Linea Nigra

I've been waiting
For months now
For my feet to swell up
And go all varicose

Guess, it's not the time yet
We're along the way
Stringing along
Yesterday to tomorrow, with today

Each day, limbs grow
Every night, blood flows
The calendar leaps by bounds
Suddenly then, it lazes down

A protrusion of life has occurred
The Linea Nigra
Should be darker than this
The kicks should be oftener than this, oh

The future feels akin to a dream
A chunk of one, carved out, outside
Life, topsy-turvy
Chaos, perhaps, will be our new currency

And a bit of love too
A little bit, yes
Why not


These are remnants of a very cold winter day. I was studying someplace far from home and getting there took me almost two whole days in train and a longish cab ride afterward. Surprisingly, the thing about traveling alone is that it doesn't tire me. Because I do everything at my own pace and avoid anything that might seem unnecessary. For instance I would get down from my upper berth in the train only twice a day to go pee. And that would be my social interaction for the day.

Anyway, my two day train journey ended on the morning of the third day and when I got out of the railway station, I remember the January cold squeezing me dry. So much so that I remember taking out an extra sweater from the bag to stay warm. Sitting on one of the station benches, I unpacked the third packet of food from home.

I decided I would eat whatever I could for breakfast and throw out the rest before heading out. Mother had packed food, one each for every day of the journey. She of course knew best. But I would agree to take the food only after a prolonged protest. What if it got bad? What if the friends I was traveling with decided to buy food? My bag wasn't getting any lighter, anyway. Deep inside, I tore up seeing the home cooked food so far from home and it just made me rethink the whole purpose of it all. Hence the protests. But couldn't do much about it.

I rolled up the fried potatoes in puris and ate up. Cleaned my hands, drank some water and purposefully dragged my bags out to hail a cab for the long three hour journey ahead, through the mountains and valleys.

The thing about the cab journey was, it was expensive and also rather unsafe to be hiring an entire cab for oneself. Who would trust their lives alone with the driver? So a system was in play. People pooled in to hire a big taxi, like an SUV that could carry seven or eight people. It made it much cheaper and safer as well.

At the station, I found a cab driver vigorously trying to form his own pool of people, and negotiating the fare. I quickly joined them and started asking the fares. After loading my bags and having been seated, I noticed in there a familiar face.

A boy from my class. A quiet one. The break had been for a mere two weeks but suddenly it felt longer. It felt as if we were meeting after a longer interval. We were seated at two ends of the seat so couldn't talk much. But I said Hi and he acknowledged. Speaking took an effort, for some reason. I had been so muted on the train. My thoughts had coagulated inside my head and everything felt choked.

I clung to my seat, chomping from my bag of potato wafers which I offered to share and he politely refused saying he had just eaten. The wafers were to avoid nausea. You see I suffer from road sickness. And the twists and turns of the mountains made it bad . To worsen it, it began drizzling and we had to roll up the windows. I shut my eyes and tried to sleep. But the time I had spent at home kept coming back in glimpses. The prints on the bed sheets. The wall hangings we had purchased in the handicrafts exhibition. The pots in the kitchen. The glare of the TV at midnight. So many things. I felt my chest squeeze.

The boy offered me his coca cola from which I took a sip. The sugar rush helped me regain some control. I dabbed some talcum powder on my handkerchief and snorted it hoping it would help with my vomiting. It did, somewhat. Then in an hour or so, the driver stopped the vehicle for lunch.

It was about half past twelve. I wasn't hungry but everyone ate, so I ordered a plate of aloo parathas for myself. The boy joined me at my table. The trick was to eat very light on these journies because too much food would curdle up and make one puke. I licked the tiny piece of mango pickle that had accompanied the parathas and asked the waiter for some more.

Soon, we were back on the road. This time, I dozed off. The memories had stopped perturbing me. My fears of puking had subsided. I woke up when we had nearly reached. From the cab stand, me and the boy, we split another cab to the hostel.

At the end of it, I heaved a sigh of relief. But it felt like a ghost house. It seemed we had arrived a day earlier. Everyone was reaching the next day. Having heard this from the security guard, I immediately headed for my room. I don't know where the boy went.

I remember taking a really freezing shower as the damned geyser wouldn't work. My toes nearly froze on the bathroom floor and I got inside the blankets straight out of the bathroom. There was no in between. I had left two gerberas in a glass of water on my table, before leaving for home. Those flowers were still alive, and totally fresh after two weeks. It was as if, absolutely no time had passed. It felt unreal.

I remember taking a long nap and waking up in the evening in want of tea. The hostel kitchen wasn't working yet. I collected myself in jackets and socks and mufflers and headed to the nearest grocery store from where I bought noodles. On the way back, I noticed light in one of the windows in the boy's hostel. I assumed that solitary light was the quiet boy. I wondered what he would eat for dinner.

Back in my room, I heated some water in the electric kettle and soaked the noodles in it till it softened. I slurped it neatly, made sure twice that my door was locked and went back to trying to sleep. Owing to the cold, I must have fallen asleep sometime.

But I woke up again, close to dawn and felt the dozens of empty hostel rooms around me like an incurable vacuum. It wasn't fear. It was just overwhelming solitude. Being in the mountains, in the middle of a pine forest. I imagined the boy sleeping on his bed, hoping to draw some warmth telepathically. Telling myself I wasn't completely alone and there was someone at least, and even if this companion was not immediate, but nevertheless.