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The Diary | Rinu Antony | Short Story

Rinu Antony is a graduate of Nagpur University, where she earned her Masters in English Literature. She works as a freelance writer now.

A lady staring at a mirror




The Diary 



Would you like to know the precise date of your death? Katya cut the engine and leaned back on the driver’s seat. She closed her eyes and drew a deep breath to calm herself down. Her eyes opened at the sound of her brother calling her from the gate. 

Katya smiled and got out of her car as her twin brother, Jal, trotted across to greet her, and gave her a hug. 

Her brother stepped back and studied her carefully. “Have you put on weight? Lots of weight?” Katya slapped his arm, making Jal giggle. 

“Okay, I was kidding. No, actually you lost weight. Worrying too much?” Jal said, looking as if he could see through her problems ; an ability he had possessed when they were kids. He’d just know what was bothering her. But not anymore. 

With Jal's arm wrapped around her shoulder, they moved towards their parents' house. They watched as their father came out of the house and met them halfway. 

“So happy to see you. When was the last time you visited? Your mother’s funeral, I guess,” Katya and Jal’s father said. 

Katya and Jal exchanged knowing looks. 

“We were with you for five days, Papa,” Katya reminded her father in a monotone.

“I told him exactly that,” mumbled Jal.

“Come, come inside,” their father said, and three of them walked into the house. 

“Oh, I forgot to take my bag from the car,” Katya said, and almost turned when her brother offered to bring it for her. She handed him the key. “It’s in the passenger seat.” 


………..


She found the diary a week after her wedding in a guest bedroom. The diary was sitting in a large card box along with other books of hers. Katya wondered why the diary was abandoned in a room where it didn’t belong. When she articulated her thoughts, her husband told her that it was too painful for him to look at it. If he looked, then he’d want to read it, and the memory would come crashing down, and that’d break him again. He loved her a lot, Katya knew, and it didn’t bother her a bit. 

The first thing she noticed when she opened the diary was her handwriting. It was bad. Just like Katya’s and that made her smile. She instantly felt a bond with the owner of the diary. In the coming days, the diary became irresistible to her. Unlike the novels or nonfiction she read, she didn’t skip any part nor did she read fast. She savored each word like a caramel chocolate getting rolled around in her mouth. As a freelance web designer, she worked from home, and took advantage of that by taking several breaks to devour the content of the diary.

She didn’t want the diary to end. So she read slowly, sometimes rereading the same page or paragraph. But when the diary moved towards the account of her relationship with Katya’s husband, and her love for him, and later their marriage, Katya was morose. It didn’t escape her husband’s notice and he proposed that they take a trip. Katya’s husband didn’t know that she was reading his late wife’s diary. Katya also needed a break from the diary. She was angry at it. They went to Sikkim and Katya allowed the place and breathtaking sceneries to charm her. It did, but Katya realized - to her displeasure - that she missed the diary. She looked forward to returning home, and the night they did, she snuck into the guest room in the dead of the night while her husband was asleep, and continued from where she left. 

At this point, she was living two lives - one of her own and another, Mila's. That was her name - Mila. Her life was snuffed out at a young age by multiple sclerosis. Katya wanted to know more. What happened? How were her final days? But, at the same time, she didn’t want to know. 

“She developed pneumonia. It progressed rapidly in her case. Her breathing problems intensified every day. We were doing everything right. I did everything right but….. .” Katya’s husband’s voice shook. There was so much she wanted to know about Mila which wasn’t in her diary. But asking her husband didn’t seem like the right choice.

……..


The sky cascaded from ruby red to fiery orange to golden yellow as the sun set on the horizon.

“How is Shravan?” asked her father, looking expectantly at her. 

Katya never thought that talking about her husband would make her uncomfortable. She wanted to say ‘I don’t know Papa. I guess he’s still in love with his dead wife, and the funny part is, I think I’m beginning to love her more than my husband. I have bonded with her more than my own husband. She was in his life while she was alive and she is in my life after her death.’ 

Instead, she said, “He’s doing well.” She felt bad for her father. She knew he was expecting more from her ; he just wanted to know if she was happy. Having fended off marriage proposals till she reached 42, and tying the knot after meeting Shravan, Katya understood her parent’s concern. 

Jal noisily slurped the tea, which garnered a scowl from his sister and father. 

“Don’t act like a child,” their father berated. 

“Maybe you should stop treating me like a child,” retorted Jal.

“You should get married,” said their father, raking his wrinkly hands over his shock of gray hair ; a contrast to Katya’s husband’s receding hairline. 

“Why do you bring up marriage every time? Is marriage the panacea to every problem in life?” 

“Look at your sister. She might have made the right decision late, but at least she got married.” 

“Really?” Jal posed the question to Katya. Katya avoided looking at him, and focused on the taste of the fritters in her mouth. 

In the silence, a ringtone from inside the house drifted towards them.

Katya’s father rose from his chair laboriously, “That’s my phone,” he said, and walked into the house. 

“His children are here. His wife is dead. Who can be calling this old man?” Jal said, looking amused. He studied his sister’s face and asked, “So, you didn’t answer my question.”

Katya looked at the empty plate with disappointment. The food served as a distraction from uncomfortable questions. She also wondered why she was uncomfortable talking about her marriage, or husband when everything in her life was going well. She licked her oily fingers and dabbed her hand over her parallel pants. Then she met her brother’s eyes. “How is Prachi?”

She got the reaction she was expecting. The subtle smile on her brother’s face was gone, and he looked away from her, “Could you not bring her up in front of Papa?” He requested.

“If I had to, I would have when he was here. Since this is a father-free zone now, tell me about your girlfriend,” demanded Katya, and watched her brother stare at his nails. 

“She is the way she has always been.”

“Oh. So—”

He shook his head vigorously, “No, we’re not planning to marry. Ever.”

Katya nodded to herself. She expected it. 

“She’s always wearing gender-neutral clothes. She chopped her shoulder-length hair into a boy cut,” said Jal, still looking at his nails. 

Katya glanced at her brother’s nails, wondering about his sudden fascination with them. “Is that a problem?”

His head snapped towards her, “I didn’t say that. I didn’t say that,” he repeated. 
He rubbed his eyes and looked over his shoulder to check if his father was coming or not. 

“So, how is Shravan?”

Katya stifled a sigh, “He is the way he has always been.”


……….

After dinner, the three of them retired to their rooms, and Katya called her husband, who was away on a business trip. After the call, she dug out Mila’s diary from her purse and snuggled under the bed cover. She was rereading it. Just like some people have the habit of reading novels before going to bed, Katya was relying on Mila’s words to lull her to sleep. Back in her house, she’d wait for her husband to fall asleep before reading the diary. 

Would you like to know the precise date of your death? Katya ran her thumb across the words and reflected on the question. Would I? She wondered. She understood why Mila was suddenly obsessed with death months before she died. 

………..


Katya corralled her wet hair into a bun. The aroma of sambar pervaded the living room as she crossed the room and entered the kitchen. She watched her father stir what looked and smelled like sambar, oblivious to her presence. Her mouth began to water and she was ready to attack the food. But she remained quiet and enjoyed watching her father cook. When her mother was alive, her father wouldn’t even enter the kitchen, let alone cook. The kitchen was regarded as her mother’s territory and she never complained. Her mother would spend a large amount of her time, every day, standing in the kitchen, preparing their three full meals a day and evening snacks. Katya was glad that Shravan shared housework with her. 

Katya’s father turned off the heat and turned, “Oh, you are here! When did you come? Can you please taste the sambar and tell me if something’s missing?”

Katya lifted a spoon and scooped the hot sambar into it. She blew air on it and slurped. 

“I’m not sure. Maybe a bit of salt is missing. You taste it and decide, or let’s wait for Jal to come, since he’s an expert at cooking, he’ll know. When did you learn to cook sambar?” 

Katya’s father lifted a casserole and looked at her expectantly. The idlis rose slightly as the pressure from the lid was lifted. “Wow! You prepared idlis as well. When did you prepare all this?” Katya was surprised. She knew that during the final months of her mother's life, her father suddenly took an interest in cooking. He’d watch her carefully and, after her death, begin to cook for the first time. His cooking never conjured the exact taste of his wife’s cooking. He’d then call Katya and express his disappointment with his food. Unlike her brother and father, Katya was not a fussy food snob. As long as the food was edible, she’d eat it.

“When your mother was alive but sick,” Katya’s father responded and poured tea in a cup. Katya knew it was for her so she picked it up quickly. 

“Yeah, I know. No, actually, mummy rarely made South Indian food. As much as I remember, she did it only on a few occasions. Whenever Jal wanted to eat all this food, we’d eat out.”

“Are you guys gossiping about me? And why does this kitchen smell so amazing?” Jal walked to the wok containing the sambar and sniffed, “Heaven! Nothing could beat homemade sambar. He tasted a spoonful of sambar, and turned to his father, “Ahhh! Wow! Now I can proudly say that you’re my father,” he said, and laughter bubbled from their throats. 

After breakfast, Katya left her brother and father in the garden as a headache began to coil between her eyes, spreading gradually to her whole forehead. Her father suggested she apply balm. 

“It’s in my bedside drawer,” he told her.

Katya couldn't open the drawer with one pull and had to pull hard the second time. The drawer was tightly packed with rolled up bills and receipts, empty medicine bottles, a tube of half-broken eye kajal, a broken nail cutter and a half-used bindi pack. Katya was mildly annoyed to see them. They should have been thrown away, instead of sitting in the drawer. It was her mother’s infuriating habit of saving everything that was rightfully meant for the dustbin. She didn’t think of her father as a sentimental person, but circumstances, age and losing a partner could change a person. It took her some time to find the balm. Despite the nibbling temptation to throw the waste, Katya shut the drawer and left it the way it was. She went to her room, applied the balm and embraced the bed.


………..


Someone tapped on the door. No, something tapped on her head. Katya opened her eyes and peered at the smiling face of her brother.

“Feeling good?” He asked, sitting on the bed. 

Katya hauled herself into a sitting position. Only the residual of the nasty headache lingered. 

“Yes. God! How long have I been sleeping?” One look at her window told her it was past sunset. 

“It’s fine. Sleep is good. Don’t berate yourself for sleeping more if it is doing you good. Dad wants to have early dinner tonight and so he’s in the kitchen preparing our dinner.”

“He really took to cooking, didn’t he?” 

“Yeah, he did. I mean it doesn’t look as if he’s doing it just for the sake of it. He seems quite interested.” Jal looked out of the window, “Looking at him, engrossed in whatever task he is doing, I sometimes wonder if he is trying too hard. You know, to distract him.” 

Katya wondered how Shravan managed to keep on going after Mila’s death. They were childhood sweethearts, and whatever she ascertained from Mila’s diary and Shravan’s account of her, and their relationship, she could only imagine his devastation after her passing.

………..


“Wow, dad, this Rajma rice is really good,” Katya said and watched her father beam.

Her father nudged the bowl of salad towards her, “Take some more salad.”

“Yeah, I will.”

“Why is nobody offering anything to me?” Jal asked.

“No one cares about you,” Katya retorted. 

Though Katya and Jal seemed to be enjoying their meal, internally they were wishing their father wouldn’t muddy the moment by going into the territory of their marital, or nonmarital relationship. They knew that, as a parent, he’d want to be privy to their relationship matters and was disappointed for not letting him in on it. Spending time with one’s family is not always an unalloyed pleasure. 

Katya watched her father eat. He chewed his food fervently with his eyes trained on his plate. He glanced at them and back at his plate. Katya smiled and steeled herself. She knew her father could no longer contain himself. 

He cleared his throat, gratuitously, “I, um, Jal, what’s your, um, girlfriend’s name?”

Jal didn’t look up from his plate, “You know her name.”

Katya’s father looked at her innocently, “No, no, I forgot. I just wanted to know if—

“No, we are not getting married. Not now or ever,” Jal said with finality.

“I don’t understand,” Katya’s father mumbled to his plate. He then looked at her, “Katya?”

“Mm?”

“Do you plan to…? I mean…. Does Shravan want kids?” 

“I don’t think so, Papa.” Katya wanted to finish her food as quickly as possible. 

Maybe her father noticed it, so he said, “What is the rush? Eat slowly.” 

“Would any of you like to know the precise date of your death?” Katya blurted. She bit on a slice of cucumber and looked up to see the shocked faces of her father and brother. She realized her morbid question took them by surprise and they had stopped eating.

“What?” Jal asked. 

Katya smiled sheepishly, “Just wanted to know.”

“Well…… I think every human does ponder over death once in a while, but I’m not sure if I ever want to know when and how I die,” Jal said. 

Katya’s father was quiet. She didn’t ask him. He looked as if he was contemplating her question. 

“Well, I haven’t. Never. Wouldn’t that be scary? Maybe those who are constantly fighting with death might want to know the date of their death, knowing that they’d lose the battle soon.”

Mila. 

Silence settled around them. None said anything for a minute. Katya glanced at her brother’s plate and was surprised that he hadn’t finished his meals like she was about to. He wasn’t trying to escape their father’s questions like she was. 

“I know one thing for sure; I want both of you settled and happy in your life before I leave this Earth,” voiced her father. 

Jal responded immediately, “Happy and settled? Don’t we look happy and ‘settled’ to you?” 

Their father didn’t respond. He looked over Katya’s plate, and at her, “You’re done eating?”

Katya smiled and nodded. She stood up and asked, “What would you do if you know you’re about to die?” 

“What is this sudden fascination with death?” Jal asked, with a scowl. 

“Just laugh in the face of death when you see death approaching,” said their father, drawing a laugh from Katya. 

………...


The only sound she could hear in her room that night was that of the air conditioner bombinating. 

She stared at the ceiling in the dark, wondering if Mila laughed in the face of death or not. She also wondered if Shravan could ever love her the way he loved Mila. But the truth was, she couldn’t care less, and she wondered why. 

She jabbed at the light switch and pulled Mila’s diary from under her pillow. 

She reread the last pages in the diary, where Mila scribbled about her thoughts on death.

Some might find Emily Dickinson’s preoccupation with death morbid, but not me. I wish I knew precisely why she chose death as one of the main themes in her poems and letters. Though I kinda understand her. One cannot escape the enigma of death. When you see your loved ones taken away to faraway land in a chariot of death, you no longer fear death. You become fascinated by it. She accepted death for what it is. Everything has its end. 

Katya closed the diary, placed it under her pillow, and then closed her eyes.

……….



———————————————————————————––—


Rinu Antony is a graduate of Nagpur University, where she earned her Masters in English Literature. She works as a freelance writer now. Her stories have featured in Borderless Journal, Universal Journal, Kitaab Magazine, Setu Journal, The Bombay Review, Indian Periodical, Muse Journal and Indus Woman Writing. 








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Pawners Paper: The Diary | Rinu Antony | Short Story
The Diary | Rinu Antony | Short Story
Rinu Antony is a graduate of Nagpur University, where she earned her Masters in English Literature. She works as a freelance writer now.
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