SharMona Lisa’s diary)
“Punctuality is the thief of time.”
The bus stop isn’t much of a shelter from the onslaught of the rain. It may have worked, if not for the hordes of people seeking shelter under its thin aluminium roof.
Rani Laxmibai Chowk has the distinction of being one of the busiest bus stops in suburban Bombay with sixty-six buses plying across the Sion flyover. Choc-a-block with a cacophony of vehicles and humanity and a tolling bell from a school, the intersection teems with movement. It’s an excellent place for one to lose themselves. A fact that you know and employ very well.
The bus number C-42-Express is trudging towards the stop, but that doesn’t stop you from ambling. Your gait is hypnotic, like a snake gliding on grass and maybe just as dangerous.
You reach a nanosecond before the vehicle shudders to a stop. And just like that, the sea of people part for you–just like it did for Moses. You board the bus like you own it. As you take your non-senior citizen and non-lady seat, your luck rivals that of the devil, your gaze spans the not-yet-crowded bus, and you spot her.
She’s a young girl. Not conventionally beautiful, a little gawky, if you’re honest. Her black curly hair push against the confines of a pink polka-dotted scrunchie in a bid to join their freer counterparts stuck to her face because of the humidity, but the fine tendrils are coming unglued in the AC-cooled air. A moon-shaped scar graces her chin. It reminds you of the heroines of past movies who’d sport three red dots on their chins. You smile at the thought, not realising that the girl has looked up, sensing scrutiny. She returns the smile-not-directed at her with a watery one as her hand pushes a stray lock behind her ear while she clutches a backpack to her bosom.
Hung over her seat is an advertisement for a beauty salon. Scrawled across a rather hideous representation of Mona Lisa are the words: ‘Be as famous as Mona Lisa. Try our beauty treatments.’ Not as beautiful as the lady but as famous. Fodder for thought.
You’re unable to tear your gaze off from her, and unable to fathom the reason. Her doe-shaped eyes meet yours again, and then turn away to look out from the window at the passing traffic. She gazes at the unmoving vehicular mass as if it’s the manifestation of the aforementioned Mona Lisa. It’s another ‘art’ that escapes you. Why do people go bonkers over a half-smiling middle-aged woman?
You shake your head at the thought as the bus judders to another stop and a deluge of people board and block your vision of non-Mona Lisa. That’s what you decide you’ll call her: Mona Lisa. Fully smiling Mona Lisa. Lisa, for short.
The bus discards and collects more and more people like wrappers as it lumbers along the polluted streets. A black SUV follows you at a snail’s pace. Kanjurmarg rolls in, and you rise from the seat and jumble your way to the exit. As you disembark, you notice Lisa has also stepped out of the bus, and unlike you, looks around with confusion. Before you can make your move, the black SUV glides in front of you. The window lowers noiselessly, and the driver leans out.
“Sirji, please get in the car. I’ll drop you at the college. Why go through the mach-mach of autos and buses? Bade sir will also get angry,” the driver pleads.
Your skin tightens, and you wish you could jump out of it. God forbid you anger the great Mr. Father-part-dictator-full-asshole. You shake your head as you realise you’ve lost track of Lisa, and, ignoring the driver’s pleas, you board a shared auto-rickshaw.
“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”
The watchman at the main gate salutes you as you step inside the SBI ATM to withdraw 10000 rupees. Money is the only benefit you reap off your padre. The only benefit the sperm donor can provide. You pocket the money and strut into the inner annals of IIT-Bombay.
Indian Institute of Technology Bombay.
The place India aspires to be in and the place you waltzed in, not because of your father but your own scores. Behind the jazzy face, you hide a razor-sharp intellect. Your father wanted you at his alma mater, Oxford University, but you had your revenge by mucking up the GMAT needed for admissions and, for the first time, openly rebelled against his offer of a paid seat. How did it matter whether you pass out from an IIT-B or an Oxford? You’ll still reign at your father’s multi-crore company.
Which is the reason Lucifer-on-Earth tolerates you. The leash that holds the dog can stretch up to the moon, but when tugged, it always returns to the owner. That’s how you feel most of the time. Like a dog on a tether. To be available for licking its owner’s heels. All you want to do is bite the hand that feeds you. But you bide your time.
Your time will come.
“For every minute you’re angry, you lose 60 seconds of happiness.”
The Coffee Shack is buzzing with students. Walking up to the counter, you hand over a few thousand notes to Chotu, who mans the kiosk. He nods at you and pockets the money, aware of the drill. Once a week, you pay for a few people’s meals without seeking acknowledgment. He hands over the steaming Maggi bonda and tea, and you carry it back to your table. Before you can bite into the gooey goodness of potato and Maggi with fried besan, a perfect ménage à trois, you stop short in your tracks.
Lisa is sitting with another girl, laughing and sipping a hot beverage. You watch them for an instant before biting into the bonda and wonder if Lisa studies here. You feel her eyes hover over you as you swallow away your smile.
The next day, keeping an eye out for her at the stop, you plonk at the stop five minutes early. The driver of your father’s car waits for you while you wait for the bus. And for Lisa to appear. The C-42 arrives with no signs of her arrival, and you board it, surprised to find yourself a tad bit disappointed.
Then you spot her. Her curls have broken free of their hair-cuffs and trail her as she slams into the bus, jostling like a drunkard. With your luck, she sits next to you. Giving you a shy smile as she attempts to bring some semblance of order to her mane.
“I saw you at the Coffee Shack yesterday,” Lisa whispers. Her voice is just as you had imagined. Feathers trailing over the skin.
“Yes. Are you studying at IIT? I’m in FY-Comp.”
“Masters. Also, computers.”
Lisa nods and retrieves a book from her backpack, and you pretend to look out at the multitude of cars, autos, bikes, trucks, buses, and people. While every atom of yours is aware of her presence next to you. You’re pleased to find her re-reading the same page.
The two of you smile as you disembark and walk toward the shared autos.
“Facts don’t care about your feelings.”
Academics have never been a challenge for you. Gifted with instantaneous grasping power, studies come naturally to you. As a kid, your father was the sun of your universe, every word he spoke was gospel until you realised the depths of his depravity. His control over every facet of your personality or what you wore, whom you interacted with, what you studied, and what should be your hobbies were just some examples. Revolt was crushed and his punishments were legendary.
Your arms bear the burn scars.
Even then, you persevere because education at IIT is challenging but not enough for you to stress. Computer bytes flow in your veins, and you understand the binary world of 1s-and-0s. Black and white. Good and evil. Logic is your master, and you are subservient to it. Which explains why your fiery attraction towards Lisa is puzzling and oh-so-illogical. You’re incapable of stopping the tsunami of emotions. She is the first one who has made you feel. Feel less like an obedient dog and more human.
So when you ask Lisa for a coffee, and she refuses, it shocks you. Girls will slit their competitor’s throats to be close to you, and Lisa declined! The illogicality of it intrigues you. And you want to solve the puzzle. Unwrap the gift. You and she continue to greet each other during the bus rides, she even sits with you occasionally, but after the initial acknowledgment, she withdraws to herself.
After seven tries, she agrees to a cheese sandwich ‘date’ at H2. There, Lisa appears ill at ease. Her hands clench and unclench into fists as if pressing on an invisible stress ball, that’s completely ineffective in reducing her stress. She answers your questions but never looks you in the eye. Staring at your chin or glabella, her comments are never directed toward your orbs.
When she seeks help to clarify her academic doubts, your ego swells and your heart gloats. While writing the code for her, you feel her eyes scour over your face while yours are fixed on the paper. Everything prickles, and you feel like an acupuncturist is puncturing you with tiny needles.
But the heart? The wretched beast, once out of its prison, soars like the bird, almost giving one vertigo.
Your fervent desire to spend every waking minute with her is met with her resistance-coated encouragement, eventually trickling into pure encouragement.
Love trumps logic.
“We loved with a love that was more than love.”
The young lovers meet often, and each meeting is rapturous. There’s a sense of comfort with Lisa, a sense of belonging. Over time, she relaxes around you, even showing the tattoo of your name inked on both her arms. Her flesh breaks out in goose-pimples as you kiss it. She lets you in on a secret—she takes two buses to get to the C-42 stop so she can travel with you. You let your guard down, and Lisa suctions the sad story out of you. The real you—not the confident, good-looking façade you maintain.
As the Powai lake ripples mimic the dusk, you hold her and in spurts, let the pain of the physical and emotional abuse you face, flow. Your skin tautens as Lisa caresses the puckered skin pockets around your arms, making you shiver when her fingers graze over the red welt marks. Two sets of eyes gleam with suppressed anger and pain when you tell her about your 3-day imprisonment in the dark garage with just limited water. When Lisa curves her finger around your deformed pinkie finger (the one your father crushed with an iron betel-nut cracker), you cry out in pain.
Her head and arm on your shoulders free the weight you carry on them.
News of the ‘affair’ spreads like wildfire, but it doesn’t bother you. Nor does the fact the driver has reported the happenings to ‘Bade Sahib’. Your father explodes and warns you about the consequences. Lisa cries when you tell her he has forbidden you to meet her but you cannot live without her.
Your eyes well up with unshed tears as you embrace her tightly. As the night approaches, you whisper into her ears, over and over again. “I’ll die before I let him separate us, Lisa. I’ll die.”
“The trouble is, you think you have time.”
Your limbs flail like a marionette’s as you quiver with rage. Lisa, a hand over her mouth, listens to you. Your father—the master puppeteer—has pulled the strings and ensured your further education would be at Oxford.
Your revolt was for nought. Now, you’re truly at his mercy.
“How can he force you to move abroad?” Lisa whispers.
“He knows about us. And his solution is to separate us.”
“Because he didn’t ‘choose’ you for me.”
“But you promised you won’t let him separate us.”
Steel glints in your eyes as you focus on her puddle-of-water-self. “I meant it, Lisa. You’re my Mona Lisa and I’m your Da Vinci. You exist because of me, and my name is nothing without yours. We cannot be separated. We’ll not be separated. I’ll die before I let it happen. I WILL NOT let it happen,” your scream scares away the pigeons lurking on the eaves as Lisa flinches.
Your father applies immense pressure on you and you find yourself weakening, unable to meet Lisa’s eyes as she questions you relentlessly.
“What will happen to us?” she whispers.
“I won’t let him separate us. I’ll die before that happens.”
“He IS separating us and you’re letting him do it! I thought you loved me. If you didn’t want me, why did you chase me?”
“I want you more than life itself. My father is forcing me and he says he’ll kill you if I don’t listen to him.” You break down, and your head falls on your knees as you sob. “I cannot lose you, Lisa. He wants me to give you up. I wish he’d just go away and leave me alone. I wish he’d just die. Haven’t I suffered enough at his hands?”
Lisa shuffles closer to you and raises your chin to kiss the trailing marks on your cheeks. One by one. Her eyes spit fire but her skin feels cool to touch.
“Let me take care of you. Let me help you.”
You do just that, your head leaning against her bosom. Yours and hers smiles and tears merge, and lips fuse.
“We all make time for what we feel is important in our lives.”
The bruise around your left eye is purple, and Lisa runs into your arms. “What happened?” she whispers.
“Padre happened.” Your swollen lower lip makes talking difficult, but you swallow hard and retry. “He used his mistress’ high heels to whack your love out of me.” You flinch when Lisa touches your torn lip.
“I don’t care, Lisa. He cannot separate us. He can die trying, but I won’t give you up.”
With Lisa’s help, you limp into the canteen. Seated, you murmur. “I’ve got a surprise for you, Lees.” You raise the sleeve of your shirt and expose the tattoo with her name. Lisa sucks in her breath and kisses each alphabet several times until you’re tickled pink.
The next day, the fresh beatings haven’t left you in a position to travel. You drop a message to Lisa and then doze off for an hour, missing all her 37 calls and 67 messages.
The day after that, the messages swell up to 139, and Lisa has called you relentlessly.
“I’m grounded. I can’t meet you. He says the only way we can meet is over his dead body,” you murmur into the phone.
“I’ve not seen you for two days! I cannot go on like this. Come and meet me before I do something drastic.”
“Lisa, calm down.”
“Don’t ask me to calm down! YOU chose me. Why doesn’t he get that? You CHOSE me. YOU CHOSE ME!” she screams down the wire.
“You know what a control freak he is, Lisa. He said if I don’t agree, he’s going to take my phone away.”
“How can we talk, then?”
“He doesn’t want us to talk! Or be together!”
“HE cannot do that! I won’t let him do that. You’re mine and what’s mine remains mine.”
“Dad doesn’t see it that way. He says I’m HIS son,” you’re resigned.
“What. Is. Mine. Stays. Mine.” Lisa replies, her voice whooshing out between her teeth.
The phone vibrates, hitting the glass, its echoes reverberating in the empty room. Then there’s silence. To be punctured by the phone vibrating again. And again.
Like an endless chirruping chorus.
Again and again, the phone rings till its battery dies.
“He said he’ll kill me if I talk to you again. Dad said till he is alive, we cannot be together,” you whisper into another phone.
“How can we be together?” Lisa cries.
“Only in death, Lees. Only in death.”
“We belong together. You to me and me to you. We belong together.”
The knife, wedged in, is tilted at a 45-degrees angle. Though, the acute angle doesn’t take away its grievous intent. The human in whose chest the knife is rammed in, is very much dead, eyes staring into space, face distorted in pain.
You take a shaky breath before you…
No! I cannot do this anymore. This is too hard.
The prison doctor says I need to remove myself from my story and narrate it like an observer, but this part of the story is like a wound that’s still unhealed.
I loved him with every beat of my heart, since the day I laid eyes on him on the C-42 bus. He was mine, and I followed every trick in the book to get close to him. Stealing an IIT ID card so I could pretend to be a student in his college. Ignoring him so I could garner his interest, even though my every breath protested it. He told me all about his thoughts, his secrets.
About the time when he fell in love with me, I was sitting under a painting of Mona Lisa, and he christened me Lisa. I’m his Mona Lisa.
When I had him, it was sublime. Life had a meaning, a beautiful purpose. To be his forever. To feel his lips on mine, his arms around me, was poetry. I carried his name everywhere on my body and not just on my arms. Our happiness was so pure, so untouched that the villain—his father couldn’t help himself but puncture our bubble.
He tried to take him away from me. He tried to separate us.
So, I separated his father from life.
Why did he hand me over to the police? Why did he give my other diaries to them? The judge scolded me.
Who am I kidding? He didn’t love me, did he?
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”
You’ve come to meet me, the guards say. My heart lurches as I run a comb through my hair and wash my face. I re-tie the sari, pleating it neatly. I adjust the blouse, but it keeps drooping off. But it won’t affect you. You see me for me. I knew you’d come. My heart soars.
Lisa’s coming, baby. She’s coming to you.
You trip, dressed in a white sari with a blue border and a torn hem while the blouse hangs off your shoulders. My name is tattooed all over your body. You strut towards me, smiling. You think you look irresistible, Lisa.
You’re a joke. A joke who’s languishing in prison. A joke who’s there because of my machinations. You thought you had me wrapped around your little finger, didn’t you? You ‘chanced’ upon me at the bus for the first time.
All in your mind, Lisa. Or whatever.
I had already vetted you. You were a perfect patsy. Obsessive, stalker-ish, and bat-shit crazy. Hands exchanging a few rupee notes revealed your prior records—all about your past victims. Your modus operandi, if I may. You thought I played right into your hands.
But it was I who played you.
Feeding you lies about emotional and physical abuse. Making up stories about my father. Oh, these scars? All from my drug-related unpaid debts. The mafia has its ways to collect. The SUV that was following me? Late-Father keeping tabs on his drug dealer son to keep him away from trouble. A trip to Oxford? Hah, more like the rehabilitation centre. Even the temporary, hand-drawn tattoo of your name on my arm.
But you lapped it all, baby!
Each time I kissed you, I saved myself from gagging by imagining my father gone. The law-abiding fool was about to hand me over to the police. Good riddance to bad rubbish.
I played the part perfectly, didn’t I? And you were superb. Applause-worthy performance. The fake shyness, the fake ID, the fake classes. It’s a wonder how my fake love escaped you, but then I’ve always been a genius.
You’re gazing at me with lovesick puppy eyes, and I’m tempted to laugh. Girls like you have no future with hunks like me, Mona Lisa. The name was apt for you—a girl who resembled a middle-aged frumpy, ugly but famous (not in your case) woman. But you are fun so I’ll visit you in prison.
I bend towards you and let my voice caress your ear. “I’ll never let him separate us, Lisa.”
Your eyes light up, and a smile uncovers your broken, uneven teeth.
Love does trump logic.
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One thought on “UnCoded”
The plot is gripping. The charachters well drawn. However towards the end post thursday change of POV feels abrupt, breaks the flow. The line prison doctor says….. I am unable to gauge its purpose, it feels odd in the storyline, more like the author is justifying using 2nd POV. Is it meant to say that its Lisa who is narrating the story. I loved the twist at the end.