Hotel Avalon (Flash based on the prompt)

Sutanuka Ghosh Roy
The train slowly gathered speed, Raka glued her eyes to the dark glass of her window she could see the moving station, but she could not see her parents any more. Outside it was sultry as usual with the weather in Kolkata. It was early December. The AC inside made her feel relaxed. One or two porters were juggling in and out of the compartment. The plump Ticket Checker chewing paan appeared from nowhere. He wore a suspicious look as he checked their tickets. The smell of paan masala spread like wild fire through the compartment. Raka gathered herself and looked at Rudra. He was busy with his phone. They got two lower berths and two sturdy gentlemen had already occupied the upper seats. They were busy taking out all sorts of tiffin boxes from their bags. One bespectacled elderly woman wearing a maroon sari occupied the side lower berth and a young boy wearing a round neck blue T-shirt occupied the upper side berth seat. They too were busy half way in finishing off their dinner. The fusion of the smell of paan and different kinds of food created a strange rancid odour.

Raka was a tad nervous. She had never travelled without her parents. Her middle class conservative parents had never allowed her to travel alone. Marriage brought a change. She could feel a sweet wave of dreams enveloping her entire being. It was 10.30 pm. They had an early dinner at home. Without wasting any further time Rudra started spreading out the bedsheets on the seats. He did it meticulously. Within a fortnight Raka understood that Rudra avoided clutter. He loved things spick and span. She looked at her husband in silent praise. He was quite tall and handsome with curly hair. He preferred to wear his watch on the right hand. Having done with his task Rudra drank water and then offered her bottle. She gulped the water at a go then cleansed her face with wet wipes and put some cold cream on her face, called her parents spoke with her mom-in-law and made an effort to sleep.

Early dawn Rudra put his hand on her forehead the warm touch made her awake. “Get up quickly we will reach within twenty minutes”. Some other passengers too were busy in arranging themselves and their luggage. The whole compartment became alive with loud sounds. Raka’s heart became racy. She got up quickly combed her hair and took her handbag. The train came to a halt. They reached Balugaon station. “Raka come”, Rudra held out his hand standing on the platform. Raka faltered and smartly disembarked on the lap of Rudra. Soon a potbellied man with a white cap, crisped grey trousers and a sweaty off-white shirt spotted Rudra. “Are you Rudra Babu coming from Kolkata? This is Bhabhi I suppose?” “I am Chandan” Rudra nodded and showed him his card, within a second he took their luggage in his hand and made his way through the passengers. They followed him and came out of the platform. Rudra was tightlipped about their next destination. Raka had asked him a few times but each time Rudra avoided putting her off by his signature smile. As they boarded the car the potbellied man took the driver’s seat, folded his paunch neatly right below the steering wheel. The window-glass was not rolled up. Raka flowed with the wind which was rather cool. She was dazed with the scurrying activities and sat close to Rudra. The wind caressed her soft tresses. Time was timeless. They drove for almost two hours. All through the journey the driver hardly spoke a word or two. The azure blue sky the greenery, the chirping birds made her forget the outside world.  The car now left the tar road and entered a narrow kuccha road soon a fishy smell entered her nostrils. Rudra clutched her fingers “Raka look this is Chilka”, we are in Rambha.

“Chilka is India’s largest inland lake. Spread over more than thousand square kilometers stretching across the length of the three districts of Puri, Khurdha and Ganjam and finally conflates at the Bay of Bengal through its narrow mouth, forming an enormous lagoon of brackish water. You know Raka, Chilka is dotted with many emerald green islands with exciting names which you will love to hear such as Honeymoon Island and Breakfast Island! It is home to a rich variety of aquatic fauna. It is also a sanctuary and winter resort for migratory birds, some coming from as far as Siberia. ‘S-i-b-e-r-i-a…’ Raka’s eyes were wide open.  Chilka contains a large variety of fish the pear shaped lake provides a livelihood to thousands of fisherman. Stay for a day you will notice hundreds of boats sailing out daily on the lake’s blue expanse in search of mackerel, prawn and crabs. And if you travel by country boat the sight will provide you an insight into the pageant of rural India at its colourful best.

You will be glad to find Chilka is encircled by hills all along its arched shape shores, the colour of the lake changes with passing clouds and the shifting sun. Since you love both the mountains and sea I chose this this beautiful place” Rudra’s voice was warm. Her eyes met the vast expanse of water she was mesmerized by the natural pristine beauty. They spotted few purple moon hen and grey herons and egrets gliding over the water. “Raka look that is a spoonbill and the bird sitting next to that country boat is a white Ibis” For a moment Raka was lost in her own world. In her mind she could not but thank Rudra for this pleasant surprise. The driver took out the luggage from the car and headed towards the porch of the hotel “Avalon”. From the outside the hotel looked like a fourteenth century stony fortress. It had a typical gothic structure.

Raka had goosebumps she muttered “Avalon” “A-v-a-l-o-n”! She felt as if she is “Morgan” and Rudra “King Arthur”. Are they in the legendary island where people live for hundred years? Is she “the Lady of the Secret Isle?” He looked closely at Rudra. Is he the wounded knight? Where is Modred the greatest wizard with whom King Arthur fought and finally killed him? Will he recover from his mortal wounds as King Arthur did after the tragic battle of Camlann? “Bhabi” the hotel staff was ready with the welcome drink. “Raka are you lost? Come let us go to our room upstairs”. A frail boy with square face hooked nose dead fish eyes wearing a striped shirt took their luggage upstairs opened their room and welcomed them to their room. The room number was “thirty three”. The door was intricately designed but spotted with years of water damage. Instead of a fancy handle it had only a square shaft of dark cold metal. The room inside was elegantly decorated with vaulted ceilings and large stained glass windows. A bed poster made of mahogany was in the middle. A writing table with a reading lamp was placed on the right corner of the room. A large grey coloured sofa with orange cushions was on the left side. A dresser with an ottoman and a large teak cupboard occupied one of its walls. The airy interiors added to its overall charm. A perfect honeymoon suite! However the room had an uncanny damp stony odour. A large verandah was overseeing the lake, a pair of limbless lizard slithered in the garden Rudra spotted a pistachio colored butterfly flapping its wings. The garden had a rust-iron big swing. The garden, the lake, the swaying Eucalyptus the tall deodar trees, the butterflies all became a silent party to their love.

“Raka come on please freshen yourself, feeling hungry” came the quick reminder from Rudra. Raka stepped inside the bathroom. A big bathtub and a large full size rot iron mirror immediately caught her attention. Every nook and corner was decorated with elegance. A Chandelier hung from the middle of the vaulted ceiling. The yellow warm light mellowed her heart. She looked at herself she could spot her blush. Oh how lucky she is to have Rudra in her life! He is so classy! She splashed water on her face. The water tasted a bit salty. She changed her clothes and slipped into a comfortable burgundy coloured pyjama and a black T shirt. She pulled her hair and made a messy bun which added cuteness to her sweet face. Raka chirped, “I am done”. Rudra quickly slipped in and closed the doors of the bathroom. She now sat in the sofa and looked at the bed. A sensuous wave traversed her navel and breasts. She looked at the menu card on the writing table. Rudra stepped out. “Let us go and have breakfast otherwise I will gobble you up!” Raka frowned like a movie star and then giggled, a gecko on the wall smiled. They came down the stairs like Siamese twins.

The dining area was large and stylishly decorated. Full length sheer curtains adorned the large windows. One could see the Lake from inside. Sunshine kissed the stony floor of the room. Breakfast was a delectable fare! Aloo Paratha and curd along with mango pickles. They almost ate their fingers! Rudra had tea with milk and sugar Raka had black coffee without sugar. Two other families were also having their breakfast. A little girl called Parul came straightway to Raka and asked for a bite of Aloo Paratha. Her mother wearing an embarrassing smile came running. “Please don’t mind!” By that time Rudra took her in his arms, much to the relief of her mother. The little child didn’t know how to react. Hunger satiated they came out and stood on the porch, the cool air was laced with the fishy smell coming from the huge water body. The sun smiled. “Raka come on! Let us go for a ride!” Rudra had already spotted two three country boats with tourists on them. Raka felt dizzy she was hydrophobic. “What has happened sweetheart? Are you not well? Okay we will go tomorrow morning let us retire to our room for the moment may be you are tired”. Rudra took her in his arms and together they went upstairs.

Raka sat on the sofa with her eyes closed the fishy smell in her nostrils. Rudra took her hand in his hands and kissed them. “Raka you must have been exhausted. You rest. Today we will laze and tomorrow we will hire a country boat early in the morning”. He took out a magazine from his bag and started going through its pages. The internet connection was rather weak. Raka was lost in her thoughts. “Rudra?” “Yes” “Why did they name the hotel Avalon?” Why did they go for a Gothic structure?” Rudra stopped reading and looked at Raka. “Maybe the owner liked the name “Avalon”. May be he was influenced by the Gothic structure. It’s simple”. Raka kept silent but was not satisfied with the answer. “Don’t overthink close your eyes and take rest” Rudra told her again. “In the evening we will take a stroll and the fresh air from the lagoon will make you feel better”. Raka started contemplating this is perhaps for the first time in their short conjugal life that they are left with themselves. Back at home they were always encircled by other members of the family. Except at night they could not speak freely with each other.  A drowsy numbness overcame her senses. A knock on the door made her alert. Rudra opened the door. The boy with eyes of dead fish was at the door he spoke with a typical accent. “Babu Lunch is ready, you can join”. “Okay we will join shortly”. Raka got up from the sofa and came to the verandah. Her eyes were on the brackish water. It was windy and there were ripples on the water. A few tourists were still enjoying their boat ride. She felt sorry for Rudra. She acted as a spoilsport. Maybe tomorrow she will give it a try after all Rudra will be there with her so there is nothing to worry. Rudra was waiting for her over Lunch.

Life was always very boring for Raka. Being the only daughter was an additional pressure. They lived in North Kolkata in their ancestral home. Both her parents Rakesh and Sudha were doctors and were ever busy. Her Dadu, grandfather Ramesh was also a doctor. He is now eighty eight. Thammi, Radha, her grandma is eighty. Jethu Ratan the elder son of Dadu was a professor of English in a university. His wife Raka’s Jemma Moni was a teacher of Chemistry in a school in South Kolkata. They had no issue. Naturally Raka was the apple of eye. Being the only child of the entire family she was pampered to the core. Dadu was very strict about her studies her manners her friends. Every move of hers was measured under the strict supervision of Ramesh babu. Raka practically lived for all of them except for herself. She wanted freedom. As a child she always wanted to mix with other children of her locality. She was never allowed to do so for Ramesh babu thought that would pollute the soul of his only heir. Rakesh and Sudha were busy with their patients and nursing home. Raka remembers that as a child she avoided her mother a lot for she smelt like medicines when she came back from work. She used to sleep with Thammi and Thammi used to tell her stories each night. Each night she built a new world with the stories.

 A sincere student she always topped the list in exams. Her Dadu wanted her to become a doctor. So did her parents. She followed the footsteps of her Jethu. She opted for English honours and wanted to pursue her academic interests. Soon after her graduation her Dadu and her entire clan became busy to get her married. Raka vehemently opposed but who bothers and who listens. Soon marriage proposals started flying in like flying saucers. Each night there was a round table conference where different marriage proposals were weighed in equilibrium. Dadu would come out with a sigh, “let her settle in life, it is then that I can die peacefully”. “Dadu am I unsettled?” Raka one day questioned. Dadu looked at her as if she has just committed an unpardonable sin. Raka surrendered. Within few months her marriage was fixed. Rudra according to Dadu was a real gem. A graduate of Ivy League of colleges he was now heading a team of researchers in USA. He was the nephew of Dadu’s bosom friend Manimohan Basu.

Rudra’s family was originally from Howrah now settled in South Kolkata for three generations. For three generations they served the country. They are all army men. Rudra is an exception. Raka found them a little weird on their first day of marriage. Even the eighty year old Didu Rudra’s maternal grandmother came for the occasion of her only grandson’s marriage. She was decked in a red Benerasi sari and very heavy jewellery. Laughing and making others laugh. Everyone from Raka’s family was busy in looking after her. When Raka went to Rudra’s house she was welcomed with blowing trumpets and loud drums. It was very difficult for Raka to adjust. Both the families were poles apart. Whereas in Raka’s family everyone spoke in hushed tones here In Rudra’s family everyone spoke in high decibels as if they were to make a Limca book entry for making the highest decibel sound. They would clap and stump their foot at every bend of each spoken sentence. Laughter was there in every fold of this family. Rudra was the quieter one. He spoke less but always wore a beaming smile. Rudra’s mother Rumkini a professional Kathak dancer was a woman of substance. She had a mind of her own. She took good care of Raka. Rudra’s father retired major general Santosh Mitra was eternally busy with his family.

Rudra’s uncles and aunts his brothers and sisters some of them living abroad had come specially to attend his reception. In a word it was a loving family. Raka was lucky. She was a bit apprehensive about Rudra but soon she discovered that Rudra had no frills and was extremely earthy. Though they spoke less but they had woven an invisible thread between them. Raka felt like a queen in the huge old fashioned house with green French windows. Some of Raka’s friends had dissuaded her from marrying Rudra. “How could you share your bed with someone whom you have never known in your life? Raka you are too old fashioned. Don’t you have a say in your family? What about your parents they are reputed doctors? Why do they listen to the old haggard?” Raka would smile and say “this is my destiny”. “I cannot choose a boy of my choice”. After her marriage Raka was convinced that her family members took the right decision. Rudra was a  perfect gentleman.

On the first night of their marriage after the reception was over Rudra asked her in a simple tone “Raka do you love mountains or sea?” “I love both” Raka replied. “Hmm so you say that you love both.Okay”. Now I have one question Raka quipped “You have studied in USA in one of the most prestigious college and did you not have girl friends?” “Of course I had many girlfriends. But unfortunately or fortunately I did not have a wife. At last at last I have a beautiful wife”. Rudra had sealed her lips with a passionate kiss. For a fortnight Raka was in a trance. She could feel all the things happening around her but loomed around like thin air. Life was a bit different. The same mashed potato which was her staple food for years now tasted a bit different. Often she used to stand in front of the mirror to find out whether there was any noticeable change in her outward appearance. The only difference was the red parting in her black hair. Other things remained the same. Dadu used to call her often and queried over all little things. Her parents as usual slipped into their old mode. Only Jethu used to complain that she has taken away a chunk of his heart along with her.

Rudra was a quiet boy from childhood. His Baba Retired General Sudhamoy expected his son to follow his footsteps and join the Indian army. He however showed no inclinations to do so. He preferred to go for research. This did not go well with the other family members too. Only his mother Mala supported his son’s decision to the core. Her entire life was dedicated to her family and she travelled all over the country with her husband. Rudra lived with his grandparents in Kolkata. The quiet boy would look at the blue sky and wanted to the touch it. He would often find the fluffy white clouds intriguing. The Bakul tree at the backyard of his house spoke to him. The green grass under his feet created a tingling sensation. He could never share his thoughts with anyone. He would recite poems of Tagore and Jibananda Das. His teachers at school were overwhelmed by his potential. He was loved by one and all. The attic was his favourite place in the big house. Many afternoons he would spend in the attic crooning a song along with strumming his guitar. At times he would wish to lie down in his mother’s lap. He missed his mother the most. When he left for USA Mala was misty eyed she lamented that her life never gave her the opportunity to be with her son.

It was a quiet afternoon. The cool wind of pear shaped Chilka was so inviting! Rudra and Raka took a lazy stroll in the portico of “Avalon”. They were all praise for the architecture of the hotel. The exaggerated stained glass windows, the flying buttress, the pointed arches, the grand tall design which swept upwards with height and grace. The gargoyle is one of the striking characteristics of “Avalon”, and many gargoyles all over the building included elements of the grotesque. They had exaggerated, evil features or threatening poses, which leered down from on-high, these creepy stony structures stuck deep in Raka’s mind. They seemed to keep a silent watch on their every single move. She had an uncanny feeling. Slowly they left the porch and headed towards the lake. The vast expanse of the water was an immediate remedy for her tossed nerves. It had a tranquil effect on her mind. A fleet of white bellied sea eagles were hovering in the distant horizon. The graylag geese were busy in their late afternoon discourse. Flamingos and herons called it a day and were leaving for their respective homes. The glowing sun, a crisp circle in the red and orange sky, illuminated a quivering path across the water of Chilka.

The invariant horizon welcomed them to eternity. They were soaked in the last red and orange rays of the setting sun. The water too changed its colour and slowly became dark. Tourists were hanging in and some young lads on bikes were busy in idle talks. A few stray dogs were looking at them with a question in their eyes.  A small boy came towards them and smiled. Rudra asked his name. “Kalu” was the pat reply. Raka enquired about his whereabouts. Kalu told them that he lived in the nearby village. They wanted to have a taste of village life so eagerly followed him. It was a fifteen minute walk. The road was full of dust and fallen leaves. The brittleness of the fallen leaves created a rustling sound as they walked on them. When they reached the village they saw a small temple of Lord Jagannath. A Pundit was reading from The Ramayana in Odia. Elderly men and women sat in mats and listened to him in rapt attention. Rudra and Raka took off their shoes and sat in the mat. It was a different feeling. The silence of the village laced with the reading sprinkled peace and tranquillity in the atmosphere. Though they could not understand the language properly but could pick up familiar names of the characters in Ramayana. A lone yellow bulb shone inside the temple. Incense sticks were placed near the deity. Fresh marigold garlands adorned the deity. There was no exhibitionism in this divine experience. The villagers adopted a simple yet elegant way to connect the divine. They stayed for an hour and then they headed for “Avalon”. The quaint village etched in their memory.

“Avalon” was shining like a lone star. They had their evening tea and coffee along with onion fritters. They sat in the dinning space for a while.  They looked at the evening sky. The moon was a warm milky glow in the sky, and the sight of it became a song in the eyes of Rudra and Raka they raised their heads upward. It was a wraith-silver disc hanging in the lonely sky. Beams of moonlight, as bright as diamond-flame, turned Chilka a-glow like melted platinum. Rudra broke the silence. “Raka today is full moon. Of course my moon is always with me. Raka is the other name of moon”. Raka was elated. She felt she is in heaven. Rudra sat between two moons now and watched Raka’s breath rise as new white-puffed clouds. Night had finally befallen them, wrapping the day in its dark blanket. “Auntie” Parul came and all of sudden started hanging from Raka’s shoulders. She was startled. “Parul  my child how are you doing? Where had you been the entire day?” “We went to see the Bedfast itand”. Rudra started laughing. Parul’s mother corrected her. “Breakfast  Island my darling!” “No no please don’t steal away her innocent language from her mouth”, protested Raka. “Let her remain a child. Nowadays there is hardly any childhood left for the children”. “You will be a good mother. Plan early for a child” Parul’s mother retorted back. Raka blushed. Rudra’s eyes changed their language. The moon rose to its glorious beauty.

Dinner was delicious. Laccha Paratha, channa dal, bhuna chicken and rasgulla. “Rudra if we stay more than a week over here I will be a mini elephant I’m telling you”.Raka complained. “And I will become a hippo”. Rudra answered. Their laughter rolled over all the spaces. They were feeling quite heavy after the dinner so they decided to take a stroll around “Avalon”. “Raka see there is a kind of spooky feeling in a moonlight stroll quite different from the clarity of the sun light”. Raka was feeling thirsty. “Rudra let us go to our room I want to have water”. “Okay let us go upstairs”. Rudra opened the door it moaned as if under an unspoken pain, the same stony odour entered her nostrils again. She drank water and quenched her thirst. Two cane chairs were waiting for them in the verandah. The Moon was at its magical best, trying to make the waters of Chilka shine. A country boat after every few meters looked like houses in a village at night. Each wrapped in its own self, each shrouded in a world of its own oblivious to the presence of others.   All of a sudden it seemed to Raka that Chilka is engulfed in a layer of smoke. Now there can be no fire on the water, is there something wrong with her eyes. She pointed point it out to Rudra he too felt the same, together they saw the smoke. It was a surreal experience to see the mist on top of the sea with moonlight shining through it. The eerie silence had a melody of its own. Rudra took out his cell phone and started playing “Moonlit Sea” by Michael Brant De Maria. The fluidity of the music reached the moonlit sky. The native flute added spirituality to the momentum.

“Raka please excuse me for five minutes I will quickly go downstairs and come back with today’s newspaper”. He kept the door ajar. The magical moon waved the delayed tryst, on a moon-lit lake, in “Avalon.” Raka placed her head over the shoulders of Rudra. Tu-hu-tu-hu tu-tweet-tu-hu –tu-hu –tu-tweet the owl screeched from the buttress. Raka got scared she clasped the hand of Rudra. The native flute played on and on. A gecko on the wall of the verandah squeaked. The moonlight shone on the steel band of Rudra’s watch. His radium watch glowed by night. It was Two o’clock in the morning. The moon was not silver but a buttermilk glow it whispered in Raka’s ears to freeze the moment. She was beguiled by its beauty.  Her mind was shrouded by a flimsy cobweb. Is she the “Lady of the Lake who knew all the magic of the world? Can she create magic in Rudra’s life like the enchantress Morgan? Can she protect Rudra from all kinds of danger? Is Rudra the modern King Arthur? Where is his Excalibur? She took Rudra’s hands in her hands his hands were cold as death. “Rudra are you okay?” Raka stepped into the room and brought out a black shawl from her suitcase. She wrapped Rudra with the shawl. Rudra stepped forward and clasped her back and pulled her towards him. It was a dead embrace. His hands were steely. She was suffocating. He kissed her lips. It was a cold kiss! There was no warmth. His ice cold breath made her shudder. Raka was enveloped by an icy sheet all over. Her body stiffened. Rudra’s entire body, his hands and kiss had the same damp stony odour. Rudra was a chill in the December air.  The cold kiss concealed her lingering desire.

A sudden gust of cold air from the lake displaced the shawl from Rudra’s body. In a flicker of a moment Raka saw Rudra’s bare chest - a black pitch line was coming out like runnels out of molten lava. Raka was clueless. “Was he wounded like King Arthur?” Raka shrieked in fear “Rudra what has happened? Who wounded you? Rudra when did this happen? Rudra, Rudra answer me?” Rudra laughed. His rasping laughter added to the caustic December air that swept the lake, slowly his laughter sounded like iron nails dragging over the stony surface of “Avalon”. It rose and fell. He whispered something in Raka’s ears the whisper was like a soft susurration of the December wind in the tall Deodar trees of the garden. His words were incoherent and inaudible. His language was the language of the damp cold stone. His eyes teemed with silver tears that shone brightly in the moonlight. From the blackness of the room came sounds which no human beings could ever make. Rudra’s laughter seemed of a human who once was alive but rendered into a spirit contorted with immense pain, anger and hatred. The native flute played on. The damp stony odour entered the entrails of her body. Two icy steely hands came over her throat. “Avalon” was hidden in the shimmer of mist, diffused.

Dr Sutanuka Ghosh Roy is Assistant Professor and Head Department of English in Tarakeswar Degree College, The University of Burdwan. She did her doctoral dissertation on Two Eighteen Century British Women Poets: Hannah More and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. She has been teaching at the undergraduate and postgraduate level for twelve years. She is currently engaged in active research and her areas of interest include Eighteenth Century literature, Indian English literature, Canadian Studies, Post-colonial Literature, Australian Studies, Dalit Literature, Gender Studies etc. She has published widely and presented papers at National and International Seminars. She is a regular contributor of research articles and papers to anthologies, national and international journals of repute like The Statesman, Muse India, Lapis lazuli, Setu etc. She is also a reviewer, a poet, a critic and an avid painter.

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