Yashna Shrawani writes about a minor inconvenience
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This story was written by Yashna Shrawani in response to the following prompt:
Random Sentence: Pick up the nearest book of fiction. Go to page 124. Read the fourth complete sentence on that page. Make that the first line of your story.
The book closest to Nisha was Collected Stories by Peter Carey.
by Yashna Shrawani
Jo-Jo hated the blank paper almost as much as he hated the corpse of their landlady, an old woman of seventy or more who refused to decompose in spite of the heat, or because of it.
This was not ideal. Jo-Jo was after all only a boarder and had taken up the first landing room six months ago. The room fit his life of avoidance. A landlady who never climbed the stairs, another renter who was as elusive as himself, no neighbours to greet, no cats to scratch and no dogs to feed. He had met the landlady a total of six times in the past six months – each time on the first of the month when he paid the rent.
Jo-Jo had found the perfect arrangement. The food plates would be placed at the bottom of the stairs, three times a day. His night walks would be after the kitchen lights went out and his supermarket errands were on sleepy Wednesdays. His fellow boarder seemed a kindred spirit who avoided small talk. Jo-Jo only ever heard him when he climbed stairs with heavy feet after midnight and left the hallway smelling of weed and books until dawn. Jo-Jo had nicknamed him Hooves.
In such a peaceful coexistence, a corpse was not ideal. From this angle, Jo-Jo would not even be sure if it was their landlady if not for the yellow polka-dotted apron tied around her neck and clipped at the waist with a binder clip. Jo-Jo had walked down at noon to collect his lunch but the stool at the bottom of the stairs had been empty. He stepped inside with soft knocks and found the landlady face down on the floor. He observed the body for three minutes. From the lack of movement, coupled with the coughs he had overheard last night, Jo-Jo concluded that this was a case of death.
Jo-Jo knew he had to call upon Hooves, find a way to call the landlady’s son living out of town and call the authorities – probably in that order. It had been so long since Jo-Jo handled situations of such gravity that he could not be sure of what his next steps should be. One thing he knew for sure: whatever the next steps, he would rather not take them.
Filling a glass with water, Jo-Jo walked into the living room and sat down on the faded leather couch. To avoid calling upon Hooves, Jo-Jo reasoned he could always wait for him here. Surely Hooves ate meals, and concerned by the lack of food supply, he would come looking, wouldn’t he? Jo-Jo just had to wait and Hooves would know what to do once he came.
Jo-Jo sat for three hours, cradling a glass of water and staring at the door, trying to own the responsibility on his shoulders now – as a short term boarder of the recently deceased lady. His whole life was built around avoiding such scenarios. He spoke to no one, dined with no one, called upon no visitors, and avoided social situations like the plague — and yet, here he was.
Jo-Jo had received breakfast, so the landlady could not have died more than eight hours ago. Temperatures were in the late 40 degrees and the air conditioning was switched off. He hoped the signals of decomposition would propel him into action but the house still smelled of butter, sugar, and disinfectant. Hooves had also not wandered in looking for sustenance yet.
The need for food was rearing its head again, and Jo-Jo hoped that would shake off his immobility. Surely survival would be motivation enough for his neurons to start firing and let him move. Dinnertime came and went. The morning found Jo-Jo shifting in his seat to lie down as he gathered the will to move.
The authorities came on the third day. Hooves had peeped in that morning, caught whiff of the decomposing body, saw Jo-Jo frozen on the couch and assumed him to be dead. He had packed up his bags, weed and books in two jute sacks and walked out. Hooves called the authorities on the way out of town. When the authorities came, they found Jo-Jo on the couch breathing but unmoving. He did not answer questions, did not speak, simply turned to his side and went to sleep. The authorities finally put Jo-Jo on another stretcher, placed him beside the landlady in the ambulance and drove off.
Jo-Jo came around two days later in the daytime. He took a look around the crowded ward. He knew he would have to answer questions, sign forms and engage with the world. The thought was exhausting enough for Jo-Jo to turn around and take another nap. When he woke again later that night, the ward was quiet, his legs felt nimble and his head clear. He slipped out, walked to the house, packed his one sack of belongings and left in search of a landlady who would not die on him.
Yashna Shrawani is a lawyer on even days, dreamer on odd days..
Art by Simahina.
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