This is an experiment. Actually, it is an experiment from more than 10-years-ago. I had written some shorts at that time and found them again recently.
They’ve been cleaned up a bit to spare you some of the cringeworthy bits.
This is fiction.
It is total darkness, there is a spot of light and the silhouette of two men in the distance, barely audible voices.
He walks closer to find out more.
It is two men arguing in the distance.
It is a very heated argument and he walks on closer yet to see if he can do anything.
The face of the man on the left startles him, it is only himself.
Younger, but it is indeed him, wearing his favourite old check shirt and it was the room that he used to live in way, way back.
As he measures the time that has progressed from then, by feeling the lines on his face, the receding hairline and the wrinkles on his skin, he is jolted out his bubble by a renewed attack by his younger self.
“Why can’t you appreciate what I stand for? Why can’t you appreciate that I value my freedom a lot above everything else?”
The other man, who is much older, retorts: “I can’t appreciate it, I can’t appreciate it because you are hiding from everything and once you take that away, you are nothing but one of us, you cannot disown your own blood. Freedom is an illusion that death alone redeems.”
The words echo with an eerie familiarity that prompts him to grasp the nearby table to steady himself.
After recovering his composure a bit, he looks again at his younger self.
And he sees the his own expression mirrored on that face, be it a bit less mauled by age.
A feeling of overwhelming frustration overcomes him and he screams out “No, no, no, I do not want to go through this again and I am definitely not one of you!”.
But the words have only the shape on his mouth, they have no sound.
The words do ring out though, but it is not coming from him. Looking around, he realises it is coming from his younger self.
Everything spins around into a dizzying vortex of faces, voices, echoes, arguments.
He screams: “NO.. NO.. NO.. NO.. please, please, make it stop!”
It is once again total darkness.
The surrounding silence is deprived of its totality by his troubled breathing and the old ceiling fan which groans out the truth about its overworked bearings with every half turn.
He wakes up and sits upright on the bed.
There are streams of sweat running all over his face, its saltiness brings him slowly back to reality.
Angels covered in gaudy make up sing the song “baby come back” to him.
In their background appears the familiar figure of the old man.
He stops at the verge of screaming out again just when he realises that what stands in the distance is only his own coat hanging from the wall.
What a nightmare!
He checks the time in the timepiece.
A dozen post-its (do taxes, book tickets for the much-needed vacation and so on) stare at him from every corner of the table, it’s been a struggle, of late, to keep up.
The timepiece tells him it is half past three in the morning.
It is day fourteen, he reminds himself.
From the terrace, the city sprawls from one corner of his eye to the other. In the distance there are the hills that he has never been to, a mass of indistinguishable concrete buildings just in front of that that, and closer by there are other terraces.
Numerous sounds fill the air, jostling with each other to be louder. Car horns, music from the building across the street, police siren and the aircraft making its landing approach all mix and match in an urban symphony.
Why do men have a fascination for heights? He asks himself.
Freedom, escape, perfect family, perfect love life, perfect everything that you never have in life is associated with that one vain gesture of flight.
Or at least the superficial attempts to attain it.
He even manages to laugh, imagining himself flying off the terrace.
He wonders if there anything original left in life? Even life is not original, nor is death, it has been played out so many times before.
The question regarding heights is a pertinent one, especially considering the fact that he is standing on the parapet’s edge.
Another aircraft making its final approach snaps him out of his thoughts.
It is the 11: 25 AM monster cargo aircraft.
In five minutes the fat lady in the building across the street will be out to hanging her day’s washing to dry.
Ms. Clockwork is the name he had given her.
It always used to make Mala laugh; not because she thought it was smart, but because she thought it was silly.
The door creaks open and Ms. Clockwork makes her appearance.
He gets down quickly before she catches him teetering on the edge.
What would it feel like to have one’s life dominated by the act of washing clothes? He wonders.
Taking the thread of speculation further, he wonders, who would wash the clothes once she is dead?
Would they all wear black at her funeral?
He tries to picture her apartment after her death.
A lot of sad looking mourners. A smiling picture of her’s when she was younger, probably happier too and a solitary diya to keep her company.
He adds the washing tub into this imaginary scene, right next to her picture, in all its shiny virgin plastic glory.
He asks himself, would he go there then?
No, he certainly not.
Humour is easy, dealing with the dead and the soon-to-be dead is a tough business.
Not for him and no time either.
He makes his way to the door and the staircase.
The gentle warmth of the winter sun disappears from the back of his neck as he runs into the embrace of the damp coldness of the staircase.
The staircase is dimly lit and the railings are of wooden that has seen too many years of neglect since its life as a tree came to an end. Faded and damp wallpaper adorn the walls.
Three flights down, a door opens and a boy, all of 16, runs out.
A middle-aged woman hurriedly follows him out, stops herself at the door and screams, “listen you little twerp, you have done nothing in the day and now you go running off again”.
Her dirty apron and the flour-gloved hands bear testimony to the rigours of an average housewife’s tough life.
“But all the other kids are playing in the street, mother. I want to be with them,” the kid responds.
“Hah! they have done their work and wants only your ruin and if you go out right now, you can be sure of a sound caning and no dinner when you get back, make up your mind,” she growls at him.
“Then so be it” is the boy’s reply as he runs out of the building.
She walks back in, slamming the door shut and the dull silence returns, broken only by his heavy footsteps as he walks past the now-empty staircase.
He looks closely at the wooden railings and every other minute detail about the place.
How different even familiar things look when you look up close, he thinks to himself as he walks into the street, with the evening sun’s rays blinding his eyes.
Outside the door, kids are playing in the street, like in any other middle-class neighbourhood. Handful of few vendors line the street with their carts.
The first man to catch his attention is the peanut vendor.
Yes, the same favourite peanut vendor of theirs who looks back at him in anticipation of news that would cheer him up.
Truth be told, Mala liked the peanuts more than he did and it brings a smile to his lips.
“No, I should not think about it.”
The vendor’s held-back enthusiasm flags and tries to say a sorry with a nod.
He cannot quite avoid the bitterness that threatens to overcome him.
He wonders if it is his misfortune or the loss of a regular client that made the vendor sad.
I’ll never know abut that one, he tells himself.
Leaving the vendor behind, he turns around the corner to find the regular group of guys from the street. As always, they noisy and rowdy.
Among them he spots a familiar face and he smiles again recognising his own adolescent self.
As he walks past them he overhears their conversation.
They are talking about girls, ambition and not much else in between.
It is only our lad who does not have a definite opinion.
His face is not pristine as it was before, he bears many a scar now – of love, of flights and fights and of universal ridicule.
His answers are only marked with “I do not know” and vague descriptions that leave everyone else with an idea of ‘elsewhere’ that is as vague as anything can ever be.
But even with the liberty that his rebellious nature grants him, freedom is one scar he does not sport.
Freedom from the ‘not here, but elsewhere’ feeling.
Can anyone be free when they feel like that? He thinks about those days as he turns around the corner.
Midway on that stretch is his favourite bookshop.
He peeks in to see one of his rare saviours lovingly dusting off his collection of books, that very few people ever bother to buy.
This is the toothless old man who gave the world of letters back to him.
He walks in and wishes the oldie; his toothless smile is as warm as ever.
As he breathes in the musty smell, it takes him back to the countless hours they used to spend together, talking about books, over many mugs of coffee.
A similar musty smell that he again found in one of the offices he used to work.
How did it get there? Maybe it is the only strange connection between two odd saviours, when all else failed.
The common link being the very rare instances of his looking forward to anything, with a touch of desperate anticipation, at different stages in life.
After their usual conversation he prepares to take his leave.
“Won’t he pick any new books,” asks the old man asks.
He tells the oldie that it won’t be necessary.
As he departs he gives the frail old man a hug and murmurs, “thank you for everything”.
The old man is perplexed, even taken aback as he walks out of the door.
Dusk finds the final rays of the sun playing hide and seek through the grille of the the park’s gate.
He makes way for an old lady, who smiles a “thank you” at him.
Since it is winter, there are not many takers for the park benches.
The ones who are there are sitting in benches far apart.
The life around the park is a distant, hurried contrast to the ghosts of the living and the dead which inhibit the park now, for whom time has come to a stand-still.
There is nowhere to reach in a hurry for them.
He moves on to their favourite bench.
He is reminded of why they were so fond of that bench.
They could pop pebbles into the murky lake with ease from that bench and yet be far enough to not see how terribly murky the lake actually was.
He checks the date again.
Fourteen days ago, this is where they spent the last of their time together.
It was an uncharacteristic silence
The only conversation that had happened was when he finally asked her if it was time they left.
To which she agreed: “Yes, let’s go”.
Outside the gate, they only thing they said was “goodbye”.
Which was a stark contrast to the animated exchange of words that normally mark their meetings.
For a second he almost felt her hair brush his face and her voice faint and echoing in the distance.
He ridicules his never-ending capacity for nostalgia.
Still, he takes a look around to make sure if she was not actually there.
There should not be any regrets in life and everyone deserves their fair chance to make their case, he tells himself.
His eyes settle on the same bench, on which was now seated a man, dressed rather well for the crowd that frequents this place.
He seems to be busy scribbling something in a diary.
He takes a few steps forward to take a glimpse at what he is writing.
From behind the man’s shoulder he could just about see the words “Of all days..”
Suddenly, the man looks at his watch and stops writing.
And as suddenly as he stopped writing, closes his diary, gets up and walks off.
In the distance, the sun sets and darkness falls.
It is the bedroom again, the reading lamp is on and the timepiece tells us that the time is five past nine in the night.
The stillness, disturbed only by the clock, receives an unwelcome jolt when the phone starts ringing.
It rings for a while and then the answering machine kicks into life.
His voice says “I am not here, leave a message if you feel like it, can’t promise I will call you back”.
“Hey, it is Mala, I know you are there, so please pick up the phone, we need to talk,” she says right after the loud beep.
“I saw you in the park today and called out to you, but you got up and left by the time I got there”, a tinge of desperation seeps into her voice before she hangs up.
She tries a few more times, but can’t get past the answering machine.
“I miss you, please call me”, she says almost in tears, before she puts the phone down for the last time.
From the edge of the bed his blood-stained hand hangs lifelessly.
On the floor below, in a pool of blood, is his knife that had been through his wrist.
Next to it, partially drenched in blood, was his diary, open and with the last page that had a sentence, which was clearly finished in two parts.
It read, “Of all days… she will call me today”.