The Big Issue : Edition 568
THE BIG ISSUE 2018 55 FICTION EDITION The vocalist tapped her microphone. “Raag Shivaranjani,” she announced. A murmur of appreciation rose from the audience. “Ah, a special treat,” Auntie Parvati said. “A raag of longing. A night raag.” For the next hour, the music evoked infinite yearning and sadness. The rising pentatonic scale ached each time the leading note approached its tonic, teasing out the resolution. Descending, it flew liked a wounded bird, unable to soar. The audience showed its appreciation with waahs of pleasure, punctuating the end of a melodic or rhythmic improvisation with appreciative applause. A collective outtake of breath followed each section. An unspoken dialogue between performers and audience bewitched the room. Mr Sharma sat to one side near the food table, on a little cushioned dais of his own, a dish of sweets in front of him. Gauri sat by his side, hand resting on his. Slowness and heaviness gone, Sharmaji’s eyes darted from musician to musician, head bobbing from side to side. His face lit up as his hands described graceful arcs in the air, tracing the melodic lines, the jewelled rings catching glints of light, leading the audience with particularly enthusiastic vocalisations and rhythmic thigh slapping. Behind him I saw the kitchen door open and Raj step out, carrying a fresh tray of laddus to replenish the depleted pile. “I have to go to the toilet Auntie,” I said. “Too much chai.” I crossed the room quickly, avoiding Gauri’s eyes as I passed their platform. I reached the sweets table seconds after Raj. “Why aren’t you returning my texts?” I asked. “Sanju, not here, not now,” he said. He held the tray in one hand, the other selecting individual yellow balls, placing them gently on the table to rebuild the pyramid display. “You were going to tell me why. I need to know.” “Afterwards, okay?” he said without looking up. “Yes sure, I bet you’re going to run off to fuck someone else.” As the raag approached its climax, the vocalist performing near impossible arabesques, competing with the tablas’ ferocious rhythmic talas, Sharmaji swept up a laddu from his dish. As it touched his lips, his hand froze. The sweet rolled off the fingers and the golden ball floated, twirling momentarily mid-air. The laddu hit the floor and smashed apart. As applause burst out, Sharmaji teetered towards Gauri, toppling onto her. “You really want to know?” Raj said. “I’m not looking for a clingy princess.” “Fuck you,” I said, shoving him as he placed a final ball on the apex. Gauri screamed. Later she’d tell me that an oncologist, a cardiologist, two neurosurgeons, one obstetrician, three radiologists, two anaesthetists and five GPs leapt to their feet. The cardiologist looked into Sharmaji’s face. “He’s having a stroke,” he yelled. “Call an ambulance.” Raj lost his balance, falling onto the trestle table. Its legs gave way and the newly built pyramid of laddus tumbled. We crashed onto the floor in front of Sharmaji in a mess of rose- scented sugary pulp. Fifteen medical heads turned to stare at us. The chefs not having skimped tonight, gold leaf fluttered into the air in a cloud around their faces. It was close to two in the morning before the restaurant cleared. I sat drinking lukewarm chai with Gauri. “Told you trouble followed you,” she said. “Just not the kind I expected.” “The concert was amazing,” I said. “Sorry about...the incident.” “Listen, if you write one bad word about Sharmaji or this place, I will hound you like Kali Maa. Understand?” I nodded. “Raj?” I asked. “I sent him home.” Auntie Parvati hobbled over from the ladies room with her walking stick. “Sharmaji thik hai?” she asked Gauri. “I don’t know yet Auntie, but thank you for asking.” She pressed a box of rose laddus into Auntie Parvati’s hand. “You’re not at the hospital?” “Wife’s place is there,” Gauri replied. “Mine is here.” “Time to go. Take me home beta,” Auntie said, turning to me. Before I could take her hand, Gauri leapt up and embraced her, burying her face into her neck. “Auntieji, I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. If he dies...” “Chee pagali,” Auntie said, pushing Gauri away in disgust. “Don’t touch me.” Clutching the sweets in front of Sharmaville, we waited for the crossing lights to change. My phone vibrated. I’m out the back alley. Come. “Auntie, just cross over when the lights change,” I said, dropping her arm. “I’ll be a few minutes. Meet you on the other side. Just wait over there.” “Beta, beta?” she called behind me. “Don’t leave me. I can’t cross on my own. It’s too dark. I don’t like it. I’ll fall over.” “Just wait over there Auntie,” I said over my shoulder. “I can’t see anything, is the light green?” I heard her walking stick tap on the asphalt behind me as I tore open the little bag of mukhwas in my pocket and swallowed its contents. Chewing on the candied fennel seeds I felt my mouth freshen as I hurried towards the alleyway behind Sharmaville. Atul Joshi is in the Master of Arts in Creative Writing program at UTS. He’s had short fiction published in Seizure Online Australia and Ricepaper Magazine Canada. Born in Myanmar of Indian parents, Atul migrated to Australia in 1971. A former classical musician, writing has become his re-connection with his creative roots.