The Umbrella: A story by Alpa Arora

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The Umbrella: A story by Alpa Arora

"See the difference between you and me is age. But the similarity is that like you, I am also looking for myself."

The sun was setting far across the end of the world. Soon it would be time for the lights on the other side to shine like faded stars of doom. The city never sleeps. And neither do I.

“How alone is alone?” she thought.

The couple on the other side, dreamily looking towards the sea, giggled, their eyes closing for a moment as they imagined some obscure scene of the mischievous union. On the other side, the joggers jogged, the walkers walked, the dogs shat and the pigeons flew away in a haze of dusty polluted dusk.

I am no one.

I am a countless sweaty heads in a crowd

I am the despair of the rejected tramp.

I am the pride of the zooming night sky

Would something ever happen to bring change? Destruction in a split second of an earthquake, riots, a recognition from a stranger to be shot into praise, a fire clock in the crimson sky falling on me smashing my head in a moment of revolting scandal??? Anything?

“What do we do today … or tomorrow… or for the next 20 years?”

Poems, prose, and couplets from my other life are better left behind. Poetry does not stand a chance in the real world, because the real world, unlike poetry is not beautiful.

It’s the jungle of hyenas, the war of the classes, the ghosts of the unknown, the dance of the dilemmas. And poetry? Poetry was just words. Words, all-powerful, all lies. Nothing captures reality, not even my faulty, irreparable mind.

Bloody thoughts will kill me before my bloody asthma, both choking me to suffocation. The day I die, they will discover worms coming out of my body. Worms of words, worms of thoughts, slimy creepy masters in pink coats, mourning and dancing, making a mockery out of my funeral

And then they will all know.

She sure was full of shit.

I need to talk …to anyone… to anything.

There sat a young man next to her. Strange, she never saw him come sit down. He looked very young, hardly 17.

“What’s the time?” she asked.

He took his cigarette out of his mouth, “Quarter to seven, ma’am.”

Ma’am? Great. Good manners, be damned. Civility - the curse of the middle class.

She laughed, “How did you know I was a ma’am?”

He looked puzzled.

“I said that out of courtesy. You look pretty elderly to me “

She nodded her head.

“Yes, yes I am …elder to you. I’m 41. And you must be 17?”

“Actually almost 18. In my final year now.”

“ Ahh!! And which college, may I ask?”

“Cathedrals, Arts.”

“Oh! I teach at Gloria’s you know.”

“Really? I wanted to join Gloria’s, never got in.”

She fidgeted with her silver earrings and bit her lip.

“So you smoke?” she said

“Yes, well. I am right now. Would you care for one?” he suggested.

“I have my pack. I hate those Army Cuts. Too dry for my taste.”

“Yes, most women don’t like them.”

She lit her cigarette and saw him staring.

“I thought only lonely intellectuals like me sit here and stare at the sea. What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be out with your ‘gang’?” (The word ‘gang’, stressed on with her habit of curling her fingers to show single quotations.)

Damn, trust me to act so fucking old.

“No, ma’am. I don’t have a gang. I am a loner. Hate people.”

That made her smile.

“Ah! A misanthrope? Great. I mean usually, people would consider that bad. But I think it’s great because you are blessed to be damned till you are insane.”

Then she bit her lip. Am I acting insane? Young boy, and here I start talking shit again. He laughed and she could see his eyes crinkle up like a boat at sea, the shape looked lost in the contours of his face.

“I am insane, and I like it that way,” he said.

“You do? So why do you like it? Err… what’s your name?”

“Does it matter?” he replied.

“No, it doesn’t. I will call you ‘boy’ and you can call me ‘ma'am'. We will pretend we are play-acting. You like play-acting?”

“Sure do. What about you ma’am?”

“Sometimes. Sometimes though, the character takes over me. Then I lose myself in it. Like now,” she laughed.

“Yourself? And what is yourself?”

“Ah boy, now that’s a difficult question. See the difference between you and me is age. But the similarity is that like you, I am also looking for myself.”

He stared at her. It made her feel like a young girl again. The same prudishness now almost lost after countless sexual encounters.

“Ma’am, I am not looking for myself. I am not looking for anything.“

She tried to act coy by tilting her head to one side.

“Nothing?“

“No, nothing.”

“But you hardly know what to look for. See, once you become an adult, you will know that we all look for things to cling to, temporary moments of acceptance, things that define us, make us happy, proud …different.”

He moved closer to her. The smell of young sweat. She could imagine a tight clean chest under the black T-shirt.

“And, what if …ma’am… I don’t want to feel proud, young, happy, or any of those other things you mention?”

“Then I would say you are living for nothing.”

He threw the cigarette butt in the water.

“And what’s wrong with that? What are you living for?”

“I think I already told you”, she replied.

“And have you found any of it?” he asked.

“Hmm, not all of it. Sometimes, yes. It comes and goes”.

“And right now? Are you feeling happy, proud or different?”

She paused.

“Do you realize boy, most of your questions begin with an ‘and’, it’s grammatically very wrong.”

“But, it helps in continuity, doesn’t it?”

“Well, maybe. To answer your question, right now I am not feeling happy or proud or different, but I feel involved, active, charged.”

“And yet, five minutes back, you were not feeling any of that. I saw you, looking as empty as the wind in the barrel, which then again is not empty.”

“Yes, five minutes back, I was not charged up,” she replied.

“So, you were feeling nothing? Were you not?”

“No boy, I was feeling bored and angry. That’s what I am trying to tell you. You can’t feel nothing. Nothing is the umbrella that collects all those raindrops.”

“And, if it’s not raining?”

“Then it collects the sunlight.”

“And ma’am, at night?”

“It collects the moonlight.”

“And if there is no moon?”

“It collects the starlight or dust. Listen, what kind of an idiot would open an umbrella at night? Aren’t you becoming too vague?”

“No, ma’am. If there were nothing to collect, then the umbrella wouldn’t be open. There would be no umbrella. I have no umbrella. I have no sunlight, no moonlight, starlight or any of it.”

She sighed. Then she pointed to his lighter.

“Why were you smoking?”

“Because it was there.”

“Not, because you felt like it?”

“No, if I felt like it, it wouldn’t necessarily be there, would it?”

“So, what you are trying to tell me is that you don’t feel like anything?”

“No…of course not. Though at this moment I wouldn’t mind sleeping with you.”

She was startled.

“Boy…boy, are you acting smart with me? Just because I sit here, talking to you, you think you can say whatever you want? You wouldn’t mind?? So, you don’t feel like it?”

He looked at her slyly and whispered in her ear. ”No, I want to because you are here.”

“And, if I wasn’t here?”

“Then I would probably be somewhere else.”

She was quiet now. He tapped her shoulder.

“Don’t tell me you don’t want to?”

She scowled.

“Absolute rubbish. Of course, I don’t want to.”

“Then why were you looking at my neck?”

She stared at him angrily.

“Are you nuts? I never looked at your neck. And yes, even if I did, it does not mean I want to sleep with you!”

“So, you don’t?”

“No, of course not.”

“Then why are you here?”

“Because I was talking to you. And I mean talking, which I guess now, I shouldn’t have.”

“And, why were you talking to me?”

“Because, you bloody immature fool, you are here. And I am here. And we were having a good conversation. Will you stop acting silly?”

“And, yet you were staring at my neck?”

She sighed.” Listen boy…”

He interrupted.

“You probably think it’s dirty. But I just took a bath.”

“No, no. I never said it looked dirty. It looks fine to me.”

“Fine? Is that all?”

She burst out laughing.

“It looks nice. Clean and nice”

“And tasty? “

“Ha, ha. What do you take me to be? Lady Dracula?”

She appeared nervous.

“Ok, damn you, it looks tasty. But I don’t want to lick it or bite it or eat it or any such thing.”

He lit another cigarette.

“But I would like to bite yours. It looks very supple…your skin I mean, very inviting.”

She burst out laughing again.

“Damn, what a day! I have an 18-year-old boy making sexual advances at me.”

He gave a side grin. And slowly, lifted his hand and touched her neck with his finger.

“Yes, it’s very soft.”

She moved back at once.

“What are you trying to do?”

“Seduce you.”

“Why?”

“Because you are there.”

“And, if I go away?”

“Then, there’s nothing I can do.”

She got up to leave and began to put on her shoes.

“You have beautiful feet. I’d like to lick those as well.”

She hurried. “What’s your problem? First, it was my neck, now it’s my feet.”

“Maybe, I have a ‘feet’ish”.

He laughed at his own joke. She got up to leave. She offered her hand to him.

“Goodbye, was nice meeting you.”

He held her hand and gently rubbed it.

“Your hands are cold ma’am. Are you scared of me?”

“No boy let me go.”

He slowly let her hand go. She turned to leave. Then she stood there not moving.

She sighed, said ‘Shit’ and came back to sit.

“Okay, I would like to sleep with you as well.”

He smiled and touched her cheek.

“Why ma’am?”

“Well, because I feel like it.”

“And, if I wasn’t here?”

“Then I would have been bored and angry.”

“So, why do you want to?”

“Because you are here and I am here and we have nothing else to do.”

He laughed.

“Great, now you are talking sense. Where do we go?”

“You can come to my house.”

“Is it cozy?”

“Of course, why do you ask such silly questions? And why do your eyes look so droopy?”

“Oh, nothing, just too much to drink.”

“Good lord! Come on, get up, and let’s go.”

“Another thing ma’am. If you never see me again after this, I hope it will not be a problem?“

“No, why should it be? I don’t want to date you. Ha…Ha. Okay, let’s go “

In the cab, he kissed her eyes, her lips, her neck, and every part of her old unwanted body shone like a brass trophy in a show. Heady from the touch of his hands, she secretly wondered if she could satisfy him. It was obviously not his first time. His mouth tasted like raw grapes, fresh from the breeze in summer, but sour from being too unripe.

When they reached her house, he got out and started walking the other way.

“Boy, boy…where are you going? It’s here…my house.”

He came back and kissed her on the forehead.

“I have to go. I cannot stay here.”

“Why not? You said you wanted to.”

“I never said I wanted to.”

He pushed back the strands of hair from her forehead.

“I said because you are here.”

“Well, I am still here.”

He kissed her hand.

“And, I am not. I can’t leave ‘nothing’. I don’t need your umbrella. I must not ask for the umbrella. The moment I do, I will never learn to let go of it. Goodbye. I honestly wanted to lick that neck of yours. And it was not just because you were there.”

Before she could stop him, he was running away into the shadows of the dark alley. She sighed and smiled. She knew she would never see him again nor even know his name. She sat on her couch in front of the TV to have her dinner.

“It doesn’t matter. I feel nothing.”

***

Alpa Arora is a former journalist with The Times of India, and now the founder of Svaaro, a home-based venture that creates therapeutic and cosmetic products using essential oils. She has been writing poetry and prose for the last 25 years. She lives in Bangalore with her husband and two boys.

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