Where the butterflies rest.
Updated: Jan 5
"He has been like this for a week."
The muffled voice seems familiar. Is it my nephew, Harish, or my son-in-law Ramesh? The faces and voices have merged in the past few days. Or a few weeks? Maybe even months. My memory is now a mirage. The more I chase, the distant the recollections become. The effort to recall has become a child's prank of hit and run with no end.
I rest my head on the pillow and close my eyes. The giggles echo in the distance as the boy with the toothy smile runs ahead of me, climbing the rocks on the mountainside like the goats in our herd. We played while our goats grazed. What was his name? Despite shifting layers in my mind, only silence greets me. Why? Why can't I remember? The boy was someone dear to me.
The itch in my throat overtakes the agitation in my mind. My chest tightens before the cough rattles my rib cage. I grip the coarse woolen blanket to steady myself. Unlike me, the rough fibers of the military green and black checkered blanket haven't aged a bit.
An image appears before my eyes—a young man holds a packet in his arms. 'Yeh, tumhare liye hai.' He smiles, exposing the same crooked incisors.
"For me. This is for me." I repeat and snatch the package from his extended hands. I rip the newspaper covers in one stroke to reveal the brand-new blanket.
"Why? This must have cost you a lot." I push the blanket to him. He takes it from my hands and wraps the warmth around me.
'You are my friend. Nothing less would have done.' His hands linger on my shoulders, but a loud shriek makes him pull away. A girl about our age dressed in red and green salwar kameez, her hair braided in a neat plait, sidles beside him. She pulls the blanket from my shoulder and berates the man for not bringing a gift for her.
'Such a rough texture would not suit you.' The young man squirms. The girl rubs the edge of the blanket against her cheeks. 'No. The material is warm. This shade of green is my favorite. I am keeping this.' She contorts her lips in disgust at me.
'Bhuli, wait.' Before my friend finishes his sentence, the girl runs up the winding path to her cottage. The boy turns toward me, his eyes full of regret.
The gaze from across time unsettles me. Why? Instead of dwelling on the boy's sad face, I latch on to the name. "Bhuli. I must find Bhuli." She would have the answers to my questions.
"Who is Bhuli?" The male voice from across the open door questions.
"God knows. Day or night, he keeps ranting about random names or events." The other male voice answers.
"How can you tolerate this? Do you even get a wink of sleep with his loud muttering?"
"Do you think taking him to his village will help?"
"Where? To Karmi? You must be joking. The village is 200 kilometers from the nearest railway station. The old man may have lived amidst the Himalayan valleys once, but his rattling bones will not tolerate the icy winds now. Who will carry him to the village on the last stretch of the mud road? Sending him to an old age home here in Delhi would be easier."
The words cut through the fog, clouding my mind like the beams of sunlight filtering through the pine trees. "I am not going to any ashram." I protest, raising my voice to ensure the two scoundrels hear me loud and clear. A bout of cough ensues. I clutch my blanket around me.
"Baba, you must not strain yourself. No one is sending you anywhere." The mellow voice is of Ramesh. The Chameleon. How fast he changed his stance. No matter how much he cozies up to me, I see through his pretense. I am not leaving anything in his name.
"Chacha, take a sip." Harish, my nephew, offers a glass of water. He lives with me because I do not have a son. At least, that is how I comfort myself. His father, a cousin, did reach out a few months back, wanting a place for Harish to stay while he prepared for the civil service exam. The transactional nature of our arrangement is transparent.
Ramesh and my daughter, on the other hand. Bile rises in my chest. They don't have the time to attend to me. They are both busy with their government jobs. I got those posts for them after greasing the babu's palms with my meager savings. What did my generosity get me? Solitude, neglect, and an occasional visit to cajole the old man with an eye on the property rights to this house in Delhi. Not happening while I am alive.
I take the steel glass from Harish's hands and sip, allowing the warm liquid to soothe my throat. "Take me to Karmi." I blurt out once I regain my voice. If they are so interested in getting rid of me, I will take full advantage. I stroke the edge of the blanket with my thumb. The soft muslin covering is wearing off under the years of my anxious fidgeting. Will I find Bhuli?
How this short story came about?
A picture of a mountainside shared as a prompt by a Twitter friend (Jake F.) led to the title of this story and the log line below.
"After eighty circles around the sun, a man travels to his hometown to banish the ghosts of his past and untangle the last tethers to his life."
Who is this man, and what is his life story? Who are the ghosts of his past, and what is holding him to this life?
Some day in the near or distant future, this short piece may or may not become a complete work of fiction.