Monthly Archives: December 2015

Of Shades and Love

-Pink Iguana

He wanted to warn her but he could not put it into words. He had never seen something as horrendous as that. Perversity was almost palpable in that translucent mist. The girl seemed helpless as the intangible force molested her. She didn’t even cry out. It was as if she had to succumb to it. And there he stood, a wimp witnessing the horrific pleasure of that unearthly entity. The girl looked at him with the eyes of an infested soul. The accusation in those eyes was unmistakable – this is your fetish! The punishment was also apparent – so you bear the burden of this infestation! And the girl vanished. But the apparition didn’t.

He had never known such fear in his life. Fear that clasps your heart in an iron grip and promises to never let you go. The despair that follows weighs you down till you fall prostrate to your fear and beg for your deliverance, all the while knowing that it is never going to be granted. The apparition seeped into the girl’s bed. He realized that this was an invitation, an invitation to take the girl’s place. The horror of the prospect and his cowardice drove him to insanity. He started punching the mattress. The phantasm rose. It was feigning fright to mock him. A face formed on the window pane, vaguely resembling the girl with her hair tousled. He heard her voice. She was not crying. These were soft groans.

He willed his fear to dissipate as the groans clogged his mind. They were getting louder. Then he saw a vision getting formed in the mist. It was the girl again. She was on all fours with her torso horizontal. Understanding smacked him. It maddened him to no end. He raised his fist and shattered the window pane in one shot. For a moment, the face and visions disappeared. The groaning and all other noises stopped. A moment of silence passed and the girl’s blood curdling shriek filled the room.

The sheer terror struck unknown chords in his heart. It spurred him into a feral stupor. He started chasing the apparition, overturning chairs, cluttering the floor, banging the door and just when it seemed that the apparition would leave, he woke up.

Sweat drops had formed along his hairline. His shirt was drenched. It gave him a creepy feeling. He should have been glad that he had woken up from the nightmare. But he wasn’t. He wanted a chance to chase away that apparition, a chance to exorcize all his ghosts. What was it that he had not been able to put into words in the dream? He pulled the notepad from the drawer in his bedside table and wrote – spectrophilia. An idea started taking shape inside his mind. He stifled it. No use. Nobody gives a damn. He threw the pen away and forced himself into the yoke of his routine.

 

The office of Phoenix Advert Pvt. Ltd. was plush. It faced the road unabashedly with its glass walls offering an unobstructed view for prying eyes. As Taarank walked into the office, he got a few ‘knowing’ grins. He was late again and yet they all knew that nobody was going to rebuke him for the same. He had an impish grin reserved for these times because he imagined it made him look cool when he flaunted rules without forfeit.

He was the creative director’s man. His indemnity was also a direct result of this. It was a general rumour that the creative director had taken him under her wing because she expected certain favours from Taarank. Personally, he wanted to believe that it was because he was the star performer in her team. However, he could not completely convince himself in this regard. And the rumours weren’t completely baseless. He had gone on official dates with her.

It was in the first month of his recruitment. After the meeting for some contraceptive pills ad, Nalini walked up to him and said, “Taarank, why were you so quiet today? You generally have a lot to offer on every subject. Was it because of the topic of discussion?”

He stuttered, “Um…well, not really. I…I just could not think of anything, you know.” She looked him in the eye, as if she were analyzing the dire consequences of such a statement. And yes, there were dire consequences – “I want you to think about it and meet me today in Barista, the one which is across the road. 10 pm. And there is a lot to talk about on this topic, for advertising purposes obviously. Imagine the… er… possibilities.” As she left, he imagined her winking at him.

Was he just asked on his first ever date? It was then that he started imagining the possibilities. How would he like seeing his grandmother in a frock or a split-to-the-thigh gown? Because Nalini was at least 55! Would she choose a halter neck bikini? Was he a gigolo?

Thankfully, she just wore jeans and t-shirt that day. But on a grimmer note, her advances were not so subtle. Would you like to discuss this in detail at my place? Would you encourage me to use these pills? Would you rather use other contraceptives?

From that day onwards he had always been pretty enthusiastic during the meetings. Naturally, that had not saved him. “You seem to have so many ideas for advertising this product. Why not discuss them at my place?”

Even today, as he prepared to leave his desk, Nalini was already marching towards him. “Taarank, I need to discuss something about this corn flour ad so –”

“Actually, I have to go on a dinner with a friend tonight.”

“And who is this friend?” Nalini enquired. Her tone was sharp.

He wanted to tell her that it was none of her business but thought the better of it. He said, “It’s my childhood friend, Riya. She is in the town so I asked her for a dinner.” It wasn’t a lie. And yes, he was quite eager to see her. She was one of those people who come back from your earliest memories to meet you.

Nalini’s voice showed disappointment, “Whatever. But I see that you are not so focused nowadays.”

Uh-oh. She was gauging his expressions. Before he could answer, she said, “And why were you late today?” Now, this was a first. If there was a layer of ice protecting him from harm’s way, it had thawed. He conjured up some excuses and left the office.

Soon he was too excited to mull over these vexations. He bathed for an hour, applied some gel to his hair, and donned his favourite Gucci shirt and a stylish pair of jeans. He did not want to seem dull. God! How did she look? He had seen Riya some ten years back. She had looked lovely then. But at that time, he didn’t deign to ‘look at’ her. How things change. Now he was desperate for her company. He had checked out a few photographs on Facebook. If she had looked lovely as a teenage girl, she was Aphrodite’s incarnation now.

Riya was already seated at the dinner table when he arrived. He had intentionally delayed his arrival even though he had finished dressing up half an hour ago. Riya greeted him cheerfully, “Hi Taarank. It’s been so long!” and with that she hugged him. He subdued the eagerness of his embrace. “Yes, it has. I am glad to meet you.” he replied.

“Why, you look handsome. I am impressed.”

Taarank suppressed a grin and allowed himself a polite smile and a polite remark, “You look beautiful too. Really good that you were in the town. I was so eager to see my oldest friend.”

Riya moved back a little to look at him as if she were staring at a museum exhibit. “What?” Taarank demanded.

“You haven’t changed Taarank. Why are you always so formal? Anyways, you are right. That silly job of mine has a few perks. You get to see places as a personal secretary of some big company’s boss. But this meeting is not my kind of meeting, you know. I like encounters, not rendezvous –”

Ron-dayvoo. Not ren-day-voo.

“Shut up. This habit of yours is so irritating. You really haven’t changed.”

His plans for future manoeuvres got disrupted when she chided him thus. And from here on, his world started spinning on its head. Nothing went as planned. Had he known the immediate results, he wouldn’t have minded this one bit. But with a little more hindsight, he would have dreaded it.

“Yes that is what they all say.”

“Who?”

“Never mind. Shall we order starters?”

It was a perfectly normal statement but his tone had betrayed him. Riya tuned in to her placating voice, “Hey I didn’t mean it that way. I am sorry if that hurt you. Tell me what’s wrong.” He wasn’t about to start whining in front of her. He shrugged, “Nothing. Just some passing mood. And we must order something first.”

She allowed him to fulfil his wish. Taarank’s reply should have stanched the flow of enquiries. But he knew that she was more obstinate than that. In fact, the investigation continued throughout the dinner.

“You could always tell me if there is something troubling you. We used to share so many secrets, remember?”

“Nothing is wrong with me.”

She continued as if she hadn’t heard, “Of course, it has been a long time. You would think I am not to be trusted any more. Fair enough. Let us engage in small talk. How is your job?” There was no point arguing with her. He answered the direct question. “It’s good. It’s okay, I mean. Pretty boring but then you don’t have to slog out. And then I have this nosy and amorous boss.” She raised an eyebrow at that but didn’t interrupt. “Actually, it is not to my liking, the job I mean. I thought it would be really creative and fun but then you don’t always get what you want. And anyway, I shouldn’t complain. I can live off it quite well.”

She remained silent for a while. Whether that was because she was brooding over his words or because she was chewing, he couldn’t tell. But it looked like she was thinking in earnest. She had this quality. She could make anyone feel important; not by pretending to be obsequious but by showing genuine interest in one’s life. He liked this in her. How very considerate she had always been! Unfortunately, he had never been able to tell her that.

When she spoke thereafter, Taarank knew he would not be able to stop himself from telling her everything. “It appears strange to me that you should say such a thing. It was me who was always like that. Happy go lucky girl. You always had ambitions. Why would you abandon them? And you don’t even seem to be a happy go lucky kind of a guy. You are more like a sad-go-unlucky zombie!” He managed a smile at that. “You always wanted to write, didn’t you? You would be happier as a struggling writer than your amorous boss’ plaything. How come the fire got quenched?”

He was not offended. Yet, the word plaything stung him. He managed a response, “In this mood of yours, one would say you had a better chance at becoming a writer than me. Nobody would read my stuff. Most of them ended up saying, “I don’t understand what you write.” whenever I showed them my compositions. Honestly, even I think it was all nonsensical. I have a better chance at becoming a gigolo than a writer.”

One would think she would soften after that. Instead she was furious. Her arms flailed as she cut through a cohort of imaginary opponents with her words, “What was it that you used to tell me in those days? Yes, I recall. A phoenix has awesome magical powers but that is not why it’s incredible. It is admirable because it will resurrect from its ashes – something which is not magical at all. Why? Because all of us have this ability. I will tell you something. I understand each word of this. If people don’t understand you and tell you that you write shit, you have to try and drill that shit into their thick heads.”

He imagined residual fumes rising from her ebony hair but did not look up. Some etiquette you follow while being reprimanded. However, he had to break this rule when she asked him another question, this time in a subdued tone (he was glad for the fact that they were seated at a corner table because Riya had been quite vociferous, oblivious to the ambience). “Tell me about your boss.”

She seemed resolute. He had to tell her everything, embarrassing though it was. He even told her about Nalini disliking the dinner itself. As he neared the end of his description, even his voice started wavering in humiliation, “…I had never been thus. A few years back, I would have told her to get the hell out of my personal space. I am but a wimp now. I have become used to her favours. It’s disgraceful and …I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about it, please…”

Riya regarded him. It was not the cold and objective kind of observation, something which he was wont to (courtesy Nalini). She was not going to push this matter, he realized. But her inquiry wasn’t done. She came up with a question that surprised him, “Have you dated anyone in the past few years? I am assuming that you don’t have a girl for now.”

Where was this going? And her assumption irked him, more so because it was true. He decided to tell the truth because already he was as mortified as he could be. “No. Not once.”

This didn’t surprise her. He would have liked to tell her that it was because he could not find a girl of his type. This was not the case. He would have tried to make do with any girl had that chance presented itself. Pangs of self-pity shot through him. He squeaked, “Are you done with the questions?” With that he looked down into his plate and gobbled up the last morsels of a flavourless dinner.

Riya called out to him once or twice in a pleading voice but he wouldn’t lift his eyes for fear of tears. They both finished their food in silence. After the dinner, as they were leaving the restaurant, Riya said, “Walk with me.” And so he did.

They chose deserted streets where there were only packs of dogs fighting their territorial feuds; no one to overhear. For a long time, there was no need to eavesdrop. Taarank broke the silence, “Tell me about you. A lot must have happened in these ten years.”

It seemed she was reluctant. However, she did speak up. “I have been doing all kinds of stuff. I was an insurance agent for a while, and then I started a firm in partnership with a friend, a bit of social service and now, I am a personal secretary. I like to move around. I guess I fancy teaching in a way. So perhaps next time, I would be a teacher. Who knows? I might stick to that in the end.”

She paused for a while as if meditating. She said, “I would never have thought that you would lose all hope in this manner. You were quite resilient. All those insults, burdens as a kid and yet you never stopped. For all these years, I have told your story to so many people because I admired you so much. What happened that made you thus?”

“Weathering. I think that’s the word. Nothing drastic but insidious all the same. For some time, you have hope of a better time, and then you start raising questions about your hope because you are doubtful and eventually, you also start answering those questions. The answers are obviously not affirmative. That’s when all initiative vanishes.” As he said this, he realized how very deep he had sunk in despair. Forlorn.

The word persisted in his mind as sadness washed over him. Forlorn. He turned to Riya and said, “Why did you leave me? Why did you ever…” His voice choked. And even he was surprised when he started crying. There was no snivelling but he cried like he had never known what crying was, like he was experiencing the feeling of catharsis for the first time. That is when she took him into her arms in the middle of that deserted street. The stray dogs watched in silence (or in open mouthed wonder), having secured their turf.

She didn’t shush him. Instead she said, “Taarank, take me to your place. I want to spend this night with you.” He got the shock of his life. He fumbled for words, “You mean…spending the night with me as in…”

Her voice was firm. “Yes, I want to sleep with you, if you allow me.”

* * *

He knew the feeling of being bullied. It is not the fear of physical injury alone. What eats you is the shame of being beaten by a fellow student; that feeling of being humiliated in front of all your classmates. You start to think that you would never earn their respect. Most of the times, they are mere spectators, not because all of them enjoy the scene, but because they would not want to be bullied in turn; albeit there are always some who encourage the bully.

He could see a skinny kid being bullied by a burly one. The skinny one was spirited though. He didn’t give up. He kept throwing a punch or two. The bully wanted the victim to accept subordination. “I am stronger than you. Yield or I will beat you.”

The persistence of the skinny kid exasperated the bully. He shoved him. The skinny kid fell in the dirt. Taarank wanted to tell him to save his skin first and then teach the bully a lesson. But he could not utter a word. The bully started stifling the boy with his hands and body. The boy wriggled like a fish but the bully was far too strong.

As time passed, the squirming became less vigorous. The kid was losing a lot more than this fight. Taarank wanted to help. He could have wrenched away the bully who was sprawled upon the boy. But he was powerless. His legs would not move. His voice would not break free. The boy’s hands had stopped moving. His legs were shaking weakly. The skin had gone from bright red to acquiring a deathly pallor. Still Taarank would not do anything. A wimp that he was…

When his conscious mind resumed control, he found his arms entwined with Riya’s. His breathing was heavy. As it gradually returned to normal, he became aware of the softness of her body and the warmth of her flawless skin. Strands of jet black hair fell across her face. Her dusky skin gleamed against the light of the night lamp. One of her arms covered his small of the back and the other was stuck in his ruffled hair. Her broad nose seemed as if it was slightly inflated and he imagined her scolding someone even in her dreams. He swept aside all thoughts of his nightmare and returned to the comfort of her arms and body. She would chase away all his ghosts now that she had returned to his life.

As Riya left his place in the morning, she informed him that she would be leaving in the afternoon next day. One more day, Taarank thought as he entered his office. For the first time in several months, he had reached the office on time. His colleagues were stunned. As he sat at his desk and turned on his laptop, he was greeted with a barrage of surprise emoticon (the one which seems to be gasping while saying OMG!). He had decided to change his ways. He would not tolerate breach of personal space, he would not engage in sycophancy and moreover, he would not accept undue favours from Nalini because they always came at a cost. That meant he had to start going to the office on time.

His demeanour towards Nalini changed drastically and even Nalini observed this. The return gift was also as expected. She became extremely professional in her dealings with him. All this was to his liking. He attributed all this to the return of Riya to his life. She was lady luck personified for him.

When he returned from work that day, he thought he was high on bliss, if that was even possible. Riya was really happy to see the transformation. He was the antithesis of the maudlin person that he had been a day ago. However, Riya became a little distraught when he told her that she was the sole reason for the change in his life. She said, “You must not think thus. I was only an agent to make you realize.”

There was extraordinary passion between them when they made love that night. It seemed as if two teenage lovers were terribly excited about their first escapade. As the night grew old, he still could not contain his passion, but his heart grew heavier. She was leaving the next day. Will they see each other often? Would the ghosts return in her absence?

When she was ready to leave the next morning, he said, “When will I see you again? I have grown extremely fond of you in these two days. What will I do without you?”

To his surprise, she laughed at this. “You are so very much a child, Taarank. Don’t worry. We’ll meet each other and let’s hope it’s quite soon. And then you will tell me about your plans to write.”

* * *

His ancestral house had harboured his childhood. Its chalky whitewashed walls had painted many a shirt when he had sat against them dreaming of worlds beyond cognizance. It was a place where his father’s labours had borne fruit and his aspirations had come true. His mother had delivered him in a small room near the backyard of that house. She had kept her watchful eyes as he grew up and played with his lonely toys in that backyard. When they wanted to send him to a school in the nearby town, he had climbed atop the water tank with the help of a ladder that stood vertically on the rooftop. He did not want to go. The world outside was a hostile place.

Now he was peering from his perch on that water tank. His vision was aligned with the right rail of the ladder. There were voices calling out but he didn’t heed them. Someone was caressing his nape. It felt good. In fact, he did not even want to move. He urged it to go on. Caress me. There was no need to see the face. He assumed it was someone who loved him deeply. Perhaps he already knew who it was. It did not matter. He closed his eyes. He wanted to memorize this cherished touch. After an eternity, he opened his eyes. The vision was blank. The void didn’t bother him. And suddenly, there was a vision of words. They flashed before him out of thin air, shimmered for a second and then he was bolt upright.

It was a beautiful dream, something that cannot be put into words. But he would try. He scribbled a few words on a piece of paper – ladder, caress, blank, vision of words. Above what he had written, there was one word – spectrophilia.

He had already packed his bags the night before. Riya had wanted him to come to her place. She wanted to talk about something but she would not do it on phone. It sounded weird because they had been talking about practically everything on phone from the day she had left. Some of his nights were spent entirely in texting. Still he managed to go to work on time and push ahead his writing plans. Probably she wanted to discuss some serious stuff now that they seemed to be in a relationship. Whatever be the case, he was looking forward to meeting her.

It was a four hour journey by bus. The address given to him was easy to find. Hotel Leprechaun, it said. He wondered why she wanted to meet him in a hotel. Perhaps she was a bit shy and didn’t want neighbours to find out. That was kind of cute.

He knocked on the door of room number 306. It immediately opened. Riya looked kind of messy. Her hair was dishevelled. Her t-shirt said – ‘Turn me on, At your own risk!’ Her jeans looked a bit worn out. Still she looked gorgeous. As soon as Taarank entered the room, she closed the door behind him. Taarank greeted her, “Hi! So good to see you.”

She looked distracted. Her response was late and strained, “Yeah. Thanks for coming.” He was perplexed. Whatever the matter was, it didn’t bode well. The secrecy of the meeting was because the news was grave. Quite a few thoughts started coming to him at once. Were her parents opposed to the relationship? Was she in some kind of danger? Was she pregnant?

Before he could ask her anything, she started speaking. “I haven’t lied to you but I also haven’t been completely honest. I wanted to tell you but you were in such a state that I did not have the heart to tell you the truth. Even now I don’t know how you will react to this news. But I have to tell you this because keeping you in dark is not right. Please do try and forgive me. I will do what you want me to do. I am really very sorry.”

“What are you rattling on about? I have no clue. Why should you want me to forgive you?”

She took some time to answer, as if she were preparing for an onslaught that was going to follow. “When we spent those nights together, I was already in a relationship. And even now I’m in that relationship.”

He felt numb. The first emotion was not anger. It was disbelief. But soon common sense told him that disbelief was not an acceptable emotion. So he allowed himself to go numb. If he couldn’t feel, it would not matter to him. But then did anything matter? Of course not. All of it was a farce. Yes, if his relationship with her was a delusion, all of it was a delusion. No, it was not a nightmare because in nightmares, you can still feel.

Let us analyze. You are a wannabe writer who is stuck in some advertising firm. You don’t have a girlfriend and you have very few people to talk to. Moreover, you are a self-proclaimed escort of your boss. Nobody gives a damn about what you write or think. And there is this girl who would offer some kind words to you and would also allow you to make love to her! Just think of it. Who would care that much for a wannabe wimp? And now she also apologizes for what she has done! You can’t ask for more.

He was still for so long that Riya had to start speaking again. “I didn’t want to hurt you at all. After what I saw in the restaurant that day, I desperately wanted to help you but I could not think of a way. That is when you told me that you have never had a girlfriend and that made me so sad. You needed to trust your own self. So I thought that if I could make you feel desired then it would help. I didn’t think about the future.”

He was devastated. Never had he thought himself more undesirable. She had done it out of pity, almost out of charity. He asked, “You thought of me as … as disposable?” He knew he would always despise himself for saying such a vile thing. The disturbing part was that he was not enraged by this prospect. He felt coldly calculative, as if analyzing the possibilities as an outsider.

She was appalled by the idea itself. And she started sobbing. She flung herself onto the bed in the room and buried her head in the sheets. In spite of himself, he could not see her weeping like that. He went to her and placed a hand upon her shoulders. “I am sorry. I didn’t think before saying.”

Then she turned all of a sudden and screamed, “You fool! I have always admired you. Why would I think of such a thing? It was because I thought of myself as … disposable. I thought you would never want to be in a relationship with a girl like me. I was supposed to be the disposable one!” And then she fell into his arms. He did not know how to comfort her. And above all, who needed to be soothed? This role play seemed absolutely ridiculous. He thought he could at least derive sadistic pleasure from her plight and so he asked her a difficult question, “Have you told your boyfriend?”

She raised her head in alarm. “No I haven’t. Please don’t tell him. I really like him and I have always been loyal to him…apart from this one occasion. Will you tell him? Please don’t. I will do anything you want…”

He had some awful power over her now. He could make her bend to his will. Then he looked at her. Her eyes were not pleading, they were begging. He should have been ecstatic. He began, “I won’t tell him. But –”, her eyes widened at that, “– I want you to be friends with me. The kind of friends that we always were. I thank you because despite everything, you made my life worth living. And I will never stop loving you for that.”

There was no pleasure, only pain of chastity and sacrifice. He had sacrificed what he never had. With those words, he got up and left. He did not even see her in the eye; he was so near to tears. She tried telling him something but he left before he could catch those words. Those words could wait till next time, that is, if he ever met her again.

* * *

How should he fight the limitations of his frail body and weak mind? Will someone lead him back to the precipice? It is always better than falling off.

The ladder was back in its place and so was that water tank. But he was not looking down. He wanted to see the hand that had caressed his nape. It should have been her hand. He was sure of it. Soon he would see the radiance of her aura. Her skin would glow and shame that sun with its shining countenance. Rather than the warmth of her aura, he sensed a coldness caressing his nape. The hand moved to his bare chest. It still seemed pleasant but queer. And then he saw the mist with its dull white glimmer. His body froze. He had accepted the invitation; he had taken the girl’s place a long time back. You can only succumb to it. This was your fetish!

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Filed under Prose

Ten Years Gone

-Loquacious Llama

The blaze of a childhood summer
burns bright through the darkest of days.
It was one such summer, many a year ago,
bereft of easy pastimes by a stern hand
and an irrational fear of spectacles,
I was shoved, bleary-eyed, into the great outdoors.
And, for want of preoccupation, I
scoured the derelict neighborhood,
a lone wraith of boredom.

A dense grove of oleander
caught my wandering eye,
not quite out of place, a trifle overgrown,
something obscured within, perhaps?
Here it was, then, that elusive beast,
Adventure! and I, craning my neck,
double-checked for idle zealots,
pushed through the undergrowth
to find, nestled in the branches,
a rundown little shack, paint peeling,
creaky asbestos ceiling.

I climbed the side mounted stairs,
to peer through the steel netting on the front,
what if there were scorpions? Or snakes?
One can never be too careful.
I know, no Captain Cook, me.
And inside, I saw a polished floor,
four white walls tattooed with lines of red,
lights strung up on the netting,
the smell of ancient buildings,
but not much else of note,
A silent tomb of times passed by.

Striking up dinner conversation,
I mentioned the location, to learn
it was a squash court, a sport whose few patrons,
along with nearly everyone else,
had packed their bags, moved on to greener pastures
leaving only emptiness behind.
I suppose, said my father, that Mr. so-and-so
still has his racquet and ball, he’ll gladly lend them.
Better than sitting around here all day.
I shrugged. Mine was a life of fads, after all.

And so it was that I found myself, the next afternoon,
black rubber ball in pocket,
pushing the jammed door open with my shoulder.
Having read up a quick guide to the game,
I set forth on a voyage of sounds,
the ping of the ball on the racket,
the thwob it struck on the walls and floor,
the soft squeaking of my shoes,
and the visceral delight of repeatedly bashing
something against a wall with all your might,
until it can barely… what?
No, I don’t have any issues, why do you ask?

Many afternoons passed thus,
and I had discovered, after a while,
the zen-like nature to a solo game of squash,
not having to prove anything,
or measure up to any standards,
you fight not the wall, but only yourself,
and get back from it, therefore,
merely what you have put in.
So, if you cease to struggle,
if you find yourself on the court,
you find a flow, a rhythm in you,
and the ball has to touch the ground no more.

Soon, I would lose track of time,
caught up in the flow,
and, when done just right,
watch myself play from the outside,
breaking free of the body,
stepping out of bounds,
an experience like no other,
A closed room where I felt most free.

I began then, to spend all my time
on the court or anticipating when I would be,
playing for an hour, soon two, why not three?
Of course, if I left just after lunch
and returned only for dinner,
and add to that the time I would have
if I rose early, something I’d never done before,
I could play for a dozen odd hours, half a day almost,
and what was to stop me?
When the summer ended, of course,
I had nothing to answer for it
but a palm-full of blisters
and a grossly overpowered right arm.
But looking back, it makes me wonder,
what would it take to love something so much again?

If I had to pick a day not to forget,
one memory to preserve,
from the gray blur in my mind,
it would be that one,
the day I met you.
I’d been doing the ol’ back and forth,
but slipping up more than usual,
feeling eyes stare at the back of my head,
I didn’t turn around, but sure enough,
in the corner of my eye,
someone stood judging.

I said nothing,
if you don’t acknowledge a demon
it has to disappear.
But you didn’t go,
no matter how hard I tried,
to push you out of my mind,
to forget an existence,
it just could not be done.
And yet I played on,
who knows why.

The funny thing about soles is
how they get worn out so quickly,
even on a slippery court.
And though you think you’re flying,
you’re really not.
Gravity’s a bitch like that.
A perfect split
mirrored neatly by the one in my pants.
A burst of merry laughter,
I’d broken the ice, it seemed,
along with three of my vertebrae
What’s that you say? That’s not very funny?
Well, you had to be there, I guess.

Of course, after that,
it was sunshine and daffodils all the way,
And all those games,
each one the same,
and each one quite different.
I’ve forgotten many of them,
but I remember what they were like,
you would lose
and I would lose
and it never mattered.
Even then, I knew,
this was too good to be true,
there had to be a clock ticking down somewhere.
I’m a little paranoid like that.
And, proving me right,
like all good things, you left.

I wandered the streets once more,
but this time I knew what I was looking for,
and yet, past all the empty houses
and the fish-eyed old ladies
with their meaningless directions,
I found nothing.
Not a trace. Into thin air.
Why? Why dangle a bone before a dog,
if you’re only going to chew it up yourself?

And, whining just a little,
I made my way back to the court,
it just wasn’t the same, I knew,
I’d been here before
and I’d been here not.
Taking my rage out on the wall
didn’t help either, it always did before.
Another fad had passed,
and the court was silent once more.

Days passed, weeks flew,
I tried to avoid the oleander trail,
tried to leave that magical place behind.
But, that had to happen someday,
squash just isn’t that lively
as a single-player game.
Then, one crimson evening,
facing my fears
and that of coke-glass lenses,
I dragged my feet back,
reluctant and spiritless.
And who should be there
waiting, racquet in hand.
A mirage? A dream?
Did it matter?

We played quite a different game that day,
paced ourselves out,
calm leisurely swings.
I was at an odd score,
you were at an even,
and we stayed there,
gaining a point, losing another
Me on the left,
you on the right,
moving little but our arms.
A game, I knew, till the end of time,
that is, until I collapsed.

Textbook case of overexertion,
replied the doctor, you really
shouldn’t play too many games of squash
all by yourself, it isn’t healthy.
Get it, he snorted to the blushing nurse,
because he’s a teenager,
and he’s “playing squash” by himself.
But I heard no more,
my eyelids, too heavy, dropped,
and there I was at the court again,
picking up where we left off,
a game that goes on even today.
ping thwob thwob ping thwob ping

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  Androdameia

-Pink Iguana

An Irish law from the year 697 forbids women to be soldiers – which means that women had been soldiers previously. Peoples who over the centuries have recruited female soldiers include Arabs, Berbers, Kurds, Rajputs, Chinese, Filipinos, Maoris, Papuans, Australian aborigines, Micronesians and American Indians. 

There is a wealth of legend about fearsome female warriors from ancient Greece. These tales speak of women warriors from ancient Greece. These tales speak of women who were trained in the arts of war from childhood – in the use of weapons, and how to cope with physical privation. They lived apart from the men and went to war in their own regiments. The tales tell us that they conquered men on the field of battle. Amazons occur in Greek literature in the Iliad of Homer, for example, in 600 B.C. It was the Greeks who coined the term Amazon. The word literally means “without breast”. It is said that in order to facilitate the drawing of a bow, the female’s right breast was removed, either in early childhood or with a red-hot iron after she became an adult. Even though the Greek physicians Hippocrates and Galen are said to have agreed that this operation would enhance the ability to use weapons, it is doubtful whether such operations were actually performed. Herein lies a linguistic riddle – whether the prefix “a-” in Amazon does indeed mean “without”. It has been suggested that it means the opposite – that an Amazon was a woman with especially large breasts. Nor is there a single example in any museum of a drawing, amulet or statue of a woman without her right breast, which should have been a common motif had the legend about breast amputation been based on fact.

An excerpt from The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

 

The obsidian of the spearhead was still red. It was the wooden shaft that was decaying. This should have bothered her. The spear was her proclamation to the world that she was Androdameia, the one who had subdued men. However, only termites had found good use of the spear since it had picked the brains of some Greek general.

She did not care. Now, it lay beside her bed like a relic from her Amazonian past. It would not even chase the shadows, the shadows that had taken to tormenting her whenever she went out; for she had instructed the slaves once not to light her chamber. That was also a while ago. These days she could do without voice. So when the queen came to talk to her the other day, her voice creaked from disuse. Cyrene did not understand much of what she said but the queen was bound by customs.

The queen of Amazons was her daughter. It should have delighted her. It didn’t. She was also a queen once, the queen who had warded off raids by the Doric. It was said of her that she had tamed more men than horses. Unfortunately, the slaves that served her now were too meek to tame.

 

Apollonia was the city for Amazons. It was a symbol of protest; a place eradicated of all phallic injustice, vices propagated by men during centuries of patriarchy. Men were slaves here. If a male child was born to an Amazon, she would relinquish him so that Apollonia could fashion a slave out of him. She would let him live because even though men were a pestilence here, they were a necessary pestilence. If they gave her slaves, they also gave her daughters who would one day become proud and fierce Amazons.

Androdameia, although past her prime, still led her forces into battle. Amazons saw strength as the greatest virtue in their queen, for they worshipped Artemis, the mighty huntress. For them, physical beauty was an illusion created by men to keep women engaged in futile efforts to appease men. To say that Androdameia was not beautiful would be shallowness. Yet, she was certainly not dainty. She had muscular limbs and wide hips. Her facial features were broad. But she had full lips, even if they were a little too thick. And she seldom parted her lips because she didn’t find much cause for mirth or eloquence (or she was afraid to reveal what lay hidden inside). This shallowness would lack depth if her hair were left out, because they were ebony and thick, to the point of being luscious.

However, she was strong and obstinate. And so she was the queen. Never before had she regretted it. Again, never before had her strength been tested like this. This was no battlefield. In front of her, stood a boy of ten. He had a look of impudence. She was told that it had required two Amazons to restrain him. A feral mongrel, Klymene had told her, who now awaited his sentence.

The slave was accused of theivery and violence against his mistress. Theft was an unpardonable crime in Apollonia, again a corruption of the men’s world. It was no wonder that only slaves committed such crimes in Apollonia. If the accused was proven guilty, the sentence was death. Androdameia didn’t have to think much. Slaves were slaves, even if they were ten. And yet…

“What’s your name, slave?” she asked.

“Dion.”

“And why did you steal?”

“I was hungry.”

She was going to condemn the boy to death for being hungry. Dion, she thought, after Dionysus, who is perpetually drenched in festivities with his maenads and satyrs.

“So you could have asked her for food. Why would you steal? And above all, why should you have hurt her?”

“I asked her. She said she was not there to feed my gluttony. I don’t know what a gluttony is so I told her I want it for myself, not my gluttony.”

“And?”

“Of course, she didn’t give me anything. She never does even though her larder is filled. So I sneaked in when she wasn’t watching and ate a sausage. She caught me and went mad. She started beating me. And I was very angry and I am stronger than her, so I hit her back.”

He was strong. Although he was skinny, he would go on to have a muscular build like her, that is, if he were to live. He was looking her in the eye and when she returned his gaze, he did not flinch. His hair were dark. And that look of defiance, god, he mirrored her in every way. It had to be thus. After all, he was her child, her firstborn.

Her vanity had kept her from breaking apart when she had to give him up after nursing him for one year. They had told her it would be impossible for her later on but she was insistent. He was such a small thing. How could she just dispose of him? And so he had stayed. One year among Amazons, nameless (slaves were named by their mistresses) and looked down upon, her firstborn had tickled her maternal instincts. But she was also the queen. Her sisters came before a nameless slave. So she let them take him away. There were no tears, just a few shards of broken Amazonian spirit and a name. A name, Euthymius

Klymene was tapping her foot. She had suffered a few cuts from the scuffle. Lampedo was having trouble keeping Dion at bay. Her eyes searched Androdameia expectantly. They didn’t have any clue what wars her mind was waging. Frustrated, Lampedo pinned Dion down on the floor. Still Androdameia sat quietly. The wreath was heavy upon her brow.

“Is he telling the truth?” she said at last.

Lampedo and Klymene looked at each other. It was Klymene who spoke. “My queen, the slave tells the truth. His mistress told us the same thing. If I may dare, I say, have his head off, in the name of Tethys. He has committed a gruesome crime and its punishment must serve as warning to the other slaves.”

“Shall I punish him for being improperly treated? Tethys has a gentle nature, I hear.” She didn’t mask the irritation in her voice. It startled Klymene.

At that moment, Dion broke free from Lampedo’s arms and punched her in the face. She regained her bearing quickly and slapped Dion hard. Klymene looked at the two with disdain.

A bloodied nose and a reddened cheek. He was right, thought Androdameia. Klymene had a point though. She could not allow this to go unpunished. For years, they had kept Apollonia free from vermin. Strength was the only thing that mattered to Amazons. And this boy lacked the strength of character. She was the protector of her sisters’ rights even if it meant butchering the child that had played at her lap. She was not responsible for his actions. Or was she?

What if she had kept him with herself, taught him values that she taught her daughter? Was it his fault that she had abandoned him? But then it wasn’t her fault either. May be it was. You are Amazon by choice, not by compulsion. She could have chosen not to be an Amazon and be some man’s consort. She could even choose to do that now. No, she could not. She was Androdameia, the Amazon who tamed men.

“Put him to sword unless he can convince me otherwise. Can you?” She desperately wished he could convince her, more than that, convince the other two. The boy lifted his head. She knew that look all too well.

Tears trickled down his face, tears of seething anger and contempt. They did not ask for mercy, they indicted her for injustice. He shook his head once and Lampedo started dragging him away.

Wait Euthymius, she might have said. She remained silent. Perhaps she did not want him to live a slave. He had told her, “Androdameia, this one won’t be a slave.”

 

Slaves must be docile. But Amazons liked the feisty ones too because it meant feisty daughters. The slaves were always at their disposal, but once a year, Amazons travelled abroad. Their ancestors had taught them that it was a way to ensure the health of the tribe. Besides, it was a ritual that they looked forward to. Since Androdameia would not touch a slave, it was also her only chance at giving vent to her pent-up desires.

There was no dearth for hosts to provide them with meat, mead and men. The city that they were visiting now was called Caucasus, a new haunt of Gargarians whom their ancestors had driven out from Amazonian territories. They were hardy men and trustworthy, if not pleasant, hosts. As was the custom, the chieftains of the two tribes would consecrate the tradition with their union.

Eutropia represented Gargarians alright. Built like a battering ram, he could be best described as a clumsy bull. Unlike the Amazons, the Gargarians considered strength in physical terms only and thus, Eutropia fit the bill as their leader.

Androdameia was a little anxious. This was her first time and according to the legends she had heard, mating between chieftains often turned out to be a battle of brawn, each asserting the dominance of the respective tribe. So the first day of the ritual, she went into his chamber prepared to wrestle her way through. Surprisingly, he was gentle with her, gentler than she would have thought possible for a man of his stature.

The ritual lasted seven days. And in these seven days, she enjoyed his company. It was almost as if a part of her that she had exchanged for being an Amazon was returned to her. She did not see him as a slave. She saw someone who could coexist with the Amazons and match them in strength and demeanour. They talked little. He never had much to talk about and Androdameia was not articulate either.

But on the last day of their stay, he surprised her. Perhaps it was the magic of that last night. With the dawn, the revels would be at an end. The Amazons would be gone and for both the tribes, life would be routine again.

With serious concern, he asked her, “Will you turn him into a slave?”

At first she did not grasp the meaning but then it dawned on her. “Why do you think it will be a boy?”

“Let’s just say, it is. Then what?”

“I may not even conceive. What makes you so sure?”

“My seed is strong and it’s been seven nights. Tell me, will you make a slave out of him? I heard that is what they do to boys in your city. You could send him to me. He will be strong and a true Gargarian. I could make a leader out of him.”

“That we cannot do. If it’s a boy, he is meant to serve as a slave. And the mutual agreement between our tribes is that we will respect each other’s laws.”

“But it is always your choice. You are the queen –”

“– which means I have to uphold the laws. The boy will be a slave.”

“I know my blood. He will never be a slave. It will be better if you kill him than let him trudge along with lower men and women. Androdameia, this one won’t be a slave. ”

How much she would have liked to say then – All men and women are equal in Apollonia.

 

“There is a war upon us, mother, and you are the queen.” Cyrene had barged into her chamber.

Androdameia looked up and quipped, “Am I now? Then I suppose you could have waited for permission to enter. In Apollonia I am first a queen to my sisters and then a mother.”

Cyrene blanched. It must be out of anger, she thought. Fear was an unlikely emotion for her. She was her eldest daughter, hot headed and impatient, a fierce warrior and commander of the Amazonian forces.

“So you are, the queen,” she said. “Then why do you not command your forces to battle? These are dire times for us.”

“Yes, yes, they always are, my dear.”

Her mother’s nonchalance irritated Cyrene further. “Is it not your duty to protect your sisters? To guide us?”

“Of course it is. So wage war and plunder the lands of men. Now that I have guided you, you may prepare for war.”

“Is it so easy to send us off for slaughter? Do our lives mean nothing to you? Does my life mean nothing to you?”

“Who said that? I care for you and that is why I say go fight for glory.”

“And what about you mother? What will you do here?”

“Oh don’t worry about me. I will live.”

“I didn’t mean that. I meant that won’t you help us? Make strategies, send reinforcements if we are in trouble…”

“They have taught you well. You will fend for yourself, I have no doubt.”

“They were right all along. I did not believe them but now I do.”

“Who, dear?”

“The ones that told me the queen has gone mad. Ever since that happened. Tell me mother, was that slave so important to you? More important than your living daughters?”

That caught Androdameia’s attention. “He was not a slave. He was your brother.” Her voice was icy. Cyrene flinched once again, but this time out of fear.

Cyrene ventured, unsure, “There are no brothers in Apollonia. Only sisters. Besides he was a petty thief. Vile, as they all are, men.”

“It was my weakness that I gave him to that woman who would not even feed him. I could have done that with you, dear. The results would have been interesting, indeed.”

Ah! That struck a few chords. “Mother! You compare me with a slave!”

“And you call my firstborn a slave in front of me, you fool! A slave is not a slave when he is born. A slave is one by the life he lives, by the death he chooses. And he did not die a slave.”

“He died a criminal!”

“Yes, he did not die a slave. I didn’t let him live as a slave. I killed him…” Androdameia had stopped listening and was ranting as if in a trance. Cyrene felt lonely. Her mother and their queen had lost her mind. She had been a great queen once. Powerful, just and clear headed. Now, she was but a shadow of her former self.

Cyrene turned to leave. The onus was on her then, to fight legions of men at their gates. Just then, her mother called out.

“Cyrene, they taught you well.”

“You told me –”

Androdameia raised a hand. “Be the queen and lead the Amazons. I guess I have had enough.”

 

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