First showers had fallen after months of torpid heat. It was 9 in the morning on a weekend. She was surrounded by a few drivers and early joggers, tea-sellers and fruit – hawkers. The kid cried, uncomprehending. “Saw it from my own eyes: these eyes”…She was running with a bag tightly clutched under her arms, shouting, “I have nothing on me. I have nothing on me”… The lanky gardener ducked behind flowers clinging to the handles of his wooden trolley. Two men on a bike zipped through the wide-empty street. A pistol glinted for a moment, took shape and disappeared behind the shirt of the one riding pillion. “It was when he took out the pistol”… She ran and the kid was nowhere to be seen. “I have nothing on me” …“Since when did tulips begin to bloom in March?”… “It was when he took out the pistol”.
At Kivarli, under a yellow bulb outside the stone house, a boy runs. Behind him, a cracker explodes. There are no houses in the distance.
A bell hangs at the centre of the platform. As the train moves, a middle-aged mustachioed man sits upright on his desk. Behind him, dials with needles flicker, and red and yellow lights blink against the stillness of the night. Not half as many stars are seen from Delhi.
‘You speak of it as a small country. Go to Dhaka. You’d want to kiss the streets.’
It was his first day driving an auto in the city. He wore a checkered shirt and grey trousers exuding priceless, ordinary warmth that makes one direly long for the homeland in this deserted capital.
‘Jete padi kintu jabo na’
On the unpaved path up the water tank, sitting by a rock, I lit a joint. On a bench outside the canteen, a group of kids licked candies, throwing the wrappers around, restless to go somewhere, anywhere.
An elderly man spoke in the native tongue, ‘Dabba ma naakhi de.’
The kid replied, ‘Dabbo gyo aeni baen ne chodava’
It is sunny. Too hot for October in a little town off the western coast of Gujarat. Seems like June. There are small outgrowths around. Maize and cacti, mostly.
The coach attendant refuses the lone cigarette and asks for mava over the rattling sound of the goods train speeding outside. He’s from Bavangarh, he mentions without being asked.
At the boundary of a field in Beaver, a dog fed on a dead cow, half skeleton.
‘Pluck the blood: my words will echo thus, at the sunset, by the ivy, but to what purpose?’*
* from The Pastoral, Agha Shahid Ali
The sheet of the abominable dark clouds curtained the luminous, spotless sky with a ferocity that prepared the Sumarian soldier to wait for his final blow.
Lying on his haunches now with a bullet deposited right above his left knee, Nedvoi, crying blood as black as his skin was alarmed at how the pleasant evening back in the barracks had transformed into a ruthless demon in the forests just a mile away as darkness pervaded the sky, split open in a flash by the scathing strokes of light, every now and then. Nedvoi, made anxious more by the sudden and thunderous change in the weather than by the inflicted pain, made indecipherable cackling sounds from his jaw – which now hung loose peeled off its flesh, in a desperate measure just to move from that wretched place and position. He was not to realise that it was not the weather but the treacherous condition his mind and body were subjected to that made him accuse instead the former and fear it. Dragging his body now, with still an astonishing, striving strength he managed to scurry down a few feet and find shelter under a tropical, thick, wild Banyan. He was breathing heavily and with every breath he inhaled, he felt the catabolism within his bulky frame, like in a clock-tower machine start working, the wheels rolling, energy being yielded and everything stagnant being rejuvenated before being knocked out to a sudden pause – little molecules of energy busted awaiting another breath. At this point in time, Nedvoi didn’t bear any particular thought or even multiple ones of his past confusing him, weakening him. He knew that it’d be anytime then when he’d lose himself but still couldn’t think of devising a plan to somehow escape. He was betrayed by his mechanism, deprived of energy and he kept babbling while panting heavily, awaiting his final blow.
Currently, displaced extensively in space and time, his body lies in a small, dingy room of an apartment in the second and top floor of a building stocked between two others of same size, shape and colour; opposite a bustling street lined on either sides with boisterous fruit and vegetable sellers and their respective stalls. The rain lashes down in a sharp file clanking down on the tin roofs, in short rattling bursts. The traffic has been blocked and rendered a snail’s pace making one believe that life has suddenly made to boom in here in an instant and people, as if on a fierce command, are deliriously and cynically rushing to do what they have to do. Despite of all, the clamour of the small town of Irlington fails to permeate or even diffuse through the shut wooden door of the room beyond which the psyche of Nedvoi Nesunk lay.
Nothing, it seems, has moved in here for a long time. The green bulb clinging to the damp walls fails to even tell the colour of the chipped-off paint. Pieces of it hang in there, half suspended in the air, refusing to fall down. The fan dangling from the ceiling sways noiselessly. There is no ventilation except for a high window; a translucent glass pried half open; no perceptible sound except of a distant rain. There applies no contrivance of time to this room, not even the pernicious tik-tok of it in the back of the mind. Somebody is sitting upright on a wicker chair with eyes fuming, heart rigorously pumping blood and lungs clean of grime– a body of a seven year old girl, lying still, apart from the regular but slight twitching of the skin.
She suddenly jerks her head, conscious of a presence and starts talking, crying, apologizing, arguing, commanding and fearing a blue-eyed rabid, vicious animal staring her right in the face and in the end gives up, panting heavily awaiting her final blow.
In the stillness of the night, a knob turns to let a shadow glide over the walls. As droplets of water dribble down his coat, the man smiles watching his daughter fast asleep; smiles and reassures himself that she is quick recovering.
The road was blocked by an electric wire hung loosely over a treetop on one end and tied to a cone on the other. A bike was parked in the middle of it. There were two men standing atop the carriage, hooking bags of cement with an iron rod and jutting them on the ground. A couple of policemen directed the traffic. One talked on the phone walking the barren patch amid the colourful cacophony at the junction where masked faces and screened eyes from the bikes turned. The ones in cars looked everywhere but at the wreck at the early hour of a Monday trying to squeeze it across to another stoplight. Inside the truck turned on its flank with its wheels off, a few clothes still hung from the night before. The windscreen was intact; the front hinged like a door while being half hedged across the divider. On the other side, two wheels lay flicked around a narrow, golden black stream that trickled its course seeping through the cracks on the road. One side of the bus had been hollowed out and its windows fringed around the head of the truck like a splintered crown hovering over an immense void.
The day is always too short. It’s auburn hair – flowing wide and long, growing, floating – blinds you to dream with eyes open until it turns its head away; until you drown.
Walk away. Walk over the yellow leaves, scattered, staring from the brown encrusted soil below. Faces veiled will reveal themselves. Twigs stoop low, scratching the knees. The lamps outside the fourteen ash- coloured pillars of the house burst. Bright, yellow shards of light fly past like bronze swords hurled, swiped clean and dry of Red ages ago. A light blue entails; scathing the flesh, swerving past the grass. You walk.
The shimmer on the ocean is usually momentary. It’s a sheet of steel glinting under the dark, full moon sky tonight; heaving loud sighs, bulging and falling against the wind, roaring and whistling all along. The village is ruined. It’s air was filled with your mysterious powers. They were of the past; no one dares to cross the wild pine forests and reach your side of the ocean now. You could’ve been long dead if they hadn’t known that you weren’t one to age. Words were spilled only when one was on the death bed. Those were the days they got to learn about you – the whole of the village stooping over a dying man’s bed, clinging to his last words. It was Suprus who started the tradition. His skin sagging with the burden of his long endured secret, head thrown back on the pillow, he wondered how that sight had led him to waste his entire life and spat it out. There is no fear in a dying man and thus, the ones who had the misfortune of witnessing one of your spells waited for that moment and grasped and held on to it until they could let themselves free. You could have made the odd ones out by just looking at them. They walked with their feet shuffling too close, their bodies stinking, their heads muddled and faces contorted. Some said you made them mad so they cannot be taken seriously. Some totally disbelieved in your presence but all of them were united by fear. More than a hundred years ago, Suprus saw you scraping a hole in a lone tree by the ocean with your bare hands and teeth. He took you for a lunatic at first – like they all did – but when he walked over and by the time he reached, the hole was complete and then he saw your face, before running frantically for his life.
The Queen saw you again only nine years ago. She was there to accept you. Waiting for you in the forests she spent her nights hoping for just a glimpse of her child. When the rumours swelled and stank in the fields, her heart bloated and rosined. You never showed up from your hole in the tree. Months passed. She had just walked over before you emerged from the sea. Clouds of smoke formed on the utterance of your name were to last longer than her life and they slithered out into the night cradling her soul. She had not known all there was to know. You started a fire and started flattening your soles over it; uneven from birth.
Tonight, the village was ruined. Tonight, the lamps outside the fourteen pillars of the house burst. Miles and miles away, you can almost see the twelve busts they erected of you over the palace exploding one by one. The one in Red doesn’t. Your tree, your house, is flung far away by the storm. The waves of the oceans all over the universe are made to rise and swirl, higher and higher, until they can no longer penetrate the skies above but fall down with a splash wreaking havoc. Cassiopeia flies away on her chair; its rusted legs falling down in fragments placidly. There is enough Time. There is always enough time.
Far north, you imagine Theseus, the Redeemer, seeping into the middle of the ocean and burying himself forever. What he had been like, you wonder. Was he bull or man? Could he have been possibly a bull with the face of a man? Or was he like you?
What will you do now, Asterion?
Where will you go?
See also: The House of Asterion by Jorge Louis Borges
Grey clouds with a sputter of faint light beyond cracks float steadily on ashen water. Shining and opaque. A rectangular depthless coast lines the flat fields, widening to a darker horizon. An interplay of lights ensues an onyx sky weighing down.
Beneath, a heavily wrinkled palm spreads out.
An eye, grey, half-buried in endless crinkly folds bears down on the alleys of the crumbling desert. To shut its dusty hardcover rowed with sounds and lies. Put to dust the bare twigs and limbs parading the final order of a vanishing world.
They return to the park in the evening. Dirty, pale, scurry-eyed, claws digging into mud, heads thrown back, limbs arabesque, someone gasps across pale fires gyrating atop metallic poles in the thick of the night. The dirt is as thick as the fog. The winter chimes in the bones pricking out and the animals get butchered in the stables in their own piss and froth. At the junction of the alleys choked with overflowing drains and stink and wrapper, a few men stagger drunk, screaming obscenities. The pitch is no feat at night. Wails jump no meridian.
You cannot encapsulate oriental dungeons or palatial cubicles through windows that open to the street. The street spouts gourds of spirit that rise from its holes. The wind twists gargoyles to dust under cold embers of the night. A sheet of shadows flutters and descends on withered trees and decrepit bodies rotting in files.
Bury the stone. Scratch the rock. Hack the night and let its igneous molt flow.
Slapped spread-eagle upon this,
the shapes of things our thoughts are;
and we, alight on wind,
drip no color of our own.
You take a piece of bare, sterile land, and you roll some big hollow stones on to it. Inside those stones, smells are held captive, smells which are heavier than air. Now and then you throw them out of the window into the streets and they stay there until the winds tear them apart. In bright weather, noises come in at one end of the town and go out at the other, after going through all the walls; at other times, they go round and round between these stones which are baked by the sun and split by the frost.
– Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea.