The evening is still, the birds silent, the wind dead like a tramp, flopped on a footpath. The sky is dressed in dust and dusk. His lungs cannot pull in half the air they used to soak till the last summer. The pain is boring holes through his shins. It has been welling up for many months now, a dull throbbing at first and then seething like steam, in his legs and the left arm and the hollow of his chest. And then the bout of dizziness and a ball of shards clogging his throat.
He looks blearily at the temple which is still a mile away, its white dome and a mast slanting to the north, the orange flag drooping. An ironic thought twists his lips. Now that the atheist seeks the Lord, the Lord slippeth away from him, as if in revenge.
The first murmurs of the evening prayers are already in the air. Soon, the road would be echoing with bells and cymbals clanging like clockwork, in tandem with the rising chorus of vows and obeisance, cleaving the opaque heart of the nightfall. Insatiable, dolorous humans, howling away their lives to insatiable deities, deaf and dumb. He leans against a gulmohar tree on the pavement to steady the knocking in his ribs and then slumps in a huff. A fit of vomiting overtakes his torso; his palms are clammy with sweat. His mouth is sour with undigested meal. Whiskey stings his nasal passage, fine malt squirms into gutter wash. Is it already hitting him, the stroke? Myocardial infarction? Cardiac arrest? Is this how his miseries are going to end now, halfway, unrequited? Can’t they wait till the final moment, till he entered the sanctum —the force that could once pound into him the courage, the audacity to approach a nymphet like Maya? But then surely, she had tripped over his candour and childlike warmth. The union, no matter how brief or doomed it was, held its sway while it had lasted.
The twister within ebbs and he pulls himself up. His feet quake as he ambles towards the temple in general. The prayers burst forth like a flash flood over the evening’s dunes. Today he will strain his ears for something sharper than the Lord and his devotees. A fowler shoots a pigeon from a rooftop and it plummets to the road, spins wildly and dies. He jumps and gesticulates at the scoundrel who looks back at him dangerously.
He fumbles ahead ruefully with fresh pangs coursing through his veins, makes it to the crowded gateway just as the commotion comes to an end, as abruptly as it had begun. A wispy breeze turns in, like a drop of hope escaping the upturned tumbler of justice. The priest begins the rounds with a pot of burning camphor. Now he catches a glimpse of the woman who is no more his wife with the man who is his brother still. She is as resplendent as ever and her peer as nonchalant. They are swiftly moving out of the eastern entrance, getting closer by the second to the black BMW, its engine purring, the chauffeur ready. Then he hears the clear report of a .44 Magnum. And then another after a second. He doesn’t hear the one that hits his skull.
He had to pay the assassin the last coin he had owned.
Dark, chilling, and pregnant with questions, Uma.I love the line, “the sky is dressed in dust and dusk.”
True, Kris! There are questions for sure. Many thanks.
Beautiful narration gave a strong build up to the unexpected ending. Very powerful indeed.
Thanks for appreciating, TF. I’m happy you liked it.
As usual, your work is full of arresting images Uma, but am I to believe that this entire story is an illusion? If not, then it is very mysterious.
Thanks, Dennis. As they say, facts are stranger than fiction. Now isn’t that mysterious?
Mysterious, chilling and dark …a story painted with vivid imagery .Loved reading it .Waiting to review your novel 🙂
Sharmila, it’s an offshoot of the longer work…. I am indebted for your kind words.
Too expressive writeup
Impassioned is the word that came to mind while and after finishing the read. Rich and eloquent, dramatic and pregnant with a myriad of emotions. I am waiting with baited breath to read your more elaborate works.
I feel a bit smothered while reading your works. There is so much to absorb between and above the lines – the descriptions, the build ups and of course the catharsis. One gets almost choked by the labyrinth of expected and unexpected twists, turns, tumbles. Nothing with you is tried and tested. Every time it’s something novel and hugely intriguing and amazing. Perhaps its so different from the way I express myself that the currents draw me in so savagely.
Having said that I also realize I shall never be able to imitate the powerful story telling that you are gifted with.
Many thanks for the effusive compliment, Gitashri -I held my breath as I read it. I am not sure I am so good, however. Everyone has a unique style and the one he or she will be best with. Your writing is compelling enough. You need not look up to anyone, least of all an insignificant scribbler like me.
A dark, building tale woven with your usual shaman’s magic.
I am glad the magic worked for you, Ian. Thank you.
Every time you venture into fiction, Uma, you surpass yourself.
That’s the idea, Suresh. I have miles to surpass before I sleep! Thank you.
I wasn’t expecting that ending, and there are so many parts to this story I could have read much more. I truly enjoyed the read Umashankar, and I like the way you have with words.
RPD, it’s heartening to learn you wanted to read so many parts of the story more. It’s just the encouragement I need. Many thanks to you.
Beautifully written Uma. The end was like a gunshot.
Guess it was so, Amit! Thank you.
“Now that the atheist seeks the Lord, the Lord slippeth away from him, as if in revenge.”
Loved that, isn’t that so true in life? You yearn for things that you have shunned in the past, and by then, it would have slipped out of your reach. The ending was quite unexpected and has left so many unanswered questions.
A slice of life, Bindu. That is what fiction is all about, even the unanswered questions. I had planned it as a compressed piece and that is how it is and I guess it doesn’t leave much doubts about the story.
Uma, a wrenchingly vivid description of a man in pain. Much was unclear to me, all I could feel was the pain.
NP, that was the effect I was working at; I am flattered by the result. Many thanks to you.
“the wind dead like a tramp, flopped on a footpath. ” .. phew ! I wish this story was a little longer.. immensely liked the way you have treated it. a real dark one ..
Thanks, Puru. I admit I have scrimped on a three part story. I hope it had the desired effect though.
Lovely US ! “Now that the atheist seeks the Lord, the Lord runneth away from him..” Beautifully worded and above all, I liked the way you are able to transform a walk to the temple and bring it alive with the tumultuous emotions of the protagonist. The ending was bittersweet and so unexpected !
I am glad you approve of the little walk to the temple, loaded with pain and angst. Thanks, Ash.
A combination of calm, tumultuous, surprising, and at least partially expected. Powerful.
I’ll be thinking about this for quite awhile.
Marylin, I had intended to squeeze the story into its closing moments -it is reassuring that it struck you so. Many thanks to you.
What a dark and thoroughly entertaining story, Umashankar. I was so engrossed in the man’s throbbing and intense pain with every step, hoping he’d make it to the temple, that I never saw the end coming. Wow, a shocker, and that’s great storytelling! As intense and overwhelming as the man’s physical pain was to bear, his emotional pain was even greater that he’d go to such an extreme. Many questions about exactly what happened but that’s left to the reader to contemplate. Wonderful writing, well done!
Madilyn, you have accurately flagged both heart and soul of the story. I am proud of that approval.Thank you for bolstering my confidence endlessly.
Amazing storyteller you are, Uma! You write like a painter paints, leaving space for the viewer/reader to ponder or “fill in” what you chose not to write/paint. That opportunity creates such a powerful attraction and connection to the story and characters. Well done!
John, that’s the joy of having readers as rich in imagination as you -it makes writing such an interactive process. Many thanks for the compliment I’ll cherish.
Ah Umashankar, the writer we all want to be. Another meticulously crafted work that is a reminder of why we read.
You humble me, my friend. You are a compelling writer yourself. May God bless the art.
Gripping as always!!
I did expect a dark ending but not such a hard-hitting one. I’m still trying to process the last line. 🙂
I am glad you like this one too, the last line and all. Many thanks to you.
I was totally engrossed in the description of the apparent physical pain and felt the underlying emotional pain too. the imagery you create are simply superb….the rode,the temple,the bells,flag fluttering,prayer sung…..I went on visualizing every bit of it effortlessly……..but must say the twist in the end took me by surprise….in fact so absorbed was I while going through line by line that completely forgot to anticipate the next line or paragraph.
I am happy you liked the story so much. I am happy too for the compliment. Many thanks to you.
Glad you put up the link on fb in 2014 again, Uma. I’d missed this when you first posted it. Powerful imagery. Beautifully descriptive and on that level, very satisfying. But disturbing – not his heartbreak or physical state, not the unexplained duplicity of his wife, but the lawless land you portray in which he was murdered so openly. Any reader, me included, would be left wanting more. Well..?
Many thanks for appreciating the story, KM. As for the killers, whatever happened to Anders Breivik in Norway? It can happen anywhere.
I read this beautiful piece three times trying to absorb it. It stirred me and left me wanting more on so many levels, particularly the image of the atheist seeking God at the last minute, a question we all consider. Your imagery and depiction of this man’s anguish are exquisite. I suffered along with him, exhausted and defeated to its startling conclusion. I look forward to more of this. Thanks so much.
I am overwhelmed by that compliment, Linda. Words like those will keep this feeble flame going for long. A million thanks to you!
Good. What do you recommend I read next. I am just going down your list.
Of course, I’d urge you to read my stories and the posts I have listed in the right sidebar of my blog. I’d especially request you to read my novella, More Than a Wisp of Fog! How can I ever thank you?
That’s next for me. I am loving ever minute of your writing and learning from your writing. Thanks.
I thank you from the bottom of my heart, Linda.
Reading novella now. It’s keeping me busy when I meant to be writing!
May God bless you!
No wonder you won the IB Award for Short Stories…quite an involved work of fiction 🙂
Thanks for the nod.
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