Piece of Cake

(A story in 50 words – exactly)

Funny story. On a train ride last week, saw this lady with a big, ugly boil on her hand, kind of oozing. Cruel people left her seat untouched. My feet were killing me. Long story short, the doctor says my boil won’t be that bad.

Gee, finished your cake? Handmade!

(This story first appeared in 50-Word Stories on August 11, 2014. You can view it on their website here.)

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Half-eaten Details

(Three unrelated words – monkey, cathedral and relativity. The writing prompt was from a short story contest at Mash Stories. This is my shortlisted story – a story of a little girl who is peeping under the carpet, hesitatingly.) 

My pretend world was of dolls without feet, and horses without tails, all details missing just the way it was inside our house. We had the Katoches to our left and the Reddys to our right, so we had to hush up lest we disturb their made-up peace and calm. “But our sounds can go through the walls, Daddy,” I said. “See right here is where Nina sits to study,” I said, softly placing my hand on the wall, fearing a pat would be heard by Nina and mistaken for a domestic brawl.

“So, we keep as quiet as possible, sonny,” he said.

I knew even in my sweet little stunted childhood that son was not the word for all children, but for the ones who are more loved and special. I pitied little girls not special enough to be called anything but shrivelled, shrunken versions of their sorry first names. I was special just like our family and our home. We tried to keep really, really quiet, really, really hard.

“What are the scratching noises I hear in the night, Jyoti?” Nina asked me, her curious, readily distracted ears glued to our sounds, every night at seven, her study hour. “It’s just our monkey, Nina. She doesn’t get good sleep.” I could tell Nina because her parents did not let her out to play to help her scrape through class every year, by the skin of her teeth.

We had cathedral ceilings in our row houses, touching wall to wall. The ceiling, the big four bedrooms and the tiny kitchen, that’s most of what I remember of my time between the ages four and ten. The radio had a brown leather cover, and brown knobs, or may be, black. The bed sheets were white, the floor rough. I can’t remember where we hung our mirror. The details are lost.

I didn’t speak much to anyone other than Nina because the other girls were curious, wanting to know things I didn’t pay attention to. Who does your hair? Why are your shirt buttons missing? What was for dinner last night? Questions! Who asks those kind of questions? Daddy said I need focus only on my studies. What’s for homework today? When are the next term tests? That’s all I thought about. The marks on the report card couldn’t be hidden, so I worked hard to keep them dignified and presentable.

My family is all I cared about. Family is for love, to never cause embarrassment. Relationships are about trust, to keep secrets. Relativity is different, my books said. It means everyone is allowed to have a different truth, that it was all right if we had a mother in the house who screamed so hard, my Daddy had to keep her gagged in the fourth bedroom, all locked up and fed intravenously.  But that cannot be told to anyone. So I keep a memory-eating monster in my backyard to eat all the painful details of my past.

(This story was published by Mash Stories on July 14, 2014. You can read it on their website here.)

 

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A Stubborn Speck

(A story in 100 words – exactly)

The elevator doors close with a ding. Alone inside, she hums and checks the mirror. The speck on her cheek looks unsightly, like a coal mine bent forward and kissed her.

She pulls out a tissue from her bag, and dabs at it. No luck. Nagging speck, like someone spit tar on to her face. Two more tissues, nothing.

The skin around it is reddening. Three more tissues, one after another. She’s getting restless as her floor draws near.

The seventh tissue does the trick. Someone from behind was kind enough to hand it to her.

The elevator doors open.

(This story of mine was first published in A Story in 100 Words on July 17, 2014. You can view it on the website here.)

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After Dark

(A story in 50 words – exactly)

The room’s dark. The blue light of the computer screen illuminates his face, its raw desire. He clicks on a name he hasn’t tried before: Double Trouble, a buxom blonde.

The chat room opens to a promising skin show. He is staring into the eyes of his wife, working late.

(This story first appeared in 50-Word Stories on July 16, 2014. View it on the website here)

 

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Lot like a Stray, Drenched Cat

She took a look at her name suddenly one day as if she were looking at it for the first time. It was written in a scrawl across a blank sheet. She did not even remember when she had scrawled it in. It was about two inches from the left margin, about one thirds from the bottom of the page, which incidentally was smudged with a blue ink stain on the top right corner.

She stood and stared as if looking at a stray, underfed cat that had sneaked in. It did look strangely scared and even trembled a little when the breeze floated in through the open window. She turned her head first a little to the left and then a little to the right, trying to get a finger on its strangeness. Something was not right about it.

For the life of her, she couldn’t understand what she was doing, leaving her name alone without a guardian for so long. Of course, there was the big house and the many relationships to tend to. Something as silly as a name could be thrown into the closet carelessly, in the corner where she kept the unfolded pile.

What’s in a name, she had thought. In fact, there were three-year-old underclothes that had been looked after better than the two words given to her as a name. There was that black stocking with a small tear under the big toe, but she had never been able to make herself throw it, how lovely it fit to her contours. Then there was the faded T-shirt that she sometimes wore during thunderstorms because it made her feel comforted. But she had forgotten to try on her name once in a while. Who would even think of anything as silly as a name to be reached out for on any day, rain or sunshine!

It was something for other people to use. It was a sound – like a whistle – it did its job catching her attention. It wasn’t a piece of clothing that needed love to last beyond a number of years, or a pet that needed feeding and caring. It wasn’t even a friend that needed to be sent a card now and then. It was there – hers, but not really something to take out and maintain.

How long she had had it, but she had hardly given it a thought. It wasn’t like she hated it. No, there was no strong dislike at all. She hated jello and the smell of spilt milk. She even hated all the hard stains and the fact that she had to cook meals and remember to look at the clock once in a while. No, she didn’t hate her name like that at all.

She didn’t love it either. She loved bird sounds and cool mornings. She loved the strains of piano being tested gently. She loved her pillow and the flowing curtains beside her bed. She loved blue coloured beads and crisp white shirts. What was there to love about her name? It wasn’t exotic or particularly alien-like to stand out from a book, a board or someone’s memory. It was as ordinary and unnoticed as she herself was. No buoyancy about it at all. May be, if it had that perky naughtiness to it, or may be, more than three syllables to sound truly classy, she could have given it the attention it deserved, but here it was, all drenched cat-like.

But, there was something about that day, probably because she had got up from the wrong side of the bed, but she had stopped and given a long, hard look at the scrawled name on that smudged piece of paper. “Oh what do you know! That’s one baby that could do with a warm bath, a hug and a warm bowl of soup!” she cried at last, and grabbed at the piece of paper.

At first she held it at an arm’s length, a twinkle of recognition dawning in her eyes. Then, without thinking or analysing, she kissed it – hard and passionately. “That is mine,” she whispered into the air. “And like these walls around me, like my spouse, my kids, I have to give it a place in my heart to make something valuable out of it. What do you know, I just have to show the world how to love it.”

That is how she made friends with her name. For some strange reason, it swelled with love, turning into music each time someone uttered it. It changed her life – and the way she loved everything else.

Then, when the day was done, and she lay down with a smile on her face, she remembered what it was that was different about the day, that had made her take a look at her name differently. Someone had whispered it in her ear with love so tender it made butterfly wings look heavy – and her name like a song that had drifted from beyond the clouds.

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The Vanishing Shadow

In the calm stillness on the other side of long, flowing grief, she found a simple looking cloud to step on. Too heady to be careful, she stepped on the unreal looking fluff still dripping big drops of sorrow. Grief is the strongest anesthesia that exists. So, she found no joy in the softness of the fuzz she floated on. She looked like the death she was grieving for, offering her flesh to the environment for consumption because her skin offered no more sensitivity. Nothing incited an emotion anymore. The whiteness of the cloud was seeping red with the drops of her grief, yellowing and then hardening like pieces of dead driftwood wherever they touched. But for some reason, Fortune was smiling at her, and the cloud floated to solid ground on the other side, even though the part she stood was hardened to a crust.

There she found a shadow of him standing exactly as she had pictured him in a thousand figments of her imagination. Her heart lurched, failing to quieten under the touch of her hand. She found her feet walking towards the shadow, still trying to deduce that something elusive about him more than the teaming multitudes of male specimen around. She knew the answer would be scattered in pieces like a treasure hunt, to be wholly available only at the end of the final victory lap.

‘Where to begin?’ she wondered. There was a hint of a clue around the shoulders, but when she looked hard at it, the clue dissolved and hid behind the guise of a normal pair of shoulders. She lifted her eyes to glance at the face, and the heart did a jiggle telling her that about two inches from the chin there was a big clue the size of a dangerous glacier. But this time she desisted staring too hard at it lest the glacier melt right in front of her eyes. Staring too long also had the peril of starting a fire. It was a steeply hazardous zone. A single look, lingered too long in the wrong place brought out sparks the kind you see on a stormy day coming out of fallen electric poles. Her heart was too young to be left alone in the vicinity of big clues without adult supervision.
But that’s how all complicated things are mastered. The aspiring swimmer needs to be pushed into the water at one point or the other. The instincts can be trusted to save than sink in most cases. Besides everything in nature works like a dance. The water joins in, tumbling and undulating to caress the curiosity of the aspirant. Same goes with feelings. Sometimes your ship comes across the glacier that rises to dance the death ballet with you. The name of your dance partner is always written somewhere.

Death is predestined. It is passionate and consuming. When she looked at the shadow of her beloved, she knew the hand on her heart would need to remain there for a while. The answer she was seeking stopped being courteous and scurried behind the rain clouds.

At that moment the solid earth moved under her steady feet, unsettling her. The earth started crumbling and just a fly though she was, her feet longed for the support of firm grounding. “Help me, dear God!” she thought, but the words were a silent scream that sputtered in her throat and faded. She looked at the shadow of her beloved, the bumblebee. It was not a match that she should have imagined, but who can explain the vagaries of a rogue fantasy?

The ground shook in tumultuous waves, rising panic everywhere. At first she struggled as best as a fly could, clutching at blades of grass with her tiny limbs. She found herself broken and beaten upon her knees. Finally she stopped struggling and accepted the kiss of death that she knew would be hers any moment. Her limbs relinquished the clasp slowly. And as she did, magic was dislodged from somewhere. Her forgotten instincts of flight took over. The ballet of the life fluttered like stars on her unused wings and with a tremble of excitement, she found herself floating in the air.

Joy was a grand feeling at that point, an elephant doing the mating walk. Death smiled like a proud parent from below her as she floated higher and higher.

At the highest point, she saw a male fly that tugged at her heart. Something was not quite right, because it seemed to be the exact same lurch, in the exact same way, as she had experienced with the bumblebee shadow. Confused she floated closer and saw that the fly was perched in a uniquely lopsided way on the branch of a tree that he seemed to look like a bumblebee. Also, notable was the way the fly looked at her.

The lurch in her heart was a twinkle in his eye. Unlike his shadow, he was looking at her with an open smile that shone with the stardust of anticipated excitement, and there also existed just a wee hint of naughtiness about two inches from the chin. She stopped short. It seemed that the answer at the end of the treasure hunt was staring at her boldly and unabashedly, but the glow of happiness was so bright around her that she did not realize that the answer was not in words. She found herself bathed in a shy glow that slowed her flight when she started again, but her wings were still headed to the right branch. He was there, and he was real. All the figments of her imagination burst into peal of bell-like laughter.

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Almost a Lion

It was a cramped hole that Dot had turned into her home. It wasn’t as big a hole as she had imagined but for a mouse with small needs, the hole was a luxury that she knelt in a prayer of gratitude for each night. She lived with a grouse in her home. A stout rat called Rot that smelt really bad and cared nothing about insignificant habits like politeness and humility. But Dot was far from complain. For the most part, actually, she hardly saw what was wrong because she just took other mice for whatever they were, and did not attempt to mentally picture them different. So, she was quite satisfied with the way her life was. The idea was to make the most of whatever made her hole a home. Rot paid the rent that she subsisted on.

The rent was not the right amount either, but Rot had an eye for that sort of a bargain. He had arrived with a larger offer in his mind, but when he saw the twinkle in her eyes, he reduced his offer by about three quarters, and like he expected, she had nodded her head. Rot turned away to hide the gleam of a good bargain from his eyes, but he needn’t have bothered because Dot was already smiling, and when she smiled her eyes closed, always.

There was a big reason for that smile. The lodging rent that Rot offered – in small bits of cheese – gave her closeted dream wings. It helped her spend a large part of her days making the cheese sculpture she had dreamt of one night. A colossal structure fit for royalty and that seemed like it had been lifted straight off the pages of a big fantasy book.

Making the sculpture was a difficult process. She had to eat just a little and save the rest of the cheese, sunning them until they were dry and perfect for nibbling at to create the form she had in mind. A big pillared castle that was more magnificent than anything she had ever seen. It was a vision she had stumbled upon in that strange dream, every detail clearly etched in her mind. Since that night, all she wanted was to build that castle sculpture and she needed the cheese that Rot brought in. Years passed and the castle building progressed at a sloth’s pace.

There was a big reason for the eerily slow pace, too. Rot was nibbling at pieces of the castle when she slept because he knew that the day the castle got built would be the day that Dot would cease to need him, and Rot was getting used to living in Dot’s little cramped hole. He had meant it to be temporary quarters for himself, but once he settled in, he found that everything was a perfect fit. No matter how much of a natural mess he made, he came home to a warm feeling that she made just by spending so much time there. There was magic in the dreamy way she looked at things. He was sure that if she so much as just glanced at the black sooty walls, it would turn into shiny gold. But of course, he never ever said a kind word to her. He wanted her to feel that it was too cramped for someone as large as him. And he dropped an evil sounding complaint about the lodging as often as she was within earshot to sneak a fear in her mind that she could lose him as a tenant anytime. That was the only way to keep the sentimental types hooked, he knew. Give them the feeling that they are hanging by a thin thread for existence and they literally ate into your hands. So, they lived, each within big, separate universes of his own making.

One day, a stray mouse, a little tipsy on the moonlight, missed his own hole and drifted in. “Is that you, Rot?” she called out, as she worked on one of the doors of her castle.

“I am sorry, this is just Lot. I seem not to remember my address,” said the mouse, in a rather apologetic voice, the kind that Dot had never heard before.

Dot took her eyes away from her sculpture and glanced at the stranger who had entered her home. Before she knew it, she was stuck by the moonlight still stuck around his mouth. Something happened and their eyes locked, it seemed for an entire hour, when it was only about two seconds. “Would you like to stay here forever, Mr. Lot?” she blurted out.

“I live with a Lion, I am sorry. I am tied to her service for the rest of my life. But that sculpture you are making, I have to tell you, it looks exactly like the one I had seen in a dream once.”

“Oh?” she said, still thinking about the lion that chained him.

Mr. Lot exited and scampered away to some direction that led to the Lion’s cave. That night, Dot was not able to work on the sculpture. She thought about Lot a lot in the following days, weeks and months. Rot was not happy at all by the change in her. It was like she had reached some destination even though the sculpture was only half done. He protested and made a dirtier mess each day until even Dot couldn’t stand it anymore. She thanked him for the rental and put his suitcase out of her hole, stunning him, but firm in the way she closed her door on his face. Rot was sleazy enough to know when a door closes with finality. There was something about Dot that told him she was closed to him forever. He shrugged and moved on.

That night, bathed in an unexplained relief, Dot slowly made her way to her unfinished sculpture because it made her feel like she was conversing with Mr. Lot. There also was a peculiar exercise she began as she sculpted that night. She started practising the roar of the lion. It took her about three years to perfect it, and then, one fine day, she slipped her feet into running shoes and out her door she stepped.

The world, she discovered, was a scary place. Having stepped out after about a decade, her heart pounded and she felt like the sky would fall on her. So strong was her fear of open spaces, that she faltered with each step, falling behind more than she advanced. But like a torch her desire for Mr. Lot carried her forth ahead and ahead until she smelt him from one of the caves. It was a cave scarier than her idea of the world at large. For the life of her she couldn’t imagine how Lot allowed himself to be chained there, never attempting an escape.

Inconspicuously, at first, she ascertained that the Lioness was not in the cave before setting her plan into action. She roared her heart out from outside the cave’s opening. At first, there was nothing, not the slightest flutter from within. Dot wasn’t disheartened. She came every night at the hour and roared. After about a month, on the night when the moonlight was in a bright shower everywhere, she saw Mr. Lot timidly venturing out for a sip of the silvery shine.

“There you are!” exclaimed Dot, her eyes brimming with love.

“You?” exclaimed Lot.

“Yes. I can roar like lions, if it makes you comfortable. Will you come with me now?”

“Please go away. I do not like anything to do with the world anymore. And you are nothing to me, even if you have learnt to roar.”

“I spent years perfecting it.”

“Too bad. You could have done something more productive,” he said.

Dot was confused through her tears. She had been so certain about Lot – just the way she was certain about her cheese castle. Her heart leaking into the path, she crept a really slow crawl back to her cramped hole. The hole looked smaller than ever before. She fell down beside the door, closing her eyes and finding no meaning in her home or her sculpture. The moonlight was still streaming in through the crack in her wall. Her breathing faltered and threatened to stop, but she didn’t seem to care anymore.

Then, she felt the touch. And before she opened her eyes, she knew who it was. And then, she couldn’t anymore because when she smiled her smile, her eyes closed shut anyway.

“You couldn’t take the walk away from me, could you now?” he asked. “The walk to you was mine to fulfil. Do you understand that?”

She nodded, but stayed silent, because she forgot the words for all that she had to say. So he said, “Will you, dear Dot, drop the roar and be yourself? For that is who I dreamt of in the dream much before I met you – the same dream in which the castle that you are sculpting was also there. I had to plan our union well, that’s all. Now, open your eyes.”

That night together they sculpted the door knob into the door of the castle, completing it finally.

But this is not a story of how that cheese sculpture came to be completed. This story is about how a little mouse tried to become a lion to save another mouse, but he saved her right back by letting her be the mouse she always was.

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Lamb Drops a Nickname

In the age when lions were vegetarians and lambs had not yet learnt to follow without question, a curious event occurred. A headstrong lamb felt drawn to a peculiar lion. Too young to understand what love is, she thought it was that elusive condition and fought for it tooth and nail. Her sheep parents opposed, wanting to tell her the universal truth that, ‘sheep marry sheep, and lions marry lions,’ but all Headstrong Lamb heard was, Ba, ba, ba.” So she turned the other side.

The lion was stuck by surprise, too, being an old lion with hardly any teeth and a dull, lifeless mane as his sole assets. But for Headstrong lamb, it was a lion, and she stuck to her decision. She wondered, during odd moments of genius, about her resolution, but a publicly proclaimed decision needed to be seen to its end. Nothing else mattered to the Headstrong lamb during those hours except keeping her word. And that she did.

The wedding was a mismatched one, but the lamb had eyes only for the grumpy lion. It was doomed from the beginning. The lion was old and decaying in spirit and his conventional expectations of a wife. He liked to loll in the sun a lot and attempt to roar, and the Headstrong lamb went about keeping a home and bringing home juicy, fresh grass for their dinner each night.

One day, in a heated moment, the lion kicked the lamb out of the cave. The Headstrong lamb stood out in the rain until morning arrived when a sleepy lion shook his head and had no idea why the sheep chose to get wet. Other out of the ordinary incidents with the lion followed, during which the ba-ba of her parents turned into real words in her ears. Sheep marry sheep and lions marry lions for this very reason. They do not know how to conduct arguments with each other. The lion will inadvertently step on the lamb’s dainty foot without meaning to maim her, but that’s just how lions are.

It went on for some years until one day, the Headstrong lamb grew up into a fine sheep. And with growth came new eyes that unfortunately fell on a fine sheep. But as she came home to the cave where a groaning lion husband lay, her hopes fell. It was completely unthinkable. For as much as she had their best intentions in mind, she had made the lion too much dependent on her for survival. She hung her head and went to the far corner where she had piled a little straw for her own bed.

In her heart, love grew. The lion turned over this way and that never changing his true colours, though.

One day the Headstrong lamb decided to walk out of the cave, but her sheep parents turned the other way, for they were often ridiculed in their herd about having a child married to the lion. There was no time to say, “We told you so,” without anyone hearing, so they chose to remain quiet.

Having nowhere to go, the lamb decided to make a home in the little tree burrow to live in. But the day she decided to move, the lion woke up from his constant nap. He roared on not finding the things he liked around him. He also roared because the other lions ridiculed him with their own style of, “we told you so, old guy.”

He had nothing else to do, so he roared and turned every leaf and grass in the forest looking for the lamb. “I – no – life – you – no – life,” was one of his chants between eardrum tearing roars.

The lamb trembled inside the tree burrow, not knowing which way to turn. It was during one of her run for cover that she came across the sly fox. “Ha, ha,” was all he had to say to her. She ignored him, but he followed her giving his two words of advice. It sounded the same to her. “Ha, ha.”

“Leave me alone,” she said to him.

“I would. Would he?” he asked.

“So? There is nothing I can do but run, and I will do that until I have the last breath left in my body.”

“Or, you can use your brains and outwit him.”

The lamb stopped running and stared at the fox. “Please tell me what did you say.”

“Ha, ha,” he said, to the lamb’s exasperation.

“What do you want in return?” she asked.

“Now we are talking,” said he.

“Well, what?”

“I would like you to be my slave,” said he.

“Keep walking,” she said and started running again.

“Ok, let’s come to an agreement.”

The Headstrong lamb ignored him and continued running.

“I want you to sing my praises every day.”

The lamb didn’t bother to acknowledge his request. If anything, she increased her pace.

“Ok, I save your life and you save mine by giving me winter wear. How does that sound?”

The Headstrong lamb stopped running and turned to him with a broad smile. “Deal!” she exclaimed holding out her hand.

The fox shook her hand and said, “You are tough. No wonder you took a lion husband.”

So, the fox then gathered some straw and made a lamb in the exact likeness of his running friend. Then, together they placed the straw lamb outside the lion’s cave, in a position that looked like she was peeping surreptitiously from behind a tree.

The lion was now truly old, his eyesight failing and his paws faltering. So, he pounced upon the straw lamb and tore it limb to limb, digging his sharp teeth into its innards that the fox had filled with creepy crawlies and worms. The lion got a taste of non-veg for the first time that day. The lion dragged the straw lamb inside his cave and called his friends for a party over the dead lamb and his ultimate divorce. The lions had a great party that night eating off the innards of the straw lamb.

The fox got his winter coat, the Headstrong lamb lost her stalker, the lions turned to non-vegetarianism and love lost its way trying to find the sheep the little lamb had liked so much. It is said that eventually love found its way again, but not before the lamb had learnt a few more lessons by living on her own. Independence, choice, dignity, peace were a few difficult lessons she mastered in due course. Headstrong was one of the nicknames she lost surely and certainly during that time.

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Island of the Silent Parrots

The sea was the brilliant colour of green mildew, the sands looked like powdered bone and the dense forest within held the pristine hues that nature dons when there is the iron-clad guarantee of no human hands ever touching its vulnerable folds. In this forest lived a flock of parrots, multi-hued and some of them the rarest species. There was one peculiarity, though. The parrots were completely silent. The only sounds on the island were from the waves rushing to the shore, the fluttering of the wings and the temperamental sea breeze. To a human, it would have been eerie, but there was no human ear to judge and name the atmosphere. It was perfectly normal in a meditative, brooding, fluttering manner of the monk parrots.

One day, a human survived the distance through the seas and the wreckage of the ship, and floated across to this remote island. It couldn’t have been possible because the island was so remote, it did not exist on any man-made map. Yet, when things need a stir, there enters a man alive and well into the picture.

When the man regained consciousness, he took some time collecting his bearings. By nightfall, when he was able to get up and look for a warmer cover inside the forest, he found himself faltering often. He found himself warm inside a bush when he woke up the next morning. There was also the most curious sight waiting for him. The entire bush around him was filled with the most beautiful variety of parrots he had ever seen. They sat silently watching him. One even came forth and dropped a tiny seed as offering. Completely rattled and harried with a stubble upon his face, a variety of dry leaves upon his hair and his body caked with dirt and sand, he took the seed the bird offered and put it in his mouth.

The little green parrot fluttered a little closer to him and then towards a certain direction into the forest. She did it a few times before the man got the import of her call. He followed the bird into the interiors of the forest and found himself beside a heavenly sight. A waterfall with pure drinking water, fruit trees and large leafed plants around the water.

Bathed, fed and covered in a large leaf, the man felt a little better as he sat sunning himself. “Thank you, little bird,” he murmured.

In what sounded like a heavy gush of wind, the entire flock of parrots near him flew away. “Oh dear, what did I do wrong?” he blurted out. “Is there a beast coming towards us?”

He waited a long time, but when no beast arrived, he surmised that the sound of his voice was not welcome on the island. By then, he had also noticed that the birds made no sounds at all, not even a tiny whimper or a tweet.

It was the island of the silent parrots. And the man adapted easily to the condition of speaking nothing at all. He lived in peaceful co-existence with the soundless parrots, smiling often and adapting well to the fruits and water on the island. Soon, he stopped bothering to cover himself either. But what he remembered was not to make the tiniest squeak, no hum, not even a snore.

As days and months passed, he could tell most of the parrots by sight and the flutter of their wings. He made friends, close companions, who liked to flock around him more than their own companions. It was a simple life of experiencing love, co-existence and survival without complications.

Years passed and the man started to long for companionship. He wondered if he could build a raft and go away from his unique holiday. As soon as the thought of his departure appeared in his mind, a flock of his close companions flew close to him and perched around him. Soon the others came, too. Without a single word or gesture, all of them sat and seemed to communicate volumes with each other. But no one protested against his decision.

In a little while, some parrots started carrying little blades of straw for him. Strings were carefully removed from the banana plantain which seemed to respond to the moving beings amongst them just as well as they responded to each other. It took months for the raft to be built from scratch, but eventually the man was staring at a fairly well made log raft.

At last, the day arrived when the man was ready to bid goodbye. He had carried water for the journey in bamboo hollows and many fruits. His eyes were moist as he boarded his lovingly built raft. The entire population of the island was there upon the shore bidding a silent goodbye to him. Even the trees seemed to bend their heads towards the man who dipped his oars into the sea and started afloat.

It was a day of miracles and soon, at the bend, where the island was no longer visible, he encountered a ship. Letting his oars down, he hastened to close both his ears.

“A visibly shaken naked man with a long beard was seen floating on the ocean, in surprisingly good health,” was the message sent out from the ship a few minutes later. But the man never took his hands off his ears and did not speak a word. He kept his head down, covered his ears and often shook his head, his face a picture of deep anguish.

A month later, he was reported missing from the mental ward he was assigned to.

With great difficulty, the man found the ship that was touching the corner of the sea which was the closest point to his island. Without disclosing any details, the man pleaded and bribed his way in.

The night sky was clear and moonlit when the ship reached the point, but the crew once again had no idea where the strange man who spoke in sign language had vanished. They dismissed the episode without thought, for he looked crazy enough to merit no attention.

The man, with the radar of the ones accustomed to silence, had dived into the sea when no one looked and had swum to his island home among the silent parrots. Ships and boats had not been able to discover the island before or hence.

The parrots greeted him once again with love and affection and many fruits. His closest companions perched on him and rubbed their beaks against his skin gently. Then, once again, he was led to the interiors of the forest, this time a different section, one that he had not been taken to earlier.

This section went straight through the waterfall. The parrots flew in ahead of him and took him to a place that he had never seen before. It did look like the gates to paradise, for there indeed were massive gates over which was a big silver metal board, inscribed on it the words, ‘If you have returned, you have arrived home.’

The man felt overjoyed on seeing the words. His heart was filled with excitement as he entered the gates and was escorted by his parrot companion to hutments where humans lived. All were silent and at one with nature. He felt that he could communicate just as well without words to each and every one of them. His heart overflowed in that instant of deep gratitude and love, and he fell down on his knees, his hands joined together in prayer and his eyes moist.

His parrot companion perched on his shoulder and pecked him again. He was home.

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Setting Dolly Free

Dolly was a dragonfly and like all other dragonflies, she was always flying. Her six little legs were really her arms, used for hugging, clasping and for other things arms do, but never any good for walking.

One misty day, trouble fell on little Dolly. She struggled with it for hours on end, but just couldn’t make the trouble go away. A heavy box had somehow got caught in her fragile wings, and with each passing minute, seemed to be tightening its iron clasp further and further. There was no way she could fly with it, and no way she could drag it on the earth because she simply did not have legs to walk.

“Oh, bother, bother, bother,” she mumbled with consternation, as she found that her spindly hands holding the little flower stem was slowly slipping away.

That was exactly when her friend, Rosy, the damselfly came zipping by, giggling like she always did. “Ready for a race, sister?”

Even as she held on to dear life, Dolly said, “You make me laugh. Aren’t you always losing, Rosy?”

“So?” asked Rosy, zipping about like the play of starry light.

“Why do you want to race then?” asked Dolly, incredulously, barely holding on now.

“It’s fun, isn’t it? I always thought you might like the winning. It must feel really good, though, right? Like ice cream or something?”

“How does losing feel?” asked Dolly, between whiffs of quick breaths, huffing through her tug on life.

“It’s like getting wet. You just dry yourself and fly again. Nothing to it,” shrugged Rosy, zipping from flower to stem to leaf.

“Why do you bother getting wet then?” asked Dolly dead curious through her tough struggle

“Oh sister, I like you. Just want to spend some time with you. I never think of getting wet at all. By the way, are you gymming right now? Forgive me, but you look kind of funny in that pose you are holding.”

“I am not exercising.”

“Yoga, may be? It’s the new thing, isn’t it? Your winning secret, right?”

“Rosy, don’t you really notice this weight struck around my wings?”

Rosy swirled around Dolly doing a 360 degree flight, and exclaimed, “Sure, you do, sister! Sure you do! But why?”

“Why indeed? I am stuck, Rosy.”

“But that is your own box, right? Just shrug it away.”

“How can anyone shrug away a heavy heart?”

“Just like I shrug away my wetness.”

Dolly was quiet. With great difficulty, she got a stronger hold on the flower stem and pensively watched her friend flying freely about the garden.

“How did you get this heavy heart, by the way?” asked Rosy.

“I didn’t get the apology I wanted,” explained Dolly, her face going really sad.

“Oh, apology? Those fruit growing on the top branches. Forget about them, Dolly. There are plenty of good things to nibble here within reach.”

“It feels terrible not getting it, Rosy. It feels like a big block of ice is caking my insides. I didn’t do anything wrong. So, I absolutely qualify for the apology.”

“It’s true, but you also qualify for fun and games. Why don’t you want those?”

“Don’t you see, Rosy? I have this heavy load to lug around. I can’t even think of fun and games.”

Rosy stopped flying and perched on a flower right next to Dolly. In a sad voice, she said, “You know, Dolly, I like you best of all. It makes me sad that you have set your heart on this apology fruit. I thought you as a really wise person. You do know that it is in a garden we cannot fly to. There’s such a big, thick wall around it. And also I hear when the fruit ripens it is brought to you as if by magic on a silver tray and all. May be, your apology is not ripe yet for you, my dear friend.”

“In some odd way, that makes sense, Rosy.”

“Shall we race then?”

“What about this box tangled in my wings?”

“Oh that? I almost forgot,” giggled Rosy. “My cousin Polly got it once. And she tried all she could, dragged herself on her tail, hit herself hard against tree barks, even invited a mouse to snip it away, but it stayed.”

“And then?”

“You wouldn’t believe it. One day, when the yellow frog with the brown spots on its head jumped at her and slipped, it tickled her so much, she burst out laughing. She laughed a laugh she hadn’t laughed for days. It was a belly laugh, and the load just slipped away. Her heart got so light it just flew back into her, light as a feather. So I hear. You want to try it?”

“But I am not tickled.”

“Let me go get the frog. I hear he had some green on his tail end and with those dots of brown on him, wouldn’t be difficult to find. Hold on till then, my friend.”

Thus saying, she flew with a wave, straight into the bark of the mango tree. Flat went her face against the tree, tickling Dolly so much, she couldn’t stop her laughter. And then, as if by magic, all that Rosy had told, happened. Dolly’s heart floated right back in, light as a breeze.

Seeing this, Rosy forgot the bark marks on her face that she intended to rub away. She stopped and giggled with her friend. “I wouldn’t have to look for that ugly frog after all,” said she, between giggles. “Oh, I am so glad!”

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