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Fate can often deal the severest of blows, but can bring happiness again! The first winning entry for the Muse of the Month.
This year, we bring you again the Muse of the Month January contest. The cue for January 2016 was:
“Aren’t we all pawns in the hands of time, the greatest player of them all?”
―from Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s The Palace of Illusions
Here is the first of our winning entries, by Sreesha Divakaran.
The darkness engulfed her, smothered her like smoke. She could see none of the other performers, but the faces of the audience were suddenly next to her – too close for comfort. They were jeering, their red mouths stretched in the cruelest of grins. They were caricatures celebrating her failure. The seething pain forced her to tear her eyes away from her mockers. Blood was gushing out, washing the wooden floor. Where her right foot had been, only a bloody stub remained; her toes were severed. The cacophony of laughter drowned her, the darkness grew absolute.
The shrill ringtone of her mobile phone jolted her awake. Her arms rested on the sides of the easy chair. Her legs were stretched out, the toes of the right foot intact, but bent and set the wrong way. Overwhelmed with thirst, she looked at the refrigerator humming softly in the silence. The mobile phone was on the chest of drawers a few paces away from her chair. It had stopped ringing. The clock beside it said 3:03 am in glowing green digits.
It was a different nightmare this time. There was blood and darkness. There were mocking faces, unlike the concerned ones that had surrounded her when the incident had really occurred. Different nightmare. And yet the same. She sighed. How many more nights would her mind replay it.
The phone buzzed again. She brushed off the remnants of sleep and walked to the chest of drawers. An unknown number.
“Hello,” a male voice, “Am I speaking to Alisha Menon?”
“Yes,” it came out croaky, she cleared her throat, “Speaking.”
“Ma’am, I am calling from Ramdev Medical College, JN Road. There has been an accident. Ma’am, I understand this is a late hour, but I am calling to inform you that your sister… There was a crash. She and her husband… I am sorry, ma’am. Her daughter survived. We are sending a van. If you could come to the hospital now, there are some formalities.”
“My sister’s dead? No, it cannot be.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am.”
During some point, she must have disconnected the call. Her parched throat was feeling drier by the minute.
The six year old child, Niti, had suffered fractures but miraculously made it alive. Alisha, registered as her legal guardian, took the child in. However, the trauma had rendered the child silent. Alisha did not believe the child had lost the faculty of speech – she had simply stopped speaking. She never cried or expressed she was mourning. But she did not speak.
Alisha did not know how to coax her into speaking either – her sister and she had chosen different paths for themselves. Alisha did not know the first thing about children nor had they ever featured in her scheme of things – her grand plan which had been thwarted by fate.
Fate. What a joke. What was fate but a wily schemer that made mortals dance to its tunes.
Or prevent mortals from ever dancing, Alisha laughed mirthlessly. She let the child be.
Alisha was preparing dinner one evening when she felt a tug on her shirt. Niti was holding out a framed photograph and wordlessly looking at her. It was one of Alisha, poised on stage during one of her ballet performances, before the accident. Alisha took the photograph from the child, looked at her wide, questioning eyes and said, “That’s ballet. It’s a dance form that tells a story. This particular one is called The Nutcracker.”
“Will you teach me?” Niti’s first words hung like bright wind-chimes in the normally silent house. Alisha smiled and replied, “I can’t. I don’t dance anymore.”
“Why?” How do you answer that without scaring the child? You cannot say words like ‘accident’ either.
“I got hurt.”
“You could still try. Please?”
Alisha was irritated. She had not danced in a year. Why couldn’t Niti understand this? But saying so might make the child relapse into silence.
“I’ll try,” she lied.
Long after Niti slept that night, Alisha took out a pair of unused pointe shoes from a box in her wardrobe. She felt the satin, the cushion at the tip, the laces used to tie them around the ankles. Made for the prima ballerina, the soft yet sturdy shoes brought back a flood of memories. For the first time since the accident, when a grandfather clock, a prop on stage, had fallen on her right foot, fracturing her toes, and ending her career, she wept.
Nine years later
“Did you know in this production, the principal dancer is the youngest known ever.”
“Oh yes! I heard about it. Charming, isn’t it!”
Alisha smiled as she heard the exchange between the two women in front of her. The curtains lifted – performance was starting.
Niti was the prima ballerina.
Sreesha Divakaran wins a Rs 250 Flipkart voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the 10 top winners at the end of 2016. Congratulations!
Image source: prime ballerina white swan by Shutterstock.