John Boyne stands out as one of the highly accomplished and widely praised novelists in his generation.
With an anticipation to apprehend the dynamics of the unfolding situation, the bystanders watched on. The plane did a quick whirl over the top of the puny heads. It then groaned and thrashed to the rugged ground. Their jaws dropped in awe. The boy in the middle hurried to the spot. Picking up his toy he looked around. The inanimate beings with the pale faces still had him at the centre. They were slowly retreating, taking tiny steps back. They had weighed their options, and for a moment, flight seemed the only viable one. The pale faces had expected the obvious. But the boy gave a perfunctory nod and headed to the house in the afternoon sun — situated in a narrow meandering North Kolkata lane.
Sunlight danced around table corners, dispersing into narrow beams through the drawer slits. The window grill made no efforts to occlude the warm orange twilight. They looked like dark silhouettes lined up sequentially in their inconsequential existence. The array of sky-kissing concretes stacked up on both sides of the street. They had valiantly safeguarded us from nature’s other devious ploys. For years. In any lane, every lane, North Kolkata isn’t aware of the blue sky. They know the gray mundane patch they meet above at times while on their out way out of the serpentine lanes.
Polo returned home. The dwindled aircraft toy in his clutches won’t be complicating circumstances. I’ve just shifted from the window ledge to my armchair. The scenes from the street below lingered with me a while. I could hear Polo sobbing in the adjacent room. It will pass. Orange light was gently making a retreat. Slithering away from the table corners, hugging the grills, it escaped. The drawers had already lost their share. Gloom hung over them. But there was promise. The promise of another day. Another moment of basking in the orange hue. The table was dark too, cluttered with books, academic and beyond. They pride themselves on their contents.
They love how I love the smell on their tainted pages. I assure you, Roald Dahl would’ve appreciated such meticulous study of his works. Peeking out from underneath the pile of Chekovs were the letters. Don’t disagree with me on this.
We all have those. Letters that never make it to the intended recipients. Some serve self-reconciliation. Some conceal sentiments that never saw fruition. Others are straight lame.
The dusk makes me ponder sometimes. Reclining in the chair, I smiled.
Perhaps the wardrobe smiled with me too. An ordinary guy with mediocre prospects, stagnant desires and average interest in life’s subjects. So is Polo. The guy next door and the guy on the upper storey, or the crowd walking the streets. We are all happily devoured by the labyrinth, until the dark embraces us. The metro was crowded and I fumbled to fetch the cell from my pocket. It has been beeping for a while now, and I sensed an urgency. It was Polo.
“Pa, when are you coming home?”
“Soon. But it’ll be a bit late today. Finish your homework and we’ll continue with the story once I reach home.”
Polo and I have been trying to leaf through a few books recently. Classics, mostly. Aside from the post dinner TV shows and occasional visits to movies and amusement parks on weekends, this is one form of recreation I can adequately provide her with. Fortunately she had grown a taste for it. Perception of conflicting perspectives comes easy to her.
Perspective is fluid. To tell a tale of the elegant world you have to experience it to the depths of your being. A struggling writer has that in his veins. I carry that with me.
Ironically, Providence had played its strings and I had met my girl while scampering around a book store ten years back. I was in a hurry to finish one of my works. She was looking for something to get by on boring Sunday afternoons.
For some, a shared interest in books is congruous to the first dance in the rain together. That sowed the seeds. It had ripped off well and Polo found a wholesome family. Then someday the bubble broke and the strings snapped. She left Polo with me, and walked. The contact had snubbed pretty soon as well. Since then, Polo had led the bohemian life, before his disoriented father finally settled here.
“Move aside, you legless!”
There was a cry from the rear. Apparently, there was a commotion at the gate. A push here, a nudge there. Things turned haywire for a moment. But the train jerked and started moving. Everything went back to the way they were.
I looked around. Life of diverse shades and varying trades. A swarm of dull faces, jostling and gasping for breath, perennially at pursuit, of what, they are ignorant of. They were all the same, and thus, insignificant. They trudge in through the gates, trying to squeeze through, looking for space and security. The bald heads and wavy hairs, all trying to fit in, with the round wired toys plucked into their ears. What a pity.
Each of them put up momentary charades to blend in, to live through the day. Although, to live through, you have to live in it first. But there is promise. The promise of another day. Another shot at turning the tables. I have found myself a comfy corner. I am savouring the solitary pleasure, amidst a train full of people.
Among the dropping shoulders and blank eyes, she caught my attention. A pleasant surprise. At the adjacent corner, a foot and half away, there is this girl, engrossed in a book. They say, finding someone reading a book you hold dear, is actually the book recommending a person. She seemed unperturbed by the petty chaos around her. A sapphire in a sand heap.
Interestingly, I was actually on my way to meet someone. On my brighter days, I often make a conscious effort to skim through the multitude of articles and writings that make it to the Internet. Blogs, e-magazines, or even the printed ones and papers. Three months back, one of them got me intrigued. For the next several weeks, I keenly followed the paper that published it. Each essay had a particular flair. Elegance minced with tender lucidity. By the sixth week, I had ravaged through the social platforms, hoping to know the person on the other end of the screen. Things didn’t come smooth since she had used a pen name in all her publications. Somehow, I could pick up her email address, and in a stupid rush asked for an appointment. The response was quick.
They say that all good stories come to an end, but every end ushers us into a new beginning. The parting with my wife had made me a free bird. I could sing and fly at my own free will. The chains were gone, and for the first time in years, I tasted freedom. Perhaps our life isn’t only confined to mundane office chores. Perhaps, the so-called existential crisis of a lone father ceases at some point. Perhaps, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Our virtual conversation soon struck the right chords. I was ecstatic. This isn’t fortuitous. This is the panacea to my trail of misfortunes. She has called me over at her place. Life could not have been any better.
I hastened to the metro gates. I could hear the announcements over the mike, the movie songs playing in the backdrop. I could now see the Victoria Memorial towering above the peripheral buildings.
The honks and the headlights whizzed past me. Looking up, I saw the sky. It was so vast… and blue. The twilight settled gently on my shoulders. The buildings lay tinged in orange.
I took a detour through the shadowy alleys. Soon, I was at her door. The calling bell rang for a while. On the third ring, the door opened, and a face popped out.
What a small world, huh? Labyrinth. It confines us in a maze. It eludes us at every step. It holds surprises at every corner. It is probably the most spectacular metaphor for life itself. But metaphors can be dangerous. Metaphors are not to be trifled with.
(Send your original and unpublished short stories, in not more than 2,000 words, to firstname.lastname@example.org