By Haritha T Chandran
Dawn broke with a promise of despondency and deference that cremated every drop of hope in the world. It is alas no surprise since dawn in someplace is dust in another. Burial precedes rebirth. There is no ultimate end; there is only a continuum of bleak hopelessness.
The day began as all days start, with happiness here, pain there; nothing out of the ordinary for an unaccustomed eye. But a deep rupture was taking place. Break to an accustomed eye begins at the foundation. It slowly trickles up till it shatters every bone in your body. It remolds the clay till the face of the heart remains inaccessible to the same key. Rapture of all kinds, albeit an emotional one, follows the same pathway.
He left the house in haste to get to the shop. Nine had already struck on the clock, but he was nowhere near reaching the shopping complex. The day was hot and sprouting sweat in corners of the body unknown to the medical science. He strode across the road to the bus stop. The heat made it uncomfortable to walk. Walking was made equally painful by his fashionable chappal. But he felt reassured, like a baby in his cradle, albeit one ready to topple. The bus stop was bustling with bodies, city gawkers, school children. Noises of the world threatened to pin him down. But he stood erect in protest, ready to fight it back.
The bus arrived, lurching under the weight of the people it swallowed. Greedily it opened its mouth to eat everyone at the bus stop. The uneasy crowd, including our protagonist, were engulfed in seconds before the bus resumed its quest for more bread to chew.
Inside the bus, a tug of war for balance began. The protagonist managed to find a pole he could cling to. War of inertia and friction still threatened to mow him down. The seat next to his resurrectional bar was occupied by a young couple, one of them slanting over the shoulder of the other. River of memories sprinted back and poured over him.
He and his lover, dejected, discarded, and disconnected from the tireless world, found each other when the protagonist had already lost his will to go searching for comfort in his life. Life had tired him down, so much so that he believed in no redemption from this world. Shunned at an early age by his parents for being gay, forbidden from higher education for having no parents to support it, forsaken from workplaces in anger by managers whom he refused to do sexual favors to, doors were shut on his face in loath by landlords. He had lived a hard two decades in the earth. But meeting the love of his life changed everything. He remembered sitting in a bus together, just like the young couple near him, toes touching toes, arms to arms. The protagonist, weak on his knees, sick, his lover embraces his soft body into his trunk. The protagonist whispered lethargically into his lover’s ears, “Look at me! I am a sick potato.”
The lover whispered back solemnly, “My potato, though.”
Memories gathered on the corner of his mouth and caused a slight curve of a smile to form. But alas, burial precedes rebirth; happiness precedes agony. He was hit with a wave of pain like no other. But he folded his angst in a neat pile of discards and threw them into a nook of his heart. He had a life to live, a stomach to fill. He was jolted back to reality.
He reached ten minutes late to the shop. He muttered a slow curse for the morning blues for making him late to work, casting away the bitter aftertaste of last night to lands unknown.
Stepping into the air-conditioned shopping complex killed the heat a bit. The shop owner eyed him with disapproval on his arrival. He knew better than to respond. A stinky eye could cause him anything from a solid reprimand to discharge from the job. He worked as a salesman at a flamboyant textile showroom. The shop owner found a bankable investment in a gay man with a spark for starting up conversations, a skill he acquired on streets trying to satiate his hunger. The pay was cheap, though occupancy of all seven days of a week was required. But being not prompted to give sexual favors to superiors and being accepted with just a matriculation degree was something he couldn’t let slide. His rose-colored glasses had already come off years back. His lovers were not.
Day staggered ahead, uneventful, unobtrusive. Sales were diminishing every day. Shopping malls were sprouting in every turn of the city and obliterating old-fashioned textile shops so much so that everyone sensed an imminent calamity lurking in the shadows for them. His cohorts passed him by, equally troubled, some remarking at the rising of the summer heat, some observant ones commenting on his dull demeanor, but passing by, stopping no longer with him than their burden allowed them to. He watched a small procession pass through the main road inching forward in unison, melting in the heat of the day.
Melting – it was an exciting word. The plethora of emotions that the protagonist and his lover had from the beginning had melted down to love and hate. They either fuck or fight and sometimes fuck and fight. There is no in-between. The fight began over mundane things and accumulated rhythms on the go. His lover demanded pious adoration, but he offered a stringent observation. As he recalled, his rose-colored glasses had come off; his lovers had not.
He was again jolted back to reality by the announcement of lunch break. He hid his anger at the lunacy of his lover in his underbelly and crunched it to innumerable small pieces till they were no bigger than crumbs of distaste, till he could not sense its bitter taste in his veins. The textile shop offered an unappetizing meal every day. It was boiled rice with spinach curry for the day. He regularly brought his lunch with him to avoid the hefty price of the unappealing meal. But he did not have an ounce of energy left in him to cook today. Waking up in the morning went like waking up into another reality dampened in time and warped in space, distorted, discombobulated. He thought of taking a day off and cooling his body down. But he understood the consequences that it might bring to his life. The society did not bestow him with the privilege of mourning over grief in this lifetime. He must keep running or fall down. There is no in-between.
After the meal, he washed his mouth and hands with tap water. He sprinkled drops of water in his body in the hope of saving himself from the scorching heat, making sure not to overdo it and invite the wrath of the shop owner for looking unprofessional.
The shop acquired pace as evening approached. Vishu holidays were on the way. Families glided through shops in the hope of purchases that would bring temporary joy to their daunting life. The protagonist scanned each shopper in the hope of finding potential buyers of his Kancheepuram and Banarasi. His smile widened with every new customer till his mouth arched in a comical U-shape. He hid his pain behind the glimmering U that his mouth had become. Flashbacks of yesterday passed through in rapid succession, stubbornly unwilling to calm down. The fight, the rapture, the pain, the rejection, the abandonment. His lover left him with a promise not to return.
But he had no time to hide or mourn. Life must go on. The stomach must be filled. Not everyone was privileged enough to mourn losses. He smiled at the next customer with more arch, more compliance. Dusk was fast approaching. The rush hour was to come. There was no time left to grieve. Smile away and tell them they looked prettiest in the prettiest of pink, clamorous of golden, and earthly of green. Smile away and sell your smiles to the unfortunate. Smile away and convince them their agony ended in the purchase of this subpar six-yard dropping that they would surely regret before they reach home.
Dusk was fast approaching, and a sea of people was accumulating in the veins of the city. He thought to himself, it was easy to get lost in this sea of people. No one knew another. No one asked for a hand to hold on to. They all floated in the direction of the ocean, floated into the inevitable end with no order or decree. And the protagonist told himself he would be fine. He would live to see another day.
Haritha T Chandran is a Malabari doing PhD in Tu Dortmund. She is interested in writing about Malabari women navigating through different facets of traditionalist society in postmodern times. She has her stories published in various magazines in India.
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