Refracted

You told me to fuck off, so I came here.

 

Two weeks ago I flipped a coin. Today it came out heads.

Maybe this is the hard part.

 

My hair is falling. Pulling the strands and coiling them around my finger in the shower, I think that if I wash my hair long enough this afternoon I won’t have any left.

 

By the fifth seven minute, I’ve had enough. There’s only so many times I can go up against anyone and lose in a day.
Tonight I carve a six into my thigh and hope it won’t happen again on a paper handed to me.

You’re lonely in the hills, you say. That when people from the lowlands call, you cry and cry and can’t stop.

There’s an emptiness in the chat that means you expect me to say something.
You cry all the time, you type.

So I ask, “from the loneliness?”

 

I always knew studying in the best law school in the country would be hard, I always knew I would cut everyday. I had the luxury of knowing this, it is a privilege.

If lawyers could sit in the hills like scientists, I wouldn’t cry at night.
I cry for wanting to be lonely.

Today you said we can’t help each other anymore, that there is no point of us.
Today, I say there will be one tomorrow.

You tell me to fuck off.

Ritwik was bronzed in the afternoon light, before the tube lights blinked on and pulled a blue evening behind the windows.

If I had my pastels I would draw him, who I would never be.

They forgot me again.
I retreat into my cave in these hills and forget that I actually do exist. Here in these walls my body is yet another thing that I’ve invented for myself, that my conversations with those who’ll have one are just simulations inside my head.

You can never know, with the constant clanging.

I cannot be sure of any merit I have because I alone didn’t have to prove it to be here, I cannot think of anything else but the walls of the academic block screaming at me, that I don’t deserve this, that I shouldn’t breathe unless I earn it, that I should not speak until I am allowed by those better than me.

 

I do not know what I am doing here, what I am working towards, why I walk into this class of the country’s sixty smartest of my age and still want to try, even if I finally don’t. (Its that my father has already paid so much-)

I cannot speak.

After four rounds of lost debates, I forget how.

I muster the courage to ask a question, and suddenly I can think of nothing but fog. Words come in broken spurts.

I fear being one of those we hear about, those pitiful names who leave this place because it was simply too hard. I hate them, and I grow sick to think that I might be one of them.

My father says its only been a month, that I don’t have to do well – just pass. That they have my back and they’ll support me – but my mother’s eyes are more tired with each time she video calls, and I see bruises behind a pixilated screen.

“Don’t come back,” she says, “there’s nothing left here.”

 

(I want to leave, everything.)

 

I study and read and work, yet the class has answers that I do not, I don’t think what we need to. I cannot understand the words, I cannot recognise the sounds.

 

dontspeakyoudontdeservetobreathe

 

LnD took me this year, but they won’t next year.
I wonder if they’ve figured out I am excellent at pretending to be better than I am. They’re some of the very smartest here, among the smartest. Surely, they have.
Each time I’ve spoken in committee, I was proved wrong.

 

 

I like to think it’s not that I’m not trying.
Its just something I can’t convince myself of.

LnD sent two teams and both won the debate tournament. Grabbed best, speaker too.

I am scared that if I start to get real, I’ll find out that I am not.

 

(Annyeong, he said last October, and soon it will be October again.

All he has left is his voice to drown out mine and his long lidded eyes on sheets of drawing paper.)

while

It rains here, and when it doesn’t it threatens to.

Throwing away Old Things, I find your letter signed ‘You Know Who’. You apologize in two pages and full lines of ‘sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry’, that you missed me now that I was not there and all my boring talk of the one thing I loved.

In the last line you tell me not to tell Aditi, and somehow it has been raining for seven years because now I still have apologies and promises whispered into my ear, hiding, hiding, hiding away from Aditi.

You are no longer here and there are others, there are more of you taking and folding sorrys into envelopes, but Aditi is still here.

In the rain hitting the earth I couldn’t hear the voice in my head change to the voice of her, but now Aditi is going to Berkley and a ghost of her sits here – here open this flap behind my ear and you will find it.

 

 

The rain has stopped so I fold the creased sheet another time and leave it next to the bushes. Maybe someone will find it and take it.

They might even read it, but there’s no harm in it. There are no names but of the thing I loved, not of you who so loved me and not of me, who had forgotten loving you.

homecoming

There are things more important than a silly sadness that comes at night. Things more real than this.
Men cut through mountains and men move them. My aunt drives on the roads in Sikkim and my uncle here next to me says the mountains are soft and its cliffs will give way.

Men and Woman are real, so they talk at dawn how they will change the world.

My feet walks but I am not here.

I try weakly to collect these scrambled thoughts and memories, but I find nothing but the cold sun rising. I remind myself I am in Bangalore, that Sikkim is someplace else.

This once, we travel south.

The hills will fall, he says. The hills will fall when the seismic plates shift and no man can stop the earth from raining.

The dust spells out a language, but I do not understand it.
So none of us speak.

It is too quiet here.

The cold sun makes for cold walls at six-thirty, when you can only hear the rustling of the avocado tree and father’s footsteps drawing a picture for what he will be today.

The rain from last night comes from the metal tap and makes a loud splatter in the sink. The iron pipes are rusting and the ceiling is high. The houses here are old in Cook Town, the trees are even older and only the first of the many have started to die.
We don’t know how it will fall so my uncle parks the car further down the road.

There’s a red cut on my palm from two days after that. Only the jutting stone slabs on Davis road saw me fall, so I turn it into a party joke –
“ and I heard the perplexed auto driver gasp as I went down-”

Only Davis road saw me fall in the rain before I could panic.

I see the cut on my palm and red skin at the Investiture Ceremony, hidden to all who do not want to see, and think it is better than having cried. The small gash hurts and numbs too much with pain to want more, so I forgive myself for not pressing it. No leader with the badge I wear cries in these streets.

(No leader forgets the two streets he was to cross. No leader forgets the right turn onto Hutchins road. No leader forgets where he was. No leader forgets he was ever walking.

 

 

 

 

 

But they don’t need to know that I did.

 

In the wetness I could see everything-)

just another silly love song

I miss your voice in the still mornings.

There was a melancholy entwined with our arms and my dry lipstick rubbed off on your discoloured white cardigan.
I miss the way the weak gold of the morning shimmered through the slit in the curtains in the wisps of sandal incense.

Your voice sits in the thick green of the curtain cloth, and as you whispered I kept my eyes on the way nothing could breach it.

I cannot remember what your face looked like.
I remember you from the spots in the house, where the afternoon made the table a sullen brown, and how our feet shuffled noisily in the terrace. We needed jackets and soft blankets with our coffee mugs as we watched the sun slowly rise in the dampness.

I miss the comfort that came in the cold midnight.

There was a blue fog that never went, and I miss it as I miss your bleached hair and freckled skin, the curve of your eyes which my fingers know by heart.

(We made love in front of the gods as if we could and didn’t care for what they thought, they couldn’t be heard as we walked, background noise muffled and muted. Only the green of palm and vines on the buildings seemed alive, and shyly the yellow rose around the block in a happy film.)

We never had a car, but I remember the both of us sat in one. You were singing your heart out and your eyes were pressed when you hit the high note. We went nowhere but wherever you sang us to, the windows hazed and the blue paint silvered. Your hand was in mine but I felt nothing.

(I felt an ecstacy and a joy but even today all of it feels like you were a ghost, and I am holding onto wisps of nothing.)

I miss the old peach and white bed-cover we used to have, and how your mother hated it.

 

 

We were sad, but we were happy enough to put up with it, and now in this loneliness in the summer with all the sun for our skin to soak, you are not here, only the cold.

 

This summer is insipid.

 

You never left- you faded away as winter turned to spring and the mornings grew so bright it blinded me and I could not see you any further. You faded as the sun came and only the stars can speak of what we were.

 

 

The synthesizer hums behind us, somewhere in the calendar when we first met. You’re gone but the keys still play at the small of my back, a place that is still safe.
I miss December, but I know now that every December  will be our December with every new calendar I buy.

So for you I write love songs, but my voice breaks and the words die in the wetness on my cheeks-

 

 

I decide to pause the recording because it is half past midnight and this grief for tonight has been appeased enough.

(Tonight the moon will rise again.)

Cardboard boxes

My grandfather calls for dinner. My grandmother says he will get none, its only eight-
“Its eight o clock!”
“You have done nothing today, you slept the whole afternoon through and now you want to eat?”
“Well! Now do you see how your grandmother treats me?”

An Indonesian batik painting emerges from behind the worn sofa my mother and I move to the living room. It’s the third one in the house, caked in dust, its thin protective film of plastic torn.
“What will we do with all of these?”
It is a question for my grandmother to ask and for us to give no answer to.
My father has the answer, but he’s not in the country for the next week, so there is only silence today.

There is little my father does not share with his friends, and into this small box of the untold goes another truth.
So, he lies into the phone and says that he’s here in Kolkata on holiday, and yes, the family is here too. No, he’ll be back in Bangalore next week, sure Venky, they can meet up then.
He hides much from us and is who he really is with them, so when they aren’t told it cannot feel like this decision is a good one.

(They are people who excel in their fields, so secrets from them like this cannot be good, but we cannot suggest it.)

We set up new house with our old things, and with every new house I see these things are unfamiliar to me altogether.

It hasn’t been a month, but I already  associate a different anxiety to the roads that lead ‘home’. This time, it is shame. The city lights are beacons that tell me there is no time left, and that the box of truths is too full, its metal lid can’t sit without pressing down on it.

My grandfather helps himself to a second sweet after dinner, and after telling him off, my grandmother lets him. I think this is how it should be, not the constant quiet that lingers over food between my own parents.

(it is as it should be)

 

The flowers in my grandmother’s balcony bloom, and she can’t contain herself. She limps into the room and reverentially places the three small flowers before the framed pictures of her blue god.

 

 

 

 

I look at them and hate it.

8:45 pm

There’s a throbbing in my chest that doesn’t go away when I crawl and sit upright. I’ve been seeing things again, like the woman who was stood next to me a second ago. I know she was just the brown boxes and blue suitcases placed the wrong way in this light, but for fuck’s sake she was so real-

It’s not just her, it’s in the day throughout – when I flinch and swerve aside because there definitely was some rodent moving there but it was just rubble
It’s a good thing I’m normally by myself when I see them, but there’s some desolation in that.

The curtains billow, clapping against the metal beams of the window. For a few moments I stand before it and do nothing because it is the pigeons flapping furiously. I touch it and curse, because it was stupid. It was just the goddamn wind and I knew it. I shouldn’t have let a small panic uncurl.

There’s something in me that has never been turned ‘on’. I’m always in my own world, and sat in the taxi last week I was shamed for it, now that I am so close to adulthood.

I have always dismissed my mother when she says my father takes pleasure in shaming her, but this once there is some truth in her mania.
I can’t believe either of my parents or myself and I can’t trust anyone anything anyplace my mindfuckfuckfuck

I look out the narrow gap in the window and let the wind hit my face.

Maybe for these three minutes I do not have to be so scared.

The wind grows stronger and the loneliness abates a little.
The lights are out and the curtains are drawn in all the houses in the block. I feel insolent in braking their norm, but they can’t see me here.

I have to push against the pane to keep it open now, it wont be long before the rain comes.

Something hits my eye and I let go-
The window slams shut.

Rubbing my eye, I feel a pointlessness in having the door open.

I leave and the curtain falls back, unmoving and still as the rain roars.

Notes from class

i.
I draw pictures of people when they are least recognisable, when they wake in the dark and find themselves at my door in the night.

ii.
i do not remember when I abjured this devotion to the gods, but it must have been when learned to trust only what I see.

iii.
The tide crashes –
the growing roar of the waves is the only indication of where the sea begins.
No winds blow and no stars shine. The sea abrades rocks and memories, and I walk and walk and lose the sand behind me, to a horizon in dark water and dark night I cannot find.

iv.
I can see there is so much to do- so much i want to do, so much i want to see and learn and make my own.

Listening to the fan turn in the dim light, as though it were somewhere else and I, someone else. My stomach churns and thighs ache, muscles beneath my skin stretching behind my knees, pulling and pulling till I give up on sleep and settle for whatever the night brings.

I am stuck here and I can’t get out.

 

maybe I should stop drawing and writing and breathing, but i find that i keep at it in the hope that when I’m dead, someone will like it.