A Given by Aishwarya Srivastava
The winter always belonged to the writers but the writers never belonged to anyone. That is why a 60-year-old Mr. Shaw sat in his two-story bungalow all alone eating flatbread with a new jar of ‘grandma’s homemade pickle’ that he had bought from the grocery store seven kilometers away. He lead a life of passion and compassion. Passion for his hobbies and compassion for… himself. But Mr. Shaw’s life, contrary to the belief of all the forest rangers who passed his ‘haunted’ house, was not empty. A murder of porcelain and granite along with the ominous howling of distant hungry wolves filled his nights like winds filled windmills. He just loved buying sculptures.
He only ever bought collectibles and having bought them, named them after his quirky caricaturesque novel characters. A 3-foot original carving of ‘An Explorer in the Wind’ by the legendary sculptor Dravakasta stood proudly in his living room. Considered to be the finest work of the twenty-first century by many scholars, the marble wonder was a sight to behold. ‘I dub thee…. Kyle,’ Mr. Shaw had said when he first lay his eyes on it in the gallery.
A highly esteemed journalist turned author, Shaw had earned himself a small fortune with his political satires and exposés. So far he had bought over 30 rare statues. Amongst these, a half-foot replica with the supposed exact body measurements of Kaya the Great Witch was his most prized possession. While he always preferred to shop in auctions and art galleries, he had found Kaya on the cart of a roadside peddler he met in a village town of India. She stood like a lotus in the dirt amongst the other old trinkets on the peddler’s cart.
Her body was made of pure white marble. ‘Stolen from the dome of the Taj Mahal itself,’ said the peddler whose eyes looked too young to have a thousand wrinkles around them. Kaya’s eyes glowed with small emerald stones and she held a small moon crystal. He picked the witch up and asked the peddler how much she cost. ‘I am not here to sell. I am here to give.’ He smiled as he slowly dragged his cart away. Not a penny in his pocket.
Ever since he had got her, Shaw found himself unable to part with her. He placed it on his bed table every day, had his brunches in front of it, and often ignored the strong urge to worship her. He noticed how the ominous howling of the wolves stopped. A serene silence now filled his life until one night, a crass sound of a motor pulling up in front of his house woke him up.
The doorbell rang and the sharp ‘ting’ reverberated through the hollow house, bouncing off the lonesome statues. I hope it’s not that publisher, Shaw thought as he put on his slippers and left the bedroom.
His living room was lit with a light gleam of green. The eyes of his statues were glowing, brighter than expensive fairy lights glow on Christmas eve. Blaming his nighttime wine routine and thinking that he was probably seeing a dream, Shaw ignored the burning stares as he opened the door.
A man. Dark skinned with light brown eyes. Dressed in clumsy black trousers and jacket, wearing a Pink Floyd t-shirt, and smudged mascara under his eyes, stood there leaning on the doorframe. ‘You have something that belongs to my coven,’ he said.
‘Your coven?’ Shaw said. ‘As in a coven of witches?’
‘No, a coven of supermodels.’ He said as he spat a chewing gum in his hand and stuck it on Billy, the granite Battle Champion. Billy’s eyes flared brighter for a second.
‘What do you want, young man?’
‘I am not a man.’
‘Then what are you?’
‘I am Jaswana, the Protector of the Solemn Faith, Ruler of the Last Coven of Witches, Grandson…’ he paused as he looked Shaw dead in the eye, ‘…of Kaya the Great Witch.’
‘I see. So you are here for her?’
‘Yes. And I am not leaving without her. Hand her to me right now.’
‘No.’ Shaw said as he fished out a clean paper napkin from the drawer, plucked the chewing gum off of Billy, and threw it in the trash. Shaw hadn’t spent his life exposing and taking down entitled bureaucrats only to be bullied by a goth teen in need of psychiatric help. ‘No, I will not hand her to you.’
Jaswana stared Shaw down for a few seconds before he huffed and kicked the floor. He fastened his buttons as he exited the house. Shaw went back to sleep again.
The next night, Jaswana returned to Shaw’s doorstep. This time, he had a giant conch shell in his hands. ‘This is Panchajanya. This conch shell belonged to Lord Krishna. It has been a possession of the coven for centuries but now we are willing to exchange it with you. For her.’
‘I am not such a fan of conch shells.’
‘You don’t understand, human. Anyone who hears the sound of this conch shell is filled with serenity and peace and all desires immediately cease.’ Jaswana said as he blew air through the shell producing the sound of a flute. Shaw felt a wave of serenity pass through him.
‘No,’ said Shaw. ‘I don’t want it. Because right now I don’t want anything.’
‘Then may I have her?’
‘No. I don’t want her. I love her.’ Shaw said. Jaswana huffed, kicked the floor, and left leaving Shaw to his newly acquired peace.
Jaswana returned the next night with a key. ‘This key belonged to Saint Peter. It can open the gates of heaven for you.’ He said with an expectant smile. ‘It can be yours. For her.’
‘No. I am very healthy. I am not gonna die so soon.’
Jaswana pushed Jane the Dancer against a wall in a fit of rage. The once feminine statue now lay shattered in a heap of dust and debris. ‘There is something so seriously wrong with you, you….’ Jaswana remembered that witches never cursed in vain. ‘You… YOU… you HUMAN!’ With that pathetic insult, he huffed, kicked the floor, and sashayed out of the house.
Jaswana was nothing if not persistent, Shaw remarked. For the next two decades, Jaswana showed up at his doorstep every Wednesday religiously to retrieve his Grandmother. He brought the sword of Zeus, the hammer of Thor, the ring of Rama, the harp of the river nymphs. When he ran out of legends to gift Shaw, he conjured objects customized to Shaw’s taste. An automatic statue-maker, pickle-generator, a mosquito-repellant of the finest quality. Shaw never budged.
On some weekends, Jaswana would sit with Shaw for hours asking him questions figuring out his price. They would discuss Shaw’s books. Jaswana read them all and reviewed them in painfully critical detail to get on Shaw’s nerves. It never worked.
Shaw once asked him out of curiosity why Jaswana never tried to just snatch Kaya away from him. ‘That is because she is to be given, not fought for.’
‘I see.’ He had said, serving Jaswana another piece of ‘grandma’s homemade pickle.’
Eighty now, Shaw had felt a small pain in his chest one day while polishing his statues. The next day he felt it again but it was worse. The next day, he noticed Kaya’s emerald eyes had lost their luster. He waited for Wednesday.
At midnight, a motorbike pulled in front of his house. Shaw was sitting on his doorstep, cross-legged holding Kaya in his hands.
‘You take her.’ He said to Jaswana who did not move. ‘I am going to be gone soon. It’s time she returned to her family.’
‘Don’t say that.’ Jaswana said. ‘You have a few good years ahead of you. Witches can sense these things.’
‘No.’ Shaw said. ‘She told me. And she is the greatest witch,’ he said with a hint of pride in his voice.
Jaswana sat next to Shaw. ‘Well, then you can take Saint Peter’s key. Your journey across will be an easy one.’
‘I cannot do that. I cannot take anything in exchange for her. She has to be given.’
‘Well then.’ Jaswana took Kaya from his bony, wrinkled hands.
Shaw saw how happy and relieved Jaswana was to have his Grandmother back. He was glad to have him near as he took a journey to the unknown. ‘It has been a pleasure knowing you.’ He said as he looked at Kaya one last time. Luster had returned to her eyes. Her eyes were still glowing.
And his were still young as they closed one final time.