IT’S NOT THAT PLENARY MEETING.
Yet, little do you know, when you plod on through the rain, through the narrow, stony, cobbled steps towards the ugly backside of the mansion, where the worst possible history is engraved in, that the glossy sheen of natural fur will unnerve you. When you collect the keys of your room, he’s not there; but then, so were absent the pickled berries that you can now smell in your tote bag. You never have any affection towards berries and she knows that; then why pack stuff that you’ll never use, never thank your lady for; that you’d curse her for if the oil were to spill and spoil the only dry-ironed baby-blue shirt you brought along for this occasion?
Yet, you call her; tell her you’re doing well. Imagine her seated in her Jakarta clinic, in her crisp white medical gown examining the last of the viral patients, imagine her imagining you in distant Chittagong, where you’re supposedly visiting relatives. You don’t tell her you’re not in that place.
You turn the keys, apprehending the ruining inside your bag, the golden retriever sniffing at your feet, sharing some of your concern, making a gurgling sound. You expect to unpack before the evening. But there’s a wet, dripping umbrella in your other hand, and you’re rather scared of canines.
Several turns and twists do not help. The room has shut you out!
You can see the end of this corridor, where the thirteenth room meets the alley and onwards to the terrace, all Georgian or some such time, the lashing rain trailing itself down the parapet on the other side—water so dense, crimson and leathery, you’d think it better be flowing in veins.
A caustic taste rises up your chest, rides the crescent of your skull, and dissipates in a thousand neurons at your nape.
The retriever is sniffing you still; but where are the others? The twenty-seven attendees to this secret rendezvous, dreamers of revolution, under solemn oath to liberate your tiny hilltop hamlet from the colonizers? This meeting, here in this mansion, now converted into a hotel, will be the last.
The dog stays close; you can feel its warmth rubbing your tweed trousers. You can hear three Japanese warplanes roar across the skies, louder than the rain, stronger than your will. They’re going to bombard your tiny hillock where the undulating greenness of the paddy fields will soon be an ashen gray.
If you strain your ears you’d probably hear sounds of military boots, on the steps below, rushing in, rising to where that meeting was on, a year after Second World War had begun. Your voices were raised, debating, chalking details to bomb the occupier’s base over penciled maps laid out and none of the twenty-seven pairs of ears could catch death closing in. The retriever hadn’t barked—the first shot had pierced its chest. Twenty-seven brave men had been marched to the terrace, gunmen behind you. A hail of bullets had silenced you; the torrent had drowned out your shrieks.
These years, fifty or so, you’ve spooled and un-spooled the events of that day; you never left the place you had slumped in.
You feel the softness of fur snuggle closer. You notice each room has a man with a key, turning and twisting, stranded, waiting at the door. Till the very end of the corridor. Nobody’s being let in. All twenty-seven are stranded in the purgatory of revisit and abandon.
The dog, gaping wound on his chest, coils at your feet in a carmine pool of its own. The corridor, illuminated in the filtered light of a rain-washed evening, is hollow. Denuded. You’re alone; as alone as the twenty-seven others.
Mandira Pattnaik is a word-weaver who chucked her Economics degree for the love of making up stories, some of which have made their way most recently into places like Cabinet of Heed, Eclectica, Lunate, and Door=Jar. Work is forthcoming at Gasher Journal, Panoplyzine, Spelk, and Star82.