Pine trees on my fingernails grow,
Pepper vines twist into my anklets,
From the tropics, from the snow.
Smooth stones hide in my jacket.
Dirt coats my soles
But walk I will this length and breadth.
The earth, my playground, for me to grow.
In the month of April, I was involved in a minor accident, that resulted in a knee injury and a badly cracked phone screen. It was an oddly proud moment for me.
I see you going, “Huh?” Allow me to explain.
Growing up, I didn’t fall down much. I had one big fall in ’92 (hurt my nose, shin, and foot), and another big fall in ’07 (fractured my elbow). Smaller, forgettable injuries may have taken place, who knows? This injury-free childhood and adolescence is a result of a life lived with extreme caution. When you live over-cautiously, you rarely make mistakes. Nothing, of course, is a bigger mistake than not ever making mistakes.
By this, I mean actions you perform out of your own volition. There were plenty of things that happened to me that I see as mistakes, but ones that I always found someone else to pin the blame on. There’s only so much anger and resentment you can live with before you start suspecting if you’ve developed a victim complex or if you’re simply so unlucky that you’re always at the wrong place at the wrong time. Both of these explanations were unacceptable to me. I had reached my threshold.
The accident I mentioned happened on a trip I took. I’ve written in multiple birthday-resolution posts about how I pine to take trips but life does not allow me to. Taking off on my own was a big deal for me. Getting injured, therefore, was an indication of reduced caution. Reduced caution was an indication of being open to more risks, being open to finally making mistakes. Being open to finally learning from them. Being open to finally taking ownership of my life. There is something so liberating about being to look in the mirror and say, “I am the reason I’ve hurt my knee and broken my phone. Me. No one else, but me.”
I started this year with some major stocktaking and a desire to go back to the root of what caused my depression and fix it. I even decided to document my journey, with the hope that it may benefit someone. What I didn’t mention (explicitly) was I had decided to go back to college to earn a Master’s degree – that had been my big plan at the start of the year. That didn’t work out (for this year) because the Uni I really wanted to go to rejected my application, and my second choice, where I got accepted, was asking for the kind of tuition I couldn’t afford even with student loans.
I have a tattoo on my right wrist – a tribute to two books I like – that, roughly translated, means to accept whatever happens in life because it has all been written beforehand. A rather fatalistic view that, at the beginning of this year, I forced myself to reject and take action to affect the outcome that I wanted. It is true that I once believed in fatalism (hence the tattoo). But such a world view makes us complacent. You wade through life, accepting your lot, believing, hey, this is all predetermined anyway.
For this reason, I’m glad that I did something this year: applied to college, returned to writing, took three trips (so far), became more accepting of things I cannot change, and more that I will speak about when the time is right. Whatever the result may have been, I can’t say I sat idly by, watching life unfold. From here on, whatever mistakes I make will be my own, and my scars will make me as proud as my accomplishments will.
While I’m no longer the kind of fatalist I started out as, I do still believe there’s a plan in the cosmic scheme of things that we cannot see. However, that is no reason for us to be lazy. Good things come to those who, instead of waiting for miracles to happen, get off their asses and make miracles happen.
Linking to #ChattyBlogs
Have you never noticed this living, breathing, heavy space between us? It tastes like metal, it tastes like a cage, but on the tip of my tongue, it tastes like desire. It is explosive, and every time I exhale, I push it farther, willing it to expand, to try and extinguish the flame. Because I see you do the same.
Conversations tilt, as your breathing alters – each word measured, each tone enslaved in reins. The language we use, I long for it to be coarse. I long for us, for you, to tear away these drapes of grace, of propriety. A wildness lurks in the corners of your speech, that sometimes escapes, in the way you smile, in the scent of oceans that you wear. I long for that wildness to be the norm.
And I want you to be with your hands and mouth what I want you to be with your language.
Do you not see how we embrace, yet fear touch? Do you not see the air come alive to burn us, every time our fingers come too close? Do you not feel the electricity – it’s white hot. Flowing lava would seem a meek river finding its way to the sea.
Restraint does not come easy to me. I have only learned to give in, and I have only learned to take. Being in close quarters with you is a test of my endurance. It nudges me to break the rules that keep us apart, this illusion of a false morality.
Is this a tale of torment? If not you, then who is to answer?
Do not tell me I’m blind; your eyes pine, and I see the thirst in your fingers. I see my heart forgetting its discipline, and my mind’s muddled with thoughts – thoughts of the lines and curves that form your lips, that I’m sure taste like cinnamon.
Tell me what is it that you fear, even though I already know. Are you afraid of losing yourself? Do you worry you can never come back from this, once you cross that invisible line? Tell me again, and make it real, so I keep these desires in cuffs and chains.
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There are places you do not belong to. Places that are physical. Places that are moments in time. Yet you find yourself in them, wondering what your purpose is, and where you’d find this purpose.
I feel like that right now, that I do not belong here, but I must not turn around. There are throngs of people around me, each in black, carrying flowers, weeping. Some sing tributes. I know the lyrics as well as any of them, but I do not join in. I hear ocean waves crashing on boulders in my ears – which is strange as we are far away from the ocean. The headstone lies right in front of me and I read each letter, left to right, observing the font, the color, the texture, each curve of each C, each line that makes the I and the Ls. But I refuse to believe it – this is someone else, a namesake, a doppelganger, an impostor.
Just last month, I’d sung one of his songs to entertain my friends; at the time I did not know that today it would turn into a song of mourning.
There’s a tap on my right shoulder. I turn around to see a man, dry-eyed like me, my dazed expression mirrored on his face. He says nothing, but I nod, and let him stand by my side, and we both turn to look at the headstone. I trace the letters with my eyes again.
“Isn’t it strange,” the man says, “when they say ‘loved one’ they only mean family or friends? Sometimes, strangers are loved ones too.”
“Except he wasn’t a stranger, was he? I know what you mean though. We all lost a loved one.”
“His wife and children…” he began, but trailed off.
“I caught a glimpse of them before they opened the service to the public. The wife refuses to believe it was a suicide, I hear.”
“He seemed so happy…”
Yes. Yes, he did. Maybe he felt like he was in one of those places – a gap in space and time where he felt he didn’t belong. When you’re going through the worst, you decide to put up the most cheerful front.
“The last song he sang the night it happened was a song about death,” I said to the man. He nodded, pursing his lips, a vein twitching in his neck, as though he too was on the verge of breaking down, like the rest of the crowd.
A long time ago, I had attended one of his concerts with a friend. I wanted to tell that friend how much those songs meant to me. But he had stopped me, saying he couldn’t hear me above the music. The subject was left for another day, a day that never came around, and I never got to gather my answer.
“You know what I hate about this?” the man said,”They’re going to romanticize this. Romanticize his death.”
He’s right. The press and the public love a tortured rockstar. It’s one of those tropes, sadly.
“It isn’t fair. Not to him, not to his memory. Not to people who admire him,” I said in response.
I think again about the song I’d sang last month, a song I’d spent a lot of my younger days singing. That too is a song about death. There is undercurrent of death in all his songs. Was it in front of us all along? Could someone have helped? Was the warmth, the friendliness, all a facade and nothing more?
The hours pass by, and soon, just a handful of people, the man who’d been talking to me, and I stay back. I’m still trying to collect my thoughts, collect all the ways in which his songs affected me, affected my life. It’s haunting, how certain things permeate our being, how the sudden departure of those we did not really know drains us so emotionally. But in the end, my reasons can be summed up in one line.
I take out an old notebook from my coat pocket. I’d written the lyrics of one of his songs in it over a decade ago, and pressed a wildflower between those pages. I take the now-withered flower and place it near the headstone, a lonely ghost of a flower among all the other bright ones.
“Thank you for showing me how to live. And goodbye.” I cannot bring myself to say his name, but no tears of mine wet the headstone.
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Even smoke reflects the color of debauchery here, in this den. It is neither white nor grey. Nor black like the hearts of its patrons. It is red, as are the walls. The beaded curtains around the booths hide none of the ugliness, but the smoke tries its best, ensuing from each addicted mouth, rolling around limbs braided with other limbs.
There are fragrances in combat with this smoke – oudh, frankincense, rose musk. Heady perfumes adding to the haze – in the den and in our minds – but losing the battle with that which owns this place – opium. In a corner of newbies, even cannabis raises its head like a snake without venom. A child that no one pays attention to. A child frightened, but holding its own, adding its scent to the vulgar mix of luxury bought cheap.
And in a corner, next to a window painted black, on a mattress that was once white, but now dirty with all it’s seen, lay I, in another man’s embrace, his calloused toes tracing my ankle, his hand with its deeply grooved lines pawing at my breast, his stained, burnt mouth nuzzling the skin just below my ear.
My eyes have been dry for so many years, as has been the rest of me. This he doesn’t know yet, for my head is turned away. Not in the unfocused way of the rest, nor in the frigid stance of one unbothered. Nor is it a seductive tilt of my jawline. My head is turned away because beyond the beads, three booths away, I see ghosts. Ghosts so real, of you and I, from a time that’s perished.
Our gazes are so chaste, our smiles like water through glass. I am unable to look away from what I see of myself – my lips unpainted, my innocence untainted. I wish to shatter every pipe in this godforsaken place to preserve the ghosts I see. I believe, so strongly, like religion, that three booths away, you and I still breathe.
I push the man away, as I leap up to part the beaded curtain, each bead carrying within it an inverted flame, a speck of smoke. But with the parting, the illusion breaks, a ripple in still water, and I see nothing three booths away. I see nothing and my eyes remain dry.
I turn back to the man, pull him close, even as his eyes roll around dazedly, and place my mouth on his. The poison of the den hits me yet again. There is only one taste in my mouth. Ashes, ashes, ashes.
“The past is just a story we tell ourselves.”
On the 12th of this month, my blog will turn 9 years old. And in the month that just ended was when I had the most fun in all this time. Of course, just like the end of A to Z 2014, I’m hit with a bit of a block following the break in routine, but I’m not cranky like I was back then. The difference is quite plain: back then I wanted to write something, anything, to get back into the game. This time, I don’t care if I don’t ever write another word again. (Maybe that’s an exaggeration).
This was a story I knew I’ll write someday – “someday” being the right place and the right time. When I signed up for the challenge, I can’t say I was in the right place. I did not even remain in the same place as the series progressed. I wrote Valentine’s Day well in advance, and I wrote it from a place of anger; a part of Like A Stone was written last year from a place of resignation (although it had a different title then); New Day was written one afternoon four days before it went live from a place of… I can’t put a word on it, but it is my personal favorite on the blog right now (overtaking past favorites – Of Regrets In Love and Forbidden); Funeral was written from a place of writer’s block (it’s the post I like the least in the series) and a need to promote that beautiful song that no one seems to have heard of (Band of Horses should hire me for PR activities).
That said, the story I set out to write isn’t the one I wrote. The narrative is spread over a few years, which I squeezed into 26 posts, writing only what was necessary, in keeping with the minimalist technique. No frills, no elaborate scene-setting, no vivid scenery (although, I’ve taken some liberties). Originally I intended to link the posts in sequence, an idea that I dropped when I reached Demons and realized, though unplanned, the last lines of the posts were connected, and alphabetical is the real order in which this haphazard mess was supposed to be read. (It did not work that way for all posts, but still).
All of it has been a great learning experience for me, on writing, on relationships, on heartbreaks. It’s even strengthened my belief in the fact that people never really change – their masks simply fall off. There were multiple times when I almost withdrew from the challenge. The day after the 14th post went live, there was a moment when I nearly trashed all the posts. But now, at the end of it, I’m glad I persisted.
In 2014, I don’t remember visiting or discovering new blogs during A to Z – I stuck to my small circle. This year, I discovered so many wonderful blogs, along with the ones I’ve always followed. That is the true purpose of a blog hop, as I now see. That sense of community, it’s new to me. I’ve even set aside a few blogs to binge read at a later date, ones I couldn’t catch up on during the month.
When Zombie went live, I felt a tinge of sadness. Ending this story felt like saying goodbye to an old friend. In a way, that’s exactly what it was. As I mentioned in my post about The Shining, the idea for a story is different from the inspiration. I got the idea from these recurring nightmares I used to have a couple of years ago about a badly wrecked car. The inspiration – well, now that’s something else altogether. Writing it all down has helped me put that nightmare to bed. Or so I hope.
It’s been a great month, everybody! Thank you for all your support!
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming 🙂
“A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer. But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar.”
You are recounting more tales of your philandering. I stop listening after story number three. You are oblivious to the fact that I am hurting. That I still think of you and me as us, in spite of what I did, and in spite of all the evidence to the contrary you’re serving, story by story. Are you being deliberately hurtful, or just painfully insensitive?
It was our first official date. We were still tiptoeing around each other, like it was a dance, anticipating the other’s move, responding accordingly. At one point, you turned away. I leaned back, slightly tipsy, and I touched your elbow. And just like I knew you would, you kissed me. That was our first kiss.
After our first fight, we couldn’t stay angry at each other. We kept apologizing, the argument then turning to how it was not the other person’s fault. Then we laughed with relief and fell silent. Until, we were both conscious of how heavy it was. It doesn’t matter if it was you who leaned in first or I. But I think of that too as a first kiss – a second first kiss.
It is different now. I’ve stopped listening, but I’m searching. Searching for a sign of that love in your eyes. I find a graveyard there – dead love, dead dreams. The words were yours; the crown of glory you were placing on your head with these shallow tales was yours. But the life, the joy you pretended to have was not.
We decide to take a walk. Through the old lanes, where each corner held something of us, the place I refused to return to after what happened. You point out familiar landmarks, as the fallen leaves get crushed under my shoes. We reach the spot where you park your car and I look in; there’s a flask on the dashboard. You’ve changed the brand of car freshener you use. I don’t know what your car smells like now. The passenger seat will always be filled by someone who isn’t me.
You ask if I have to leave in a tone that suggests you want me to stay.
I look up, taken aback, gauging the amount of sincerity in your question, and finding none. You misread my silence, and lean in before I can stop you. I realize even in that moment how forced it felt from your part, like you were fulfilling something. But I don’t realize it until you move away that I didn’t return your kiss. I don’t realize it until then that only half of me is present, the rest is numb.
Maybe we did this to each other. And maybe there won’t be any more first kisses for us. Because this feels like the last one.
Hi everyone! This is the last installment of the minimalist fiction project I’ve been working on all this month during the #AtoZChallenge. The story was shared in snippets, and the events occurred non-sequentially. I’m grateful to you for staying with me from A to Z. If you’ve missed any posts, you can find them all here.