Literary Yard

Search for meaning


By: Rency Philip


Hand me another mug. I’m still thirsty.” A hesitant mug comes your way across the counter.

The karaoke hours were fast approaching and you want to scoot before they start. As you gulped down what was the remaining of your last few happy seconds, you push a bundle of notes you didn’t count into the barman’s hands and make your exit.

This is what you will remember in the morning: The growing mass of pretty bodies in shiny dresses and muscled bodies in shinier pants.

You need to find a place devoid of any company. You know of an old dingy place a few buildings up the road. You reach a narrow entry between two buildings. A flight of stairs leads into darkness. You look up at the name of the shop.

This is what you will remember in the morning: The shaky, wooden name board hanging dangerously above your head.

Seeing the well-lit room was a little surprising. Your eyes had long accustomed to the dim lights and the evening hours. You have to squint your eyes to adjust to the artificial brightness. You are wondering why there are so many books in here.

Stacked along the wall, against the shelves, on the floor. Books were spilling from everywhere, brimming till the ceiling, lining everything. There were smells of mould, mildew, dampness and dust. You want to smell meat, brew, smoke and sweat.

You are glad there are very few people in the shop. This is just what you were expecting. You see a familiar book near the children’s section. You pick it up because you see a dog-ear on its cover. You walk ahead on unsteady feet, past the hobbies section, the science section, the management section.

One of those horrid self-improvement bullshit,” you say aloud for the benefit of a bespectacled woman who was studying the back cover of a book. “They aren’t going to tell you anything that you don’t already know.”

Mind your own business,” she spits back.

Suit yourself.”

This is what you will remember in the morning: A smiling face on a book cover with ‘Best-selling’ written across the forehead.

There was no other place you could get a few winks, for no charge at all between solitary bar hops on this crowded street than a bookshop that is about to close in an hour. Furthermore, Thursday nights were slow business for bookshops, but they were well within the proximity of pubs selling alcohol with cheap marketing stunts.

You reach the erotica section, the second last aisle on the floor. You run your fingers along the books and randomly pulled one out. A Penthouse! You pick a cane morah from the arts section and bring it back to erotica. Settled on the low stool, you open the book crumbling from the spine and shut your eyes.

This is what you will remember in the morning: The minutiae of the story of a man cheating on his wife with an older woman.

No one hangs around too long in the erotica section for the fear of being noticed. No one’s going to trouble you because… Hey, let’s face it. You know the pathetic picture you paint.

A woman aged anywhere between thirty and forty. Plump, slouched and dressed in a sleeveless, red kurta. With a bandhani dupatta wrapped around your neck like a scarf. Like mockery to modesty. Your ample cleavage visible because of the way you are slumped. Large, peacock-coloured feather earrings border your face. Your thick, long hair is unkempt, uncombed and uncut. Whatever of it you could gather, you have piled them on top of your head and clamped it with a hair clip. If there is anything left of your face that can be revealed you have hidden it with horn-rimmed glasses fit for the nerdy or the artsy, of which you are neither.

If anyone passes by they’d think you are a large patchwork quilt bundled in a corner. And if they stayed long enough to study the human form, they’d be too frightened to approach it.

You wake up forty minutes later. You start a bit too dramatic. You wonder how long you have been sleeping. How many hours, days? You check the old and reliable Casio wristwatch that covers the narrow patch of fair skin beneath. A quarter to nine. All happy hours are over.

You are confused about the books on your lap. You don’t remember how it got there.

You clamber up and head to the cash counter with the books in your hand. The reek of alcohol is what makes the bookshop owner look up. You push both the books across the counter to him – a children’s paperback and a Penthouse. He has been in business for a very long time to judge his patrons too severely. But he has definitely categorised you: the lonely woman.

The evening air outside is not as comforting as the stale air inside. As you stand outside the bookshop and watch the people excusemeing around you, the lights, the traffic, the music and the smells of excitement numb your head. There is only a blank now. You try to think, but no thoughts enter. No feelings, no emotions. You are as numb as your surroundings.

Five hours earlier, when there was still daylight, you couldn’t stop the thoughts from entering your head. So, you had climbed back into the bus you had stepped out and told the conductor that you wanted a ticket back to where you came from.

Madame, please give change,” he had said. If he was surprised he hadn’t shown it.

When the bus had started, you sat by the window and removed your eyeglasses. When your eyes had welled up, you waited for the tears to roll down. It didn’t. The wind had dried it up. A family of four had gotten in. The mother sat on the seat facing you with her son on her lap and the daughter sat next to you. The daughter looked at her father and moved to the edge of the seat. Her father looked at you and sat next to his daughter. You had noticed how the little girl sat with one hand in her father’s hand and the other on her mother’s knee. You had forgotten to cry the remainder of the tears.

You opened your backpack and pulled out a paperback. You pulled out a ballpoint pen and thumbed to the third page. You waited for the bus to stop. When it did, you scribbled the date on it. You looked up to see the family getting down. You cursed under your breath and the tears rolled down.

You had walked from the bus stop to the street you were standing on now. Your head was too heavy with thoughts. You had reached a pub with ‘Happy Hours’ written on a huge flex board. A little girl came up to you with a bag of flowers in her hand.

Please buy some red roses.”

I don’t want any flowers.” As she had started walking away, you called her back. “Do you go to school?”

Her eyes had widened. Her eyes had reminded you of a bird. “Yes, ma’am but we don’t have much money. Please buy some red roses.”

So you can read English?”

Yes.” She was curious now.

You had pulled out the paperback with the date on the third page and handed it to her.

This is for you. You should read it. It is a story of a little girl.” Then as an aside, “I wrote this book.”

She had looked at the book and looked around. Her eyes had rested on the rickety board. “Thank you. Please buy some red roses. It is only ten rupees for one.”

No, I don’t want any flowers. Will you read the book?”


This is the last thing you will remember that makes any sense in the morning: The flower girl walks towards the old bookshop.

Although your head was filled with numbness, it was beginning to ache. You try to remember how you got on this street at such a late hour. You try to remember who you are. You look at your fingers and wonder why your fingers are painted dark brown. You look at your feet. You wish you could remember something, anything. You start to walk.

By the time you reach the bus stop, you have sobered up a bit. The thoughts are crowding again and you can remember. You can hear the million voices of depression. There is a dustbin nearby, made of PVC pipe. From your bag, you pull out the children’s book you bought from the bookstore. You rip a page out and throw the book in the dustbin.

This is what you want to remember in the morning: The third page has a signature and date. The signature is yours. The date is your birth date.

— E N D —


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