Hosted by Reena at https://reinventionsreena.wordpress.com/2018/01/12/reenas-exploration-challenge-week-20/
COPING UP (SHORT STORY/FICTION)
By Neel Anil Panicker
Salsa, said one. Solo world travel, offered another. Yet another, this one, a well meaning distant Uncle from my long gone mother’s side mooted painting. And this knowing that I had earlier, and that was a good two decades ago, dabbled in Fine Arts. The stark truth was that the closest I had ever come to anything that could even remotely be classified as Fine Arts was to ferociously snatch and tear to pieces the pencil sketches that my twin brother Chirag drew as a seven year old.
Ultimately, I chose teaching. Or, to say it otherwise, teaching chose me. I chose to respond to the newspaper advertisement that called for ‘Fresh Talented Educators’ with aptitude to teach college graduates.
The powers that be called me over, subjected me to a quick fire ten minute interview and a writing test wherein I was tasked to write in under 500 words on ‘LIFE’.
That came easy, especially in knowing what I was going through.
A day later I received a call inviting me to be a part of their ‘Esteemed Faculty’.
The following Monday saw me take the Metro and a hop, skip, and jump later I arrived at the reception desk of ‘Coaching Time’, the number one training institute for students intending to crack the CAT, the annual national online test that helps weed out the winners from the losers and pitchforks the former straight into the comfy comfort of the most elusive IIMs, the gateway to stratospheric successes in their lives.
And that’s exactly how I, Nupur Chawla decided to cope with the tragedy that had come visiting me __ the loss of my only sibling, my twin brother Chirag to cancer.
Three months after Chirag’s death and first working day back after a twelve month break and Day One at Coaching Timre turns out to be lonesome and foreboding.
I greet the lady at the Front Desk, introduce myself, and am responded by a single finger that points towards what is long, forlorn corridor.
I spot the Faculty Room, knock, hear no response, and gingerly step in.
A man’s in a deep sleep, his arms flailing all over the jet black leather sofa, legs dangling on the floor, shoes displaced and at either ends of the otherwise spartan room.
Ignoring him I look around and drop into an empty straight backed chair positioned to the outer wall on one end of it hangs an oblong wooden photo frame inside which scrawled in red paint is the legend “TEACHERS ARE GOD’S GIFT TO MANKIND’.
I notice another man__this one’s seated at the fag end of a long table that’s bolted to the walls___notice me.
He responds with a nod and what I believe is a smile, his best smile that is.
If that was meant to me to lift my spirits, sadly it hasn’t.
My mind’s still in a comatose stage; there’s something inside that’s still not able to connect to the world outside.
My heart’s one deep hollow and I am stationed at the very bottom of it, desperately trying to wriggle my way, but like quicksand falling even further deep into it.
For want of anything else to do I settle down in my chair, extricate Jane Austen from my bag, and pretend to immerse myself into a long past Victorian era but soon I am caught in the bushfire fight between want and need that criss crosses through my battered soul. .
I want to go out and disappear into nothingness but I need to stay here, hang myself in this dreary place for the next eight hours/ I need to do this for my well being, for my sanity, for staying alive.
I lift my head up and spot an overhead drawer lined with books. Buddha smiles benignly at me through the glassed enclosure. I get up and pick him from the shelf.
The next hour or so I learn that pain is a human’s most loyal Man Friday. Accept it nee embrace it and then one day you will it.
I like the concept but then am a bit muddled as to what exactly pain is. I know what it feels though.
It is those hours that I spend gazing at Chirag as he locks arms with me, crinkly eyes, easy smiles, the massive snow white Himalayan peaks forming the perfect backdrop.
It is my fingers running through the still warm acrylic lining of his leather jacket, his favourite, the one that I picked up while returning home from Singapore, just one of many week long trips when life was one big happy event.
After a while I surrender, return Buddha back where he belongs, and extricate my phone.
I surf through the internet; I am greeted with drab headlines__there’s a global downturn, the economy’s going south, there’s crisis in Europe and elsewhere and everywhere, I get to know, two mad men are hell bent on bombing each other out. There’s a world war about to happen. We may all die, screams a notoriously well known talking head.
I give up again and this time open my inbox. I am amazed; didn’t realize I knew so many people, worse still, didn’t know they cared for me.
I flip through the messages that’s all over my social, media accounts.
Short sentences, hybrid lingo, quite a lot Hinglish, the lingua franca through which youthdom makes known their myriad thoughts. There’s images too…smileys, emoticons, stares. Smiles, a lot of teeth baring, They are all there, my gang, the entire paraphernalia of long forgotten school friends, college buddies, last worked workmates, even a few teachers and of course, the family including extended ones comprising uncles, aunts, thrice removed half cousins et al.
I back myself firmly to the wall and pore the messages.
They come in all shapes, sizes, even colors.
Get well soon brave girl, Amazon fighter spirit, aphorisms__ when the going gets tough the tough get going__ also, one which read in caps NO PAIN, NO GAIN.
What’s the gain in losing your dearest possession in this world, your own brother, the twin you grew up with, the one whom God sent fort you to be taken care of, the one who had promised to be with you all your life.
U R 2PP STRNG, BSTRNG, WTH U ALWZ, LTZ MT SN, DNT 4GT.
The last I interpret as ‘Get lost, you wimp, We are too busy having a life, you are already forgotten.’
I hear a knock. Someone’s come. It’s a woman. This one introduces herself as Vandana. Says she’s the Planning Coordinator, whatever that means. Says it’s an emergency. Mumbles something about ‘trouble shooting’. Asks if I am okay to take a class at the North Campus centre.
Says it’s an hour’s journey from here and that if were to say yes I need to start right away.
‘Hope that’s not a hazzle’, she ends, smiling one of those perfectly crafted smiles that I have seen umpteen times on the faces of the heavily bedecked face three layered pan caked super efficient airhostesses ten thousand feet above the air.
Some other day, some other day, I may have ended up saying something else nut not today, not now, definitely not with what I am passing through.
I tell her I am ready and she leaves, and with that I too.
Trouble shooting, yeah. That’s what I am here for. Shooting off others’ troubles. Hope somebody shoots mine too.
The guy in the room that I leave behind is still snoring, the other one, his head buried in a book, the words Quantitative Reasoning hitting my eyes.
I leave the two to their fate and step out, down the winding stairs two floor stairs and out into the searing bitterness of a mid-December coldwave.
The Metro is choc a block at this hour. Even at this hour. Damnt it. This city needs at least ten more Metros, price hikes notwithstanding. The seats are filled in, every conceivable inch. All around me are human body appendages__ arms, legs, heads, all one on top of the other. Quite difficult to tell who owns what body part.
I spot the shaft, the one that leads to the Ladies Only Coach, and move towards it. I am met with opposition. I feel hands move in, bodies flank all around, booted legs twist and turn under me and try to halt my movement. I feel like I am a cornered chicken as wild foxes close in from all sides for the kill. Predators are on the loose. Only this time they are not in the forest but in the city jungle, their lustful eyes shone, they lip smack their way forward, stopping my onward march.
One of the, has shifted gears, and I can feel swarthy hands, probing fingers itching their way around my waist.
I hack my way past the unseen demons as more fingers close in from all sides.
A few reach up and encircle my lower breasts. That’s when I lose it and let my limbs fly, left right and centre. A few of my jabs connect well enough for I hear startled gasps of pain followed by a few agony filled aahs.
This shock treatment seems to have done its job for I suddenly see space around me. I put my feet forward as men around me part as I am the Red Sea.
In this city women are a piece of meat, meant only to satiate the ‘gastronomic’ hunger of sub human sexual predators, to be devoured in whole without permission, as if by right.
I get off the Metro and find the evening sky paler than my current self. It’s North Campus, the five kilometres radial where the twenty somethings of the world converge at, coming from all corners of this vast country, emptying the God forsaken back of beyonds where civilisation has all but failed to knock.
I follow the a bee line of shoulder bag strung boys and after a few minutes invariably find themselves staring at a huge poster strapped inexpertly white washed four story building. The board on the top affirms what I am looking for.
I slowly stride up the dank steps, all 22 of them.
It’s seven and a little more than dark when I step out of the class and hit the streets again. I walk past roadside fast food stalls, past hole in the wall bookshops. Flex boards announce the latest courses, batches and their timings while young boys, barely out of their teens and clutching colourful flyers scream their lungs out imploring the passerby, mostly students to join “Bestest coaching” “Special coaching” and “Buy one get four offers”.
Here, this place, known as ‘India’s Knowledge Mile’, the bastardization of education is complete; knowledge is a mere commodity to be bought and sold, and may the best deals be made.
Am I surprised? Turned on, or turned off by this so in your commodification of what is touted as the noblest of all professions.
I so, I don’t care. Or, at least for now I am beyond caring. All I want is to head back home. Even if home is a rented one room barsati where the roof leaks and water, a dirty red spews out only twice a day, once at four in the morning and the other at three in the afternoon, both, unearthly hours for a single woman, recently divorced and cruelly yanked out of relative by the loss of the one person who could be called family in this unwept city.
An hour later I wriggle up another set of wobbly stairs and turn in the keys to my shack. My fingers move to turn on the lights but then they stop. I turn left and two paces later plonk myself onto the bed. The springs under the mattress creak and that’s about the only sound I hear before I am lost to the dark.
A thing that I read long back was that when life throws square balls at you should smash them for a six. Great lines. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
But for that I need to open my eyes. But for now I am lost to sleep and a million miles away from life’s tragedies and the truth is that I don’t want to wake up ever. Ever? Wait, did I say that?
Well, tomorrow, when I come back to life, back again to living the paradox that is life, I promise I will be strong and willing and a lot more cheerful than I have been today.
Until then, it’s just me and my demons and the dark night ahead.
©neelanilpanicker2018 #fiction #shortstory #2108words #COACHINGTIME #REENA’S EXPLORATIONCHALLENGE#20 #COPINGUP