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The Living Mannequin by Sreelekha Chatterjee

Whenever I touched my body, I experienced the warmth of life—throbbing of

veins indicated its existence, fingers pressed against the skin felt an inexplicable

movement, perhaps of the cytoplasm, cells, tissues, organs. I wondered whether

the living cells sensed emotions or carried out duties mechanically. A dead man

lacked the affection of life, whose touch was ice-cold, scary, inviting a dread that

humans weren’t immortal. In death a human became a mannequin who didn’t

need to cover up the naked body nor struggle with the stings of emotions. Was a

body without feelings equivalent to a dead entity?

I’d actually become like one possessed, standing in the community park,

with the sky above me and hundreds of living souls around me waiting to get a

glimpse of their favorite politician. Were they all living mannequins like

me—excited voices roaring out of dead souls? I had been present there with a

purpose that wasn’t my own, fed with an unremitting sense of a responsibility, an

assignment to destroy the environment, the peace, the faith that the people

gathered there had for their leader, for one another.

I could feel the ticking of the time bomb that was attached to my belly. A

cold shudder ran through me when I imagined that my body—a twenty-year-old

woman’s body—would be lifeless on a single push of a button, the one that

dictated my death, my inevitable end. I’d be thrown away like the naked

mannequins in the glittering showrooms when they looked shabby, lacked the

luster even after draped in expensive clothes that was needed to attract

customers. But after the blast I wouldn’t be a mannequin in a single piece—my

hands, legs, or any other body part could be missing. I knew I was beautiful,

resembled Greek goddesses known for their beauty, at least that’s what I was told

over and over again, and didn’t wish to appear mutilated, ugly after death. But

what else could be done. I had chosen this for myself.

I’d proved to be more acquiescent than was expected by my husband who

convinced me that it was necessary to protest against the wrong-doings of those

alien to our views, ideologies; who played with our feelings and never agreed to

give us our promised land. We were reminded innumerable times about being

deprived of the privileges enjoyed by the fortunate class. Perhaps our demands

were infinite, always focused on the prejudices, ignorance, iniquities of life—faced

by every living being—rather than the abundance of happiness that was already

present and waiting to be recognized. We’d reached a deadlock over our repeated

expectations; our uncontrolled desires; reckless aspirations, devoid of

consideration, sensitivity, and empathy for others, as the never-ending game of

survival demanded aggression, opportunistic approach, disregarding the needs of

fellow human beings. My husband said that I was the blessed one who had been

chosen for the supreme sacrifice that would lead me to heaven. On remembering

my husband, I looked around to search for him. He was somewhere in the crowd,

maintaining a safe distance from me, so that he could run away and didn’t get

hurt when the bomb blew off. A man who’d vowed to take care of me, to stand by

me, and save me in moments of crisis had schemed my death. After all, women

were not respected, they were treated as mannequins that could be raped,

mauled, tormented, sacrificed at any instant to fulfill the horrendous desires of

dark souls.

I recalled how I dodged the security check at the entrance of this park. The

security personnel thought that I was an expecting mother, and allowed me to

pass without checking the murder weapon that I was pregnant with. Most

probably women were still trusted, respected, barring a few who maltreated

them.

My thoughts were interrupted by the sudden announcements that came

from the stage at the center of the park. A few yards away from me was the

famous politician who was campaigning for the elections, whom people loved or

pretended to love for their own selfish means. I couldn’t tell for sure whether they

were all living beings beaming with enthusiasm or machines like me that were

charged with a particular sentiment. Was it possible for thousands of people to

share the same passion? Was it possible to look up to someone like this political

leader with uncontested faith? I took a closer look at the grey-haired politician

clad in white kurta–pyjama. An inextinguishable radiance was all over his round

face, a glitter of intelligence in his eyes, a strange sharpness mingled with child-

like innocence in his unanimated features. My eyes at length dropped to his

hands—where his power seemed to be concentrated—that moved with an unusual

vigor as he waved at scores of people assembled there.

The whistling and cheering of the spectators went louder and louder but

the sound couldn’t surpass the noise of my wild heart—burdened with an

insincere purpose—beating faster and faster with every passing minute, as though

someone was hammering my chest with fists, nullifying the treacherous ticking of

the time bomb. Was it the prick of conscience?

Within a few minutes, something drastically changed within me as I rose

from my lifeless state and decided that I couldn’t be a murderer influenced by my

husband’s choice. I cleaved a way for myself through the crowd, determined to

reach a policeman who was standing near the stage, oblivious to his surrounding,

his attention solely fixed on the leader. Battling against the surge of people

providing resistance to move ahead, I reached him. Sensing my presence beside

him, he glanced at me with his eyebrows knit in a frown. Suppressing the

multitude of emotions that were struggling within me, I pulled him closer to me

and almost put my mouth into his ear with an intention to disclose that I was

carrying a bomb and wished to surrender myself, my views, my emotions, my

confused sense of living. A vague yet faithful need to start afresh, to believe in

humanity, to rejoice on seeing a great leader, and above all, to respect people

distinctively transformed my self, as I sensed a relief from the dutiful

determination of performing a sinful act; an independence from the shackles of

lethal prejudices forcefully infused in me.

“Please arrest me.” I said nervously without any introduction, rising above

the rumble of the excited voices around us.

“What?” His face was livid with anger as he made a curt gesture of

annoyance by momentarily averting his face from me and then turning back at

me with arched eyebrows. Perhaps he couldn’t hear me clearly, I thought.

Without further ado, I pulled the kurta above my belly so that he could get

to see the red-colored bomb, with multiple wires attached to my body like a belt

around my waist. He closed his eyes misconstruing my action to be indecent,

walked a few steps ahead in that state, so that his back faced me, and said,

nodding his head vigorously, “I’m not that type of man…”

I pulled the kurta back over my belly. I didn’t know how to motivate him

to turn his face towards me and make him realize the gravity of the situation.

“Listen…” I shouted with an unnatural desperation which forced him to

look at me.

“No, just leave, you mad woman…” He commanded vehemently, his body

shaking with an uncontrollable tremor.

Without giving up, I moved towards him and said softly, “Please try to

understand…”

My words triggered an unexpected response in him, as he waved his right

hand in a bid to shoo me away from there. In the process, his hand accidently

touched my belly, and his fingers landed on the fatal button, followed by

explosion of the bomb. Next, it was my worthless shadow mingling with my body,

in midst of violent screams and incomprehensible turmoil; my senses failing me;

and then everything plunged into impenetrable darkness.

A fraction of seconds afterwards the park was like a battlefield where life

lost to death and disfigured bodies of thousands of mannequins crowded the

floor. Among them was the mannequin of a beautiful woman.

“That’s how it’d happen… The whole ground would be devastated just like

these dolls.” A cheerful voice was heard from nowhere.

Was I still alive? Or, was it possible to hear human voices even after death?

A dark, starless sky had veiled the environment, radiating an evil aura. The day

had lost its physiognomy while night took its place forever. Amidst the remains of

the lost souls enshrouded in the dense, grey mist of failed values, ideals, clouded

in self-centeredness, a group of five men stood roaring with laughter, clapping

their hands, and shouting in ecstasy. They were the ones who violated the rules of

living, facilitated in devastating humanity. They lived within us, their unending,

irrational expectations congealed into implacable hatred and frustration, thus

obscuring the necessary dictates of the living.


Originally published by Indian Short Fiction 2015


Sreelekha Chatterjee’s short stories have been published in various magazines and journals like Indian Periodical, Femina, Indian Short Fiction, eFiction India, The Criterion, The Literary Voyage, Writer’s Ezine, and Estuary, and have been included in numerous print and online anthologies such as Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul series (Westland Ltd, India), Wisdom of Our Mothers (Familia Books, USA), and several others.


You can connect with her on Facebook at facebook.com/sreelekha.chatterjee.1/, on Twitter @sreelekha001, and Instagram @sreelekha2023.

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