ENCOUNTERS by Sumana Khan
Someone Is Always Waiting
EXCERPT FROM THE NOVELETTE “THE STORYTELLER” IN ENCOUNTERS COLLECTION
I stare at the cement bench covered in pigeon shit and spot the dim outline of the granite slab embedded in the backrest. Years ago, when the bench was new, the granite slab was a shiny black mirror inscribed with the words ‘Dedicated to the courageous people of Thirukadal’. Four cyclones and many pigeons later, the words have disappeared. The place is so choked with weeds that the bench appears to rest on the thorny plants. Behind me, beyond a muddy track, the Bay of Bengal hisses and sighs in a treacherous language.
I look up at the sky, as if to decode the time. My watch says it is half past seven in the morning, but the sky, clotted with grey clouds, remains secretive. It could be evening as far as the heavens are concerned. A depressing form of rain is assured; the kind that only occurs in this eastern coast of South India—skies that sob continuously for forty-eight hours, increasing humidity, mosquitoes and the stench of choked drains, damp walls and wet clothes. I wonder if the sky had been just as morose on the morning of 26 December, 2004.
I tie a handkerchief around my face, covering my nose and mouth, and hack away at the weeds. Swarms of mosquitoes and flies rise in a static buzz and hover over my head like a satanic dark halo. It takes me an hour to clear a small area around the bench. The sky starts its weeping just as I scrub the bench with a coconut husk and Vim detergent powder.
After half an hour, the granite slab gleams into existence once again. I’ve got my memorial ritual paraphernalia in a Food World plastic bag. I bring out a strand of jasmine that I loop around the granite slab, its fragrance weak in the rain. I crouch under my umbrella that won’t open fully and light a couple of incense sticks. I’ve forgotten to bring the incense holder, so I stick the smouldering incense into a banana that was to be my breakfast. I place it on the bench in front of the granite slab and hold the umbrella over it. I close my eyes in an attempt to pray. All I can think of is the angry allergic rash that’s spreading on my legs and hands thanks to the weeds and that the incense smells like a cheap aftershave.
I give up and sit on the bench, still holding the umbrella over the incense. The rain stings my skin like the rash. The hard, wet seat numbs my thighs instantly and a dull arthritic pain blooms in my knees and lower back. I squirm, shifting my weight from one butt cheek to the other. I wait, just as I’ve waited in vain for the last seven years, for the storyteller to show up. The incense is all ash now. I may as well eat the banana and tell you the story of how I met this mysterious man.
About The Author
Sumana Khan was born and raised in Bangalore and currently lives in the UK. She is a blogger and a student. Her debut novel was The Revenge of Kaivalya.
Author website: http://www.sumanakhan.com
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