Soumya Ramasamy hosted a session last Saturday at Write Club where the focus was to write about a couple of characters who hate each other. We’ve had many emotion-based sessions before, but in my memory, this was the first time we focused on hate. And why not? Hate is something all of us feel at some time or the other, and though it’s sometimes uncomfortable to come face to face with it, it’s always revealing to do so.
Warm up – Firsts
The warm up exercise was to write a small piece about a ‘first’. It could be an account of your first bicycle ride, your first birthday present, your first salary, your first date, or anything of the sort. The human mind is hardwired to remember the first of everything, and most of us have vivid memories of our ‘firsts’ – whether good or bad. I wrote about my first kiss, which was a bit of a mixture. The emotions that went with it were all good, but the kiss itself was not.
Exercise – Characters that hate each other
The brief for the second exercise is two-fold: one, to cast some light on how we form first impressions of people that we meet, and two, to write about how we allow those impressions to colour our conversation and interaction. There were many insightful pieces here, with the stand-out being a story in which a husband and wife reminisce about their thirty-year marriage by listing all the things they hate about each other.
For good or bad, I am leaving behind a short piece that I wrote at the session. It’s not a complete chronicle of hate, just a short prelude. There are some hints that the two characters may even turn out to be friends later on. But we never know.
The man smelled of smoking embers. It was getting to be dusk when Mrs Krishnamurthy got out of her car at the main gate to the cemetery. She held up her white lace skirt from the puddles in her path, put a gloved hand to her forehead to shield her eyes from the rays of the dying sun, and blinked.
She had been all right during the drive to the graveyard. Only once had her eyes welled up – when she passed the office of Dr Joshi. All that day she had come close to weeping, but each time she told herself that Chandler Bing had lived his life as a good, strong, manly cat. It was his time to go, and if Chandler had been alive he would not have wanted her to cry. So she had walled up the tears and maintained a soft, angelic countenance.
But something about this place – the gathering clouds, the falling orange sun, the smell of coal, the bony scrunch of pebbles underneath her feet – made her whimper and wish she could go back. And the man who stood on the other side of the grilled gate, his gnarly fingers wrapped around the rusting iron, his head bowed down to his chest so as to keep the black cloak over his shoulders from flying away – he stared at her as though she was one of the graves he tended. Under his right eye was a white mole the size of a coin.
Mrs Krishnamurthy turned and looked at the casket in the back seat. Chandler Bing was dressed in his favourite red Mickey Mouse shirt. That had been the first thing she had bought with Mr Krishnamurthy’s insurance money. Mickey’s eyes spoke to her and filled her with a cold, inner steel. I should do this, thought Mrs Krishnamurthy, for Chandler. He deserves nothing less.
So she opened the door, dragged out the casket, and carried Chandler Bing to the gate, where the man just stood and stared. With more confidence than she felt, Mrs Krishnamurthy squinted against the sun and said, ‘I need to bury my cat.’ A thin film of sweat accumulated underneath her gloves. She wished she could throw them away, but she was holding Chandler Bing, and there was nothing but wet mud all around her.
The man took one look at the casket. ‘We don’t bury cats here,’ he said. His breath was clean. Too clean, thought Mrs Krishnamurthy. Never trust a sober undertaker, she had heard someone say long time back.
‘And why not?’ she asked. ‘Cats have feelings too.’
‘Not dead cats, they don’t,’ said the man. ‘Throw it out onto the dump yard next to your house.’
Very few things made Mrs Krishnamurthu angry – she was a gentle soul for the most part – but referring to Chandler Bing as ‘it’ was one of them. If this had been a party and if she had had wine in her hand, she would have snorted in suitable indignation and emptied her glass on the ghastly man’s face. But this man had a stick. Never splash a glass of anything on a man with a stick, she heard someone say. She thought there was wisdom in that.
‘Chandler was a man,’ she said slowly. The sun had set by now, and the grey was getting thicker. The man’s lips parted, and then his teeth showed. White teeth. Too white, thought Mrs Krishnamurthy, to be trusted. ‘So I want you to bury him.’ She held her head high haughtily. ‘How much will you take?’
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