That stupid toad!

choas.jpg‘A woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets’ said the old feisty Rose in Titanic, as did a girl in my class at high school when I asked her intentions behind putting a toad in my lunch when not more than a week before she had confessed her love to me. Now the quote felt apropos to the moment and I blinked in appreciation which would have lasted for a while longer had the toad not croaked. It was a disgusting little thing, looking all clueless and to be frank, a little frightened. Being an environmentalist myself, I promptly had the toad transported to the biology lab and gave it up for the dissection that was due next week. I did hate to let precious resources go waste.

While this incident sure sounded as a nail stuck into the coffin of our little puppy love, it sure stood out 8 years later when I found self in the same city as this girl from high school. She still owed me an explanation. Not that it would change anything, but mysteries have a characteristic itch about them that compel us feeble folks to have them resolved.

I made sure to get to the café late by half an hour in hope of making a grand entry on the awaiting lady; though my little scheme was squashed by the girl who was a good wholesome hour late. Now I readily forgave her because she had long legs. Everyone has their own set of idiosyncrasies. Call me shallow, but I have a thing for long legs. As a matter of fact, I find girls who think hunky, muscular guys are hot and attractive as incredibly shallow and contemptible. It is just so juvenile and out-dated. It was the alpha males of the Neanderthals. In the today, the alpha males are those with enough wits to sift through the massive amounts of data available and make consequential choices. Rowing back on course from this little but important digression, a pair of long legs brought her to the café and she sat across, crossing them.

With great effort I unhinged my glance from this subconscious fixation on those pair of long, shapely, life-affirming lower limbs, and looked up to meet her gaze. She apparently wasn’t very pleased with the way I had turned out. My nails were dirty, my hair unkempt and longer than appropriate, not to miss the long meandering crease on my shirt that would have made a juicy data-point for any decent computing machine to churn an equation to explain its branching morphology. But I had an arresting smile, killer dimples, and a twinkle in my eyes, as my mother used to say, and didn’t feel too ruffled by her critical censure.

She said she was engaged to Jenny. Yes, it is a girl’s name. I did a quick re-take on the manliness of my killer-dimples from high school! But enough conceit already. I said I was happy for her. While totally a lie, not that I had anything remotely romantic toward this toad-toting long-legged critical feminine fellow Homo sapien,  I just didn’t have it in me to ever be happy for else. Unless that folk was a blood-relative, it evolutionarily didn’t hold water. Though I wasn’t unhappy for her; so all is well I hope. After some small talk on Syrian war, Canadian politics, and quantum entanglement, I asked her about the toad in my Tiffin.

Instead of a straight answer, she asked in return, ‘Was it predictable- that event of me putting that thing beside your sandwiches?’ ‘Hell no!’, said I. Then it was a-causal as far as your reality is concerned, she quipped and smiled. I was well aware of James Gleick’s line from the book Chaos that an inherently unpredictable event need be a-causal. The idea being, had there been a cause to which this event had been an effect, then the occurrence of the cause would have made the event predictable. Well again, another apropos use of someone else’s thesis, remember the Rose’s dialogue, yet, I had misgivings on the ‘inherent’ qualifier to the ‘unpredictability’.

In retrospect, I think that smile she beamed was a wicked one. It feels so not nice to feel out-witted. I promised her to iron my shirt and maybe clean half my nails, which I suppose appealed to what little good there was hidden, deep, in some dark recess within her, and she relented. She said, the toad was her pet, and she wanted to surprise me, while I mercilessly had it given up for dissection. (As against what I had thought, the toad had been dissected the same day, not a week later. They had needed it to demonstrate the electrical nature of sciatic nerve stimulation to cause contraction of the calf).

After a sheepish smile, we paid the bill the Dutch way and left. Though unbeknown to us, one of the students who had observed the nerve stimulation experiment that day had become so fascinated with the whole thing that he now is a neurosurgeon doing well curing folks of epilepsy. Who knew the stupid frog and my generous act would consequent the society such good!

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Tempered Steel

The glass was transparent, filled three-fourths with water. The subtle curve of the meniscus caught light from above and glimmered. With my chin resting on the table, I observed her animated face magnified through the liquid. She sat across, wearing blue, with her jet-black locks breaking into waves, one layered over another brushing on her shoulders. She blinked those big scary eyes and moved her head from side-to-side. She was trying to make a point I suppose. Every once-in-a-while, her hands would shoot up, forming words in the air. Yes, she sure was saying something. But blame her peculiar nose, a tad-bit voluminous, and that curious stretch of lips; I felt all my attention being pulled as toward, making it difficult to spare any for the words those moving lips formed.

With time the skin over my chin started to feel numb under the weight of my head and started to sting. I sat upright and leaned on the back-rest. She smiled as if to acknowledge my change in posture while yet continuing with the monolog. I wondered how one smiles while talking. Aren’t the lips already busy in sounding the consonants, particularly the labials – ‘m’, ‘p’ and ‘b’. Possibly one times the smile to that portion of the speech when words do not include these. I felt amazed at how talented their brains need to, to be able to predict beforehand which part of their sentence is devoid of words containing those alphabets so that they may smile at that exact moment. Such an arduous strain on brains micro-circuitry. I blinked in awe of her this gift and tried to smile.

Tried to, but couldn’t. This is not the day I smile. It’s a sad sorry day. I broke my coffee mug. Despite the charming presence of her, in near proximity, the ache of the misfortune was too searing to wane. She had given me it. While some might argue the very same ‘she’ is sitting right across the table that seemed to hold a glass of water, two plates, two pairs of spoon, fork and knives, a box of tissues, and a promise of food that was yet to come. Now the latter half of the previous statement in this recital is beside the point, yes, you figured it right. I guess I put it there to shift attention from the unease the former half of the statement had caused within. Yes, the coffee-mug was given by her, but she was that ‘her’ no more. Time leaves indelible insignia of its passage, doesn’t it? Some desirable, while some not. Some tolerable, some not.

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Just then, there was a sudden moment of profound quiet. I saw that there were no more ripples in the water in the glass. Her lips had stopped to move as well. I said, ‘yes, I agree’. And she smiled.

Contrary to what you might think, no, this isn’t a failed marriage wherein we just indifferently tolerate the other. In fact, we are not even a couple. It is just that I have something going on. Something that is being a bother. And I can’t tell her that. As to why I can’t tell her, well, I don’t know. Though now I can think and try to come up with reasons in retrospect as to why I can’t tell her; but beforehand I don’t know what made me want to not say and keep it to self. Maybe it just didn’t occur to me to tell her about it. But then isn’t it how we are at times. Inexplicable to self. Not that that mystery can’t be unwoven. It’s just that it would rather be quite a burdensome bother to undertake. And it’s easier side-stepped.

While these philosophical counterpoints subsided inside my head, I noticed that her eyes were downcast and the smile that she had beamed before had turned smug, then sore, and finally sad. It’s incredible how the same stretch of lips could be made to portray such myriad different emotions. A mathematical impossibility if one may. But then, she did, and thus it isn’t an impossibility anymore, is it? So this is that point in the narrative wherein it becomes clear that I have been outstripped in my endeavor to outsmart her. Poor me. Well I don’t actually mean ‘poor me’, but inside my head, I could hear her quip ‘don’t wallow in your own self-pity’ at my that phrase; a nasty retort we had together once discovered in a comic strip. The distraction aside, I felt my heart miss a beat.

Funny that it begins with a series of missed beats, strained breaths and roiled emotions. And this same bunch recurs when you see your better half down and under. ‘better half’ having been used in a literal sense with not too much emphasis on the ‘your’ pronoun that did precede it. Though on a second take, much emphasis has indeed been put on the absence of emphasis on that possessive pronoun. Such a recursive turmoil language adds to the act of living. For what is unsaid is also as affecting as what is said.

I came clean and said, “I dropped that coffee mug you gave on that friendship day”. “The yellow one? The one with a black lid and café coffee day written as upon ?”. “Yes, the same. It fell and broke into a thousand shards of splintered ceramic.” “I knew I should have given you one made of tempered steel!”, and with that, she broke out into her characteristic peal of laughter. I again caught myself gazing at her peculiar nose, admiring, smiling, chuckling as it twitched as she paused for breath between laughs.

Yes, it’s inexplicable; this human contract with its inherent asymmetry of emotional exchange.  In part because we are humans, fallible, with a lifetime spent in cultivating behaviors that are a far cry from ideal. And in part because this portrayal is a consequence of the wistful imagination of a soul reflecting in solitude. Either way, how much harm can come by wishing ‘happy friendship day’, even if the only real aspect of that proposition is ‘day’. Someone said life is a comedy, written by a writer with a tendency to overindulge in the tragic. And given the superlative intellect (quirky smarts, handsomeness, and knightly chivalry) of this ‘someone’, we are bound to concede to his point. As to why his, and not her? Well, it’s apparent I am a guy ain’t it.