When lockdown ends The flowers that have grown on my bedcover Will crawl back into their still shapes The grey floor that has stretched into miles Will squeeze back into the 10×10 room The hours that have become endless Will trap themselves inside the watch When lockdown ends I’ll come out of a Dali painting
And I’ll ask (perhaps in vain) Am I still the same? My mind tends to forget the worst She keeps me away from my own ghosts When lockdown ends Will it make sense, if I find That in the corners of my mind Greyish blue patches of memory have disappeared Forgetfulness spreading like fungus on old bread Where did the time go? Where did I? Where am I?
I might go round in circles When the lockdown ends Will I be able to make amends To those who I might have lost Might have crossed Out from my life When I perhaps dissolved in my endless room It is the season of doom, after all.
This is a little different from my usual posts. I mostly post poems here but I tried writing a short story this time. I hope you like it. ^_^
The coffee cup before me looked like the dirty puddle of rainwater I had splashed my foot into, an hour ago. You would think my day was ruined, but frankly, I had it coming. Who wears white on a rainy day? I didn’t really mind the brown patches that stained the hem of my kurti. It would make a nice conversation starter. “Oh hey, you have mud on your dress!” they’d say, smiling, and before they comment further on the gloomy weather, I’d chime in, “Haha, I’m so awkward…I didn’t see the pothole and stepped right into it,” I might even tuck my hair behind my ears and adjust my glasses- because, oh I’m so nervous and clumsy, don’t you see? People dig that, especially boys. It makes them think we need them. Well, I guess we do, otherwise why am I at a cafe waiting for my date?
I glanced at my phone. It was twenty past five. He had told me he’d meet me at five thirty, and his Instagram bio read ‘Meticulous| Merry| Marvel fan’. As much as you shouldn’t trust Instagram bios or any self-proclaimed declarations about one’s own conduct, I figured he would be punctual. I had reached the cafe by five, because I had wanted to look settled-in. A date is like a job interview, or worse; especially when it’s almost a blind date, so I needed myself to steady myself in a room full of strangers. That’s what a cafe is, isn’t it? Whatever soothing music you can hear in the background, don’t you feel eyes on you every second in a public place like that? The eyes of a stranger who you’ll potentially date are the heaviest of them all.
I had known him only for a day, after all. After I broke up with Rohan, I thought I was done with relationships, done with love, blah blah, all that nonsense that fills your brain right after you’ve dumped a piece of shit after realising (after six long years of not realising) what a piece of shit he was. The man sitting at the table to my right was holding a guitar by his side. It took me back to the hours we spent bunking classes and singing our lungs out on Rohan’s cousin’s terrace. I realised how much I missed that bunch of friends, and I heaved a sigh. The thing about nostalgia is, it somehow starts with making you happy but leaves you far worse than you were before. I wondered who he was singing to now, which of the two girls with whom he had cheated on me, or was there a new fresher he was advancing his friendly arm to. I looked away.
I sipped my coffee and pretended to read the novel I had brought with me. My date and I – we spoke about our love for reading, and I didn’t want to be a liar. I might not have touched a novel in more than five years or so, but I can surely bank on my adolescent years when I was indeed an avid reader. How do I explain that I was in love with books once, but that love has faltered? How do I tell him that I have an attention span shorter than the breath of a sparrow, that I skim through movies and series without actually taking anything in? It’s not easy to explain to anyone how day by day everything outside turns to nothing inside. It’s easier, in fact, to try to remember how you used to be, and maintain a facade solid enough to make the others think that you’re interesting enough, if not enough.
A loud noise of thunder crashed my train of thoughts. In a moment, a heavy downpour began. I looked at the hazy city outside the big glass doors of the cafe, and I asked myself, when was the last time I emptied myself, the way that the sky seems to do so easily? My friends were concerned when the break-up didn’t make me cry. To be honest, even I was surprised at myself. Surely something as grave as parting from a boyfriend of six years calls for some tears? It reminded me of that line from Tennyson’s poem- “She must weep or she will die.” I didn’t weep, so, did I die? In the poem the woman had lost her husband, a warrior in battle, and she was tear-less in shock. I had lost my love, but perhaps I wasn’t in shock. Somehow, I had always known. An individual is not a whole, there are so many selves inside one, don’t you think? I think that the betrayed lover, the girl who was never enough, has been hiding inside me since forever. Sometimes her imaginations come true, and I feel that I have known it all along.
It was quarter to six already, was he stuck in the rain? I picked up my phone to call him but I put it down. Of course he was trapped in the rain, I should be patient. I could see the waiter looking at me and my searching glances at the door, and I would bet any money that he was smiling at my loneliness. Perhaps he wasn’t smiling at all. Or was it because of my muddy dress? I can never tell what it is about me that makes all the mouths around me twist into a crooked smile- my large unshapely body, my blank perspiring face, or the ridiculous way that I walk. It sounds like a wretched conspiracy that the world has hatched against me, but I’d like to think it’s all in my head. No one should care enough to judge me in this busy city. Thank God I don’t live in a small town that thrives on petty gossips, I pity those who do.
I looked at my half-empty coffee cup and put down the book. I don’t even like coffee, why did I buy it? Then I remembered, I always drink coffee on early dates. It doesn’t do well if you’re not into coffee, how else are you supposed to gaze at each other inside a beautiful little cafe- where couples come to discover and rediscover their emotional connection over lengthy chats and romantic strumming of the guitar in the background. I hated myself for being dishonest with myself this way. It isn’t a crime not to like coffee. No one would bat an eye if I said I hate coffee. But how could I say so, when he was clearly so excited for me to try the coffee here? I’m sure it wouldn’t really break his heart if I said I don’t drink tea or coffee or whatever, but I’m sure it would break me before I could say that to him. I have an unhealthy need to please others, my friends often remark. It’s not that I can’t be a bitch, but I need to set my heart that I will be a bitch, you know? My phone buzzed. Was it him? I checked my phone. It was my best friend, she sent me a meme. I hadn’t even told her that I was on a blind date. I was a hundred per cent sure that she’d call me suicidal, since this guy could very well be a catfish, a serial killer – and what not. I didn’t usually behave this way. I had been using a dating app for a month now and the guys I had talked to the most, I had made sure to virtually stalk all of them. Of course any girl would do that. But something had come over me the previous evening. I was tired of everyone, tired of talking to a bunch of guys who were talking to a bunch of girls and we all seemed to a drowning in the dating pool.
Suddenly this one guy had texted me, telling me he had decided to go on a date with the very first girl that appears on his feed. I had happened to be that girl, apparently. The sceptic that I am, I asked him whether he had been texting the same thing to all girls he could find, to which he was unsurprisingly offended, and gave me his Instagram id and immediately deleted his dating app account. I was quite amused and surprised, it felt like a breath of fresh air; I almost seemed to have pushed my head out of the oppressing water and an arm seemed to be waiting outside to pull me up. I forced myself not to think much about anything else. We had an engaging conversation for an hour or two, and I decided to give this a shot.
It’s not impossible for this guy to turn out to be a serial killer indeed, or at the very least the usual quintessential creepy guy. But I didn’t want to think about that. It would only make it worse; after all I was already there. He wasn’t, yet. It was almost six o’clock. I debated whether I should finally send him a text, and that’s when I found that my cellular network was gone, even the cafe WiFi didn’t seem to work at all. So much for a fancy cafe, huh. What would I do now? It was still raining outside, but the downpour had thinned into a slow drizzle. The rain holding up my date was too boring. What if he was secretly a superhero, busy saving some helpless little boy from a speeding bus? Perhaps he was someone only I could see, an apparition- hundreds of years old- who had materialised again into human form only to enjoy the pleasures and pains of love. I laughed at my superfluous daydreams. I tried to imagine what he would be like. The very little time that I had known him gave me the impression that he was more or less an average guy, with perhaps an unusual urgency to meet a stranger like me. He was funny, but not too edgy, he was appreciative and nice without being redundant in his greetings and niceties. He was polite and seemingly decent. What struck me the most about him was his intensity of wanting to form passionate human connections. He seemed so eager to meet me that you’d think we were long lost friends, who must meet before time runs out and each has to catch their flights going opposite ways. But who was he, really? A two-hour conversation might entirely be a facade, and I sure do know how easy it is to pretend to be someone you’re not.
Was I being stood up? I had managed to keep these awful doubts away from my mind, but he was supposed to be here a long time ago. The sky had cleared by now, and darkened at the same time with the tresses of nightfall. The fears of the insecure girl inside me came true after all. I called the waiter and paid the bill, struggling to wear a nonchalant customer-like expression on my face, reminding myself that he had no way to know that I was supposed to meet someone. Looking happy was too suspicious, I tried to look busy – as if my time for a cosy solitary evening at a cafe was finally up and I must get back to my normal, hectic life. I stepped out of the large glass door that now revealed beautiful yellow inlaid lights. I opened my phone. A bunch of messages, none from him. The newsfeed read that heavier rainfall and thunderstorm was to be expected in the next few days. Oh, and it reported the death of a young man in Kolkata by thunder strike.
The sun sleeps on your amber skin
The classroom turns into a raj darbar.
Erasers are now ivory eggs
Your calculator, a sceptre
Books shine like parchment scrolls
As the evening gold pours in through the window.
Maybe one scroll reads about
The famous beauty of the kingdom next door
Whose father, the King, wishes you to
Ask her hand in marriage.
Another is a threat
From a powerful Emperor
Who has his eyes on
One of your prosperous towns.
Another one a signal of truce
With some other neighbouring land.
Your beautiful sincere brow
Deepens into a thoughtful frown
The sun smouldering in your honeyed eyes
Your lean fingers curling around your chin.
Every eye is fixed on your pondering face
Each slight movement that you make
Makes my heart race.
In a moment you begin to compose
Not verses for me nor prose,
But letters in reply;
And you hand them to your messenger.
Finally you look at me
Butterflies flutter in my belly
As I lower my eyes, my cheeks burn
You reach out your arm
Is that a blood red rose for me?
The sun has set,
Through the big window I see
The sky draping its night robe inch by inch
I suddenly flinch as I find
It's just a pen that you returned to me;
My test sheet lies blank on my desk.
I can't help but feel vexed.
My mind needs some rest!
If you were here with me
You'd compare the workmen next door
Who drill on my eardrum every hour
With the woodpecker
In your grandparents' backyard in the village
On a silent sultry afternoon.
I would ask you once again
"Tell me how you said-
How you used to play-pretend
To make ice-cream out of mud?"
You'd burst out a little laugh
We'll re-enact your childhood glee
That cherished memory
Of rubbing earth on face
The best 'chocolate', eh?
It is too late now
I forgot to go inside
Now I have tears in my eyes
I'm sure my neighbour saw me crying.
I had come to the balcony
To water my plants
But the past turned to water.
I am not surprised
How ever hard I try
I cannot think of you these days
Without the streaming tears
That always appear-
Yesterday I saw you sister at the market
I couldn't face her
I thought I had gotten better
But her happy little family-
It was too much for me.
Everything's a mystery
How the sun still rises
How cars move past my body
How I see you everywhere
I could see your face even on a TV ad.
I am not sad
I am not even mad at you
That you're gone.
How many years has it been?
Or was it yesterday?
I cannot remember.
But I remember you
I remember everything you ever said to me
Every sweet little word you said dotingly
Every office anecdote
Every harsh word you spoke, too.
But we always made up in the end
After dealing with the pain-
We still do.
You aren't with me anymore
Anyone would say so
They won't understand
I think no one can.
I could try to tell them
You're a part of me now
Like the stars are a part of the night
Even though the city spreads her smog
The stars don't die
They just hide.
Let them not be a part
Of our hide-and-seek
I believe you're still here with me
As long as I keep you inside
You will never die.
I remember an evening when my feet kissed the damp soil
My long dark hair flowing down in glossy coils
The earth being passed on to summer from spring
Aroma of baby mangoes and the cuckoos’ calling
A garland of fresh white jasmines pinned to my hair
A trail of the scent followed me everywhere.
I carried a large book in my arms
It told me tales of uncountable charms;
In our garden I spent my evening
Reading about kingdoms and kings
Time stopped yet flew as ever.
Each moment I delightfully savoured.
I imagined myself trapped, like the princess
In the tower, the damsel in distress,
I could almost see my prince slay the beast
The story ended with our wedding feast.
I remember the evening when I closed my book of tales
And returned to my dingy room, untidy and stale
Maa and Baba raising their voices across the thin walls
Happily ever after, I knew, was false
Maa chided me for reading fairy tales
She said it was time for me to read something else
After all I was a girl growing up
And dreaming was indeed not enough.
I put away the book one day
To ground myself in reality.
Days and years and lives have passed
I wonder if I did grow up.
I say I don’t believe in fate
But deep inside I think I may
I’ll tell no one, but I think I’ll wait
For my saviour, my soulmate.
My blood boils as my country heats up
You and I watch helplessly
As men with empty shells for brains
Fight a war where they die, and the women get raped.
By the sheer number of heavy headlines,
Each a bullet to the heart of our beloved land.
Men die like flies
Women protest like they have nothing left to lose
And they still say, “But what about when-“
You and I,
We scream, shout, yell and cry
But end up laughing with a taste of bitterness inside our mouths.
We break into peals of laughter-
Our eyes turn into glass balls
Lips as hard as ice
Hearts as cold as the tip of a gun barrel.
Mad, aren’t we?
Aren’t we all?
A long time back when I was a rather ruthless child,
I found a scared baby sparrow in our balcony.
I harboured anger against them, the little chirpy birds
They stole and ate every flower bud that our plants gave birth to.
This little piece of feathery enemy sat there like a blob of confusion
And I decided to have some fun with it.
I meant to scare it a little
Have my revenge
Then feed it some puffed rice using tweezers
Until it learnt to fly and join its mafia gang of the flower-eaters.
I am being candid when I say
There was absolute malice in my smile
When I approached the tiny trembling bird
And shouted “SHOO” at it.
I knew it would be scared shitless
But ha! Where would it go, flightless little blob of feathery meat?
As I looked at it, basking in its helpless hazard, I saw-
It gathered all the strength it could conjure;
In a motion that was a mixture of rolling, running and gliding,
It moved through the gaps in the banisters of the balcony railing
And fell down two storeys
Straight to its death.
The evil smile that I had, turned into a gape of horror
What had I done?
It has been years since I killed the bird,
Yet it returns to me every time I’m in a room full of strangers
My first instinct being
And plunge to death.