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Woman Alone

By  Bijoyini Maya, Chennai, India

Man alone, woman alone, just human alone never suffices us isn’t it? Have you ever thought why? I’m not here to give you that answer, apologies; I’m aiming to make you mull over the question a tad more. Think about everyday living and dying, breathing and breath taking moments, desires and failures, love and hate of existence. And, in all this, what the word ‘alone’ means to you. We are presumably never alone, family, friends, if nobody, compassionate human beings are always with us. No, this is not a nihilistic story, where the universe is oblivious to our existence. This is just another happening in a commoner’s life, with little changes in situations it could probably be your story.

There was a girl, or a woman in particular, living in one of the hostels of a university somewhere. The country we are specific about – India. Hostel life they say is the best time of your life. The friends you make, the things you do, the places you explore are always etched in one’s memory. Is it the places, the deeds, living in a dormitory or cubicle or the people you live with, who accompany you in these explorations, in the mischief and the laughter, and the sorrow? It’s not a rhetoric question; because the answer is circumstantial. Yet, we all seem to believe the ones who answer in the negative are not quite normal. Well, then, without going into Foucault, abnormal is as much part of the society as the other.

If you thought they are minority, let’s see how you think by the time the story ends. So, this girl as you might like, is famous, in everybody’s good books, although, not at all the fashionable diva you might want her to be. The plain Jane not being ignored laughed at and ragged, an odd mix eh? In real lives some of them are envied by the lot, by the attention they get, not only from prince charming, but all around. With all this showering attention she could not know loneliness, you might presume. Wrong again! Too many people, too much attachment is not welcome by all standard independent women who live alone, with or without family. Emotional attachment with few; conversation with all was her motto. There comes a day she realises she can’t live forever at the university hostel. After awhile stagnation kills her, one needs to move on for the fear of getting attached to masses.

From the stray cat at her door which mews every morning for few drops of milk (howmuchever she claims of hating it), the lady who sells flowers at the pavement just outside her window (common only in certain parts of India), nameless hostel mates who pass by with a smile everyday acknowledging each other’s presence (or a nod), the old pillars standing tall, crooked trees swaying in the rare wind, butterflies on an assortment of flowers are all substantial attachments. So much so that one feels dizzy with the connections once one begins to understand everything is connected to everything else. When she began to trace these multiple relations with the world around, detachment seemed to come involuntarily. The lesser she bonded the lesser she was to get hurt and escaping from hurt requires evading every living object which could consciously or unconsciously cause the same. The rose’s thorn does not intend to prick but it cannot do otherwise too.

A renowned hostel and university, comfort zone, all known people and still the need to change. Oh! How much she hates changes (the hatred list is quite long). Must shift to an apartment this time, outskirts of the city (like the ones she lived in earlier), with a small kitchen (a space she does not enjoy), where she can cook her own meal (that way she will eat less) and a bath all to herself (where she can do her riaz without the tanpura). Most importantly, something she can afford without a roommate. How long has it been, living without one, to be always the lucky one to get a single room on insisting...? “Nobody wants to stay alone, you will surely get. Kids prefer double room,” the reverberating answer. Innumerable hostels with fewer places and apartments have grown costly by then. She started looking for a 1bhk apartment somewhere, anywhere, without change of city which needed change of heart. She finds one, nearby, for a reasonable rent and moves in.

First day in a new place is the most agonising day. Not the cleaning, not the packing unpacking, not the new faces, walls and ceilings, but the old memories of all the old places, faces, people good and bad, shrubs, bushes, smells of paint, types of laughter, streets and amalgamation of emotions connected to them. With that, calls keep pouring from the immediate vacated hostel, everybody concerned, everybody curious and every gossip monger, all interested... This apartment looks comfortable and spacious for a single soul day one. Day two cleaning begins to irritate and time consuming. Day three neighbours peeping in for few spoons of sugar, for a cup of milk, just 100 grams of jaggery, an umbrella for ten minutes, only two white sheets of paper; basically to find out the new girl next door. By day four all vanish; they have understood her kitchen is meagre, stationary is all she might have and sharing is not her cup of tea always.

They cannot even blame her. When she does not have a pen, she stops writing or goes out herself to refill it, nothing to cook, she eats fruits, no tea or coffee in the morning, tender coconut will do just fine. Slowly they accept she practices what she preaches. Every single place till this ninth time takes weeks to come to conclusion. University hostel took the least time – one week, this takes four. Week five she sketches parallels in her mind – the maid next door similar to the lady who sold flowers outside her hostel window, the elderly couple opposite like her as the cat did, the milkman is warm like the hostel mates who smiled without a reason, straight trees sway more vibrantly than crooked ones, ceiling is higher reminiscence of olden day buildings.

Week six, for the very first time in her ten years of stay in this city, she experiences theft. Multiple things go missing from various houses, from hers a second hand refrigerator, next door neighbour’s television, ten sovereigns of gold, west facing house four mobile phones and east facing house music system. Watchman, she heard was drugged and was then aware of chloroform on her cloths which made her sleep early, must have made the others too. Panic stricken she checked for bruises on her body, tried to feel if her vagina ached, no, nothing. They just wanted materialistic accomplishments. The milkman won’t come for another week, he had informed earlier. Lady inspectors came in packs to talk, to make them feel safe.

Safety had gone to the dogs, unexpectedly she missed the hostel. Kleptomaniacs thrived, still nothing so dreadful. Next day she walks up to pay a visit to the old mates for old times’ sake. Weird – people missing – the flower lady, hostel maids, the girl in her neighbouring room, who was not supposed to leave until next year, when her wedding is due all absent. The other girls said all of these people never came to their notice, so she could not even ask whether they were ill or had been gone to visit folks at home. This has been a recurring phenomenon; people she gets close to are inaccessible to others after gestation period. In fact, her apartment neighbour had commented she was not aware who lived in the opposite building. The thief was kind enough to keep outside even a tiny bit of chocolate left in the fridge, which also meant he/she had time to empty it out before carrying it out, also so very kind of them (assuming more than one required to flick so many things at the same time) to have come back from the window or wherever to close the door from inside.

She would lie down for weeks to wonder how thieves managed to get inside through her small window, though without bars or mosquito net. Week eleven, she asks the next door neighbour, Mrs. Sindhuja, instead of talking to her maid, about the elderly couple living opposite. Mrs. Sindhuja was a dynamic lady appreciated by her husband, Ashwin, who wooed her for ten years before approaching Sindhuja’s parents. Sindhuja was a psychiatrist by profession, coming to think of it, she was the only neighbour who never asked her for anything. Politely, Sindhuja places a hand on her shoulder, “Why don’t you come inside Mrignaini and we can talk comfortably?” Mrignaini had heard her name for the first time after shifting from hostel and felt at ease. She stepped in to find Ashwin and Kian’s picture everywhere in the drawing room. They did not have kids after five years of marriage, but decided to adopt Kian before having a child of their own.

The Short Story continues here .......