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Her bathroom smelt like an orchard of plastic orange trees, because citrus was good for covering up the smell of cigarettes. The smoke never quite seemed to wash out of her skin, though. The tobacco smell - burnt happiness? addiction? ashes? - lingered no matter how much she scrubbed. Scrub, scrub, she felt like Lady Macbeth.

(And what to do when the perfumes of Arabia ran out?)

It had all started with the photographs. They thought they'd look cool with cigarettes held between polished nails, blowing white clouds out through glossed lips. They did, too, and it was a lovely secret to have. A little bit of innocence exhaled with the smoke, a little bit of darkness inhaled into sparkly clean lives.

They'd stolen from one of their daddies' packs when he wasn't looking, and he never noticed, never suspected, because baby girls don't steal their daddies' cigarettes. But the baby girls didn't want to be baby girls anymore, so they breathed in some nicotine and coughed and giggled and lit up another one each. There was still a lot of air freshener in the bottle then, and lots of lies left to tell.

“Why does your bathroom smell like oranges?”
“I don't know, Ammu. I like citrus.”
(And you hate cigarette smoke.)
“Well, open the windows, it's making me choke.”
“Good idea, Ammu.”
(Oh, dammit, why didn't I do that before?)

And so they smoked one or five every time they met up, because it was still cool then. They were big girls in the mirror - wild and beautiful (over-bright eyes smudged with too much makeup), bold (ears pricked for the sound of a footstep) and ready to take on the world (stripped down to skimpy little tank tops they wouldn't dare step out in).

Not a sorrow in their lives, but cigarettes between their lips. And yet, the smiles were getting shorter in between the smoke, and there was less giggling every time. Why? Was nicotine not bliss? But it was, it was, at least until the ash settled, cold, on the tiles.

Their daddies never did notice - not the missing cigarettes, nor the big-girl smell on their goodnight kisses. After all, they were clever about the stealing.

“I notice you're not spending so much time on Facebook.”
“Yes, Abbu.” Little-girl smile.

(I've got better things to do, like sneak out to the shops where they don't care that I'm underage, and sneak out to parties where they don't care that I'm underage, and sneak out to my boyfriend's house where he doesn't care that I'm underage.)

“Well, it's good. Facebook is a waste of time.”
“Yes, Abbu.” Little-girl smile.

(I'm glad you don't know, Abbu, and I'm glad you haven't seen my latest report card, because it's not “good” at all, but it is good that you still think I'm your little princess, because honestly, sometimes I feel a little dirty.)

Then she started smoking alone, because her friends couldn't come around often enough. And she wasn't addicted; oh no, she just had random cravings sometimes. She could blow smoke rings, but all the Lux in the world couldn't wash the smell away, and she was a little scared that one day, her citrus air-freshener would run out, and someone would figure it all out, and she would be in big, big trouble.

And as she sat on the toilet-lid at 3 a.m. and blew out a cloud of white through non-glossed lips, the haze was too thick to see through to the mirror. It kept her from seeing through her nicotine smile to the hollow beneath.

By Grasshopper


INTO
Watery Depths

I stare at the thick, impenetrable wall of water beneath me. The last rays of the sun get scattered by the ripples, like leprechaun gold. I take in every little detail - the hazy outlines of the tiles underwater, the bug bobbing up and down. I picture myself cutting the surface of the water with dolphin-like grace.

"Jump! Just jump!" the crowd around me chants. Most of the pool has gathered around me to witness the failing of a mortal, with an intense curiosity bordering on perversion.

I have kept my back arched for so long that it begins to throb. My feet teeter at the edge.

"What's the matter, chicken? Forgot how to swim?"

"Just jump in before we kick your sorry behind and send you flying in."

A mixture of determination and exasperation leads me to take a deep breath, and lunge from the diving board.

For a few milliseconds, my mind is blank like my exam paper during a math exam. Then I realise I'm falling. Fast. Into an unyielding stretch of water.

I lose my composure and wriggle around in mid-air, a squirming mass of flesh. Then searing pain hits my arms and my chest feels like it just exploded. My breath catches in my throat, but I somehow manage to swim back to shore.

"Why the heck did you lose your poise, dude?"

"What did you think you were? A cat?"

And most annoyingly, "Did it hurt?"

Resolved to do it right this time, I scramble on to the board again. The lowest diving board seems like the highest hilltop to me.

"Jump! Jump! Jump!" The crowd is ready to watch me make a bigger fool of myself.

But this time I have enough wisdom to know what happens if you try to weasel out halfway. I arch my body and keep my knees unbent. Holding in a deep breath, I dive, probably looking like a koi maach on the Padma. The Dolphins can keep their grace. I only needed to be functional.

My hands hit the water first, breaking its surface. Then my head, torso and finally my legs. I swim upwards and emerge with the taste of chlorine in my mouth and my nose burning like seven hells.

This time, the crowd cheers.

I learn that the water is unyielding only if you think it to be so.

I am victorious.

By Anashua


BOOK REVIEW

The Wheel of Time

By Professor Spork

“The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.”

The Wheel of Time is one of the fantasy novels fast-garnering fame all over the world, seemingly spurred by the death of its writer, Robert Jordan, in 2007. Jordan's leaving the final book incomplete definitely brought the series to the spotlight. But don't let that put you off; Jordan left enough notes and wrote out enough scenes for Brandon Sanderson to pick up where he left off. Initially planned as a six-part series, the story managed to spin out of control into a fourteen-part epic, with the final three volumes setting up the conclusion.

Summarising the tale is near-impossible within this word limit. The Wheel of Time starts off as any other fantasy novel. There's a world of mythical creatures, where good and evil are constantly at war in tangible forms. The Creator built the world, but it is the Wheel of Time at the center of it which turns and spins the lives of all men, fueled by the One Power. The seven spokes of the wheel each represents an Age, and the Wheel rotates through these Ages over and over again.

The Creator of course has an antithesis, Shai'tan, who was trapped away from the Wheel at the beginning of Time, and is now gaining power again, gathering followers to help him escape from his prison. To defeat this Dark One, the Wheel spun out the Dragon, a human man capable of channeling the One Power. The battle was fought and won at a high price.

An ancient prophecy states that the Dark One will escape soon, and that the Dragon will be reborn to fight him, in the process destroying the world.

Since there are fourteen books, this review will be split into parts. First part: books 1 and 2.

1 - The Eye of the World

This is the book holding the record for the highest number of people it converted to fantasy, a surprising fact given its mediocre quality compared to the rest of the series. However, a factor playing part here is Jordan's absolute masterpiece of a prologue (the original one, not the YA version). The Eye of the World introduces readers to the world of The Wheel of Time and its characters. Rand al'Thor lives in the Two Rivers, an isolated part of the Kingdom of Andor. As Rand and his father ride to their village, Emond's Field, Rand spots a cloaked rider who quickly vanishes. They reach Emond's Field to find surprising visitors: a mysterious woman and a warrior, a peddler and a Gleeman. The village is raided by Trollocs that night, seeking Rand and his two friends, Mat and Perrin. To protect them from further attack, the foreign woman reveals herself to be an Aes Sedai (capable of and trained to channel the One Power) and, suspecting one of the boys to be the prophesised Dragon, herds them towards Tar Valon, where they could be safe.

Overall, it's basically a retelling of the Fellowship of the Ring. Jordan carefully draws his readers in, so even those inexperienced in the fantasy genre can map their way through the new world. Despite setbacks, the actual story is clearly spectacular. Powering through the first book is worth being able to read the second.

2 - The Great Hunt

No more Lord of the Rings approach. Jordan branches into his own style, and the events finally get interesting. The Great Hunt begins a few weeks after the end of The Eye of the World. Rand and his friends remain guests of Lord Agelmar in Fal Dara, until certain events cause them to split up. The boys form a search party to find and retrieve the stolen Horn of Valere, while the girls head to the White Tower to train to control the One Power as Aes Sedai.

The ending of The Great Hunt is possibly the best in the entire series. Readers are further introduced to the darker forces of this world, with a number of new elements being brought into play. Development is again slow, but the story is still in its early stages.

The Wheel of Time is certainly recommended to anyone new or old to the fantasy genre. One thing can be guaranteed; the story will keep getting better and better.

 
 

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