Friday, December 24, 2004
I tell a story again. Something new, something contrived, something lived.
I need an introduction, I think to myself. I need to tell this man something about myself. I need to sell myself to him in some way, and so I buy a packet of mince puffs from the corner shop, nicely warmed to a crisp, though I chide myself for the extravagance. They're a mite too expensive for my taste, but then I'm cheap, I always have been, and so I swallow down my cheapness, pick up the bag of muffins and walk over to the house.
I'm thinking over what I should do, how I should start speaking to him, when the door opens. Big smile on my face, and I say, hullo, how do you do? I hand him the muffins, and I get a glass of rum thrust in my hand.
Something sinful about rum. Like the fact that a single glug from a single glass will mark you with a discerning flavour miles and miles away. Or maybe that's not really the case, but that's the way I like to think. I prefer ice cubes, a lot of them, dark brown, swirling liquid with large volcanic rocks that fizzle and burn in cold rage and dissolve away. They leave behind that sexy taste in your mouth, in your throat. I lick my lips, like a 90's porn goddess, and laugh at the absurdity of my life. I'm a strange person, so many people have told me that, but I'm not strange enough.
I'm not a radical like him, at any rate. Not someone who needs to be there first, all the time, with the eyes, the voice, the ears, the touch, the power to propagate. I'm not like him.
So he likes the muffins, he says, and takes another bite. So do I. "It's from a shop right around the corner, you know," I say, beaming, "I'm sure you've seen it on your way to work lots of times. Maybe you've just missed it." Unspoken words: So, hopefully, you won't miss it anymore. Maybe you'll see it someday, and remember this evening, and remember that I brought something that was vaguely satisfying from this little shop in a corner.
"O," he says, his face breaking into a grin, "It's from that shop. O, yes, I've been there. I've ordered bread from there. I never knew they made little stuff like this, though."
"They have pastries too. Blackforest, if you like it. And apple pie, which looked very nice. All orange and crusty. Would be sinful with ice cream. But it's expensive. I think, something like Rs 45. Too rich for my taste." A grin. A sip of dark rum that shoots back into my throat. "They also have all these different kinds of bread. Garlic bread with cheese, masala bread, Parmesan, bread with coriander too. I pinched one. Very soft. Would be amazing with dollops of butter." I can picture the butter, melting, melting, melting. "And yes, they have a shop with cold cuts and frozen chicken inside." All in the corner shop. I don't know why I'm talking like this, non-stop. I should have been silent. But it's something I can't help. I may not be radical, but I'm quite strange, nevertheless.
The music is not bad, either. Something I cannot understand. In a language I cannot fathom. But, it's good, it fills you up, and I think that is what music is good for. To fill a space in your life. Like the way I wake up every morning, and switch the radio on in my flat. Incessant banter, I listen, Horrible ad jingle, I listen, Song flows through, Water splashes in the bath, I listen. It's a process that gets me out of my flat every morning, and sees me turn in for the night every time. I think, maybe it's the same about the music with him, too. The words fill him, and he talks to me, his eyes slightly red with the scotch in his hand, but his words making lucid sense. They have been filled out, given shape, as it were, in some unknown way, by the strains of the raga that float around in ellipses and circles around the room. I'm tempted to touch one of those notes, but then, I'm not radical enough to think that they are tangible. No more tangible than he is, at any rate.
"There is the past, you know. And however much, you tell yourself there is a present, you keep coming back to that past. So you have to keep on thinking. And you have to keep on hoping that there is a future out there for you, as well."
I listen, but somehow, it all sounds very wicked to me. I don't get that. I take another sip, and ruminate on how dumb I must be, if I don't get what he's talking about. I think about why I came here, and I try to listen to him again, as he resumes talking, as he uses the same words, the same lines, in his drunken loop. I'm glad that loop is there, I'm glad that there's a chance for me to listen to him again and again, so that I may decipher him, and say something to him. Something that will make him look up and look sharply at me -
"I don't agree with that. I don't subscribe to that view of yours."
And I try. "What you are saying is too simplistic for me. It is too simplistic for anybody. How can that be? You're saying, once a person has identified what he wants, he will move inexorably along that path, that unconsciously he is already on that path. That is too easy. It must be harder. I don't agree with that."
I don't agree with that. I spoke about my pessimism, my cynicism, and all this after I accused him of being a cynic himself. I'm good, a voice whispers in my ear, and I turn slightly to see the curtains billowing gently at the open window, where the conspiratorial voice came from. I turn back to see him looking at the curtains too. It is almost as if he can see the slight shadow there, behind the semi-transparent cotton. The figure is dancing now, a sappy little jig, and it is ridiculous to think that at any moment now, I expect him to start out from his chair, and emulate that happy little shadow dancing behind the curtain.
He doesn't. He sits. He looks back at me, and smiles. I smile back.
Soothing music, as we eat dinner. It is something spicy, goat's meat, mutton, lamb, all the same. Vegetarian's nightmare, and I wonder how on earth vegetarians can survive eating their plants and shoots and roots and fruits. I'm an animal. I was meant to devour another animal. We all were, somebody tells me. We make small talk, over the goat-meat.
"There was this person I met sometime back. She was mad. She used to come down to my apartment, and we used to talk together. We used to listen to music together. Sometimes, she would lie on my bed and fall asleep. Sometimes, I would fall asleep too. Sometimes, we would touch at night, fingers, toes, limbs, flesh, bodies. Sometimes, we would make love at night. But always at night. We would kiss urgently, under the cover, and hold each other with a strange idea of never letting go. And we would fall asleep afterwards. I would have my music on MP3, so it would play on and on and on. It would carry on, while we kissed, while we touched, while we climaxed, while we cradled together, while we breathed softly together. I would wake up in the morning, and then I would miss the music, and then I would miss the girl. She would never be there in the morning."
"You first missed the music, and then the girl?"
I smiled. "Yes, always in that order. Somehow, the music was a part of my sleep. I awoke when I realized that the thread had been broken. The song wasn't there anymore, and so I opened my eyes, and saw the music was off. I would yawn, and then I would sense that she had gone too. She was only there for as long as I could hear the music. She was never there, otherwise."
This time, he smiled. He stretched out his legs and lay back on the bed. I could see his chest heave. I could feel his fingers tighten around the glass. I could sense the friction on the bed. "And would she return?"
"O, yes. She would. She would be there again. Maybe not the very next night. Maybe not for another week. But she would come back, knock silently on the door, and smile at me when I opened it. I always had the music on. And she would come in and lie on my bed and smile. I always smiled, too."
"Do you still know her?"
"I do. I do. I think I do."
It is time to leave, and I say so. The goat meat was nice. The rum was sinful. The music was moving. But the mirthful little shadow behind the curtain has fallen asleep, I can see his little form there, heaving in slumber, and I know it is time I was gone. Crumbs remain of the muffins on the table, and I tell myself they were a good choice.
"Shall I drop you down stairs?" I say no, I can find my way out. He relaxes. He was hoping for a way out, and I am good at that. I give people an avenue, a lane, a direction. He gives people a vehicle. He is radical, I am merely strange.
The door to his apartment closes behind me.
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