The Haunting of the Opium Den

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Even smoke reflects the color of debauchery here, in this den. It is neither white nor grey. Nor black like the hearts of its patrons. It is red, as are the walls. The beaded curtains around the booths hide none of the ugliness, but the smoke tries its best, ensuing from each addicted mouth, rolling around limbs braided with other limbs.

There are fragrances in combat with this smoke – oudh, frankincense, rose musk. Heady perfumes adding to the haze – in the den and in our minds – but losing the battle with that which owns this place – opium. In a corner of newbies, even cannabis raises its head like a snake without venom. A child that no one pays attention to. A child frightened, but holding its own, adding its scent to the vulgar mix of luxury bought cheap.

And in a corner, next to a window painted black, on a mattress that was once white, but now dirty with all it’s seen, lay I, in another man’s embrace, his calloused toes tracing my ankle, his hand with its deeply grooved lines pawing at my breast, his stained, burnt mouth nuzzling the skin just below my ear.

My eyes have been dry for so many years, as has been the rest of me. This he doesn’t know yet, for my head is turned away. Not in the unfocused way of the rest, nor in the frigid stance of one unbothered. Nor is it a seductive tilt of my jawline. My head is turned away because beyond the beads, three booths away, I see ghosts. Ghosts so real, of you and I, from a time that’s perished.

Our gazes are so chaste, our smiles like water through glass. I am unable to look away from what I see of myself – my lips unpainted, my innocence untainted. I wish to shatter every pipe in this godforsaken place to preserve the ghosts I see. I believe, so strongly, like religion, that three booths away, you and I still breathe.

I push the man away, as I leap up to part the beaded curtain, each bead carrying within it an inverted flame, a speck of smoke. But with the parting, the illusion breaks, a ripple in still water, and I see nothing three booths away. I see nothing and my eyes remain dry.

I turn back to the man, pull him close, even as his eyes roll around dazedly, and place my mouth on his. The poison of the den hits me yet again. There is only one taste in my mouth. Ashes, ashes, ashes.


Image sources: Shutterstock, GettyImages

On To New Stories | #AtoZReflections

survivor-atoz [2017] v1

“The past is just a story we tell ourselves.”

-Her (2013)

On the 12th of this month, my blog will turn 9 years old. And in the month that just ended was when I had the most fun in all this time. Of course, just like the end of A to Z 2014, I’m hit with a bit of a block following the break in routine, but I’m not cranky like I was back then. The difference is quite plain: back then I wanted to write something, anything, to get back into the game. This time, I don’t care if I don’t ever write another word again. (Maybe that’s an exaggeration).

This was a story I knew I’ll write someday – “someday” being the right place and the right time. When I signed up for the challenge, I can’t say I was in the right place. I did not even remain in the same place as the series progressed. I wrote Valentine’s Day well in advance, and I wrote it from a place of anger; a part of Like A Stone was written last year from a place of resignation (although it had a different title then); New Day was written one afternoon four days before it went live from a place of… I can’t put a word on it, but it is my personal favorite on the blog right now (overtaking past favorites – Of Regrets In Love and Forbidden); Funeral was written from a place of writer’s block (it’s the post I like the least in the series) and a need to promote that beautiful song that no one seems to have heard of (Band of Horses should hire me for PR activities).

That said, the story I set out to write isn’t the one I wrote. The narrative is spread over a few years, which I squeezed into 26 posts, writing only what was necessary, in keeping with the minimalist technique. No frills, no elaborate scene-setting, no vivid scenery (although, I’ve taken some liberties). Originally I intended to link the posts in sequence, an idea that I dropped when I reached Demons and realized, though unplanned, the last lines of the posts were connected, and alphabetical is the real order in which this haphazard mess was supposed to be read. (It did not work that way for all posts, but still).

All of it has been a great learning experience for me, on writing, on relationships, on heartbreaks. It’s even strengthened my belief in the fact that people never really change – their masks simply fall off. There were multiple times when I almost withdrew from the challenge. The day after the 14th post went live, there was a moment when I nearly trashed all the posts. But now, at the end of it, I’m glad I persisted.

In 2014, I don’t remember visiting or discovering new blogs during A to Z – I stuck to my small circle. This year, I discovered so many wonderful blogs, along with the ones I’ve always followed. That is the true purpose of a blog hop, as I now see. That sense of community, it’s new to me. I’ve even set aside a few blogs to binge read at a later date, ones I couldn’t catch up on during the month.

When Zombie went live, I felt a tinge of sadness. Ending this story felt like saying goodbye to an old friend. In a way, that’s exactly what it was. As I mentioned in my post about The Shining, the idea for a story is different from the inspiration. I got the idea from these recurring nightmares I used to have a couple of years ago about a badly wrecked car. The inspiration – well, now that’s something else altogether. Writing it all down has helped me put that nightmare to bed. Or so I hope.

It’s been a great month, everybody! Thank you for all your support!

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming 🙂

“A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer. But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar.”

-Stephen King

Zombie | #AtoZChallenge

You are recounting more tales of your philandering. I stop listening after story number three. You are oblivious to the fact that I am hurting. That I still think of you and me as us, in spite of what I did, and in spite of all the evidence to the contrary you’re serving, story by story. Are you being deliberately hurtful, or just painfully insensitive?

*

It was our first official date. We were still tiptoeing around each other, like it was a dance, anticipating the other’s move, responding accordingly. At one point, you turned away. I leaned back, slightly tipsy, and I touched your elbow. And just like I knew you would, you kissed me. That was our first kiss.

*

After our first fight, we couldn’t stay angry at each other.  We kept apologizing, the argument then turning to how it was not the other person’s fault. Then we laughed with relief and fell silent. Until, we were both conscious of how heavy it was. It doesn’t matter if it was you who leaned in first or I. But I think of that too as a first kiss – a second first kiss.

*

It is different now. I’ve stopped listening, but I’m searching. Searching for a sign of that love in your eyes. I find a graveyard there – dead love, dead dreams. The words were yours; the crown of glory you were placing on your head with these shallow tales was yours. But the life, the joy you pretended to have was not.

We decide to take a walk. Through the old lanes, where each corner held something of us, the place I refused to return to after what happened. You point out familiar landmarks, as the fallen leaves get crushed under my shoes. We reach the spot where you park your car and I look in; there’s a flask on the dashboard. You’ve changed the brand of car freshener you use. I don’t know what your car smells like now. The passenger seat will always be filled by someone who isn’t me.

You ask if I have to leave in a tone that suggests you want me to stay.

I look up, taken aback, gauging the amount of sincerity in your question, and finding none. You misread my silence, and lean in before I can stop you. I realize even in that moment how forced it felt from your part, like you were fulfilling something. But I don’t realize it until you move away that I didn’t return your kiss. I don’t realize it until then that only half of me is present, the rest is numb.

Maybe we did this to each other. And maybe there won’t be any more first kisses for us. Because this feels like the last one.

 


 

Hi everyone! This is the last installment of the minimalist fiction project I’ve been working on all this month during the #AtoZChallenge. The story was shared in snippets, and the events occurred non-sequentially. I’m grateful to you for staying with me from A to Z. If you’ve missed any posts, you can find them all here

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You Before Me | #AtoZChallenge

Carefree – that’s how you looked in that photograph, the one from your younger days. Over-excited and at ease. Cocky even, as if the future didn’t exist. As if anything aside from that moment, before or after, didn’t exist.

Until I saw that photograph, whoever you were before me wasn’t wholly real to me. A shadow or a ghost that I didn’t know well. The photograph gave form to that shadow. It filled it out.

When you told me that you’d like me to meet your friends – the ones you pointed out to me – the paper suddenly loomed in front of me like a mountain I was daunted by. Who were these people who knew a side of you without me? What yardstick will I be measured against? Who will I fail in comparison to? Those were my first thoughts, thoughts that I didn’t share with you.

Then later, as we gossiped about coworkers, my eyelids slowly began to droop; your fingers rhythmically stroking my hair reassured me that the past couldn’t hurt me. If I said, “I am,” it also meant “You are,” if I rearranged the letters a certain way – a little puzzle whose logic only I understood. It meant that, to us, only the present mattered.

If there was a you before me, it was someone I don’t know. But who you are is who I am.


Hi everyone! I’m working on a minimalist fiction project for this year’s #AtoZChallenge. The story will be shared in snippets, and the events occur non-sequentially. It is for the reader to interpret and form the “whole”. You can read all the posts here. Join me, and do share links to your AtoZ posts as well!

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XIX | #AtoZChallenge

It was impossible to ignore the grace with which she danced. Later that evening, we sat together and compared our music playlists, and talked about the songs we both loved, which were many. But the dance or the music isn’t why she had caught my attention.

She had three scars on her arm, just below her wrist. Possibly from a history of being a cutter. You know who else had marks exactly like that? Of course you do.

*

Did you know that you laughed in two different ways – one, short, harsh, rough, like a bark, if you were tolerating someone, if they weren’t particularly funny but you wanted to indulge them nevertheless; and another – intimate, soft, a laugh that embraced the person it was directed at. 

Having been on the receiving end of both, I had an inkling of what she meant to you when the tone you used with her was the tone you once used with me, and you laughed with her in that gentle way. It wasn’t that she called you at eight in the morning that ticked me off. It wasn’t even the tone or laughter. It wasn’t the number of minutes you spoke. It wasn’t that one kiss you gave her over the phone, that you tried to brush aside as a joke because you knew I was listening. It wasn’t the three completely random facts about her you told me to avoid answering my one question about who she was to you. 

It was the one question that she asked you, and while I only heard your end of the conversation, I knew right at that moment that there was more to the story than you wanted me to know. 

I thought of all the friends I’d had over the years. None of them ever cared about whether or not I had breakfast, and if yes, what I had. The right to ask that question is a privilege we give to few. When she asked you, I realized the lies had probably begun a long time before I even noticed.

*

The dancer I met had scars that reminded me of her. When I looked closely, she even looked quite a bit like her – the same jet black hair, the same height. And each time a song came on that made the two of us squeal in joy, I wondered if she had been with you on the night you died.


Hi everyone! I’m working on a minimalist fiction project for this year’s #AtoZChallenge. The story will be shared in snippets, and the events occur non-sequentially. It is for the reader to interpret and form the “whole”. You can read all the posts here. Join me, and do share links to your AtoZ posts as well!

X

PS: The numbers in bold add up to 19 (XIX). Also, the first line of the song is: This song is not for the living | This song is for the dead.

Walking After You | #AtoZChallenge

It may have been because I told you so much about myself in my drunken haze the other night that I was making extra effort not to get personal over the conversations we had afterwards. Even over the texts we exchanged on Friday nights. It had become a habit now – you’d text me on Fridays and we’d talk late into the night about things that didn’t matter.

Tonight, among all those inconsequential topics, you slipped in one of consequence. I didn’t press, I didn’t ask you to clarify if you meant what I thought you meant, but I understood.

Do you know the story about the boy who, as he waited for the bus one afternoon, found himself thinking about a girl he knew? She walked right into his thoughts, on nimble toes when he was not looking. As the days passed, he began to wonder what she would think about the things he liked, if she would approve of them. He wanted her opinion about little things, yet he never asked her. He held himself back. Then he found himself thinking about her at the quiet hour of 3 am. Even the lethargic hour of 3 pm.

I read that story a while ago, but it reminded me of our Friday nights, of how you first began that tradition. I pictured you as the boy and laughed it off. Where did that thought come from, I wondered then.

Now I knew.

 

It was around 8.30 in the evening and I blurted out the first thing I could think of. “Can we meet?”


 

Hi everyone! I’m working on a minimalist fiction project for this year’s #AtoZChallenge. The story will be shared in snippets, and the events occur non-sequentially. It is for the reader to interpret and form the “whole”. You can read all the posts here. Join me, and do share links to your AtoZ posts as well!

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Valentine’s Day | #AtoZChallenge

The driver sucks in his breath. Next to me, Sara gasps out loud.

At this late hour, the lights aren’t as bright, the street is awash in dim gold. We were heading home after one of those black-themed parties on St. Valentine’s Day.

“What is it?” I ask.

“A car,” she says, “Upturned. It’s in terrible shape.”

I turn around, almost perfunctorily. I don’t see the car. Perhaps the darkness rose around it like a shroud to shield it from my view. But I know. I know which car it is, the model, the make, the color. I know what the number plate reads.

With you, it’s like instinct. A kind of telepathy.
With you I always knew. With you, there were no unexpected surprises, no news out of the blue.

When you told me you had fallen for me, I knew.
Whenever you told me you loved me, I said I knew.
When I left, you came back as I knew you would.
When you lied to me the first time, I knew. And the subsequent times as well.

Even when you ignored me the first time we met, I knew. 

With you, I always knew. And I know tonight as well. The darkness needn’t have bothered.


 

Hi everyone! I’m working on a minimalist fiction project for this year’s #AtoZChallenge. The story will be shared in snippets, and the events occur non-sequentially. It is for the reader to interpret and form the “whole”. You can read all the posts here. Join me, and do share links to your AtoZ posts as well!

V