The Firebird

Saikat Majumdar

Disaster came early in Ori’s life, at the age of five, the first time he saw his mother die.

Around him was a warm nest of people, people who munched on popcorn, their faces lit up by the dark red light of the fire pit. They looked around, put their arms around him lovingly, their palms covering his eyes, and murmured, “Look away. You don’t have to see this.” To each other they said, “We should have put him to bed.”

They stroked him absently, unable to tear their eyes away from the slow dance of light and shadow on which his mother floated to her death. A few hundred dark heads peeped out of the cotton sheets and woolen shawls around their bodies, gazing across the open ground, hypnotized by her pain. His father hugged him, but his arms felt cold. “You’re crying?” His voice mocked, sounding as if it were coming from far away, “Dhur boka!”

Ori didn’t scream. But the world blurred as tears pooled at the corners of his glasses. Nausea gathered in his bowels like thick mist, and the heat rose to his skin. In the blurred light, he saw his mother’s head slump back as she lay on the ground. She was dead. With the death, his illness left him. He sensed his fever evaporate and his skin turn cold from sweat.

He did not know when he had fallen asleep. His father had grabbed his wrist. “Come”—and led him through the dark, whispering, “Just hold on to me. Tight korey.”

They had inched their way under the makeshift wooden structure, through narrow passages veined with electric cables, to the room of white light and giant mirrors. It was the kind of room he would see hundreds of times, all over the country, choked with the smell of wigs and makeup and cotton and silk, charged with the the sauciness of women smoking cigarettes in bras and petticoats, the hair of Mughal princesses still heaped over their heads.

That night, he needed to see her, still heavy with gold jewelry and the rich sari, her hair a black river flowing down her back. She caught sight of his reflection in the long mirror before her, smiled and came back to life. But she did not turn around. Or leave her seat to take him in her arms.

He stood at the threshold for a long moment. Her smile felt strange, out of place, almost shocking. He had just seen her suffer a life of misery and meet her death with calm. And here she was, smiling, back and in the greenroom thick with cigarette smoke and sharp with the glare of electric bulbs lining the mirror. His heart leaped with happiness, and a pang of betrayal. She saw his reflection in the long mirror before her. She smiled and came back to life, but did not turn around. Or leave her seat to pick him up. He stood at the threshold for a long moment.

Blinded by the lights and the mirrors, he averted his eyes.

She had a gift for death. A gift which came richly alive in the theater. A gift that created coils of terror in his stomach, coils that rose up and choked his breath.

To him, the stage was a place where his mother suffered pain. And died often.

Over there, she was his no more. Something broke inside him to see her suffer, and suffer for all to see. Perhaps it was only the sad stories that he remembered. He could not tell their sadness from the real.

When he was younger, five or six or seven years old, he found it terrifying that she could belong to a world where he did not exist. He was now ten, but a residue of that confusion and terror had remained with him. He felt that he could hold on to her by following her to the stage. He felt restless sitting in the audience. But the stage, the greenroom, and the wings through which characters passed on to the stage, the whole world out there was frightening. Loud, fire-lit, a cavern of pain and suffering. But he had to step into that world. He had no choice.

Sometimes, the powdered people of the stage called out to him. Invited him into their rehearsals, to say a few lines, trot across the room, wail a little. Sometimes, they wanted his mother with him strapped to her back. His heart would glow; he would have loved nothing more.

But his mother would not let him act. Never. She had her will set firmly against him acting. Not my son, she said. It was selfish of her, terribly selfish. The stage fascinated and frightened him. He was anxious to step into its sharp light, get his skin burnt a little. Its warm fragrance drove him mad. But his mother would never let that happen and there was nothing he could do, nothing at all. If anyone ever talked about putting him to use in the play, a wailing baby in a character’s arms, a child left alone on the streets, an errand boy in a large house, she’d dismiss it all. Not him, what an absurd idea! A few times, he yelled that he could cry on stage, nothing could be easier than that, but she took no notice. Just leave him alone.

She shrugged off each attempt to put him on stage, always with something which looked like indifference. Except for that one time at the Ruby Theatre, right after he turned ten.

The neighborhood in which the theater stood had a distinct feel. The dusty smell of the city mixed with something . . . a breezy fragrance, something strange and sweet. It was less than half an hour from their house and barely off the main street, a place he passed daily in his school bus. Marking the streets were ancient tracks along which doddering trams clanged their way west, all the way to the river at the edge of the city. But none of that quite explained the strangeness of the neighborhood.

Evening hung over the place, though it was not yet six. The darkness did not scare him. He was eager to get to the theater around the corner. This was, he knew, the evening for the full rehearsal, with costumes and music and everything. As he walked on, he caught a whiff of flowers. He looked around and realized what was different about these corner shops selling cigarettes and betel leaves. They all sold flowers, stems of roses and thin garlands of white evening bloomers, jasmine, tuberoses—cold, moist, exquisitely formed blossoms that one saw in weddings as well as funerals. Music played from the tiny transistor radios hidden under the stacks of flowers and chewing tobacco, love songs from Hindi movies, many of them from many, many years ago, crackling on the airwaves in slow, nasal tones.

First, he saw the men—reed-thin, in shabby shirts flapping around their bony ribs—wandering the pavements. They looked aimless but worried—all of them, as if they had something on their minds, but couldn’t talk about it. Their bodies arched eagerly towards every passing man, to whom they clung for a few moments, whispering breathless appeals. What were they saying? He saw no merchandise on them, no sachets of chewing tobacco, trays of sliced fruits or bottles of soda that vendors usually tried to thrust on pedestrians making their way through city neighborhoods. He glanced at them furtively as he walked. But none of the men looked at him.

Turning into a narrow lane, he saw the women. They stood next to each other in a line along the houses, facing the street in a wriggling, snake-like row, the scariest creatures he had seen in his life. A scattered chain of shiny dresses, fire-red make-up on dark skin and flowers wreathed around buns and waves of hair. They laughed and stretched and nudged each other.

Ori walked past them as quickly as he could, trying to look away. His heart beat wildly. He could not say why. He had thought only children had to stand in line, like he did in school, on the way to prayer in the assembly hall. He didn’t know adults could be made to stand that way, too.

Almost running now, he suddenly came up right against the theater. It seemed to tear its way up through the ground, a rugged mass of aged bricks, a giant iron gate. The gate was locked, he knew, but the smaller door next to it was not and he pushed it open to enter the building. The lobby was half-lit and shadowy; weak music spilled out past the door to the main gallery. Locked and unlit, the little ticket counter on the right looked like an empty cage. On the walls, framed posters of plays glowed in the shadows. The place knotted magic and fear inside his stomach; a dense, wooden kind of fragrance filled his nostrils as he moved towards the auditorium door. He tiptoed through the door and stopped short, taking in a strange sight.

The play’s male lead was on the stage, alone. He was lightly moving his body to a song playing backstage: Sunsaabasun. The song to which everybody was dancing that year. The actor wasn’t quite dancing, but his movements were close to it. From time to time, he’d pause, flex his wiry muscles at an oblong mirror placed awkwardly in a corner, stare at himself, then start stepping to the music as it picked up the tempo. From across the hall, he looked tiny, a lit-up puppet in shiny clothes. Everybody in that empty hall looked tiny. The few people occupying the front row talked and laughed among themselves. Nobody paid attention to the man on stage.

Ori heard his mother’s voice and felt reassured. She was in the front row. He could see the top of her head and a little shimmer of an orange sari. He didn’t know if he should run up to her or call out to her. She tossed back her head and laughed, and talked to her co-actors in the voice he recognized from her conversation at home; it was not her stage voice. And yet the light and the music and the lilt of her laughter made him hesitate. The lit-up stage at the far end of the empty auditorium held him entranced. Slowly, a kind of gloom came over him at the thought of his mother playing the lead opposite the prancing, mirror-gazing man with the wiry good looks, twisting his body whimsically to the beat of the racy music. The music stopped and everybody became quiet in preparation for the next scene. The man was gone and Ori saw his mother climb up the steps, ready to play her part.

A shrill, feminine voice spoke up right above him, startling him. “And who are you, sweetie?” In the wispy darkness of the hall, the man’s strange, drawn-out voice offered a kind of comfort.

Ori turned, looked up. “I’m looking for my mother,” he said.

“Of course you are!” The man looked at the stage. “Little boys and girls need their mothers all the time. And who is your mother?”

Shyly, he whispered the name.

“What?” The man leaned forward, brought his face close to Ori’s mouth. “Can’t hear anything.”

“Garima Basu,” Ori said again, his face growing warm and red.

“Come with me,” the man said. “I’ll send word to her.”

They stepped back into the lobby, where they ran into a couple of young women with whom the man spoke briefly, his voice a strange parody of theirs. He led Ori into a tiny cubbyhole of a room leading off the lobby. It had just about enough space for a large round table piled high with Xeroxed sheets. Ori had seen these sheets at home many times. They were from the script of the play his mother was rehearsing. Filled with handwritten scribbles, they bore a name on top written in flowing strokes of ink: “Ahin Mullick, Producer.”

The man, now more visible in the sickly yellow light, was gaunt. His skin had a rough, corroded surface. His jaws moved constantly and his lips were red from the betel leaves he chewed.

“Good-looking!” Softly, the man’s fingers caressed Ori’s cheeks. “What a sweet face!” His fingers trailed down his face and lightly cupped his chin. Ori twitched his nose sharply to balance his glasses, a habit grown out of the perennial fear that they might slip off.

He was used to this sort of talk. It felt nice too. Under thick glasses, he had myopic eyes that looked dreamy, and his delicate mouth was arched like a pretty girl’s. But he disliked the smallness of his head as it made him look younger, lost under his shock of shiny, wet-looking hair.

“Let me see something.” The man came closer.

The fragrance of spiced betel leaves made Ori dizzy. The man removed Ori’s glasses. Ori blinked, lost in the haze into which the world suddenly melted away.

“Have you ever acted in a play?” The man gently put the glasses down on the pile of scripts, his gaze still on Ori’s face. Ori twitched his nose even though the glasses were gone.

He swam in a shapeless world. But his heart leaped. He would love to act!

He wanted to walk through the dark slime of the wings, breathe in the cigarette smoke in the greenrooms. He wanted to be on stage. He wanted to be with his mother.

Once upon a time, he had shared the stage with her. It was a long time ago, back when he was around two years old. The memory had stayed with him, like a haunting dream. Sharp metal had clanged over his head; the shine of violence had seeped through his closed eyes. He was a child clad in white, he had been told years later, stolen in his sleep for slaughter before a thirsty goddess, saved from murder just as a timely sword clashed with the machete swinging toward his tiny head. It was a play by a very famous poet, in which his mother had played a cruel queen. But he was just a baby then, they would tell him later, a baby who hadn’t started at the clash of steel. He hadn’t cried. As if he were really asleep! They had been stunned. But the brave sleep had led to nothing.

Only the terrifying taste of sweets had remained.

The sweetshop was just around the corner from their house. Its owner was a large, sweet-talking man who sat in his shop dressed in a white kurta all day, watching over the rows of sweets in the glass boxes, the fried, syrup-soaked mishti at the bottom, the milky white sandesh on top. He was sweet to the passers-by, most of them locals, many of whom stopped by to buy something, especially in the evenings. People craved his red yogurt in little clay bowls, and the creamy rosomalai was famous throughout north Calcutta. Everybody knew he was a bit of a cheat and regularly tampered with his weights, but nobody could stay away from his shop.

That day, he had called Ori from the street.

“Coming back from school, eh?” His eyes shone. “You must be starving!”

Ori tried to smile but did not speak. He didn’t know this man well. He was hungry, and somehow in a shop coated with a sugary smell all over, it did not feel right. He wanted to walk away, but the man would not let him. He ordered the mishti-maker to offer him a leafy plate of crumbly white sandesh. “Eat up.” He said. “Time to grow tall and strong!”

“My hands are not washed.” He did not know how else to refuse. But the man would not hear anything. He led him to a sink in the corner of the shop, and a tiny cake of soap next to it.

So he stood and ate the sandesh. The pangs of his afternoon hunger slowly wilted before the humid sun on the street before, gazing pedestrians, flies dancing in lazy arcs over the glass-covered sweets. The sandesh were delicious, and he suffered pain with them in his mouth, the strangeness of glorious taste enjoyed not in the cool shadow of his home but in the yellow heat of the streets, listening to the rickshaw-pullers cry to clear their way. “Is your mother home today?” The shop-owner asked as he handed him a clay pot with fried mishti floating in sugary syrup. He nodded a no, his mouth full. “She’s out all evening, isn’t she?” Under the double attack of mishti and questions, his head felt muddled, and he chewed for a long time so that he didn’t have to talk. But the man was all patience, and looked at him with questioning eyes till he could pretend no more. “Sometimes,” he mumbled. “No one to feed you after you come home from school?” The man stared at him with large, sweaty eyes.

The question slid past him the first day, but when on the third day the whole event repeated itself, freezing again on the same question, the mishti turned into tiny, hard pebbles between his teeth. He could not chew them anymore. He felt his teeth would shatter. No one to feed you? He looked up from the clay pot, his fingers dripping with syrup, and felt a wave of nausea at the cloying smell of sugar and cottage cheese thick in the air, sickened by the sticky whiteness of the man’s kurta-covered paunch and the balls of condensed milk in rows. He wanted to run, but did not wish to offend the kind man who had more questions waiting, if his mother was late every night and if his father was left at home by himself, the man who suffered alone. The kind man knew it all. “She comes back late,” Ori mumbled. “After I’ve gone to sleep.” He smiled weakly and swallowed the mishti, unchewed; they went down his throat like tasteless blobs. He stepped out quickly and walked home. He hated sweets.

He was a kind man, the sweetshop owner. There was affection in his voice. They were all kind to him. He turned warm with guilt for not talking to them properly, for running away from them.

The next morning, on his way to school, he saw his mother’s name on the facades of houses. It was scattered in red and white on patches of flimsy paper that sat on walls crowded with election graffiti and posters for ice-cream throughout the snakelike lane. The firebird. The play by a French playwright with a name he could not pronounce, staged in Bengali by one of the theater groups in the city. They were going to perform soon in a local playhouse.

His mother was playing a key character in the play. Her name was printed loud and bold on each poster. Walking rapidly, he felt a surge of happiness clouded by an ache, a bitter taste in his mouth. He paused before a house and inspected one poster, across the closed shutter of a shop. The paper was stretched thin across the uneven wood of the shutter that had splintered through the large letters of the title. He touched the letters softly; a pang of love shot through his heart. The paper was flimsy, like a page from a cheap newspaper. He looked around, warm around the ears. He wondered if anybody had seen him.

The firebird was also pasted around the rusted metal of lamp posts, the flapping wings of the sketched bird broken across the pole, right next to pamphlets for secretarial courses, schools for toddlers, the graffiti of protest against rising prices.

Advertising happened here in the open air, where people lived and loitered the day away, on walls where they spat their phlegm and aimed their piss.

Every time he looked at one of the posters, his eyes were drawn by the letters that formed his mother’s name. The playful font hugged rough surfaces, bodies round and flat, blazing into a boldness that seemed to overshadow other names, the director’s and the playwright’s, even the flaming bird that had morphed into the letters of the play’s title. But the name was baldly stated, and for that he was grateful.

The Nice and Naughty Girl. That was what they had called her. In an ad he had once seen in one of the local newspapers, for a jatra play performed by a traveling troupe. It had been a year ago, but the phrase, yoked to his mother’s name, still cast over him a fine film of sadness.

The ad, he remembered, had warmed his mother’s face to a fleeting redness which she had quickly laughed away.

Here her name was bare. In red and white, the spiky letters screamed for the eyes of passersby, loudly.

How loudly? The evening revealed. That evening, his cousin Shruti felt the sudden need to talk to her boyfriend. It was a Sunday and everybody was home. A whole day with her family was bad enough for Shruti to miss Abir’s voice by the time it was early evening. But she did not like to call him from their home phone. It was a crazy mess at home, the conversation killed by her mother walking in the middle of it, the maids shouting for more frying oil, the need to put on a deadpan face. Everybody watched and heard you the whole time. Most of all, a stern grandmother who missed nothing even though she didn’t understand the English or the coded, quickfire Bangla Shruti spoke into the phone. But Mummum always sensed it. To her people were like breed dogs. Girls from good families never laughed loudly with men, not even into the phone. It was always a fight to hell! Shruti would much rather walk over to the phone booth at the para beauty parlor. Did Ori want to come along? Of course.

As Shruti entered the little glass enclosure to make her call, he sat on a small stool outside. The workers of the beauty parlor stood and smoked and laughed amongst themselves. He listened to the slippery words fly back and forth as he saw Shruti speak in words lost to him behind glass. If she could provide the right kind of massage to the right kind of men. One of the boys winked at a girl. She could treble her earnings with the tips. The girl grimaced; laughter crackled in the air. Behind the glass, he could see Shruti run her fingers through her hair as she spoke rapidly into the receiver. The doctor from Salt Lake, his eyes are glued to your jugs the whole time you give him a head massage. Shruti had paused, and was now listening to the phone with a frown. Rub him with your boobs and he’ll slip you a fifty!

The owner of the parlor, a small middle-aged man, stepped out of the door. Suddenly, the air cooled and the voices hushed. The man’s mouth was crinkled in disgust. The shadow of a sheepish figure had stepped out with him, a sickly boy not more than twelve, a messy bundle of sheets in his hands.

“Harish, get this banchot out of here,” the owner waved a dismissive hand. “He’s wasted all the posters for the new weekend packages.”

Harish was the man who was loudly suggesting new ways of pleasing the men who came to the parlor for massages. He whacked the sickly boy hard on his head, sending him reeling several feet away. “Lost them, has he? Cut his meals for the week and we’ll get the money back.” Harish barked. “You’re a bigger idiot,” the owner shouted. “Do you know how much the printing costs were? He can starve for six months and we won’t get nothing back,” the owner grunted at the boy, “I’ve rammed it in his head I don’t know how many times. Choose the spots well and stick them up nicely.” The boy tried to melt to the wall. “Banchot puts all of them up together last evening and now they are plastered over!”

“The seenema posters,” the boy spoke in a choked voice. “They took up all the spots.”

“Crazy to give him the posters! Bloody illiterate peasant!”

“You really have to hunt for the good spots here. The bloody tutorial centers come up with a bunch every week and plaster over everything you put up.”

“Some bloody shampoo had cleaned out all the spots last week.”

“The seenema posters,” the frightened boy repeated hoarsely. “The seenema posters were all over the place.”

“You can’t fight the cinema posters. Way too much muscle.”

“Way too much bare skin.” Harish reminded them. “Who’s going to tear your eyes from those yummy tummies to read about your weekend deals for hairdressing and neck massage?”

“Boss, why don’t you spice up our ads a bit? Intimate massage for real men. How about that?”

“And make Sonali pose in her bra and panty,” Harish winked at the same girl, who stuck her tongue out. “People will stop staring at Sridevi in the rain!”

“And then all go to jail?” the owner grunted. “Don’t know why I waste my time talking to you potheads. Anyway,” he pulled out a large, thin sheet of paper, a poster torn off the walls. “It’s not a cinema, some play at Angan Theatre next month.”

Behind the glass, sparks of laughter shot through Shruti’s face. Ori knew they were all watching him, the men and women of the beauty parlor, watching the redness spread like cancer on his skin, the warmth creeping up his ears.

The firebird,” the owner held up the poster. “7th July, Saturday, at Angan Theatre.”

Ori knew that the bird’s wings were torn in an uneven half, the gash all the way to the credits, tearing out some of the names, now a mess of dried glue and dirt. One name more than any other. Of course they all knew him by face. Why was Shruti taking so long? When would they go home?

“Whatever. Cinema, theatre. The bastards go all out. They’d plaster over the stray dogs if they could.”

He wanted to get up, touch the torn poster. Caress its wound, take it away. Heal the torn wings of the firebird. It’s mine, he wanted to scream.

The owner had spread out the poster, held the torn parts together, and was looking at it intently.

How could the sickly boy tear it down? Which one was it? The one around the lamp-post? One of those plastered across the doors of houses? He could whack the boy hard for it. For maiming the bird, tearing the names.

“Garima Basu.” How he wished he hadn’t come along with Shruti. But the owner lifted his eyes from the poster. “Isn’t that Srijan-babu’s wife? The woman who does all that drama?”

“My aunt,” Shruti stepped out of the glass enclosure, happiness bold on her face.

A dead quiet fell over the place. Sonali nudged the girl next to her and whispered. They looked at him. Sharply, he looked away.

“It’s a play by Jean Anouilh. About Joan of Arc.” Shruti spoke as she counted out the coins to pay for the call. “You should come if you can.” It unnerved Ori, the disdain sharp in her voice.

The owner broke out of his daze. “Yes, of course,” he cleared his throat. “We’re all so proud of her in this para.”

The eyes were on him now, crumpled in the corner. Eyes like the blinding white of spotlights.

That’s her son. Nine or ten, maybe.

“Oh yes,” Shruti looked up, flashed a shiny white smile. “I know you are.” She enjoyed her little acts of cruelty. “Out here, people just can’t stop bragging about her.”

Why did Shruti make everything bitter?

He walked ahead as fast as he could. Faster. But no matter how fast he walked, he couldn’t shake off the white of the spotlight around him. He knew that everybody on the streets stared at him.

“Slow down nutcase,” Shruti called out.

Garima Basu. The red and white letters screamed out at every passerby. He saw them turn around, stare at him running. Young men outside teashops peeked at the writing on the wall, pointing their fingers at him, burning cigarettes stuck between their fingers. He heard shopkeepers bark at him, furious at the damage done to their shampoo and detergent ads. Sensing his fear, stray dogs licked the redness off the letters and trotted after him. Torn posters floated in the breeze and chased him as he ran.

He walked into the maze of crooked letters that ran circles around his home. Shruti’s voice grew fainter behind him. Then he couldn’t hear it anymore.

He walked into darkness. His heart beat faster, and for a moment, he longed for streets with light, shops and people milling around in knots. But he walked on, slowly, his eyes slowly getting used to the dark. The walls crept close on him and his right elbow brushed along a jutting brick, the slimy softness on it. Moss. The walls were thick with it, and banyan roots wedging their way past the skeletal bricks, walls that had known no letters, no poster, not a touch of graffiti. Never. He paused. There were no footsteps behind him.

Wings flapped high above his head. Pigeons. Old pigeons that had forgotten how to fly. Through the window before him, he could see a room he knew well. He paused. He stepped into the house, pushing open the door marked for the untouchable sweeper, the only one to pass through it, twice a week.

“Take off your shirt.” The man’s voice echoed in the tiny room.

His ears felt warm. At ten, he was intensely ashamed of his growing body; he would not sleep shirtless during the hottest of nights. He stepped back a little, away from the man. The man came closer. “I’m older than your father. You can’t be shy with me.”

He would not fight a man who wanted him for the stage. He stood limp, letting the man’s fingers unbutton his shirt. His ears felt warm and his brain clouded by the intense fragrance of spiced betel leaves. He let the man remove all the buttons, even stretched his arms so that the shirt could be eased off his body.

“Very nice complexion.” The man looked pleased. “It will glow in the spotlight.”

Warmly, his palm lingered on Ori’s shoulder, caressed his upper arms. His palm looked dry and bony but felt soft on Ori’s skin.

“My mother . . . ” He whispered. “She will not let me act.” Tremors shot through his body as the man caressed his chest. His palm paused. Ori heard him breathe slowly, and then his fingers touched a nipple. His life, Ori felt, was seeping away slowly through the acutely sensitive circle on his chest.

But he wanted his skin to glow on the stage. He wanted it badly. “You can. Nobody . . . there is nobody quite like you.” The man said, a cloudy form before his naked eyes. “You’d be perfect. Come, put on this shirt.” He held out a black silk shirt that looked too large.

“Here.” The man turned him sideways and slipped an arm into a sleeve.

As he turned to face the door, Ori’s mother appeared on the threshold.

He wanted to curl up, burrow underground. What had she seen? Nothing, he wanted to shout. She had seen nothing.

Her body shook with laughter. For a while, she could not speak.

“You’ve got to stop, Ahin-da.” She was still laughing, though her voice was firm. “He has no time to act.”

“Let him put this on,” Ahin held out the dark silk shirt. “Just this once. He has the face and the complexion. How old is he?”

The laughter evaporated from her face. Her jaws tightened. Her voice became low. “Just keep him out of this, will you?”

The man wouldn’t let go. Was he insane? He insisted, in his feminine voice, that she let him try one rehearsal, just once.

She clasped her son’s arm sharply and pulled him out of the room. Then she stepped inside.

“How . . . ” Suddenly, her voice wilted. “Have you . . . ” She whispered. “Stopped taking your pills? Again?”

A few people had gathered outside, their eyes shiny and unblinking.

“Where’s your shirt?” Ori’s mother turned to Ori and asked, her eyes stabbing through his naked chest. Suddenly, Ori’s nipples felt raw in the clammy air of the corridor, so raw they hurt.

She grabbed his shirt, lying on the table with the ribboned scripts, and flung it out at him. The shirt landed on Ori’s face, hiding the strange yellow eyes of the man who had wanted him so badly, for the stage.

(An excerpt from the novel, The Firebird, forthcoming from Hachette India in May 2015.)

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