A short story titled ‘A Colorful Evening’ written by me has had the good fortune of getting published online in the bi-monthly literary e-journal Muse India, issue 42 Mar-Apr 2012.
I had been notified by the editor beforehand and was looking forward to the story appearing in the forthcoming issue. As March 01 dawned here in the Unites States, I dreamed of it vividly as I lay asleep. In the dream, I was checking my iPhone eagerly to view my published story. I saw the link to the story on the homepage of the e-journal but my name was spelled in a wrong manner. For no sensible reason – in spite of the story being an online content and being the same on all devices – I pulled out the iPad in my dream and checked that as well but of course, it was the same incorrect name. Finally, I slipped out of the dream, opened my sleepy eyes, navigated through my iPhone and there it was (with the name spelled correctly, of course). Wow! Was that the fastest ever ‘dream-come-true’ or what?!
To read the story, please go to:
Since the link to the story is broken, here is the story in its entirety:
A colorful Evening
“What’s eating you, boy?” The old lady from the neighboring apartment mumbles the same question that she frequently asks these days. The 90-year-old’s wrinkly face is like crumpled brown paper that smiles toothlessly at the six-year-old. She sits in the slanting rays of the tender sunlight on the common verandah shared by the apartments on their floor, head nodding uncontrollably, eyes half-open, basking in the warmth like an old, lazy cat.
Her question is valid but always goes unanswered as the sad little boy shuffles by with his red ball – and unaware to even himself – his long face. It’s been two months since his mother passed away, one month since they moved from their old dingy home to another new dingy home, a fortnight since lonely summer vacation days started and two weeks since Father has taken up heavy drinking again.
He dribbles the ball into their tiny apartment that smells sharp, alive and heady. Liquor bottles lie around, many empty, some half-full and others yet unopened, standing upright and ready to be at Father’s service. The smell of paint is prominent, too. There is a colorful mess in the living room. Paintbrushes, bottles of color, rags of paint-splotched cloth, easels, paper and all the other equipment that belongs to a man of artistic bent of mind and profession lie around. Father teaches art at school, used to conduct classes at home but now occasionally paints and mostly drinks since Mother passed away.
Father is in the kitchen this morning, waiting for the milk to boil, rubbing his eyes, which are red and swollen. He pours the hissing, hot milk into a cup and pushes that and a saucer with two slices of bread in it towards his son already sitting on the kitchen floor.
“Eat it up”, he commands hoarsely.
The little boy wolfs down his breakfast while watching his father in the living room gulp down tea with one hand and paint swift strokes with the other on an unfinished painting. Though little in number all the new paintings are beautiful and are about beautiful things. There is one with a beautiful flowing river, a chubby baby laughs in the second completed one while indigo peacock feathers spread their splendid colors in another painting. Father only paints pretty pictures these days. He only drinks his golden liquid and only speaks a sentence at a time.
“Go take a bath, now.” He says, without turning around to look at his boy.
The son dare not disobey him. He knows it is best to do what Father says and it is really not too much that he is asked for. The commands are simple and not many come his way. It is almost the only time Father ever speaks to him now.
The day drags on, getting hotter and hotter. Crows cry hoarsely in the trees above the murmur of thinning traffic on the road below. Towards evening, a slight breeze wafts in through the balcony of their only bedroom. The boy likes to pass his time there at that time of the day. He enjoys looking at the vehicles and at the people passing below, peering through the potted plants on the jutting edge of the balcony. There are cracks on the cement ledge, reminding him of the face of Grandma sitting outside the apartment next to theirs. Humming tunelessly, he counts busy ants scurrying in and out of them. Suddenly, a flutter of wings startles him. Two pigeons have landed onto the ledge, throats throbbing with their continuous sounds.
The boy has an idea. He jumps from the raised platform below the ledge and runs inside, planning to return with small pieces of bread.
“Why did you leave me so soon?” Father is asking the ceiling softly, as he swallows a mouthful of whiskey in the darkening living room. Languidly, through half-closed eyes, he watches his son scurry into the kitchen and out again with something between his small clenched fists.
“Come here, little birds, have some food.” The boy stretches out a hand and coaxes the pigeons on the ledge.
The birds look at him with tilted necks and beady eyes while pacing up and down. He climbs up over the platform and onto the ledge. The earthen pots are in his way. He leans over a dry twig in the pot in front of him and reaches out to the birds. They fly away in terror just as his foot slips and he begins to wobble forward.
Inside, Father sighs and is about to get up from his sprawling position on the dirty sofa to get another drink when he hears a crash from the balcony. The liquor has already started to make his brain fuzzy and it takes a few seconds to register the loud noise and another few seconds to sense the commotion that has begun to start outside.
But then it hits him. His legs have turned to water but they are somehow moving. His vision is beginning to get blurred but it is leading him down the stairs, clutching the banisters and jumping down two steps at a time.
“My…Where…my son…where is he?” His voice croaks out of his dry mouth as he bursts out of the apartment building entrance onto the street, turning towards the direction directly below the balcony of his apartment.
Arms flailing, he bursts into the circle of people gathered around something on the ground. A woman is shouting hysterically. His heart thrashes inside his chest and blood pumps hot and fast into his ears. Broken pieces of the earthen pot from his balcony lie scattered on the dusty pavement. There is something pulpy and red lying splattered too. His stomach churns.
Faces turn towards his bulging eyes and his shrieks. The woman asks him angrily, “Is this your pot?” as he frantically looks for something else other than the broken pot and an upturned bag of squished vegetables – tomatoes mostly, lying in a mess, on the ground.
“Wha…What?” He asks in confusion looking up. Faces are peering out of windows and balconies above. There is a gaping empty space where the pot had previously been on his balcony ledge.
“Yes, it is mine”, he admits.
“This stupid pot fell from above. It would have smashed my head like a pumpkin. Just look what it did to the vegetables I was carrying.” The woman shrieks, eyes flashing with rage.
“Sssorry, I am sorry. I…I don’t know how it happened”, he stammers but his mind has begun to register that the culprit is still there high up above, safe and sound.
The crowd seems to start moving in on him menacingly, reaching out to grab him. He begins to suffocate and lose his voice for the second time. But he collects himself, fishes out his wallet and pulls out two notes of currency. The crowd seems to relax a little. He thrusts it in front of the woman, who snatches it from his hand.
“This does not solve anything. What if it had killed me?” She sulks.
But people are beginning to disperse, shaking their heads and murmuring amongst themselves.
“It won’t happen again”, he says as she picks up her fallen bag. He kicks the pieces of the broken pot towards the side of the road, turns and begins to climb upstairs.
“Rohan!” He roars as he enters the apartment. There is no sound.
Furious, he storms into the bedroom, straight into the balcony. The sky above the smog- topped city buildings has turned a fiery red on the horizon visible from the balcony. Rohan is huddled in the corner, his knees drawn up to his chest. His eyes are huge saucers brimming with fear. He is looking just like his father did a moment ago.
Father almost pounces on him, grabs him by the shoulders, pulls him towards himself and squeezes him in a tight hug. The bewildered little boy stays frozen as the man sobs into his neck.
One morning, some days later, Grandma watches a visibly happy Rohan dribbling his red ball out of the apartment and onto the verandah. It has been two weeks since the liquor bottles have lessened in number and then disappeared altogether. A week and a half since Father no longer has reddened eyes and has more words to say. A week since there are more of those dark, gloomy paintings of rain clouds, withered tree branches and snakes that Father has always enjoyed painting so much. Five days since there is more than just milk and bread for breakfast, no precariously perched potted plants on the balcony ledge and even more of a colorful mess inside the house with students coming every alternate evening. And it has been quite a while since Grandma next door has asked him that question.