For seven months she and Ravi had been talking on the
phone, since the day Ravi called her as Sales Executive to promote a new
product his company was launching. Despite never having seen him, Sushma
felt additive affinity towards him, and within minutes she was talking
with him about her most intimate of matters. Both lived in separate
cities, and circumstances, distance, and stringency in Sushma's house
weren't favoring their meeting, nor an exchange of photographs.
Throughout the day she looked forward to the night,
when her parents and brothers, after the ceremony of loud burps, would
compete in snoring behind bolted doors. She would then get a chance to
steal the phone lying on the hutch top outside her room.
But while her passion for talk remained somewhat
constant, relishing as she did little innocent pleasures from their light
love talk, Ravi had once frustratingly labeled the exercise of talking
daily as melancholic.
Today, after so many days, Sushma spotted the same
childish excitement in Ravi that once used to result in her many
sleepless nights. Mesmerized by his charm, she used to spend her whole
time knotting strings of his words, a garland she would put around Ravi's
neck on their next talk.
"Can you see the Orion?" Ravi asked softly.
"Doesn't it seem like he's watching us?"
"I feel like he is blessing us," Sushma
interposed. She left a light kiss on the mouthpiece that through the same
cords came back a little heavy sound, touching her skin with an imaginary
"I don't think his nature allowed him to bless
anybody," Ravi said. "He was an overconfident brute who boasted
he could kill anybody."
"Really?" Sushma asked, raising her voice,
feeling the old rush of excitement she felt as a child when her mother
cleared her throat before beginning a story. The gentle flow of her
words, and the expressions on her face, that somehow led to denouement,
used to astonish her.
Laying alone in this dark room, letting the moonlight
seeping through the guava leaves sketch her faint outline against the
pink bedspread, she felt Ravi's deep knowledgeable words dissolving the
block of sugar that her ignorance had turned her into. "But in the
sky it looks so serene," she sighed.
"He was quite a lover," Ravi said, and
though Sushma could not see, she could feel by the leisure in his voice
that he was addressing her and Orion equally. "He pursued Seven
"That's fascinating, no? And whom are you
chasing, my highwayman?" she asked in a mocking tone.
"Why do you always call me that — that
Sushma laughed in her usual quizzical laughter.
"Because the first time we talked, I imagined you as the highwayman,
in the poem we read in school. I saw you touching your spurs to your
gallant pony and loping away across the sunlit plain, somewhere where I
was waiting for you. But first answer me," she asked
"He followed the sisters over oceans, and I am
searching for a girl inside telephone wires and graved cables." His
voice drowned when the window by her side started rattling fiercely. A
sudden wind swooshed the branches of the guava tree, making it look like
a disgruntled dragon groaning in his sleep. She slid ahead and put the
stopper into place with her toe.
"What's all the disturbance?" Ravi
Sushma didn't answer but dreamily looked at the stars
that seemed perennially stitched to the web of the sky. She believed
stars would soothe her skin with their cold stare as years would start to
wither it with their history.
But then the rain started, the leaves drooped as the
thick droplets lashed sonorously on them. The fainting image of the stars
and moon remained only as an aftereffect of the light that had escaped
the black clouds. In spite of the outside darkness Sushma could see their
varied shapes, swans and turtles floating across the sky, stealthily
closing on like a Japanese air force.
"Heck!" Sushma cried at last. "It has
started raining here. The wind is blowing away everything outside. Can't
see any stars. Orion is gone too," she said, disappointed. And so
the talk digressed from Orion and proceeded with the exchange of the
chores of their daily life. Sushma informed Ravi about the letter her
mother received, merrily informing the arrival of her aunt next week.
Ravi laughed, already aware of the eccentric nature of this aunt, how she
would make Sushma cook all the time, and will keep demanding new dishes
without ever tasting any.
The rain grew louder. Droplets bounced off the sill,
and pricked Sushma on her face and feet. But for some reason she felt too
lethargic to get up and close the window. Every minute or two she pressed
the light button of her watch that lay balanced on her belly, surfing
like on a wave with her rhythmic breaking.
"What is this tick-tick noise?" Ravi
"Nothing," she answered. And then as an
afterthought, added, "A noise that measures love."
She looked at her clock. It was 2 o'clock, the time
when her voice used to slack and almost pleadingly, she'd say goodbye.
But today she hadn't shown any signs of being tired or sleepy. Was it the
Orion talk? she wondered, still popping the bubbles of jubilance inside
her. Or couldn't she get beyond the fact, how this small earthly rain,
covering not even one whole city, so effortlessly drowned away the mighty
"C'mon," Ravi said. "Tell me what's all
this clicking and ticking and no yawning."
"Told you," she answered softly. "It's
the voice asking me how much my Ravi loves me. It's my clock."
"And what did you say?"
"Hmmm.....that if love is about remembering, then
he doesn't love me. It's two hours after 12 and he has forgotten my
birthday. He has forgotten it's the eighteenth today. Even the rain came
to wish me."
Ravi breathed heavily, guiltily, but did not speak
immediately. "Ram," he said at last, and made some apologizing
sounds, even desperately slapped on the wall by his side. "How can
I? I am too....." But Sushma wasn't listening. She placed the
receiver on one side without telling Ravi, and went to the window. She
listened attentively to the rivulets gurgling down the drain, and saw in
the dim light the puddles of water collecting in the garden mud. All the
time smiling and wondering if puddles are a band sent on this auspicious
day by Orion himself.
BIO: Shipra Sharma is 22 years old and lives in India with
her parents. Her short stories are published in both ezines and print