Tunneled Love

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A story I wrote yesterday. It was something I thought of when I went to Kandy by train recently. There are a few short tunnels. And then one long one. It made me think of a lot, as I stood at a doorway, and looked into the darkness. Hope you enjoy!
He breathed in the sweet strawberry of her hair and parted his lips to tell her he loved how her hair smelled.
“No you idiot. Its her shampoo. I’ll only be complimenting her choice of shampoo,” he scolded himself.
She was his little princess, his little Sara. He closed his eyes and felt her scarf flapping against his arm, her body so close to his. The train rocked along the rails, the wind, too loud, making conversation difficult. Like a kingfisher flying towards his prey, in one swift movement, he placed his hand next to hers. The train shuddered all at once, almost as if afraid of Kavith’s intentions. Sara looked at him and smiled, then faced the future once again.
The others were crowded near the other entrance of the train. Two seated on the steps, the others looking out at the world. The intercity train from Fort was fast, but he knew their journey was reaching a temporary end. Of course Kandy held so many possibilities for them, especially for him and Sara. The stop at Peradeniya was close by now, he knew it as they went through those eerily dark and yet short tunnels. Another was ahead, and as the boys hooted into the blackness, and the girls shrieked, he felt Sara’s hand search for his. Before they could be knotted together though, the darkness ended, and as if afraid of light, their feelings for each other went into hiding.
The next tunnel brought in more hope. As soon as the train was dark, they held each others hands. The few seconds of such closeness was not enough, but he was still thankful for them. Tired now of standing, Kavith decided to sit on the step. Sara too, joined him. Their friends, noticing the two sitting together, started teasing them. Soon, they lost interest in the couple, and Kavith and Sara felt all alone in the world.
“My father has already decided,” Sara said, breaking the silence. She had wanted to tell him on another day, but her own gesture had surprised her. He deserved to know.
“But you are too young. Is it because of…” Kavith couldn’t finish the sentence, for there was no ‘us’ and there never would be. His little princess would never be his, no matter how much they loved each other.
“You know how he is. If he ever finds out about this trip. God! I can’t even imagine what he’ll do to me.”
“Sure your mother won’t tell him? When he gets back from Paris?”
“No, Kavith. Mama actually wants me to go out and have fun. She doesn’t even want me to get married to that man. But she has no say. You know what happened with my sister”
They let the silence envelope them in a world of their own. Sara couldn’t swallow down her tears anymore, and stood, holding on to the bar of the door. Kavith too got up, and whispered, “it’s okay” into her ear. Again that smell of strawberries, something he wished he could smell everyday.
An exceptionally long tunnel was waiting for them. Kavith closed his eyes and pictured a world where he could be with Sara. Where their ethnic differences wouldn’t be a barrier to their love. He had fallen for her the first time he saw her. She had looked around shyly, as she walked into the History class. Their lecturer had asked her to sit two seats away from Kavith. Soon the note sharing had turned into a friendship that most people yearned for. He had been in love with her ever since.
His day dreaming came to an end, when he heard Sara sniffle. He didn’t reach out for her, he knew he couldn’t comfort her. That picture he had painted in his mind, of Sara and he, a life of their own, shattered into pieces. Such small pieces that they couldn’t be glued together.
When the tunnel ended, Sara felt an empty space next to her. She turned around to find that Kavith was gone. Somewhere in her mind, she knew what had happened, but she didn’t want to, and couldn’t accept it.
“Guys, he’s gone,” her voice was a whisper. Her throat was suddenly dry and her body was cold. Yet, sweat seemed to suddenly win the battle against the cool breeze.
She felt weak, and sat at the steps. A few minutes passed before Lakmal noticed Kavith’s absence.
“Sara, where did Kavith go?”
He was met with utter silence, almost as if she had gone deaf. He stood next to her, and looked at Sara. It was then that he saw her tear stained face, her faraway gaze. Lakmal looked towards the past, the tunnel they had just passed through. He saw it now, that stupid idiot. Lakmal pinched his closed eyes, trying to get rid of that mental picture of Kavith letting go, his head slamming into the soot stained walls of the tunnel.
She looked around, trying to locate the source of that acidic smell. She tried and tried to name that smell, more sour than orange, yet sweeter than lime. She faintly remembered having them as a child, sucking on the segments till her tummy was full, as her mouth felt numb. She shuddered now, as she was taken to the days when she was a child. Mandarins! That’s what they were. The little Narangs. She wondered who had them, maybe she could borrow one. Just to remember what it was like. She saw those in the seats next to her with a paper bag full of the green fruit.
“Ane, sorry for bothering you. But…” she awkwardly said.
“Why, Duwe? What is it you want?” An old lady asked. She looked at the bag, and smiled. The old lady held the bag towards her, and she took one single fruit.
“Take some more Duwe. We have enough”
She shook her head, thanked the old lady and walked towards the doors of the train. It was empty and she sat on the dirty and dusty steps. She watched the world, only a blur to her. The breeze was dry, and she felt the rust colored dust gather on her face. She took out a handkerchief and wiped the sweat off her face.
She turned the fruit around in her palm, and felt the smooth and yet imperfect texture of it. Holding it to her nose, she breathed in that acidic fragrance, and closed her eyes, shutting the world out.
The train rocked gently, and she held on to the bar tightly. Through her closed eyelids she saw the world darken. Ah! The tunnels. She loved going through them. When the tunnel ended, the smoke of the train made her cough a little. She opened her eyes then. They passed a stream, muddy and much like the one in her village. Too much like it. There even was a rock jutting out in the middle. She smiled as she remembered how she joined the village kids and raced them to the rock. Their underwear was drenched and the cloth became see-through, yet they were too young to care about their nakedness.
There had been a tree too. She used to love climbing one of the branches and jumping into the stream. Her mother had once chased her with a broom, for not only could she have fallen from the branch, the impact of jumping into the water could have killed her.
Then she grew too old for those games in the stream. The tree crashed into the water during one Monsoon storm, and there were no other trees she could jump from. Her mother had then had a chat with her, explaining puberty and those embarrassing details of life to her. She had then seen less of the village boys, and more of the girls. She never fit in with them though. At first they laughed at her flat chest, then at her pants and t-shirts. When she cut her hair boy-short, she became the laughing stock of her ‘friends.’
Her mother worried about her. She was a black sheep and she knew it. Secretly she started spending more and more time with the boys. With that came all the dark days. She shook her head quickly, not wanting to go down that lane. Her memories were limited to the good days, when she was happy. When she was actually happy. And when her mother was happy.
She snapped back into the present, and leaned against the wooden sheet near the entrance of the train. She sat cross legged, as she always sat, and looked towards the front of the train. After another short tunnel, she noticed a little girl looking at her. The girl’s pig tails fluttered in the wind, as she put her head out of the window. She held out the mandarin towards the girl, and smiled. The little girl’s head disappeared, and she heard light footsteps walk towards her.
The train then went through another tunnel. She knew this one. That extremely long one that seemed to never end. She thought of the girl, surely she was coming to her for that fruit. Her mother’s voice warning her to “never accept things from strangers” rang in her head. She smiled at the memory of her mother. Plump, rosy and always smiling. Even when her cloth and jacket were stained of sweat and a day’s work. Even when she felt the entire world crashing around her. And then she had stopped smiling. She had been forced to stop. When she had slipped and fallen into the rail tracks. Her mother had raised an arm, asking for help, just as a train ran over her.
The little girl held on to a seat as the darkness continued. Once her eyes adjusted to the brightness of the day again, she walked towards the door. When she got there, she couldn’t find the lady, and rolling on the ground was the mandarin.
Janaka felt the sweat dampen his black t shirt. It was tight, too tight for this weather. And yet, it was what he was used to. His friends were in loose shirts, some even in shorts. Janaka was more comfortable in his faded jeans though. If only the weather would corporate. He wasn’t used to the heat, having come from a cool village shaded by various trees.
Of course he had been deprived of the luxury of shade once he had taken a gun to his hands. Once they had been stained by the blood of the innocent and the not so innocent. Men, women and even children wailed as his bullets pierced their hearts. “Always aim for their hearts, it’s an instant death that way,” his uncle had told him once. That was before he had even been given his uniform. That camouflage suit that made his skin itch and the black boots that gave him terrible shoe cuts. The rust colored dust of the North had coated his skin, burned his eyes and clogged his nose. They couldn’t afford to sneeze, or make even the slightest sound and the black cloth tied over his nose had made his face sweat more.
It was all over now, though. The stripes were gone. Almost gone. He knew they still lurked in those thick jungles that the island was blessed with. They were silently planning, plotting and killing. He knew all of this because he knew the tigers very well. Know your enemy, he had read it somewhere. As a kid he had been fascinated by the orange, black and white of those furry creatures. Taking slow steps, swaying their tails majestically. He had always liked them more than the lions, even though he had seen actual lions, in the Dehiwala zoo. They were all so dirty and dull compared to those tigers. His walls had been covered with pictures of them.
Then Janaka was exposed to the tigers Sri Lankans hated. His uncle had lost a leg thanks to those devils and his father had lost a brother. When his uncle, the one without a leg, had told him war stories, Janaka decided to someday join the Army. His mother had thrown a fit, but his uncle was able to calm her. And so Janaka left the cool shade of his garden for the dusty lands in the North. Bleeding, sweating, aching and cursing, he had freed the country of an evil. And now life was once again his.
“Ado Machan, stop day dreaming men. Come let’s go have some fun,” Upul said.
Fun! For these men, untouched and unscarred by war, fun was easy to have. Hanging on from the footboard of the train, they sang, laughed and joked. Who could blame them! They were only boys, unlike Janaka.
“Tunnel ahead!!!” someone said, the excitement unhidden in his voice. As they went through the tunnel, the boys hooted, their hoooo’s echoing between the soot stained walls. Janaka managed to get right near the entrance of the train. Was it an entrance or exit, Janaka wondered. Of course, it was both, but what was it really. He pushed those thoughts to a side, as a bottle of Coke, mixed with something stronger was handed to him. The singing got louder, and someone started drumming on a Bongo. As the speed of the rhythm increased, Janaka felt his heart beat also escalate.
Euphoria. That was what Janaka found him self in. That hatred, those scars, they were all forgotten. Momentarily, at least. Gone! Into the world that seemed a mere blur to him. He saw the tigers then, the ones he loved the most. An orange and black tail, gently kissing his cheek. Janaka closed his eyes, and felt the wind on his skin. He felt it run through his hair. Then the light he saw, a faint orange glow, like that of an oil lamp, turned black, dark. Through his eye lids, he stopped seeing. Still smiling, he felt the grip he had on the side bars of the train entrance, it was an entrance he had decided, loosen. And then he was gone, flying into nothingness.
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11 thoughts on “Tunneled Love”

  1. All three of your stories are lovely because at first, while I could find no connection between them, I later realized that you turned the tunnel into an almost supernatural presence, into a sort of dark, fearsome apex predator really, who dominates all and takes all. Of course, its only victims are the pained and desperate.This makes it even more powerful, and renders a sense of helplessness into the people who die there. Firstly, I should say that all the stories present the pain of memories, and all three of these people find suicide to be the only option. There really is a lot that's touching about the story of the tunnel. You have given it a soul, and while the others see it as a dark villain, the people who die there, see it as the hero who brings deliverance from their troubled, accursed lives. And yet, on the moments of their deaths, the emotions that run through them….are so heavy, it really stirs the heart.Great job, Shailee, great job.

  2. thank you! I was hoping to show that, look! you don't need some depressed story to kill your self. Maybe that gush of memories, and being in a place like a tunnel, was enough reason to just let go. I wasn't sad, or suicidal when I went through that tunnel, but still, it felt like if I just let go, I would fly into a nothingness that is so dark and unknown that its actually welcoming.

  3. Hmmmm… I was confused whether this was one story or three stories too… Somehow, the fates of all three individuals were interconnected through the inanimate tunnels… Powerful imagery… Loved your expression "Like a kingfisher flying towards his prey, in one swift movement". Captivating start… Beautiful narration which touched me deeply… Well done Shailee! Looking forward to more stories from you:)

  4. WellShailee, it's just that the power of your writing and descriptions themselves are what make even these normally gruesome deaths seem so peaceful and adds to the tragic element. And that you find the darkness welcoming, is it because the darkness is a sort of peace that you seek?

  5. As morbid as it sounds, I'm a person of the dark. It has always comforted me, in a way. Since my characters/stories tend to be based on people I know, or my own life, well, all three characters were in a way, created through my fondness of the dark. And I guess, as you put it, I do find peace in the darkness

  6. Darkness? Well…in a way, I don't always like brightness either. When my O/L science tuition master heard that my room was green, he said I was a closed-off person. I really do like the darker side of things too, anyways. Is it the unknown nature of the darkness that has always comforted you, or is it that neverending quality that you can immerse yourself in it? Just trying to unravel your mind here 🙂

  7. hmm… Well, I'd say its just that in darkness nothing really matters. When my cousins and I have our once in a blue moon sleepovers, we switch off the lights, and talk for ages in the darkness. We laugh, blush, even cry. Because in the darkness, nothing matters, you can take off that mask and be your self, and no one will see you. They will hear you, and feel your presence but they wont see your tears or laughter. And when its dark, its easier to talk to people. Its like all those stories that you can't tell them during the day aren't as embarrassing, or painful anymore

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