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A Fairy Tale
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A Fairy Tale

             This story cannot start with “Once upon a time”. Some stories, you must understand, do not have a beginning. You just walk into them as you walk into a dream; at an arbitrary point in time and space.

As you have walked into this one.

And the first thing you see is a Chinar tree – old as memory – standing silently in a stoic solemnity as its crown burns with the fire lit by autumn. Each leaf a flaming tongue, burning red. Totally oblivious of its own bole which, as you look at it, has hollowed out into a womb. Dark and warm; alluring but foreboding.

If you look further around, you would find how the Chinar narcissistically beholds its own fiery redness in a Spring that is just within the reach of its own shadow. The waters of this Spring otherwise sparkle with a jovial cerulean of such a shade that could be produced only when a lump of carefree sky dissolves in restless water. This Spring does not run deep, you can easily see the pebbles at its bottom arranged in a chaotic, contorted arabesque. All this – the redness of chinar, the cerulean water, the bland pebble arabesque – makes you wonder if you are looking at some crazy vision of a wild painter instead.

Now, at the other end of this Spring, opposite to the Chinar tree, you can make out a faint face upon the ripples. It is as if, being unable to bear such tenderness, the water must need to quiver. All of a sudden, the eyes of this face grow alert and the head is turned sideways, away from the Spring. Did she hear something; this face? You could feel the panic that rushes through her as she looks in front of her and then behind her and then to her right and left. All around, she sees only mountains. Trapped. A strange sound escapes her trembling lips; you cannot be sure whether it is a premonitory sigh or an involuntary cry. All you can be sure about is that this sound, this whimper – like a bird with weak wings – would hardly reach anywhere.

Thus, you are quite surprised as you see a man walking with purposeful strides towards the girl by the Spring, ostentatiously in response to her cry of distress.

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Maybe you are mistaken in thinking that it is the Girl’s cry that brought the Man. Maybe the Man walked in just because he was going to walk in anyway, the cry of distress notwithstanding. You may even be tempted to call it fate.

Before this burly man plucks the girl by the Spring and takes her away, you can guess what they have talked about. He would have probably said how he has come for her. To help her. To save her. To rescue her from all the monsters and all the danger lurking out here. She, in response, must have fumbled with her words and scattered them all around and lost their meaning in the process, as she was wont to; as anyone, who finds language stifling, is wont to.

That is why she could not convince the man that she is safe where she is, that she knows no danger here: by the Spring, besides the old Chinar tree. That is why she leaves with him, the burly Man. Taking the wet, sad shade of the Spring in her eyes as her only dower.

You follow the damp, delicate footmarks which are the only thing that the petite, reluctant feet have left behind, as the Man leads the Girl to his house.

When you see the Girl again, you see her sitting by a window presumably looking at the rain falling outside with an adamant persistence. The immense silence all around is broken by the soft monody that raindrops wring out of the lips of leaves. The Girl is about to be married to the Man who brought her here, into this house where it is raining cruelly outside. The rain means nothing to the Man. There is only one thing on his mind – finally, he is to have her. The thought erupts every now and then in his head, and every time it does, the man bursts into paroxysms of brute ecstasy.

He had not imagined it would be so easy, her acquiescence, but it turned out so. She had asked for just one thing in return – each month she must have one day of her choosing, when she would be left all alone. She must have that day to herself; do what she wants to do with it. No questions asked.

The Man had agreed with a wide grin,

“Just one day?” he had asked with the magnanimity of a conqueror at his victory feast.

“Why! You can have all the days to yourself if you want.”

“No, I just ask for one day.” She had said, her words stiff with the frost of her eyes.



Dasha Shashina / Unsplash

The girl, now, sits there by the window for a long, long time. But nothing happens. The rain keeps on falling. Eventually she heaves a sigh. A sigh that whispers to you, when it comes to refuge, all the vacuity of the universe shrinks into a mirage.

The Girl gets up. Leaves the window. Walks away. Gets married.

The Girl is now a wife. She cooks for the Man, washes for him, keeps his bed warm and does everything that must be done with a cold, mechanical efficiency. The Man keeps on telling himself that he does not have a reason not to feel happy with his wife; he has no reason to complain. But what he does not tell himself is that something is missing; something is lost. You can pity him if you feel so, or you can rejoice secretly. Your little Schadenfreude, if you may. Nevertheless, whatever it is – whether you rejoice or you feel pity – it would have hardly mattered to the Man, had he been able to keep on telling himself that he has no reason not to be happy with his wife, that nothing is missing. But then, comes the morning when the Girl wakes him up.

“This is the day.” She tells him, her voice trailing softly along the taut silk strings of the rising sun.

The Man does not know what to say. He gapes as he sees her face beaming like the Moon in a sea of mirrors. Suddenly, he remembers why he had so wanted her for himself. Why he had wanted to marry her.

For the rest of the day, the Girl is gone; the Man does not know where to, but the memory of the morning fills him up with such sweet longing that his whole day passes in an unrelenting agony. Such agony that you must have come across in weary desert travelers, who hope that sunset must bring them to an Oasis full of sweet waters. The evening comes and it is the Wife that returns instead of the Girl that had left the house in the morning. The Man looks at her and sees how she has cast off everything of herself that he has so longed for. How she has put on, once again, the garb of the cold, efficient, mechanical wife.

The Man now sees what is missing, what is lost – the Girl.

Therefore, he could no longer tell himself that he had no reason not to be happy with his wife. The thought erupts like a pustule somewhere deep within him. And over the days that followed, you can realize, how the same thought recurring again and again must have added to this fetid pustule, swelling it up. Growing. Spreading. Metastasizing. Extending into supple slimy tentacles that invade the insides of the Man. And then one fine morning, when the Man hears his wife saying again in the voice of the Girl, “Today is the day”, the pustule-monster puts on fleshy moist lips to whisper, “Follow her. You have to. You must.”

The Man does the bidding. He discreetly follows the girl who, unknowingly, leads him to her old grotto of seclusion – the Spring by the old Chinar tree. The Man keeps his distance and watches from afar how her fingers caress the surface of the Spring as tenderly as one caresses the face of long lost love. He sees with trepidation how the petals of her lips unfurl at the touch of a secret smile, while her cheeks blossom into a blushing pink. O he sees it all! And something squirms within him. Gleefully, the pustule-monster whispers, “See there she sits. See! See! She is everything that you ever desire.”

The Man nods in agreement.

“But woe unto you!” the whispering continues, “She is everything that you will never have.”

The Man runs away. Keeps running away. In disgust. In terror. Away. Far away. But the pustule-monster follows him everywhere with incessant raucous whispers on its slimy lips, as it keeps on taunting the Man. And it keeps getting stronger, the pustule-monster does, with each minute that the Man spends with his Wife. Soon enough it has grown so strong that it no longer speaks in sly whispers, but it now rather speaks in a blatant voice; a voice that basks in the confidence of knowing that it must be obeyed. The pustule-monster terrifies the Man now, but he just cannot find a way to escape its servitude.

So, when the day comes when the Wife-Turned-Girl says one more time, “Today is the day”, it must not surprise you to see the pustule-monster dragging the Man behind the Girl up to the grotto of the Spring by the Chinar tree. The Girl has lain down by the Spring, her pale face resting on her delicate hand; a pale flower borne on a tender tendril. The Man cannot bear it, to look at her. He wants to run away. Far away. But the pustule-monster does not let him. It holds him on tight leash.

“See!” the monster gloats, “See, how she lies there!”

“I don’t want to see!” The man cries out in a burst of anguish.

“But you have to.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Oh, you do.”

“I swear, I do not want to…”

Just then a song, titillating as a butterfly on her maiden flight, comes floating by. A song that the girl has started to hum, lost as she was somewhere in the catacombs of her memories. A song, if you were from around, you would have recognized as an old song often sung by lonely maidens in their hour of desperation and longing, at weddings and after funerals. A song that implores a handsome groom to come riding on his horse of russet evening-cloud, before the night reduces whole world to inscrutable darkness; before the last echo of hope is lost in the crumbling caves of loneliness. A song that never reaches an end, as it breaks under its own misery; midway. And leaves a trail of thick silence in its wake, hanging ominously like a noose at gallows.

A song that is fit to break one’s heart.

“See. See.” The monster gloats again.

“For God’s sake! Spare me this torture.”

“It is all up to you.” The monster hisses out each one of his word, “You know what to do.”


“You must do what you have to do.”

“Please let me go.”

“There is no other way. You know that.”

There is no other way. You know that. The words echo. And then resonate. And then repeat themselves in patterns strange – ‘There is no other way. It is all up to you. You know that. You know what to do. You must do. You have to do. You know no other way. You know, you do. You must do what is up to you. You know you have to do. You must know no other way. You have to do what is up to you. You know what you must do.’- All this, while the Man comes out of his hiding and starts to walk in a stupor towards the Girl. By the time he reaches the Spring, the words are thrown out of all patterns and are reduced to a mere inchoate jumble on his lips – no way must do what to do know way have to do up to you. And as the Man lowers his trousers and starts to urinate into the Spring, the words have metamorphosed themselves into a perfect chant that, despite your best effort otherwise, sway you with the terrible beauty of their horrific rhythm – must do, have to do; must do, have to do; must do, have to do; must do, have to do…

Johannes Plenio / Unsplash

‘But what about the Girl?!’ You suddenly think, right?

She is there, by the Spring, looking into it. Watching, painfully, how its water is turning, slowly, into a thick, green slime; scared by the face that is staring back at her. A snot-green face petrified by disgust and despair, a sculpture of woe. The Girl could not bear to look at it – the face, the water. She turns and runs away back to the house. Back to being a wife. Forever. She would no longer be a girl. Never!

Not even just for one day.

The Wife shivers at the thought of it all. Her flesh turns cold, inside out. And it grows, this coldness, every time the Man tries to thaw it. Every time he tries to kindle something warm in her, by his desolate touch; by his empty mirth; by his hollow laugh. Every time the Man tries to overcome the hollowness inside him; the emptiness.

The Man has been reduced to a shell. A husk of skin that longs for some flesh, something – anything, inside.

O how miserable it is! This macabre mating of cold and hollow. You feel its despondency in the marrow of your bones. You feel its grief; its woe. And months later when the womb of the Wife delivers its fruit, a chilling shiver, like a cold centipede, runs down your spine as you behold what has been brought forth. Something that refuses to open its eyes, something that does not cry. It cannot. How can it? It is hollow. Cold. Dead. Still born.

What else can a cold flesh and hollow skin beget?!

The Wife gathers the cold, pink bundle of bones and sinew in her cold, flaccid arms and starts to walk. Out from the house. Away from it. Past the slimy Spring. Up to the old Chinar tree. And places it there – her little, loosely wrapped bundle – inside the hollowed-out womb of the Old Chinar Tree. And then, without looking back, she leaves.

She does not know that the Man has followed her all the way to the Chinar tree, but you do. You have seen him wait till the Wife leaves, and then walk up to the bundle that she has left behind. You have seen him pressing the bundle to his chest while a frail, pale, baby hand flaps out of the bundle. You have seen him wail like a wild ogre to his exhaustion. And you have forced yourself to see how he leaves, empty handed.

Over the due course of time you see it, like history, being repeated again and again. The cold. The hollow. The grief. The woe. The cold, pink bundle. The Wife walking with the weary weight of bones and sinew. The desolate walk back from the Chinar tree. The lonely wailing and the whining of the Man afterwards.

And again – the cold, the hollow, the grief, the woe, the cold-pink bundle, the worn-out wife walking with the weary weight of bones and sinew up to the Chinar tree. But this time the Man can bear it no more. He walks up to the Wife, who has just placed down one more loosely wrapped bundle. She looks into his eyes and sees how they have dried and cracked under an unrelenting drought. There is not a single tear that has been left unshed in them. Scorched; all that can be found in the desolation of those eyes is bitterness and horror.

You can say that if she had it within her, she might have pitied him.

“Is this how it is going to be?” the Man speaks, his voice an unbearable effort.

The Wife says nothing in reply. She just stands there. Silent. Cold.

“Is ttttttttthis nnnnever going tttttto stttttop?” the Man breaks, stutters, stumbles, but asks somehow.

The Wife still says nothing, but the Man gets his answer this time, in the cold depths of her eyes.

The Wife stands there. Looking into his eyes. Looking for something. Something she cannot find. She keeps on looking as his hefty hands curl around her tender throat and start to press. Harder. Stronger. Harder. Stronger. Harder. Stronger. Harder Stronger Harder Stronger Harder Stronger Harder Stronger Harder Stronger.

You hold your breath as you see the Man, exhausted, letting go of the Wife’s throat, and she crumbles into a heap at his feet, besides the bundle in the womb of the old Chinar tree.

The Man turns around and walks up to the Spring and sits down there. He dips his hands into the Spring, raises a fistful of its slimy-green water and drinks it.

Now, that is where we must leave the Man, by the Spring draining it of its slime, one handful at a time. Some stories, you see, do not have an ending. You just wake up from them, as you wake up from a nightmare.

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