During the days we met, the rains were light. The mushrooms behind the house had weeded brown and you had said how sitting by them I looked like the boy who came out of water in a certain book you had read recently. On Fridays, you came early with a polythene packet knit gently around your wrist, dangling.
“Baruahs sold out for the day. Just the last two. Lucky! Aren’t we?” sweat and rain mixed on your tongue. You have run for long and I can hear your breaths breaking the cold. The soil has edged into the stitches of your sandals. The roads in Uzanbazar are thick trails of sludge at this time of the year. You blow over the patties, they are hot. And I stare at your hands; there is something stony about them. Below the sleeves of yours shirt I can see your arms tanned in patches. “Khaa, or it’ll be cold!” Your indifference to my secret voyeuring is comforting. I savour the patties, warm on my palm, and a few other things forbidden by guilt – seeing you licking the flakes of the last remaining bits; the lump in your throat rises and falls and runs down to depths I have averted my eyes for long.
At night, Maa unlocks the room and spots me, running my fingers across the contours of a couple of photographs we had clicked at school. It was your new Nokia handset. Or was it Uncle’s? I faintly remember you telling me how you had slipped it inside your pocket from Uncle’s study drawer. Maa’s mild gaze is undisturbing. I trace every dot from the deepening eye-lines to the square neat hair on your neck, framing a secret algorithm to be virile, decoded precisely upto your nails.The world of numbers and ratios is limiting, and the spirit feels trapped. Didn’t I tell you of this the very day you had professed your love for Roger Penrose in front of the whole class, mocking at my ignorance of how the universe is an eleven-dimensional model?
“Shool’er ki?” Maa asks. Is it from school?
I nod without taking my eyes off. “Have you decided on college?”
I shake my head. My heart knows the answer and there is a little guilt pent up like a bird fluttering against a cage.
“I understand you do not want to leave. But Bubai, the house needs to be sold. Shyam Mama has made all the arrangements in Sealdah, you know…”
“Maa, the book you bought me last week,” I cut her short. And she, most visibly, seems displeased once again. But lets me carry on. “Wuthering Heights, yes. I loved it! You know, it reminds me of things primordial. I mean…”
I shift to pick up the right trail, get up and open the door to the balcony to let some air in. It is clammy outside.
“…maane, something that had the capacity to make me feel secure in the comfort of ignorance, and the belief that each of us is perhaps gifted at a certain point, a state of absolute delight which one must lose, almost invariably ….”
Isn’t that how the snake was born in Eden? I feel curiosity bubbling up my veins.
“Like the days of our old house in Rupnagar. The hills rolling up to the sky and the soft little leaves of the korobi tree by our bamboo gate, the smell of it. Remember?”
Maa is patient and I see no lines pressing on her forehead. She smiles not knowing what to say to thread my thoughts further.
I didn’t realize if I made any sense to her. But she seemed to understand.
“Your father loved it too. Sad that we had to leave. And now this urban jungle. I do not think we can cope alone anymore. If not anything, Calcutta atleast has family.”
I could see a vague, silver meniscus welling up her eyes. That moment, I wanted to hold her and comfort her on Baba’s absence. Tell her that the two of us would suffice. That history has examples of mother and son living together till the end of their lives. Most poets, including Ginsberg, Byron and fictional ones like Jaromil too, lived such lives. And scrap the memory of his death from her being. But then I was plagued with other, slow, biting compulsions that for some time failed all other emotions on the face of a romantic misery: How the sad desires of the heart had metastasized. How the sea inside me had gone wild and statues smashed. How the dark little things had spread in my blood. But certain yearnings were forbidden, to think of them was sin. She picks up my desperation, much like hunger and thirst, comes closer, kisses me and leaves.
Monday morning, entering the class, I find you sitting with a group of boys from section-C, X1. You have a five o’ clock shadow on your face – one of the corollaries to your secret algorithm and there is a poem gurgling up my throat. I observe you from the end right-corner of the class; the teacher is yet to enter. She’ll be late, I know. It has rained the whole night and the roads in Chandmari are known to be blocked even when someone pisses in the drains. Ms. Deb, our English teacher is divorced recently, and stays in a rented apartment with her daughter below the Chandmari flyover.
I hope the water gushes into the silencer-pipe and the bus breaks down!
You turn back and find me scribbling. Your friends pass off with conceited whispers and smiles. Behind you, I can see one of them opening up his mouth to an ‘O’, closing, and opening up again to another ‘O’. There is an ‘M’ in between. I can read it in the silence. Somehow, I manage to prevent a scowl conquering my face. And smile up as if the world has suddenly burst into green from an unending cold spell.
“my memory caught in April’s rainy cavalcade,
My love still trapped in winter.”
You hunch over and read the last two lines of the poem I’ve just scribbled on the last page of my mathematics notebook. Your closeness stiffens my senses and the world is now in one of those eleven dimensions. I close my eyes and drink you in; time and space contorts, zapping across the co-ordinates of your frame bent over me. And I can almost taste the watery saltiness down your neck.
“Wrote it now? Can’t believe how you do it! Most of it eludes me though.” You pat my back thrice. “But I must say your vocab is mind-blowing.” Your smile is of unmistakable delight. You are proud of me. Your hand slips down to my waist. Something unfastens slowly, like a python somewhere unreachably down my bowels. I can only manage a feeble smile for an answer.
“Time for bunking-business then,” you declare. “Want to go to Nehru Park for a ride?” You pull me up now, as if you’ve always known all of my answers for long.
“And what if Ma’am comes to know? I’ll just tell her that you forced me to flee with you,” I try to put up with a bit of mock resistance.
“Abhik, I know you well. And you suck at putting up with that snobbish, blighty accent. So, be a good boy and follow me.”
I laugh loudly, thrown into the cacophony of the classroom. The decibel level is too high for anyone to hear our words or steps. No one turns to look at us as we sneak in though the back door and then through the main gate. Soon, Mrs. Gogoi from the next classroom will come thundering into our class and shout, “Is this a fish market going on here? Bloody morons!”
Near the church you put your hand around my shoulders and the world’s traffic zooms past us; I’m one with you. We cross the bridge to Shukleshwar ghat and walk up to Kachari. I see the same old beggars lying on the pavement, each one with a rusty aluminium bowl. Shukleshwar ghat is famous for its beggars; they never seem to die. More so for an urban legend of a mysterious stone-man who used to kill beggars by dropping huge boulders on their heads while they slept at night. One was even killed while humping on the other. Apparently they were having sex. I wonder if insanity is the ultimate portal to romance. A group of army men stomps past as we cross the High Court. It smells of bird droppings and the road is plastered white in patches. There is a no-entry board at Handique and we have no choice but to take a detour by the entrance of Cotton College. Young men with sturdy calves are busy with their daily cricket practice. I look at their T-shirts glistening with sweat, arms and wrists, as we go round the Latashil field. My eyes and ears are bitten of lust. A reared heart gone wild suddenly. Just across the field we pass by the Ganesh mandir at Uzanbazar and I stop for a secret apology. You ask if I’m tired of walking. If you should get a rickshaw. I tell you not to worry; we are minutes away from the park.
The ticket counter is empty; it is 10 in the morning. On Sunday evenings, quite an enterprising group of youngsters are found to be flocking around hand in hand, wandering listlessly along the premises and suddenly vanishing in one of the large bushes growing profusely in pockets and intersections. We sit by the pond of the three turtles. The banyan above our head is withered and its branches have jutted out into the sky in a revolt against gravity.
“So, what after boards? Same old plan, I believe. Presidency college?” you ask, blowing ripples into the water.
“I don’t want to leave you and go away just like that.”I blurt out, loud and clear. It’s a struggle to fight against the truth pressing heavy on my chest. Maa will certainly let me stay back. She has always acquiesced to my imploring. I can stay back and study in the same college with you – Cotton, B. Barooah, Arya Vidyapeeth, whichever you say. Good literature can anyways never be learnt in classrooms. One needs the genius of love to write. To look into empty glasses, windows, and cups, and wonder at their marvel. To look at a flaming mirror and trace the periphery of the moon’s reflection on it. To walk through tropical storms and dissolve like a flaneur on the streets, to plunge into the delicate world of sorrow and sail back from the depths of despair to the discovery of wisdom.
You pull me into a side-hug. The air has suddenly turned damp. I can see clouds overhead rolling like dark woolly mountains, churning into the inky sky. It might rain again. The crows sitting atop the banyan are anxious with the knowledge that the sky may split any moment. One of the turtles waddles by splashing thick, mossy water on the parapet, with its head sticking out firm as if in its own hubris. There is a group of girls from St. Mary’s sitting on a bench diagonally opposite ours. I can see the coat of arms emblazoned against each of their left breast pockets. And while I’m lost in translating nature, deep in contemplation, I’m unaware of the passing silence between us, broken by scores of giggles and laughter coming from the bench, of your stealing glances at one of them and the smiles following in reciprocation. There is an insect jammed between my fingers pressing flat on the grass. I can feel its buzz on my skin; its small, serrated teeth gnawing at my flesh to a wound. You are still smiling at her, unbeknownst to my pain. I close my fingers into a fist, clumps of grass come tearing out of the soil, and the insect is slowly squashed in the thick of the twisted blades, until death.
Then a booming roar blaring against the eardrum, turning all of us deaf for a moment. I feel a sharp, hot wave slapping against my face and the earth below wobbles up with a violent amplitude. The sound of glass smashing and of screeching brakes, followed by pandemonium. The girls scream and run amok like a group of stray bitches, and vanish into a swarm of humanity, a roving directionless swarm. Wafting through bodies and faces is the smell of burnt flesh mixed with plastic and rubber. Hordes of people have trooped out in reckless haste; the horror from their faces has seeped into the air. The honking of the buses and cars outside the gate is unbearably ear-splitting, people shouting names of their kins and lovers, voices overlapping into ugly howls. The world is at once devoid of order, of mathematics, like an atom suffering fissures. In the midst of the commotion I search for you, sitting just inches away by the pond. I worry not of the world dying and falling apart but of my ignorance. My eyes spear in to the farthest corners. The place is empty; you are nowhere to be found. You have followed the girl you were smiling at. I look up into the sky unable to make a move, helpless. The anxious crows are spread out in random black dots, augmenting my confusion. They fly down, raining black-snow all over. The sky is ashen with flakes of air-borne detritus. I stop looking for an option and run in the direction opposite to where the crowd is headed. Near the BSNL tower, a group of army men stop me and make me sit in their van. There are other students, scared and nervous, from Don Bosco and Faculty. Boys and girls hand in hand, clung onto each other. These were some of the other enterprising folks perhaps, who’d come to the park today. Sitting third on the left your face is down with shame. You know I can see your face from the front seat but don’t look up to meet my eyes. The same girl from the park sits beside you, her fingers on your wrist, nails clawing into your skin. I feel choked and my tongue, dry with thirst. I can only wait till I reach home and dig my face into Maa’s breasts, curl into a foetus and taste the saltiness of her womb once again. There is no comfort in the world of knowledge.
The TV is in full volume as I try to sleep in the other room. Maa doesn’t tell me that a teacher from our school has lost her life in the bomb-blast at Chandmari this morning. I feel guilt strangulating me with an invisible noose. I recollect my own evil thoughts, ringing inside like an ancient gong – I hope the bus breaks down. Something chafes at my heart, squeezing it to suspension. Between remorse and despair, I feel clogged, my veins about to burst.
Sometime past midnight I see Baba with a small girl sitting by the mushrooms behind the house. I’m standing at the door and there is water everywhere. I’m standing knee deep in it. The hair on the back of my neck is stiff with charge. The bricks are wet and dissolving, yellowed with antiquity. The house is crumbling above me. The roof slowly decaying, leaking a brackish smell. Baba stands with his back towards me. I try calling out to him. But the girl turns her head and tugs at his wrist. I know her face. I’ve seen her once in school with Ms. Deb. They move forward into the darkness and I feel my skin peeling off like some dank paint. I’m slowly turning into water, flowing into the pond with the three turtles and the banyan above with its infinite arms folds back into a primordial seed. Ants and beetles scuttle past and bury into the wet soil. A glowing green snake rises up its head, slowly from the surface. It rains and I can smell a fruit, an apple, about to rot and fall. It is Eden. Sinking.
Next morning, the sky is clear as glass. Not a drop of moisture in the air. Sunlight bleeds delicately through the edges of the curtains. Maa is in the kitchen making breakfast. The world is exactly the same, the day before the blast; buses honking on the road and the colony boys playing their early morning hide and seek. I walk up to Maa and hold her from behind, spreading my arms around her waist. She is plump and short, wears a wrinkled, blue cotton maxi. I love the smell of it. She tells me that I needn’t go to school today. It is closed for some reason she thinks I do not know. She doesn’t feel it appropriate to discuss whatever has happened in the city yesterday, how many people have died, how many of them have lost their limbs and fingers, how many daughters lost their mothers, and how many hearts broke and blasted into cinders. She senses my uneasiness, as I don’t loosen my grip around her waist, my face buried in the creases of her maxi.
“Is there something you wish to tell me, Bubai?” She asks, patting my hands folded around her waist.
My face still burrowed. There is a tang of wet metal on my tongue and an earthy smell coming from the old cotton. I think of last night’s rain. And the fact that the monsoon will soon be over. I will not see you for last and soon we’ll be strangers, nor will I ever let you in on how the world will change in your absence, how the heart’s dark spaces will swell and fall, and how longings will forever be beaten into the throes of the thin earth beneath my feet wherever I go.
“Maa, I’ve finalized on Presidency. I’d like us to move to Calcutta right after my boards.”
Maa turns back, and smiles with a sigh of respite. “Finally.”
For a moment your face wavers like a flame against the thin film of my eyes and breaks into water. We have left Eden.