The road was filled with bustling traffic. In the state of half-drunkenness, moving was a laborious task, and yet he moved, much against his will. The stoned footpath trampled with busy footsteps, had always been like this, ever since it was made. It was the constant movement of the footsteps of the pedestrians that must have stolen the shine away from it. The young man, pulling his jacket closer to make room for more warmth, walked along, rather slowly.
Vrishav stopped to look around to bring back the memories of last winter. He thought about the time he had walked into an old friend on the road. It was unexpected. He had pretended to look happy and had even hugged his friend and asked him if he would like a drink. He even remembered insisting, but his friend denied. They both departed, and so did winter. Now it was autumn, and the trees above him shed their weary flowers – the bright yellow ones – only to be trampled on by the unaware pedestrians.
Darkness kept falling from the cloudy sky as he trampled forward. He stopped to look at himself in the mirror of an abandoned motorbike. His hair shone in the street light, glasses sparkled, and behind it lay his eyes still decorated with the eyeliner from the morning. He tilted his head sideways, fixed his hair with the lazy movement of his hands, and moved along. He did not want to walk fast. He only had oats for breakfast, and he wanted to save the rest of his energy for the humane interaction that was to occur that night – he was to see Nida. She had invited him to come to her place anytime he liked. He had chosen the night, only because there would be fewer people in her house, and her parents would be sleeping too. He could, perhaps, cast some charming glances on her with his eyes that had received many a compliment since he had begun to decorate them with his newly acquired eyeliner. He wondered if she would let him kiss her. With firm intentions, he moved along the road, and his home was not far away. He would get ready, perhaps take a shower, put on the clothes he had washed in the morning, and head towards her home.
What was it that he desired so much, to be sought in the slow passing afternoons and nights? Three years he had been in this large city in the south. Like the ever-changing currents of the tide, he had encountered so many unfamiliar faces. They would pass by him like the seagulls flying in their flock over the sea, stopping now and then, changing directions, feeding on whatever island they would land upon, never to stop. How he had longed to find a home in those faces that burnt like the embers in a fireplace. He had put his head low, blew gently to brighten them up, and they would only fade away to subtle, intangible warmth until he was tired of the nauseating fumes coming from them. But unlike most of the folks, he was lucky enough to not choke upon that effort.
Surely, entirely surely, there had to be somebody who could give him that much-needed elixir of life, to get rid of the torture he would meet here and there, so that he could bathe in the sea of life like a naked surfer, and let out the laughter of a twinkling star, happily glowing, brightening everything around in spite of dying in the process.
When he got home, he stretched himself. The clothes lay around his room but he did not bother – he never bothered. He got into the bathroom, switched on the shower, and without caring to turn on the heater, he drenched himself in the cold stream. If only death could be as easy as drenching oneself in the cold shower, then sure, we’d have less miserable people around – the world, in all its misery, seemed to be a forbidden place for life to prosper.
He got out of the shower and dried himself. Looking at himself in the mirror, patched with the stains of dried water drops, and combed his hair. The eyeliner had vanished from his eyes and he made a sincere effort to put them back on. He looked at the clock the hung above the door. The clock struck nine – time to leave. He put on his clean shirt, buttoned it up, got it wrong and buttoned it up again. Before going to the shower, he had called the cab, and now it stood honking under his apartment. He hurriedly put on a mismatching pair of sock and rushed downstairs where the cab stood waiting, He wondered if he should smoke too, but for once he had to be punctual, so he sat inside the car and they drove along.
Vrishav got down at the destination, hunted for some wrinkled notes in the many pockets of his jacket, and paid off the cabbie. Wishing him a good evening, he opened the door of the house which led into the garden. The white pet mongrel of the household now stood by his side, wagging his tail furiously, sniffing his jeans and barking. He hesitated in the darkness outside the doorway and knocked – three gentle taps from his knuckles. Nida opened the door, licking her the syrup off her fingers from the dinner. He advanced towards her, shook her hands, and stared into her dark eyes. And when he heard her voice. then he let go of her hands and looked aside, mumbling a few words of greeting. He had not kissed her, nor hugged her, and he realised it only when he heard her voice.
“Oh, you’re here. You’re late, the traffic here beats the best of commuters.”
What was it in her proud, yet natural pose, her black hair hiding her small face, partially revealing her bulged nose that made him shrink away closer to himself like a flower in submission to the night? It was, perhaps, her carefree approach to his arrival which trampled him, throwing his entire responsibility upon himself, making him much aware of the moment.
He father sat on a chair, wiping his hands with a towel. The chandelier shone above, hiding the cold greeting that they exchanged, which almost made them strangers – they were strangers. It did not matter to him, for he had only come to see her. The father did not stay for long. He rose with an “Oh, well, I must sleep now. Open the gate to your mother. Will, you, Nida?” and walked into his bedroom.
Soon they were in her room. The muddy walls hardly reflected the dim glow of the fairy lights. He was glad that it was dark. A bunch of paintings hung on the wall beside her bed – her picture from her school days. He hated his schooldays – he hated the past he had left behind. He slowly slid out of his jacket and kept it on the table by the bed, and got into the warm bed, under the blue bedsheets where she was already lying down, tapping on the screen of her phone, hardly talking. Lying next to her, he could feel the warmth of her body which he thought was warmer than the heat trapped inside the blanket. He tilted his head and looked at her sideways, while she showed him pictures of her travels. He had known her after the party she had hosted two months ago, and now she was in a different city where he had never been, and he despised her departure But she was here, lying down next to him, and he couldn’t be any happier. His heart beat in a rhythm, which only he could hear.
Nida lay down, hesitating, unaware of the next move by the newly made friend who was now sharing her blanket by her side. She did not look into his eyes and was almost taken by surprise when he bent over and kissed her pale cheeks. She pushed herself back but did not say a word.
He had kissed her and she had not said a word. The silence seemed everlasting and to break her, he decided to kiss her again, this time on her exposed neck. His lips parted and his wet tongue touched the surface of her skin. She lay back, trembling with a sudden shiver that ran down her spine after his cold lips had found a home in her neck. The lips decided to stay, and he made his way towards her lips. She opposed and he was taken by surprise. Her shyness made way for more encouragement and he held her hand in his, scribbling her name on her palm with his index finger.
“How long do we have,” he whispered into her ears.
“Until mother comes back, which is in an hour, and then you leave.”
“And then I leave? Can you make me leave?”
“Yes, you have to, and yes, I will.”
The bed by now had become warmer. He looked at her with kind eyes that reflected the newly-kindled fire burning in his heart – his heart had been thumping all while long to ablaze the fire, only the cold gaze of hers had put it out. Andyet his heart thumped desperately, to seek the last flame which could keep the fire going.
“I do not know if you expected it out of me, if you did not, then I am terribly sorry.”
“No,” she answered, bitter with her words, “it’s not your fault.”
“Perhaps you don’t like my kisses.”
“It’s not like that, if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have let you have thm. Only that you bring us to a certain point and then you go away, and then we live our life like we had never known you.”
“Oh well, he said,” embarassed. “It is not that we leave, it is just that you make room for more visitors, or you get tired of us. If we agree upon entertaining eachother, having each other in floods and drought, we stay.”
She did not like him playing with words. “No, I cannot,” she said. he looked into her eyes again and held her hand, and just when he was about to speak, her phone rang and it was her friend who was waiting downstairs for us. The sudden thought of an intruder made him look away out of the window. She got up from her bed and walked towards the door. He followed her and wrapped her in her arms, planting another kiss on her neck. She withered in her arms, shrank, and then he let her loose.
Soon, the new visitor was in the room. A boy of post-modern times with a trending haircut, fashionable clothes and a popular accent. Vrishav sat on the cair, looking at him, only making his longing for Nida visible through his eyes which he would cast on her every now and then.
The boy started talking about himself, and how his day had bee. Who cares how his day has been, he thought and made his way outside the room to the terrace. He slowly unbolted the door, careful enough to not make any noise. On the terrace, the cold wind blew through the gaps between the button of his shirt and he felt the chill which was so easily embraced by the slow, rhythmic movement of the plant leaves in the clay pots on the terrace. He stood, gazing into the night, and listened intently to the sound of dogs howling at a distance. Her absence stung him. It was as if he had filled a jar with desire and then upset it with his careless movements; now it lay wasted on the floor, and there was a mess which only careful wiping could take away. Just then, the door was opened with a crank and she entered with slow, yet firm footsteps.
“Isn’t it cold here?
“Not colder than what I feel, in here.”
“Look, I am away, you are her. We cannot be together. I have moved on with my life in this city and I want to start afresh, anew there. I cannot have anything that keeps me held back. And all I can do is hope that you understand.”
“I do, and that is why I am terribly sorry,” he said, They stood together, yet apart under the dark shade of the tree that grew beside the building, making the night look even darker. His phone beeped. The cab was here. he could not gather the energy, not collect his scattered emotions to say anything to her. He got down slowly from the stairs, put on his shoes, and stepped out of the door. He walked further down the stairs and reached the gateway that lead to the streets – away from her.
“Goodbye,” he said and hugged her. He could have continued to hug her had she not told him that she had to bolt the gate. Her warmth was too homelike to her; her smell like that of the crispy, freshly washed bedsheets refused to leave his nostrils.
He turned to go and saw her face vanish into the great darkness of the night. She did not say goodbye. He wiped the dew off his face with his pocket handkerchief, which now was stained with the dark linings of the eyeliner which she had gifted him two months ago when he had first got to know her.
Image credits: haarkon.co.uk
Read the first part here.