Masked Lives

Image courtesy Aleksandr Zubkov / Getty Images

It is okay to wear masks,

They say now.

Now?

What do they know about masks?

 

He started wearing masks

While walking back home

Along the narrow ridges

In the middle of harvested paddy fields,

Balancing, like a tear drop on eyelashes,

Not to fall and make himself a fool.

While going

They, he and his brother, had been talking

Which way the game would go.

India must win, but not that easy.

Brother knew a lot about the team

And players.

Kapil Dev stared from his wall,

With the ball in his palm,

Ready to be released any moment,

Like that stone in David’s sling.

And when the ball met the bat

Inside that grainy old Black and White TV,

Brother debated the umpire’s decision

With his friend.

But he saw none of it.

He had missed the ball. He missed the bouncer.

Seated, as he was with friend’s uncle,

A row of seats behind his brother and friend,

He was looking at his own palm,

Knotted like the red cherry,

Now held firmly by the old man,

And rubbing it against his thigh and deeper.

“This is how they keep the ball smooth.

They spit and then rub it on their thigh.

Rub. Rub. Rub. Yeah, that’s how they do it.”

The old man told him, with a glint in his hushed voice.

That’s when he first put on the mask,

Not to throw up the murukku* the old man gave him.

 

Now they say,

It is okay to wear a mask.

Is it?

What do they know about masks?

 

She started wearing masks

In the silence of that church.

Big altar. Empty pew.

A lonely dove cooed somewhere.

A weeping Christ on the Cross.

She kept staring at the emptiness.

Still feeling his hands on her breast.

Not just his. All those who groped her.

In the dark room.

She looked around.

She was no longer alone in the church.

Hollow bodies sat, heads bent down,

May be not in prayer, but hiding their smirk.

She felt the stench of semen and sweat.

Again.

Every time when the door closed,

She expected him to walk up to the bed

And console her.

Tell her, it was just a nightmare

And that they would leave for their dream home.

She hoped for his hands. His voice.

Every time, someone else groped her.

Another dove started cooing. Then another.

Soon, there was a song of out-of-synch voices.

“Why didn’t she escape when she got a chance?”

The song kept growing.

She lost count of faces. Days. Nights.

The medical report

Spread her out like an invaded territory.

Ravaged. Devastated. Masked.

 

Nothing much remained.

May be, half a face.

Like a torn mask.

Flesh slipped off,

Like wax from a molten candle.

The body floated for days, may be.

It remained stuck, like a dry branch,

In the abundant solitude

When leaves fluttered all around.

It took a while for someone to notice the body,

And pull it ashore.

Much later,

The surgeon examined what remained of it.

He shamelessly puked.

The stench was so overwhelming.

And then, he held to what remained

Of the feet and cried.

Inside the mortuary,

A dance of abandoned masks started

As the surgeon continued crying,

Apologising for the missing masks

That could not cover up

Hollow lives lived.

 

It is okay to wear a mask.

 

*Murukku is a local snack prepared out of rice flour

Anand Haridas is a Kochi-based media professional. He has worked with different news dailies including Kaumudi Online and The Hindu. He has also translated Kaali Natakam, a play by Sajitha Madathil. He is currently writing scripts for different web-series and mainstream film industry.