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Aditi Kay

Walking and Running

Le Dactylo by Andre Mare

I used to be a long-distance runner as a schoolkid. Later, when I entered puberty, my parents barred me from such sports. They did not want me traveling to other towns to represent my school. But I have always been running inside my head. Running with my characters, whose lives unfolding on paper, and then my laptop screen, took twists and turns at quite unbelievable speed. My colleagues at the magazine where I once worked gushed at my speed. Besides helping edit the articles we received, I wrote a weekly column, and occasionally, some stories. I also began work on a novel. Of course, none of this was really any good, but what I was running against was time, and fear. The fear one day that I would be stopped from writing.

My father-in-law visited us often, taking the train from his hometown in east India to Bombay where we lived then. He walked with measured gait, his hands clasped behind his back, his bowed head always studying the ground or floor. He walked outside, for an exact hour or so, every morning and evening, and he walked inside the house too, whenever he felt like it.

He walked from his room in the middle of the house to the balcony, the living and dining spaces and then the room where I worked. I never called it a study because that meant I was claiming the room for myself. He would walk up to watch me typing, watch the words appear on my screen, and after a while, as I typed, wanting desperately for him to move on, he’d bend close, and I braced myself for his questions.

Can you type faster than this?

What are you writing about?

Who is it for?

Will you be paid for it?

He never wanted a detailed response. He invariably nodded to everything I said and returned to his perambulations. Out of the room, into another, then the hallway, back down it, circumnavigating the dining space again, stepping into the kitchen, and out of it, before sitting down in front of the television.

When he resumed his walks some minutes later, his questions to me this time were related to household chores, the things that remained to be done.

Has the maid come? Has the delivery man from the grocer sent the stuff he wanted? If there was something in the house that needed repairing, he would ask if the electrician/plumber/mechanic had come? Was he on time? When would the washing machine run again? Had his clothes been ironed?

Depending on the situation and my knowledge, I would nod, shake my head, prevaricate. If the maid was late, and I’d no idea when she would turn up, he would frown, scratch his chin, turn away, and resume walking. I could feel disapproval in every step he took. The cloud of criticism that hovered over me descended, making me rise from my chair. I followed him out, to make the necessary calls, text those who hadn’t turned up, or to check if they were on their way.

My father-in-law stayed for months at a stretch, and I learnt to adjust my schedule around him. He wanted tea and his meals at a certain time, his clothes to be cleaned just so, and he wanted the house to run efficiently, and be spick and span at all times. I was always found lacking, for most times he found me at my table, my eyes on my computer.

The maids must be watched carefully, he told me during one of his peregrinations. They are all thieves and shirkers. Look at the dust, he ran his finger over the topmost shelf and showed me the gray on his fingers.

I nodded, not looking away from the screen. He did complain to my husband of the disrespect I showed him then.

A month or so later he said the words that sent a nameless dread of fear deep into my heart. A dread that hasn’t lifted. Does it really matter what you write? He asked, looking at me, and not my screen. What does it matter, a book less, an article not written?

I wanted to get up and run then, run away from the sneer in his voice, the discouragement on his face. Since then I feel I’ve always been running. Running fast, away from hands reaching to stop me, and the reproving voices never far away.

About the writer:
Aditi Kay studied at Vermont College of Fine Arts for an MFA in Writing. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Missouri Review, The Common, On The Seawall, Catamaran Literary Reader, The Maine Review, Litro Magazine, South Dakota Review, Blood Orange Review, and elsewhere. She writes regularly for a Bombay-based digital magazine called Scroll.in. A collection of short stories A Sense of Time and Other Stories was published by Weavers’ Press in San Francisco. Her new novel, The Kidnapping of Mark Twain : A Bombay Mystery (Speaking Tiger Books, India) is available now. Aditi Kay lives in New Jersey with her family.

Image: Le Dactylo by Andre Mare (1885-1932). No medium specified. No size specified. 1922. Public domain.

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