Saturday, December 10, 2016

2016 DNA-OUT of PRINT Short Fiction Shortlist: Kulpreet Yadav

The Window At The End Of The Street
Kulpreet Yadav

Rohan lived in a house next to Anita’s, towards the east, where his house was the last and beyond it was the city park. A four feet wall separated their courtyards and the only window Anita could see in his house was always closed.   

On bright sunny days, the collected rainwater in Anita’s courtyard seemed deep enough for her to imagine tadpoles in them these days, her hand instinctively reaching her abdomen each time. But on the days when there was no sun, the water remained dark and pregnant, with mercury like viscosity that turned Anita’s face gloomy, her palms rubbing the tears into her cheeks until she shivered. The rain, without her knowing, swung her mood, overtaking her hormones. 

Rohan’s house was one of the oldest, the decaying Mangalorean tiles on its canopy an interesting pattern of black, red and grey, and Anita often imagined her name in them, an exercise which left her guilty; ‘How can you think of another man, someone who is forty, and married, and insane, and out of job, and a singer of some sort, a failure,’ Anita’s mother had once said, and Anita had been worried, not because she was scared of her mother, but because her mother could read her adult thoughts.   

But Anita liked the way Rohan walked, looked at her, and told her stories about another world, his finger pointed towards the direction she knew was the sea, a world where happiness could be shared and the ways of the world were unimportant.    

‘You know what Anita, only a few have the courage to conquer their fate.'

‘And do you have that courage?’

He had smiled when Anita had asked this question, scratched his three-day old stubble and said, his voice bordering on uncertainty, ‘Of course.’

‘People say you are a failure.’

That had sent him away, but when he was about ten feet from her, he turned and said, ‘Failure is not a word in my dictionary. Indecisiveness is. The day I decide to succeed, it will all be over.’

Anita wanted to ask him what was stopping him but she didn’t, just let him go, watching his steps that looked unsteady, and his back bowed, as if he was walking uphill. 

Anita was not sure if her mother had shared Anita’s fondness for Rohan with her father, a semi-retired shopkeeper, who worked only four hours a day, and rarely spoke of anything other than money. Her brother, ten years older, was married with a child and settled in a town two hundred kilometres away; he loved his world. He rarely visited home.   
*
Anita’s mother had died the previous year, the year in which there was no rain, and now with her anniversary just a week away, Anita recalled what she had said when Anita had returned home blamed by her husband’s family for his death. 

Her mother confronted her even before Anita could enter the house. 

‘I always knew you would be a boy when you were inside me, because mothers know, don’t ask how, but when you were born a girl, I knew something was amiss.’

‘But Ma, how does it make a difference. Think of me as your son.’

‘Look, you should have been a boy; you even want to be one, even now.’

‘No, that is not what I meant. I can be your boy even when I am a girl…’

‘I think you are a bad omen, yes, that is what you are.’

Her mother repeated, ‘you hear me, bad omen.’

This was how Anita, the widow, who should have been a boy, and whose husband died because of her bad omen, was welcomed back home.  

Her mother-in-law had said the same words, ‘Bad omen.’

For six months Anita stared in the mirror and observed the woman as she shrank each day. Her body was taking revenge, turning her more womanly, as her breasts enlarged, the waist narrowed, and hips widened. Was her body fighting with the memory of her mother and the fact that she had accused her of being a boy, when she could be such a beautiful woman?     
*
The window of Rohan’s house, as always, was closed. But this afternoon Anita thought she saw a shadow in it. She angled her face for a better view and yes indeed there was someone watching her. It had to be Rohan. His wife was out at her job and Anita knew there could be no one else. The servants must have retired to their quarters at the back of the house for their afternoon nap. Is he watching her? She waved nervously, but the figure didn’t move.

Anita pulled the curtain shut and got back inside, blaming herself for an errant fantasy which was making her hallucinate. After drinking a glass of water when she returned to the window, there was no one there. But something had begun to stir inside her now – she thought of the tadpoles in the collected rainwater in the courtyard – and she wanted that movement to stop.

She walked out of the house and without looking left and right, she headed straight for Rohan’s house where she paused at the gate. It was unlatched and so she pushed it open and walked in, and pressed the bell, and strained her senses to listen. And when she didn’t hear it, she tried again. A worry gripped her. Is Rohan well? 

Anita walked through the lawn and reached the back of the house and startled a few hens which ran for cover as she looked in the direction of the servant’s room. There was no sign of life.  

She turned her attention back towards Rohan’s house, pushed the kitchen door, and went in. It was the first time she had gone into Rohan’s house and the unfamiliarity of the house, together with its silence and the smell, hit her and she was filled with dislike. As she moved further inside, she heard muffled sounds. She followed the sounds and was soon at the bedroom door which was ajar. 

There was Rohan, a woman on his lap who was writhing and turning, her head thrown back, back arched, as he gyrated his middle gently. His half-open eyes met Anita’s, and she saw his face contort as if in an extended climax, or maybe, the anticipation of it. 

He was all naked, wild and newborn, and Anita imagined, this is what her mother meant her to be, a man, who was free, and fearless, untouched by failure, even in the face of it. 

How wrong her mother was, because as a woman all Anita wanted at that moment was to be with Rohan, and match the rhythm of his body and extend the freedom that she thought she could see on his face. She closed her eyes and imagined herself in the lap of Rohan. 
But her eyes sprung open within seconds: Just as Rohan has betrayed his wife, will he betray me too?

She turned and left.         
*
The rains had been incessant this year. Someone said it was due to global warming, people running air-conditioners and aircraft flying above them, things that had weakened the sky through which the sun came in more harshly, and the impunity with which it was all going, the world would be bald in no time. But it still might take a few hundred years, another said, and that brought Anita’s fear in check. 

She had not seen Rohan since that day. She checked the window regularly, but no shadow ever crossed it and it remained shut.  

Who was that woman with him? 

On the day of her mother’s anniversary, there was a knock on the door, but before Anita got up to open it she instinctively checked the window of Rohan’s house and retreated back with a cupped hand covering her mouth. The window was open. She heard the knock again. Why was the person at the door not using the doorbell? 

She waited and when her father’s voice reached her, she opened the door, 

‘Why didn’t you open the door?’ He stumbled past her, two jute bags in his hands, and started to inspect the rooms. One of the mangos slid out from a bag and rolled away from Anita. 

‘Who was with you?’

This was for the first time Anita’s father had accused her like this. So this was the reason he was talking less with her ever since her mother had died. 

‘Answer me?’ He shouted. 

‘I was with Rohan.’

‘I knew it. Your mother also knew it, and that is the reason she is dead now. Where is that bastard now?’ He threw the bags. Along with mangoes, now tomatoes and potatoes also spilled on the floor. 

Anita pointed a finger towards the open window and that sent her father out, marching like a medieval army General. 

She walked over and stepped on a tomato watching the juice escape around her feet and through her toes. It felt good. She did it with another tomato and continued till all the tomatoes were smashed and the floor resembled a minor battlefield. But the war was incomplete and there was a need for more drama. Anita brought a bottle of tomato ketchup from the kitchen and as she opened it she swirled it around her, the red ketchup flying away like coagulated blood. Finally, after removing her clothes she sat down in it naked and tasted some of the pulp from the floor using her finger. It didn’t taste of anything or maybe her senses had died.  

When she stepped out of the house ten minutes later, it had begun to rain, and she couldn’t see Rohan’s window clearly. She turned her face up to receive the raindrops, and closed her eyes. The tomato juice and ketchup slid from her body and mixed with the collected rainwater at her feet. 

Where is my father? Is Rohan dead? 

She got back in, changed into new clothes, admired herself in the mirror, and picked up her packed suitcase. It was time to go.    

When she paused to look at the window one last time, she noticed someone standing there. It was Rohan and he was smiling. He looked down for a fraction of a second and she heard a gunshot. 

Anita smiled and waved back. 

Before leaving the house, she dialled the number, ‘There has been a murder in the house next door.’ 

She gave the address to the police and walked away, suitcase in hand, splashing through the collected rainwater. Anita was free at last. 


Kulpreet Yadav is a bestselling author, motivational speaker, and Founder-Editor of Open Road Review, an online magazine of literature and culture. Kulpreet’s novel, The Girl Who Loved a Pirate, is India’s first thriller based on marine piracy and hijacking. Passionate about creative writing, Kulpreet also mentors aspiring writers at schools and colleges and has spoken at many literary festivals in India and abroad. An ex-armed forces officer, his latest novel, The Girl Who Loved a Spy, was launched in 2016. More at www.kulpreetyadav.com



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