Short Fiction ~ Sangeetha G
First Prize, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 18
She met him at the age of 17. His moustache had just started to sprout. His facial features were not yet defined. They talked about their passion to see the world, meeting new people, learning their stories, and treasuring their memories, knowing that they would never meet those people again.
At the age of 25, they met again. His face had developed a mature charm that was inescapable. “I am going to fly,” she was excited.
“I knew you were a bird. The first time I saw you, your hair glowed like bronze-coloured feathers and your skin gleamed bright when the evening sun bid you goodbye. You were wearing a light blue top which had wide sleeves. The sleeves hung from your shoulders over your hands like two flappy wings. Your skirt was wide enough to help you take off. You wore black shoes which covered just your toes. Toes, which are like roots that hold onto the ground, were missing. I thought you would fly any moment,” he said.
“Are you coming with me? We will fly over unknown lands and rivers, mountains and plains,” she persuaded him.
“I can’t cover my toes like you. They are pulling me to the ground. I have to take care of my mother. She needs a wheelchair and two hands to push it around,” he sounded low.
“But the 17-year-old girl will always remain in my mind and I will keep waiting for her to alight someday,” he said.
They met again when they were 30. He introduced his wife to her. She felt alienated. But when she looked into his eyes, she could see the 17-year-old girl wanting to fly.
“I am sorry. Life is taking its course. I am flowing with it. I am not a bird to fly against the wind,” he sounded apologetic. “You need not be. I know you have toes,” she said. She told stories about the green villages by the hills where children kept looking at her with awe and curiosity as she struck conversations with the elders, about icy mountains she scaled and the nights when she almost froze to death under sheets of snow. “But I had to come back to tell these stories. That kept me warm and alive,” she said.
“Don’t you feel the need for a nest?” he asked her. “A nest can wait. I have long flights to make,” she said.
The next time they met after a decade, his hairline had receded and the sharp jawline was buried under a layer of fat. He happily introduced his children. He spoke about them excitedly. He had a large collection of stories to share. She heard all those stories about his children and shared his joy.
She told him about the deserts she crossed, beautiful women who had imprisoned themselves in black robes, and the large sand castles they stayed in. She also narrated how she got lost in vast dunes - parched, famished, and exhausted. He heard her with eyes wide open. She could still see the 17-year-old girl there.
She came back at the age of 56. Most of the facial features that defined him at one point of time had disappeared. He had lost his wife and his children had found their ways. “Can’t you come with me now?” she asked.
“I have to take care of my little grandson. How can I leave him?” he asked.
“I know you can’t hide your toes,” she said.
“Aren’t you tired?” He was curious.
“Not yet. I am still a 17-year-old girl,” she smiled.
Almost a decade later when she returned, she had to search for him. She found him in a large home, but his world had shrunk to a bed in the corner of a room, which he shared with several others who looked equally weary, weak, and emotionless. She held his frail hands and looked into his eyes. The 17-year-old girl was missing in those eyes. “Who are you?” he asked. With a shudder, she realised that she had lost the 17-year-old girl forever. She died in his memory. She felt tired, her limbs turned powerless and her skin became loose and saggy. She had no energy left to fly.
“I am searching for a nest to rest. Will you come with me?” she asked him. He kept on staring at her, searching for traces of her memories in his empty mind. She made him sit in a wheelchair and steered it out of the large home.
Sangeetha G is a journalist in India. Her flash fiction and short stories have appeared in Down in the Dirt, Academy of the Heart and Mind, Kitaab International, Indian Review, Storizen, The Story Cabinet and Borderless Journal. Her story won Himalayan Writing Retreat Flash Fiction contest 2022. Her debut novel is in the works.