I watched my sister dance at the funeral of her husband. It wasn’t the frenetic swaying of a delirious mind. Nor was it in measured restraint. It was seamless, fluent, san all conscious effort. It felt the same as the day she danced when I told her that she had become an aunt, her movements sparkling of joy and pride. It was the same as when she got into the grad school for design, her life’s motive, her long-cherished desire. It was the same as when she fell in love and danced to let him know, that while her heart was all his, she couldn’t be. She bowed to her mother’s dying wish and married a guy of her family’s choosing. The guy, today, lying on the funeral pyre, was silenced in death. He didn’t hurt her, nor was he bad. He was a good fellow, kind and gentle. But she couldn’t bear to hold within a love she felt for else. She wrapped it deep within, where it simmered. One fine day, unbeknown of the cause, she cracked. Breaking the calm placid facade shot out the hand, her hand, grasping a knife in a tight clench. A cruel unfaltering slash, it hit an artery in his neck, and he ceased to be, diseased, sliding to the beyond in a gush of blood-red blood spurting from the gash. She was sane, oh yes, rational too. She just broke once, then, and the deed couldn’t be undone. Today, she danced in farewell to the guy, her erstwhile husband, caught in cross-fire of her unrequited love. It’s wasn’t his fault, nor her’s, or her mother’s who died while holding on to the wisdom and custom of the eras bygone. It just happened, and all she could do was to dance resigned to the fates design. She danced. She did.
On the Sunday morning of the Orionid meteor shower, the young bloke, our protagonist, was sitting in a sweet sunlit spot at the local café. He was cradling a hot steaming cup of coffee. After a delicious sip of the fresh brew, he lets his ink-pen glide with delight over the crisp roughness of his journal page. A fleeting glimpse of the day’s entry before he turned the page read,
“Off today. Might go for a ride up the hill. Life’s a little mellow. And yes, ex got married, and brother’s having a daughter.”
He took another sip, wondering if he got anything more to write. You could almost see that he wanted the idyll to stretch a moment longer- the morning, coffee, journal entry. But his mind couldn’t thread thoughts any further and a lugubrious silence seemed to falls within. He closed his journal and looked afar, lost in thought while thinking nothing. A voice beckoned him to the present, to which he heard himself reply, ‘of course’. The owner of the voice, a girl, sat across and opened her book titled ‘The unbearable lightness of being’.
Yes, he had read it. He greatly admired the adroitness with which the author manages to capture subtle emotions and convey with deft nuance ineffable moments. Yet the philosophy touted, he thought were a bit airy. The premise wherein the central character of the novel could continue loving his wife only through his infidelity, for one, was stretching credulity a bit too far. While our guy was having this mini book club discussion inside his head, the girl looks up at him, smiles in acknowledgement, and turns to the next page.
Yes, she was beautiful. Though more than beauty, what caught him in enrapture was the unassuming charm of a beautiful girl who doesn’t yet know how beautiful she is. He longed to listen to her thoughts, see how beautiful they were. But that would require holding an actual conversation. And therein lays the complication. It’s easier to not start a conversation than otherwise, despite the possible merits of the latter. What would he say? How should he start? What if she replies in a monosyllable and the conversation comes to an abrupt uncomfortable end? The sheer enormity of untoward possibilities compelled him to quit the ordeal, finish his coffee, and go fetch his mountain bike. As he was unlocking it, unbeknown to him, the curious gaze of the girl lingered on him awhile. Not looking back, he began to pedal at a brisk pace.
He rode out the city toward the hills. The sun was up and the cold of the night had begun to dispel. He rode taking it all in, the green of the hillside, the blue of the sky, and the springy lightness the memory of the girl from the café seemed to evoke. After a couple hours, he reached the lake with a green grassy mound that seemed the perfect site to pitch his tent. He munches through the sandwich with the quiet of forest and the occasional plop of a frog diving into the water forming a backdrop to the silence in his heart, which lay sober and subdued in his sweaty steaming body. He decided to go for a swim and wash up. The cool wetness of the water felt welcome against his skin. He dries himself and lies down in his tent for a nap.
The Sun makes its day’s sojourn across the sky and nears the horizon. His nap is disturbed by a voice. Yes, it’s the same voice. The one from the cafe. But no, it isn’t addressed to him. In fact, it isn’t anywhere near either. He steps out his tent to find a little party on the opposite shore of the lake, with a bonfire and good old bonhomie. Yes, she was in the midst of the group, and he could catch sight of her smiling face from across the pond. Suddenly he longed for her company. He longed for any company. He wanted to go talk to her. Hear her speak. Hear anyone speak. Having conversations with self makes cracking jokes a difficult if not impossible ordeal. And that intolerable monotony of familiar landscape and known tunes inside one’s head is another minor detail he had come to detest. He wanted to experience the mental landscape of someone else. His mind wavers in uncertainty. He wants to go over, sit by the fire, have a beer, and hang out. He wants to participate in life. He makes up his mind. Gathers his stuff. Ties his tent to the back of his bike and begins to pedal, just when a brilliant streak of pure whiteness flashes across the sky in an arch to disappear in a blip near the horizon. It is soon followed by few more. And then many more. He looks up in awe, in admiration, in happy cheer. It’s the Orionid.
He turns his bike and sets out to ride in the direction of the falling rocks from the very heavens. He doesn’t feel as mellow. He feels fine. In fact, he would attest that he feels happy. Hard to argue when we can see a stupid smile pasted across his face. He knows he is riding opposite to where the girl is. He knows it will get him further away from her. But he is fine with it, for he isn’t unhappy anymore. He doesn’t feel in need for a human connection, at least, this moment. He has a distraction to keep him occupied, the Orionid. And he rides away toward the horizon.
As he is gaining speed, though the girl from the café on the other side of the shore gets smaller and smaller, she just manages to catch a glimpse of the sweet guy from the café, the one who was sipping coffee and scribbling into his journal, now ride away, further from her. She should have spoken to him at the café. When she had the chance. She wanted to. And as the noise of the people gathered around tugs her back to the moment, she returns her gaze to the sky streaked in dazzling white with the Orionid shower. And wonders where he is pedaling away to.
I woke up with an ache in my head. The floor was cluttered with empty cans of beer and cigarette stubs. The dank stink of smoke still clung in the air. I opened a window to let the room breathe. On my bed did lay a body, crumpled, with the sheet rising and falling. Her long black hair spread out into a chaos of waves. Her face and body was covered by the sheet, with her bare limbs poking out. I felt a growing tenderness in my heart. She was very dear.
I set the coffee to brew and put on some light music. The cans clanged as I collected them in a plastic bag and put them in the trash. The toaster made an angry metallic click as the aroma of freshly hot bread filled the room. I applied butter to the toast and sipped some coffee, black. She still lay huddled in the bed. I did not disturb her; didn’t have the heart to.
I was checking my messages when there was a knock at the door. I opened it. My girlfriend was standing outside. She had downcast eyes with a forlorn look. She looked up at me and asked how I was keeping. I said good. She wanted to know why I wasn’t answering her phone calls. I didn’t know how to answer that. I just hadn’t felt like. But then I couldn’t say it, could I. She genuinely cared and I did in turn too. She asked if she could come in. I moved aside to make way.
The room was clean, bright, the bed unoccupied. I looked around to see where she had gone. I could find her nowhere. My girlfriend sat on the bed, looking at my quizzical face. She looked worried. She said, ‘Your mom called. She said you were seeing her again. You know they are hallucinations right. Not real.’ I said that I know. But then, when they happen they do seem real. Is it wrong to see her, feel her presence, even if not real. I did not say any of this. I didn’t want to have her bothered. I sat by her side and said I will eat the medicines. I just wanted some time to feel whole again, with my sister.
She said she understood. She nodded towards the medicine. I went and popped four pills; drowned it with another gulp of coffee. And sat down, beside, on the bed. A little while later there was another knock at the door. I said come in. And my girlfriend entered, looking worried. She wanted to know why I wasn’t taking her calls. Surprised, I turned to the spot on the bed where she was supposed to be sitting. It was empty. I slowly turned again, toward her, still by the doorway, and set out a long painful sigh.
The kid was wearing brown boots. His eyes simmered with the kind of hope that only innocence can offer. He had the string of a green hot-air-balloon pinched tight between his thumb and index finger. With the balloon bobbing in the evening breeze, he walked around alone, checking the various curiosities the town fair had to offer.
As he turned round a corner, by the alley behind the tent with the fortune-teller, the kid came across a boy with his tongue in the mouth of a girl. They were definitely kissing, but he thought they were doing it wrong. The lips should touch the cheeks and the tongue definitely stays safely inside one’s own mouth! Lost to the novelty of this gross spectacle, the kid’s grip on the string loosened which sent the balloon flying.
The balloon climbed, first with a sense of immediacy, and then with a lugubrious slowness as the air within began to cool and it reached a height where the air outside was equally dense and it could rise no further. An ambitious sparrow in the hope of setting a new record for highest flight amongst its clan blinked at the green round shiny thing at head-level ahead. It swerved right and gave it a miss. But given its meek nature, it thought better to take the green thing for a predator that inhabits those particular heights and started making a quick descent to inform its clan of this new discovery.
It flew in a straight line, glidding, cutting through the wind, toward the thicket at the end of a bridge over the river that ran north of the town. Arriving at its nesting site, it set a chirrupy chatter that was picked up by a lone bloke standing on the bridge beside, staring down into the water flowing in swirling turbulent eddies. He was tired, despondent with despair. His parrot had died, he had lost his favourite pebble, his parent’s were having a divorce, and his best friend had gone to the fair without him. He felt alone, lost, and weary. Yearning for love but feeling barricaded all around he wanted to jump down the bridge into the water and end it all.
He made up his mind, climbed the safety railing, and looked up to say goodbye to the world just when a green round something glittered in the sky above. Against the orange shade of the evening twilight, the green formed a pretty harmony of colours, and queerly it seemed to grow bigger with time. He let his gaze follow its flight as it descended from the sky, still hovering in the air, moving in slow stutters toward the town.
Forgetting his original intent, the kid got down the railing and broke into a cheery gallop to where the green round shiny thing was to land. He would get it, and will run to his friend to share with him his find.
And thus, there occurred a town fair such, once, afar!
The rain pattered on the leaves, as
through the mutiny of colors, green
brown and nutmeg, blew a chilling breeze.
Drenched, dripping wet, yet
sporting a beaming smile, you stroll
through life, plush with aplomb.
The trees, the beasts, arboreal
volant, fossorial, and piscine,
stir amidst the other.
While in witness, you behold your bounding
heart, that’s beating within with relish
at this nature’s call, and grip tight
The hand, coarse tough rippled with
veins, as you stand testimony to the
chaos of life, together, in harmony.
The slice of pizza was dripping cheese. It’s buy-one-get-one-free at dominos today, thus this pact of momentary friendliness with this random stranger. You had walked into the campus eatery which has a dominos kiosk. It’s a lazy Saturday; the sun is dipping down the horizon, and your body aches from the bout of basketball from a moment before. You came alone, as you often find self, and while intently running the topping varieties and flavor-types against their stated price, you felt a gentle poke. Assuming it as just another strained muscle sighing, you ignore it and continue with your mental computation. The poke, a little more strong and lingering, recurs. As if to assuage the actomyosin fibers of the modest bulk in your right deltoid, you try to rub the region when long spindly fingers, soft, squishy, definitely feminine, get caught between your hand and your shoulder. You turn your long lugubrious post-match body to behold a pretty thing.
May the feminist readers not rise up in arms. The ‘pretty thing’ reference is not out of insensitive objectification, nor because of haughty demeaning arrogance. Rather, it’s just a gentle colloquial quip within, over a random fellow living ‘thing’, in plain purposeless assertion of the fact.
So returning to the narration, yes, she was pretty. Tall, svelte, with a healthy glow of soft nutmeg, her black locks sported what they call a layer-cut. Yeah, I have had ample feminine company in a once remote past when I was more socially involved to know what a layer-cut is. I am fond of its patterned break in symmetry. Her lips were moving as I was busy observing, admiring, and probably withholding a possible spike in heart rate that inevitably happens when a guy beholds a pretty girl; I know, petty biology and stuff. Breaking self from the trance, I tried to force focus on the words that those moving luscious lips were forming. As it started to make sense, though with a definite delay (blame the slowing of cogitation the palpitating heart had brought forth), it seemed she was suggesting we share the price and order a pizza, as we will then get another for free. Seemed a sane deal. I said sure, and soon we found selves sharing two pizzas, both non-veg, and a bottle of coke at the open-air theatre that forms a comfortable retreat just beside to consume the sustenance, with a black starry sky forming the canopy.
No, it was no love at first sight. I have no faith in the concept of love. It’s an endearing artifice, an artifact of biological evolution, a lie if you may in plain simple terms. And also no, we didn’t have sex right after pizza. We were too full for some physical action. All we did was share a moment of our existence, and left carrying within us a little of the other. For, ideas communicated through conversations that get entrenched in memory accrue real physical change in one’s neural connectome. Put differently, while you are talking to someone, you are making change in their brain. Amazing isn’t it. And that is precisely what we did that night, making and breaking connections in the others brain.
“I think it is a flawed premise to blame a guy as being superficial as because he likes a girl for her looks”, she said. Yes dear readers, it was the girl’s dialogue, and not this guy’s, as you might be bound to believe. While given the fact that she did have good looks and I did like her, her statement seems a motivated assertion well placed in context, patronizingly placed if to be put blunt and frank. But then, she followed her assertion with a reason that appealed. She said, “When you think about it, introspection is an illusion. While your like for certain things and dislike for some, your inclinations if you may, though totally real, your conscious consideration about the reason for those likes and dislikes needn’t be. And as it turns out, aren’t indeed. You might like an apple. But you do so because it smells good, tastes good, looks an alluring red, feels crunchy in texture, or just because of its oblong spheroid shape, is always a guess. Your stated reason for why you like an apple, needn’t be, and as it turns out, often quite isn’t, THE reason for your liking an apple. Now given that such introspective considerations are illusions, what wrong is in it to say you like a woman just because she looks good. Chances are, you like her for some reason else, but her looks is what you consciously think as to be the reason. Or rather, at the other extreme, you may think you like her because she is well-natured and open-minded, but your like stems from your inherent appreciation for her, let’s say, body odor. A totally sane contention wouldn’t you say.” And as if for dramatic effect, she smiled a broad beaming smile, and bit into her pizza spewing the cheese from within, a drop of which fell on her skirt. She wiped it with the tissue, and had a gulp of coke.
Beauty with brains is an enormously captivating company. But then, I did score in the top 0.1 percentile on the IQ scale. Her smarts gave me a high. And I couldn’t help myself joining in. “Your premise and the reason as for holds. But you oversaw a caveat in your chain of logic. One’s self-image. While the introspective reason for your inclinations may sure be an illusion, assuming you remain honest to self, your reason for those inclinations conjure your self-image. While your like for apples sure might be because it’s crunchy to chew, you think you like it because its nutritious and keeps doctor away. Thus, you build a self-image of prioritizing a rational reason motivated by prominence to nourishment over a petty feeble reason as about its crunchiness. In human terms, you think of yourself as a person who likes a woman because she is well-natured and open-minded, even if unknown to self the real reason might have been her body odor. So, your conscious image of self, which affects your decisions, is different. Thus, rather than neglecting conscious censuring as about the virtuosity of your reason for your likes and dislikes, you totally overseeing them as they might, and probably are untrue, and giving-in to primal instincts demotes your position as a civilized being. True that it’s a lie, this conscious censuring, but the lie consequents a good, your sense of self-respect. And this latter comes a long way in your making pro-active socially-conscious decisions.”
I was looking up at the stars as I went through my turn for monologue. This is the trouble with heavy arguments. To completely make sense as a stand alone assertion, one needs to quote the caveats and define the context, and that stretches it into a laborious monologue. But then, the argument that’s put out results to be robust. She knew it, and she knew that I knew that she knew it. She had been lying beside till then. She sat up, and leaned over, hiding the stars with her pretty face bordered by her locks, and her eyes glittered. I smiled an understanding smile. We understood the other. It’s not often to have someone understand your ideas. Yes, there is a lot of noise about people understanding you, as a person. But they forget that a person is but a bundle of ideas, notions, concepts and contentions. And to truly understand someone is to understand their thoughts. A means vital to this is to converse. Here, we had, and we did now get the other. She bent down and we kissed. Our kiss tasted of cheese. Can one ask for more in life.
And well, more did happen. About we not having sex right after the pizza, well I did not lie. Though I might have misled you. We did make love, though not ‘right after’. It had to wait till the break of dawn. We both went for a jog. Hot, sweaty, we had a bath and spent the greater part of next morning in bed. After a nap through noon, we were sharing coffee in the eve again at the eatery, by the open-air theater when she quipped, “You know, your argument about conscious censuring despite the illusion of introspection, it has a fatal flaw. That of motivated reasoning. That is, reasoning is not a purely objective rational process. While possibilities can be conjured honestly, the process of annotating to them a probability of occurrence, is a vague step that can be quite easily biased by one’s motivation depending on personal qualms. Given we cannot divorce the human in us, our reasoning in vague terrains as in the case of introspection is quite often motivated toward the conclusion most appeasing to one. Thus, the censuring despite the illusion is again rigged as because of this motivated bias in reasoning.”
Well, one might argue that recital is too long to be a quip, but then it was well rounded and a resilient stand alone opus. I just had one statement in reply, that I did put across quite unceremoniously. I said, “Will you marry me?” And she, well, crinkled her eyes and burst out into a good-natured laugh. She looked into my eyes with her dark black pearls for eyes and asked, hopefully in mocking jest, “Why not, but pray what is the reason for this like as your might surmise?”
There was a screech. Yeah, that word’s onomatopoeia; sounds like the sound it means. First the screech, then a dull thud, a moment of muted stillness and a slow rise of strained human chatter, in that order. The elderly man who was seated beside our young protagonist till a moment ago, was run over by a speeding car driven by a concerned husband who wanted to get his pregnant wife to the hospital. Her water had broken and it was to be their first. Little did they know of the elderly man before that moment. He was a common man, taught English at the City College, and was survived by his dog. Don’t worry, the dog, a brown brawny spaniel, was later adopted by their understanding neighbor. This little story is about the hour before the accident, as the bus rode out the city into the suburbs while the spirited youth was trying to have a conversation with the elderly man on that ill-fated though pleasant-weathered evening. You must pardon the incongruous upbeat weather, it just happened to be restful, retiring, with the sky smeared in shades of orange and yellow, with the variegated variety of clouds sailing over the pleasingly scented breeze. There was a touch of cold. Just enough to make you button the collar of the shirt as the elderly man, lets say, Mr. Jim had.
The youth, a bumbling bundle of optimism, Sam suites him right, found the seat by Mr. Jim vacant and sat beside. Mr. Jim did not bother to turn and look. He was lost in thought. He had been thinking of carrots. For some inexplicable reason, while reading out Antony’s stirring rhetoric from Julius Caesar to his class earlier in the day, he found his mind’s eye sizing up a carrot in its vivid detail with its orange-red grainy tapering surface, topped by a bunch of green juicy stalks. For the life of him, he couldn’t fathom what led to that thought. Here Antony was craftily inciting the Roman crowd, appealing to their hearts with why Caesar had been wronged, and he was thinking carrots! As scenes by the road flit by, his eyes saw not. It seemed important to know why carrots. The intrigue was compelling. Just then, he felt a nudge. He turned to behold the apologetic Sam’s beaming foolish smile. ‘Hello there’, Jim greeted, holding on to his etiquettes. Sam waved in return. ‘Nice weather, ain’t it sir!’, he added. Jim wanted to correct him, but he let the colloquial slide. He just gave a silent nod and was about to turn around to look out the bus window when a thought occurred. He asked him, ‘So son, what do you want to become when you grow up?’
Sam was surprised a bit, but he liked the invitation for a more serious conversation than the weather. ‘I want to be a politician and change this country for the better’, he said. Jim didn’t say anything. He let his sight linger on him for a while longer, then his lips broke into a good-natured smile. He liked energetic idealists. He was one once. And with time he got tired, and he had made himself inconspicuous in this grand scheme of life. It isn’t that circumstances defeated him, nor that he was strained long enough to weaken his will. He just grew tired. With days, his will gradually ebbed. It could instead be reasoned that he didn’t fuel it enough and again to keep going. One day, he found self convinced with the rhetoric ‘why bother’ and had decided to fit in. He stopped making noise. He gave up his job as attorney. No more litigation in public interest. No more serving writ petitions to factories for breaching environment protection norms. No more of that fight, while meaningful and important, yet which for some reason had now come to feel a bother. A burden. He had energy; ample skill and wits as well. Man he was good with rhetoric. But he just did not want to go on. Took a job as lecturer, and decided to spend time reading and teach what he read. Feeling the weight of the silence heavy, Sam asked him if he liked books.
Yes, Jim liked books. But Jim was no more interested in this conversation. Sam, with his energy and enthusiasm, and with that agenda for social crusade was disturbing his peace. Jim had achieved a tranquil state of stillness in his mind, and he liked no ripples in that pool. He smiled at Sam, wished him luck with politics and got up. It wasn’t his stop yet, but he had a growing desire to get out the bus. He decided to walk the way back. Anyway the weather was pleasant. He requested the driver to let him out. The grim respectful poise Jim posed was compelling. The driver slowed, stopped the bus, and opened the door. Jim’s last thought was of carrots, and the moment he stepped out and the car hit him throwing his mortal coil 5 ft up in the air, his mind blinked the image of Caesar crunching a carrot, the next second, the entire Roman mob was crunching carrots, and there was a vague sense of weightlessness, and then Jim ceased to exist. He now lay as a mass of bleeding flesh, huddled in the road, with the husband out the car, kneeling by his side.
Sam sat glued to his seat. It was not that he didn’t care. He just felt locked in that moment, as if the transient nature of life, with the absolute certainty of death lay unfurled before him. He felt a knot in his throat while his eyes welled up. He thought about his sister home. He wanted to go home. While the husband, mortified, felt the pulse of the body lying before; this though only seemed a formality given the crack in Jim’s skull that was pouring blood. Certain there was nothing to be done, he got back into the car and drove slowly away. He had placed his visiting card by Jim’s corpse for police to contact him when they arrive to the scene. They would in a while. Someone would call them. He had something else he first needed to take care. His wife’s on-going labor. As the car was pulling away, Sam’s mind involuntarily registered the number-plate. He would remember those digits for the rest of his life. He also noticed the staff of Asclepius with the sacred snake coiled around, the Doctor’s symbol, stuck to the top right corner of the rear windshield. And for some reason Sam felt it a tad incongruous. The bus pulled away too. And the doctor’s wife gave birth to a son an hour and a half later, who was not named Jim.