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Overwhelmed

by Sourav Pattanayak

Sourav’s story captures some moments in the life of a working woman when all her problems catch up with her at the same time.

Another morning. Overcast skies all over again. A damp, lifeless house.

Lucy sits cross-legged on the remarkably spotless floor of her drawing room. A number of potatoes, a kitchen knife and the cutting board lie right in front of her, awaiting instruction. Her laptop and smart phone sit around as well, waiting to instruct. There’s a table behind her, on which lies another basket full of potatoes.

In a minute, she begins to slice the unpeeled potatoes one by one in a slow, rhythmic, gentle monotone triggered by the knife hitting the board. Simultaneously, she starts to mimic the sound with a fake chop-chop of her own, every time she has cut a piece and deposited it to the side of the board using the knife blade.

She finishes with one potato, picks another, and then stops to at first stare, then consider, and finally smile at it. The tuber, with eyes and buds, resembles a face.

“Look at you Little One,” Lucy says taking a pause from her work, “What an amazing life you must have had. I could totally write you a song. And sing it too, why not?

Yo Ho! Yo Ho
A potato’s life for me
Under the sun, a green farm,
A moisty earth, cool and warm,
So much fun, life’s a charm.”

“Oh I’m not gonna cut you up, Little One,” she concludes. With this, she grabs her pen, etches minuscule, round eyes and mouth on the tuber, and places it by her side. Then, she resumes the slicing.

A little later, Lucy lifts her head slightly, her face wearing the expression of someone having remembered something. She walks up to the refrigerator and is dismayed to find no signs of cauliflower, beans, or other support vegetables for her potato slices. Lucy returns to the drawing room.

“Nothing to worry Little One,” she tells the tuber, “I’ll manage with these,” and gets back to chopping.

Next second, her phone starts to ring. It’s a call from Ritika, her team member at work.

“Hello Ritika! Yes… yes… … yes… yeah I’ll mail it you immediately. Yup. Bye.” She keeps the phone.

“Why am I having to work on a Sunday? I’ll never get used to it,” she tells her companion, though her immediate actions suggest something otherwise – resignation. She fiddles around with her laptop, sends a mail, and returns to the job at hand. She gets done with another potato.

At that instant, there’s a notification beep from her phone. Lucy halts, checks her phone, and utters “Shit!” rather loudly, hitting her head with her hand, “I have missed my morning jog again. Then there’s this gym session in the evening. You think I’m losing fat, eh Little One?”

Unlike last time, she doesn’t immediately go back to chopping. Instead, she focuses her attention on a sticky note stuck to the table with a list of pending bill payments – house rent, Bai, electricity, credit card. She spends a few seconds brooding over it, and then gets back to work.

Sometime later, she gets another call from work. It’s Ritika again.

“Tell me! Hmm … … … No … No … that won’t be a problem. I’ll manage.” She appears irked for a moment, but then composes herself. And then, just to distract herself for a while, she picks up her phone adoringly, with both hands, and starts scrolling her Facebook page. Sometime later –

“These girls! Always on vacation!” she replaces her phone a little less gently. “My time shall come too. And I will show them. I will have fun! Loads of it. What say you… hmm?”

Lucy smiles without intending to and goes back to chopping potatoes, thoroughly irritated by now, even as the little potato sits by her. In her irritation, the knife nearly slips from the tuber and hits the board directly. She’s momentarily peeved.

Her phone starts to ring again.

“What now?” she yells proceeding to take the call.

“Morning Momma,” she composes herself on listening to her mother’s voice at the other end, and ends up listening silently for about twenty seconds. Meanwhile, her brows furrow, lips distort, and the face slowly turns livid.

“Listen to me … Momma … no, you listen to me!” she gets louder, “I don’t want to talk of this now … give me some time … … … … time, yeah, like a couple of years or so.”

“Momma, I have got work. Bye.”

Lucy is exasperated. She grabs another tuber and slashes at it violently. Chop – chop – chop –

And another – chop – chop – chop – chop – chop –

A prolonged slicing act follows where you get the feeling that she might cut her fingers any moment.

She gets done with the last tuber, pulls her hair back, and brings her hands together.

Lucy then looks around, and notices Little One sitting by her. She holds it up between her right thumb and index finger – with an expression bordering on frustration while trying to gather some resolve.

“You see it, don’t you, Little One? The injustice, the immorality of it all. They are all intent on breaking me … cutting me up! Beyond repair! And bleeding I am! Profusely. Where’s the peace that I seek? The warmth, the fun … wasn’t life supposed to be a charm?” There’s a pregnant pause.

“But we are not done fighting… no, no! We shall overcome … all of these. And more. We shall overcome. We shall overcome.” She utters the last few lines both to the tuber and to herself, when her phone begins to ring again.

With a stony face, Lucy takes the call.

“Hello… Hello Ma’am!” there’s a pause and then –

“You want me to come to office today? Right now? Ok … Ok. I will be reaching in an hour.”

Lucy slams the phone, and lets out a hysterical yell. Followed by another. She punches the floor with her fist, stops to think, and then extends her hand to the basket of potatoes kept on the table. It slips from her hand and – SLAM!

The potatoes take the floor – in front of her, on the side, all around her in a chaotic manner. Lucy is done! Her shoulders are drooping, her face utterly distraught. She surveys the chaos around her, and then the chaos in her life.

The very next moment she takes another potato from the crowd, and starts slicing it up – violently; coldly. Lost in her own troubles, Lucy is seen cutting Little One up, piece by piece, even as her slow, ghastly voice hits the air –

Yo Ho! Yo Ho!
A potato’s life for me.
Under the knife, all this time,
Awaiting a blade, shiny an’ sublime,
And then it’s dinnertime,
Time to go chop, chop, chop!

Coming from the town of Baripada in Odisha, Sourav is a big Harry Potter fan who loves to write short stories and poetry. He has had his writings published in The Bombay Review, Spark Magazine, and Indian Periodical. In his spare time, he likes to indulge in cartooning, graphic design, and daydreaming. A college literary magazine and newsletter editor, Sourav wishes to try things from the other side of the table now.
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