Amidst the skyscrapers, where live in the sun tan fearing population, do you see The bricks moulded by those rusty hands , Of the sun-scorched migrants Blackened by the chimney exhaust?
On the hoardings, do you see A dejected young man Drooping on his table, the pills spread out? The creative loner drugging to spark ideas in absence of sleep, For a presentation next week?
Of the cars that glides smooth Do you see that solemn driver Marred by the uncomfortable silence Of the fatigued couple, entangled in a nasty, felonious fight of a young girl suddenly coming In-between their 25 years?
On the driver’s side, His thoughts tossed by the loss of the education he couldn’t complete?Dampened by the happiness To his family he couldn’t give?
In the young boy slumbering uncomfortably under the buildings, As the drain stinked the humid air, While he Drowned in his own sweat and tears; And, the sweltering heat, Do you see the A.C water dripping Near his feet?
If not, You, my sweetheart, The happiest dandy rose of all, Are sure tucked in your urban nest.
…“Oh, the doves!” pointed Ana, with amusement in her eyes. Frank, suddenly taken aback, looked at her in surprise, “Ahah! You remember them?”
She nodded her head agreeing.”How will I forget them, Frank?” she smiled at him, and then abruptly shifted her focus on the willow tree.
“Did I ever tell you, back in the 50s,” said Ana, suddenly taken back through the time tunnel, blankly unbothered about the surroundings. “In a beautiful evening, I was sitting under this very tree with Michael by my side.”
“I can precisely recall, 15th October. A Monday it was .”
“The Pharmaceuticals paid him like a miser, Frank. He didn’t even have the money to buy a decent car to go to the office, let alone buy some unnecessary pieces of jewelry to profess love!” she grinned.
“And still on that day when he put the ring on my finger, Frank, I felt so sorry for the extra spendings of these materialistic stuff people gotta buy to show romance. God!” she laughed, clutching her stomach too.
And then soon slipped back into being solemn, the sorrows engulfing again. “In all truthfulness, I wanted to pity him. I honestly wanted to.”
A soft smile crept up on her face as she let out a deep breath. “But then, I don’t know what hit my brain, or my heart precisely. But with this…this fearless,” she paused, and then continued with much emphasization, “this colour blind love we had, all I could feel that day, after enduring so much with our rule-breaking, unacceptable love of ours, was the courage he had for me.” She waited, “And the immense respect I truly held for him.”
“When on that special moment he put the ring on my finger and came close to plant the sincerest kiss on my lips, I kept thinking if I was to cry or smile, or like everyone else just close my eyes, as in some cliched movies being shot under the tree,” Ana snorted a laugh, rolling her eyes at the same time.
A long silence followed, the old lady now lowered her head in dismay. Some yards away, the ducks paddled trailing a symmetrical V on the gleaming sunlit surface.
The brimming tears, that had been covered up with her crinkled eyes of her roundabout laughter, for so long, threatened to cascade down any moment from now. And the more relentlessly she tried to bore them, more did the tears pierce her eyes, in return.
“Did he really do a crime loving me?” Ana choked on the words, as she quickly turned her head, looking at Frank quizzically. “When love doesn’t match people’s black and white world, do the just feel their prejudice boiling? Is that why they complain to authorities?”
And then the tears burst out; her frail body shuddering violently when she struggled to mouth her inner trepidation after so long.
“Frank, what a nuisance I must have been to you for the past years, haven’t I? I wish I-, ” her voice drowned in her own pool of tears. “I can’t help it. Every moment, I could still see him dragged by the police. And, whether our love was a crime or not, I still couldn’t help feeling so pathetic about being lucky for the skin I had, feeling so immensely guilty for the job Daddy held.”
Ana struggling to breathe, took in large dollops of air, her weak body trembling along at the same time.
“Truth be told,” she went on. “We were quite lucky. Quite lucky. Never discussed about having kids. Lord! what a burden the world would have been on them.”
She halted for a bit. The tears unstoppable in their streams, made hey eyes bloodshot staining her face pink, “I still can’t let go of the pain in my heart, Frank. It’s till now holding onto the biggest grief I feel.”
As though going to shake the burden on her heart with the air, she exhaled heavily, staring at the other end of the lake, her eyes now dewy, “The grief , the gulit of never imploring the court about what happened to him, never even tying to find out; it haunts me.”
“And, even though I could have ended up this past ugly days today with a genuine apology to you,” she gasped for air again. “But, I won’t.”
“For all the times I have contemplated ending my life this day or that, Frank, the love that you hold for me, I see them in the morning cups of tea, sense it in the silent long stares each morning. It’s all for you, Frank, that I tell myself suicide’s not worth the pain I’ll pass on to somebody else. Atleast, never to you.”
“I can not say sorry, Frank. That’s such a pointless and worthless thing to say,” she halted. ” It’s thank you. For coming into my life when I needed you the most, for bearing the sack of burden that I am, for accepting me even when I absolutely loathed myself failing to suicide 3 times since the last two years.”
And then she ended there. Abruptly. The past spread out in front.
All the grief that she had been holding on for so long flowed. The pain vented out.
Old Frank, with his fingers squeezing his eyes, and gut wrenched, as he now gaped for air, hearing the first time his wife’s attempted suicide failures, found difficulty in breathing.
A stillnes settled in the atmosphere; the quiteness making the kids’ laughter, the dogs’ ecstatic barks echoing all around; eventually being broken by those doves of the willow tree, ruffling their grey-browm plumage, preparing for shooting into the sky again, soon flying away to their distant locations.
“Oh, Ana” he quivered, his shakiness, remembering the bygone case of Michael Custody Brutality, the infamous death of a Michael, a black man tied in a felonious interracial marriage in the 50s U.S, now apparent.
The horror of retracing the “Police murdered Michael” rally in his small town, the horror of hearing for the first time his own wife’s failed suicidal attempts, left him covering his wide open mouth with his hands. The terror visible in the bloodshot eyes.
It took a long, drudging minute to finally break the void that had suddenly entered the conversation. Frank being the one breaking the melancholic silence, slowly filling the air.
As he curled his hand around Ana’s, hinting at his promise he wasn’t leaving her so soon, he uttered, “Gone is the dead, Ana. Gone in somewhere faraway land.” His, raspy voice now becoming deep, his attention matching eye to eye with his wife “But, don’t you dare go away leaving me alone, Ana.” “Not so soon, please.”
And then he pulled her closer, kissing her forehead fervently, both of them breaking down together, before releasing her from his embrace.
“Or, maybe,” he said, softly beaming at her moist face now cupped in his hands, “Not before me. Alright, love?”
The grey dawn paved the way to a rosy morning as the light creeping through the windows touched Frank’s face. Shuffling from the creaky bed, his head and spine drooping as he seated himself on the edge, Frank let out a large yawn, trying to soak in the morning light of the day. Outside the birds, chirruping their daily melodies, seem to sparkle up a life in the dying garden.
Beside him was his wife huddled in the cushions and the blanket, still deep in her sleep, unaware of the light creeping up on her face by now.
Moved by the calm atmosphere that reigned, the innocence of the scene in front, Frank couldn’t help but to smile to himself.
Looking at his grown-up cherub, her wispy white curls sprawled on her fair forehead; the world seemed so angelic each moment he stares at her sleeping face; the every day mundane problems vanishing into thin air, the memories of their young days, those long drives in the highways, the wine glasses they clanked in their Saturday picnics near the cliffs, all of those reviving again.
And then all of a sudden, out of the blue, kicked in the present scenario, just like reality tries to break the castle of your daydreams.
The reality that rang like the morning bell of the church nearby. Chronic depression it was. The anti-hero straining the moments they shared, the marriage that tied, the future they envisaged. And even though, depression could have been the villain, the antagonist painted in all of the wrong, depressing, melancholic colours but it wasn’t. It couldn’t be.
For all the time Frank has been frustruted at her fatigued soul, fed up of the daily chores, the everyday chaperoning of his wife, a tiresome job he found himself into, the more his heart liquified.
The young love, the joys of it, all the memories recollected flooded inside him. He felt in in the core of his heart; no matter how many tragedies that could appear, it falls short when juxtaposed to all the troubles that they have weathered through their strong 30 years of togetherness.
Yards away, the misty morning shroud unveiled, brightening to a blue-skied morning now.
Straightening up from the bed, Frank ambled towards the kitchen to make the morning cup of tea for both. Bending and raising, rummaging through all the heaps of packets in the drawers, the jars on the slabs, he was struck with a sudden realisation that he was running out of tea bags since yesterday.
“Love,” Frank called to his wife, who has now woken up, her wide eyes afixed to the ceiling. “I guess we shall have to take a walk today for a morning tea. You up?” A question met by a grunt, with no further reply.
A few minutes later, donned in the plain grey clothes, the old couple stepped out of the house; Frank’s hand gripped around Ana’s as if a tragedy may be looming in any second and he couldn’t afford to make it happen. Even though, he knew those tragedies, those explosions of melancholy inside her will remain unuttered no matter.
On their way, right beside the road, the Alabama Heartland, a small park in the neighbourhood stood, its banner draped by a bougainvillea arch. The blooming pink flowers curved like a bow of mini bursts of colours catching Frank’s eye as he stopped midway, marveling at it.
He asked, turning to his wife, whose uninterested eyes set straight forward on the road, “Mind strolling for a bit, Ana?” A big wide smile cropped up on Frank’s face, “We’ll kind of have our morning walk by today.”
Reckoning her uninterested ” Yeah, alright”, the old woman accompained by her husband walked quitely, each in their own headspace, to the path leading to the central lake, all the while the husband just beaming to himself, looking around glancing at the young lovers on the park benches, the kids scampering around, the loners invested in thier gadgets.
And, of course the doves on the willow tree.
How would he forget them? The daily spectacle of the Alabama Heartland’s , the birds branching on the willow tree every morning, flying farway to some distant lands at 7 a.m somewhat, in a harmonious symmetry, but unfailing for their theatrical show every morning, as if it had morphed into a ritual of theirs to present itself by the wee hours.
“Oh, the doves!” pointed Ana, with amusement in her eyes. Frank, suddenly taken aback, looked at her in surprise, “Ahah! You remember them?”
“Ma, I don’t get it!” exclaimed Samli, raising her hands in frustruation. “Why do you need to get up from your seat and serve deuta the scoop of rice when the pressure cooker is literally in front of him?”
“Thet, Maajoni,” her mother replied, dismissively. “Passing the food is table manner,” she countered, as she silently put the ladle inside the cooker, while her husband, unbothered about the conversation about him even taking place, smacked onto the daali.
Samli narrowed her eyes in exasperation, frustrated having had her mother shrugging her off again.
Dismissing her as if she had in all these years unable to grasp the minute undertone of this scenario in the dining room happening everyday.
Her mother pushing away from the table, getting up from the seat, serving the food onto her father’s plate, briskly commuting from the kitchen to the fridge. Hearing her husband’s requests for a papad now, a chilli then, perhaps a slice of lime or a cube of onion to crunch on with the dinner.
And, she unrelentingly complying to all of the trivial wishes.
“Samli maajoni,” her mother called, snapping Samli out of her bubble of thoughts. “Please, go fetch the curd from the kitchen, maa,” she said dotingly, as she finally took the seat to carry on finishing her own plate of dinner. “Maybe, Deuta would like having some curd rice now.”
Samli stared at her mother silently, blinking. Her eyes squinted and eyebrows raised in a questioning look. “He hasn’t even asked for it,” she was about to utter in irritance, but then tiredly disregarded it, silently proceeded towards the kitchen, merely fumbling alone to herself.
Flickering on the lights, she kept her hands on the slab in frustruation, unable to understand why does her muther shrug her off? Pondering upon it, she kept looking in silence at the untensils rack, where all the cutlerys and dishes have been lined up in their respective compartments. The bell metal vessels on one side and the normal, daily-used stainless steel on the other.
Breaking the silent atmosphere settling with her infuriation, she mindfully fetching two steel bowls and one bell metal bowl from the rack spooned out the curd from the clay pitcher. As gently as she could, she placed the bowls on the tray and took an attentive glance at the arrangement of the bowls itself for a few moments before eventually proceeding to carry it carefully to the dining room.
With an intent eye kept on the bowls, Samli set the steel ones near her plate and her father’s, right after placing the sole bell metal bowl near her mother’s side.
And then maintaining a still composure while taking her seat, she sipped on to the glass of water waitimg calmly, examining the bowl near her mother’s plate, contemplating her prediction to unfold in reality in a few minutes.
And, then it happened so, just as she had rightfully guessed.
Her mother swiftly placing the spoon in her bell metal bowl, Samli saw what she has been expecting all along. With deft hands, switching the bell metal bowl with her husband’s steel one, in front, a wife finally took to having her dinner once again.
The grandeur of bell Metal plate in the Assamese Culture isn’t always reflected by it’s lustre, the mark of the history of reigning Ahom kings nor the cost of this handicraft piece. Sometimes it can be a blatant reflection of patriarchy itself.
‘Daali’ is dal (pulses), ‘Maajoni/Maa’ means daughter, ‘Ma’ is mother, ‘Deuta’ is father and ‘Thet’ means ‘whatever’, in a scornful manner.
Reality is a lovely place But we need more fucking happiness; Onboard we travel into this virtual maze Popping daily pills of the internet.
People seem to blanket their life’s mess With filters, white-smiles and their radiance Yet, the backstory seems to be off-place That we’re all hyper-connectedly lonely, merely craving for solace.
I wonder what would have been If our distorted presentation Of the snippets of our glossy-messy life’s amalgamation Struck us with a realisation That we are floating in an ocean of our imagination. Our minds’ make-believe construction. To seek social validation.