People talking without speaking. People hearing without listening. Not exactly what Paul Simon had in mind, I pondered, as I watched them tap silently away at their phones. My gaze fell upon a pigeon as it skipped about on the glistening granite floor, putting to shame all norms of public safety and cleanliness. Look at the good side, I said to myself. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the rare silence for a bit, the air perfectly still. I was disturbed by an announcement in a while. I didn’t mind it. The sun was near the horizon now, saying its goodbyes for the day, a suffused orange forming a brilliant display in the cloudless blue canvas at the corner of my eye. If you live in a city, the airport’s a great place to catch the sunrise and the sunset. Landing strips are required to be oriented east-west, so from the passenger bay you can see the sun trace its red-gold arc across the sky. Of course, that’s if you’re not too busy tapping away on some black mirror come to life. I boarded soon after, my path obstructed by a fat man with a leather briefcase. He jolted me with the bag, and I cursed him under my breath, hoping to god I was spared the further good fortune of having his arm jab into my side at thirty six thousand feet. Gratefully, the man took his seat two rows down from mine. I had the middle seat in my row, and a cute girl was sitting by the window, a lone tendril hanging from the front of her face. I smiled as I prepared to sit down, but all I got from her was a cold stare. I sank into my seat, a little sore from her disinterest. I had soon settled into the familiar armrest armistice with the bespectacled middle-aged man to my left. Little else happened, till the flight soared into the air, the giant mechanical bird groaning shrilly under its burden of foreign flesh and metal. I looked out the window at its gigantic right wing, condemned to stay unflapped forever. Cotton candy clouds drifted past serenely like memories of an uneventful day.
A single cloud voyaged through the azure sky, high above a flock of crows soaring across in their familiar V-shaped formation. The Asopalav’s branches swayed gently in the February breeze. It is said that the tree possesses noise-absorbing qualities making it suitable for urban forest cover. Which makes it ideal for plantation in a state packed full of the noisiest people east of the Indus, I chuckled under my breath. A group of yellow wagtails pranced in the lawn across from my first floor balcony. I let out a puff of Milds smoke, adding the devil’s touch to the divine scene nature had created this fine morning. I had been up all night listening to “Sgt. Pepper” and watching reruns of “Seinfeld”. I lowered my glasses and rubbed my eyes furiously with rolled fists, trying to drive away sleep and the piercing memories of a special someone that had been.
She had not even bothered to meet in person. She had messaged me on WhatsApp, the little green symbol popping up on my screen, silent bearer of news of my destiny. “It doesn’t make sense anymore.” Followed by a list of arguments about different cities, lifestyles, family values, the works. She seemed to be over us even before she ended it. This had sparked off a self-evaluation exercise in my mind, lasting a few hours. A lady friend of mine once told me she strips down to her naked body from time to time, standing before a body-length mirror, scoring points for her looks under various “heads”. World-class inventory management. I did nothing that drastic, but had a long hard look at myself and concluded that I was all right with my average built, frizzy beard and uncombed hair. I mean I was no Paul Newman, but on the bell curve of Indian men, I was somewhere near the rim on the right side. I thought about my personality too. I didn’t emit alpha rays of goodliness, but neither did I cause people to clam up. Besides, I read my share of Dale Carnegie and Brian Tracy and I knew to look in the upstairs fridge when someone moved my cheese. I had only been good to her, and supported her, and God knows I had taken a lot of shit from her, so it all seemed like a puzzle within a riddle. I found my thoughts drifting back to the times we had spent together, clinging to the happy memories the way a frightened child clings to the pool railing.
We had sat in several semi-circular rows in a big classroom, some ninety of us. We might have looked like tiny marks etched on a mollusc’s shell, appearing by day and disappearing by night. There was a lot of talking and shouting, but through it all I could always catch a glimpse of her small, shapely head with hazel eyes, the sockets prominent as intaglio. Her walnut hair fell in short, gentle waves around her shoulders. She had a mole just above the corner of her upper lip not too far from the Monroe mark. The pale skin of her face turned a shy pink the first time our eyes met and the corners of her mouth turned up in unison, and just like that we knew. Soon, we got talking and it turned out we both liked spicy food (she did, I lied) and so it meant a year of getting plumper, slipping candy into my mouth after meals, when she wasn’t looking. Things moved along at a steady pace thereafter – we spent a couple of days together every week, talking and strolling and sharing. She bunked at my shelter from time to time, a little cavity in a gigantic monochrome lego set they had built for a college campus. We cuddled and kissed and felt that wicked tingling in our toes young lovers often do, but we never got around to more than that. Now I knew why. “I need to be fully sure I can trust you. I’m not ready yet. You understand, don’t you?”
“You understand, don’t you? I don’t feel anything anymore and I’m sure of it.” “You don’t know what you feel. You’re always confused about everything.” “No, I’m sure. I’ve thought it over for quite some time now.” It should have broken my heart to say those words to that pretty face, a face I had known intimately for six months now, a face I could recall every minute detail of when I closed my eyes. But it didn’t.
I like to think of myself as a gentleman, by which I mean I tend to like or dislike women based on the way they are from the chin up. That’s why I had liked her so much. She had deep brown eyes that lighted up when we talked about music, a joy we shared most wholeheartedly. She had flowing dark hair that she usually kept tied using one of those cheap rubber bands you can buy in bundles at the mall. A small stub nose that looked it would come right off, and a reassuring smile that calmed me in my tough moments, of which there had been plenty at work lately. She possessed an exquisite taste in colour – in all manner of clothing and accessories, right down to the hair band.
From where I was seated at work, I could only glimpse the side of her smooth neck on which a tiny dark mole stood out on her fair skin. Like a pinhole in a velvet drape. She had a habit of twirling her hair with both hands in turn, shifting her hair from side to side, giving me a glimpse of that tiny mole every now and then, a speck periodically reappearing in my line of sight. In fact, it was this protracted movement that distracted me so much, I just had to go talk to her, and that is how it all started. We spoke for a bit and realized we both liked donuts (she did, I lied) and so we went off twice every week around tea-time to the food court and shared a six pack. And so I learned about shells and rings and icing and got a little plumper, and we moved on to Chinese dine-in and soon to takeaway. Then, we started drinking together after work and one day she told me all about her ex and about how unfair he had been to her, and I consoled her making the most sympathetic face I could manage, and she gripped my hand tightly on the way back to her place in the cab. The first time we kissed it was pure electricity mostly because there was so much bottled-up sexual energy inside the both of us, and it quickly got to more than that. She had a roommate so we often made good creative use of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” or Madonna’s “Justify My Love”, but when it came down to mature talk about serious things, the relationship was lacking completely. Besides, even if we were to make special efforts to build a conversation, what held her interest was her friends, smartphones and Bollywood masala films and what I liked was books, politics and history. Talk about common ground.
For a while I tried to fool myself saying things would work out eventually, but I soon realised it was the stress of work I was taking out physically and I made up my mind to man up and tell her once and for all. Which I promptly did, but she brushed it off saying I was being hasty and immature and that we should take some time to think. And so, here I was, giving her the straight talk, hoping this would reach its logical conclusion without causing too much of a mess.
She took it quite badly though. “You’re selfish and arrogant, and I hope you learn your lesson someday”. “Look, don’t make this look harder than it is”, I was surprised to find myself react a little bitterly. I think it was because she had raised the volume a bit, causing a few heads to turn in the office cafeteria. She lowered her gaze and an ugly frown appeared on her face, a bead trickling down her left cheek. I placed my hand as gently as I could on her shoulder, but she quickly pushed it away.
A listless feeling crowded out the tension that had filled the air. I was reminded of the close of “A Farewell to Arms”. I should have been feeling something, anything, but the dam walls stood firm and unrelenting. I stood up and started for my cubicle, leaving behind a girl my age, alone at a cafeteria table, teary-eyed and broken. I stepped into the elevator, my mind filled with emptiness, my heart burdened with indifference.
“Ouch”. A quick sideways glance at the panel was enough to inform me we were on the thirteenth, ten floors down from the meeting room. That was all I could spare my concentration for, since the damn thing wouldn’t come off with its wicked front clasp. She giggled and I flashed an awkward smile. Thankfully, I succeeded and the wildness resumed. A whirl of wetness and softness and the short-lived rush of a dangerous liaison. Our bodies pressing and gliding against the cold steel, the low hum of the exhaust lending a sinister vibe to the lascivious currents pounding in our veins. My tongue worked its labyrinthine way through the crevices of her ears and neck, coming to a slow ecstatic halt at the mole on her cheek, just below her eye. I kissed and caressed the spot and drank from the unexplored depths of its beauty. Suddenly, with a clank and a bang the elevator crashed downward, throwing me out of the blissful rhythm my mind and body had been beating to.
Disjointed thoughts bounced up and down inside my head, as did my aching body, held stiff by the nylon sheath. I saw that we had landed, and not in the smoothest of fashions. The usual ruckus broke out as the dozens of restless bodies sought to break free of their aluminium cage. I took my orderly place in the ensuing pandemonium. Still in a daze, I collected my bag and walked unsurely toward the exit, trying hard to clear my mind for the meeting that could change my professional life. I stepped into the mist outside, my ears still ringing from all the climbing and the landing in the landscapes of memory and reverie.
Advait enjoys IMFL, hard-boiled fiction, Asian horror films and British stand-up comedy. This post was conceived during a nightlong affliction with the foremost.