Short Story in newaesthetic
Short Story published in the online journal ‘newaesthetic‘
This story was also published and selected as the Story of the Month in NDTV-BOOKS section in 2002 or ’03
Vini stood there in the lonesome room staring at the shadows. The sun crisscrossed them at intervals, in a macabre sort of way. A stern reminder of her life as it was now. Only the voices kept her company. She heard them again and again- those oohs and aah’s echoing in her ears.
Sometimes, she nearly tore her hair out. Every time that those hordes had visited them, they took the ritual trip up to their terrace, to gape and gasp at the roses.
It had all started in December 1985.
“Vinitha – vini”, she heard his excited voice calling for her from the driveway. She rushed out to meet him. And there he was, standing by a car of what seemed like roses. For her? Had Vinod missed her so much?
No, they were not for her. They were his new collection- a collection bought cheaply from a bankrupt nursery. They arranged the pots in their little terrace flat in a high- rise in Chembur.
“Vinod do you really believe that you can look after these roses in the smog and dust of Chembur?”
“That is the challenge, honey. If a nursery situated near a highway can breed them, why can’t we look after them? Chembur may be the most polluted suburb in Mumbai, but it still has its roses.” Vinod gave her a meaningful look.
The roses were beautiful. Multicolored hybrids were rare and hardly talked about. The roses became Vinod’s passion. He spent hours with them before office and in the evenings. Vinod started experimenting with strains and developed more hybrids.
They were in all hues. There were the usual pinks and yellows, the strawberry reds. And then there were the more exotic ones; the pinks had a touch of peach, the whites with dabs of royal purple and the gorgeous maroons with a hint of golden yellow. The new strains were jealously guarded in an amateurish greenhouse.
A journalist friend visited them and was so impressed, that the next morning the roses hit the headlines. “Roses in Chembur”- became the cover story of the local dailies. Vinod was a darling of the media and his boss. Visitors started pouring in. The neighbours, the photographers, their friends and strangers who claimed to be members of botanical and nature societies. But the most frequent visitor was Vinod’s boss. He was so impressed that he decided to send Vinod to UK on a study tour of what they jokingly referred to as ‘The English Rose’.
The first trip was a short one. Vinod came back, armed with books, ideas, suggestions and seeds. New varieties, new experiments and more fame. It took up a lot of his time. Vinod became more aloof and absorbed. He soon quit his work and started a botanical research firm.
And he stayed away from Vinitha. Vini grew increasingly lonely.
She tried telling him once – about her loneliness. And Vinod understood. He was sensitive and kind for a while. He spent more time with her for a few days. Then, one day he suggested that she should develop a hobby, like painting. She could paint his roses. His beautiful collection would be an inspiration for her. She was excited at the idea. Her paintings would bring them closer, or so she thought. It did succeed in keeping her busy and happier for a while, though. Her worst times were when he was away on one of his trips. That is when her hobby calmed her and kept him with her, close to her. However, she still missed him.
It finally had to happen. Life must lift itself out of its dreary ennui – like the streaks of colour in the dullest of roses.
Vinod was away in the Swiss Alps, attending a meeting of botanists. As usual she was in the middle of a painting in their terrace-garden. What started out as a fairly cool day soon saw the overpowering heat take charge. Her menthol fags had left a bitter taste, which even the lemonade could not remove. The purples and the maroons of the roses struck her as horribly gross. The blinding sunlight clawed at her head and she soon developed a splitting migraine. She started hearing those voices. Those oohs and aahs – those gaping eyes and gasping mouths. She was reminded of the lonely hours that she had spent waiting for Vinod to come back from the terrace, to come back from the trip, hours spent waiting for Vinod. Her life seemed to have become an interval – a waiting period. Well, she could stand it no more. It was time to claim him back. He couldn’t stay lost forever. And as she lit her last menthol, a perfect idea formed in her mind. The very next moment, before her rational mind stopped her, her hand lit one of the beautiful blooms. She watched the rose disappear in the folds of a powerful red flame, and she moved on to the next and the next…
What a delightful spectacle – each pot now held a tiny flame, moving fast towards it, seeking to extinguish and swallow it. Within minutes, heaps of ash lay collected in their chipped terrace. All in a graveyard like symmetry, two inches from each other.
She locked the terrace door and went inside and then locked herself in. For the next two days, she was simply not there. The milk lay outside the door and the newspaper just collected in a heap. The days passed slowly.
Vinod was to return today, And Vini came back to life. She cooked a grand dinner. She decided it would keep Vinod distracted and would give her time to win him back. He finally arrived with presents, hugs and fond sweet nothings. Her waiting had not been in vain. Vinod had finally returned to her, she thought. The dinner passed off and Vinod was too tired to look at the roses.
The next morning dawned too early. Vinod took the keys from the side table, gave her a peck on the cheek and went to his roses. She had been awake the whole night, but now pretended to be asleep. For ten agonizing minutes, nothing happened. He did not come back. She rose to go to him, and that’s when she heard him. He stormed towards her like a bull towards a red rag. An animal like scream pierced the air.
“Where are they? Where are my roses? What did you do them, you b@@#$.”
She cowered as he caught her by the throat, not even giving her a chance to explain. He would kill her. His murderous eyes said so and his grip got tighter.
Then, suddenly his grip loosened. He let her go. He sat down in his favorite chair and looked out of the window.
He looked up at sky and muttered,
“Look, aren’t they lovely? My roses. They are my roses.”
And that’s how he had been from that day onwards. He would sit by the window and stare up at the Chembur smog, admiring his roses.
But Vini- Vinitha was happy.
Vini had got her Vinod back. He was hers forever.