an evening.

The road to the house where I live right now has a blockage of lazing street dogs. I am terrified of dogs. Been that way as a kid, still scared as an adult. Well, young adult. I’d like the ‘young’ moniker to be around for some time, just for security. I think I see one of the dogs looking at me. They don’t like me enough to not bark for the sake of my nerves. I take an alternate route. It has lots of cars and no dogs. It feels safe. I feel hungry. It’s going to be 20:00 soon or it already is. I don’t bother checking the phone in my hand to see the time. I feel like tearing off grilled chicken flesh off its bone. I am intuitive about food like that. I know what I want and I am now pushing the glass door to the KFC in the nearby mall. I took a 6 buck auto ride here, I could have walked. I did not want to come across unfamiliar dogs.

At the fast food outlet, I take up an entire booth to myself. All of the space for me! The chicken is fine. I try not to think of the diarrhoea it generally gives me. There is a kid’s birthday party, two other men taking entire booths to themselves, a date, friends eating out. A couple of old couples wait around for a man to finish his meal. One of those men with the booths. They have reduced the space for this outlet. It used to be double what it is now three years back. I was in college three years back. The neighbouring pizza joint took up the space. The woman at the table next to my booth seems to be looking my way. She is with her friends laughing. My skin crawls. Is she laughing at me? Am I eating this drumstick funny? Not that it bothers me, but you know… it bothers me. If someone is laughing by me when I am alone, I feel like they are laughing at me. Not that this makes me anxious or nervous. Not at all. It’s just… why would you laugh at me?

I am gnawing on my last drumstick. I’ve had 4. An old gentleman joins me at my booth, sitting on the other side. I feel generous and am okay with sharing my space. He has a burger, a packet of fries and a coke on his tray. I stare at him while he enjoys his fries, at his neatly combed hair, checked shirt and a pen in the pocket of that checked shirt. Now here is something you don’t see that often anymore. A pen in a pocket. That’s the sign of an upstanding man.

I keep staring at him from behind my phone. It’s rude but if you stare at someone long enough you could start a conversation. “Don’t stare at your phone so much. You will ruin your eyes,” he opens. “Sotti,” he stresses, his eyes comically big to drive home the point.

I take a moment to consider this. My eyes aren’t all that good to begin with. I can never tell if a guy standing few feet from me is a pretty face or not. He may have a point.

“Okay.” I say.

This makes him chuckle. He asks me what I do.

I hate this question. The truth is I am not proud of what I am doing. 15 year old me would have been. But not 24 year old me. When I tell what I do to people I can see them thinking of me as less than. I think of myself as less than. I am on my path to learn that what I “do” need not define me. I may be more than what I contribute to society. The self-worth attached to your contribution to the society and the benefits achieved from the contribution is still too big for me to renounce altogether at 24. I explain my job to him. He doesn’t seem to mind it the least bit. There isn’t any judgement. I can always tell when a pair of eyes is being judgemental. He then voices the concern I knew would come when I told him the truth. I sometimes lie to avoid this part. He asks why I started working so early. I ask him how old does he think I am.

15-16. “No, I am 24,” smile on my face. Surprise in his. Delights me every time.

I ask him what he is doing alone here. This he takes as a cue to tell me about his children and their accomplishments. They, indeed, are accomplished. Academics, professors, world-travelers. He is proud. His sense of self revolves around the accomplishments of his progeny. Is he lonely? I ask him what he did. Nudge him to talk about himself. Self-centered stories are what I am interested in. I am also interested in figuring out what kind of father does it take to raise accomplished children. A self-sacrificing, hard-working East Bengal born, JU graduate engineer who raised his siblings and then his children. That’s what it takes.

I take my leave.

I board a rickshaw that would take 30 bucks to drop me till my door. I could have walked. I would have liked to walk but it’s late and you know, dogs.

I spot a woman crossing the road with her daughter. Her daughter is wearing one of those frocks with attached belts at the back. I had one too many a frock like that as a kid. I spent one too many an evening with my mum, crossing roads like that. I imagine them having one of those tight-knit mother-daughter relationships. I have flashes from my childhood. That always makes me cry. I cry in the back of the rickshaw silently till I notice the wheels moving without the guy pedaling. Is this running on electricity? I ask him, “Is this running on a battery?”

“Yes!” clearly enthused he takes this as his cue to explain to me the working of his automobile.

People tell you all kinds of things if you just ask.

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What If…

I am supposed to think about the greater good. I am supposed to focus on my calling, things I am passionate about. I am to look for adventures, not sit here thinking of you. Over-analyzing all the words you said to me. One moment I am convinced that you meant every word you said. Because you looked in my eyes and you made me smile. Isn’t that how it is supposed to happen? I have been too out of touch. I have kept myself too out of touch because I am a fool and I am being foolish again. Of course you didn’t mean anything. You were in high spirits and I was in high spirits. And we both said and heard what we wanted to. High spirits make a bigger fool of us than we are. But here I am nevertheless, playing it, rewinding it and playing it again. Just one more time. And its 3 o’clock and I dug out a hole in my heart that I had barely been able to cover up from the last time. So, I will make this easier for myself.

Let’s play a game of what if? What if you did mean it? What if you do want me and I won’t turn out to be like all the other ladies before me? We will seek out the high spirits again and you will make me smile and laugh and make me feel good and soon enough I’ll start craving you. People like me get addicted to people like you very easily. And I will start changing myself according to you. I won’t say the words that upset you, that could anger you. I just want us to be right there, laughing. I just want that moment. But moments are fleeting. I always forget that. We will continue with our conversations. We will shut out the world and you will open up in secret. I will then tell you one of my secrets. The ones even my friends don’t know. And we will kiss under the drunken stars. Or maybe under the fort of your blanket. Or anywhere really, I don’t mind you kissing me anytime… anywhere.

But soon enough, the high will fade and you will become you and I will become me.
It won’t last because I will sabotage it. Or maybe you will. But more likely we both will strangle it. You will start fidgeting, I won’t be enough for you. I won’t find you compelling or challenging enough, and you will be just another pretty face unable to understand my fickle, rude, arrogant heart. And all the kissing won’t help it. And we’ll let each other get lost in the crowd again. Becoming perfect strangers.

There you go, sweet heart,
if it won’t last do we have to indulge in it?

Illustration courtesy: Harriet Lee-Merrion

The Prequel

You know how I know, you couldn’t handle me right now? Because I am so far out, I can’t reach myself.

I get these visions. High definition movies. So gory in their detail, the massacre. It scares me. It scares me that I enjoy it. I crave it. To see the contents of your stomach pouring down. The softness of your intestines and how I wish to take it and shove it inside your mouth. Or wrap it around your neck. Choke you. But, will it require much strength from my end? Did I not just tear open your belly? I see the fault in my plan now. That was too quick. Gruesome, as I wanted, but far too quick. I want you to feel the pain, slowly, in a rhythm before the crescendo is reached.
It is an art. The choices are far too many. So many. I could pop your skull with a gun or kill you in your sleep with poisons. But where’s the artistry in it? Where’s the thought behind it. It’s like a messed up assignment done in the last moment… I like planning. Months of planning, and studying to make an informed choice, going through all of my options. Weighing them, judging them. Sorting it in my mind.
I mean, you have been so important to me, you deserve to see me at my creative best. You did encourage me to believe in myself. I will believe in myself the most when I have burned your skin just enough for you to wish death upon yourself. I’ll strongly believe in myself, when I see your pleading eyes, acid burning through your skin, your throat screaming for mercy…
Will you be screaming? You shouldn’t scream. You need to save up on your energy. Those muscles will not pain any lesser if you use up all that you have now. It’s going to be a long night, after all…
Don’t disappoint me…

To be Honest

I mean she was really happy. She was doing something that she really enjoyed. Studying something that I think she wanted deep down in a subconscious way forever. And it brought her out of her hometown and she was travelling, which she always wanted. It made her feel so independent. Ok, maybe, she didn’t really make herself independent and she was burning a huge hole in her Dad’s pocket and all his savings were going for a toss. But she thoroughly felt guilty about it. She felt so guilty, she started distancing herself from her parents. And buying more unnecessary things. They made her fill in a lack of something she knew she felt, but wasn’t able to point as to what it could be.

But all this hard work and money was for something that’d help her achieve her dreams and it was what she was passionate about. Although she may not have been really good at it – sometimes she felt she disillusioned herself into thinking that this was what she was meant to be. No, let me rephrase that – it was something she could be. Sometimes though there would be a few assurances that maybe she showed a glimmer of something that may someday count and she would eventually reach the stage that she wanted to stand in. But I will agree, the rebuke is more than the share of assurance. And more struggle than anticipated. Or for that matter way less job satisfaction than you’d think. Sometimes it felt like all this years of studying and all this money was wasted to programme her to crumble under the reality. She felt like a lab mouse, a lab mouse that knew about the human history and civilization and the all the recent scientific explorations, who was now being forced to smell the cheese and cross the maze. The mouse wasn’t trained for this. What the fuck was happening?

But enough about her work, atleast she did find some good friends in the process. I mean, the ones she didn’t have a fall out with already. That ought to count for something, shouldn’t it? Sure, she sometimes felt that they barely got her or that they fitted into a picture of which she needed to be forcefully drawn into. But they cared for her. Sure, they did. And they’d keep in touch. Though you do tend to loose connect and it was her last year. After all, there were few from school she still spoke to. Ok, not you know, literally. Electronically message each other. But she did meet them. Once a year. But they always picked up right where they left off. They were all doing so well for themselves too. They were sure about the next step. She was really glad for them. Ok, maybe later when she was walking back home or idly scrolling through her newsfeed, she couldn’t help comparing her life to theirs, now and then. But, I mean, that was totally harmless. She knew it wasn’t a competition.

And she would eventually find her path. Or maybe she’d settle. But she’d be happy, right? I mean what’s the worst that could happen to her? Depression and a few other psychological disorders if she wasn’t strong enough to handle the rejection, right? She’d grown stronger than that. Ok, I’ll admit, she may have had a history of depression that stemmed from being rejected, but what are you trying to get at? She had recovered and she was stronger. And it’s not like she’d be alone in her struggle – she’d definitely have someone by her side. So she hasn’t met them by now. People have met their life partners at 50 or something. That basically gives her like 3 decades. Not that she’ll meet hers when she’d be 50. She has had been with guys. Maybe not the best of them. Ok, mostly, just jerks, but they were attracted to her. She’s got it in her. Except, that one particular guy, she really fell hard for. And that other one, who wasn’t into her when they were making out. Ok, maybe she wasn’t that hot. So what?

Look, she was happy.

Despite it.

Artwork courtesy: Jennifer Yoswa

Pop goes the Weasel

Vein popping, eyes blood shot.

You are applying pressure like an amateur , it is your first time. You will get better with practice. Till then its your brute strength against the soft, buttery skin. More pressure. More. The gagging sound from the throat is annoying you. You take the skull in your hands. Smash. Smash. SMASH! That should do it. SMASH! That did it. The body shudders, and falls limp.

The lines in your hand runs with river red. And it becomes the color of the moment, like you are wearing red stained glasses, and everything becomes the color you want to see. Its your monochrome world. Skull lays broken, brain splattered, blood flowing. With all the color of red. You soak in the view. You step out of your body like watching it with just one pair of eyes isn’t enough.

You see the limp body again, against the door, staining your new carpet. It was a nice carpet, very intricately done and craftmanship like you’d have never seen before. Shame, it had to be ruined. You see yourself, hands still and red, eyes motionless and red, and face calm and red.

You see the room again. Your furniture lay awry. You have to remember to call up your decorator again. It’s such a hassel. You step back in. You should clean things up, and make a drink. Or maybe just make that drink. You don’t want this moment to pass. Its calming. You don’t clean yourself either.
Neat whiskey. Gulp.
Another neat whiskey. Gulp.
A third one.
Sip.
Swirl.
Stare.
Blank.
Gulp.
Sit back.
Stare.
Stare.
Cock.
Boom.

You never felt a stir.

Red

Image

As a kid, she would stand in front of the mirror – smearing lipstick on her face, like mum did. It was red. She liked red. And mum always looked so pretty with the lipstick on.

She was a teenager now. She wasn’t allowed to put on lipstick. It was for the people who wanted to hide behind flashy things – to hide themselves and their flaws. Lipstick only meant colored wax to her – a mask. Pretence.

She was in college. She felt like a bird flying for the first time – scared and excited. She was independent. She was alone. The lipstick lying on her roommate’s bed stared back at her. A sweep. Not sure, but confident enough.

It has been her most loyal friend for years now. Office presentations, interviews, brunches, dinners, night- outs. Color on her lips made her feel in control – powerful, fierce. In the centre stage, under the limelight.

The years have hit a mid. The mirror is too honest, revealing things she’d rather not face. Her body is betraying her. That tube of lipstick lays idle now, unused. It’s for the young one, she wisely tells herself, the fun one, the one who can just ride. It shouldn’t belong to her.

Life has passed her. Age stayed. She has finally settled in. Pleasing others doesn’t appeal much to her, when death is a friend about to call. The lipstick tube has been put to use. Not because she needs to exude power, not because she wants the guy next door to notice her, not because she needs to put her best face forward – but because it’s red. She likes red.

Her body lies still. Decked and made. “She doesn’t look like herself,” the daughter says, her voice all tired, the make-up artist waits for her instruction. “It lacks her color. She used to be so bright and so much more beautiful. Could you please use this one instead? This was her favorite lip color. I think she would like that.”

She did.

 Photograph courtesy : Travis Dewitz

Permission denied

Fstoppers-Nick-Brandt-Calcified-Flamingo-710x594.jpg (710×594)

She looked into the mirror, searching herself. All she saw were the gilded corners, sparkling with the pretty gems.

There is a cost for comfort and decadence; she paid it with her freedom. Trapped in the golden cage, she counted her days. A light shone at the end of the tunnel. True love can free her. She read it in all the books, heard it in all the stories –

The girl and the boy meet, souls reunite.

And they ride off to sunset.

 

She met him.

Fell for him.

10 years passed, she waited for him to look at her.

He did. He opened the cage. Looked at her with all the love in this world. Fables and legends were about to come true. She barely could keep her heart still with all the joy bursting about.

He safely returned her back, tucked her in the bed. His steps ebbed away in the distance.

Leaves changed color.

Her heart had turned into a stone, crack down the middle.

She looked into the mirror. She smiled at the gilded corners with the pretty gems. The heart intact within the golden bars. No one has been able to touch her these past years, the watchman denied permission.

Photograph courtesy : Nick Brandt