Thursday, October 15, 2009

Gossip - 9

He was running, running, knowing that if he stopped he would fall down and die. He wanted to turn back and look at the thing that was chasing him, that unknown fearsome thing. He wanted to look at its face, observe it up close and see what it was made of. But he was too scared. And he had to run. He had never felt this scared in his life, he was sure of it. He couldn't remember how long he had been running away from this terrifying thing, and his legs felt like they were going to fall apart any moment. He could see a light in the distance, and decided to run towards it, hoping to find other people who could tell him what he was running from. Gathering all the energy he had left in him, he picked up his speed, and came closer and closer to the light. Suddenly a burst of light fell on his face, and a loud noise filled the air.



That must be his phone ringing. Without opening his eyes he groped under his pillow and found his cell phone.



It was U Siama, he could tell from the way his voice fell.


Charlie opened his eyes. Ouch! That was really bright, his eyes hurt. He closed them again immediately.

“You there, Charlie?”


“Are you sleeping? Did I wake you up?”

“No you didn’t wake me up; I was just about to get up anyway.”

“What are you doing today? Are you going over to Zotea’s?”

“I don’t think so, we were there until five this morning. Pi Hlimi was sleeping quietly and there was nothing more we could do so we came home.”

That was such a scare last night. Everyone was sure Pi Hlimi would not make it, but somehow she held on. You should have seen the look on her family’s face. Charlie had never seen anyone die, and had never been so near to someone so sick, and he never had anyone close to him die. Death was a concept he did not fully understand. But last night was different. He saw the despair, the anguish, the helplessness that the death of a loved one brings. Or near death. What if anything was to happen to his family…

“... and anyway my father was going for his checkup,” U Siama was saying.

“Oh right.”

“So, are you coming over to the shop? I have something great to show you.”

“I don’t know. I’ll call you and let you know.”

“Okay. See you then.”


It was noon, and the house was very quiet. Christopher must still be sleeping, his parents must have gone off to work, and only God knows what U Mazuala was up to, probably working on one of his get-rich-quick schemes. If Cecilia was around she would be filling the house with her music - Pussycat Dolls and Rihanna and Beyoncé - and singing and dancing along. He missed her presence, her girly presence, her laughter, her silly conversations, her watching sappy Korean movies with her friends on his computer and crying their eyes out.

Charlie reluctantly got up - it was too bright to go back to sleep. It was going to be a hot April day. He decided to go over to Zotea’s and keep Cecilia company; she was after all his baby sister and he couldn’t leave her all alone in a house full of sadness and suffering (he still couldn’t get himself to think of it as “her” house, it was still Zotea’s house). And maybe afterwards he would go and see U Siama at his shop and find out what the excitement was all about.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Gossip - 8

A gust of wind blew from nowhere, making schoolgirls hold on to their skirts and young ladies to their hair. Dark clouds rolled about in the sky, and the air suddenly felt colder and somewhat sinister. It was twilight, the sun had set but darkness had not yet set in, there was an eerie glow in the air, “This is the scene where the vampires would sit up in their coffins and walk up the dungeon steps,” Pi Parteii thought to herself. Why had she seen that movie with Charlie last night? It was so unlike her, staying up until eleven watching a movie, that too on a Sunday night. She looked around the bus stop, everyone looked so grim and serious, and they all seemed to be running. Running from something, vampires perhaps? “Stop it Parte,” she told herself, “there’s no such things as vampires.”

The bus came, and it was jam packed. If it was any other day she would have waited for the next one, but today she was in a hurry. Cecilia and Zotea were coming to dinner, and she was worried about the cooking. She had put the boys in charge, but something was bound to go wrong, it always did. She had hoped to go home early today but it turned out to be the busiest day she’s had in a long time. She climbed inside the bus. It was even worse inside than it looked from the outside. It was so crowded she had to stand near the door. The air smelled of cigarette smoke and sweat. The two women sitting next to her were talking loudly. The young man standing beside her had earphones plugged into his ears, he must have turned the volume to the fullest; she could hear the music coming out through the earphones.

“And then he called me and asked me to go back, but I said if you want me back come and fetch me, and you know he wouldn’t dare set foot inside my parents' house, so I guess I'm not going back,” the woman sitting beside the window said.

“That’s the spirit. You are much better off without him. And you look... happier,” her friend said.

“You know what, now I'm officially a nuthlawi, a divorcee,” the first woman said, and they broke into giggles.

There was a loud bang of thunder, the wind grew fiercer, and it was rapidly getting dark. Pi Parteii reached inside her bag, felt around it, and found she didn’t have her umbrella with her. Wonderful. Now she would have to call one of her sons to meet her at the bus stop with an umbrella. Well, it hadn’t started raining yet; if this bus went a little faster she could make it before the rain came.

“Why does it always rain every time I am away from home?” an old woman said, “I hope that daughter-in-law of mine remembers to take in the washing.”

The conductor, a short plump man with paan stained teeth, squeezed himself between the passengers. Pi Parteii took out a ten-rupee note and gave it to him, “Kulikawn”, she said.

The conductor stopped, and looked at her. “Nu Parte, is it you?”

“Why, it is Sangtea. How are you?” she said.

“I'm fine. It’s been a long time, isn’t it? How are the children? They must be all grown up now.”

“Yes, they are all bigger than me now. Cecilia got married, you know.”

“Cecilia married? The last time I saw her she was about eight years old and I had to hide my tools from her.”

“So Sangte, why are you a bus conductor? You were a very good carpenter.”

“Oh this, I am just helping out a cousin, his conductor went home and he couldn’t find anyone else.”

Pi Parteii gave him the money again “You know where I'm going.”

Sangtea refused to take the money.”It’s all right, you are in my bus now.”

“Take it, I don’t want to feel guilty.”

“It’s okay, really,” Sangtea said.

“You know Sangte, we are still using all the furniture you made for us.”

“That’s good.”

“You should come visit us some time.”

“Yes I will do that,” he said, and made his way to the back of the bus.

It was raining heavily now, and people hastily closed the windows. Pi Parteii found a seat, sank down, rummaged inside her bag and took out her cell phone. It was switched off. Now that was strange, she didn’t remember switching it off. Oh, it must have been all the squeezing and crushing. She switched it on, and dialled Charlie. It rang and rang, but Charlie didn’t pick his phone. She dialled again, and listened to it ring. One, two, three… eleven, twelve rings. Still he didn’t pick it up.

She disconnected, and dialled their landline number. All she got was short beeps. Trust the phone to stop working every time it rains. She could call Christopher, but he was using his Delhi number and had asked her not to call him, “Roaming charges,” he had said. Her husband had refused to get himself a cell phone (“I can’t work these new gadgets”)

She dialed Charlie again, still no answer. She disconnected, and dialled Christopher. He answered on the first ring.


“Chris, why is Charlie not answering his phone?”

“He’s over at Zotea’s house.”

“Why is he over at Zotea’s house? I put you two in charge of the cooking. Have you done anything yet?”

“They are not coming for dinner. Pi Hlimi suddenly got worse, and everyone is gathering there,” Chris said.

“When was this? And why didn’t you call me?” Pi Parteii said.

“About twenty minutes ago. We called you a hundred times; your phone was switched off. Why did you keep it switched off anyway? “

“That’s not important. Listen, bring an umbrella and meet me at the bus stop, go now.”

“All right.”

“Where’s your father?”

“He too is at Zotea’s house.”

“Okay, now go.”

She hung up.

It was completely dark outside now, the driver had switched on the lights, and she felt like she was travelling in a night bus. The bus was almost empty, and it seemed like the rain and the wind were getting louder by the minute. Pi Parteii suddenly felt sad, sad for her poor daughter, for her son-in-law, for Pi Hlimi and the grandchildren she would never see.

“Nu Parte, it’s your stop,” the conductor said.

“Oh yes. So long then Sangte, come see us whenever you want.”

“Will do. Goodnight then.”

She got down and looked around, but couldn’t find Christopher anywhere. She remained at the bus stop, dimly aware that she was getting wet; but she didn’t want to step inside any of the nearby shops, didn’t feel like talking to anyone right now.

“Let me have my moment of sadness, let me be alone for just a few seconds, because in a few minutes I will again have to be the comforter.”

All around her, the rain kept falling in sheets.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Gossip - 7

The church compound bloomed with flowers. It was Easter Sunday, and as they did every year people brought flowers and plants in pots and in beautiful vases and in plain bowls. Varieties of flowers arranged in different styles by the young ladies and mothers of the congregation adorned the church verandah. It had rained briefly in the morning, and the world wore a fresh new look. White bright sunshine bathed the world, and made even the ugliest person look beautiful, and if you looked in the distance you could see a faint rainbow over the mountains. The morning service had just ended, and people milled around the flowers ooh-ing and ah-ing and giving each other compliments for the creative arrangements. Cameras flashed, laughing groups of young people went around taking photos, and mothers were heard telling their children not to touch the flowers.

Mimi scanned the crowd, looking for Marini, and then remembered Marini must be shepherding her group of Sunday School children towards the table where the Easter eggs and cakes were arranged. Goody U Marini, always busy with something or the other, this choir practice or that committee, never had time for her friends. And look at the way she treated that poor boyfriend of hers, whenever he came to see her at her house she was always rushing out to go somewhere important, or a dozen other suitors would fill her house, and most of the time the poor boyfriend had to sit alone with her family and watch the local programs on TV.

Mimi went towards the food tables, although she had no intention of eating a boiled egg in full view of the community – but the cake looked delicious – maybe she should eat only the cake. No, she musn't. Cakes are fattening, and she had always put on weight easily. Her mother always said she was not fat, only large boned, but then her mother never saw her naked and never saw the rolls of fat on her thighs. Besides, her makeup would get spoiled if she started stuffing her face now.

“Hey Mims,” a familiar voice called out – oh no it’s that disgusting guy U Mavala, who had always been after her ever since she was in high school. Look at that ponytail, makes you sick to the stomach, and did he have to dress like a teenager? She flashed him a brilliant smile but her eyes said something else.

“Hey U Maval, how many eggs have you eaten?”

“Two, but don’t tell anyone.” He carefully picked a slice of cake, and ate it hungrily, as if the world was coming to an end and he had only fifteen seconds left before the last bugle call. “Nice cake,” he said with his mouth full, and tried to smile. Mimi quickly looked away, and was relieved to see Marini coming her way.

“What’s the big hurry, U Maval, there are plenty more cakes,” Marini said, looking at Mimi who was now faking a cough to hide the sudden fit of laughter that came over her.

“Yeah U Maval, you can have my cake too if you want it,” Mimi said, and violently coughed again.

“I’ll go get a cup of tea, please wait for me here,” Mavala said, and walked towards the tea tables.

“Have all your children eaten?” Mimi said.

“I think so. It’s not an easy job, making sure fifty children under the age of ten each get an egg and a slice of cake and a cup of tea, but I think we managed very well.”

“Where are the mothers?”

“Do you think they would come and help when the Sunday School teachers are around? They are probably afraid they would get their beautiful clothes dirty.”

“What about you, have you eaten?” Mimi asked again.

“I never want to see another boiled egg in my life again,” Marini said.

“Then let’s go home before that desperate Mavala comes back,” Mimi said.

The air was cool and balmy, and the road was still damp from the morning rain with a few puddles here and there. The girls hitched up their puan and walked slowly, carefully stepping on the drier areas. Some oil had spilled on the road, probably from a passing vehicle so that a rainbow of colours formed on the road. The main road was very quiet, and the click click of their high heels was the only sound.

“RK-a called me last night,” Mimi said, breaking the silence.

“RK-a who?”

“You know, Zotea’s cousin, we met at the wedding, don’t you remember?”

Mimi was slightly annoyed; her best friend had no interest at all in her love life. And it was Marini who always came running to her with her boyfriend issues. How could she be so insensitive?

“Oh that guy, yeah now I remember. Why did he take so long to call you? It’s been almost a month now since the wedding,” Marini said.

“How would I know? Do you think I would ask him that?”

“I was just wondering,” Marini said, and stepped around a large puddle that had formed in the road where the black top had eroded.

“I casually mentioned Zotea,” Mimi continued, “And RK-a said Zotea is apparently very happy with his new bride, it seemed he never went out anymore, all he does is sit at home looking at his wife.”

“That’s normal behaviour for newlyweds. After a few months he would be itching to go out again and she would become a harried housewife. Just wait and see.”

“Do you mean maybe I could have another try?” Mimi asked hopefully.

“It’s over, Mimi, accept it. You are only resentful because he got married and you are still single. You really don’t want him back,” said Marini

“Maybe I suddenly realized I still loved him.”

“Oh wake up, will you? He is gone, gone, get that into your head.”

“But do you remember when I broke up with him? He said he would always wait for me.”

“That was five years ago.”

“So what? A promise is a promise.”

“Yes, and now he’s made another promise to another girl, to be with her forever. In front of God and the community.”

There it was, out in the open - Zotea was never coming back to her. She’d known it all along, ever since the wedding, but Mimi was living in denial. What she needed was someone to come and rattle her awake, and she was thankful for having such a good friend in Marini.

But lately it looked like Marini had been avoiding her, she never answered her phone, and when Mimi sent her a text message Marini would take hours to reply. Besides, Mimi seldom went to church and other youth activities, and of course Marini was actively involved in everything. They were so different, yet they had always been best friends ever since their childhood. Or did they remain friends only because most of their other childhood friends were either married or living somewhere else? Did they stick to each other because no one else was around? They had other friends, outside friends as they used to say, but no one else knew her as well as Marini did. Mimi thought that was a big disadvantage sometimes, knowing someone too well and for too long - it made you so vulnerable and so exposed.

“My father was thinking of asking U Siama to move,” Marini said.

“But where would he go?”

“I don’t know, but I don’t think he’d be moving. I told my father U Siama’s business is slowly picking up, and my father’s now thinking it over.”

“That’s generous of him. By the way, how old do you think U Siama is?”

“I guess… around thirty to thirty-five? And why do you want to know that?” Marini said.

“Well, since you two are such great buddies, I just thought you might know.”

“He is a nice guy, very decent. Most people think he’s a good for nothing type, but really he is very bright. You wouldn’t believe some of the ideas he has.”

“I think he likes you,” Mimi said.

“No way. He speaks to me like I'm his little sister, and besides…” Marini trailed off, leaving her unfinished sentence hang in the air.

“Besides, what?” Mimi asked.

“I don’t know,” Mimi laughed.

“I knew it, you like him too,” Mimi said with a wicked gleam in her eyes, and elbowed Marini.

“No I don’t,” Marini said, and lightly pushed Mimi.

“Oh yes you do, don’t think I don’t know you.”

The sound of their laughter filled the air, like a clear church bell on a quiet Sunday morning.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Gossip - 6

Siama was secretly worried. His business wasn’t doing as well as he’d hoped it would, too many friends and relatives dumping their computers and laptops on him and nobody bothering to pay him. It wouldn’t hurt to get paid now and then, he thought, just because you’ve known me since I was in diapers does not justify receiving only gratified smiles and compliments from you as payment for your broken machinery. Man does not live on bread alone, or smiles, or compliments. And his friends were the worst. They all assumed he was a successful businessman with no worries about money, but they were all wrong. The trouble with him was he couldn’t say no to anyone. He simply wasn’t assertive enough.

On Saturdays he would open his shop as early as eight. His shop was located at a very busy section of town, bang in the middle of Dawrpui, and his window display of sleek laptops and computers and peripherals attracted many window-gazers. Saturday mornings were when lots of young rich fat housewives wandered into the shop, and they were always followed by houseboys carrying their bags. They would always talk about how their husbands were planning to buy new computers, always hinting that money was not a concern when it comes to buying gadgets. But they rarely came back to actually buy anything. On weekdays a lot of schoolboys visited, sometimes coming in and asking some questions, sometimes just looking from the outside and leaving hand prints on the glass window.

He hadn’t paid the rent in two months, and every time Marini came by he would be all tensed up and ill at ease. But she was a very sweet girl, she never mentioned money, instead she would stand in his doorway and look out at the road and whenever someone familiar walked by she would shout and ask them to come over, as if it was her shop. She was a very popular girl, and recently she had taken up introducing him to all kinds of people, her colleagues at Synod Press, her fellow choir members, her old school chums. Siama wondered what the motive behind all this was. Did she know he was having financial problems and hoped to help him out by introducing him to prospective customers? Or was it because she felt he needed to know more people, make more friends? Why this concern, all of a sudden? He had always liked her, secretly of course, and it was always a joy to see her. Her friends were decent religious people, and sometimes he felt uncomfortable knowing them.

His thoughts drifted towards her, the way she tilted her head whenever she spoke, and the mole on the back of her neck that was always hidden behind a curtain of glossy black hair (one day she thought there was an insect on her neck and had asked him to remove it, and he had seen the mole then; it was now forever etched in his memory). But he knew he didn’t stand a chance with her, she was almost a decade younger than him and pretty and popular. No doubt she would have a lot of admirers. And she probably thought he was an old bachelor, just look at the way she talked to him, almost like the way you speak to old people, deferential and carefully choosing her words, taking care not to use any slang. He had her phone number and many times had contemplated calling her, but what would he say then? They had never spoken on the phone, when it was time to collect the rent Marini would send him a text message saying when she would come, but that was the only telephonic contact they’d have until the next month when the rent was due again. What would she think? She might never come again, and that would be a tragedy he couldn’t bear to think of.

He looked at his watch, saw it was close to ten, and suddenly realized how hungry he was. He wondered if his mother had finished her Saturday morning shopping yet and if food would be ready now if he went home. Charlie had said he would come over and watch the store while he was away, and where was he? Probably sleeping late again, or helping out his mother. “My mother suddenly decided I'm her new daughter, now that Cecilia is married,” Charlie had said jokingly. Siama laughed aloud, imagining Charlie standing near the stove, wearing a pink apron and peering into a boiling pot. The poor boy couldn’t even make tea, what exactly could he do to ease his mother’s burdens?

He decided he would lock the shop, run home and come back fast. He could drop in at Charlie's house on the way home and give him the keys, but first he would call him. He opened the address book on his phone, and without thinking scrolled down to the M’s. When he saw Marini’s name, he smiled.