...and then

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

How does this one end

She opened up her email and there it was. A single question in the subject line, the rest of the email blank. "How does this one end?"

Anagha smiled and went offline. She got up, got herself some fruit, green tea and chocolate; she creamed her feet, put socks on, cleansed her face, moisturised it, tied her hair up and came back to her computer. It was going to be a long and adventurous night and she wanted to get all the mundane things out of her way.

How does this one end, she said aloud, before she began her writing. This one ends like every other one before this, she thought, with me putting out the shapely leg of my words in silk stockings for you to glimpse and come back to me, asking me how this one ends. You have a leg fetish and I am an exhibitionist. A velvet string binds us and that is how this ends. Or begins.

"This one ends with Suman running away. Can't you tell? She married the perfect man. And hated herself for it. She had a child with him and named him the perfect name. And in two years, she couldn't bear to be a mother to him. So she ran away, to another city, where she would work like a fiend, let her ruthlessness shine, where soon her liver would deteriorate and where she could make silent calls to that number in Bangalore, repeatedly, till a little child of three or four answered and lisped "hello". Then she'd listen to the voice with her heart filling up and growing heavy like a blanket soaking in water. Then she'd hang up and wring that blanket out dry so hard that the tears would envelop her cheeks, chin, lips, neck and the neckline of her cotton blouse. She'd let all her sorrow drain away, empty her heart out and go on for a few more weeks, light and airy till she needed the catharsis of this particular piece of sorrow. For other days, when she felt more self-pitying and less masochistic, she had other tricks. Like stalking online an old love, her only love, if you were to believe her.

"Does this sound familiar to you? Or do you think it's a bad ending? What is indeed a bad ending? Would you rather have Suman stay in that marriage, where she felt no conviction, where she felt compelled to stray because she justified it with lack of love from her perfect husband? That's possible too. Let's look at that tack and see where it takes us.

"So Suman stays back. She stays back in Bangalore, with her perfect husband, in her perfect suburban home with a child that is perfectly named. She plods on for the love of her son, going to work, excelling at it, making money and taking holidays at least twice a year, holidays that would she would invariably show off about. But inexorably, I think she'd be drawn to all the things a "lucky woman" in a "good marriage" was not allowed to be drawn to. She'd neglect her son ever so slightly because just one more drink with her friends was not going to harm him. She'd find gentle excuses to not spend time with her undemanding perfect husband. She'd fall in love on the side. I cannot but see her getting caught by the husband if she continued to live with him. And that would be disastrous, don't you think? Because for Suman, that she got caught would be far more painful than the fact that she cheated at all.

"Because Suman can cheat rather easily. Didn't you notice? She doesn't see it as cheating at all. Every time she finds another man attractive, she convinces herself that that doesn't change whatever love or loyalty she feels towards her husband. And if her heart's not in it, why should she not step out a bit, embrace the excitement of a new man, new attention, new love and then come back when it was done? It would keep everyone happy, is what Suman would think. What she doesn't see, however, is that every time she gives her heart to someone else, or her body, she's making it more and more difficult for her to go back to a man she doesn't love.

"Now, on the other hand, if her husband was the kind of man she was irrevocably, irredeemably tied to, then coming back would have been tremendously easy. Because the core of her heart, the core of her entire being would belong with him. In fact, I'd like to think, Suman wouldn't stray at all if her husband was the one she imagined in her head. And if she did stray, it would only be because she was in love with the idea of someone falling for her, someone loving her without truly knowing who she was deep down, someone idolising her and keeping her on a pedestal; where she was all that was dazzling and covet-able. Then, her straying wouldn't matter at all because the only man she ever loved was back home. And this was her werewolf phase, where blood and wild would call, she'd mutate, go out and make her gentle, loving kill and come back. And hope she never got caught.

"Is that a better ending for you? It's a painful, torturous ending. But an ending all the same. Now, my ending, where Suman, after having wreaked destruction on a perfectly placid life, ran away to another city to start life afresh and spend all her money on silent calls feels like redemption. Mine and hers. After a point, Suman wasn't part of my fingertips anymore, she just wrote her own story. After all of Suman's lying and cheating, this was the only thing she could do to redeem herself. If, at some point, guilt crept up on her tiny body before she died, this was the one thing she could use as armour. She could fashion this into the strongest armour she'd have ever worn because this was the metal of truth, the pure, untainted element of honesty in her strife-ridden life. That she was honest to herself, her son (whom she wished she would forget and hoped she never would,) that she was honest to the man who took her in when she needed to marry someone on the rebound. This was her act of pure, blazing white truth. With this she could live with any other lie, she could live with herself.

"What do you think? One day, I'll tell you about her son."

Anagha then hit send without editing or reading it again because she was sure self-loathing would take over and she'd never ever send it. With that, she started writing her next story, one that she would post only four weeks later, even if it killed her to sit on it. Because she enjoyed this game. She enjoyed blindfolding the man at the other end of this communication and touching him in places he didn't know she'd touch. She enjoyed tying him up in the cutting ropes of waiting while he wondered what she was doing with her words, with her time. She enjoyed not knowing his name and she enjoyed that he would wait, patiently or not, that he had no choice, till she wrote her next story. She enjoyed that he would never know that she wrote her next story the minute she got his email, that she yearned and craved for that question and if it didn't come, she was afraid all the words she had (and that's all she had) would cover her like magical scales and drown her in the water of her despair. She enjoyed that he would never know he held the strings in this game, that she would, for as long as it lasted, be played by that single line "How does this one end."


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Sunday, 23 September 2012


With the summer, you come. As irregular as my period, as sure as an unexpected pregnancy. Always you. Just when I think you've forgotten all about me; when I think I've forgotten all about you. How long will you stay this time? A week? A year? A promised lifetime that will surely be struck down by the cancer that we are?

But first, sit down, let's have a drink. You must be tired from looking for me. I am not easy to find, they say, being one of a kind and all. And yet you find me, every single time. Whether I am wed to one man or loving another; whether I move to the city by the sea or hide up in the mountains where the mist becomes my breath: my entire being hoping the fog, the hated cold and the river sounds hide me completely. Through all of these wondrous escapes, you find me.

Do I leave a trail like Hansel? One that's not just bread crumbs. What are my telltale signs? My famed belief in ESP or the fact that I send you a postcard from wherever I go, but without a return address and from at least two towns away? Is that how you find me?

You like my postcards, you said once. You liked my uneven, irregular, pretending-to-be old fashioned handwriting. It is old fashioned, you finally said, because I write in cursive. And you find that strange, that something so intrinsic about me is old fashioned. Did you miss, genius, that I send postcards? When was the last time you received one from someone other than me? I am old fashioned; I believe in loving forever, no matter how many times it takes to reach that forever, I love each of those people for the rest of my life, and theirs. Sometimes, even after because they're so much more dearer when they are dead. I believe in thank-you notes and paying a visit to ill friends and relatives. I believe in carrying flowers to someone's home if I am going there the first time. I believe in apologising if I've rudely interrupted someone. As I should now. I am sorry, you came all this way to tell me something, as always. What was it?

How do I know you've come all this way? Your shoes are clean, your fingernails freshly clipped and the first thing you reached for when I offered you a drink is beer. If you had just come past two neighborhoods your shoes would wear the film of dust of a short walk and you wouldn't have bothered with your finger nails because they wouldn't have been dirty in the first place. Ah, you still smile at my basic Holmesian deductions, I see. You know, I could make these silly assumptions all my life, sitting across the table, making a complete, but, you'll agree, pretty ass of myself just to see you smile the way you do. I can barely ever tell what that smile is like. All I know is it is the smile I expect to see every few years when I know I've forgotten about you and you have forgotten about me.

But I digress. And hijack your time. Why are you here?

"To hear you talk," you say? Well, your timing couldn't have been more perfect. I've been married three years now and I've had a lot of time to gather enough that I could talk to you about. Where do I begin, though? Shall I tell you the mundane, the everyday and inevitable? Like this little life growing in my body, swelling my body in ways I don't recognise. Let me tell you about that. Have you been around a pregnant woman since you left the last time, or ever, for that matter? They're far from anything remotely maternal, I tell you. Or maybe the way they are is what maternal is about? Growling, restless, demanding and ready hide at the smallest hint of danger. Or being called fat. We are happy most of the time, but boy, you've got to be inside our heads to know how much it takes to enjoy this without consistently reminding yourself that there's no going back. The baby's got to pop.

Oh you didn't notice? Here, let me show you. Place your palm right there and see if the little one will be friends with you. It needs to be -- I don't know if it's a boy or a girl, so "it" it shall be. I'd like it to be friends with you, after all you're probably going to appear at its fourth birthday and I am not going to be able to explain who you are. "Friend" would mean she'd leave you alone, and if I said my heart, she'd want to know why it was walking outside of my chest. That's an idea, huh? Why are you walking around outside my chest and disappearing for years together? Aren't you supposed to be right here, pumping blood into my life, helping me choose the crib and losing yourself to the darling blanket? Well, never mind the sentimentality. Feel the baby, feel how I want to hide you when I want to protect you from the world, tight and secure in my womb, not breathing yet living, safe and warm and liquid. That's what I want for you when I want to save you.

So, hear me talk. You're leaner this time, but you've always been thin. No, sinewy and yet trim, whipcord slim, not thing. No obvious muscles and yet unbounded strength when dragging me across the road to cross it or lifting boxes into the truck the time I left town because you said you needed space. And the telltale signs of your smoking have disappeared. I guess I should be happy for you that you've given up, except I am not. I liked stepping out with you for a cigarette. To watch the distance at which your feet were placed, to wave the smoke away from me as if it offended me, even as I blew my tobacco clouds at you. I hope you knew it's just that I didn't like my hair and clothes to smell of smoke. I am a lady, you know, and old fashioned at that. All this cooking for yourself is making you look taller than your tall. I have to really reach up, and look at the sun if I have to find the rich bark of your eyes. They're still the same, those eyes. Always promising, always lying, always full of love for me. And that is why I open my door for you every time you come. Your promises are like a drink of good whisky. I take my time over it, the flavours, the smoke, the colour, the gentle swirl of words that is water. And I get sufficiently drunk, the first of it going to between my legs, to my core, warming me up from there to the very tips of my toes and fingers. When I wake up in the morning, though, I am hungover, and your whisky promises are replaced by wooly-headed lies that you speak. A gentle, groggy untrue reminder of last night's grand plan-making.

But when you leave, and you always leave, in a day or two; or even a week, you always leave me with love in  your eyes. And that takes me through the next few years, I pack that in my baggage when I pack to hide, to run, taking out tiny bits of it like precious, expensive chocolate that I am greedy for, an avarice of the soul but only eat bit by excruciating bit so it lasts me till... I don't know when. Because I never know when you'll turn up at my door, freshly clipped nails, clean shoes and a heart full of dross that you collected looking for me, just as we have almost forgotten about each other.


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