96 days ago
— Rahul Jha
Weekend prompt: In 500 words or less, imagine a scenario where a character second-guesses an important decision.
arge trees along the road brooded on their faint shadows as night drew nearer. I knocked on Mr. Mehra’s door. “Ah, the young engineer has come to say his final goodbye?” Mrs. Mehra said cheerfully as she led me in. Mr. Mehra sat on the couch trying to fix a broken clock. He looked up and smiled, “Well don’t forget us once you go to the big city young man,” he blurted, looking as uncomfortable as me, “so what time do you leave tomorrow?”
“Taking the early morning train,” I said, thankful for the mundane question. He got up and shook my hands, “You’re a good boy son, take care and good luck.” As I left their house, a misty-eyed Mrs. Mehra gave me a big hug.
I had spent the evening making a round of the neighborhood, saying goodbyes. Just one house was left.
Mrs. Shah opened the door, “Ah, Vish. I was waiting for you, come on in, sit. Anita!” she shouted, then turned to me, “Do you want some tea?”
I protested, but she stopped me, “Rubbish, I’ll make some, Anita also asked for tea sometime back”, she trotted towards the kitchen as Anita walked in, “Anita, see Vish has come,” she said as she disappeared behind the kitchen walls.
“Hi” Anita said as she sat beside me.
“Hey,” I said. She seemed lost in thoughts. As the abrupt silence grew bigger, I added, “so studying hard for your exam?”
“Yeah,” she sighed, “it’s not fun.” Then she turned and looked at me, “so this is the last we’ll see of you in a while, haan?”
I looked at her, “But I’ll visit often, I’ll see you every once a while.”
“Yeah, I am sure you will Vish” she said and turned back, staring at the wall in front of us.
“Here’s tea”, Mrs. Shah announced as she entered, “So Vish, have you arranged housing already? …”
I walked back towards my house — Should I have told Anita? Was it even true, what I felt about her? We had spent so much time together, but how do you separate friendship from love? And what if she said no? Did I want rejection and heartbreak to mark my departure from the town? I remembered that mom had asked to get something from the grocery shop. I turned back and suddenly a strong light blinded me. Next instant, I was lying on the road, my own blood drawing into a pool around me, as I looked at men jump from the car that had just hit me. I heard the shouts and footsteps of people gathering around me as everything went dark.
I opened my eyes slowly. I was in the hospital, everything hurt. As I gathered energy to speak, I saw mom sitting next to my bed. Dad was outside the room talking to a doctor. On a bench barely visible from the corner of the glass window, she sat. And there was no doubt.
109 days ago
— Rahul Jha
he sun came up sluggishly over the hills, like a child who doesn’t want to be woken up, revealing the great plains that stretched in every direction. Iqbal stood at the front of his unit shuddering a little in the cold wind. Right in front of him stood the enemy. Thousands of foot soldiers from the neighboring kingdom of Azar that they would battle today. Commanders of various units rallied around, shouting war cries that filled the air. Iqbal and his unit had one job: to protect the king.
Iqbal remembered the days before this war. Long back, when the kingdoms were united and he used to visit his relatives in Azar. He remembered running off into the numerous hills of Azar with his cousins and friends playing made up battle games. They didn’t know at the time that they would continue the games as adults.
Then came the division. A feud in the royal family, some tactless moves, then the final stroke: a murder, and a kingdom that had lasted for three thousand years was suddenly divided into two. Iqbal was too young to understand when this happened. He wondered for a while why they stopped making the long trips to the cousins, but soon they forgot. War became part of everyday life.
The war horn rang loud. Soldiers leaped at each other as arrows from both armies filled the sky. Iqbal and his unit went into the formation making a long arc around the king. The plains were soon red with dead soldiers lying everywhere.
Iqbal surveyed the field anxiously in every direction. Suddenly, he noticed a man making a circuitous way towards the king. He was dangerously close when Iqbal intercepted him and threw his sword at him with its full weight. The man was alert and met his sword with a spar. They engaged in a duel. As their swords clanked, Iqbal noticed a familiarity in the face, then with horror realized that this was Sarfaraz, his cousin from Azar. Sarfaraz smiled at the look of recognition, he had recognized Iqbal long back.
Iqbal was torn. A thousand memories leaped across his mind as he mindlessly battled Sarfaraz. It felt like one of their games from long back. But this was real: someone was going to die.
Sarfaraz smiled mischievously, Iqbal didn’t understand. Suddenly, Iqbal saw an opening in Sarafaraz’s defence. Was that an error or a deliberate move? Iqbal couldn’t tell, but his years of training made him instinctively aim his sword towards the open area. He made contact, blood gushed from Sarfaraz as he dropped on his knees. He looked at Iqbal, his smile unfazed. Iqbal didn’t know if the drops on his own cheek were blood or tears. He raised his sword and severed the head in one final blow. He looked back, a maddening storm of emotions blinding him. The king was safe. He had done his job.
123 days ago
— Rahul Jha
Challenge: In 2000 words or fewer, weave a tale using these threads: rain, banana, acceptance.
ish called yesterday. He is in the city on a business trip. He called to say he wants to meet. I said yes. We didn’t talk much. He’ll be here in fifteen minutes and we’ll go out for dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant he picked.
It has been raining intermittently all week. I look out of my office window. Rain drops hang from the ends of barren tree branches, glowing in the damp sunlight like so many little bulbs. Departing light of the sun is caught on the few tall buildings in strange angles making them look like corners of an unfinished painting. I am always uncomfortable after these spells of rain. There is something about it that fills me with sadness. It’s strange for me because I remember loving rain as a kid. Those memories stick in my mind distant and formless, like clouds in summer. I must have been four or five years old. Now I am jumping in the puddles with Vish. Now I am making the challenging little run from under my mom’s umbrella to the bus while the sneaky little raindrops make every attempt to drench me. Little paper boats make their doomed journey in the endless little streams by the road — I am running alongside. Vish is running with me. He is always there in these memories.
I haven’t talked to Vish in fifteen years. What happened to us? I rake my brain. We somehow drifted apart. That happens with friends, doesn’t it? It always happens. I remember our last fight. It was just before college. I remember telling him about Maya, this girl I had started falling in love with. He said I was being stupid. He said I shouldn’t try to start something when we knew we were going to different colleges. He said he had been in relationships and I hadn’t and that’s why he knew a lot and that made me mad. Yes, that was it! His self righteousness. It annoyed me. He always made me feel small, insignificant. He criticized everything I did. I hated it. But then he wasn’t always like that was he? No not always. When did he change? When did he start to become so caustic?
I get a call from my secretary. Vish is here. We say hello and hug; I can see he is uncomfortable too. I show him around the office. He makes useless remarks about drab paintings we hang around in office for exactly these remarks that save you from having an actual conversation. We finally get a cab that crawls through the busy traffic. The driver is playing some sort of flamenco guitar music. I look outside at the street lights go by and drown again in my thoughts.
I remember how Vish and I became friends. It was the first day of school. Let me clarify. It was the first day of school for me ever, my first day being outside of home by myself for an entire day. I had never attended pre-school, we moved around too much in my early years. I missed home, I labored through the classes, then there was the lunch break. Students from my class had already started forming groups, I didn’t have the heart to talk to anyone so I found a table for myself and started eating alone, crying a little in my heart. I missed home terribly. Suddenly I saw a boy waving his hands towards me. It was Vish, he was part of a big gang, he asked me to come sit with them. I was shy but grateful.
We reach the restaurant, but they need some time to prepare our table. We sit waiting on the benches next to the receptionist as she heroically deals with the slew of customers and their ridiculous comments. An old lady negotiates:
“How much time did you say for waiting?”
“40 minutes ma’am.”
“Why that’s just too much. I am a regular customer!”
“I am sorry ma’am, you can reserve ahead of time on phone.”
“Unbelievable, Unbelievable! I come here all the time …”
A man unsure about the number of friends he has:
“So party of ten sir?”
“Actually, it could be twenty.”
“Could you give me a smaller range sir?”
“I don’t know, I can’t remember everyone who said yes. I didn’t keep track. I invited twenty five people though. I am sure at least ten said yes. Did Mark call? Oh damn …”
We get our table and are relived to be finally freed from the craziness at the waiting bench. We order some wine, Vish reminisces old days.
“Hey man, do you remember the unevenly shaped hands of our hindi teacher? He was like a little Popeye!”
“Do you remember the day Sid took that girl during break and asked her to explain the chapter on life processes to him and she slapped him?”
“Do you remember the day when you came into my house and created all the havoc with the priest. That was the most awesome thing, I still remember it and laugh sometimes. What a joker, that priest!”
I am suddenly very tense. I remember the day he is talking about. I had forgotten all about it. But I remember now. We were coming back from the playground after a game of cricket when it started raining cats and dogs. Vish’s house was closer, so we went to his place. He went in to get towels to dry ourselves. I was sitting on their dining table. I was dying of hunger and on the table lay two bananas. I was sure Vish wouldn’t mind, so I ate them. He called from the other room telling me that he is still looking and I should turn on the TV because our favorite show was about to start. I sat on a chair in front of the TV and tuned it to cartoon network. Suddenly, I heard a shout behind me.
“Where did the bananas go? I put them here when I left the house! Mrs Bhardwaj! Vish!”
I turned back. A priest stood next to the dining table, fuming. I didn’t understand. Vish came running. His mom arrived soon after.
“What happened Panditji?” she asked. I stood up, petrified.
“I had kept the bananas here that were supposed to be the prashad for today evening. I went out to get some other stuff and now the bananas are gone. Puff! Just like that!” he snapped his fingers.
“We have more bananas in the kitchen Panditji,” she said, trying to calm him down.
“No no no! The ceremony for blessing all these fruits took half an hour. I don’t have the time.”
“Panditji, I’ll pay you a hundred rupees extra. Can you please do the ceremony again?”
“OK OK Mrs Bhardwaj. You are a good family, so I’ll do it again.” the priest said. A little cash seemed to be the perfect anger management for him.
“Vish, do you know where the bananas went?” Vish’s mother asked him when the priest had left.
“No mom, I don’t know.”, Vish said lowering his eyes: he looked like he had eaten the bananas himself. She turned to me. I was scared to my bones. But she only said, “Nevermind, come on you two, I’ll give you something to eat. You must be hungry, you played all afternoon.” As we walked to the kitchen my eyes met Vish’s. He seemed to be judging me. He didn’t say anything all through dinner that day. I knew he knew my guilt and hated me. I went home in anxiety.
Next day I missed many catches during cricket. Vish shouted at me in front of everyone. “You incompetent moron! Can’t take a catch. And then you don’t score a single run also. What’s the use of having you in the team.” He always shouted at everybody in the field, but I could see a new disdain in his voice now. He thought I was a thief and an insult to him. From that day on, I heard the disdain in everything he said to me: when he scolded me for not paying enough attention in writing exams and losing marks, when he taught me how to ride the scooter, even when he gave me birthday presents. And we drifted apart. I could now see the invisible trails that all connected everything to that first strain in our friendship: when he judged me for unknowingly eating two bananas.
Vish continues, “That priest was a first class idiot! But what was I to do yaar? I had to look sad, if I didn’t do that my mom would think that I was the culprit and then scold and punish me. That’s what always happened. If I looked sad she would say nothing even if she thought I had made a mistake.”
So the disdain in his eyes was just affected despair? Something to get around getting scolded from his mother? But the next day in the ground? And so many times after that?
The air is suddenly clearing up around me. I feel like I have only been half breathing all through the meeting. All those times, Vish was just being himself. He just cared for me. The scoldings, the fights, the mean comments — there was nothing new in them after the incident. He remained the same. I changed and added new colors to everything he did.
Vish keeps talking. I feel a weight lifting off my shoulders. He’s making those little jokes and laughing uncontrollably way before the punchline, just like he used to. Now I am laughing too. My eye wanders outside for a second. It has started to rain again. Raindrops fly off cars and signboards and people and the sound of our laughter plays in the background. I love rain.
130 days ago
— Rahul Jha
Challenge: In 500 words or fewer, imagine a scenario in which a pirate discovers a trove of treasures
he man stood calmly with a sword at his throat as the captain spoke, “So you understand, I cannot carry you on my ship. We have little food left, and we must find a new loot soon. Which by god, we will!” The crew hooted and shouted as the captain raised his hands to calm them down, “You must be given to the sea.” As two pirates held him at the edge of the ship, his tattered shirt fluttering in the air mimicking the ship’s flag, the man turned his head to the captain and shouted, “Captain, do you like gold?”
The captain turned around. He loved gold. “I hid a large box of gold coins at the island that I was trying to escape.” the man continued, “I can lead you there.” The captain turned, looked at him for a moment, then gave the signal. The man went into the sea. Did the captain see fear in his eyes? No, not fear. A strange glitter.
They sailed for many months on the endless sea, but found no merchant ships. A mysterious disease spread through the crew, and in time the crew was reduced to half it’s size. Food reserves dwindled. They would soon have to dock at a town. But once in town, how will they survive without money from loot? The captain pondered as he looked at the horizon speckled with black clouds. A storm was coming. There was only one choice left.
“But captain, how do we know if the man was telling the truth? It might be a last minute trick to save his life!”, the quartermaster protested. “That is a risk we have to take,” the captain said in a tired voice, “prepare the course.”
And so they sailed back to where they had found the unfortunate man in his little dinghy. Soon enough, they saw the island a few miles away. It looked barren, covered with nothing but rocks and sand, uninhabitable! It raised their spirits however, and they now sailed in excitement. But as they were within miles of the island, the storm caught up with them. Darkness covered the sky as heavy rain poured over them, strong gusts of wind violently swaying the ship. Suddenly, they hit a rock at the shore of the island and went down down down.
The captain awoke on the shore, every bone in his body aching. He found some of his crew on the shore, none alive. As hunger and thirst grew within him, he searched the island desperately for food and water. He found nothing. As he sat down in despair, he noticed a little mound with rocks huddled around it like a sign. He ran to the mound, dug in the sand and found a chest full of gold coins. He fell down, remembering the strange glitter in the man’s eyes. He now knew. It was revenge. He would happily give away all this gold now for a loaf of bread.
138 days ago
— Rahul Jha
Written in response to the challenge: In 500 words, imagine a scenario in which the only way out is to dance. Dedicated to Kurt Vonnegut.
he earth was destroyed. I was on a little spaceship like a few thousand others searching for life. The ship had twenty to begin with, now only I remained. I had lost all hope. But one day, as I ran the exploration routines and stared at the familiar messages run past the screen, something new appeared.
“Planetary systems: 1 system detected.”
“Distance: 2 light years.”
“Suitability for life: 68%.”
I sighed and fell back on my seat. So it was me that fate chose, to find the planet that will be the Medina of long lost inhabitants of earth. I programmed my ship to route to the planet, went to my bunker, and opened the last bottle of wine. The planet appeared on the screen and slowly grew larger. It was beautiful.
As I walked for a few miles on the planet, I saw them. They looked like humans. They had eyes, but no mouth! The flesh where their long trunk like noses ended connected straight to their neck. On seeing me, they started hopping from side to side in a rhythmic fashion. As I tried to shout at them in vain, they grew nearer wielding their strange weapons. As fear grew inside me, I started mimicking their tap-like dance. Suddenly they stopped and looked at me curiously. Encouraged by this, I did some of the moves of tap dancing I had learnt in high school. At this, they grew very excited and started hopping vigorously. So these pathetic creatures communicated using dance!
I spent a few days learning basic phrases like “I am hungry”, “I am going to sleep” etc. as I collected information about the planet to send to the other ships. One day I was studying the soil as a few of them arrived with a new and obviously important person. He looked very amused to see me and asked me, “Why are you here?” I respectfully danced “To study you”, even though I didn’t exactly remember the dance for study. You see, I had not seen any other word even closely resembling study, so I figured it’ll work out.
But they started doing the dance that unquestionably communicated a lot anger. Before I knew, one of them used his blade to cut my right hand off. The world went dim as I looked in horror at the blood gushing from the stub on my right shoulder.
I now spend my days in a cellar. I have no hands and legs and am hung from the wall with metal chains attached to my shoulders and thighs. They have kept me alive.
In due time, I found that instead of saying “To study you.”, I had said, “To kill you.” Obviously the word was so offensive to them it wasn’t ever used in daily life, so how would I know? Thus I learned my lesson, even though I have little life left in which to use it. You must be careful with language. And dance.