when and..

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“…When?”

Her question looms.

********

Clare looks exasperated. “You’re really going to make me regret doing this, aren’t you?” Stuttering, hemming-and-hawing, John — clearly even more off guard than usual — reacts in what is now classic “John” fashion. The thinking-on-his-feet-after-putting-them-in-his-mouth.

Which, when I say it out loud, really doesn’t make a lot of sense.

“Well, you see, what I’m trying to say… well… what you’re not letting me tell you… if you think about it….” John is fighting a losing battle and he knows it. He sneaks a glance: Clare’s face is still and inscrutable, just as it has been since they had found their seats.

Come to think of it, women’s faces are generally inscrutable… especially to the men in their lives. Moi? I think she’s going to take pity on him.

“You know, there is really only one question I have to answer…”

********

They take their seats at the table, across from each other. The barista had been pretty quick about getting their orders ready: always a relief. I would call this café noisy, but the two of them? They appear wrapped in their own little cocoon. A cocoon probably resounding with the clink of coffee spoons hitting cup-edges. Stirring is an art — do it well and the blended taste can really hit the spot. Do it badly… and honestly? Few people can really tell the difference.

Except those who hate the clinking of coffee spoons.

She looks up at him; he remains steadfast in not looking up. He hasn’t taken his eyes off his coffee cup since he sat down. That she already knows what he wants to say is not helping. At all.

“You should just say what’s on your mind, John. Not beat around the bush. Not avoid conversations worth having.”

He looks up, his face a mask of surprise. Our heroine has the air of Sherlock Holmes accurately predicting Watson’s thoughts without the latter saying a word.

He opens his mouth… a long pause.. then, “I was just thinking about what you said when we came in… here.” John says this slowly, still stirring. It’s clear he’s searching for the right words. And in the process, saying nothing at all that is of any relevance. This is what men do when they’re trying to think out loud. A lot of things said: none of them with any real meaning.

“Enigmatic indeed, my dear John. But you should know better… only one of us should talk in conundrums.” She has a small smile playing on the corner of her lips. The one you have when you’re toying with your quarry. When you know what is to come, and are relishing the foreplay.

It strikes me that I should probably clarify that Clare too, is no stalker or serial killer. Or, y’know, something worse.

She sighs. It is partway the sigh of someone expecting more. It is also that exaggerated sigh you let out when you’re trying to drive home a point. Is she really expecting better? Hard to tell. Clare looks at him, and an expression best described as ‘understanding’ flits across her face. She knows why this conversation is taking so long. And why this conversation may never go anywhere, if the man was left to his own devices.

Women hate that.

********

John pushes the door to the café open, head bowed… almost as though he finds his shoes fascinating.

I can tell you his shoes are not interesting at all.

He is not taking her hints. Of course, he may also be completely clueless that hints are being given. Clare pauses as she is about to enter the café to study him a moment; a semi-smile flicks across her face. She’s thinking back to that day they first met on the street and she threatened him with pepper spray. Something had caught her attention then… and here they were 2 years later. She knew what he wanted to say; she had figured it out when the thought had first come to him.

Is she going to help him out? I wonder…

Clare sighed again. I know that sigh. She’s going to put him out of his misery.

Just a little push.

“It’s never easy to figure out how to ask someone to marry you, is it?”

Written in response to the Daily Prompt: Write Here, Write Now. Also, the concluding part to ‘If and When‘.
p.s. If that didn’t make sense, all I can say is…
Four Sections.
***********
There are.

if and when

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I think someone once said that life could be encapsulated in 2 letters.
If.

********

There she went.

And him, right behind her.

Lest you believe the erstwhile hero of this story a stalker, I must assure you he is nothing of the kind. No, seriously. He’s not going to just quietly follow a random girl that he sees on the street with no purpose in mind.

That said, our hero has actually lengthened his stride, and hurried ahead. Maybe, you would think, just to get a glimpse. In a completely not stalker-ish way. Or maybe not.

Or…

In fact, if one was to take a mathematical view of this situation: the chances of seeing her in the next 3 minutes can be modeled as a simple probability distribution with variables that include…

..um, hold on to that Gaussian. He’s spotted her. There she is.

She looks amazing. You’ll just have to trust me on this one. I can wax and wane prosaic about her looks and her gait and her face and her fashion… wait, do I mean prosaic? I’m gonna need to Google this one, folks.

In the meanwhile, our hero has caught up with his quarry. Before you ask, no, he’s not a serial killer, either. His looks? Does he even superficially deserve this creature that he has caught up with so quickly? I guess he’ll do. He’s no Sylvester Stallone, which doesn’t really mean much as Sly is, like, 600. A very bulked-up, ripped, and hormone-injected 600 at that. That said, I don’t see anyone else coming along who can carry this story forward. And as I said, our hero is not a killer or a stalker or, y’know, something worse. He’ll have to do.

It also appears our man is not one of those geeky tongue-tied heroes who will end up committing some sort of terrible gaffe in breaking the ice. He’s forging ahead. Fearlessly. The opening gambit…

“Wanna talk?”

These words hit her just as she realizes that someone arbitrary has caught up and is addressing her. Her face clearly conveys “Huh?” while her feet start the process of getting away from random-creepy-dude-approaching-her-on-street-and-asking-about-talking.

“You know, talk? As in conversation, a tête-à-tête, banter… something like those two dogs…” It appears our hero hasn’t actually checked whether said dogs are playfully gambolling together or going at it. Like really horny dogs are wont to do. I won’t say ‘bunnies’, as they are after all dogs.

Awkwardness ensues. She’s averting eyes. She’s speeding up. She’s close to running away. Or taking out pepper spray. “Ahem.. well, I’m.. um.. sorry.. that’s not.. well.. you see.. the idea was that.. ah, crap.”

A real wordsmith, our hero. I don’t see this ending well.

She’s stopped. Maybe she found that pepper spray.

“Do I know you? I should hope not, given your tact and conversational skills.” A little bit fearless, our little lady. But she’s being sane about it. Not too close to him either. Her response brings a rueful smile to his face. Or maybe that is more of an ingratiating smile.

“Well, it got you talking to me.”

Unfortunately, our hero is no pretty boy who can pull off this line with the requisite swagger. The line does seem to have hit a nerve with our lady, though. “If that was an effort to somehow hit on me, you’re pretty sucky at this. In fact, if that was an effort to generally socialize with another human being, you’re extremely sucky at this.”

Game, set, and match, I should think.

His ingratiating smile remains plastered on his face. “Maybe I should start over… I’m John.”

I will say this for Johnny boy: he doesn’t waste much time trying to make an impression. From her expression, I think our heroine is of the opinion that he hasn’t spent much time developing his brain either. “I assume that is supposed to imply that I introduce myself. I’m trying to figure out why I’m standing here talking to you at all.” John’s trying to think on his feet now. I really hope he has something more going for him than just  vaguely stalker-ish tendencies.

“You clearly don’t remember me, but we’ve seen each other around campus. I think you’re in my class. Thought of saying hi so many times before this butneverreallyhadthechance.”

John is babbling. Ever had that feeling of impending doom, that feeling that whatever is going to happen next is going to be complete and utter…

“You really have a sense of timing… John, was it? Stalk a girl down a relatively lonely street, and start with a seriously terrible line. Most people would have screamed in pepper-spray induced-agony by now.” Despite what this woman is sounding like, I wouldn’t trust her. Her hand is still inside her bag. Any sudden moves, Johnny.. and… “Well, yeah.. I really shouldn’t have startled you like that. But you’re still talking to me, so.. say, your name is…?”

This guy is seriously blundering his way through this.

Hold on… she’s smiling. I can’t believe this fool’s luck, but she’s actually smiling.

And what a smile to be on the receiving end of.

John, predictably, gets a tad flustered. “Um.. ah, well.. I.. thought.. you.. walk…” Holy Jesus Christ. This guy? Seriously? “With verbal abilities like that, who would not want to talk to you?” I think she’s just ribbing him. Well, I hope so. For his sake. Her hand is outstretched. “It’s good to meet you, John. I’m Clare. Maybe I’ll see you around sometime?”

Yeah, I think this is weird too. Why is she not ripping him a new one? Or even running away? John, of course, is looking like violins are filling the air with music. Like birds are singing. Like life is for laughter and joy. Like the air is filled… his fingers touch hers. He’s smiling. “Nice to meet you too, Clare. Maybe we can talk some more over coffee?”

That’s a pretty gutsy move, given the way this encounter has gone down. She’s going back to looking uncertain about him. “I guess…” Her voice trails off, and you have to hope that Johnny boy takes the hint.

“When?”

********

I think someone once said that life could be encapsulated in 2 letters.
But that it began and ended with 4.

To be continued…

Written in response to the Weekly Writing Challenge: Cliffhanger! I’m open to suggestions on how to resolve this. Of course, I have my own resolution… which is now posted here: when and…

la porta

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The door to your house/flat/apartment/abode has come unstuck in time. The next time you walk through it, you find yourself in the same place, but a different time entirely. Where are you, and what happens next?

Her hand trembled.

As the rounded door handle clouded with the reflection of her palm, he reached out and steadied the ever-so-slight shaking of her fingers.

She hadn’t even realized that how shallow her breathing was until his fingers closed around hers. Deep breaths, slowly now, time to open her eyes… she firmed her grasp on the door, turned the handle, and…

***************
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orison

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Her arms aching from the weight, her back screaming in protest.. she made her way up the last step and set the water down. For a second, it seemed as though he had called out to her.. impatience overcoming the usual silence at this time of day. She shook her head: she was imagining things. Before carrying the water in, she tidied herself up: hair neatly pinned back into the bun, her sari re-arranged around her waist, the pallu coming round and being tucked away neatly. He didn’t like it if she looked awry first thing in the morning.

She quietly stepped in, glancing around to make sure that everything was in place.

It wasn’t.

Tut-tutting under her breath, she set the water down again and started clearing up. The washcloth in the corner was pulled out to wipe out the remains of the previous day.

Its such a beautiful day outside, the sun has just come up. Down by the river, I could see the clear water for miles around...”

She continued her commentary on the early hours of the day as she usually did, with quick glances in his direction to see if he was listening, annoyed, sleepy.. or worst of all.. angry.

The smile on his lips only served to quicken her movements; she didn’t want the smile to be inverted due to her tardiness. There was a limit to listening to a servant prattle on, even for someone as patient as he. She stopped by her pail moments later to survey her handiwork with pride. Washcloth back in the corner, she stepped over to him with the water. She paused a second with head bowed, and then quickly pulled out the bowl for the foot-wash.

His feet in place, she used the smaller pitcher to pour the water over his feet, while wiping away the dirt and grime of the past day.

She felt his gaze on her, and paused to look up.

She was mistaken.. his sculpted eyes looked, as they always did, away into the distance.

Stone they may be, but they could see all. She could feel their omniscient gaze as she lovingly wiped away the water from his feet.

As with every morning, she could feel the song coming unbidden to her lips.

krishna née bEganE baarO…”

speed

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It was time.

His left foot depressed the clutch, his right the accelerator, one hand grasped the steering wheel in a vice speedwhile the other manipulated the gear box in a frenzy of movement. 01225340455560… gears at max, his hands both clenched the steering wheel as the car barreled down the road. The road in front of him was crystal clear, the sidewalk a blur as trees, bushes and other objects whipped past.. well under the 1/20th of a second required to register an image on his retinas. Every slight adjustment of the wheels was more a matter of instinct rather than reaction – he knew the car, he knew the road, he knew his skill. There was no stopping this time. He was going for broke.

The road dipped. The road he was on seemed to extend into nothingness.

He was going downhill now, the plateau of highway over.. he knew he should have pressed the brake a little harder when he hit it, played with the gears just a little more. The turns were still to come, the wicked bends a little after them, and he was still barreling down the tarmac well in excess of any speed limits that might have existed. Ahead, he could see the first of the curves coming.. coming.. closer..

The emptiness yawning in front of the bend ahead seemed to beckon.

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it is better to finish than to begin

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The man in front of her cowered. Literally. When she visualized the word ‘cower’ she could see a person shaking, bowed head, on his knees, hands clasped in front, the body bent over with the burden of fear. This was the exact picture presented to her right now. But then, it was to be a tad expected: he had a gun lightly touching the area near his hairline. A soft-nosed bullet would spray the wall behind him with the innards of his skull, a hard nosed bullet would simply rip apart the head. Even moving very quickly, the cower-er would probably die. The safety-catch on the gun was on, she released it with a resounding click. For the person in front of her it was the first sound in 5 minutes, and probably had the effect of a thunderclap. The involuntary shudder was testament to this. The tip of the gun never wavered. The shudder was precursor to the first set of tears.

“Why?!”

She did not touch him, and continued looking down at him. The man hunched over a little more as the tears flowed more freely. The body was racked with silent sobs; her only reaction was imperceptible: to release some of the tension in the arm wielding the gun. The after-effects of gunshot recoil can be pretty bad when you hold a taut arm while firing. She rolled her head from one side to the next, pondering the man who was fast turning into a wreck as she watched.

He looked up. Red eyes pulsated on a teary face contorted with emotion as he yelled “Why?!!” His eyes searched her face, her body, her stance for a reaction. Nothing. He opened his mouth to yell, and stopped before he started. The pointlessness of the exercise had been realized. He had also probably realized that he was going to die. Her finger curved around the trigger. One involuntary twitch and it would be done. Emotion was replaced by wariness. The question remained in the eyes. Why?

“Whatever I have done, is it worth killing me over?”

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beginning at the beginning

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Eons ago, while people were still wondering about whether the world was indeed a world, or just a stage… things happened for a Reason.

They happened because someone Wrote them down.

Someone had the inclination and concern enough to observe events closely enough (or just think them up)…and then take the pain to sit down and Write them all out. Along the way they might have embellished them a little, but it is a small price to pay to learn of the invincibility of Hercules, or the relative immaturity of Tutankhamen, or the sheer flirtatiousness of Krishna. All of these very human tendencies needed to be Written down; and once Written down, the manuscripts had to be taken care of (but not too carefully: history is more believable when discovered on parchment than crisp yellowing bond paper), and passed on. All the while ensuring people did not assume that the Writings were just a good source of fuel. Or, later on, toilet paper. There is a reason that it took years for the Vedas to be written down.

Parts of our magnificent epic history that we do not want to completely believe as true – such as Rama being a goody-two-shoes – we call mythology. This does not mean it does not exist, or did not happen. The way it was Written was the way that things ended up happening. Life gets placed in a retroactive continuity in this manner.

In short: being a Writer meant something once upon a time.
Then of course, one of the Writers had to go and focus on a carpenter who could bring the dead back to life. The fact that the said Writer actually had the hots for the said carpenters’ girlfriend has never been talked about.

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