Whisked upon silky currents we were tripping to the stars; not in a rocket ship but a soap bubble creeping through the crepuscular darkness. Floating past Saturn, effulgent shafts of light bounced off its rings and gently caressed her face. I kissed her. Hovering above the oceans of Neptune (oceans of helium) our vessels reflection, shimmering off the placid surface, lit her eyes. I kissed her. And floating momentarily above the 3rd moon of Dolgoran, night-glow spores attached to her lips. I kissed her. And for every second, every hour and every light-year that passed our love blossomed; I kissed her. And every kiss was like the last; it meant everything and lasted an eternity. And then we ploughed into the heart of a giant star. Swimming through the nuclear furnace in our soap bubble of love; kicking our feet like flippers, holding hands, wearing life-jackets with the dull thud of the music ringing in the background. Boom boom dan-dan, boom boom dan-dan – “Looking from a window above, it’s like a story of love…,” – Funky love – and then pop! We fell to earth thru the emptiness – falling – falling – falling…
They watch you stealthly – the eyes. Stalking you from street corners, gazing at you from buildings, spying you from pillars. They’re even hastily daubed all over the buses, taxis and the rickety rickshaws. There’s no escaping them. No, this is not from George Orwell’s dystopian fantasy ‘1984’, but rather modern day India. And the watchful eyes are not those of Big Brother but the more genial Bollywood film posters that plague public air space badgering you through putrefying lurid colors and crimson ocean spray backdrops. The cynic in me would have none of it – cinema for the city mob. Cinema for philistines! I felt like a stoical art-theory critic recently handed the keys to this sprawling ant-hill of stolid slums and gold finery; my fictional thesis: to entangle the web of seduction that lures people in from the suburbs.
Earlier on, I had alighted onto the platform as my train continued its onward journey towards the Bengal. At the platform I was greeted with a huge smile; a billboard advertisement for toothpaste featuring a scintillating display of teeth of such whiteness that it left you utterly ashamed of yourself. For some inexplicable reason the most popular billboards in India are for toothpaste. Possessing a healthy smile is a cornerstone of a happy life it seemed; a paragon of Indian-ism – though you wouldn’t believe it if you did a spot check of the locals dental cavities. Perhaps the smiling faces that litter the streets and cities have some kind of happiness and docility inducing affect on the populace I thought. It reminded me of Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ where the population of the future is kept in check with ‘soma’ pills. In India its smiling toothpaste adverts!
I stumbled bleary eyed thorough the twilight of the early morning station looking for the exit.
I found my exit and stepped outside, squinting into the dusty glow of the dappled morning light as the din of the rush hour hit me full on. Blaring horns, skidding tyres, screeching brakes, imploding exhausts, buzzing rickshaws and the signs – so many! Smothering you in exclamation marks. It was an infringement of my civil liberties to have to read this stuff stenciled all over the public arena: ‘Vandalism is frowned upon’ read one (what about the vandalism inflicted upon me?). ‘No noise please and no shooting’ (I’d like to shout at the imbecile who wrote this and then shoot him). Other gems were: ‘Pubic Notice’, ‘Street sellers will be persecuted’ (I thought burning of heretics was consigned to the dark ages?) and my favourite ‘No sleeping, littering, shouting, and defecating’ – classic
There’s only one escape from this Orwellian nightmare and that’s to staple your eye lids together. But then your ears take over.
I looked around for a hotel where I could freshen up. I found one: ‘Hotel Imperial’ – boasting a mental asylum next door. This was perfect. At least they’d be free entertainment in the evenings. I took a quick cold shower changed and headed out. Generally I prefer keeping to myself in the city. But there’s always the eagle-eyed career cretin who spots you amongst a crowd. One of these gems approached me for the time; classic trick. How you answer determines whether you’re a potential host to this parasite. He was a greasy faced, mousy, pug-nosed miscreant of the semi-moron variety. His skin was dark like German pumpernickel and pot-marked like pumis. He asked “do you have the time please sir?” in English no less, and with a please sir flourish – the cheek! I stuck my (cheap Casio) watch in his podgy face and told him to “Fuck off!” I switched on my ipod when the inevitable spiel began, closed my eyes, and cast my mind back to the train…
The music faded as Vanekka unblurred herself into existence. There she was again as I’d left her; sitting opposite. So slender. So defenseless – cut open like a wound. Wanting to surrender totally to me; warts and all. Isn’t that strange don’t you think? Exposing your self totally to someone like that? Someone you barely know – such is the power you hold. How I was intoxicated by her though! – The littlest things a tonic; the way her hair hung over her collars, the collars themselves worn at the edges with the seams missing and thread sticking out, the way her eyes glinted and her cheeks glowed with mirth when we talked, and how through these she now looked at me; desiring and desirable. Falling in love (or was it infatuation?) is not a democratic process. Nobody asks whether you want to fall in love with a person. It just happens and you are helpless to control let alone steer it. You internalize it as something that is under your control. Yet it’s the most irrational thing in the world. Love is.
I tried to remove her spell; imagining what she would look like as a saggy old woman with dimples. I couldn’t. I tried to convince myself that she was a bossy pants and would make my life miserable. I couldn’t. I tried to imagine that her eyebrows were actually one. I couldn’t. The only thing I could imagine though, and quite vividly too, was how nice it would be to sleep with her and what a wonderful companion she would make – And I hardly knew her! – This was worse then I thought.
I bit my nails and peered out of the window marveling at the scraggy bush and the spaghetti entanglement of telegraph poles that whizzed by in blur, and beyond, the virgin hillocks on a layer of lunar pancake. Train journeys always stimulate the fantasist within me. My present fantasy was to imagine myself running outside with the train; jumping over obstacles; cars, trees, homes, factories, leaping over the giant industrial chimneys; and flying through the dense low lying clouds, all within view of the train passengers – all staring with wide eyed wonderment. But aren’t train journeys also inspiring?! Isn’t it wonderful to be able to slice through a country like a layered cake and see it change as you move from one end to another? In comparison, I find planes and airports wanting. You arrive at the airport and plonk! – You find yourself in another country with no sense of having traveled there at all. Where’s the fun in that?
Outside the clouds fattened in the distance and like muscle bound torsos they transformed into bulging biceps. Plump and delicious like sheep they were moving insidiously towards us blackening as they did so. Suddenly they burst and the rain started pelting like sheets of corrugated plastic and turned the landscape blotchy. The ground was rendered paste like; you could scoop it up with a scalpel and spread it like peanut butter and everywhere you looked there was a smokey mist that floated ethereally. In the distance you could make out the tree-trunks but not the branches and the fields now sodden; pregnant with murky water. People caught by the rain were cowering beneath leafless trees and clamoring under polystyrene bags. Then the thunder started. Rattling the carriage and rolling over the hills flattening all other sounds like a sonic boom. People cowered as the wind shook the birch trees and the lightning lit up the sky like St. Elmo’s fire. The wind blew into the carriage carrying with it sand and grit that you could smell and taste; a grittiness that got into your teeth and everything else. I spotted a bird way up high; swaying wildly its wings buffeted by the wind but still it kept its course. I remember thinking it was nature that had created the wind and the wings – nature pitched against nature.
I escaped the loutish bazaar of witch doctors, Sadhus and leeches and ventured into a relatively harmonious slum of a neighbourhood. I strolled through with laissez faire running through my veins. I imagined myself as a super fly with 3D-phonic eyes (so I could see 360 degrees), quadraphonic hearing (so I could hear mouse droppings), antennas to pick up radio frequencies from distant galaxies and a mind high on substance cool. I was the epitome of cool. It was obvious that all the guys wanted to be me and all the ladies wanted to be with me. I was pestered by the usual suspects as I chilled, hung and moped around; like a fly I swatted my tongue and tasted some spice molecules in the air and smelt with my feet. My tractor beam grabbed a couple of feminites who invited me to a party – sorry girls, “but this fly has other fish to fly”. My skin was thick and I was buzzing. Like a fly:
‘A man will beg
A man will crawl
On the sheer face of love
Like a fly on a wall
It’s no secret at all
It’s no secret that a conscience can sometimes be a pest
It’s no secret ambition bites the nails of success
Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief
All kill their inspiration and sing about their grief’
(The Fly, Bono)
I chanced upon a little tea parlor in a dingy side street and sat slumped outside; the stench of the gutter driving me into a vacuous seizure. The owner was very welcoming. Like a mosquito high on mescaline he kept buzzing around me, feeding on my vibe, sucking on my aura, his wings whirring at 1,000 rpm and catering to my every whim and twitch. I ordered a cup of pink chai and chilled out disappearing into the depths of memoryscape oblivion…
“So you like to travel then?” Vanekka asked
“What do you like about it?”
“It’s the feeling of the unknown. The travelers conceit is that he is headed into the unknown. The best travel is a leap in the dark. If the destination was familiar and friendly what would be the point in going there?”
“So what do you do?” she asked me
“Oh you know, just try and get lost. The best way to see a country is to get lost in it”
“No, as work silly. What do you do for work?”
“Oh, I’m a writer and a photographer” I lied. There was no way I was going to tell her I was an accountant.
“Oh! Really! – I knew you’d be something like that” she said beaming into outer space her cheeks pink with mirth. A huge grin pasted across my face. She had in some twisted logical way, justified my lie.
“Wasim, that’s an Arabic name?”
“Yes, it means handsome” I said as a matter of factly
I could see she found this extremely funny. Blood rushed to her face heating her brow, her cheeks a-flush and her eyes glazy like honey dew drops. I wanted to kiss her.
“Are you a Muslim?” she asked
“Well, I hate categorizing people but I consider myself a Humanist; a member of the tribe of man” I could see this had left her somewhat perplexed. But a light sprinkling of perplexity is always good.
“So are you married?” I asked fidgeting
“So who’s that then?” I asked pointing an accusing finger at her boyfriend as if he had the plague.
“Oh, that! That’s my brother” she replied
She paused. Everything paused. The whole carriage paused. Time stopped. I did a quick lap around the equator and my mind gulped in huge quantities of hydrogen in the Orion nebula.
Time started again.
“Ahhh…I see” I said calmly with great restraint
“Seems like a nice chap”
“Yes, his lovely!”
“Erm, tell me Vanekka, what are you doing tonight. Any plans at all?” I asked coolly.
“No, No plans” she said looking at me funny
She continued “Well, I was going to go to the film but obviously…” she waived her arms around “I can’t because duh-duh, I’m on a train” she said mockingly
Ahh. Sense of humour I thought. I had just ticked off the final box in the compatibility score sheet I had going in my head. I loved the way she said duh-duh. I wanted to kiss her right there and then.
So I did.
I awoke from my memoryscape, paid for the chai and trudged off down the street with a touch of debonair. At that moment it felt great being me. I was happy that I didn’t have to share myself with anybody else. I was all mine. So with a spring in my step and a smile I walked down the street pass the stewing rubbish, pass the stink of the pissed on walls that looked like baked whole-wheat biscuits, pass the air penetrated with food smells and smoke, pass the pulverized neighbourhood so decrepit and worn, pass the howling muezzin and screaming children – the lovely evening sky cochineal at the horizon and fading to orange, then yellow and finally limp green and then the darkness of the starry void and the sun finally extinguishing itself behind me as a final farewell and my feet walking seamlessly on air…
well tomorrow would just have to wait…