‘What are those infernal insects called? Fruit fly or a more inclusive variety of the larger species of flies?’ He does not really care to know the answer. He is only bothered about their nefarious activities. They are so tiny… like microorganisms… only that they are visible… else, they’d be very much like the virus that’s been raging outside… threatening to come in any time… and this fear, this goddamned fear, that’s been keeping him boxed in… perhaps for eternity!
He cannot help but be amazed at their dexterity: any ripe fruit or any remnant of it, and they will materialize out of nowhere… swarming around it, noiselessly, but with a purpose. Not only that… for that matter, any remnant of anything, any leftovers, from the uneaten scraps of food left on the dishes to the dark red blotches at the bottom of the unwashed teacup… and they’ll swarm over. Like black dots they’ll be immersed in their existential task… you can easily wave them off… they’ll fly away as noiselessly as before, but they’ll come back again, very fast. Want to kill them? No way, you’d only waste your time clapping your hands sans the celebration.
He looks disgustedly at the hordes of them, busy as ever in his congested one-room tenement. His dwelling, he prefers to call it a cursed one, is particularly prone to their attacks: on the table with the leftovers on the plates, in the teacups on the floor pushed under the cots for action-to-be-taken later, on the fruit basket even though that is mostly adorned by a solitary blackened banana, everywhere in the place carved out of the wall called a kitchen and the floor-level gaping hole under it called a sink.
He smiles hysterically at the thought that he has to go out of the suffocating environs a few times during the day… a relief? Ha! Ha! Ha! Well, not for any darned productive outing or activity, but only to respond to the inevitable calls of nature. And there too! The infernal insects wholly dominate the community toilets that have been crying red and green due to the lack of dedicated cleaners.
He is also amazed at another basic aspect of his existence, he muses as he continues sitting on the soiled cot, inclining against the hard-rough cemented wall.
The apparently unsavoury attributes of his dwelling-place had never really been a disturbing thought earlier… when he worked for a restaurant which was frequented by customers in spite of the dilapidated building it was housed in, for its good food, and so, brisk business from early morning to the late-night hours was the daily norm. The earnings were good. Handsome tips from belly-rubbing customers more than complemented his moderate monthly salary. And life was good. His wife was taking very good care of their tenement-home that he rented a couple of years into his job after leaving his parental place in the slum, and their daughter admitted to a good school.
The remnants… the flies… the visits… all were there, but then, the invisible flies came swarming in, mighty and overpowering. Everything changed in a single day… his workplace closed down… he got imprisoned in his congested tenement… infested by the visible flies.
For a couple of months, he continued getting his salary, and with his moderate savings life was not that hard. But slowly and inevitably, things took a turn for the worse. He got tense, rigid and irritable, boxed in against his wish, intolerably heated in the ensuing summer.
He also started noticing ominous changes in his wife’s behavior patterns and varying moods: she seemed to have lost interest in cooking his favorite dishes completely; she too was constantly angry and irritated, pouncing on his immobility or on anything he wanted to do as way of some help, saying nasty things about his wasted manhood and so on: her only concern that seemed to remain fixated was that their daughter must get on with her online classes for which she forced him part with his smartphone he so much desired in his painful confinement.
Suffocation and gloom only increased over the months as his house-rent got into the pending queue, their small television set went out of air due to the accumulating cable charges, and he could no longer order online his favorite items, from ready-made eatables to the cosmetics that were termed non-essentials in the wake of the invisible flies.
He has now two growing concerns. Has love which has always been the pillar of their conjugal life been tossed out the window, forever, and that his lovely wife only hates him now? Would he ever get back his livelihood? He has heard that his restaurant might never reopen, because the dilapidated building is under consideration of being demolished by the municipal authorities. Has he lost the whole plot in his life?
He blames himself on at least two counts: he never really cared for his wife, always leaving her behind inside that congested dwelling and never allowing her to do the odd jobs, like that of the most preferred one as a cooking-housemaid, and never even considered her demand for a stitching machine seriously, a job she said she was very proficient in; and he himself too, thanks to his now-proven false sense of dignity and lifestyle, never wanted to do the jobs that were being advised by his working brothers in the slum.
The hordes settle down on the table by his bedside. In a bout of fury, he claps his hands violently over them. The hordes disperse, but now are coming back to haunt his mouth and nostrils.
He sits quietly for a minute on his cot, thinking over something, with a stern look on his face. Suddenly he bursts into a flurry of activities: he collects all unwashed utensils and all remnants wherever they are, and starts washing; he takes up the broom cleaning all corners of the tenement; and he sprays out the remnants of a room-freshener bottle.
Raps on the door. He takes a satisfied look around his room, opens the door and sits back on the cot, sullenly as is customary. His wife and his daughter enter. His ten-year-old daughter immediately sits down on the other cot, focused on her smartphone. His mobile! he thinks, not ruefully now, but proudly… lovingly.
The somewhat brighter and the smiling face of his wife rather surprises him. Closing the door, she puts her bag on the table, and sits down on the floor by his feet. She looks up at him and says,
“My design of the mask is approved by madam, do you hear! From tomorrow she is calling me to her home, there she’ll allow me work on a stitching machine of hers and I’ll get commission for every mask I make!”
“Congratulations!” he responds in a matter-of-fact tone. “I’ve also decided to visit my brothers tomorrow! We’ll discuss the jobs that we can start with. Future is uncertain, you know! We must earn, and give a better life to our daughter and us!”
If she were surprised, she does not show it now. She puts her hands on his thighs, places her face there and cries quietly. He puts his right palm on her head, smiling contentedly.