In the morning I wake up with the stench of mangled cabbages rising up the back of my throat and a nicotine-sullied breath and a tousled head rested obliquely upon his spindly chest and he is asleep on his back quiet like an untouched doorknob. I feel queasy. Like my stomach is staging some mutiny against everything that went down last night. Went down its walls. Went down the walls of this house. Before I can cease wondering and locate the coordinates for my slippers—his slippers—vomit is rising from the centre of the nucleus of my existence like molten magma rushing upwards to the crust of the earth from chambers unknown only that this volcano is spouting it all out frigid cold. I am painting hieroglyphs on the stone flooring. With a little reorientation, I get a clean shot at the balcony door. Sturdy canvas. I use only natural colours. Pure organic green and brown and every shade of slime. This is an interactive session where you will engage with art and gain a deeper understanding on a wide range of subjects. All original designs. On show until the aunty shows up or I can muster up the spirit to bathe the room—whichever happens first. You’ll get to be an empowered participant. I feel sick to the core.
I turn around to take one horrified look at R before I can walk over to the other room to take a leak and drink some Colgate Plax. It’s 10 am. I have half an hour before I would be needed to log in and show up for work from home. This is not my home. I pick up the kettle from the other room and drag myself downstairs to fill it up for coffee. This house has three stories and a rat living in the greasy exhaust fan duct of the kitchen on the ground floor. I yank open the fridge door. You have to turn all the lights on and off along the little journey through the stairs and back since the guys have no real concept of illumination for an uplifting mood. A brick of vanilla ice cream. Real’s fruit juice in orange flavour. A large bowl of salad. There is a porch in the front and a veranda in the back and a television in between that is only switched on for playing songs or very specific scenes from very particular movies for when people are really drunk. My dehydrated body ditches the kettle to lug the juice tetra pack upstairs. There’s an ashtray on every table and a stray dog J who rules the house as his own and has never displayed a want for affection or validation from anyone and now there’s also a flood of my insides in the room that overhangs the main road where I had locked myself in last night. I turned 25 last night.
It was a Sunday among Sundays because it was my birthday which went by not unlike most days because I stuck to whittling it away watching nailbiting accounts of snow leopards fighting it out for food in erratically severe mountain winters while biting into Zomatoed paneer rolls not so quite à la masters of the freeze. ‘The most powerful force in the Arctic grows small—inch by inch—but once it starts, there is no stopping it.’ Sure. Mustn’t be just a local phenomenon though because the small, powerful forces in my belly are showing no detectable signs of reining in their impeccable throwmanship any time soon. Inch by inch, we are losing the basin. And it had all begun—last night.
S was in and so was M and there was always R and since it was supposedly a day of celebration for me, I too raised a glass which really didn’t count as an excuse since I would have anyway. ‘What is one thing that you do very well and by very well I mean you deliver it at its best’, S asked.
One thing I do very well is not doing anything very well. One thing I do very well is taking up everything or trying to take up everything or thinking of trying to take up everything and then not doing a single thing very well. And that’s what I would have said if I had not gone on to say, ‘umm…I can read. Most things’.
One glass after another after another after—I saw everyone leaving the room for more water or whisky or cigarettes save for I and R. They would have come back to find no one in the room. They would have come back when I would have already locked myself up in the opposite room and shoved my stuff—and most of R’s or whomever-that-room-was’s stuff—in my suitcase and R would be climbing up the drainage pipe to the roof to dive into the balcony and come in through the entrance I had forgotten shutting out before cradling myself into the bed with my bags. When he finally made it in and opened the hallway latch, an Oyo had been booked and an Uber was waiting outside and I was hauling two trunks of luggage down the stairs. I had come in with only one.
The bags and we shifted from rooms to the lobby to the street to somewhere before either of us had any energy left to move around anymore and flattened out one on top of the other in the corner that has survived a massive ejection drive today. Scars on flesh will be discovered later. This is not my house. I have been living here about two months.
R comes in to see me industriously hunched over my laptop—back against the wall—scouring through pages and pages on the web for applications of conversational AI chatbots. This is my job. Well, a part of my job. Another part is not sounding like a bot while writing about one. To not lose myself in the botverse, I am simultaneously leafing through an old copy of The Greek Way by Edith Hamilton. “Dear to us ever,” says Homer, “is the banquet and the harp and the dance and changes of raiment and the warm bath and love and sleep.” Exactly the values my every day is founded upon and yet he wrote The Odyssey and I am just living one.
Most of what I remember from last night crescendos like a pressure cooker whistle with the capital case beginning of every sentence I type. Most of what I don’t remember from last night plucks me at the stop of every full end like pesky, little strands of hair you cannot keep your hands off even after digging pins into either side of your head. I just about manage to type out 100 odd words by noon.
Most hours on most days pass like this. Lit incense sticks slowly losing their length under ribbons of smoke wisping out of their cylindrical bellies that continue to char while you are lost in intoxication from all the lavender and soon, straight slender towers are reduced to powder on steel. Ticking by and by, one brilliant orange ring at a time. You want to share it with everyone at once, you want to share it with no one at all. Someone had said to me, ‘in life, one thing leads to the next and it’s really like sequences in a flowchart and if you bail on one choice, you go down a whole different path and those are not the same opportunities’.
R extracts a cigarette out of the pack on the bed, lights it up, blows out smoke, and asks if I want to go out to eat.
The screech of tires on the road puts out one fiery orange ring forever.