I have been taking care of my head as well as of my cigarettes. Our bodies would burn together and we would reunite on sparked tales. I had a written list of things that I was failing to do only because my head couldn’t stop throbbing.
I wish sleeping tablets would live up to the expectation of functioning the way that they were supposed to. I guess that’s how it is. How can man make efficient pills when he himself is inefficient? The crown of crusty disappointment had taken its place and I had no place to go. I gulped a cup of black coffee trying to tame my head. And that didn’t help.
Moving like a ghost is my favorite kind of travel, from one room to another. Sometimes slipping my feet with such ease like how the Sun mercilessly lays out his thin sheet of light and dust particles to houses of his interest or dancing in the arms of the wind and losing track of time to hallucination of the tender kind.
“Moving like a ghost is my favorite kind of travel, from one room to another.”
Maybe it was the love of my black majestic babies that led me from my bed to the window of the other room. We played a game of crumb and catch, every day. It was melancholy from my end and melody from theirs.
The black grill matched their black skin and grey feathers. And the breadcrumbs added tiny stars to the dark sight of day, I had in mind. Their beaks had a love affair with the crumbs I fed, and I was in love with all of them. I remember having their entire family over for breakfast, I eventually ran out of bread. It was my favorite kind of day.
I moved myself to that room, again. I had a slice of bread in a hand and the other ached to open the window. I tore the slice to bits and crumbs and to my delight, I had crows and ravens over for a meal. I spilled the words in the air, “here we go.” I tossed a crumb and the crow didn’t open his beak. It slapped his feather cheek and his claws slipped off the parapet.
“To my delight, I had crows and ravens over for a meal.”
I tried again and again, with a different crow and a different raven. It felt like a disturbing chorus and I realized I wasn’t feeding them anymore, I was beating them with every crumb I threw towards their face. They felt slapped, defeated and flew far away from my sight.
I lost my friends, this day.
After staying up for three nights, I thought it was time to go. I had to see her. I had to put on my best and make way out of my house to meet her. Even with the clock ticking slow, I knew that we were running out of time.
Her eyes looked so young even though she was glued to that old bed. Her face was fragile. Every inch and space of flesh was wrinkled and worn out, in a beautiful way. She lay on the aging thick mattress that took the shape of the bodies that would lie on it. Her head rested on two flat slabbed rectangular pillows, stuffed with cotton. The rest of her seemed to melt on the bed.
“I almost saw her bone and flesh parting ways, bidding goodbye.”
When I had gone to see her that afternoon, I almost saw her bone and flesh parting ways, bidding goodbye. Her bones were still coated with flesh and skin but they didn’t move together. When she would lift her hand, her bones faintly moved. I saw her breathing heavily with eyes flickering.
I didn’t know how to greet her, or tell her that I was there to see her. Looking at her, I had nothing to say. I sat beside where she was. I patted her arm and gently tried to hold her hand in mine. I don’t remember if she held my hand or I had pushed my fingers below hers. But I had my hand in hers.
She was in a small room, with windows and black grills at a distance. Her bed was stuck to that side of the wall, which greeted whoever would walk in through that door. One cylindrical gaddha that glued the other wall existed for Tai to sit, stare and take care of her. Two steel glasses with a jug adorned the wooden side table and the standing fan close to her bed occupied the rest of the space. The walker that helped her drag her feet around, remained isolated.
I thought seeing her might help. I kept a glass of water ready and dropped my pill to kiss its bottom. I wanted to fall asleep by her side, one last time.
“I wanted to fall asleep by her side, one last time.”
She had been a lively, happy soul. She used to tell me Sindhi stories full of flavor and love. Sometimes, her voice would race, she would smile, her grey eyes would sparkle and her cheekbones would get highlighted. I would listen and smile wider. She would take my face in her two strong hands and kiss my forehead. Then, she’d kiss my cheeks and I’d kiss hers too. And, her hugs! They were the warmest.
Mahim always reminds me of her. The one place that makes me feel that old is gold. That day was a dull, sunny one, I wore a red patiala with a black kurta when I had gone to see her. I wanted to wear a bindi but I’m not too sure why didn’t I. I wanted her to tell me that I look like my mother, that I look just like her daughter. But by that time, she had stopped recognizing people.
It was tough to say if she was in her senses. She had had a sleeping pill at 9.00 a.m. and it was almost five in the evening. She was so uneasy and helpless, then she moved her hands to the two square pillows beside her head and started pushing against it. She wanted to get up and I tried to help. I took her palms in mine, held tight and Tai held her body, it took about a minute for her to get up. Her face expression had gotten bitter. We had forgotten to move her leg to a comfortable position.
She rocked her body a little suggesting how bad her back was aching. She had to be held from the back to be in a position to sit so I gathered courage and put my arms around her. Her face was low with eyes even lower, her body failed to empathize with mine.
Her lips made a movement and we took that opportunity to feed her rice soaked in milk. She hadn’t eaten all day. After the very first bite, she kept her lips glued and tight. She didn’t have the energy to even look away. The milk poured out from the side of her mouth and she only opened her mouth later to spit the grain of rice, we had tried to feed her.
She sipped on water before lying down. When she did, it didn’t look like she would get up again.
After a while, she muttered that fever had come to her. She stayed there for the longest time.
I don’t remember if this day is another early morning or another exhausting night. I did my usual. I braced myself to dance with the wind to get to the window. My crow and I, both must have lacked the sense of time. He was already waiting for me.
“I lit a cigarette wanting to turn the brown of its tobacco to magical black dust.”
I lit a cigarette wanting to turn the brown of its tobacco to magical black dust. It adds beauty to the dark vision I have in my head. Of late my chest feels like an empty paper box, foiled within, waiting for me to feed it with a cigarette and then another and then another. Twenty, even after being a double-digit number feels flat and unsatisfying to walls within that hold me.
Crows like the smoke too? I can’t imagine if they do. But this one sits by my side, patiently. I grab a slice of bread and tear it to crumbs. He doesn’t wait for me to practice the usual drill. He has come with ideas of his own. He rests his claw on my left hand exactly where the piece of crumb is and shreds it to smaller bits by his beak. We stare at each other like we’re at a happy place.
I take another drag. This is the perfect start or an end to the day that’s begun or ended.
* * *
Aekta Khubchandani wears the color red on her head but loves to work in black and white. She is the author of the story “Together,” that has been published in Mosaic: An Anthology of Short Stories. Her poetry has been featured by Mad Swirl, recently. She performs poetry, writes short fiction, life articles and illustrates a few in ink and print. She is currently working on her novel.