Saturday, January 03, 2009

Does a butterfly see a butterfly?

A small piece of fiction based on the first morning of this new year

The chill in the morning and the fog outside catches me by surprise. I find myself putting on the woollen socks I thought I had done away for this season. I step outside the bedroom bracing my bare arms beneath the half-sweater, and find Rajiv shrivelled up beneath the quilt.

For a while, I wait for the maid to arrive but then remember that it’s her day off. After much dithering, I finally put my hand under the freezing water from the kitchen tap, the shock of it sending my teeth in a chatter, and rinse the kettle. I put on the tea and gingerly walk towards the balcony – a fog, thick like an open palm in front of my eyes, greets me.

Rajiv stirs as I add the milk to the boiling broth. The milk splits and parts like the Red Sea. Shit.

Rajiv sits groggy eyed, the quilt pulled to his chin and a palm rubbing the other arm, waiting for his tea.

‘We’ve run out of fresh milk.’ He dithers, holding the end of the quilt with one hand while rubbing the arm to it with the other hand, and then exchanging hands. He then heaves the blanket off and rises up.

From the rolling mist, the market breaks in faint wispy patches like the ruins of an ancient temple over a river mist; and not the frayed edges of threadbare stores thrown on a craggy ground of open urinals, garbage, mulch and pitiable pie dogs lurking around and flinching every time a man walks nearby. Most of the shops have their shutters down – loud advertisements in bright colours screaming from some of them – but the milk-van stands in the parking lot; a small crowd of bundled shawls and heavy pullovers silently watch a man in a thick green jacket pull out the first tray-load of milk.

We get the milk and then start walking back. Along the service road, a tea-vendor on a cart stands. We have a cup, and a faint patch of the sun breaks through the receding mist. I pay the man his six rupees and he touches the coins to his eyes before putting them in an old tin box.

The sun brightens and I pull off the extra sweatshirt I had donned over the inner-sweater. I tie the sleeves around my waist as we take the round turn towards the apartment complex.

A movement among the flower-bed lining the hedge to the colony gate catches our eyes – a butterfly with cream white wings. I never noticed the flower bed before; small baby flowers of white and dark blue scattered over the dusty dark-green leaves, and the white flutter weaving a pattern around them.

A child passes us on a small cycle. He looks at us with the look of a child seeing two men with unkempt hair and days-old stubbles silently watching a butterfly.

The underside of its wings are a pale green and when it lands on a flower, it bobs slightly as it extends the proboscis and, as it drinks in the nectar, it closes it wings and keels over to one side – its wing like a fresh pale leaf.

We watch it flit from a flower to another and finally, fly away. We remain standing silently for some time before walking away.

We enter the colony gate and move towards the escalator. We step in and it’s then that I finally break the silence. ‘I wonder’, I say gratuitously,’ if a butterfly sees a - butterfly. Or it’s only us.’

Rajiv doesn’t say anything.

The sweeper, in a pair of shorts over an old maroon sweater, and carrying a pail of water and a rag, enters the lift just as it closes its mouth and gives a silent nod in my direction. I nod back and we ascend in silence.


ramya sriram said...

One of the nicest posts I've read in a while.You made my day! Lovely imagery.

Bland Spice said...

Thanks a lot. You've made a lot of my days with your power of imagery :)