The Novelist

by Lekha Murali

I have been in pursuit of a large chunk of unbroken time with little success. Last week, I hit upon an idea for a novel, for which I needed a few weeks of uninterrupted time to work on this idea. But this was not to be. Just this morning, when I finally had some free time to work on my story, my sister Ruth called. She calls me three or four times a week to discuss her everyday life.

Until last year, she called our mother. After her passing, I have been cast in that role. Since she is my kid sister, I could not bring myself to refuse these intrusions. Most days there is nothing in particular to discuss, at least from my point of view, but my dear sister sees the world more theatrically than I do. So there is always this or that to be said about someone or something. Even when there is nothing of note, she shares with me her observations and insights. She called me this morning to share some mundane little thing that happened at her workplace. Then, she started talking about her daughter’s school project, all of which held little interest for me.

Another hurdle came in the form of my husband’s car. It needed some urgent repairs and had to stay at the mechanic’s for a couple of weeks. With just one car, I have been his chauffeur for a week. I have no other choice but to plan my daily routine around his schedule. 

Then, there is the volunteer work at the library for a few hours every week spread over three days. Also, every Saturday evening I get together with some close friends. Even though this is a routine I generally enjoy, presently they feel like time-gobblers, now that I have decided to become a novelist.

Right now, I am sitting at the computer, fingers poised over the keyboard, ready to go, as soon as ideas begin to flow. But nothing is happening. My head is still buzzing from the phone call with my sister.

If only I can find a couple of weeks where I can cloister myself in the den, without having to pick up the phone or leave the house. Maybe, I can make it happen next week, when Jim’s car will have returned from the garage.


When Ruth called today, I was a little less attentive than usual. She sensed the inattention and asked me about it. I managed an excuse about being tired lately. She offered to bring me food. I quickly added that I might be coming down with the flu and didn’t want her to catch anything. She told me to get some rest and call her if I needed anything.

After switching off the phone, I was excited and a little ashamed at myself for lying to my little sister. But I am not ready to tell anyone about my little project. For now, I want it to be my little secret.

With Jim’s car back from the garage, I had more time. I called the library and informed them that I won’t be able to volunteer for the next two weeks. I cancelled the weekend plans with my friends.

Finally, I was successful in carving out a large chunk of undisturbed time.

I sat down at the computer and read the lines I had written with great relish. It read,

“The last leaf of the season yellowed, dried, curled brown and blew on the driveway. It lay there rolling back and forth, cradled by a gentle breeze. Robert stared at it, unseeing, ignorant of its significance.”

The next couple of lines came to me in a rush as my fingers flew on the keyboard.

“The trees around him stood bare, with skinny arms raised to the skies in lament. The skies not seeming to care was at its most brilliant blue.”

I read and re-read the few lines with a great sense of pride and accomplishment. The opening passage looked very promising. I sat there with fingers poised over the keyboard ready for the ideas to flow. My mind drew a blank. I sat for a little while longer. 

When inspiration failed to strike, I pulled out some notes that I had managed to keep from time to time. I went through the scribbles hoping for the story to flow. Nothing happened as I sat there fiddling with my hands. I told myself that I was too excited to continue after the first few lines that had come out exceptionally well. I decided that I needed some kind of diversion to kindle the thought process. After all, the idea first came out of the blue when I was not even looking for it.

So, I walked into the little garden in the front yard. I started digging around a little, pulling out weeds and trimming the hedges. It was one of those beautiful summer afternoons with the sun high in a clear sky, as plump bumble bees sat lazily on bright marigolds sunning and dozing. 

On a day as glorious as this, inspiration was sure to find me, I told myself as I worked around the garden, lost in contemplation. At some point, still lost in thought, I made it to the porch swing luxuriating in the serene surroundings.


I woke up with a start. I must have dozed off. My God! Look at the time. I have to get to the grocery right away otherwise dinner would be too late. I decided to postpone the novel-writing to the next day.

The following two days brought little luck. The day after that brought a small break. I was able to add another paragraph. A fruitless week had gone by and I was still struggling to move past the first page.


I hear the phone ringing. I pick it up and I am glad to hear Ruth’s voice at the other end.

‘Hey sis, how are you feeling now?’ she asks.

‘I am fine Ruth. I am so glad you called,’ I say sheepishly, with a twinge of guilt.

‘I just wanted to check on you. You didn’t sound too well the last time I called.’

‘Oh, that. It was nothing, just a touch of flu. Nothing too bad. I am fine now. So fill me in on last week. Tell me, what did I miss?’

As my sister chatted away cheerfully, a silent sigh escaped me as I remembered that I have to call the library and tell them that I’ll be back in the next few days.