Moonlighters

Dirt can have categories too. There's several kinds of it. First, there's broken bottles, glass. Then there's cardboard, smashed cartons. Then there are polythene bags. Hordes of it. Like our worlds have collapsed into it. Also there are piles of scrap metals. Rubber. And other things, I don't know the names of. Everyday, they sit down in the morning heat and categorize the garbage they pick up. Women and children. Women sit around in spaced out semi circles and talk in their high pitched voices. Covered from neck to toe. Except their beautiful pale yellow faces. Like features carved out of stone. In an artist's mind. Hair tied in a bun. Women who are barely even women yet. Holding babies, clinging to their chest, bend down to inspect the scrap collected for the day. They laugh, their shrill voices aloud. 

Their children, each must have at least four or more, play stray games every day. All damn day, no school. No books, chalks and pencil sharpeners. They roll around cycle tires with a stick. Sit in old abandoned cars and pretend they drive. And there are lots of them. So many of them. Young girls, too hold babies. Boys chase trucks that drive past. Their laughter sounds like utopia. Like the last knot of constraint on human life has been undone. These boys experience, fathomless freedom. The younger ones are naked. The older ones don torn pants and crumpled dirty shirts. Barefeet. Some of them pick out shoes from the garbage it seems. The girls sit on trolleys and watch. In the yellow moon of dusk, they begin to look more like their mothers. It's a scary bent in time, when that happens. The drunk men, who would have just gotten up in the afternoon, after a change of clothes may be, head out to be drunk again, tonite. But before that, they sit down, where the garbage had been categorised in the morning, for a quick game of cards.

The slum nearby is that of prostitutes. It's said that some of these garbage picker women also moonlight as prostitutes. And give them a run for their money. And why not!

Cold

That night was an unusually cold one. Now that is strange because it doesn't get cold down here. We are very close to the sea. You wouldn't hear the waves. But there's the sea in 10 miles. Embraced by mangrove on the coast, and tiny fishermen huts, the sea makes its presence felt every now and then. In the warm afternoon breeze that brushes you awake from lazy siesta. Or in the mild sunshine dissolved in morning air. We know that it never gets too cold, down here.

But that night was strange. May be it was because of the air conditioner buzzing in top of her head. There was absolutely no need for the air conditioner. Or even the ceiling fan. For that matter. On the other hand a thin quilt could suffice. It could have been so that her immunity to cold had suddenly plummeted. You know magical things happen. People also write about it. So probably that it wasn't cold and she imagined that she was shivering. Psychosomatic sensation of sorts. But her jaws actually chattered. She clenched her fists into her belly and rolled like an embryo. Such things can't be imagined.

In half sleep, she turned towards him. He needed the air conditioner. Their skins reacted differently to the same temperature. I mean, how could that be? He felt hot when she felt cold. And they had a lifetime ahead of them, at that moment. A bit of it past too.

May be the cold was an excuse to hug him tighter that strange strange night, she murmured, and went ahead.

Beauty Business

She used to work at a beauty parlour in the city. It was no serious business, everyone said. Just for passing the time and so. She wasn't trained or anything. But she was, she said. She had worked at one of those well known parlours in the big city. For two years almost, when she was put up in one of those grim working women's hostels. That dingy existence sans sunlight. But every morning, she tidied up, put on her purple uniform, tied her hair back and plunged into bringing beauty into our lives. Scores of eyebrows she threaded, faces she scrubbed and de-tanned, legs and hands waxed, and on and forth and on and forth. When she sat down a little perplexed and drained, she spoke on nevertheless, about how a little bit of lemon juice  rubbed on elbows, made the skin softer or when cotton balls soaked in nail polish remover held upon nails for long actually cleaned them well and merely wiping didn't do the job that good. She was full of such tips. But herself, she was a taught beauty, neither soft, nor mushy, nor pink, neither white. It was as if, she never tried all those tips on herself. Those things were for others and she was far apart.

When time ran out, she was asked to come home, leave that job and be married. So she did as asked to. She withdrew her limbs, fingers held in a fist and toes crumbled, into a ball of human flesh for months. And survived that way in hibernation. People talked behind her back, that it was only too late for her to have a child. And her indulgence in that job had made her more futile. She now lived in one of those small industrial towns, her husband worked at the power plant. They stayed in staff quarters, on the first floor, slightly more lit than her old room in the hostel. And they had a huge portico, even bigger than the whole house. Boughs of nimbus and mango made it shady in the afternoon, sunsets were a thing to behold from up there.

It was in that portico that she told stories to her unborn child, and there that later her little daughter took her first steps. There that she picked out stones from dal and peeled vegetables. There that she knit sweaters for her loved ones and sent them away. But waiting for her husband to return from work, when she sat down a breath to look at the sun set, sometimes the mixed whiff of Parisian cosmetics, still, bothered her nose.

Finding Happyness

That one night I met him, is quite etched in memory. I can literally, if I close my eyes now, see him confidently smile at me. That was years ago. We were strangers then. I was awkward around strangers. Still am. But he, he has this warmth that could make you feel cuddled in moments. We spoke for a couple of minutes, I can't distinctly recall about what. Only faintly. I could feel his eyes roving over my face.

Suddenly I turned back for something, for a moment. When I got back, he wasn't there. He had left without saying goodbye. That was the first time, I noticed my man. Like, his person, was created in my mind. You know how people exist twice, once for real, and once inside your mind. His momentary absence clicked and stayed. That was probably a Friday.

And hundreds of such Fridays later, on a similar Friday night, I married him.

Here's to wishing, and silently praying, that despite everything that has been, and everything more that is going to be, we find happyness. And it, finds us.

Misery

I am incapable of relishing happiness. No sadness lasts me either. All I feel is fear, fear itself. Fear manifests as misery. Sometimes the lack of it means, a little bit of joy. But fear is always the underlying. And everything else is its derivative.

All I want right now, is a li'l bit of sky over mah head!. All I want, all I want, all I want.

Breakfast

It's an eclectic mix of smells in the air, that of cigarette smoke and that of eggs frying early morning. As early as 6. These days, she made it a habit to be up early. It was hard first few weeks. But later on, it grew on her. She wouldn't shut her windows at night. The light flooding her studio apartment, wouldn't let her sleep any later than six. She wouldn't care to wash her face, she was that way. Walking straight into the kitchenette, she would stare at all the plausible ingredients of breakfast.

Breakfast is her most favorite meal of the day. Ever. And today was Sunday. Sunday breakfasts are the most special of them all. She walked to the door, the milkman had left her a packet stranded on the money plant bush. She emptied it into the pan and put it on the stove. In the biggest tumbler off the rack, she added four small spoons of coffee and then sugar. Beating that into a frothy paste, she poured boiling milk on to it. That in hand, she lit her first smoke of the day. And that would be her last, she would tell herself. Tell herself hard.

After coffee, she cracked open two eggs and scrambled them neat. Almost simultaneously, she remembered last night's pasta. Or that of several nights ago. She couldn't remember which. She would over turn the plate of eggs on the pasta and microwave that. Quietly, she would stand near the microwave, looking inside, as if waiting for it to explode and being on her toes already, she would run. As fast as she could. But she doesn't.

The seconds seem to stretch out longer, her patience seems to test her. She grabs the door of the microwave and pulls it open when there's still twenty more seconds to go. She holds the bowl in her hand with a towel, gasping at how hot it is but not letting go.

Hurriedly, she looks for the little jar of oregano on the rack. Oh she has almost never been this famished!

Rotten Nostalgia

He called me at about 6. Closer to 5:30 may be. We decided the place he was going to pick me up from. It wasn't going to be the usual place, so he went on a bit with the detailed directions to the spot. But I already knew. I had been longer in the city than him, after all, I was supposed to.

I walked out of office early, didn't have to sneak out because everyone had left even earlier. Outside, there were lights everywhere. It was the Visharjan night. You know, when they carry the idols of Durga in trucks for immersion, and there is a loud procession and crackers, tens of hundreds standing by the road, watching. All traffic had been deviated. Nothing was plying as normal. That's why he couldn't pick me up the usual place. I got on a bus, somehow and walked about a ten minutes to our place. I waited, it felt like a long time. I took out my phone to call him, twice. But then decided against it. I folded my hands, like they do, chose a spot near the traffic signal and stood there. There seemed to be more cars on the road that night. Every time the green light lit up, I expected him to come. But he didn't just turn up. The procession got close, the music got very loud. It wasn't winter yet, but I began to feel cold, shiver. Soon, the idols would arrive one by one. The road would be clogged and I would probably have to go home without having seen him.

Just then, I saw a car, his color, taking a u turn from the other side. Like a dozen other times, I assumed I would be wrong. But it was him. He slowed down in front of me, pushed the door open, looked out and said Hi. It must have been him. It was such long ago, I can't even remember.