Short Fiction – The El Pino Ruins


“Do you believe in ghosts?” she asked.

They were sitting on the steps of an old church overlooking the cemetery.

“No, I don’t.” He replied. “Why? Do you?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact I do, but not like those described in books. They don’t exist. It’s just fiction.”

“Are there any other kind of ghosts than those we read about in books, Pia?”

“Of course there are. Real ghosts, they’re everywhere. Just because you don’t see them it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Some people can’t see certain colours but that doesn’t mean those colours don’t exist.” She smiled. “Ghosts don’t haunt graveyards or deserted old buildings. They aren’t transparent and don’t evaporate into the mist. That’s all bullshit.”

Federico looked into her big, hazel eyes and forgot the conversation they were having. He wondered how anyone could be so beautiful that they were able to stop time at will. He remembered the day she’d breezed into his book café wearing a bright floral dress, her hair cascading in lazy spirals down her slim shoulders. She’d stopped near the vine of wild roses at the door and gazed at them for a moment before entering the shop and Federico was certain she carried the fragrance of the flowers with her. For twenty minutes she stayed in the shop, and Federico forgot what straight thinking was like. She seemed friendly and had bought a little basket of cookies and empanadas from the counter. He gave two complimentary slices of fruit cake, something he’d never done before. She thanked him for the gesture. The memory of her voice kept ringing in his ears for days afterwards. He knew she didn’t live there but he’d seen her around town sometimes, walking along the river bank where he went fishing. He’d even spotted her on Sundays among the church goers.

It was the last Sunday of the month in which she’d first visited his café and he was standing outside the church trying to spot her as the congregation emerged. He was watching the sea of people so intently that a tap on his shoulder made him jump.

“Dios mio! You scared the wits out of me.”

“Were you looking for someone?” Her gaze lingered on his face which had turned the colour of beetroot. She giggled like a little girl.

“Oh… no not really. I was just…”

“I’m Pia.” She extended her hand. For a moment Federico stood transfixed by her presence but then, somehow, he managed to speak.

“Federico, but friends call me Rico.” He shook her hand and wished he could hold it forever. Pia also seemed to enjoy the moment.

“Let’s go sit on those steps,” she said, pointing at the secluded stone steps at the side of the church.

Rico allowed himself to be led. He heard his heart beating loudly, and was sure Pia would hear it.

 

Captivated by the natural power of the sierras and the dark brooding woods they’d sat quietly on the stairs watching the sun melt on the hauntingly beautiful mountain peaks.

The loud ringing of the church bells and the musical sound of her voice then brought him out of his reverie. He realized that Pia was talking to him.

“Lo siento. I didn’t hear what you said?”

“I was saying we’re all haunted. Haunted by the things we see, feel and by those that we can’t. Do you know what ghosts are? They are our unmet desires, our fears and longings, unfinished businesses.”

“Unsaid words, deeds not done, our struggles in the intolerant world, they are the pangs of unrequited love, betrayals, unfulfilled dreams,” he added.

“Yes, and also the echoes of the ‘could haves’ and ‘should haves’ among other things. We arrive too late everywhere and we live with heartache. Then we die,” she said.

Rico watched one side of her face glow in the sun’s rays. “You seem to know a lot about these things, and if you are right, then we are all living dead carrying our ghosts on our backs,” he laughed.

“Yes, I do. We all do but seldom find courage to speak about them. Fear and guilt, two things that keep us from doing so,” she smiled even though he could sense a tinge of sadness and annoyance.

“I saw you at the cemetery the other day,” she turned to face him.

“Yes, I go there sometimes to visit my grandfather’s grave.”

“I don’t like these goddamn cemeteries. Fake people laying fake flowers every Sunday on coffins placed in straight lines six feet under. People make sure the dead don’t escape by placing heavy stones on the graves as if they would stop anything from escaping if it wished to.”

He saw the corner of her mouth twitch into a little smile that faded at once.

“But the dead need to be buried somewhere, Pia.” Rico said amused by the girl’s statement. He wasn’t a religious person but the discussion was stimulating and also he didn’t want to let her go… not just yet.

“Yes, in the graveyards. Those open places among the ruins.” She stood up and looked beyond the building. Her gaze stretching on the weathered cliff faces rising dramatically, red poppies, yellow mimosa and wild orchids tempered by the soothing green of ancient olive groves, an occasional splash of pale pink almond blossoms and remnants of  some old buildings that lay scattered on a distant hill. Rico also got up and put his arm around her. She didn’t object.

“Beautiful, isn’t it? I become calm in roaming among those ruins. I didn’t know you loved them too. I often visit the stream that runs beyond it. What a spectacular vintage point,” he said.

“It is surreal to be surrounded by death. I love the footpaths crisscrossing the mountains,” Pia said. Her eyes glinted with joy.

Rico lived for these moments.

“Have you been to the ruins and the old graveyard?” He asked.

“Yes, I have. It’s closer to my pueblo than yours.”

“Yes, I hear your pueblo is very picturesque. I haven’t been there.”

“No? You must come visit us sometime.” She said gathering her packages. “I live with my little brother.”

“And your parents?” Federico asked.

“Let’s not talk about them please.” She shifted uncomfortably and almost stumbled as she climbed down the old broken steps. Rico caught hold of her arm.

“I’m fine.” She said, her voice almost a whisper.

Federico walked her up to the town square from where she boarded the bus to her pueblo. It wasn’t far and usually people walked through the fields during the day. She too did but the darkness had wrapped the mountainside in her shroud early today. He insisted that she take the bus.

The streets were nearly empty. Federico went to the cafe which still had a few customers. He decided to stay there for a while. There wasn’t anyone waiting for him at home and he loved the warm cheerfulness of the place. He made himself a strong brew of coffee and relaxed on his usual chair behind the counter.

Later at home, Rico’s thoughts wandered to Pia. Why hadn’t she wished to talk about her parents? There was a certain sadness, Rico had always felt, behind her gleeful self. He hardly knew anything about her. The few hours he got with her were usually spent talking about books, travels and other things. She was a well informed, intelligent and beautiful woman, someone Rico would have thought of marrying. He wondered how it would be to live with her under the same roof every day, make love to her, do things together. The thought excited him. He decided to go visit her the next day and meet the brother too.

Early in the morning, he left his apprentice in charge of the cafe, packed a basket of cookies, cakes and rolls and set off. It was a bright day so he decided to walk. On the way he plucked some wild flowers knowing how much Pia loved them.

 

It took him more than an hour to reach Pueblo Blanco which appeared to tumble haphazardly from the hillside. Swathes of orange and lemon trees, bougainvillea and jasmine spread cheer all around the farmsteads dotted over the hillsides. The pueblo consisted of a mosaic of old houses, a square, a market with a bar named Alfredo’s, numerous fuentes and a school building which stood out like an eyesore amidst a cubist’s dream. Rico walked down the mossy trail waving at children who waved back at him. Any outsider to them was a tourist visiting the ruins. They smiled and posed for photographs but Rico had no camera so he did not get much attention.

 

After a little search in the pueblo with its whitewashed flat roofed houses, characteristic chimney pots and narrow cobbled streets he spotted the stone cottage with slanted red roof and a cobbled path leading to the front door.  It was at the end of the street and stood out among the terraced clusters of other houses.

 

The tinao was strewn with colourful potted plants overflowing from the edges making a stark contrast. He scanned the place for some activity but the house was quiet. He knocked at the door then knocked again. This time he heard heavy footsteps inside and the door swung open. The young man who stood there could have been written off as Pia’s twin. Slightly confused Rico fumbled for the right words while he peered into the dimly lit interior of house.

 

“What do you want? I don’t have the time to stand here.”

 

“I am looking for Pia. I am a friend from El Pino.”

 

The man had the similar hazel eyes to Pia and they were fixed on him. Rico saw the man’s pupils dilate.

 

Suddenly he pushed Rico back and shouted angrily, “Pia is dead, you hear me?” He was about to shut the door when a female voice interrupted him.

 

“Don’t be rude, Eduardo. He is a friend. Let him in.” Rico heaved a sigh of relief on seeing Pia pull the man aside to make way for him to enter.

 

“What a pleasant surprise, Rico. Welcome to Casa Luna. I am sorry about Eduardo. He is always upset with the world.” Her eyes sparkled as she laughed. Federico felt relieved on seeing her and entered the house.

 

“I have brought this cookie basket and flowers for you.”

 

“They’re lovely. Thank you. Please make yourself comfortable. I’ll be right back.”

 

Rico nodded and settled on a sofa feeling slightly uncomfortable at the fixed gaze of Eduardo who was leaning against the fireplace and staring at him. He looked around the room; it was sparsely furnished and unkempt but certainly looked well lived in. There was a book case along one wall and a side table with a chair near the big window. The heavy curtains blocked the view and he could smell a musty smell coming from them, like wet leaves. A large portrait of two children in their pre-teens hung on one of the walls. He recognised Pia immediately and guessed that the boy must be the brother. “Yeah, that’s us,” Eduardo said in a bored voice. Rico looked at him. He certainly did not look like Pia’s “little brother”. She looked much younger than him.

 

He was about to ask Eduardo about this when Pia entered with a trolley of tea and cookies from the basket he had brought.

 

“We just had almuerzo, Rico. Wish we’d known you were coming. It gets a little boring to eat alone every day. No, Eduardo? “She smiled at him as she made the tea and handed him the cup.

 

“I don’t like strangers especially those who come unannounced.” He said in an angry voice as he walked towards the staircase. For a brief moment he stopped, turned and stared at them then began to climb the stairs which creaked from his weight.

 

“Please don’t mind him. He is unwell, I’m sorry about his behaviour.” Her face seemed to have suddenly aged, Rico thought as he looked into her vacant eyes. He hated to see her sad.

“No problema Pia. I understand. Is he your brother? I thought you said you had a little brother?” Rico asked as he sipped his tea. He noticed that Pia’s cup lay untouched.

“Yes, he’s my brother. He’s a grown up child. His mind is still that of a little boy. That’s the reason he is so flustered and unfriendly most of the time.” Her voice was a whisper as if she was afraid someone would hear. She seemed totally opposite to her useful cheerful self. He felt sorry for her. He shouldn’t have come unannounced and put her in a fix. He took Pia’s hand, pressed it in his. It was cold as ice.

 

“I understand.” He said in a reassuring tone. “Don’t feel bad. I will catch up with you some other time. Need to get back to the cafe. I just visited on a whim.”

 

She lowered her head and nodded.

 

Federico got up and they walked out to the street where they stood facing each other for what seemed like ages. There was a moment of stillness between them. He wanted to take her in his arms and kiss her but the thought of her brother watching from somewhere in the house kept him away. He gave her a quick kiss and left.  When he looked back she was still standing under the cool shadowed Tinao. Rico blew her a kiss, waved and walked out. The door slowly closed behind him as if gently nudged by the wind. He stood looking at the old stone house. The tiles above the windows were chipped and the iron grills looked rusted. The mid day sun threw strange shadows on the walls. Rico stared at them wondering if he saw them move with the passing wind. It all seemed so out of place.

 

He hadn’t gone far on the narrow unpaved path surrounded by hundreds of flowering pots and pillars when a man lazily drinking the local Costa wine with a vendor selling hand woven baskets and Jarapas stopped him.

 

“Hola Señor! Interested in buying the casa. I can get you a good price.” He said chewing on a blade of grass that fluttered at the side of his mouth. The basket-seller didn’t seem to be interested and busied himself rummaging inside his shop.

 

“I am not here to buy the house. The lady who stays there is a friend. She never mentioned that they are selling the place.” Rico was surprised that Pia never told her they were looking for a buyer for the house.

 

The man looked at him for a moment and laughed, “Are you coming straight from Alfredo’s? You don’t look drunk.” He said scanning Rico from head to toe.

 

“The lady of the house is your friend? Hahaha…you got to be kidding. No one lives in that house. It has been vacant for many years maybe from even before we were born. People say the owner, a doctor, was a brute. His wife ran away and left their retarded son and his elder sister in his care. He took to drinking and constantly beat the children. The girl took most of the beating in order to protect the brother and one day the idiota smashed her head on the wall and killed her. The cops took him away and he never returned. The son, a loco, was left to his own devices and some years later they found him dead in the garden…You seem unwell… Are you alright, Señor? You don’t look good. Can I get you something?”

Rico could hear the man’s voice but was struggling to understand. It was a hot day and the sun was bright. A day when tourists and those from nearby cities came to picnic in those parts. The weekly market was abuzz with activity on the other side of pueblo. Without replying Rico rushed back towards the house. He knocked. Once. Twice. And then he started banging the door. And finally his eyes fell on the lock hanging on the door. Rico almost fell back but soon recovered. He got down with a sense of disbelief not really knowing where he was headed, resisting the urge to look back. Lost in the surreal world he dragged his way to the scattered fort ruins and stood there staring at the graves, stone columns and large piles of stones. The remains of a paved floor of a circular hut seemed like a site for prayer rituals for the dead. He felt an unmistakable and unbearable presence of Pia. He sank to the wet mossy ground that smelled of spring flowers and death.

 

*

I ordered another cup of coffee as I listened to Dr. Alejandro. We were sitting inside a small cafe across the city square where the old doctor had asked me to meet him. He’d seen my advertisement in the newspaper for renting a traditional home.

 

“Federico came to me a week after the incident. He was disturbed and needed help. After a few sessions of treatment and a visit to the Casa Luna he slowly began to recover and even started going to the cafe which was run by his apprentice at that time. We met a few times but then both of us became busy with life. A few days ago Rico called me to inform that he was moving to the city and needed my help to find a tenant for the old casa where he had lived after selling off the cafe to his apprentice. Memories of Pia had drawn him to Pueblo Blanco but he’d become very ill soon after moving in and needed to be admitted to a hospital for treatment. He wants someone trustworthy to look after the house in his absence. His house would be ideal for you.”

 

He handed me a slip of paper with a name and address and a frayed business card with his phone number. He added that I could call him at anytime.

 

“Thank you Doctor. I’ll talk to you soon.”

 

“Go safe.”

 

“I will.” With that I picked up my things and left him with his thoughts.

 

It was late in the noon when I reached El Pino. I parked the car near the church and went looking for Rico’s book cafe. No one could give me directions so I decided to walk to Pueblo Blanco to meet him.

 

It was an early winter day but the sun was still warm. There weren’t many people around, just the locals going about their daily business. The mountains, the air, and the wilderness filled me with such contentment I could live here, surely for the rest of my life.

I was in no hurry and reached the pueblo as the afternoon shadows began to lengthen with the onset of evening.

 

Pueblo Blanco was a tapestry of traditional houses and a dilapidated building which looked more modern than the rest of them. A white village as the doctor had said. I looked around for Eduardo’s house but couldn’t spot it. None of the buildings had a red roof. I checked the slip to see if I had lost my way but the dusty signboard near the solitary shop confirmed that I was in the right place.

 

I walked to the shop and looked around. An old man sat slumped on a chair smoking a cigarillo.

 

“We are out of stock.” He said before I could speak.

 

“I don’t need to buy anything. I am looking for Mr. Federico who stays at Casa Luna. It is an old stone building which was owned previously by Señor Eduardo if I am right.”

 

“You are wrong. There isn’t any house by that name nor do I know of any Federico or Eduardo living in this pueblo. You have got the wrong address. The only stone buildings the pueblo has are the ruins over there.” He said, pointing towards the distant hilltop.

 

“That’s strange. My doctor friend gave me this address. He is a friend of the owner and spoke to him a few days back about renting the property.” I handed the slip of paper to the man.

 

“You’ve come to the right place, Señor but I’ve never heard of anyone called Federico or Eduardo and I’ve lived here all my life. Did you say he moved here from El Pino? Maybe you should check with the priest there. He would certainly know. That’s the last bus over there. Don’t miss it.” With that he touched his cap, nodded and went behind the colourful curtain that separated the house from the shop, but he emerged again before I could turn and leave.

 

“I remember my abuelo telling me about an old decaying cottage at the other end of the pueblo. Children called it casa embrujada but that was years ago when I was a child. It is just a pile of stones now.”

 

I muttered a few words of thanks and ran towards the bus. Maybe the man was right about asking the priest. He would certainly know. When I reached the bus I stopped and glanced around the lazy streets of the pueblo. There was no one in sight.

 

When I reached El Pino, the church bore a deserted look and the door to the priest’s home was locked. I decided not to wait and to drive back home. It was getting late and I had to return to the city that very night. While I drove down the winding road my thoughts kept going back to the old doctor, the picture perfect pueblo, the house that did not exist and Federico whom no one seemed to know even in his own town. I hadn’t even able to find the cafe.

It was late when I reached home, but I decided to call Dr. Alejandro- all I got was a busy tone.

 

I was tired so went straight to bed. The strange events of the day were spinning in my head and I wanted it to stop.

 

Next morning I got dressed and decided to call Alejandro again before leaving for work. The phone finally rang after a few tries.

 

“Hola! Alejandro Hospital, how can I help?”

 

“Hello! I am Jim Adams and I need to speak with Doctor Alejandro urgently. I got this number from him.”

 

“You need to speak to whom?”

 

“Doctor Alejandro. I met him yesterday and he told me to contact on this number.”

 

“Estás loco o qué? Doctor Alejandro died years and years ago.”

 

The line went dead.

-*-

Note – The El Pino Ruins first got published in the final edition of Le Zaporogue XVIII by various authors. The short fiction was well received by the readers so I thought of sharing it here too. Thank you for reading. Please leave your views in the comments.

 

                                                                                  ________________

Moonbeams and Sunshine : Chapter 4 Prelude to the psalm of life


Continued from Chapter 3. Tara  

Orgasmic, that’s the first word that came to Tara’s mind when she saw the spectacular view of Pattaya for the first time. The gauzy cloud curtain had lifted and the long stretches of curvy beaches along the bay on the Gulf of Thailand’s east coast took her breath away.

The flight landed on time and a taxi was waiting to take her to Naklua Beach where the 10 writers were given accommodation. She had got an invite from a friend who worked with Luna e Sol Literary Society. The workshop was part of a reading and writing festival. Tara was mainly lured by the star attraction of the fest. Asma Khan the literary diva was going to do a reading and question session on her new novel.  She was one of the most celebrated and controversial authors of her time and Tara worshiped her.

Ron met her at the reception and introduced to two other visiting writers. She was the youngest member of the group. After a sumptuous dinner she retired to her luxurious room facing the picturesque beach. For a long time she stood in the balcony mesmerized by the moonbeams floating upon the waves letting the Zen moment seep into her.

The romantic couples enjoying the night on the beach sent a flush of memories through her. Neither Keshav nor she had called since she left. She wondered if at all this physical separation would ultimately bridge the distances of the hearts.

Mine is the night with all its stars” she whispered and closed her eyes. Sleep was a bridge between despair and hope and she had a long day ahead.

Tara woke up as the first glow of the dawn lit the sky.  Mornings were the best time to commune with the ocean. She witnessed the most electrifying sunrise streaked with colors she never associated with sunrises or sunsets. Wrapped in timeless serenity she stood at the beach in complete silence. Everything ceased to exist around her.

“Every moment is an irreplaceable miracle here. Exquisite and unforgettable” Ron’s voice brought her back to reality.

“The Fest begins at nine. I hate to call it a workshop. Takes all the romance out of it.” He winked.

“I’ll be there.” She gave him a bright smile.

She had attended literary festivals before but never on an international level and the excitement was making her nervous. Sitting under the shades of emerald-green palms writers joined together to celebrate creativity, to encourage new talents and to discuss their works. There was a different kind of intensity and devotion and a special kind of bonding. It almost felt like a spiritual quest to her. These fests provided insights that she couldn’t have found elsewhere. ‘An open platform for all to share their work’ was a fantastic idea and Ron had done a wonderful job.

Asma arrived late in the evening. Tara was in the lobby gazing at the intricate design on the walls when she saw her walk in, elegant, graceful and extremely attractive in her simplicity. Completely unfazed by the turbulence her latest book had caused. Her life was drenched with rumors, hoaxes and that’s what made her real. Asma was a strong woman and the only one who had mastered the art of writing crime noir, cult fiction and her bold take on sexuality always kept her in headlines. Beneath Asma’s sensuous exterior burned a fire that flowed like molten lava in her works. She led a bizarre life. Lived on her terms and strongly voiced her thoughts about social evils that were eating the very foundation of humanity. You could draw life from her words. Awed by her presence Tara watched her till she vanished in the dimly lit corridor. She took a deep breath to calm her unruly heart.

They met at dinner. Ron introduced Asma to the group. Many had met her before and it seemed like a little reunion. She sure was an enigma. Tara kicked herself for being an introvert. Stupefied she watched the animated group from a distance. They were all hustling for attention something she still hadn’t learned. Dinner was a chatty affair and it was only during the coffee session that Asma came to her.

“You are Tara, right? Angel of the evening,”

Tara felt the blood rush to her cheeks. “I admire you a lot, rather worship you.” She finally found her voice.

“I am no goddess sweetheart, it’s women like you who need to be worshiped for their relentless desire to learn and excel. Your passion for writing is very evident in your work. “She smiled warmly.

“No one ever said that to me. Thank you, I would love to be your student.”

“We are all students Tara, learning is an eternal process. We are all here to communicate, to express. Relax, enjoy your stay here. I am around if you need me.”  The warmth brought tears in Tara’s eyes but she managed to keep them buried. Asma patted her cheek and said a quick goodnight.

Brimming with respect and gratitude Tara turned to get another coffee and saw Ron watching her.

“I see, so it was you? What have you told her Ron?” She asked.

“Nothing much but enough to make sure that you get what you came for.” His deep voice tugged at her heart. Ron was around fifty. He had helped her get many assignments in the past and treated her like a daughter. She hugged him gently. Her dark liquid eyes said all that her lips couldn’t

“Sleep well; we have two hectic days ahead. Work by day play by night “, he gave a mischievous smile. She laughed and wished him ‘night.

Tara felt a thousand different sensations as she watched the night sky’s reflection in the ocean.

Asma had called her an evening star. She remembered Blake’s lines.

Thou fair-haired angel of the evening,

Now, whilst the sun rests on the mountains, light

Thy bright torch of love; thy radiant crown

Put on, and smile upon our evening bed

Her eyes caught her own reflection in the mirror and she realized how long it had been since she had seen what her body looked like. She dropped the gown and stood gazing at herself as the cool breeze flirted with her raven hair. She was young, good-looking, intelligent and had an open heart and mind. She had a whole new world to explore. Picking up her gown she went to take a shower. Under the jets of cold water she let all the stress, all the pain wash away. Water always healed her, sort of renewal for her to start afresh. It was the first time in many years she felt complete. Guess it was a good sign. Saturated with prayers and dreams she closed her eyes and murmured

“And if tonight my soul may find her peace
in sleep, and sink in good oblivion,
and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower
then I have been dipped again in God, and new-created.”

-D.H. Lawrence

 It was a prelude to the psalm of life. A time for the heart’s petals to open, time to blossom, to let the breeze carry her fragrance and she was ready.



Wild Flowers – A Story


The graceful butterfly hovered over the most beautiful wild flowers I had ever seen. Mesmerized by the bright colors on its wings my gaze followed the delicate beauty happily fluttering around the unkempt grave in front of me.

It was gorgeous. A silent beauty which had the best of all that the God had ever created. It had  brilliance of the sunbeams, a spot of blue from the sky, shades of brown from the woods around, the delicacy of the morning dew, the black of the mysterious night, the golden-yellow of the autumn leaves, the soothing green of the grass, the red, purple, and orange of the flowers around and the unexplainable colors of millions of sunsets.

The roses wrapped in pink ribbon seemed too artificial in front of what lay ahead of me so I quietly kept them on a grave nearby.

The evening sky was splashed with soft fluffy peachy clouds. The trees were gently swaying with the cool breeze. Usually the place was filled with sounds of hundreds of birds as they prepared for the long dark night ahead but on this particular eve an uncanny silence had descended and was slowly merging with the long Grey shadows on the ground.

I noticed that the butterfly had long left the scene and the little flowers were silently gazing at me.

I sighed and looked at the lone eagle flying high in the vast expanse of the endless sky.

“She lived and died lonesome and friendless.”

The soft frail voice startled me. I quickly turned to find an old woman behind me. It took me only a second to recognize her weathered face. I wanted to hug her but did not move.

“Melisa, I….” My voice failed me as I looked into those deep blue captivating eyes.

She simply waved her hand and said in a whisper,

“Walk, it’s getting dark and cold.”

We started walking silently on the gravelled path that led to the main gate.

One last time I looked over my shoulders and felt a kind of chill go up my spine. The flowers seemed to stare at me with questioning eyes. Everything had become absolutely still. Suddenly there was no breeze.

A feeling of unease began to constrict me. The old woman walked slowly and silently. The silence was becoming deafening now. I wanted her to speak but said nothing

We passed the gate of the cemetery and took the road to the village through the woods.
The path was covered with dry leaves which made an irritating crackling sound under my heavy boots. The birds were not so noisy now and once in while a cricket could be heard. The trees stood like mourners in a line along the path sending shivers in my body. For a moment I thought that I was walking with Melisa’s ghost. As if sensing my thoughts, the old woman turned and smiled but her eyes remained expressionless.

I quickened my pace and she took my hand in her soft wrinkled hand. I instantly felt the warmth. My eyes became moist. I wanted to ask her so many things but my courage failed me.

Finally she spoke.

“She stayed all night under the willow tree beside the river. It was a night unlike ant other. The sky thundered and roared and it rained continually for two days after that. Everything came to a standstill. No one had expected such weather at that time of year. It was if the nature was showing its anger through every thing. High speed winds and cold kept most of us indoors. When I went to her home it was deserted. The broken pieces of glass from the windows were scattered all over and everything was wet soggy and dirty.

I went in search of her and found her lying near the river bank unconscious, wet and burning. I called some passerby and we brought her home. It took a week for life to get back into her. She was too frail to even move but ordered us out of her house in spite of our protests. For days she was locked inside and even with my constant knocking on her door she never answered.

Then one day I found her door open so peeped in to find the house exactly the way we had left it or maybe in worse condition before. The villagers saw her walking listlessly in the woods. Like a mad woman she spent her days and nights in the woods, besides the river, in the fields but hardly in the village. Her clothes had turned to rags and she looked like a beautiful apparition. Kids ran away from her and those very people who had rejoiced in her company never even looked at her once.

She waited with patient faith and silent tears, hoping that one day you would return breaking all barriers of place and pride. But that is past.

Dejected, lonesome, pinning for the man who showed her the dreams of a beautiful life, who weaved her hopes with his with promises of undying love and unending bonds of togetherness, she walked the misty paths. On one evening in fall we found her lifeless body where two of you had parted on that fateful night.”

I had listened to the entire story without interrupting her. I felt numb by a pain which seemed to seep into my bones, flesh and entire being. We were standing at the very spot where I had last seen Helen.

It was very dark and cold. I decided to accept her offer to stay with her for the night. We had an early dinner in silence and then in the emptiness of my room she rose from the mists of my memory,  Beautiful, charming, and so youthful, her laughter ringing in my ears like a thousand unheard melodies.

I tried to stop the avalanche that was steadily rising inside me, the deluge that was ready to break all boundaries. I closed my eyes tightly to brush away the enchanting vision that was taking an overpowering effect on me.

Somewhere between the struggle with the past and the present sleep took over and a calmness enveloped me.

With the first rays of light I quietly unlocked the door and went straight to our meeting place near the river. The place was completely transformed from what I thought it was last night. Hundreds of wild flowers covered the entire length and breadth of the river bank. The only thing unchanged was the willow tree. It seemed to me that it had bent more in last few years and the branches now kissed the ripples with the slightest breeze. Mesmerized I watched the beauty around me. It had a strange resemblance to the grave site and here also the flowers seem to watch me with their dewy eyes, telling the story of her unconditional love and complete devotion.

I sat there with my eyes closed unable to contain the sorrow and the guilt. As the day light began to dance on the shimmering water and voices of the village folks began to rise above the silence I gathered some buds and half-opened flowers and made my way to the little pagan temple of the goddess of love, near the village.

I knelt and broke down in front of the beautiful image of love which was the witness of many of our promises and words of honor. Offering her the fragrant bunch I whispered to her in a trembling voice, “My love has found her morning and is in your arms. The time has long gone when I could repay her for what she gave to me. I offer you my gift of love that was meant for her, I bring to you those flowers that remained as buds while she waited for them to bloom.”

I placed my head at the feet of the goddess and wept.

Now I lie next to my beloved hoping that the butterfly will gently alight on the colorful wild flowers growing upon our graves.

Poem : You are there


The footsteps of your soul

do not echo with mine

you are gone and yet

you are there

in every waking and sleeping moment

of my life.

I see you

in the shadows of my silent thoughts

and in the music of the veiled midnight

when the lonely crecsent moon

wanders in the sky.

In the whisperS of the wind and water

in the songs of the morning birds

in the sparkle of the light

that fills the dew drops

you are there.

In the pain that rises

from the depth of my being

and melts like a melody in my veins

you are there.

You are there

in the dark recesses of my mind

Where your love, still moist and warm,

breaths life into remains of my ravaged self.

you are there in the unspoken words

that hang amidst

the long conversations we had

and in the muted cries of the heart.

You are there in my

deepest yearnings,

my smoldering resentments,

my worries and hopes,

and my secret longings.

When the night plunges into the fiery dawn

and strains the eastern sky

you are there.

In the faint light of the moon,

which limply hangs from the

torn garment of the night sky

you are there.

In the unfamiliar eyes

that read my face and

the story written in them

you are there.

In the Splinters of memories

that dig deep through my soul,

leaving it bloody and bruised

you are there.

You are there in the

gaping spaces of my life

that yearn to be filled.

Tucked away somewhere in the crevices,

tear stained and crumpled, forgotten

like some old love letter

you are there.

I find solace in your being and not being

silence and reciprocation

togetherness and absence

knowing you are nothing but

a fragment of my dreams.

The Tattoo : Fiction


It was a wet afternoon in Mumbai and he was glad that finally he had found a place to call his own. He had found the job in the best tatoo parlour and they were really thrilled at their talented find. Finally he was progressing towards realizing his dream.
The building where he had moved in overlooked the sea and he had the flat on the sixth floor so the view from the balcony was breathtaking.He did not much like flats but there was no option.

As a tatoo artist he needed to do his creative work in peace, without any disturbance and the flat offered just that. He went to the window and looked out. The house next door was beautiful. It was a colonial house with a huge garden and shady trees. He had pleaded to the broker to get him the house but the man had vehemently refused for some reason. He loved to look at the house and wondered why no one stayed there. He could see the cobwebs and disheveled porch and garden and the swing.

The bell rang rather sharply.

“Who could have come at this time, in such weather?” he muttered irritatingly turning down the volume of the T.V.  He had been watching L.A.Ink.  Kat von de was his idol.

He did not know many people except for some clients at the parlour.

He opened the door.

There stood the most beautiful girl he had seen since he landed in the city. There was something in her deep blue eyes that held him captive for a few moments.

” yes? Can I help you ?”

She spoke in a voice that could melt any heart.

” Hi, you are a tattoo artist, right?”

” yes, I am”,  he said thinking someone from the parlor must have recommended him.

” I want to get a tattoo done right now. I don’t have much time.” She said in a velvety voice.

“Now, but I don’t do work from home, you can come to the parlour tomorrow?” She must be really desperate to venture in such weather he thought.

He was not interested but the temptation to spend some time with her was over powering.

“I don’t have much time, please ” she looked pleadingly at him.

” come on in”, he said still perplexed at this beautiful intrusion.

She sat very still as he worked on a multicolored angel on her arm.  Her skin was the color of ivory, soft and glowing. He felt his heartbeat quicken.

She remained silent throughout , gazing at the downpour and the roaring sea outside.

The silence was getting on to his nerves. He wanted to talk to her but did not utter a word.

After two hours of hard work  the tattoo was complete. The colors shone brightly on her smooth skin. She inspected the work with her deep intense eyes and smiled. Handing over the money he had quoted she walked out without a second glance.

He stared at her back till she vanished from his eyes. It seemed like a dream. He pinched himself and again looked at the money, his first earning since he came to Mumbai.

Closing the door his mind drifted again to the girl.

Unbelievable. He thought.

It was getting dark and there was no sign of the rain stopping. He boiled some eggs and made himself a huge mug of coffee.

Next few days were hectic and he hardly had time to relax but somehow his thoughts wandered to the mysterious girl who had visited her that day.

He asked at the parlour if they had sent someone but they had not.

He wondered who had told her about him.

One Sunday he finally got a day off and the Whole day he relaxed, shopped and did some work on his designs. In the evening he went to a pool party and  returned home late.

It was a cool night and the full moon was brilliantly shining in the sky.
He aimlessly wandered to the window and looked out. The house next door was bathed in moonlight. his eyes scanned the unkempt gardens. Something caught his attention. There was someone on the swing. He peered closely and his heart racing. She seemed familiar. It was strange, no one lived there. He checked his watch. It was around 2:30 AM.

Did he drink too much? He wondered. He just had a few drinks.
He brought the binoculars from the closet and adjusted them. His hands began to tremble as he focused on the girl and spotted the Angel tattoo on the ivory skinned bare arm. He removed the binoculars and looked again.

The swing was empty, slowly swaying in the still night.

Mango Dreams : A Poem


Lusty boughs

thick with blossoms

creamy-white profusions

sweeter than perfume

wildly intoxicating…

spring to life.

The Koel sings

somewhere from deep within

green parrots nestle

for close comfort.

Lazily I catch the

glimpses of drifting clouds

and blue sky

the sunlight filters through

the tender green

and makes a pattern of my face.

My hammock sways in tune

with the dancing branches

Mango dreams fill my heart

reminders of childhood joys

the swings, the luscious fruits

licking the dripping juice

flowing along the tiny bare arms.

Climbing and hiding

in the thick foliage

dozing cuddled together

with books upturned on bellies.

And then the days of youth

lying in each others arms

watching the bees gather the nectar

wondering what is more seductive

your love or the mild fragrance drifting

in the air around.

Today again, I sit under your shade

waiting in anticipation of a call

from a love who is far away

I close my eyes and wander down

the memory lane of mango dreams.

Pregnant with the hope of things to be

Your loveliness O mango blossoms

is too much

for this summer evening.

Tainted Love- poem 1


Far away on the horizon

behind the branches of leafless trees

burning crimson evening sky

resembles the color of my face

between the fingers of your hands.

image and poem copyright @tikuli
( I don’t know why I gave this title but it reciprocated with some deeper feeling inside me)

Savitri, Woman of Substance – A Story


The night slowly slipped behind the back stage making way for the dawn that glowed with joy from behind the cloud curtains. The rays of the morning sun started to spread the cheers across the marbled floor of the sky.

Savitri rubbed her eyes and yawned as the sun light brushed on her face. She rose, picked up the broom and cleaned the area near her home. Then she went to the hand pump, drew some water and went about her daily chores like many of us.

She quickly revised all that she had to do before the rush hour. There was drinking water to be filled from the municipal tap before the line went to the other end of the earth. There was a specific time period and if she missed that they would have to drink the dirty hand pump water. Then there was cooking to be done, lunch packed for her little children and husband. She would wakeup the kids in a while and dress them for their school. Savitri made it a point that no matter what the kids will not miss even a day at the school.

I guess most of us did have a similar kind of routine but our daily chores and private moments with family were not for public eye whereas Savitri’s were free for all. She lived on the pavement near our apartment. The posh residential complex meant for the who’s who of the capital. Where people hid their family skeletons into the cupboard, and shoved their dirty linen under beautiful Persian rugs. Savitri’s world was open for scrutiny all the time; she did not have one single private moment of her own.

Savitri’s husband had moved to the capital as a laborer when our apartment foundation was being laid. He was the right hand of the contractor and good in his mason work. Like any other average person who wanted to make good money in the big city, he too nurturing a dream of a “private” home and other luxuries of decent living.

Her village in the interiors of Bihar had no electricity, water or even a road. Shyam lal wandered here and there for one year before a contractor hired him. There was no way he could keep his family with him. Time passed and loneliness of the big city started to take its toll on him. He got his pregnant wife just after a year’s stay in unfriendly city.

Savitri and her husband wandered for many days until they found the construction site of our apartment and made it their home. They now had an envious address in town.

Shyamlal was a mason and spent many days in some or the other construction site but it was not getting him good income to support the growing family. He did odd jobs like cleaning cars or cleaning dishes at parties with the tent house guys he had befriended. Somehow they managed to meet the both ends. Savitri worked as house maid and earned a bit to pitch in, but with an infant in her lap and three more to take care of, it was becoming a bit rough for her to do her bit..

I would often see Savitri’s little family and her open life from my balcony on the fifth floor. Many a times I tried to get the whiff of what was cooking for lunch at her home. She would bathe her children one by one under the broken municipal tap and try to make the new baby sleep amidst traffic fumes, noise and filth.

I would pass her humble dwelling en route to the market and often think about the rigid rules we had at home about cleanliness. I would always be uncomfortable of my clothing when I would glance at the rags hanging on a thin dirty wire near the side wall of our apartment building.

I never stopped at Savitri’s home but smiled once in a while at her or handed some fruits to the children while passing that side. We had developed some silent unheard of bond between us.

One day as I returned home from the market, laden with bags of all shapes and sizes, I heard her shout from behind.

“Madam ji your purse fell off when you crossed my house.” She handed me my wallet with a smile.

I was touched by the honesty and sincerity of this woman. She was poor but not greedy. I mumbled my thanks with a smile and handed her a fifty rupee note. Suddenly the color of her face changed.

“We are poor madam ji but we are not beggars. My husband earns well to feed and keep us. You give eatables to my children that I don’t mind because food is sacred but money…. You are insulting me.” The proud woman said with a hurt in her voice.

I never felt more ashamed in my life than at that moment. A humanitarian lesson came to me from the most unexpected source.

I patted her back and walked silently towards my home. Days passed and I got busy with my new found work. My maid usually went for the local household purchases so my interaction with Savitri became less.

One day the bell rang at the crack of dawn. Half asleep and tired I dragged myself to the door to find Savitri with all her children.

She muttered that she was sorry for disturbing me so early but it was urgent. I became defensive and asked what the urgency was all about. I was sure she wanted money or some other help by telling some sob story.

“We are leaving for the village for good. Me and children” she said.

“Why? Is something wrong and what about Shyamlal?” I asked, curious to know what had hit them to move from the city after such a long time.

She was a woman of few words and in short she explained how her husband had got into bad company and came drunk most of the nights, hit her and created a scene by demanding physical contact when he pleased.

“I have two growing sons and three daughters and if we stay with him it would have a bad influence on them. I want to make my children civilized respectable citizens. I have some savings and I am sure we will be better off without that creep.”

“I don’t want my children to think that a woman is a ball of dung to be kicked around.” she said with pride glowing in her kohl dark eyes. I was dumbstruck. She was not willing to sacrifice her self-pride at any cost. I fell from my own eyes that very moment.

Here was I struggling to keep a dying relationship with a married man and here was a woman who had never set foot even in a local school teaching me what woman’s liberation was all about.

My respect for her grew from that day and I wished her success with her liberated new life. I went ahead and hugged her to her utter surprise. We parted with moist eyes.

I watched her walk away majestically with honor followed by her proud children.

The locality suddenly lost one of her most élite residents. Shyamlal wandered aimlessly for many days in half drunk condition. Maybe he lost his job too. After a few days the locality was cleared of the growing slum near it. The space on the pavement constantly reminded me of humble Savitri and the lesson she taught me before leaving. A lesson, all the years of my élite education could not teach.

Fare thee well : A Poem


Like a phoenix I rise

from the ashes of my dreams

my healing tears silently fall

taking away the pain and hurt

a calmness seeps inside me

like the first summer shower,

I am cleansed and refreshed.

The memories of the lost love

linger in my heart

like a soulful melody

I forgive myself and you

for the mistakes we made

I free us completely

from the unseen chains that

strangled us

It is a new beginning

for a new me

and for you my love

to win some other heart

55 Words : The Twist


Her mobile rang  in the darkness of the cinema hall

The man with her was a lecher.

“What?”

“New party, big money, wants the best”.

“Waiting out side, black Mercedes”.

“On my way.”

Touching up her makeup, she walked to the car and knocked on the tinted window.

Her father’s face made her go weak in the knees.