Saturday, November 24, 2012

Sidewalk Romance

The hem of the shiny black raw silk dress she wore was frayed and torn. Her eyelids laboured under the weight of the dark paint that she had carefully hurled over them. They made her bloodshot eyeballs appear to be little more than scant red lines interrupting the black blotches surrounding them. Her hair was purposefully disarrayed, and her lips were an unnaturally attractive shade of scarlet.  She was surrounded in an affluent mist of sharp, musky, and distinctly masculine notes of perfume.

She’d carefully removed her diamond studded watch and replaced it with a vintage throwaway timepiece that she threw over her head and shoved into a pocket of her dress, hidden by the marvels of clever fashion design.  She exchanged her black patent leather sandals for frayed and worn black toms. She tossed aside her matching leather bag and grabbed a plain cotton tote with a single French loaf sticking out the top.

It was after all of this painstaking preparation that Carla treated the bored passers-by on the corner of August and 15th to the amusing vision of an evidently impoverished bombshell stepping out of a chauffeured private limousine. She left their imaginations to run wild as she made her way to her destination, visibly bursting with excitement.

As Carla walked down the avenue, the object of her preoccupation slowly came into sight. She’d insisted on being driven past here every single day for several weeks after she had first noticed him, post lunch at a nearby restaurant. He was right there, even today, so many days after- in the same place he’d always been- at the corner of August and 16

As she glanced across at it from her new pedestrian perspective, it occurred to Carla that the corner of August and 16
th was not unique in any way at all, save for his steadfast presence there. It had a couple of trees, a stoplight, and the usual pedestrian traffic that is synonymous with city-life. There was an overflowing garbage can by the pedestrian light, and a little bench by the eatery that Carla had once been to, so long ago. And then Carla’s gaze shifted sharply, and her eyes widened with interest.As she came closer, she saw him clearer: in all his dark, unkempt and ruggedly handsome splendour. He was lean, almost skinny- but it could well have been the slightly oversized shirts paired with the undersized trousers that made him seem that way. He had on a peculiarly discoloured scarf that Carla thought was just charming the first time she saw him. And a voice that was so strong it could just steal your breath away.

The words he used were even stronger than the hoarse, virile voice he said them with.Carla would never forget that moment when their eyes met as she left the restaurant and saw him for the first time. “Fuck you, rich bitch!” He’d screamed. His voice had haunted her thoughts ever since, and a whiff of his sweaty perfume had often stolen into her dreams. She’d never heard anyone speak that way, with such strength and passion in their voice. And she’d never seen as much raw emotion in any of her cocktail dates’ eyes, or seen as much potential strength in any of their manicured hands. She always fantasized about a real man, but she’d never seen one before she saw him.

She had to come back the next day, even if it was just for a fleeting glance through the window as her limo sped past him. She thought she’d be able to forget him, but the feelings just grew stronger and stronger, and she was compelled to come back every day for even the smallest taste of his hypnotising presence.

As her wild fixation on him grew by the day, Carla realized that she absolutely had to get to know him, but she’d never really known where to start until today.

She was right in front of him. He searched her with his eyes, bewilderedly trying to comprehend the familiarity that was rising up in his chest as he drank up as much of Carla’s beauty as he could. He knew those eyes, but he didn’t know the face they were staring back at him from. He saw so many people going past without giving him as much as a glance every day, and so many others who’d look at him with pity and disgust. He could tolerate being ignored, but he hated it when they stared at him like he was a dog with a broken leg. It made him angry, so angry he’d often shout out at them and stare at them with just as much judgement.  Carla’s voice snapped him away from his thoughts.  

“I’m Carla. I found some bread down there; do you want to share it with me?” Carla asked, pointing to her French loaf.

“Sure, yeah, I’m starved… it’s Rob, by the way.”

So Carla sat down by Rob on the sidewalk, gingerly moving aside the “HOMELESS AND HUNGRY” sign, and broke the bread.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Reprise of Jekyll & Hyde OR I Love Someone who is Bipolar

It’s beautiful outside. I woke up sleepy, but there was work to do, and I was happy to do it. 
He came in, spoke gently, smiled and asked- wondered politely if I was okay. I felt warm and comfortable, it seemed like I was wrong. I must have been making the same mistake I always do- maybe it is me, plagued by my first-world problems. Maybe I really don’t see that he’s just human like me, that he’s made mistakes. Maybe I’m not willing to see that he’s changed. 
The other day, it seemed like he hadn’t. 
I’d barely picked up the phone, and I knew it was a bad time. She was flustered, irritated and on edge. She was clearly afraid, and as years of experience have told me, that meant he was angry, like he so often is. As always, I begged her not to hand him the phone, but, as always, she did. 
It took him less than twenty seconds to blow his top. “Ya moron, I asked a simple question. All I want is a simple yes or no, ya prostitute. Shut the fuck up.” It took me less than five to open the floodgates of pain from a lifetime of these outbursts. 
It never goes away. I want itto go, I want to let all of it out, but instead of leaving me, the pain sneaks away into some kind of secret reserve that I don’t even know about…. until he does this, and all the silent frustration explodes on me like a dynamite happy Pandora’s box.  I don’t know how to override the system- I always think I’ve found a way, but I never have. He says it’s against his nature to let go of anything- and I’m often afraid he’s given me that gift in inheritance in this particular regard, although I really would rather do without it.
That night, with everyone gathered at the dining table, I interrupted a conversation I knew I shouldn’t have interrupted. I exposed him, hoping that I’d find support, hoping that someone would save him, and through him, save me. That someone would call his foul, that someone would help him comprehend what he does, help him feel the recieving end of it. But I was the only one infinitely hopeful there, and he’s always had the best poker face. 
She knew all along of course, but she’d never objected. Sometimes I thought she lived vicariously through him, knowing she could never push her weight like he did, she took pleasure in the seeing punishments she couldn’t subject anyone to be handed out by him. She has to pretend to be a victim, but she knows the choices she made and she knows she can’t ever really be one.
It all happened slowly, and by the time I was completely silenced and neglected, it was five am. I crawled into bed, having been duly chastised for being a spoiled brat who took offence to the pressures of violence that my foremothers had embraced and rejoiced in. It was a first world problem and he’d given me a good life. 
He came in, and he was gentle and sweet for now. “I hope you understand that I’m human, I don’t know why you brought it up again… You should put it behind you.” I nodded, I needed to sleep. 
That day was wonderful. After repeating his calm and concerned enquiries from the previous night, he took us shopping. He bought me shoes, I needed shoes. Beautiful shoes that covered my toes and kept me warm and happy. He took my friends to dinner, he laughed and chatted, and then retired to a wonderful friend’s loaned room.  We joked as we walked them to her room, she joked fondly about her father’s incessant correspondences with her, and he laughed. 
So of course I was convinced that I was the problem. He’s changing, I’m not seeing it- this empty feeling in my stomach is just a response from the past. I can get rid of it, I should get rid of it, somehow or the other. 
Another late night working, but I woke up early to go with them to the city. Their flight was soon, I wanted to say bye. It would finally be a good note. 
He smiled and thanked my friend. They drank the orange juice my friend had squeezed for them. We walked over to the station, and it was calm and happy. He took the banana I gave him without a smile. He wasn’t saying that much, but I thought it was because he was tired. We got off the train, and went to get breakfast. 
He smiled at the cashier, and laughed when she told him the cameras were guarding her from the evil of tips. He seemed relaxed. We sat down, and I bit into a piece of fruit, and then it happened. 
He transformed suddenly, just like that. I had barely touched the chilly flesh of my melon to my lips when his face contorted, the hints of red appeared and his nostrils expanded ever so slightly. I’d had so many chances to learn the tell-tale signs. 
I shut down automatically; years of mental programming knew what to do. I tried not to let my brain hear the insults, and I tried not to look into the eyes of anyone around us. Every time I did, their passive pity pinched me. He was shouting loud enough for anyone to hear, but not loud enough to bother them. She just stared, fighting back tears, the perfect victim. 
We finished our meal, and he was still shouting as we walked out of Grand Central. We walked ten blocks, and he continued to shout. Midtowners, working men glanced at him with judgement, women opened their eyes a little wider and stared into mine as if they needed to watch my blinking for a sign. Children knew to avoid us entirely. 

The topics of his yelling were diverse. He’d paid so much money for me, he’d bought me shoes. I haven’t worked an honest day in my whole life, I’m nothing but a whore without any achievements. He kept me like a princess but I don’t even want to give him the benefit of being a human being. How could I have brought the violence up at that table we shared with friends? It’s been a whole month since he’s hit me, it’s in the past. Why didn’t I just keep it there?
We walked into the bank, and he screamed at the teller. She apologized and handed him over to a man, who also apologized, and did his best to send us away from there as soon as he could. I was glad for the moment of deflection, but I knew better than to think it was over. We walked out, and he shouted the same things again. 
He made us stop walking and stand with him on the pavement by a very pretty building. Right next to a security van, ironically. And he shouted even louder. The van driver lay back in his seat, but his furtive glances gave his curiosity away. When my father started screaming about the colors black and brown being different from each other, the van driver turned sharply to stare. I was amused that the word “BLACK” turned him, but not the dozens of  times he’d shouted “WHORE” or “FUCKING PROSTITUTE” right before it. My self-doubt crept back at this moment. Maybe it only bothers me because that’s really who I am on the inside. Maybe we only turn to what really is about us? But no; none of us are black on the inside— we’re all red and pink, or some other colours.  
At some point during the tirade, I began to cry, and he yelled at me about that as well. That was to be expected of course. Some part of me wondered if the tears were even real, or just me subconciously triggering the next part of this play I had seen thousands of time. She was crying too, but you couldn’t really see it behind her sunglasses. She noticed the van driver glaring, and she begged my father to let us move, so we walked down the road, in the general direction of the station, and his hollering came with us. 
It seemed like his anger had a life of its own. It propelled itself without taking any of his energy away, and acted with him as its medium, not its creator. He was always unfazed, even the few times it got so bad that I had to go the hospital, or that I fainted. He was still energetic and not slightly disturbed, in fact, when the anger leaves him, it’s like he’s a different person altogether. But I can never tell if it really leaves him; he does insist on carrying everything around. 
We finally got to the station, and I could insist on escaping to class. Or another country… and then it happened. He was Jekyll again. He said he loved me, and hugged me as if nothing had happened. My insides couldn’t hug him back so I stood there awkwardly and tried to smile as I muttered an obligatory “sorry”. She was whispering to me that he loves me and that I should understand enough to not aggravate him. I just pushed every last word I had to say to both of them down until they weighed my feet down like clogs. I knew that saying anything was pointless, I just needed to leave. 
She was still crying behind her dark glasses when they left, and he was the idyllic Jekyll who laughed with cashiers and had a smile and greeting for anyone who passed by; a “bravo!” and silly face for all the children he saw. I was on the train, letting my heart loose on a telephone call, taking solace in the fact that I could be alone again- glad that this wasn’t one of those times where I was trapped in his house when Hyde didn’t have a deadline.

Friday, May 4, 2012


and cloudless blue skies:
Clich├ęs surround me.

Noon-time showers,
And dreams mellowed-mango
by my eyelids.

Laughing sounds of a twinkling drop
Of cold water next to its friends
And mine, scantily dressed.
(To the sunshine times.)

Yellow warmth,
and ripe mulberries.
A saffron smoothie is the afternoon.

Ice-cream cones,
Falling on sundresses,
Disrobe me coyly.

Drench my toes
in the mock coldness,
I'm on a motion(less) picture-walk
through time and space.  

The Sun-kissed Songbird:
a cocktail so potent,
I’m hazily dancing to a sunny upbeat.

Lemonade sunset,
take my heart with you?
Before all the boys come out to play.

I’ve summersaulted into the golden season again.

Monday, March 26, 2012


Tiny voices sound so big together.
Little faces boast stress lines, hide ulcers, 
And have their growing pains fed by
small disappointments that run into long rivers.

I don’t want to hear another thought that’s slapped down.
People stand up for so much,
They forget about the losses to be found,
And leave the cleaner minds to remember.

Scream to clean filth that’s still only superficial,
Scream to calcify hearts that are still open.

Where are all the happy hearts, the young souls, the fresh starts?

Chasing after old dreams?
Trying to reach dying stars?


Killing ersatz-people for fun?
Wearing breasts to nurse their dolls?

Violence is a child we’ve borne and nurtured.
The quintessential parents:
We blame it on chance and inexperience
That was ours to dispense with.

Which religion will you turn to now?
What hope do you harbor?
If they just have to,
Better take it lying down. 

-Khushboo Shah