Golden Apples

Contributor: Rohini Gupta

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He is late at the supermarket and almost all the fruit is gone. Many trays are empty, leaving only out-of-season mangoes and a few sad pears. At the end are apples: the small, orange ones, and the green, imported ones. In the last tray he finds what he seeks. On the dark red paper are six golden apples, round, shiny and polished, reflecting the ceiling lights.

A big woman is bearing down on them, followed by a small boy. She is heading for the last tray, but he is ahead of her and scoops them quickly up.

“Surely you don’t have to take them all,” she says.

“They are mine,” he snaps at her so fiercely that she steps back. She looks at his face and leaves hurriedly, dragging the child by the arm. Other people turn to look at him, but he ignores them all and makes off down the aisle with his prize. He will not give up his apples for any price – why can’t they just understand that?

There is a line at the counter but they let him go past, stepping nervously out of his way. He lays the six apples on the cashier’s counter and adds a banana. He has no other shopping.

“You must really like apples,” says the cashier who has seen him before, and always seen them in his basket.

“My wife loves them,” he says. Then he avoids any more questions by insisting she pack them carefully, separately, so that their waxed perfection will not be bruised. It’s a slow procedure and the people in the line behind him are shifting their feet and murmuring but they do not protest.

--

He leaves the supermarket carrying his groceries.

He has been doing all the shopping for quite a while, ever since his wife, Sita, became too weak to get out of bed. He always buys her apples. Even when she cannot eat, when only the tubes feed her, even then she craves the golden apples. She grew up among them, in her family orchard high up in Manali, under the Himalayan snows.

“My favourite tree,” she always told him, “Every year it grew the sweetest apples.” Her face is gaunt from her long illness, but her eyes are still bright when she remembers those happy years.

“There is no misery in the orchard,” she says.

The orchard is long gone. Her father gambled and drank it all away. After he died her mother was forced to sell more and more of the land, but she kept the apple trees. Every year she put the first fruit in her daughter’s hands, “A special apple for my golden girl,” she said with a special smile.

In the end it was Sita who had to sell the orchard. The debts had to be paid, and she did what she had to, but she has never forgotten. The orchard is still home and sometimes, when the pain is a dark shadow in her eyes, she forgets “Take me home,” she whispers, “Take me to the apple trees.”

He opens her hand and puts a golden apple into it. She smiles. Her fingers close, her breathing eases and she sleeps. He had plans once of taking her back to the hills but she is too weak to travel. So all he can do is sit by her bedside and remember.

He remembers how they met, at a party. He was new to Mumbai. No job, no money for food, but he had friends so he attended their parties and lingered by the food tables. She was there for the food too, a starving actress. He saw her joyous smile from across the room and then there was no looking back.

They married and found a house. He got a job, she got a part. They both worked hard and met late in the evenings eagerly, as if for the first time. They had three happy years together until that terrible day at the doctor’s office.

Malignant, the doctor said, and growing.

After that, it had become a nightmare. He hardly sleeps or eats.

He lives from day to day, moment to moment.

No one eats the apples. She cannot, and he will not.

--


He walks home with the bag of apples and one banana.

The house is in darkness as he puts his key in the door. He sits in the dark sitting room and eats the banana.

He looks out at the streets outside, at all the passing people and he wonders where they are going and why they are so cheerful, what they can possibly have to laugh about. Laughter is extinct in his world, for more than a month now, since that terrible day when he lit her funeral pyre.

The black moods, which she had dispelled for him, claim him again. He feels like a straw in the ocean, lost in a tidal wave of darkness. His heart begins a painful thumping, his throat tightens and he suffocates.

But, from somewhere deep, resolve comes. No, he thinks firmly. He has promised her that he will never go to that black place again. He intends to keep his promise.

He holds a golden apple in each hand, clutching them desperately, as if they could save his life. Holding them he feels her close. Is she walking in her bright leaved summer orchards again? Is she laughing under the fruit laden trees? He likes to think that, from wherever she is, she is looking down at him sitting here, and she is smiling.

The suffocation eases and he relaxes a little. For tonight he has won the battle. He will fight it again, but for now, he can sleep sitting in the dark, holding the fruit.

He has nothing else, nothing but that one thing which is left to him now, and for that he will always buy the golden apples.

For her smile.


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I am a writer from Mumbai, India. I have published non fiction and poetry books. Writing flash fiction is keeping me happy while I work on longer stories. My story Dream Keeper was published in Yesteryear fiction in November 2012.
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3 Responses to this post

  1. NARAIN P HINDUJA on January 11, 2013 at 7:33 PM

    Just imagine if you keep smiling always how beautiful life will be!Somewhere it does strike a chord with all of us,anything for a SMILE.

  2. chitrau on May 21, 2013 at 8:31 AM

    Excellent, as always.

  3. chitrau on May 21, 2013 at 8:52 AM

    Excellent, as always

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