Nothing Compares To You

by Chandra Sundeep
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Today

I massage my throbbing eyes, forcing them to open. When I finally lift my eyelids, every part of my body screams in pain. I blink hard, trying to recollect where I am and why. The peeling walls, cracked floors, a suffocating stench of body fluids wafting in the closed space, echoing cuss words and pitiful cries add to my confusion.

My insides hurt as I chuckle out loud, having solved the mystery of the unfamiliar place.

“Saala!” Someone grabs my hair and pushes me hard. My head hits the wall, and the taste of warm metallic fluid fills my mouth. I am yet to recover from the blow when a khaki-clad man fumes at me, and his leather boots land hard on my stomach, “Harami! How could you do this to the poor girl?” I curl up in pain, but instead of screaming, I smile again at the inspector challenging his authority.

“Your father should be ashamed of you.” He yells, and my chest swells with pride.

She’s gone. Gone forever.

I will never see her again, hold her, or hear her voice sweeter than a mango bite. So many nights, days, and years I spent dreaming of touching her and fucking her.

My love for her is true. I care a fuck about what the world thinks.

And she is mine.

Only mine.

Forever…

 

Last Evening

 

“Are you mad?” Her voice rises an octave and her cheeks turn red.

“Of course, I am not! I love you and want to marry you.” I lean in closer, touching a loose strand of her hair.

“Bhaiya, let me go. I am getting late for my tuition class.”

I grab her delicate wrist hard while she squirms, struggling to wrest free.

“I am just 16 and you are 27!”

“That doesn’t matter. I can wait. What’re two more years? I have been waiting for ten years.”

“You are sick. Don’t you dare come near me!” She screams, finally pulling herself free from my grip.

I flinch inwardly, hoping the tears forming behind my eyes don’t fall.

“And what makes you think I want to marry you? Bloody loser!” She takes a step back.  “Have you looked at yourself? Ugly oaf! And for your information, I have a boyfriend, and he is not an uncle, like you!” Clutching her bag close to her chest, she hurries away from me.

I am still shaking, and by the time I calm my senses, she has vanished. Even the aroma of her lavender perfume is long gone. Her vengeful words echo in my ears and torment my shattered soul – old, ugly, loser, boyfriend.

It is past midnight when I reach home. And for the first time ever, I swoon with joy at spotting Baba’s scooter.

I grab an empty petrol can and dip a pipe in the tank. A litre should be sufficient. Anyway, his tank is never even close to half-full.

 

Two Days Before

 

My fingers trill with happiness as I empty the cupboard and stuff my belongings into the steel trunk. “Finally!”

So what if it has taken me a few extra years to earn my graduate degree? It’s the destination that matters, not the journey.

I don’t care that my ex-classmates have completed their post-graduation and are already working. What matters to me is that I have finally done it! I have proven my father wrong. I can already see shame and jealousy colouring the bastard’s face when he sees my offer letter. My starting salary is much more than he has earned all his life!

Flinging my shirt and shorts on the bed, I step into the bathroom. Cold water flows down my back, but my body continues to spit fire. Her face floats in the steamy room, and I ride higher and higher on a wave of ecstasy.

This is the day I start to live my life. On my terms. With the love of my life.

 

5 years ago

 

Ma is sitting on one end of the diwan, busily knitting another sweater I don’t want. I want to wear modern ones like my city-bred friends, but my miserly father feels otherwise.

I point the remote at the television, only to face a blank screen. I tap it hard on my palm and try again, but it continues to be insolent. “Arey, ma, why do you still have this plastic around the remote? And look at that telephone,” I smirk at the embroidered cloth covering it, “why is it dressed like a bride?”

“Because we are not sitting on a gold mine!” she raises her eyebrows as if challenging me to an open fight. But the next moment, tears pool in her eyes. “How long will your Baba struggle? Will you pass this time at least?”

“Ugh… stop pestering me all the time.” I slap the remote on my thigh when my father valiantly enters the compound, riding on his Bajaj Chetak as if it was a brand-new Maruti 800.

“Sharma ji’s son has got three offers. He is going to the USA. And look at our hero,” he claps, “failed the third year three times already. Wah!” Baba unties his laces, picks up his weather-worn shoes, and carefully places them on the rack near the door. With a disgruntled look, he kicks my slippers outside.

“Thanks for your help. I was anyway going out with friends.” Asshole can’t leave me at peace for a moment.

“Out? Friends? What friends?” He grunts and mocks in disdain.

And why don’t I have any friends? It’s because of you… But the words never make it to my lips.

I sink back into the sofa thinking of all the times his belt, slippers, and palm razed my back.

My earliest memory is of standing on the lawn under the midday sun, with nothing but my knickers clinging to my sweaty skin. His breath smelled funny as he hissed close to my face. “Be a man, don’t cry like a girl,” and whipped a plastic scale on my open palm. Tears and snot ran freely down my face, and every sniffle invited more fury. Thankfully, the scale broke, and he left me alone. I don’t remember what triggered his temper, but I will never forget how I felt.

He turns towards Ma. “You are another useless woman. Wasting money on this white elephant.” She folds into herself and appears smaller than ever.

I clench my fist, and block his sound, but am unable to fight my thoughts as they pull me towards the years gone by…

Once, while playing cricket with friends, I lost track of the time and reached home later than usual. He had to get a new pair of slippers the next day. I was just seven years old then.

At 10, he banned me from playing cricket. He cackled joyously as I wiped my tears and picked up the broken pieces of my first and last bat.

Once he forced Ma to not give me dinner for three whole nights. She ended up with a cracked lip when she tried to intervene. And what was my mistake? I got only 97 marks in sixth grade.

While the principal and teachers congratulated me on my district second rank in 10th grade, my father yelled, “When will you ever come first?” My cheeks remained swollen for months after. That was the first time I stole from Ma. Guilt gnawed at me, but the magazines helped me calm down. If not for those beautiful women, I would have ended up in jail and my mother a widow.

At 18, he gave me my first gift, “Use it wisely, it is very expensive.” Pride sparkled in his narrow eyes as he placed a fountain pen in my palm. Sadly, I will never know if the urchin I found on the street used the pen wisely.

And now, at 22, I am a grown-ass man and still tremble like a leaf, fearing his temper.

“Hello uncle,” her pleasant voice cuts through the steely tension that has enveloped the room.

Baba’s lips curl up, “Come, come. What brings you here today?”

“I got my report card. Bhaiya helped me study, and I got 89%. I wanted to give him this… mango bite.” Her soft voice is full of joy and I feel it seep into my heart.

“Well, well. Our son is not so useless after all.” Baba smirks, and his crooked front teeth sparkle in the evening light. “Chalo, he can be a tuition master, if nothing else.”

He bangs his limp lunch bag on the table and stomps towards his room.

She remains at the door, fiddling with the wrapper.

Ma pauses for a moment. “Why are you standing there? Come inside, beta?”

The girl turns towards the road, and sneaks a glance at her house, “aunty, can I watch TV for a while?”

Ma nods and resumes knitting while the girl sits next to me. Miraculously, the remote starts working, and she claps in delight, watching the screen come alive. Her animated eyes send my heart thrumming. I lean back against the sofa and stretch my arms, yawning loudly. Aware of my mother’s presence, my fingers cautiously linger over the girl’s soft brown hair and I feel the same fiery rush that I felt the first time I picked up the trashy magazine.

Now that I have found her, I will never buy those magazines again.

 

6 years ago

 

“You are a big girl, and we are friends. You can call me Sonu.”

“But I am only ten, and you are so big. My mummy will scold me.” Her lips turn orange as she licks the ice cream bar.

“I am not that big. See.” I kneel next to her. A sharp pebble pokes my knee, and I sweep it away. “We are the same height.” I draw an imaginary line from my head to her chest. My fingers tingle as they brush against her soft bones.

“Two rupees,” the vendor says briskly, and a strange expression flashes across his face, but I forget all about it when she tugs at my hand.

“Bhaiya, we have to cross the road.”

I press a crumpled note in his palms and slip my hand into hers. She grabs it tight, only to let go once we cross the road.

“Today at school, Bharti was showing off—,” she chirps loudly, but I struggle to pay attention. I shove my trembling hands into my pockets. A tingling rush passes through my body, heightening my sensuousness.

“Listen, so as I was saying. You can call me bhaiya in front of others, but when it is just the two of us, call me Sonu.”

“Okay,” she pauses for a moment, before continuing with something that happened during the science period.

We reach the park and she runs off to play with her friends. “Bye Bhaiya, thanks for the ice cream,” she screams, and even though her pigtails disappear in the distance, a part of her remains with me. Inside me.

 

9 years ago

 

Finally, the day has come when I leave home to pursue engineering and fulfil my parent’s dreams.

Ma has neatly folded and arranged all my clothes in the second-hand steel trunk. I am about to take it down the steps when I hear my father grumble, “Bloody loser. You wait and watch. He will drop out.”

I will prove you wrong, you old man. I promise myself as I push the trunk and watch his eyes bulge.

College and hostel life are unlike anything I had imagined. The subjects are a pain; the professors, boring as death, and my friends… ugh, just unbearable. I can’t believe they have made it to an engineering college without ever having smoked or enjoyed porn.

The days are a drag, and the nights are long and insufferable. There was a time I dreaded the thought of being at home and craved to be free, but now that I am finally out of that cage, I am looking forward to holidays so that I can go back home. I can’t believe this; Hitler’s rule is better than this hell.

I desperately want to quit, but there is no way I can. Never!

Thankfully, the first-semester break arrives soon.

“Sonu, don’t they feed you at the hostel?!” Ma’s eyelashes sparkle with tears as she envelops me in her warm embrace.

“My ribs will crack,” I joke, and her bony arms fall to her sides.

“Baba wanted to come to the station to pick you up, but there was no petrol in his scooter.” She offers an apology, while the old man remains engrossed in his newspaper, with a disgruntled look on his face. Ignoring him, I go straight to my room.

I am just changing into fresh clothes when I hear Baba’s scooter roar out of the gate.

Bloody hell, no petrol.

The aroma of aloo paratha wafts into my room, and I run down the steps feeling calmer already. Alas, the feeling is momentary.

“When did this happen?” I ask her through gritted teeth.

“I tripped over my saree.”

“And lost a tooth?”

Shrugging dismissively, she feeds me a piece of hot paratha. “You don’t worry. All these things happen. It’s normal.”

“But, Ma-”

“Shh… eat now. I have to put some flesh over these bones before you leave.” She breaks another gigantic piece and stuffs it into my mouth before I can say anything.

I am still fuming with anger, and as the hands of the clock inch towards seven, I slip out of the house. “Ma, I am going for a walk.”

I must have been lost in thoughts and realised it when I inadvertently tread on a street I usually avoided. Sweat pools on my palms and I turn on my heel when I see young boys dressed in grey trousers and white shirts. My teeth clatter when I spot the silhouette of the building, R M Boys School. Frayed memories sneak up on me. Pain and anger pulse through my veins, just like all those years ago, and morsels of paratha purge their way out.

I hear the mean words and laughter once again, even in the silence—don’t go out at night, nobody would be able to see you; these magnifying glasses suit you well; why did you steal the craters from the moon? A searing pain tears through my groin as if those seniors are kicking me again. Images of a frail boy curled up on the toilet floor in a pool of water, urine, and tears cloud my eyes.

Fuckers! I hope you are rotting in hell…

Leaning against a tree, I light a cigarette and flip the pages of the magazine I have just bought.

And that’s when I see her again. Dressed in a yellow top and blue shorts, her hair is flying as she is racing with her friends. My neck turns warm and butterflies flutter in my stomach.

My holidays end soon, and I am back in the other prison again. But this time, my nights turn soothing and warmer. For some reason, her tinkling voice accompanies me and keeps me company during the dark, long, lonely nights. The hostel comes to life with her memories. Her bubbly face sends my heart racing and the heat rushing through me bursts like a volcano.

I can’t wait for the next semester’s break.

 

10 years ago

 

The workers have left after unloading all the boxes, and the house looks like a busy train platform. Boxes, chests, and sacks cover every inch of the mosaic floor. The house smells of fresh paint, dust, and sweat.

“Sonu, bring the boxes here,” Ma hollers from the kitchen, pointing to the boxes labelled “Kitchen items – handle with care”

“All of them?! Can’t we eat something first? I am starving!” I sigh. My back is hurting and my palms have turned red with all the lifting.

“Arey, how—”

Baba interrupts her as always, “Bade Sahib, she needs utensils, groceries, and a gas connection before she can fulfil the wishes of His Majesty. When I was your age, I had to go to the forest every morning to collect twigs and dried dung for my mother. Only then could she cook. And look at how you live a luxurious life. Everything is served to you on a golden platter.” He steps hard on an empty box and storms out of the house.

Bastard, I wish he hits a pole on his way out. 

“Sonu!” Ma’s glass bangle clinks as she tucks a loose end of her saree into her waist.

Even though she says nothing, I feel her silent eyes blaming me. “You always find something wrong with me. What about him? Why do you worship the ground he walks on?” I toss aside the Outlook magazine I had rolled up while listening to his lecture. “I am tired of him. One of these days I am going to run away from home, and then you’ll realise you need me more than you need him.”

“Uff… don’t say all that. I will make nice parathas for you.”

Grumbling incessantly, I push the boxes into the kitchen. Leaning against the door, I gulp down a glass of water. “Ma, I need fifty rupees.”

“Again? I gave you twenty rupees yesterday. I don’t have anything now.” She pours a packet of red dal into an old tin dabba. I hate the yellow dabbas that are perfectly lined on the kitchen shelves.

“Why don’t you throw away these disgusting jars? Why can’t we buy nice transparent glass bottles like the ones I showed you the other day in this magazine?”

“Beta, we are middle-class people. We have other important things to take care of. Besides, I can always buy a thousand fancy bottles when you become an engineer. Don’t you have to study?”

“It’s okay. Let me help you with the boxes first. There’s a lot of time for my entrance exam.”

“Here.” She opens a new packet of biscuits. “You used to be so chubby,” she smiles, pointing to a small child’s photo on the yellow package, “and look at you now. All grown up!” She coughs into her saree pallu. “You can help me later. Go study for a while.”

I grab a couple of biscuits on my way out.

“Ma, where are my books?” I pause near the landing, checking the boxes labelled—Sonu’s room. The brown tape comes off easily, and thankfully it’s the one I wanted. “It’s okay, I found them.” I run up the stairs before she can get here.

Once in my room, I close the door and fling the books onto the bed. The books land on the hard bed with a dull thud, and a thin cloud of dust fills the room. Anxiously, I flip through the pile of books — maths, physics, chemistry—and finally heave a sigh of relief when I find the one I have been looking for. My heart slips as I hold the glossy magazine in my hand. My fingers caress the blonde girl’s hair, her soft cheeks, and then her rosy lips. I unbuckle my belt and run my finger over her jawline and neck before sliding further down.

O’Connor’s latest song ‘Nothing compares to you…’ booms from my Walkman as a fiery current erupts from within me, leaving me sweating and gasping. I am both physically present and absent in my room when a loud, shrill noise shatters my reverie.

“Sonu!” I ignore Ma, unwilling to return from the magical place I was in.

But she is determined to spoil my pleasure. “Someone is at the door, and my hands are wet.”

Cursing under my breath, I quickly zip up, hide the magazine and scurry towards the main door and yank it open.

“Is that your Baba?” Ma comes out of the kitchen, nervously wiping her wet hands with a small towel.

“Namaste aunty, namaste bhaiya,” a small child, hardly six or seven years old, greets me with a toothless grin. “My mother sent this for you. We live in that yellow house.”

“Namaste beta. What’s your name?” Ma welcomes the child inside, and I walk away so they can keep enjoying each other’s company. Once alone in the kitchen, I begin opening the yellow dabbas one by one until I find the one that interests me. The one with the round green dal. As I search through the dal, my hands reach for the prize—a crisp twenty rupee note.

“I am going to the market,” I announce, slipping my feet into my blue and white chappal.

“Bye, bhaiya,” the girl waves absentmindedly and continues talking to Ma. Her sweet chatter fills the room and for some reason follows me even as I walk on the tarred road.

This story won Special Mention in the monthly contest conducted by Penmancy

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