Story Contest 2016 #2 Results » Highly Commended - Senior Category
“That I drink whole” by Adarsh Raj Bhatt, is the Highly Commended story in the senior category of the second biannual Short Story Contest 2016.
That I drink whole
One flaming drop of blood may fall on the heart with a frigid hugeness.
From: Adarsh R. Bhatt.
To: Navya Agrawal.
10th November 2015.
“The symphony of our love enthralls the harp,
The heat behind our passion scorches the sun,
The light within our one heart blinds the cupid,
And this trance of romance is an eternal dance.
Our eternal dance.”
Not anymore. On this day, I do hope that the past seven days of your life- with me absent in them- run on forever, and that their cruelty see you suffer endlessly.
Happy birthday, Navya. I’m not sorry. Not by a long, long shot.
2nd November 2015
Eight days ago
“What is it that you are working on?”
“I’m composing a ballad for somebody I love. I do love her with all my heart and that’s what I’m trying to express here through every verse.”
“Oh, is that so,” Navya murmured fruitily from where she lounged on the feather-white bed, and leaned across it to where a smiling Adarsh was sitting upright and writing on a faded notebook. She fondly came close to him, butterflies instantly fluttering in her chest as she did. Adarsh paused in his typing to stroke Navya’s back with one hand and intertwine his fingers with hers with his other one. And then they moved around each other silently with vibrant music that only they could hear. You could tell from the brightness of their eyes. There was no scent in his world that infused him with more ecstasy than Navya’s natural musk and as Adarsh breathed it in from her hair and lips, both of his eyelids automatically drooped against the contentment coursing through his body.
“I’m never leaving you,” Navya breathed, and instantly, the image of an enchanting pine forest alongside a sparkling lake flashed in Adarsh’s mind.
“I love you,” he murmured simply, and Navya knew that he meant it deeply.
The warmth that followed was more than enough to overcome the November cold.
As students of class 12th, Navya Agrawal and Adarsh Raj Bhatt had been close to each other for over the past four years. Navya came from a well-off family of that owned a jewellery business and lived in the Karol Bagh area of New Delhi, in India. As for Adarsh, he obviously lived in the school itself- in a small, brown cabin in the furthest corner of the school ground.
4th November 2015
Six days ago
“Tell me, up until now, which one of my poems about us do you like the most?”
They were in Navya’s bedroom with Adarsh in his customary position on one corner of the feathery bed, sitting upright, matching his long, pensive gazes at Navya with his occasional chuckles, scribbling all the while on his worn leather-bound notebook.
Navya chewed her lip. “Um, I think that would be Her oceans that I drink whole,” she said. “And what do you mean by ‘which one of my poems about us do you like?’ All your poems are about us, my charming Shakespeare.”
“Well, you’re all I have,” Adarsh shrugged at her.
“And what makes you think that it’s not the same for me?” Navya said fondly.
Adarsh’s expression hardened at the question, without warning. Navya’s jaw clamped shut hard, and she tasted blood in her mouth, her tongue having been bitten. It didn’t matter. She had foolishly struck the wrong memory, a dark one seated deeply.
“Anyway, what’s your plan after school comes to an end?” she asked in an enforced casual tone. Adarsh didn’t seem to hear, his gaze fixed in the distance.
The eighteen-year old had not been brought up by his parents. It was a murky affair- all that the principal of the school had told him was that his parents had abandoned him right at the moment of his birth and left him in the school’s care. Out of sympathy for the forsaken child, the school had dutifully had him admitted, both educationally and residentially, on complete financial aid, knowing that the little boy wouldn’t possibly be able to produce any sum to pay as fees.
The boy had grown then, grown into a lanky, dark-haired teenager who was always bereft of friendship in his life. He instinctively jerked himself back into the realm of seclusion right at the moments when the most nascent of relationships even begun to form with the students around him. He did this consistently for the twelve years that he had attended the school, until they didn’t come to him anymore, and nonplussed everyone; most of all, himself. The only exception to his penchant for isolation was the bronze-complexioned, agitated girl in front of him.
“You know, mom suggests that I try for an air hostess after school…” Navya laughed nervously, trying again.
Even as she watched, a single tear rolled slowly down the stony face.
Navya leapt at Adarsh, tear droplets trailing from her eyes in her wake. She feverishly held on to his limp figure, afraid to let go. She had a vehement hatred for this vacant, fatigued, defeated dimness that would often settle in her boyfriend’s eyes and smash his emotional balance into shards of trauma.
A weak whisper entered her ears then:
“What unholy darkness must run in my blood to be able to shroud my soul whole and overcome the bond between parent and child...”
“What are you talking about, my love,” Navya cried out with fear.
“Was I so revolting, mother? Was I such a monstrosity, father?” Adarsh panted with bared teeth and with a cracked, harsh rasp that echoed the scorching pain in his heart. “Was I nothing to you but a sickening cur to be gotten ridden of, alone and naked?!”
Navya fought back tears at the sight of her broken boyfriend. No. No... NO. She couldn’t succumb to the overwhelming sense of raw failure that radiated from Adarsh- not when the scars of his life needed stitching. Needed her love.
She held his anguished face inches from her own. “Everything’s going to feel alright to you in a matter of time, my love. I promise you. I am here for you, do you understand?” she said, bringing a restorative calm to her voice. “I know that you often think that you can never feel truly loved, that you are forever alone in your life because you were given up by your parents. I want you to know now that I am always, always here right beside you. I’m your Navya Agrawal and nobody else’s, Adarsh, I want you to never forget that. Let me be your strength and your peace. Let me be yours. I love you, Adarsh Raj Bhatt, more than I have ever loved anyone else, and I want to grow old in your arms, as you will grow in mine. Someday, I promise it will all make a beautiful sense to you.”
7th November 2015
Three days ago
It was quite some time after the principal had knocked on the cabin door that it was answered. His genial smile faded away at what he saw.
The eighteen-year old wore nothing but shorts and a half T-shirt against the bone-chilling cold. But what caught Mr. Sethi’s instant attention was the intense, almost penetrating look in Adarsh’s eyes. Something was not right. Silence brewed for some moments as Mr. Sethi entered the room and quietly shut the door behind him.
“Adarsh,” he spoke very slowly, his thoughts racing and then converging at one probability. “Where is Navya?”
Adarsh’s jaw tightened, his eyes turned hard. He didn’t answer and the silence returned.
“Picture a rolling stone,” Adarsh spoke up suddenly. “Imagine it on the move for many years, rolling with proud satisfaction over the incredible lands and realms of the world. Seeing the beautiful colours for itself. Suddenly,” his voice slowed and Mr. Sethi heard a note of fury seep into it, “the stone realizes that for all those past years, it had been rolling around the same mountain. All the thrilling places it had experienced were merely an illusion of having achieved great things. The mountain’s cruel, malicious game. Now,” Adarsh said, his eyes radiating electricity. “Now, the stone is filled with a beautifully unstoppable force, and desire, and drive, to roll day and night right through the skies, as nobody else has ever done. The dream to pursue its passion and do something truly great has filled every inch of it’s core…. It must roll and roll it will.”
Adarsh’s expressionless stare pierced through Mr. Sethi’s unbelieving eyes. His voice lowered to an eerie whisper that echoed around the cabin. “The stone is not going to stop anytime soon, Mr. Sethi. Immeasurable glory and inner satisfaction await. Anything that comes in between will be dealt with, without so much as a thought for consideration or mercy.”
Mr. Sethi’s round face bore only confused bewilderment for a long time. He could hardly believe the abrupt transformation that had seized the youth whom he had known, guided and loved as a son for eighteen years.
“Where is Navya, my son,” Mr. Sethi tried to keep his voice from shaking. The answer was important.
Adarsh’s face flinched for a split-second at the name before he answered. “As I said, all obstacles would be dealt without so much as a-”
“Adarsh, what, you will leave Navya? Four years… Navya? When did all this happen- did you two have a fight?”
“No, sir. It is all me, my choice, and I have never been more proud of myself. Yes, I will leave her. She has had me away from the light of success for a long, long time now. For that, I will never forgive her. Never ever,” he said, his jaw clenched. “Her birthday is on the 10th, three days from now. That is the day I will reveal my decision of separation to her, the day when she’ll be shaken to her cruel core. Her birthday is the day she will burn most intensely, most righteously.”
“What is it you plan on doing exactly, this great achievement in your life?” Mr. Sethi asked after a tense pause.
The precise answer of his own question struck him with a sudden finality- with Adarsh Raj Bhatt, it was predictable, it was obvious.
“A book...” Mr. Sethi murmured before Adarsh could speak.
Adarsh nodded at him. “Writing is my core. For three whole years, I had lived under the overpowering illusion that it was Navya Agrawal who was my core. But now that I see where I stepped wrong, I refuse to split my heart into two halves, one for my book and one for her. I refuse to just helplessly watch on as my success is threatened by relationships. That is the reason I am abandoning her as I was abandoned at birth- I can’t walk on two paths and she is most definitely not my path anymore. Writing is. It is about as impossible for me to give her my time and attention as it is to grant her my pardon. I have found my truly eternal love in composing stories that shall find a place in my readers’ hearts. As the world becomes mesmerized by my bestseller, I shall find peace at last with the knowledge that I produced a novel out of the depths of my passion, and that long after I have gone, my legacy will endure, preserved in the pages of my own making.”
Two and a half years later
It was quiet in the mansion. A powerful silence constituted its resplendent inventory of chandeliers, canvases and carpets. He stood still in front of a polished mirror that was attached to a grand mahogany wardrobe. He had come a long way from the small cabin in the school ground. He had an uncapped pen in his hand. He was waiting. He was praying.
About two days ago, Mr. Sethi had paid him a visit. With him, had come the revelation that still hung like lead on his mind.
Adarsh’s parents had known that he was about to take birth when they were still university students. Knowing that both of their families would violently disapprove of the premature birth, the next course of action became distressingly clear. Yet, they hadn’t had the heart to abort the foetus for it was the beautiful, living proof of their love. And so, they decided to let him be born- and then gave the child up to the care of the school that Adarsh had attended. It was thence that he had spent so many years in the dingy cabin of his school, under the unforgiving sky of heartache and failure- not because he was never loved by his mother and father, but merely because of cruel circumstances.
“Why...why haven’t they returned for me yet…” he had had difficulty in hearing his own voice over the sound of his heart pounding in his ears. He had mumbled the question to himself, without thinking, not expecting Mr. Sethi to actually answer.
“They are deeply ashamed of themselves for abandoning you. They don’t have the courage to face you after so many years. But they did keep quite a frantic watch on you through me. You weren’t ready to hear the truth all this time but now, I believe you finally are... my son.”
“You mean they talk to you?!” he had gaped at the principal. “Holy blazes, is there anything else you might have forgotten to tell me in these past twenty years?”
Mr. Sethi had told him then that his parents were proud of gazing at the heights he had reached, and that the explosive success of his novel across the world had imparted a deep happiness to their hearts. After wishing him happiness, he had then departed with a strangely nostalgic and expectant look in his eyes, as if pleading Adarsh to do something. Adarsh could only watch him walk away in stunned silence.
As he gazed intently at himself in the large mirror now, he waited in grim silence for the reply to the only message he had sent to Navya Agrawal in the past two years. It was more than a message-it was the trapped collection of emotions scooped out from deep within his heart.
It laid bare the true story of his parents and how, despite being a widely celebrated author and India’s shining youth icon, he only now felt truly successful after knowing that his parents had never once thought of him as a burden. It spoke of how their attachment to him- that he only now knew had ever existed- along with just their raw sentiment towards him, had reached across the intentional barrier of segregation that he had erected around him so that he may be completely free to reach for the stars without Navya to confine him. And finally, his message expressed his true, tremendous urge to want Navya Agrawal back in his life. It said that like his parents, he was deeply ashamed to have abandoned Navya. It said that he didn’t want his heart to beat again unless it was a beat that he shared with her. It spoke of his realization. It spoke of how he still desired to hold the pen to write but only when the fingers of his other hand were intertwined with hers. It thanked her for her undying support during the years of his emotional anguish. It spoke of how he craved with every inch of his being to kiss joy by holding her angel’s body with its musk scent in his arms again, only this time, forever.
And then, Adarsh’s phone vibrated in his hand.
Slowly, his lips curled into a grin. And stayed that way for a long, long time.