Fiction Short Stories

Silent Night by Sharmila Chauhan

Sunshine sparkled through the grey afternoon. I sat in on the bench, wrapped in my own obliqueness. I was lost. I looked up at the clouds, at the tiny tapering ends, almost invisible. Was it an infinite haze of vapour droplets? I mused, watching as the black birds circled the pale billows. Suddenly the sun was gone; a cold hand on the shoulder of the transient warmth. I looked up pondering on how moistness in its most ethereal form could become so dull: how the radiance of the rivers, the energetic dancing of waves, all culminated in mournful grey.

I took another puff of the cigarette that had been burning between my fingers. The smoke drizzled down my throat, coating my thoughts in that slightly adrenal nicotine haze. The sky mirrored my mood. Love. So beautiful in its many forms; flowing seamlessly from one instance to the next. Like water. Finally rising to new heights – high like clouds in the sky. Then becoming dull and so thin you can fall right out of it.

I crept back to my apartment. The London afternoon had crept into the rooms. I turned on all the lights, but they left only a despondent darkness in the midst. On the floor, lying back against the white wall, I fingered the wallpaper trying to trace a pattern of hearts that formed under my fingers. It was then that I remembered how Rushi laid his head on my chest and followed the rhythm of my heart.

One day, he was lying on his back, absently pulling my hair with his fingers. Then he was gone. Silent, as always, leaving a trail of cigarette smoke behind him. I had been sad, but relieved. Empty, but full of hope. Freedom loomed ahead of me like an enchanted gateway, waiting for me to enter. Yet now that seemed a guilty dream.

Rushi stared at the ceiling. Like he did for many hours of each day, for just how many I never really knew. But whenever I burst in with bags of shopping, or take-away dinner, he would be there, balancing on the edge of our bed, smoking carefully. As if he was conducting a very important experiment. Concentrating on the smoke as it appeared from his mouth. At the beginning I too would stop, and watch as the magical snail trails disappeared into the peeling ceiling. But, towards the end, I would simply nod and offer him a kiss on his forehead or cheek. As I did that, I would wait for a moment, holding my breath for his response. Then he would turn those cheekbones and those glorious green eyes towards me. And for that moment, he would mutely acknowledge my presence. That’s perhaps the mystery of our situation. That, despite the lack of words, I always felt Rushi’s body creep towards me, with that simple gesture. As if every single hair, every flake of skin was magnetised towards me, and I think that’s what reassured me. That’s what gave me the energy to feed, clothe and sustain his and my own existence.

After dinner I would clean up. I left the television on to keep me company and sometimes I would call a girlfriend for company. Rushi never came out to help me. He simply ate and left the tray at the foot of the bed for me. Sometimes I’d sit with him, perching on the edge of the bed, eating roti and dhal from a small bowl, trying not to watch him. Then I would gather the dishes and leave him until it was time for bed. Sometimes I thought about getting a cat for company, but somehow I didn’t want anything or anyone to interrupt our space.

At night, his body would merge with mine in the sweetest, most blissful moments. It was at these times, I would be silent, content to lie in the darkness and allow him to pleasure me. He liked it this way, I think. A compliant doll that responded to his every move with an eagerness that it justified his existence. As I lay there, I always imagined a full moon, even if there wasn’t one, coating our skin and twinkling in our breath; covering us with a silvery warmth. Every so often, a street light would catch his face, illuminating the angle of the high cheeks from which his magnificent eyes gleamed back at me watching me through the darkness.

After we finished, the light scent of our union would rise from the mattress. Like a new flower it bloomed delicate and fragrant. Until dawn, when each of its petals would fall off, one by one, leaving only a single stalk. Leaving me to wake in the cold, empty bed.

He would be writing. Normally in the living room, chest bare, cups of coffee strewn across the carpet, like one spoiled experiment after another. At dawn I would wake, get up, and look for him. Ruffling his hair I would gently break his daze. Suddenly shivering, he would rise, leaving his laptop on the floor. I would bring the blanket and wrap him in it. Then, closing my eyes, I would hold him against me. Or myself against him. My flesh, pushing against his bones. You should eat more. I would always say, holding his head to my breasts like an overgrown child. He would say nothing. Merely bow into my body with a quiet resignation. Sometimes I would rock him silently, my hands flowing over his girlish hips, with silent weeping.

It would end then, with me reaching into my dressing gown pocket and pulling out a tablet. Here. We would be in the bedroom then. Like two guilty children. Here. I would repeat, placing the melting tablet into his hand. My palm would be stained red, like a stigmata mark. And so the ritual would continue. With quiet compliance, Rushi would swallow the anonymous tablet, and lie down. The moment would pass, again.

Afterwards, I would close the door and turn around to face the living room. I would turn off the laptop, tidy his notes, and then fish the cups off the floor and tidy the mess. Then I would quietly get ready and go to work.

I hated my job. Working with women suffering domestic violence was depressing and I no longer had the energy or any passion to continue my crusade. I felt guilty each time I left a client to a destiny that seemed unavoidable. Guilty that my own life, although not without its problems, didn’t leave me with marks. That I was okay. Its not that I didn’t care, simply that apathy had reached a fever pitch that I was no longer interested in fighting. Still it was a job and the only thing that paid our bills. Rushi’s half-made dream of becoming a novelist now seemed nothing more than a bohemian indulgence of our student days.

We bought the flat together soon after we finished university. A tiny conversion flat in Tufnell Park. It was a strange mish-mash of rooms that seemed squashed together in a space too small. Yet we both loved it on sight. Our bathroom was opposite the front door. It’s old, and gives it character Rushi said when we had found it. He loved the creaking pipes and the chipped enamel bath. Maybe it was for that reason he took to writing in there.. Or maybe he was always trying to leave, but lost himself in the calm quarter of our clean, white tiles.

I don’t know. But that summer my parents sent a builder round. Hari. I don’t know how or why, but they decided we needed to get the place redone. Modernise it, they said. They’d pay for it. I agreed. There seemed nothing to loose. Hari was handsome and cheerful. I sometimes wondered if they’d sent him over to check up on me. I knew they were worried about me. But Hari never mentioned the fact that Rushi never came out of the room all day, or that he had to make his own tea and coffee. Instead he filled the bathroom with beautiful cream tiles and installed a brand new shower. Sometimes in the evening I would pack some food for Hari so he could have it the next day for lunch. He seemed to like my cooking because the food was always gone when I came home from work. Sometimes we’d chat in the hallway or I’d invite Hari to have a cup of tea with me when I came home. I never asked him to stay though. It didn’t seem right… The job didn’t take long, maybe three weeks or so. The day after it was all done I sang in the shower. I had never felt water so clean and so pure before.

When I came back from work that day, there was nothing there. No smoke in the bedroom, no coffee cups in the sink. No rushi in bed. Everything was immaculate. Rushi had just quietly packed his belongings and left. Just like that.

I wept. And howled. Filling the flat with more noise than it had heard for months. For weeks afterwards, it was my cups were left in the living room in the morning. I don’t know if I did this intentionally or to make myself suffer more. But, I would wake in the morning to see white china strewn across the living room, and wonder how they got there. Sometimes, I would even take his tablets, and lie there in the bedroom, until sleep and oblivion overcame me.

It was depression. Or so I thought. It hung around the rooms like a silent thief, holding smiles and laughter as hostages. It was thick, suffocating and very slippery. I had felt myself sinking in those final months, like a butterfly caught in a web. I couldn’t eat or go out. Tears seem to come from the bottom of my stomach, and surface in tremendous, consuming waves.

I disappeared. For weeks. For months. Until the letter came…

It was addressed to Rushi Rozas. A clean white envelope with a London postage stamp. I looked at it suspiciously. Lots of mail came for Rushi, but this one looked different. It was light. It seemed to glow in the kitchen. I locked my finger under the flap and pulled out the creamy sheets.

The paper was crisp and heavy, sliding out of the envelope with ease. One sheet was obviously a contract, I didn’t bother to read it. I took out the headed letter.

Dear Mr Rozas,

Please find enclosed the contract for the publication of your novel A Silent night by Peacock Publishers. Please sign and return it to us at the above address.
blah blah.

I stared at the words. Rage pulsed low and deep inside me. My eyes blurred and I could feel my body begin to shake. I took a gulp of coffee and then slowly poured the rest over the envelope and its contents. I watched as the brown seeped into the white, discolouring it forever. Changing it beyond repair. I went to the window and threw it, and several dozen cups out of the window. I watched it all fall, dispersing hundreds of droplets of warm, brown liquid into the air.

After that, I entered bookshops with hesitancy. Afraid to see the book, but terrified I would miss it. I awaited it like a phantom. It crept into my thoughts, into my dreams. Yet I didn’t want to see Rushi’s sparking eyes in the inside cover. I didn’t want to see if he had acknowledged me. But, I had to see what I had made.

Finally, I stopped looking for it and instead filled myself with life. I sucked London dry with vengeance. I was there, at every party, play and film screening. Smiling, drinking, being alive. Autumn turned to winter and winter into spring. Snow fell and thawed, rain fell and dried. The rhythm of life continued relentless, sucking me back in. By the time I finally saw the book, one bright spring day when the rain fell in sparkling drops, I had lost the anger. Instead I had gained a sort of numb joy. I bought it and at the counter allowed myself a peek inside. I found the acknowledgement page quickly. I saw my name, mentioned right at the top. Thank you for having me when no-one else would. And I was glad, glad that he hadn’t forgotten. Glad that the cloud although invisible hadn’t disappeared completely.

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