[I attended a two-day Creative Writing Workshop organized by the British Council and conducted by Richa Wahi and Chetan Joshi. In the last session of the workshop the participants were to write a story and this is what I produced.]
Yuri thought of first visiting the tailor and inquire about his daughter Elena’s dress. He pulled on his old coat over his back even though it was warm outside. As he stepped out of his old flat, he remembered to take the pain killer pills in his purse in case his bad knee gives a problem. He shuffled past people keeping his eyes fixed on the footpath that led to Rozy Tailors – Ladies Specialist – Home Delivery. The man at the counter hailed him, as he has been doing for the past twenty years, and said in Bengali, “Dress ready, Hari babu.” He replied, “Okay. Keep it with you. I’ll come to collect it as soon as I get my tickets ready.” The man at the counter smiled cordially at him and then turning aside gave a conspiratorial snigger to the tailor-master sitting on the sewing machine.
Yuri traced his steps back from the podium of the tailor’s shop and continued his journey towards the bus stop. On his way once he stood in front of a lamp post as if not being able to see clearly through his broken spectacles what lay ahead of him. It seemed as if he is going to take out his contact lens from his purse and wear it there itself. But it was too costly and he dare not wear it for fear of spoiling it. He had grown used to a life where he could live with paltry wants since he could not afford more. When he resumed his hesitating gait, the bus had arrived to take him to Sanskriti Art Gallery in Alipore – the haunt of his youth where he used to meet many people secretly.
The bus journey was noisy but he was able to dissolve all the noise into a dull drone of a police siren. There was a chase in a car. The car had swerved and climbed the divider in the middle of the road. All of a sudden the door of the car jerked open and he was thrown out. A policeman’s revolver’s nozzle was pointing at his head. He somersaulted and tried to get behind a taxi. But it was too late. The policeman had pulled the trigger. Luckily his brains did not blast because the hammer of the revolver had got stuck. That was his escape. He had jumped on to a running bus on A. J. C. Bose Road leaving the policeman dumbfounded, staring at the jammed contraption of his service revolver.
So when the bus stopped with a jolt he came back from his reverie though he had not reached his destination still then. He stared out of the window and felt a sense of nausea. He started searching in his purse and found a packet of Hajmola. He ate one and when the ticket conductor came towards him he even offered him one. He got down near Alipore Zoo and went straight to towards his friend’s art gallery. Yashin was there but was not exactly pleased to see him. Yet he took him to his private chamber since he was an old friend. The two friends looked contrasting side-by-side in their appearance due to the difference in their social status today. That was not so twenty years ago.
Once they were behind closed doors, Yuri spoke, “Vasily, how you’ve been?”
Yashin replied, “Don’t call me Vasily. I’ve warned you a number of times. I am Yashin Merchant now. Got it.”
“Oh! Sure comrade. But it’s just behind closed doors.”
“Okay. I’m well. How you’ve been?”
“Fine… fine. I’ve ordered a dress for my daughter’s eighteenth birthday. Is there any news from Kremlin?”
Yashin gave a look of frustration and spoke gently, “You are again going back in time. Come to the present. Do you want a pint of Vodka?”
Yuri responded delightedly, “Always yes for Vodka.”
Yashin poured the drink and handed him a crystal glass. Yuri sipped the drink and mused, “I wonder since Chernobyl the Soviets may one day dismantle the KGB.”
Yashin retorted angrily, “It’s all over twenty years back. This is 2011. Remember. I am not going to tolerate this nonsense any more. I have tolerated enough for the past years. You have to get over your grief. Get it right. There is no USSR now. The spy ring is busted. We have been disowned by Russia. Get to the present.”
Yuri squirmed and started muttering beneath his breath, “You have your family here. But they sent my motherless daughter to Moscow promising to follow her soon. But now I can’t go back. She’ll be waiting for me. I must go back.”
“No one is waiting for you in Russia. Not for twenty years now. Yuri doesn’t exist. You are Hari now and no one else. The alias is the real. The real is dead. All ex-spies have expired in the KGB files. And why did you visit Kanpur recently? Mrs. Malhotra called me up and told me to warn you against visiting her. She has a husband, a family, a hyper-tension and now because of you a nervous disorder.”
“But she is our Maria. She belongs to the spy ring,” he insisted.
“There is no such thing existing. If you don’t talk sense then I will have to ask you to leave. Take this hundred rupee and I am telling you for the last time now to go and visit a doctor. You probably have Alzheimer’s or something.”
Yuri took the hundred rupee note and exited. He kept the money in his purse and took out the Book of Chairs from it – a reminder of his last assignment, the unfinished one for which he stayed back in Calcutta, with the secret code written in it, which no one in the world now acknowledges, a lock locked with the key lost forever.
He trudged out slowly. Out under the sun he could hear an aeroplane in the sky. He looked up only to find the migrating Siberian cranes flying overhead. One of the cranes flapped its wings and a small feather dislodged from there. As the feather descended down slowly, swimming against the currents of the wind, he stood frozen in the middle of the road, staring at it. When it was within his reach he raised his hand to grasp it. The feather nestled in the palm of his hand and he caressed it.