Short fiction by Rohan Tharyan

It wasn’t supposed to turnout like this. That’s the elegance. Never in a thousand years did I expect to be sprawled by the roadside, drooling with eyes glazed over. The mind doesn’t think that far ahead. Or at least mine doesn’t. Maybe it would have if I’d learnt to use it properly. Maybe then I’d have followed the story through to the end.

Maybes. There are so many fucking maybes. Maybe that’s the problem. Ha ha.

And so I’m sitting here –skin, bone, and dust, with hunger hunting me like a pack of wolves; loping on, mile after mile until I’m too exhausted to fight back. There’s beauty in that. Fuck the lion… it’s a poser; wolf is king.

*   *    *

She came to me on a Sunday. I remember because that’s when I settle down in the local cafe, with my croissant and tea. I’d love to have coffee but if I do I get wired and won’t sleep all night. It’s funny how stuff like that works. My mother can have a cup of coffee and snooze just seconds after. My father has about a gallon a day and doesn’t feel it. But for me, coffee is blow. One fix and I’m flying.

I saw her as she stepped in. You notice a girl like that.There’s nothing subtle about the walk. Nothing simple about the hair. And nothing casual about the clothes. She probably spends hours putting herself together but you’d think she just fell out of bed like that.

Anyway, I looked away sooner than I’d have liked. It’s not often you see a girl as gorgeous as that but I was raised right. Never make a lady feel uncomfortable.

So I went back to my book. It was something about mindfulness. Just the sort of thing I like digging into on a lazy Sunday evening. The cause of suffering is attachment to desire. Not desire itself; that’s the mistake people make. They think the Buddha said Don’t desire stuff. But that’s stupid. You can’t control desire. But you can control your attachment to it. That’s some deep shit, right? Maybe it isn’t. Who the hell knows? But I like thoughts like that. They set my mind right; get me centered.

It was about five minutes later that I realised she was sitting opposite me. I looked up at her and then looked around. The cafe was full so mine was the only free table. Of course. Why else would she sit down with me?

She smiled and I smiled back. Maybe I blushed. I don’t know. I get nervous around beautiful women. My palms were sweating already. That usually takes more time to start. But there was nothing usual about this girl so I guess it makes sense.

Hi. How are you? My name’s Armaan. You’re Sasha? That’s a lovely name. I had a friend called Sasha. Really nice girl. I tapered off at that point. That’s about as much as I could manage. Did I mention I get nervous around beautiful women?

She smiles again, looking me right in the eyes. She leans forward and whispers,Why didn’t you jump, last night? 

I blink.

Why didn’t you jump, last night? she whispers again. Not louder, not faster. Just the same. Because there’s no rush. We have all the time in the world.

Why didn’t I jump. What kind of question is that? What the fuck is she talking about? Where have I seen her before? That’s a face you don’t forget.  I rack my brain. School? No. College? No. Work? No.

The eyes. I remember the eyes from somewhere.

I asked you to jump, but you didn’t. Why? She’s insistent.

Then it hits me. My dream.

My dream-self was standing at the edge of a cliff, looking down at the sea below; waves smashing against the rocks. Up ahead in the horizon were seagulls flying. And I was wondering if I could fly too. If I could step off that cliff and fly into the sunset.

My dream-self noticed a red fox sitting beside me, bushy tail wrapped daintily around her. It was a ‘her’. You could see it in the eyes. The eyes! Of course, that’s where I’d seen the eyes before.

The fox had asked dream-me, Why don’t you jump?

Because I can’t fly, I had replied.

What if I gave you wings?

I’m back at the cafe and the girl is still waiting on me. She has leaned forward ever so slightly, but we still have all the time in the world.

My mind runs faster and faster trying to piece this together.The dream, the fox, the girl. Could they possibly be linked?

What if I gave you wings? Would you jump, then? The girl’s question echoes the fox’s. The answer is right in front of me.

Yes! Yes, I’d jump! I’m shouting but no-one looks my way. The girl and I are in a bubble and the rest of the world is outside of it. The cute cashier at the register is fishing for change. An elderly man is looking at the food on display. A young couple sits at the table across from us, playing footsie. Colours seem richer. There’s an almost dream-like quality to the real world. Ironic, considering the circumstances.

I remember to breathe. Have I been holding my breath all this time?

The girl smiles at me and leans back. Come with me, she says. She gets up and walks out of the cafe.

I follow.

*    *   *


I’m skin and bones and dust but I can’t help smiling. My chapped lips crack and I can taste blood but it’s worth it. You have to admire genius when you happen upon it. The formidable power of the bait-and-switch. I guess this is what Jesus would have gone through if he had bowed to Satan. I’ve found the devil and she’s a size zero.

My hunger pangs should have subsided by now but they haven’t. Strange. That’s not how it was yesterday. Or was that last week? Last month? It’s all the same to me. I’m dying but I’m also waiting.

*   *    *

I’m back at the cliff and the seagulls off in the distance flap their wings but don’t seem to be travelling. The sea below me is angry and I see storm clouds rushing in but something’s off. It’s like they’re a looped version of a 5-second snatch of time. It’s the same dream.

I look down next to me and the fox… the vixen… is still there. Fur the red of fire and eyes that draw you in. It’s talking. She’s talking.

You were nine. You lowered your hands, pushing off the ground, and floated.

I remember that. It was a dream too. I flew because Shreya… or at least, dream-Shreya… was in front of me, watching. And I wanted to impress her. I wanted her to see me. I wanted her to smile. I wanted to see those dimples. I wanted to matter.

But all that wanting melted away when I flew. Exhilaration! All my senses were sharpened and I was flung into the now. Past and future ceased to matter. I was flight.

From then on I flew regularly in my dreams. Dream-Shreya spent more and more time with me. Because she loves me, said my heart. Because I can fly, said my mind.

I flew far and wide. I took dream-Shreya with me sometimes; other times I flew just for the sheer pleasure of it.

I remember not wanting to wake up to a world where I didn’t have Shreya; where I couldn’t fly.

But at 13 I learnt about real-world flying; about lift and thrust and drag. ‘You can’t just push off with your hands’, they said. Cold logic chokes; and it spilled over into my dreams. Dream-flying stopped.


The vixen starts talking again.

I can give you back your wings. Look at the dragon…

I look down at my left hand. On the back of it there’s a small tattoo. A serpent with wings. The ink is already fading but the dragon looks alive. It writhes, trapped in my skin. Trapped. Why wasn’t that enough to warn me?

Vixen carries on: Tap the dragon once, you float. Tap it twice, you fly. Armaan… you will fly… not just in dreams. You will fly in waking life too. 

My eyes widen as the full extent of what Vixen has just said sinks in. I thank her, for this is a gift. I thank her again and again, knowing that I now have something I don’t deserve. I smile with glee.


*    *   *


Something blocks the sun. A woman is leaning over me. She has kind eyes. Not fox’s eyes. That’s a good thing.

Are you O.K? she asks.

I look behind her and see a small van, with ‘Blue Cross’ printed across the sliding door. She’s the lady who feeds the stray dogs, doling out their rice in neat mounds, all the while talking gently to them. I’ve noticed her before.

Yes, I’m fine, I reply. She means well, but I don’t have time for this. I have to get some food in me. 

Dog-lady must read minds ‘cuz she drops a bun into my bowl. She smiles.

I’m sure you’re fine, but there’s a shelter just around the corner, she points to further down the road. They may be able to help you… You know… Just till you get on your feet.


She nods at me and walks slowly away. Her dogs trail behind her.

I reach for the bun and bite off a small piece. It takes me a while to chew and swallow.

Should I be at a shelter? No. I’m fine. Really. I just need more food. Once I fatten up I’ll be myself again.

*   *    *

My dream-self crouches down to hug Vixen. She tolerates it for a few seconds, then moves away.

I walk to the edge of the cliff and look down. I can see the rocks, and the raging sea attacks them with ferocity. I look back at Vixen but her face is still. Her gaze is steady, her head cocked a little to the side.

You have your wings.

I nod. I step off the cliff.


I tap the dragon once and the fall is arrested. I’m floating, a few feet off the rocks. I tap the dragon again and surge upwards. Going up is faster than coming down. My heart sings. I scream, in ecstasy. My chest will burst if I don’t.


When I’m back by Vixen, my body and mind are alive like they’ve never been before. The feeling is different. When dream-me flew as a kid, I always knew it was a dream. But this… It feels real. I rub the dragon fondly imagining adventures ahead.

I’m hungry now though. Odd.

…must fly in secret.

Vixen is talking. It sounds important. I should be listening. But I rub the dragon instead; my heart pounding and my mind on fire.

…will lose weight.   

She looks at me askance. What she just said is key, I know. But I’ve stopped listening. There is a hill near my house; I’ve always wondered what it would be like to fling myself off it. Not to meet death, but to fly. It was a fool’s dream. Not anymore.

I’m rubbing the dragon again.


*   *    *

‘If something is too good to be true, it probably is.’ In the days that followed I learnt that lesson well.

I flew all the time. In my dreams. In waking life. It was an itch I had to scratch.

I lost weight. Slowly at first, but soon it was clear: fat is fuel and this kind of flight burnt through fuel faster than my body could make it. My face was gaunt, my ribs prominent, and every bone of my spine jutted out, stretching my now pale, flaking skin.

Vixen could fly, but she never did. I wondered why at first.Then I knew. Never get high on your own product. Isn’t that the dealer’s code? I was her broken, tractable addict. Coffee is blow to me? Ha ha. That’s like calling a firefly the sun.

I was always hungry. Nothing could fill me. It was hell. I chased the high that started it all… The one when Vixen gave me wings. But there’s no high like the first. That’s the sad secret.

*   *   *


The bread is leaking life into me. I feel a surge of energy. I think about how close I am to death. One more flight and I’ll die for certain. Thank god for this reprieve.  

The shelter seems like a good idea now. Maybe they can help me live normal again? That’s it. That’s what I need to do. I can turn this around. And then make that trip to Paris. I’ll sit at that cafe and drink that coffee. I don’t care if I get wired because of it. It’s Paris for fuck’s sake. And who knows? Maybe there’ll be a pretty girl there. Maybe we’ll hit it off and I’ll get my ‘happily ever after’.

I smile. There’s hope.

I can turn this around.

I can turn this around.

I have the energy to move. All I need is to nudge myself in the right direction. Towards the shelter. Towards sanctuary.

I will my body to get up; but it doesn’t. And as I gaze in horror, my mouth a rictus for a silent scream, my finger hovers over the dragon and taps it twice.



Rohan is from Chennai. He enjoys herbal tea, long chats with good friends, and Modern Family.

Fireflies image courtesy: