Archive for the ‘Fictional stories’ Category

Mumbai Stories

Posted: April 18, 2014 in Fictional stories

The steam from my coffee cup added a haze to my reading glasses. I looked up from the newspaper my gaze stopping on the balcony opposite to mine; settling on the elderly gentleman reading his newspaper, basking in the morning sun. His wife had died a few years ago. No children. No relatives dropping in. The cleaning lady came by and left. He followed his routine of half-hour morning light, disappearing inside, then coming back to water his plants. His TV screen comes to life for the rest of the day giving him company. Evening he came down to the park bench; sat around chatted with whoever stopped by and left
It became my routine following his routine- whenever my fingers ached from writing, crying for a break- ever since I moved to Mumbai trying to make it on my own. My world usually revolved around the written word with deadlines and dreams of headlines. Occasionally if he caught a glimpse of me he waved and I waved back. Not a word more needed.

I looked up with a newspaper in hand, coffee steaming my glasses. No sign of my friend. I went back to my desk. I didn’t spot him in the park later on either. Sensing something unusual I walked over to his block and knocked on his door. His cleaning lady informed me that he was rushed to the hospital early morning and had passed away by afternoon. Something snapped and I turned away. She called me back and asked me if I wanted to keep his plants. I agreed and lugged them all home feeling a strange emptiness. I knew nothing about him except that his plants meant a lot to him; the way he nurtured them.

These days my morning coffee is followed by watering the plants after which I get immersed in my work. I missed his comforting presence. I looked across and sighed. As I turned away my peripheral vision caught someone waving frantically to me from the balcony above the one I had fixed my gaze on. An elderly lady waved to me and I waved back smiling. My new routine started and I went back to my desk smiling, lost in my world of words again…
Déjà vu!


Carnival of Dreams

Posted: July 22, 2013 in Fictional stories

Carnival of bodies and minds it was. Jostling through the crowd, elbowing my way around I found myself in a veritable pot-pourri of decadence and unabashed exhibitionism of all that one had; wearing it on their sleeve- nothing mysterious left.
Transfixed I watched the night crowd as it weaved its way in the autumn air, swirling around, carrying the passions of the multitude, swallowing everythingunpleasant coming in its way and devouring any smallest hint of cynicism.
Supercilious glances caught me unaware as I ambled on looking for that familiar face in the crowd, that easy smile leading to a dimpled chin and a taciturn demeanour.
Like a half-forgotten memory wisp, the glory of that dalliance came floating in making me catch my breath and hold it there.
Snatches of conversation floated in around me but didn’t register anywhere in my mind as I wandered looking for that face that had transfixed me in its aura a long time back.
The drone of chattering, laughter, moaning and screaming rolled around- ebbing and flowing like a great tidal wave. The moon stood out brighter than usual and led me on like a guiding light. He couldn’t be far away.
Under the street lamp, with his back to the crowd he stood blowing his cigarette, the wisp of smoke curling up and hanging there in silence, waving a smoke signal. Nothing around him seemed to faze him. He didn’t care who came and went; who stayed or left and who sought him or not, in the carnival. His was a world of his own, nurtured in a way that included only him and his air of ‘self’ that hung around him; tethered to his indulgent mind. Absolved of reciprocation and its pangs he stood there and just waited to be sought. As I watched from a distance the carnival got louder. I waited for him to turn around and begin a long conversation that would stretch into the night, as the stars winked on and the night air became heavier with anticipation.
The swirling smoke above his head hid him in its opaqueness. As I crossed the road and made my way between the sea of people, I lost sight of the smoke and him leaning against the lamp. My eyes wandered around searching, hoping and waiting. I was swept away by the crowd and he was nowhere.
I held my breath.
I awoke.
The dream was gone…

His Canvas

Posted: May 13, 2013 in Fictional stories

He sat with his back to the wall, gazing into the flame that held his attention, unwavering. Consumed by its intensity burning in its luminescence. Long shadows cast on the wall, grotesque and unflattering. Smoke curled up and with it his wispy thoughts wrapped around in an embrace. The dead and vapid air stood still just as the clock on his table frozen in time. The air redolent with her memories.
The swish of her skirt and she walked out of that door. Her smile and loving eyes were captured on every canvas. They stacked up along the walls, silent testimony to a tumultuous ardor between a painter and his muse.

His nifty brushstrokes and easy lines couldn’t keep her in the canvas of his life. As fleeting as the wonder she was, the gale that came into his life carrying with her his senses and everything else he held close…

“Mark Atkins!” “Mark, attention boy, we are on a roll again!”

The voice thundered and boomed in his head. The intonation of it was not lost on him. He woke up with a start and stared around him. The darkness of the room hit him like an opaque wall. His eyes peered desperately for any sign of life around him. The ticking of the clock was all he heard. He fell back on the pillows and slapped his forehead with his palm and willed himself to sleep. After an hour of tossing and turning his tired mind blanked out and passed into a deep sleep.

This was his third week after his return from deputation in Iraq. He was physically present at home but mentally far away in a distant land that was not only different in terrain and people but a world apart in culture and beliefs. He was so used to walking around in his army fatigues with a rifle slung on his shoulder and heavy soled shoes. His eyes were constantly on the watch. Every time his army cavalcade moved around the troubled hot spots the brain was in high gear listening, watching, and waiting for the sound of gunfire and an ambush. His nerves were frayed. Two weeks back an army cavalcade was ambushed and he had lost his dear friend Sgt. Steven Miller. Steven was from the 2nd battalion, 16th infantry, 4th brigade combat team the news had announced that night. They had returned his body home, with full honors with the country’s flag wrapped around the coffin. Mark had died on that day and every other day when another innocent was killed. Some days it was his men, some days the innocent people of the land who just wanted it all to end.

Peace was nowhere in sight and those who battled on were losing their confidence steadily. Nobody knew why the war was being fought anymore. The clarity of vision was lost but patriotism towards their homeland drove them on. They were soldiers.. They had to fight no matter what. There was no room for negotiations. It was to do and die. They had chosen that path and it was a matter of honor. They were duty bound. They saw it day in and day out. The innocent were being killed, life disrupted, a lack of order, children unable to attend school, men of the house unable to work regularly for fear of being killed in a bomb blast and as if this wasn’t enough they lost their friends one after the other . The coffins did not stop going home.  They weren’t even featured in the eight-0-clock headline news anymore. Of course! The rest of the country had to eat their dinner in peace while watching TV. It was only the mothers and the nearest of kin who would suffer for the rest of their life. There would be state honors and an epitaph that spoke of another brilliant soldier who gave up his life. A widow, an orphan, a child without a father or mother would be the consequence, just like any other war. They would cope eventually and move on.

Mark’s wife Linda snuggled closer to him and held him tight. She hadn’t seen much of him since their marriage. He hadn’t seen their new born either. Linda had managed with help from relatives to bring up their little one. Frequent calls and letters were their only means of communication. She had forgotten how it felt to be holding him close and cuddling with him on a cold winter night in New London. She had forgotten how he smelt or felt for that matter. So had he. But life had not gone back to routine and it wasn’t easy for either of them. Marks recurring nightmares had disrupted their life and he had become strangely aloof. There were times when he felt like a social outcast. Memories, mostly harsh ones of his friends dying in his arms and seeing torn flesh and gory blood had numbed his senses way more than he had imagined. Linda was a stranger to him now and he was coping, knowing her and loving her all over again. She was excruciatingly patient and helpful with him.

Mark’s steady breathing calmed Linda’s turbulent mind. She looked into the darkness and wondered who the stranger in her bed was. Where was he? Somewhere in Iraq she had lost her husband and had to reclaim him all over again. Tears flowed down her cheeks silently. She held him closer, like a mother protecting her child. She wanted him back so badly that it hurt.

A strange guttural sound emanated from Mark and he sat upright screaming in agony. His hands flailed in the darkness, shielding his eyes. He was mouthing something in a language Linda did not understand. Linda jumped up and turned on the light, flooding the room with its intensity. She tucked Mark’s head into the curve of her shoulders and patted him gently whispering his name. This was the routine now. Those nightmares wouldn’t go away. Mark opened his eyes and looked at Linda, the realization dawning on him. His body racked with sobs as he silently shed tears. He held her and cried.

 “I am sorry baby! I can’t help it!” he said.

 “It’s okay! Its okay,” she said calming him.

A child’s cry from the nursery brought them back to the awareness of another person, whose needs were more urgent. Linda disengaged herself and left the room to attend to the little one. Mark crashed back on to the pillows and stared hard at the ceiling numbed and spent.

 Days passed on into months and somewhere along those days that stretched endlessly, a life had to come back to normalcy. Mark coped, learned and re-learned to be human again. The pain was evident occasionally but time had made those memories more hazy and bearable.

 There were others who had lost a limb or had lost the fight to survive. But he wasn’t giving up easy. Not tomorrow or ever. He owed it to his family and to himself. He had to find his bearings and un-become the zombie that he had come to be. He had to make the rest of his life a bed of roses to protect his sanity and for his family. It was a hard climb but he did so eventually just like those before him and after him. The personal hell he had gone through would stay tucked away in his memories, safely in the fissures of his mind.


Last 5 Minutes

Posted: December 10, 2011 in Fictional stories
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The copter veered first to the left and then to the right. A strange clanking noise followed by a small thud or was it a boom like a car back firing. Sergeant Nick Kendall couldn’t tell for sure. He just knew something wasn’t right. The occupants looked at each other with trepidation and a creased brow. They had this weird feeling in the pit of their stomach as the copter continued heading north towards the Killaon Mountains where they were to meet with the rest of the brigade for mountaineering activities they were training for. The CH-47 Sea Night, a Marine transport helicopter was often used for these activities when not engaged in war. The chopper had gone through routine inspections at the base before take off and the six army personnel had backed their army rucksacks and headed for duty.

Sergeant Jimmy Johnson had kissed his wife hurriedly and told her he would meet her in a week after the exercises were completed. Ryan their 8–yr-old had left for school that morning in the school bus. Jimmy had promised Ryan a toy remote controlled copter on his return. He sat buckled down to his seat now, his palms sweating. He knew something was wrong. The pilot had announced that they were having technical problems.

Unfortunately for the occupants there was no clear landing spots for as far as the eye could see. The swollen Shamrock River flowed in a yellow sinuous path between thick and lush jungles of Chile. The mountains stretched endlessly covered in lustrous green. The only available landing areas were far beyond the mountains where the training was scheduled. They knew this and what followed were an ominous silence and a clear and present danger of loosing it all in a hostile environment with no chances of survival. Each one of them lost in heir own world of thoughts and last minute prayers for their near and dear ones.

Shawn looked out of the window and noticed they were losing altitude soon. The whirring of the propellers sounded eerie and out of sync. His face broke out into a sweat. It was three years since he joined this brigade and had loved every moment of it. But now he wished he had opted for the ground training he had earlier set his sights on. Visions of his pretty wife and 2-yr-old kid flashed before his eyes. Sheila and he had fallen in love at the academy and had run to the altar for their wedding vows. They couldn’t wait to be with each other. How were they going to manage without him? Sheila and he had planned on having a second child soon. She was the love of his life. He wished he had told her so more often. He wished they had made love yesterday, when all he did was turn away claiming fatigue from his drill. Tears welled in his eyes.

Rory McKnight sat quietly and thought about his parents in Midfield, Chicago. His father had survived a prostate cancer and was recovering. They had promised to meet for Christmas after his training. There wouldn’t be one anymore. He had forgotten to call them that morning since he was running late. His mother would be waiting for his call he knew.

Patrick put his hands in his pocket and pulled out his wallet. The pictures of his family choked him. His wife Glenda and his two lovely kids were in the picture they took last year at a mall. “I love you all,” he whispered. His only sister was in Detroit. He hadn’t talked to her in over a year over something so silly; he couldn’t even remember what it was. Why hadn’t he called up and patched up with her. He felt an overwhelming remorse and sorrow. This wasn’t supposed to end this way at all. He wanted another chance to set things right in life. It would weigh on his conscience for ever.

The copter lost altitude steadily and the pilot was trying in vain to ease it into a small clearing on the ground. His duty called both to salvage the chopper and save the occupants. The rotors were spluttering and not co-operating. After sending the required May Day signals and location grid he said a prayer and just stared out into the blue sky.

The copter crashed into the thicket at 1100 hours. There were two survivors with varying degrees of disability. The last five minutes of their life was a flash of light and their life a gift to renew. They would live on to look at everything with a different perspective. Things they took for granted.

Yesterday is history

Tomorrow is a mystery

Today is a gift, hence called the present!


-Suja Sukumaran

Waiting To Exhale

Posted: December 15, 2010 in Fictional stories
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Janet walked down 5th Avenue, NY, jostling with the crowd of office-goers, the regular pedestrians and tourists. Life around her seemed like a fast-paced Brownian movement of people. People were rushing around in their infinite quest for bettering their lives, people leading their everyday life, people just hanging out watching the crowd and the awe-struck tourists glancing heavenward at the tall sky-scrapers.

 Everybody’s lives running parallel never converging, like endless stretches of train tracks.
Her high-heeled shoes clicking on the sidewalk was drowned out by the everyday noises. The screeching alarms of the fire truck mingling with the ambulance wails. The yellow cabs were hurtling down the one-way avenues trying to reach their destinations faster than the ambulances. Well-dressed business people and nattily dressed, in-vogue girls danced around daintily avoiding being stepped on, in the crowd. Homeless people sat around reclining on the sidewalk benches looking dis-passionately at the milling crowd. Life for them was anything but a fast track.  

 Janet found herself in the little Greek café overlooking the busy street next to the Rockefellers building. The business meeting had gone on for ever, long enough to get her mind wandering all over the globe. She had idly glanced around watching her co-workers and the CFO discussing at great lengths the slides she had put together for her presentation. The projections, graphs and statistics zoomed in and out of her vision along with her drifting mind. She was almost nauseated towards the end of the meeting. She wanted to run as fast as she could and breathe. She dreaded the onset of the panic attacks she was lately having.  

Stretching her legs under the table of the outdoor café, she breathed in big gulps of air and tried to relax her stiff muscles. A couple of sips of her favorite mocha and a peaceful sensation drifted over her. She looked around her and noticed several young couples leisurely walking around holding hands and whispering sweet nothings to each other. There was a time she had also gone through those very same motions, with stars in her eyes and a spring in her step. Those were the days she had thrown her head back and laughed with joyous abandon.

 Mark was everything in the world for her. He was a smart, sensitive and an attentive man. They were so much in love. Life then was a roller-coaster for them. She used to look forward to meeting up with him after work in the evenings, at the corner of 5th and 50th street. They took the subway home together. He was always waiting at the street corner with a bear hug and a warm kiss which brought on a radiant smile on her face, no matter how lousy the day at work was.  

That was 4 years back and time didn’t really heal anything for her since then. On the fateful day of September 11th, like every other worker on the TwinTowers he had gone to work early, hoping to take off early so they could go to dinner that night. She had heard the sirens of the fire-trucks, had watched the news reports with the flames and smoke bursting out of the twin towers. It had looked surreal then. Along with the buildings she knew her world had collapsed on her.

Janet had tried everything from talking to shrinks, to yoga, and a month long vacation. A part of her seemed to have become permanently encased in sorrow. She had tried unsuccessfully to date other men and get her life back on track. She was only 32 but felt as if she was older, with all the burden of her grief. Every time she came close to someone, she found herself building walls around her in a defensive mode. She couldn’t stop herself, from running away from her pain. She thought if she ignored it long enough, it would go away eventually.    

 Janet couldn’t do it anymore. Her migraines had worsened and she tried spending long hours at work shutting herself in, but realized she was becoming a classic basket-case. The towering sky-scrapers loomed above her in a frightening silence. She wanted to run away from it all, somewhere, where she could feel the pain, share her sorrows and reach out. As she sipped her coffee, an idea blossomed and she caught herself smiling. Immensely relieved and ecstatic she hurriedly gulped her coffee and rushed back to her office. She muttered to herself over and over again as to why she did not think of it earlier. Suddenly her life seemed to have a purpose. She felt that this was exactly what she needed to do, to shake herself out of the little bubble she had created for herself.
She registered online at the Bill and Melinda Foundation as a volunteer for the ongoing Global Volunteer Network and hurriedly e-mailed her boss that she was going on a vacation for a couple of months. She found herself cleaning her desk and packing with a nervous anticipation, akin to going on a first date. The volunteer job called for her arrival at Chennai, India a week earlier to prepare for the orientation and training. The work revolved around rebuilding and rehabilitating the Tsunami disaster victims.

Janet didn’t care if she had a job when she came back after her vacation. She didn’t know if all of this would help her get her life in the groove again, she just felt that this was the best thing to do for now. She felt alive just thinking about the task that lay ahead of her. All the love she had locked out of her soul seemed to be brimming. She wanted to share it all. There were people who needed her. She walked out into the sun humming a tune.

“I’ll see you in a while, New York,” she thought aloud, hailing a taxicab …


Never Hour

Posted: June 9, 2010 in Fictional stories
Tags: , ,


What would ‘never hour’ be?

Point-zero like the non-existence of the self. Somewhere floating in space. I can’t recollect when I started thinking along these lines. Maybe the time when my father was sick and couldn’t move a muscle or was it when I had a seizure and couldn’t find myself after that, for a while wondering what went wrong. How an organ of my body, the supercenter suddenly decided to call it quits and just floored my being in one single sweep as I lay on the street, helpless, completely dead to the world. When I came to my senses feet were shuffling around me, in unhurried movements and somebody was leaning over me in a benevolent fashion waiting to see if I would come around.

A series of headaches and a CT scan had not shown anything debilitating. Was there a monster in my head that I wasn’t aware off? I had heard of aneurysms erupting and taking its toll. There had to be an explanation since I was one of those who believed that every action has a reason and sometimes a scientific one at that.

The day seemed long and the nights longer. Being on the edge not knowing is pressure in itself. Trying to believe that destiny would not compel me to call it quits so early in my life was not the way I wanted to spend the evening of my life. Perchance the diagnosis was wrong and I had miles to go yet. Fait accompli might have other designs- on my insides collapsing while on the outside I was dandy and peachy pie. Savoring every moment of my existence as I whittled and jaded under my own brutal self-death. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I envisioned it to be but the doctor didn’t look as hopeful or was he the pessimistic kind that I had the misfortune to run into. Only time would tell.

The swing on the porch creaked as I rocked myself to sleep in the sun, the benign kindness of my spirits not letting me down as I gathered myself to dream away my time into world’s that I wouldn’t normally have made it on foot. The experience of being in the present but away in mind and space was as close as I could get to ecstasy on my sleepy feet. I wasn’t sure how long I slept that day and I wasn’t sure if I was awake or dead. I couldn’t feel a thing and that somehow didn’t seem important anymore.

I was happy, very happy to have been alive in that moment and that was important to me even if it was my final moment.