–by Bhumika R.
Ira watered her tiny patch of kitchen garden for the third time that day. The tomatoes were clearly wilting and the cucumber had even given up trying. But Ira ensured that they were watered and checked on them, caressing their almost dead leaves and stem. Delhi’s summer was ruthless. It scorched everything that seemed alive, leaving behind a faint smell of smokiness in the air that her people breathed.
Ira’s relationship with this city had always been a little too complicated. She felt she belonged and unbelonged simultaneously. Loneliness was a constant, loyal companion. She had once laughingly told her colleague that loneliness was a certainty in an otherwise uncertain terrain of her life. It lived within her and to think of its absence caused her discomfort. She moved with that certainty in her everyday life. The pendulum swung with an almost even rhythm between her teaching job, her home and her little daughter Charitra. A decade ago, in Delhi’s harsh summer, something snapped within her, leaving behind a never to fade kind of burnt smell.
That year when Delhi’s summer had scorched her, everyone seemed suspicious and paranoid about some strange creature that they said had been loitering around in the city. Some claimed that they had sighted it here and there. The description of those who had sighted matched that of the terminator. Children playing with their toy guns and shrieking in joy on having killed the creature was a boringly regular sight in almost every colony and society complex.
The authorities went around on foot and on motor vehicles, announcing on a screeching microphone that residents must stay indoors until further instructions from the competent authority. It was so like a fairytale, thought Ira. Who or what was this creature and what did it even do, was a question that remained unanswered.
Everyone she met or spoke with, had a different description of this creature. She smiled inwardly at the different narratives that piled up around the creature. Perhaps, she could turn these heaped up narratives on the creature to bedtime stories for Charitra when she was little older. Ira felt a strange relief thinking that perhaps Charitra could draw the creature with crayons and colour pastels when she would be old enough to understand the narratives.
Ira gazed at Charitra, sleeping in her cradle, unperturbed by the screeching sounds emerging from the microphone. Caressing her daughter’s forehead, Ira stood in her balcony, gazing at the spider, weaving its web beneath the cane chair. The spider seemed unperturbed by her presence and continued busy. Ira felt uneasy. She had a strange discomfort about believing anything about the creature. Any thought of believing it, made Ira uneasy.
It all happened a week after that announcement from the shrieking microphone. A news channel flashed a news about the sudden ‘disappearance’ of some people in the city. News anchors argued and screamed, banging their fists about the connections of the ‘disappeared’ people with the strange creature which had turned life upside down in the capital city. Narratives about the creature got funnier and weird with each passing day. Her student had messaged to say that the old rickshaw wallah had been lynched by the residents’ welfare association committee members of a colony, near her college. They alleged the poor man had connections with the strange creature
Two months later, a lot of people were taken away by the authorities for their connections to the mysterious creature. Her old classmates, Aman, Riya and Shweta had also been taken away for investigation.
Ira never heard from any of them after they had been taken away for further investigation. A decade later, the authorities still claimed that the creature was still lurking around somewhere. All invitations to neighbourhood tea and snacks parties, children’s birthday parties had stopped. Everyone in the city only wanted to eat, talk and party with their families. Outsiders were strictly prohibited from being a part of any kind of party that each family almost routinely hosted for themselves.
Ten-year-old Charitra disliked crayons and drawing. For Ira, the creature remains an abstract, strange and unbelievable thing.
Bhumika R completed her Ph.D from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi in 2019. She has taught English in Surana College, Bangalore and in IIT Jammu and plans to resume teaching soon. Besides her academic publications, she has also contributed articles to Cafe Dissensus Everyday, The Hindu and Deccan Herald. She also writes poetry and short fiction in English and some of her poems have been published in the Visual Verse. She is currently translating Mizo author Malswami Jacob’s novel Zorami into Kannada. She lives with her husband in Jammu. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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