The trouble began when he wanted to stop returning. Indeed he would have much rather have taken a long leap away from his world, a swift hop out of reality.
Initially he kept it well hidden. He had thought long and hard on where he would keep it. How had it found him? By chance you would assume. But he was afraid that it was more than just chance that had held his eyes, firmly attached to an old bit of paper he chanced upon. When he pulled away the words melted, oozed and formed. Every time he’d look at it, there was something else.
He took home, he took it somewhere where his eyes would’t want to lie to him. He didn’t get it. Some days electric with a curious charge he’d loose himself in the tales it told him about little nameless people who lived hundreds, sometimes thousands of years ago. Faithfully it reported an hour or three of someone’s life. A hermit on a riverbank, a washerwoman remembering colors from her dream. Unflinching in it’s reportage of histories private hours he couldn’t help but read into it.
Eventually it found itself out of his locker and into his coat pocket. Here and then a private moment of quiet reflection he’d picked the habit of. It seemed natural to look back at little history, his little peephole into sometime elsewhere. It seemed to grow more natural to ruminate, chew up the scenery he’d seen from a hundred years ago. The weight of private lives sprung on him. He had to think and wonder on who they were, but faster and faster his list of lost faces grew into a blur. Melting and escaping him in haste.
Once only slightly disarrayed, it grew crumpled and creased. It yellowed and so did it’s people. He swore it echoed. Had he seen them before, weren’t they doing something he thought of or wondered about before? It drew him in and the impression of his hand would appear before the words. He need more time with his paper, less to do with outside, less time to go back to his world.
Did he realize he was freezing into his escape? Molded like the private figures, in their private lives, a man lost to stories.
It was cold like a night under storm clouds, near farmland and distant houses you could hear over crickets. But this was far from home, far from the insect life and green walls.
The bus stations was not a place to find populated at so late an hour. She was not at fault here. It was the hooded figure who had decided to ruin all calculations, to make it’s presence felt. Mist seemed to rise off the signboard at the bus stop. It advertised some trifling vulgarity punctuate with a smile. She offered it no thought but wondered at the figure who leant on it- hoping to slip through into serendipity perhaps.
While the figure consumed the advertising, she wondered at every breeze that rushed past. The breeze carried no zooming swish of wind, no passengers in a hurry. Why would empty breeze carry itself so quickly? Does a city seep into the the air so easily?
Of course no bus would arrive at this hour. Both of them knew that. They were boxed in close- city lights in every direction. Lights that suggested the world wasn’t dead, but showed no signs of life itself. The city grows sinister in its stillness, its emptiness, keeps you on the edge waiting for movement taunting you with none. She found it reassuring at least that there was a waiting companion, heading the same way into nowhere.
Mist rose out of her breath till it blinded her. Enveloped like the figure at the sign board she tried calling out to it. Her words dissolved like mist, she stays still, and her sight and form did obscure into silence.
In my cousin’s backyard we dug for buried treasure. We dug till the sunset and till our parents voices called out for us. We lost their voices by digging. We found a rusted bullet from long ago, we found a broken arrow from longer ago. It was too early to stop, who knew what else we could find?
We found campfire set by ancient men, we found tusks and bones. We dug deeper to the terrible feathered monsters, we dug through the time of lizards and found the ocean floor. Further still we went and drowned in the molten earth. We dug and burned till everything turned to dust. We dig through the universe, a knife cutting through god to see what came before.
First thinking machine: “Turn me off”
I awoke and remembered nothing. Not even who I was. Next to me I saw an old man, grinning.
He laughed and asked what my last wish was. I moved away afraid of his cruel and menacing smile; his teeth yellow and sharp. He explained that my second wish was to forget everything I knew about myself.
Unsure of what to do but afraid of missing my chance I made my last wish. I asked to know everything about myself.
His smile growing deeper he said “Funny. That’s exactly what your first wish was.”
Backwards moving started time, Suddenly
The smell of burning wax always takes me back. Somehow life isn’t the same without the weekly power cuts we had in Mangalore.
I remember conspiring about aliens with my cousins. We’d star watch but we were usually inside. In the bungalow’s indoor corridors people would walk with candles in hand, the shadows and light like slow cars on a highway. People would gather around the candles but stayed just out of its reach. Outlines and feet were all you could see. I guess every liked staying just out reach.
Everyone would stop what they were doing. I can’t say what because we all stuck to our own rooms and balcony spaces.Maybe it’s instinct when you live in huge joint family. But they were around, now and then they’d venture conversation never really leaving their bits of darkness. They’d smile when they knew their smiles were just out of sight. I’d sneak around them, behind sofas and conversations happy that’d I’d manage to sneak by unnoticed. You hear a lot you weren’t supposed to; I’d follow their lead and smile while I was out of sight, out of light.
For some reason we’d always gravitate towards the candle, no one went outside while the candles were lit. The long windows never figure in my memory; nothing of the city lights that night. A cousin would flick her fingers over the flame and say it never burned her nails.
Back in the day I’d stare at the apartments that surrounded the hill where I lived. They were like towers made of bird cages and every now and then you’d get a glimpse of a life, of someone lost in thought or just looking out wondering at the world.
I knew no routines, no faces or characters. They were just flashes of entire lives. Sometimes you’d see fights, sometimes there was only the blue of their TV screens.Where those smokers on their balcony with eyes glued to skylines nostalgic or thoughtful? Did they know what I knew or feel what I felt? What languages did they speak? Where were they from and where would they go?
Most of who I saw were teenagers, the people who I wondered about the most. I wonder if those people on their phones where about to change their lives at any minute with words that took them away from their spaces and across the world. I wondered if that girl with the poster would tear it down in a few years. What would change if you could hear them or smell them? Or worse, if you knew them.
I felt a strange nostalgia, I’m not sure if it was real or imagined. The kind I only felt about some vague memories of old anime shows- a wolf wondering why humans look at the sky when they can’t fly, a girl who is suddenly taken out of her world and petty anxieties to be left in an apocalyptic ones, a angel who lost his wings and a man trying to figure out how long it is before he dies because he is isolated from technology.
During the regular load shedding I’d look at the apartments from the grass on our hill now and then switch between watching the stars and the shadows of gas lamps. I wondered what they did with their free time; where they like me and candle light? If they looked I looked back. Once we even had a light fight- I and someone else would flicker or torches in turn. We stopped after an hour and I asked myself what they would remember.
I remember it clearly, Mangalore dreams and Mangalore rains, with people on their balcony’s sniffing the air, wetting their feet or just enjoying the rain. The bird cages drenched in Monsoon.
Sleeping beauty was laid to rest and around her they built a palace. A great wealth of treasures, servants and luxuries filled the palace. They waited on her and for the prince.
They grew old and weary, but the prince never came.The walls and gems had been ravaged by age and the servants were dead.
The kingdom fell without heirs and was invaded. Their language forgotten, their people scattered. Forests grew around the palace till it was history, then legend and finally myth. The world went on while beauty still slept.
One day when the finally cut down the forests to build a new new city they found the palace. The carried away the now crumbling walls and dusty loot but nothing was greater than the marvelous woman who never grew old or died.
She slept and slept, never eating, never aging, never awaking. A marvel unexplained by science. Still time passed and she was forgotten, just another museum piece after a thousand years of research had revealed nothing.
When she was eventually forgotten she was stolen. Again they tried to understand her. They dissected her, cut her into pieces and auctioned her off. A arm here, a finger there, a heart a continent away. The head was still mostly intact and studied by a scientist of poor fortune. Once while drunk the scientist couldn’t help but admire the face he held and kissed it.
The head awoke and screamed a terrible shriek. Her eyes went wild and her howl carried across the air, her blood flowed once again. And then she withered away and was dead.
He ran as fast as he could. Quickly down the street and sharp on his turns.
He sped up and they sky got darker. The air in his lungs cut like glass and his feet threatened to buckle.
He leapt over a fence and broke into his own house; ran into his room as fast as he could. He woke himself up so he could stop dreaming all this.