It was twilight. The doorknob moved, with a click the door unhinged itself from the frame and he walked in. He turned the lamp on and walked to his desk. His left hand had a bag and his right hand was looking for something in his jacket pocket. He finally found it and put it on the desk. Something swaddled in cellophane. Not too big. He looked at it for a while and then walked to his room, opened the cupboard, opened the sock drawer in the cupboard, pulled out all the neatly arranged stacks of socks, put them on the shelf above, removed a false bottom of the sock drawer, picked up an old tin biscuit box, kept it on the shelf next to the socks, bent down to his bag and pulled out some tools. Pruning shears, scissors, two knives, one big, one small. One by one he arranged them in the drawer. Shears first, scissors second, knives last. The small knife had a stain that caught his eye so he picked it up, looked at it, licked his finger and wiped the maroon off with his saliva. False bottom covered, socks put back in the same fashion as before, biscuit box held, cupboard shut.
He walked back to his desk with the box in his hand. He opened it and pulled out several cellophane wrapped packages, and kept them on the desk next to the one he had left earlier. He stood there staring at all the rolls. They almost stared back at him. He pulled back his chair, sat down, very meticulously started to unwrap the nearest lump of plastic. One by one, he unwrapped all of them and arranged them in a way he thought perfect. It was only the last one that he took extra time on. He unwrapped it gently. A tiny bit of a fingernail showed, then a little more, then a little more, then the entire nail and soon he had the entire finger in his palm. He set it aside on the left side of the table. He did the same with the other 9 and arranged them as a hand spread out without its palms. All 10 digits belonged to a child. Rather, ten children. And he only took one finger from each child. To form a perfectly imperfect palmless hand.
He stared at his work of art for a while, adjusting a finger here, a thumb there. When he was finished he smiled his smile of satisfaction, pushed back his chair, and as he was getting up a drop of blood from the edge of the desk spilled over and fell neatly on to his shoe. He turned his head down and looked at it.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5 seconds, and then with an absolute certainty he turned, walked over to the chair next to the bed, sat down on it, unlaced his shoes and took them off. He leaned to his left and opened the cabinet next to the chair. Cans.
Lots of cans.
Too many cans.
Rows upon columns upon stacks.
Enough shoe polish to make the Third Reich proud.
He chose a lucky can, opened it, got the brush ready, picked up the left shoe, patted the brush on to the can of polish, and started to polish his not so clean, blood-splattered shoe.
Left right left right, his hand moved till it found a rhythm as perfect as a heartbeat, a horizontal pendulum. He took his time with each shoe. He was careful not to miss a spot. This was his favorite ritual, his only non macabre obsession. He stopped only when he could see the reflection of the twinkle in his eye on the shoes.
Except his eyes never twinkled.
His work for the day was done. He lay down, his head touching the pillow, his
mind drifting away into a deep sleep…
A sleep with a dream that he would have every day. Which he would forget as soon as he woke up. A dream from another time, a dream which would make him climb out of his mind slowly, steadily, step by step and take him to a shade of grey which would swallow him whole. A living, breathing storm without even a hint of movement. He would step into a sparse, endless land with giant monoliths all around. Nothing familiar in sight, not on the land, not in the sky. It felt as if all the embers had died leaving a world coated in ash and soot.
His hands felt clammy, his feet kept marching, dragging, maintaining the same rhythm he had used to climb into this dream, a rhythm that matched a perfect heartbeat. One two. One two. Left Right. Left Right. He kept his eyes on the ground, but he wasn’t really looking. His hands by his side, with a hint of resignation. He looked to his right and saw the same thing that he knew was on his left. Land, identical tall structures… … … and dread.
He tried to stop, to take a breather, to understand. And it took all his might to pause the momentum. The thing is, he knew where he was going. He just didn’t want to go there. He stared straight ahead. Focused his eyes as much as he could and then he saw it.
Far away, on a mound of earth which couldn’t even excuse itself as a hillock, there was a tree, and under that tree stood the figure. X, which marked the spot.
She was shrouded in black. So far away that he couldn’t see her exquisite face. So far away that he couldn’t see her high cheekbones, her perfectly symmetrical face, her ageless youth, her piercing emerald eyes which laughed out so loud that her mouth could remain sealed forever. So far away he couldn’t see that when he looked in her direction, she looked in his.
Straight at him.
Through his potential lies.
In that split second glance, her eyes screamed with ecstasy. She knew. She always knew. And he always forgot. His only superpower was to underestimate her. He was armed with just a blue shirt, dark blue shorts, socks, desperation and shoes.
Trudge Trudge Trudge. He got back into his rhythm. Tick Tock Left Right drag. DragTickTockLeftRight.
The beats multiplied in his head.
He got nearer to the exquisite creature. Nearer to her slender, twitching hands, which held pruning shears instead of a wand. But they worked magic too.
There were rows of boys and girls sitting in front of her. And they all seemed to be her favorites.
Everyone, except of course, him.
He had to cut through the humiliation being showered at him through every set of eyes. It helped that he didn’t see them. He knew they were there, he knew they were looking at him and relishing his shame, but he had chosen to bubblewrap himself in a cold numbness which made them invisible. A protective sheath of a lie.
They stared nonetheless. Fraternity has the ability to suck away any sense of empathy.
Strength in numbers.
Eat the weak. If not, laugh at them.
His pace remained the same, his gaze aimed at nothing, his skin burning.
She commanded him to walk to her. Nothing was said, or maybe it was and he wasn’t listening. But he had to go.
It hurt to think. It hurt to think because his mind was already occupied with following orders. With following rules. With following regulations.
His mind was occupied with himself. Tiny little him, taking up all the space in his head. All dimensions warped and him being dragged, slowly but surely, by his teeth, by his teeth biting into a shoe, his shoe, the shoe attached to a string, the string attached to a…..
His arms limp, his eyes shut, then open, then shut, his teeth clamped tight on to his dirty, old, torn shoe. His frail body being pulled on the dusty ground, his knees bleeding, his entire body surrendered to…. surrender. He looked up at a sunless ochre sky, his breathing deeper, slower, waiting. He could feel his tears, but they refused to leave his eyes. Maybe he wanted to see the world as a blur.
He couldn’t fight her. She was pulling the string with an ease that masked her strength. Her conical green head moving gently with each pull swap, pull swap of her hands. Hands which no longer had fingers, but disproportionate talons, the same color as her head, as the rest of her body. She swayed with a subtle beauty, no sudden movements. The beat from a far away land seeping into her insectile body. First second, first second, pull swap….
What if I let go? he thought. I could try. Who’s to stop me? I’m the one biting the shoe. Not her. I can let go. It is that easy. She won’t hurt me. On the count of three.
One Two. One Two. One Two. ONE TWO.
Come on Three.
I can breathe.
I can’t breathe.
Where’s my shoe? Where’s my shoe? Give me my shoe.
With all his strength he lunged for it. Arms and legs flailing, his heart racing, his lungs pumping, all in the blink of an eye.
And he caught it.
With his teeth.
A look of relief and a tear.
And suddenly he knew.
I’m doing this. I need the shoe. It’s my fault. . It was always my fault.
The realization dawned in his eyes, outside of his head, in the soulless grey land. He looked down again. And walked, beat by beat, through the assembly line. She was standing there, not moving, waiting, the pressure in her hand making the shears move. The metal glistened in the non-sun. No stain on it yet. It was thirsting for some. Crimson with a hint of innocence.
Suddenly everything seemed to speed up, his heart started to race, along with the beat of the earth. Everyone started to whiz past him. Either his eyes were playing tricks on him or the Witch was being contra zoomed. He stood in front of her. She stared down at him, even more beautiful than he could imagine, her mouth shut tight, her eyes twinkling, her hand twitching. She stared lower, below his knees, his ankles, to his shoes. He followed her gaze. He knew it was time. He looked up slowly, his eyes following her body up to her face. He stared into the green abyss of her eyes, his face expressionless, he lifted his right hand, spread out his fingers in front of her, she didn’t leave his gaze, her hand moved swiftly, the shears even faster.
His eyes shut.
His eyes opened.
The dream vanished
A memory lingered… for just a second.
And then the fire came back.
Molten, black, uncaring, vicious.
Unpublished © 2013 Juhi Pande