Abha Iyengar, Flash Bites
Date: May 15, 2011
Length: 25,570 words
Flash Bites by Abha Iyengar is a collection of flash and micro fiction, telling stories in a few words, letting the readers into a world and allowing them to fill in the gaps to arrive at their own interpretations. The stories are sometimes down-to-earth and sometimes surreal. They open a different door to let the light in on what may seem to be the mundane and ordinary. They give an insight into what lies beneath the surface of things, people and places.
A Mixed Weave
I did not know I had a mother till my father died. He never brought the subject up. Perhaps I had questioned him sometime about her in my childhood, and he must have given me a satisfactory answer, because I never asked him about her after that. I did not feel any different from the kids around me. In Germany, being the child of a single parent was as common as one’s daily bread.
On the day he died, he said, “Thomas, try and find your mother. She is an Indian. She lives in Kolkata, and works for an English couple there. The address is in my telephone diary under “J”.
Thank you, father, for telling me this. Now, when I have lost you, I must try and find someone else. I don’t even know her name.
Naturally, I looked under “J” thinking her name may be Jill or Judith. Turned out her name was a simple one--Mary, but the people she worked for were Mr. and Mrs. James.
A city of noise, stifling heat; cycles, loud horns, and jostling crowds. People talked in soft voices here and wore loud colours. The place confused me. I was lost already, where was I going to find Mary? I finally located the address where she was supposed to be, but she was no longer there. Mrs. James gave me a scrap of paper on which was written a telephone number. Mary may be here, she said.
Finding a phone booth, I called the number. It was the number of Mother Teresa’s Home for The Aged.
Was I looking for Mary Mathew?
“She died today morning. Are you a relative?”
“Come. You can perform the last rites.”
“Yes. Address please.”
I reached there soon after. The place was run by nuns. My mother lay in a corner, her eyes closed. She was beautiful. Wheat-colored, angular featured; slim to the point of thinness now. Looking at her, I felt a sudden choking. She would never know that her son did come for her. Next to her was a shawl with “OM” written in a plain weave in one corner.
“Mary wove this herself. OM is God’s name, you know.” The nun was by my side, touching my shoulder gently. “You may keep it.”
I look at myself in the mirror more often now. My blond hair and fair skin is from my father. I find her in my brown eyes, in the extreme thinness of my frame. The shawl is draped behind my chair and I put it round my shoulders at times. Like the arm of a loved one.
* * *
Little Blue Flower
I wanted my Lolita. She was taking a long time to grow up and I was not getting any younger. Now a beautiful, half- opened bud, she was just right for me. I took her in my arms and was surprised when she began to protest. I believed that a young flower would not protest but give itself willingly to one who appreciated it. But she began to scream and kick so much that those creatures gathered on the spot. And when she complained to them, they believed her. By the press of a button they had me held back in a Vice. Lolita looked at me with her blue eyes and they looked like the Iris I often studied in my Institute. The blue that I had seen flower and knew it was growing. They would not know what an Iris was, just as they would not understand my wanting her. I could see many of them had smug looks on their faces, happy to see me held by a Vice. Lolita turned on her heel and left. She had walked so close. Was she a trap then, set for me?
The Vice catapulted me into space. I whirled, going round and round faster than a dervish. The underlying hunger for her lasted for days and kept me spinning for a very long time. The blue sky and her blue eyes became one and I clawed the sky for my little blue flower.
Red Dress of Gold
She lies there, breathing in short gasps.
My grandmother is dying. I have been with her for a month now, wanting to make her last days as comfortable as possible.
I lean close as she speaks, her voice rasps like sandpaper against wood. There is a room at the end of the passage. Did I know of it? Then I should take the key from under her pillow and open it. I would find her wedding dress wrapped in tissue in a trunk there. I must bring it to her.
I leave her side and walk with curious trepidation towards this room. As I open it, the dark mustiness makes my head reel. I walk towards the huge, black trunk in the centre and raise its heavy iron lid. In this monstrosity lies just one dress wrapped in tissue. It is a red and gold frock which could be worn only by a small child!
My hands shake as I place the dress on her body and she runs her fingers over it.
“1918 ...” she whispers, “I was just five ... and your grandfather six ... we didn’t know we were getting married ... thought it was a game ... the lights and the elephants, the jewellery and the sweets ... it was like a festival ... and this dress ... I loved it ...”
She is lost now. “Take it, it’s yours,” she says. I am a forty-two year old single mother wearing shorts and sneakers but she does not care.
Dying Where I Want
I am like Bhishm of Mahabharta. I will be allowed to die where and how I wish. The Gods granted this to Bhishm. He had Yudhishtar in front of him and Krsna on the right of him when he died, and this was as he wished.
Bhishm said one cannot die here, there or anywhere. I believe in that truth. So I will not die in this old people’s home all alone, in a misshapen cot with a threadbare sheet to cover me up.
I am like Bhishm, I will want my son standing in front of my eyes when I die. And a photo of my wife, Savita, by my side as it was promised. She is here no more, and that is why I suffer like this. The only hope for me is that I shall die in the environs I want, as I want.
I will not die in this old people’s home then, because I have been granted this wish by Sunil, my son.
On the day he shifted me to the old people’s home, he promised me that he would bring me home to die. He would be there and I could watch his sweet face as I closed my eyes. His face is still sweet for me, though he is old now, almost fifty five. And care-worn. I see it in the stoop of his shoulders. I see it in the bags under his eyes, in his attempts to smile. Sometimes I think he wants that I die soon, so that he does not have to pay for this place. Then I tell myself that no son will wish this to his father. Savita and I took good care of my parents while they were alive. Never did we think of putting them in an old people’s home, away from the family. But my son and his wife wanted this for me, and I agreed.
His wife works. She has no time for anyone. They did not have children because of her commitment to her job. I try to understand her commitments. I try not to feel the pain of separation and the other pains as well. It is all about trying, but it is a hard thing to bear.
I swallow this, like I swallowed the death of Savita. She went away too soon, leaving me all alone and uncared for. When we were together, we had a home to call our own. Now I have this place. It is not mine. It is for old people like me, a sharing of space by the unwanted.
Sunil has promised. I called him today. I think he understood when I told him that I felt my time was near, that I needed to come home. He will not go back on his promise. I have taught him so much. I taught him to keep his promises as well. Today we will see how it is. My teachings will win, or his wife will. She does not want me home.
Sunil will take me home. He will make my death-bed. It will be clean and fresh. The smell of incense will be in the air. ‘Shlokas’ will be played on the cassette recorder. Sunita will look at me sweetly from her photo by my side. Sunil will stand in front of me, with his hands folded in prayer. Perhaps he will come forward to touch me. I would like him to do that, but he maintains a distance. I will look at his face and close my eyes. This is the death I want.
I will not die here, there or anywhere. My son has made me a promise.
* * *
The leading edge of the precipice is the drama on which I teeter. Some call it the tipping point. I have to be different. The tipping point may have tipped long ago. The leading edge is just that corner that is visible to my eye, I can stand right there and choose to ignore it. Yet it leads me on to get up, get ready, write, surf, eat, sleep, have that drink, watch that serial, and ignore all that bubbles in my volcanic being. No protests but a quiet slumber of a life.
I allow the worms to feed on me, the skin is smooth, the meat is mottled but who will know. The worms will not abandon the interior. No dissections are taking place while I lead this utterly serene and unbroken life.
When they open me up, to see if I hid anything from them, they will find a boiling mud of worms. It would have caked my nostrils so I did not let it out. It would have slimed down my hands so I did not let it out. It would have jumped hot larvae from my mouth and been the future devastation of the race, so I did not let it out.
When dissection time comes, the hot ball will explode in their faces. That’s their funeral. Till then, I am staying put this side of the precipice.
Copyright © 2011 by Abha Iyengar