First Kiss

Time changes everything. Nothing is still and nothing eternal. Martha could now look at her husband and be content with her own lot. Her old memories were fading, at least some of them were and he knew that.

Robert had married Martha for the dowry that came with her. It was a huge investment for his newly found advertisement firm. That firm was now well established and in the responsible hands of their son. Robert knew Martha was against this match from the start. He had not given her a chance to say no. He had cheated her out of her chance at true love, she always told him. Perhaps he did. Robert couldn’t love Martha the way she wanted him to. There was one particular reason for it and her name was Samantha.

Martha knew about Samantha. She had found her in her husband’s bed a decade ago. She had ample reasons to leave but nowhere in particular to go. She had no hopes of a bright future, not because she lacked beauty or charm. She lacked interest.

Martha knew about Samantha but Robert never found out about Mathew. He didn’t have a chance to. Mathew was her past. He had very little to do with her present or her future. When Mathew left Martha’s life had come crashing down on her. That never happened again, not when her parents’ died in a car crash, not when she found out about her husband’s affair. To Martha such trivial realities had stopped to matter the day she found Mathew’s letter on the bedside table where they had just made love the previous night.

The letter promised Martha a bright future, many unattainable dreams and a promise that he would never bother her with his presence ever again. Martha never really recovered from that hurt but the pain had fainted with time.

It did not matter to Robert ever that she could not respond to his advances of love with the same zeal that Samantha would. He had Samantha for his pleasures and Martha for the show. One other thing that Robert never found out was that soon after being found out in her bed Samantha had reached out to Martha and they had been best friends ever since.

Samantha came from a poor family. Her mother was prostitute while her father was unknown. Samantha however did not want to be stuck to the local saloon offering her services to drunken men. She had high ambitions and to fulfil them she had come to town. Her first patron was the owner of a bar where she joined as a singer. She had a nice voice, so many of her customers told her, customers who always demanded more. She used her voice to sing at parties and buffets till she came into the eye of a very powerful businessman. That businessman was Martha’s father.

Martha’s father wanted to make a star out of her. He was perhaps the first man in her life who never touched her physically and the first man that she had given her heart to. It was Martha’s father who had introduced her to Robert. After the old man passed away Robert made her a star alright with a small price to pay.

Samantha was an expert at the art of making love. She did not restrict her skills to Robert though. She had an insatiable appetite and she was never out of tricks.  Once, Samantha tried to teach Martha some of her tricks, so that Robert wouldn’t insist on frequenting her, so often. When their lips met they felt contentment for the first time in a long time.

Samantha knew about Mathew. She even promised to find him for Martha. Martha never held her on her promise. Samantha never told her.

Mathew didn’t even remember the name. When Samantha had introduced herself as Martha Sutherland he simply proffered his card. Samantha saw the impression of a ring on his left hand. It was fresh. He had hastily taken off his wedding ring in order to take her hands for the dance. That was the general reaction men gave to her presence.

Samantha had a conscience. She didn’t like breaking homes. That is why she had gone to talk with Martha in the first place. That was now in the pages of history. Mathew’s wife was less tolerant than Martha, much less tolerant. Samantha was there to witness his drinking as well. She always filled the glass when he felt he had enough. Those were the nights when Robert left her alone.

The two women met during the day. They exchanged pudding recipes and made love. That was the regular routine. Sometime’s Martha would teach Samantha how to sew a rose on a quilt. Sometimes Samantha showed Martha the correct way to apply mascara.

Samantha knew that Martha would hurt more if she knew that Mathew laid her for a bet. When Samantha found out she was pregnant it was Martha she went to. That was perhaps the first time that the woman had surprised her as she stood up to her husband demanding that he adopt the child. Martha always thought that the child was Robert’s.

Samantha died young. She was about ten years younger than Martha. She couldn’t see her biological son graduate, or fall in love, or succeed in business. Sam inherited his mother’s kind heart and conscience. He knew he was named after their family friend Samantha Doolittle. He was there on a vacation from school when the kind woman died of a weak heart.

There never was any other woman that Martha could call a friend. Samantha’s death brought her close to her husband. They grieved for a long time and tried to see Samantha in Sam. That didn’t work too well because Sam went away for his studies. They finally found comfort in each other’s arm.

One summer afternoon, Martha had been forced to enter a pub to take shelter from the incessant rain outside.  Seated on a corner table was a face that had blurred from her memory but a likeness that was fresh in her consciousness. Before that moment it had never occurred to her that Sam never resembled Robert in his facial features. He neither inherited anything other than his light blue eyes from his deceased biological mother. But Sam’s face always brought a sense of déjà vu to her. She now realized why.

Martha walked up to the table where Mathew sat. He looked up with glazed eyes. He did not recognize her. Martha sat down on a chair opposite and ordered lemonade.

“Mathew, it’s me. Martha.” She said weighing her every word.

The drunken man looked at her. He opened his eyes and looked at her closely, turned away and smirked. “You know you are not Martha. Your eyes are brown, hers were a crystal blue.” So saying the man got to his drink again. Martha sighed, nodded to herself, got up and went home.

That night she cried. She cried for whatever her friend had done for her. She cried for the stupidity with which she had ruined her own life. Robert didn’t know how to console her because he didn’t know the reason of her tears and sobs. As his instinct guided he held her close till she had emptied her heart out. Somehow it wasn’t working. Robert kissed away his wife’s tears and brought his lips to hers. In that moment they remained for a long time before Martha came back to reality. She rubbed away her tears, took a deep breath and looked at her husband. Her smile faltered. She took his face within her hands and in twenty years of their marriage, for the first time, kissed him back.

FirstKiss

Hot Chocolate

Wild flower

The morning is always beautiful no matter how gloomy it might be. It always remains the beginning of a new day, full of a countless possibilities. Eventually, we all believe, the rain will stop, the fog will lift or whatever is not right about the morning will correct itself with time. Time is a rare commodity in this world. Ask the child who has to tiptoe into his parent’s room to have a glimpse of them sharing time together, sleeping, on the two extreme ends of an uncomfortable bed. Robin rubbed his eyes and wished himself good morning and proceeded to the refrigerator to bring out the carton of milk. The milk remained in its regular corner and a note nearby from his mother, “There are fruits to go with the cereals”. Robin prepares his breakfast with his small hands, packs his bags and locked the front door to his house. His school was a fifteen minute’s walk. This had been a daily routine for him ever since he remembered. His parents worked to feed him and he toiled to let them be. Sometimes when a bully beat him at school or the teacher scolded him for his bad performance he went to his friend, the pillow, for comfort. Robin lived a quiet life in a quiet corner of his class with the few people he called his friends who had no idea what went on in his life.

One morning as Robin got out of bed, rubbed his eyes, he heard a commotion outside. He rushed to his parents’ empty rooms and parted the curtains that looked on the streets. There was a huge truck unloading in front of their home. Robin saw a giant cabinet that would almost fill his room. There were new neighbours coming in. His parents were shouting to each other the previous night blaming the person responsible for letting the beautiful bungalow go. While his mother blamed his father of never earning enough for their needs the father cursed his mother for never being satisfied. Robin couldn’t sleep in the noise. What he could do was close his eyes and will the noises to go away. He tried to think of a good place where he rather wanted to be: Disneyland maybe. Now the memory drifted to him and the giant cabinet filled him with wonder.

That day Robin was restless at school even getting into a fight with his best friend for spilling ink on his new T-shirt. Robin failed to explain that he was not paying attention and the fight ended in a black eye. Robin got the black eye. When school was finally over Robin trudged his feet back home, into the same hole where he had spent most of his eight years of life. The front door was locked as usual. His parents both toiled from dawn till midnight and were happy about it. They had well-paying jobs that almost managed to supply their endless needs. Robin took out the keys from his backpack when he noticed a movement behind him. He swerved around to face the monster of the dark but the shadows that were there came from the nearby lamp-post. Robin felt the goose bumps and knew that his fear was unjustified. He had lulled himself to sleep for too many nights to actually believe in the bogeyman. Across the street, the old dilapidated building he once saw had been then been reconstructed into a fine bungalow, of the kind that had been there before his own time. Robin had noticed the construction work in progress for the last few months. A warm light came from the windows, inviting the stranger that he was.

Robin crossed the road and knocked. A kind old lady opened the door and smiled. Robin tried to smile back and he realized it had been a long time he had actually smiled. He laughed with his friends. He guffawed at his own stupidity sometimes but never did he return the warmth of a smile with his own. His smile faltered and the woman saw him inside her own home. He stammered while explaining he felt scared of entering his own house and grinned at how stupid he really sounded. His stupidity was treated with a cup of burning hot chocolate that the boy hungry for love swallowed on a gulp.

Pinkie Auntie, as the old woman requested to be called was an eternal housewife. She had lived for her husband’s home when she was young and for her children’s household when they were a bit older. Now when she was old herself she had to learn to live for no one. It is quite a difficult task as she perceived it. Humans are social creatures. Acknowledgement and recognition are what they strive for the most. So for someone, anyone, it is very difficult to live a life of obscurity. Robin and Pinkie Auntie, on the opposite ends of the spectrum of life, both had to deal with the same challenge.

Every day from that day onward, returning from school, Robin crossed the road and everyday he was greeted with a cup of hot chocolate. Pinkie Auntie found in Robin the son whom she had lost to mundane duties. He rarely got time to see her. Robin sometimes picked some wild flowers from the roadside on his journey back from school. Those flowers adorned the vase kept on the mantle.

A few years passed by and Robin grew up. Soon he had to go to college in a distant city. His parents, whom he now got to see some more, were proud of him for getting into an Ivy League college. His Auntie was happy for him for realizing his dream.

Robin was sad to leave. Pinkie Auntie had grown older and more fragile with the years. He very well knew that she would be completely alone without him. Still a man had to do what a man had to do. In his first few months at college he learnt to sympathize with his mother who never could be in time for his birthday even though she said she wanted to. When his first semester grades didn’t satisfy his teachers he felt sorry for his father who could never satisfy anyone in his life. Whatever he felt, whatever he experienced the child in him sought for the comfort and the cup of hot chocolate available right across the street, in a home far away.

In the winter holidays he returned home. It was the dead of the night when he knocked at his own house. It was a surprise visit. His parents were elated. They still slept in the same room on the opposite edges of a bed that belonged to no one. Robin went up to the room that belonged to him, or so he had always believed. He was too tired for a cup of hot chocolate to cure him. He needed sleep. The next morning would bring a smile on an old face that saw him. It was a happy place where he was, thinking about his Auntie.

Next morning he freshened up and went out. With expectant eyes he crossed the street. He went to the door and knocked. No hustling sound came from within. He stood still. He waited. He knocked again. After a while he tried the door. It was locked. He tried to look through the closed window. It was dark inside. He was anxious. He was worried. It had been a week he hadn’t called his Auntie. Was she angry with him? He wondered.

Reluctantly he returned home. His parents were seated at the breakfast table. Robin was surprised to see them eating together. That had never happened before, not even on the weekends when he got to eat with his mother.

“Where have you been so early?” His father asked. Robin had to stop his train of thoughts to realize that his father was actually speaking to him.

“Uh…Umm…The old lady across the street…” He managed to utter.

“Oh a tragic case,” said his mother.

“Why? What happened?” Robin asked.

“She was found dead in her home a couple of days ago. I believe her body is still in the morgue. No one even came forward to give her a decent burial.” She said and clicked her tongue. “You won’t do that to us… will you son?” His mother added.

Robin looked at her with glazed eyes. He vaguely shook his head and went out the way he came.

The next evening, as the sun touched the horizon, Robin longed for his cup of hot chocolate. He picked up some wild flowers on his way and sat down before Pinkie Auntie’s grave. He had buried her the day before. The white lilies on her grave had dried up. They were now replaced by the wild flowers that once adorned her mantelpiece. In another hand Robin carried his cup of hot chocolate. He sat there by the grave and sipped. After almost a year he was finally home.

Falling…

I
It is not the aroma or the sight that draws a hunter to its prey. It is the instinct. The instinct to go for the kill. Falling in love is no different. Phoebe ran to her lover on the eve of the New Year. He was standing   of the theatre holding a bouquet of red roses. Phoebe never really loved roses: the fragrance was always too strong for her, so was her lover. She never attained the vulnerable innocent love that she read of in her story books. Her lover was different from the dream of the lover that she nurtured.

Samuel was leaving in a few weeks. As soon as the snow lifted he would gladly find his path to his future. Phoebe was a part of that future, a feeble part in a distant future. Samuel knew he was lucky. Luck was something that always favoured him. When he met Phoebe for the first time entering the theatre corridor he knew she was his. They both spent their school afterhours in the theatre. They were both very passionate about drama and they both loved performing classics. Samuel was the audience’s favourite Chocolate soldier. Phoebe was relatively new to all this, wide-eyed and fascinated with everything she saw around. Samuel promptly took her under his wings and soon they were kissing under the moonlight. Samuel owned Phoebe, her heart and her body. So when time came for him to leave for his career in a different city, among a different set of people, carving out a place for himself, a home in whose wall would be place reserved for the pretty face of Phoebe.

Phoebe did not know whether to be sad or happy. Samuel was leaving and her sorrow was justified. Her fears were justified. Her tears were justified. But what was there to justify the sense of freedom going through her? Why was there a feeling of weights being lifted of her heart? She was happy with Samuel leaving and that joy scared her. She was scared for her morals and scared for her future.

The day finally came when Samuel had to bid his goodbye. Phoebe was in a bad shape. Tear stained face and uncontrollable sobs was not how Samuel wished to bring Phoebe before his friends and families but that is what was there for everyone to see. Phoebe was scared. Scared for herself. Scared that her heart was telling her things she should not listen to. She belonged to Samuel she wanted to tell it. You are not married to him it would tell her.

Samuel left. Spring came. School started again. Phoebe no longer remained the center of attention at school. She stopped going to the theatre. She withdrew into herself. From the first row she backed up to the last bench in the class. The teachers were all worried about her. She stopped answering and interacting. The teachers called her parents and the parents consulted the best psychiatrist. The psychiatrist diagnosed her with heartbreak at her fiance’s departure from town. Phoebe’s mother tried to convince Phoebe that Samuel was coming back. Phoebe’s father promised that he would try his level best so that Phoebe could go to the same college where Samuel was. It was just a matter of two years.

Phoebe, the ever crying, ever scared, wiped her tears. She picked up her book and went inside her room to study. Her grades improved. Still she was the silent back bencher of the class. In the lunch time she sat in the obscure corner of the school cafeteria.

She was still seated in that same corner of the cafeteria when she heard te sound of chairs being drawn out beside her. She lent a sideways glance to see a boy not much taller than herself. He was quite unremarkable. His face was covered with freckles and he wore thick glasses. He asked politely if she minded his taking seat beside her. Reluctant to interact with a stranger Phoebe shrugged. The lanky boy smiled and took his seat. On his plate was a bagel and some chips. He offered her the chips and she reluctantly picked one. He said his name was Dan. He was an exchange student from a western state and had joined the school only recently.

Phoebe found out that Dan was in History and Literature with her. They always took the back bench or the last seat. They never spoke to each other or if they spoke they discussed classes. When there was a lot of commotion around and Phoebe would start feeling drowned in the noise she would look at Dan and he would smile. Dan had a very goofy looking smile and that smile made Phoebe burst out laughing. She would giggle a girlish giggle and look away. Dan never told her how he felt when she did that.

Two years passed quickly and it was time for Phoebe to go to Samuel. Their parents decided to get them married-the highschool sweethearts. Samuel did not mind being married to Phoebe. The ceremony was held in Phoebe’s home town. Dan didn’t show up. Phoebe said her “I do” and went on living her life. Only when she would feel lonely in her solitude she would look up and search for a goofy smile that would make her giggle and a tear would slide down her cheek.

II
Years passed by but Phoebe’s career did not take off as planned. Samuel was a banker and was highly successful. Phoebe failed to be a part of his success. Soon after Samuel got the job Phoebe was living alone in a rented apartment. She worked hard in a diner where she herself wouldn’t eat. Sometimes some customers obliged her with a means to pay her rent. She never brought her clients home. There was an arrangement with the diner’s owner.

It was a summer evening. The clouds were pouring their grievances on the sturdy soil. Phoebe served her usual customers, beer, vodka or a glimpse of her flesh. At the gate there was a rush of feet. Some men entered the diner in dresses to fine for the scene. They wanted to make a call. Their car had broken down in the middle of the road. The roads were all deserted because of the storm. The men needed a mechanic and a place to sit till the mechanic finished his work. There were four men in all. They were all dressed similarly and all gave the same air of aristocracy that Phoebe never knew. Among them one man particularly attracted her attention. He was dressed in a crisp black suit, wet at the sleeves. He was repeatedly looking at her from the corner of his gold framed glasses. Phoebe spotted a potential customer and faked a smile but the man looked away.

The mechanic was called for but the rain prevented him from showing up. Phoebe eyed her potential customer every time she felt his eyes on her. But the man looked away. The owner of the diner saw a golden opportunity and offered the men lodging at a slight extra cost. The three men turned to the man in the gold frame for an opinion. He assented and everything was set.

There were two available rooms but the man with the gold frame lodged in one and the other three in another. It was obvious to all and sundry that he was someone important. The diner’s owner tried his best to get a good tip. He sent the best supper it had, which was not much, upto the man’s room. Phoebe carried the tray. As she knocked the door opened slightly. She was let in. She had been in the room before. Still this time something felt different. As she bent down to place the tray beside the bed she heard the door closing. She had heard it close several times before. But this time her heart leapt into her mouth. She turned to face the man with the golden spectacles.

III
The man was not in a very good mood. He reached out and cupped her chin in his left hand. He was quite rough and Phoebe let out a slight shriek. His mouth came crashing on hers to muffle them. Phoebe had been here so many times. She knew what she had to do, how she had to do it. But her hand tried to push back her assailant and as she pushed her hands crashed against steel. He was too strong for her to resist and she allowed herself to be crumbled in his strength.

The man knew what he was doing as soon Phoebe found herself undressed. She was on his bed writhing with pleasure as his hands roamed her bare skin. He insisted on keeping the lights on. His every kiss was rough on her skin, every touch was brute force and every caress a lure into the Devil’s den. Soon Phoebe forgot her fear of being homeless, forgot her need for food. Only one need existed in her and that was the primal instinct to fall into the man’s arms. She orgasmed again and again that night while the man with the golden spectacles didn’t even open his tie. He smiled with her every shriek of pleasure, a smile Phoebe couldn’t concentrate on as she was o seventh heaven.

When Phoebe could no longer keep her eyes open the man scooped her up in his arms and spooned her as she slep. SHe leaned back into his strong frame, feeling safe in the arms of her strange customer.In whspers she recounted her story, from her wedding bed to the diner bed. The man kept fingering her hair and when she broke into sobs he hugged her. Soon he placed a kiss on her forehead and she fell asleep.

When morning came Phoebe woke with a start. Light filled the room and the stranger was gone. He hadn’t even paid her and she felt cheated, again. All her clothes were scattered in the otherwise empty room. She didn’t feel like picking them up and putting them on. She sat on the bed starch naked covered with her own scent. Then suddenly she broke down into heart wrenching sobs. No one was there to hear her sobs and she had to eventually stop. She consoled herself by saying that he never actually had her so why should he pay? It didn’t really matter how much she had to give… it only mattered what he took. After sitting on the bed for a while longer she got up. As she finally picked up the scarf that lay on the bedside table she found a cheque. On it was written a sum with the number of zeroes she had never seen. She picked it up. It was in her name. On the corner of the cheque was a signature she couldn’t completely make out. She figured the first three letters of the name… Dan.

When morning came…