The Tribute

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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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XIX | #AtoZChallenge

It was impossible to ignore the grace with which she danced. Later that evening, we sat together and compared our music playlists, and talked about the songs we both loved, which were many. But the dance or the music isn’t why she had caught my attention.

She had three scars on her arm, just below her wrist. Possibly from a history of being a cutter. You know who else had marks exactly like that? Of course you do.

*

Did you know that you laughed in two different ways – one, short, harsh, rough, like a bark, if you were tolerating someone, if they weren’t particularly funny but you wanted to indulge them nevertheless; and another – intimate, soft, a laugh that embraced the person it was directed at. 

Having been on the receiving end of both, I had an inkling of what she meant to you when the tone you used with her was the tone you once used with me, and you laughed with her in that gentle way. It wasn’t that she called you at eight in the morning that ticked me off. It wasn’t even the tone or laughter. It wasn’t the number of minutes you spoke. It wasn’t that one kiss you gave her over the phone, that you tried to brush aside as a joke because you knew I was listening. It wasn’t the three completely random facts about her you told me to avoid answering my one question about who she was to you. 

It was the one question that she asked you, and while I only heard your end of the conversation, I knew right at that moment that there was more to the story than you wanted me to know. 

I thought of all the friends I’d had over the years. None of them ever cared about whether or not I had breakfast, and if yes, what I had. The right to ask that question is a privilege we give to few. When she asked you, I realized the lies had probably begun a long time before I even noticed.

*

The dancer I met had scars that reminded me of her. When I looked closely, she even looked quite a bit like her – the same jet black hair, the same height. And each time a song came on that made the two of us squeal in joy, I wondered if she had been with you on the night you died.


Hi everyone! I’m working on a minimalist fiction project for this year’s #AtoZChallenge. The story will be shared in snippets, and the events occur non-sequentially. It is for the reader to interpret and form the “whole”. You can read all the posts here. Join me, and do share links to your AtoZ posts as well!

X

PS: The numbers in bold add up to 19 (XIX). Also, the first line of the song is: This song is not for the living | This song is for the dead.

Valentine’s Day | #AtoZChallenge

The driver sucks in his breath. Next to me, Sara gasps out loud.

At this late hour, the lights aren’t as bright, the street is awash in dim gold. We were heading home after one of those black-themed parties on St. Valentine’s Day.

“What is it?” I ask.

“A car,” she says, “Upturned. It’s in terrible shape.”

I turn around, almost perfunctorily. I don’t see the car. Perhaps the darkness rose around it like a shroud to shield it from my view. But I know. I know which car it is, the model, the make, the color. I know what the number plate reads.

With you, it’s like instinct. A kind of telepathy.
With you I always knew. With you, there were no unexpected surprises, no news out of the blue.

When you told me you had fallen for me, I knew.
Whenever you told me you loved me, I said I knew.
When I left, you came back as I knew you would.
When you lied to me the first time, I knew. And the subsequent times as well.

Even when you ignored me the first time we met, I knew. 

With you, I always knew. And I know tonight as well. The darkness needn’t have bothered.


 

Hi everyone! I’m working on a minimalist fiction project for this year’s #AtoZChallenge. The story will be shared in snippets, and the events occur non-sequentially. It is for the reader to interpret and form the “whole”. You can read all the posts here. Join me, and do share links to your AtoZ posts as well!

V

 

Sedated | #AtoZChallenge

When the numbness takes over, I find myself sitting in room after room with only clocks for company.

I never think about it, but I never let myself forget.

We died. We are no more. We went up in flames.

Never you. We.

It hurts less that way.

It tears me up from within and turns me inside out.

But it hurts less that way.

 


 

Hi everyone! I’m working on a minimalist fiction project for this year’s #AtoZChallenge. The story will be shared in snippets, and the events occur non-sequentially. It is for the reader to interpret and form the “whole”. You can read all the posts here. Join me, and do share links to your AtoZ posts as well!

S

Alternative titles: Anesthetize. I also considered Stay High, but it’s a different genre and doesn’t fit in with the theme.

Make This Go On Forever | #AtoZChallenge

It’s on nights like these. When dinner’s accompanied by laughter and wine. When I’m the one laughing the loudest, and sharing the most number of stories. When they tell me all eyes are on me. When I know all eyes are on me.

It’s on nights like these that I force myself to remember. To hold on with the last broken string. To never let go of what’s already gone.

Self-destruction comes on so many wings. It enters through that brief moment of silence.

In little ways I remind myself you’re gone.
In little ways I keep you alive in me.

 


Hi everyone! I’m working on a minimalist fiction project for this year’s #AtoZChallenge. The story will be shared in snippets, and the events occur non-sequentially. It is for the reader to interpret and form the “whole”. You can read all the posts here. Join me, and do share links to your AtoZ posts as well!

M

This post was originally titled My Immortal but I heard this song yesterday and knew no other song could be more apt for this series than this one. The lyrics gave me goosebumps!

 

 

Funeral | #AtoZChallenge

Aren’t we a selfish bunch!

Oh, I don’t mean you or me. I mean the human race. We always think of ourselves first. No matter what the catastrophe, big, small, medium, we ask if it affects us in any way. Most of the time, we decide it doesn’t, and continue to think about our own lives and be self-absorbed.

But there’s no excuse for how we behaved on that particular day.

We had begun to describe the “self” as the two of us. And the resulting selfishness was ours to share and feel small about.

In life, you wade through a few bad relationships and get convinced each time you try again, you’re only setting yourself up for another heartbreak. It’s this pessimism that gives way to fears of jinxes and speaking too soon, like how some women hide their pregnancies until they’ve crossed the three-month mark. So far, we had told none of our friends about us. It was swelling up on the inside, the weight of this secret. We expressed disbelief that it wasn’t plain on our guilty faces for everyone to see. It was worse that we didn’t really want to keep it a secret, and we wouldn’t have if it weren’t for the “fear”. It was a bad itch, like living with sewed lips, because we didn’t want to blurt anything out. But blurt it out we did.

At Sara’s father’s funeral.

There was an air of sorrow all around. Her father lay in a casket placed in a small room in a corner of their house. It was just our group, Sara’s closest friends, that refused to step in to the room and pay our respects. Were we afraid suddenly of death? Was the grief sucking out our newfound joy? Or had we just held it in for far too long?

When we told her, Sara should have punched us in our faces for our insensitivity. She didn’t. She smiled through her tears and told us she was happy for us. Our other friends murmured in half-hearted agreement, even as they reproachfully looked at us with the words, “How could you reveal this today?” unsaid but heavy in the space between us. They also chose not to punch us in our faces. Sara went a notch further and said the two of us getting together called for celebration. The worst thing was that she wasn’t being sarcastic. This only made us feel smaller than we already did.

We made excuses. We said we were trying to cheer Sara up with some happy news during this terrible time. But in the end, we knew they were right. What were we thinking? Oh, that’s right. About ourselves.

 


 

Hi everyone! I’m working on a minimalist fiction project for this year’s #AtoZChallenge. The story will be shared in snippets, and the events occur non-sequentially. It is for the reader to interpret and form the “whole”. You can read all the posts here. Join me, and do share links to your AtoZ posts as well!

F

Bittersweet Memories | #AtoZChallenge

The small black text catches my eye. In the lower right corner, next to an ad for a cellphone, on the page for local news. The words vaguely register as I read them. I already know this at the back of my mind.

Just below the paragraph about the incident, a public figure has been quoted as attributing all of such incidents to the “perils” of Valentine’s Day. This is stupid, I snort. The problem is drinking and driving. The problem is drinking and driving on these terrible roads. But quote-worthy public figures always blame imaginary problems. It’s not their job to fix problems that don’t exist after all.

Endings are always bitter. Ours all the more so. I lied, you lied, and all the lies deepened the irreparable cracks between us. It made me wonder if I hadn’t been the first to lie, would things have been different? Would you have remained the way you were? Or were you a liar from the start? Am I the one the reason you got fractured somewhere deep within, or are you the reason I am? I’ll never get those answers. I glance at the newspaper again as our story replays in a flash. From beginning to end. So much to revisit, so much to reminisce.

But does it matter now, I ask myself. The end is not how I want to remember you. Remember us, I correct.

My arm feels heavy. I’ve forgotten to take a sip of my coffee, I’ve forgotten to set my mug down. I’m gripping the newspaper tight, as the black ink stains my fingers. Perhaps now is a good time as any to tell you this – I hated your coffee.


Hi everyone! I’m working on a minimalist fiction project for this year’s #AtoZChallenge. The story will be shared in snippets, and the events occur non-sequentially. It is for the reader to interpret and form the “whole”. You can read all the posts here. Join me, and do share links to your AtoZ posts as well!

b

Alternative titles I considered: Broken and Burning in the Skies.