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#tbt

I was seventeen when I first stole something from a shop. It wasn’t something I couldn’t afford, or something I was embarrassed to purchase. It wasn’t by mistake. It wasn’t deliberate either, though, it was no well thought out heist. It wasn’t even something I needed. Not at the time, anyway.

I was walking through the lanes of the supermarket near my house. The shelves always looked overstocked, bursting with variety only intended to confuse the onlooker into purchasing more. I wonder if they kept the shelves stocked like that purposely, fifty-two bars of soap in an area meant to hold fifty. One couldn’t resist picking up the two extra bars of soap, thinking they can help restore the natural order of the lattice some night shift worker had terribly failed at.

I wonder if the night shift worker, on the other hand, had a tips and tricks manual, where on a page titled “How to con a shopper into buying more soap”, he had read that he must attempt to fit fifty-two bars of soap on the shelf designated for fifty. A corresponding manual for the day shift worker probably had a page with the same title, but this notified him that he must constantly replace the extra bars of soap that shoppers picked up with new bars of soap, to keep the gratification of restoring order on the soap shelf alive in every passing shopper.

For years and years I walked the same lanes, pushing my cart with all the items I had been passively manipulated into buying, sifting through the same shelves, and one day, I saw her. She was new, her apron too tight on her bosom (obviously belonging to the frail old lady who used to manage the makeup counter all the years) and her eyes sparkled with enthusiasm reserved for people who don’t manage make up counters in supermarkets. She would, every now and then, glance at the mirror and fix something that didn’t need fixing – her eyebrows, her ponytail, her mascara.

The make up counter was bang opposite the entrance, and every man who entered through the door noticed her the way I did, and every woman who entered through the door noticed her, differently, but undoubtedly. The day I noticed her, I heard one of the staff telling another “We’ve sold no makeup since she’s come. Something needs to be done.”

The other replied scornfully “It never helps to have a pretty girl on the makeup counter. Men want to go there and make small talk and never buy make up. And the women just never buy make up if there’s too many men around”

One of the staff quickly added “Besides, the whole point of buying make up is to feel prettier. Imagine going there and trying on a shade of lippy. You’d still feel so unattractive standing next to her”

The next day, the New Make-up Girl had disappeared. No doubt for all the reasons discussed between one of the staff and the other. The old lady was back at the make up counter, as she had been for many years, and I walked up to her to welcome her back.

“Good day, my dear, what would you like?”

“Just some kajal, thanks.”

“Wonderful. Here you go. All these years I’ve seen you here and this is your first buy from the make up counter!”

“Yes, I just never noticed I needed anything from it before”

As soon as the words escaped my mouth, I saw a smile on the old lady’s face and realization dawned on me. The New Make-up Girl was the two extra bars of soap.

I was seventeen when I first stole something from a shop.
A stick of kajal.
Out of spite.

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The Nest

There’s a pigeon in my kitchen. She’s a lovely grey, if there’s even such a thing as lovely grey. It’s not silver, it’s just a clean warm earthy grey, accented by highlights and shadows from the sun catching her feathers. She frequents my kitchen window, and there’s a twelve-twigged hint of an upcoming nest on the parapet outside. I presume they have something to do with each other.

But today, for the first time, I find her inside my kitchen. She’s crossed the windowpane, a feat no other bird of this bashful species (or any species for that matter) has dared to attempt before. Somehow the birds always know to stay out of houses, even when windows and doors are left ajar. I imagine the thought of the imminent confinement scares them away.

And yet, and yet, Pidge the pigeon (I have decided to name her) is in my kitchen, stomping on the cold black granite with her orange claws, pacing up and down the kitchen counter in a hurry, like she has important business to attend to on the top of the fridge, but this can hardly wait for the important business that needs attention on the opposite end by the sink.

She stops for a breath every now and then, her neck’s purple green plumage vibrant in the sunlight, and cocks her head up to look at me. I must seem quite unthreatening to her, for she gets back to her many businesses immediately, marching across my kitchen counter, no time to waste.

***

I’m back in the kitchen. There’s the human standing at the doorway and looking at me. She lets out a low gasp at first, but I look at her and calm her down. She switches on the fan, and continues standing at the doorway and staring at me. I can tell she’s scared, but also curious. We’ve seen each other before, but always across the windowpane. This is the first time we are on the same side.

She smiles at me, and I can’t bear it. I think she’s named me in her head. The other birds warned me this often happens when a bird crosses the windowpane in the presence of a human. This, or death. I’m glad it’s the former.

My heart beats faster in my chest, and I don’t know what to do. I’m walking from one end to another frantically, trying to get my thoughts in order. I look at her, time and again. She seems calm now, her beautiful brown skin smooth as the insides of a worm on a warm summer afternoon, her black eyes darting across the room at things she’s worried I will kick over as I scurry around, trying my best to buy time.

She leaves momentarily, and I make the most of it. I rush to the clothes stand, and peck the fragrant pink towel as it dries, picking up each strand of her delicious black hair from it. There’s thirty six in all, and I carry them lovingly back to my developing nest, ready to spend the day weaving them in. They are weaker and finer than twigs, but smell like mogra some days and rose on others.

One day, when it’s done, I’ll invite her in.

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The minutes you spend.
Looking at her clothes. How the neckline of her blouse is just shallow enough to give away her delicate collar bones. You spend a minute too long on this, in fact. And sigh.
Onto the next. Your fourth grade crush has bought his own BMW. Ah but, you think to yourself, it’s commonplace in the states.
Onto the next. Your ex boyfriend’s ex girlfriend. You make a mental note to unfollow her. Another time. Right now she’s got a cute puppy and you’ve forgotten you hated her.
You scroll down. It’s your mum’s cool friend, showing way too much cleavage.
Further down, your own ex. A post about his football non profit. Unfollow.
Next, your other ex. Married now, posting a picture of his brand new six pack abs. You smirk and don’t unfollow him, because it mildly amuses you to see his scantily clad calls for attention, the same reason you’re still following the girl from high school you never spoke to, who makes an appearance in the next picture.
You continue scrolling, fast now because the promise of entertainment from this app is slowly waning and making you restless.
And then you stop.
Scroll up just a bit.
There.
Right in front of you.
The tiny thumbnail picture of the man you have a crush on.
It’s funny, you never thought you’d say man and crush in the same sentence. He’s posted something after two months. Not his face, not the weather, not some wannabe poignant picture of a derelict alleyway with a cheap filter and a borrowed caption. It’s a post of his latest animation, that he probably coded lying down casually in bed on a Sunday between his morning dose of Economic Times and his afternoon reading sesh (you think he likes reading Manto but you’re not sure it’s his Sunday vibe, so you don’t feature that into your imagination).
And then you scroll further. Slow now. Not really taking in anything. Memes. Selfies.
Comic strips come and go. By the time you’re back to the present, you’re already looking at pictures posted last night. With a pang of guilt you continue.
A quote with a bright background. A close friend’s terrible attempt at sketching. A stranger you follow in her latest gym attire (holy shit she got so fit so fast!). Because you like to know what exactly is up in their lives, three celebrities one after the other.
Your ex best friend with her new best friend. Your token cool colleague. And (just before it’s time to get off the cab) the guy who took his life last night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Soulmate

The clock ticks on. Five minutes to go.

He thinks of calling her, but he figures if it has to be her, she’ll call herself.

So he goes and opens the refrigerator for the twentieth time that hour, pulls out a slice of cheese, heads back to his laptop and plays some music. There’s beats in the background now. Beats and vibrations. No words. He closes his eyes and breathes in deep, then lets out a long sigh.

It’s about time he met her. The one. Whomever she was.

There was no guarantee that the astrologer had been right. But three years back when he’d been told by the old man in orange robes the exact date and time he’d meet his soul-mate, he’d laughed it off.
He couldn’t tell why, it hardly seemed funny anymore.

Four minutes to go, and his phone vibrates with a message from her.
Hey I’m coming over. Getting pizza.

He’d been with her for over five years now. Of course she knew about the prediction. He smiled to himself.  She’s making sure she’s with me at the time I’m supposed to meet my soul-mate.

“Maybe it’s the moment you realize I’m your soul-mate” she’d said, arguing against the astrologer’s prediction. “The orange dude didn’t say it’s the time you meet your soul-mate for the very first time!”

The orange dude did, actually, in so many words.

He finishes his slice of cheese and his phone beeps again.

Low battery. Three minutes to go.

He sets an alarm on his wrist watch for three minutes and just as he plugs in his phone to charge, he gets another message from her.
Almost there. Come downstairs.

He leaves his phone to charge, picks up the house keys and goes downstairs, his heart beating a little faster now. He did love her. Heck, he’d loved her for five years. Then why is he feeling uneasy? Almost as though he’s thinking he’ll meet someone new in the next two minutes, as ridiculous as that sounds.

He lands on the ground floor with one minute to go.

He sees her car approaching in the distance, waiting at the signal, and he lets out a bittersweet sigh.
So that’s that.

He’s walking out onto the road to greet her when a speeding car runs into him from the other side of the road and knocks him out cold. The girl driving it rushes out to gauge the damage, and as she holds his hand to check his pulse, his wristwatch alarm goes off. He looks into her eyes long and deep before he shuts his own forever.

***

As the hysterical girl from the approaching car at the signal accompanies her dead boyfriend into the ICU, the speeding lady orders Chinese in the hospital cafeteria.  It comes with a fortune cookie that reads “Oftentimes, your soul-mate and life partner aren’t the same person.”

***

Later that night, the speeding lady’s husband pulls off his orange robes and casually asks her whom she killed today.

***