She was crouched over the rug rubbing away at a spot of ash flicked carelessly. The slight slouch of her shoulders when she walks appears as if she is offering herself in surrender. Now, as the burdened shoulders worked mechanically and somewhat in defiant determination, she looked more vulnerable. Satisfied with the near-perfect success she had achieved she got to her feet, gave the rug a vigorous shake and settled it back on the floor almost affectionately.
The room smelt of fragrant smoke and lingering memory. In the winter afternoon , in this room she had sat absorbed in measuring the quickening of her heart and its slow pacing down; she had felt her nerves knotting up and she had tried hard not to show the twitching of her clenched muscles. Her sitting room had turned into Sehrezade’s bed-chamber where she churned up myths of adventure and failings, hinted at human frailties and heroic struggles for survival, to save yet another day. Only her days in the other room of the house had none of the glamour of Sehrezade’s harem, but might have rung with the same exasperation as did Sehrezade’s. She had sat with her knees drawn up and arms wrapped around them to stop them from shaking. She had sat there swathed in her own fears and misgivings. She was acutely aware of the eyes and ears that could study the crimson shame and the tremor that crept in to spread across her face and her voice and set her ears ablaze. She could feel the flame setting her heart afire. From the pit of her unknown gurgled up words that she fought to assemble in competent responses; because the atmosphere around her had become dense with other thoughts voiced with smug confidence and with the slashes of their brilliance they shredded her tentative words into immutable pieces. She felt challenged and ill-equipped. Yet, the heart was aflutter with an excitement that set music to the flow of blood in her veins. She felt she was just about to get at the truth of her being that lurked silhouetted at the far end of her interior vision. The other days were not like this one. It had offered up to her the possibility of a new becoming. Still, she was denied the triumph of seizing the moment. She would not allow herself to gloat over any delusional success.
She had been preparing for this afternoon contemplating the logistics and the probable odds in her head as she floated through the necessary chores of the day. She was convinced, nothing was amiss. Some days are simply cut out for things to happen. She wore the clothes from the day before. It is difficult to shake off practical considerations, it meant saving washing time. She found herself humming in the shower, not of Hegelian dialectics, but something her untrained ears picked up from the general cacophony outside.
She was almost at one with herself. But her body had an irascible autonomy of its own. It sabotaged her mind at its will; it played churlishly with her nerves.
There was no urgency in the sound of the bell, it was pressed with gentle fingers. It did not take her by surprise. Her friend was smiling kindly at her and the breeze through the corridor brushed playfully across her face as she stood holding the doorframe for support. She was careful not to break the spell of calmness. Then slowly the toddling footsteps of a potential flurry began to buzz in her body. Her voice rose and fell following the heightened rhythm of her racing heart. On the outside, she pretended hard to be in control.
It was only after she had downed one swig that she began to relax. And the afternoon wore on with the flow of random, inconsequential getting-to-know exchanges. There were pregnant pauses, secret acknowledgements and gradually a need for a break from the growing familiarity began to nag, threatening subtly to pull everything apart.
It was far from having a good time. It was more like being reconciled with one’s forgotten and forgiven rogue self, one that never tires of playing tricks on oneself.
She kept rerunning the events of the afternoon in an endless loop in her mind. She remembered they discussed ideas that galloped with unrestrained wantonness and it was the very incohesion of it all that saved her from the shame of saying so little.
Now, alone and composed, she confronted her diffidence with challenging thoughts of her own. She thought rather aloud how ideas alone don’t rule the world. That is what she realized when the hyper-ventilating nephew stormed her house to enlist her assent to a protest against the paramilitary brutality that left the country of mobs spewing venom like a spout, often against each other. Is life’s reality portrayed faithfully through these purposeful words? What machinations breathe their vendetta through these rancorous voices mobilized incidentally from a common cause? Everyday the number of support steadily increases on the social network ‘search engine’, the voyeuristic eye that spies into people’s private spaces. The words are too big to fit their deeds. Words these days just exasperate her, which is just about what they mean to her, vacuous black-holes.
Yet, the yearning for a lazy hazy afternoon has still not died down in her bones. They still rattle dangerously for some self-numbing ennui. She continues to blow out ideas in puffs of flimsy smoke in the privacy of her own presence.
The beggars can smell blood like vultures. This is no time for political correctness when one is in an unaffected mood for confession. This one must have been particularly irked by three apparently cheerful middle-aged women locked inside the insulated atmosphere of the car. He cupped his hands around his face and kept tapping urgently on the window, his whining continued to invade her ears as she sat by the window, feeling his disgruntled presence seeping in through the glassy barrier. The traffic light was about to change colours, the old man banged his fist against the window and swore out loud. She felt the cold chill of antagonism passing from one being to another, but as the car began to glide forward and slowly gain momentum she let herself loose to the mist of the frivolous air stirred up by her bubbly companions. She remembered her book tucked underneath her pillow, open on the page she had left it. It was written in the form of an apology drawing on the concepts of mortal sin and divine forgiveness and the awareness of an abysmal distance between the self and God which breeds in its wake an anxiety so pure that it leads to despair. She has never taken any apparent interest in theology but as the laughter swirled around her like the glass beads on a chandelier she wanted to pick up the tract and follow obligingly through the trail of its argument.
The water caressed her body in a hot jet, almost scalding her skin, the largest organ in a human body and so virile, indeed! She tilted her head and let the cascade slide over her shoulder course down over her breast and collect at her feet like an eddy before slipping away. She tried to visualize the interior of her brain. A complex network of lighted pathways like the runway leading to the myriad sharp flickering points of light that flashed on and off just like the images on the digital monitor from a sci-fi movie. She ran her fingers through the tangles of her hair and her follicles gave way, in keeping with her sagging body the scalp too is proportionately balding itself. She consciously shoved the thought out of her head. She had been schooling herself in the thought that she wished to grow with her body.
The water trickled in an incessant flow down the valley between her legs, she shifted her wait and reached out for the towel and pressed herself urgently against its soft embrace.
The door-bell kept retching up its feckless tune. She let her robe drop and skipped from leg to leg while trying to encase them into the pants, manipulated the buttons through the holes of her fatua and dashed for the front-door. In her shower dazed brain her frazzled thoughts began to shape out a face for the unknown caller which bore traces of that of her friend from the afternoon fiesta, the pestilent beggar, the lady who glowered at her disapprovingly and a certain bogey man…
She woke up in a cold sweat and struggled to remember what had startled her so. The old pain was back, it was like the pain that twisted and wrung her bones at childbirth. She slowly shifted her body about to find a bearable position. It could be the pain that jostled her out of the sleep. Her chest began to weigh heavily on her. The ghost of an unresolved grief was taking hold of her heart. She broke out in silent helpless tears. The bed suddenly began to entomb her in its cold embrace. She picked her body up moaning softly, drew up the knees and cuddled herself. On any other nights she would have logged herself onto the web chatting with random virtual friends, but tonight was different. She padded her way to the bathroom, her insides were churning with a familiar cramp. Her mind was racing to fathom the significance of the moment. All too suddenly it dawned on her that the misadventure of the afternoon that rocked her to her very core with unsettling apprehension would come to nothing after all. Nothing! It began to ring with the persistent resonance of a tuning fork… then sleep overtook her exhausted self.