Heafed* by Brindley Hallam Dennis

Cumbria, where the story is set. Courtesy: Creative Commons

The barman hadn’t warned me that I’d taken the old man’s regular place at the bar. Perhaps that’s why he was so edgy to begin with.

“So. Whur’s thee really frum?”

“The Midlands,” I said.

“Ah wusnae sae fur aff, then.” he observed, nodding slowly.

“I’ve been up here more than fifty years mind you,” I told him.

“Thee’s still an incomer,” he said. “Thee’s allus an incomer.”

I must have frowned or something because he smiled and spoke more softly.

“It’s nae a bad thing tae be.”


The smile turned into a grin, and he leaned closer.

“Incomers is good fer’t stock,” he said. “Freshens it up somat. Besides,” he added, there’d be nae names if’n it weren’t fer’t incomers. Fer’t fells an’t becks, tha knows. It’s allus incomers that gies places theer names.”

“I guess so.”

“Sae next lot knaws whut tae call ‘em, he explained. The thing wi’ incomers,” he said, “is ef they gie ‘emselves tae place, or just tek frum it.”

We sat looking at each other after that for maybe a minute or more without saying anything. Then he nodded to my glass.

“Wilt tek another yan?”

“Aye, I thought, why not?”

“So,” he said while the barman was drawing two more pints, “You’ll not have been all that old, when you arrived?”

I noticed the change too. Maybe he’d relaxed a little, forgiven me for taking his place at the end of the bar.

“I was twenty-one,” I said.

“Why here?”

“School trip a few years before. Thought I’d come to heaven.” He nodded at that. “I took to driving up for weekends once I got a car; camped on a local farm. The farmer let me use his standpipe for water. We got to know each other, well, recognise each other. He was older than me. He’d be dead by now, I guess.”

“Aye. It’s a hard life on the fells.”

We sipped our beers.

“And what made you leave? Home.”

That one caught me out. I took a longer pull at the beer.

“Working for my dad for three years.”

“Ah,” he said, and I think he chuckled. “I know that one, lad,” he said.

I’m over seventy, but it’s always nice to be called lad.

“My heart wasn’t in it,” I told him, “The work.”

He gave me a keen look but said nothing.

“You’ll have been tied to the land, I imagine?”


I wondered what he thought I meant.

“Has it worked, leaving?”

“Yes,” I said. “And staying? Has that?”

He took a long pull at his beer. The barman, who’d been listening intently, waited for his answer.


*Animals growing accustomed to and attached to an area of pasture that they seldom stray away from it.


Brindley Hallam Dennis lives on the edge of England where he writes occasional plays, poetry, and essays. His writing has been published and performed. He blogs at 



Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles


        The Infallible Business


By Sangeetha G

 Courtesy: Creative Commons

“Did you apply for the job?” Somnath asked casually when they met in the evening that day. The playground adjacent to the village school had become their hangout place for the past two years. 

“I have lost hope in these applications, interviews, and jobs,” Rajesh sounded quite detached. That was a state mind he had acquired gradually over the past two years of joblessness and pandemic. It had changed his perspective about jobs, careers, city life, and life in general. Waking up early, catching the metro train during rush hours for office, slogging till late evenings, and catching the train again to get back home just for a few hours of sleep seemed a routine of a past life. In the village, they had nothing to do. The nothingness got into their heads. They found it difficult to return to their past life.

“We need to do something. But I don’t want to go back to the city,” said Somnath.

“I have a business idea. Capital-light, easily executable, infallible, and recession-proof and to top it all it has an unbelievable Return on Investment,” said Rajesh. 

“That sounds ideal, blurt it out,” Somnath looked excited.

“We can get into the business of religion and build a temple,” Rajesh said. 

Somnath was baffled. “Is that a business to do?”

“Religion is the best business and until humans continue to believe in unseen and unknown powers working upon them, the business will flourish. You can start with a very small capital and earn loyal customers, who would never question whether you deliver or not. They will keep on putting in money without applying logic. In a crisis, the business will not slacken. Instead, the loyal customers will keep on investing, hoping for a better tomorrow. What other business has these amazing deliverables?” he asked. 

“You have a point,” Somnath was on the same page. 

“What is the plan,” he asked. 

“It is simple. I have a ten-acre land that has been lying unused for years. We will set up the temple there,” Rajesh was confident.

“Just because we go ahead and build a temple, are people going to believe in the deity?”

“We will not build a temple just like that. First, a miracle should happen and then the temple will follow,” Rajesh detailed the plan. 

“As per my plan, you will fall sick…seriously sick and the doctors will not be able to diagnose your condition. As your condition starts worsening, you will announce that you had a dream. In the dream, a goddess appeared before you and asked you to dig out her idol from the nearest banyan tree. The nearest banyan tree falls in my land. As per your dream, your family and my family will dig out the idol from the soil near the banyan tree. The idol will be consecrated and you will be cured. This will be our base miracle,” Rajesh said. 

“First our families will start worshipping and slowly, by word of mouth, others will join us. As people will see that their wishes are getting fulfilled, worshippers will start flowing to our temple,” Rajesh added. 

“But, this is a farce. How will people’s real wishes come true by praying to the false idol?” Somnath was sceptical.

“Imagine, 100 people come and pray in the temple. They all will have their wishes, but at least 50 will be working towards their dreams. Simple statistics say that 30 percent are likely to achieve their dreams. Those who get their dreams fulfilled, will anyway become staunch believers. Of the remaining 70 percent, 20 percent might leave forever. But they would never complain or bad-mouth about the temple. After all, talking against God is sacrilegious,” Rajesh went on. 

“Now we have to focus on the 50 percent who are confused between belief and disbelief. We come up with propaganda that whoever did not get their wishes fulfilled in a month has some serious negative karma. They will have to do penance for nine consecutive weeks to mitigate the effect of their karma. At least 30 percent will fall for it. We will design some tough rituals as penance,” he said. 

“Why tough rituals?” Somnath was curious.

“Tougher the ritual, greater the belief,” Rajesh reasoned. 

“By then, more than 50 percent of the worshippers would have turned our believers. They will keep on pouring money into the temple and continue to do whatever we ask them to do. Further, new sets of worshippers will keep on coming to the temple. We will ask the worshippers to leave a note in a box if their wishes have been fulfilled. I am sure we will get ample notes for our marketing campaign through social media and elsewhere. Once we achieve a certain number of daily worshippers, we will touch the inflection point. Then we can relax and the system will take care of itself,” he sounded confident.

“What is the guarantee that all these worshippers will deposit money in our boxes?” Somnath asked.

“We will propagate that people who had put money saw their wealth growing multi-fold. We will get some notes substantiating this claim as well. Who does not love money? They will pour in money for the sake of more money,” Rajesh replied. 

“I liked the idea. But will people behave as we expect them to?” Somnath was critical. 

“Don’t worry. As long as humans have low levels of confidence in themselves and their efforts, they will continue to seek help from ‘above’,” Rajesh smiled. 

By then, the sun had started setting and the sky was at its crimson best. The nearest temple had started playing devotional songs and worshippers were on the way to attend the twilight veneration. They stood up and started walking back home. 

“I will get one idol from the antique dealer in the city. I will hide it in the soil near the banyan tree and you will have to come out with some convincing disease plan. We will meet tomorrow,” Rajesh said as he took the private road leading to his house.


Sangeetha G is a journalist in India. Her flash fiction and short stories have appeared in Down in the Dirt, Academy of the Heart and Mind, Kitaab International, Indian Review, Storizen, The Story Cabinet and Borderless Journal. Her story won Himalayan Writing Retreat Flash Fiction contest 2022. Her debut novel is in the works.



Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles


A Wooden Smile

By Shubhangi

Munni kept playing with the tap water until Malti came running into the bathroom, closed the tap, and smacked Munni on the back of her head. “As if we have a well full of water, you spoiled brat!Malti yelled and pinched her daughter’s ear. “Now gargle your mouth and hurry up.Munni made a little grunt and frowned at her mother. “Go and get ready,” Malti said as she wiped her thirteen-year daughter’s face with the end of her saree. Before Munni could ask why she had to be getting ready, Malti had already rushed out of their little, dilapidated, untended bathroom.

From where she stood, the little girl could see her mother straighten out one of her not-yet-tattered Kurtis and pajamas. Munni watched as Malti struggled to find a suitable dupatta to go with the outfit until she found one that had not gone colourless or wasn’t oil-stained.

“Are you going somewhere?Munni asked as she walked near to her mother. Malti sighed and continued to straighten the kurti which would not straighten at all. “Maa, are you going somewhere?” she persisted. Her mother ignored and measured the clothes on Munni, clicking her tongue upon seeing how loose the pajama was. “Maaaa,” Munni nagged and Malti cut her off. “Not me,” she replied sternly,”you –”

“Me?” Munni interrupted, excited. “Are we going to the park? Oh – you are taking me to that town fair, aren’t you? Okay, so I will get ice cream, um… a cotton candy, and yes, a doll, and…,” she paused. “Oh, but it will cost us a lot of money, won’t it, maa? Then maybe I will just get a doll. This one is jaded anyway.”Munni coiled the one-eyed doll’s hair around her thumb.

“A doll, eh?” Malti laughed a bit then. “You are thirteen years of age now. It’s time to act like a woman, hmm?” 

Munni could not understand her mother’s implication, so she just shrugged and braided one-half of her hair, while Malti did the other half. Then she took a bath, got dressed in oversized clothes without questioning why she was wearing her mother’s clothes all of a sudden instead of her frocks, and sat on her tiny, red, plastic chair.

Sitting on her red chair, Munni looked in the mirror and patted some talcum on her face, rubbed kohl under the eyes, and tied ribbons to her braids. She did not yet know where she was going or if she was really even going somewhere. Still, she had seen her mother do these things to herself every evening, when she wore her red sarees and lots of bangles to go and stand on the road outside with several other women who lived nearby, calling and talking to the men who passed by them. Along with the accessories, she also used to wear a big, wooden smile, which Munni had noticed, got bigger in front of these men. Looking at her from the window, Munni was always mesmerised by her mother’s beauty. Maybe that’s the reason a man or two was always by her side when she returned home every night.

Putting on some pink tint on her chapped lips, Munni rested her palms on her lap, looking at her mother cracking her knuckles in visible worry. Outside, the noise of a jeep was heard. She knew it was Gopal dada. But it was not the 1st of next month yet, why had he come then? “Maa, why has Gopal da…” before Munni could finish asking, Malti spoke, “Only come out when I ask you to, okay? And sit with your head down. Don’t play with your braids as you do. And hide that hideous doll you always play with. Be a woman now, will you?”And then she rushed out, wearing the same big, wooden smile.

Munni peeped through the curtain and saw her mother standing near the main gate, her hands folded in a habitual namaste, the kind she had come to know one used to beg and not to greet. Munni tried to get a glimpse of her face, but Malti’s head was covered with her saree.

“Is she ready?” Munni heard Gopal dada say. A strange feeling tugged at her wits. “Run,” a voice whispered inside her head.

Run! Run! Run!

“Munni?” Malti called for her just then. Startled for a bit, Munni went out anyway. Gopal dada was there. Also, another man. Munni did not know this other man. She looked at her mother and saw her eyes glistening. It took her a second to realise she was crying. “Maa,” Munni said faintly, tugging at Malti’s saree. Malti said nothing, just turned her head away.

Munni looked at Gopal dada. He was whispering something in the man’s ear. Then the man gave Munni a look up and down and walked inside the house as if it was his own. Malti put a hand on her grown-up daughter’s shoulder, without having the courage to meet her eyes, and pushed her gently toward their home.

Munni looked at her mother’s eyes shedding silent tears, the grip of her hand firm like a tree holding onto its dear leaves in the wild winds of autumn.“Eh, let her go already!”Gopal dada pushed Malti’s hand away, and a choked, silenced, burdened sob escaped from the mother’s lips.

Munni began to walk towards the cave of her childhood, unknowing that it would soon become the cage of her womanhood. But she did touch her braids, her face, her chest, her stomach — to lock a memory of her body as if she knew something was about to change about it. Reaching the doorstep, she consumed a huge breath, as if trying to store the old air around her in the helpless palate of her mouth. She looked back at her mother, who collapsed on the ground, wailing soundlessly. Munni felt an uncomfortable tremble in her legs, but she didn’t run. She knew she couldn’t. So, she just closed her eyes, exhaled the air she had previously stored inside her mouth, and mimicked her mother’s wooden smile. Then she walked inside.


Shubhangi is pursuing her Master’s degree in English literature from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Passionate about reading and writing, her poems have been published in publications such as The Indian Review and The Indian Periodical


Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles



By A Jessie Michael

Temiar people. Courtesy: Creative Commons

I am Busun, born in one world and living in two.

Excitement crawls like insects in my veins and explodes. My friends and I are distracted and hyperactive, packing meagre clothes into haversacks and scheming haphazardly about what we will do during the holidays.

The smells of the forest hit my senses as soon as our convoy of three 4WD SUVs leaves the highway and veers into a small tarred road which quickly morphs into a muddy track. These are odours we grew up with and missed so much – of earth, trees, vegetation, water, dankness, raw animal smells. My lungs expel the city smog and I breathe easier. The canopy rising from either side of the track and meeting over it cocoons us in its green coolness.

Once a year we change worlds and this other world draws us magnetically away from where we spend ten months a year — in a Christian hostel on the outskirts of the city, from where we are ferried to a government school to learn English, Malay, Geography, History, science and Maths. The towns near our Orang Asli community have no residential facilities, so when our elders heard the pastor offering to house and school the children for free, they thought it was a good opportunity for us to learn of the outside world. We get school every weekday, three meals daily, a structured life of learning and a regular input of Bible study. For two months a year we return to our Orang Asli community in the jungle. We call ourselves Temiar, foreigners call us aborigines, the government calls us Orang Asli and rude people call us sakai[1].

The ride becomes bumpy and suddenly it is bright and the green is gone. The heat hits us hard and the air is smoggy brown. Tree stumps stick out on a vast field of red on either side. Last year there was thick jungle here. Now the trees are gone. Our drivers try avoiding the deep wet ruts left by weighty lorries and trucks. Four times our vehicles sink in turn into the muddy tracks. We spend an hour each time maneuvering the vehicles out of the churning mud. There are streams to cross in the upper reaches where the tracks will virtually disappear. Then hopefully it will be jungle again.

Seven hours after setting out, we roll into an opening in deep jungle with a cluster of bamboo shacks. We ecstatically leap out whooping and racing like puppies let loose. Our parents and elders stand around grinning; they are not a demonstrative tribe. A look of gratitude and a laden table is plenty enough.

Our volunteer drivers and chaperons are ushered to the rickety bamboo table piled with food especially prepared for them and for us — yam and rice rolled in leaves and roasted in bamboo, a variety of boiled herbs and greens, roasted wild boar meat and venison — a rare feast for an auspicious day. Everyone digs in with fingers. We eat greedily, having missed this basic diet for months. The food reorients me. The empty vehicles leave soon after in order to exit the jungle before dark.

As we mingle with friends, I notice my father observing me closely. I am surprised to see that I have grown a head taller than him. He approaches me that evening before the night ceremonies begin.

“Busun,” he calls. “How is school?”

He spoke in our Temiar dialect and I quickly swing back into this mode of abrupt, brief speech.

“I don’t understand school….”


“The things we learn…. we can’t use.”

“What do you learn?”

“About past events in places we don’t know…. about cities and countries we never see…. they even tell us about the jungle….but they don’t know the jungle….I know the jungle. They can’t climb trees….no trees to climb, can’t kill animals or use a blowpipe….”

“The house?”

“Nice, clean. There is electricity but we can’t use much. It is expensive. A lot of food but not our food……I don’t like it much.”

“You don’t like the city? …. not happy?”

“No. They change us…”


“We cannot speak Temiar in school…. must speak English and Malay. The other children laugh at us…. they call us ‘sakai” …. They don’t know us. In school they talk of Islam…. At hostel …. they teach about Jesus Christ….no meaning. How are the fruit orchards?”

“The rains have been unseasonal,” my father complains. “The fruit blossoms have been blown down in the storms. The fruit season will be poor this year.”

Juicy pulasan, langsat, medicinal petai and jering and wild long thorned durians are our specialty. Our people foray out in season to sell these to locals for a pittance, who in turn make a hefty profit in market towns further away.

My father speaks to me differently than before. Perhaps he sees I have grown up and that I see things as my elders do. How will the children survive in the jungle? The other children and I have lost muscle and gained more flab. Bigger, fatter is a disadvantage in the jungle which needs agile skills. We have to relearn our forest skills every time we return from school.  We forget much or rather our bodies forget.

At sundown the traditional cleansing ceremony begins. We shed our city clothes and don our minimal traditional woven bark garbs and headgear of bamboo leaves and feathers. Wooden and bamboo musical instruments are taken off the walls. The Halaa or medium arrives to lead the community in removing any malevolent spirit and influences that may have followed us children from the city to upset the balance of our lives with the jungle spirits. Accompanied by crude drum, zephyrs, flutes, rattles and poles keeping beat against each other. The community in chorus echoes the chants of the Halaa as he sings and dances himself into a trance as he performs to our polyphonically sung music — melodies that live under our skin, and that we subconsciously draw out. The cleansing over, the musicians, especially the young ones continue long into the night reproducing magical sounds of birdsong, crickets chirping and animal calls, water flowing, wind whistling.

I fall asleep under the stars feeling strange – sans walls, windows, doors and pillows. The symphony of the sounds of the night sing loud in my ears – insects whirring, frogs in a croaking chorus, animal howls and grunts — so different from the roar of vehicles on the city highway. I strain to identify separately these almost foreign sounds. Still, I awake refreshed, the unfamiliarity gone. I am one with the elements again, dew on my face, dappled light overhead casting shadows that dance on my skin.

I make my way to the river ten minutes away. My unpracticed bare feet stumbling over huge tree roots, vines, thicket and bamboo and slipping on slopes and ledges where once I romped like a deer. The younger children are already there, cutting through the water like little otters. They have not swum for ten months. However, my anticipated pleasure is short lived. The once pristine waters of the river now runs red — bleeding.

I return from the river a little while later to find all the village men gathered at the open area, with machetes and poles.

“We are going to Doso’s village,” my father announces to me.

I ask one of the other young men, “What’s happening?”

“Loggers. Trying to go through Doso’s village. They are cutting the jungle upriver. Already begun. And the loose earth is already clogging the river. The water is dirty. Doso’s village is short of food. The animals are moving out or dying. The loggers want the village to move. There is nowhere to go anymore. We help them and some people from outside are helping us to stop the loggers. From upriver the loggers will move down to our village. We too have nowhere to go…”

I listen in silence. Inside confusion stirs. As we walk to Doso’s village, I recall the vast red field with tree stumps on the way home yesterday. I had not even thought of the dangers it posed. Where will animals and birds go if there is no jungle? Where would I go? Whenever I am home I become one with the jungle. There are no timetables, deadlines, learning of unpragmatic knowledge, no competitions, exams or pride from dubious achievements. Here we all flow with the pulse of nature, living off its bosom and never yearning for more.

Emerging from the trees with the men and some women, we come upon a broad track denuded of trees. The blazing sun and the breeze raise a haze of red dust. Our people have constructed a crude barricade of logs to stop the trailers and tractors from driving further in.

We have hardly ever had confrontations. Violence is alien to us; passive resistance is our way. Even the assumed weapons we carry is to rebuild the stockade which has been bulldozed several times by the loggers. Yet here we are walking straight into a conflict. I hear a rare anger in my father’s voice. He speaks more than I have ever heard him speak before.

 “We have been here forever with the spirits of our ancestors….Now the government says we do not own the land because we have no ownership papers. How can we have ownership papers when we always move our village when someone dies or we need more space? If they take the jungle, we die. It is beyond our understanding… it is beyond their understanding. No one owns anything. We only live, one with the earth, sky, water, animals and plants. We get food, medicine and life here. It is enough.”

Suddenly I remember that yesterday after lunch I had climbed to the mountain top and seen large swathes of red, like blood, and small patches of green. I had not thought about it then but now realise that the skin of the earth was peeled off, showing flesh. The spirits of the trees and stones were homeless.

Today we all squat in the shade of the jungle fringe till we see a convoy of vehicle arriving — visitors from the authorities. That usually means officers from the department of Orang Asli and the Forest Department. Following the vehicles are young men on motorcycles. I recognise them as teenagers who have been lured out of the jungle into settlements prepared especially for them.

A few individuals standing away from the officials approach us and begin to speak in Malay. Those Orang Asli who can understand Malay translate for the others. I too join to translate what is said as I speak fluent Malay and Temiar.

“We support you; some of us are lawyers and we all fight for people’s rights. We will fight for you in court to stop the logging and allow you to stay here.”

Men with cameras move around taking photographs of the stockade and of the other Orang Asli who stand back passively.

The group of officials gather in front of the stockade and one man bellows out through a megaphone in Malay. His voice goes far and wide into the trees. After every few sentences one of the motorcycle riding boys in jeans and smart batik shirts translates the sentences into Temiar.

In essence I gather that we the Orang Asli are in the wrong place. The government has allocated certain areas in the forest reserves where we are allowed to live. The area where we live now is allocated for logging. The loggers have licenses. If we refuse to move, we can be arrested.

The friends of the Orang Asli shout through their own megaphone, “This is a forest reserve. NO logging allowed, NO chasing out Orang Asli.”

The other speaker ignores the protest and continues that these allocated areas are on the edge of the forest near the towns; we will have access to electricity, water, work and education for the children. There are hospitals nearby and mosques; even homes will be built for us. “Look at your friends,” he gestures to the bike boys. “They wear nice clothes and ride motorbikes.”

It is obvious that these people not only want the jungle but also want to change us to be like them — not to be as we really are. The changes have been subtle over time. In previous years, our nakedness had been a problem; our bare breasted women and loinclothed men have been yelled at, called sakai and hounded back into the jungle when they ventured out to sell rattan, seasonal fruits and wild honey or trade them for rice or tools. Now we wear donated clothes and frocks to appease the outsiders. It is the same as going to the far away school where for ten months I become someone else. What will I be after I completely change? A motorbike lay-about boy doing odd jobs for a meal? The motorbikes and their appearance for the day is part of the theater of change.

I hear the man’s voice rise. “Now let us know if you accept this offer.”

My people mutely shake their heads while our supporters shout, “NO! These people were not consulted. We go to court.”

“We are consulting them now. Move away from the barrier,” orders the official.

We do not move away. We close ranks and hope we look pretty menacing with our poles and machetes.

The official gives three more warnings and then there is chaos. Some plainclothes men rush forward. We hear the word police, and most of my people melt into the trees. However, a young man Anjam and I are handcuffed as we are speaking to our supporters. We do not resist and are dragged into a truck while our supporters argue loudly with the police. When this happens, the villagers reappear in alarm. Some outsiders are already breaking the stockade but the lawyers and our supporters pack as many of the Temiar villagers into their own vehicles and follow the truck right to the police station an hour away.

My head is in a whirl. What did we do wrong? A policeman herds Anjam and me into the police station while the others are barred entry. However, a lawyer among them insists on entering with us. We are questioned by a police officer and I answer him in Malay, giving him my name, age and school. I also answer on behalf of Anjam who only speaks Temiar. The officer seems taken aback and his aggressive tone diminishes. He orders that we be put in the only empty cell for the night until the District Police officer shows up the following day.

The next noon we hear an outburst of voices in the compound of the station. I gather from fragments of speech that the District Police Officer has arrived. The activists and the lawyer are protesting to him to release us at least on bail. He agrees and I soon see why. As we exit the station, we see half the village squatting all over the police compound together with our supporters, keeping vigil till our release. I am grateful they have stayed to give us strength. If he does not release us, my people will not budge. Even the ones rehomed into the new settlements behave similarly. When any of them is hospitalised, the whole village follows and sits around the wards or grounds, attempting to feed the patient jungle herbs. The police send all of us  prisoners and families back as far as the stockade in a jeep. The stockade has been rammed to the ground.

Two days later Anjam is very ill. Several Halaas perform all-day and all-night trance rituals searching for Anjam’s missing soul but on the third day Anjam is dead. The elders blame it on exposure to outside malevolence but I remember how when we are in the cell Anjam needs to pee. A policeman takes  him out but the boy comes back a while later bent double and speechless. In the morning he seems alright but fades into unconsciousness at home. When they bathe his body for burial, the blue bruises and swelling on his middle back are obvious.

The day of the funeral the sky weeps in torrents, drowning out the chants of the Halaa and the keening of the villagers. The grave is already dug on the other side of the river and as we mourners cross via the huge log that bridges the banks, the roiling river, tumbling and rolling wildly, threatens to drown us. We have no way of turning back when the omnipresent Thunder Spirit explodes in anger and releases the mountain to swallow us, making us one with the cosmos, with the earth and keeping us home.

What’s left is upended trees, boulders and mud — a movement of the mountain in apocalyptic proportions spreading at least a kilometer in radius. Giant roots reach for the sky and treetops lay buried — a new unmapped terrain of an unmappable people.

[1] Sakai: slang, offensive, ethnic slur, used for an Orang Asli or native people.

A. Jessie Michael is a retired Associate Professor of English from Malaysia. She has written short stories for online journals, local magazines and newspapers. She has published an anthology of short stories Snapshots, with two other writers and most recently her own anthology The Madman and Other Stories (2016).


Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles


Is it the End Today?     

Flash Fiction by Anjana Krishnan

She stood there with absolutely no movement. She couldn’t move. It felt like her whole body had paralysed. She hoped someone would see her standing like that, so that they could call her and she could wake up from what seemed like a dream. But no one did. She was all alone. It was utter chaos around her. She was standing beneath the streetlight opposite to the place where her house should have been. Now there were only bricks and debris. It was a wasteland, and not her home. She wanted to cry, because everyone had moved on.

 But not her…

 She could not.

 The house stood at the left end of the street. It was different from the other twelve houses in the colony. It had been the oldest one. It was where her grandparents and later her parents had lived. She grew up in that house. When, one by one, her parents and grandparents surrendered to death, the memories and the house were the only things that remained. And when the currents of life made her move to other parts of the world, her heart still longed to return.

What makes every journey unique is having a place to come back to, a final destination: HOME.

Time passed by. The house stayed empty and other members of the family treated it as an asset to sell at the highest price.

After six years, she had finally come back home. In the glory of the setting sun, she saw, to her terror that the colony did not exist anymore. It was just thirteen demolished houses.

The workers had left. The street lights came to life. It was all ruins she could see. Nothing else was left. She stood there, below the street light, opposite the ruins of her home or what was supposed to be her home.

She thought, “It is the end, isn’t it…?”

Anjana Krishnan was born and brought up in Ernakulam, Kerala, and is currently pursuing her undergraduate degree in B.A.(Hons)English from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi.


Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles


Balak or the Child by Munshi Premchand

Translated from Hindi by Anurag Sharma

Munshi Premchand. Courtesy: Creative Commons

Premchand is the pen name adopted by the Indian writer, Dhanpat Rai Srivastava (31 July 1880- 8 October 1936).  He was a pioneer of modern Hindi-Urdu literature which focused upon contemporary social issues including caste, the treatment of women, day labour and other socio-political concerns. He remains one of the most heralded writers in South Asia. His oeuvre includes more than a dozen novels, about 300 short stories, numerous essays as well as translation of foreign literary works into Hindi.

Balak or the Child


All the servants greeted me from afar, as soon as they saw me. Gangu being the only exception, he never greeted me. He probably expected a palagan [1] salute from me. Everyone said he was a Brahmin. I bet he was because he never touched my dirty utensils [2]. Even in the hot and sweaty summer, I never dared to ask him to fan [3] me. When Gangu saw that I was sweaty and there were no other servants around, he picked up the fan on his own. But his posture made clear that he was doing me a favour and I snatched the fan away from his hand.

Gangu could not tolerate disrespect from anyone. He had few friends. He didn’t mix with my other servants. He couldn’t socialise easily either. He was full of contradictions. Unlike my other servants, he neither smoked, nor drank. On the other hand, despite being called a Brahmin, he seemed illiterate. I never saw him worship like most Brahmins do, nor take a vacation to visit pious rivers. He still expected the respect generally offered to a Brahmin, which seemed reasonable. When non-Brahmins have rights to material assets inherited from their ancestors as if they had earned those themselves, then why would Gangu renounce the prestige and honour that was earned by his forefathers through selfless dedication and sacrifices of many generations? That was his proud legacy.

Being an introvert, I spoke very less to my servants. I didn’t want them to approach me without being called. And I didn’t like calling them for simple tasks. It was much easier to pour water from a pitcher myself, light a lamp, put on my shoes, or take out a book from the shelf without waiting for a servant. My servants had also become accustomed to my personality, so they didn’t approach me without need.

They generally came to me for advance payment of wages, occasionally to complain about another servant. I despised both actions. I paid everyone’s salary on the first day of the month. I hated anyone asking for something extra in the middle; I couldn’t keep an account of two or four extra rupees. Besides, when a person had a full month’s wages, he had no right to spend it in fifteen days and beg for a loan or an advance? I was equally disgusted by their complaints. I considered these complaints to be a sign of weakness, or the petty gesture of toad-eating.

So, one morning when Gangu entered my room and stood in front of me, it made me unhappy.

Shrugging my shoulders, I asked, “What’s wrong? I didn’t call you.”

I was struck by the unexpected humility, and hesitation on Gangu’s normally sharp and arrogant face. It appeared as if he wanted to answer, but he couldn’t find the right words. I paused, and asked again, with a little humility this time, “What is the matter? Speak up. You know that I am getting late for my walk.”

Gangu sounded disappointed, “No problem, sir, please go and enjoy fresh air, I will come later.”

His response worried me. If he told his story then and there, I could ask him to finish quick as he knew that I was in a hurry. Postponing it to another occasion could cause a disturbance in my writing and reading later since the servants may not even have considered that as serious work. They may have just considered my thinking time, which is the most difficult practice for me, as my rest time. I didn’t want him to come and irritate me while I was working on a plot. Considering all these consequences of delaying the discussion, I relentlessly said, “If you come to ask for advance payment, the answer is no.”

“No sir, I never asked for an advance payment.”

“Well, do you want to complain about anyone? I hate complaints.”

“No sir, that’s not my nature.”

Gangu stood up straight. It was clear from his gestures that he was gathering all his strength to make a move. He paused and spoke in a faltering voice, “Let me leave you sir. I can no longer work here. I want to quit.”

His proposal surprised me. It hurt my ego. I considered myself a reflection of humanity, I never insulted my servants, I tried to be as humble as possible. I was shocked at this proposal. I asked in a curt voice, “Why? What’s your complaint?”

‘I have no complaints sir. You have got a good temperament. You are the best master a servant can get. But I can’t work here anymore because I don’t want you to feel upset because of me.”

I got confused. My curiosity flared up. I sat on a porch chair and asked with a sense of surrender, “What’s going on? Speak up clearly?”

Gangu said very humbly, “The thing is… that… Gomati Devi, the woman, who has just been expelled from the widows shelter home …”

He paused. I got impatient and said, “Yes, she was fired, then what? What does she have to do with your job here?”

Gangu paused for a moment as if he was trying to remove some heavy burden from his head, “I want to marry her sir!”

I stared at him with astonishment. This illiterate Brahmin of antiquated ideas, who never caught the breath of modern civilisation, was going to marry a woman of such questionable character that she would not even be allowed to enter any gentleman’s home.

Gomati had caused a bit of a stir in the peaceful atmosphere of her locality. After her husband’s death, she was moved to the shelter housing widows. She was made to marry by the staff of the shelter thrice, but each time she returned within 10-15 months. The last time she returned to the shelter, the minister of the home for widows threw her out. After being banished from the shelter, she lived in a closet in the neighbourhood. She soon became the centre of gossip for the loners of the entire locality.

I was angry after hearing about Gangu’s poor choice. This idiot couldn’t find another woman in the whole world to marry. I also felt sorry for his simplicity. I was sure that the woman who ran away from three comparatively rich husbands wasn’t going to stay for long with him. Had he been wealthy, the relationship would probably have lasted for six months. This naïve man didn’t even have a chance for a week.

“Do you know the life story of this woman?” I asked him with a sense of warning.

“All lies sir, people slandered her,” Gangu replied with the confidence of an eyewitness.

“What are you talking about, didn’t she run away from three husbands?”

“What if they kicked her out of their homes?”

“Are you foolish? Why would a man who comes to the shelter to marry abandon the woman after spending thousands of rupees?”

Gangu said passionately, “No woman can live in a place where there is no respect for her. A woman deserves some love and affection, not just bread and clothes. Those men would think that they had done a great favour by marrying a widow. They wanted to own her body and control her mind. They don’t understand that you can’t enslave other humans. To make others your own, you need to surrender first. Moreover, she has some health issues too. Sometimes she passes out suddenly. Those men considered her a burden because of her sickness.”

“Do you really want to marry such a woman?” I shook my head, “Understand that such a marriage would make your life bitter.”

Gangu said excitedly like a would-be martyr, “I understand everything sir, God willing!’

I insisted, “So you have made up your mind?”

‘Yes, sir!”

“In that case, I will accept your resignation.”

I was not afraid of futile conventions. But keeping a servant who married a wicked woman was a complicated problem. Every day could throw up new issues, new problems, and possibly police cases, and lawsuits. There could also be an accusation of domestic violence, or theft. It would be good to be away from this swamp. Gangu appeared to act like a monkey jumping at the sight of bread without realising that the bread was greasy, stale, dry, and completely inedible. I explained him the situation, but he didn’t care. It was difficult for him to work with thought and intelligence.


Five months had passed since Gangu married Gomati. They lived in the same locality in a tiny house. Whenever I saw him in the market, I checked to ask how he was. I had developed a curiosity about his new life. It was a test of psychological as well as social issues. I wanted to see the result of his bold action. I always found him happy. He appeared to be careless, somewhat prosperous, and confident. He had a daily sale of 20 to 25 rupees resulting in a saving of approximately 10 rupees. This was a meagre livelihood; But he certainly had a boon of some God. Because he had no sign of poverty, shame, or disgrace. There was a glimpse of self-development and joy on his face, a reflection, perhaps, of his peace of mind.

One day, I heard that Gomati ran away from Gangu’s house. I was strangely delighted. Not that I was jealous of Gangu’s contented and happy life. But I was waiting for something to happen to him – a bad thing, a catastrophe, a shameful event. I warned him earlier because I had my own doubts. Now my fears had been confirmed. Gangu had to bear the brunt of his short-sightedness. He, then lunged as if he was getting a rare substance. As if the gates of paradise had opened for him. Alas, now he would realise that those who tried to prevent this marriage were his true well-wishers. We warned him about that woman’s character. We reminded him that she had not been faithful in her earlier relationships, and he too would be cheated ultimately. But he didn’t pay any attention. I was eager to meet Gangu and remind him of his mistake in confusing this woman with a boon from the Goddess.

By chance, I ran into Gangu in the market that same day. He appeared depressed, anxious, and totally lost. On seeing me, he started crying. He didn’t cry out of embarrassment when he saw me; he cried out of grief. “Sir,” he said when he approached me, “… Gomati left me.”

“It’s your fault Gangu. You didn’t listen to my advice. I warned you, but you didn’t care. Now tell me, what can you do except bearing the pain patiently?” I showed him superficial sympathy, “Did she take all your money or left something?”

Gangu placed a hand on his chest as if my question pierced his heart.

‘No sir! Please don’t say that … she took nothing. She left everything behind, even her personal belongings. No idea what evil she perceived in me. I guess I was not worthy of her. She is educated, and I am as illiterate as a buffalo. I am fortunate that she stayed with me for so many days. Had she lived with me for some more time, she would have turned me into a fine man. I will be indebted to her forever. She was like a divine blessing of a deity to me. I must have done something seriously wrong because she always ignored my everyday mistakes with grace. After all, I am a man with no status. She managed the home so well with my petty earnings.”

I was deeply disappointed to hear these words. I thought he would tell the story of her infidelity and I would get a chance to express sympathy for his blind devotion. But the fool’s eyes had not opened yet. He was still reciting her mantra. Of course, he was still in shock.

“Are you certain she didn’t steal anything from your house?” I teased him.

“Not even a rag, sir,” he replied.

“But she left you…. And you think she really cared about you?”

“You’re right, sir; I’ll cherish her love until I die.”

“She abandoned you despite all the love?”

“That’s the mystery I can’t decipher, sir. “

“Have you ever heard the term ‘Triya-Charitra’ [4]?”

“Hey sir, don’t say that. I will sing her praise even if someone puts a knife on my neck.”

“Then go and find her.”

“Yes, sir. I am not going to give up until I find her. I’m confident that once I find her, I can convince her to come back to me. And sir, my gut tells me she will return to me without a doubt. She didn’t run away from me out of rage. I will go and look for her, even if it means wandering for several months. I will search for her everywhere –the woods, the mountains, and the deserts. I’ll come back to see you if I succeed in my mission.”

Before I could reply, he quickly walked away from me.


After a few days, I had to go to Nainital for a month-long assignment. I had just returned from Nainital when Gangu approached me holding a new-born infant in his lap. He exuded fatherly pride and joy in every aspect of his appearance, including his walk, posture, face, and eyes.

I asked, “Maharaj [5], you went to find Gomati, did you find her?”

“Yes Sir, with your blessings, I found her in a maternity hospital in Lucknow. Before leaving, Gomati instructed a girlfriend of hers to keep checking if I started getting too nervous about her absence. That friend told me where Gomati was. I ran to Lucknow and met her in the hospital, where she gave birth to this adorable child.” He raised the child with pride and came closer to me. As if a player is displaying the trophy after winning the match.

I asked sarcastically, “Well, she gave birth to this boy? Perhaps that’s why she ran away from here. Is this your child?”

“This is God’s gift for me.”

“So, he was born in Lucknow, right?”

“Yes Sir, he is just a month old.”

“How many days have you been married exactly?”

“… nearly seven months sir.”

“So, he is born within sixth month of your marriage?”

“Correct sir.”

“And you think of him as your son?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Have you lost your mind?”

He either ignored, or completely missed my intention. He exclaimed, “She had almost died sir. For three days and three nights, she kept on suffering. I can’t tell more but it’s like a new birth for her.”

I got a bit sarcastic now, “This is first time that I saw a child born in six months.”

He got my point this time, and smiled, “Okay, I understand! I did not even notice it earlier. Gomati ran away from home because of this fear only. But I told her not to care about what people say.”

He continued, “I told her she was free to leave me if she got tired of me. I would leave so as not to bother her ever again, but I would always be available should she require assistance. I told her that I had married her because I loved her and believed she wanted me, not because she was a Goddess. I am the parent of this child. He was born to us after our marriage.” saying this, he laughed loudly.

My eyes started to shine. I forgot how exhausted I was after the long trip. All my inherent hatred was suddenly washed away by a fresh shower of love. I kissed that little boy as I held him in my lap. Probably I didn’t show that much affection to my own children as I did to the helpless child in my lap.

“Sir, you are a wonderful gentleman.” Gangu continued, “I keep mentioning you to Gomati. I’ve asked her to come here with me so we can meet you once. But she is hesitant to meet new people.”

Me and gentleman? The innocent demeanour of Gangu had just opened my eyes. I was ashamed of my narrow-mindedness, my voice was filled with devotion towards him as I uttered, “No, I am not a gentleman, you are one. And this child is the fragrant flower that results from your kindness. Why would Gomati come here to meet a shallow man like me? Come on, I’m coming with you to see her.”

I walked towards Gangu’s house, holding the child close to my chest.

Translator’s notes:

[1] Palagan was a common respectful greeting offered to the brahmins in Hindi belt of North India

[2] Indian culture is very particular about purity of kitchen and observance of cleanliness of food and utensils. Any utensil that has been used once for serving or eating food or touched by someone is considered unfit for use until washed and cleaned properly.

[3] Except for a few princely states like Mysore, most Indian homes didn’t have access to power supply during British rule. Hand fans were commonly used during summer months in every household.

[4] Triya-Charitra – Complex character of a women, as discussed in Indian literature.

[5] Maharaj – Literally king of kings, a respectful address for the brahmins throughout India and Nepal

Anurag Sharma is  a writer and the co-founder of Radio Playback India. Anurag has been instrumental in podcasting over 300 short stories, radio dramas and Vinoba Bhave’s lectures on Gita. He is the editor-in-Chief of Setu, Pittsburgh.


Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles


Letting Go

By Tasneem Hossain

Courtesy: Creative Commons

“If only you had some wisdom, then you would not have raised that issue. I am going to block you. I am going to sever all ties with you. Bye!” The harsh words kept echoing in Farzana’s head. Her eyes moistened. She could not control the incessant tears rolling down her cheeks. The man behind the counter looked at her sympathetically. Farzana tried to smile back but her face distorted. She had never ever been able to control her emotions.

She was standing in the immigration line to board the next plane to New York from Dhaka.

The last one year came flashing back.

She had come in contact with Tariq during an official online meeting in Bangladesh.

He was a man of great repute. They had to contact each other often for business purpose. Gradually, their relationship changed from that of an acquaintance to very close friends. They would talk almost every day. He would go on telling her about his life. How he had built a million dollar business. How unfortunate he had been in his personal life. She would listen patiently.

She met him twice during two workshops on financial management. Tariq had invited her many times but somehow they had never been able to meet in the real world.

Tariq was a short squarely built man. But there was an air of personality that was undeniably magnetic. His well-articulated deep voice and the twinkling smile in his eyes were enough to make women swoon over him. He was witty and had a sense of humour that made him very attractive. He had sharp twinkling eyes but something told Farzana that he was a sad man, hiding behind his witty and jovial nature.

Their professional relationship turned into friendship.

Tariq would tell her details of the problems he faced in life and ask her to pray for him. Farzana became emotionally attached to him as a friend and would pray for him religiously every day.

Four months passed. One day they were chatting lightly and having fun in an online conversation on Messenger. Suddenly, Tariq got irritated and muted the Messenger box. She had never faced anything like this before. She felt insulted. She called and urged him to unmute, but he was reluctant.

A week later Farzana sent Tariq birthday wishes on his phone.

He called her and apologised. He told her he was very sick that day and couldn’t control his anger and, hence, had muted her.

Life became normal. Months passed. Farzana would wait for him to call or message her. When he called he would go on talking about his problems, his life and sometimes even flirt with her. Farzana knew he was just having fun. She would ask him to be serious and then again they would have the normal conversations.  

She never called him because he was a busy person and he would remain sick for days too. Sometimes Farzana had doubts that he was lying to her.

“Why? We are not romantically involved. We are just friends so why does he lie to me?” she would ponder.


She was getting ready to meet Tariq today. He had invited her for a candle light dinner in one of the fanciest restaurants ‘Rose La France’. This was the first friendly meeting with him. Farzana wore a pink chiffon blouse and saree. The white pearl necklace set with earrings and bangles were a perfect match: simple, yet elegant.  As she looked in the mirror, a smile curled up on her face. The reflection of a tall fair woman with an athletic supple and strong physique with a pair of hazel coloured eyes and thick black eyelashes stared back. She brushed her shoulder length wavy auburn hair. She was an attractive woman in her 30s. She was aware of the fact that her presence, anywhere, made quite a few heads turn.

Tariq picked her from her home and they drove to the restaurant. Somehow Farzana felt very conscious of herself as Tariq smiled at her.

“You look ravishing.”

“Thank you,” she smiled.

“Is it happening? Is he falling in love with me?” Farzana was quiet for a while.

Farzana wanted to change the topic, “You can recite so well. Please recite the poem you were reciting on that day over the phone.”

“First you have to kiss me,” Tariq said mischievously.

Farzana burst into laughter. She couldn’t stop laughing.

Tariq looked intently at her.  


“Why do you text? Don’t text me.” suddenly Tariq fumed one day.

Click!No sound on the other end. Farzana called every other day to check but the calls would only show ‘calling’, no ‘ringing’ sign. The messages she sent also didn’t pass through.

After trying a few days she realised he had blocked her everywhere without any reason that she could think of. She would cry long nights. No one knew that she was suffering inwardly as she would act totally normal in front of her family.

Farzana knew that Tariq was the only child and couldn’t control his emotions, but deep down he was a compassionate man. He always made amends so sweetly and genuinely that it was impossible to resist.


Tariq loved the way Farzana talked. The smile on her lips and twinkle of her eyes somehow vibrated through the calls. He could visualise the innocent smile on her happy face talking with fervour. She would also listen to him talk patiently for hours.

“Oh Lord I am in love with this angel!” The moment it popped in his head, he felt his nerves playing havoc in his mind. He cut off the line. He blocked every single thing: Telephone, Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber.

“No, I cannot destroy her life. She is such a kind soul. I am not suitable for her. I am a devil, and she is an angel. What if I propose her and get married? What then?” He kept rambling, “I am sick and she will suffer seeing my illness. I cannot let anything sadden her.”

Tariq had a very traumatic childhood. His father was an alcoholic and mother was on drugs. Almost each day they would have fights. The fights did not end just in verbal abuse but would turn into physical scuffles.

He lived in terror of such violence as sometimes he would also become the victim.

His father would point at him and say: “Ah. This bastard! Who is his father? Tell me now or I will kill him.”

His mom would just sit there and keep laughing and say. “Why? aren’t you man enough to have a child of your own?”

His father would then push away Tariq and start kicking his mother.

One day Tariq’s grandparents came and took him away. That was the turning point for him. He had a loving aunt who started looking after him. Slowly his life became more meaningful. He started to have great results at school.Soon he got involved in sports. The confidence in him attracted the attention of his teachers and they started mentoring him for inter school competitions.

Success followed him everywhere. It was as if he was with vengeance erasing his past life and pouring the best that he had into his present. Rather than being defeated by the harsh childhood he had had, he became adamant to succeed. But the trauma remained with him. Often he would have panic attacks and it was difficult to calm him down.

On top of that he was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder on his 39th birthday. Occasionally, he would become violent and would hurl abuses at anyone who came in contact with him. It seemed as if his parents’ demons overpowered him during those times. He seldom remembered what he had done. He was an informed man and knew the consequences and symptoms of this disease.

As he had suffered in his childhood, he didn’t want anyone to be hurt by his behaviour. So he asked his caretaker to tell him everything that happened during those attacks. Later when he regained sanity, he would beg forgiveness in such a gentle way that no one could stay angry with him.

Though he was a famous and moneyed man, his compassionate nature earned him respect from everyone who came in contact with him.


For some days she had been having stomach aches. She saw a doctor and had to do some tests.

“You have appendicitis and need surgery,” the doctor informed.

“If something goes wrong and I die?” she mused.

She knew it involved a major surgery. Though fatality was rare but it could happen.

She didn’t want to leave the world with the regret of not having talked with Tariq. So she contacted Tariq’s friend, told him about her surgery and requested him to tell Tariq to call.

That evening Tariq called. He was very rude with her and threatened that he would not unblock her. She pleaded that she wanted just to talk normally with him before the surgery. She wanted to be mentally strong and prepared. She just wanted him to be friends again. He cut off the line.

The next evening Farzana called him. He had unblocked her. They talked for an hour. Farzana disclosed to him about the surgery next morning. The call ended on a friendly note of wishes and prayers.

The next morning, as Farzana was getting ready, he called her and wished her. These small little gestures made him irresistibly charming.

The surgery was successful.

Days passed. Farzana was happy. Sometimes in the mornings Farzana would see that Tariq had called her at night, knowing fully well that she did not take calls at night. She would say “sorry” in her texts.

“Has he fallen in love?” She would muse.

Another evening he called and told her that he was sick. Farzana was concerned.

“You know I have been praying the whole night for your…”

Stop! She was cut short in the middle of her sentence.

“You know what? This is why I don’t want to talk to you. If only you had some wisdom, then you would not have raised that issue. I am going to block you; I am going to sever all ties with you. Bye!”


Tariq knew that Farzana had developed a soft corner for him over time. He had fallen madly in love with her. She was there all the time in his heart.Whatever he did he could not get her out of his head. Her gentle sweet smile was like a magnet and oh her eyes! Those had so much innocence and concern that they were irresistible. He had fallen madly in love with her.

He knew that if she saw his condition when he had those panic attacks, she would not be able to bear it. She was too gentle. She would be heartbroken for him and he could not let that happen.

He would call her but somehow it was so painful not to be with her that he would become rude and cut the line off. There was an unbearable silence as Farzana sat dumbfounded. She couldn’t say a word.

Suddenly all emotions dried up. She knew that Tariq was a self-made man. Though soft at heart, it had made him proud and egoistic too. But it did not give him the right to be so discourteous and ungrateful towards her. He knew fully well that she wished him well unconditionally and his welfare had always been a priority for her. 

“This is the end,” she muttered. “I have been supportive of him all through, prayed for him every day. Yet, he treats me like trash. He knows that I care for him too much. Perhaps, this is why he has taken me for granted.”

The thought of abandoning him suddenly made her realise that she was in love with him. It would be unbearable for her to part with him. 

She couldn’t take it anymore. “I have been sympathetic all through but there’s a limit to being compassionate. He has his tantrums, but I am also human. I have my pride.”

In her heart she knew that she loved him. But there was no hope for this love to materialise. So she needed to leave him before she did anything irrational.

Her decision was final.

She decided to go back to the USA. She knew if he was ever alone and needed her, she would come back to help him; give him company in his old age. But right now she needed to leave.

“Your ticket Madam.”

“Oh, sorry,” Farzana replied unmindfully. She showed the ticket and passport to the immigration officer.

Leaving Tariq without telling him was painful. She couldn’t hold back her tears. The man behind the counter looked concerned. Farzana gave him a reassuring smile and wiped away her tears confidently.

She felt a heavy stone lifted away from her chest. Too much neglect and verbal abuse had made her strong. She was free now.

“Thank you,” she smiled and waved. “Have a wonderful day!”

As she walked towards the shuttle bus, she felt the warmth of the sun on her face. Everything around her wore a brighter look. She was ready to face the world: alone but stronger. The needle pricked her heart and she flinched in pain.

“Is he thinking about me and in pain?”

Whenever Tariq needed her she had this feeling inside.

“It can’t be!” Her pace slowed down.  

Tariq stood behind the glass looking at the girl whom he loved with all his heart. He prayed silently. Teardrops rolled down his cheek for the first time

She would never know…


Tasneem Hossain is a multilingual poet, op-ed, columnist, fiction writer, translator and trainer. Her writings have appeared in different countries. She has authored two poetry books and a book of prose.


Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles


Between Light and Darkness

By Sreelekha Chatterjee

The atmosphere was stiflingly hot. A sense of infinite void prevailed amongst impenetrable darkness; its strange tranquillity was disturbed by a sudden intrusion of a speeding car’s headlight. I was blindfolded, struggling hard to keep my eyes open. The deafening sound of the accelerating engine kept increasing as the car drew nearer and nearer, escalating my wild heartbeat and an uninviting dread. There was no escape. I needed to react, but my limbs wouldn’t move; a sense of fatality gripped me as my reflexes resigned. An instant of acute tension and then there was quiet. I opened my eyes to the brilliance of the table lamp spreading over my desk. It was the usual vision—which kept haunting me for the past six months—all over again while at work.

I concentrated on the sheets of papers that lay before me. The edits marked on them seemed like worms wriggling about. My nerves were screaming in my head. I looked up. The chairs of the office hall were empty. It was always the same every single day. The whole day I would dig my head into work partly due to the necessity to cope with the work pressure and partly to hide my embarrassment. I only looked up when everyone left. After hours was the time for me to finish any pending work along with my search.

It all started about six months ago when the only copy of the manuscript of a book being edited by me had disappeared from my desk—lost forever and never to be found. I couldn’t forget the harsh words that my supervisor uttered for me, questioning my loyalty and emphasising on how irresponsible I’d been. The edited papers vanished a day before it had to be sent for typesetting. Being a fast-track project, the book had to be published within a month’s time. It wasn’t a feasible proposition for me to re-edit the entire book within a day’s time. To save our publishing firm’s reputation, the work was outsourced to freelance editors on urgent basis so that we could still be on track.

Who had stolen it from my table? What was the motive for the theft? During the past six months I had searched every table, every drawer, every cupboard, except the ones that were in our senior managers’ cabins on the first floor, but the manuscript was nowhere to be found. It could be possible that the culprit had removed the manuscript from office. Wearied and assailed by hopelessness of my never-ending search, I surveyed the semi-dark hall. My eyes stuck at the glow of light coming from the farthest corner. I checked my watch. It was almost 8 o’clock. Who could be there at this time? I felt my hair rise with alarm. Someone was working late or spying on me.

On reaching the end of the hall, I found a young lady with spectacles concentrating on something that was open on her computer. I felt a pang of anger, a sting of possessiveness on seeing her use my computer. But I had stopped working on it for the past six months and had no reason to entertain jealousy. After the manuscript theft, there was a significant change in my job pattern, and I had been assigned the role of quality checking instead of editing. I had myself volunteered for that, as I was losing my eyesight due to long work hours without any break in front of the computer—an unacceptable professional hazard in late-twenties.

I leaned forward, peering closely at her file that was displayed on the computer. I coughed aloud but she didn’t stir a bit, oblivious of my presence. She seemed to be unusually engrossed in chatting with a friend on a social networking site open on her system.

Perhaps she was a new employee as I hadn’t seen her before. She seemed to ignore me. Being reticent by nature, I didn’t have the courage to ask her name or to initiate a conversation. Just as I turned to go away, her mobile rang.

“I’m working late… nothing urgent, just needed to impress my boss…after all the appraisal time is drawing near…” I heard snippets of a brief conversation before she hung up.  

There was some movement outside and a human shadow appeared on the frosted glass door. I quickly concealed myself behind a nearby table, as I didn’t want anybody to know that I was there. Someone moved inside. As the light from the computer lit the man, I could recognise him. It was the security guard.

“Will you be late, ma’am?”

“Ah…probably by an hour or so.”

“In that case, inform the duty officer at the watch room as I’ll be leaving now.”


He sauntered away and the lady once again concentrated on the computer.

Those who worked till late hours had to enter their names in the register at the watch room outside office. I could go and check her name there. I followed the security guard outside. The night watchman was already there. While the two men were chatting, I quickly turned the pages of the register and to my utter disbelief, no name had been entered. Had the rules changed?

As I was going inside, I found the security guard loading something in his car.

“You might get caught.” I heard the night watchman say.

“Don’t worry. Nobody cares to notice what happens to an old computer.”

Bewildered at the contrast between their outward pretension of duty-bound appearance and the reality, I moved inside the office. I needed to get away from the web of bitterness and keep focused. As I approached the coffeemaker which lay at a distance, the machine started automatically all of a sudden startling me. I found a cup placed near the pipe from which coffee poured out. Suddenly the lady whom I had seen earlier came from nowhere. I heard the sound of the printer working somewhere. The lady turned towards me, shook violently with a start as she huddled together. She shot a terrifying glance at me and then averted her eyes as if I didn’t exist. Some people exhibited arrogance to an extent that was disgusting.

I walked unmindfully and reached the printer. Pages were coming out like a fountain, flying in all directions. Some of the pages fell on the floor and the rest inside the wastepaper bin that was kept beside the printer. I bent down to pick up the papers when the lady reappeared. The very thought that the lady was following me everywhere scared me. A few days ago, I heard people saying that our office was haunted, and the mysterious lady triggered my suspicion about her possible supernatural connection.


I strolled randomly from one desk to another. Something inside me felt strongly that the stolen manuscript was somewhere in the office, and I had to look for it. But the lady in the office was a big hindrance to my mission. I tampered with the main telephone operating box, removing all the cables. I checked the phones kept at the reception—all of them were dead. Next, I locked the hall door from outside to make sure that the lady couldn’t come out. I’d already stolen her mobile phone from her desk. Satisfied with the initial execution of my plan, I went tiptoed to the first floor.  

The entire office seemed like a graveyard of computers. It felt as if I was walking on a dark, lonely road faintly lit by streetlights. Suddenly a car came from nowhere, its dazzling headlights blinding my eyesight, my ability to search. A momentary loud explosion followed by suffocating silence. I opened my eyes to the stillness of the dark office corridor where I had ventured to find a closure to my search. A strange numbness overpowered me, and I feared betraying the purpose of my visit. I had to continue with my search even if it went on forever. Although aware of the consequences if I got caught while checking the senior managers’ cabins, I couldn’t rest until and unless I figured out what was haunting me.

As I collected myself and groped my way through the impenetrable darkness of the corridor, I heard footsteps coming from behind accompanied by a faint, persistent knock on the floor, perhaps with a stick. Was it the night watchman? What if it was the CEO? I heard on innumerable occasions that the CEO visited our office late at night to work on important projects. I had hardly seen the middle-aged guy once or twice during my 6-year-long service and vaguely remembered his face. To my surprise, I found myself outside his cabin door. A faint suspicion about his involvement in the theft lurked in my mind. My body trembled with nervous agitation and the burden of wrong doings as I tried the door handle.

It opened. The large, spacious room had a single closed window with blinds raised, allowing a faint light to penetrate from outside. I switched on the lady’s mobile torch to discern my way as I progressed from one cupboard to another. A subconscious uneasiness loomed as I checked all the drawers except one which was locked. I looked for the keys and found a bunch of them in a side table drawer. In spite of all my efforts, none of them worked. Suddenly, I recalled having seen a key inside one of the drawers of the computer table placed at the centre of the room. I went back to fetch it. The drawer opened as I turned the key which fitted perfectly. A foul smell of old papers wafted in the air. I checked the papers inside but none of them were related to the manuscript.

After locking the drawer, I was about to leave, relieved of the guilt that I had wrongly accused a respectable man, when slow footsteps were audible outside the room. I hid behind the computer table and waited with bated breath. The shadow of a man fell on the floor near the open door. It seemed to be that of a tall man. My faint recollections hinted that our CEO was a tall man. Was it him? The shadow gradually became elongated and moved towards the wall indicating that he was walking away. Perhaps there were dead souls other than me looking for something or the other—our missions were different but our search had become closely intertwined. Suddenly the shadow stopped as if it had become a statue and the sound of footsteps ceased. I glanced at the glass window visible from my hiding place. The sky seemed to brighten up with a faint glow of light trickling down. My search had to be stalled, as there wasn’t much time to look into other senior managers’ cabins. I had to leave before the next security guard came in at 4 o’clock in the morning.      

I heard footsteps all of a sudden and this time those were quick and faster than before. I could hardly comprehend further, as a tall fellow with scarcely perceptible features and hunched back entered hurriedly. Positioning a torch with his right hand and a file beneath his left elbow, he cautiously unlocked the same cupboard drawer which I had opened earlier. He slid a file and locked it. In the middle of the room near the computer table, he paused to respond to a phone that vibrated in his pocket. He answered it while turning his back towards the door. It was the perfect instance when I could easily slip out of the door. Endeavouring to leave, I crawled up to the door but my curiosity about the hidden object in the drawer got the better of me. I couldn’t afford to get caught, and the dull blue sky outside was brightening up bit by bit.

“Yes. I’ve removed the manuscript. Now they’ll have no other option but to give it to the freelancers.” His words drew my attention while I shifted behind the open door.

He kept quiet for a while as if listening to the person at the other end and then blurted out angrily, “Yes, yes, have faith in me.”

“Do remember my commission.” He disconnected the phone and turned towards the side where I was hiding. Heedless of the fear that paralysed my faculties, I looked up to find that he was staring at me—his eyes gleaming with unearthly lustre, focused on mine; his expression changing from triumph to that of horror. A few seconds elapsed before he stooped to pick up something from the floor.

Was there a chance of survival? Did he see me? Random thoughts kept crowding in my head. Realising the need for instant action, I attempted to plan out my next move. I wished that he left the room without seeing me. I observed him carefully as he walked towards the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. “Ten, nine, eight, seven…” I closed my eyes and after what seemed like a second. When I looked up, there was nobody around. Was it a dream that I was witnessing all the while? I had actually seen the man enter the room…

I walked up to the drawer where the man had concealed something. I unlocked the drawer once again but couldn’t open as it had got stuck. On pulling the drawer with all my strength, it came off, throwing me off my balance, I fell with arms flailing wildly and landed on the ground with it. As I dusted myself, I found my lost manuscript lying among the heap of papers that had fallen off the drawer. I didn’t experience any pleasure on finding my culprit at last. Nauseated by an oppressed dread mingled with disgust, I decided to quit that life and moving out.

I managed to reach the front door where I observed the CEO, the lady and the security guard talking amongst themselves.

“How come you were in office the entire night?” CEO asked the lady.

“Someone had locked me from outside. The whole evening, I experienced such weird things. My phone was stolen, and I couldn’t contact anybody outside as the landline wasn’t working.”

“Is this your mobile phone?” CEO asked while taking out something from his pocket.

“Yes! Where did you find it?”

“In my cabin… why did you go there?”

“I swear! I’ve never been to your cabin…”

The security guard interrupted with an impatient eye roll, “This place is haunted. Strange things have been happening ever since the senior editor’s accident…”

I sensed freedom as the truth finally unfolded before me. I walked past the trio while they were trying to figure out a logical explanation to what had happened with them. I knew that they wouldn’t notice me anymore, after all I didn’t belong to their world.


Sreelekha Chatterjee lives in New Delhi. Her short stories have been published in various national, international magazines, journals, and have been included in numerous print and online anthologies.


Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles


Little Billy

By Paul Mirabile

Little Billy was a timid, quiet boy of thirteen going on fourteen. He kept to himself both at home and at school. Because he was the only child, little Billy’s mother, unemployed, pampered him to such an extent that he sought refuge in outdoor activities such as tree-fort and cabin constructions in the back garden, chemical experiments with dead animals conducted in his hand-built cabins, tunnel-burrowing under trees or fences, this last activity much to the dismay of his parents. As to his father, well, his work kept him long hours away from home, so the boy hardly ever saw him besides at their late evening dinners, or on the week-ends when he wasn’t busy ‘on the road’.

Little Billy loved to read. Not those ‘childish’ stories imposed by the school programme and taught unenthusiastically by his teachers, which he never read in spite of the spot tests that his teacher would surprise the pupils with, and which he would invariably fail. No, not those boring scrawls. He indulged in true literature: the adventures and exploits of explorers in the wilds of Africa or in the depths of Asia, especially the marvellously written tales by Jules Verne, his literary hero …

Billy’s schoolmates despised his taciturn attitude in class. The more rambunctious boys indulged in creating the usual chaos during recreation when he would sit under a tree and listen to the birds or meditate on his future chemical experiments whilst his schoolmates fought, spat or cursed. Yet he was no snob; he just had nothing to share with his classmates; his adventurous dreams only bored the boys who preferred wrestling and football, and the girls who preferred wrestlers and footballers.

Little Billy filled his time and soul with adventure and constructive projects to escape his mother’s irksome babying and his father’s coerced absence. Twice his imagination materialised into daring escapes from home. The first took him about thirty kilometres or so from his neighbourhood, peddling on his little bicycle as fast as his little legs could, growing more excited as he traversed unknown territories where woods, villages and hamlets passed before his giddy eyes like a magical phantasmagoria. The police, having been phoned by Billy’s hysterical mother because he hadn’t come home for lunch or dinner, finally caught up with him late at night, seated on a grassy hillock, munching apples that he had pinched from a nearby orchard. Everyone believed that Billy simply had lost his way. Little Billy, however, felt he had been on an adventure, and to have absconded for the first time, conferred upon him a powerful and secret aura …

His second escapade was more daring: the absconder hitch-hiked and walked into regions where the folk spoke in accents very much distinct than his own. They even addressed him in strange dialects, using words he had never heard, neither at home nor at school. And how exciting it was neither to understand nor to communicate with the individuals whom he met ! Three days later, dirty, hungry and clothes be-spotted with mud and rainwater, little Billy stood before his tall frowning father, who, although never having raised a hand to the child, scolded him with uproarious words and frenzied gestures. As to his distraught mother, there is no need to go into detail : her sobs and sighs, albeit somewhat theatrical, rose higher to in crescendo than the father’s uproaring.

Henceforth, little Billy decided to limit his adolescent élan to constructing a duplex tree-fort in the large oak tree at the back of his spacious garden. As to the wood required for such a project, the ingenious boy strolled into the many construction sites that surrounded their neighbourhood, negotiated with the workers for spare wood, nails and screws. They liked this little bugger, combative and imaginative, so they plied him, without cost, with large boards of plywood for flooring and roofing and cut, oaken beams for the supporting frames. As to the tools, these the he procured from his father’s garden tool-shed.

Little Billy set to work immediately, choosing four sturdy branches of that leafy oak tree, one branch slightly higher than the other, which allowed him to build one level at a time. Once the lower level had been finished (it took him a mere three days), the energetic builder went on to build the second level of his duplex, connected by a three-rung ladder made from the oak beams that he sawed to measure between the thick limbs with his father’s electric saw. His fort proved to be rather high off the ground, and although he shimmied up the branches like a monkey, Billy preferred a more elaborate ascent : he found two long pieces of rope, made six knots in them at half metre intervals and used the legs of chairs as rungs, which he pushed through the loops of the knots and tightened; chairs that he found thrown out as rubbish in the streets of his neighbourhood. Little Billy took pride in his tree-fort, and spent much time there reading, writing or meditating …

With the arrival of winter, however, he had to abandon his fort, open to strong, glacial winds, and began to devise a plan to build a cabin. It would be a sturdy cabin with a floor, a roof (flat of course), three windows and a door. Again the kind workers provided him the material for his project and his father, the tools. He built it in less than a month in spite of the cold and frost, which obliged him to make a floor several centimetres off the frozen earth. The door proved a bit dodgy : he bought three hinges with his pocket money, screwed them into the oaken frame of his entrance and into a large piece of plywood which he cut to fit the rectangular entrance. The fit was far from perfect; that is, the door could not be closed correctly. But that didn’t matter, he was only a little boy! Billy dispensed with a door-knob and simply sawed a hole in the plywood big enough to put two fingers through. He did the same for the three square windows, the first sawed out next to the door and the other two on the opposing sides of the cabin. He did not fit them out with sheets of pane as they were expensive and his father refused to give him money for those. Finally, to complete his happy home, he laid out several spare rolls of rug to keep his feet warm during the winter months that his father had stored away in the tool-shed. His cabin became cozy and comfortable, out of bounds to his parents; after all, it was Billy’s own private universe, his intimate recluse from the world. His father only asked him not to dig any more tunnels !

Inside, on the rickety table he had also made by himself, he conducted all sorts of experiments : dissecting frogs and fish, concocting chemical potions made his clothes stink (much to the consternation of his mother) and into which he threw frogs’ legs or fish eyes, or any other animal parts that he happened to come across on his daily late afternoon or evening jaunts.

Alas, during that very harsh winter, a terrible snow storm flattened his cabin completely ; it lay wrecked, buried under tons of dirty grey snow until the early Spring rains exposed the tragic ruins.

But Billy was not a boy to be put out by such unforeseen discomfitures. The undaunted Billy, when the snows of winter had completely melted, set out to build a boat ! Yes, a real boat, made of wood, big enough for three or four adults, with a real bow and deck and cabin, on top of which he would lay or sit on the ‘bridge’, bathing in the sun, reading Jules Verne or writing his memoirs.

So he again pleaded with the workers to supply him with oaken beams for the hull, large planks of plywood for the siding, bottom, deck and bridge to bridge securely the sides of the boat. The workers, amused by this boy’s inventiveness, even furnished him with a special putty to caulk the seams of his boat to make her perfectly watertight. Billy was all agog … So too were the workers!

Little Billy threw his heart and soul into his boat-building under the back deck of the house; he felt at the height of his creative powers, and by early Spring he had completed it: his dream boat. He painted the hull a bright marine blue and christened the boat ‘Captain Nemo’ painted in bold green letters, after the hero of his favourite Jules Verne adventure. He relinquished the task of providing a helm, tiller and rudder which would have required engineering skills beyond his ability; after all, Billy’s boat was a simple boat. However, with a long pole or paddle it could always been poled or paddled if he so desired. On the other hand, he carpeted the cabin located under the ‘bridge’ with the rolls that remained of his father’s thick, blue carpet. Since he had managed to secure his rickety table under the collapsed wreckage of what was once his back garden cabin, he placed that in the cabin of his boat and even built a little chair for it, a bit wobbly, but none the less, sittable, for what would a table be without its chair, and a boat-cabin without both ? Finally he bought a notebook which served as a logbook.

Now the reader at this point may ask him or herself in what waters would this boat be floated, and how would it be hauled into those, up till now, undisclosed waters? It goes without saying that the ingenious Billy had answers to both those questions, for if he didn’t, why would he have built a boat in the first place ? The answer to the first question is quite simple. Many years ago next to Billy’s house had been dug a huge sump, surrounded by a high, wire fence, and whose waters rose very high during the winter and spring. As to the second question, the

And it floated! Yes, Billy’s marvellously made boat really floated! He tugged, hauled and pulled it down the slope of his garden, through the rent in the high wire fence, then down again to the dirty brown sump waters. There he tied it to a stake in the soft soil and stepped back to admire his work. He especially appraised the little ladder he had made that led from the fore-deck to the ‘bridge’ (Billy did not have the engineering know-how to make a stairway), and gloated over the two curves of the bow, joined so perfectly to a nice pointy fit, a bow whose nice fit was thoroughly achieved thanks to his father’s timely and skilful assistance  …

Tiny ripples spun round the beautifully painted hull caused by a soft wind. They lapped against the bold green letters of ‘Captain Nemo‘. Billy frowned: he had painted the name a bit too low on the hull! Ah well, he could afford himself a bit of self-indulgence, he hadn’t taken into consideration the weight of the boat and her submersion level. His face, however, lightened up as the rays of the sun grew stronger and stronger. The weeping willows that lined the high wire fence swooned to the gentle breezes and to little Billy’s face beaming with joy. How he revelled in several instants of self-vanity! Who could blame him ?

He took a cursory glance up at his house ; his parents who had gone out to shop had not as yet returned. So much the better! Smiling a mischievous smile, he untied the rope, jumped aboard and let the warm zephyrs of early springtide guide his lovely boat further and further from the sloping shore of the sump. It was her maiden voyage… He went below into the cabin and peeked out of the two portholes (without glass), picked up his logbook and chair, then climbed the make-shift ladder to the ‘bridge’. There he sat in the sun, listening to the silence of the sump, sizing up its largeness.

The branches of the weeping willows brushed lazily against the high wire fence, the birds chirped merrily here and there, some pecking at the dirt around the tree-roots. Billy’s boat, and this goes without saying, had neither outboard motor nor masts for sails: she just drifted on her own, erring aimlessly, like his thoughts, like his lively imagination had always drifted and erred from adventure to adventure … book to book … page to page … word to word … Adventures upon the high seas, atop the highest of mountains, across the hottest of deserts. Fabulous tales of a thousand and one days and nights that no one, neither parents nor teachers, could ever deprive him of, divest him of, dispossess him of …

The sun warmed his cheery, glowing cheeks as he read and wrote to the rhythm of his wanderings. His mind slipped from the scummy waters of the sump to the high swells of some very distant sea … The swells rose to titanic heights, then crashed into a myriad ripples upon some remote sandy island strand. Just then Billy’s drifting mind was brusquely interrupted by cries and shouts. They were coming from inside the sump, near the rent in the fence.

There stood Mr. and Mrs. Wimbly, his next-door neighbours, waving their chubby arms frantically, crying out to him. Mr. Wimbly had even begun to descend precariously the steep slope of the sump to the waters. He stood at the edge, hands now cupped around his mouth, hollering words that he could not understand. Mrs. Wimbly raced recklessly back and forth on the grassy walk-way between the high wire fence and the slopes of the sump. Little Billy shook his head: Was all this real or just an hallucination?

At first he ignored their cries and wild gestures, concentrating on his reading and writing ; after all the Wimblys weren’t his parents! But soon other neighbours began to pour into the sump, or materialise on the other side of the high wire fence, under the weeping willows, their twisted, purple faces swelled in torment, their piercing shrills drowning the musical chirping of the birds. There was fat Mrs. Holly shaking her pudgy fist, chiding him with names that he was taught never to pronounce either in public or at home. How dare the old cow address him with such ugly words. And there, Mr. Rogers, red-faced, his jowls bouncing up and down from so much hooting and hallooing!

Other neighbours, too, came running, all upset, jumping about like puppets on strings, waving at him, scolding him. He stood up and frowned …

Then a sudden strange sensation chilled him to the bone and which made him forget all the ongoing bedlam: He felt that his boat had stopped moving, in spite of the wind that had suddenly picked up, and that the sloping sides of the sump appeared to rise higher and higher, slowly, very slowly, whilst the clouds, too, were rising higher and higher in the deep blue of the sky … rising slowly away from him. Something was terribly wrong. He climbed down from the ‘bridge’ and was about to step down into the cabin when he fell back in horror: black waters were streaming over his lovely carpet, tossing his little table from side to side. The starboard side of his boat had burst from the seams of its framework. Billy froze in utter incomprehension: How could this be ? The boat had been properly caulked ! His beautiful boat …  Months of love and labour …

Coming to himself quickly, little Billy climbed back up to the ‘bridge’. There he stood, half baffled, half defiant! From his sinking position he glimpsed through tear-stained eyes the stamping of feet and the pointing of fingers of so many neighbours, known or unknown. Their cries and shouts rose to incredible crescendos. He had no idea how to overcome this predicament, and it suddenly struck him that he had never learned to swim … The sump waters were very deep after the winter months. He prayed that they wouldn’t be so deep where his boat was irretrievably disappearing, for there was nothing else to be done, no one came to his succour, everyone just jumped and ran about like a pack of wild animals.

Then little Billy heard a familiar cry: It was his mother’s ! She had come home, noted all the fuss round the sump and had found the rent in the fence. Now there, at the edge of the slanting slope, she was tearing at her hair, writhing in agony, her hysterical screams drowned out all the others that were drumming through his tiny head without respite. His father suddenly came into view, there, at the foot of the slope, he was descending towards the waters and appeared to jump in and swim towards the now stricken boat … swimming and swimming towards his only child with long and powerful breast-strokes … But no … this was an hallucination: Billy’s father did not know how to swim, and in any case it was too late; little Billy’s beautiful dream boat sank rapidly below the scummy dark waters, dragged down by its weighty load. The last vision that his father and mother had of this hallucinating scene was their son’s outstretched hands clutching his logbook … A few seconds later, out from the suction of the whirlpool, Billy’s little red captain’s cap popped up and floated there, aimlessly, a flotsam of engulfed dreams and sunken aspirations …

His mother collapsed. His father howled with outstretched hands, then fell lamely to his knees …

Sometime afterwards the police arrived on the scene equipped with rubber rafts. They spent hours scouring the waters, mainly because the benumbed neighbours could not decide exactly where the boat had gone under; Billy’s cap having since waded to the other side of the sump. Finally, however, a frogman brought up little Billy’s limp, lifeless body to the surface. As to his boat, it remained at the bottom of those dirty brown waters, a memorial to the boy’s ardent dreams, like the Titanic, never to be disturbed in its final resting place. And although the waters do subside during the hot summer months, there it remains to this day, laying upon its cracked and scorched, lunar-like bed, rotting yet recognisable, a ghostly vision that no hand should ever touch besides that of its hapless creator and captain.

Soon, the ill-fated ghost-boat drew many mourners from the region and beyond. They gathered round the sump to pray or look on in sorrow. Some threw flowers over the fence. (The rent had been repaired.) The sump appeared to have become some sort of pilgrimage site, attracting hundreds and hundreds of people, even foreigners came to vent their curiosity ! The mayor of the town, a rather unscrupulous blighter, brought up in one of the town meetings that perhaps the municipality should charge a small fee for entry into the ‘pilgrimage site’ ! This proposal was over-ruled as bad taste and cynical.

As to little Billy, he was buried at the town cemetery on the bright, warm day of his fourteenth birthday, a funeral without clamour or commotion. Only his parents and close relatives attended the church service and the walk to his final burial plot.

Little Billy’s parents, due to all the fanfare that their son’s cadaverous hulk had aroused, have since moved to another region without leaving their new address to any one …

Courtesy: Creative Commons


Paul Mirabile is a retired professor of philology now living in France. He has published mostly academic works centred on philology, history, pedagogy and religion. He has also published stories of his travels throughout Asia, where he spent thirty years.



Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles


The Scholar


By Chaturvedi Divi

Courtesy: Creative Commons

Sathya was sitting under the banyan tree outside the English department of Seven Steps Balaji Maha Viswa Vidyalaya waiting for his research supervisor, Ratnavali. He pulled out from his backpack Ruzbeth N Bharucha’s book, The Fakir, and started reading it.

Sathya had an exposure to spiritual life at an early age. His father, Sachdev, despite his busy medical practice in Chennai, never hesitated to spare time for serving the patients at the free clinics he organised during weekends. Sathya’s mother. Bhuvana, started a publishing unit, devoted to spiritual books. Encouraged by his parents, Sathya did courses in writing, and he played different roles as a translator, book editor and marketing manager. At the recent youth festival in the city, he ran book promotional sessions, and happened to meet a Ph D scholar, Vinay. Impressed by Sathya, Vinay made it a point to interact with him every day during the week-long youth festival. When Sathya discussed with his parents the challenges young researchers face, his mother sensed his new-found interest, and asked him to enrol for a PhD programme.

“Research, yeah, that is a different kind of world. After all that exposure, you may find that the family business is more challenging and even fascinating, who knows,” his father said.


“Wearing white safari suit and sitting under a tree is not a good idea, sir. Sit in the Library…”  It was Raju, the junior assistant in the English office.

“In the library you find books on Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf and the like. Nothing relevant to my research work.”  Sathya consulted his watch. It was 11 am. He moved towards the English department. He saw Dheeraj in their supervisor’s chamber correcting MA exam answer sheets. As he was about to enter, he heard the sound of flip flops. He turned around and greeted Prof. Ratnavali.

 “Dheeraj, are you still correcting…?” 

“Mam, I need just two more days.”

He gently asked Sathya, “Look, is this the right answer?”

Even before Sathya opened his mouth, Ratnavali frowned. “Dheeraj, ask me.”

“Mam, the deconstruction theory…”

“Are you reading those answers? Don’t waste your time. You need not even turn the pages. Just allot some marks between 60 and 70. If everybody gets first class no one will complain.”


Cutting in, Ratnavali said, “Look, both of you. Don’t meet any other teacher in the department. They are all nebbish and maladroit.”

“Mam, I just greeted…”

 “Don’t argue, listen.” She paused. “The sinusitis is driving me crazy.”

“Try steam inhalation of basil leaves ma’am,” said Sathya.

“Will it work?”

“Yes ma’am, six times a day.”

Ratnavali scribbled on a piece of paper and dropped it into her handbag.  She waited for a few moments and then took out a strip of Benadryl capsules from her handbag. “Sathya, I am afraid that the capsules you brought are in bad shape. The pharmacist might have put a lot of weight on these strips.”

“Heavens above!”

“Any way, I’ll check again.” She removed one capsule and said, “This seems to be good. I’ll check other capsules too.” She went on removing one capsule after the other and emptied the pack. “Better you return. I don’t need them anymore. Get cash.”

Which pharmacist will accept them, Sathya wondered?  “Mam, did you go through my article?” 

“Oh, not yet. If I read for more than 15 minutes, I get a headache. Anyway, I’ll try to finish it shortly.” Ratnavali ran her hands over her head as if she were adjusting her hair style, took out dragon balm and a wad of bills from her handbag. Applying the balm to her forehead she said, “Dheeraj, can you pay the electricity bills? Today is the last date. I have a severe headache. I must go home.” She tried to contact someone on the phone. “No response from the cab service.’

“Usually, we find cabs at the main gate mam. I’ll try.” 

“Look, you have to bargain. I never paid more than Rs 50.”

Sathya thanked his lucky stars when he found a cab near the canteen. As the fare was Rs100, Sathya gave Rs 50 to the driver and asked him to accept Rs. 50 from Prof. Ratnavali. The driver immediately returned the amount and said that he had bad experiences with her. She would stop at all the three temples on the way and at a grocery shop.  It would take at least one hour for him to cover the three km distance and she never paid the waiting charges. He softened his stance only when Sathya offered one hundred and fifty rupees. Sathya had a sigh of relief as Prof. Ratnavali got into the cab and moved out of the premises. When he returned, he saw Dheeraj paying the electricity bills online. He checked the bills and said, “Dheeraj, you’re poorer by Rs 8000.”

Dheeraj looked at the bills disinterestedly. “I know you gave that article to her several months back.”  

“Yes, eight months back, on the teachers’ day. You brought roses and we both greeted her.”

“Then, imagine the time she takes to read my thesis!”

“It will take ages. No hope at all. She has to read in between headaches.”

“I feel tired, I feel exhausted.”

“Shall I arrange for a drink? Do you prefer boost, sir?” asked Raju, who had just entered the room.

Dheeraj was startled.  “When did you come here Raju?”  

“At least we have cleared our written exams,” Sathya said.

“We are only one step ahead. There are six more steps.”

“How do you mean?”

“This is Seven Steps Balaji Maha Viswa Vidyalaya.”

“We have successfully merged all the steps into one big step,” Raju said.

“Raju, are you still here? What is that one big step?” Dheeraj asked.

“I’ll tell you. First pay my consultation fee?”

“You mean tip?”

“No, it’s a consultation fee. I’ve been working in this dept. for more than 20 years. You should know that I can provide you with valuable information.”

Dheeraj offered Rs 200. Raju returned Rs 100 and said, “My fee is Rs. 100 only. Not one rupee more or not one rupee less. I’ve some ethics. I learnt this art of making extra bucks from your supervisor, Madam Prof Ratnavali. You meet Prof. Saskar. He will help you out,” Raju said and left.

Dheeraj said, “Maruti too mentioned Prof. Saskar’s name. Now Maruti is our neighbour. He bought an apartment just four blocks away from my house. The other day he met my father, and he mentioned your name. He said that he couldn’t have cleared the methodology paper without your guidance.”

“I explained to him literary theory and documentation. I prepared some notes too for him.”

“Oh! I too must thank you. My paper was accepted by the organizers of The Great Writing Conference, London. It was you who suggested the topic when I had no clue and you helped me in drafting it.” 

“Congrats. Is it the one on Amitav Ghosh?”

“Yes. Fragmentation in the Novels of Amitav Ghosh… but that is not going to make me happy at all. Can I ever submit my thesis? It is clear. She is not normal. She needs mood stabilizers.”


The next morning Dheeraj and Sathya had the shock of their life. Prof. Ratnavali called them to her house. She almost threw their theses on the centre table. “Sathya, why did you make it topic centric? It should have been author centric?”

“Ma’am, I followed your instructions.” He pulled out a notebook from his backpack and showed the suggestions written by her.

 She was taken aback. However, she gathered herself and said, “No. You have to rewrite the entire thesis. I’ll be busy with my overseas assignment for one full year. Research work is not time bound. It may even take 10 years or beyond.”

She then turned towards Dheeraj and said, “Your theoretical approach is incorrect. Apply psychoanalytical theory instead of postcolonial theory.”

“Ma’am, you told me…”

“Don’t argue, listen.”

Dheeraj became furious. “I’ll not allow you to play with my career. I can join some other university and get my degree within two years.” He picked up his thesis and almost ran out of the house.

There was an uneasy calmness for a couple of minutes. Sathya stood up. He thought he said bye ma’am, but words didn’t escape his lips.

When a two- wheeler zoomed past him, Sathya realised that he was on the wrong side of the road. He moved ahead unmindful of where he was going. After some time, he noticed that he was at the banyan tree outside the department of English of Seven Steps Balaji Maha Viswa Vidyalaya.     

“You are on the wrong side, sir.” It was Raju, near the university gate.

“Am I still on the road!” Sathya wondered. He looked around and turned towards Raju questioningly.   

“My consultation fees.” Slipping the Rs. 100 -note into his wallet Raju said, “I have learnt this art of making extra bucks from Madam Prof. Ratnavali but I’ve some ethics. I just sell ideas, not degrees like the teachers.”  Sathya wanted to cut in, but he waited patiently.

“Dheeraj won’t quit, sir. One of his relatives is an IPS officer. He must know when to offer a carrot and when to use the stick.”

“Don’t tell me that you knew what happened just one hour back….”

“Yes, of course, I knew. I am a member of the Campus Information Service. Every piece of information reaches the members within minutes. Our people are everywhere, even in the Chamber of the V C. Prof. Saskar is the head of the service.”


“You must realise that expressions like modifications, theoretical approach, and documentation are stock words used by the supervisors to create trouble for the scholars. The greater the trouble, the more the flow of money into their pockets. The entire show is run by Prof. Saskar. Neither the supervisor nor the external examiners make a serious reading of a thesis.  I see the same panel of examiners year after year at every viva.  He has hijacked the entire examination system. You can’t bank on the head of the department or the chairman. They will not come to your rescue. They are scared of Prof. Saskar and Prof. Ratnavali. They don’t hesitate even to harm you as they don’t want to strain their relationships with Prof. Saskar and Prof. Ratnavali. Avoid confrontation. Just buy your degree or quit.”

Sathya tightened his jaw. “Thanks a lot for your long speech. Do you think that I’ll buy my degree?”

Ignoring what Sathya said, Raju tried to convince him. “Even if you don’t have money it doesn’t matter. Prof. Saskar and Madam Prof. Ratnavali can arrange for bank loans. That was how Madhavan got his degree. He is now in Australia.”

“I am a spiritual person. I won’t meekly submit to anti-social elements, come what may.”

“I have told you sir you are on the wrong side.”


Chaturvedi Divi’s short stories and poems have appeared in the anthology of Only Men Please, Reading Hour, America the Catholic magazine, Twist & TwainSpillwords  and elsewhere.



Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles