fireplace-porn

Rust

It was snowing heavily outside. The kind of snow where if you have the misfortune of being outside, you can’t see more than a couple of feet ahead of you, and that’s not even your biggest problem. The kind of snow that makes the world seem a bit darker, that makes mornings feel like evenings, that makes the sun shy. The kind of snow where every sound is amplified, where everyday noises are gross aberrations, where Silence seems to take shape, like a person who’s sitting in the room with you, sprawled on the armchair, watching you with patronizing indifference.

The fire had burned itself out through the night, and without that Warden of Warmth, the Cold had crept in, slowly at first, confidence increasing with each step. By the time Locke woke up, the Cold had settled itself into the house with the brazen countenance of an uninvited guest.

Locke was old. He was made of old bones which creaked and threatened to crumble. He was made of old muscles that had long forgotten the fire the youth. He was made around an old heart that plodded along.

Normally, Locke liked the cold. There was a Chill deep inside him, as though something in his innards had frozen solid. But in the cold, he would be numb, and that almost, almost helped him ignore the Chill.

But this Cold was too darn much. With a thousand mutterings and a convoluted string of curses (the politest of which was ‘dog’ and the worst of which was fairly unmentionable in genteel circles) he pushed himself out of bed, and hobbled over to the fireplace.

He scraped the ash to a side, and took his time in building the fire. There was plenty of firewood next to the hearth (thank God for the boy), which he arrayed neatly with the coal. In considerable time, the fire was burning cheerfully, and the Cold made its excuses and left.

Locke sat next to the fire, too tired to move. He stared into the fire, the brightness muted by his clouded eyes. His thoughts wandered to more temperate climes, to trees that sang with the wind, to warm caramel rolling down the side of cake, to the woman dancing with the intensity of…

He woke with a jerk. He’d nodded off. Blearily he looked around himself, and accepting that he was actually sitting on the floor, he resigned himself to having to push himself up. With a grumble or two (or twenty) he heaved himself upward, using the mantlepiece, his stick and a few choice profanities for support.

As he stood, the typewriter on the mantleshelf caught his eye. Despite the decades it’d been through, it still shone like a bright new penny, like an ornament. Which, Locke supposed, it had become.

He saw this typewriter every day. But today, somehow, he could not take his eyes off of it. Mayhaps it was the dreams that he had seen as he was dozing by the fireplace, mayhaps getting out of bed had energized him, but somehow, he could not look away from that typewriter.

Locke raised both his hands to the typewriter, his stick clattering away at his side. Gently, ever so gently, he lifted it off the shelf. He carried it to the desk, walking with the slow, measured steps of a pilgrim. He set it dead center of the writing space, equally spaced from each edge. He bent from the waist, and pulled out the drawer, which rolled ever so smoothly, to reveal a huge sheaf of blank sheets, yellowed with age. But there wasn’t a single bookworm, unexpected for a stacks of paper left alone for years (he really ought to pay the boy more). He pulled out one of the sheets and with a fervour almost religious, fit and rolled it into the typewriter.

He hobbled back to his bed and retrieved his glasses. Pulling them on, he settled into the chair. For a moment, he closed his eyes, thinking of the half-formed images that had seemed so real when he’d sat by the fire.

And then he started to type.

Every bone in his finger creaked, as though coated in rust. It was as though, like their master, they too were grumbling at having to move so much. From disuse, the keys of the typewriter were unyielding, much like a proud young lady resisting the advances of her lover after a long period of inattention.

But Locke persevered, and soon the fingers moved by his will, and the typewriter accommodated his wishes.

Locke didn’t notice, but in some hours, the Chill inside him started dissipating, and whatever was frozen inside of him started to thaw.

 

(Image Credits: The Diogenes Club on Tumblr. Many thanks.)

Blog Post N

Poof.

His feet were numb when he had been climbing the stairs, but now, he felt every fiber of muscle in them.

He was standing on the low wall that formed the edge of the terrace of a sixteen-floored building, contemplating how good an idea death would be. His brain had felt sluggish before (strained, no doubt, by the burden of heady emotion that he carried and not the inebriants he had consumed in liberal quantities to, ah, lighten his load) but now he was as clear as the proverbial bell, capable equally of quoting Shakespeare or theorizing about multiple exponentiation (if that is a thing). So he thought of nothing.

He shifted his weight from the balls of his feet to his toes, ever so slowly leaning forward, as if easing himself into the plunge… and pulled back. The fourth time. Each time he tried, something kept holding him back. He couldn’t quite put his finger on what, but something did.

Fear?

No. He knew he would feel pain for some seconds only, and he’d probably not be aware of those seconds either.

A few seconds can be pretty long for mortal agony.

Not fear.

Okay, maybe some fear. But that wasn’t all.

Family? Friends? A loved one?

His parents would be sad. His friends, well, they’d probably dedicate one drinking session to him. Loved one? Bah.

He didn’t know. Fact remained, it wasn’t easy to jump.

If he did, he’d leave a hole in the world no one else could fill quite right. Sure, somebody could jump into the hole if he/she/it so pleased, but they’d not fit. Not perfectly. Think plugging a pyramidal cavity with a cube. Except instead of 4 surfaces, you have 17,912.

Now that would matter if someone cared about what’s in the hole right now, or the hole itself, or at least the general area of where the hole was. And perhaps no one else did, but he cared. The fabric of the world would not be the same without him, and that mattered to him. For better or for worse, it would change, and that mattered to him.

But the fall appealed to him too. A choice, momentary flight, and then to cast off all his woes and worries, to never have to think, to feel, to regret, to hurt. The comfort of blissful unawareness, of absence (of thought, action and consequence), of sleep, it called to him. It’d be like pulling your blanket and quilt completely over your head on a cold, lonely winter night.

A choice.

What was he living for?

For people? His parents were old, but strong, and they had another child to keep them company. Friends come and friends go.

It would perhaps matter if he would do something that’d affect the world in some significant way. Some significant, good way.

What effect would he cause? Sure, with his big bursting brain and his smart mouth, he could make a lot of money, but who was that going to help? Would his money make him happy? Would his money make others happy? Would his money bring people do his deathbed, people to mourn him when he passed? Given his monumental selfishness, probably not.

And with that, he prepared to test his toes one more time.

His phone trilled.

You’re about to kill yourself, does a text really matter?

It could be her.

And before his brain could complete the above thought, his phone was in his hand, checking the text.

It was her.

L: I can’t sleep.

I haven’t eaten anything all day, and I feel sick. I didn’t get anything done. I’m horrible. 

H: Please eat something. I promise you, you’ll feel much better.

L: I’m too tired. I don’t want to move. Cooking right now is impossible.

H: I’m telling you, please eat something. You can’t go on like this.

L: Uff. Don’t talk to me. You’re making me feel worse.

(Panic moment)

H: Wait, wait. Sorry, no advice. Please don’t go.

L: Don’t make a fuss. I’m going to sleep. Bye. 

He smiles wryly at this point.

H: I thought you couldn’t sleep.

Sorry! I am being an ass. I shall stop being an ass right this instant.

L: I tried to read the papers Alphonso suggested. Read the introduction and the conclusion, then watched random shit for 8 hours. 

H: I smoked 8 cigarettes today.

L: That’s horrible.

… and he sat down on the low wall that formed the edge of the terrace of the sixteen-floored building, trying to draw her into conversation, make her feel better as he didn’t know how.

It’d be two days or so before he realized that she probably saved his life.

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Birthday Girl

Today, someone very special to me has her birthday.

She is not an ordinary person. By many definitions, she is batshit crazy and has no right to exist in this world. But she does, and I am glad for it, for I haven’t ever met someone who practices and values honesty as she does. She is kind to a fault and her ability to care beggars belief.

She thinks of beautiful things, has a child-like sense of humor people tend to leave behind and thinks people think she is a bit of a fool.

She doesn’t see herself the way the rest of the world does, eminently capable, utterly loving, of unbreakable strength. She has no airs, no conceit, though she is one of the few people I know who have any right to.

She is supremely intelligent and fiercely practical, and works as the voice of reason and good sense every time I feel like spending an inordinate amount on unnecessary items. Which is every time I walk into a mall, or open Amazon.

She is my support, she is the fabric of my dreams, she is the reason for near every good thing in my life. She says she’s my No.1 Fan, but I don’t think she knows I’m hers.

She grows more beautiful with each passing day, and her smile still sends 6 Amperes running down my spine (which is a lot of electricity).

And even though we don’t spend a lot of time together, I feel alive, and complete, only with her next to me.

She is not a birthday person, though. She says she hasn’t had many memorable ones.

Which means, I will have to give her a few.

Of the many things she’s taught me (intentionally or otherwise), perhaps the most important is the fact that no matter what I accomplish, what exams I pass or success I achieve, it all loses its luster if I don’t have someone to share it with.

I am as certain as certain can be, that I want to share my life with her. With her, I want to explore all of Japan, camp out in Chile, and look at the Hobbit’s set in New Zealand.

And as a start of memorable birthdays, I’ll take her up to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and give her a cake.

Sanjana, I pray that you have the most amazing year ahead, that you are safe and happy and accomplish everything you set out to do.

Have a very, very Happy Birthday, my love.

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The City

{Image Credits: D. Madison’s album, MarginalHacks}

The city we speak of here is a large city.

Today, it is beautiful. Paved cobblestone roads with trees on both sides crisscross each other in little mazes a pedestrian could get happily lost in, admiring solid white structures that seem ever so light, they could float away in a glow the city itself seems to emanate.

It was a cesspit.

People were accustomed to filth. It was almost comforting. Bodies crammed into allies, trapped in pursuit of food and cheap pleasure. Boys barely a decade old peeled cracked wallpaper off and rolled them into cigarettes, coating their lungs in muck. Babies were born and killed the very same day, for their mothers were too weak and too poor too feed them, or too weary to care. For children, chasing rats was a pastime, whereas for men, it was rape. And dead bodies were just something you had to roll away from flat places, so that you could sleep.

This was a world the stoutest of believers would admit was forsaken by the gods. Travelers, people from nearby villages, they kept far, far away, sufficiently warned by the stench that draped the city like a fluid shroud, rancid molecules of air bunched in vengeance of a people that polluted them.

And this city would have died in this state had it not been for a woman who stepped out of her chariot and walked right in.

The first day she came, she called ten children to herself, and gave them two large loaves of bread. From each she elicited a promise, that they’d have one loaf completely to themselves, but give the other to someone who was hungrier than they were. Now, you wouldn’t expect these street urchins to give a hoot about a promise made to a kindly fool when there was actual food to be had, but there was something in the young lady’s eyes, a certain sense of agelessness, that made the children want to do what she said.

Perhaps they wanted to gain her favour, please her. Perhaps in being treated humanely, they wished to live up to her expectations of their humanity. As it was, more than ten children broke fresh bread that day.

The next day, the lady came again, and saw that she wouldn’t have to call children to herself, a fair few more than ten were waiting for her, and they were not all children. She smiled as if she expected them, and handed them all two loaves, asking from them all the same promise.

A week later, the lady turned up with three large vats, and her two menservants set up firewood. Then they pulled out a small market’s worth of vegetables from the chariot. The lady beckoned to the ladies that had gathered, and enlisted their help in cutting the vegetables. The men were asked to fill pails of water from the few wells which were yet useful. The children ran about, gathering anything that could resemble a bowl.

For hours, a colony was a-flutter with activity, in anticipation of a good meal. Preparations done, the lady and her ladies stirred the contents of the vats with large ladles, and from the boiling liquid rose an aroma that, for moments, overpowered the odours the residents had grown used to. A hundred quietly watched as a few ladies sat, making soup to warm bellies and hearts, and that evening, our cesspit was serenity itself.

With every visit the lady made, the crowds grew, and when she could not feed them all, she asked them to help. The crowds started bringing whatever meager supplies they scrounged, and brought them to the very material communion. Wherever fights broke out, the lady soothed the aggrieved with a gentle touch and a loving smile. Within a fortnight, fires burned in every street, cooking soup for a community.

A month later, the lady stopped bringing food. Instead, she brought scrubs, and brushes and tools. She left them in a big pile in the center of the city, and suggested that they might clean their homes. With full bellies and resultant charitable moods, not to mention the amount of time they all had on their hands, the people decided to humour the kindly lady in her seemingly pointless request.

A week later, most homes were the cleanest they’d been in years. Two weeks later, so were the roads.

I couldn’t possibly tell you when the men started patching up the broken houses, making structures their grandchildren would be comfortable in. I couldn’t tell you how children suddenly had books in their hands, or women laid tables of food for their families each night.

I couldn’t tell you when the lady stopped coming to the city.

The generation that walks the roads today with arms intertwined, breathing in the aroma of honey and freshly baked bread and flowers, they know naught but stories, legends of a woman who could be as fictional as an angel. An woman of unassuming airs and quiet smiles, who set right the world with an intent and a gesture.

But we remember. We remember what we were, and who we are.

We remember her fondly.

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What It Would Be Like

He was in the second last-row of seats on a rickety bus that jumped 16 additional inches each time it went over a bump. And he’d laugh delightedly each time. It was like a roller coaster for children, one he wasn’t supposed to enjoy at his age, but couldn’t help anyway.

But then, he had other reasons to be happy.

He was home. It was his city. It was the place which he had hated on arrival, but come to love. It was here that he had learnt to live, learnt to love. It was this place he had left, as every boy leaves home to become a man.

And now he was back, with teary eyes, exulting at the old-world charm of this city that was forever in between times, here a mammoth flyover not quite complete but the very promise of the scintillating future, there an old man pulling a hand-pulled rickshaw with music being pumped into his years by a trusty iPhod (which is an [imaginary] cheap ripoff).

And she was back too. She made of spun moonbeams and the breeze, the beautiful young lady who was more responsible than the city for having taught him how to live and love. The one who had been gone far too long and had shone far too bright. She had returned, and they would meet, and the old spells that each had woven into the other would find their counterparts to make magic once more.

He was happy, because all that had been lost was about to be found. He was happy, because he had found his corner in this world, and he’d found the person he’d want to share it with, and it was all about to come together.

He’d see that smile again, the sparkling smile she smiled each time she saw him.

 

 

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Defiance (Line Three)

For Line Two, which continues to be completely unrelated, click here.

They found him in the attic, hunched over a book of short stories under the frail light of an old bulb.

He was dragged out, reminded of his responsibilities as the household help, reminded of the kindness his masters had done him by giving him food, clothes and shelter, reminded that the least he could do was to make himself useful. Following which he was reminded what a cold iron rod feels like with the weight of an arm behind it.

Once it was done, he could only whimper. Which, wisely, he did not do.

He was told that if they ever saw him with holding a book, it’d be the last thing he ever held.

They never saw him hold a book again.

For that night, when the his masters slept, he crept out, quiet as mice. And loud as bells, he banged on the door of the House of a God. Begged not the God, but the man who answered his insistent plea. Begged to be taught letters and numbers, the weapons his parents had tried to give him, before he had been taken.

And so he studied with this Goodman of God, in the hours of the night. Found magic in the woven word, found the single truth in numbers that all religions promised and none gave. He learnt of the particles that made more particles that made the world, and he learnt how it rained.

He did as his masters instructed, suffered their slights and their hurts wordlessly to avoid more slights and hurts. Slept when the masters’ offspring were at play, when the masters were at work, when meals weren’t to be served, whenever nothing was wanted of him.

For his life might have belonged to them, but the night belonged to him.

And like all those who learn outside of the system, he believed that he had much of catching up to do, only to find that in their earnest they had far outstripped the system, as he did when he held the results of the test his mentor had helped him prepare for, the one all the schoolchildren took.

It was the crack of dawn. And in the first light of a new day, he stood, tears streaming from his eyes, fiercely proud.

 

 

 

Strange Kindness

He woke to the sound of cars zooming by.

There were men around him, urgent voices talking in a familiar language he could not understand, fretting over him, pulling and pressing his limbs, looking at him for any reaction.

He looked around, and found himself at a roadside truck drivers’ stop, in the middle of a highway. It was the kind of place which sold cheap tea and cheaper biscuits in plastic glasses. For the hungry trucker, they had tough chapatis with curry so hot you wouldn’t be able to identify any flavor. The seating arrangements were coir mattresses around plastic tables, all with a fine coating of dust.

Then he saw the car. If one inarticulate teenager was to describe the state of the car to another inarticulate teenager, he’d have probably said something like, “Dude, its fucked up!” The front of the car had crumpled down the middle, where it had hit the pole. The windshield had shattered, and the front seats seemed a little too far ahead to be… well, comfortable.

Beside the car was his driver. He was being similarly attended to. Only difference was that the driver needed the attention. Blood was pooling around him, from a dozen different cuts, four of which were more like gaping holes. He was heaving, as though he was having trouble breathing.

Our protagonist found it remarkable that the driver had taken such damage, yet he was practically unmarked. He then remembered he had somewhere supremely important to be, someplace he had taken great pains to get to, someplace that was critical to his future, and realized he’d never get there in time.

As it was, he was utterly unfazed.

He felt detached. There were no thoughts crowding around in his head. He felt, for the first time in ages, he could think clearly.

He went to the tap where trucker-customers washed their hands, and looked at himself in the mirror, to find an expressionless stranger staring back at him. He washed his face, and roughed up the neat arrangement of his hair. Ripped off his tie and threw it away, and ripped open his collar too.

He then took out his cellphone, and broke it into two halves. He then picked up a nearby glass, which, surprisingly was made of glass, and he broke that too.

He walked to the driver, who was now bordering on unconsciousness. He’d been bordering on unconsciousness before too, when he had been driving. He’d nodded off, and lost control of the car. Hence the crash.

So the man with his new-found clarity of thought slashed the wheezing driver with a shard of the broken glass, ripping out his carotid, and he held the dying man for the few seconds, as he thrashed about in his death throes.

The men around were stunned to silence. An old man, with great effort, managed to ask in broken Hindi, “Why did you have to kill him?”

He answered, “He would have died anyway. I saved him the suffering.”

And with that, he walked straight to the middle of the road. A truck screeched to a halt to avoid running him down, and he walked to the passenger side and calmly got in. He said something to the truck driver, and within seconds, the driver drove off.

And he disappeared.