Friday, April 21, 2017

ENDLESS NIGHT


When the world hurts and I cry

He calls to me in the dark

No questions

No unspoken answers

Damned as I am, I lie

In his arms

For one eternal moment

I sleep

The pain locked deep in my heart

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Charades


One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven. Eleven steps on the way down. And then twelve paces. I can do it in ten, though, if I try. Maybe even in eight.

And then, escape. I escape every morning at 10 am in a little red and white plastic cup half filled with murky brown bubbles. Nodding, smiling, the occasional hello. It’s kind of like My Cover. I am Jane Bond. I am Super Woman. I wear my underwear on the inside, of course.

Funny that as a kid you never say your ambition is to attain temporary salvation in a disposable cup of lukewarm instant coffee. Rinse and repeat. I remember I wanted to be a princess. I even drew a stick princess in a pink dress and purple high heels and stuck silver sequins on her crown. Most of my friends wanted to be teachers, nurses, doctors. A pilot or two, a fireman. A father. The type with kids, I think, not the Catholic priests.

And now my mission, my vision, my raison d’etre lies within the dregs of these endless cups of Nescafe. It all starts with a Nescafe, though I have never been quite sure what “it” means. It probably means that magic blend of coffee, milk and sugar that pours out when you slide in a coin and press the right buttons.

We get it for free over here.  

Twelve paces again, and then one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven. Eleven steps on the way up. The number never changes, but I count, just in case. Because you never know for sure, anyway. The frequency of deaths caused by slipping on the stairs is quite underwhelming, to say the least. Sad, because it looks SO cool in the movies.

I wear my purple high heels, just in case.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Vultures

Two pairs of black eyes stare at me from behind the rock. As I look back, I see no escape. Miles and miles of golden sand, stretched as far as the imagination allowed and beyond. No wet, no green.

Hungry, desperate eyes. I look into their depths and read one message – survival.

Trapped. I have nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

I relent. Holding out one hand with a smile that I hope will allay their fears I beckon them with the other, and wait patiently as they approach. They are hesitant, but hunger, youthful innocence and curiosity quickly overcome their initial apprehension at what to them must resemble an alien from outer space.

That was the last of my Cadburys. Melted, no doubt, but still chocolate. My only sustenance, my last link to comfort and security in this God-forsaken wilderness. As I walk towards the Land Rover I turn back and see a little girl, mouth full, giggle with pleasure as she offers a bite of the divine luxury to her tiny brother.

I feel comforted and saddened at the same time. Elated, yet depressed. It is our last day here and I am glad. I am glad because I know that we will win, because I know that our picture, my picture will be the best. I have followed my dreams, lived my dreams, I have won the biggest game of all.

Being the best in a man's world.

Chira says I look like hell. He does, too. Everyone does. Seeing it all with your own eyes, living here, even for a week...

It is not the same thing, seeing it in Newsweek, sipping morning tea and watching Ellen DeGeneres doling out cruise trips to Timbuktu. But it is impossible, I know, for even the stoniest hearts to refuse to melt at the image.

Stripped of embellishment, devoid of colour or drama, hauntingly transparent in its meaning.

 A little boy crouches in the sand, head down, hands clasped together in unintentional prayer, motionless.

But he is not dead, not yet. The vulture remains perched on the rock beside him, waiting patiently, hungrily, for the moment to arrive.

Sometimes, photography is like trying to catch lightning in your hands...if you miss the moment it is gone, forever. Every photographer gets one such chance in life, one such chance to capture true magic...

 And I did.

I told myself at the end of the first day, that I would never return...that success, awards, glory, fame- nothing was worth returning to see it all again...such desolation, such misery, such wretched beings that somehow seemed to me less than human.  

But now I know.

I will come back.

I feel a strange lightness, a feeling of otherworldliness as I realize and am humbled by the experience. It is my soul crying with the joy of liberation.

I look at my picture with a new sense of awareness...it is spiritual, almost an epiphany. I suddenly notice that it is the same rock where I saw the children hiding a short while ago. Perhaps it is the same boy...perhaps not.

I recall those eyes...

In this barren desert, with its wide open spaces I feel suffocated, claustrophobic. Life, as we know it, here is meaningless, empty, save for that one emotion I see, again and again, wherever I look...and yet it is not emotion, for isn't emotion experienced by humans alone?

Survival of the fittest.

The vultures have left but hunger- no, greed will bring them back again...

And again. And again, and again, and again...

And always, they will win.





 
Inspired by Kevin Carter’s photograph of “The Vulture And The Child”








Monday, December 26, 2016

LET GO

Searching for words in the waves that break
Sitting beside you
Holding your hand
I remember how it used to be
Back then when you didn’t let me run
Each time that I tried
Back then when you held me close
Each time that I cried
The pickles I loved
Now sour on my tongue as I chew
The world has shrunk
Shrivelled, somehow, along with you
I watch as you stare at the sea
Your face a blank
Your mind –
 
The salt stings my eyes
My heart aches and I wonder why
When you’re still here with me and there’s time
Time to walk hand in hand
Searching for shells in the warm golden sand


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Fairy Dance

A single knock and she was out of bed. Rushing to the bathroom she scrubbed her face at the sink and brushed her teeth, staring at the strange, naked face in the mirror. She ran a comb through her hair, watching in despair as it simply puffed out into a gigantic halo of frizz. This is it, she decided. On impulse, she spritzed on some perfume from the bottle sitting on the shelf.

He stepped back as she opened the door, eyes widening, drinking in the sight. And what a sight. Flushed cheeks untouched by paint, hair tumbling down wild and free. And those golden eyes, so clear and trusting and full of light, their expression so unlike the dark and smouldering come-hither look she gave the cameras.

She held his gaze, wondering at his peculiar expression. Was that disappointment she saw? That the real her looked just like everyone else, if not unattractive then certainly plain, the kind of woman nobody would spare a second glance if they passed her on the street?
 

She was bewitching him, and she didn’t know. There was magic in those eyes of hers, and they were driving him to distraction until he hardly knew if he were dreaming or not, if he were alive or dead and gone to heaven.
Wasn’t it funny, she thought, with a sudden crazy urge to laugh, that Helen of Troy, whose face had launched a thousand ships, and Anarkali, the harem dancer who captured an emperor’s heart, and Juliet, the rose by any other name…that they were all played by a mousy little thing with frizzy hair and dark circles, clinging to the last traces of her youth until she would finally succumb to the surgeon’s knife, all the while laughing at her rivals for their plastic parts.
He looked on, mesmerized, as her eyes seemed to melt into pools of liquid gold, and her upper lip trembled and she bit to hold it in place. He reached out to smooth it with his thumb, tracing its baby pink softness with his own clumsy fingers, cradling her face in his hands.
As he took her lips in a feather-light kiss, the tears she had been holding back threatened to spill out of tightly closed lids. All those love scenes, repeated so many times and with so many people she no longer cared to keep track – yet a simple kiss was turning her inside out, her soul left bare to his touch… Surely…surely, he felt it too?
It was just a dream, he now knew, but what a beautiful dream it was, beautiful and mad and cruel and cold just like her. He knew he had to let her go, back to the world from where she came, and that he would awake colder and more alone than ever. She didn’t care, and she never would. He kissed her harder.
His hands were so…warm, just like everything else about him. His smile when she caught his eye from across a crowded room, his voice as he held her arm, guiding her away from the endless crowds… She sighed and leaned in, drinking in his warmth and letting it wrap around her heart in a gentle embrace. 
She would never know what she meant to him. Wrapped up as she was in the glitz and dazzle of her fantasy life, in a sparkling world where real didn’t exist. Where he was merely the painting on the canvas, and she the artist who would blot him out with a single sweep of her brush. The artist who would make him love, and laugh, and then die. And she would weep at his death, large shiny tears that would seem almost true.
People fall in love in mysterious ways…
Suddenly they were sixteen again, dancing their very first rumba, and standing somewhere in a lonely, far-away world, a different plane of existence, she thought how it came to be that her entire life was changing, had already changed, in fact, in just one single moment. How nothing else was real anymore, except this feeling inside her that was too real, too tangible to be merely a feeling, it was a thing she could touch and breathe and taste. A thing as real as her soul as it cried out for its mate.
Anymore of this enchantment and he wouldn’t be able to let go. And she would dance away into the mist again, her laughter echoing in his ears until he went mad with the torture of it. He wrenched himself away, almost blinded by the pain as his soul tore apart, a piece of it deeply and forever entwined with hers. Bleed he would, till the day he died.
 
 
 
 




 

 

 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Winner

“And this,” said Beena with a slightly theatrical flourish, “is where we keep the best of the best.


“Up here we have fitness guru Clayton Pride, and next to him is dancing star Lulu Wasabi. That little one on to your left with the purple markings is Sureya Roy, the spiritualist. Which do you want?”

Jade looked around in awe. Certainly it was an impressive line-up, and Beena had predicted her needs to perfection. No less than the best catcher, her manager had stressed. Right before she had fired him. Of course, that didn’t mean she had to stop taking his advice, did it?
But if she were to choose just one…
Did she want the best body or the best technique? Or did she want the perfect dose of equilibrium to calm her nerves and restore her confidence?
Only two days left for the Competition, and all she wanted was to curl up in bed and go to sleep. But it wasn’t about what she wanted. It was about what would make her win.
It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game…
What nonsense. Of course everyone competed to win. Jade couldn’t imagine why anybody would compete to come second, or third, or fourth. It was a little like saying, the frosting is the best part of the cake but let me throw it out and eat the rest because, well, I’d rather not eat the best. Didn’t make any sense, not when you had dedicated hours of your time frosting the cake to perfection.
And Jade had dedicated her whole life.
One of her first memories was of a bright pink frilly tutu that itched to high heaven and made her cry. Her mother had slapped her then, which made her cry harder. She had hated the tutu, hated wearing it and twirling around the stage, and halfway through the performance she had stumbled, amidst sympathetic murmurs from the audience. That had been her one and only mistake, and from that day onward she never lost her step.
Be it a death-defying aerial act, a flamboyant fire eating ritual or a simple rain dance for the gods, she had perfected her technique, timing and balance to the point where the very elements of the universe bent to her will, and the rules no longer applied. Thirteen years of practice, yet Jade knew that to reach the zenith, to be the best, she needed to be more. She had absorbed the dance into the entirety of her being, let it consume her mind, body and soul to the exclusion of everything else.
And she danced like one possessed. She did not even need the music, for it was in her head.
She couldn’t get rid of it even if she tried and so she had grown used to its rhythm, sometimes fast and catchy, sometimes slow, teasing, seductive, and sometimes a violent and furious clash of instruments that left her gasping for breath to stay in sync but nevertheless it was always there, like the constant, relentless beat of a drum, that pounded like blood in her ears and never once ceased.
It was a price she had willingly paid, for it was the only way she could win. Of course, there were always people who encouraged her not to, who told her that second or third was good enough. Winning isn’t everything, they said. People who didn’t understand what it felt like to win, to be truly free of the music at last! People who spent a lifetime celebrating mediocrity and failure. Her ex-manager being one of them. And he had had the audacity to claim it was because he loved her.
Because she reminded him of his dead daughter. Thank goodness she was dead, Jade decided. The girl had been special. Twinkletoes, they had called her. Lightning on her feet with the grace of a gazelle. But most importantly, a winner’s soul, that would have been unable to bear her father’s apathetic attitude to victory. She had gone too young, too soon, and the world had lost its best dancer.
No matter, thought Jade. She would be next. Impressive as it was, the Competition was just the stepping stone. Competition winners from different parts of the globe would converge in Barcelona, where they would participate in the Ultimatum. At nineteen, Aurora Twinkletoes had been the youngest winner ever in the history of the Ultimatum. Jade had less than a year in which to beat that record.
Beena observed the girl in silence. Fifteen years as a soul catcher, hundreds of customers, and the first time for each was always different. Almost everyone was hit instantaneously by the turbulent feelings swirling around the store, rearing to be let loose. The souls were mostly successful in drawing out and feeding off the most dominant feelings of each customer. Greed was the commonest, closely followed by fear, pride and jealousy. Higher feelings like trust and courage were rare. Beena liked to think, however, that as people evolved to a higher plane of existence, so too did their feelings.
Some customers went on to receive the mind connection, for a few the effect so strong it would carry them to a trancelike state. The souls, in their eagerness to satiate their hunger, were always seeking minds to cling to, and unless infected customers were annihilated at once, the effect was irreversible, spreading like a virus in mere seconds. Thankfully, Beena had yet to come across a soul powerful enough to play mind games with her, and so she had not had any customer fatalities, earning her the reputation of being not just the best, but also the safest catcher in their part of the world. 
And then there were those precious gems, people who connected on the physical plane. To Beena, these were kindred spirits, because they made her recall her own first encounter. The burning on her skin as it peeled off her face,  the feeling of being dragged underwater till she could no longer breathe, the acrid taste of permanently rotting souls…the sensory overload as the souls unleashed their fullest strength, was something she had never experienced before or since.
And yet it was a Gift, one she had learnt to control and cultivate through years of dedication to her calling. She had developed soul catching from its crude and shady origins to its highest form, a complex interplay of art, science and metaphysics. Hers was an exclusive store, patronized only by the wealthiest, most influential clientele. Beena peeled off their layers one by one with one hundred percent accuracy to reveal their basest needs, their darkest desires, the aching emptinesses of their souls, in turn providing them no less than the very best, the most powerful substitutes with which to fill these voids.
Strange, she thought, watching the girl chew her lip as she considered her choices. Beena had been almost sure the girl was special, such was the power that emanated as she entered the store. She had prepared herself for any number of physical reactions, perhaps stronger than even she herself had experienced all those years ago.
Nothing.
Not the slightest indication of a mind connection, much less any burning, drowning or hurtling across the room. Just the barest hint of a feeling, so rare and elusive that even she struggled to identify it.
And yet…
How could she have been so wrong? Her Gift had never misled her before, and even now Beena felt the growing intensity of the power that pulsated like a life force, spreading a thick cover of darkness across the store with frightening rapidity, and for the first time in her life she was pushed to the limits of her endurance as she battled the souls, crazed as they were in perpetual hunger and thirst, as they grew restless, demanding release from their sterile glass jars. She could see in her mind’s eye the souls breaking free…
But she held on. The alternative terrified her.
Breathe. Breathe. BREATHE!
She closed her eyes and forced her energy inwards, ignoring the sweaty palms, the shivering limbs, the searing pain in her head that made her first encounter seem like child’s play. And slowly, gently, she felt the darkness recede, the souls growing calm and the pain subsiding to a mere throb in her temples.
“I’ll take Sureya Roy.”
Beena opened her eyes in time to hear the girl’s response. Good choice, she thought appreciatively. She could recognize them now, her fickle, cunning, long-lost friends, Vayo, Thejo, Apo and Patavi, swirling behind those brilliant green eyes, biding their time, patiently awaiting their release.
Ambition. In its truest, purest, most dominant form, the highest and rarest of the feelings. A soul that hungered to be the best of the best, a soul with the power to bind the very elements of the universe to its will.
Noticing for the first time how pretty the girl was, and how young, she felt a twinge of genuine pity.  
 
 



Friday, February 19, 2016

Mockingbird

Last night it was the electric iron. Tonight, it is the washing machine. You watch as he sets it on spin, and then listen to the screams that seem to echo from hell. Afterwards, you soothe the wounds as best you can. But the holes keep getting bigger. You work tirelessly, feverishly, sealing off one hole after the next, knowing you would give your life’s blood if you could but you only have ten fingers and they are not enough. Not nearly.
You recall the first night he kicked you down the stairs. You lay there, gasping like a beached whale, each breath slicing like a knife through your gut. Your distended belly blocked him from view as he screamed, whore, I will kill that devil’s child, and then he left you, lying there with the blood soaking through your jeans down to the beautiful cashmere carpet below.
The carpet’s been replaced and the staircase polished many times since, and you tread with care, afraid of slipping as you softly sing – 
 
Hush, little baby, don’t say a word
Papa’s gonna buy you a mockingbird…
 
The nights go on and the methods vary but the result is always the same. The Devil’s Child, they say He cannot be killed.
Tomorrow night, it will be the kerosene stove. And the night after, the television.