“I hurriedly took the window seat like always and watched the crowd entering my compartment. It was cold…. really cold and I had this hooded sweatshirt with me with an artwork of an old metal band I used to be a fan of. Though I don’t remember their name anymore I know that I used to love them. It was quite old but I took good care of it. I used to have a thing for hoodies since I turned 15.
It was 8 at night and my head ached. I gazed out of the window into the horizon. It was all a dark void but it didn’t matter… I could see a small hut with a dim light glowing all over the area, making it look like a giant’s face, with two glowing windows which seemed like eyes. There were people… probably three of them. I could feel that the train had already started and I was on my way back home. I knew I had been seeing things for a while now… things I wasn’t supposed to see. Most of the time I had no clue what was real and what wasn’t. At this point, you must be wondering… “What the heck is he even saying?” Just so you know, I was too high back then and it might not make any sense right now. So you can count yourself out if you don’t want to hear me whining about my own problems.”
“But that’s what I’m here for.” Short Story
“Okay then. I was coming home from a winter fest. I’m a violinist. I’ve been performing since I graduated.”
“Wow. That’s great Rajesh. Who taught you to play? You can talk about it if you want to. I’m here to listen.”
“Well, I took an interest in violin when I was at school. Someone made me who I am today. It was December 2nd. Anushka was my classmate. An introvert with average grades, usually hated by people and called a slut by many since she was way out of their league. She also played the violin. I was always this shy observer and knew who was what. My school was full of vultures and reptiles trying to get hold of someone to get laid with. I was asked to accompany her to the Winter Carnival of our school which used to take place from the 29th to 31st of December.
There was going to be a music competition and none of her friends was interested to share the stage with her. It seemed like I was the only option she was left with. I had to reject the offer since I had no knowledge of playing any instrument. She said violin would be an easy instrument to play. I was like, “What the fuck is she even saying? How can I learn to play an instrument in just 29 days and perform without making myself look like an idiot in front of the whole school?” She told me to leave that to her. She grabbed my hands and pleaded. Her desire for music and determination to perform made me accept her stupid request, fully knowing that I’ll screw this up. That’s how I got introduced to the instrument.”
“Learning violin in 29 days? Okay. That’s new. I always loved this instrument. I made my daughter take violin lessons. She’s 12. I’ll let you both get acquainted someday. Meanwhile, let’s talk about the rest of that night.”
“My hands were all numb… the guy sitting beside me was having some sort of problem with me staring at him. Well shit, he couldn’t resist getting his ass back home and getting laid that he had to watch shit on his phone on a crowded train. Real smart. The baby boy who was slumbering cosily on his mother’s lap was wide awake all of a sudden. Maybe it was the cold wind which caused him discomfort. Woke the poor thing up. His mother was still asleep. The girl sitting in front of me had a face which terrified me… freaked me out. Something must have gone horribly wrong with her life. What could be waiting for her at home? Does she even have a reason to live? Thoughts kept swirling but my station was coming up. Where was I? Sorry, I got carried away. I was tired. I tried to sleep for a while but the images inside my head would keep appearing every time I shut my eyes. Kept me awake… full-on hallucinations of things I had never seen or even imagined before. Everything was 3D and changed rapidly, moving from dark, demented cartoon-ish images to other twisted forms and shapes which I don’t even have words to describe. I needed to get back to her. She said she’d be waiting for me at the station. I tried to call her but she wouldn’t pick up.”
“And ‘she’ here is Anushka? Alright. Hey, why don’t you tell me about the competition? Can’t wait to hear how you managed to learn the violin in such a short period of time.”
“Who said I did?”
“Oh. Can you recall what happened?”
“Of course. How can I ever forget those 29 days which changed my life forever? Anushka texted me that night asking me to join her in the multipurpose room after school hours. I was there on time but she wasn’t. Someone once told me that artists are always late. Funny. Finally, she turned up. I remember that blue shirt she was wearing that day, our first day at rehearsals. My efforts were going all fucked up. I was screwing things up, couldn’t even hold the instrument properly. Even got slapped by her a couple of times. I remember how miserably I used to react when she bothered me, asking me to show up at odd times for her stupid practice sessions. Trust me, I wanted to quit so bad.
I didn’t show up one day, cursing her to go fuck herself, trying to make sure she doesn’t bother me ever again. I felt so relieved. But I didn’t see her in school from the next day. I asked her friends where she was but eventually came to the sad realization that there wasn’t a single person who gave a crap about her. I tried calling her but she wouldn’t pick up, wouldn’t even answer my texts. So I decided to visit her place.
It was a big apartment. Her mum told me she has been inside her room for days. She wouldn’t talk to anyone or eat. I wanted to end this since it was my fault. I’ve been a jerk. I told her mum all that happened and naturally, she told me that it wasn’t my fault. I kept knocking her door but she wouldn’t answer.
“Anushka listen to me, I wanna continue our rehearsals while we still have time. I’m sorry for being selfish, okay? Now open the damned door… we’re running out of time.”
She instantly slammed the door open and raced towards the kitchen, grabbed a bottle of water and gulped down sloppily, spilling most of it on her pink tee. Her mother shouted at her for being so self-righteous and stubborn. I just stood there, awkwardly watching her getting scolded… but she was smiling. And that made me smile as well. “What an asshole”, I said to myself.”
“So how was your week?” I asked.
“Peaceful” came the reply.
“What? It really was… peaceful.’’
Her eyes were moist. She had been crying. I wanted to talk about it but I was too shy to initiate.
“So… let’s start shall we?”
“Yeah. Let’s get this over with.”
We just had a bit more than a couple of weeks in our hands. It was hard for me to accept that I enjoyed rehearsing with her. Perhaps she didn’t…perhaps she hated it. She was always rude to me during rehearsals. I used her old violin since I didn’t have one. Her room was small and her bed usually a mess. There were posters of Beatles, Led Zeppelin, artworks of Beethoven, Mozart, Bob Marley, Kurt Cobain and David Bowie all over the walls. No wonder she had amazing taste in music. She would prefer to be with her violin all day unlike other teenagers spending time binging TV series and movies.
We managed to spare some time to go for a walk every day. She was a completely different person when we weren’t rehearsing. She had a great sense of humour. She told me that her father died when she was a kid. We were so different from each other… our lives were so dissimilar but I liked the way it was. She was everything I wasn’t.
It was 30th of December. The Carnival had already started and the students were excited about the next day because the final day was always special. But I knew that, for me, tomorrow was Judgement Day. She asked me to meet her at some café after school. Can’t recall the name. She was already waiting outside when I reached. She had something for me. The violin that I own was her gift to me.
“Well, I can’t accept that!”
“Dude seriously? Do you really think I was gonna let you use that old rusty thing tomorrow? Stop resisting okay? Just take it.”
“Umm… thanks, I guess.”
“For what? LOL. I’m gonna take this away when we’re done with the performance. It’s not a gift if that’s what you’re thanking me for. I’m just letting you use it.”
“You’re kidding right?”
“Unfortunately yes. See you tomorrow.”
I couldn’t sleep that night. I don’t remember anyone caring about me except my brother since Mum died. My father was never there for the family… chose his business over us. I don’t even know where he lives… alive or dead. My brother’s the only family I’m left with.
I remember getting up early the next day. The competition was scheduled to start from 7. I remember spending the entire day with sheet music, nervously pacing my room. Soon it was 5. I had to get ready. I felt nauseous. Anushka and I reached school at 6. We waited in the dressing room. The competition started at 7. I could hear people shouting their hearts out. My hands were shaking and I had lost almost all of my fingernails as I went through the sheet music. It was crazy. I felt like I should’ve spent a lot more time practising it… memorizing every bit of it with my whole being. A part of me felt like backing out. I was afraid we were only going to humiliate ourselves, going out there like this. But Anushka seemed so excited and she wouldn’t stop talking. I couldn’t concentrate so I had to yell at her to stop. She came and sat beside me.
“Fuck. Are you so afraid?”
“Not now. I’m trying my best not to screw things up.”
“You’ll do fine.”
“Kinda funny coming from a violinist who’s been playing since she was in kindergarten.”
“Trust me. You’re just gonna accompany me. The rest is up to me. Besides, what if we fail? Does it matter? I’ve performed at so many places I have lost count. My mum made me do it. I always dreamt of performing in front of our school but never could since I had nobody to accompany me onstage. Finally, I’m about to. I wanna thank you for that. It wouldn’t matter if we screw this up ‘cause at least I’ll know we screwed this up together. Gear up. It’s about time.”
As we climbed the steps and got onstage there was silence. Every single person was waiting eagerly for us to produce music. Everything was a blur. I could only see the lights fading. I froze. The sudden cheering of the crowd jerked me back to my senses. I could see the dudes sitting in the front row laughing about something which made me more nervous. And so we began. We started off well but soon I realized it was getting tougher and tougher for me to keep up with her. She was too fast. I felt the same while rehearsing. How I wished I could do something about it. I was trying my best but I could realize that I was screwing this up. Anushka knew I wouldn’t be able to continue with the track. I was only holding her back. She looked at me. I felt like she wanted me to stop and that’s what I did. I was terrified. My hands were numb and my eardrums were pounding. I was waiting for the mocking and jeering from the crowd. People were gonna laugh and boo at how I royally fucked this up.
But none of that came. And I realized it was all because everybody was listening to her in rapt attention. She was amazing and I just stood there watching her, clutching the violin she gave me. She was pure and elegant and waltzed through the chords with effortless grace. She finished the track a bit early. I guess she didn’t want me to stand there for long, doing nothing and feeling humiliated. As she finished people were screaming like crazy. I tried to quietly leave the stage from the back. But she grabbed my hand… didn’t let me go. I stood beside her before the roaring crowd. She was so happy. I could see that in her eyes. That moment belonged to us and that’s when I knew. I was in love.
We left early before the results were declared. It didn’t matter. We were walking home.
“Hey, you did well.”
“Really? How so? I told you it won’t work. I needed more time. I fucking ruined this entire performance.”
“Hey, I took care of it, didn’t I? I was preparing myself for this. I had a feeling this was gonna happen. We had it coming.”
“You know, nobody ever accompanied me. There’re at least ten violinists in our school I know of. Nobody ever cared to join me. But you did.”
“So what exactly are you implying?”
“That you’re a good person, Rajesh.”
She kissed me on the cheek and hopped on her bus. I walked home… alone, trembling.” Short Story
“And then what happened?”
“I don’t remember. I was tired. Probably fell asleep after reaching home. Why’d you ask?”
“Just curious. So, did you meet her yesterday? You said she wasn’t picking up her phone.”
“Yeah. I met her at the station. Said she’s been busy. It seems I find her whenever I think of her. It’s like she’s always with me… guiding me wherever I go. It was raining. We had coffee like old times. She’s still the same. Nothing has changed. She’s always wearing the dress she wore back at that concert. She looks pretty in that dress. I remember her drenched hair falling all over her face. A few days ago I went to buy some books for my brother. His birthday’s coming up. I took her with me. Surprisingly she knew what he liked the most. I don’t remember ever telling her that my brother’s fond of Dan Brown. She’s smart. Oh, there’s one more thing that I wanna tell you. Every time I go out, I feel like everyone is staring at me. I don’t get it Doc. Am I weird?”
“Certainly not, Rajesh.”
“Well, this was nice by the way. Didn’t have a healthy conversation with someone for a long period of time. Thank you. My brother was right. I really should visit more often. He’s a good person. The only reason I’m here is because he forced me to. He thinks I’ve been overworking lately and hence it’d be good for me to take a break and consult someone like you.”
“Pleasure. So same time next week? Where’s your brother by the way?”
“He’s outside… waiting for me.”
“Could I have a word with him in private?”
“Of course. Thank you once again. I’m sending him in.”
“You’re welcome Rajesh. Take care.”
“Hello, sir. I’m Vikas, how did it go?”
“Sit down Vikas. How long has he been like this?”
“Since she died.”
“What happened?”Short Story
“It’ll be hard for me to recall but I’m gonna try. She was returning home from the carnival he talks about. And the next thing I know is that her body was found dumped in a gutter. It was New Year’s Eve. A day when people tend to get drunk and lose their senses. Post-mortem reports were quite disturbing. Apparently, she was tortured and raped. The ones who did it were never found. Rajesh could never accept that. He blamed himself for it.”
“When did that happen?”
“Four years ago.”
“Four years! And you come to me after this long?”
“He left home after her death. Wouldn’t pick up his phone… wouldn’t answer my texts. I wasn’t even sure whether he’s alive or not. I was in college. Things were tough for me. A few months ago he called me from an unknown number. I got to know he was in Mumbai. He sent me the address. He said he had a surprise for me. He seemed so happy and changed when I saw him. I just couldn’t believe that that was the same brooding Rajesh. I got to know he has been performing. He went on tours… travelled places. He always dreamt of travelling the world with someone important. As we reached his apartment he handed me a cup of coffee. Everything seemed okay. We were talking when suddenly he got up from the sofa.
“She’s here! She’s early today”, he said.
He went to open the door. There was no one. I remember him introducing me to someone whose existence was long gone. Pointing towards the door… replying to the statements which only he could hear. He always wanted to introduce me to her back in his school days. That was the surprise he was talking about. He agreed to come back home with me. ”
“So he’s a junkie. Am I right?”
“Well, he was already in a bad state. Excessive consumption of LSD and PCP, which I believe he uses, did the rest. They produced profound disturbances in your brother’s perception of reality. It made him forget everything that had happened that night… and he inevitably started feeling sensations that seem real but are not. The hallucinations were real enough to make him believe that she was there. This is his world right now. Take care of him. I’m sorry Vikas.”
“You know I didn’t stop him from performing even after knowing all this. I just couldn’t. I don’t want him to stop what he loves the most. And if this makes him happy, so be it.”
“Hey. What were you doing inside for so long? Anyway, Anushka just called. Said she has reached home. She’s here waiting for us. This is stupid. She could’ve just come with us. Well, now that she’s here why don’t we go out somewhere? Dinner’s on me tonight.”
“Vikas? What the hell? Don’t tell me you’re crying. What is it, brother?”
“It’s nothing. I’m just glad you’re home.”
In a world of has-beens and gonna-bees, you might find Suteertho on a quiet park bench with a cup of chai and a stray pup sleeping on his lap, typing away on his old laptop. He likes his music loud and his coffee black. Among his other interests — Netflix, Mishti Doi and playing UNO hold the highest value. Let him turn his fiction into your reality. Let him tell you stories about how reality works.