It was late. I had a headache. I had been in a two-hour long traffic jam and all I wanted to do as I drove with An American Prayer (The Complete CD) playing on the stereo was to get home, watch mindless TV till it was time to take those pills, and curl under the sheets again. It was also cold. My fingers that held the wheel exploded into thick sausages and hunger fled my stomach. It was cold. Too cold to be standing in the dark and talking to the past. I could only brood on a distant, stress free future.
I think it was the voice of Jim Morrison talking about cocks and religion and disillusionment and stirring that forgotten gut that did it. I would make love to that dead skinny man if he only spoke to me through it all. Yes, I am sure it was because of him. He did it in the storm. Made an entirely impossible cosmic connection happen. The past and the present collided. Time stood still in a traffic jam. And that was the evening he called.
Yesterday, Nostalgia gave me a ring.
He sounded offended because I didn’t recognise his voice.
Do you remember, he asked, we broke a table in your house that day.
That night we never stopped, do you remember how many times you came? I knew every mole on your body.
Would you do it differently now?
Wizened, tired, filled with something worse than despair. Filled entirely with disinterestedness. Mathew Arnold having the last laugh while Eliot whimpered in the back, I struggled in the cold and tried to fill my voice with interest, an eagerness that was always a part of the past now.
Yes. I would not let the Pepsi stain my shirt.
O that, I lied, and laughed.
I had no idea what he spoke about.
And there was a time I thought I would not forget anything. Not a single moment would be lost from my mind. I had thought the pain would be etched on my skin, love carved cornily on the veins of my heart. And the pleasure he showed me, how could his face ever fade from my memories? But it had. All of it had gone. And it wasn’t replaced either. It wasn’t as if something had replaced the past. It just wasn’t there.
I simply had newer memories closer to the cold December evening. Another face cradling itself, spent and grateful, into the crook of my neck. That was the memory that burned my thighs now. But slowly now, even that was like a haze, a lavender dream in wakefulness.
So all I had was a fake laugh and a witch that flew on a broomstick inked on a chest that refused to increase its beat on hearing his voice no matter how much I tried.
It is a life-long battle to not stoop to fake. To have only honest relationships. To have only meaningful conversations even if they are silly. Even if they are trivia quizzes about each other that don’t mean anything. No, nothing at all. Even if we spent an hour on Skype and said nothing of importance ever. Only connect. And that was how it had to be. I wouldn’t do fake. I refused to. So I confessed.
I don’t remember.
You spilled Pepsi on my brown shirt on our first date, don’t you remember?
No. I know you wore brown, we both did. And you refused to French kiss till I asked you to. I remember that.
You were a wild, crazy one. The best I’ve had. Seriously. The more I think of it these days, the more I am convinced. What would you do differently?
Who me? I would run home and not stop or look back at that guy on the bike.
What? And not know fire?
I’ve been scalded and burnt in more ways since. Or maybe I’d have discovered a different fire, you know?
I saw myself being a mistress of a home thinking of refrigerators, messy kitchen counters, and school uniforms.
But the nausea and suffocation rose instantly. A constant companion to the painkillers I popped daily. My Christmas treats.
No, I resolved, no. I wouldn’t change anything. It was perfect.
It was, Nostalgia agreed. We were wild. You, really, were the best. In every way possible.
You know, it’s such a good thing to hear that. I am flattered.
Why? Isn’t anyone telling you that now? Why isn’t anyone telling you that?
I ask myself the same thing.
The winter descends upon Bangalore. Frosty.
I shall be called to testify in January.
Talking to the past, I see the future.
In the pause, my hyacinths wait to be inked.
“You gave me hyacinths a year ago. They called me the hyacinth girl.”
I love you, he had said with his blue eyes flowing wet.
I will keep him well, he had promised with his fingers clutching mine.
He had kissed my lips to seal that promise.
My own personal Tristan and Isolde gone bad.
And how I had wept mid-sex because I got the hyacinths, after all.
Only I hadn’t.
You are good for me. I love you. You make me laugh. I value having you in my life.
It’s not that I want praise particularly.
Reassurance. That is needed.
Especially when you loved a married man who let you down.
But I don’t definitely deserve to hear these labels.
Of that I am certain.
Just those labels that they wouldn’t even confront me with.
Psycho. Dysfunctional. Delusional.
Just those spiteful whispers in righteousness.
So hard to talk to. So quick to judge.
You know, I can never get her to see my viewpoint.
You know, I have tried to be patient.
You know, she cannot see beyond herself.
Drama, you know, always drama. She said that to you! What the fuck. I hope you told her off.
You have become a victim too, to her will, how tragic is that.
People are different, you know. You have to appreciate how people are different.
It was a commitment. Don’t commit if you cannot deliver. They, of the multiple marriages assert.
And up on the Mount of Olives, people continue to not cast stones.
I shall tell them off, I will.
I shall say, being erudite and righteous, myself, why not? I didn’t study all that literature for nothing you know.
“For I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going.”
And the Pharisees would only mumble, point at a picture on my Facebook wall, and titter.
In tolerance perhaps. In their understanding of all the world maybe.
They would say:
See? What does she know about feelings? My issues are so much bigger than hers will ever be. And yet, look at me. I do not question. I do not speak. I handle it so much better. I am so open and non-judgemental, see? See? What is the need to show how she feels on Facebook, dammit on a blog even. See?
Immature. Childish. Delusional. Pyscho.
Are you still there? I think I lost you for a bit. I was saying that I miss you. You were among the very best things to happen to me. When I look back now, I know that’s true. But now you have a lot of others saying this to you, I’m sure.
No. The world has changed since. We don’t say such things anymore. Anyway it’s not like you said this to me then either.
(And how I would have given my soul like Faust to hear it. Just once. Back then. Now it simply does not matter. It doesn’t really matter at all, yes. Like George Michael would croon in my ears then.)
That’s because I was scared.
You. It was all very intense. You were intense. You found me again.
Yes. You disappeared. It was almost a mental challenge. Like a detective show. I had to find you. You lied. You said you cheated.
So what number was I?
You were the second. For the longest time, you were the second.
Yes, I told you that, remember?
No. You told me something like 22. Remember?
Nostalgia attempts philosophy now and says: Memory is a strange thing. It plays such tricks.
Or rather you played such tricks. Why did you say you had cheated on me then if you hadn’t?
I don’t know. I was scared.
You are an idiot.
You realised that only now?
And that’s when the phone disconnected and the clouds descended to the ground. Grey and yellow. A sulphurous sting on my joints. The Gods are hardly ever kind. The gods, they don’t exist. And never mind what Jesus says. Anyway he lied. The truth shall set you free. He decreed. Lies. Tall tales for a cold night. The truth is what bound me. I could never testify. I can only sacrifice myself on the altar of that silence that is truth.
Nostalgia never dialled again.
The lament lay incomplete.
In the quiet, foggy night
The whispered labels won
And followed me into the house.