On a wind laden hilltop
a cloud flying through
misty curving roads
whichever way I turn
purple hill flowers,
the scent of dusk…
there! and there!
and even then…
Back in Mangalore the library came to us. Struggling against the heat and the uphill climb an old man cycled closer.
Every month or fortnight he’d arrive. His bycycle had a large open box attached at the back. He could have fit in it easily. The box was made of tin or some metal that was showing its age, but it was not rusted.
Inside the box were comic books and magazines. Good literature too, maybe some religious works but I never bothered about them. The family would gather near the bycycle and pick up new material. The old man always stood bent over the box, watching what we’d pick up.
The material wasn’t actually new. They were just the latest things he got his hands on. Books from America libraries, books that said “remember me Jess”, book with random writing, folds and tears. The books were usually from the 70’s and 80’s with Americans having written in them. I have no idea how they got here.
I’d take copies of Archie’s comics and try to figure out the magazines. I must have been very young; I was very proud about having learnt how to spell “Zoo” from one of them.
The cycle library seemed to disappear from my life after a while, just all those warm Mangalore afternoons when there was nothing to do.
I don’t really have many pictures of myself when I was young, I was far to self-conscious and would scatter the second I heard some eager creature with a camera. So when I realize that my makeshift mouse-pad was an old picture of me on my 8th birthday I was quite startled.
I’d say something cliché like “memories came rushing back”, but really, that isn’t the truth. The picture felt like a rough jab because it reminded me that the memory -or even memories were always around. I remember what T-shirts people wore, how they smelt and where my dog had bitten three of my friends. It’s like writing a word on paper, closing your eyes and recalling every curve,swish and dot. On the left, my other wise pretty cousin is on the sofa with us, mouth wide open ready to chomp on a slice of chocolate cake she holds. I am in between. I look anorexic you’d think my cousin was inspired to enjoy her meal because of my plight yet I smile away trying to adjust my red birthday cap. My father sits on the right with his hand awkwardly feeling the wall behind the sofa. He looks like a cat about to be run over.
Most of those parties always went the same way. My dad would yell and throw a fit about me not helping him decorate, I’d ask him why people need birthdays in the first place (while I wondered why I had to decorate if the whole thing was about me). My father wears a simple white shirt and looks 40. He’s looked like he’s 40 ever since he finished high school. Now he’s 55 and still looks 40.
My cousin and I, both skinny and young, both in bright yellow hand me downs and with birthday caps that just won’t stay on our heads look like natural allies. She was almost done with high-school by then, but had not yet learnt how to avoid getting yelled at by the many aunts who inhabited the mansion. Back then I never understood why she was so eager to drag me away from cartoon network, and talk to me about the most random things. I never got why people kept telling her to go ask her mother to pay her bills. We’d sit by the little outlook on the hill and count the number of black cars and buses that needed a wash. She’d talk about how she’d have to dig up graves to find teeth so she could study dentistry.
I forgot about her entirely when my mother and I left that old house and that part of the family. In my defense I was a kid, I never got her rants about her nokia and pink cycle. I saw her again 3 years ago when both of us went back to the old house. We shrugged and said “meh” to everyone else there. We saw each other. We shrugged and said “meh”. She had a kid apparently.
It’s an odd photo. Very obviously candid. None of us seem affected by the din that must have been taking place in the center of the room. There only three of us three, on a sofa colored like pencil lead, against a bland green wall. For some reason that image always seems to simple,recent and familiar to forget.