Blue is a slow color

She doesn’t turn around to look at me once more, to wave a tear filled bye, or to come running back to convince me this is a mistake. Goodbyes are final to her. I don’t expect any different.

I am going to inhale as much of you as I can, she had said, her face buried in my chest. In case some day I have to exhale all of it.

She always loved to speak in the abstract.

Must you ruin this moment with you cynicism, I had asked

Realism, she had replied

I am leaving her to go to a different part of the world and yet I am the one watching her leave me.

We were cuddled in a hammock tied between two palm trees.

Reality is this here, I had said

Don’t get too comfortable, she had stuck out her tongue. This here, she had said as she waved a finger between her and me, is a thatched hut at best. Cozy now but who knows with the ravages of time.

And now I am the downpour, the destroyer of huts.


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In the middle of nowhere

The children run around in a circle around me, full of anticipation of what I’ll say next. I say Elephant. They all stand still and stretch one arm out to imitate a trunk. Some have their other hand looped around their trunks, pinching the ear on the other side of their heads. All of them are giggling. Do Elephants giggle? I ask in mock seriousness. This makes them giggle even more. One of them starts stomping about and a couple girls run away shrieking.

Later we all sit under the Baobab tree for their English lessons. I am too immersed in the kids’ fervor to even once notice the oppressive heat or the blinding sun. Though I am still occasionally annoyed by the buzzing insects circling around my face, but swatting at them is second nature now.

I teach the kids words for common occupations. I ask them what they want to be when they are older. Most of them answer ‘Teacher’ or ‘Doctor’. One boy says Seven. I ask him what he means. He answers he is six now and when he is older he will be seven.

In the evening I walk back home on the dirt road, mud huts lined on either side. Back home there were streets where almost everyone had immaculate front yards. Pristine lawns bordered by flower beds of varying seasonal colors. I would walk past one of these houses and after a brief moment admiring the beauty I would invariably wonder how much effort it must all have taken. Killing every single weed, while letting just a single variety of grass thrive. Mowing and edging the lawn to manicure it to perfection. Delicately shaping the shrubs. Even setting out fake crows or owls so that the real crows get too scared to come peck for grubs in the soil and end up gouging the lawn.

When I had just got here I used to reminisce about things ‘back home’ a lot more than I do now. What was I doing here in the middle of a nowhere village in the middle of a nowhere region in the middle of a nowhere country in Africa? Back home I had a kitchen with more than three pots and pans. A memory foam mattress. A functioning toilet. Back home I didn’t have to share my house walls with geckos.

Every time I say it now, what I used to call home feels a little more distant. As I lay down on my wafer thin mat and I feel the cool of the earth on my back, I know there’s no other place I would like to be.


Retcon

A heartbeat skipped. A sharp intake of breath from the sudden sensation of being with her. Even though it has been a while now. A while? An eternity. But these reminders; they come from nowhere.
Maybe a song that we both shook heads to together. Till she scowled at me singing completely out of tune.
Maybe the smell of my travel cologne that made her cling to my face. Not that she needed an excuse to.
Maybe the idea of a witty retort to something you said. As usual coming too late to my head to matter.
Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

She threw her popcorn up in the air. They just introduced a new character and pretended she existed all along? I didn’t see anything wrong with that. Don’t we all wish we could change the past? Mistakes made, mistakes fixed.
When asked, we invented stories of how we met. I mean who would want to admit they met in rehab.
When we first met we both invented tortured histories to make ourselves sound interesting. Does it count if I might have convinced myself of some of it actually having happened?
When we drifted apart I invented stories of why we parted ways. I had to; I am not entirely sure why we did.
Retcon. Retcon. Retcon.

She said I tried too hard to blend. Like a chameleon, I asked her. She said I should instead adapt. Like a cockroach, I asked her. So now I adapt. The hard part is the patience; to not fall apart; to not go seek some desperate, ephemeral consolation.
Like an inexperienced diver surfacing too fast. Bubbles of nitrogen causing bends.
Like a novice boxer swinging wildly. All while leaving his guard down.
Like an author who wraps up his story too soon. Not for the lack of knowing where to go; but wanting to avoid the pain of getting there.
Interlude? Epilogue? The End?


Right justified

1
There used to be a time when
She would ask him
What he was up to
Always on his phone.

After she met him, she hopes
He would not ask her
What she was up to
Always on her phone.

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Moving boxes

The alarm sang its sing song notes and Nasima reached a hand out to hit the snooze button. A force of habit. The alarm was from her phone and of course there was no snooze button to hit. There would have been a snooze button to hit if Sean were still there. But Sean had left and had taken the damn bedside clock with him. Good riddance, Nasima thought. The clock, she told herself, not Sean.

Two weeks in and she was still getting used to not waking up next to him. Not slapping his hand away from caressing her breasts. Not fussing over his unironed clothes. Not making tea and eggs for the both of them… He had taken their favorite tea cups with him. Her tea cups. For the love of a cuppa, she was the one who had introduced him to tea to begin with. Had he even heard of masala chai before he had watched her, in bemusement, add spices to a boiling pot of water?

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The uncultured buttermilk

I met my girlfriend Liya at a charity event. She was a performer in a short play on empowering underprivileged kids. I thought it was admirable that she was part of such a topical play in such a consequential event. That’s exactly what I told her. Not in such lyrical words but something more along the lines of what you did up there was really cool.

That admiration was clearly an aberration, likely because I believed it was an amateur performance. If I am to be honest I have never really appreciated any of the plays that I have seen her in over the past year. I wonder if that is my shortcoming. I want to love what she does as much as I claim I do.  I am wracked with guilt as I take my seat tonight in the makeshift theater (basement). The troupe makes its way to the stage. Chi, Jed, someone, someone. It seems like they all have three or four letter names. It seems like they all barely have one whole foot planted in reality.

Their performance tonight is called the tug of war. Chi, Jed and Liya are locked in a three way embrace throughout the act. They enact performing daily chores such as washing dishes, while keeping the embrace. They want to show that they can perform these tasks only if they are coordinated. I hope no one is watching me cringe at their attempts. After the show, while others are heaping praise on them, the only thing I ask Liya is if she would like to come home or disinfect herself first. When Chi (or is it Jed?) gives me a nasty look I say I mean because of all the smoke in the room.


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Under a fig tree

As the night wore on and the scotch ran low the opinions got stronger and the arguments got louder and generally more interesting than the game of poker we were playing. At some point my dad brought up the inevitability of death as was his wont to do in his old age and I, inevitably, wearing my cynic hat and atheist shades, declared there’s nothing after death except the sadness you leave behind for the ones who love you. My dad told me there’s still time for me to correct my ways and said that he’d make sure to send me a sign from heaven in his afterlife. I joked that the sign better not be on a slice of toast because I would totally eat it before noticing anything.

When he did pass away he did so peacefully, in his sleep. Whenever I reminisce his last days I think about the fig tree in our backyard that he nurtured from near death. Squirrels had run rampant that year and had nearly uprooted the newly planted sapling. I would have most likely given up on the sorry mess in the garden but my dad replanted it, built a cage around it and brought it back to life. That story served as a parable he used to teach his grandkids never to give up on anything.

My dad had his own brush with death two decades back, when his car rolled into a ditch on a particularly stormy day. A splintered piece of glass nearly tore into an artery. The doctor said he was lucky to survive. My dad thanked God and decided there was a purpose to his life. The only thanks I had were for the hospital staff that labored to save my dad’s life. I wanted to tell my dad that I didn’t see any luck in the car rolling in the ditch. But I held my tongue. I was pretty sure he’d say God works in mysterious ways.

I like to think my dad saw death in the eye and made a deal to be a better person if he lived. That incident converted my dad into an eternal optimist and turned him from an irritable person to a patient one. He seemed to have discovered a superpower to enjoy not only his own life but to bring joy to people around him.

I sit under the fig tree and marvel at the bountiful fig harvest this year. Is this a sign from heaven? I don’t think so but I sure want to believe so.


Professor Enigma

Prof was calmly counting his earnings at the end of the day while I was sweating bullets. It was the look he gave me while twirling a knife. It was the way he asked me if I wanted to learn something. Did he know?

Professor Enigma or Prof as we called him was not one of the top billings, not by a long shot. That would have probably been Spindra, the spider girl or Ken and Len, the conjoined juggling twins or the Real Houdini, the escape artist. But for me Prof was the star. 

The first time I saw him in action he was manning one of the game booths. Knock over all of the three bowling pins to win some prize, a teddy bear or some such. The first person barely hit the pins with his throw but somehow all pins tumbled down. That was enough to get a crowd. Then even the best of throws would just not be able to knock the pins down. Until the crowd started losing interest. And then, boom, another winner.

Same with the shell game or three card monte. To the mark it would appear so easy to win at these games. Till he actually played it. Then it would be virtually impossible to win. Unless Prof let you win.

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Cut

The bathroom light dances on the edge of the blade. The first cut is the toughest. I wonder what my sister would have said if she knew. ‘Don’t do this. I forgive you’?

I was a little girl of 6 when I played a prank on my sister of 8 by hiding a spider on her bedsheet. I thought she’d scream, I would have a laugh and that would be that. Little did I know that what I had sprung on her was a Brown Recluse that would end up biting my sister’s leg. The leg would get infected and later amputated.
I never told my sister how that spider had ended up on her bed. I never told her that I had destroyed the rest of her life. And consequently mine.

All these years of self loathing what I wanted to do was tell my sister the truth. Tell her I was sorry. And then kill myself. That last part? Easy. The first part, though, I didn’t have the guts to do that. Continue reading


Lost and Found

The crack

You claimed and still do
Your words were benign
I obviously disagreed

Even a tiny pebble
Cracks the windshield
When hurled at a high speed

The reminiscence

Sifting through memories
Reminds me of the time
I didn’t want my picture taken

You laughed and asked
Who’d want to see my face
You were capturing my soul

The greeting

Ten years had gone by
She said I still looked the same
I thanked her for the compliment
And later wondered, was it one?

Moving on

One might be inclined
To romanticize otherwise
But unlike a fairy tale
There are far more
Than one Cinderella
Who fit in those glass slippers