Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Perhaps one day I could replace the tiny blue piece of enamel that chipped off the edge of her cup when I dropped it. She never noticed that chipped edge, all the more reason for me to want to stick it back.
She was like the pure mountain air, clear and measured. I remember her buying white roses every Sunday evening when we went for our walk under the yellow street lights. The light that made our skins glow and eyes capacious. She cut the stems of the roses and placed them inside a jar full of sugary water on my table. Always on my table. Always that slow, careful stirring until the sugar crystals became translucent wisps and then disappeared into the water.
The distances we walked then! The routine walk to the library where were inhaled the scent of old books while our grey plastic shoes went tap..tap..tap on the wooden floor. We spoke in delightful whispers, read delirious passages to each other from the dog-eared copies of Virginia Woolf and Kundera, got drunk on Baudelaire and drank the ice cold water from the cooler outside. Cold water in white styrofoam cups - I remember the wafer-like texture of the cup on my lip. Sometimes we fished out a little paper cone full of peanuts we bought on the way and ate them secretly, hoping the librarian won't hear our crunches diffusing into the fragile papery air. She later (much later) told me that to her Woolf and Kundera will always be synonymous with our ‘patina days’ (as she called them) and that her memories smelt of old pages and roasted peanuts. Mine smelt of incompleteness, hunger and shabbiness.
On those cool windy nights we listened to Pal Pal Dil Ke Pas in her old Walkman. It was the era of ipods and mp3 but she refused to let go of the past, the bygone days of a distant childhood. So we lay on my bed side by side and listed to the squeaky, scratchy cassette. Our legs twined around the pillows and we ate forkfuls of Maggie noodles that I made with butter and fried onions. The bed always smelt of noodles and detergent.
The pink plastic bowl with white and green leaf prints left warm, round depressions on the mattress when we moved it around. We pressed our face on these hot little circles and giggled while the wind howled outside. The noodles would be over by then, but the bowl would still be warm. We experimented with prose - crude, infantile and haunting, scratched onto pristine foolscap papers.
Haunting. How they still haunt. Not the words, but the helplessness of those moist letters, the smell of wet ink and the minute perforations where the nib pierced the paper. Deeper into the night, when we experimented with other things, our bodies left petal-like imprints on those carefully written pages - crushing the Chelpark blue-black lines, smudging them with our soft laughs and impatient jostles.
She knew how much I loved noodles and gave me her share always. When the cassette became too squeaky we dismantled it with scissors and tweezers, cleaned the reel with aftershave and replaced it. It always worked. It always wailed. Every night I cried for things I couldn't comprehend.
Sometimes she told me stories of her childhood filled with cold winters spent dreaming beside roaring, rustling bonfires and falling in love with snow - it tastes like wet skies and prehistoric animal dreams, she said. Sometimes she asked me to stop staring at her and then smiled when I dropped my gaze. Sometimes she cried for me when I cruelly pushed her away and wrapped myself within my chaos. The chaos that ate me up cell by cell and then coughed me up - a mess of bile and despair. She said my eyes were like sacred stoups filled with immaculate awe and I laughed because I didn’t know what ‘stoup’ was and I didn’t care for her strange endearments. Later when I looked it up, something dropped inside my chest, releasing a haze of pale insects.
On the last day we went to the old church to see the painted ceiling and then parted forever.
Later a few brief meetings, briefer phone calls, and then, silence. Everything from that life has disappeared except for a sudden longing to stand in that unforgettable narrow windy balcony. From there I want to watch the dirty city glow in the evening sun, hold the blue chipped mug full of watery tea we used to make with condensed milk, water and tea bags and watch her chubby pink hand working the volume button on the Walkman. I shall then place that chipped piece of enamel on the mug, watch it heal itself and become whole once again, like her. I want that moment to stay as it is, to freeze that completeness forever.
Picture: Two girls among the sand dunes - Hermann Seeger