No beginning, no middle, no end

It was that morning when the eagle swooped into her courtyard to seize one of the newborn kittens. It was a black kitten, born 28 days ago—the day her husband had died. The kids in the neighbourhood told her she should call the kitten Blackie. But she wanted the kitten to grow up with a darker name. She named him Night (though she ended up calling him Nighty anyway).

So, yes, it was the morning Nighty was carried away by an eagle. She didn’t hear his desperate squeals as there was a storm roaring in her ears. In the passage between her drawing room and her kitchen, she was getting to know a kiss after 15 years. And kisses scream in your ears when they take so long to find you. And to think of what they do then—to your lips, your heart and other greedy places in your body.

So where were we? Yes…Nighty.

It was the day that Nighty, the kitten, was carried away by the eagle, and the noisy kids in the neighbourhood came running into her house to tell her that Nighty was kidnapped. At least they wanted to tell her that. But they forgot all about it when they saw what she was doing—and what was being done to her. They wished they hadn’t yelled her name like that when they rushed in.

Because.

Everything that was happening between the Man and her suddenly came to an end. Kissing. Biting. Moaning. Stroking. Sucking. So much of action was brought to an instant halt. The kids, of course, couldn’t catalogue any of that. They just saw a man and a woman who were up to something that they didn’t want anyone else to see.

Two minutes later, she rushed out of the door to look at the sky. She loved Nighty, and she wanted to cry. But her eyes could not find the necessary tears meant for goodbye. Because her heart was beating in its cage, and after so many years she had finally tasted a kiss on her lips—a bit of the cigarette he had been smoking when he had come in, and a bit of the lemonade she had offered him when he had got up to leave.

She stood in the verandah, looking up, terrified that the kids will tell everyone around, and tomorrow the kiss would grow larger than her house, her neighbourhood, her life, her husband’s death, and it would only settle down after it had swallowed up this precious, reckless afternoon. She was thinking about the looming scandal when He came and stood behind her. She didn’t turn back to look at him. She simply told him to leave. The kids were still in the compound and they were looking at Him and her as if they were the lead pair in a raunchy C-grade movie poster.

But, no, she was the good woman from the family movies, wasn’t she? So she told Him it was a mistake and He should have kept his distance and she should have kept her dignity, and many other things that seemed appropriate for a situation like this. He heard her quietly, and then told her to shut up and to grow up. She smirked at that. He was 22, and she was 35. (She couldn’t grow up any more, could she?)

And just like that, he left. For home. For his Play Station. For his late night bar of caramel chocolate stashed in the fridge. For 4 am martial arts workout. And for the rest of his training at the National Defence Academy.

She wondered who had taught him to kiss like that? To bite blood out of lips and make it sweet. To make a woman forget she was old enough to be his…well, old enough. She watched him walk away, and wondered what he will remember about her, a week, a month, a year from now? Would he think of her as a fantasy figure from his teenage years? Or will he remember her, while guarding some cold, conflicted terrain, as a warm afternoon that had ended too soon?

Suddenly, it didn’t matter.

So she went inside her house and latched the door. There was an unfinished kiss standing in a house that had never known a kiss before. In a marriage that had lasted over 10 years, she had been devoured often and she had enjoyed some of it. But she had never known a thorough, wet kiss. That night she did something she had never done before—she slept naked. And she slept peacefully. In her dreams, she saw the eagle lose its grip on Nighty and the kitten fall on a large, gentle mimosa tree. He was bleeding, but he was alive. And lying on a bed of shy leaves, he was looking up at a sunset sky full of birds released from cages.

The next morning she got an SMS on her phone. “Send me a pic of yours. No, not a nude one. Just smile into the camera.”

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Hands, full

Hands that hold butterflies
pat stray dogs and kittens
build sand castles for restless crabs to sleep in

kiss them often
kiss them enough
hold them when they need to be held

so tomorrow they will know how to bury old grudges
instead of babies.

Dreams, unknown

Sure, you are only meant to fully remember some dreams, not all. But what about the many dreams that you walk into every night? The way you squeeze yourself under the eyelids of those who know all your truths, of those who fear some of your secrets, of those who have never looked into your eyes. It is magical how you get to hopscotch your way through the shadows of so many fears and fantasies, scratching at heartbeats, scoring karma that will always go unpunished and unrewarded in daylight. And it is mysterious why you will never get to know the men and women that you become in other people’s dreams…and even more mysterious why you will be part of some dreams and not others. Between night and morning, in the absence of light and consciousness, there are these stories you shall start but won’t ever get to finish.

Now, what made you think you only get to live one damned life? Tonight, the unknown is where you are probably going to do everything that you always wanted to.

Earth, woman

Today, she stands under an ancient oak tree to ask questions that many women before her have asked, when it was time for them to stop looking for answers. She wants to ask the tree what it feels like to stand so still and strong, despite carrying the weight of two hundred summers and winters. What does it feel like to watch a decaying wound on the trunk turn into a secret hollow that has held generations of restless snakes and their silken echoes? Does it hurt sometimes when birds build nests on the scars of its amputated branches? What are the words that the Earth has been whispering to its roots to keep it standing tall against time? And why is it that she could never whisper the same to her unborn child before he flowed like a red farewell song between her legs? For if she knew the answers, someday, she too would have had a son with a shadow mightier than the oak.

Lost, and found

 

“You are the quiet kind, right?”

“Hmm?”

“The dark, silent kind? I used to read about them in all those silly romance novels while growing up.”

She could see the outline of his smile in the moonlight that came in from the windscreen.

He chuckled when he said, “I am sure those novels didn’t have a blind hero.”

She smiled. “No.” There was a long pause before she took a deep breath and asked him, “So why flute?”

“Well, I love the way it makes me feel when I play it.”

“How does it make you feel?”

“Like I am flying, bungee jumping. I love bungee jumping.”

“Oh…? You have done that? Bungee jumping? I mean you are… I mean you can’t…uh…”

He laughed, soundlessly. “What? You don’t need eyes for bungee jumping. Plain insanity is enough, I guess.”

“But is it allowed? Bungee jumping for visually challenged people?” Even she knew that the last three words had rolled out a little to slowly.

“Visually…challenged…people,” he enunciated. “What’s so wrong with the word ‘blind’,huh? To answer your question, no, not in India, I bungee jumped in Scotland three years ago.”

She didn’t quite realise that she was holding her breath as she stared at his profile. She, who had never been at a loss for words, suddenly had none. A deep drag at her Marlboro gave her enough time to buy some.

“So, what does it feel like, doing something like that when you can’t see anything? I mean, the thrill is in seeing the world topsy-turvy. And the rush you get when you are heading towards earth. Isn’t it?”

“No, the thrill, I think, is in not knowing where you are headed. Even better when you are blind actually, because you see nothing, know nothing. It’s a jump into the unknown and the unseen.”

It was his turn to ask now: “Okay, so why are we sitting here like this? I mean, why have we stopped the car in the middle of nowhere? Okay, let me get to the point…what is a woman like you doing with a man like me on a Friday night?”

“Self-pity?” she turned to look at his face when she said that.

“Ah. I don’t even know what you look like. For all I know, you may not be my type.”

“Aha! And what is your type?”

“Curvy women…thick lips…smelling of men’s perfume…someone who loves to sing even when she knows she is a pathetic singer.”

“Hmm.” She paused for a bit. “Want to feel my lips and confirm some things for a start?

He laughed: “Well, if you ask that way, no.”

She had to admit she was a little taken aback here. “So you are a guy who likes the chase, huh?”

“I don’t know about the chase, but sometimes I don’t like getting to the point too soon.”

“So you admit we will get to the point, sooner or later?”

He was quiet. “I don’t know. Tell me something…why me?”

“Why not you? Stop fishing for compliments!”

“Come on. There were four other guys in that group. And it is not music, I am sure. Because if it was that, Roy plays the guitar way better than I play the flute. He is the best among us. And he is the hottest too. Wherever we go, girls want to rip his clothes off.”

She laughed when he said that: “Well, I am not the average girl.”

“I guessed that. The average girl wouldn’t offer a lift back home to a guy she has known for just half an hour. And that too a blind guy.”

She stared at his profile. The back of his head was resting lightly, relaxed, against the car seat. His white shirt appeared whiter in the dark. And the hair peeking out of the collar made her gulp. She wanted to bury her nose there.

“You really want to know?” She asked. He said nothing. “All through the evening, when the group was playing at Red Horn, the sound from your flute did things to my skin. Those notes ran all over my body, and when you reached that crazy crescendo at the end, I was…I was….”

“Wet?” He asked. It was a wicked smile.

She said nothing. Normally, she was the one who seduced men with her bold, come-hither ways. She, the writer, who knew all the words and had all the wit. And here was a guy who could never see her face—or how she lusted for him.

She inhaled. In the silence of the car, it was distinctly audible.

She reached for his hand. The weight of it surprised her. He didn’t have slim, artistic fingers. His palm was broad, fleshy and warm. His fingers were thick, and she wondered if he would still be so cool and calm if she sucked at his fingertips. She turned a little in the driver’s seat and leaned in a little closer to bring his hand to her lips. She stared at his profile and let her lower lip do all the talking with his fingers. Her moist lower lip.

She wasn’t shy. She had never been shy, even when she had first bared her body to a man, back when she was 17. The guy had wanted her to be coy, though, and resist his hands when he had reached for her breast. She hadn’t; instead she had undone the hooks of her red lace top. He had later asked her if she had done it before. She realised then that sexual enthusiasm was not a virtue—demure pretense was. But she forgot to keep that in mind every time a man reached for her. Thankfully, she met a few men who enjoyed her utter lack of inhibition. There was no man who could make her blush.

And there was no man who seemed so disinterested in her either as the one whose fingers she was kissing.

She was about to escort his hand back to his lap, when he shifted in his seat and leaned towards her. He brushed his thumb across her lips. Slowly, dragging them, learning their shape. She had a fat lower lip. She hoped it was thick enough for him.

“What? Did I pass the test?” She asked, her lips curved into a naughty smile that he would never know.

He smiled back. And said nothing. His eyes were closed. There was a lock of hair that had come off his ponytail. His palm didn’t need escorting now. It caressed her face. She loved her skin, and secretly knew he would like it too. She didn’t like her nose, though, and knew he wouldn’t think much of it either.

“I like your nose. Big.” He tapped her bulbous nose.

“Hello, I know a compliment when I hear one, and that is not a compliment.”

He laughed a little laugh. “What do I do if I like a strong nose on a woman?” he said as his fingers trailed to her neck and then lower.

Suddenly she gripped his hand tightly in place. Their entwined hands on her collarbone looked straight out of the pages of a romance novel. She had never known romance except in those novels, between imaginary characters.

“For some reason, I didn’t expect you to be coy,” he said, looking mock serious.

He could feel the pulse leap in the niche of her collarbone.

“Is that so? You are right, I am not coy.”

Before he could guess her next move, she buried her face in his neck. Her hand was still clutching his hand, holding them firmly in place between their seats. The kiss, when it happened, was a hungry mating of tongues. Her hands roamed all over his chest, his shoulders, tugging at his ponytail. She smelled of Hugo Boss, and he couldn’t help smiling into her neck. He knew the smell because he had been wearing the same fragrance for the last 12 years.

By now her restless hands had discovered how turned on he was. It was thrilling to know that a man could want her so badly. Suddenly, she wanted to cry and laugh. “I want you” she whispered, as she teased him.

But by then his hand was on her breast. And she slapped it away.

“Why won’t you let me touch you? You don’t like your breasts touched, is it?” He murmured intimately into her neck.

“I don’t.”

The two words were like two ice cubes, clinking together in a whiskey glass. She closed her eyes and wished she didn’t sound so curt.

Her fingers snaked up his thigh.

“I just want to make you feel good. Don’t you want that?”

After about thirty seconds, he said, “I do. But first, I want you to sit on my lap.

“Why?”

“Hey, just because I cannot see doesn’t mean I don’t know how to touch a woman. I want to touch you. Will you take that shirt off?”

She exhaled sharply: “You love women with big breasts, don’t you?”

“Yes. What happened, you are scared I won’t like yours if they are tiny?” She went quiet, so he had to diffuse the moment. “Hello! Are you there?”

“I had breast cancer two years ago. I don’t have a left breast.” She looked out of the window.

“What do I say?” That wasn’t quite the response she was expecting.

“You can just shut up and say nothing,” she said tightly. Her throat was tight and hurting. The cigarette helped. It always did.

“I wish I had gotten to know that left breast of yours before you lost it. I am sorry I got here a little late. But I can still get to know the other one tonight, can’t I?”

When she felt his hand tugging her fingers loose from her tightly clenched fist, she took a deep drag of nicotine and slowly dissolved into tears.

“Now, get onto my lap, will you? I don’t have eyes. You don’t have a breast. God help us, so we have a lot of empty space within us. Do you really want to fill that with tears?”

She turned her face to look at him. She looked at his eyes. He was looking somewhere near the dashboard. But she knew, she had finally met a man who could see her.

Answers, true

The leaves of that wise tree in your grandmother’s backyard, the one that ate up your shadow while you stole its mangoes. The eyes of the puppy that you wanted to bring home, the one who didn’t care you will never own a house as big as your heart. The sleeping pill that swallows your fears every night, and replaces them with forgotten dreams in your eyes. The lump in your throat that knows the exact weight of your tears, like your closest friend never will. The sheet of rain that runs down your body to deliver your scent to the earth you walk on. The scar on your skin that hides timidly, yet hopes a lover will come seek it. Stop and get to know all of these, every now and then. Because if some day, someone asks you who you really are, maybe this is where you should return to looking for answers.

Letters, blue

I want a warm, sunny day to bring me a blue inland letter at my door. I want your name on it, because names are beautiful, little things that aren’t loved enough. Write me a recipe, will you? Not borrowed from books or the Internet, but something that has sprung out of your madness and instinct and unbearable hunger, or even better, handed over to you with the pride of a legacy. Let not the measurement of ingredients be in cupfuls or spoonfuls; instead, share with me their weight and lightness like you would a poem. Tell me more about the smells that found home in your hands, when you rinsed, picked, chopped, crushed, pounded and discarded. In the margins, write to me the verse of the song that you hummed while stirring the pot or while looking out of the window as you peeled garlic. Was it a crow or a sparrow or a pigeon that fluttered boldly over to the windowsill, hoping you would hold a morsel for its beak? I will be happier knowing that you have learned its language. That you stopped to look into the bird’s eyes when it looked into yours. I also hope you remembered someone lovingly while the flavours melded in the pot, and I hope it was someone who had once made your eyes burn just like those onions did. Gather all of it in your hands – the songs, the memories, the tears, the steam, the smells, the fire and the tired sheen of the cooking pot – and place it on a blue inland letter. Drop it in the postbox down the road that is mostly empty these days, much like what you and I have become. Send me a recipe, will you? I am waiting here, hungry to eat up a mundane moment from your life.