Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Cargo - Finale

The Latin name was Mimosa Pudica. Slender and prickly, the Touch-me-Not plant was a loner. But with enough shade, and the right kind of soil, the little fern often sprouted delicate flowers. Purple pink and florid, these blooms were a pop of joy, a rosy smile on an otherwise lonely facade.

It was late evening when the lorry rumbled down the muddy roads. In the driver’s seat, Lajwanti sneezed and flicked away an errant blade of hay. Her throat was dry and her eyes burned from glaring at the sun all day.10 more kilometers, and then a bathroom break on one of those dirt roads that meandered off the highway. She also needed to use the PCO. After 13 hours, he would expect an update. 

And sure enough, after a quarter of an hour, she spotted a little muddy track with a PCO sign next to it. KalamBhai’s voice boomed inside her head. “Remember, you cannot get caught before you make the exchange. That would end of the whole operation. We have 70 crores at Stake!”. 

So signaling appropriately, Lajwanti exited onto the dirt road, grimacing as the lorry creaked over bumps and potholes. 

Half a kilometer down was an abandoned fuel station. And right in front of it - a rusty PCO booth. Lajwanti parked behind the building and watched silently with a hand on the lorry. As far as she could discern, no one was following them. All good. 
The Lorry’s engine wheezed and rattled before falling into a humming stupor. She couldn’t hear a sound from the back, either. Maybe they were all sleeping. Well, a busy night ahead lay ahead of them, she thought with a grimace. She’d refilled their water a couple of hours ago and left enough food. But she couldn’t risk opening the lorry and checking in. Any racket would put the whole operation into risk. And she absolutely couldn’t have that happen.
Tiptoeing, she reached the PCO. The handset was old and mottled, but the phone was thankfully in order. She punched in a number and waited. 
A burly voice answered. “What’s the status?”

“All good. We’re making good time and I expect to get there soon.”

“How’s the Cargo?”

“No problems there. In about half an hour, I should be reaching the old well. Remember, the plan is to wash the Cargo before the exchange. After that, it’ll take me less than 10 minutes to get to the Main Gate of the house.”

“Good! Good! And are you being followed?”

“No. I don’t think so.”

“That’s a relief. Ok, Good luck now!”

Lajwanti hung up the phone and sprinted back. Heart thumping, she swung the lorry onto the road and drove at a rapid pace.

A little while later, she saw the familiar rice fields, swaying on either side of the highway.The end was nigh! 70 crores- whew! No small number!
But she didn’t smile. Not yet. Not just yet.

The Paddy fields vanished, replaced by a dense thicket of low trees. An askew sign, advertising Bean Bags and Pottery jumped up on the side of the highway. Lajwanti took a deep breath and signaled left. 
(“Wash the cargo, Lajwanti. They need to be clean for the Europeans.”)

Acid bubbled up her throat as she spotted the old well and the hose behind it. 

She parked the Lorry and switched off the engine. A little prayer came to her lips. 
“Please let this work. Please let this work.” 

She jumped down from the seat and walked to the rear of the Lorry. Unlocking the back doors, she opened them wide. 
Silence. Then she got out a ring of keys from her Uniform coat and crept into the lorry. 

Clink, Jangle.Click.Clink, Jangle.Click.
Over and over.The metallic sounds of handcuffs coming off and chains rattling peppered the silence of the night.

Lajwanti readjusted her shawl and jumped back outside. 
Then like a ringmaster, eager to begin, she boomed.
“Come on. Come on. One by one. Step outside and form a line here by the well!”

At first nothing. Then 24 pairs of unsure legs slowly crept out of the lorry and stumbled over to the well. 
Lajwanti let out a low chuckle. Everyone was accounted for. Perfect. PERFECT!

And that’s when all hell broke loose. 

4 Police Cars, 2 Police Jeeps and 3 Ambulances came to life behind the Tree Cover. Lights flashed, Sirens sang and 24 children screamed - disoriented and terrified. 

Lajwanti, stood by the lorry, eyes wild. Before she could say a word, an assortment of officials descended on the scene - policemen and policewomen, doctors and nurses. The kids were given thermal blankets and cups of juice while nurses fussed over their heart rates and searched for wounds. Absolute chaos reigned for a few minutes until a uniformed policeman stepped forward and raised a burly arm in the air. 

“Silence!” he roared. “We don’t have a lot of time!” 

Every single face followed him as he strode over to the lorry, gun in hand. Thin lipped and with a mad gleam in her eyes, Lajwanti stood, cornered. 

Inspector Veer Scindia stopped a foot before her and raised his gun. In the distance, one of the children began sobbing. Scindia looked at Lajwanti, taking in her scars, her battered face, her wispy hair pulled into a severe knot.

Then saluting smartly, he shook her hand and handed over his gun. 

In a soft voice, quite unlike her usual grunt, Lajwanti asked, 

“Are the children ok?”

“Yes Ma’am.”

“No bruises or signs of abuse?”

“Absolutely none, Ma’am. You’ve done very well to protect them, given the circumstances.”

“Well, we all know the next step then. Keep them safe in custody and slowly release them to their parents over the next two days. Handle everything with the utmost discretion. No Press and absolutely no Tamasha! We cannot afford any publicity this close to the finish line.”

“Understood Ma’am. Is the GPS tracker on?”

“Trackers. Plural.The idiot put one in the truck and one in this Coat. I’ll dump them at the house, so he doesn’t suspect anything.”

As Scindia nodded, Lajwanti walked over to the children, now huddled together in ill-fitting toasty jackets. She dropped to her knees and looked each one of them in the eye. Then after a good, long minute, she spoke.

“Much like you, there was a little girl called Sharon Fernandes. When she turned 12, she was kidnapped and sold into a child prostitution ring. She endured years of horror and shame and pain before being rescued during a Sting Operation.”

The children stared at her, agog. 

“Now Sharon Fernandes isn’t so little anymore. She grew up, studied Criminal Psychology. Majored in Sex Crimes. Became a policewoman- an inspector. And every day, she fights for children like her. Like you!”

No one said a word. But they all gaped at her. The scars. The woman behind the scars. And the little girl behind the woman.

Then a waiflike boy spoke from the back row. 

“La-Lajwanti? Ar-are you… are you go-going to kill the b-bad men? The Eur-Europeans?”

She chuckled. Stroking the gun on her waist, she replied. 

“Kill them? Oh honey, I’ll do no such thing.  I don’t go around itching for a fight. But something tells me, they might not like an empty truck. And remember, at the first sign of trouble, my Propane Torch will do the talking.”

The boy’s eyes widened, but he didn’t speak further.

Lajwanti stood up. 

“I’m sorry about the bumpy ride here.Hell, I’m sorry about the past few days. It was important that I stayed undercover if we were to take down someone of KalamBhai’s caliber. I hope you understand someday.”

She paused.
“I want to hug you, but I won’t. You may not care to be touched, right now. But before you go home, the police will give you my personal number. Any time of day, and I’ll be on the other side of that phone.Nightmares, panic attacks, anger. You call me, and I’ll talk you through it. Ok?
Now Goodbye Children. You have a busy night ahead of you. Be safe. Always.”

Some of the older kids cried. The younger ones, yawned. They were children and children are notoriously resilient.

Lajwanti stood there for one more second. She seemed to have some trouble with her eyes. 

Inspector Scindia stepped in behind her as she walked back to the Lorry.

“Ma’am, what about KalamBhai?” 

“His GPS trackers should show him that I reached the house.I’ll call him right after. And my undercover references were strong. He won’t suspect anything for a few days.”

“Ok ma’am. And you’re sure you don’t need backup?”

“I’m sure Scindia. Don’t forget, there are thunderstorms expected. Now, you wouldn’t want to get caught in the middle of those, would you? I’ve heard these Electrical Storms are bad news. Huge Fire Hazards.”

A furtive glance at her Propane Torch, peeking from the Passenger seat of the Lorry. 

Scindia didn’t say a word. He knew better than to question her. Plus something about her general energy scared him.

So he stepped back. Saluted, wishing her luck. 

4 Police Cars, 2 Police Jeeps and 3 Ambulances watched the Lorry thunder out of the Clearing. And a second later, she disappeared into the inky darkness of the night.

The End.

Epilogue

March 9, 2018
AP News, 
Birajpur, UP:

Firefighters responded to reports of fire from a guest house, just outside Birajpur. The fire was contained to just the residence and did not extend past the Main gate. Unfortunately, several bodies were found inside the basement, burned beyond recognition. Preliminary Post-Mortem Reports indicate the bodies as belonging to Caucasian Males, possibly of European Descent. Firefighters issued a joint Statement with the Police ruling out any possibility of Foul play. “We have had many similar fires in the state recently. Lightning strikes are common during such Inclement Weather Conditions. We intend to close the case as an unfortunate act of nature and extend our Condolences to the families of those who perished in the fire.” 

March 13, 2018.
AnchorTV News,
Salilabad, UP

Local Businessman, KalamBhai Verma was the Victim of a Motor Vehicle Accident yesterday, outside Bishop’s Bar in north Salilabad. Mr.Verma was seen exiting the bar in an inebriated Condition and failed to notice an oncoming Lorry. His Jeep was crushed under the impact of the collision.Mr.Verma suffered from multiple lacerations and blunt force trauma, before succumbing to his injuries. Taking into account Mr.Verma’s Blood Alcohol levels, the police have ruled this as a case of ‘Drunk Driving’, and cleared the Lorry Driver, of any wrongdoing. Mr.Verma is survived by his wife.


March 16, 2018.
Channel 2 News,
Mumbai, Maharashtra.

‘Suraksha’, a leading NGO fighting against Child Prostitution, has received an anonymous donation of 70 crores. The NGO recently made headlines for cracking down on a Human Trafficking ring in Andhra Pradesh. Media Spokesperson for the NGO, Mrs.Pradnya Shinde announced, “We are very thankful to our Anonymous Donor. Suraksha seeks to end the exploitation of Women and Children everywhere, and this generous donation will go a long way in making that happen.”



Deep inside Police Headquarters in Mumbai, sat a corner office. Quiet and with just the right amount of light. And in a cozy part of the room, rested a plant. Latin name: Mimosa Pudica. The Shy plant, the Touch me Not. Watchful and vigilant, the delicate fern was considered more evolved than most shrubs.

Two feet away, at a large desk, Inspector Sharon Fernandes put down the news reports. An absent finger went to her scars- counting them, respecting them. Her jaw twitched as she leaned back and looked at her plant. Something purple pink shimmered under the buds at the very top. Any day now, she thought, as a rosy smile bloomed on her otherwise lonely face. 

Shy Plant. Zombie Plant. The Touch me Not.
She was partial to the Hindi name, any day.
“Lajwanti.” 











Monday, March 11, 2019

The Cargo - Part 1.

The wispy shrub grew without too much fuss. Shy plant, Shame Plant, the Touch-Me-Not. Many names, for the same little fern who withdrew from the slightest touch. A soft breeze, a sudden movement - all of these made the plant fold inward. All it wanted - a handful of soil and a quiet corner of the land.
In the early hours of a March dawn, Kalambhai stretched his burly arms and sniffed the air. Might rain today. The Tv predicted Thunderstorms for the entire state. He hoped that wouldn’t mess with the travel time. His clients were rich Europeans, and a bad review from them would not help his fledgling business. News traveled fast in their circles, and he always had goods to move.
Almost time. Lajwanti should be ready with the lorry. Kalambhai was an atheist, but having a woman in his line of work? An absolute Godsend. Of course, she was ugly as sin, but he didn’t employ her for her looks now, did he?
As he marched toward the large barn, he could see the gray blue fumes of the lorry sputtering noisily into the morning air. Good old Lajwanti. On time and ready to leave. He found her checking the rear tires, the old shawl slipping from her head to reveal scarred skin. “Yeah, she’s no looker”, he thought, taking in her plain face and blunt features. Only her eyes shone as they went over the schedule one more time. She nodded every time he made a point, wincing as he pushed an extra wad of cash into her palms. Efficient and effective, Lajwanti hated this large slob of a man in front of her. But she needed the money and the job. So that was that.
“All set now? Any questions?”
Lajwanti shook her head. She preferred silence to words, and she was itching to go before the Storms hit.
“Let me talk to them one more time, ok? These are some prize goods and I want one last look.”
Shrugging Lajwanti opened the back door of the lorry, revealing the precious cargo. She peered in impassively as Kalambhai hitched up his pants and began counting wordlessly.
48 red-rimmed eyes stared back at them. Hands shackled to metal hooks, two dozen children sat in the back, amidst bales of hay and buzzing flies. Bodies had been moved in this truck before. And not always alive.
Panic, confusion and an occasional sob punctuated the silence, as Kalambhai smiled and counted again.
“All accounted for. 15 girls and 9 boys, this time. Those firangis have weird tastes. But hey, they pay well, so ours is not to question why.”
Lajwanti grunted, eager to get on the road.
“I’ll tell you one more time, children. If you try to make a noise or escape or do anything to draw attention. You know what happens.”
24 pairs of fearful eyes swung over to Lajwanti. She didn’t say a word. Didn’t need to. They’d heard of her Propane Torch. They could smell the cold rage coming off her dark skin.
And they’d seen her dead eyes.
No, not one of them was planning to make a single peep. They were doomed, and they knew it.
Kalambhai giggled, like an overeager teenager. He was going to be obscenely rich. The Europeans had “rented” the children for 3 days. Then Lajwanti was to bring them back (alive or as corpses) along with the money. The world had moved on to credit cards and online banking. But in Kalambhai‘s circle, cold hard cash was king.
Lajwanti made a sound. He cleared his throat and looked at her. A sudden doubt crept into him. What if she ran away with the loot? Nothing stopping her. But he knew she wouldn’t. She’d come highly recommended, and she needed the job.Plus, he had a GPS tracker on the truck and another sewn into the “Patel & Sons Biochemical Waste Transport” Uniform coat she was wearing.
Even the nosiest policeman would think hard before asking her to open the back of the lorry. No, women in this line of work were invaluable. Even if they looked like she did.
“Remember, Lajwanti. You’re collecting all the money upfront. I don’t expect trouble, but you never know. There’s a gun hidden in the shack by the Main Gate of the House. Arm yourself before you hand over the children. But no cell phones. Use public phones and only when you absolutely need to.None of this can be traced back to me.”
“Yes. I’ll see you in 5 days, Kalambhai. 4 if I drive fast.”
With a final nod, Lajwanti turned and got into the driver’s seat. She had her fake Identity Card, and the Vehicle was registered to “Patel & Sons”, a legitimate company, albeit in a different part of the Country. Every detail accounted for. She took a big breath, trying not to inhale the noxious odors of musty hay and sweat. A whole day of dusty country roads lay ahead. And behind her, lay 24 young children, all less than 12 years old. They didn’t worry her one bit. Any sign of trouble, and her propane Torch would do all the talking. Years of abuse had hardened her, and she wasn’t past handing out some cruelty of her own.
So with a foot on the pedal, and a curse on her lips, Lajwanti moved the gear and turned her wheel.
The sun shimmered up, a golden pool behind the distant mountains. As the lorry rumbled out of the gate, birthing dust clouds behind it, KalamBhai smiled to himself. Maybe a new car? One of those Skodas? Hell, he could buy 10 Skodas with that kind of money. His wife would be very pleased. Hitching his pants up again, he walked to his Jeep and drove half a kilometer to the nearest PCO. Dialed a number from memory. A male voice answered, with a slight German accent.
“Good morning, Sir. 24 barrels of biohazard waste just left the Factory with our driver. You can expect the shipment to reach you by tonight,”.
“Thank You,” said the voice simply and hung up.
KalamBhai got back into his Jeep and drove to the nearest Bar. A celebratory drink was in order.
And less than 2 kilometers away, a large lorry roared down the highway, its walls painted with the “Patel & Sons Biochemical Waste Management” Logo.
And inside it, Sharon Fernandes pushed some hay away and started counting the hours.
**********************End of PART 1***********************
Author's note: This is a story set around a very delicate topic. Child abuse and Trafficking are very real horrors and I am sensitive to the pain and fear that these victims and their families live through. But as a fiction writer, I am often compelled to write about the darker side of our society. I don't intend to sensationalize Child Abuse. Please grant me the courtesy of respecting this as purely a work of fiction. This might sound like a silly request, but I am reiterating this point because of the delicacy of the topic in the story.
Thank you for reading and I hope you are looking forward to the Second and Final Part coming up tomorrow! The road is dusty and the hours are long. But Sharon Fernandes isn't done yet.


Saturday, March 9, 2019

Silver Lining










Pramila was going to be late for Art Class. Second time this week, and no one to blame but herself. Well…. and Raj. Mmm Raj! 
With an impish smile, she adjusted her Kurta and locked the door behind her. Oh wait! Her paint brushes?!! She would look like a proper fool if she showed up tardy AND without her tools. Slipping back into her room, she looked around frantically for the supplies. Not on the sofa (Hey, Pramila), not under the table (Pramila, listen) and unsurprisingly, not in her Art Corner (I think I’m falling for you, Pramila).
Where were the damn brushes?!!
On a sudden whim, she peeked into the bedroom. A cozy bed blinked merrily back at her. The sheets were in absolute disarray (whose fault is that, now?) and two pillows peeked from under the thick quilt.
(Prami, will you marry me?)
(Shut up, Raj, you cannot be serious!)
(I’m as serious as a heart attack, darling).
Raj’s aftershave lingered in her bedroom - heady and tantalizing. A mental image of his broad back, those burning eyes when he looked at her- pools of passion with little ripples of lust. In the middle of November Snow, Pramila fanned herself, all flushed and hot. Ok, Focus. Don’t think about Raj, don’t imagine kissing him again.
Aha! She spotted her brushes hiding behind the candles on the windowsill.
(Marry me Prami!)
Tools in tow, she locked her room again and rushed down the stairs. Two corridors and one wing over, she reached the classroom. Breathless and still a little red, Pramila pulled her sweater close.
Whoa! A packed classroom today. Several new heads bobbed between familiar faces and she had to pause a few times before reaching her corner of the class.
Setting down her tools, she nudged her friend, Madhu.
“What’s with so many new faces today?”
Madhu shrugged. “Maybe some of them are touring the campus? The Art Class is on the brochure.”
“Yeah, you may be right.”
She was setting up her easel when Madhu whispered.
“Prami?”
“Hmm..”
“Who’s the hot guy making eyes at you?”
“What? Where?”
“Over there, at the very back of the class? Blue Sweater, Tan Pants?”
Pramila craned her neck and saw him. Raj? Wait her Raj?
RAJ!!
What was he doing here in Art Class?
Madhu leaned over and muttered unhelpfully.
“He’s smiling now and heading our way! Whoa, what a Cutie!”
Half a head taller than anyone else, Raj ambled towards them with a naughty smile.
Her heart stopped, then started again, stumbling over a few beats.
(Raj, we met a month ago.)
(And that’s a month too late. Marry me Prami!)
(But our pasts? My daughter?)
“Hey Ladies, I’m Raj Aiyyar. Such a pleasure to meet you both.”
Madhu simpered and flashed her pearly whites like an awkward teenager. Rolling her eyes, Pramila said, “Raj, are you new to Art Class? We haven’t seen you here before?”
Raj held her gaze for an extra second. Then winked.
The cheek of the man!
“Actually, I’ve been here for a good, long time. My friend is touring the Campus, so I thought I’d come check out the artsy folk! And trust me, this class has not disappointed!”
Another wink.
A sudden image of Raj lounging on her bed popped into her head. Had she really spent the night with this handsome, wonderful man?
The intercom cleared its throat with a phlegmy buzz.
“Mrs. Pramila Rao. Kindly report to the Office. You have a visitor.”
“Prami, who’s visiting you today?”
Confused, Pramila shrugged. She wasn’t expecting anyone for at least another two weeks.
“Hey, let me walk you. Headed that way myself.” Raj offered.
Nodding absently, she excused herself from class and left the bustle of a hundred brushes swishing against paper.
“Prami?”
“Yeah?”
“Are you ok?”
“Me? Yeah, sure.”
“Alrighty then.”
She loved that about him. He treated her with respect and not like a 5-year-old who needed constant support. Refreshing!
Without meaning to, she asked,
“Raj? Do you like it here? This place?”
“Well, I wasn’t too sure at first. I had a good life in the City. Never married, no commitments. But after a while, the sameness got to me. I wanted a change. And here, I get to work my own hours and I absolutely adore the company. Especially Art Class,” he beamed. “How about you, Prami?”
“I am happy!” she said. It was as simple as that.
“This place is nothing like what they show in the movies right?”
“That’s exactly why I came here. We’re independent and we live life on our own terms. Isn’t that liberating?!”
Raj nodded, as they reached the main office.
In the lobby, waited a tall woman with her little toddler. Both wearing, Pramilaesque expressions of mild impatience.
“Ma! There you are!” exclaimed the woman, as Pramila held out her arms to hug her and the little girl.
“Na-nee!” “Na-nee”, chanted the toddler, in excitement.
“Prachi, how are you, darling? And Sia, you little bug, when did you get so big?”
Prachi looked at Raj, suspicious to see a handsome stranger by her mom’s side.
“This is my friend, Rajesh Aiyyar. He lives here too.”
“I see. Now Ma, we need to talk. In private, please?”
“Is this 'Talk’ about me living here?”
Prachi reddened and looked at Raj. Then nodded imperceptibly.
“I had to come, Ma. Since you weren’t responding to my messages about… well.. you living here.”
“Well, in that case, why don’t we sit down on those nice couches by the window. And Raj, come along too!”
“But MA-”
“Prami if this is a family conver-”
“No Raj! Prachi, trust me. I have something to say, which concerns the both of you.”
They walked over and sat on the couches, Sia bouncing on her grandma’s lap. Above their heads, the large logo of ‘Grace Senior Residences’ flashed brightly in the late afternoon sun.
Prachi cleared her throat and began,
“Ma, I will say this one last time. You shouldn’t be living here. You have me, your adult daughter who owns a large house in Bangalore. Sia loves you and asks for you often! We miss you, MA and I think it’s idiotic that you want to live by yourself in an old age home. Come on Ma! You’re not an orphan with no place to call your own!”
As Raj winced and covered his face, Pramila placed a palm on his back. The gesture did not go unnoticed, especially by little Sia, who planted a big kiss on Raj’s knee. “Na-na,” she announced brightly.
“Oh, my darling, darling girl. I have announcements to make.So take a deep breath and listen like an adult. Ok?”
Prachi nodded, as did Raj who was now dangling the determined toddler on his legs.
“Firstly, I love you. I love the woman you’ve become - unafraid, assertive. Just like I raised you to be. But let go, darling. There’s more strength in acceptance than in fighting a pointless battle. See, for a while after your dad died, I was lonely. 35 years of marriage can do that to you. He was my soulmate and my best friend, and everything was so colorless when he left. Back then, I needed the warmth of a daughter’s love, a corner of her bright house; so I could mourn him my way and find myself beyond the life we built together. 35 years, darling. That’s a lot of memories.”
Pramila took a shaky breath and continued.
“I have healed from that loss. Girish was a wonderful, wonderful man and possibly the love of my life. But as the past 3 years have taught me, I am something more than his wife. Something more than a lonely widow, a dutiful mother, a loving Nani.”
“I am happy here. Very much so. My finances are in order, I pay to live comfortably here and I have a surprisingly busy life. Did you know, I have always wanted to paint? Now,after decades of flirting with a paintbrush, I’ve enrolled in an Art class? That is the absolute favorite part of my day, darling. Dabbling around in colors, easy conversations with friends. I have my identity here, Prachi!”
“But Ma, what about me? And Sia? Don’t you miss us?”
“Of course, I do my love! I miss all of you, every single day. But you’re busy with work and Sia is content at her playschool. You have a very involved husband, and, I am not needed there. I raised you to be independent, so grant me the courtesy of wanting the same.
Now, I will visit as much as you want me to. You mean the world to me.But honey, that is not my home. This place is.”
Sia looked up at her Grandma, confused by the somber faces around her.
Pramila looked down at her and exclaimed, “Guess what Miss. Sia? If your mom is ok with it, you can come and stay with Nani for the summer vacations? We can have ice cream for dessert every day! That sound like a plan?”
Sia nodded, her mind blown by images of scoops in every color of the rainbow.
Prachi sat there for a while. Processing. Understanding. Her mother’s daughter, she was a realist.
Then standing up, she hugged Pramila and whispered, “I love you ma. I’m sorry I tried to trample on your choice. If you ever change your mind, we’ll be just a phone call away.”
She glanced at Raj, who was tickling Sia’s toes.
“But something tells me you’ll be just fine here!”
After warm hugs and promises of Video Chats (Na-na AND Na-nee call me!), Pramila bade her little family adieu.
“They’re special women, Prami! Come from good stock, obviously!” Raj murmured in her ear.
“Now, Rajesh Aiyyar?”
“Yes, Pramila Rao?”
" About your Marriage Proposal this morning.”
“Wait, are you saying yes? Prami?!! Are you saying yes?!”
Pramila laughed at the tall, 62-year-old man, gushing before her.Oh, he was delightful!
“I love you Rajesh Aiyyar. But I cannot marry you just yet. This… this single life? It’s a novelty. Marriage and all that goes with it? Been there and done that.
For a little while, I want to be Pramila. Fly solo, unfettered and carefree. Staying up late, acting like a fool, cheating at our Evening Card games. Oh, there’s a whole bucket list of idiotic things I’ve always wanted to do.
Now I understand if this makes little sense to you. You’re a catch Mr.Aiyyar. I don’t expect you to wait for me.”
Raj looked away, brow furrowed and jaw set.
“Prami?”
“Yeah, Raj?”
“Can I be honest?”
“Mmm.”
“This bucket list? How late does it say you have to stay up? Because I have some naughty ideas. And I’d like to start tonight.”
Pramila burst out laughing, the years falling away from her beautiful face. She went up on her toes and kissed his nose.
Then holding slightly wrinkled hands, the two sweethearts walked back to Art Class, their whole lives ahead of them. Behind them, evening fell and the Logo Lit up in Large, Bright Letters.
“GRACE Senior Residences” 

Welcome to your Silver Lining.




Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Thrilling Life of a Housewife.

Melanie walked around the house, putting away a toy here, fluffing a pillow there. Another dreary day in a rather mundane week. Endless versions of Coffee-breakfast-laundry-lunch-cleaning-school-snacks-homework-nag-homework-bath-dinner. Every single day, the absolute same. “The Thrilling Life of a Housewife, Chapter 1031”, she thought with a grimace. Her back ached, her eyes hurt, and she was bored to the point of screaming. Outside her highrise, lights twinkled on, in the distant freeway. She gripped the cool metal of the grilled window and peered at the dusky darkness.
As a yawning breeze caressed her face, she let out a sigh. A little newspaper headline popped into her head.
“Supermom pries open Window Rails and flies into the night, before falling to her death,”.
No, No! How about this:
“Former Editor of Metro Publishing, gleefully jumps to her death from towering Laundry Pile. You will not believe her last words.”
Too click bait-y. Come on, you can do better, babe.
“Choose which boring task Melanie Rivera hates the most, and we’ll reveal the name of your Soulmate!”
Yup, that would be the one!
Chuckling darkly, she stepped away from the bars and padded back into the darkness of the hallway. Twins in their beds, Russ away on a work trip. Her Netflix queue called out to her as did the 7 books slowly collecting dust on the end table. She had to fix the kids’ lunch bags and.. Wait! Oh-My-God, Wait!
Wasn’t tomorrow the last day before the Monthly essays were due? Had the twins even started on them?!!
Suddenly exhausted, she sat down and burst into tears. An ugly thought floated before her.
“Hey, I’m Melanie Rivera, Former Valedictorian/Hotshot. Semi Dormant Writer and Publisher. Now reduced to running errands, wiping down appliances and scrambling at 9 pm to ghost write essays for my 10-year-old twins. THIS! This is how I fade away.”
A little voice squeaked behind her.
“Mommy, are you crying?”
Aidan looked at her, with large luminous eyes, so like his dad.
She wiped her nose on the sleeve of her tee and held out her arms.
The little boy came running and burrowed into her embrace. (Alexa, Schedule Aidan for a haircut.)
“Why are you sad, Mommy?”
“Oh kiddo, I’m sorry. I meant to remind you about your essays. Have you guys started on them?”
Aidan looked down, crestfallen. “Sorry Mommy. I wrote a littl-…”
“I finished my essay. Mommy! MOMMY! I finished like 3 hours ago!” Abby’s tinny voice came from a bedroom further down the hallway.
Melanie smiled. Younger by a minute than Aidan, the twins were wildly different.
“It’s on the hall desk, if you want to check it, Mommy,”, yelled Abby.
With an exaggerated sigh, Aidan rolled his eyes. Then with a goofy smile to show he meant no ill will, he kissed Melanie’s cheek and scampered off to bed.
Sure enough, on the Hall Desk, lay a crisp sheet of paper. Written in firm, precise sentences, was a well structured Essay about how Abby wanted to grow up and be a Surgeon. The cadence of her writing, the ease with which the words flew onto paper. She had a flair for prose. Much like Melanie at the same age.
A familiar weight settled in her bones. Real life, Mortgage payments, PTA meetings and Dentist Visits. “The Thrilling Life of a Housewife — A Never-Ending Story”.
Go on, Melanie! Set a 5 AM alarm like a good little lady. This is your life now.
She was about to turn off the hall lights when she saw a crinkly page poking out of Aidan’s Backpack. His essay?
Curiosity piqued her. Her dreamy, sensitive little man, Aidan wasn’t as outgoing as his sister. Whatever could he have written?
She pulled the paper out and saw her name Emblazoned at the Bottom.
Curiouser and Curiouser.
When I grow up — by Aidan Rivera.
I always thought I would grow up to be an Animal Doctor. Or a Photographer. But now, I have changed my mind.
My Mommy is a Housewife. She used to be a writer. But I think she is a SuperWoman. She knows how to work from home and still have time to cook my favorite breakfasts. She remembers every school function and every Party I’m invited to. Math or Science, Astronomy or Literature, Mommy knows more than most of my teachers.
Last month, Papa forgot to pay his gym membership fees, but when he called the Gym, they laughed. And said, Mommy has already paid it. She helps us with homework and Projects, and we always have the most fun when we’re learning with her. She makes Magic soup when we fall sick, and her pizza is the best in the world. She knows the funniest jokes and tells us the spookiest stories. And every Friday night, she lets us cheat and win at Board Games.
My Papa is clever. But Mommy is much smarter. She makes money and works at her computer, even when no one is watching. The housemaid loves Mommy’s tea and my friends always want to hang out at our house. Because she knows their names and talks to them like she cares.
I once asked Mommy what she was. And she replied — “Oh, just A Housewife,”.
When I grow up, I want everyone to love and respect me. But not as a Doctor or a Scientist.
Like Melanie Rivera, I want to be a Super hero.
I want to be a househusband. That sounds Thrilling!
Melanie put down the paper. Wordlessly, she walked to the window. Lights twinkling on the distant highway, now far less frequent. Blinking furiously, she breathed in some of that cool, cleansing breeze. Twins — wildly different. Most days, they drove her crazy. But in the stillness of the night, she realized they saw more in her, than she ever had.
A brighter, much better headline swooped into her head.
“Former Editor rocks a Thrilling, New Career and meets her biggest fans.”
And with a big, goofy grin, HouseWife and Superhero Melanie Rivera went to bed, completely at peace with herself.

Photo by Pablò on Unsplash