Join our amazing community of book lovers and get the latest stories doing the rounds.

We respect your privacy and promise no spam. We’ll send you occasional writing tips and advice. You can unsubscribe at any time.


The Pencil

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

Haven’t we met before? he had asked me. We hadn’t. But it did make me pause awhile. He seemed familiar. He possibly reminded me of someone I had actually met. There was something gentle about him, although his looks belied gentility. He was a robust man, with a stunning moustache to boot. I, a somewhat presentable, pretty woman in my early forties. This was at an art expo that I had stumbled onto, in our condo’s local magazine. I had time to kill between errands, and I decided to go along and check it out.

It was not extraordinary, with some stray good-looking artwork strewn among mediocre works. There was promise, but just about I was done pretty soon. The man was hovering around. I threw a glance at the others who had also, it would appear, stumbled into this world. We all seemed a bit lost, like folk who had nothing better to do, nowhere else to be.

And there he was, seriously considering a purchase I imagined. He was the only one I reckoned to myself. He did look very fit and strong. He turned, as if it were my thoughts that had ensnared him. I moved my glance away from him. I could sense him walking toward my side of the hall. I am not given to great friendly conversations with strangers, but somehow, I knew we were about to have one.

Hi, I’m Kush. You are?


So, art?

I was dumbstruck. He was striking a dialogue, as expected. That morning, we- the husband and I, had fought over his recent late nights. I had been feeling neglected. My soul had been crying for attention. Here was attention. Someone was paying it forward, or at least, listening to my soul’s needs.

I don’t mind art, it’s not my usual hangout though. I smiled through the words I heard myself speak.

He smiled back. It lit up his face. He was handsome.

Well, I don’t either. I had to run a few errands for home, and this was on my way. I’m no afficionado.

He chuckled and continued.

I pretend to know more than I do. I love the idea of role-playing. So today….hmmm let’s see.

 I was finding it increasingly hard to believe that I was being chatted up by a random, rather suave man, in an art gallery. We really were warming up to each other.  I would have to say something soon. I was not about to let him hog the conversation.

An art curator?

No, that’s terribly boring. Hmmmm, let’s see….

 A struggling actor perhaps? That’s what I would be.

I was playing along. I’d never ever done this, but it was beyond me now.

Now we’re talking. And you’re a new director, with a cutting-edge story, if that is possible for a story.

But, no I’m not a struggling actor, I’m a pencil, looking to be sharpened.  His eyes twinkled dangerously.

 Wait, what!? A pencil. So, an inanimate? You’re funny.

 I’ve been known to be, he chuckled.

So did I. He was a pencil. So, what was I? I had to match wits. I couldn’t be animate to his inanimate, could I?

I would be the director, with a story like none other.

Ah! So you are a director. I’m kinda new, so do help me with finding ways to sharpen, won’t you! Surely youtoo need some editing, right? Most edits are penciled in, as you know.

 He was grinning, all geared up to throw it all in. The game was on, as far as he was concerned.

So, he was ready to write. O boy! was he clever!

The attention he had showered on me, and continuing to, was mesmerizing. We were getting on. This was naughty and out of my league. This chapter was out of an unknown textbook.The anonymity of this chapter with no title, was baffling.

I had no clue how this would end.

Mirali, is that your name? It’s beautiful. I’m Kush- Pencil number 2.

We both looked into each other’s eyes, and then I understood that we had met. I am unsure as to how I came to grasp that he wasn’t new to me, but I became certain.

I’m a Catholic, disbelieving of anything other than the here and now. I’ve no idea of his beliefs, but the manner in which we had struck it, this whatever-it-was, the comfort of it, it wasn’t new. There was a familiarity between us that had no rationale.

Kush, should we leave here now- I need to edit my script.

 I was being clever, and it made me feel good.

 Yes, let’s find a quieter place, where we can work in harmony.

 His hand gently touched my elbow, nudging it toward the exit. We were cheerful. There was energy flowing between us.

This was truly not actually happening, was it? Me, Mirali- devoted wife and friend of all animals, was going to hang out with a rather gorgeous Pencil named Kush. All right, admittedly unusual but surely it can happen. If my soul was singing, this was good for me.

I volunteered twice weekly, at a pet association, which took in strays and had them adopted. The rest of my life was managing meals, and our home. I wanted no more, so far. Bondel, my husband of over ten years, and I, hadn’t wanted children. We took in animals, and they were a handful already. Life had been good, till Bondel decided to work harder. He had taken on more consulting work to supplement our income. He told me the harder he worked, the faster we would be able to lead a retired life.

I wasn’t quite sure what a retired life looked like, because as far as I was concerned, we were leading the life we would lead one way or another. Money didn’t come into the picture. I guess my half of the couple’s frame looked fuller than Bondel’s.  I wanted less. He wanted more, of everything. It had worked- there was no open dispute on less and more- there was equitable distribution of joy. We lived and let live, and there was love. It felt like love.

Lately, Bondel had been returning later and later- sometimes around midnight. I hated that I dined alone with our brood of cats and dogs. They missed him too. I had a few friends, all of whom had kids. I was the only one who had time to scatter around, to waddle about. I loved the pace I had chosen for the marathon called life. I wasn’t contesting, I wasn’t competing, I didn’t answer to anyone but Bondel, and myself. It was quiet. I enjoyed the evenness of our life, even if it felt like two separate streams, the waters never mixing.

I didn’t know I lacked anything till I met Kush that day. He awakened the knowledge that I needed this, this lightness of being, of playing with shadows, of creating and demolishing all at once. When we stepped outside the art gallery that day, standing in the sun, searching a quiet Café to chisel his pencil and sharpen my screenplay, it hit me. The even pace of my life was out of sync with something; it was placid and dull compared to the sentiments that raided me on the footpath, with Kush. This was something else- the buzz I felt then made me euphoric. It was almost as if I had turned myself on, and had been dead so far.

My reverie and insights were broken by his childlike excitement:

Look, there’s Triveni- it has a homely café and great masala chai. Game?

 And he strode on, again gently nudging me along with an intimacy that was to never leave me. I hopped on beside him, following his footsteps and crossing the wide road to get to Triveni. Yes, I knew Triveni, but not well. He seemed to know his way around. When we entered its gates, someone shouted to him.

Hey Kush, you’ve been absconding. Heard you were out last month. All good- you seem to have recovered fully. We’ve missed you.

Yes, I am back now. Took a while, you know how it is.

Not really. But….oh hello!

The young man looked at me, as if I had just manifested.

Hey sorry, this is Mirali, a friend.

Kush turned to look at me, and my heart burst with love. I think it was love, because the magnitude of what I felt then was shattering.

Mirali, he continued, this is Rajvir, an old acquaintance.

I smiled shyly, tongue-tied, dealing with my rush.

Hi, said Rajvir.

The man had introduced me as a friend, and an old buddy as an acquaintance, and the boy didn’t seem to mind.

They waved at each other and parted ways. We arrived at the small café which was fairly uncrowded, and found a corner.

The servers saluted him with warmth, and then one of them shouted out.

 Do chai laana, kadak- Kush bhaiya keliye!

 He didn’t have to ask. The teas were on their way.

Aur kuchh bhaiya, ekdum garam pakode banaadey?

The server again offered to bring piping hot fritters if Kush would desire them.

Arrey nahin, itni jaldi nahin khaana bhai. Chai laa dobas..

He kindly declined the offer.

I watched his body language. It was generous and compassionate. I thought back to Bondel then, I don’t know why. My husband was kind too, but only to me. He didn’t have time to engage with strangers. There was no way he would come to an open café like this. I did such outings on my own, and often too.

So, are we ready to edit and sharpen?

Listen, I haven’t ever….

Shush, you can’t discuss anything with the Pencil- you simply tell it what needs doing, and it writes.  Your tool at your service Ma’am.. You are the mistress of all you desire to edit.

I jumped in.

Were you very ill?

 Yep, I was. Cancer. I’m good now though.

.And family?


 What made you want to get better?

 So that I could visit art galleries and meet unsuspecting women and be Pencil number 2.

 I laughed.

You are funny.

 I’ve been known to be. But we are not going to discuss my illness. I have no family to speak of. Yes, I was married. No kids.

Mirali, that’s my other life. Right now…I’m…..

 Ya, Pencil number 2. But tell me, where have we met?

 You do want to know, don’t you?

 It feels like we have. I’m curious. Maybe we haven’t.

 If you could call it a meeting- then at your marriage. I was in town, and gatecrashed. Your husband’s friend- Vishwas, I was his roomie at college. He said he needed to rush to a wedding. I wasn’t about to leave- so he invited me along. Your eyes met my eyes, we didn’t actually meet. Vishwas apologized for my presence, but you made light of it. You were resplendent that day- I’ll never forget. Are you….?

Oh Lord yes, I’m still married. This was twelve odd years back. You still remember?

 A warmth spread over my body. My soul was doing a tango with his. This was crazy.

So where do you go now?

 I’m footloose and fancy free, so I’ll probably sleep at Vishwas’ tonight, and head back to Pune tomorrow.

 That’s where you live?

 Indeed, I do. You want to visit Pune?

 I do.

 I was unflappable today. I wanted to live his life.

 I can wait another day if you wish, and we can fly together.

 I’m taking you up on this offer- I hope you mean it?

 I do.

And he put his hands on the table. The chai was also sitting there, untouched. I put one hand on his, and picked up the cup with the other.

Cheers to Pune then, here I come!

 All right then.

 The tacit pact had been sealed with Triveni’s masala chai.

This was ten years back. I couldn’t explain myself to Bondel, and broke his heart. I left for Pune two days later, with Pencil number 2.

I never looked back. Bondel refused to divorce me. I live with Kush, but I’ve also learnt to travel alone. I know this isn’t forever; his cancer could return, but he’s gifted me one phase of his life. I’ve never known this kind of joy- of just being, with him, without him. It’s a crazy kind of existence. We just up and go someplace. We wound up in the hills a few months back.  Lived there like two teens. We are by the ocean these days. It’s seizing life in what it offers us; it’s what I’ve learnt from Kush. He has some money, I have some- and we make do. It’s an extraordinary way to live.

The thing is I did write a screenplay, which we edited together. I invented many lives that we might still live.

I’m looking for an agent to buy it and make it into a mini-series.

It’s the story of us: Newbie Director meets Pencil Number 2.







Kamalini Natesan (THAILAND)

Kamalini is a French teacher and Indian musician and the author of short stories, poetry and published her debut novel last year called 'Naked Beneath the Midnight Sun' (Olympia, UK). She has a website ( which houses her blog. She is passionate about cooking & travelling.

Write A Comment