I was re-reading and chuckling over some of my old scribbling when I came across this short story I wrote two years ago on May 1, 2008.
It was a dull Thursday and terribly hot when I wrote it. Kindly excuse any lameness that you might find in the story.
She sat at the doorstep, a wrinkled mass of flesh and bones. On her hand was a ceramic bowl – cracked at the edge. In it were bunches of grapes. She put one into her mouth, chewed and spat out the seeds. One by one the little purple marbles went into that destructive, shriveled, pink hole to be crushed and swallowed – the very core, the essence, the seed – spat out.
A young male voice called from inside
She lifted her head, slowly, languorously as if waking from a hundred year old sleep. Leaving the ceramic bowl on the steps, she went inside.
I watched this scene of everydayness from where I sat on the roof. My tiny heart went out to those helpless bunches of grapes waiting to be crushed.
The roof was a comfortable place to sit; warmed up by the morning sun. I stretched myself upon it. My yellow fur is nicely warmed in the afternoon sun and my whiskers are almost shimmering with a silver sheen. I give my left paw a thorough cleaning. I licked away the tiny bits of hair, blood and dust on it until it was moist and pink with cleanliness.
The woman was back on the steps resuming the process of crushing each grape between her teeth. My elliptical pupils contracted until they became thin black lines across the glassy green disks. My tail twitched angrily. Adjusting my furry body, I leapt into space, blindly crashed onto the bowl, upset it and vanished into the public waste bin.
The woman yelled curses after me. I watched her wrinkled face contorted with fury. The cracked bowl lay empty on the dusty road and the grapes rolled off in all directions. She limped away inside muttering.
The putrid stench of the rotting waste inside the garbage bin and the warm sun on my back made me drowsy. Sinking upon the bursting plastic bags I dreamt…
I dreamt that I was a 22-year-old woman. The window in my room is high and small, barred diagonally. The panes were of translucent glass on which I stuck old film negatives so that the setting rays passing through the old films illuminated the room in a brownish glow. The walls turned amber as if brushed with a coating of rich honey. It was like being inside a gothic cathedral. The window was so high that if I looked out all I saw was the roof of the neighboring house and a neem tree in the distance.
I saw a cat crouching on the roof, a funny cross-eyed cat. I looked intently at it for so long that the barred window seemed superimposed on the cat. Its yellow fur gleamed golden and the bars in the foreground stood out in stark contrast.
The cat suddenly got up and leapt off.
I heard a loud clatter.
And I woke up.
I can’t decide when I can sleep or wake. Sometimes against my will I’m put to sleep. And when in the midst of a splendid dream I’m rudely awakened. It’s all because I’m not a living being, just a soulless object, a digital gadget.
I belong to a bearded guy with a gloomy face. Each day I hang helplessly from his thin scrawny neck. If the black strap breaks, I’ll fall and die – no I’ll be destroyed. I belong to that category of objects that don’t have souls. We don’t die, we are destroyed.
I hung on to the black strap in a dreamy sleep.
The bearded face was pressed against me, a bony finger groped, forcing my eyes open. I looked at the blurred landscape, but only briefly. I’m not allowed to look where I want to – the bony hands manipulated my eye lens and I was forced to stare at the deep, orange center of the flower. But that wasn’t enough for my bearded owner. He adjusts my eyes and moved me closer to the flower (I longed to look away) until my entire vision was filled with the orange petals.
With a click I memorized its smooth surface, the subtle difference in the shades and the red core deep inside.
This is my life, just stare and memorize whatever I am made to see - my sole purpose of existence.
I also have a bulb inside me so that I can see everything clearly in case the lighting was not good. How many plastered smiling faces have I memorized – such useless scenes that I have no wish to remember. Up, down, sideways – I’ve looked in everyway possible memorizing faithfully what my bearded boss wanted me to.
But after a point my capacity to retain what I saw ends, a point where I have memorized so much that I am simply not able to capture another fragment of information. When I’ve reached this point he opens me up. I can feel the cool air touching my insides and my memory is taken away.
Is this what it feels like to be dead?
To loose all conscience, to sleep a dreamless sleep?
Then I must have died a thousand deaths.
I’ve heard him talk about death and soul when he wasn’t talking about world matters. I’ve seen him with his friends sitting in low couches with cups of steaming brown liquid in their hands, talking, waving their hands, airy gestures, while in the background lay fat books and bundles of newspapers. I am forced to memorize their faces so many times!
Now it is the face of a longhaired girl that I had to capture. She stood next to a diagonally barred window decorated with strips of fading negatives. The light that fell on her face was soft and golden – I guess it was evening. My owner was talking to her in a distracted voice.
‘a little to the left…’
The girl obediently moved her head staring right into me. Then he pressed his eyes close to mine (how I loathed his oily face that left smudges on me). I captured her glowing cheeks and melancholy eyes.
‘Memory card’s full, damn!’ he growled.
For a moment I panicked, I wanted to see more, I didn’t want to die now, not so soon...there… on the table I saw a bunch of peacock feathers shimmering blue and green, out of the window I sensed the presence of living things, breathing, pulsating, beautiful, ephemeral things that will one day receive the touch of death. How I longed to see them! Things that weren’t dead like me, but oh, so gloriously alive!
But I heard the familiar scratchy noises.
I was opened up – I knew my conscience would be lost. And when I regained it, I’ll forget all that I saw- my mind would be blank – ready to store up fresh memories, to be taken out again… again and again.
Bony fingers reached into my depths.
I lived in a container. When she opened the lid, I woke up with a start from my slumber. I’m neither solid, liquid nor gaseous – just a yellow gooey mess. The container bore the label ‘Almond under-eye cream ‘Every night she opens the lid and takes a little bit of me to put it under her eyes. I found it funny yet felt important that I was part of her daily regime.
I can be at many places and at the same time be one single entity with a single thought.
I was there as a part of her until she washed me off. Then I melted and went down with the water. Every day I shrunk inside the container, while the parts of me traveled in bits …growing smaller and smaller until I was so insignificant that I no longer cared to observe or think.
She had switched off the light and sat in the semi darkness. I could feel her thin skin on which I was smeared.
Minuscule wrinkles had already appeared on it and soon they will get deeper and longer until she resembles the grape-eating old woman. Keeping away the half eaten plate of toasts she slept. While I, according to the promises on the container should begin my work of replenishing, rejuvenating the skin and reducing wrinkles and dark circles. I don’t know whether I could do it or not – all that matter to me is that I existed and in the dark I fell into a dreamy sleep.
Dreams are tunnels, black holes that distorts space and time. Mystifying, miasmic, magical and malevolent. Once, centuries ago I learnt how to distill them. I had a pale purple shawl then, covered with occult patterns, embroidered with yarns of spider-web dipped in opal dust off a dying moth’s wing. I cackled all night those days, screamed at the bats, stole snake-eggs and spent 235 years fashioning a teapot that can hold everything that escape through the little slits between sleep and wakefulness. I called them the ‘Things-that-Escape’.
But the chasm was too deep and the torrent was too strong that my poor teapot could barely gather a few luminous drops of those ‘Things-That-Escape’. I brew them over medium flame and wove the little wisps of smoke into grey gossamer pillows. Later when I heard that I am going to be driven out of the town, I scattered them over the sleeping townsfolk and escaped. They lived the rest of their lives in sapient peace.
At the break of dawn dreams condense into sticky bluish resin-like clumps and hang in the air. I collected them in old soda bottles and blocked them with silver marbles. The kids loved the ice cold lemonade with a subtle flavour or mint and ginger. They all grew into script writers and weather forecasters.
Later I got bored with it, this make-believe world, it was seeping into my carefully preserved mundane reality, I had to stop. One April night I slipped into a nightmare from which I woke up with a shudder, sweating and terrified.
She was writing yet another story. She was always writing stories but they stop half way because she can’t think of any conclusions. Yesterday her photographer friend clicked her snap as she stood on a high stool next to the window. The alarm bell rang. She dumped the bundle of half finished stories and the half eaten toast into the dustbin. Her eyes were sticky with the cream she put around it, mingled with the kohl from previous day. She still remembered a little bit of the dream she had the previous night, of eating grapes, cleaning her paws and then brewing tea inside a cracked, battered teapot.
She stepped out into the hot afternoon sun; the dusty road was empty except for some grapes strewn around.
In spite of the ban on plastics announced by the district collector, the corporate garbage bin near the road was overflowing with plastic bags filled with waste. She dumped her share of waste tied inside a plastic bag.
The cat gave a start as the bag landed in the bin. It yawned – a big mouthy yawn that swallowed half of its face, stretched and looked up at her. Eyes stared at crossed-eyes. Tail twitched and then relaxed. The cat meowed softly and jumped out. It was thirsty from the long slumber in the hot sun. She walked away. The grapes decayed under the hot sun, flies covered it. The cat was lapping up the slimy water in the open drain near the road. Later it sniffed at the rotting grapes and walked away.
Somewhere inside the white washed house the wrinkled grape-eater slept, dreaming of depressed cameras, cynical eye-creams, oily faced photographers, cross eyed cats and of a paranoid woman. She chuckled softly in her sleep.
"A mouth opens within another mouth
and within this mouth another mouth
and within this mouth another mouth
and so on, without an end
it is a sad perspective."
- Hans Arp (The Domestic Stones)