The queue seemed to stretch for miles with people moving like they had all the time in the world.
I was tired and unsure of the ground below me. I looked around and decided that the people there were a sorry lot despite being dressed up like a carnival. The ones that smiled made me uncomfortable.
Eventually I reached the gate. Some guy there showed me a video- all sped up but vaugly familiar. I said “What a sad little story, you guys should make that a movie.”
He said “The name’s Peter. That was your life on replay.”
At the vacant beach
Wave after wave of memory.
On a bike, I cycle all the way
To my childhood.
I remember facing my cup and not noticing dusk
I rose to watch the moon in flowing stream
The birds are close and people far as leaves litter the brook’s silver.
The sunlight snagged
In barbed wire.
The astrologer gave me a wicked smile as he called me closer. Even the poorly painted palm that advertised his presence seemed sinister.
His office was tucked away in a narrow lane with many houses bearing down on the road, but I saw no people. Inside it was painted red and the only light came from a dirty, shut window. He gave me a rusted coin box while he prepared his cowrie shells.
He smiled when I dropped a whole heap of coins but gasped when he looked at how his shells fell. I looked at him hopefully but he only said “I don’t like looking at my own future.” and returned my coins with a grimace.
It’s an orange glow
that rips the shadows apart
-the one’s the city casts.
Over roofs are clothes,
people on phones,
besieged by electric poles.
Fireworks and traffic show
The city’s bare bones.
Night shift at the ER. A man lies dead and the watchman walks fast. All the patients hold their fears close but he must watch his own step.
At the tea stall outside he is nervous and turns to a stranger. “He kept swearing he saw his father. Old fool. How do people believe such things? All day and night with these sick people. I should be seeing ghosts all the time.”
He finishes his beedi and says “What about you? You believe in ghosts?”
“I’m not that foolish” says the chaiwala and the watchman sees his companion has gone.
My mother always loved her job, even if she was only a housekeeper at the nursing home.
She would take my sister and I there to visit her co-workers or some of the old folk. She had an aunt who lived there too.
The nursing home was painted a drab and faded white. But it was always dark and shadowy despite the huge windows and buzzing lights everywhere.
Even though I was young I knew this was a place of death. The people were frail and sickly watching reruns all day long. Even the artful wall that bore the names of the deceased seemed foul despite the many attempts to make it a more pleasant monument.
None of this affected my mother who always remained upbeat and spoke about the many reasons why she loved working with the elderly. Maybe that’s why she always took us along with her. We were always there on the weekends and we would have to wait till she finished her lunch and took us to attend mass.
We’d mill about and explore while she ate, ignoring the strong stench of urine that haunted the place. Once when I was six I wandered off while my sister stayed with my mother.
I heard a women shout “I’m in pain” over and over. There was something familiar about the voice. When I asked my mother about it she said the woman would do that every day and we should just ignore it. Later she explained stroke or dementia patients have verbal preservation, or the repetition of certain words or phrases due to the condition.
When I grew up I started work at the nursing home’s sister institution. I didn’t want to come back home to be honest but I didn’t have many options. I was also curious about my aunt. I couldn’t remember a thing about her except that she had dementia.
Family friends would always talk about her as a forceful and determined woman who had a habit of bearing grudges. She grew quite bitter after a car crash severly injured her arms and she was confined to her bed.
I though my conservative relatives weren’t giving a free thinker her due and was curious to learn more about her. Strangely ever since I moved back I would have bizzare dreams of me at her bedside, playing the crule games only children who don’t quite know what pain is yet can. My sister cries in the background while my aunt struggles to say something.
The two facilities were connected so that staff could get around easily. I’d often make trips to the other facilities kitchen. It just so happens that this was the faculty where the shouting lady lived but I didn’t remember at the time.
I though I heard a distant “I’m in pain” echo a few times. I looked around a few times to see where it came from, but all I saw were empty rooms and made beds.
I stopped a nurse and told her I thought I heard something.
“You did”she replied. “Every now and then the call light will go off and then you hear…”
“I’m in pain”
I realised that the voice sounded very familiar and the dream with my aunt flashed before my eyes. I shook it off and told myself to stop being silly.
Back at the other facility I was talking to a regular dementia patient I was working with. She still had moments of clarity and enjoyed stories, although she would always remain silent. I told her the story and wondered if it was a ghost.
“I wonder why it doesn’t just grab me” I said as I drew up my chair. I noticed my patient look straight into my eyes.
Without breaking her stare she said “That’s because the woman under your chair has no arms.”
The park was always in ruins. No one knew if it had ever seen better days but you can be sure that the colony’s respectable residents would never be seen there.
I would always scheme with the other residents about it. Especially that Naik. No one would ever think we didn’t get along.
Living near a place with such a bad reputation can do us no good. The atmosphere is never right but these other fools will never understand. Everything that is bad happens because of atmosphere. It is why dictators who smoke get their countries in trouble. They make for terrible atmosphere. Just look at Cuba.
Now we must do something about those dam hooligans at the park. Everyone nods when I tell them this but are happy to sit at home with only the light from their TV’s leaving their houses when the time is right. How many time have I told them of my plan? That gatekeeper is terrible. I keep telling him to get the other servants together and paint those dam fences.
Those rusty fences would give you tetanus if you even look at them. My plan was perfect. It was simple, and the intelligent could see that this rainy night was actually the best time for it. Just a few knocks on the head would send those idiots at the park away. They were better off at home rather than hanging out in parks so late. Well, so I thought.
There’s the gateman now. His smile always unsettels me. It seems to be mocking me in its unusual whiteness. Maybe I should give him a knock on the head too, now that I know the measure of my blows. He wasn’t wearing a watch. More time would always do me good.
No, I just have to get back to the east gate. I was right, the atmosphere was perfect. In the rain all you could see was the blue and yellow glows from the apartment windows and the lamps that would only fliker like the insects that flew past them.
I looked at my watch carefully.
Hmm. I didn’t mean to do it honestly, but I think it will be for the best. All I saw was him shuffling around aimlessly, suspiciously. I should have noticed that bent gait but I was a bit too excited to be honest. I took my walking stick and aimed.
It should have hit his arm buy he stumbled across nothing. That dam Naik. What was he doing in the park without me? I was the one of started the whole clean park business and now he goes off without me?
I nearly felt my pulse go when his did but I realised that atmosphere was just right. I made sure to tap my walking stick extra loud and even leave a cough or two as the gateman walked by. I didn’t want to oversell it.
That fool was always blind, might actually take him a few days to find Naik. I looked at my watch carefully in the orange street light and memorised the exact time again.
Who could know if I came home at 8 or 9? No one other than the gateman would know I was at the park and I would have many ready to testify how I sat by the TV all day. When the police come at least there won’t be anymore idiots at the park anymore.