Sheebu Weds Sheffa
The yellow, rectangular pieces of paper littered the desolate street. The warm breeze scattered them, arranging them in haphazard patterns before displacing them again. The wafer-thin bits were now worthless reminders of a wedding that had taken place, two suns before the festival of Holi. Besides the matching horoscopes of the bride and groom, the first two letters of their names mirrored one another.
And the local printer had thought himself an artist as he had stretched and enlarged the letters ‘S’ and ‘H’ dotting them with flowers and had added the remaining letters, curling the tips, exaggerating the slants, compressing the gaps and shortening the lengths, creating an odd word salad that had lacked a celebratory flavor and an appealing presentation.
Proud of his creation, the printer had shown the printing proof to the yet to be married couple’s aged grandfathers. Neither could see clearly beyond the tips of their noses. The two men couldn’t decide whether to crease their eyes or keep them wide open. Fatigue was a constant companion and only an armlength away when one’s existence was approaching the mark of a century.
The nods of their balding heads and the smacks of their pruned lips had dismissed the printer, their approvals nothing but groggy old men slipping into deep slumbers. And the printer had returned to his shop and prepared his machine, a rusted and moody catastrophe, to print the leaflets on the best quality paper that could be procured in the region. His hand had cranked the lever arm till one hundred frail invitations sat in the cracked tray.
He had eyed them with the lust of an unfulfilled lover and caressed the paper with the calloused tips of his fingers. They were the labor of his creativity which only he knew existed. To be delivered by four in the evening, the man had bathed and dressed, combing his freshly oiled hair into symmetrical divisions. The skip in his step and the hum in his heart had taken him to the temple where both families had assembled.
The first invitation would be offered to the goddess. With her blessings in place, the remainder would be distributed before sundown. The execution of auspicious duties demanded the light of the day. When the pot-bellied priest had read the first invitation aloud, sudden quiet had descended. It wasn’t the type of silence that offered relief, but the kind that brought with it numerous questions.
‘What was that?’
‘How can that be?’
The priest had repeated his words with a deliberate drag and a concentrated emphasis.
‘Sheee-boooo Behhh-dddsss Shehh-ffaaahh.’
‘What the hell does that mean?!’
The mood had begun to change to anger. The printer had scratched his cheek, the priest had rubbed his eyes, but the words were set in black, firm upon the paper.
Sheebu Beds Sheffa
In his quest for beauty, proportion, and perfection, the printer had transformed the word ‘Weds’ into ‘Beds’, the unintentional change of ‘W’ to ‘B’ more of a failed attempt at a unique, artistic concoction. But before he had had the chance to explain, his collar had been seized and his face, back and bottom had become the target of robust, rubber chappals.
Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap!
Oh the pain, the shame, the disgrace. It had hung heavy upon the man as he had cranked the lever arm again, reprinting one hundred leaflets, rectifying his past mistake, bearing the entire cost of the repeated operation. And the new invitations had reached their intended destinations, only to be crumpled and thrown away as soon as the wedding ceremony had culminated.
The printer lugged his machine and his belongings on the back of his bicycle. He was leaving the village for undiscovered places and brighter opportunities. His craft deserved respect and adoration, and there was none left for him here. The breeze carried a yellow paper, and it stuck to the man’s pants right below his knee. He stopped and looked at it, tears brimming in his eyes, its worn state a reflection of his own desperation.
No more wedding invitations. No more surrendering to creative inclinations.
No more an artist would he be.
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