Readers Write In #273: An Afternoon in the Woods

Posted on September 25, 2020

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(by CV Nitin)

‘Gautam.’

‘Hmm.’

‘Gautam!’

‘Yeah, what.’

‘What are you thinking?’ asks Mira.

‘You don’t want to know. It is stupid,’ Gautam replies.

‘Just tell me. I’ll decide if it is stupid or not,’ Mira says.

Gautam is lying down on a pale blue blanket with his right arm over his eyes. There’s a picnic basket next to him. The chicken sandwiches are gone but the fruits remain untouched. Mira is sitting up against a thick Gulmohar tree with a dog-eared copy of Murakami’s Norwegian Wood in her left hand and a glass of wine in her right. Warm afternoon sunlight dances through the thick canopy of trees, making beautiful patterns all over them.

‘I was thinking about Cadbury chocolates.’

‘What about them?’

‘They have funny names,’ Gautam says, looking up at her. ‘Take 5 Star for instance. It is grammatically wrong. Shouldn’t it be 5 Stars?’

Mira sips from her glass. ‘They probably mean it as a rating,’ she says. Gautam squints up at her, his brow almost forming the shape of a question mark.

‘You know, movie ratings. Like, The Godfather is a five-star movie or The Hangover is a threestar movie.’ Mira says. ‘Here they are saying 5 Star is a five-star chocolate bar.’

‘You would give three stars to The Hangover?’ Gautam asks, a smile playing on his lips.

‘C’mon. The first one was funny,’ Mira says, ‘Anyways, that’s not the point. Don’t you think it is a bit presumptuous of Cadbury to give itself a five-star rating.’

‘It is as if they are saying: fuck you chocolate critics and fuck you audience. We don’t care if you like it or not, this is a five-star chocolate bar,’ Gautam says.

‘Exactly,’ Mira says. ‘Never liked 5 Star anyway. I always preferred Dairy Milk.’

‘See, that’s another one,’ Gautam says, sitting up. ‘Dairy Milk. Now, how is that the name of a chocolate bar! I mean, as a society, we are all used to it by now but it is like saying: cars are made of iron, so let’s name one as Iron Ore.

‘Just imagine the meeting when they were finalizing the chocolate name. The execs must have been saying: let’s name it ‘Chocobar’ or ‘Ecstasy’ or some shit like that when all of a sudden, one guy stands up and says: Umm… how about Dairy Milk.’

Gautam pauses for breath.

Mira looks at him. ‘Looks like you have put a lot of thought into this,’ she says.

Gautam shrugs. ‘Told you it was stupid.’

Mira wiggles her toes. ‘My legs have gone numb,’ she says. ‘I’ve been sitting in this position for so long that I can’t feel them anymore.’

‘Can you feel them now,’ Gautam asks, tickling her.

‘Stop it. Stop it,’ Mira laughs. She throws her book at him. ‘Owww! You hit me in the eye!!’

‘Oh my god, does it hurt?’ Mira comes close to him and tries to pull his hands away from his face. ‘Let me take a look.’

In a flash, Gautam pounces on her. He pins her down and starts tickling her.

‘Gautam stop it. STOP IT. I am serious,’ she starts to tell him, but she ends up laughing. She realizes that the only way to stop Gautam is to give him a taste of his own medicine. Soon, the tickling contest isn’t a tickling contest anymore. It evolves into full-blown sex.

Fifteen minutes later, everything is a mess. Food is strewn all around and wine is spilled on the blue blanket. Part of it has now turned into a deep shade of red. Gautam and Mira are on their backs, sweaty, dirty, and happy.

‘That was unexpected.’ Gautam says, breathing hard.

‘What’s unexpected about sex in the middle of a forest on a summer afternoon? Everyone’s been doing it since Adam and Eve.’ Mira says.

Gautam smiles. ‘Well, I hope there is no evil serpent lurking around here,’ he says.

Mira laughs and looks at her watch. It is five-thirty in the evening. ‘We should get going,’ she says.

They get dressed, clean up the mess, and put everything back into the picnic basket. ‘Do you have all your stuff. Phone, purse, everything?’ Gautam asks Mira.

‘Yeah, all here.’ Mira says.

‘Alrighty then. Let’s go.’ Gautam says, lighting up a cigarette.

They walk in comfortable silence, holding hands.

‘Race you to the car.’ Mira says suddenly and dashes off.

‘Wait, that’s cheating.’ Gautam shouts but Mira is gone. He drops his half-smoked cigarette and starts running.

***

Mira walks out of the bedroom, rubbing her eyes. She is wearing a long white t-shirt and nothing else. She opens the main door and finds two bottles of milk and a newspaper on the doorstep. They have been sitting there in the sun for the past four hours. She picks them up and goes into the kitchen. She opens a bottle and takes a whiff. It smells fine; or at least, it doesn’t smell bad. She switches on the coffee machine.

‘Morning, baby.’ Gautam says, walking in.

‘It is one-thirty,’ Mira says.

‘Mmmm. No better time for coffee and breakfast,’ Gautam says. He sits at the dining table.

‘I’m only making coffee. Don’t dream of breakfast,’ Mira says.

‘Okay, mom,’ Gautam says, sticking his tongue out. He opens up the newspaper and immediately his face goes white.

‘Oh my God!’ he says softly.

‘What happened?’ Mira asks, coming to him.

‘There was a fire in Vidarbha forest yesterday.’ Gautam tells Mira, showing her the paper.

The headlines read: Vidarbha Forest Burning and below that in smaller letters: Biggest Forest Fire in Indian History.

Mira quickly scans the rest of the article. Apparently, thirty fire engines and five helicopters were still on site trying to put out the fire. Forest officials believe that the fire began in the evening but they are still unsure how it started.

‘This is fucking crazy.’ Gautam says.

‘I know. And we were right there. Just imagine what would have happened if we stayed in the forest for just one hour more.’ Mira says.

Both of them silently sip coffee for a couple of minutes.

‘We were incredibly lucky yesterday.’ Mira says finally.

‘Or…’ Gautam says. Mira looks at him. ‘It was the hand of God.’

Mira sighs.

‘What?’ Gautam asks.

‘You know how I feel about God and organized religion,’ she says.

‘Yeah, but surely even you have to agree that there was a higher power in all of this.’

Mira doesn’t feel like arguing. ‘Alright, maybe there was a higher power but let’s not go there now.’

She looks at the clock. ‘How about some breakfast,’ she says.

‘Let’s go to Dosa Story.’ Gautam says. ‘Give me five minutes,’ Mira says and goes into the bedroom. Gautam lights up a cigarette and smokes by the window.

‘I’m ready,’ Mira says.

‘Alrighty, let’s go,’ says Gautam.

He takes one last drag from his cigarette and looks around for an ashtray. There is one on the bed. He puts the cigarette in it and grabs his wallet and car keys.

A light gust of wind blows in from the open window. It flips the cigarette out of the ashtray and onto the cotton mattress. It is smoldering red on one end.

‘Ladies first,’ Gautam says, opening the front door. Mira playfully punches him on his arm on her way out.

And just as the front door closes shut, the soft white bedsheets begin to catch fire.