Here is a hard truth about distance: No matter how much you love each other, and how fascinating you find each other, and how many interests you have in common, there are some days on which there simply isn’t anything to say. Nothing earth-shattering has happened, nothing sounds particularly amusing over the phone, and one of you probably keeps saying “What”? after every alternate sentence. Now this happens even when you’re in the same place, but can usually be bridged by doing something together- drinking chaa, killing time with small talk, lying around listening to music, getting stoned and watching something, cooking, fucking, whatever- and that, *that* is the crucial thing which long distance can never, ever compensate for: inhabiting the same space takes up so much of a life.
The barista at the counter was someone I knew. Hooray, I thought. Free coffee.
She blinked at me, when I went up and said “How’s it going”, with the familiarity of someone you’ve met. Half a beat, and she realized who I was. Now she looked bemused.
“It’s funny”, she said. “You look like a different person every time I see you.”
“Is it a good different?”, I asked, uncertainly. This was the same girl who’d told me that I was a beautiful person, the first time we’d met. Awkwardly she’d explained that no, she was’t talking about my soul. “With the hair, and the face. It’s good for my eyes”, she’d said.
“Well, the first time I met you, you were wearing this really nice frilly dressed up shirt (it had been an indian tunic). The second time- yesterday- you looked really chill, like really dyke-y ” (I’d been wearing black pants, and a black sleeveless sweater with loose shampooed hair, tired, and kohl-smudged eyes). And today, you have the glasses and the lipstick and the bun.”
“It’s just funny”.
I grinned at her, took my free iced coffee, and headed upstairs to my nook. I’d never been called dyke-y before. I was carrying a copy of ‘The Feminine Mystique’, and living in a feminist commune at the time. Clearly, they were rubbing off on me. Being called dyke-y made me strangely happy. I wasn’t entirely sure about the rest, though.
Look, the heart of the matter lies in a little worm. The worm eats away at your core, day by day. Little by little, it crawls into your brain and nestles there, spinning away. It is a monster worm, this one. It spins a glowing black cocoon out of doubt, and misery, and old patterns. Again, and again you try to spray it into oblivion. Futilely, you throw drops of happiness, and security at it. “Shut up, getout, leavemealone!”
It merely grins its hideous grin, and oozes its way into dark corners. It will resurface; it always does. It knows this and you know this.
I will claw your heart out, and suck the marrow from your brains. I will lick my lips with great relish as I tongue back an artery dangling out of my mouth.
“Man, I love it when we tongue”.
How many other tongues have you loved?
I will cut off your tongue, garnish it with salt and pepper, and feed it to my little giant worm. I have a gremlin little cat, who likes to listen to electrohouse. He climbs onto the drawer by the record player and cries in time to the drop. Little cat, little cat, little black cat, won’t you please eat up my worm?
one day we will own a house with shabby comfortable couches, that you can sink into, and french windows. one of the rooms will have rust coloured walls and a fake fireplace on the mantel of which will live an empty frame that i have spray painted gold. we will own a cat whom we will name Murakami. Murakami will like you more but love me more, like children often do their mothers. i will have faint frown lines that finally show between my eyebrows and you will have the same old metallic frames housing your gaze. your hair will be more tamed, with a few blotches of white in it. mine will have resisted and have gotten messier than ever, clinging to girlhood. we will have a record player cohabitating with a stack of books we don’t read very often, but like to look at for their covers. perhaps they will have grand impressive titles like ‘Sarte on existentialism and bacon’. Actually, that is a book I would like to read, so scratch that. I should have been an art director in films. Perhaps I will be an art director for small films, and you will be writing something you like. one of the walls in one of the rooms will have lines from poems and books we love on it; parts will be yellowing, but we like it better that way. there will be a stack of dirty dishes in the sink that i am putting off doing, and there will be a line above your forehead, signaling your growing impatience,as you sit in an armchair and read The Times cover to cover, leaving out the obituaries and the tabloid. i will be traipsing around the house with a vague look in my eyes, in purple slippers and a long t-shirt that i have stolen from you. i cannot remember what it is that i’m looking for, but i keep throwing glances at the refrigerator each time i pass it, and finally, i settle down with a block of dill havarti (in a coloured jar with a paper label saying ‘I Can Haz Cheez’) on the other armchair on the opposite side of the room. i sit cross-legged, open Ulysses (which I have not managed to read in all these years), and catch you looking at me.
you just sigh. “never mind.” a slight twitch of the head.
“what?! why must you always leave things hanging?”
“i suppose you’re going to want me to do the dishes again”.
i smile in what i think is an endearing manner, but you don’t catch it because you’re looking at the kitchen and besides, you stopped thinking it was endearing about forty two weeks ago.
“only if they bother you”
“whatever”, you snap, and bury your head in the paper again.
sunday crawls along. i’ve never liked sundays. bloody evil days providing you with time to mull over things you have no business thinking about.
one day we will own a house, and a cat, and comfortable couches, and grow old and tired of each other. or perhaps not.
I am a dust mote floating,
caught on a single ray of sunlight
that is your eyes,
and your laugh,
and your touch,
burning into my skin.
Look, goodbyes are all I know. They mean that there are more adventures to come. With me, it’s always time to go. But, well…I knew right away that there was something different this time around. I didn’t want to be anywhere else. Around you, my guilt seems to melt away, and time feels like an alien concept.
“Are you ever happy?”
Everyone has times when they know that they’re happy for the most part, but moments of pure, crystallized happiness are another matter altogether.
“I can pinpoint certain moments in my life when I’ve had this pure burst of happiness. It’s like- hang on, let me say this right… it’s like… I was floating, suspended- a dust mote lit up by the sun. If i could explain the fierce blaze of happiness I felt with my entire being- that’s what it was like. Like being tiny, tiny, tiny but so large that the happiness consumes you. In a good way. It wasn’t like being overwhelmed by a flood- it’s like floating, suspended, with a mind wiped clean- no, not like being high- like… I don’t know. I was never much good with words. You know what I mean.”
I was really, really happy that time in the fourth grade when Mrs. Gomes, my favourite teacher said that I was an asset to her class. I looked up the word ‘asset’ in the big green and black Oxford Dictionary we had at home, and I felt like I had something to be proud of.
When else? When we, my brother and I, were at the backseat of the family car, tired out playing Antakshari and finger chess. We’d fallen quiet and our parents were talking, laughing about grown-up things that did not include us. Not fighting. Never have I felt so happy to be excluded.
Watching cartoon after cartoon on Fox-kids, watching Spiderman with Ma and Bhai in the master bedroom made me really happy.
When else? Laughing till my skinny ten year old sides ached, my head on a kolbaalish as my Grandpa read ‘Haw-jo-baw-ro-law’ to me. The story about the crow(?) that I’ve now forgotten.
An evening on a deserted college campus, after the rain, with a cool breeze, and a few errant souls and old music playing on their phones. I wrap my arms around a lanky frame, and push my chin into the small of a back. Close is not close enough, I realize. All the time is not time enough. Kissing is not kissing enough. Too much all at once. I am startled, and taken aback by my discovery, but fiercely, fiercely happy.
Another sort of happiness- lying on a too-thin mattress with an eye peeping at me from behind skin, blurred, Neruda streaming into reality.
Almost every time I’ve danced un-selfconsciously, I’ve been very happy. Almost every time I’ve allowed myself to get caught in the rain, I’ve been happy.
Reading really, really good books, realizing that I was beginning to love them, I’ve been happy. Fahrenheit 451 comes to mind, curled up on a couch at a cafe, with crumbs from finished butter-tarts littering my clothes.
“Listen, you probably don’t remember this. The first time I came over to your new place, when you lived by the cows-”
“I did not live by cows!’, you interject.
“Uff, you did. Yes, you did! We passed them everyday on our way to your place. Before the auto and before Papon De, but after that advertisement in Bangla we couldn’t read”
“Yes, but that was a good 3 minute walk away- that is not the same as living by cows”.
“Okay, okay fine. That house, anyway.”
“Yes, yes, carry on”.
“We were supposed to go exploring. North Calcutta, and old houses touching elbows, and sweet-shops. But it started to rain buckets, so I came over instead. We had the place to ourselves because Lahiri- bless his soul-was in Sodepur. And we wanted to watch a movie about a talking lizard. Johnny Depp was a talking lizard, and I really liked Johnny Depp so we were going to watch that movie. But then you slid over to me and wrapped a long arm around my tiny waist. You bent down and put your face next to mine, and breathed into my ear. “Koto din tokey dekhini”, you said with feeling. It had only been three days. “Far too long”, you answered, and that was that.
Something deep inside me was singing then. Happy-happy-happy, it went, and I knew how happy I was. Who knows what strange twist of fate, or chance brings people into our lives, but how unutterably lucky, lucky, lucky when someone you could really love comes along and rubs their eyes, disbelieving, at the dumb luck of it, too.
Kissing you goodbye was not the hardest part because it did not feel real. Wanting so badly to reach out and feel your bony shoulders and bury my face in your neck- wanting to do that and not being able to- that was hard. It took me nine months to shed tears over the distance, but I did.
Dilli door nahi.