The water would recede, but the stench would linger on.
A cold, damp, hopeless stench that Neharika hated so much. Every time the murky brown water rushed through the doors of blue moon hotel, Neharika would feel fretful. Not that she hated the water, rather she enjoyed the way it’s sandy hands touched her soft white feet. But it was the stench that the water left that she couldn’t tolerate.
Blue Moon hotel stood on the sandy banks of the river Brahmaputra. Its walls- moss eaten, dark and moist and the windows crumbling and falling apart made it seem like a gigantic lifeless beast about to rot. The curtains of faded blue billowing in the humid wind were the only sign of the building being still alive.
Blue… was Neharika’s father’s favorite colour. That’s what her mother told her. She couldn’t be sure though, as her father was never around. He had not been around for a very long time. Whenever she thought of him a blurred figure of a tall lean man came to her mind. He would swiftly pick her up and swivel her around the room. She would feel as though she was floating.
But one fine day she stopped floating.
Her father left and never came back. Will he ever return and was it worth waiting? Neharika didn’t know and now didn’t care. The care had eroded with time. Her father had become a stale memory.
Although at times she had silently hoped he was there…..she wanted to drift…to float.
She did float. The water came rushing in, through the doors and windows of blue moon hotel. Neharika almost drowned as she struggled gasping for air. Finally finding the effort futile she gave up and as though by magic she began to float. Neharika, the tables, the chairs, the bottles all started floating. From that moment she eagerly awaited for the rainy spell to start… waited for the water from the river would consume the Blue moon Hotel.
Blue Moon was a hotel only in name. There were no rooms, no kitchen to cook, and no staff. Neharika and her mother were the only occupants and they alone ran the place. As the evening approached shabby looking men, would gather and the drink a bitter smelling spirit accompanied by endless plates of raw potato. It was the only food that this place served.
Neharika always felt a numbness wherever those men arrive. She never talked or looked at them. She recognized them only by their odor. Those men were important her mother had explained, she shouldn’t hate them, if they stopped coming they wouldn’t have enough to eat.
So she tried to do her chores without thinking. Thinking would make those men unbearable. She would suspend her senses and go around like a lifeless mass of flesh…It was like a spell that she would created around her. A cocoon into which she would recede seeking refugee.
But sometime her spell did break. This happened whenever the twins arrived. Two outrageously similar looking men who talked ceaselessly. There was something in their mannerism, their synchronized movement, their gossip laden talks that jerked her out of her cocoon and forced her to think. And then she would feel… the despise, the loath and the hatred for her surrounding engulfing her.
One of them had once, unceremoniously announced that her father was dead. That someone had pushed him off the cliff into the river below. The other dismissed it with a wary smile. He said that her father was alive and well and had seen him enjoying a ride on a merry-go-round at a distant town.
Merry-go-round, Neharika realized, she had never rode one.
After lot of pestering her mother finally took her out for a ride.
The wheel moved slowly, lifting them into the air. The sky was a shroud of white light. Few birds flew passed them. Down below a child screamed hysterically. Neharika felt a cool breeze caressing her sixteen year old body. The hazy image of her father began to form in the canvas of her mind. She closed her eyes and gasped her mother’s arm.
“Did he liked to be on a merry-go-round” she asked “ I mean my father?”
There was a long pause.
“No” her mother said
“What did he like?”
Her mother’s face expressionless.
“ He liked the colour blue.”
That was the only time they ever spoke about him.
The smell was sweet with a musky edge. Neharika lifted her eyes and looked at the man. He had a round face with small tiny eyes. His look was vague and distant, like the fading banks of the river on a cold misty morning. But in spite of the coldness Neharika surprisingly felt warm.
She fumbled with the bottle and spilled the spirit on the table. The man remained unmoved. She uttered a sorry and rushed to retrieve a wipe. When she returned she found the man wiping the table with his handkerchief. There was faint rhythm in what he was doing. A rhythm that bordered on the fringe of melody. Neharika looked on. She wanted to keep looking at him forever.
Long after the man was gone. When the night descended with a blinding darkness. Amidst tables, unwashed glass, and empty bottles Neharika sat on the chair where the man had sat. She felt a tingling in her thigh when her skirt pulled back and her bare skin touched the edge of the cold wooden chair.
The next day and the days after that she began to wait for him. He would come in the afternoon and drink till late evening. Neharika felt her numbness fading away, she would feel alive every moment the man was there.
They never talked. But she felt that the silence between them spoke everything.
The man belonged to some other town, stayed in a rented apartment some blocks away. Nothing was known about him as to who he was or where he came from. But there were innumerable stories that were doing round. Neharika listened to each of them carefully.
Some said he was a drifter without home or a family. He moved from place to place. Other said he was a lost soul in search of direction. One man announced that he was an outcast, who had been banished from his own community. But an old ailing poet, a regular in the Blue moon hotel suddenly said that he was a man in search of love. That he could see it in his eyes, the longing in them that could come only from the want of love. Neharika desperately wanted to believe the poet.
Poets they say have the key to unlock the deepest emotions that lay dormant in the human heart. What was in her heart? Neharika wondered. She always felt that her heart was a hollow bottom less pit that could never be filled. But whenever she saw the man she felt a strange contentment. Was her bottomless pit getting mended?
She would wear the maroon dress that her mother had gifted her on her sixteenth birthday, Neharika decided. It was a gorgeous dress, except for the white frills that hung on its edge. She would have to remove them. It made her look like a young girl. But she was a grown up now. A lady… who can fill a man’s heart.
She painstakingly removed the white frills taking care not to damage the dress .Neharika then applied all her mother’s make up to brightened up her pale white skin. Finally, satisfied with the way she looked, she went downstairs in a slow elegant gait.
At the corner near the window she saw the man sitting. His head was down and he seemed lost in deep thought. The orange light of the dying sun filtered through the window created a glowing halo around his lean frame. For a moment, to Neharika’s eyes they were the only people in the room. She believed that the orange haloed man would rise up and walk towards her.
Neharika closed her eyes.
But the orange light soon faded. The man rose and walked, not towards Neharika but towards the gathering darkness outside. He didn’t even looked at her once.
It continued the same way the next few days. Her dress had wrinkled and needed a wash. Neharika was at a loss, she didn’t know what to do. And then the unthinkable happened.
It began to rain…
The rain she always longed for. But now she wanted it to stop, because rain meant they would have to close down the Blue Moon Hotel. People would stop coming and so would the man. Time was running out for her.
As the rain continued, people visiting the place began to thin down. There was no sign of the man too. Neharika anxiously waited each day, but when the water breached the threshold of the hotel and began flooding the floor, Neharika resolved to go out in search of the man.
She went to the poet and asked him where the man lived. He looked at her with wide questioning eyes. Neharika lied that she owed him some money. The poet blinked and smiled. Neharika wondered if he had seen through her heart and her lie.
The poet handed her a wrinkled piece of paper with an address written in spidery handwriting. The paper had turned yellow. It smelled old so did the poet and his house.
The smell was gone once she was out on the rain. The air was damp and smelled of earth. Her umbrella wobbled in the wind. She struggled to keep it steady. She looked at the paper. It was a lane at a lonesome part of the city. He must have sifted she thought, because the twins had said that he stayed nearby.
The rain came in diagonal shafts, intermittently losing its way to the gust of wind. The sky further darken making the mid afternoon an imitation of the evening. Neharika was totally drenched and her maroon dress stuck to her body.
She felt cold.
She found warmth standing below a two storied brick building. All its windows were dark, except one that radiated a glowing yellow light, to its side she could see the silhouette figure of the man. She strained her eyes and looked at his face, through the rain, the glass and the vast expanse watery space separating them. A small amount of light spilled through the edge of his nose as he sifted position. There was not one but two faces. One his and the other that of a lady, whose lips were moving over the man’s cheeks, covering parts of his face with her carelessly dangling hair.
Neharika looked away. She felt as though the sharp edge of that girl’s cold damp hair had pierced her all over…assaulting, tearing and bruising her flesh. And from each bruise she was bleeding …profusely bleeding.
Neharika was drenched in blood, tears and rain.
She didn’t remember when she fell asleep. She was awakened by the sound of commotion downstairs. She lay in her bed feeling the numbness again crawling within her. Her mother called. She unwillingly lifted herself from her bed and went downstairs.
There was the poet, the twins, her mother, the rain, the river and… the man. He was being hurled into a waiting police jeep. The twins said he had killed his girl, sliced her body and dumped it behind the brick building. The poet closed his eyes in pain, her mother refuse to believe… but Neharika felt nothing. She looked calmly out of the window as the jeep drove away, leaving her and the furiously swelling river behind.
The water came rushing through the doors and the windows of the blue moon hotel, wrapped itself around Neharika and lifted her towards the damp decaying roof above.
Neharika began to drift…she began to float…but a fleshy jagged slice of herself remained pinned to the cold corner of the room from where she had first seen the man. She stood there and wondered …wondered if the musky sweet smell of the man would be strong enough to tide over the stench that the water would leave behind.
A stench… which contained the smell of the bitter liquid, the smell of her father’s watery grave, the sliced up body behind the brick building and….. the smell of dried blood mixed with rain and tears.
The water would recede but the stench would linger on…..