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The Shadow in the Mirror, Short Story by Kulpreet Yadav

In a seedy lodge, drunk, your thoughts are on your girlfriend who said she didn’t love you anymore. The room is cold, the bed sheet smells of mushrooms, and the paint on the wall at the far end is peeling. The only piece of furniture that’s new in the room is the chair, one in which you have been sitting for five hours.

You have abandoned your house. The house which seemed empty ever since she, your lover, had abandoned it.    

That’s your idea of revenge and you are not proud of it: to abandon an already abandoned house.

‘You have ignored me,’ she had said, ‘all you can think of is yourself.’

Finally, your girlfriend had left, not banging the door as you had expected her, but silently, after that final look of hate on her face, the hair in disarray, cheeks glistening with tears. You couldn’t call behind her and be left with a silence that echoed her accusations over and over in a way only silence can, the walls closing in, and the answers you couldn’t give choking you from inside.

*

It’s evening now. Your room in the lodge is dark, the door closed from the inside, but your thoughts are free.

You love the evenings, just after sunset, when darkness renews the mind, preparing it with options, till such time you can see more colours, can smell better, and longing gets stretched.

You think of your girlfriend: her eyes, smile, her touch, the lingering kiss, and her commitment to caring. You liked your world in the evenings with her, thoughts yet to be claimed by dreams, the interface of dark and light, the smell of supper, the making of a new secret, the heaviness of a new desire, the mystery of darkness, the strangeness of reflections in the mirror, the obsolescence of urgency, the dance of the stars, the bleeding of the moon’s edges, the chemistry of eyes, the blurring of thoughts, the slurring of intentions, the impermanence of the past, the irrelevance of tomorrow, the expansion of time.  

You have been missing her every single moment.  

You can’t see the evening, yet you can embrace it with your mind. You drain the whiskey glass, light a cigarette and allow your eyes to water, blaming the smoke to have caused it.

You are not crying, and you never have; it’s not an emotion known to you.

You fill your glass again and are angry because the bottle is empty now. Absentmindedly you calculate the time you have been in love. Nine months exactly. You think of infants, lovers, mothers, and their homes, and cry out aloud when the cycle of life eludes you.   

There is no sense in looking back. Nothing can be preserved, not love, not the memory of the womb for an infant, or homes abandoned.   

*

As you step out on the road, the evening is lovely, just as you had expected. You find an electricity pole and slide your back against it till you sit down on the pavement. An onlooker stops and stares at you. You know he pities your condition because you are drunk. In return, you pity his concern and ignore him until he walks away.    

Dusk slowly blots into the night around you. This is the time when intuition overcomes better judgment, when every possibility is a fantasy, when directions and courses charted carefully during the day don’t matter, when every spirit kindles itself, when all carpets rolled outlook red, when playing a game is only second nature, when love is a subset of desire, and when sunset is a guarantee that time will finally slow down for a few hours.

Time has indeed slowed down as people surround you from all sides. There is innocence in their silent prodding and you lock your eyes with them, one by one until one of them takes a step forward.

‘Hey, do you want help?’

The man who asks you the question is young, his cheeks sunk inwards. He looks poor, his clothes torn and thinned from long hours of manual labour, but the way he stands, you imagine, muscles of jumbled elastic wires under them. His eyes have a rare sparkle. He is from the crowd, yet not one of them.

‘Thank you.’

He extends his hand and you clasp on its rubbery grip, get on your feet, sway momentarily, but find your balance in the end. He escorts you to the lodge, stares at the card you press into his palm as an introduction, shakes his head, returns the card with a smile and walks away.  

Your cell phone begins to ring and you pull it out in a hurry as you enter your room. But it is not your lover. It’s an unknown landline number you have never seen before. You let it ring, amused at the power you have to deny someone a chance to speak to you.

The phone rings again and this time you take the call. When you disconnect, you don’t know how to react. You have won a huge contract, one that will make you a millionaire and pave way for many more.

But the excitement is temporary.  You have no one to share it with.

You curse yourself for being the biggest secret you need to find.

Expectations have always ruined love. Yet it’s all about expectations you tell yourself. You decide to relook at your failure, listing every small lapse as a big blunder. Love succeeds with sharing, which, you smile at the thought, is like in any other business. Love is all about giving and take. It’s not one-sided. It’s democratic. It’s about equality, of time, words, passion. It’s about finding the balance.

‘If you don’t have the stamina to listen, you can never have the stamina to love,’ your lover had said one evening, her voice almost a whisper, looking at your shadow in the mirror. You see her meaning now.  

*

When you wake up there is a stranger in the bed beside you. She smells of mushrooms too and you wonder if the smell of the bed sheet has rubbed on her. She is naked from the waist up and her hair has covered her face. Her breasts are staring at the ceiling and the rhythm of her breathing is making them seem like jellyfish heads.

Mornings are about hope, about rebuilding, about another chance, about newness, about dew and moisture, about ignoring the past, about discovering a new confidence, marvelling at nature’s creation, about the deliciousness of the open sky, about daring to conquer the world, and about littleness of caution.

‘I am sorry, honey.’

The voice is familiar. It’s from the woman in the bed. She pulls the bed sheet over the jellyfish heads, tosses her hair to one side and smiles at you.

You look at your girlfriend and think of the right answer but don’t find anything.

Happiness downloads itself into you, it has a timelessness that celebrates the moment, the future looks conquerable, there are no footsteps of yesterday following you, and the idea of love doesn’t seem like a burden anymore.

The empty bottle of whiskey from last night has rolled away and now rests against the wall, a few flecks of paint from the ceiling settled around it. Your glass on the table is empty.

‘I missed you honey, and I promise I will try to be a better person.’ You mean every word you say.

‘I love you.’ She says and the two of you kiss like never before. It feels like returning home to the arms of a waiting love after winning the war. But a war is won by taking lives. Whom did you kill? You think of your shadow in the mirror.

You resurface after the long kiss, take a deep breath, and say, ‘I love you too.’

*

There’s morning outside when you open the door of your house. Your girlfriend has just fed you a hearty breakfast and you have departed after a long and caring kiss. You have said you love her a zillion times since returning from the lodge two days ago.

The world before you is bustling: caterpillars and snails in the everyday hurry, the Tigers and sharks moving slowly with practised lethargy. The food chain is all dressed up, some to party and others to sacrifice. You smile at nobody and walk out, head held high, thinking about the office, the contract, its execution, and all the future contracts you want to win now. How to prove to the world that you are not an ordinary person is at the top of your mind.  

You are in love. Again. With your work. With yourself. 

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