Star – light, star bright [A story that begins and ends with a person looking up at the stars]
He looked up at the stars and sighed, counting them one by one. There was total silence in the neighborhood, but the trees rustled and time and again an owl hooted. He missed the buzz and drone of insect swarms, forever present around his apartment and Shweta’s voice falling in his ears, “oh these darn insects! “
He again looked at the star- spangled sky, his eyes sweeping over the dark canvas, sprinkled with dots of silver .The big ones, the small ones – stars and more stars, recalling the time, during their honeymoon days, when he and his wife, Shweta, had nestled in each other’s arms counting the stars, tracing their silver contours, tickling each other into paroxysms of unending giggles, and refusing to call it a day.
He stood outside the gates of his apartment building, with mounting apprehension, undecided for some time, teetering on the brink of indecision, his body racked by a wave of self- reproach for all the times that he had fought with Shweta, flinging all sorts of meaningless accusations at her. A dull flush crept into his face. Should he or should he not go inside? Then, with a heavy heart, pushing a barrow load of memories, he braced himself to go inside as a shiver of suppressed silence shook his entire being.
Suddenly, piercing the silence, he heard five strokes – distant, measured and ominous, as a lone autumn leaf untethered itself from the branch, and swirled to the ground.
He heard Shweta humming John Denver,
Country roads, take me home
to the place I belong …..
Where was home? Where was the feeling of belongingness?
He went inside, with a diffident sense of intrusion; Shweta, known for her strenuous fastidiousness, sat in silence, in a posture of waiting, silently paying tribute to the cucumber salad on the table. How she loved cucumber salad! There was a plate at the other end of the table, also waiting.
He looked around, with a mixture of myriad feelings – anguish, wistfulness, and nostalgia.
Shame, the choking, searing shame! With a painful shudder, he recalled how he had gloated in the honey drops of his triumph when he had time and again, shouted at her, without any apparent reason, except to feed his own ego.
He heard an outburst of drums outside. Or were his ears ringing? Was it a game bird in the stubble? Or his own doubts, misgivings and guilt playing peekaboo in the bushes, making grotesque faces at him?
She was such a bundle of joy - irreverently funny, ironic and witty and they were so good together. When did things go wrong? The honeymoon days went past in a burr – dreamily, wonderfully, melodiously.
“Oh, how I love to see your boyish but resolute face as the ruddy flame of the match illuminates your features.” She would chirp excitedly, planting a kiss on his cheek, and the very next moment, hands on hips, would pout, “But, tell me honestly, when will you quit smoking?”
“NEVER!” He would say resolutely, his boyish face looking more charmingly boyish.
He remembered how she would always be humming a song – sometimes her own songs …sometimes John Denver, sometimes Frank Sinatra , sometimes Bob Dylan …sometimes …
The cat raised one lackadaisical eye and looked askance at him, as he entered the room, and even Bruno did not wag his customary tail or hurl himself at him – he who loved him so much . Shweta looked quizzically at the door, and went back to communing with the cucumber salad. He remembered how the dining table which once had been a haven of laughter and playful bantering had been soon reduced to a war zone, where sharp shards and splinters flew relentlessly and egos clashed, almost every day . Why did their dreamland shatter? Was he solely to blame? Yes, he agreed, it was he and he alone who was to blame. He, with his mammoth ego, his superiority complex, his patriarchal mindset, and his jealousy – yes, his jealousy.
Just the other day, on a Sunday during lunch, a particularly heated argument had ensued and words had come tumbling out of her mouth with the explosive articulation of one who cannot hold back her grudges any longer.
“How can you be so mean? You have never been able to bear my popularity, you never could tolerate the name that I made for myself in writing.”
To the unceasing chorus of harsh throated crows outside and the recriminations of Shweta, he had added his own snapping barks.
“You are just a mediocre writer, in love with the cacophony of your own words.” “Cacophony, did you say, Prasun? On the contrary, right now, it is me who is hearing only ear- callousing cacophony - and all coming from your side! You are nothing but a scrambled egg slipping off a piece of toast.”
“You called me a scrambled egg!” His nostrils flared and his eyes shot fire and brimstone. Where was the need to use the simile of a scrambled egg? I hope you are getting my drift! You so -called writers just wait for an opportunity to thrust your similes, metaphors and weird descriptions on us. Scrambled egg, indeed!” He said, smirking in unconcealed derision.
“And calling me an egg, when you know that I hate eggs!” He snapped anew.
“The simile just flashed through my mind, don’t you think it is so apt?” She threw back her head and laughed uproariously.
That proved to be the last straw. Prasun’s temper which had been simmering viciously, now boiled over and he lost all control of himself. In one quick stride, he dashed up to her, his hands gripping her throat in a vicious grip. She flung his hands away, and then he stomped out the door, frothing at the mouth, cursing under his breath.
After a minute, she heard a screech of brakes. Sinister and bloodcurdling.
She raced up to the window, saw a lot of people rushing towards a particular spot, craning their necks, shouting, screaming and whispering.
Soon her screams also rent the air. But Prasun heard nothing.
Yanking himself free of the thoughts, he walked out to once again have a communion with the stars.
Oh how I yearn to pluck these stars from their stupor, and make them pour all their silvery hues into my home and make it whole once again. Then he sighed a sad smile, wiping a wayward tear from his pallid cheek, picked up the leaf from the ground and closing his eyes to the savage, illusory world, peeped through the window of his home, one last time.
His picture on the wall stared back at him , he shuddered once again , and soon disappeared- rather dissolved into nothingness- his unseeing eyes still in a silent communion with the stars, which could offer him no resurrected hope.
As the dead are beyond hope.