For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not

 

My son was lying in a coffin somewhere in the same aircraft that took us home. The car that he was driving hours back sped off the track and hurtled into a tree, cracking open his skull. Denying himself to my advice, he drank deep into the night. And with every passing kilometer, he pressed harder at the accelerator lest his friends seated around him thought he was less of a man.

“Sir, would you care to eat something?”

The stewardess, her bearing erect, sported an impersonal smile. My wife, her eyes closed and her head facing the isle, was too tired from crying all night.

“Two sandwiches please.” My eyes had welled up suddenly and a drop of water, which had lingered on the right eyelid for a while, crashed down. There was a burning sensation in my chest. A void created that nothing promised to fill. I regret taking that sandwich, the very sight of which is making me retch now. I sleep sporadically, every time waking up to hope this is all a bad dream. Life as we had foreseen, had been turned on its head; unless the bastard is up to a prank. Unless he comes back from behind me and tells me how I look better when I keep that beard. I cry uncontrollably, not caring to be consoled. A little boy, standing on the lap of his father in the seat ahead of mine, reared his head to face me, bereft of an inkling of how painful life was to become. I wish this beautiful thing wasn’t born.

Some of the moments I hold closest are the ones where Pablo was still small. Reaching home early, I made for the chair in the corner of the room, just to watch the boy be. Throbbing with life and scratching compulsively at his drawing book with the colored pencils, he raised his head when I pushed open the door and resented my fatherly advances towards his neck and cheek with his tiny soft fingers. As I release the first gush of smoke and look at the boy going back and forth between the drawing book and the new synthesizer, I feel, though briefly, how good it is to be alive. Then, when I nipped the butt and made another advance towards him, it is not to take off his pants and ask him what that little thing between his legs is. I pick him up and swoosh him around to hold him upside down by the legs until he stops giggling and tells me he loves me. He then sits on my lap poking at my paunch, asking me what I hid in there. One of my greatest regrets is that he grew up.

A grey cloud had formed above us. The leaves on the Banyan tree were still. The white paint on the façade of the house next door shone whiter.  On the road, a crow dragged the carcass of a dead rat towards the footpath, one eye always alert for a vehicle. The cat on the fence raised its head seeing me. Though it slowly placed its head back between its front legs after a while, it kept its eyes on me.

But my son is dead now. And as I placed my palm on his chest and looked at his peaceful face for one last time, tears hurtled down my face onto his white shirt. I shudder with every outburst, trying to think of one good reason to live.  As they take him away, I sit on his bed, next to the guitar he often played; next to a decrepit Gitanjali he never read. I wonder if they feel the strange quiet. I wonder if they cry.

What if I had him for one more day, I wonder. Though this arrangement would have me savor every little bit of him I do not otherwise, a new part of me will die with each tick tock towards the next day. Now before his cupboard, I cry straining at his shirts. They smell no different than what he did when I held him the very first time.

Sitting by the window of a train, I take my hand out over the sill and through the metal bars to tap the excess ash off my cigarette. The landscape closest vanished faster than the ones far and distant.

 

The trunk

Each Morn a thousand Roses brings, you say:

Yes, but where leaves the Rose of Yesterday?

-Omar Khayyam

 

There are times when I just want to randomly select and take out a newspaper from amongst the piles stacked up in the little place next to the terrace.

There was a time when we did not have a specific place to store those things that we did not need anymore and yet had not decided if they could be done away with. But this place certainly had to be outside the viewing range of the men of the house, lest their already reputed temper led to some sort of an explosion. Enter a trunk.

Big enough to fit a full grown cow minus the holy head, we placed it in that little place, which remained quite dark unless one of us opened the door right next to it leading to the terrace, during the day. Once painted black, it has had patches of the paint come off from several places revealing a layer of brown beneath the original layer of paint. But it does not matter to the trunk, because you cannot see it anymore. With newspapers flocking in by the hundreds, the trunk has sheltered more than it can before getting lost somewhere in the midst of the fast growing gargantuan.

But a newspaper does not qualify for a berth in the trunk until it has done time in a cabinet in one of the rooms in the ground floor of the house. There, very newly discarded from usefulness, they ease into a word or two with their new companions: empty bottles of whisky my father has had. They stay there, peacefully coexisting and completely unaware of what their consumers have gone on to achieve both instantly and in time. The newspapers may have been read. The whisky in the bottles may have kept the regrets at bay. But now they have been rendered useless alike. And the melancholy that surrounds them is palpable. But do these empty bottles, much like the new newspapers, wonder where the old newspapers go to when the cupboard can take no more and therefore vacated?

The distinct smell of paper wafts out of this place. Just like that smell that pervades into the deep reaches of your lungs when you have crackled open a newspaper at the break of daylight. Covered in dust and infested with silverfish and the occasional lizard trampling away at the slightest disturbance, this is the place where you would find yourself after having been in the sun in the terrace and right before taking a bath, if at all. But if I am anywhere near this heap of mess, and do not have anything to do anytime soon that would need me to be clean, the idea of wresting out a newspaper from the bottom of the pile and looking at the date at the top seems ineluctable. I look at the date, and then look away, trying fondly to remember what happened on that day and marvel at being able to live past the end-of-the-world events which were always deemed imminent. Once just another object that was thrown hard aimed at the face by a questionable man as he rode away on his bicycle while we sipped on the first cup of tea in the balcony alert and ready to dodge, was now some sort of a relic of the day gone by, dripping with nostalgic potential. This bygone day may have felt like any other when I had no other option but to live it, but not now. Not today. The date seems to bring forth a surge of feelings, entailing a period of time.  It is strange how much of the news on the paper, like some of the events in our lives, are all but irrelevant now.

Not before long, I had a newspaper in my hand, taken out from somewhere at the bottom of the stack, dated 14th January, 2015. I look away, through the door, out as far as my two eyes can see. But I couldn’t see too far thanks to the even taller houses that have reared their heads to surpass ours in height, if not in soul. I carefully rest the paper on top of the pile. It looked displaced, even naked, devoid of the fabric of dust under which the others of its kind took refuge.

It was cold and I think I lit a cigarette in the balcony as she made a makeshift bed for us, out of one of the mattresses that were laid out in the drawing room for visitors and a pillow from the actual bed pushed up against the wall in her room. This bed, though big enough to accommodate us when we have cuddled up into one, promised peril for when one of us teetered on the unwalled edge later having pushed each other apart to focus on the sleep at hand. She may have then lied down waiting for me silently, facing half the pillow she saved for me to rest my head, expecting little. Closing the door behind me, I slowly slipped in next to her and held her, more out of habit than love. We may have watched something funny on her laptop before this, she turning to me and kissing me on the cheek every time I laughed. And the next thing I remember is dragging myself into the kitchen much after she had not left a place on my face unkissed, in an unsuccessful attempt to wake me up in the morning. She packed her lunch for work, and then parted with almost half of it lest I reach work hungry.

The newspaper will disintegrate into nothingness, earlier than a few, and after the rest. But the memories from the day will not follow them. They march into a little box, waiting to be pried open at the slightest nudge.

The night is darkest and the stars shine with vigor and virility. Dreams, however grotesque they may sometimes be, seldom fail to fulfill the unfulfilled.

I decide not to smoke. She doesn’t like the idea of me smoking. But I am in the balcony now, so I look through the clothes hanging on the ropes connecting one side to the other to the person pacing from one side of his balcony to the other with a phone in one hand, in the house bang opposite to the one where I was. Then I walk inside, help her with the bed and hug her tight once I had her stand up on the bed. This way I can place my head against her chest. I looked at her a little while longer than I usually do through the meshed steel gate when she opened the wooden door at the sound of the bell a while back. The mesh, though successful at keeping burglars away is rather ineffective when it comes to thwarting love. I arrived early from work. But she knew it was me who rang the bell. And she galloped her way to the door like I was her pizza, delivered much before thirty minutes. She had saved some food for me, by eating less herself. That hunger coupled with the chagrin of her friends, the other tenants, who too may have had a bit more to eat if it wasn’t for the share she parted with me. Later, when we watched that show on her laptop, I turned abruptly cutting my laugh short, so I offered my lips to her, instead of my cheek, surprising her. Then, dropping the idea of sleeping on the mattress, we sleep on the bed instead. And though her back moves further away from the wall and I move further towards the edge as we slip deeper and deeper into the night, she makes sure she has one hand around my back, and one around my neck. She can never let me fall.