Saturday, December 16, 2017

2017-OUT of PRINT Short Fiction Shortlist: Sunil M S

Sunil M S

A bad thing happened today. Papa cried. Seeing papa cry, mama cried too. I watched them, sitting on the sofa, crying like Saurav and Pramod had cried when teacher caught them eating bubble gum in class. Nobody was watching television. The funny man on screen laughed alone. After a while I cried too. I don’t know why.

No one ate dinner except for me. I wanted to watch Doraemon after dinner. But papa was watching the funny man. He wasn’t laughing. Mama asked me to go to bed. But I wasn’t sleepy, I wanted to watch television. Mama gave me her phone and asked me to go play Jellies in my room. Mama is letting me play on her phone these days. I will beat the witch soon.

In the morning, Mama didn’t come to wake me up. When I woke up, I saw Papa sleeping on the sofa. Mama was in the bedroom, but she wasn’t sleeping. She was looking at the fan and thinking. I walked back to the television and switched it on. Papa got up, smiled at me, brushed my hair, and went to bathroom.

I was sitting and watching Motu Patlu when Papa came out of the bathroom. Mama was cleaning the table. She looked at Papa. They both smiled. I smiled too. I don’t know why.


In the evening Papa came home early from office. Mama didn’t go to office that day. We went to Sankey Lake. It was very boring. They didn’t swing me or let me play slide. I just had to walk along with them while they talked as if they were not my papa and mama but my school teachers, holding their own hands, he behind his back and she in front. They talked, mostly about things I didn’t understand. I heard Papa talk about college and Ooty trip and bikes. But he was very serious. Mama was also serious.

It was getting dark. Now and then Mama asked me to walk slow. I tried. I could hear the kids in the play area even though we had walked very far. It was very silent. No one was speaking. Now and then papa would say something. Mama would reply.

Papa was planning a trip. But alone. I wanted to go too. Mama wouldn’t let me. It was office work, she said, and asked me to walk a little fast. I walked fast.

The lamp posts were switched on. I walked under them. I turned around and saw Mama and Papa still walking. I couldn’t hear them. Maybe they were still not talking. I had walked far. I had to stop. Up ahead, the road ended and there were no more lamp posts. Suddenly, all the lights switched off. There was darkness everywhere. I couldn’t see my own hands.

‘Mama,’ I cried.

‘Stay where you are. Mama is coming.’ I heard Mama’s voice but it was very low.

I cried again and again. But, Mama and Papa weren’t coming. I looked around. But I could see nothing. I heard something. It sounded like footsteps. I peed my pants. Then, I saw Papa’s phone torch. I ran towards it. Mama picked me up.

‘Baba is alright. We are here. Mama and Papa are here.’ Mama kissed me.

Mama cried a lot sitting on the sofa that night. Papa was sitting beside her. He was watching the funny fan. He was eating his fingernails. I burst the jellies fast and tried to beat the witch for the third time. I always ran out of time.


In school the teacher punished me every day. ‘The 2 times tables are all wrong. This is fourth time, Pratyusha,’ the teacher scolded. What do I do? No one helps me with homework these days. Papa isn’t home. Mama is always talking over the phone.

Ajji came home. She played with me for some time. Then she sat with Mama and talked about Papa. They talked for so long. Mama cried again. I think Papa is angry at her. She goes to office regularly and cleans the house. She eats food on time and sleeps early. Still Papa is angry with her. I don’t know why.

Papa came home. But, he did not hug Mama the way he usually does when he is away for a long time. They smiled at each other. They did not talk about his trip. When I asked what did he do, he only said nothing. What is nothing? I asked him. He said he had a lot of work and didn’t get time to go to beach. Doing work all day and not going to beach is nothing, I thought. When I grow up, I don’t ever want to do nothing.


Mama came to school with me.  

‘She is very irregular with her homework,’ the teacher said.

Mama looked at me but she wasn’t angry. I thought she is going to cry again. But she looked at the teacher and said, ‘We will take care of it.’

That night Mama yelled at Papa. I couldn’t understand what they were saying. They spoke really fast using words I couldn’t understand. I kept missing bursting jellies. Every time I missed the witch would laugh and fly away.

Mama is punishing Papa. If not, why would Papa sleep on sofa every night? Papa also goes to office regularly. But he doesn’t eat food on time. Also he drinks that juice. Mama gets angry just like the way she does when I drink Coca-Cola from the fridge. That must be it. But if Mama is so angry, Papa should stop drinking that juice. He doesn’t. It got over. But Papa brought a new bottle. It gets over so fast.

On Sundays, Mama and Papa go to doctor. They make me sit outside with one lady. She is very nice to me. She is not a nurse but she doesn’t wear that blue uniform. We fill colours till Mama and Papa come out of that small room. And they don’t take medicines. The doctor must have given a big injection.

Back at home I touched both their tummies and asked if it hurts. They said no. I kept asking them where it hurts, but they never told me.

Mama and Papa didn’t cry for two days after the hospital visit. They even sat and read books and watched videos on YouTube. They were very boring. One lady, just like that doctor, sat and talked till the end.

But again I found Mama crying in the morning in the bed. I asked her if it’s hurting bad. She said yes. I don’t know why she doesn’t take medicines. She always after giving me those yucky tablets. But she doesn’t take herself when she is unwell.


‘Who do you love the most, papa or mama?’ Mama asked me.

‘I love you both,’ I said.

‘Choose one. You get to choose only one,’ Mama asked again.

I thought hard. I had to choose one. But I didn’t know which one to choose. Mama went to the drawer and took out Teddy and Barbie.

‘Which one do you want?’ she asked. She was very serious. She wasn’t playing with me. It felt like maths. I hate maths.

‘I want both Mama. Are you throwing them away?’

‘No, I am not. But I want you to choose one. Teddy here is Papa. Barbie here is Mama. Which one do you love the most?’

‘Teddy has big nose and is big and soft. I like Teddy. Barbie has long hair and she wears colorful clothes. I like Barbie too. I want both Mama,’ I said.

Mama didn’t say anything. She gave me both Teddy and Barbie and asked me to go play. That evening Mama got me a bigger Barbie doll. I could also change her clothes and comb her hair this time. There was a tiny table too. It had tea cups and plates on it. They were all so very tiny. I laughed. I thought my cup and dress were the smallest.   

Papa was acting weird. Maybe he was sick. Maybe that juice was making him sick. But he wouldn’t stop drinking. He made me sit on his lap and said that he loves me a lot.

‘I love you too, Papa,’ I said.

He wouldn’t stop saying he loves me. He said it so many times. I kept saying I love him too. After some time, I couldn’t say it anymore. Mama called me to bedroom. I went and asked what is it. She said nothing. She just asked me to just sit. I sat on the bed and looked around. After some time, she gave me her phone. I played so many times, I still couldn’t make the witch go away.


‘Say goodbye to Papa,’ Mama said.

Papa was standing in the room, holding his laptop and one big bag. He was crying. He was smiling too.

‘Where are you going, Papa?’ I asked.

‘Papa is going on a long trip. He will call you,’ Mama said.

‘I want to go to the beach too,’ I said.

Papa lifted me and kissed me. ‘I have lot of work, baba. I will not go to beach. It’s very far.’

Mama took me from Papa and asked again to wave goodbye. I couldn’t stop crying. It wasn’t like the last time he went on a trip. Mama never asked me to say goodbye when he went on work trip. I only said bye. It felt different. I cried a lot. Papa kissed me and left.

Mama cried again. She wanted to go on the trip too, I thought. But, that was the last time I saw Mama cry. After Papa was gone, she would sit with me every day and we would do my homework together. Ajji came home and stayed for few days. Together, they cleaned the house. They cleaned pictures from the wall too. Now, only my pictures are there.

Papa called on mama’s phone. He said he misses me. ‘I miss you too, papa. Finish work and come home fast,’ I said. He did not speak after that. I couldn’t hear anything.


I had a dream that night. I woke up scared and started crying.

‘What happened, Pratu?’ Mama asked.

‘We were walking near Sankey Lake. I was walking fast, just like you had asked me to. Then all the lights went off. There was darkness everywhere. I couldn’t see a thing, Mama. Then I heard the witch. That witch from Candy Crush? That one. She was laughing. She laughed and laughed and laughed. Mama, Mama, I cried. But, you weren’t there, Mama. You did not come. Then I called Papa. He was also not there. The witch continued to laugh. I cried and cried and cried. But none of you came.’


Sunil is a digital marketing professional from Bangalore. He writes short stories, poems, and novels after his 9-to-6 job and over the weekends. He loves taking a stroll down Church Street, having a cup of coffee at the Indian Coffee House and spending time at The Bookworm and Blossoms. Over the last many years, he has collected over a thousand books. Most of which he is yet to read.

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