A punctured soul is coughing through the winter of December 24th, 2019.
There is nothing unusual about that. If you have a soul, it is bound to be punctured. But what makes this particular one to stand out is how he whistled listening to his own death. Even the ones committing suicide don’t do that. No one whistles seeing death crouching in the shadow. Like a tiger waiting for the prey to be marinated just the perfect.
The little church, in the park, is decorated with sparkling lights. The church had a budget issue this year, so it couldn’t go overboard with the decoration. That’s what made it perfect. Otherwise the decoration could put your eyes out. The earlier years I avoided the Christ-mass times. Jesus nailed on the cross, by so much unaccounted glitter seemed cruel. He looked out of place.
You would think the places of prayers would get that. Across Masjid, Mandir, and Churches the need to put on more jewelries than they need is ironic. It looks especially odd at dawns. Amongst the peaceful progression of lights, you will want to go to the Masjid to say to Allah how humble you feel, only to find out the Masjid had put on rouge, powder and rhinestone dresses overnight.
I once saw a prostitute jump out of the broken window of a two storied brothel. I bought a bird-cage at the market opposite and just as I stepped on the angry pavement of an edgy summer, I looked up to see if there’s any sign of clouds in the sky. Right then I saw her. I squinted my eyes. There was so much light. The rusty grills of the window had melted by the summer. It was easy enough. Not at all like a bird flying.
I am sitting on the park bench, in the shades of leaves. In front of me the street has bended and suddenly like a many-tailed snake, drifted into different parts. The church sits on the tail that has the most ancient trees of the city.
The punctured soul is sitting on one. The church beside him is humming choirs. Of mercy and love.
He was my teacher in college. I had a crush on him. All the girls did. But mine was a secret.
There was nothing wrong anywhere in his life. A happy mother and a father, two older brothers with their respective happy families. He was a bright enough student. I bet he had girlfriends. Yet here we are.
Back then I could hear my heart beat every Sundays and Mondays. Those were his class days with us.
The soul is like a balloon. Always wanting to go up, float in the dynasty of clouds. And like a balloon, if it gets into a storm, wander too much afar for too long, the world tempers with it. It starts to leak out. Like his is right now.
The cold has started to settle in as the people have started to leave. Its 8pm.
He is wearing a slate blue shirt, and a sky white pajama and nothing else. Bare feet. That whole street is empty. Behind him, from the curve of the road, through the ancestral trees, I saw the winter creeping up to him slowly. Not unlike the tiger.
His right leg is bleeding from the knee down. A trail of blood crossed the narrow concrete road and went into the green grassed field opposite.
He looks frighteningly skinny.
To the few, that become like him, life becomes dangerously their own.
There was nothing wrong anywhere in his life. But what do I know. What do people know. Even the closest of closests don’t really know. And family is the best place for closeted secrets.
I couldn’t breathe when he smiled in classes. Days of his classes, I would go to college really early to sit on the first bench of the mid row. That’s where he would be the closest. The dais just opposite. There were days when I couldn’t get a seat on the first bench, it was already filled, and Munir or Shuvro whoever was sitting on the bench wouldn’t get what the fuck does it matter if I sit there or not. I wouldn’t argue for long. I was terrified all the time that they would discover my secret.
He was very fair. Smiled a lot. He had crocked teeth.
The first month I couldn’t really look at him. On our vey second class, he asked me to stand up, “Say something about the color yellow.” I was stammering. Breathing like it was a drag. I looked at him and couldn’t see anything. He was a burning sun.
His hair used to fall across his forehead and rather than pushing them behind with fingers, he would lean back a little and jerk his head. The small toe on his right leg was severed. A childhood accident probably. I spent classes looking at it. He also had a scar on his neck. I guessed that was from a broken-glass-dusted-rope of a kite, it must’ve grazed through the skin there.
There were classes he would sit by the dais on the stage, a feet away from the first bench. He would tell stories. Brutus’s speech. Hamlet’s soliloquies. Sonnets. His face would wear the lines with ecstasy and required agony.
He was a Shakespeare fanatic. There was no Shakespeare in our syllabus. Only grammar, listed compositions and comprehensions. We couldn’t afford otherwise. So whenever he threw the grammar book away and invited Shakespeare we would get thrilled, even the most studious ones. We felt like we were breaking the law.
I started memorizing Shakespeare. And only befitting. The terror of my heart found a language.
He once touched my shoulder. Just once. “ Hey! You like Pink Floyd, huh?” I was wearing a Pink Floyd T-shirt that said, “ We don’t need no education.” I wanted “And no one sings me lullabies/And no one makes me close my eyes/So I throw the windows wide/And call to you across the sky”, but the stores didn’t have that.
It makes me laugh sometimes now.
Facebook was still a new thing to us. I hassled to get a net connection on my mother’s phone, and stalked his account. He had a Pink Floyd cover photo. Couldn’t set my heart to send him a friend request though.
I bought the T-shirt for our pre-exam excursion. And he was going with us.
It was miserable. I Couldn’t enjoy anything. Just watched him.
He was bare bodied on a pool, laughing and splashing water at the kids of other teachers.
That is, still, one of the most beautiful scene I’ve ever seen.
And I trembled at some point looking at his bare back. The water gliding over his skin. His chest with the beating heart underneath. His hair, wet and sticking to his forehead. His lips, more red than usual. His lips, how it drifted apart to smile. To laugh. I felt like dying.
Rony almost caught me stalking and looking just at him. I was so terrified I went the other direction. The rest of the day I spent in another pool, alone, my whole college on the other side.
And I cried in the water.
That was the day I started to get it. Returning back home, the whole night I stared through the bus window. Numbly.
Now I wonder, what is worst? The fact that I am this person in this place and time, or that I figured me out so early on. That so early on I knew what I wanted, who I wanted. That even as a teen, I didn’t have the luxury of vagueness and naivety.
—The burning sun is not red. It’s yellow.
He whistled. Not looking at me. Sitting the same. He coughed. And then whistled again.
—The yellow is the color of the saints. It can be argued that there is nothing called saints, they are imaginary concepts to calm us down. But all concepts are imaginary, are they not? I say, that makes it more beautiful. Imaginary saints with imaginary yellow colors. Vibrant. Yet fading.
A blooming flower. A withering leaf.
— What would you choose? You can choose both.
It’s 9-30 pm. Almost five hours he had been hit. They said it was a motorbike. A father and a daughter. The father wanted to take him to the hospital right away. But he pulled out a knife when he reached down to get him.
I came to the park at 6-30pm, to watch the darkness fall over Brahmaputra. The gathered crowd said the father and the terrified tiny daughter collected his address and went to inform his family.
The crowd departed after 8.
Everyone knows him around here. The brilliant man who fell off. Fell off from sanity. When people talk about him now the “brilliant” part is emphasized more. More than before, when he was inside the boundary. “And he’s only 33 too. Bechara! Oh How he wonders around now!”
— I went to attend a prostitute’s funeral. She was Muslim. But was burned. No cemetery in the city agreed to take her. There was a Janaja though. The choto-imam of the Manali Masjid agreed to perform it. Secretly. After the Janaja she was on the pyre. The gateman of the brothel Hari took her body in a rickshaw to the Shmashana. I was with him. The whole way he mumbled “Bol Hori….Hori Bol.” He was at the Janaja too. Performed the namaj. Human boundaries don’t matter much there. There were other two rickshaws behind us. When the fire was reaching up, they opened a bottle of cheap alcohol that was passed around. They drank and laughed. The prostitutes. I wasn’t supposed to be there. They wouldn’t allow me. But they needed another man.
I paused. His body was still, in a kind of alertness.
— She was burned with rouge, powder and red lipstick on. And She was wearing a rhinestone saree.
There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember; and there is pansies, that’s for thoughts…
There’s fennel for you, and columbines; there’s rue for you, and here’s some for me; we may call it herb of grace o’ Sundays. O, you must wear your rue with a difference.
His body is leaning back into the trunk of the Banyan tree. His skinny body. The tree is slowly swallowing him.
I can’t hold him. He wouldn’t like that.
It started like that. He couldn’t tolerate ‘touch’. One morning, his mother touched him, and he barked, he flipped, he couldn’t be calmed. Now he keeps a knife for people to stay out. Stay out of his world.
Uh….Dipro! I….I made it to 25 without jeopardizing anything. 25, the age he became our teacher.
Last night, we were talking, a bunch of us. Me with my friends and some other guys. I didn’t know Dipro very much. He isn’t in our department. I saw him here and there a couple of times. We were drinking. Mildly. Everyone else dozed off one by one. Dipro and my pointless giggles made them throw us out of the room.
We went to the tea stall, were annoying Nokul mama now. He made us cha’s. Star struck sky was lathered till the horizon. The leaves of trees recited mantras in heavenly omen.
We were talking about various perks of being alive. He placed his head on my shoulder. And I laughed about a leaping frog. I leaned to see if he was awake. His lashes were trembling. Like it does when one is dreaming. I smiled. He opened his eyes and smiled too. I looked into his eyes. And my heart pounded. And I lost the battle. I leaned forward and kissed him with a famished fever.
Just a little. A little scared-to-death-kiss. Still…
The moment I pulled me back, he looked at me, frowning…
Then he stood up and went away.
And I fled here.
I don’t know…Maybe the whole university knows by now. Maybe Amma and Abba and Niru will know by tomorrow. Maybe…
His body wouldn’t hold anymore, he is lying flat on the concrete road, the head on the lap of the Banyan tree.
— Come to the hospital with me?
He is looking straight ahead at the sky, smiling.
The same sky. The same stars.
The minute I reached my hand out toward him to lift him up, he grinded his teeth out and made a growling sound. His left hand clutching the knife.
Why aren’t they coming?
It’s been too long…
The cold is covering us like a blanket.
It’s been too late…
I know his life is his own.
I tried to cover him with my chador…but he threw it away.
And I feel his cold in my bones. Shivering… Strutting elsewhere.
All the strength in me is fading out. I sat down on the trunk of a tree, just a little far from him.
It’s 12-30 am.
The church has gone to sleep, all the people too.
The night wide awake, to soothe… Amma and Abba, mine and his, and all the lost ones… and Dipro.. and Us. I muttered looking up at the stars, “If you want to say it’ll pass, don’t.”
He is looking elsewhere. The whole of him like a child. Like a yellow flower. Like a burning sun.
— You know you were my first love. I fell in love with you the first day of college. And never in my life I wanted to tell you that then. But now I see, how desperately and pathetically I wanted to let you know… And life is so..so beautifully cruel, na?
He is smiling looking at something in his world. That smile. That makes you remember, the world is a beautiful place to be in.