Shades of Sunshine
The vehicles pass by on the main road. It’s 7 o’clock in the evening and the road is buzzing with heavy traffic. The moss collects at the washing area of the balcony around the porous drainage cup, close to the tap. The dark, murky green substance looks geared to harden up into a stubborn strain on the metallic cup contrasting the high momentum on the road.
Reva stood by the grills of the balcony watching the traffic pass, her back lurching on the wall behind her. Her tresses flew with the wild evening wind working them up into a knotty mess. Her body felt rusted and broken.
She turned her torso heavily towards the dining room adjacent to the balcony and her eyes scanned the room to look for her ghungroos, which were lying all dusty under the table, wrapped in a silk zari cloth that was tarnished by now. She wriggled her toes on the floor feeling the smooth, cool mosaic and peered down at her uneven, chipped toenails.
Her calf muscles felt heavy. It has just been two months since she got over drug addiction. The period of sobriety has been full of haunting memories. It had been a long battle, of almost two years. The craving for drugs has ceased but the body and mind were tired with the fight. Drained. Sapped of all energy.
But, it seemed like yesterday since she swirled like a dervish on stage. She could be lifted up by her dancing partner like a feather. That seemed like a distant dream now. She dropped her gaze to look at her own body and ran her palms through the flab on her arms. Just then, the phone rang. She hazily strolled to the bedroom to answer the call with no anticipation. Of late, there was no particular place where she kept her mobile phone - few calls came.
Office colleagues had not called more than twice or thrice ever since she quit her job to get enrolled at the rehabilitation center. With the software industry on a downward swing in the city many of her colleagues, she presumed, have been working really hard to keep their jobs. They must have been busy dealing with workplace politics and slogging to meet deadlines, she thought charitably.
It was the director of Emerald Productions, Arjun Shikoh, on the other end of the call. She had been part of the dance group before the dark tentacles of drug addiction held her in their vicious tangle. An enthused voice spoke from the other end, “We are missing you. It is time you got back to dancing, babe. Start practicing with us again.”
“Arjun, I need to first get back to shape. I need to work on my stamina too. I am not ssure if I am ready yet.”
“You just have to start dancing. That’s all. You have always been ready.”
She said rolling her eyes up, struggling to say these words, “I am not sure if I can dance ever again.”
Arjun spoke up as he didn’t hear her. “You are ready. You may feel breathless during the practice and that’s okay.” He added, “We are meeting at the studio at 4pm tomorrow and we’ll wait for you.”
She mumbled, “I am not sure. I’ll try.”
Arjun said presumptuously, “Welcome back.” It, anyway, sounded more like an order than a greeting.
She helplessly hung up on the call with a deep sigh.
She looked at her image on the mirror in the room. The dark circles around her eyes told a story of heartbreak, fight and fatigue. Her mind went into a rampage with memories flashing in it as if the past was unfolding once again, before her, right there, in the quietitude of the evening. It started with one ecstasy pill a night to as many as thirteen. The images of these episodes came alive in her mind. There were days when she ended up with a bunch of complete strangers after a rave party, at Suyaan’s apartment. In the mornings, she smoked pot incessantly, wishing to shake off the guilt, in the privacy of his flat. She still cringed at the thought of his obsessed, desperate pair of eyes the day he introduced her to the pills.
In six months, she was hooked to the substance. Those days, she had made it a habit to silence her cell phone so very often whenever her step-mother tried to reach out to her. She had almost no memories of her dead, divorced parents. She grew up with her stepmom and step sister since she was 7 years of age.
One day, all hell broke loose when Rani mausi, her stepmom, landed up in the city from Cochin, unannounced, right at her flat’s doorstep. When the door was not answered, she banged the door almost breaking it. Later, neighbours were called in to break open the door.
Mausi found her lying on the bed inebriated. Reva’s head ached trying to recollect the distorted, blurred image of mausi that day as she shoved her limp body into a cab and took her to the rehab center in Banjara Hills. She contemplated suicide many times when she got over the mild hallucinations the pills gave her. But the hallucinations only got wilder as she lost weight rapidly and continued taking increased quantities of the substance.
Today, the only way she shook off these haunting memories was to think of the caress of mausi’s warm, wrinkled hands on her face. She was so hesitant to go back to Cochin leaving her behind, but she finally did so knowing Reva’s grit and will to stay sober.
Reva got up from the bed determinedly and opened the wardrobe, took out the yellow costume she wore for the last performance where she personified a vast desert expanse. She could still feel herself gliding on the stage madly, blissfully, in love with herself, performing that coveted number. The pale yellow pantaloons and white frilly top looked lifeless on her tired, pigmented skin now. She remembered how a daily, the day after the show, commented on how beautifully she carried the costume. That day, she was mobbed backstage and found it tough to even remember the publication each pressperson had come from. A cub reporter looked visibly smitten by her and Reva suspected that, the next day, it was his write-up that she read.
Reva smiled to herself thinking about it. The memories with Emerald calmed her nerves whenever she thought of her scary escapade with recreational drugs. Back then, she didn’t where the addiction would lead her.
Arjun was planning to stage the production when the pills were slowly taking a toll on her. Today, after a few years, his plans were still on hold, Reva was the only dancer he could think of to play the part. Another group member told her so a week ago. But the energetic, zesty Reva was nowhere seen now - the image on the mirror showed a body that was indifferent, withered. Folding the costume and putting it back pensively into the wardrobe, she decided that it is time to bounce back. She picked up the cell phone and pressed the redial key.
The throaty voice on the other end sounded startled but prepared after a few moments. Arjun spoke up, “I know why you called. Yes, we plan to stage Shades of Sunshine. It is just that this poor choreographer couldn’t think of anyone else to play the desert except Reva Shekhar.” He went on, putting on a joking tone, “But please be kind enough to practice with us, budding artistes.”
Reva smiled warily, “I’ll be there tomorrow. It will be my privilege if I can play the part again.”
“Yes, let’s surprise the others. Let’s start rehearsing first thing tomorrow.”
As he pursed his lips wanting to speak another syllable, she absent-mindedly hung up. Then, he blushed to himself sinking into his couch holding an open novel over his face and he passed the day thinking about the next evening.
The next morning, the mobile phone rang. It rang before she could face herself in the mirror that morning. Ever since she had been sober she starts her day, every day, looking at herself in the mirror first thing in the morning and telling herself that she is going to be aware, conscious through the day and enjoy the bright sunshine. Then, she walks down to the gym across the lane for a quick workout.
She groped for the phone on her bed, it was from an unidentified number. As soon as answered, she heard someone grunt in a drunken voice at the other end. After a rustling noise, someone spoke.
“You bitch! You think you can dump me and get away with it. I won’t let you. You don’t yet know how I can mess with your life!”
It was Suyaan. He was drunk and fuming. She was too shocked to respond but mustered enough courage to catch her speeding breath to speak up.
“You are out of my life. I was just an addiction to you. But I have moved on. Don’t call me ever again.”
Suyaan persisted and let out a sarcastic chuckle, “You think you can kick me out! It is not as easy as blocking me out of social media networks.”
Her nostrils flared in anxiety. She found herself dialing Arjun. Then, Arjun and she agreed to catch up over coffee in the afternoon at a café in her colony.
Arjun spoke, running his fingers on the coffee table and broodingly tossing a branch of a potted croton away from his shoulder with his other hand, “Be alert. Let me know if you randomly find a person more than once, once you leave home from now on. Tell me if you find something strange or out of the ordinary at any point.” He sighed, “There is a risk that Suyaan and his friends may stalk you.”
“Reva, when you were in the rehab, frankly, I couldn’t bear being out of touch with you.” He said knowing that this sudden confession of emotional affection surprised her. He continued, “But, perhaps, your life was a lot simpler there with your phone switched off and with the nurse.”
Reva said, shaking off the surprise, a bit frustrated, “I don’t want to look at it that way. I want to deal with everything that life throws at me.” She said meeting his eyes, “Do you know that I sent mausi away only because I wanted to get my mind and body back to normal all by myself? Drugs were a monster, but I don’t want any more dependencies in life.”
Arjun smiled at the strange analogy she drew. He said, “I had a good mind to ask you to stay with me, in my flat. I thought it is safer you don’t stay alone for a while.” She made a fist with her slender fingers on the table. She looked away, through the window.
He said warily, “I know your response….”
“Just take care. Let me know if you need help.” He said, gently grabbing her hand and holding it, “You may have to report to cops in case you face any….real difficulties.” She nodded.
She slowly got up he did from the chair and they went to the cash counter to pay the bill. They were soon on their way to the studio for the rehearsal. As he drove his bike, Arjun saw her image on the side-mirror. She sat with her eyes closed tight as a child would and smiling, feeling the wind hitting her cheeks, her forelocks. He felt a sense of relief to see that she is living life again, feeling its throbbing pulse.
As soon as Arjun opened the door of the studio, she breathed deep and filled her lungs with the musty smell. He laughed seeing her breath deep, “We haven’t danced in a month. Rachana has been having a hectic time at college. Dolly’s extended family is here from Mumbai. John is occupied with work even on the weekends. And what will poor Jugs do coming here with nobody else around?” He said, switching on the lights and taking off his shoes at the shoe-stand, “It’s the first time we are going to practice Shades of Sunshine after the last staging about a year and a half back. So, m’am, if it gives you some relief then know that we are all on the same boat.”
“You can’t be as bad as me. I have hardly danced at all ever since we staged it.”
“I am sure you will be fine once you regain your fiery energy back.”
The rest walked in to look opened-mouthed and surprised at her visit. She could see they controlled their faces and hid their surprise at seeing her go so plump. But, once Reva hit the floor, she was all grace. Her heart was starting to beat, pulsate again to a rhythm.
Then, Arjun offered to drop her back home. The duo went back home once they caught their breath and gulped a whole flask of water after the strenuous practice session. The corner of her heart that went numb for a long time now was starting to throb again. She enjoyed going out of breath after rehearsals, it felt lighter.
After three months, it was such déjà vu for her gliding on the stage for a packed audience. Only this time she felt freer within than she ever felt before. The congratulatory messages came pouring in once she was backstage. After a whole bunch of people left, she sat down to face the mirror in the green room and picked up a ball of fresh cotton from the table to scrub her makeup off her face, with a deep satisfied sigh. Just then, a hand grabbed her arm and she was perturbed, turned around to realize it was Suyaan’s.
He barked, “You think I have forgotten what you did to me! You will pay for ditching me.”
She strained to unlock his grip on her arm. Then, with the other hand, she slapped his face.
She screamed, “You never done any good to me. Stay away!”
Her friends gathered around him and pulled him away from the place as he struggled and tried to kick them to go close to her again. He was kicked out of the gate by the security guards.
And then, she almost dropped on the chair back again, in a haze. She couldn’t believe she mustered the courage to do this. From then on, she never heard from Suyaan or his friends.
Two months later, Arjun shifted to Mumbai to choreograph for Bollywood films. His love and warmth did more to her than she would ever admit aloud, she thought starting off another dance class for a batch of students at her studio.
They never met again – they only spoke on the phone twice. Nobody knows if they will ever meet again as they go on living their individual lives.