The Ivory Cane – Short Story
The Ivory Cane
By: Monika Pant
His eyes were misted. More from the smoke emanating from the leaves burning in the backyard than from anything else. A wheezing cough racked the tall, thin frame. He leaned heavily on his cane while he opened the door of the attic and went inside. It was low-ceilinged, and his height seemed to make it seem more so. He sat down on the couch, absent-mindedly running his feathery fingers on the carvings on the cane. His cane. His most prized possession. With the ivory head carved into a heavily embellished elephant, complete with a howdah, it was a museum piece, a relic.
He remembered the day he had bought it. He wanted to celebrate his success. An artist par excellence, he was welcomed and honoured wherever he went; and his cane became the symbol of living life king-size. A sigh escaped his parched lips as he remembered the sets he had designed for the period film of the Mughal era. Overnight he had become a celebrity. He reached for the earthen pitcher kept in a corner and took a draught. It tasted of his changed times.
His mind played hide and seek with images of those times – shadowy ones flitting back and forth from the periphery of his mind and quickly, too quickly, being replaced by those more recent. Fragments of memories – of childhood tantrums and youthful pinings, children, grandchildren, snatches of laughter, a heady scent or a shimmer behind a veil, the rattle of carriage wheels. Then, they were gone, just as they had come; and what remained were a bitter-sweet aftertaste and a hollow urgency in the pit of his stomach.
Picking up his flute which had been his faithful companion for the last few years, he put it to his lips and traversed the lanes of afterthoughts, regrets and a passion that was not quite stilled. Calmness descended upon him slowly like a veil, and all that remained was the beating of his heart that sounded almost too loud in his home. As though there was a stranger who had come to live with him, he hesitated as he prodded deep within and made conversation with the shadows on the walls. Then, just as suddenly, an imperceptible shadow came to sit beside him and tugged at his hand. He picked up his cane and stood ramrod straight. He would go to the Gallery d’art tonight.
The football field-sized hall thronged with the who’s who of the city. Media persons were busy; and occasional flashes of dazzling white light gave an unreal aura to the scene, as though a cosmic event was unfolding.
A svelte, fair-complexioned, dapper thirty-something man in a Ralph Lauren ensemble, stood surrounded by a group of fawning youngsters. It was his third solo exhibition. Huge canvasses of brilliant hue looked down benevolently at the motley crowd. Many were there because they wanted to be seen there; and they happily posed for the cameras.
Liveried waiters with tall glasses moved as though on oiled wheels and already an animated discussion had started in the centre of the hall about the influence of Andy Warhol’s sexuality on the pop art movement. Ladies with heavy jewellery and heavier make-up looked on, as though entranced.
The eyes of the svelte, fair complexioned man met those of the white bearded one with the ivory cane, and a smile lit up the corners of his mouth. He strode across the room, waving off those who intercepted him.
“Pa, why are you here? They will recognize you.”
“No they won’t, they killed me remember?”
“Pa, why, why………?”
“Son, we’ve gone into this before. I just came to see what you have done to my babies.”
“And, what do you think?”
“Well, you have camouflaged them well enough, I can see.”
“Well, I had to, they wouldn’t have accepted them otherwise. You see this, you see these people, their adulation?”
“At least I have pulled off the biggest scam! I have given your paintings a face that they adore!”
The old one laughed. “You forget, they are not mine any more.”
“Pa, come back….”
Laughing, he twirled the ivory cane and walked out, his back ramrod straight. The other stared at the people surging through the entrance gates. He shrugged, and went forward to melt into the crowd.
A little way ahead, he paused. He took a turn at the corner of the street and looked back. Just then, a billowing black cloud rose from the vicinity of Gallery d’art. He watched the glass façade shattering into splinters and flying in all directions like the sun-flecked spray at the cliffs by the sea-side. As if in slow motion, the two-storied green-roofed structure buckled over and crumbled, groveling in the dust for a second or two before crumbling into it. An obeisance to him, he thought to himself. ‘Dust unto dust’ – smiling belligerently, he walked away, forever this time.