It feels as if I have passed through a rhythm. The vibrations linger on my eyelids for a while and I open my eyes. The fan above me is still, the brown blades gone black on the edges with dirt and cigarette smoke. Like motes of dust floating in a sunbeam through an open window, the notes of a song make their way to me. The paint has faded from the walls; no one has lived here for a long time. I realize where I am and try hard not to crumble. Before she appears in my sight, her fragrance appears all around me; warding off the stench of decaying years.
“Damn Cal”, she says, “I thought you’d sleep the whole evening.”
I look at her through a misty consciousness. “How long has it been?” I ask.
She seems not to have heard me, her hands join in a soft clap and she looks all around, beaming when her eyes come back on me. “This isn’t all that shabby”, she says.
The thought of not being able to feel it scares me and I move a cautious finger, carrying a strand from her forehead to the back of her ear.
“I’ve missed this texture”, I breathe out and my fingers move more; across her cheek and the tip of my finger brushes on her lips. With curious eyes and a kiss on my thumb, she gets up from the bed.
For a split second she seems to be lost, a vacant air of ache passes over her face then she gathers herself; as wonderfully as always. “C’mon Calvin, we have to move”, she says and walks away. I follow her into a nebulous path, her silhouette few steps from me, her body an unimaginable distance away. Softly I hum along with the song
‘And it’s not a cry you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light,
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah’
The path is made of noises, but if I try hard enough, I can make out the ones that make sense; the laughs, the sighs, the moans, the sobs and the unmistakable groan of parting. My clothes have changed and I step into an aura of beats. The powdery and coloured lights from the dance floor strike against the air and fall upon the floor in black shadows. The terrace is lonesome; she sits across a table with a cigarette burnt half in between her fingers. Her smile is easy and on her white dress black circles run around from the waist down.
“That took you long”, she huffs and passes me the smoke.
I take a long drag. The taste of her gloss is just a distant memory on the moist end of the stick. She takes my hand and presses the tip of her fingers against mine, she laughs and I see a white band in the sky burst into a million stars. I am beaten by the ragged edges of yearnings, the candle flickers inside the glass on the table, and in a room far away I lie next to her watching the light from two little Christmas lamps breaking on her skin, like moonlight on tranquil Atlantic waves.
She draws closer to me and my eyes close at the touch of her lips on my neck. My hands presses on the back of her head as her tongue plays on my skin and wrenches my heartbeats. I take off her shirt; her breath falls flowery and sporadic on my lips. The staccato sounds of the night move far away and the only sounds that exist is that of every particle in me shouting.
“Please let this be real” I whisper and part her lips with my tongue. I taste vodka and memories in her mouth and with our tongues dancing she straddles me. My fingers push hard on her waist and the fringes of her hair brush on my shoulders. She brings her mouth next to my ear and in turbulent desires of a drenched time, whispers; “Fuck me, Cal”. The dark almonds of her eyes sparkle and her face weighs heavy on me in a collective ache of unforgotten past. I look at her, I can’t say how much time passes us by and I wonder if love is something as warm as the light cascading down the curves of her body over my fingers or something as cold as the emptiness that lingers when that memory finds its way back to me, again and again, in dreams from an unfathomable distance away.
“Mira”, I exhale and her body slips away from my grasp; leaving a wet trail of tattered tunes of a violin in the humdrum of wakefulness from my eyes.
I stand at the door with my hand on the cold knob and close my eyes before giving in to that slight turn. The floor beneath my feet is cloaked in invisibility, all I see is a table with two chairs facing each other set alongside an open window. The afternoon comes pouring in and drenches the table with light.
I walk the paces and look outside sitting on the chair. There's a huge tree not too far away and some blue flowers shine intermittently from between the leafy branches. Those flowers hold every particle of my being and if it were not for that scent I could recognize in a room full of fragrances I never would have realized when she came and took her place across me. Something stops me from looking at her right away. My eyes linger over the sunlight, the windowsill and then I look at her. My chest has been hollow for long, so long that I can't recognize the feeling of my heart thumping mightily at the sight of her hair cascading down the sides of her face and I feel the texture on my fingertips when she tucks a vagabond strand behind her right ear. The tiny earring glints and her eyes reflect a longing I never knew existed when she looks at me.
"How long has it been?", she asks.
"A lifetime", I answer.
She blinks with a smile on her lips and then places her hands on the table. She looks at the light flowing over her fingers and something warm conceives in my heart.
"Would you believe it if I told you that I have missed you? ", she says looking back at me.
"No", I say.
She tilts her head back a little and moves her hair over on her right shoulder, leaving her neck bare as a starless sky and all my forgotten desires drip down that path of skin into the furrow of her collarbone.
"What are you thinking?"
"You can't imagine", I say without realizing.
She stretches her hand and places it over mine. I clasp it and wonder just how much a heart can break. Somewhere far away, it must be raining.
"Did you ever regret it? Falling in love? "
"No", I mumble, "Did you?"
"We wouldn't be here if I did", she sighs.
I look to my right and see nothing, I look to my left and see the blue flowers hiding behind leaves, I look at her and realize she's a thousand miles away.
"Is this even real?", I wonder.
She stays silent for a while and I crave for that empty space between her slightly parted lips.
"All that matters is that we're here, in this transitory place that changes shapes with the whims of my heart. This is the only place left where I can come to remember", she finally answers.
She stands and walks up to me, I turn my chair to face her. She clasps the edges of her dress with two fingers and the hem lifts a few inches. The ragged beating of my heart drops a few flowers on the ground and her breath on my face ignites the debris of love as she places herself on my lap and I feel her thighs pressing against mine.
"Did you miss me?", she exhales on my lips.
Time stops hovering around us and moments freeze in the air. There's no clock that exists and all the waters of all the oceans are forever bathing in moonlight. She takes my hand and places it between her breasts. Her lips twitch and a pain of years ago escapes from the corners of her eyes.
"Why is my heart beating so fast?", she asks in a broken voice and the sound hits me after a slight lapse, like in a conversion over a satellite phone.
"How could I ever forget you?", I whisper and find the taste of her mouth stained with the traces of love.
"Then don't ", she says. "Always remember. Remember that we loved once, no matter how we ended, love didn't. Love never does, memories never do, yearnings never will."
She stands and looks outside the window. Perhaps the light outside has gone awry but her body appears blurry on the edges. It reminds me of gazing at the night sky with eyes full of tears.
"Never forget the beautiful things", she says and fades away into nothingness, leaving behind a damp warmth in my chest and an exploding supernova in my veins.
That night under the zinc roof of the dining area Kafka sat with Sevak again. The overcast day had turned into a drizzling night, Vivah had left as the sun had begun to take its leave with a “Hope to see you again sailor” and Kafka took an evening stroll on the beach with pleasant remembrances of her voice and face. When he had reached the cottage six bags awaited him next to the wicker chair on the porch. He was pleased that those had finally been delivered and placed them one over the other next to the wall. Of the few things that was precious to him from the life he had left behind was his collection of books, books in which some way or the other had been incorporated into whatever it was that formed his being. In the six bags was the entire collection. The sight and smell of books was always a special thing for him, the idea of an unseen and untouched world that the covers contained was an overwhelming attraction that he could not help but lose himself into, something that even time with its perverse affliction of corroding a habit into nothingness had failed to have an effect on. He associated the passage of seasons with the books, of days turning into months and months into years and after years of filling his corpulence for stories that broke his heart over and over again, he associated it all to finding some semblance of sanity in a world that considered him half mad.
Looking back in time he would realize that the madness that gradually resulted in his drawing away from everything was not something that had been injected into him by the cruel hands of fate, but that it was always incipient inside him and all that was needed was a slow poisoning of the dreams he believed in with the farces of love and words spoken with utter conviction that broke apart into little pieces, like a glass that slipped from the table of illusions.
He developed an interest in wanting to learn music when he was twenty, it was more of a sudden inspiration that a gradual realisation that surfaced from the image of a girl he knew who closed her eyes and smiled when listening to some meticulously threaded music. Some months later, when they lay next to each other spent in the lethargy of orgasms, she asked him why it was the hapless violin that he chose amongst all the others, his reply was as honest as anything ever: “Well Mira, I was ten minutes late for the first class and all the guitars were already taken.” For many years he would imitate tunes, at times even go ahead and compose some new ones and all for that glitter in a pair of eyes, which, even when he couldn’t see in front of him he saw amongst the phosphene behind his eyelids. About half a decade later when that face and eyes had all but faded away from his reality and all that was left to burn his soul from time to time was the scent of her skin, the tunes from the violin would recreate those images of a time gone by to such an extent that the memories would soon begin to overflow from the cracks in his heart till he could feel the cloudburst of nostalgia ready to swallow him whole. There was some sweetness in it that he was never able to explain to anyone, in recalling that time of his life that was the most beautiful and whose memories would come to him in his days and nights filled with solitude; to recall those yesteryears when the dreariest of days looked like the most beautiful monsoon and a most explicit pain that he began to turn into his muse on looking at all those recollections scattered all over like leaves in an agonizing autumn.
And then there were the dreams, dreams that came to him and left his soul reverberating in the drumbeats of wistful yearnings. They weren’t always clearly sketched, at times they were like incomplete shadows, from within the gaps of which seeped out all his longings. The world was a place for things, for the mirages of everyday reality and in that world there was no place for a man whose heart pumped memories along with blood and no matter how much he tried to put on the facade of normality, it would all come crumbling down with the faintest sign of a love that was lost. It is important that we reconcile with our nature, for the fight that ensues between what we truly are and what we pretend to be is a corrosive one. It begins by eroding our clarity and spreads into us, before we even realize we begin to push away people for they can’t see the tumult inside us and we can’t see the consideration that they have; such is the dust storm that rises in the fight between selves. It was when Kafka realized that the mask of normality would no longer stick on his face and that in every silent moment that his burning soul allowed him, he saw once again those mesmerizing blue flowers floating around Mira’s feet, he knew that for him the real world had no place for he had long been incapable of creating new images that would stick on the palimpsest of his memory. All through the years spent in trying to forget he had through some twisted trick hardened the remembrances and they came washing on the shores of his consciousness in a mad torrent with the slightest change in the shade of the days.
Once back in his cottage after a few drinks of Rum with the old man, he opened one of the bags. Besides a few books he found the case of the violin and a small music system that connected to speakers. He took those out and arranged everything on the study table, and in a while a tune flowed out from the speakers. He exhaled a happy breath and smiled with the music and then sat on the bed looking around at the room, the numbers on the calendar stared back at him; black and silent. The window on the wall in front of him hid behind the white curtain, the books on the table and the ones in the bag reminded him of the truest sense of companionship that he had felt with them after losing one; in all those sedentary hours spent in the ill fated love stories of Fitzgerald, the afflicted human natures of Dostoevesky, the reflections of Sartre, the magic of Marquez, the twisted and beautiful world of Murakami. In trying to escape from the reality that was smothering him he had turned to books for there was nothing else that seemed as effective to him, and in the process he realized that more than escaping it had turned out to be about finding in stories a world he could understand better than his own, a host of characters he remembered and most importantly the books had made him feel that he was not alone, that it was okay to be broken and troubled; his lips twitched at the corners when from all those reflections and a U2 song that played on the speakers came again those unattainable blue flowers as he closed his eyes. Once again her words came back to him, “It was only a fantasy”, and all over again he stretched out trembling fingers in his mind to touch that yellow dress and trace his fingers down every inch of her body and round the black thread on her ankle.
His lips twitched but there wasn’t any pain, it was an emptiness that made his whole body light until it floated over the sea of nostalgia. It had happened many times before that he wouldn’t feel the stabs of pain in remembering things that were so far off that they seemed to have taken place in an entirely different universe, all there was the urge to let it wash him whole and knew he couldn’t stop it. The man suffering from nostalgia took his violin and stepped out of the cottage, the chaos soon succumbed to the stillness of the night damp with the traces of drizzle that had passed. He went and sat on the chair on the other side of the ground, under the yellow light that fell from the lamp and for a while gazed in the direction of the audible crash of the waves. Few clouds passed lethargically in the sky, being dragged by the subliminal wind and through the translucent membrane that covered his eyes he went back to a room that gave the smell of a time gone by. The paint on the right side of the bed broken in a chunk, on a bed covered with a fading sheet Mira sat next to him with her head on his shoulders and fingers grazing thoughtlessly on his right thigh. The smoke from the cigarette curled upwards before it broke on the blades of the fan above that whirled slowly in the late November, the fragrance of her hair and skin mingled with the particles of his being when she kissed his neck and with teasingly slow movements moved her hand from his chest down to his waking desire. He heard once again the deep note of her voice when she whispered her love in his ears and with her head back on his chest asked the eternal question for which he never had had the answer: “Why is your heart beating so fast?”
Things pass, images fade but questions remain. Kafka lifted up the violin, closed his eyes and softly played a tune that was an ode to a memory. He had not noticed earlier that how in the passage of ten days since Sevak had asked him to plant the almond tree, it had grown to almost his waist and that night when Kafka let his yearnings pass from his heart to his fingertips on the strings of the violin, there wasn’t anyone around to see when the leaves of the adolescent tree shivered for an instant and then gleamed lightly, changing colours from red to blue to white, while the music lasted.
What Vivah did was give voice to an echo of a thought that had occurred to her on the evening of her convocation. Born youngest to parents who were amongst the most prolific dentists in the city, the person she was the closet to was her elder brother who in turn loved her like a precious gift. While their parents kept busy in spreading 'Smiles.. By design' the siblings found in each other a friendship and affection that came with an ease. He shared with her his love for photographs and she cherished the digital flowers and sunsets, he talked to her and teased her as if she were still a child and when she grew petulant with that he became the right amount of serious and listened to her with interest about her aspirations of a life she had to prepare herself for. The final year of her college had just begun and she felt oddly dissociated in coming to a decision about telling her brother about a boy she had come to admire. When she finally did, instead of flying into a rage as she had half expected, he began to laugh and patted her head saying 'if only mom knew', at which she gave a desperate 'Shhh' and turned to ask him about his photography. She often noticed how her brother would spontaneously withdraw into himself and when she tried to find any sort of opening through which she could share the deepest of his solitary wanderings, she came across a shell devoid of the smallest of an entrance.
One late night when she was huddled on her bed copying notes in a register, he walked in and sat on the edge of her bed. She didn't say anything in the beginning but when not a word was spoken for quite some time she asked him if everything was alright. He turned to look at her with an expression she could not read but gave the marrow inside her bones a tiny jolt, his eyes were clouded with moistness and he looked as if he were suffering from a fever. She placed a palm on his forehead and found nothing unusual. "What happened?", she asked and following her voice he lay his head in her lap and began to cry, a deep but muffled cry. " What happened?",she asked again but no answer came, only the soft sound of his cries and the wetness of tears that were spilling through an overfilled cistern. She caressed his hair and let him be, when he finally stopped she asked him again if everything was alright, if he was alright. He kissed her forehead and smiled looking at her before he went back to his room.
The next morning when she woke and went to his room, she heard the music of Mogwai playing on the speakers that flowed out the unlocked door and there wasn't the tiniest sliver of sound that escaped her lips when she saw that her elder brother, her friend and confidante, her protector and affectionate spoiler, the photographer of flowers and sunsets had put to stop the incessant reel of his life with a noose of exit around his neck. Without her being aware of it something shifted inside her at the sight of her brother's feet dangling mid air, to an extent that she had no clear memory of how she stumbled through the stairs down to her breakfasting parents or of the next few days and weeks that followed in the stream of condoling relatives. When that reduced to a trickle, she adjusted herself to the new normalcy in which the absence of her brother wasn't something intransigent and went on with life with the feeling that one day he might come back into her room after his long trip away. Her mother took a sabbatical to cradle the lucidity of Vivah and stood beaming with her husband at the graduation ceremony in the August of next year. Vivah was happy and cheerful, as she had relentlessly tried to be during their grim days of convalescing and it was when she stood for a photograph with the parents did she realize, in a staggering instant of truth, that something was hugely amiss from the very air around her. A little while later when she was flitted away by her friends and her boyfriend asked her if she was still up for their plan of some 'booze and chill' later in the evening, she looked at him and for the first time saw on his face and in his eyes the unmistakable glow of vain happiness and the childishness with which he waited for post college reality. This irked her so much that the disenchantment of everything soulless emerged on her lips, 'No. Forget about it', she told him and went back home.
Vivah went to the terrace of her three storied house sat looking at the western horizon. The sun yet remained visible, the sunlight felt but not touched and she could not remember the last time she had sat gazing at the sky all by herself. It was something, she realised, to be away from the loquacious greetings and felt satisfied in the sentient solitude of the obscuring sun. She did not feel the time pass in any other way but with the change in the colors of the sky. When the sun had dipped and like her soul the horizon bled she let out a bereaved sigh and began to miss her brother. She thought of the laughter, she thought of the talks, she thought of the music they shared, she thought of the colors he liked and she thought of the unhappiness in him she had failed to know. That pained her, this implacable gap in her memory of him. Even when she asked her again and again what was it that made him take himself away from everything, she found no answer. In the distance some boys played football and she watched through the yellow dust of the city as a grand collaboration of orange and blue swirled together in ineffable patterns and she wondered what would happen if she could somehow pass through that slash in the ether. Would it be different? Would he be there? How strange it all was! 'So imperceptibly the earth spins', she mused, 'that it takes the loss of a deepest love to emote with the changing colors of twilight.' A single star appeared in the sky and at the unfathomable pathos of the entire universe having turned into, how to say it, 'a mighty stranger', she cried.
Nothing is forever, wrote Salman Rushdie, maybe unhappiness is the continuum through which a human life moves, and joy just a series of blips, of islands in the streams, or if not unhappiness, then at least melancholy.