snaps.

She punches me.

#

(Right now)

The lady in red is gone. Been pinned to the wall for a long time now, can’t tell how long. She took my watch, along with my car and wallet. Guess Ms. Righteous Vengeance is not above petty theft either. Ah! As I said before a dame after my own heart! Oh babe! Only if I’d known you back in the day, what times we might’ve had together!

The sun’s gonna come up any time now. I’m growing number by the minute. I’ve managed to free my right arm, but that’s it. I’m too weak to do anything else but wait. With some effort I manage to get the pack of luckies outta my jacket pocket. I put one in my mouth and fidget some more lookin’ for my lighter, guess in her hurry she did not notice the gold plated zippo in my jacket pocket. Well! Hallelujah and thank heavens for small favors.

I light the cigarette and draw a deep one. There are worse ways to go than this. The flame is still on. I hold it up and look at it.

Goddamn! Will the sun come up already!

the morning breeze is still cool, but I can feel it gettin’ warmer. The flame flickers and desperately tries to stay alive.

What’s the point! It’s as good as dead already. I decide to put it out of its misery and snap the lighter shut with a practiced flick of the wrist.

#

The sun comes up.

THE END

Author’s note
First published in 2006 in The Harrow. This was an attempt by me to write a hard boiled story with a horror-ish setting.

[Short Story] The Unborn

He surveys his domain from atop the tallest spire of the largest construct.

Jake would have been ten today.

He is the sentinel of this realm, guardian of this place.

I miss Jake.

He is one with the four winds that caress the sleeping vista at night, his senses on high alert for a sliver of anything out of the ordinary.

Deb and I had planned a long time for Jake. They said it was too late for both of us. But we wanted a baby so bad we did not listen to them.

He feels the winds shift. His senses are abuzz and he turns to face whence the ripple has originated.

Deb was the first to know, to feel the genesis of Jake. It was as if the warmth of a life created inside her womb washed all over her psyche like the first rays of the sun on a chilly morning.

He senses the magik even from this distance. It never loses its novelty. Every time it happens, he feels the same. Another one has arrived.

Sometimes I would wake up in the night to find Deb sitting by the window-sill, singing to the baby in her womb. We found out it was a boy. Deb picked the name. Jake, she wanted to call him.

He rises in the air and flies towards the spot. His consciousness is blending with the ether and he seeks a name.

I still remember that night. The heavens opened their hearts as the rain came down in a torrent. Jake was not due for a couple of weeks. But Deb knew that it was time. I drove them to the city as fast as I could.

He flies over the grand structures that make up this place, so formless at first glance, yet for one who has the patience to look again, a grand symphony of beauty. He caresses a few as he passes them. They are his now, till the end of time. He tends to them and looks after them.

For ten years I have replayed that moment in my mind trying to find someone to blame. May be the truck driver was at fault, his attention having wavered for a second. Perhaps it was I who should have been more careful. But in that split second, my life changed. I felt the sharp pang of pain even before it happened. All I remember are the lights of the behemoth shining directly into my wide open eyes and then there was darkness.

He sees the new arrival. Glistening and glowing, shimmering like the ones before it. He lands nearby and walks towards it.

Deb did not survive the crash. In a way I feel that it was for the best. She never had to know that Jake did not make it. The doctors did their best, but Jake was gone too.

He embraces the essence of the arrival and feels his own course over it. It grows with the infusion and settles down onto the ground. He steps back and watches it grow, another structure taking shape in this Garden of the Unborn Souls, too pure and innocent to be judged.

My life has been a blur since the accident. I try not to think about them, but all I think about now are Deb and Jake. My therapist suggested writing as an outlet. So I write now. It is a small comfort as I shape and reshape my own reality trying to come to terms with what happened. For ten long years I have tried to let go, but the effort is as pointless as the torment of Tantalus. Sometimes I resist the urge to think about it, other times I rush in towards mental mirages of Deb and Jake smiling to me from beyond the haze of the absinthe.

I miss Deb a lot but what torments me most is the loss of the person I knew the least. I feel pained at what Jake could have become. Sometimes I weep in the night mourning chances lost.

The ether finally speaks back. He senses the word in his mind. He runs his hand over at the newest addition to his domain. A smile forms on his lips. It has a name now.

Sometimes I tell myself, may be it is a better place that Jake has gone to.

He looks lovingly at the new one and says, “Welcome home, Jake!”

THE END

Author’s Note
First published in HeavyGlow in 2007. The image is a capture from the movie THE CATHEDRAL.

[Short Story] FLYING

FLYING
I was flying. It was all that I had dreamt of. I was one with the Ether and free from the clutches of earth and water.

I was flying and it felt good.

#

Ever since I’ve known I wished to fly. Our people were a grand and noble race, who had for generations lived on the Land of Rock and Sea, in the shadow of the Great Eye. The Eye was the mighty beacon that had watched over us from its high silver tower. It was our silent sentinel, our protector, savior and judge. It had silently stood watching our race for generations, from a time before time, or so my mother had told me.

Even now I remember my father soaring up to the sky, flying close to the silver tower. It was beautiful, as I watched him from the nest, crowded with the other hatchlings. From afar, I knew not how he communed with the Eye, yet in my heart I felt it — the power, the urge to soar up and be one with the Eye. I watched and I waited, for the day when I too would be able to spread my wings and make the pilgrimage to the tower of the Great Eye.

I waited and I prayed – for strength to bear the wind on my wings, for wisdom to comprehend all that the Eye shall reveal to me when the day came.
Slowly as time passed, we grew big and our feathers long. It was then that I noticed that I was different. My brothers and sisters grew big and strong with majestic wings, but I didn’t. I could see them flap their wings faster and faster, yet mine felt like great weights.

As we grew even older, I saw each one of them join my father and the others in flight. I watched them fly up to the abode of the Great Eye and receive from it the wisdom needed to traverse the Great Blue Yonder. I watched them, touched by the Kindness and Grace of the Eye, cavort in the feel of the wind and the spray. I watched and I waited. I lay in the nest waiting for the dregs they brought back for me out of sheer pity.

I didn’t know what others thought of my condition. Whenever I hobbled over to where they were sitting, there would be an uncomfortable silence followed by an even more uncomfortable attempt at pleasantries. The feeble attempts would end abruptly as each one of them made excuses and flew away.
I had grown used to my solitude. I was cursed. The Great Eye didn’t will me to fly.

I knew not what transgression I had committed in my life or before. Every night, when the others fell asleep, I lay there quietly, watching the Great Eye shine among the stars. And I prayed – for strength to be able to fly for once in my life.

With time, my prayers grew desperate. I began asking the Eye questions of ultimate heresy.

“Why, o Great One? Why Me? Is not the Great Blue for me? Why hast thou forsaken me?”

Not a single answer came back. I chided myself for doubting the Great One’s Grand Design and prayed again with renewed fervor.

It was then that I had the Vision.

#
I was flying.

The Great One came to me in my dreams and made me fly.

For the first time in years, I woke up with hope. It was clear what I had to do. The Eye had shown me the way. If I were to take the Pilgrimage to the very top of the silver tower, the Eye shall grant me flight.

#

The next morning, I waited till my brethren had flown away. I trudged up across the rocks towards the tower. ‘Twas a long and hard road, hobbling over the slippery stones to get to the tower.

I fell many times.

But my faith gave me strength. I soldiered on the path that would lead me to my destiny. In the ever deepening gloom of despair, my belief in His Greatness kept me afloat.

As the sun dipped own to kiss the sea, I finally made it to the tower. I heard the cackle from the nest I had left. My brethren had returned from their flight, yet I didn’t for once look back whence I came. For before me stood the portal to the Realm of the Great Eye, the Stairway to Heaven beckoned to me. The sight filled me with renewed vigor. I slowly pulled myself up and began climbing, one Celestial Stair at a time. As I got nearer to the Sanctum, I could feel the presence of the Eye. With each step, the pull became stronger, the call louder. The Great Eye was calling to me.

In my mind’s eye, I was already soaring.

#

Finally I reached the hallowed chamber of the Great Eye. He that Was, Is and shall be for all Eternity. Tired of body, yet Joyous of mind, I beheld the Eye in all Its Glory.
The Great Eye — the orb of dazzling light that turned and watched over all Creation. In turn it gazed upon the Rocks, the Sea and the Ether. As his Vision chanced upon me, I stood there feeling a sense of Bliss I had never felt before. His Light shone down into my very soul and washed away my sorrows and sins. There was nothing He did not see. I fell to my knees in rapture, for such was the power of His presence. The thunder of the surf that had filled my ears all my life, was but a muted chant, a paean to His Glory.

I felt the Eye whispering at me to come closer. I prayed for strength again and felt the wake of the Great One’s revolutions caress my feathers. In my rapture I drew very close to Him. I didn’t notice the Great Eye come at me and brush me aside our past the barrier on the edge of his tower. He blessed me and cast me into the Void.

The Eye had given me the one thing I longed for.

#

I was flying and it felt good.

THE END

Author’s note

This particular story is special to me. Nearly 16 years ago, I wrote a story for the first time ever in my life. I had seen a copy of Jonathan Livingstone Seagull in a bookstore and I was at a particular juncture in my life where I had questions about Faith, Religion and Spirituality and no one to ask them of. So I wrote this story as a sort of exploration of those questions.

I recently found it in my backups and edited it for spelling/grammar and some minor language (the first draft was too floral. gimme a break I was 16 at that time) :) I’d love to hear what your interpretations of the piece (especially the ending) are. Feel free to leave a comment below or drop me a line. If you found this to your liking, then perhaps you might want to read this post.

PS: my only regret so far is that I have never been able to read the copy of Johnathan Livingstone Seagull, that I bought then :( Never can bring myself to read it, after writing this.

Turbulence – a short story

this is adapted from a chapter from a novella I wrote a long time ago called “The Temple”

I had caught a connecting flight from Heathrow to New Delhi. The hardly audible voice over the telephone had given me the one piece of news that could possibly get me on a plane, or even think of going to India.

My father was dead. I was flying to perform his last rites.

I was never much of the jet-setting traveler type. I get airsick a lot. I can’t sleep on the planes and get twinges of claustrophobia encased in these steel sarcophagi. Air travel for me is hours of sitting in cramped coach seats, trying to wriggle my toes and fidgeting in the seat to pass the time.

This time it was different. I know not why but I managed to fall asleep. Maybe it was the fact that it was all finally sinking in, the fact that both my parents were now dead. I guess it was kind of a defense mechanism that brought on the soothing anesthetic blanket of sleep over my troubled mind.

I had the usual air travel woes when my journey began from Boston Logan. We faced some turbulence over the Atlantic. The plane was buffeting violently and I could see the wingtips dip and pitch from my seat near the window.

Sudden realization dawned on me as to how short life could be. What if I were to die right here right now? What if the plane crashed into the icy waters of the ocean below me?

At least it would be quick and painless for me, but what about those that I leave behind?

I thought of my wife and daughter. Had I been a good father to my daughter? What about Maya, my wife? The last memory she will have of us is the pointless quarrel we had the night before.

If I died right now, I would not even have said a proper goodbye to them both. Would they remember me after I am gone?

What would be the sum total of my life, my legacy or the fact that I have none? I have lived a normal uneventful life, a face in the crowd, nothing out of the ordinary. I own a beige sedan and a 1600 sq ft. Colonial in a distant suburb of Boston. Maybe that is worth something in the long run, the fact that I did not screw up royally?

But should not one aspire for more from life? What it is that lives on forever, long after one is gone from the face of the earth?

#

The turbulence outside had ceased, but I seemed not to notice. The storm still raged in my mind. It raced with questions I had not even given the slightest pause for ponder in a very long time.

Maybe it was mental fatigue, but I had not noticed when I had fallen asleep.

I dreamt of my mother. I had not thought of her for so many years now. She was the bridge between us, as my father and I drifted apart. She remained the common link between us, a surrogate for the bond that should have been in place between father and son.

What a strain it must have been for her, playing the silent peacemaker as the two men in her life bickered and fought at every available opportunity.

I would have liked her to have met Aikya. She had never met Maya. I met Maya after I’d moved to the United States. God! How nice it would have been if my mother could have seen what I made of my life!

Would she have approved?

In my dreams she seemed to, just as she had always done when she was alive.

She had been my anchor as an adolescent as I drifted hither and thither, trying to do one thing after the other, while my father disapproved. She stood by me silently. The best thing she always did was to do nothing.

She let me be, but my father was a different story.

He seemed to have charted the course of my life, ever since I had been born. I resented that. As soon as I was able, I rebelled against his every whim. When he wanted me to study liberal arts, I studied science. Just because he wanted me to focus on a career as an academic, a tenured professor Maybe, I chose to be a programmer.

When we quarreled, his precepts and quotes would be grounded in history and philosophy, while I waxed eloquent over parallels drawn from mathematics and quantum physics.

It was almost as if we preferred not even to speak the same language.

It must have troubled my mother a lot, but she did not say a word. I guess what I mistook for cowardice back then was in fact a quiet strength and wisdom that I completely engrossed in my rebellious teenaged self could not even begin to fathom. She did not take sides because she could not.

I think it was the strain that finally took her. I felt guilt rushing in swamping my thoughts like a cold inky black flood. I was as guilty as my father.

We both had killed her.

I knew it in that moment and I guess my father had known it then, on that fateful night, the night of her funeral. I think it was subconscious knowledge of this guilt that drove us both to the last altercation we ever had.

Even from beyond the grave, she had offered us a chance to reconcile that night and we in our raging macho posturing had blown it away.

My grief and sorrow were fresh again. I believe they had never left. I had just hid them somewhere deep inside me.

I woke up and found that I had been weeping.

I brushed my tears away. Perhaps fate had given me another chance. Maybe by honoring my father’s last wish would be my way of apologizing to both of them. I needed it. He needed it.

Maybe the scattering of his ashes would not erase fully all the painful memories of our relationship; but who knows?

Death is a great leveler, all bets are off.

I put my head back and pressed it hard against the headrest of my seat.

#

I looked out of the window. The turbulence was over. All I could see was the blue waters of the ocean and an even bluer sky.

The captain announced that we had caught a tailwind and would arrive half an hour earlier than our scheduled arrival at Heathrow. I am not a superstitious man, but in that moment I almost believed that it was an omen.

The storm had passed. I was going home.

THE END