Saturday, July 13, 2013

Exit Enter Exit Enter

I used to live on the top floor of the apartment block that fell like a house of cards in the last rains.
Every floor had four apartments. Mine was in the south wing, the lucky direction. Another bachelor lived opposite. Two apartments faced the east and, the lift and the staircase were towards the west. A beautiful girl stayed in the one next to mine. The other had a young family that made a lot of noise - the baby bawled, the man shouted and the lady whimpered, forever, whenever.
The bachelor was weird. Every morning, at eight, he would step out of his apartment, go back in, come out, return inside, and on some days he repeated that till my eye at the peephole ached. I called on him one day, pretending that I wanted an old issue of the newspaper. He seemed irritated but invited me inside. I stood near the door while he rummaged somewhere within. I found out why he found it difficult to leave. A checklist was pinned on the back of the front door – lights, a/c, washing m/c, balcony doors, taps, tv, gas, geyser, fridge, front door, cupboard, money, microwave, computer, water-purifier, ups, stove. What a maniac, I thought.
The day the apartment crashed, trouble precipitated slowly, like a trickle of snow that precedes an avalanche. The apartment block tilted a little. Cracks appeared on the walls. I stepped out when I heard the first crash. It came from the young family’s apartment. The bachelor came out too. We heard the woman cry for help. He went back inside his apartment. He is going to start his usual routine, I thought. He returned with a hammer. He banged on the neighbor’s door. He kicked and hammered at the door, near the lock, and the frame splintered easier than expected. It was a mess inside. Half the roof had caved in. The bachelor went in, searching. I stayed out. The block swayed and the cracks in the hallway broadened. I knocked on the beautiful girl’s door. She opened it, bleary eyed, beautiful. We heard the bachelor shout. We looked inside the other apartment. The dust had settled. The woman’s legs were trapped beneath a fallen beam. She was still conscious and holding her baby tight. The man cradled and soothed her. She held out her baby to the man. The man took the baby and held it out to me. The floor wobbled. The beautiful girl disappeared down the stairs shrieking like a banshee. I wanted to follow her. I heard the man cry please. I turned to him. He had crawled to the door, on that shaky floor. I took the baby. I told him that he should leave too. He smiled at me and shook his head. Maybe, he wants to check his pointless list, I thought.
I ran down the stairs and barely cleared the building before it came crashing down.  The local paper had a photo of me, the baby and its father who returned after some trip later that day. When the rubble was cleared, another photo claimed attention. It showed the bachelor and the young mother, dusty, bloody and dead but otherwise miraculously preserved, holding each other, like lovers. One of the cheap rags insinuated that angle, and carried some stupid remark from the widower to back the story. I could have corrected that but it seemed right to let that woman be, with or without love, in the arms of the man who preferred not to exit. 

Between the Words and the Picture

After college, I went to the city for a job interview. I stayed with some relative’s acquaintances, a friendly nice young couple who seemed old to me then. The man received me at the railway station, very early on a chilly Sunday morning. They lived in a small one-bedroom apartment in a crowded market area. Their bedroom, which had a flimsy curtain for a door, and the bathroom were to the left of the drawing room, where I slept on the sofa-cum-bed, and the kitchen was to the right. The man talked to me about cars and mutual acquaintances. He told me that I should not study the day before an interview. He was a math teacher in a private school. She taught English in that school and was a lovely cook. After lunch they retired to the bedroom. From my seat on the sofa, I saw the man remove his t-shirt over his head, and at the same time reach beneath his mundu, tug down his underwear with one acrobatic swipe. He threw both items onto a cloth-stand. The t-shirt landed correctly but his underwear did not. Through another gap in the curtain, I watched his wife carefully fold the bedspread before placing it on a stool before a dressing table. She then unhooked her bra at the back, slipped the bra straps down her arms without opening her sleeveless salwar blouse, and reached within at the front to remove her bra, like a magician pulling out a rabbit from his hat. That too landed on the floor. Even after siesta, those stayed on the floor, discarded, forgotten, undisturbed. At tea-time, when I seemed distracted, they asked me if I was feeling alright. I assured them that everything was perfect. Later, when the man was in the bathroom and his wife was cooking dinner, I slipped into their bedroom. I picked up both items, the underwear gingerly pinched at its waistline with left thumb and forefinger, and the bra in my right hand, delicately held with caressing fingers over the cups. I was about to place those properly on the cloth-stand when the couple appeared at the bedroom door. They said nothing. I should have said something. And, truth would have stood on a step on that devil’s staircase between the words I said and the picture they saw. I had an awful dinner, hardly slept, performed miserably in the job interview on Monday, left the city that night and never met the couple ever again. 

Thoughtful Friends

A man looked at his friend thinking, ‘How can he be such a blind fool? He actually believes that that politician is the answer to everything and that the rival is good for nothing. It is all black and white for him! God! Is there a sane man who thinks that politicians can be anything but various shades of black? It must be his kind that shoots down fifty or hundred political protestors.’
The friend returned a bemused look musing, ‘God! In this day and age, how can anyone believe in a religion? If you believe in yours, surely you have to believe in that of others too! But, look at this idiot. For him, his religion and his god make sense and everything else is crap. His temple is fine but not that of the others. He and his ilk will find no wrong in killing innocent women and kids for bloody religion.’
The two friends sat together pondering silently, ‘How can he be so nice to my wife and be a brute to his own wife?’


Amit’s a good neighbor. All was well between us till he started a bi-weekly, at times even tri-weekly, series of love letters. Right at the start, I thought of telling him that such devotion usually goes unreciprocated.
Since I work from home, he instructed the postman to give me his letters. That became a problem. In the third week, he confronted the postman and accused the postal system of negligence. A week later, he directed his suspicions towards me. He did not accuse me verbally but his frowning mouth, cold eyes and bunched-up eyebrows disguised little. But, the same arrangement continued. He probably thought that he would hurt me by discontinuing my services.
Last Thursday, he accepted defeat with a resigned sigh, ‘That’s my fiftieth and my last.’
Today, the postman gave me two letters. After delivery, he waited at my doorstep, shifting from one weary foot to the other. I gave him a tip. He took it as his rightful dues and left without a word.
When I gave Amit the letters he asked me gravely, ‘Name it… what do you want?’
‘Double chocolate ice-cream soda,’ I replied.
‘Done,’ he decreed.
Later, at the ice-cream parlor, the pharaoh became the love-sick artist once again, ‘What do I do? I sent forty nine love letters to her…’
‘Fifty,’ I corrected.
‘The fiftieth was to another girl,’ he informed.
‘Ah… have both replied?’ I guessed.
‘Ah… yes.’
I thought of telling him that only such devotion gets reciprocated.

Good and Bad Neighbours

Aswathy’s a new neighbor. But our fights have reached epic proportions. A month back, I accused her of training her idiotic, lovable mongrel to leave turd on my door mat. The next day, I threw fish water across the wall on her well-cared roses. When she threatened to lodge an official complaint, I told her to go ahead, make my day, punk.
Yesterday, she was at my door with another complaint. But she caught me in a bad moment. I was lying on the couch, breathless, having a bad attack of bronchial asthma. She entered without invitation, told me to hang on, as if I was trying to do otherwise.
She bundled me into her car and took me to a clinic. I must have looked pathetic, hopeless, like a fish out of water, mouth open, trying to suck in air. She held my hand, I remember, and I kept looking at her concerned face, thanking god that I had that to see before any tunnel of light or the first sight of the gates of heaven or hell. When deriphylin was administered intra-venous and air rushed in, I smiled at her, silently promising to dedicate my new life to her and her happiness. She heard that, I think, and squeezed my fingers affectionately. She took me home and made a bowl of oats for me.
Today morning, she and her dog were at my door quite early, with the complaint she had forgotten to deliver yesterday. Her dog looked at me, vowing to be back in action. I stared at both, with silent oaths to make them both the recipients of my next consignment of fish water.