Short Story: A Fractured Reader
By Apoorva Saini
I don’t know who you are but I believe you are reading this from a different time. I am about to tell you a story and I am risking my life in doing so. Although in this big universe small things like these have stopped mattering to people, I fear if you do not hurry, Sudhama Kumar will be dead by the time you finish reading this letter. I just thought, by writing to you I might reach somebody who is ‘kind of nice’ and might want to help a dying man. If you do help him, I will consider my writing as the one good deed I did in this lifetime. So here’s my only advice to you – read every word hence, closely and carefully.
Sudhama Kumar has only one goal in life – to reach his dream-land. It is an island where the ocean is the deepest blue possible beneath the skies, and even the mountains appear cobalt blue. Its land, water, and sky are indistinguishable. The blueness is such that it appears to dissolve into the abyss. The pathway to this place is both difficult and beautiful. A dark green climber runs on the curvy path where driving a vehicle would be suicidal; so one has to go slowly by foot. Our Sudhama Kumar has tried taking this road many times, but has always returned with one or the other of his bones broken. He says it is like reading a story. You look at a page full of words and you think you know how to read it. You start reading carefully, but gradually start to miss one word here, another there. Sometimes you think you are reading everything, you are alert and do not miss even a single word. One reads them just like you are reading right now. But Sudhama thinks that as he walks on the road, the green curves, slippery turns, wild bushes and twisty slopes are where one should become extra careful. He insists that on roads like these, one needs to train one’s eyes and learn to become a sharp observer. It is almost like reading between the lines, to understand the interiority of a text, rather than to literally read word after word. The slightest of distraction on this path will bring you back where you started. Sudhama says that he has been on this path so many times that it has started giving him a feeling like that of leaving a story half read. Every time he returns halfway from the island, he has to begin again. This half-read story grows into an edgy memory and exists somewhere inside your mind forever. But since you’re a reader from a different time, I hope you will understand how Sudhama feels walking over this green path.
The real difficulty, however, is not the topography of this area.
Sudhama says that you have only to walk a few miles on the green trail of the mountain before you see a giant man sitting in the centre of the road. Very few people know who this man is and what he does. But our Sudhama is a smart man. He can clearly see the giant. The man lies on the road with his back against a big brown rock. He blocks your path completely. His face is round; he has a thick neck and no hair on his head. All his features – thin eyebrows, small eyes, a sharp nose bone winged with flat nostrils – together make his face look needy and melancholic. His lips are so slender that he even finds it difficult to fully open his mouth to yawn. He’s bare-chested and always wears the same mud-colored knickers with orange and yellow ice cream candies printed all over them. It is so loose it would make anyone look sleepy and lazy. When Sudhama Kumar asked him why he always wears the same pair of shorts, the giant said, ‘I will cease to exist without them. I can live only where I feel comfortable. Don’t think too much about it. They are of no other significance.’
However, before you get too involved in their conversation, let me also tell you the reason why Sudhama Kumar will die, in case he does.
The giant man is famous for misleading travelers to tiny islands, which are replicas of the real one. If you argue too much with him, he flips you on your toes and throws you off the road. You then fall into the marshy gorges that run beside the mountains. This is how Sudhama broke his legs twice and fractured his head once. The giant also has the power to change people into green elephants. He does so because he feels lonely and likes to see creatures of his own size around. Sudhama used to think this was only a myth. However, his latest journey has changed his view.
That day, everything was unusually quiet; no wind blew, no birds chirped, nor did any water drip from the hilltop. The sky was cloudy and hid the sun somewhere above. Sudhama was walking slowly on the path and expecting the giant to show up any time. Then, suddenly, he heard an elephant trumpet. The sound echoed like thunder and rolled down the mountain opposite him. When he looked around to spot the source of this sound, he saw a green elephant walking on the mountain. He told me it was a spectacular view – from a distance the elephant appeared like a tiny green ant, walking slowly down the curves of the indigo valley, roaring. The tiny green thing disappeared after a few minutes and it started to rain.
The intensity of that moment was so overwhelming that he started to walk looking down at his own feet. The path was becoming muddy because of the rain but Sudhama was lost in his thoughts. Almost instantly, he bumped into the giant man. Two strange things happened very quickly. First, Sudhama was knocked down. But he didn’t simply fall. The fraction of seconds in which the man’s chubby skin touched him right in his face, reminded him of his own soft pillow – the pillow he uses to rest his books on when he reads in bed before falling asleep. This blue pillow is the same blue as the cobalt-colored mountains in the distance. The pillowcase is a very special one, decorated with a print of Mickey Mouse and Mini Mouse, and candy-like gems spread out in a blue background. He has had it since childhood. He would look at the cartoon characters, imagine a story about them and fall asleep. To his surprise, when he regained consciousness, the giant was lying right in front of him with one of his legs on a pillow covered with a pillowcase similar to his own. This raised leg and one of his hands of his was fractured and bandaged.
Sudhama stepped back and shouted in order to be audible to the giant, ‘What happened here? Hello?’ ‘An accident. You caused it. This happens only once in a while. I was asleep and you touched me! That broke my arm and my leg,’ said the giant.
‘But how can my touching you break your bones?’ Sudhama jumped shouting. ‘And why do you have the same pillow as mine?’ ‘Stop shouting. I am not deaf. I can hear you very well. I can even hear what you think inside your head. That is how I produced this pillow identical to yours.’
‘Why won’t you let me go ahead? Who are you? Why on earth you want a same pillow as mine?’
‘I have no name. I just exist like a habit. I don’t reveal this to everyone. But since you were able to touch me before I touched you, you broke me. I can only harm those whom I touch. Those who identify and touch me before I see them, become capable of gradually breaking all of me.
On your previous visits on this road, you were like the others. Like those who want to read very fast; skipping details, hurrying and rushing through paragraphs, lines, and words. That is why I had to flip you into the gorges earlier. You left me no choice but to send you away. But today you paid attention to the distant sounds and small details during your journey. That is why you saw things that you were incapable of observing earlier. Not everyone can distinguish these blue mountains against the deceptive shades of the sky. You have improved.’
‘So does that mean I can move beyond you and reach my dreamland today?’
‘No, no. You cannot. It doesn’t work like that. You will have to prove that you truly desire to reach the Blue Island.’
The giant pulled out a deck of cards from the pocket of his mud-yellow Bermudas and handed Sudhama one card without looking at it. It was a Jack of Spades.
The giant cleared his throat and continued, ‘If you really want to reach your destination, you must do what I ask of you. I am giving you this card and you must find a way to kill me with it. That is the only chance you stand.’
Sudhama couldn’t believe what was happening. It all looked like a painting done in deep and thick colors; A strange man sitting on a green carpet of climbers with his back against a huge rock, holding a deck of cards in a broken hand sheathed in a cast, offering a jack of spades with and a miss-fit blue pillow printed with Mickey mouse, Mini mouse, and candies under his fractured leg.
The landscape of the blue valley behind seemed untouched and surreal. A little elephant roamed on the green trail. It started to rain heavily, and Sudhama finally found some words emerging from his mouth:
‘Whhhh…aat…tt? I must kill you? Who asks for such a thing; are you insane? I don’t understand what you are! And how can I kill you with a card? I can’t do this.’
‘If you don’t kill me, I will have to kill you. I have told you everything about myself that is there to tell. You are well informed. Now the decision is yours.’ The giant grunted.
Sudhama stood there bewildered. He started to feel cold as he was drenched by now. He felt numb and couldn’t think of anything. The giant man said he looked stupid gazing at him through the rain. He asked Sudhama to come back, prepared to kill him, and tossed him into the gorge once again.
Sudhama Kumar came to meet me a few minutes before I started writing this letter to you. He has recovered from most of his injuries and seemed well-spirited. He had come to inform me that he was leaving for the Blue Island once again. He said he didn’t know how on earth he could possibly kill a giant with a playing card. But he asked me to write this letter to a reader from some other time.
Clutching the card in his fist he said, ‘Do not worry about me. If I die today, it won’t be because of the giant, you, me, or anyone else. It is a fractured reader that I fear the most.’
I tried to stop him. He did not listen and hurried away with these last words ‘It is up to the reader of your story now to decide whether I die or reach my dreamland. So write well and I hope your reader reads well.’
This was everything I could tell you.
A reader, who writes
Apoorva Saini hails from Alwar, a city surrounded by the Aravali Hills in Rajasthan, also popular by the name of Matasya Nagar for its fish like shape on the map. She is currently based in the NCR, where she works at Yoda Press by the day and spends her nights writing fiction. She has a Masters Degree in Literary Arts (Creative Writing) from Ambedkar University, Delhi. She is also a music enthusiast and plays the Sitar.
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One Response to “Short Story: A Fractured Reader”
Enjoyed that very much!