It’s like peeling wet jeans off your legs. You can’t do it standing anymore so you lie down on the floor and heave your thighs up and pull your pants down. It’s scraping off your butt and you can feel your panties sliding down with them. You aren’t in the mood to see your genitals so keep your panties back. The jeans now knot themselves up and about your ankles and you manage to extricate your legs back to your body. Dump the wet jeans in the bucket and get into the shower. Hot hot shower. Sigh and let your body soak its coldness in the steam. Put your face under the patter of scalding hot water and think of everything you want out of your life. All those disgusting little moments you made an ass of yourself in front of people you dress up for in the morning. Turn around slowly and watch clouds of steam rising up. Open your eyes to new promises and newer anxieties. The speech you made in your head about telling people to screw themselves and die isn’t worth it anymore. Nothing is. At the end of any bad day, you know you can always count on a hot shower to unhook yourself from yourself. And like the wet pair of jeans you dumped in the bucket, the bad days go there.
If stranger had a name, it would be the awkwardness that hung over our heads at lunch yesterday, the hope of seeing a familiar face, the desire to add an extra chair at our table. It would be the skillful way I avoid his eyes and hands. Every movement your feet makes in that hour is a calculation, every word; measured and uttered in thoughts before anywhere else. Three years ago, the table we sat at and the food we ate was enough to make me sigh in content all day. It’s a different sigh now. One that comes only after you drop me home. Letting go is a lot easier, now that the stranger between us has a name, a face and seems more sombre than us.
This is a story I love telling. I have fought with people just so I can tell this story my way simply because it is that funny. When I meet new people, I tell them this story and wait to see if they laugh. If they do, we become best friends. If they don’t, I sit quietly and judge them.
Many years ago, maybe not so many, because it is in color and not black & white in my head, a man and a woman were deeply in love. It was a happy love, undisturbed even by an ex wife who one day called our hero for a favour. The ex was a writer and needed help with selecting readings for her book launch. Our hero being the kind man he is agreed to meet her for coffee scheduled an hour before he was to meet our heroine, the girlfriend.
They met at famous coffee shop which we will call K. The ex who came with a couple of girls who are important to the story only because they are girls, decided to go somewhere quieter because K was noisy.
It is at this point, I must introduce a man who is responsible for all the giggles this story gave me. Outside K, a man named Abu helped park cars. He knew our hero quite well so when he went over to say hello to him, he witnessed the hero being ambushed by the ex and the girls. Hero couldn’t say hello to Abu because he was being hauled by the women half way across the road. An hour later, after the favor had been done, hero returns to K to meet girlfriend who has only just arrived. They were only just exchanging hellos when Abu steals the moment and appears on the scene and utters these words
“Maydam, aap nahi thi, maine saab ko hi bola lekin who kuch ladkiyon ke saath bhaga jaa raha hain, bhaga jaa raha hai”
(Madam, you weren’t here. When I tried to say hello to him, I saw him running off with some girls)
It is at this point that the hero’s face falls flat to the ground like meteors to earth. In a hurry he tries to explain what just happened before the face in front of him was going to balloon up into an even bigger balloon. After the last full stop to his story had been put, the heroine gathers all her face into her two eyebrows, raises them and heaves them down to her breasts and hisses “Fine, Fine!” jumps into an auto and leaves.
Our hero’s face by now is just a hole. It is difficult to say if the hole was because of the open mouth or it was how his face was going to look for the rest of his life. Nobody really cares what Abu did after this. I don’t know if he left soon after he had dropped the bomb or left after the hero’s monologue. All I know is the hero went inside, had chai and left.
On 4 December 2014, Silva wrote in his diary,
I cannot take this anymore. I feel inadequate when I am not around her. I feel poisoned when I imagine her bonding with somebody else, telling them the same stories she told me, laughing with them in that same obscene way she laughed with me. When she repeats her stories to them, I almost wish she is bored, going over the same details with undeserving people, pondering over characters we pondered over together, matching their curiosity with hers. I wish she feels uninspired to tell her stories after this. Such is my misery. I want her to forget her stories so nobody comes seeking them.
They haven’t earned her stories the way I have. I have worked really hard to be here and it breaks my heart to see that now, other people have the same knowledge of her that I do. They will all know now, the laugh in her eyes, the story behind her wounds, her careless moles I thought only I could touch. They will all know now how she moans when she is about to climax, how she digs her fingers into flesh, body and bone when she is aroused, how the shape of her back looks in maddening darkness.
I cannot tell her all this. Because she keeps her promise. When she is with me, I know she is with me, in body, soul and mind. It’s what happens after, I have no control over that, and maybe it’s good that I don’t. I don’t know if I can feel the same way I do now, if she was mine everyday and day after day. What would we say to each other? How will we have stories if we haven’t lived outside of one another, far away most days and really far away on some days?
I know I must seek other people and their stories if I want to keep her in my life. I am just scared. What if she feels nothing? What if she feels happy when I have sought them?
On 17 October, 2001, Silva wrote in his diary:
She didn’t tell me about Anaaz. She talked about her cat after we made love on the balcony and then she slept. I waited for an hour, her head on my chest, her hand on my right nipple. As I listened to her slow breathing, I lay awake thinking of all the ways I could broach this subject. What unsuspecting ankle related question could I have asked? Do you like silver anklets? Too unlike me. She knows I don’t do gifts. At least that’s what I told her. She told me when we met first at Saibaa’s coffee shop that she doesn’t like gifts – something about accepted forms of bribery, to which I had to shrug and say that I don’t do gifts.
I feel screwed. I don’t want to lose this woman to some goatee – tattoo bastard. He’s a chuth. I can say he doesn’t respect her enough. I tried hacking into her FB account to see if they’ve been chatting. She seems to have changed her password. It is not fairypumpkins anymore. And then I made mistake # 1 of the evening. Under the pretext of drinking water, I left her covered on the balcony, sneaked into her bag, found her phone and locked myself in the bathroom. As I went through all her Whats app conversations, I saw that she had deleted her chat with Anaaz. I couldn’t even locate the pictures. I was struggling on many levels. All these years I thought I was the cool one in relationships. I was never jealous with other women. They were. Always. Now along with having to deal with the fact that I am a jealous person, I also had to face the possibility of losing her.
Mistake # 2 was not putting the phone on silent. When it started ringing, I heard a loud banging on the bathroom door. She wanted to know what I was doing with her phone in the bathroom. I opened Plants vs Zombies and told her that I only took her phone to play something while on the toilet. She just smiled and wrenched her phone back.
I have gone from being cool to very uncool. I don’t think she’s going to call me anymore. She hurried through dinner and left early.
I need a better plan.
On 16 October, 2001, Silva wrote in his diary:
“I’m tired today. I must give up on love altogether. Every time I fall in love, I go a little mad. This time I have nothing left to give. I don’t have the energy to be jealous anymore. At least I wish I didn’t, but I do. I have a lot of energy for jealousy and none for love. It’s as if somebody left a cold dagger in my ankle and it is wrenching itself out, bit by bit. I feel the jealousy from my neck and I feel it more as it travels down to my ankle. I checked her phone today. She had sent a picture of her bare ankle to Anaaz. Another picture of her bare thighs and another with a red shawl partly revealing her bare brown shoulders. I died a million times with each picture I saw, while I measured the amount of nakedness he was devouring, his evil tongue smacking his lips, I felt a surge of madness taking over me.
Until that moment, I thought I had full authority over her nakedness. I didn’t care much about how she chose to cover it or uncover it. But he had seen now the tenderness in those arms that I slept on. He was probably jerking off to her shoulders right now. I wondered if they had done it yet. I wondered if she was going to tell me. I wondered how I was going to react when she told me for I was sure she would tell me. She wasn’t one to hide. We had agreed that this was going to be an open relationship. Now I was only thinking of my face and what it should look like when she told me. I punched my pillow and saw Anaaz’ horny bastard face in it. I went up to the mirror and started to practice my fake smile. She would know, the bitch. I still had to try. I decided to disarm her first with a low pitched, measured laugh, I narrowed my eyes as I looked into the brown buttons in the mirror and mimicked ‘ha ha ha ha’. I was overdoing it. Maybe if I cut back on one ha. Three ha’s should suffice. Three is always a good number. It suggests a laidbackness that can only come after making love.
Should I broach the topic after making love, when her head is on my chest and her hand on my right nipple? I rehearsed my laugh for 10 minutes and then looked into my face for signs of dishonesty. I was afraid of getting caught. I may have enjoyed the rehearsals a bit too much, like the smell of my fart.
Like prisoners, they line up one after the other waiting to enter space. Mind, body and soul. A thought, an image, a song, a movie scene and you feel the corners of your mind opening up to the clawing need of self pity. It’s 6 in the morning, you open your eyes to the yellowed darkness in your curtains. Gates open and close, school vans stop and honk, two-wheelers sustain their starting problems and you cringe. The alarm didn’t wake anybody up today. You wait for it to ring and turn if off. Last night’s thoughts crawl up under your thighs and mock the wetness in sheets, now they creep into your mind and the toying mirth in its blankness upsets you.
Thoughts become gestures, gestures become insults, insults become hot and burning tears. Rewind. You have to be properly upset, there should be more meanness in the enemies’ gestures. There should be more tears. How can you fashion a dramatic walk out on somebody without letting them know you are crying?
Fatal illnesses like cancer aren’t fun anymore. You have cancer, your friends come, cry, and then you die. Where are the bullies? The friends who become enemies on such mornings? Where is the evil in their villainous plans to ruin your life? Their actions aren’t knifing through your heart like you want them to. Try and harder. It’s 6:45 now. You have cried. The pointlessness in this exercise doesn’t bother its dramatics. As long as your face now is imitating the one in your imagination – sad, lonely and crying, it’s ok.
In the shower, steam seeps through your toes and you watch it rise up as your stories fall through all around you and vanish into the drain along with soap, dirt and hair. You feel new but it’s still not a new morning. You don’t want it to be, not yet. The pulling away from self pity can happen later, at a time when you have to think about work and life seriously. But now you just want to be left alone with the miserable liberties your mind takes with all the bad things that can happen to you. And they are rarely the very bad things that can happen to you in real life, like losing a limb, losing your job, not getting to go abroad to do that fabulous PhD. They are ridiculous, small and almost laughably petty: a friend choosing somebody else over you, them forgetting you and leaving you, them not remembering your birthdays. The fear becomes bigger along with more elaborate stories that you create, more details, more play on memories until you find somebody else, but the story is always the same, the fears are always the same, those of abandonment.
When you step out, you feel lighter because the day is starting to catch up and suddenly time is a real thing, like a problem, then you think about work and eventually the day becomes real.