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- by supreeta singh
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am happy. That’s what I say when people ask me, “How are you?” I could say that I am not sad but I don’t want to look like a pessimist. I have heard that negativity is not to be trusted in an old man. It renders people suspicious. Moreover, it would draw unwanted attention towards me. I don’t want strangers to pry into my life. 

I have a weakness for morning walks. They make me feel a little more alive, a little less sterile. The sound of birds chirping perched high, invisible and the sweaty limbs of people in various acts of spreading themselves out under the thick canopy of humungous trees, their branches and leaves entwined together like their roots lying quiet but alert mangled in the underbelly of the wet soil reminds me that life moves and moves on. Make no mistake, it does not raise my hope but I experience as much buoyancy as the floating waters of the lake. I return home with a smile. 

This is where I live now — a one-bedroom apartment with a dining hall and a kitchen and a bathroom and a tiny balcony overlooking the main street in a familiar neighbourhood. Last month, I broke away from the old-age home where I have been stationed for the last 10 years and moved in here. The place was lying dormant, empty. It took a tragic death for the renters to finally release the apartment. Dirty case it was and I did feel sorry for the parents but it was my good luck. One thing I have learnt is that time and age has got nothing to do with liberation – some must bleed blood for it while some must bleed patience. 

Sometimes, from the corner of my eyes I see her shadow flitting in and out of the room. I can feel her shifty presence twirl with the movement of the curtains. During the afternoons, when I put the water on boil for a cup of black tea or wash the dishes after finishing lunch, she stands beside me, watching. Other times when sleep eludes me, I think I hear her footsteps. Swathed in blankets, I lie awake and stare at the ceiling and try to imagine the girl hanging from the fan. It is not a pretty picture but I drift off to sleep. I never close the bedroom door because it gives me a sense of space, a position of possession and a warning of what I could yet lose. Sanity is not one of them. 

It’s winter, which is why even the softest of sound is magnified. Since I live in a busy locality, the solitude of many a chilly night is broken by shutters closing, dogs barking, men and women mumbling, cars and bikes wheezing away in full might, busses honking unceremoniously, perhaps to shoo away the astray animals and sounds of rusted wheels of rickety cycle rickshaws gradually vanishing into thin air. Those who occupy the upper floor, come late every night, I don’t know what the husband and wife do. They pull the collapsible gate, and I know they have arrived. Initially, it was a little startling but as it played again and again without fail every night it turned into a melodious score, a necessary background music like birds chirping and Molly doing her rounds. I accept them all as cold comfort. 

On pleasant evenings, I sit on the balcony and watch the world go by. There is a tea stall just opposite to the apartment building next to a grocery store. Young men crowd the one while women fill up the other. Usually, I rock back and forth on my chair and read a book. If and when the inspiration strikes me, I write a few lines of poetry. On certain rare occasions, I unlock the aluminium suitcase that holds a few moth-eaten letters, yellowed greeting cards, dog-eared notebooks, a watch, which has stopped telling the hour, given to me once upon a time by a lover, a pair of socks woven by my mother, a patch of red cloth and a diary. Snapshots of my past don’t make me nostalgic; they make me remember a person. The last two items belong to Molly. They won’t let me forget who she is. Once or twice, the owners of the tea stall and the grocery store look up at me and wave and I wave back. The second floor allows me enough distance to be just close. I have made my peace with closures. 

A couple of times every week I venture out to run personal errands. I head to the old-age home to meet Roy, who had become a close acquaintance of sorts. I collect my pension from the post office once a month and pay my bills. On one such excursion recently, I spotted a group of men and women and children standing silently, heads bowed down, holding candles as offering to a woman who was forced in, mutilated, thrashed and left to die. I observed the group from under a tree half a kilometre away from the scene. Winter darkness was spreading its tentacles and I turned away. As I was climbing the stairs to my apartment, I ran Molly’s last entry in my mind. “I am setting myself free. I have died too many times already.” I blinked. 

was published in November 2018
    Flash Fiction
    Short Story
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