That which I'm not. And that which I am. Second Place, Rhythms and Writing!
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Trupti gasped, bending to pick up the pieces.
The old woman gave her a toothless smile. "That's all right, my dear, don't worry."
Trupti's hands were full of bits of clay. "I'll pay for it, I'll pay ..."
The old woman looked searchingly at her. Then, in a graceful move, she uncrossed her legs and stood up off the floor. She stepped over to Trupti and gave her a hug. "It's a teapot, child, don't worry. It hadn't even been fired yet."
"And I've knocked it over and broken it. I've always been clumsy."
"So you happened to knock against it and it broke. You're acting like you've killed something."
"Well, in a way I have killed the teapot."
The old woman grinned again. She took the pieces of brown clay from Trupti's hands and placed them on a low shelf. She then held Trupti by both her sleeves and gently pulled her down on to the mat beside her.
"Who are you, child?"
"You know me. I'm Trupti. I'm an art student."
"And I know myself, too, but I want you to answer. Who am I?"
"You're . You're a magician with clay."
The old woman threw back her head and laughed. She laughed so hard that her came loose. Trupti helped her place it back over her head and tuck it in at the waist.
"A magician!" the old woman repeated. "I do my work, that's all. I have to earn to feed this stomach, which is very demanding."
Trupti gestured around the whitewashed room. It was crammed with cupboards and shelves, all overflowing with articles of pottery. "You do your work and you create all this. These beautiful pieces. That's why my art school sent me to learn from you."
"Then learn." The old woman was suddenly stern.
"I am trying to learn. It's just that I broke ..."
"You killed ..."
"I killed your creation."
"So the teapot has died young. But you, being separate from the teapot, are still alive."
"Yes," Trupti whispered.
"You will get to sleep in your comfortable bed tonight. By the grace of the Almighty, you'll get to wake up tomorrow. You are one less day from dying young."
Trupti was silent.
The old woman leaned across and took the pieces from the shelf. "These," she said, "have not been fired. Which means if I put them in water and let them soak there ..."
"They'll go back to being clay."
"Yes. They'll be formless. They won't be the fragments of a teapot. They won't be dead any more. And I can mix some fresh clay and create something else. Or re-create the same teapot."
Trupti listened, chewing her lower lip as she always did when concentrating hard.
"Which means," Mitti Amma continued, "when something is formless, when it is not defined, it is neither alive – nor is it dead. It is neither young nor old, it is neither calm nor frightened. Child, are you real?"
"Ouch!" Trupti had bitten her lip at Mitti Amma's sudden question.
"I startled you. But answer me. Are you real?"
"Well – I'm sitting here, and I eat and drink ..."
"And you poop and pee ..." Mitti Amma chuckled and continued. "Yes, you eat, drink, poop, pee, sleep, wake, but what if it's all an illusion? The teapot could get filled with tea and pour it out. Then it became bits of clay and it became formless. What if your essence is actually formless? What if you are made of the same clay as this teapot is, as I am, as everything is?"
Mitti Amma didn't say anything. She allowed Trupti to struggle with her own thoughts, with her understanding.
"Then," Trupti repeated, several minutes later. "Then I need never be scared again."
"Absolutely!" Mitti Amma clapped her hands in glee. "Absolutely! It's only when we try to define ourselves that we need to worry about being un-defined. Don't define yourself, and you don't have to think about being one less day from dying young. There is no death, then."
"Which is all very well, Mitti Amma," came a drawling male voice from the open doorway. "Which is all very well, but have you got my order ready?"
For the second time in an hour, Mitti Amma threw back her head and guffawed. "Your order! Your order!" She turned to Trupti. "See, this sinful stomach? To feed it, I have to meet this man's order. Everything else may be formless, but this sinful stomach demands its formed food each day!"
"So, my order?" the man repeated, easing his footwear off and entering the room. Finding no other space, he gestured, and Trupti nodded. He sat on the mat next to her.
"I have it all in my head, child," the old woman replied, her eyes twinkling with mirth.
"Mitti Amma, I need that tea-set for the party. I'll lose my job if it isn't ready on time. It can't be a formless tea-set in your head, it needs to be real and usable."
"He needs my tea-set to keep his job ..."
"... and feed myself and my wife and children. Food bills are not illusions."
"You're a lovely young man," the old woman told him. "You have endless patience with an eccentric old woman. When is this party?"
"It's in less than a month, Mitti Amma, and it's to celebrate my boss's daughter's engagement. I told you all that."
"And your boss's daughter is an actress, and she's marrying an actor, and they create the biggest illusions of all humankind."
"Mitti Amma, can you have the tea-set ready next week, please? For sure?"
"And even after they die (bite my tongue) they live on, in the movies they have created, and you can see them and hear them and watch them dance and sing. They need not be afraid of dying young because they've left themselves behind here on earth, in those movies. But they no longer eat and drink or breathe."
"Or poop or pee," the man completed for her. "Now, about the tea-set –"
"The tea-set. The tea-set. The one which had to have the red and white design, is that the one you speak of?"
"Yes, Mitti Amma. Can you get it ready next week, in reality, please?"
Mitti Amma stood up suddenly. "Follow me, you two," she commanded.
The two of them stood up and stepped sideways with her, skirting a tall cupboard and going round it, behind it.
"Oh - my - great - goodness!" the man gasped.
There was a shelf there. A shelf loaded with items bearing a red and white motif. Teapots. Teacups. Saucers. Quarter-plates. Spoons. Bowls. Ladles. Each unique, yet part of a great set.
"You – you –" The man couldn't continue.
"I have to have orders ready on time, to stop people pestering me and interrupting my meditation and my art. Now, there's bubble-wrap in that carton there, and newspaper. If we're going to get these packed and send you off before midnight, we'd better all three get to work."
It took the three of them two hours to wrap each piece in bubble-wrap and newspaper, pack the pieces in cartons and load them into the young man's car.
"You are now one less day from going bald young," Mitti Amma said, as he stammered his thanks for the sixteenth time. "You men tend to lose hair when you're stressed out." She turned to Trupti, saying, "You come back in, child."
They waved as the car drove off, then went back inside. Mitti Amma gave Trupti a playful punch on her arm. "You look like you're in a dream."
"I feel like I'm in a dream. That whole tea-set, so professionally made, and you pretended –"
"I like to have my little joke with these professional types. But I have to be professional, too, you know. As he pointed out, food bills are not an illusion."
"Your magic isn't an illusion, either, Mitti Amma. Your magic is real."
For: "Rhythms & Writing: Official WDC Contest"
Prompt for July 2021:
"Rhythms & Writing - July 2021 Winners!"
Second Place - "Teapot"