Contest #230 shortlist ⭐️

28 comments

Desi Contemporary Drama

When faced with a fork, look for the twig.

We had missed the twig and were staring down a deep chasm. It didn’t help that we were not talking to each other. After the boisterous cultural evening put up by fellow campers, we had fought over which bottle to drink water from, back in our tent. Our sabre-rattling was loud enough for other campers to give me extra sweet smiles at breakfast.

 Trekking was not something we had done before in our twenty years of marriage. It was supposed to be an exercise in bonding after our only child left for college. But as always, the most unexpected things flared up, and as usual, we ended up alone in each other’s company.

After breakfast, sixty of us were dropped off at the foot of the hill. The trek captain briefed us and handed us over to a local tribal boy who knew every creek on the hill. Only two parts of that talk remained in my head- Do not disturb the wildlife and meet you all at the top of the hill. He might have also said- when faced with a fork on the trail, choose the path on which a twig is placed by the pilot batch.

We started as a single file but the trekkers who were young or seasoned, or just had hearts lighter than us sped past us. The hardy shrubs brushed against our bodies at times as we slipped on the path covered by the scattered leaves dampened by the dew. I might have seen a twig or two on the other side of the fork that led us here but chose not to warn my silent partner. I wanted to watch his face burn with shame when he realised his oversight. I thought it would be a sweet revenge.

But now, I am not so sure.

We spy on each other. He is sweating despite the cool morning breeze. I tap the stick in my hand on the gravel and take in the expanse beyond the chasm. The green mounds of western ghats sparkle there, unaffected by two miserable people gazing at them. The sky is overcast, contrary to the weather forecast. We take out bottles from our heavy rookie backpacks and sip water. I choose to break the silence.

“Oops! I think we took a wrong turn.”

He glowers.

I take out an energy bar and chew on it without offering him any. I know it is a red flag for him. Even in hostile periods after showdowns, he is always a gentleman first, like offering me this stick he scavenged on the way up for my use as a hiking pole. But if I have travelled this far on the road to being the ultimate bitch, I might as well live it up.

The view is spectacular though. At any other time, I would have taken a few selfies to be posted on social media afterwards. The clouds seem to get darker by the second. I sense him struggling to accept the mistake in navigation and beat a retreat.

“Anyway, since we are here, we might as well spend some time and take in the views.” I swing my arms in exaggerated enthusiasm.

“Let’s head back. We might still be able to catch up with others,” he growls, without taking his eyes off the horizon.

That’s the man he has become. Doing the exact opposite of whatever I suggest, and being hopelessly vain. I am pretty sure we were the last ones in the disjointed line of trekkers and we have walked for at least half an hour on the wrong side of the fork. There is no way we can catch up with others.

“No, I think I am going to rest here for a while.” I dump my backpack onto the ground and slump on a protruding boulder.

His ears grow red. For a second, I fear he might just leave me and head back to the fork. Instead, he picks up a stone, tosses it, catches it, and repeats. Rolling it on his palm, he drawls,

“It might rain, you never know.”

I am beginning to enjoy this. He is not exactly begging me to follow him, but isn’t leaving me behind either. I lie down on the outgrowth of the boulder.

“That’s okay. It won’t be the worst thing to happen.”

I dare him to say something he would regret, again, so that I can prove how unreasonable he can be, once and for all. But he hurls the stone across the chasm and stays silent. Minutes crawl by. Then something else crawls up.

A rock python!

I grew up close to the forests, so spotting a snake once in a while was not new to me, though this one looks endless as it slithers close. A chill runs down my spine as its slit eyes stare into mine. Maybe I have willed it to come, as I have likened my existence to being worse than crushed by a python.

It moves closer. I freeze. My mind goes blank.

Suddenly, the stick in my hand is snatched away and wedged between me and the python’s path. The python changes its direction, speeds across, and disappears in the undergrowth by the side of the trail. I am in the arms of the man who chose to put himself between me and the python. It must have been terrifying for him as he had never lived anywhere but the city.

“You should have just let it get me.” I whimper.

His hands are cold and his heart is thumping.

“Yes, maybe I should have. But…we still have to get back to that fork.” 

I hate that he still doesn't say how much he loves me or is sorry to have hurt me. But I am glad to be alive to fight on another day and prove my point. I pick up my backpack, leave the stick, and tread beside him.



December 27, 2023 08:06

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28 comments

Helen A Smith
09:52 Dec 31, 2023

A nuanced portrayal of a long-term relationship with all the irritations and the problem of nowhere to hide when the pair are outside their comfort zone. However, deep feelings of love and protection emerge when the snake appears. He loves her, but can’t say it. He may not be able to admit to having made a mistake, but when push comes to shove, he’s there for her. I really like that. I like the phrase “alone in each other’s company.” It brings to mind a Mars/Venus scenario. Learning to bring out the best in one another.

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Suma Jayachandar
06:36 Jan 01, 2024

You distilled the essence of this piece so well. Thank you for the read and an insightful comment, Helen. Greatly appreciated!

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Graham Kinross
07:54 Mar 27, 2024

You’ve got the highs and lows here. Not knowing what to say even when something needs to be said. Universal relationship issues. It’s all very relatable the way you tell it. Well done. Congratulations on being shortlisted.

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Suma Jayachandar
09:51 Mar 28, 2024

Thanks for the read and the comment, Graham. Appreciate it!

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Graham Kinross
10:36 Mar 28, 2024

You’re welcome Suma.

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Story Time
08:04 Jan 09, 2024

I've been thinking a lot about the idea of being lonely while not alone. How that can be a deeper kind of loneliness. This story managed to create real insight and had your trademark masterful language. A wonderful read.

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Suma Jayachandar
14:15 Jan 09, 2024

Thank you, Kevin. You are absolutely right in your observations. Always grateful to receive your feedback. Happy new year!

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Philip Ebuluofor
00:43 Jan 08, 2024

Congrats

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Suma Jayachandar
06:22 Jan 08, 2024

Thank you.

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Philip Ebuluofor
17:50 Jan 09, 2024

My pleasure.

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Uncle Spot
03:15 Jan 06, 2024

To me this is the story of every couple. A love-hate-love again merry-go-round. And then having a lowly snake trigger such a sweet moment was brilliant. Nice piece!

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Suma Jayachandar
13:45 Jan 06, 2024

Thank you for taking time to read and comment. Appreciate it!

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David McCahan
16:36 Jan 05, 2024

Congratulations !

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Suma Jayachandar
17:30 Jan 05, 2024

Thank you!

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Michał Przywara
21:42 Jan 03, 2024

Forked paths, forked tongues, a forked relationship. They took the wrong fork, but at least they're walking it together. This is a great showing of a couple that has problems communicating. What I particularly like is that she's annoyed he doesn't express himself, but she explicitly and knowingly “chose not to warn my silent partner”. She's part of the problem, she knows she's part of the problem (and we assume he knows he's part of the problem) but just knowing things isn't enough to actually fix things. Life's not that simple, is it? (...

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Suma Jayachandar
15:14 Jan 04, 2024

As always, you hit the bull’s eye with your analysis, Michal :) You got the themes I was hoping to project quite right. Communication or lack of it is the burden so many couples carry, knowingly or unknowingly. I’m thankful for your observations about the craft too. I’m pleased with the overall outcome. You know as it is I’m a woman of few words when it comes to writing, so flash fiction was right up my alley🤣

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Ana M
19:38 Jan 02, 2024

The unexpected encounter with the python brought an interesting twist. Well done!

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Suma Jayachandar
15:06 Jan 04, 2024

Thank you!

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Marty B
18:14 Jan 02, 2024

I like the symbol of a python, a dangerous snake coming up on her, like the rift in the marriage after the wrong path is taken. The husband steps in as the protector, though maybe not needed. The right path was eventually taken, although the wrong path had great views ;) Thanks!

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Suma Jayachandar
15:06 Jan 04, 2024

Haha, I love how you listed the good things on both paths. Thanks for the feedback, Marty. Appreciate it!

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Chris Glazdon
03:08 Dec 31, 2023

Great story. Really get a sense of their strain and love.

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Suma Jayachandar
06:36 Jan 01, 2024

Thank you for the read and comment, Christine!

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Jack Kimball
00:32 Dec 31, 2023

This is great Suma. Love the imperfections of both characters, and, for me, the twist. Great message. You never know when the person who you can barely stand steps in and shows their true character. Well done.

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Suma Jayachandar
06:34 Jan 01, 2024

Thank you Jack, for the read and kind words. Appreciate it. I’m glad the positive message came through despite the imperfections of the characters.

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Rebecca Miles
21:05 Dec 28, 2023

This is an experienced writer's couple: they are complicated and neither plays the hero or villain role, which draws the reader in. "The green mounds of western ghats sparkle there, unaffected by two miserable people gazing at them."- There's deep wisdom in that ironic juxtaposition. Needless to say, I like the symbolism. The fork in the path and the fork in life is well handled (sorry!). And yes, a python marriage can be liberated if one or both shake a stick at the snake in the path; expectations can sometimes be broken or a trend bucked a...

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Suma Jayachandar
04:59 Dec 30, 2023

I’ve been on and off Reedsy of late, but couldn’t resist writing a flash fic☺️. I’m glad you picked up on irony and symbolism. If only more couples realised everyone comes with their own blend of nonsense, they would not end up staring down a chasm? Thanks for the read and comment Rebecca.Happy to know it came across as believable and heartfelt. Happy new year, in advance!

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Mary Bendickson
17:15 Dec 27, 2023

Keep treading beside him. Congrats on the shortlist for this inspired story.

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Suma Jayachandar
04:52 Dec 30, 2023

Thanks for reading, Mary:) Happy new year in advance!

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