Wednesday, 29 May 2013



If you want to talk to the hornbills, you will find them at the usual place at the usual time. It is breeding season. The females have locked themselves away in their nests, where they will remain for a few months laying their eggs and caring for their young. The males are busy hunting for food, feeding their women, worrying about the next command that will be hurled at them, and snatching precious moments of time to work on their secret project. A surprise for the girls and the little ones, the leader of the clan declares.

The male hornbills spend their stolen moments of time burrowing away underground in the centre of their mammoth cage. Each day they start digging close to noon and keep at it for an hour, taking care to finish before the caretakers of the bird park return from their lunch to check on the birds. Often they continue digging at night, noiselessly in the dark. When the birds call it a day, the creeper plants reposition themselves to hide the entrance to the secret tunnel.

At first they don’t want to talk about it, the birds that is. But once they are convinced we mean them no harm, they break into a ceaseless chatter.

The tunnel is to be their means of escape from the cage, they say. 

Progress is excruciatingly slow, they admit but they remain hopeful. 

Getting closer to freedom, they keep telling themselves. 

Our children will learn to crawl before they learn to fly, one of the clan chuckles.

They want to leave so their children can learn to fly in the free skies, they explain. Learn to hunt for food, fight their enemies, build their own nests. Things they can’t learn growing up in a cage, they say. 

We ask them why they won’t consider flying away as an option. They say their children will be too young and their women too weak to fly afar.

And how long would it take them to dig the tunnel to the other end of the world? They have been digging for five years now. Another six months, a year, maybe two at most, who knows. They hope to keep digging for as long as it takes them to make good their escape.

And they quote from the movies to prove they are not off their rockers. (They have seen all the good movies, they assure us.)

Some birds are not meant to be caged, that’s all, one says. 

Hope is a good thing, another chips in, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.

We think it is impossible to argue against conviction that strong.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty - Image courtesy of LummeDesigns

We had a bet, the damsel and I. 

I told her she wouldn’t be able to spend a night in the room without being tempted to get into that bed at least once. She admitted the bed was indeed the most beautiful she had ever laid eyes on and that the temptation to sink into it would no doubt be almost impossible to resist. Almost impossible, she reiterated. But not entirely out of the question.

We agreed I would let her take up lodgings in the room for free for an entire year were I to lose the bet. And if at any time of the night I caught her wrapped under the covers for a bit of shut-eye, she would pay me twice the asking amount in rent for a year.

And so she turned up last evening at sundown, two books in one hand and a carton of clove-flavoured cigarettes in the other. To keep me company all night, she said. I made her three pots of tea so she wouldn’t go pottering about in the rest of the house in the dead of the night. When I finally shut the bedroom door behind her last evening, the leaves of the apple trees had begun to sing their lullabies in rustles and whispers. 

I went to check on her shortly before breakfast this morning. She was gone. The room was mostly as empty and as pristine as it had been before she arrived last evening. A cosy fug of clove and apple scents pressed upon me as I entered. I threw open the curtains; a little sunshine would dispel the odour in no time. Three empty pots of tea rested on the bedside table; I would clean them in time for the next visitor. The bed has been made; it likes to do that itself. 

I have never tried to find out what goes on in the room at night. The previous owner of the house had once told me the damsels fall into eternal slumber when they get into the bed, and disappear from this world. Only their Prince Charmings would be able to find them and kiss them to wakefulness. But I don’t see how that is going to happen; men are not permitted to take up lodgings here. 

But mine is not to question and ponder. I cast a quick glance around the room. Everything seems to be in order. Two Neil Gaiman paperbacks lie on the floor. I pick these to add them to my collection of left-behinds on the mantelpiece in the living room downstairs. I like guests who leave behind useful things.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

I am just an imagination ...

I am just an imagination ... - Image courtesy of Lara @ Best Ballet Shoes

I am just an imagination,
A respite from the present's realm,
Far away from this day's heartaches,
I seek shelter in tomorrow's shattered dreams.

Wandering through time and space
I am on a tricksy tightrope walk,
Imagination morphing into memory
One step in the future, one in the past.

And the big wheel keeps on turning
Through scarlet autumns and frozen winters,
But on the fringes of spring and summer
Is where my hopeful heart lingers. 

Saturday, 18 May 2013

The Death of Happiness

The Death of Happiness

For all its promises of a jolly evening, the restaurant was cloaked in a funereal atmosphere the first time I entered it. A large gathering of people, everybody in the restaurant barring one cowering in a dark corner, stood in silence and in a giant circle, everyone standing close to each other and holding hands, encircling something or someone I couldn’t see but whose presence made itself felt in the warm glow of golden-white light that emanated from the centre of the circle and made all the beautiful faces shimmer with sadness.

When I reached near enough, two people unclasped their hands and quickly grabbed mine and let me squeeze through to be part of the ring. At the centre lay a small, young fairy, writhing in agony. One of her wings had been severed and lay at her feet like a hand fan broken and discarded. 

“What happened?” I whispered to the fellow on my right.
“Happiness is dying,” the answer boomed from somewhere else in the eatery.
As if that were the cue they were waiting for, everyone started talking all at once.
“It was all Misery’s fault.”
“Happiness didn’t stand a chance, she never did. She has always been so fragile, poor thing.”
“Misery is savage.”
“A bloody cat-fight it was, the two of them screaming and screeching and scratching and clawing at each other.”
“That’s what comes of being too kind to fight back. You only get killed.” 
“That bitch Misery, so selfish she can only think of herself.”

“Why didn’t you all try to stop the fight?”

An interval of silence. 
A four-measure rest.
And the cacophony resumed.

“Here we fight our own battles, son.”
“Yeah, you need to choose your battles carefully. Choose the ones you can win on your own.”

“I don’t agree with you. You ought to have helped your friend. And it appears you haven’t even tried to. So why are you all pretending to mourn for her?” 

“That is not the question you should be asking. What you should demand to know is what punishment ought to be meted out to Misery now.”
“Kill her, I say. Tear her limbs apart and set them on fire.” 
“Yeah, a nice funeral pyre it would make for Happiness.”

“I thought you were merely mad. But now you are turning out to be savage.”

“What then do you recommend, Little Sir? That we permit Misery to have good food and cold beer and dance around Happiness’s corpse?

“Well, you know what they say right? That Misery loves company? Why not just banish her from this place? She can spend the rest of her life moping about in solitude and trying to cling on to others willing to entertain her.”

An interval of silence. 
A four-measure rest.

“Not bad, eh laddie? I didn’t think you had it in you but that is a brilliant suggestion, I say.”
“A fitting punishment, one that will serve as a reminder of her crime for the rest of her life.”
“Where’s that bitch, hein?”

And in three mammoth strides, the tallest and the most towering of the men in the room was beside Misery, the little black bundle cowering and sniffling in the dark corner. He grabbed her unceremoniously by her hair, swung her over his head in three swift circles, her screams getting louder and screechier with each turn, and flung her out the window and she flew in a wailing arc across the seven mountains and the seven seas. No one saw where she fell but we all felt assured it was too far away from us to be concerned about. 

The giant of a man dusted his hands with the satisfaction of a job well done. He turned to me and shook my hand and said, "Welcome aboard, son. Well deserved.” 

And with that, Happiness rose from where she was lying on the ground, attached her wing to her back and flew to the ceiling where she fixed herself for the rest of the night building a tapestry of night sky and stars glittering like disco lights. 

The people in the restaurant came up to me, thumped my back and gave me hearty grins and cheerful laughters. Music swelled from nowhere and rocked the place rhythmically. The bartender juggled bottles and glasses and concocted potions of ever-changing colours and flavours. Waiting staff scurried from table to table taking orders and with a snap of their hands they heaped piles of food quickly on the table tops. Someone put a chair under me, and a mug of beer and a plateful of food appeared in my hands. 

When the food and drinks had finally suffused me with contentment, the mad people of the restaurant told me that they orchestrated The Death of Happiness whenever a newcomer made his way to the restaurant.
“Just a simple test you know, to make sure those who come in really choose to be happy, like the rest of us do, you understand?”
“I do. You are mad people after all.” 

Not long after a black cat slipped in through the window, strode up to me and hissed angrily, but the others in the restaurant told Misery to stop troubling me and to accept her defeat graciously, and she was fed the largest fish on the menu that night for her part in the performance.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Secrets from the Underground

Secrets from the Underground - Image courtesy of Dorena-WM

We never knew who they were but the creatures of the underground always gave us the answers we sought but only if we cared enough to ask and listen.

They did not always answer promptly; we had to follow a few strict rules and no exceptions were entertained. 
First, you couldn’t ask a question unless you have tried hard enough to answer it either yourself or with the aid of family and friends. 
Second, you couldn’t share the secrets you were told with anybody else. Cross your heart and hope to die. 
Third, you dared not ask a question unless you were prepared to receive and face the truth for an answer. 

Talking to them came in handy when as children we played hide-and-seek. Whenever I had a tough time as a seeker, I’d simply go put my ear against the trumpet and ask in my mind where the other children had concealed themselves. But only after a long, arduous search. And it almost always turned out that most of them had gone back home, having given up hopes of ever being found by me.

I once asked the creatures of the underground what I would be when I grew up. A princess or a magician? A queen or a witch? They said I would be a Keeper of Secrets and Mysteries, which at the time sounded delightful and exotic enough to keep me happy. 

I run an apothecary these days but a few of my customers come every now and then to pour their deepest sorrows and darkest fears into little decanters that I then bury in the woods. And they leave a little happier, their souls unfettered from the secrets that had haunted them for so long.

I now ask the creatures more obtuse questions, the whys and wherefores of life. They still haven’t answered me though. I wonder if it is because I haven’t tried hard enough to answer these myself. Or am I not prepared to face the truth?

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Lateral thinking and nonsensical chatter sometimes lead to a story written backwards.

Lateral thinking and nonsensical chatter sometimes lead to a story written backwards - Image courtesy of Dave Morris

No one knew where the shark had come from. Nor why it had tried to gatecrash the party through the roof.

Someone suggested the shark may have jumped out of the water and landed a little too far out from the ocean for its own good. 

Then someone else snorted and said sharks didn’t do that kind of thing, only dolphins did the jumping-out-of-the-water trick, and then everyone looked towards the big fish sticking out of the roof and wondered what it was, a shark or a dolphin.

- It has to be a dolphin. Because if that thing did not jump out of the water how then did it land here on the top of the roof.
- Maybe not, maybe it is a shark that was swooped up by a hungry dragon, which for some reason, I don’t know what, somehow let go of the shark from its clasp and so now we have that thing sticking out from the roof.
- Do you reckon the dragon is also now thrashing around on somebody’s rooftop? I mean, something significant ought to have happened for him to have released his prey, such a huge prey that too, in mid-flight.
- If it were breathing fire down anybody’s chimney, we would have heard about it by now. I suppose it is safe to assume that whatever made the dragon drop his prey did not kill or hurt him, perhaps just caught him unawares, shocked him a bit or scared him a great deal, so the dragon dropped the shark/dolphin/whatever-that-is but managed to recover enough, at least momentarily, so as not to fall down himself.

- Something that caught him unawares, shocked him a bit or scared him a great deal, eh? A sudden bolt of lightning? Mid-life crisis perhaps?
- It was a cloudless night, so we can rule out lightning. It could very well have been mid-life crisis. It did catch me unawares, and I did not even know what was happening when it happened to me, and it scared me a great deal. It still gives me the chills, thinking about it does. Yeah, the bugger must have had it real bad.
- I was in my forties when it hit me. How old do you suppose the dragon is? 
- Oh, it has nothing to do with age anymore. Things are different in these times. It could grab you when you are in your twenties, thirties, forties, anytime. There is no telling when.

- Well, considering the size of his prey then, do you reckon he was trying to feed a flight of dragons? A family man?
- Are you suggesting there is more than one dragon?
- Why not? If there is one, there could be more.
- Then there would be dragon eggs too, isn’t it?
- Yes, My memory these days is not what it once used to be. But I recall reading in my childhood that dragons lay their eggs on mountaintops but take them to the mermaids for safekeeping in oyster beds. 
- I remember reading this too. When the eggs are about to hatch, the mermaids bring them up to the surface. The eggs hatch in mid-air and the newborn must fly and breathe fire even before he can open his eyes to the world.
- And what if the baby is unable to?
- Tough luck. Have you ever heard of a wimpy dragon? 

- That’s it! This is a murder mystery and we are close to solving it too.
- Whatever on earth do you mean?
- What if this shark/dolphin thing had gotten greedy and had tried to sink its teeth into the dragon eggs? Papa dragon would have wanted to exact revenge, and voila, he grabs the shark, drags him into the skies and lets go. Like he would have his newborn babies.

A hushed silence engulfed the neighbourhood. Everyone considered once again the marine creature, its tail sticking heavenwards, so out of place on a Sunday morning.

- How can you be so sure that dragons even exist in the first place?
- If a giant of a fish can be found wriggling its way into your home through your chimney, why can’t dragons exist?
- There could be other explanations for that shark-dolphin thing on the roof.
- Yeah? Like what?
- Maybe it was being smuggled in an airlift and ... and ...
- And it fell through the floor of the plane?
- Yes, why not?
- Or there was a tsunami overnight that receded just as quickly as it had erupted but left no trace, nothing broken, nothing out of place, no missing persons, on the contrary a recent addition to the neighbourhood, that too a shark on the rooftop.
- Sounds just as plausible as your dragon theory.
- Yes, but it’s definitely not as much fun.

The answer to the puzzle on Facebook is this: Alex and Michelle are fish whose fish-tank broke leading to the pieces of glass strewn on the wet floor.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

These boots are made for walking, and that's just what they'll do.

These boots are made for walking - Image courtesy of Finding Names (Original link not found)

The best thing about these sneakers is that they can take you to any part of the world you want to go to. All you need to do is put them on, walk up the wall, and when you reach the top simply jump and shout out a destination of your choice. And voila! That is where you will be before your feet hit the ground. 

The tricky bit is not the walking-up-the-wall manoeuvre. That can be mastered with practice. The most difficult bit is getting your feet into the sneakers, or that is what we thought at first.

Because when One pulled them on, they seemed to fit his feet very well at first. But when he stood up and walked, the shoes began to shrink. A few steps and he gave the shoes a yank, screaming “Ow, ow, ow!”

When Two tried on the shoes, they grew larger and larger and he said “I bet I could fit both feet in one shoe” and he tried to but when he bent to lace it up, the shoelace wound itself around his wrists and kept them tightly bound until he kicked off the shoe, screaming “Ow, ow, ow!”

And we began to think the shoes were really mean and not worth trifling with. We made up our minds to return them to their previous owner, the old man at the edge of the woods, who had sold it to us in exchange for a nickel from One, a silver coin from Two, and a gold coin from Three.

But Three said he too wanted to try on the shoes, and so he did, and the shoes fit him perfectly like the glass slipper on Cinderella’s foot. He laced them up, got up to his feet hesitantly, his feet snug in the shoes, which showed no sign of alteration. He gave them a moment, then smug in the knowledge they wouldn’t trip him up, he ran towards the wall and with a hoop and a cry scrambled up the wall. 

He was going to the city, he had made up his mind, the city of neon lights and mascaraed girls. But when he reached the top of the wall, he blindly stepped on a patch of slippery moss and lost his footing. “Merde,” he screamed, arms and legs flailing in mid-air, and landed predictably in a pile of dung. 

We went to the edge of the woods to return the sneakers to the old man. When he heard our tale, it humoured him no end. “The tricky bit is not putting them sneakers on,” he cackled. “It is keeping your eyes on where you're headed,”

Saturday, 4 May 2013

A Party on the Waves

A Party on the Waves - Image courtesy of

My sister and I agreed that the house in the ocean, although abandoned by day, was used furtively at night. We asked Father and he said it was a place for fun magicky things. We wanted to pay a visit but he reckoned we could do so only if invited to. 

We asked him if he could wangle an invitation for us but he sadly said he did not really know how one went about such matters but proposed that we whisper to the wind and hope the sea breeze carries our message to the owners of the place.

Seeing our crestfallen faces, he suggested we stake out the place for a night and see if we could find out more about it. And we jumped for joy. 

Father helped us erect a little tent under the rocks by the beach. Mother filled a large picnic basket with sandwiches and cakes and ginger beer to last us all night. Caramel was tasked with standing guard over us all night, an undertaking he promptly accepted with a furious wag of his tail. My sister brought along Nutmeg, her stuffed unicorn toy, so he could keep vigil in her stead whenever she dozed off.

Father said it was quite alright if we began our stakeout after sunset; nothing really happens before then, he supposed. So we spent all day bathing in the sea and building sand-castles (with Caramel either yapping at our heels or chasing his tail or slumped in the sand, his tongue lolling out.) casting an occasional glance towards the house, which remained innocuously still.

Evening came and brought with it sunset and twilight, in what order we couldn’t be precise. When night fell, Father came to tuck us into our little makeshift beds inside the tent where we lay on our stomachs, propped on our elbows, staring at the house, which now resembled a shapeless mass only slightly darker than the black waters and the inky skies that enveloped it. Stars burst into the night sky but the house remained dark and opaque. 

I don’t know for how long we had been asleep but we woke to the wetness of Caramel’s nose and tongue urgently rubbing against our faces. Bleary-eyed we looked towards the house. It was still mostly dark but tiny points of light flew in from nowhere and came to rest on the house. We peered out of our tents and saw each time a lights in the city was turned off for the night, a small glowing sphere made its way from there to the house in the ocean, which by now had come alive, fully lit with colourful fairy lights draped all over it.

Strange creatures rose from the ocean depths to the surface (my sister said she spotted mermaids and whooped with delight, I thought I saw selkies but I may well have imagined them, there was no way to be sure as all we could see were their silhouettes) and climbed into the house, which was soon drowned in tinny laughter and merry chinks of glasses and mesmerizing music that drifted towards our tent.

Caramel was torn between keeping guard over us and tearing down the beach to join the midnight party, but he resolutely held his ground beside us. 

Nutmeg stirred from the back of the tent and quietly trotted out. He neighed and grew four times his size, and with a sweeping swish of his tail he leapt over the beach and splashed into the water, and in no time disappeared into the house.

When we woke up again we were in our beds at home and the sun was high in the sky. Caramel lay flopped at my foot, Nutmeg lay at my sister’s bedside table as stuffed and dry and toyish as he had been ever since Father had bought him at the store. Tied to his front paw was an invitation addressed to the four of us to attend a soirĂ©e on the waves tonight. I wonder what Father will say to that.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The House That Spoke Too Much

The House That Spoke Too Much - Image Courtesy of DanCog

Even if mother couldn't always tell, the house somehow seemed to know whenever we played truant. Mouth open in disapproval, eyes staring at us in contempt, it was like a stern matron who ran a very tight ship. And the trouble was we couldn’t talk to mother about it because that would have meant revealing the secrets of how we skived off school.

As we grew older, the house took it upon itself to express its opinions on the friends we brought home. Suffice it to say none of our friends received a warm welcome by the house, most were scared stiff by its severe bearing.

But it was only years later, when mother fell ill and we were compelled us to spend more time within the confines of the house to nurse her, that we began to pay attention to the goings-on within the four walls. Unexplained noises, the nocturnal rattlings of the roof and windows, stuff moved about in the din of the night.

And so when the queer little place was finally bequeathed to me, I jumped at the opportunity to put it up for sale and promptly moved to the city, hoping to find a girlfriend and start a new life. 

They don’t have houses here in the city. Too little space and too little time on people’s hands to care for sprawling mansions. Living spaces are all tiny enclosures of glass and steel, cozy little chunks of air neatly fitted one on top of another like indistinguishable building blocks. Unexplained noises in the attic are now replaced with the less distressing sounds of neighbours’ quarrels and rompings.

The house has not been sold yet, not one interested buyer in the last five decades, which is hardly surprising. It has gone to rack and ruin now. My children sometimes pester me to let them have a look at it but I am afraid what secrets the grubby old place would tell them about me.


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