And Now, A Plague by Francesca Quarto

Published on by Francesca Quarto

"It won't just drop into your lap, you know?  You have to put some effort and energy into it!  And since you are the laziest man I have ever known, you'll never write more than one book and grocery lists!" 

The flimsy door banged shut, leaving behind the echo of her anger.  It didn't really trouble Azad; she'd slammed lots of doors in his face, even as his adoring eyes begged for her forgiveness.  It was true of course, and he knew it.  He scarcely made any attempt to work on his manuscript; many times pretending to ponder over a page when she walked by his hunched figure, likely to spy on him.  His first novel, The Tiger's Child had become an instant success, selling off the shelves everywhere, especially in the hard times they were experiencing.  Its tender love story captured the power of hope; the sturdy raft, on the rough seas of life.  But that was nearly ten years ago.  The modestly lucrative royalty checks, had long since dried-up like the fields surrounding his village, before the monsoon's brought relief and destruction.

Azad insisted they remain in the modest, rough built house, even after his book supplied enough money over time, to improve on his lower, middle-class status.  He was hesitant to leave a home and community he'd been born into, for the frenzied life in a city like Calcutta.  His young wife chaffed under the yoke of his final word on the subject, and was becoming more outspoken as the months and years slipped through the God's hourglass.  He didn't regret much of his sixty-three years, but he did wish he had not rushed to marry the beauty he met at a book store in the cursed city. 

Aalia was more almost twenty-three years his junior, but his growing local fame, surely blinded her to his thatch of white hair and dark, sun-baked face, marked like the many roads he'd already traveled.  She came to his book-signing table just after a plump girl with a forgettable face, making her great beauty that much more evident and intoxicating.  She wore a light blue sari, shot through with silver thread, smoothly moving over her slim figure.  He thought he beheld a goddess!  The long black braid of her hair swept over the table top when she leaned in to hand him a copy of Tiger's Child,  and he thrilled at her feather touch as her fingers brushed his hand, taking it back.  Seven months of passionate courting, and her upper middle-class family rejoiced beside the new, poorer relations, at their lavish wedding. Of course, there was much to celebrate then, and a few other royalty checks paid for most of it. 

Still delirious with love, he never noticed the fading ardor in his brides luminous dark eyes, as weeks and months passed without any envelopes coming from the publisher; in fact, they seemed to have forgotten him all together.   Aalia watched him from under her long lashes whenever she brought tea to his tiny work space.  He was always sitting at his cluttered desk in deep thought; or so it seemed.  She had no idea her older husband had reached the bottom of his well of inspiration.  While he scraped around for new stories buried in the muck of his thoughts, the Muse he sought so desperately, fell further into the darkness.  There was no inspiration.  There were no other tales to tell.  Now, there was only the drifting light of twilight as it began to cloud his mind.  

His ardor for the still lovely, though slightly plumper Aalia, never faltered, nor did it die back into a dusty corner of his mind.  He still found himself deeply in love with her, or perhaps, the thought of her.  For her part, the restless Aalia found many opportunities to scurry off to the city; taking a rickety bus into the heart of Calcutta.  That was her only mode of transport and it galled her to have to share space with unwashed children, or women holding caged chickens on their laps.  She learned not to lean against the window side, discovering they might be smeared with any manner of filth.  While these trips turned her delicate stomach, she trained herself to focus on the person awaiting her arrival at the Calcutta bus station.

Azad decided to take advantage of his wife's latest excursion to see her Auntie, to pick up his manuscript and begin a long-overdue revision.  He brewed himself a pot of Chi tea and tossing some biscuits onto a plate, began.  Reading through words so distant from his memory, it seemed a stranger had written them.  He began to relax and fall into the story as if  it was a feather comforter to roll around in. 

The story was untitled, but took the reader to medieval days when the Black Death descended upon the semi-conscious world of men and science.  He'd studied this period of history extensively, and was becoming something of an expert on the subject when he was at University.  His parents were fortunate that Azad had a brilliant mind and he was accepted there, in spite of his lower breeding.  

"I'll call it "And Now, A Plague" he said into the dancing dust motes coming off the road, through his open window.  It felt perfect since the hero had overcome so much to finally reach his pinnacle of power, only to be cut down by the black boils under his arm pits.  Azad could relate to this man; smacked down time after time by circumstances he could never control.  In the story, his stalwart hero rushes off to the never-ending wars between kings and queens, loses an arm in battle, only to overcome this to become a left-armed swordsman of deadly capabilities on the field. The hero returns to his own lands after meeting great perils, to find them plundered by marauding bandits taking advantage of his absence.  Once again, he finds the determination to defeat his enemies, before falling victim to the Plague silently stalking the many lands of the known world.   He is abandoned by his terrified wife to his coming fate.  In the final chapter, the hero sets fire to his manse, releasing the flames to consume his death ridden body.

"Yes.  This is a good story!  I'll send it to the Publisher immediately!"  Azad slipped the thick bundle of papers into a sturdy yellow envelope,  writing the name of the Publishing House in London on the front ,in his concise hand.  She'll know I am no sloth...merely a methodical writer, he thought as he added the address.   

Late into the night Azad waited by the small window in the front of his house, watching for his wife's familiar figure to appear out of the shadows.   He was found there by the mail carrier, who thought him asleep, and seeing the thick envelope snatched it up to be mailed.  He knew Azad would reimburse him the postage needed.  That evening, the front door rattled open, and the heavy perfume his wife favored followed her into the small front room.  Her heart nearly stopped in her chest when the lamp she lit lighted the ashen face of her husband, sitting stiffly in his chair.  His eyes were focused on the small window and like the yellowed glass, they were dingy and lifeless.

Aalia was free at last.  She ran to their bedroom, snatching up the old suitcase she shoved under their bed on her wedding day.  She frantically began to throw her best saris and belongings into it, the snapping of the latches sounded like rapid gun shots in the deep quiet of the house.  She knew she'd have to walk for at least an hour before the bus began its route, and she could take it into Calcutta, but her body was filled with a new energy.  She didn't bother to look upon the body of the elderly husband before she closed the door behind her empty life, and fled the dusty village.

A month after his burial the Postman carried a letter to his small house.  It was now occupied by a distant niece who had inherited his things under the terms of an old will they discovered in his desk.  He meant to revise it after his marriage, but never seemed to find the time as he pondered over birthing his next novel.  When she opened the letter, his niece was stunned to find it was a letter of acceptance on his latest book, And Now, A Plague.  They intended to release it immediately and had great hopes it would become as popular and lucrative as The Tiger's Child.

And so it was.  The niece had all rights to his works, using the royalties to move into a flat in Calcutta where she could follow her uncle's footsteps and study to become a writer.  The circle of life was completed as it should be and always will be.  Karma is everything.











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