Filth

Suddenly there's filth everywhere
Hair, colossal clumps of it that am losing
Hair on bedsheets, on the floor, ubiquitous
Dust in all corners
On tables, window ledges, railings
Gossamer under the bed
Clothes piles over piles
Not one fold in place
The wardrobes smell
And no amount of camphor helps
Empty bottles here and there
Strips of medicines scattered
Creams and deoderants, tilted and leaking
The sun filters in through curtains
It's so bright, the filth can't go unseen
And I
Post partum, body aching in parts
Sitting among this raw filth
And meditating about what is

Monsoon Baby

Baby clothes need the sun. Like they really need the sun. But monsoon baby chose to be born in the monsoon. It wasn't strange, I knew he would be a monsoon baby I mean I was due in July so obviously he wouldn't be born in the summer at all. But all seasons are summer, except the peak of winter I guess. So baby clothes of the one born in monsoon didn't get much sun. I wondered why we didn't have those washing machines that dried clothes to the hilt instead of just wringing them dry with still thirty percent moisture. I mean what is the meaning of that. Just because we are a hot country, can't we have those special washing machines. But anyway. It was monsoon when he was born. And a lot of summer too. So monsoon baby's mama, in post partum sat with her swollen body and pained knees and breastfulls of milk, sweating and crying. Sweating and crying, both without a break that she confused which was which. One couldn't crank up the AC you know because, monsoon baby is a baby and could catch a cold. Or is the monsoon baby so tiny that the cold would have to catch it instead. But either way, monsoon mama sat sweating for what seemed like months. To begin with monsoon granmaa washed all baby clothes with baby detergent and soaked them with in dettol and wrung them as much as possible with her arthritic hands. The sun did a bit of the drying and then it started raining and the fans were stuck with the rest of the job. Fuck the heating iron, thought monsoon mama. I mean just fuck it. Whoever has time to iron baby clothes now. We are all dying with lack of sleep and the sun hasn't practically set for weeks and the monsoon baby doesn't know day from night and doesn't sleep. So fuck the heating iron, just fuck it.

Thirty-two

I am thirty-two
I love pottery, DIY and bread
Red wine, summer dresses and Kohl
And wood block painting, of course

I am thirty-two
And beginning to love my glorious body
Magician of a kind, nurturer, medium for life
Hope, by next year or so, I love my soul too, if not as much

I am thirty-two
And I am giving myself chances
Every now and then
Writing, sometimes, keeping a journal of sorts

I am thirty-two
And I can't repeat this enough
Because I've aged like wine
Bottled up, rich, real and scarlet

I am thirty-two
And I cry, crumble, scatter
Into a million particles, ashamed
Wanting to undo my past, erase my future

I am thirty-two
And yet, I haven't found my feet
Probably never will
Still, I tell myself, hold on today

Bender

I jerked awake at ten part three. Like something had happened. Or I was falling in my dreams. I turned to the left. Her side of the bed was untouched.

She must be watching TV in the hall. We had abided by the cliched rule book that said no TV in the bedroom. I checked both bathrooms and then walked to the balcony. The sky was dark with flashes of white. Everything was so still, and quiet, for an instant I forgot that I had searched the entire house and she was nowhere.

She, who was out for drinks and was supposed to have returned not later than midnight. Assuming she was too drunk to drive and had stayed at a friend's place, I tried her cellphone. The call wouldn't get through.

Over the years, she had coached me how not to panic in moments like these. There was a simple alternate explanation behind everything. Let's not assume the worst. I sat down with a glass of water on the couch and started mentally filtering her friends. Simultaneously I checked my phone to see if I had any of their numbers. I didn't know which gang she was out with. Was it her erstwhile work group or the friends from university.

To begin with, we met each other's friends. But it got tough as the years went by. We would end up fighting after each such get together. Seemingly all her friends were doing better. When she met mine, she thought I expected her to behave in a  certain way. Probably I did and she felt rather cagey. So meeting respective friends separately made more sense. That's why I didn't know anyone in the circles she did rounds in. And that meant I had nobody to call in the middle of the night.

I tried reaching her phone several ways. Left a couple of messages for her. Her phone could have run out of charge. I don't think she was carrying a charger. I must have dozed off after pacing the hall a dozen times.

I was up again at about half past five. The sun had just risen. Yellow light streamed in through the gaps in the curtains. The milkman came, then came the newspaper guy, followed by the maid. The cook came and made us two cups of tea assuming her to be in the bathroom or something. It was a painful reminder that I had to find her.

I looked up some old chats on my phone and recovered the number of one of her friends. After calling a few more people I understood that she had left the party at ten like she was supposed to. She had left alone telling everyone that she was sober enough to drive.

We didn't spy on each other. Atleast I didn't. I knew spouses tracked phones and locations via Google. We weren't just upto it. Too much work. If either of us wanted to fool around, considering we knew certain boundaries, it was alright.

It was quite probable that she had gone on a bender. You know, a bender. Like a proper one. She didn't drink much. But she could drink like a fish if she wanted to. An  entire bottle of wine in one sitting and with shots of tequila in between. That sort of thing. And she loved smoking. She could have got totally stoned and gone into hiding. Booked a hotel room somewhere and gone radio silent.

I kept making calls until I figured I absolutely had to call her mother. We hadn't spoken in years. There was too much animosity to even attempt to have an acquaintance. But she could have flown to see her. She had never done anything wild like that in the past. But you never know people. Her mother didn't pick up the phone. May be she had changed numbers. Or she hadn't saved mine and didn't recognize it.

As the afternoon came by, it got scary. I locked the apartment and went downstairs. Some movie plots came to mind. May be they would find her car somewhere with her nowhere nearby. And then they would find her, a few days after.

I thought of approaching the police. That was the one final resort after all. They might suspect me for all I care. I might have made her disappear for insurance money. You know, they suspect spouses first in such cases. Or months will go by and the police would get nowhere. Until one day, suddenly I would get a call. All kinds of things came to mind. I couldn't tame my thoughts anymore.

Perhaps the marriage got too much to handle. But I gave her a lot of space. There would be days when wouldn't talk if we didn't feel like. I respected her privacy, never checked phones, messages, mail, bank accounts, nothing.

Perhaps that was the problem. Too much space had translated into a void and she felt no affection at all. Therefore she abandoned me and ran.

After considering all options, I came to the verge of concluding that she was on a bender after all. Just then..

Dalliance


He came in at 3:30 in the morning. In the night. Julie must have opened the door. Usually I would set an alarm for that sort of thing. To wake up and usher him in. But somehow, I hadn’t. It was a Saturday. I woke up much after 9, by that time he was up and about in the house. In the tiny balcony with pigeon nests and the potted croutons, in the living room by Julie’s recent cacti. Julie had shaken me awake when she left for work.

“He’s here bitch!”

“What? Who?”

“Oh c’mon. Your lover. Boyfriend. One night stander. Whatever you two are calling it”, she whispered.

A lot of reality sunk in. My chest felt heavy, filled with smoke, dry and sorrowful. I shut my eyes and smashed my face on the pillow, attempting to sleep for another half an hour or so.

My room was still dark, only streaks of sunlight entered through the gaps in our deep maroon curtains. I heard her walk out and shut the door close, softly. I heard her make an excuse to the person outside, probably sitting on the cane chair in the living room, which was the only place to sit in there in our minimalistic nine hundred square feet two-bedroom. Apart from the guest mattress on the floor where he most probably had slept his early morning off.

After that, probably around 10, I walked out of my room toothbrush in hand, eyes still closed. Mouth still foul. I heard him the kitchen. He was fumbling around a little bit. Probably looking for material to make tea. Those soft sounds made that heaviness in my chest return. I walked up to the kitchen threshold. He turned to look at me.

After three weeks, we had met again. After our previous one day dalliance. After what four or five years of an on and off unpleasant and yet wildly tumultuous almost one-sided affair. From my one-side. Three weeks ago, he had met me to tell me, he was serious about it all. That was when he was taking off for an assignment and now he was on the way back. He had routed both his to and fro journeys through my city. Suddenly, I was the only woman. That incident, of the telling me so, had made me irreversibly nervous with joy immediately. But sometime after all that joy had reversed.

“I don’t think we have got milk. It was my turn to get the milk, I am sure I forgot”

We didn’t have a fridge, a few months ago the old one went so bad we had to sell it and never got around to buying a new one.

“We don’t have a fridge, we buy everything once in two days, and everything goes bad”

“Let’s go buy a fridge then”

I put the brush in my mouth and half smiled at him.

“There must be milk powder, here somewhere”

I pointed to the sugar and tea packets and pulled out the sauce pan from the pile of clean utensils and went back to brushing my teeth.

I turned away from him to shut my eyes and remember what he looked like a moment ago. He was in khakis and a button down shirt. He didn’t wear a sweater or a jacket anything. His sleeves were rolled up to the elbows, I could see his fair hands. The sun shone orange on his chin. Bits of beard stood on his cheeks. There was no goatee. His pants were rather loose. Or maybe they were alright. I needed to assess them again. His feet were flatter than regular people’s feet. His toes almost made him look perched, like a bird. His toe nails were translucent, thick and clear. Unlike mine which always had tiny bits of nail paint stuck on them, weeks sometimes months old. I was wrapped in a shawl. It covered my loose onesie sleeping dress with animal prints, elephants and giraffes and rhinoceroses. I wondered what he must think about that.

I reentered the kitchen after wiping my face dry, with the face towel strung over my shoulders. The tea was boiling by then. I saw him again. He was smiling more now.

“Good morning to you”, he said smirking, as if to ensure that I was totally up.

“To you too”

“I leave at 4:30”

“Oh”

“My flight back is at 4:30, so I would clear your house by 2:30, is what I meant”

“Julie likes you, you can stay longer if you want”

“I like Julie too, decent girl”

“I am sure you two would make each other very happy”

“Yeah and so would her Dubai based fiancé, I should hope”

“Oh, she told you”

“Yes of course, had a nice chat with her in the morning. We talked every day and how come you never told me she’s getting married in three months”

“No, we didn’t talk every day. And I didn’t think you would like to know, too much information.”

“But I would like to know if I am getting married in three... seven months”

My mind felt hollow, the foul smell in my mouth had returned. He focused his eyes on me, while I pretended to strain the tea into the cups. I handed him over his cup, making sure our fingers didn’t touch. I cupped mine, trying to absorb all that warmth into my ice cold fingers.
I took a sip of mine, it was milky and sweet. The way I liked my tea, the way I had told him a dozen times I liked my tea and about the severe importance of tea in my mornings and afternoons. He was still holding his cup by the handle, he hadn’t started sipping it yet. As if he was waiting for some kind of answer. A few minutes into the act, almost exhausted by the tension of waiting for my answer, he resumed being normal.

When he had told me three weeks ago that he wanted us to get married, I had told him I didn’t believe in proposals. They sounded very archaic, very Jane Austen. He had never read Jane Austen, and I was very sure a man like him liked his answers in yeses and nos. Not similes and metaphors. Definitely not quotations of great fiction. Pushed further by my continuing silence back then, he had asked me to think about it. Like seriously consider.

I had tried very hard to cover my shock and awe. My temples were hot, my hands were cold, and my heart was going wild. We were at the coffee shop just outside the airport. I had gone to see him off. Just like he had come to see me off when I had been to his place. It had been a cloudy and dull day. I had taken the day off. My phone was getting inundated with calls from work which I had to take because I was their slave. But now when I wanted the phone to ring, the bloody call never came. He was holding my hands under the table, subtly so that people wouldn’t stare at us. And he asked me again.

I, rattled with my passive aggressive shit, told him he didn’t have a ring. How was that even considered a proposal? Doesn’t he watch romantic comedies? The smile from his face vanished. He was angry now. I had hurt him. He had the upper hand now. The color of his eyes changed, the length of his breaths stretched. His tone changed when he spoke next. This love was a constant power struggle, a tireless battle of egos.

“What kind of ring would you like?” he had asked in a bossy commanding kind of way.

“That’s beside the point.”

He hadn’t even told me that he loved me. All that had felt very weird. I, who with all her conviction knew that I loved him deeply, which was probably a serious infatuation to begin with but had rapidly turned into a serious attraction and then into love in a matter of days. I had been in love with him through days and weeks and months, even when he had vanished from my life, even when he had forgotten me for other things, I had waited for him desperately through all that. That moment I was happy too, despite being terrified and in between I felt so full with that joy, so overwhelmed that I felt I would rupture. But I didn’t know how to behave. I must have emanated very contrasting signals.

“Let’s go and buy a ring now, we can do that”, he said sounding normal, less angry.

“You will miss your flight”

He could have said he didn’t care. I would have loved to go shopping anyway. I have never been with anyone to the airport who had missed a flight. I was very punctual and careful. Never missed a flight bus or train. This could be exciting. In that instant, had he bought me a ring I would have said yes. Back calculating from the posterity we always project ourselves into, I would like to think so. But he had said that the next time he would get me a ring definitely. For sure, without fail.

We had parted that day rather confused, me particularly in sort of a daze. Had he been planning on revealing what he did and asking what he wanted of me, he would have been relieved but I was too perturbed to even answer. My past came rolling back at me.

I had taken the bus back from the airport even though he had insisted on putting me in a cab. It was just afternoon, there was no need to take a cab, it costed thrice as much. It was a long ride in the bus, I had cried amongst strangers who appeared as if they couldn’t see me cry and wipe my tears away and then cry again and repeat.

I imagined him in his flight, quietly reading his thin travel books, not books on travel, but thin books that he bought just because they could be finished within the span of two flights, one book for every journey, half on the onward, and half on the return. I imagined him on his stop over. In strange airports, in new cities, amongst people who looked very alien. Alien air, alien water, longing for the familiarity of home. I imagined him listening to songs. Imitating singers in his soft husky whispering voice, sometimes. And I held myself back from crying. I obviously couldn’t marry him. We had been through a lot of shit. This was just not feasible.

More so because I had found out a lot more than I would like on that visit. He had swiftly converted into a man of clay from a man of dreams. His fissures were only too visible. His flaws real and within reach. His gaunt face within reach to be plundered with my kisses warned me of all the past he had been through. I warned myself to tread lightly, to tread with tremendous caution because he seemed fractious and anything I might attempt may crumble him, just. I was so frozen with restraint, I just sat that and observed him, go on and on.

He held me in his arms, and we had sex a few times but I was so much in stupor that I couldn’t break out of it. He asked me to snap out of whatever it was keeping me but I was clearly rendered unable to. He re-narrated stories from his childhood but somehow the humor from those had vanished. Unlike the first times over phone when he had narrated them and I had laughed and laughed and fallen for him, this time his telling me in person felt charmless, serious. For instance, how once he had mistakenly seen his father conducting an operation on one of his patients had battered him as a child and he couldn’t stop puking. Or how he had driven their new car with his mother to test drive the thing and they had gotten lost, finding their way out after half a day and running out of petrol. I didn’t know why I had been amused earlier but then I couldn’t just see it anymore. It was the shock of reality that went on.

Earlier that day in my room we had opened the bottle of wine he had brought for me, his first gift of any kind and perhaps the last too and we swigged it from paper cups and then when we were very drunk, directly from the bottle. Julie had excused herself for the entire weekend like a conscientious flat mate and we had cooked a meal together or two, before deciding to order food, Chinese, Thai, whatever I had in my whims and fancies. He entertained me, he tried. But somehow he seemed to have a shortfall. Sometimes he failed by thin margins, sometimes by large irrecoverable ones.

Probably I was too much into myself. But then I asked him about Cora, his college girlfriend. We had never brought her into our conversations. She was beyond reach, just like the few boys from my past. But now Cora had risen from the past. And he would have to spill the beans about her. It turned out Cora was not just limited to college and they had continued seeing her for a couple of years after graduating. She was vivacious and pretty, he showed me an old photo of theirs on his phone. They both looked sheepish and sleepy in their sweatshirts, almost like twins because they were both lanky, almost equally. They looked as if they were drunk with love.

“So why did you two put an end to it?”

“It was mostly the working in separate cities that did it, primarily. Also she was really into a new colleague when she had just started working”

“Oh my gosh, were you jealous?” I stressed on my surprise. Because he played as the cool chap all the time. His emotions under his control, firmly. He never broke down, barely even fumbled. But the color of his face changed on the mention of this.

“Not exactly. But she was far too ahead with him to even look back at us and regret”

“Oh you poor baby” I mocked him very sarcastically, because I was quite high.

He forced his mouth on mine and bit my lips hard and wouldn’t stop until I apologized. I was afraid it would leave a mark and I would be embarrassed to step out. But it left no such mark. I had made him sad reminding him of all that. Just to balance the scales I told him about a certain someone in my past as well. Someone I had briefly seen, over half a dozen encounters a few years ago. For a few months wherein I had been temporarily abandoned by my permanent paramour. He laughed and continued working on some more bites I would be embarrassed about in the coming week.

Even with the scales assumed to have been balanced, something didn’t feel right. Upon probing further, it dawned upon me that he met Cora several times when I was even so desperately flirting with him. He justified that he was always looking for some sort of closure with her because she was his first and he always wanted to make sure there was nothing left, not even the slightest, before walking away.

I could have spilled some more truths to balance the scales on that as well. I had engaged in a friendly romance with a friend for a couple of weeks, but not to explore any untaken chances. Only merely to fill the vacuum that newly begotten youth had got me. But I believed this wouldn’t go down well, if I told him about that friend. You never know how territorial men could get. And if he was territorial, or anything of that sort, some secrets were better kept sealed.

“So where is Cora now? Are you guys keeping in touch?” I pinched him again.

“Should I? Do you want me to?” he retorted, sounding authoritative.

“I don’t want to get into your business. But you never know, if you left their some chances unexplored. What if there might be something, I wouldn’t want you to blame me years later saying that ‘Why didn’t you tell me to check with Cora one last time’ and what would I do...”

He cut me off suddenly by asking “So you intend to be with me years later

“Haven’t I been always there? Except when you have brushed me aside me for women from the past, or other newer hotter women, or work commitments, or family affairs, or your friends, or women from the past, or newer hotter…”

I suddenly realized I was wailing. Very loudly, my throat hurt, how loudly I was crying. He held me on his lap and comforted me by pushing me into a ball but my crying wouldn’t stop. I thought I would free myself from his clasp and run, but there was nowhere to go. I gave in and couldn’t stop crying either.

“I have loved you, always. Always, through my entire fucking life. Since the day I met you. I have loved you”, I heard myself loudly confessing. All the drinking had done the trick. I couldn’t see his face because I was looking away, we were both looking in the same direction, at the walls. “But what have you done to me…”

“It’s okay, it’s gonna be okay, baby”, he whispered and smothered my neck with kisses from behind.

Shortly after I must have fallen asleep. I must have passed out for two hours or more. I could feel the cramps in several parts of my body, I woke up with a jolt and sat cross legged on the bed. I must have scared the fuck out of him. He must be petrified, oh my god.

He was behaving too normally. He looked happy in fact. I had not the slightest idea what had transpired in his head. He looked up from his phone.

“It’s time, I have to call a cab to the airport”

“Is it that late?”

“No, it’s just after 3. You wanna come see me off?”

“Will you pay my return cab fare?”

He smiled and pressed his palm on my forehead. It felt cool, a shiver almost went down my limbs.

“What are we doing!? I will go wash my face and change” I left in a hurry.

I splashed a lot of water on my face, still the heaviness won’t go.

When I came out he must have guessed my situation. “We will get you some coffee at the airport café or something. I am sure the airport must have something nice”, he said sounding irreversibly posh.

“I’m not so sure” I said trying to bail myself out of it.

From inside the cab, the highway to the airport shone in the filtered sunlight from a cloudy sky. The monsoon had not retreated properly. The clouds wore a dirty white color and appeared ominous. It felt as if the rain was waiting.

“I think I left my umbrella at home” I said rummaging through my handbag. He appeared pensive. Almost borderline lost. “What is it?” I asked him.

“What is what?”

“What is wrong with you?” I quickly repeated “What on earth is wrong with you?” I sounded more concerned the second time.

“Nothing is wrong. Although it looks like it’s going to rain. Too bad about that umbrella”

I laughed nervously. Attempting to keep him going in the conversation. But he continued to stare out the window. Had I succeeded in completely alienating him by my nonsensical intoxicated blabber earlier.

“This is not our usual Sunday afternoon traffic. Usually there is more. Much more”

“Oh, is there?”

“Yes I mean the cab barely moves. Also, we are hardly inside the city anymore. This is practically outskirts.”

For a minute there, he retreated and looked at me. In a manner that almost felt condescending. In a way to warn me to keep away with my fake attempts at conversation. To give up trying to trivialize what had happened earlier.

I felt depressed in there. Couldn’t wait for us to reach the airport. I almost nudged the driver on the shoulder to drive faster. I looked up the cafes at the airport on my phone, to be sure that there were no good ones.

“Like I said, no good café at the airport. I think I should just come back ASAP and have my coffee at home. Julie will be back by then. I am sure I can exploit her love for me to make me a good cup that will help me with the hangover. I after all am the broken hearted one, amongst the two of us...” I giggled hopelessly.

This time he looked at me. His eyes were between anger and sympathy. A terrible intermingling of emotions that.

“I just want to retract whatever I said earlier. I do not love you. You wouldn’t have taken me seriously I am sure. These things happen when a girl drinks so much wine”. I was meted out cold silence again.

I rolled down the windows to get in some air, casually warning the driver to turn off the AC. The cool air got into my lungs and breathed back some strength into me. “I am sure, you haven’t taken me seriously.”

I touched him behind his neck, squeezing a bit of his flesh between my fingers and in a way forcing him to look at me. I could feel the dryness in my face, my eyes singed from any lack of focus, my movements still not sober.

He appeared to be deep in thought. As if taking one serious decision after another or weighing something against something else. He looked worried, for the years I had known him to be, the man he is, he appeared worried. His eyebrows squeezed up dividing his forehead into lines. His eyes looked somewhat exhausted. He put his arm around me in the seat of the cab and brought me closer.

“Okay. Alright.”

“What is alright?”

“No I haven’t taken you seriously at all.”

“Good to know. Now we can get back to indulging in what we are good at”

“And what might that be?”

“You exploring chances with Cora perhaps and I writhing in self-concocted pain of heartbreak” I sank into his arms saying this. I couldn’t believe how loosely I was behaving. It was the alcohol perhaps. I chugged in some water and relapsed into his arms. I smelled his shirt, played with his collar, his buttons. I waltzed into a half sleep.

He woke me up when we drove into the airport. I went inside. He still had a lot of time, he had web checked in and everything. He found a decent coffee shop and none of my naysaying would work on him.

We sat down and shortly before getting up to leave, he asked me the question. Then he left.
For three weeks, my recently converted two sided love affair stifled me. It shouldn’t have. Why should it? Isn’t this what I had expected? Isn’t this the best that could happen? We were finally settled to see this through.

But this made me awkward and uncomfortable. Julie told me that it was going to be alright. Obviously she was enormously happy for me, for us both, as she pointed out. But there was something ashen about her expression that made me think deeper and deeper until I lost all track of what I was thinking.

He had called me to let me know that he would return through my city in a few weeks, and on the way back would like to know what I felt. The timeline made me dread. He was calm about the entire goings on. He had come out of his shell for a sometime only, probably in the cab to the airport when he had been stuck in indecision and had expressed worry on his face. But soon after he had said whatever it was he had been weighing for or against, quietly passed the ball to my court and retreated into his shell. Inert, as he always had been to the turmoil of short-lived romance.

But my angst of unrequited love had suddenly and uncontrollably transformed into anger. We might have never made it to this point. Given my chronic shyness, had he been even marginally more ignorant of me, we would have never made it to this point. And at that point I was too stoic to let any other force get the better of me. I loathed how my fates had turned thanks to a sliver of chance. And I regretted it. It was very ironical, but I was going to refuse to him.

Obviously, he might think I was just trying to play hard to get. And if he did try hard, he might eventually get to it. But till then, I was refusing to jump to any conclusions. So I didn’t answer him in the three week interval. He even went out to buy a ring apparently and asked me if there was anything specific I wanted. I didn’t budge in my indifference.

And he’s finally here. In my apartment making tea. Giving me a timeline again by when he would leave.

“Do you want to see the ring? I got it on Tuesday. I would have sent you a photo. But wanted to show in person.”

At that point he held my hands and kissed me. I looked at him in the eyes and told him we could keep the ring for later.

“How was your trip?” I asked.

“Same old, same old. Except that this time I experienced every minute of it what you had been feeling for years”

He sounded honest. Distraught even. Like he had shrunk my years of suffering into a span of three weeks and undergone it all.

“If only such fast forwards were possible!” I said, trying to sound indignant.

“Do you want me to beg?”

“Won’t be such a bad idea. But I wouldn’t recommend it”

We were getting nowhere this way. I took a shower and decided we should get some brunch. Considering it was too early for lunch.

“And you can get moving to the airport from the restaurant”

He looked perplexed and confused because he was trying to hide it. I told myself there is no going back on this. If I was letting him go, this was it. This was what I was supposed to do. Push him away for good.

I kept on going about my banter about films and books and my artsy friends. About places in the city that were a must go to. Probably, he should try them out the next time he is here. He gave me blank expressions that didn’t suit him and made him appear like a completely different person, someone I couldn’t recognize. He spoke in bits about his family. His mother, his brother, their small-town house. We had ordered a lot of food. There was some that I would pack and take for Julie I told him, the rest had to be left at the table. I offered but he paid. We stood out in the shade of the parapet, he had his small trolley with him. We were stranded in mid-September heat.

He appeared weak, vulnerable. A gust of warm wind came and blew my hair astray. He sized my face up in his hands and cupped my cheeks and smiled faintly.

“For posterity”

I didn’t stop him. He had accepted my refusal. Together with whatever repercussions it might beget.

“Since I see no point in my staying further, I think, it’s time to hail that cab”

We hugged. I squeezed the flesh behind his neck for a bit and condensed that moment to be a source of warmth for emptier years to come. Then he left and never explored our chance again.

The Apartment



I had been looking for a place to live for some time. Looking for a house can be quite frustrating. A lot of houses were not in my budget. The rest were quite far from work. Also I had no idea what exactly I was looking for. One day at the fag end of my patience I came across a posting by a landlord on one of the real estate websites. From the pictures, the apartment looked decent. It was a two bedroom, on the fourth floor, with another floor on top. The location was close to work, though I couldn’t figure out the exactly where it was. I immediately called the number.

The landlord worked in a bank in another city and rarely ever visited. The earlier tenant had vacated a couple of months ago. The keys were with a neighbour on the ground floor. A nice old lady with a knee problem. I called the lady and fixed a time for the next Sunday. Soon after meeting her on the ground floor, we took the elevator to the fourth. The elevator was an old and cranky one. The air was dry and still. The corridors got plenty of sun.

The main doors of the apartments opened into a courtyard. The apartments on the ground floor enjoyed the common courtyard as their own. The apartments on the upper floors had a common portico of sorts. This style of construction was from the olden days when there was no dearth of space and builders didn’t feel compelled to squeeze out every last square foot. Life was relatively easy and not everyone had to buy a house at thirty.

This building had a quiet aura around it. There must be no office going rush at nine in the morning or pressure cooker whistles going nuts at eight. I imagined retired couples lived there, plucking moonbeam flowers from the courtyard every morning at the end of their leisurely morning walks, meandering in their loafers all afternoon, indulging in slow cooked dals, after the prime of their lives, children settled abroad and all that.

The old lady herself had three sons, all married and their wives reluctant to have children. The old lady resented this about her daughters in law. Though she didn’t confide in me about this in our first meeting. I assumed similar couples lived in the other apartments, having bought them a decade ago or so. My landlord, the old lady said was younger. His brothers, all of them bankers as well, owned some of the other apartments in the same building.

The building looked its rightful age though. Frankly it didn’t have much sheen, the paint from the outer walls was peeling off. The structures looked old. The elevator door never closed properly in the first attempt. The sole security guard chewed pan constantly and was far from professional. The compound was verdant with thickets of monsoon grass who nobody cared to trim. The foliage was growing wild and the maintenance was far from good.

But the reason the apartment was vacant for a couple of months, the old lady said was that the landlord had invested quite an amount in redoing the interiors, fixing the wardrobes and bathrooms. She walked around with a certain amount of ownership. She would be one of few neighbours I would know during my stay there.

It was a clean house. At times, it felt new as well. At other times, it felt as if it captured in its walls, stories of families that lived there before me. The old lady told me that a journalist had been the apartment’s last occupant. The apartment had two balconies. One, next to one of the bedrooms, had been shut with glass windows which could be opened to let the sun and wind in.  The second one was next to the hall and was open except for a wire mesh that guarded against stray pigeons. The second balcony had a stone slab on one of its edges on which one could sit with legs outstretched and if not anything else, just be.

I imagined, the previous occupant, the journalist sitting there and writing, touching up on his articles. I made the deposit and moved in.

I had no furniture except for a rudimentary single bed and a rickety table with a couple of plastic chairs. It was a Sunday, some people helped me move in. I made multiple trips up and down the stairs because the lift wouldn’t be available. One thing I noticed was that all the floors had a plenitude of potted plants. And nothing about them seemed new. Even the shrubbery had an aged look around it. On my floor, there was a family who had pumpkin creepers right in the corridor beside a bush of curry leaves and green chilies. People on other floors reared huge bougainvillea trees of multiple colours like it was nobody’s business. There were potted plants that almost appeared as if they had been plucked from the wild. Climbers rolled around pillars that guarded the courtyard. Tiny flowers flowered wherever they had a whim to. But most of the flora was flowerless. I decided to plant a climber in my second balcony such that it would wrap itself around the wire mesh and build me a porous green wall.

I began living there and going to work every day. I worked six days every week and never quite gauged where my Sundays went. My office was barely a kilometre away and hence I walked. The roads had potholes but were shaded on both sides by thick trunks of trees. I went to work just after nine in the morning and came back after seven. I had no friends or acquaintances. I had joined this workplace fairly recently and didn’t have a personal rapport with anybody. Also, I happened to be the only woman.

Somehow all the work stations had been occupied when I joined and I had to be allotted a work station in an annex near the pantry. I had to make do with what I had been served. Also I liked the privacy and distance from office gossip. I appreciated that seat so much, I thanked my luck for having joined late. I went in every morning and worked, walked out for phone calls, made quintessential small talk over lunch break and left after it got dark. I was content with that. It felt like something I would choose for myself.  

I also quite enjoyed returning to an empty house every evening. I wasn’t answerable to anyone. I enjoyed the tremendous lack of accountability of my whereabouts. I ignored phone calls and lied when I wanted. But I didn’t have much to hide. I rarely went out after work and spent almost all Sundays holed up in the apartment. I learnt to cook, bought vegetables from a vegetable seller I developed a vague camaraderie with, watched some TV and slept for a better part of my free time.

Downstairs, next to the compound wall lived a small community around a bread factory. It was very weirdly situated, this factory. The factory was housed in a concrete two storied building and the workers along with their families lived around it in a circular arrangement of asbestos roofed shanties. Each shanty seemed to have not more than two rooms and a veranda. Every family had a small kitchen garden of sorts out front.

A pastime of mine was to merely stare down from my bedroom window and keep an eye on the bread factory community. To tone it down, the women screamed and fought a lot. Sometimes they shouted at their obese and jobless sons who sat all day at home. Sometimes they shouted at each other while wringing and stringing out their clothes to dry. Sometimes they shouted at their husbands who came back drunk on some nights. It was not fun to watch all this, and if one of them caught me staring at them, they would quite definitely direct their ire at me. But that didn’t matter. I would quietly shut the window and retire for the day.

But mostly I would keep that window open so that the delicious smell of baking would waft in. Even though I never met anyone from down there in person, I sometimes enjoyed so many aspects of their lives. They would take turns to wash their clothes around the community well. They had one common bathroom near the well and nearly twenty of them shared it. Their little children would play their afternoon games with an enthusiasm unaware of whose mother had fought with whom earlier.

The bread factory colony became like an extended family. Whoever came by to the apartment, I would push open the window and show them the factory and the houses.

The vegetable vendor I bought stuff from, lived in that colony. I surmised so because I could see him through my bedroom window, loitering around downstairs. Sometimes he sat in the shop, sometimes his wife did. His wife, was never seen much in the public, unlike the other garrulous women in the community. She had a quiet familiarity about herself. They had a six-seven year old son who would often sit at the shop with either parent after his school hours. The wife appeared as if she was carrying a second child. But she wasn’t. After her belly didn’t reduce or expand as months passed by, I stopped doubting. I never asked her though.

I never wanted to have any children. This was not just because I experienced a certain degree of lethargy when it came to filial matters, but also because I never completely believed that this world was simple enough to take the liberties to introduce another human being into it. That was an obligation I was not prepared to take. On almost all alternate evenings I picked up some vegetable or the other from the shop. It was not just because I wanted a papaya or some potatoes or eggs. I wanted to have some human interaction for the day, chatting with the wife or her husband. It was like an item on my daily checklist that I wanted crossed out.

The vegetable shop was under a thick trunked fig tree. The shop was a small cuboidal cabin with a roof of asbestos, where the shopkeeper sat in a small stool with heaps of spices spread out around him and shelved in small racks. There was an extension in the front with a tarpaulin strung out which covered vegetables in wicker baskets. A couple dozen eggs always hung from the roof in a wired container. The tarpaulin had many holes but the thick canopy of leaves from the tree above provided abundant cover and shade.

Sometimes, the wife made tea on a kerosene stove in the afternoons. Some of the housewives from the buildings around drank cups of tea as their children played beneath the tree. As evening approached and the sun set, some women would run down to the shop to buy small things like red chillies or mustard seeds. They would hurry the shopkeeper or his wife and pay later saying that they had left the kitchen fires burning with the pot on it. I would wonder if a record was kept of who owed how much and if ever they were properly settled.

But it ought not matter. Somehow, in those areas, almost all of life happened in warm and yellow afternoons when the utensils after lunch were scrubbed and cleaned, the clothes strung out to dry on cracked roofs were taken out and roughly folded, a little bit of matinee television was watched, a vernacular newspaper unfolded and half read, before the kids returned from school, making a hullabaloo. Then chaos broke loose. Kids were to be washed and properly fed. Sent out to play, kept an eye on, called back for their tuition classes when the time was right.

For my part, I entirely missed out the afternoons because I was at work. I imagined it must have proceeded as above. As I have mentioned, my work was walkable from the apartment and I would sometimes take a walk back in the middle of the day if need be. My afternoons at work were mostly slow. There would be mostly middle aged men, with multi layered lunch boxes with the choicest of traditional delicacies packed, with utmost care. The younger men at work often had lunch outside. I sat to eat amongst the middle aged men who would share their food with me, and along with the food, some stories.

They would slowly narrate the behaviour of their children, or how their wives had gone about their mornings, or major life decisions like buying a house or a car. I didn’t have much to offer them, either in food or in conversation. But my job was mostly to listen. And also, I invested some more time in imagination. I was sure to connect the dots between the several short stories they had traded for my patient listening and form a larger picture of their lives, like joining snippets over weeks and months to form a full-fledged film. Sometimes we also went out to a restaurant to eat lunch if the occasion was a special one or if someone happened to treat. But those were quite forgettable afternoons.

And then out of nowhere summer began. Summer was the most uninhabitable of seasons. It would get so hot that the soil in my potted plants would dry and crack open. When I came back from work and watered them copiously once more in the evening, petrichor would engulf the balcony. The clothes hung out to dry in the morning would be starched under the relentless sun. During midday it would be so hot, like over forty five degrees and getting out of air conditioned environs would be out of the realm of possibility. I cannot describe the effect summer had in words, one would have to be there to feel and suffer for oneself.    

Somehow I had not purchased an air conditioner and the season caught me unawares. Just before moving into the apartment, I had spent a lot of money and was hell bent on saving some. And anyway, things were tight. During the days I was at work and the office air conditioner cranked down to as low at sixteen degrees ensured I wrapped a shawl regularly. But at home, at nights, I shuddered with sweat. I took a shower at night and started sleeping on the cold floor. That was the only way to get some sleep.

But in a few weeks it got hotter. And then sleeping on the floor also didn’t help. I would open all windows and sit in the balcony adjacent to the hall, wiping my face and limbs with a cold towel. Some breeze would come in from time to time and provide a relief of sorts. This felt like a scary thing to do, because a lot of people knew I lived alone. But it was hot beyond considering what the neighbours thought. After sitting there with nothing to do for hours, looking at the fig tree and the dozen birds who had built their nest in it, I would feel a little refreshed. Almost like a morning would dawn on me.

In the short-lived monsoon that followed, I purchased and misplaced more than a couple of umbrellas. Also my shoes got wet and peeled away by so much walking in the rain. Around the building, giant puddles began forming and the flora in the compound got wilder. Most days were overcast, albeit hot, except when there was a downpour. If the evenings were wet, I would hire an auto rickshaw to take me back home from work. The apartment felt extremely inviting after a long rainy day away. I had formed a habit of watching the birds of the fig tree at night. I couldn’t give that up. Often, I would sit out if the rain stopped at night and feel the cold pierce into my skin to undo some of the scorching the summer had done. I didn’t know if it worked but in the process, the balcony became my second favourite spot in the apartment after the bedroom window from where I looked at the bread factory colony.

Then followed a bout of insomnia. It didn’t feel risky at first. But I would roll in the bed for hours before I got any sleep. I began using my nights to write. There were a few fortnights, when I wrote something every night, either prose or a small poetry. The themes varied from dystopic futures to tipsy anecdotes. From somewhere I got the idea to return to smoking, a certain amount of nicotine in the blood help narrate better, sometimes. I swore I would limit myself, I think I did. But one can’t really say. However, the cigarettes really fueled my writing and my journals got really opulent.

Besides the day to day swings of mood and fate, I remember being content while living in the apartment. I dictated most of life, which was the most important precondition for me. I was a little short of money, but I hoped that I would ultimately save up all the money I had spent and start feeling financially sane again. In the interim, I thought numerous times before buying new clothes or shoes. Sometimes I wouldn’t have enough cash to buy fish on the last Sunday of the month. But that was okay, as long as, everything else was the way it was.

Then winter came and a friend of mine visited one afternoon after confirming the address a few times on the phone because it sounded familiar to her. She got along one of her guy friends. Later that evening she arranged for another man to visit us. This person lived in the same building, on the floor above mine. My friend had known this person from years ago when they worked together at a small start-up firm. Since then, an era had passed but she remembered having been invited to a party in that building hosted by this person and his then wife.

Despite the time, they hadn’t lost the familiarity they had cultivated working under the same nasty boss. They restarted their conversation like they had met yesterday. Later, guilted by my sullen silence and my shared awkwardness with her guy friend, they slowed down and the conversation took a rather generic turn.

This neighbour who I had never known, had seen me a few times in the elevator. But I didn’t have him in my memory or even remembered having noticed him because I made it a point not to know anyone. In fact I would rather not know anyone in the building because that would allow me to continue living anonymously. And I was worried I would have to greet him when I saw him, it terrified me, I cannot tell how much.

But he turned out to be the right degree of reticent for my comfort. We chatted about the journalist who lived in the apartment before me. Apparently, everyone threw parties and wine flowed like water in those days. My friend avoided discussing the neighbour’s wife in his presence, something I didn’t understand right away because I had no idea they had separated.
He had a head full of hair, both salt and pepper. He was older than I would have liked but nothing mattered. Because there was some empathy, some comfort, in the manner he moved his fingers when he spoke, rested his eyes on distant objects while conversing in my living room. My friend ordered some dinner which we all polished off. By the time they were ready to leave, I was pretty drunk that night.

While bidding goodnight, the neighbour asked me to come up and see the drawings his eight year old daughter had done on their walls. He was so much in love with the animated imaginations in her little head taking shapes that he had discarded furniture to give her work more space. I told him I would come by. But I never went. We forgot about it for a month or so. My friend being my friend, never checked on me again.

Then suddenly, I ran into him in the elevator while I was running late for work. I may have been panting, he asked me to relax and asked me how things were. That evening, he came into my apartment and brought chicken. I readied drinks in the living room while he cooked us some good old chilly chicken in the kitchen.

We both knew where that was headed. Life had aged us well. A lot was understood in what was left unsaid. I told him I was not in for the games, games people played. He told me he was done with relationships since his marriage broke open. We didn’t open up, but shortly after dinner, he left. I was surprised inside, but I surmised it was better to take this thing slow. Whatever this thing was.

A few days later, he called me late at night and asked if he could come. Very early in the morning, it was a Sunday I remember, he hurried home. His daughter was expected. She rarely visited him because her school was closer to where his ex-wife lived. He had plans to take her for breakfast to some place special. He asked if I would come along, probably out of politeness. I declined and he never brought up meeting that kid again. That must have been some sign that we were both involved for the short term.

We saw each other for a couple of months but we didn’t want people talking. I was quite conscious as a single woman living alone and didn’t want gossip to play any part in how I framed my delusions. He would buy me a few things once in a while although I made it clear to him that gifts, requesting they be reciprocated only complicated things. And I didn’t want myself to learn his likes and dislikes, holes in his heart that some store bought things could fill, only to unlearn them in the very near future. That unlearning would be tough. Nevertheless, he got me things I learnt to keep. A purple scarf, a paper weight with the world map on it with latitudes and longitudes, the way I liked it and a diary of hand-made paper because he assumed I would want to scribble things on it. I still use that scarf sometimes, the paper weight has been lost in transportation somewhere. The diary, till date is blank, untouched.

I never gifted him anything, though there were some things I came across which could be to his liking. On a couple of occasions, I voluntarily checked online for a suitable gift. An ash tray with a skull on it, or a nice pair of cufflinks, or funny socks to wear to work. But I never got around to giving them to him. I even remember buying a pair of cufflinks, but couldn’t dare to actually hand it over.

In April that year, an opportunity came up. In another city where I hardly knew anyone. The job wasn’t that much exciting either. It paid somewhat more though. I mulled over taking it for a few weeks and then out of a whim I did. I called up the landlord and gave him a month’s notice. He sounded neutral. I told him I would look for a new tenant, which I later did. In mid-May I packed my stuff, left my potted plants in the courtyard downstairs hoping they would water themselves. I sat in the empty hall with waste paper and polythene bags strewn around at random, breathed in two lungfuls of the empty apartment’s homely air for nostalgia’s sake, handed over the keys to the neighbour lady on the ground floor and left.

Cake

This September I turn thirty two. The day would be forgettable, erasable. Nothing new would happen. Neither would anything fun. I stopped celebrating birthdays long ago.

But before that, I always spent the day quite wide eyed. There was once a person whom I loved, quite a bit. And he loved me too, I presume. So I imagined on my birthday, he would send me flowers. I never told him to. I mean, we are not the telling kind. I never got any flowers. But it never hurt to look over my shoulder sometimes, waiting to be surprised. In the years that followed, I never completely gave up looking over my shoulders, hoping.

Then love was eradicated from me. I mean, age sincerely cured me of the bug. And  never looked over my shoulders again. For flowers that is.

But we all love cake. I send folks cake all the time. Recently I've been sending red velvet ones. Before that I sent blueberry cheesecakes, or chocolate, of all kinds. I know some home bakers. Sometimes, I send over home baked ones, absolute French delicacies. Sometimes I even top up cakes with a long stemmed roses or a bunch of chocolates. I would want to send orchids to folks, hand picked pink and purple orchids. But can't afford them, you know, as a regular affair. Do you know how much orchids cost, those things are shitty expensive. They could burn a hole in my purse if I let them. So orchids are where I cease myself. But I set reminders and send away cakes with the other birthday paraphernalia, like it was nobody's business.

I engage in above activity because I know a cake brings joy. Particularly when sent by someone else. More so, because you didn't necessarily expect them to take out a credit card from their wallet and click seven or eight times on a webpage to order a cake for someone they care about. Because flowers when home delivered are an absolute delight. Do you know of the mild flowery fragrance home delivered roses fill living rooms with? They practically make the living room come alive. And one thing you need to feel on your birthday, with utmost importance is alive. Thus the flowers.

But I've never been sent a cake. Never flowers. Never chocolates. I am growing older and older and older yet this hope doesn't subside. Every birthday begins with a suppressed sigh and a deep cry in my chest, though I am smiling on the surface. 

Hole in Time

This right now, is a hole in time. Like wormholes, you know. When you enter a wormhole you leave a point in spacetime and you get out at another. But this hole in time where I am at right now, I have entered alright. I can't find an exit. It's an endless limbo, this. Everything is preserved as it is. Time isn't even passing. Nothing is moving except my soul. My soul is spiralling down. I am not talking in metaphor. My soul is literally spiralling down like a few tons of sand in a sandstorm. My chest is sinking and something is sucking the bloody life out of me. I try to breathe a bit and stand back. May be things will change. May be I will sight some hope or joy or something. Even it be an iota, I can work that. But no. I see this hole in time expanding both ways, back to the past and into the future and sucking everything into it. My entire life is falling into this hole like a pack of cards and I am just staring, immobile. There's nothing I can do, I be caged within myself. I never was, never am and never will be. Amen.

Goodbye

This is where our road forks
Probably this is it for us.
Hopes from the past, now pointless
The future is too dark to behold
Our hearts are broken
Once and for all
There is a sense of finality in our tones
Our chapter has ended
It should never have begun, only
Somehow we dragged it so far
Our chests are crammed with regrets
Spouting venom from our furious tongues
What were we even thinking?
This was not to be
Never the everlasting love
Lust has worn off since long
Life has descended on us
Unwrapping its nasty face
We've got nowhere to hide
Except walking away
We've got no way, out of this
Hence goodbye, my amour, this is goodbye