Another Shade of Gray

Neha loved the rain. One of her many indulgences was to take her yellow umbrella, go outside and stand still as the rains poured down. It trapped her in a bubble, that alienated her from all the chaos in life. And that, she found, was a very liberating feeling. It captivated all her senses – the earthy petrichor was perfume to her, the pitter-patter sounds were like beats, the wetness of a ricocheted raindrop sent tingles down her spine and the silhouettes of people and dogs finding the nearest dry spot amused her and in her drunken stupors she has admitted to tasting the rain too. When questioned, she always replied these moments spent in the rain were quintessential  to her creative process and that was cue for people to not pry into the aspiring writer’s oddities.

It had drizzled today and Neha had spent a good half an hour outside in the rain. She knew she had to get it written today anyhow. There was a deadline she had to adhere to and that is almost always a good thing for a writer with writer’s block. Of late she had become certain that the weird combination of beer and Mozart was the only sure-shot way to come up with new storylines. But her mother was visiting her today and she couldn’t risk giving her a stroke. That was the reason she had reverted to her more innocent method of getting ideas.

The cursor on her Macbook kept blinking, mocking her more with every blink. She just couldn’t start typing. There was nothing on her mind. And her mother shuffling through her closet was not helping either.

“Is this your new laptop?” asked her mother.

“Yes.”

“It seems really expensive. And shiny. What’s this? This handbag seems expensive. It doesn’t seem to be from India either,” she said.

“No. It is from Paris,” replied Neha with a tone of finality.

“And how did you buy something from Paris?”

“You can order everything online nowadays. They will ship anything you want from any corner of the wor-”

“What is this? Where are the shoulders on this dress? It is like the ones you see actresses wearing. How do you have this? Why do you have this?”

“Sometimes we go for parties and you need to dress up like this. But I wear a jacket with this dress always,” she lied.

“So your roommate also wears-”

“Yes she does. We all do. Can you stop disturbing me?”

“I didn’t mean to. Only the clothes and handbags you have seem so expensive. You don’t ask us for money all that much. How come – ”

“I told you I had that writing job. It pays me a lot. I just need to write some stories and send them to this online magazine. They pay me by the number of words I write. And I need to write one such story today. So, can you stop disturbing me?”

“Wow. People read my daughter’s stories online. What do you write about?”

“This and that. Not about lawyers and criminals. Just boring things for which some people are willing to pay me lots.”

“That is what is bugging me. I asked Priya. She also has a online magazine for which she writes. She said she got Rs.2000 for three months work and she works harder than you.”

“What do you mean by “harder than me”? She writes questions for students, not stories. Can you stop investigating my life?”

“I am just worried that you might be doing something wrong.”

“Wrong? What does that word even mean? Right and wrong are constructs humans came up with to keep their kids safe long enough till they start understanding the world around them. Once you grow up nothing is just right or wrong. There are just shades of gray. Isn’t that the definition of growing up? Realizing not everything is either black or white.”

“I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“In simple words, there is nothing to worry about. Can you stop disturbing me now?”

Her mother was worried that she might be on the verge of a fight with her daughter. That was not the way she had imagined her visit to start. Setting aside all her doubts for the night, she made her way to the bed to sleep. But Neha couldn’t focus with her mother in the same room as her. She kept staring blankly at the blank screen.

Just then she received an email.

I am eagerly waiting for today’s story. Your words have begun replacing certain needs in my life. The stories you write evoke more passion than the other stories I publish. There is a certain rawness and fearlessness in your writing. May be it is the anonymity. But if you weren’t anonymous I would gladly publish your first book myself. Obviously, the book will have to be about something else. I hope you liked the handbag I sent you. May be today’s story will be worth the shoes you picked out. No pressures!

Neha felt a lot of pressure now. She needed to start writing this erotica. Those shoes weren’t going to magically appear in her closet. But she couldn’t type a word. The same old question cornered her again. Was all of this wrong? A voice in her head said,”The object of any writing is to impact a person’s mind. You are a philanthropist because you give people pleasure. And …” The voice went on. The other voice was silent today. She began typing.

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