Categorylong-lines

lifeless.

Appa was a rock. I have no idea how he was able to maintain composure. But he did. He maintained it from the moment he heard the news to the moment we were called in to identify Rohan’s body. He maintained it moving forward, too. Appa was a rock, he would not be broken.

Rohan was the sweetest boy, and he was growing up to be an amazing man. His nineteen year old body lay there in front of us and I felt weak in the knees. Last I saw him he was so full of life and energy. Seeing his lifeless body brought me to the floor and I wept with Amma. Nothing made sense. You hear people saying life is precious, and there is no better exemplification of that than seeing the lifeless body of a loved one. “Yes, this is Rohan,” Appa told the medical examiner. Amma and I were in no condition to talk. We were praying that somehow none of this was real. That somehow we would find ourselves at home and find Rohan walking through the door to join us for dinner. I could not eat for days.

The days seemed so slow. I could feel every minute that passed by and it felt like each minute hung around for just a little longer. Each hour for some longer more. I could only think of Rohan with all this extended time. Any other motion or action I did happened in my own periphery. I lost all focus. Appa, on the other hand, seemed calm. I saw him reading the paper in the morning. What does the news matter now, I wondered. The losses of the world were nothing compared to the loss of Rohan’s smile.

Appa took on most of the responsibility for arranging the funeral. The casket, the flowers, and all the decor were at Appa’s direction. I helped where I could, but only in periphery. How did Appa maintain his focus? How could he continue to function? To me the world seemed shaken to its core. How could he walk with such calm and stability?

I could barely sleep the night before the funeral. The morning was worse. We awake each day and it’s the knowledge of the next steps that affects our mindset. Some say the ritual of a funeral helps with closure, others say that it just adds pain. Those are the steps that lay ahead for me. It’s the oddest thing, preparing for a funeral. I just wanted to walk in as I was the day before. But I went through all the actions just the same. I showered, dried my hair, applied make up, and picked out a dress. All with hollow motion. My mind could only focus on Rohan’s absence. I stared at the dress for the longest time before putting it on.

“Seema, you are so strong,” people would say. I was so broken on the inside that I could no longer make sense of what strength meant. Was it appearance or emotion? Is there a difference between displaying strength and having it? Perhaps it was relative? People were comparing me to Amma who would only stop crying when it interfered with her breathing. I’m not sure which of one us was really stronger. I envied Appa’s calm demeanor as he greeted the guests.

Letting go is the hardest thing. But what of someone who is already gone? What of someone who can never return? Why is that so hard?

The viewing continued. Amma sat beside the casket, still crying. I had taken over greeting the guests for Appa. I didn’t want to stray too far from Rohan. I wanted to see him smile just one last time. I greeted friends and acquaintances, people I had not spoken to in years. It was both overwhelming and reassuring to see so many people. It was reassuring to know that Rohan mattered to so many.

I heard yelling from the other room. I wondered if some of Rohan’s friends were causing a ruckus. Or maybe some auntie had said or heard something offensive. The yelling continued and I ran to see for myself. It was Appa. Appa was up in arms about something.

“Who the hell brought these balloons?” Appa yelled. “Why are there fucking balloons at my son’s funeral?”

I approached him slowly. “Appa?” I said, holding his hands and looking into his eyes.

His hands were trembling. His face red. His breath exhausted. “Appa?” I repeated.

I felt weak in the knees again. Appa and I fell to the floor.

We wept, with some odd strength.

relief.

She wore her relief like a pair of bright shoes. I could almost sense her tense toes settling into her soles. Relieved. I could hear it in her breath, and in every word that followed; as if they were freed into the wind. A lightlessness that gives new life. A weight lifted off her soul. It solemnly intrigued me how seeing me for the last time could inspire in some one so much relief.

small talk.

I was amidst madness. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am all for madness. The madness that flings ideas far into the whirlwind and brings them back into delightfulness. The madness that sways me from side to side, where bodies move and dance to the tunes of Arabic music. I’m all for that madness. This madness was small talk at a party. Can’t really call this a party. I’ve been to parties and this ain’t no party. It’s a get together, really. I’m here as a favour to a friend. Small talk I cannot stand. Oh, the things we do for friendship.

Two men stand in front of me. Drinks in their hands. They’re talking about something or the other. All I can focus on is how the light reflects off of one glass on to the other and back; how slight motions of the glasses change the entire lighting in the room. The wonder of photons. That’s where my mind was. These men, in their ties and eight-piece suits, spoke about the dreadfulness of their jobs and about how they have to sprint to their cars in the parking lots when they get off the train coming home to suburbia. The reason you want to sprint to your car is so you can be of the first to head out of the lot. A casual stroll to your car could mean anywhere from half an hour to an hour of waiting in a car line. Oh, the dread.

I wondered where the conversation would go next. I wondered if these men had any dreams remaining in their souls. Perhaps over time the dreariness of their lives had slowly eroded the mechanisms in their minds and hearts that gave birth to dreams. Maybe they were just ashamed to share how impractical their dreams were. How they were chained to the routines of their lives. How they were now stuck upgrading sedans to minivans that would mostly sit rotting on their driveways. The rest of the time they would rot in the car line waiting to leave the lot.

I tried. I drifted my attention from the variations of the light rays in to the conversation at hand. I asked them what they wanted to do, you know, with their one wild and precious life. Mary Oliver would have been proud of me. But the question was lost on them. As if they were thrown into some foreign land the language of which they did not speak, scurrying to find their tickets home. One man finally spoke about trying to figure out some PowerPoint animations so he could impress his bosses at the next presentation. I drifted back to the photons. Did you know that if most photons had consciousness they would barely have time to even realize it? From the moment a photon emanates from its source it already reaches its destination. We’re talking fractions of a fraction of a second. This is the speed of light in action. Light from a flashlight barely gets to experience its own existence and yet is able to illuminate so much and guide us through forests. We only see where the light shines. Without these photons we are nothing. I’m glad I have human consciousness, though not in this moment. Not in front of these men talking about some whoop-ti-do and whoop-ti-dumb.

They’re talking about sports now. They argue with an invigorated sense of being. Back and forth they go, with the confidence of handsome politicians. Sadly, they’re both wrong and equally unconvincing. This must be some fucking ploy to edge my patience and make my mind numb. It was working. I’m sure this is the same conversation these men have each time they see each other. They’ve got it down pat. Their ability to repeat the same words over and over and yet exhibit facial expressions as if these thoughts were fresh was remarkable. I think they get off on it in some weird way. This is how they enjoy their lives. I, however, was ploying ploys of my own. I sunk into my heart’s desire and asked myself what it was that I really wanted to do. This would be an immense list of things, longer than all the ties in this house laid from end to end. But what did I really want to do in this moment?

So here’s the scene: With my right hand I would take the glass from the man to my left and splash the drink on the face of the man to my right. While they reeled from the shock of such an unimaginable incident, with my left hand I would take the glass from the man to my right and splash the contents on the face of the man to my left. Then I would give the glass that I’d taken from the man to my left to the man to my right, and vice versa. So that each man would not only end up with the contents of the glasses on their faces, but also the very glasses from which the contents came. Thus completing some circle of absurdity. By this point the others at the get together would have gathered around to watch the spectacle. I would then, with a supremely calm elegance never witnessed by anyone present here, say, “Gentlemen, this has been a rather life altering conversation, it really has. I would love to stay,” I would look at my watch in disappointment, “but I have an appointment to be at. Perhaps the next time you can get straight to pulling out my nails with a plier. Good day. Good day, everyone!” I would leave the house with a graceful gait that would mimic a model’s walk down the runway, making sure that everyone had the chance to experience my exit. The door would shut and drops of liquid would continue to fall from the faces of these men to the ground.

This is what I would rather do than stand through small talk. But I didn’t. Instead, I stood there swirling into the the blandness of the sentences spoken before me. I haven’t had a lick to drink, but I know I will wake up hungover tomorrow.

I didn’t follow the barest of my desires. Oh, the things we do for friendship.

steps.

I dozed off. This is not unusual, but this time I dozed off on the train. That isn’t unusual either. But this time I was carrying too many valuable things in my bag. The thought of losing the bag, the thought of having it stolen scared me. Sure it would suck to lose the material things: the laptop, the tablet, the e-reader, the camera, and all those things. That would have sucked, for sure. But much worse is the contents, the insides of the materials. The photographs I’d taken, the things I’d written stored off on the laptop. Losing that material would have been devastating. I can’t afford to doze off in public.

It was just a split second, too (give or take another split second). I’m not even sure if anyone even noticed. Except that I dropped the book I was reading. Well, at that point it was just the book I was holding. I had my finger stuck in between the pages as a bookmark. I dozed off and the book fell through. Maybe if I had a tighter grip on the book it would have survived the moment? The lightest of touches fall through the fastest. One split moment you sense what you think is everything and the next moment it’s all gone. Oddly enough, it was the very fall of the book that woke me up. Gravity pulls through in split seconds, too. Or maybe it was the thought of losing the book? Maybe it was the slip that sparked my senses, and I awoke before the book hit the ground? I don’t know for sure. Everything happened so fast.

I finally got where I was going: the steps of the New York Public Library. The library was closed but it was the steps that I wanted. Nothing too exciting. I just wanted to finish reading this book. Not just the book, I wanted the sense of motion in my periphery and the cool breeze. I wanted the sounds of people talking. I wanted to watch the footsteps of lovers as they passed by. I wanted the ants to climb from the steps onto my shins and weave through the hairy jungle. Okay, I didn’t want this, but it would happen either way. What I did want was the unfailing presence of the pigeons who would always come by but never say hello.

Some lady came across the pillar from behind me, she was panting as if a couple of lions – a married pair – had been chasing her.

“Where is the entrance?” she said. The worried expression on her face changed every second, as if every second a piece of the sky had fallen.

“It’s right here,” I said, pointing to the three large doors behind us. She disappeared from my view, only to return after a few seconds. “It’s closed now,” I continued, standing up this time and following her as she pointed to the closed doors. In my previous times on the these steps I’d hear tourists complain about the lack of knobs on the doors.

“No, it can’t be closed. I have a class here at 6:30.”

It was 6:48 at this point. She was late to a class in a building that had already closed a while ago. The universe wasn’t being kind to her today. She scrolled through her phone to show me the time and I noticed ‘Mid-Manhattan Library.’

“This isn’t the building you’re looking for,” I told her and we walked down a few steps, “See the orange and red flags there?” I pointed across the street, “That’s the building you want.”

She thanked me with a look of relief and hurried down the steps. The sky was no longer falling and she navigated her way through the fallen pieces to the other side of the road. Late for certain, but some how she found the spot she wanted.

I went back to reading and people watching. On the street I could see tourists with too many selfie sticks. I could see tourists asking each other for directions. It’s sometimes hard to tell the tourists apart in this city. The lack of a selfie stick is a good start. The lack of a camera, even better. But even then. It’s hard to tell the tourists apart in this city sometimes. I wondered how much time the lady would have lost had she asked one of these tourists for directions instead. Whether she would have gotten where she wanted at all. I was the one she picked today, the universe wasn’t all that unkind.

I went back to what I’d come for.
I went back to reading.
I dozed off.

she said.

“When ever is there time to stare at the sky,” she said. I could see the goosebumps forming on her skin as she said it. I could see the hair on her forearms rise. From her facial expression to the wrinkles in her smile, something in her changed when she said that sentence. As if in that moment she was the sentence itself.

after life, part five

Antje looked down at some sort of scale. “Fuckity fuck fuck,” she said, “we’re going to be short again. There isn’t enough.”

“Great, as if we weren’t in enough shit already,” Erich chimed in.

They were responsible for this farm. Thousands of cows with thousands of workers. Milking away. They literally stood in cow dung that came up to their ankles.

“Any chance we could fudge the numbers? “ Erich continued, “When was the last time we…”

“Fudge the numbers?” Antje interrupted, “Are you out of your mind? What if someone notices? What if an angel does an audit? Or worse, what if God is looking? Are you willing to take on that responsibility on behalf of all these people? We’ll all suffer for this.”

“We’ll suffer if we’re short, and we suffer if we lie. What are the odds?”

“I am not in the mood to play the odds. We’ve played the odds before and we have the scars to show for it.”

“We can try and recruit extra help.”

“Who will come here now? We don’t have the time to recruit people anyway.”

“Well, I spoke to the guys at the rooms not too long ago. They said they’d see what they could do.”

“Oh? Who did you speak to? I hope not to the Buddhists. There’s nothing more useless in hell than a Buddhist,” Anjte said with a slight smirk. The type of smirk that tried to balance itself between truth, humour and some sense of impending doom.

“No no. I spoke to almost everyone else, the Muslims, Christians, Hindus, atheists, agnostics. And a whole bunch more. I don’t know if any will come through.”

“Hmmm, but if they do we might be in good shape. Maybe.”

“Maybe.”

“But here we are now. And here we are still.”

“Still, it’s better than handling bees.”

“That it is,” Antje looked back down at the scale, “That it is.”

after life, part four

“Mariam is in heaven,” said the imam.

“In heaven?” asked Nabeeha.

“Yes, all children go to heaven. Well, most children go to heaven.”

“Why are we in hell? Shouldn’t there be judgement before hell? Aren’t we supposed to be in our graves?”

“Should? I don’t know what should happen. I can only tell you about what has happened, and about what is happening. There’s a lot you have to let go after death. You can’t depend on the things you’ve read, or the things you’ve been taught for that matter.”

“So, what is happening?” asked Saleem.

“You died and you came to hell. Your daughter went to heaven. As to why you are in hell? I don’t know. It’s always seemed arbitrary to me. Maybe you did something that didn’t please the Lord. Or maybe you were just ignored.”

The group heard a roaring thunder. Rain drops fell from above, never reaching the ground. They meshed into the fog, and it thickened. It became harder to breathe.

“Have we angered the Lord?” Nabeeha asked.

“We may have,” said the imam, “but this is normal fare.”

“What is it?”

“The rain you see above the fog, every drop of that is a prayer. A prayer God’s ignored or unanswered, which is most of them. Those prayers fuel this fog.”

“How can we see Mariam?” Nabeeha asked, coughing from the fog.

“How do we get to heaven?” asked Saleem.

The imam laughed, “Heaven? No, we aren’t going to heaven. But we are going to have to get to work.”

after life, part three

“I’m sorry this is all so sudden and jarring,” said the paramedic, “it’s a lot to take in. We’re going to take you out to meet Nabeeha now. I have to prep the room for the next person.”

The imam took Saleem by the hand and helped him off the bed. They kept walking and Saleem could not see an exit to the room. A few steps later a wall with a door appeared before them, as if the imam had willed the wall into being. The world outside seemed familiar, a lot like earth itself. Paved roads, but no cars. The trees and grass were present, too. But there was something different. It was hard to see and breathe. A constant warm fog lay over everything.

In the distance Nabeeha was examining a leaf on the ground. It lay there amongst the others, lifeless and void of colour. All the leaves on all the trees were the same, and so too the grass, lifeless.

“It’s true what they say,” the imam pointed out, “the grass is greener on the other side.” If anything hell was not void of humour.

Saleem started to rush toward Nabeeha.

“Don’t,” said the imam as the couple went into an embrace, “don’t do that.”

Nabeeha and Saleem felt a warmth between them, as one would would in an embrace like this. Body heats meshing in a hug. Skin touches skin enhancing emotions. But this embrace was unlike any other. Their warmth turned to a sharp pain, and they let go of each other. The punishment for embrace is pain, it’s the price you have to pay to be with a loved one in hell.

The imam caught up to the couple, “I’m sure the two of you have many questions.”

“Where’s Mariam?” they two said together.

after life, part two

Saleem woke up to a blurred daze. One not much different from before he had passed out. He felt strong glowing lights in a room that seemed like it would never end. He was on a bed, connected to a drip that you would see in any typical hospital along with a machine showing his heart beats. Two men sat in two chairs. One of them seemed familiar, like the paramedic in the ambulance. The other man was too hard to see, some things were still blurry.

“Are you okay, brother?” said the paramedic.

“What happened?” asked Saleem.

“You were in an accident.”

“An accident?” Saleem had almost forgotten, “An accident! Where’s Nabeeha, is she okay? Can I see her?”

“Yes, you can see her soon. She’s already awake.”

“Oh, thank God!”

“How are you feeling?”

“I feel warm, like I’m heating up. I think I’m feeling sick. Where are we?”

“In the entry room.”

“The entry room? What’s an entry room?”

“It’s where people from accidents like yours first come.”

“I don’t understand. Where’s Mariam?”

“Saleem, I need to know if you’re in the right state of mind before we can have this conversation,” the medic said, with a stern look on his face.

The second man in the room came closer to the bed. He wore a black kufi that sat upon his greying hair, but matched his thawb. He held a tasbeeh in his right hand, the full 99 beads. Saleem immediately thought that he was some imam, here to recite some blessings for his daughter in some attempt to console him.

“Oh God, this can’t be happening. Tell me she’s alive. Tell me that Mariam isn’t dead,” Saleem said in a manic panic while he rose to sit in his bed.

The paramedic held Saleem’s hand, an odd form of reassurance.

“Saleem, you’re all dead.”

“What? That doesn’t make any sense,” Saleem could feel his heart rate slowing.

“The warmth you’re feeling isn’t sickness, Saleem. You are in hell.”

“Wait, what?”

after life, part one

The first drops of rain started to drop on the windshield as Saleem started the wipers.

“Do we have to talk about this right now?” he said.

“Is this a bad time? Seeing as we’re both here, it seems a good time as any,” said Nabeeha, her eyebrow slightly raised. Nabeeha and Saleem had been married for three years. Their baby girl, Mariam, was snugly tucked in her car seat at the back. Both parents would sneak a glance from time to time during their car rides.

“I guess I’m not ready to talk about it yet.”

“Not ready? You know this eats away at me on the inside.”

“It’s not easy for me either. I’m afraid for what this means. For our future.”

“I’m not going anywhere. I want to make this very clear, I love you and I love Mariam, I’m not going anywhere.”

“Me too.”

There was a pause for a few beats, and both of them asked simultaneously, “Now what?”

“Hah. I don’t know,” said Saleem.

“That’s the thing, right. I don’t know either.”

They both turned back for a quick glance at Mariam. It didn’t last long. Their glance was interrupted by a horn sound that seemed to be coming closer and louder. A container truck came sliding at them sideways. The type of containers you see stacked on a huge ship, often carrying merchandise in the import/export process. The truck continued sliding, carrying the car with it, until it wedged the car in between a tree.

Nabeeha was unconscious, blood slowly flowing from her ear. There were no sounds of Mariam crying. Saleem maintained faint consciousness, a blur of realization. He fully intended to call out the names of his wife and daughter, but was unable.

Saleem felt the glowing ambulance and firetruck lights. He felt the commotion of the men outside. He felt the wheels of the stretcher used to carry him to the ambulance. He felt the ambulance wobbling on the road and the sirens streaming above. Then he too lost consciousness.

“Stay with us, buddy,” the paramedic said, “we’re almost at the hospital.”

hat lady

The wind caught the tip of her hat. The hat danced on her head for a mere second before flying off with the wind. The distance grew further and further between the hat and her outstretched arms. The look on her face was as if a part of her had died.

We are still not sure which part.

she loves me not

Dear Pavithri,

I hope all is good and well with you.

This letter is not to inform you that I love you. I do love you, but that is not what this letter is intended to inform you.

It has been a while since we last communicated and maybe you can blame my shyness or perhaps my utter laziness for that. After your last letter, a few years ago, I lay one night in bed thinking about you. I was wondering whether there was some chance that you also loved me. I mean, I never did tell you – excluding that sentence above – and I never did ask. It occurred to me to find a rose, or some type of flower that we find a lovelorn hero or heroine pluck petals off while sitting at a curb on some roadside. It sounds silly, but I wanted to count down “she loves me” and “she loves me not”s until there were no petals left. At least that is how I think it works.

Instead of a flower I used my pillow. It was full of feathers. I pulled out one feather, “she loves me”. And then another, “she loves me not”. So I went until there were no feathers left in the pillow cover. A feather mound had formed on the floor. The last feather was a “she loves me not”. There is still another pillow to go, I thought to myself at that moment. The feather mound grew and the last feather of the second pillow was also a “she loves me not”. Depressed, I went to the store to get more pillows. Oddly enough, it had never occurred to me that I could simply put the feathers back into the pillow cover.

I repeated the “she loves me” and “she loves me not”s with five more pillows. I thought the odds would be good enough with five pillows. It turned out that such was not the case. Each and every one of those pillows ended up with you not loving me. It was at that moment I realized that I could put the feathers back into the pillow covers. I found myself with seven pillows. Five pillows too many. You remember that ashram shala, the one Gupta-ji often volunteered at? I gave them the extra pillows. Every so often, very often, I still counted down “loves me” and “loves me not”s. You know, given the amount of feathers I counted, the odds of not ending up with you loving me is one in millions! And yet still, you loved me not.

I was fed up. I could barely sleep during the nights and it did not get any better during the days. I thought about seeing a psychiatrist but I figured it would be much cheaper to switch to foam pillows. I gave the remaining feather pillows to the ashram shala.

While I could no longer do any count downs, I still could not sleep well at night. So what to do, I thought one night – weeks after switching to the foam pillows. I started to tear out little bits of foam from within the pillow cover. With one bit “she loves me” and “she loves me not” with the other. And so bits of foam were now scattered over my floor. I tried to keep the bits all equally sized as possible, that was the best way of not cheating. Even with my honest attempts I always ended up with “she loves me not”. Depressed again, I put the bits back into the pillow covers and kept repeating the process. Einstein would say that I was insane, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. But mathematically the odds of you loving me were actually increasing. It was only a matter of time.

In the following days I started to realize that I was sleeping much better than before. I wondered and wondered what change could have caused this. All the last bits of foam were still “she loves me not”s. Then it struck me, it was the bits of foam in the pillow cover that gave me a good night’s sleep. As an entire piece the foam was not as comfortable. But once you turned the foam into bits sized like the ones I had, the pillow was extremely comfortable. So if nothing at least I had started to sleep well.

After a few months of resting very well during the nights I thought that perhaps I could start to sell pillows with foam bits. I had no previous experience in this business but I thought, “why not give it a shot?” What did I have to lose, no?

So I registered a business, got in touch with some factories and started to get these pillows made. Business was slow at first, but eventually it picked up. Most of the local bedding stores were ordering my pillows. I was making a good sum of money, so within a few months I left my day job. About a year or so into the whole thing I was considering branching out into different parts of the country. Business was good, but, you know, who talks about pillows?

I had started to talk to distributors across the country but the talks were very preliminary. Just over a cup of chai and some biscuits. Still, I was extremely excited. Knowing that other people were also sleeping well at night made my sleep even better. As I said earlier, what do I know about business? In all that rush and excitement, I had overlooked to actually own the rights to the “bits of foam pillow” idea. So what happened was that the largest bedding company in the country, the one with distribution channels all setup had started to make the foam bit pillows and already sell them! Imagine my shock when I saw these pillows in a store during a business trip.

Eventually even the local stores stopped ordering these pillows from me. I simply could not compete. So I had to close down the business. It broke my heart, but I can still sleep decently well on my pillow. Though some nights are harder than others. An idea is just an idea after all, much for the taking by anyone.

I am out of a job nowadays. I am reluctant to get into any type bedding business, of course. But also I have not been in practice with the skills of my previous day job for a while now. So I expect it will be a while until I secure something. That is how it goes, I suppose. It just happened to have happened. Though I cannot really complain, I made a tidy sum of money with just the pillows.

You had asked me in the last letter about what was going on with me. So this letter is actually to inform you of that.

Do tell me, what is going on with you?

Love,
Siddharth

imposter

I will wake up tomorrow in a room with a minimal setup: a bed, two baskets and an ironing board. The bed is great for sleeping at night, of course, but also doubles as a table or general sitting area during the waking hours. Of the baskets, one is for dirty clothes and the other for clean ones. The ironing board is for ironing clothes but will probably have small random items lying upon it from time to time. I will spend my time – hours, days and weeks, perhaps even months – learning a trade. Days and nights will be spent in practice. Have to make a living somehow.

I will learn to play the guitar, spending my day-night cycles practicing till my calluses build. I will then proceed to find a suitable location on the streets. I will set up shop – if you can call it that. A mat and a shawl will do the trick, along with the guitar, of course. Then I will strum away at the strings all my inner rhythms. The town’s people will pass by barely even noticing. I will be alert, noticing their footsteps, their patterns, their expressions and discussions. Eventually they will find a spot on the mat where their coins can rest. Odd at first, I will start to grow on them; they will learn to like me.

Weeks or months will pass by like this until one of the town’s people will start to listen closer. This person will come by repeatedly and observe me closely. One day this person will come with a crowd and yell, “You’re a fraud! You are nothing like the greats that have graced this art!” The crowd – many consisting of those that had started to like me – will chime in in agreement. Having been exposed, I will quickly pack my things into my bag and run as fast as I can. Back in my room, I will lock the door until the crowd (which may have followed me) disperses.

As soon as I can, I will buy a ticket to another town. I will wake up the next day in a room with a minimal setup. It will take me a few seconds before I realize that this is the same room that I went to sleep in the night before. But not the room I slept in the night before that. I will order a set of brass cups and balls along with a dark-brown wooden wand. I will spend hours practicing wand twirls and false transfers. I will buy a mirror so I can see myself perform. I will practice till I fool myself. Until even as I do the trick I am amazed at how it is done. Until I believe in the magic in my hands.

I will then proceed to find a suitable location on the streets. I will setup shop: a table to performs the cups and balls. I will call out to the children and show them some basic tricks. Seeing their joy, a greater crowd will develop. I will then begin the real show. I will perform to a rhythmic beat. Calculating each motion and action. The crowd will respond at all the right moments; they will laugh at all my jokes. Their gasps and claps will flow throughout my performance. When I reveal the lemons and oranges beneath the cups at the end of the show, a wave of silence will strike for a few seconds. Awe and applause will follow. I will send my hat into the crowd for collections. It will be filled to the rim.

Weeks and months will pass by like this. One day, one of the town’s people will scratch their head. “You are an imposter! You are nothing like the great magicians!” the crowd will yell. Having been exposed, I will quickly pack my things into my bag, pick up my table and run as fast as I can. Back in my room, I will lock the door until the crowd disperses. And as soon as I can, I will buy a ticket to another town.

The next morning in the shower, like most mornings, I will transfer into a mode of thought. Where motions and actions dissolve into nothingness and thought is all that remains. I will contemplate upon life: the purpose and the pretenses; the big bang origins and the moments after death; the nothingness of life and the everythingness of living. I will try and make sense of things and be left cold. Then it will hit me. Life is not a dream. Life is just an ongoing story, my story and your story; all our stories intertwined. I’m living mine a town and trade at a time. I will step out of the shower regaining my motions and actions and retaining my thought. I will seek out another trade. Theatre or plumbing, perhaps.

Truth is that I’m a hopeless romantic. I will do this until I have exhausted the combinations of towns and trades I desire. I will skip towns and switch trades until there is nothing left – until there is nothing. I can hear their footsteps. And I can see them now. The town’s people, they are tearing up my pamphlets and booklets as they walk towards me. Probably because I stressed the no-returns policy. They’re coming to tell me that I am not a real writer, and that I am nothing like the greats. I’m going to throw my laptop and portable printer in my bag and make a run for it.

I will wake up tomorrow in a room with a minimal setup, a room in another town.

bawra mann dekhne chala ek sapna

oh dear – pages from zackeria’s diary

Dear Diary,

I am guilty as charged. As I flip through these pages I notice that I do not ever call you dear. Which raises the question: are you, in fact, dear to me? If so, then what is it that makes you so? Maybe it’s just something people say without thinking too much about it. Like the people who give you a nod in the hallways and say ‘How are you?’ or ‘How’s it going?’, but keep on walking. What they really mean to say is ‘hey’ or ‘yo’, something to quickly recognize your presence as they walk by. Had they really meant the questions they asked, they would slow down or stop and wait for a response. It’s just something people say, dear. They don’t really mean it. So with the thousands of diaries around the world, with thousands of entries in hundreds of languages, how many mean the dear they call out to?

Perhaps we are all swept by the motions around us, barely pausing to think twice. Some barely pausing to think even once. And yet I think, and I think again every time I come to write here. But I do not call you dear, at least not in the greeting. What does this say about our relationship? It is largely one-way, isn’t it? You are like a sounding board where I hear the echoes of my words. And where you listen to the ink. A shelter for these words – a safety that is, at times, not afforded to them elsewhere. My mood and musings are often with you, and yet I barely know you.

I continually change and evolve with the passage of time, and you… you remain a constant. The binding is the same and the paper is the same. You have, however, lost that new book smell you used to carry. Like perfume that wears off after a while. That is a good thing. I am allergic to perfume. But I am worried, you will not last forever. You, like others, are bound by limits. And when those limits approach, I will simply have to get another diary, another book. But another dear? Or, perhaps, you are a collective? Volumes of a saga? Really, tell me, what are you? What is it that you want?

I would have thought that I had the upper hand in this relationship. But time after time it is I who gives of myself to you. You know me. Which, then, makes me wonder: am I dear to you?

Yours,
Zackeria Zaheer

west bound to kipling – pages from zackeria’s diary

The start is always the hardest part. That is probably why they invented alarm clocks and coffee. The alarm clocks get me out of bed but I maintain a zombie-like posture until I’ve had that first cup. It’s a ritual, sparked by an electronic gadget that automatically conceives a cup of coffee every morning at the same time. Like clockwork.

The second part is finding your way around. This isn’t all that easy but it’s assisted by the TTC. It’s a powerfully liberating concept: the ability to get from any one corner of the city to another on a single ticket. Of course, this may require traversing multiple subway lines, rapid transit trains, street cars and buses, but it’s possible. And it’s a beautiful thing.

Riding through the system doesn’t come without its quirks. I have an entire list of pet peeves. People complain about the “stand left, walk right” rule that some people just can’t seem to follow, but my complaints are based on the unwritten rules that no one seems to know.

What do you do the moment you get off an escalator? The wrong answer is stand around thinking about what your next move should be. The correct answer is you get the hell out of the way. See, the thing is that there are other people behind you, and while an escalator might look like a normal staircase, it moves on its own. So people can’t just stop on an escalator while you take all the time to decide your next steps. The escalator will eventually push the people behind you right into you. This inconveniences them more than it inconveniences you. So get out of the way immediately.

Another thing that bothers me is that lack of dignity with which people manoeuvre around trains. People will complain about letting people out before you try and get inside the subway car. Yes, we should do that. But also, once we’ve gotten inside can we move around with just a little grace? Instead, people race towards seats as if there were nuggets of gold on them. Like a gold rush. Calm down and relax. It’s not the end of the world if you fail to capture a seat. If you’re of the few who’s not rushing to find an empty seat, you’re pin-balled around by all the other moving parts. So, little old ladies who push people out of the way to get to a seat, chill out a little. I wasn’t going to take the seat anyway.

I appreciate that you are in a hurry, I really do. So when the chimes that indicate that the subway car doors are about to close start to sound, I understand why you run towards the doors. You don’t want to miss this train and have to wait for the next one. I get it. But let’s revisit the escalator rule, if you’re running towards the doors it’s likely that there are other people behind you that are also in the same hurry that you’re in. So don’t just pause once you get into the train. Do your celebratory pause after you get out of the way.

Quirks aside, do you know what happens when you fall asleep standing up? Your body relaxes and you start to fall towards the ground. Similar to how an unconscious person would fall. Your knees give out and start to bend as your upper body weight pushes you down. Unless you’re really out of it you don’t actually fall all the way down. Somewhere in the middle you start to wake up and resist gravity’s pull. I wouldn’t happen to know this otherwise, but it’s just another lesson you learn while riding the rocket.

The coffee machine was broken that day and I hadn’t had my morning starter cup. I was in a hurry, so stopping at Timmy’s wasn’t an option. I was past the subway rush and the RT was practically empty. I dozed off for the 15 minute ride to Kennedy. On a seat, no less. Kennedy wasn’t exactly packed but I didn’t feel like sitting down anyway, and there was plenty room to stand. I stood on the side where the doors stay shut, this way you get to lean on something and you’re not blocking anyone’s path. But you have to be careful when you start off at Kennedy, because at Warden you have to switch sides. The doors start opening from the opposite side.

Warden came and I made my switch. A couple of doors away two ladies were standing near the doors as well, they didn’t make the switch. A man stood on the opposite doors of the ladies. All with coffee cups in hand.

At the next stop the doors opened where the ladies were standing and they were getting in the way of incoming and outgoing commuters. The ladies stood their ground and continued standing at the doors. The man on the opposite side suggested that they move elsewhere, but they ignored him and continued chatting. A few more stops and still the same thing, the ladies were still at the doors and people were having to manoeuvre themselves around them.

The man on the other side persisted with advising the ladies to stand in a different location, but the ladies would have none of it. I heard a brief “mind your own business” bit even from a few doors away. I’m not exactly sure what words were exchanged but at the next stop one of the ladies got right up in the man’s face. Everyone else in the subway car was trying to ignore the show and were indeed trying to “mind their own business”.

The lady got progressively louder, as did the man. She was still right up in his face and he kept telling her to back off. Now it was her that was persistent. The man pushed the lady back with both his hands, separating her from the space around his face. In that very moment, in what seemed like an instant gut reaction, the lady threw her coffee on the man’s face.

The man, in what seemed like an instant gut reaction, pushed the lady against the doors and started choking her. It all happened so very fast. From where I was standing I couldn’t see clearly, but it seemed like there was kicking involved as well, from both parties. A few other men around the incident quickly started pull the man off the lady. We had almost approached the next stop and someone pressed the emergency yellow strip.

The doors opened and TTC personnel got involved.

“I’m going to press charges!!!” screamed the lady.

“So am I!” replied the man, “Bitch threw hot coffee in my face!”

The three of them walked away with the people in uniform and the train was on its way.

All of a sudden I wasn’t missing that cup of coffee anymore, not so much.

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