Short-story: Playing Jenga for love.

Anna’s intense concentration stopped the habitual quiver in her fingers as she formed a tiny tower of wooden blocks. Tooth-less and teeth-filled smiles of her now,possibly decades old children gawked at Telsa from the surrounding walls of Anna’s room. Telsa nervously shifted in her seat when those infant eyes met her’s. Anna didn’t like that anyone stared at her children’s pictures for long. Telsa quickly averted her glance and checked her watch.

Herma’s usual spot across from Telsa was empty. “Telsa, let’s put baby powder in her pea puree this time,” said Anna with an air of accomplishment. Last time she had put  sugar in her lentils. Telsa never took part but just pretended to agree. Herma never noticed the changed flavours. She also never came on time.

Their favourite block-stacking-and-crashing game, Jenga, began in Anna’s stuffy nursing home room every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning like a sacred ritual; obsolete, staunch and oddly invigorating, much like Anna. Other days were reserved for bingo, exercise and Frank Sinatra sing-a-along programs. These women were wrinkly hamsters living on stolen time in their cages.

Anna punched her table as the door slid open and in limped the curly haired 80 year old Herma who secretly loved that she was the youngest in the room. “Dammit Herma! Get on with it will you!”, Anna shrieked.

Chairs were pulled up, blocks were set and ready to be pulled apart and toppled over.

Anna pulled first. She was the dominant one. It was just a game to Telsa, but she dare not say that out loud. Anna would bite off her lips with straight, ivory tinted teeth. Herma wanted to be the first one, but she was not in the mood for confrontation.

“Watch and learn!” Anna announced right before she grappled the loose block from the tower, akin to a cautious dentist at work.

“How I hate that bastard! Did I tell you two about my ex-husband?” Anna suddenly began her best-loved topic of conversation.

“Hmmm.” Telsa was sympathetic for the hundredth time, possibly even more.  Herma was busy burping.

“The platypus left me for that slutty duck! I am glad I never met her or I’d have been in jail now.” Anna continued.

“Well you certainly ain’t in no Palace right now Anna!” Herma couldn’t help herself.

Anna spat at Herma. Quite literally. The wide honey oak table in between saved the other two from the salivic shower. “You’re in my room, so my rules. Shut the hell up!”

It was Telsa’s turn. She braced herself as the wobbly tile tilted below the block she had just removed.

“I gift-wrapped my soul for him you know. ” Anna’s harsh tone mellowed and she took a pink napkin with white doves. There were no tears. But she wiped her eyes as if rehearsing for the real deal. The smeared crusted maroon lipstick made her look morbid. “I am beautiful aren’t I?” Telsa nodded.  Herma controlled her laughter.

“Then why?” This time her tears gushed. Telsa’s green eyes watered up, as if in a compulsion to join the teary river that gushed in the room. She had eternally damned herself to cry for others.

“I am sure he always loved you, and no other,” came Telsa’s over-rehearsed reply.

“What do you know?!” A raucous crow just replaced the mellow squeak in Anna’s throat. “You’re as wretched of a woman as I am.” Telsa bit her tongue. She could taste the bloody saliva.  The tower gracefully dismembered itself as an army of wooden soldiers rose on each side.

“Why you gotta talk like dat to her?” Herma defended Telsa.

Anna ignored Herma and continued. “He took my children and my dignity. Neither came back.” Telsa leaned forward to console but Anna screamed with blood in her eyes, “Why can’t you just do your turn?”  The game was almost over.

Anna suddenly sprang up as if the chair had developed canines. Her trembling legs dragged her to a wrought-iron night stand. A golden velvet pouch peeked through her pale hands as she took out an envelope, and from it a letter.

“His last words before sucking down those pills.” She stared at her only two friends. “He apologised, you know. Damn well regretted leaving me!” She smiled with hurt and contentment all rolled up in a bitter-sweet strudel. She took a minute to read the letter under her breath and carefully folded it back in its rightful creases.

Knock. Knock.

Someone was at the  half-opened door. Herma quickly called out, “Come on in, nothing to hide here!” It was  the new Nurse Wilma. She had joined just a week ago. A woman in her mid 50’s, with a surly air about her, like someone who’d been rudely stripped off her royalty and could kill for the lost title.

Anna had missed her morning medication for dementia. “Hello ladies,” said Nurse Wilma, uninterested in what was going on in the room. She handed the pills to Anna and waited for her to squeeze them down. Nurse Wilma turned to leave, but paused for a minute to look at the pictures on the wall. Telsa noticed and was about to comment when Nurse Wilma rushed out without another word.

Anna was trapped in a daze. “He gave my grandmother’s precious ruby bracelet to that wretch, you know. He never admitted but I know. That cut me real bad. Real bad.” She was scratching her left hand without looking up.

It was down to the last few moves. Herma complained about being hungry. Telsa scooped her arm over for her turn. Her hands wobbled and the patchy tower finally gave away.

“HA! You gals can never win from me!” Anna was back to her competitive self. She stood up to celebrate with some coffee.

“Anybody got anything to eat around here?” Herma spoke looking at the ceiling. She then leaned across and whispered to Telsa, “Why you gotta take her shit every day? See she never talks to me this way. I know how to set her straight. Why don’t we hide one of those kids’ pictures?!”

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Nurse Wilma stepped out for a quick smoke. Those children on the wall. She knew those eyes. She’d know them anywhere.

“But how could it be?! He told me that his wife had died in an accident. Who was Anna then? Why did she have those children’s pictures?!” She started to sweat under her wool coat.

She rolled up her sleeves to cool down.Glistening red stones peaked from her wrist.

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National Blog Posting Month - November 2014

I am participating in the National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) – November 2014. This is an awesome venture of Blogher.com. In their own words:

“Every November, thousands of bloggers commit to posting daily. But it’s about much more than getting that post up—it’s about community and connection. It’s also about honing your craft, challenging yourself, and taking your blog to the next level.”

I will write every day of November. This is my fourth post.

#NaBloPoMo – Day 4

 

 

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When my life was a big fat adventure

Writing 101 prompt – Day 11: Tell us about the home where you lived when you were twelve. Which town, city, or country? Was it a house or an apartment? A boarding school or foster home? An airstream or an RV? Who lived there with you? Today’s twist: pay attention to your sentence lengths and use short, medium, and long sentences as you compose your response about the home you lived in when you were twelve.

Going back to when I was twelve years old. Now that’s a heartwarming, skin-tingling thought. Year 1995 to be exact. City was the ever beautiful and rustic, Quetta (Pakistan). We were in the Army cantonment, the famous Command and Staff College. A hub of Pakistan army’s most brilliant minds at work. Our street name – Sahibzad Gul Road, named after a prominent Army general. It was the fanciest name I had ever heard. Our house was huge with an untamed, unfenced lawn that spread out towards the back and on to vast spans of land.A long winded driveway extended from the front gate to the house entrance. Outside the house was breathtaking. Architecture was in fact from the British ruling days. Inside, it was a different story.

My mom almost cried when she entered the house for the first time. It was the most rundown house on the street. I wasn’t too bothered with its rickety condition. I had other things to worry about. Making Friends. Who was to know! I was to make my closest and oldest friends there. A few of my bestest (this just says it so much better!) friends to date are the ones I made in Quetta. We didn’t have or need the term BFF back then. We had the real thing.

We were adaptable folk. All army families had to be. No two ways about that. One year you were indulging yourself in a developed country playing double dutch, eating ice cream sandwiches and prancing about in Disney Land. The next year it was a remote but heavenly city of Pakistan called Skardu, where bare necessities were hard to come by. When you’ve had an ugly coal heater resembling a 1950’s space shuttle, with a huge pipe placed at the dead center of your bedroom, you can’t possibly complain about anything. Ever. So the house in Quetta was not a big deal. We quickly fell in love with its twisted architecture, its sky-kissed ceilings and its cold concrete that went on to give us the warmest and most loving years of our lives.

Life inside the cantonment had everything a child would want. And more. Our school (Iqra Army Public school) was in a league of its own – years ahead of its time in our country. We had music classes, sports like softball, netball, badminton, tennis, athletics; cultural and dramatic activities; field trips. Our principal, Sir James Last was Australian. I still remember his hawk-like gaze that was enough to keep everything and everyone in line. Outside school we had an equally exciting life. Riding. Swimming. Sailing. Marathons. Hiking adventures. Cycling. Huge birthday parties. Playing in the streets till sunset. No one cared where we were off exploring or playing because that’s how safe it all was. Studying was there somewhere I think, hidden beneath piles of FUN. Army life in cantonments is essentially a social setup that involves a lot of family gatherings, excursions and events. So when the children weren’t creating havoc on the streets, we were spending quality time with our families.

An endless vacation. The adventure never stopped. Never ever.

Feelings of love, anger, hope, fantasy, thrill, pride, competition; all slowly seeped into my existence and I didn’t even know it. All that exposure played a huge role in shaping the person I am today. I could write an entire book on this. The friends I made, the people I met, everything that I learned. But this will have to do for now. Oh how I love you Quetta….