Mandira closed her eyes and let the gentle lapping of the lake soothe her like a lullaby.

It was warm, even though it was early morning. Summer was at its peak. In the city, the heat was unbearable. She had to escape the heat and the people; people who stifled her with their expectations and compulsions. She came to this lake, her secret haven. She let the peace wash over her in balmy notes.

She had discovered the lake many years ago. There was a kinship she felt with it, a oneness she couldn’t explain. The lake was far from her home, on the outskirts of her little town. It had remained undiscovered over the years- its peace unsullied.

The only people she had seen around it were the occasional shepherd or a village woman gathering kindling for her evening meal. There was no other evidence of human presence around the place. The typical debris that educated, cultured people left behind on scenic spots—discarded plastic water bottles, snack packages—were conspicuously absent. She’d been the sole owner of the place for many years. This was her lake.

She came here to rest from her life. People sometimes wondered at her equanimity. Many had wondered if she was bereft of emotional capacity. She not only remained unruffled, she could even smile. People didn’t know how she could do it. She had no capacity to feel deeply, they had concluded long ago.

Mandira’s eyes skimmed over the surface of the lake, lost in her memories.

The surface of the lake rippled with the tiny waves that the wind was worrying it into. The lake was fluid, crinkling spontaneously when the wind demanded it. The wind was pleased to see the proof of his power etched out on her surface. He could fling her up when he wished and flatten her into a polished surface when he chose. He felt powerful; he was smug.

He made her his plaything. Some days, he would try to whip her into a frenzy. He would whoosh noisily and run into her mightily. She reacted; he was pleased. Her surface roiled and foamed. She crashed herself upon the rocky shores, running back to herself in uncomplaining rivulets.

Yet, the moment the wind flopped down exhausted, the lake too would become serene. When he noticed this, it annoyed him. He couldn’t understand it. Why did she not stay roiled? Peevishly, he ignored her for many days. She remained calm, with hardly a ripple to crease her open brow. That got to him.

True love is built on free will and free choice, not control and manipulation. ~ Ken Poirot Share on X

He began treating her with deliberate intent. He tried all he could. No matter how terrible the force of his battering, she never bruised permanently. Nor was his neglect much different. She remained fluid and placid. It was infuriating to him. He was struck by questions that hammered at him incessantly. Was all his power impotent to change her in some permanent way? How could she remain unshaken within? Were her response to his power just on the surface? Were there parts of her he could never reach? How could this BE?!

An impossible thought! He couldn’t permit it! He’d prove it wrong if it was the last thing he did.

Vengefully, he decided to vent all his fury upon her and shake her to the core. For once he wanted to see her shaken, her calm shattered, pushed to the edge, invaded to her deepest self. He had to possess her completely. He just had to. No matter what the consequences.

He knew it was dangerous. She might topple over the edge, destroyed completely. In a moment of cold ruthlessness, he decided he was prepared for that. He would rather have her destroyed than tolerate this powerlessness over her. In the process, if he wreaked the delicate life breathing in her… around her… so be it..! He was cruel and wanton. He needed to know that he controlled her utterly, like her God. He needed to know his power and to know it through her. Nothing else would do. She had to be conquered or he would disintegrate. Once he had conquered her, he would never let her forget it. He had no idea that he had become a control obsessed beast.

He prepared himself for the final assault. Her placidity infuriated him to greater effort. He pounded into her with all his fury. He raged and ranted. He tried to make her rise into a corresponding frenzy, uncontrolled, uncontrollable. She heaved on the surface, but her depths remained composed. After hours of exhausting effort, he was spent and was quiet. He tried all he could, but he could not violate the tranquility within her. In that darkly luminous place, she remained untouched by him.

She was saddened. He hadn’t needed to do this. She was fluid and accommodating. Why this violence? Why this desire to control? They could have waltzed in tandem and created incredible beauty. She ached with his pain, the pain that drove him to do this. She was sorry for his misguided attempt to control her. She remained inflexible and unmoved; she had to. She wished that he could have been a succor to her. She wished they could have tended life together, as they were meant to. There was so much he could have done to help her, had he aligned himself to her instead of taking cudgels against her. But this was not to be. She had lost her helpmate to the labyrinth of a false pride. The realization smote her cruelly.

She continued to tend to the life in her, around her. The beautiful fish… silver grey… mottled brown… golden yellow… moved within her still depths. They darted about in sensitively responsive schools… or in majestic solitude. A yellowed leaf… bearing a fat caterpillar… floated lazily to the surface of the lake. A flash of silver… and the bug was gone. The leaf floated on for a few seconds and then sank down into the depths as if weary of its travels and happy to be home.

A kingfisher gave out its trilling call. It was sitting on some tree on the far bank. The pure lilting sound came floating over the water… smoothing out the surface ruffles… deepening the stillness within. The kingfisher flew across. In mid-flight, it hovered in the air, as if skidding to a stop. Then it dived, its aim unerring and true. In a split second, it flew out of the lake, holding the writhing golden-yellow fish in its beak. The lake water glistened on its vivid plumage… adding a tone of grandeur to its vibrant colors.

The Neem tree had dropped a seed into a crevice between the rocks just at the edge of the lake. Life breathed faintly within its almost dried shell. It waited for rain. In two days, it would become history,its life force dried out silently within; its hunger unappeased… its thirst unquenched. It lay there patiently, not making a fuss, waiting for rain. It was ready to become a statistic, if that was its destiny.

The lake looked upon the seed, riveted. The depths which had remained serene in the face of the wind’s fury, stirred. A swell built up in her tranquil depths and rose to the surface. It gained volume as it spread. The next moment, out of nowhere, for no reason at all, a wave washed over the shore. It dislodged the seed wedged into the rock crevice and deposited it gently at the edge of the water. The lake knew that life would awaken within that seed and bloom. For this awakening, she happily shattered her stillness.

Mandira got up to leave. She had seeds to nurture.

Short Story- By The Lake