The Wheel Chair

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I wasn’t sure if he hated me or just didn’t care. All that I could gather was symptomatic of his opinion of me. One, he never looked at me when we spoke on rare occasions. He would look in another direction while we made a monosyllabic conversation. Two, he would invariably find a reason to get away, just in case a situation threw us together. Like at Nikita’s place last month, we ended up being in the same team, while playing a game. As luck would have it, just the two of us remained in the end. In the very next round, he got out purposefully. That I was shocked at this is a no brainer; that everyone else was shocked too, made it evident that for a change my brain wasn’t spinning crazy stories. Three, we knew each other for two years now, but he didn’t have my number. I got to know this last week. I ended up being late for this ?do’, because he was the one in charge of letting everyone know of the change in plans. He gave an excuse that because he didn’t have my number, he couldn’t call. Yes, a very lame one. Lastly, he never smiled at me. He smiled often and readily but I was very sure that no special occasion in the last two years had warranted a smile meant for me.
 
 He was confined to a wheelchair ? a case of polio since birth.
 
****
 
She made me feel inadequate. In the last 30 years of my life, inspite of what people expect, I have always managed to overcome the challenges that life has thrown along the way. I have had my share of difficulties, but nothing that has made me think about my ?condition’ for so long and at such constant intervals. While completing my MBA from Stanford, there were many opportunities that could have been mine, had I played the ?limp limbs’ card. I never did. I had gotten through the course on my own and was made an offer by Google - the only one that year. Though I wasn’t the life of the party, I had my fair share of friends and lovers. I had moved from California to New York for the job, after my graduation. It had been seven years since I had been away from home in Mumbai. I stayed on in the U.S for two very simple reasons. One of them was the sheer convenience of mobility that all the places provided. The other, while most people noticed my wheel chair, they were either too polite to make it evident or it didn’t matter to them anyways. Back home, the sounds of pity and offers to help used to irritate me. I decided to come to India after a call from Nikita announced that Dad had a stroke. He passed away within a week of my arrival. I stayed on because I was all that Nikita had for a family.
 
The first time I met her, I found her staring at my wheel chair.
 
****
 
I could have ignored him. I tried doing that in various ways. By completely avoiding him, by not talking about him and at times even hearing about him. The problem was that he refused to fade in the oblivion. I noticed him, all of him. His absence was as powerful as his presence. His looking at someone else was as disturbing as his looking away from me. His ease with others was as much a source of discomfort as his stiffness with me. He repulsed me as much as he attracted me. He unsettled me.
 
The first time I met him, he was lost in a leather bound Rebecca. The book was on his lap, one hand ready to turn a page and the other brushing away a stubborn lock of hair on his forehead. I remember looking at him and the book for several seconds, before I said a ?hi’. I was still trying to confirm the title of the book, when he looked at me. I saw him wince and then stare. I am not the stuff for beauty pageants but I am no plain Jane either. Most people would describe me as attractive. It was the start of many things that made me realize that he wasn’t most people.
 
****
 
The first time I spoke to her, I wasn’t friendly. I seldom am, to people who give my confinement more attention than me. But I did try. I had asked her, if she would like to have some tea while she waited for Nikita to reach home. I didn’t introduce myself, because she looked uncomfortable around me. She had asked who I was. I had told her I was Nikita’s brother. “From the U.S?” She had enquired. I nodded as I watched the play of shadows on her face. She was fascinating to look at.
 
“If you will be alright on your own, I need to go out for a stroll”, I said following a long silence
 
“Sure! Do you need any help with your??” She did not complete the sentence.
 
I turned away. I didn’t feel like responding to the question and the underlying assumption it carried with it.
 
****
 
It had been pouring furiously all weekend and continued on Monday morning as well. There had been a text from the authorities urging people to stay indoors unless absolutely urgent. I received the text after I stepped into the office. The floor was almost vacant except a couple of people, who seemed oblivious to the world around them. I liked the silence. No one from my team had come in to work that day. I poured myself a cup of coffee, and was just settling in for the day when Nikita called
 
“Richa! Don’t tell me you are at work!”
 
“Well! You must be psychic, that’s exactly where I am”
 
“Are you crazy, woman? The trains have stopped. All the roads are flooded. How are you going to get back?”
 
“Oh! The trains were delayed but still working when I came in. Didn’t think they would stop. Now what?”
 
“Why don’t you go to my place? At least it’s closer than your home and not flooded yet”
 
“Go to your place meaning? Aren’t you at home? ”
 
“Nope! I stayed over at a friend’s. I am still here. But Jai is working from home today. He will open the door for you”
 
I felt strangely excited and petrified at the idea of seeing Jai. Though I told Nikita that I would leave for her place right away, it took me all of one complete hour to actually make a move.
 
****
 
She was the last person I expected to find at the door and definitely not looking like that. Loose curls from her hair were plastered over her shoulders, dripping water. A few drops glistened on her eyelashes. Her lips trembled, perhaps with cold. She was saying something.
 
“I can go back if it’s inconvenient. I will find a cab”
 
The edge in her voice brought me back to reality.
 
“No. Please come in”
 
I opened the door wide and pulled myself aside to let her in. She hesitated, guiltily looking at the puddle she had made on the floor. Her lost puppy expression had me grinning. Or I may have even chuckled. I saw her startle a bit, and then look at me as if for the first time in two years. She smiled and then laughed nervously. At that moment, I wanted to be the funniest man alive, just to hear her laugh again and again. The thought vanished as soon as it had appeared and I turned to get to my room. After all, she saw me as nothing but a wheel chair.
 
****
 
I felt warm all over, in spite of my rain drenched clothes. His smile felt like home, comfortable and inviting. It felt like we had always laughed this easily. And then he stopped. As if I had dreamt it all up. I felt bereft. I wanted to snatch that moment and make it last. I did the next best thing. I stopped him in his tracks.
 
“Nikita tells me that you make amazing ginger tea. Would you please make some for me?” My voice sounded nervous to my own ears. Any moment I expected him to block me out as he always did.
 
“Ok” he said gruffly.
 
I was elated. At least it was a start.
 
I went into Nikita’s room to change into dry clothes. I heard him humming, as I came near the kitchen. The aroma of cardamom and ginger mixed with tea made me happy.
 
“That’s my most favorite smell in the world”
 
He turned towards me and said, “It does smell nice but it isn’t my favorite”
 
“Then?”
 
“I can’t describe it. Here hold the cup and let me take you to it”
 
We held our mugs of tea and I followed him to the window in the living room.
 
****
 
Nikita’s clothes were a couple of sizes too large for her. She kept pulling at the t-shirt to prevent it from slipping. I had never been more intrigued. I noticed the way she cupped the mug with both her hands. The way she inhaled deeply before sipping the tea. The way she looked at me and made me feel like there was no else she would rather be with.
 
“The smell of earth when it rains is my favorite”
 
She closed her eyes, smiled and took a deep breath. She nodded and opened her eyes.
 
“Yes. I am fond of it too. But this tea is heaven. For this you must excel in the art of tea appreciation though” she said, looking at me.
 
I laughed.
 
“And where and how does one learn this art?” I asked
 
She smiled and bent down while pushing my chair back. She sat down on her knees, keeping the tea mug on the side table.
 
“Right here and I shall teach you how”, she said.
 
She brought herself closer to my chair, and then held my hand. Her slender fingers entwined with mine and in that moment all that I could feel was the warmth of her palm in mine. She picked up the tea cup with her other hand and held it in both my palms, wrapping her own fingers around mine. She then raised the cup to my nose.
 
“Now, close your eyes and breathe in. Like you wanted to inhale it all in rather than drink the tea”
 
Her voice was soft as a breath, musical. I did as she said. I felt her nearness. I hardly breathed. When I opened my eyes, I found her gaze fixed on mine.
 
****
 
I held my breath as he continued looking at me. And then, just like that, he leaned over and closed the distance between us. His hands grazing my face, he tipped my chin up. Then he brushed his lips gently across mine in a kiss. I never wanted to awaken; I never wanted this dream to end. It was so real. I could actually feel the warmth of his breath as he sighed against my mouth before deepening the kiss.
 
We were jolted back to the world with the ring of the phone. We both were a little embarrassed at what just happened but neither regretted that it did.
 
While Jai attended to the call, I wandered through the house. I came by his study. As always, there were heaps of classics spread all over the table in the corner of the room. Rebecca with its red cover and the golden emboss beckoned me once again. I found something popping out from between the pages. It looked like an airline ticket. Something warned me to not take it out. But I did.
 
It had Jai’s name on it. It was a one way ticket to New York. A previous conversation with Nikita made its way to my consciousness
 
“He is planning to settle in New York”
 
“I thought he had decided to be in India”
 
“Yes. I thought so too. But one of these days he will just pack his bags and leave. I know the way he is”
 
The ticket was dated for Friday that week
 
****
 
As I finished the call, I saw her walk back into the living room. Something had changed. I felt my heart fill with fear
 
“Are you alright?” I asked
 
“Yes. Never been better” She smiled. It was a fake
 
The kiss. She must regret it now. It hadn’t registered then but it struck me now - the look of embarrassment on her face. She was ashamed of me.
 
I felt a knife sear its way through my being. I couldn’t bear to look at her
 
“The rain has subsided. Perhaps you should leave now”
 
I heard the door bang shut behind my back
 
****
 
I had never felt worse. I fought tears rolling down my cheeks. I cursed my fate at having fallen. Fallen so deep that I never thought it was possible. As I walked on the road, the smell of earth around me made me choke. It hit me then that I had been in love for two years. In love with a man who chose convenience of being in another country without as much as giving me a thought. The kiss was an indulgence, a whim. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to pour away like the rain. I wanted to stop breathing.
 
****
 
The truck driver wanted to get home before the rains started again. The roads were slippery. The girl turned on to the street.  She did not hear the horn. The driver couldn’t apply the brakes soon enough
 
****
 
She stopped breathing.
 


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22 comments

Srikumar M..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
Wow! That makes it at least two people who want her to live! When you arouse such strong feelings for your characters in your readers, you can be sure you've succeeded.. Kudos!

Srikumar M..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
Interesting technique. Really well written. Holds the reader's attention throughout. Maybe, just maybe, the last line could have been left out.

Pali Tripa..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
thanks for reading. am unsure about the end too, though not enough to want to change it yet:) about the insight bit - i usually avoid spelling it out (a moral of the story sorts) . i leave that to the reader to interpret.

Richard Fe..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
I really liked this. The dual soliloquies (or are they monologues?), the awkwardness, the tension that builds right up near the end. I do feel that the start is lacking a lot. Especially the whole two years thing, I didn't quite grasp the implications or the importance of that upon the story. I agree that with you that a monologue by the boy after would have been unnecessary. And the ending. Gah! Why did you do that? She didn't deserve that. Poor girl. You sadist, you. Thumbs up and kudos, this is my new favourite story of yours.

Aditi Chin..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
Very cool narration. I loved both the style and the flow of the story. She needn't have did though. After all that build up, even something like "that was the last time I saw him/her" would have been tragic and disturbing for me.

Pali Tripa..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
richard - thank you. the two years was just to bring in the impossibility of their relationship, but guess i over-harped. what do u think about the end? should she live, die or die differently?:) ladybird - thanks for reading and commenting..am contemplating a different end..lets see what figures in the devil's workshop! Srikumar-wanted to link it to her own desperation of wanting to stop breathing. was aiming for poetic tragedy, went out of line-eh?:)

Pali Tripa..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
richard..am not sure if its a soliloquy or a monologue..the definitions of both fit the format here..except that the former usually (also?) involves addressing other characters in a story..unlike a monologue which addresses the the audience/ self while blocking out other characters..

Richard Fe..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
Ah yes that makes sense (about the soliloquy). Live. She should live. She should be unhappy when she thinks about how she once loved a man whom she kissed after he made her tea when she stepped out out of the rain and into his house but she should live. But maybe feel as if a little piece of her died that day drowned in his amazing tea never to return. Wow! I like your story.

Rishabh Ch..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
I don't only want her to live, but I guess from you, for a change, I want a happier ending . Happier ending would mean somebody not dying in the end - we're both developing a bad habit of killing people for a dramatic end and I guess it's not good. It's a good enough story without anybody dying. More importantly, its a good story considering that the events were routine. So pat on back for execution. How about where in the end there is some hope to linger on. Maybe the last bit is by the guy where he cancels his ticket. He does have a reason to stay back now.

Pali Tripa..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
Richard, Shri, Rishabh - So now, I am convinced that the end needs to change. While its unanimous that she shall live, am still mulling over what the end should be:) Richard - "a little piece of her died that day drowned in his amazing tea" u not being sarcastic here, are u? the filminess of this is a little indigestible, coming from u:). Though she being unhappy appeals to me, am not finding an interesting enough scenario to portray it. and am also not sure if it should end with his/ her or a third person's perspective Rishabh - Agree about letting our protagonists live:) Though not sure of a 'lived happily ever after' ending for this one. I know u are suggesting a more 'hopeful' ending, but doesn't seem to fit with the mood of the story. or does it? Sri - thank you:)

aravind..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
This is a very good story. Well done! Ending suggestion: Meeting in the airport on Friday (she has also decided to move).

avi poojar..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
u had a very clear concept of makin her breathe her last in the end pali but the truck factor does not suit with the rains its all so common ..,if at all she was to perish i would have given a better treatment or maybe even tried to makeher emerge a fighter and deal with life...but i lykd the way the entire episode turned ...frankly the end didnt go down too well dear..

Richard Fe..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
I wasn't being sarcastic. I thought it was rather poetic and I thought it fit with your story.

Jeevan Ver..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
Good story Pali. Well written. Letting her die in the end is OK. Absolutelly fine. Don't change it please. I feel it doesn't have to a happy ending always. Sorry if I am being a masochist there :)

Pali Tripa..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
Richard - Will think about it.. Avinash - Thanks:) Yeah..the ending is still elusive to me.. Jeevan - Thanks for reading..and yeah..when I had written it had thot exactly on those lines..but now not so sure! Want an unhappy end..but not the 'dead'ly kinds:)

Divya Dias..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
Hmm... powerful characters, good build up, it had me hooked. :) Dying or slow death (I mean the life you surely have in mind for the poor thing)? I dunno, what if something triggered this memory? And you bring the reader back to her present, where she realizes she still has not forgotten him?

goki..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
Why does it always have to be some superb universities or someone with superhero achievements- I want average people in stories.There seem to be so many protagonists in Ivy league, I wonder how there are seats available each year :) . Yeah, but I feel bad for the girl (and the guy too) in the end - a little heavy/melancholy.

Utkarsh Pa..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
Liked the format of the story, though the ending was a bit too sudden and abrupt. But nevertheless the emotions were very well written!

..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote: I liked your style of writing.

Mandar..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
very nice story yaar.. being differently abled person my self i liked it. thanks for sharing ur gift with us.

si6Tdhjf.c..

03 Sep 2014
si6Tdhjf.c.., wrote: destinia free hack

Victorinox..

23 Jun 2015
Victorinox.., wrote: Ԍood post. I learn something totally new and ϲhallenging on blogs I stumbleupon on а daily Ƅɑsis. It's always helpful to read articles from other writers and uѕе something from their websites.

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