By Dipayan Chakrabarti
As the eastern sky turned red, Ileana woke up early in her bedroom. She stood by the window, tall and still, gazing absently at the blurred distance. The rays of the morning sun caught the zigzagging wings of quails and pigeons which created patterns across the sky in Siliguri. After some time, her eyes fell on the shades of blossoming bougainvilleas at the still waters of the abandoned pool which had a rusty drift of different pollens on its surface. She noticed some blue birds — they were house martins– take flight towards the open sky. A warm spring breeze ruffled her black hair. Nature was exploding with new foliage, and colourful flowers which filled her with hope and expectations.
Ileana was startled by a booming voice as her father rushed through the door in his own inimitable way. “How’re the online classes going, dear?” asked her old man, chewing methodically on his pipestem.
“Fine dad,” Ileana replied with a little quaver.
“You seem very busy with your laptop!” he said, curling part of the upper lip upwards.
“The online classes are already in progress today, dad.”
Ileana’s father left the room giving an indifferent shrug while she kept gazing out of the window at the snow-capped peaks of Mt. Kanchenjunga and their lovely little garden. She felt relieved when her father left the room. Ileana felt bogged down with online classes, exams, and pressure to perform, though her teachers had always addressed the critical concern with tips to maintain her emotional well-being during examinations.
Ileana was startled by a dull buzz on that afternoon. The phone rang continuously. She picked up the receiver and held it to her ear. She looked worried as her friend’s feeble voice wailed from the other end. “I’m Covid-19 positive, Ileana. I’m down with a little fever, dry cough and tiredness.”
“Don’t worry dear,” Ileana tried to lift her friend’s spirits. “Those are only mild symptoms and you would soon recover without hospitalisation.”
“Thank you!” said Ileana’s friend.
“Remember that healthy mind is very important for a healthy life,” Ileana advised, taking off her glasses.
“I’m feeling insecure and alone, Ileana.”
“Stay connected to your loved ones by telephone,” Ileana advised.
“Yeah, I’ll do that,” said Ileana’s friend.
“Practice breathing exercises during home workouts,” Ileana counselled, looking at the rotating blades of the ceiling fan as the power returned after a prolonged breakdown.
“Thanks for being so kind, Ileana.”
Later when the setting sun turned the western sky to an eerie orange, sunlight streamed in through the window blinds — dusty and mellow. Darkness descended. Ileana looked up, and then stared out of the room window, looking worried. She let the breeze cool her face. Streaks of lightning illuminated her. They rippled and danced. She gazed upwards till her neck ached.
At nightfall, Ileana walked through the dark corridors in an off-shoulder blouse and took the elevator to the roof of the building. There were thick gathering clouds in the sky, but she took no note of them. She shivered in the gust of wind. Suddenly, freezing drops from the sky pierced her bare shoulders. They were hailstones. Ileana shut her eyes and walked against the downpour feeling the sting of the pouring hailstones on her face. She caught the tiny hailstones in her palm and shoved them into her mouth to crunch them between her molars. She went inside.
Ileana listened to the tuneful sonatas of Beethoven’s third symphony on her headphones. After some time, she lent an ear to the pitter-patter rhythm that dissolved her troubles into cascading cadences of music. The sky and the sonatas grew darker and darker.
The rain fell gently on the roof of the apartment building. She heard the whistling wind fly over the stretched wire and buildings creating a droning hum. “This lockdown is threatening my physical well-being, my identity and also my self-esteem,” she whispered to herself. She kept gazing at the rainwater that had replaced the hailstones and was turning the ground slippery. She felt everything was an aimless slog. She conjured up the faces of her loved ones though they had fallen severely short of her expectations.
She felt that the situation was so bad that nothing she could do would change it. “I cannot endure this any longer. I want to escape from this living hell,” she whispered into the night air blowing in through her window. Only a draft of wind gushed through her curly hair. Everything appeared dark and there were no redeeming features that could give her hope. Death seemed preferable to her in comparison to the imagined future which seemed like a living hell.
It was nearing dawn. Ileana was back to the rooftop. She slipped and fell when she tried to walk on the wet surface slippery with rainwater from the night. She got up slowly and walked to the farthest end of the roof. When she reached the end, she peered down. Her face suddenly softened and tears filled her eyes.
Ileana gaped blankly as the sun crept over the lofty buildings into the horizon. The first light of dawn touched everything with ripples of gold. It was another beautiful morning. Everything looked cheerful.
Dipayn Chakrabarti (Jalpaiguri, India) is a novel and short story writer. His works have received numerous awards and have been published in several literary journals.
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