Tuesday, December 28, 2004
Fiction. I create Him through the experience of a friend, but impute to Him actions and thoughts and character that, I hope, are my own. I hope I never become Noah.
Christmas Eve was the same. Party, loud music, loud women, women who wanted to get in his pants, drugs that went up his blood stream and morphed his brain. He was used to all that, he was above all that.
Somebody patted him on the back, near the swimming pool. This was glittering, something in his mind said, or whatever was left of it. He was laughing, he knew, because he could hear himself laugh. He was clinking glasses, eying women through his dark pupils, smiling slightly, in an effect that looked irresistible through the pencil-line of mustache above his upper lip. He could have anything he wanted that night, he knew. He could do anything.
And there was the ring. Something that buzzed him. Not the drink, not the narcotic, not the woman pressing her lips in the back of his neck. It was his phone, he decided. So he pushed the woman aside, and rattled off a text message to that woman he expected to hear from. I'm not here, he said. I was never here. After you left me, I disappeared. I'm sorry I missed you. Tell me, tell me what you want.
And then he waited. Next to the pool. The pool floor was done in this horribly intricate geometric pattern of tiles that made him dizzy to look into it. So he didn't. He looked up, instead. Red sky. It was 4 am, and clouds had gathered over the Colombo night sky. There was going to be hell to pay for it later, he told himself, and looked deep and strong at the phone in his hand, willing it to ring, willing it to blink. Willing, willing to hear some word from her.
The woman who had been angling for his throat, in the short black dress, had given up by now. She had snarled drunk! under her breath, and tip-tapped away on her Italian heels, and moved to where a group of people were removing their clothes and thrashing in the pool.
But he was at the far end of the pool. And the ring that he had been expecting never came. So he decided to go for broke. Fast as lightning, his fingers tap-tapped other text messages, to people he knew who were in her city. He told them, tell her I'm at a party, I'm drunk, I missed her, I miss her so very very very much, tell her I'll call her, tell her I'll be there for her. And fast as a pixie, he sent them all. Like arrows, they would travel far and wide and all converge at the same place. In her heart. She would know, she would know...
One lone reply came back. I'll tell her. So he smiled to himself and lay back on the tiles, disregarding the squeals that came from the extreme end of the pool. It was Christmas Eve, something told him. It was the night of all nights. There was no hurry, there was no cause for it. She would listen to him. So he settled back down, and looked up at the red sky, and fancied that he could see the clouds move faster and faster... There was water thrashing in the pool, his trousers were wet, but he never noticed any of that. He could not see the moon, and wondered if that was a bad omen. Then he shrugged, and wished himself a Merry Christmas.
In the morning, when he checked his phone, he realized that it had never buzzed for him, and the voice inside his head that had been so sure she had called had been lying as well. The lone reply to his frantic messages, I'll tell her, seemed strained and mocking in the cruel sunlight. And he laughed. So, this what they call heartbreak, he mused...
When God set the Flood upon them all, it was too much for him to understand at first. It was strange, a sudden shifting of his ground, of his reality. Everyone else was also in that shift, and that was how he realized he wasn't actually in a nightmare. He ran. He grabbed his camera and his notepad and he ran. In search of ideas, in search of friends, in search of strangers, in search of so much more, he had no idea. He stood in front of the sea, and saw it rear its mighty head, and he ran away.
It had been a sobering effect. It had been a cause of much psychological discomfort. This was the mighty tsunami, someone had said on the radio, on his way over here. The fury chilled him. Yet, in some peripheral way, he was above all that. It reminded him of all the bad movies he had seen on television, Indiana Jones and the Whatnot, where the mass of hot boiling oil would seep slowly towards you, threaten you, taunt you, so that your eyes glittered in anticipation.
But this was worse, he suddenly realized. This was faster. It would lash you and drag you away before you even understood it. It would not taunt you, and your eyes would not remain open to shine at it, but close blindingly in a reflex action of fear on their own accord. He saw the trees lining the great seafront road topple to their bases, and the cars and the trucks tossed aside like matchsticks, and he let himself be pushed along by the tide of the crowd. He heard their screams, and he opened his mouth to scream, too. It was a hollow scream. He had work to do, so much more work than he could possibly imagine.
There was the friend who had his condo. The condo was gone now, the priceless books housed within, in tatters. The area was a swamp, dank and cold. What time was it, he asked somebody, but no one seemed to know.
"My house is destroyed."
"Yes, I am. I'm alive." That didn't seem to cut much ice, so he persisted with his interview. "How was it? Did you see it from afar? What did you think about it? When did you think to run?"
The other man looked at him, his mouth dry from the salt water. He had heard of demon waves before, but never seen them. He had heard of demons possessing human beings before, and he had finally seen one. "Yes, I saw it. I saw it from afar. I stood there for awhile, thinking I was dreaming. And finally, I ran when I could not stand it any more. It was as if something hit me hard on the head - a coconut, perhaps."
"The hand of god?" Deliberate phrase. Drama was always good. It always sounded so much better on the front page.
A wry grin. "More like a scream from my wife. She had ventured down. And seen everything. She screamed, and pulled me back. I am alive because of her." A sigh and a slow sob. "But she died, trying to get the children out. She went back in. I was with the car. The wave came, and I was at the car. It was too fast."
He wrote that down. Was it drama enough for the paper? He would find out, when they paid him for the story.
He thought about the Flood often, and wondered when on earth Noah would come for them all. He was late, he was late, and there was a doubt whether he would come at all. He wanted saving too, in some oddly perverse way. His house was safe, his family was up in their lofty abode, his liquor was under lock and key, and yet he needed saving. He kept on looking at his phone now and then, while touring the country in search of victims, and often pulled the phone out in the middle of an interview, to see whether there was any news from her after all. There never was. Merry Christmas...
"The government will come for you. Do not worry. Tell me what happened." But they looked at him with mouths open in incredulity. He tried again, elsewhere. "Tell me, tell me. I need it for my story. Tell me what you felt. Who's dead over here? Who's in pain? Give me a picture. I'm here to help. My name is Noah."
There was the parting before him. Stories untold, stories waiting to be told. He sat on his rock, and listened to them all diligently. His notebook was filling up rapidly, his pencils were almost blunted away, but still he asked questions and took down answers, and told them his name was Noah. "What are your sins? Confess, confess, and the world will be whole again."
Confess, confess, and you will disappear, he told the bodies that lay before him, in the dark city street. This was a city that had seen its fair share of violence earlier. There had been guns and knives and butchery enough, but perhaps nothing as final as this. "Is there something especially final in this?" he asked the sad priest in the cavernous church. "Does this mean that God has ordained this?"
The priest was old, and toothless. He wondered, too, for himself the same thing and not for the very first time. The new-born Noah was not very original, and he knew it, too. It was a strange, sad replay of a strange, sad story.
When the government came with troops, and with supplies, he was there, too, snapping pictures, talking to soldiers, talking to NGOs. "I'm working for the paper. Tell me what you're doing. When will this get better?"
He got a bemused look in return, and suddenly he asked himself when on earth he had started to care. The old man was a story. His dead wife and his dead children were a story. The dead bodies on the road were a story. The old priest in his old hole was a story. Noah and his Flood was a story, too. And he thought to himself, so this is what they call heartbreak...
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