Short Fiction ~ Prathap Kamath
The rays of the 7 am sun seeped in through the translucent window panes gently warming Ahalya’s eyelids. The inside of her closed eyes perceived a pink glow on which so many shreds of broken threads floated in slow motion. She knew it was time to get up and the first thing that came to her mind was Ramu. Yet, as was her wont, she concentrated on one of the dancing shreds and followed it all through its downward spiral against the glowing pink screen of her eyes. It dipped and disappeared at the bottom and surfaced at another corner of her eyes challenging her to give it another chase. And then Ahalya opened her eyes to the euphoria of a Sunday.
Ramu was lying beside her just as she had laid him the night before. She wished he also had the facility to close his eyes during night so that she could have kissed them open in the mornings. She turned to him, drew his face towards her and pressed her mouth on his narrowly parted lips. They were only mildly cold because outside it was summer. This was better, she thought, than the colder lips he offered her during Christmas. He stared at her with his glassy eyes that held in them a scarcely perceptible smile. She rested her head on the mount of his muscular chest and ran her hand slowly up and down the smooth surface of his torso. His stomach was tight, six packed, with the columns of his synthetic muscles making sensual cuts over his abdomen. She heaved a sigh and picked his right arm and placed it on her side. He lay hugging her that way as long as she wanted him to and till time allowed her no more leisure to prolong her lazing with him in the romantic glow of the morning. There were her Sunday chores of washing and cleaning to take care of.
“Oh, how beautiful and eternally young you are my love,” Ahalya spoke under her breath as she smoothed herself out of Ramu’s hug and got out of the bed.
She lifted Ramu from the bed and set him standing opposite the life size mirror at the other end of the room. His polythene body was light despite his 175 cm height. She stripped him off his shorts, his night dress, gently lifting him from the floor to make room for it to ease out of his feet. Then she stripped herself and stood naked beside him facing the mirror with her right arm around his hip. He had looked her age two years back when she had admitted him into her life. Now he still looked the same with his cute, tight, black body of an Olympian swimmer, but the tone of hers had dimmed, its contours begun to loosen. Her breasts and stomach were a little saggier, her thighs more flattened out, her face slightly broader and chin tending to double. She glanced at Ramu from the corner of her eyes and then at his face in the mirror. He didn’t seem to mind her ageing. His smile was still lovingly the same as the one he had two years back. His love for her too would be intact, she knew. She stood on her toe, he was two inches taller, to kiss him on his cheek. She then dressed him in his white T-shirt and blue denims and flicked off a speck of dust that had settled on his cheek.
“See what we have for breakfast!” she cried while setting Ramu on the chair at the dining table opposite hers after a couple of hours. He had been custom-made for her with his limb-joints flexible so that she might have him in whichever physical position she wanted him to be in.
“Here’s your favourite egg omelette sandwich and orange juice.”
She put a plate in front of him and put another for herself, and served a sandwich on each. She filled the glasses with chilled orange juice.
“You should eat well Ramu. Eating well will make you age with me,” she gave him a wink. As she started munching the sandwich Ramu bloomed in a full smile and asked her,
“Why should I age?”
She studied him intently, savouring the cool citric sweetness of the juice mingling with the saltiness of the toast and omelette in her mouth. He stared at some point between her eyes, as still as ever, but the voice that broke from him had a metallic twang reverberating with innocent curiosity. Her love for him swelled like noon tide when during such Sunday mornings he broke his cavernous silence and breathed life out of himself.
“Yes, why should you age honey? Why should you ….? Maybe because when I grow old you would look like my son.”
“You will not get old when you are with me.”
Ramu is one of his kind. He soaks Ahalya in the sap of his love. She went to him and hugged him from behind and kissed him, her hair cascading all over around their heads. His breakfast looked at her in grim stillness.
She had nothing else to do on the Sunday except to bask in the sunshine of Ramu’s love. She had bathed before she had the breakfast; the fragrance of the herbal soap she had lathered lavishly all over her body was still suffusing the air around her, caressing her own senses. She let the water drip from the tips of her hair, wetting the back of her chemise.
She sat Ramu beside her over the sofa facing the TV and cuddled as much as possible close to him, absorbing the cold warmth of his body. She knew that the warmth had radiated from his love. The manly smell of eu de cologne emanating from his T shirt made the minutest pores of her body vibrate with a mysterious pleasure.
“Do you know how much I love you Ramu?” She asked him raising her eyes. He was staring at the TV. She knew that he had heard the question. “I love you more that anyone in this world.”
She saw the corner of his lips twitching. Maybe he wanted more proof to believe her than the beating of her heart against his arm. She took the album from under the tepoy and laid it on her lap. It was one and a half feet long and an inch thick. She opened its massive bind and pages where she had put the book mark the previous Sunday. It was the last page of the album where she and the man were photographed from behind. They, she in her golden yellow silk wedding saree and he in a royal blue suit, looked as if they were embarking on a journey. And sure they were. It was the story of that journey that Ahalya had been telling Ramu during Sundays.
“What happened to him?” The metallic twang struck her ear, the one near Ramu’s mouth, on her left side. She had placed his right arm across her shoulders; that way he could hold her close to his side. And then pressing herself as much she could against him, that was how she used to sit with him when she told him her tale. She had wanted Ramu to know everything about her.
He had been asking that question right from the first Sunday she had started telling her tale. Now she had reached the point in the story, the one where she and the man had started their journey together, where she could tell Ramu in a few sentences the rest of it. For, the journey had lasted only a month – a month that she had felt as a century though.
When the story reached its end, Ramu looked withdrawn into a state of coma. His side that pressed against her breasts was cold. She turned towards him to get a better view of his face. This was the moment she had been waiting for.
“Ramu ,” she shook him gently. He moved and shook like a doll, shaking a few times without volition. “No Ramu, don’t do this to me. Say something Ramu,” she shook him again, this time violently.
The clock on the wall ticked like a warning signal. Tik tik tik . . . She paused a second to fancy that it was reciting a poem to her, before she resumed calling out to Ramu in desperate wails.
“Did he do all that you?” his voice rose suddenly from a disembodied source, hitting against and ricocheting from walls of the small square room.
She saw through her tears that his eyes were moving as though they were surveying the room.
She nodded with no surprise in his change. A glow of joy spread across her face.
“Is it true that he stripped you naked and shut you up in the bedroom in mornings
before he went to the office.”
She nodded again without bothering to turn his face towards hers. He was looking straight before him, yet she knew he could see her as clearly as if she were standing in front of him.
“And that till evening when he came back and freed you, you were there without food or water.”
After a brief silence he asked a last question before relapsing into a coma again:
“And that at night he raped you and burnt you with cigarette butts?”
This time Ahalya couldn’t speak for her tongue had withdrawn into her throat like a paralytic’s.
Instead, she wiped a drop of moisture that had collected at the corner of Ramu’s eyes and ran her hand over his plastic hair tenderly like a mother.
As the day gradually wore out, and the pangs of hunger began to strike Ahalya’s stomach, she shifted Ramu’s hollow body towards the corner of the sofa, and walked to the kitchen to prepare her lunch with loneliness humming in her ears like a persistent drone.
The mannequin lay there, waiting for its mistress to remember it again during another of her spasmodic bouts of love.
Prathap Kamath writes poetry and short stories and has three collections of poetry and one of stories, Blood Rain and Other Stories (2014), to his credit. He teaches English at a college under University of Kerala.