Winter

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WinterWhen winter has set in, you put thick curtains on doors and windows. You scour the fireplace and buy firewood. You place online orders for room heaters and thermal mats. You stop by foreigners selling dry fruits which smell of distant lands and strangers’ hands. You make use of every trick to keep winter at bay. But somehow, with all the preparations, you have forgotten to take out the old quilts and coverlets. And now you shuffle nervously upstairs to the store to take them out and give an airing while the sun is still out and warm.

Before winter, it was autumn. You didn’t mind autumn. Migratory birds shrieked overhead in a livid, windy sky. Snow white, fleecy clouds trailed across the ether, canvases-in-motion for the sun to dye and shade and tint in bright colors that the leaves below were tempted to borrow. There was that melancholic, antiquarian sensation in the atmosphere, reminiscent of ancient worlds and ancient people. Like ancient Greece, ancient China. And there were those exotic flowers at your workplace, fall blossoms: crocus, nerine, begonia, gladiolus, sternbergia.

Still, when it comes, you are taken aback. You realize with a jolt that you have long deferred acknowledging winter. But winter knows of a hundred ways to make its presence felt. You feel the cold bleak look in people’ s eyes, and their hunched, shrunken forms on public transports. A child sneezing up into your face in the park. The desperateness of a cold hand brushing against your skin at the queues. You at last submit to it when icy blasts hit you unaware and shivers run deep into your bones, and your heart becomes a chicken leg in the refrigerator.

The first cardboard box you open contains warm clothes: coats, sweaters, slacks. You pull them out unhurriedly and start picking the ones you are going to hand to your favorite beggar at the street corner. A blue-white plaid scarf makes you pause and stirs something in your foggy brain. Someone gifted it to you only last year as a token of love and friendship. Your fingers rub it fondly now, a sour taste of regret in your mouth. You can still remember that fragrant evening when someone pressed it into your hands. You stand a long time contemplating the scarf, a pleasantly sad emotion sneaking up your heart.

And when you move to the second box there is a sad, mournful, lonely tune on your lips. Gusts of a putrid stench from the second box makes you stop your nose with the scarf, and a surging bile rises inside you. On top of the blankets lies a dead rat with thousands of big black ants swarming over it. Its whole skin is peeled off. Its half-eaten flesh is horrible and an ant colony has settled in for the winter. They could not have had it better, with such a warm abode and plenty of food. Opening the box has caused a great disturbance in thousands of lives.

The big black ants panic and scatter and start spilling out of the box. You don’t even condescend to look at them. They are not of any consequence. You seek the rat’s face of which nothing remains except the snout and empty eye sockets. (You always seek their faces, be it dead humans or dead animals). What happened to it, you wonder. A sense of taboo, an inviolable something washes over you. You become cautious and formal. There are those unmistakeable death imprints, you whisper to yourself.


Photo used under CC.



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About Author

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Sobia Ali is from India and has a master's degree in English Literature. Her work has appeared in The Punch Magazine, The Indian Quarterly, ActiveMuse, Literary Yard, and is forthcoming in Ombak Magazine. She is currently working on her first novel.

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