It’s time for the WEP Challenge- the first for me! To read more about it visit here
The door slammed shut behind Chander. Dropping his bag to the ground, he made his way to the hallway. A strong musty odour filled the place. Such a contrast to the scent of fresh pine and hot chocolate at the airport.
Empty homes aren’t the best of things. In fact, they are only things─ cold, frost-bitten and on mute. Chander didn’t bother to turn on the lights. The yellow and green of those fairy lights from the house across the road were enough for him to scan the room.
Plants on the window sill, the huge green chaise in the centre, the ottomans placed precariously under the table and the rocker by the fire place. Every single piece was teeming with Maya’s memories.
He had been careful and had deliberately carried all of her belongings back to Delhi. The jackets, the shoes, her books, the red muffler- stuffed them in a couple of bags and left them at the shanties that crowded the suburbs. Delhi was cold in winters. They would keep someone warm.
But he had forgotten all about the carefully selected upholstery, the drapes, the furniture. Was there anything that was not Maya?
And memories…memories aren’t red mufflers. You don’t get rid of them by giving them away. Or, maybe, they are like red mufflers. Always around your neck. Chander felt his hands caress the scruff of his neck. The red muffler…was it there? He felt trapped, suffocated and rushed to open the huge bay window, his hands fidgeting with the clasps. It took him a while to unbolt and push open the frames.
There was a nip in the air. Christmas in Chicago was always lethal. Freezing and unforgiving. But Chander felt relieved as a gust of cool air brushed his hair. He took in a fair amount of oxygen, breathing deep and slow. Faint music from the neighbourhood made him turn and he noticed a well-lighted room across the road, with figures dancing to orchestra beats. The chill was now pricking at his skin and he touched to see if the muffler was still there. It was gone and the icy wind now made him shiver. He closed the window, nearly toppling the pot on the sill, then walked across to the chaise and sat down, his head resting against its back.
It would still be another week before office started. They had asked him to stay back in Delhi, at least until New Year. Chicago, they had said, would be tough. The season was no time to be alone. But he had wanted to run away… from all the condolences, the remembrances, the prayer services- everything that was about Maya. She was gone. But they wouldn’t let her go. He had hoped to heal in Delhi. But those two months had been so difficult. Scraping his wounds where they hurt most. Was that how you helped someone to deal with loss? Sometimes, love can be strangulating.
Oh, he had been in such a hurry to fly back that the thought of his vacant house hadn’t occurred to him. At least it hadn’t been predominant. Or, he believed he could deal with it. Better than he did in Delhi.
The room had almost plunged into darkness by now. And then, the doorbell rang, breaking Chander’s reverie. He pushed himself to get up, finding his way in the dark, and stopping by the door to turn on the lights. He knew that with the lights on it would be tougher. He could have the lights and close his eyes. Or he could have the lights and look at every single thing ‘in the eye’. Or maybe, keep the eyes open and have the lights too and not look up. The bell rang again.
Chander walked straight to the main door, without turning back. It was the pizza. He had ordered it on his way home. He had to eat. These are the things you must do to live. Mundane, but you must. Eat, sleep, go to work. Walking back to the hallway with the box of pizza in his hands, he contemplated on his choices. He could proceed to the kitchen and eat there or to the bedroom or be back on the chaise. Which place would have less of Maya?
He peeped into the kitchen. Most things were stacked neatly. Maya was very particular. But a ladle lay carelessly on the kitchen slab. Did he just imagine her tender fingers around it? It was funny actually. The ladle that looked so ordinary and boring on another day, was now the ladle that Maya had once held. And it was the ladle that made his eyes swell. No, the kitchen wasn’t the ideal place.
He was back in the hall, on the chaise. The pizza lying still on the table. The lights made everything visible. He would change all of it. Get another set. Move out. Rent another place. He would. He would. The hall was a bad idea.
He picked up the box and whisked out, rushing to the bedroom. There was a dim light that shone through the corridor. Ah! This place was so much better, so unorganized, so unlike Maya. He sat on the rumpled bed, resting his eyes on the floral bed-sheet. Crumpled and disheveled…like her tousled hair. No, no, no. He must crease it out first. That would remind him less of her. Or, this would…maybe.
At least this room didn’t have her scent. Not anymore. The stench of the dampness had wiped out her aroma. This was it. He would lie here until he found another place. He COULD turn on the lights now. There was no Maya here, in this room.
He hit the switch on the bedside and looked up. There, framed on the mantelpiece and soaked in red vermilion, were placed Maya’s footprints…
(Word Count: 976: FCA)
Vermilion Footprints: North India has a tradition whereby when a bride enters the house of the groom, her feet are soaked in red vermilion and her footprints, as she walks into the house are an indicator of the coming of Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth. Sometimes, the footprints are preserved on a sheet of paper.
Updated on 6 Jan,2020- Glad to share that the story here just won the WEP December Challenge..
Check the results here