by Nachi Keta
a cup of chicken soup
Clunk clunk. Arya was pounding her green plate. The green of a calm sea of a foreign land. With a stainless steel spoon. Clunk clunk. Steel on ceramic.
She was six. Her legs were oscillating to and fro. Mother was making chicken soup. It was going to be great. Her parents were the greatest, the best, the best. And she loved them so much-- the gap between her outstretched hands tending to infinity.
She loved them even more than Poncho, her BFF, best friend forever.
Poncho had red eyes and white fur. His ears stood up at every little disturbance. And Arya couldn't restrain from laughing and clapping ... when Poncho nibbled on a carrot, his snout guttering into it. “Look, daddy, Poncho is eating! Look how his nose moves," she would shriek with glee.
The whole house would ring with her laughter then. For which her father worked day and night, in a software firm, which was famous for its annual number of suicides.
Mother put the chicken soup on the table.
It was grey-white, and creamy and hot, with green basil leaves floating on its surface, like boats on a calm sea. It was her favorite. She could eat chicken soup every day. Ah! That thick syrupy texture between the tongue and upper palate. And those rubbery bits of chicken. She would chew them slowly. She would savor the warmth of the fluid as well as the melting squishiness of the chicken bits.
Poncho didn't like it though. Arya had tried once. He had vomited it all out. He was in his hovel right now, placed in the balcony, made of cardboard boxes, grass, and scraps of newspapers. He was either sleeping or staring into nothingness.
Arya jumps from her chair. Suddenly. And dashes to the balcony. She runs and runs... through the rooms of the apartment, like a rabbit running a race, and reaches the balcony.
Poncho is awake and brooding. It is staring at a distant something. Cogitating over the mysteries of the universe perhaps. Arya sits by him.
“Poncho poochy, wanna eat something? Tell me Poncho, tell me, mama get you a carrot? Yes, mama get you a carrot?”
She caresses him. His ears flutter in response. She stands up and runs to the refrigerator.
After making sure that Poncho was well fed, Arya came back to the dining table. Her father was back from the office, his laptop bag splayed on the sofa like a tired rabid dog.
But why was he sitting on her chair? And sipping the soup meant for her? Slurping it, enjoying every little sip, as he had taught her. "Mummy will get you more. It was getting cold," he explained, looking up from the bowl. His lips taking the form of a mischievous grin.
Arya got angry. Her soup had been stolen from her. She stomped her little feet on the ground. Her little arms flailed up and down. Her eyes tried to enamor her with an apoplectic stance. She tried her best, but couldn’t produce the effect she wanted. She was looking even prettier than usual. And her father’s smile had turned even more mischievous.
It was a Friday evening. Aryan, her father, had planned to enjoy the next two days with his family. "Arya beta, do you remember who Velveteen Rabbit is?" he asked.
Arya didn't reply. She kept on staring at him with anger. She was reluctant to bend as low as a common pup.
"Okay then… we will take mummy with us," her father grinned over her soup.
"Where?" she blurted out. And immediately cursed herself, in the foulest language she knew: "Idiot Arya".
"To a musical of Velveteen Rabbit. Arya loves the rabbit right?" The grin of her father’s face was broader than ever.
And quite ridiculous.
"What musical?" she snapped. It was the only way she could salvage her pride.
"The musical of Velveteen rabbit. Didn’t we read Velveteen Rabbit?" her father said, now warming up to his usual tone.
"Yes, we did. When are we going?"
And thus, it all disappeared. Just like that. The feeling of utter hatred she had tried to garner in her heart. Her anger disappeared like the bits of a well-made chicken soup melts in one's mouth. And the next moment, father and daughter were sitting together.
Father was typing on his phone. And the daughter had a ceramic bowl in front of her, which she was ladling into her tiny mouth. Creamy delicious soup.
"I'll never let you burn my Poncho even when he gets old," she said. It was a reference to the fate of the rabbit in the famous story of the velveteen rabbit.
"Yes, we’ll take care of it for years. But when it grows up, and the nursery fairy comes for it, what’ll Arya do?" her father asked.
"I will ask the fairy to take me with her," she replied, with determination.
"Ah my own little fairy, Arya is. Anyway, do we know what a musical is?"
"Yes, but besides songs?"
"Hmm… we'll soon find out. Are you excited about the musical, Arya?" Aryan said, with expectation.
"Yes!" she shrieked. And started laughing. Which brought spring in their two-room apartment. Working for the poisonous software firm was worth it then.
Arya had many toys of all kinds. Fluffy, cushiony, manual, electric, plastic, you name it. There was this bear whom she called Teddy, a very simple yet profound name. A cat with an elongated tail that she called Tabby. An electric toy locomotive that hadn't been baptized yet. And of course, there was Velveteen. A toy rabbit with beautiful white fur and strong white arms. She had named it after the rabbit from her favorite book- The Velveteen Rabbit.
Any day Velveteen was going to receive the gift of life from the fairy. And then it would need the help of an experienced rabbit to adjust to the real moving world. So, every once in a while, she would take Velveteen to Poncho’s cage, and let them have a private tete-a-tete. In her opinion, it was important for the rabbits of her clan to develop a bond.
Presently, Velveteen was ensconced in her lap. And she was in a car, which was trying to find its way through Saturday evening traffic in Delhi.
She was going through a labyrinth of emotions. Sometimes she would cuddle with Velveteen. And sometimes she would put her face to the window. And look out at the outside world. At the passing vehicles, the shops, and the streetlights blinking overhead. Also, on the backseat, by her side, there was a hardcover of The Velveteen Rabbit. Neatly illustrated.
"What is a musical, Daddy?" came out of her.
Aryan was behind the wheels. He was in a white polo and grey slacks. He was thinking about how he was going to have a much yearned for husband-wife time with his wife. After a tiring musical of the velveteen rabbit followed by a heavy dinner at KFC, Arya would sleep early. Then they will have the much needed privacy.
Sameena, his wife, was on the passenger seat, tapping through her phone. She was in leaf-green Punjabi Suit-Salwar. It was a new family, a happy family of three. Though for a long time, she had been toying with the idea of having another kid, hopefully, a boy this time. She had left a burgeoning copywriting career to raise Arya and hadn't regretted it a bit.
"We’ll see it when we get there. Doesn’t Arya like getting surprised?" Aryan said as he maneuvered the vehicle through the busy streets of Delhi.
They were already late for the show. The city's arteries were blocked by the smoke-puffing dragons going haywire. Every road was jam packed and he could do nothing but be patient. So a turn here and a turn there, he continued pressing his feet on the pedals ... And rotating the circular hoop in front of him, clockwise and anti-clockwise.
Arya hadn’t told anyone, but when she grew up, she was going to be a collector of rabbits. Lots and lots of them. And she wanted to keep them in various cages, blue, white, green, yellow, of all the colors.
"And then I would comb them. And I would put little ribbons on their tails," she would discuss with herself. "And how beautiful they would look! With colorful ribbons on their tails. I would also give them to my friends to play. I am sure they'd love it."
She was looking outside now, through the window. It was a hot evening. Although she wasn’t aware of the same. Her side of the glass-wall was being showered with cool air from a very powerful AC. There was also an air-freshener stuck on the dashboard. Which you only had to rotate and it released a hundred mind-numbing smells.
"How long, daddy?" she asked, as she looked into the street.
The car hadn’t moved for a long time. There was a green bus in front of it. CNG. There was a shop on its right. A kind of motor repair garage. An unpleasant looking man was sitting in its lawn. He was working on a scooter, which was all unassembled, its engines and plates lying about him in a skewed circle.
The man's shoulders were smeared with oily grime. His undershirt was designed with patches of black. Everything around him was black. Illuminated by an orange electric bulb hung on a solitary pole in front of the shop.
"A few more minutes, Arya," her father said, when he saw her in the mirror. Her pensive face staring into the window. And he muttered aloud, "Why doesn’t the bloody bus move? Dammit!"
He believed that a father should never show any kind of negative emotion in front of his children. But he was unable to prevent the tone of angst in his voice. He was a citizen of Delhi. He knew how Delhi had a habit of getting blocked at times. But still, when has ever a man gotten used to despair?
"Look at the bus Arya. It is blocking daddy’s car. So we can’t move. A few more minutes, and we’ll be at the musical of Velveteen Rabbit. Have you got your book with you?"
Arya turned her face towards him, and said, "Yes, papa." And started looking out again.
The car didn’t move for a long time. The evening turned into night. And Arya descended into the world of dreams ...
A rabbit made of white velvet. His round eyes, big and glittery, made of buttons. His large belly. His ears flapped up. He was lying on a bed, and Arya was talking to it, and her lips moved in real life. "And you know. One day a nursery fairy will come, and she will give you life. I wish I could be your nursery fairy. But wait, I'm already your nursery fairy. But where is my wand? Where is my wand? Yes, here it is." And she removes a wand from the pocket of her frock and whooshes it. "And now you'll be alive. Now you'll be able to move and breathe and we'll talk for hours, and I'll make you eat chicken soup. Poncho doesn't like chicken soup. But I'm sure you will." Arya swishes her wand.
But before she could see the result of her wand swishing in her dream, the jerk of the moving car woke her up.
The said musical was directed by the very famous Shakeel Mustafa. He was himself an actor in it, the main voice of Velveteen.
Presently, he was singing the thoughts of the rabbit in his melodious high-pitched voice ... As it laid in a clump of bushes after being made aware of his immobility by two springing rabbits.
The part when Velveteen meets the rabbits was his favorite. And so was the case with Arya. Who always looked for the hind legs of Poncho whenever she came to it, when reading the tale with Father.
But she wasn’t present in the musical. She had seen something.
After the car moved a few meters, waking her up from her dream, it got stuck again. And she started looking out. At a different shop this time.
It was a dirty place. Even inside the perfumed vehicle, its inhabitants could sense it. The smell of rottenness, death, and ugliness. Arya thought of toilets and sewage.
A man was sitting on the landing in front of it. There were grimy tools and metal sheaths around him. He might not have been older than her father, but he was definitely heftier. He was wearing a blue patterned lungi and nothing else. The hair on his chest stroke golden under the effect of the orange bulb hanging by a pole.
The entire street was stuffed with a sad tepid glow of orange bulbs. Arya felt that time had stopped, sort of. She continued looking at the man.
A boy, almost a man himself, tall and thin, came to him with a bird. It was a chicken. Arya knew it from pictures.
"So, now, they will kill the chicken, and mash it to food," Arya thought. She knew the drill. She had seen her mother working with lumps of chicken in the kitchen. She understood the workings of Nature. She was a big girl.
The man took the chicken in his left hand. It was alive, it was fluttering; its wings were flapping and dancing. Arya also noticed a heap of trash nearby, with many leaf-like wings and other kinds of dirt.
And there were other chickens too. Inside a mesh cage. Romping around. Trying to jump over containers, over little lumps of feathers around them. Enjoying themselves in their little homes, like the one in which Poncho lived.
Arya always wanted to know how the lumps of chicken neatly packed in plastics came to be about. She was going to find out now. She was a curious kid. "And now they will give the chicken an injection. And perhaps the chicken is old and wants to die," she told herself.
Arya was a big girl. She knew there was something like Death in the world. She had understood by now that some animals have to die for others to live. The man was also an animal. "But if they don’t feel pain, why is the chicken being skittish? Aren’t chickens born to be our food?" She was confused.
The man said something to the boy and the boy went in again. Arya continued thinking...
"Maybe, the chicken is ill. That’s why it is making so much ruckus. Why, my friend chicken? It is your good fortune that you're going to be food for people. You are born to be a food item for humans. Why’re you making such an effort to escape from the hands of your emancipator? For the poor man's sake, look... he is so poor. He has to sell you to us, no: rather your dead body. And what is the value of your life anyway?"
The car jerked, moved a few inches, and then stopped.
"Now the chef will give an injection to the chicken. Ouch. But no, the chicken does not feel pain. I guess... it is alright. The boy will now bring the syringe. I hope it’s not a big one, like the one they use to treat rabies."
The boy came back. There was a big tumbler in his hands, with a wide funnel-like mouth. He kept it before the man. Sameena and Aryan were discussing a common friend, who had decided to get married a few days ago. If they knew what Arya was doing, they might have stopped her. Her face was stuck on the window glass.
Now the man suspended the chicken with one hand over the container. He was holding it with its legs, and with the knife, he gave its neck a slash. A tiny slash. And blood started bubbling out, in volumes. Like water from the hosepipe comes out when Arya is given a bath?
"What? What is he doing? Blood? It is alive! Why doesn’t the man stop the blood?"
This time she had said it aloud. She had shrieked. To the whole car. To Delhi. To her parents. To Sameena, her mother. Who promptly turned back and closed her eyes with her palms. But Arya continued shrieking, "I want to see. Let me see! Why blood? Do chickens have blood in them?"
Time had begun to move again. And she was shouting into the palms of her mother. "I'm never going to eat chicken, ever, and neither am I going to this musical. I hate chicken soup!”
About the author
A dropout of various institutes, Nachi Keta is a Kidney Transplant Recipient. He lives with his parents, plays online Ludo,reads Existentialists, and tries to write.As of now he has published three full-length works and a few stories and poems. A list of his works can be found at [www.nachi-keta.com]