Tag Archives: Bahrain

Park Bench Stories

Standard

It’s been a while since I had a story to post. This one’s a sequel. Something I haven’t done before. It was sparked by a Facebook post that popped up thanks to their algorithms that remind you of a post three or five or more years ago. This one was called The Park Bench, based on a prompt given by Shauna Nearing Løj. This story has been particularly popular and has twice been released in Spain, courtesy Gerry Wright.

Fast forward to two days ago when a friend from the Bahrain Writers’ Circle, Veronica Selvarajan, read the story and made the comment, “I am going to be wondering if she ever reciprocates….” Well, of course that possibility wouldn’t leave me alone untilI had written the sequel and decided if she’s ever going to reciprocate. Well, Veronica, Cynthia, Charlotte, Joy, Malini, Gerry, Ajoy, Pam, Aruna… and many others. I’ve become a romantic in my old age.

The Guy at the Park

by Rohini Sunderam

She’d never really forgotten him. The young man at the park bench who always asked her if she’d ‘found a young man’. There had been a marked electricity between them. It was palpable through book after book that she read almost every workday afternoon. All he ever did was chew a fresh blade of grass and look up at the sky. There was a quiet confidence in his cocky voice and silence. He lived in the moment. Enjoyed the breeze, the birds in the sky, the clouds, the trees. Over the years they had developed a silent, comfortable, companionship. It was a quiet hour every workday that she kept for herself, before she took the bus home. They had hardly ever even had a conversation. He had grown strong and grown up since that spring so many years ago when they first shared the park bench. She had never learnt his name, nor what he did for a living.

And yet, all these years later, she remembered the look on his face the day she told him she had ‘found a young man’. He wished her well. But his eyes went dull grey like an autumn sky suddenly robbed of the sun.  And something in his face crumpled. But he didn’t say anything to her when she broke it to him. She wondered, ‘was all that electricity just in my head?’ She’d risen from the bench and had disappeared from his life for twenty years in the big city.

Twenty years, she said to herself. Why did I put up with ‘my young man’ for that long! There’d been that early euphoria of being married, being in the financial centre of the country, of looking after a house. But she and Bill had never really had much in common. He constantly wanted to go to this party and that restaurant, spend a fun time with his friends, anything but come home to an evening of quietude, an hour of  reading or listening to music.

He’d come back from work and it was, ‘Right, where are we going tonight?’

Her responses, ‘but I’ve just cooked this lovely dinner, I thought we could enjoy it together,’ were usually overruled.

Occasionally he’d agree and then it was a sullen silence they shared, nothing calm and companionable like it was with the guy in the park. That was a magical hour; the park was a Tom Thomson painting, the colours fixed and immutable. Instead, the meal she had so carefully prepared was wolfed down without a word of thanks and then he’d want to go out for a nightcap. Being a lawyer meant he could afford all that as well as the house. After a few years he went out on his own. Leaving her to her still pool of solitude that bordered on loneliness and her books that transported her on their magic carpet pages to other possibilities.

The miscarriages hadn’t helped either. Her mother had assured her things would improve once a baby or two arrived. After the first two losses, when she felt her world had been wrenched from inside her, her soul and heart shattered into a myriad shards of glass that cut her every time she saw a couple with a baby in a pram, Bill had grown more distant. The doctors said she wasn’t likely to have any more. Bill’s night-time forays became more frequent. Then there was his affair. Secret and sly, sordid and so typically with his secretary. Sinning is hard only the first time, so it wasn’t long before there was another affair and another.  Finally, the divorce and when her mother died, she decided to move back to the small city. The house was hers and she could easily get a job, perhaps even her old job at the library.

It was a cloudy day in November when she thought of going to the park with her book. ‘For old times’ sake’ she said to herself, he’s probably not even there any more. The years had flown like the clouds overhead. She was as nervous as a teenager as she walked in her high boots and her camel trench coat down the path towards where she remembered the bench used to be. It was four o’clock, her usual time from force of habit.

There was a man on the bench. Sitting where he used to sit. He looked at her. Her face implacable she looked at him out of the corner of her eye. She made a small harrumphing sound as she settled in her corner of the bench. He turned and looked at her again. Then he looked away. She was sure it was the guy. The same sinewy arms. That firm jawline and clean-shaven face. His nut-brown hair was streaked with silver. A small smile twitched at the corner of her lips. Then she whispered, “Did you never find a young woman, then?”

His voice was hoarse, as he all but whispered back, “Don’t be silly, I don’t want a young woman…” and then almost inaudible but she caught the last few words, “I only ever wanted you.”

She bent down to pull up a blade of grass, then turned to look at him as twenty summers and winters, autumns and springs melted away like snow. “But you never said anything.”

“What could I say? We hardly knew each other. I still don’t even know your name, young lady!” He grinned and the old cocky look came bouncing into his face.

She smiled, a clean, honest, unguarded smile. “We can rectify that, it’s Louise.” The first fat raindrops began to fall, “what’s yours?”

He grabbed his jacket and flung on the hood, “Al, for Alistair. And we’d better find some shelter soon. Before the wind an’ the rain carry you away, eh?”

“We’d need quite a strong wind to carry me away,” She laughed.

“Oh, aye,” he said like an old friend. He put his strong arm around her waist and they hurried out of the park. She realised he was a good bit taller than he appeared when he was seated. She liked the way his pace matched hers. And then they dashed across the street to a café.

“This should be fine for now.” He said as he led her, still clutching her book and bag, to a table near the window.

For the first time, she was sitting across from him. He had grey-green eyes and that unstoppable slightly amused, cocky expression; crow’s-feet eyes probably developed over the years from staring at the sky. His hands were strong and slightly calloused. ‘What did he do for a living?’

The coffee arrived, hot and steaming with a doughnut on the side. She was grateful for the steam that arose between them. It allowed her to look at him more closely.

“So tell me about yourself,” he said after a long deep gulp of coffee and a swipe of his cuff across his mouth.

“But, I want to know about you,” she said fingering the edge of her book.

“We have enough time for that later. What happened to the ‘young man’ then?”

Between sips of coffee and the doughnuts that the café boasted were amongst the best in the country, she sketched a quick outline of her life. “Now, it’s your turn.” She said.

The cocky smile and the amused look in his eyes deepened. “I’m a plumber by day,” he said.

“And what do you do at night?”  A nervous tremor caught at her throat.

By now he was grinning, “I write.”

“What? Books? Articles? Stories?”

“What kind of books do you like to read?” He asked getting up.

“All kinds,” she replied, “but that doesn’t tell me what kind of books you write!”

“Doesn’t it?” He grinned again. “I really do have to rush now. I’ll see you at the park again, tomorrow?” And he was gone. Striding down the street in the opposite direction of her bus ride home.

‘What do you like to read?’ What kind of a mysterious response was that!

When she got home, she was still mulling over it as she opened her book where she’d left her bookmark. It was another tale of lost love and might-have-beens. Her favourite kind. ‘What do you like to read!’ No! It can’t be. A. Hunt. She’d always assumed it was a woman and there was nothing about the author’s life that suggested plumbing.

-end-

Bombay Monsoon

Standard

Today, the skies in Bahrain are covered in grey bulbous clouds. They look pretty impressive but have only sent down a light, albeit steady, drip. The attempt is a reminder of my years in Bombay and a typical rip-roaring monsoon.

Bombay Monsoon

It was my first experience of that awe-inspiring force of nature – the Monsoon and its annual, passionate affair with the Arabian Sea.  Ms Monsoon flounced in on smoke-grey clouds shot with the gold and corals of a fast-fading sun. Even that celestial superstar turned and ran when Monsoon bore down on Bombay. 

I took one look at the clouds and decided, “I am not going to let those dull grey clouds get me down.”

Off to Colaba I went, walked into the first Monsoon-is-coming-wala shop and bought a red slick raincoat with bright red wellingtons to match. Red Riding Hood on a Bombay street! “Haha” I said, laughing at the storm. “Come down as hard as you like, I am ready to tackle you!” 

Monsoon let fly her tempestuous passion on the hitherto languid sea. Waves seethed in ecstasy frothing and pounding the seashore. Water rushed back up sewers, blew manhole covers and flooded the streets near Bombay Central, where I lived.

Up in Colaba, on higher ground I had no idea of this treachery of the water closer home.  I waited a big smile on my face, wondering why everyone looked so glum! This is magnificent, I thought and caught the big red BEST (Bombay Electric Supply and Transport) bus that would take me home. Three stops before mine, the bus driver refused to go any further.

“How will I get home?” I pleaded with him.

“Not my problem,” he replied.

By now the grey clouds had begun to intrude on my mood.  

There’s only that long that a red raincoat and red wellingtons can cheerily defy a Bombay monsoon. I was determined to continue smiling as I set out at as brisk a pace as wellingtons-squelching-against-a-pavement-flowing-with-rainwater will allow. 

The closer I got to home the deeper the water got.  Soon the water level rose hip high, the wellingtons weighed me down as they filled with water and the raincoat floated around my waist – a red stain in the murky water around me. I had to drag my feet, as by now the weight prevented me from taking the wellingtons off. 

When I finally reached home the ground floor of my building had water sloshing in through the door. I sat on the steps and dragged those wellingtons off tipping them over to empty them of the filth of the streets outside. I should have let them float away.

I kept them both. The red wellingtons stood for a whole year on a mat drying out and were eventually tossed. The red raincoat was worn only occasionally. Reminders that no one tackles a Bombay monsoon with rainwear created in the west. 

They were replaced by the only practical wear: rubber flip-flops and a black umbrella. 

And what did Monsoon say to me? ”I shall decide what you wear,” and the echo of her laughter rumbled as the grey clouds rolled. She was the only one who wore diamonds flashing in her hair, lighting the sky and chasing away the colour

Clap your hands and we are gone

Standard

Flipping through my “work” notes I came upon this poem. Procrastination hits my work assignments too, sometimes. Many were the mornings I’d play a game of solitaire on my computer or do the cryptic crossword to get the cogs in my brain moving. In Halifax a young friend, Crystal, taught me how to do the ‘Cryptoquote’ a good solid brain-teaser, perfect to start the creative juices flowing. And now what do I find among my notes…

We are stardust, we are ephemera
Is that why our lives are so shallow in every way?
Unconsidered, unthought out, unplanned
There was a time when spontaneity
sparkled, lit up our unplanned lives
Today it’s lost its sparkle
Today everything sparkles
Flat, planned permanence and stability
Rock-solidity are spurned
Labelled boring, dull, unexciting
So we chase another dream
And yet another
Flickering flames of fantasy
Chimera
Forever just there
Just out of reach.
And so we are forever running
Like Alice, twice as hard
Not realizing that Time and Space
Run with us
So we get nowhere
Our eyes always on tomorrow
We don’t see today
Nor realise that the here and now
Are a gift
That the ancients called
The present.

Twig & Leaf

Standard

All I need is a compliment… I posted a fragment from this piece on Facebook and one person’s reaction prompted me to reproduce this dramatic little dialogue that I wrote many moons ago when there were fewer high rise buildings in Bahrain, when our apartment in Muharraq looked out to the sea where dhows lounged on the beach and the causeway to the Diplomatic area was a quiet passageway and the country was asleep by ten at night.

A TWIG AND A LEAF

A bird introduced the story. It twittered: “This is the story of leaf and twig. Of self and self. Which destiny is yours dear listener? Which road to dusty death would you take?”

Twig:   “The wind blows and I move.”

Leaf:   “The breeze breathes and I dance. I quiver with its tiniest breath. Silver. Golden green. The sunlight warms me and I glory in its warmth. The moonlight shimmers on me and I play a dainty game with moonbeams. But you, you are stiff and angular. Your movements are scratchy. Scritching. And scratching. And squeaky.”

Twig:   “Just because I am more firmly set it doesn’t mean that I don’t feel the wind or the sun. Or that the silver moonlight does not make dramatic patterns with me. I am strong. And you are weak. Too emotional. Too full of movement. Too light. You dance today. But all too soon that loving sun will make you wilt and you will fall and be crushed.”

Leaf:     “Drop I shall some day. But not before the sun and the wind have caressed me into the most exciting hues of green and yellow and russet, a russet that would rival a sunset. Colours that have made poets sing. What poets have sung of you, Twig?”

Twig:     “No. That is true. No poets sing of me. I am the coarse, unlovely of the world. The bark grows hard around me. It shelters me from the sun and the wind of life. But it constrains me too. Confines the sap that flows within. Warm sap that longs to leaf sometimes. That aches to dance.

And, yet I know that if I were a leaf, I would dread the day when I should fall. Having metamor­phosed from glorious green and yellow on to russet and hectic red. Fall and be crushed. Stamped out. And forgotten. No. I would rather be a twig. And never live or love so much, so close to life that some day I shall, I must be turned to dust, ignominiously…under the foot of some uncaring, unthinking, unloving passerby.”

Leaf: “Perhaps. But twig, dear twig, to love is all. Why should it matter how you leave this world? We must all be crushed and torn some day. So live. Live and love and laugh and dance today!”

Twig:   “No. No. I cannot… And yet, should I? No. I must not. For I support the leaves.”

Excerpt from ‘Five Lives One Day in Bahrain’

Standard

Until another author friend sends me something to share with you, here’s an extract from Five Lives One Day in Bahrain published by Ex-L-Ence Publishing. Check out the site for many good reads.

Rosita is late:

Rosita had been so exhausted that after her six o’clock Skype call to her mother that morning she’d gone back to sleep and had slipped into such a deep slumber that she’d gone past her softly buzzing alarm and her roommate Wendy’s door-banging departure. She woke with a start, “What time is it?” she exclaimed aloud, rubbing her eyes and yawning all at once. She reached out and looked at her large wristwatch, which she’d set on the small table near her bed. “Oh No! Nine o’clock! How did I do that? Now I’ll have to take a cab, and I was hoping to catch the bus.” The unnecessary extra expense upset her rhythm. But she knew she needed to look good, have all her certificates ready and arrive at least fifteen minutes ahead of the 12:30 pm appointment. No way could she catch a bus now.

There was too much riding on this job! Her very own section for hair styling, a salary of two hundred and fifty dinars plus sponsorship and the lady, an English woman married to a Bahraini, seemed to be kind and understanding. How was she going to get to Budaiya in time? All this buzzed through her mind as she hurriedly showered and sprayed herself with both a new deodorant and the Kenzo she’d used so sparingly and carefully ever since the American marine Ricky had given it to her three months ago. That was something else she’d kept from her mother and the girls at the Red Rose Salon in Juffair.

You can also buy the book here.

51fml60nh9l

Excerpt from ‘An Appropriate Act of Love’

Standard

lynda-tavakoli-copy

Lynda Tavakoli is the first of my author friends to share an excerpt from her book of short stories, Under a Cold White Moon.

Thanks Linda, that sent chills up my spine.

One evening my father failed to return from work. The house had been, as usual, quiet during the day, my elder siblings having by then dispersed to lead more normal lives elsewhere and I now wonder how I never noticed their leaving or indeed how long it had been since I was the only child remaining. The food was on the table; bacon, sausages, tomatoes, potato bread and two eggs – all fried as he liked it and now coagulating on my dad’s plate. Mother sat across from me at the table, hands tidily on her lap; mine stuffed in the pocket of my sweatshirt making bigger the hole already there. Where is he?

For an hour, maybe two, we sat like dead fish frozen into an icy lake and still he did not come. Beyond the window of the kitchen light was being sucked slowly out of the day and finally the grey gloom of evening started to invade the room. A fear was beginning to gnaw at me and although my mother had moved not an inch during that time I regarded the subtle change in her manner with growing panic. The eyes that for so long had scorched her resentment into my soul had taken on the look of a hibernating tortoise reluctant to accept the onset of its awakening. They were dead eyes to match the dead words that finally slunk out from in between her teeth,

“Now are you happy?”

To read her book click on the link above or visit her publisher here.

41jiqbjkdl-_sx331_bo1204203200_

 

The Cactus Blooms

Standard

My publisher, Ex-L-Ence Publishing has a brand new website, from which you can now purchase directly. However, if you prefer to purchase your books on Amazon, there is a link on the page to take you there too.

Here’s an extract from Desert Flower… perhaps it will tempt those who haven’t read it yet to do so.

This time I entered the majlis quietly, slipping through the archway, less than a shadow, less than a breath. My face was properly covered with the niqab drawn across it. I had pinned it in place to make sure my face would not be exposed. After all, this was a foreigner who had come to the house, not another person from the Arabian Gulf, a Khaleeji, which if it were, of course, I wouldn’t have been called. This time my black abaya shrouded my entire body. All that was exposed were my eyes. I could see that the stranger was drinking a small cup of gahwa, our thick, rich coffee, and a small piece of baklawa. The fine pastry stuffed with pistachio nuts that I had the cook make that very day lay untouched on his plate. Eihab’s mother had seen that the servant had provided that.

And now that my frantically beating heart was somewhat stilled I had my voice under control too. I inclined my head slightly in a silent salaam and raised my right hand just a little.

“Have you got your wits about you?” Father asked gruffly.

Read the rest of this entry

Shenanigans gone awry

Standard

When I chose to work in advertising so many years ago I had no idea at the time that it would prove to be so much utter, unmitigated, idiotic fun. Someone, somewhere looked down on me and decided that I needed to come out of the shy shell (yes, those of you who know me now mayn’t believe it but I was once painfully shy) in which I enclosed myself. It was a self that smiled and giggled internally. The giggling I must confess sometimes burst out of control. And then I laughed with such abandon that those around me joined in even when they didn’t know what I was laughing about.

School friends, classmates… you remember. don’t you? In fact recently I met an old friend who asked me, “What happened? When did this personality change take place?”

Blame it on advertising. Blame it on the Creative Department. Read the rest of this entry

Nothing

Standard

So here’s another old, “dark” poem. It was written to inspire a story and then I never wrote the story!

nothing-2The silence had enveloped her

In its warm black anonymity

She was safe.

No rasping voice

No sound

Penetrated it

A gag order

On insanity.

A restraining order on life.

She buried deeper into it

A mole, escaping the light. Read the rest of this entry

Lest we forget

Standard
A painting by my friend Serena Stevens

A painting by my friend Serena Stevens may she rest in peace she battled cancer as valiantly as any soldier

November is a month to remember. Loved ones lost to all kinds of battles… on the front in war, of course, but there are other battles that some folk wage against disease – that dreaded, insidious, cancer; stroke victims, who wage a daily battle with bodies unwilling and unable to respond to the simplest of their wills; so many other ailments and conditions that render folk dealing with pain on a sub-chronic daily basis, the list is a long one. This November I’d like to remember them all.

I can’t name them, but they are all my heroes.

You and you and you, who see

Life ebbing by in slow degrees

For whom there was a time, I know

When nothing ever went so slow

Today your speech is locked behind

An uncooperative mind.

And you, why half your body can’t

Respond to anything you want.

And then there’s one who cannot turn

For pain that through his body burns

And there’s another one who, while

Her spirit breaks, yet she can smile.

Some have lost their limbs to bombs

And still they somehow all limp on

We know not who has been in war

But this we know, and know for sure

There are brave soldiers everywhere

Who need to know that we do care

For them, our poppies red

We wear and still a tear or two we’ll shed.

Fight on you brave immortal souls

The day will come, you’ll reach your goal.

And for those who are thinking of loved ones lost in war I have this to say in remembrance of ‘Poppy Day’.

The famous poem by John McCrae is reproduced below:

IN FLANDERS FIELDS

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

 

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

With so many wars that have been fought since that poem was written, I’d like to change it around a bit

Forget that quarrel with our foe

‘twill only lead to e’er more woe.

And who is foe may in the end

Turn ‘round and some day be a friend.

The only faith, that we need keep

Is, to try and end each day in peace.

 

Let the poppies, sweetly blow

Lest we forget those laid below

And should our leaders want a fight,

And rant and rave about what’s right,

Let’s hide the guns and send them in

To face each other in the ring.

Note: This post was first published a year ago. I have reworked it for the reasons above.