“When I grow up, I want to write a book, pa,” she said. “About a girl who saves rainbows.”
“Why do rainbows need saving?” her father asked.
“Because they get killed.”
For someone who had always wanted to be a writer, she was very reluctant about taking up the apprentice job. She had applied along with her friends when they had seen the advertisement. “It’s a great learning opportunity!” they’d said. He was a bestselling author with a broken right hand. He needed someone to type his next book, ‘Adrenaline’.
She was not a fan of his work. But the job paid well and he’d picked her from thousands of applicants.
Standing in front of his apartment, though, she felt excited. She was about to meet a celebrity author. A published author. An author of books loved by tens of thousands. It has got to count, somehow.
He opened the door with his left hand. He gave her a tight nod when she stated who she was. He had a workstation ready for her: laptop, ergonomic keyboard, notebooks, post-its, pens. As soon as she took her seat, his words flowed. He was describing a fight scene in a cathedral far far away. But the passion in his voice made it sound like a love poem.
He tested sentences and words with skill. He had a keen sense of rhythm and limitless vocabulary. When her three-hour session ended, she asked to visit the bathroom before she left. He pointed at a door to her right without a word. She locked the door behind her and cried. She could never be as good a writer.
The next day was the same, and the next, and the next. They never exchanged pleasantries. He nodded and she got to work immediately. When she asked him to repeat something or slow down, he listened. His silence signaled the end of the session. She coughed once and there was a glass of water on her desk every day after that.
They completed three chapters that week. On the eighth day, she thanked him for choosing her. She told him she always admired him. He had a hint of a smile when he said his first words to her. “It’s no big deal.” His humility surprised her.
Then, there were more words. “Where are you from?” he asked holding the door open. “You are not from here.”
“I am not,” she said. “I am from down south.”
“Did you always want to be an author?” she asked after a session.
“Only since I learned that it’s where the money is,” he joked and winked. She laughed to hide the thrill she felt.
Her friends were jealous. “What did she do to get the job?” She overheard someone saying once. “I heard he’s a big flirt. She probably did what she had to do,” said another. “I could never!” said the first one, outraged.
“Why did you pick me?” she asked him the next day.
“Because you are pretty.” He said simply. She blushed.
Once she saw a woman walk out of his house. Her throat constricted so hard it pained. A number of women called him during their sessions. When they came to his apartment directly, he ended the sessions early. Her heart broke every time.
“Who are all the women?” she asked one day. He put down the coffee mug he was holding in his right hand. It was still in a sling but it was getting better.
“They bother you. I noticed,” he said.
She turned away to hide her face. He bent down and pulled up her chin to make her meet his eyes. She held his stare with some effort. Whatever he saw in her face made him kiss her.
Hours later, she placed her palm on his bare chest. His heart was still pounding. His eyes were closed and he was breathing deeply. He looked vulnerable. She knew she can weed out his secrets if she wanted. Instead, she told him hers.
“I didn’t think you’d be any good.”
“I lied when I said I always admired you. But I admire you now.”
He turned to look at her curiously.
She continued, “Your love for words…” she smiled, “I don’t have words to describe it.”
He scoffed. “My love for words? I thought you were a smart girl.”
She pulled the sheets to her chest and sat up. “What do you mean?”
He looked at her with pity. “I told you I was just in it for the money. But that was a lie.” He beckoned her closer and kissed her neck. “I am also in it for the women.”
“But you have so many fans that love your work.”
“My fans are fools. People are fools,” he said, with no hint of humor in his voice.
This changed things, she thought.
But she could detect none of the derision in his narration the next day. As always, he coaxed the exact word he needed from the depths of his brain. He cradled his favorite phrases with his smile. He repeated sentences he liked, enunciating a different part every time. It was like a caress or a kiss. An appreciation for being perfect.
There was a different man behind the mask he was putting on, a man who loved his words. She knew it in her heart.
She reacted to his words as she typed them and he noticed. He was pleased by her nods of approval. Her frowns made him rethink sentences. He laughed openly at her look of surprise when the big suspense was revealed.
She was his date for the book launch party. She’d never been around so much adoration. Some of it was directed at her. She was his muse, his fans thought.
‘Adrenaline’ became his best bestseller and as a thank you, he took her to Paris. He called her his lady luck. When they returned, she started living with him. She had no possessions of her own. He provided for her. “What’s mine is yours,” he told her.
She typed his next book too. “I like this arrangement,” he whispered and kissed her shoulder in the middle of a session. She typed that out and deleted it. “I am making mistakes,” she whined. “Let’s make more,” he said.
Her friends were even more jealous. “They’re fucking,” she overheard one of them say.
He was describing a wedding when she asked, “Am I your girlfriend?” She felt silly, but she wanted to know. He grabbed her face with both his hands and said, “You are so much more.”
She agreed. He was so much more too. He was her whole world.
“Have you ever thought about writing something different, something from your soul?” she asked as they took a midnight stroll in the city.
“It’s not what I do.”
One morning, she pulled him out of the bed to show him her manuscript. “I was up all night finishing it,” she said. “It’s about a girl who wants to save rainbows!” she said in a sing-song voice. His face was blank. “It’s a coming-of-age novel about a girl who wants to become a scientist,” she clarified. She’d used his laptop to write it, bit by bit, every night after he went to sleep.
She was suddenly nervous. The words on that page hadn’t come to her as easily as it seemed to come to him. What if he hated it?
“No one will read it,” he declared. His words stung. “Your hands must be so sore from typing so much,” he continued. He took her hand and kissed her fingertips. “You are my lady luck and I just want to protect you.”
“People really are fools. Don’t you believe me?”
He had published fifteen books. He was a veteran in the industry. Of course, she believed him.
“We are a team,” he said, wiping away her tears. “My books are yours. My successes are yours,” he said as he deleted her manuscript from his laptop and shut it down.
She had a sense of déjà vu as she typed the next book. It was different than the previous one but it was also the same. He still enjoyed narrating it. New words were used to prop up the same plot. The fight scene this time was set in an Aztec temple far far away. When it launched, it was sold out in a matter of minutes.
“Why don’t you make the protagonist a woman in the next one?” she suggested when they were lying in bed. She’d overheard one of her friends calling him a misogynist.
And he did. Same characters, different gender. Another fight scene, this time in the dark alleys of Mumbai.
That book made him a millionaire. He was called a ‘feminist’ and a ‘game-changer’. He was invited to panel discussions on gender. In the privacy of their home, they read reviews lauding his progressive values and laughed. They watched videos of his fans gushing about the book.
They made love to the voices of the fans he had no respect for.
They churned out the next book in sixty days. But it did not sell out in minutes or hours. For the first time in many years, his name was not on the bestsellers list.
The reviewers called him a ‘regurgitator’. “No one has plagiarized his work as much as he has.” He brooded and moped. He blamed himself. “I should not have edited that last chapter. I should have let your lucky fingers do it.”
She massaged the back of his neck in the bed. “Luck’s got nothing to do with it. You are more popular now so your work is coming under more scrutiny.”
“It’s the same dumb people reading it.”
“We just need to write another,” she said and they brainstormed ideas.
His fans turned against him in online forums. He saw them make cruel but accurate predictions of what his next book was going to be about and abandoned the project.
She didn’t like his name being dragged through the mud. Not now, when they were tied in more ways than one. He had so much love for the words he wrote. His was raw talent. If she could just convince him to let his mask down…
She put on her best persuasive voice, “Write something from here,” she said and pointed at his heart.
“I can’t,” he whispered.
“Your fans are telling you they want something different.”
“My fans are fools!”
“Then write for her,” she said tenderly and place his palm on her belly. She smiled and raised her eyebrows meaningfully. Comprehension dawned on his face and he jumped out of the bed, suddenly energetic. She knew this news would make him feel better.
“What was the timeline? Was it in you during the last book launch?” Seeing her look of confusion, he explained, “The thing, the foetus, the baby?”
“Yes, I was pregnant when our last book launched,” she said, confused.
“While I was writing it?”
“Yes, when we were halfway through the book.”
He clapped his hand loudly and made her jump. “This is it! This is it!”
“This thing is bad luck.”
“It’s not about luck.”
“I never failed before.”
“She is not the reason we failed,” she said and made as if to touch him.
He jumped out of her way. “You remove that thing. I don’t want it near me.”
“I am not going to remove anything,” she said and stepped away from him protecting her belly.
“I don’t want it!” He yelled. “You need to go. You and that. Get out of here.” He shooed her with a book as if she was contaminated. “Go… go…” he wedged the book painfully in the small of her back.
Tears streamed down her face. She took one look at his deranged face and left. He’s just in a bad place now, she thought to herself. He would come to her one day.
She came to his place every day, instead. Until he acquired a security guard to send her away. She was left penniless, possession-less.
Years later, her daughter called out. “Ma, he’s finally written another.”
She sat up in her chair. After he kicked her out, he’d written five books. ‘Same shit, different cover’ as reviewers had called it. All of them tanked. He last wrote a book ten years ago.
“I saw it in the store today.” her daughter said and handed her a book colored like a rainbow.
“It’s called ‘Rainbow girl’,” said her daughter. “I like the title.”
She read the reviews on the backside.
“An evocative, heart-warming story.”
“What a comeback!”
“A masterpiece, unlike any of his others.”
She opened a page in the middle. She stared at the words. Her words. The only words she’d typed that she remembered from all those years ago. She still felt the pain it had caused her to write. Each word was a frustration. Each sentence, fleeting. She remembered the day she felt so much rage that she wanted to throw his laptop out the window. She’d cried when she finished her final draft. After what felt like an eternity of struggle, the words had felt just right and she’d shown him. He’d deleted it without reading them.
She wondered if he’d kept her dedication too. That would be laughable. He’d hated his father.
She flipped the pages. Copyright details, Praise for ‘Rainbow Girl’, Praise for ‘Rainbow Girl’, Praise for ‘Rainbow Girl’, and then:
“To my fans, for showing me the right path. I love you.”
She flung the book across the room.
“THAT RAT BASTARD!”