Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Déjà vu

—:{ To: Sajit+MMRHS }:—

_And to Raphael, for a reason_

She sensed his discomfort quite readily: he had travelled a bit but he didn’t like to see places. She put him at ease by handing him a little doll she’d made out of a toffee wrapper. The doll was an afterthought—deft fingers, and she rolled it between her fingertips. They exchanged pleasantries. Then again he fell silent.

‘It seems like the storm has broken land. Brrr...it’s cold.’

He smiled, and then he turned, ‘Do you remember Lin?’

‘Vaguely...but he was so oddly named. In fact, the name’s all I recall of him...was fair, though, very girlish, curved eyebrows. Shouldn't you know?— He spoke with an accent. He must’ve been raised thereabouts.’

‘Oh, I didn’t know him at all...spoke to him once or twice, that’s all...you know, when we force it open, it’s those odd things which get stuck that come back at once.’

‘Hmm... like a dreadful jingle. Stays all day and drives you crazy.’

‘Like monkeys we hop from place to place to meet up here. Quite...locally, that is.’

‘Well, I'm not a local—not yet!’

‘Me neither...but the joke’s on, innit?’

‘Come on inside...it’s chilly...Can I offer you something? Coffee perhaps? Well, might as well be best, we're still learning and looking aren't we.’

Her place was nice; there was no hint of someone struggling to make ends meet. I was accustomed to the idea; she had struggled so long for so little. It was bound to stay. Single bedroom apartment. I recalled her telling me there was a spare room bare. For an occasional visitor. Parents, perhaps... ah, the things you grow accustomed to. In my mind's eye...she was still the little woman who made a lot of noise for so little. Unacknowledged favours, unreturned promises.

The balcony opened into a spacious living room—spacious, but sparse, and an antiquated bookshelf that held a couple of hundred books of the driest kind, technical books. Chemistry books.

‘I haven't seen your form lately with the word. May I consign you to a few minutes of crystalline boredom all alone, or in the company of these deafmute creatures (she motioned the library) while I shed the leavings of a hectic workday spent in the company of dandified fossils? Will you—’

‘It's okay, go and change.’

Does it change things, do things ever change...? But anything, anything...to gain time, to really know if nothing has changed.

She vanished without waiting for an answer. A spouting kettle announced an end to waiting.

‘How did you get into all of...this?’

‘Ah, yes, I'm glad you asked. I’m with a team of transcriptionists. Unfortunately it's the best I have on offer. I mean, I'm practically jobless without it. School's on a bizarre rent-a-week sort of economising.’

‘Which means—?'

‘Oh, nothing. I edit textbooks—for want of a better word—which require some homely rephrasing, but mainly it’s about wholesale cutting. Indian students still aren’t game for that sort of detail, not in my subject, they still think it's petrified history. I got a lucky break... Pays some bills anyhow.’

Quite impressive; it wasn't a bad collection by any reckoning. It was astonishing even to find a bookshelf in this place and time, but she had always been a good reader and an exemplary teacher. His eyes rested on a long row of shiny white-covered journals, possibly IEEE publications. It touched a chord...but far removed, far more recent, than her time. At school he didn't even knew these journals existed... There were memories too, bitter ones, but unrelated to her or to school. He turned his gaze and found that she was amused. Her progression seemed to have been linear.

'Lucky break, you say...'

‘Well, it was an acquaintance. I was seeing him for a year or so...and when he left, he set me up as a token. Does that satisfy your pipe dream chutes, Pinocchio?'

‘You are in good shape.’

‘You're a tasty morsel yourself. How come so blessed? Strychnine?’

‘The very idea! Why so retrograde in 2007? Selective amnesia?'

‘Well, something like that. I was counting on my memory being true. Was I so badly off—’

‘No no no... but you trod on me little toe.’

‘Nosey parker...as if you cared!’

‘The heady fragrance. Of romance. You can tell.’

‘Ah...yes. The odour of glossies must still turn you on or what?’

‘...Takes you back a long way...in time. Those wreckages, those magnificent ruins.’

Stung—he suddenly shrouded up, bottled. Her remark was reflective and supremely detached and its point—not to be missed. He had quipped without knowing, but now he stood at the precipice. He had been thinking of her immense effort in the classroom, working up such a pitch that she literally steamed out of every pore and beads lined her upper lips and brows. This was what his ardour found irresistible. And yet, it made her so very homely, natural, and vulnerable. This was precisely what she obliterated, then and there, in that cool Bangalore living room. He was wondering about layers of warpaint, wondering how she’d gotten to this, but she'd taken it off a while before and spared him. But she'd dealt it out, and for a cringing split-second he found it oppressive, that she was dealing out the context and policing his mind. In the soaked roots adolescence stuck fast like a white dress, pale and dark, blotchy but saintly, covering all but revealing, shredding your nerves—

‘Oh, I am so sorry...but you do live nearby, should've given you a bad turn often.’

My! If only she knew, if only she knew how it wrings the life out of poor love!

‘You can be cruel.’

She smiled a broken smile which opened out quickly and just then he became aware of a curious panel hung on the door of what appeared to be her bedroom. Four square white blotches stuck 2x2 in an enormous A2 size frame. He froze. If only—

Once more, she leaves me with no hole to escape. And this time...well, I shall face up to it.

‘If you only knew, if you only knew.’

‘Come, we needn’t draw circles again, need we. I was young and you were tiny. That was all.’

‘Oh, was it? I still used to moon a lot, and I never had the courage to go back there...not until after I had had my degree...and then I guess I fooled around, and, truth be told, you were never there for many days on end, never even in the back of my mind. But last week, I went back.’

‘Oh, so you did manage to break your pretty little heart...after twenty years?’

I turned up and our eyes locked. She was unflinching; there was no emotion in those eyes. My own, glassy, yielding. In those depths I recalled a wild girl, frantic, staring down a pit soggy with the scent of fresh mud and first rain. The sky went out like light, and the clouds announced her tragedy in no uncertain terms: a strong breeze sent spikes of fright, she was cut to the core. She waited and waited, with quivering, tight-shut eyes—but there was no thunder.

She trembled and swayed. She was too afraid even to move. She was not even aware if the place was deserted or whether anybody was listening nearby.

It didn't rain. To this day she has no recollection of what happened that evening, or whether it had turned night after that. She knew nothing, felt nothing. But she was there. She had stayed.



[1400; 20 edits; inching close to final]

I have added the second dedication to one who so really deserves it for having saved it from a (still sticky) premature end in the reader's bit-bucket; for him I have deleted the references to the coffee and altered its ending somewhat, choosing instead to leave it on its head, enigmatic, open to everything, just like the terrified girl we leave on the shore of the sickening ditch.

As I said, I have made changes. To someone who is keeping track of this `Kindling' series, the changes might give a possible alternative setting for the original `Kindling' post. This is perhaps where the boy (now adult) meets girl again?

What I recall of the place is essentially driving these changes, as the person in question is, sadly, not available for comment. If not the corpse, then the ghost.


Dedicated originally to Mr S, as I have the journey to school entirely to thank for this...though he played no other part other than that of a very significant pillion rider, weighing in at a ton of kilos.

I don't know how he refuses to believe the fact that I have the ride to thank for this piece...and nothing else. In fact, this never occurred to me until much later...which somehow also supports his theory that 'I had it all with me.' It's just a way of seeing things differently. But I never had this story in my mind until I sat down to write.

I'm taking a big break, so this 'edit' should suffice for some more days.

[264]

3 comments:

Blue Eyed Boy said...

What more can an insignificant pillion rider can expect rather than an over whelming dedication of this sort? It would have happened and it might have been with you somewhere in some form. If that ride manifested as quality literature, nothing like that.

Memories ----- Dejavu - It is our private joy and treasure. And everyone's memoirs are repertoire of epic. But alas, only a few can express, and hence you are my friend,

Love,

Sajit

Zeinab said...

@Blue-Eyes,
I completely failed to check back here...and so, missed your comment for 12 days.

Yes, it is our private treasure and our joy. But then, every joy is private, isn't it. When people are looking in, the feeling changes subtly, and we're suddenly aware of the world watching (even if it's one other person). You have, surreptitiously, illustrated my point in not going "public."

Everyone's memoir can be an epic...if the writer leaves some space for the reader to breathe, to find himself in it and be comfortable.

Never in my living wits would I describe you as an insignificant pillion rider...not even Ambrose (C.A.L., 199 cm) will dare do that!

EdmundoK_黎 said...

真是太猛了,請受小弟一拜Orz(>O<)..................................................