a short story by Aby Sam Thomas
Indu hobbled along the stony pavement, moving as fast as she could in her broken sandals. There was a cold nip in the New York air; a thin breeze blew Indu’s wavy hair into her face. She cursed under her breath, and angrily pulled back her black tresses, trying hard to tuck them behind her ear.
Why the fuck won’t my hair sit still.
Indu was crying still, her tears causing her deep blue eye make up to smudge and flow down on her fair cheeks; her face now resembled that of a goth club chick. It was a clear night, the moon resplendent in its full glory, moonshine glittering on Indu’s wet cheeks. When she realized she was just a block away from her university campus, she heaved a sigh of relief and leaned against a lamp pole.
God, I need a cigarette.
She was wearing a sea blue dress made of a chiffon-like diaphanous material, loose and free in the wind. She had spent a lot of time earlier in the day on ‘her look’ for the night. Hoops of turquoise bounced from her ears, a perpetual twinkle on her nose from a sapphire nose-ring, a blue amulet dangled carelessly from her neck. Indu knew how to carry herself well, and while the ‘blueness’ could have gone overboard, her subtle handling of the theme allowed her to get away with it. Indu’s masterpiece for the night, however, was the plastic sandals she wore—sandals that would have been exceedingly boring had it not been for the bright, blue plastic orchids emblazoned on the top of them.
And it is one of those bloody plastic flowers that I’m strangling in my left hand.
All the preparation was for a party being hosted by one of the cliques she knew at the college. She secretly hated the cliques for what they represented; however she desperately wanted to be a part of the ‘cool gang’ as well, and therefore, ironically, she had to become like them. She was the kind of person who made up impressions of people pretty easily, and she knew—or thought she knew—the difference between what’s cool and what isn’t. So, when handsome Texan Drew Russell had invited her along for the party, she had jumped with delight in her head. Drew was an interesting guy she had gotten along with, and she had noticed that he knew all the right places and all the right people to hang out with. Being with Drew seemed to be a quick ticket into the gang of cool in this foreign city, and she had readily said yes to be his date for the night.
Fucking Drew Shit-Face Russell.
The party had started out just as the booze arrived, and there was a quick, dramatic change in the atmosphere. The music turned into a trance mode and psychedelic lights began to glow in the dimly lit room. Some people danced holding onto their plastic red cups of booze, some others made out in the corridors due to the lack of rooms, while still others hurled and passed out over each other in the bathrooms. Indu had felt slightly queasy at her surroundings, yet Drew cajoled her and said this is the way Americans partied.
Fucking Drew had gotten it right—Americans may party like that. I still have my Indian citizenship intact.
Indu had guzzled down a mixture of vodka, rum and tequila shots; very soon, she lost track of what exactly she was pouring into her system. Perhaps it was the lights, perhaps it was the sounds, perhaps it was the coolness, perhaps it was Drew—because of one of these, or maybe all of these, Indu lost herself in that crummy room. She was competing to be the hardcore drinker of the room, the Indian chick who could beat the Americans at their own game. Indu easily became the drunken hoot of the room. Drew played along, him no less drunk that she was. It was only when she felt Drew’s clammy hand on parts of her body that she didn’t want touched that she realized how low she had fallen.
And so, I ran.
Somehow—for reasons that are still unclear-in the midst of all that haze in her head, the swirls of cigarette smoke, the nauseating smell of vomit, and the flashing lights, Indu suddenly caught a grip on reality. She was in no way interested in what Drew was intending to do—or what she imagined he was intending to do—it didn’t really matter anyways. She immediately pushed Drew away, shouting out in anger. Even as Drew protested, his speech slurring, Indu had already grabbed hold of her bag and was feeling the walls and the couches to get to the door, her brain somehow focusing itself on the singular idea that she just had to get out. Drew grabbed at her sleeve, ripping it, in a bid to stop her; but Indu had lashed out her arm and knocked Drew down to the ground.
I have a strong arm. Drew didn’t know I was called Bionic Arms in school.
As the groggy party revellers huddled around Drew, Indu didn’t hesitate; she ran to the door, crying deliriously. She shuffled her feet out of the apartment and her fingers jabbed at the elevator buttons desperately. She didn’t know why that fear of being there suddenly manifested itself in her; she simply knew she had to leave to save herself. Once she reached the ground, she had then broken into a run, a straight run in the cold air to the university campus she stayed at. It was in this mad run, slipping several times and falling a few times as well, that her sandals broke, with the right sandal’s centrepiece falling off. Indu had instinctively clutched onto the lolling plastic flower with a ferocity that she didn’t understand.
The library. That’s where I’d have been alone, and safe. From questions. From answers.
She had run straight to the library, as it was the one place she was positively sure that no one would be present there at 9.30 on a night, especially a party night like today. She didn’t want to go back to her hostel and have to face anyone—she just wanted to be alone. She had staggered into the library, and lunged into the nearest ‘A’ section, finding solace seated next to Asimov and Austen. She had sat there, crumbling herself to a ball, crying feverishly. She didn’t know why she was crying—she just knew she had to.
What the hell was Freak doing there!!!
In retrospect, Indu didn’t think it was strange that Raman alias Freak was in the library at that time. If there was anyone who could have been present there, it could only have been Raman. Raman was in most of her classes; but Indu had never really interacted with him; he fitted too much into the stereotypical Indian student mould that it would have been very ‘uncool’ to be associated with him. He had dispassionate eyes hidden behind black-rimmed Woody Allen glasses; a facial beard that bordered at the edge of philosophical and comical; and he was accustomed to dress himself in styles which Indu guessed he had picked up from the latest fashion magazines in trend, but looked horribly wrong on him.
Freak, that blue t-shirt is hideously loud and ludicrous. The checked shirt is something I last saw in Chennai draped to cover a cycle’s handlebars. The jeans you are wearing are a size too large; or if they are low waist jeans, then they are perching on the edge of ridicule.
Raman had heard the sobs, and had come to the section where she was hiding, holding in his hands a dog-eared copy of Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi. “Are you okay?” Raman asked.
Indu fixed her peacock blue strained eyes at Raman and glared as a Kathakali dancer plying his trade. She hissed, “Leave me alone.”
Raman stared at her, keeping his distance from her, almost as if he was confronting a rabid dog. He seemed to make up his mind, placed his book on a shelf, and then took a few steps closer to Indu’s corner. “Indu—let me help you. You look like a frightful mess, and let me at least help you fix yourself up…”
I DO NOT NEED ANY FREAK’S HELP!
Indu shrieked angrily, and struck the tiled floor with her hands. She further retreated into her corner, and pulled her knees so close that they touched her nose. She screeched, slobbering almost, “Just get the hell out of here, you fucking freak! Who the hell do you think you are? You are no Mr Fix It, you can’t fix me, and what the hell do you think I am-a nutcase to be fixed?!? You piece of shit, how dare you…” She paused for breath, her eyes still simmered with tears. Her eyes then fell on her feet and her broken slippers; and she picked up the blue flower, the one that had broken off from her flashy sandals.
She flung the flower at him, and it struck him squarely on the nose.
Indu laughed; a shrill, wicked laugh of madness. “Fix that, Mr Fix It. Bring back the flowers on my feet. And then you can ‘fix me up’.”
Raman just stood there for a while, not understanding. He took a few minutes to stare at her, taking in the images of Indu’s washed out face, her flyaway hair, her ripped sleeve, her trembling arms, her bellowing blue skirt, her dirty toenails encrusted with mud, and the ubiquitous sandals—one stripped bare, the other still having a muddy but resplendent flower nonetheless. He understood her last comment now. Raman picked up the plastic thrown at him, and walked out the door of the library.
Indu wept ferociously. She squeezed herself into a corner, pulled her knees to her face and dipped her face down, closing her eyes. Her shrieking had exhausted her, the alcohol buzz still running high in her system, and she felt strangely rested. It may have been a few minutes later, when Indu suddenly felt something soft on her feet, almost slithering on her toes.
First Freak, and now a snake!?!
She instinctively wiggled her toes, and felt the softness lift away from her feet. She opened her eyes, darting right and left. There was no snake. On her feet, though, were flowers.
They were real, blossoming orchids, beautifully large and wholesome. The petals drawn out, there was even a whiff of a scent that played at Indu’s nostrils. White, orange, purple, yellow, red and blue-her cold white feet were wallowing in a small puddle of colours and fragrances. Raman was holding out a bag directly over her feet, a few flowers still dropping out of it.
“I guess I have fixed the problem of flowers on your feet… now will you…?” Raman didn’t complete the question; he simply stretched out his hand to her.
Indu stared for a moment at Raman, and then the flowers caressing her feet. She clasped Raman’s hands and stood up.