I was straw-stirring the fresh lime soda that sat infront of me when somebody popped the age old generic question "whom do you love the most in the world?" It was more conversational and less of an inquiry anticipating a pondered over response which is probably why, the time it took to come up with one was less than heartbeat. "My brother", I said, resolute, undoubtable, like it was the most blatant truth I knew. They smiled. "You really can't live without him, can you? I smiled. And I just smiled.
I have loved a lot of people. I have loved my brother the most among them. And I have done that for so long that I don't know how not to. And maybe, it's true that I cannot live in a world that doesn't have him. But is he the reason I'm alive today? The 'no' that bubbles in my belly is no less resolute than the answer before was. I know it because I've questioned it more often than I'd like to. In the dead of the night, under the shower, over the sink, staring at the wall pressing a fist to my chest, while trying to breathe, you name it. And the answer is probably the only thing that has remained a constant over the years.
I love people because I want to. I love my brother the most because I choose to. But I'm alive today because someone chose me. I'm alive because my father refused to give up on me. Not even when I did. Especially when I did.
And I hope, for the life of me, I hope that it's atleast okay, even if a little selfish if the one you will die for and the one you will die without aren't one and the same.
However badly articulated, this is the most honest, most personal thing I've ever written. And I hate myself so much for ever wording this line of thought. And even more for posting it. But I also hope I never delete this, this ill-written thing.
I do not make conversations if I do not want to. In all sincerity, I don't even know how to. For all the good temperament I seem to have people convinced of, I can't be bothered to soften the edges of small talks, however stilted. I'm not afraid of awkward pauses or even trailing ends. I'm not afraid of not caring enough. So when I call you way past the midnight 3 years after you've cajoled me into believing that burning a perfect canvas is better than painting it ugly-- it's not because I want to talk. From 6000 kilometres and two timezones away, when you complain about the damp, musty kitchen cabinets of the apartment you moved into just for the sake of it's floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the sunsets and city lights and I pillow talk about the aunty across from me who keeps drying red chillies under cloudy skies-- it's not because I have something to say. I just don't want to hang up.
I wanted the left corner of the living room couch, sunken under the weight of post-date makeouts to become so much of a commonplace as to be unremarkable.
I wanted the curve of your fingers on the back of my neck to be so lackluster that they'd stop feeling novel. I wanted us to be so thoroughly ordinary that none of it would ever feel fragile or... fleeting.
You don't get to blame me. Not when you opened the gates of the fool's paradise already tethered to leaving. Not when the phantom of your touch on my skin still has the audacity to unnerve me.
I don't get to blame you. Not when loving you had always felt like a chase in which you had a headstart- the one I was meant to lose, and I refused to anchor myself anyway like a knife so pliant against a whetstone.
"I absolutely want nothing but to be held right now", she manages to whisper in between sniffles as the grip of her fingers entwined on mine tightens.
I look at her helplessly, my fists clench. How much more? I wonder, grudging. How close do I need to hold you for you to stop wanting to be held? How tight should my clasp on you be for you to not uproot my nails when you turn your back on me? All over again. I want to say it out loud and preface it with a bitter laugh. I don't, ofcourse. Because she's breaking down. And I'm tagging along, whether I like it or not.
"I'm such a mess", she finally forces a sigh, throwing her hands in the air in exasperation, almost mad at herself.
"You're such a ... Rudolph", I retort confused, only half joking because her sniffling nose beneath those glossy eyes is a shade of crimson due to all the sobbing over a jerk who wouldn rather love someone else. I close my eyes before they can roll.
"Stop making me laugh."
"Stop crying then!" I almost shout. Staring blankly at her, my face expressionless, hopefully not at all transparent to the frustration coursing through me.
She gives me one of her defiant looks. The one that says I'm-not-mad-but-I'm-gonna-be-a-brat. Eyes indignant, lips puckered up into a little pout. Face flushed and nose red. So much for having the prettiest face on the planet. Pathetic!
"Keep looking at me like that and I'll kiss you till you drop", I say with a straight face, not at all joking.
But she snorts. Ofcourse.
"You mean like my very platonic roommate?" She laughs, making finger quotes around "platonic", evidently recalling what the bastard had said.
"Don't you quote that jerk to me, it's repulsive!" I clench my fist again.
"Hey! Don't be like that now. It's not his fault and you know it. We don't get to choose whom we fall for", says the girl who has just spent two hours breaking down, in defence of her heartbreaker.
"Besides", she continues, "I love the way he loves him. Keenan makes him happy in a way I never can. I'd never have known of the existence of that doe-eyed smile if it wasn't for him.", says this girl like it's the only truth she's ever known. Like it's not at all a punch in the gut to say it out loud. This girl who says stuff such as this with utmost sincerity and then wonders at 2:00 ams if there's anything even remotely lovable about her.
"I love the way he loves him."
I reiterate her words to myself, over and over again, because that's the only set of words that makes sense tonight.
They hang in the air around us as I hold her fragile frame a little closer than I intend to.
I did not break through. I could not break free. I surrendered. To make the chains stop hurting.
I often falter infront of the mirror because it reflects my reality. And only in it's dreaded face do I acknowledge my incessant addiction to fantasies. I am but an escapist, I murmur, staring into the mirror. The mirror smirks. People have it worse, it says. Heavens know the weight on my shoulders is enough to make my back droop but the mirror tells me, even with blunders as indelible as a birthmark, I am just an insignificant speck fading away to infinity, and that ought to offer me a moment of a few unburdened breaths. The mirror asks me to stop romanticising the pain in hopes of healing because true healing begins when you stop craving it. When you come to terms with the fact that some scars are going to stay, and not as embellishments. Scars are all they'll ever be. There will be no beauty to them. Just ugliness. And terror. But less pain and maybe one day, enough strength to narrate their stories. The mirror is not wrong. Not at all. Then why do I feel like a hostage of it's arguments?
Why do I take shelter within poems even when they're to no avail? For I am now, at the end of this one and the chains still won't stop grappling.
Perhaps, the only thought that elicits a smirk as I stare at the empty walls is the fact that even after everything you couldn't break my heart. I had already been walking the tightropes, more or less. Was ready to let go of the slippery parapet when you came along and caught onto my hand. Your pleading eyes were somehow more appealing than the dive behind me that was meant to be my escape. In that moment, as I was dangling by the only thread of your hand holding mine, there was a relief beginning to surge through me. There was a part of me so high on your touch that it wanted to keep breathing. Was I doubtful of my will to end it all? I do not know. But regardless of my denial, the choice between living for you and dying for myself had been made. And the calm that it came with was so utterly consuming that I didn't realise when you let go. It took me a while to register that the string had broken leaving me at the mercy of freefall and before I could question the sudden emptiness in my hands, it was benumbed. The impact of the fall braced me before I could fall apart. I hit the ground before you could break my heart.
A laughter so contagious that if it were a drop of water, it could make a barren heart bloom into a bouquet of flowers. His eccentricity stood out. Not in a dark twisted way but rather, mysteriously. I could never have fathomed him to be a church goer for I can't remember a time when he wasn't engulfed by smoke rising from the cigarette dangling between his fingers or a time when there was no whiskey on his breath.
I could have easily concluded he belonged to the likes of me who were forced into this weekly tradition had I not seen him alone. Always.
He never stood in mercy or bowed in prayer. Just sat there, every Sunday morning, on the last bench during the service and stared ahead as if he was trying to dare Jesus into a trial by combat.
The gossipers whispered about him. About his dark and seemingly damned soul. "That arrogant fella never opens that mouth unless he has to be downright ghastly. Why even insult the lord by coming here at all? Brings down the atmosphere of the entire room with that foul expression." But that's what they were. Gossips.
For down at the Fusion bar, round the corner at the end of the church street, he was the life of the party. Always talking. Always merry. Always making people laugh. Always laughing.
While it has been mentioned time and again that he never smiled, there was once a time when he surprised me. On a windy autumn night when I asked him about love.
On that cramped porch, surrounded by empty bottles and rising smoke, I saw his blurry face look up at the dark sky, his lips curl up into a tiny, almost oblivious smile, just for a moment before blending into a smirk. A softness had flickered in his eyes before it was replaced by the intense hollowness I was more familiar with.
And before another word could escape me, he took a long drag and turned all possible answers to my unuttered question, into smoke. And then, he never smiled again.
They say he loved a nun who despised cigarettes. Hated them more than she hated his tattoos. More than alcohol. More than his impertinence. But, she loved him more than she hated cigarettes. They say, she loved him more than she loved God. And perhaps, God couldn't stomach that.
"Ma'am, it's 7xy + 13a", chimed the new boy. It had been less than a month since he joined our school, and he had already won the hearts of most of our teachers. He certainly didn't know better, that at thirteen years of age, you are better off winning the hearts of your peers. And you do that by being one of them, never by oneupping them.
For most part of the day, we left him alone. He never tried to speak to any of us either, and ate by himself in the lunch break.
He was slender in built, and had the supple body of a ballerina, but his movements were measured and jerky, as if he was always hiding something. He even wobbled as he walked, always a little alert.
That day, he had excused himself from the sports class and was sitting by the bench, when suddenly the ball came flying at his face and flung the thick rimmed glasses on his nose, to the ground. A few boys chuckled and I'm quite sure they did it on purpose.
The sports teacher sent the class monitor to assist him and guide him to the sick bay. As he dragged himself away, we noticed a blooming stain of red on his white pants.
"Doctor is in an emergency consult. He will attend to you shortly. Meanwhile, deposit your wristwatch & phone at the reception and please follow the intern."
I was ushered into a waiting room. The walls were super clean, matt white. No certificates, no posters, no windows, not even a ticking clock. There was just a desk and two chairs in the middle of the room, all in white. And a lavatory in the corner, separated by a frosted glass partition.
The ambience was sterile, absolutely contrary to what I had anticipated. I didn't know what I was expecting, but this was simply too eerie. Just a blanket of minimalist white.
An hour or more must have passed, I was not quite sure. Nobody had attended to me yet and I started getting restless. All the waiting was getting under my skin, and I imagined the worst case scenarios. I was certain I was ripped off in some con scheme. What an idiot I had been, to not have foreseen this. I wondered if I would atleast make it out alive.
I was DONE. I couldn't just sit tight anymore. I looked around the door, and tried the door lock. It didn't budge. I knocked the door at first, then slammed it, kicked it, calling for help, but nobody answered. Once I was a little calmer, I pressed my ears against the door. It was all too creepily quiet.
Panic set in. I frantically tried the desk drawers for keys or just about anything. Nothing in it, except a few stray sheets of white paper, an unsharpened white pencil and a white steel sharpener. Under the supplies, I finally spotted a hint of colour. It was the same brochure, the one which brought me here, to "The Writers Block Clinic" .
My phone buzzed. I ignored. And then buzzed incessantly, as if it was in the middle of a grand mal seizure attack.
I groped for it in pitch darkness, scrambling around the general direction of vibrations. After finally managing to locate it, I squinted my eye to read the message.
"Do not look at the moon" read the order by the government. Before I could begin to wonder about how strange that message was, I noticed the notifications on several of the other app icons. It ran into hundreds, on each one of them.
I opened one of the app and on its feed there were spectacular, viral images of the moon in a never before seen shade of rich purple.
Friends I had not spoken to in years, relatives I had never seen, colleagues, my tax consultant, my family doctor, even the burly man who delivered groceries earlier in the day, personally sent me images of this dazzling phenomenon.
The whole internet was lit up with moons and moons and more moons.
Amidst all the hullabaloo and celebratory uproar, the one ominous message overhung like an unsettling shadow. There was no further explanation to it. Nothing on google either, except more breathtaking moon images.
Right then, I heard a loud cheer from the opposite block. The crowd was going berserk in excitement. I had to look at the moon with my own eyes to believe it. I walked resolutely towards the window and drew the curtains aside.
As I peered towards the sky, my phone pinged again. "Do not look at the moon", it read.
The door opened. The lights turned itself on. John's pulse, temperature and mood was ascertained by the camera, and a unique playlist of ambient sounds was shuffled by the audio system that was designed to deliver the music straight to his brain, bypassing his ears.
A mini robot wheeled itself in with a tall frothy plastic glass of White Russian, trailing behind John to his luxurious bedroom; but John simply plonked himself on the bed which automatically appropriated itself to the ideal cooling temperature and pressure relief mode.
It had been a rough day. John's ex, Roy, couldn't hold out anymore. Roy was discovered with his wrist slit open, in the research wing of the outer orbit complex. The investigating officer had called John for identification. All records of the expunged dead body were found deleted, except for one last folder titled John.
John and Roy had signed up for the beta trial program, of a miracle drug along with eight others. The program definitely worked. Both of them still had the same 30 year old skin, thick wisps of dark hair and the libido of an eager teenager.
Inspite of its success, the program was hushed and buried in the dark alleys of failed medical experiments, for it had one fatal flaw. There was no reversal, no going back, no way to quit. The only way to undo, was to do it by yourself. And with Roy no more, the eighth person had finally succumbed.
Meanwhile, John lay there in his bed, losing track of the number of years it had been since the beginning. It was frustrating to keep playing a game with unlimited chances, and free access to everything life had to offer, except the unpredictability and thrill of escaping death.
John tried to give up, but a strange curiosity always took over, that kept him going. There had to be a point to this unique suffering. What could be on the other end of immortality?
Only one way to know, and the last two to go. Who would be the last man standing?
George picked up the cycle leaning against the dumpster. It was in great condition. Metallic blue, with colorful tassels attached on the handlebar. George tried its unusual hand painted bell. It rung a shrill note, of a bird's cheep. Quite jarring, contrary to the otherwise cute little thing, just perfect for little Mikhail.
There was just one tiny problem. The side stand was missing. I'll fix it the first thing tomorrow. Mikhail would love his Thanksgiving present. The angels must have sent it, George thought to himself while rolling the bike home.
Once home, George parked the bicycle against the cracked railings of the porch. It was pitch black by now. George hurriedly threw over a plastic sheet over the cycle and rushed home.
Mikhail was watching Peppa Pig and didn't notice that his daddy was home. George hated leaving little Mikhail unsupervised, but couldn't afford a babysitter after he lost his job. He missed Paula a little more than usual tonight. It seemed like just yesterday when the three of them were so happy, in this small home eating gruel for dinner.
George made rice gruel for dinner, just like Paula would. Mikhail ate quietly from his bowl without making any mess at all. George carried Mikhail to his bed. They read a story from Mik's favorite story book and Mikhail fell asleep soon after. George kissed him on his forehead. The little child deserves a smile, he thought wiping away the tear rolling down his cheek.
George woke up suddenly. He checked his watch. It was still 2am, but there were birds chirping this early. He looked out from the window, there was nothing out there. George tried sleeping again but the chirps became more annoying and frequent.
George headed out to the front door. Right before him stood the cycle, balanced on its two wheels, even without it's stand. The blue plastic sheet covering someone under it ringing the bell. Cheep cheep.
Day 6 and I'm already itching to quit. But I won't, not yet.
Megha felt a soft touch on her shoulder and turned to her left to see. For a minute, she gawked at this strange face standing next to her, while scanning the archives of her memory. Was it him, she pondered for a moment, with her mind still zoned out and her face, blank. But she was in no frame of mind to process anything complex, and refused to acknowledge the stranger.
"It's me, Karan, you baby hippo", the man muttered under his breath.
She knew it. She could never forget that face. It had to be him, all of her doubts now reassured. Nobody else in this world would dare call her a hippo. As the revelation slowly registered into her consciousness, her face began to bloom into a wide smile, petal by petal.
At once, she threw her arms around his shoulders and squealed in absolute delight. He wrapped his arms tightly around her and lifted her two inches above the ground. "I can barely carry you anymore, hippo" he nudged, dropping her down with a whump.
"And look at you billo, all buff and ripped. The docile house cat from our dingy streets has grown into a menacing city tiger, growwwwl." she giggled aloud.
Karan chortled with the same peculiar neighing sound he made as a kid, whenever he laughed with all his heart, especially with Megha around.
Suddenly he pulled himself back with a hard jolt, when he noticed the piercing stares of everyone in the crowd.
Megha too, was thrust back into the present. She retracted all of her ill timed joy and solemnly stepped back to stand in solidarity with her grieving grandfather, with a stifled grin on her face.
A bowl of dried leftover cereal and milk still lay on the table. I saw it and ignored. Cushion pillows were strewn over the floor, one by the doorway, the other next to the couch. I saw it and ignored it. Hot wheel cars and Lego pieces were all over the floor. Colour pencils and drawing sheets spread out on the dining table. Yohan wasn't the easiest child to be kept busy. I saw him clamouring for my attention but I ignored.
I barely cleared out some space on the table, to perch my laptop. The emails couldn't be ignored any further. I was losing my calm but I also ignored the oncoming meltdown, somehow holding fort. Just another fifteen minutes and I should be done for the day. I pleaded Yohan to sit down and watch some more TV. He wanted to run about the house, pretending he was Captain Yohan saving the world from an invisible monster hiding in our bedroom.
From the corner of my eye I saw a shiny purple metallic toy car near the hallway. I saw it and ignored. I then saw Yohan run from the bedroom towards me. I screamed for him to slow down, but words escaped me. His little foot landed on the car and skidded. I looked up and saw Yohan swerving towards the wall and losing his balance, all in slow motion. And all of a sudden, the image accelerated to a blur until I heard a soft thud, and a puddle of blood where Yohan lay very quietly.
I saw him, and for once I found him very hard to ignore.
A chunk of meat suspended in a rock which is orbiting a literal fire ball? In a galaxy spanning to vast and unfathomable distances.
What am i? Among the quasars that scintillate four trillion times than that of the sun and Giant black holes that gobble up light in a flash and bend the fabrics of space-time.
What am i? Amid this grand circus of life. Amid all the hollow and shallow dreads of existence. Amid the perplexing carcass of gloomy reality.
What am i? Nothing.
I am nothing but the decimals between one and zero. A scruple of conscious matter fluctuating between nothing and something. A void trying to fill its own emptiness. A tragedy parodying a fortune. A beginning in the course of its own end. A book deserted in the middle of a busy street. Waiting to be read. Waiting for someone to rummage through my mess. Waiting for someone to read my story.
A story carved on the face of time. Of edges, mountains and rivers to trains, cars and office cafeterias. My entire existence can be compressed into the micro strings of DNA. Forged betwixt hormones and genes. And my life, a quaint burrow of a rabbit trying to hibernate and survive a dreadful winter.
I grazed at the surface of my own ridiculousness until i could finally convince myself not to. I trembled with fear in my eyes and an lump in my throat, Too busy to see that a cheerful life is a guile tint on the glass of reality.
Did i turn myself into it. Was it a deal? Maybe. The only thing that changed was time and do i have to tell you that time then changes everything? The involute becomes the absolute. The sight becomes the scene. The portrayal becomes the reality. I becomes us. Yes. Us, but without you. Us. But without all the songs and shillings. Us. But without all the poems and writings. Us. But with a pipkin of love lavish in pain. Us. But with a smudge on a letter without your name. Us. But with a sparkle on a sky of hue It's always us but without you.