It’s a mid-November morning at 9:46 am
The city is fully awake to make the most of a short-lived winter.
Opposite the cafe where I sit, there is a park full of young boys clad in white, playing cricket. Dotting the corner boundary of this park are some chai ki tapri where zomato and swiggy delivery men catch up with each other’s lives, expressing resigned anger over rising fuel prices, drinking cups of tea that cost 10 rupees, eating anda-bread for another 20 rupees, waiting to deliver coffees and sandwiches they cannot afford to buy for their kids. A middle-aged man with a walrus mustache sits at a table close to mine. He is wearing the first checkered plaid shirt I’ve seen this season and a heavy silver earring on his left ear. A thin man walks by on the footpath, hunched over with a machine used to beat and hack cotton over his shoulder, beginning another day of selling his wares, his call turns into a daylong azan for the woman peeking through the kitchen windows. Two women in batik, sutir saree cross each other and laugh, without stopping to speak a word.
I stand up and stretch my limbs.
I reorganize my mess
I make checklists in my head of the things I need to work on:
× Time management
× Physical health
I never actually make the checklists
This is the first time I’ve made the checklist
I cannot check off any
The checkpoints are scattered in a maze and I don’t have an aerial view
I merely sniff the dew on the plants that run through this maze
Instagram reels about love and grief make me nauseated, but pushing your thumb in an upward motion repeatedly is like smoking cigarettes when you have acidity. You know you shouldn’t smoke, you feel the bile rise in your throat every morning, you cannot eat anything remotely spicy, and you feel sick most of the time but you Just//Cannot//Stop. I save every other post on how grief is a tender boy scraping seashells off rocks on a beach, while his parents hurt each other on their balcony. He can’t hear them but he can see them. The sun glints in his eyes and he continues to scrape at rocks with the back end of a silver spoon. I take screenshots of posts, which say lost love is a different version of being romantic. I read the posts that explain away your boulder-like body with pretty words. I begin convincing myself that someone will come to me when I toss and turn, paralyzed in a nightmare–he will stroke my arm, kiss my shoulder, soothe me to sleep. When I wake up, he’ll be there to touch my belly without repulsion; he’ll lift my breasts with curiosity, tenderness, he’ll look at me looking at myself in the mirror. When my nerves tingle under my skin–snaking along the course of my body, threatening to crawl out into the open–he will press his mouth hard on mine, and crush my bones to white dust.
I purse my lips momentarily, sigh, nod my head in agreement, tap on the ‘heart’ icon, and think about this person or that, and I long to see and touch them.
No new notifications
The mobile phone screen has not lit up for hours now.
I feel forgotten by the men who remember me when they are horny. I rearrange my pulse based on their work schedules. Neither am I an obligation, nor am I repose. I am a distraction, an escape, a relief from boredom. I walk the same roads, stay overnight in the same rooms, have the same conversations, hurtle through the same orgasms.
I have heard it all before, I want to hear it again–you are beautiful, you look sexy with that septum ring and eyebrow piercing, will you sing a ghazal for me, your voice makes me cry, your poems paint pictures. I have stumbled around looking for a home–from Yahoo chat rooms, to Google Talk, to Orkut walls, to Facebook, to Tinder, Hinge, Bumble. A home that would have a dog, a garden with neatly trimmed grass, bamboo fences, the smell of cinnamon and ginger tea wafting through the kitchen, a swing on which my lover and I would spend rainy, thundering nights. I have wanted to not-feel cold.
I no longer know who these men are–some I have loved, some, whose names I don’t recall.
In memory’s quagmire, they are all one. Faceless, their translucent shadows merge into one another, same-different men. They look alike–T-shirts, jeans, chappals, cigarettes, ganja, guitars, kurtas and shirt sleeves rolled up to their forearms; they wear the same crew-cut hair; they touch, moan, shudder in the same way; and they hate in the same ways–that afternoon when one climbed off me and said, “I am done”, or the evening another one looked down my bare back and said, “whoa you are hairy”, or the night when yet another same-different one looked away from me the entire time we fucked.
I mistake longing for love, desperation for love, and loneliness for love. Of late, I am learning that people are made of flesh and blood, caste, sex, and religion–anything but love. I am learning that same-different men are burning furnaces who scorch and sear when you get close.
I think about my friend at least twice a day
Sunil would lend me his Carvaan mini player every other day at the rehab. Once he started going to work, I would have the player with me throughout the week, except for the weekends – he liked to listen to the Saturday night shows. Sunil never found the player after he moved into the pg. Did his mother and sister find it when they went through his things? Have they kept it safely? I never listened to Buddha Bar after rehab. I cannot listen to Buddha Bar now.
Sunil exists in an all-of-a-sudden now–tall, burly, bald strangers walking by; songs like Meet me at Our Spot, which I’d first heard on the mini player; curd as the key ingredient in baking cakes; filter coffee; fake precious stones on silver coated thumb rings; bonsai plants; four walled rooms with one cot, one mid-height cupboard, one table, one window.
Sunil called me on a Tuesday. I didn’t answer my phone because I was hungover, nursing my dehydration with an electrolytes solution. I messaged him the next day. No reply. Two days went by–I found out he was in a hospital with tubes connected to his body, a machine helping him breathe. The big, strapping man who’d walk with me when I had panic attacks and gave me coffee sachets in secret in a place where every little pleasure was contraband, was withering away in a bed with white sheets. Sunil would say–I don’t want to go the way my father went, with a tube stuck in his throat and machines connected to his veins. That’s exactly how he went!
The last thing I did before I never heard from Sunil again was to disconnect his call because I was having a bad day.
The following is what usually happens:
My belly enters/steps into the cafe before I do–I wear a loose kurta, droop my shoulders, keep my eyes on the floor. I look for a corner table with two chairs. I take out a book, a pack of cigarettes, and stare at the menu–I want to order pancakes and bacon served with maple syrup because I love the sweet-savory crunch.
I try to catch the server’s eye. When he finally walks over, I murmur, “a pasta salad and an Iced Americano, please.” Well-rehearsed, he says, “Iced Americano is a black coffee without sugar.”
I sneak a glance at the stacks of sugar sachets kept on the counter. “Yes, I know.”
I reach for my book and begin to read from the dog-eared page, but the letters turn into tiny ants crawling everywhere as if they were running away from something, like they were rushing toward something else.
I lean back, shift a bit to make myself more comfortable but this chair doesn’t hold me well.
I light a cigarette and look out onto the street overwhelmed by honking, smoking cars bumping against each other. The rising smog circles into familiar images.
Women, and mostly men, who have been momentary friends and lovers tell me they cannot recognize me if they run into me by chance. Baths, mirrors, sweat melting, dripping from crevices, multiple folds of the neck, armpits, belly remind me to itch, scratch large, congealed strips of skin that are unable to breathe through their pores.
My belly hangs until where it should not—I am only allowed to scratch that part raw in the dark when I am alone. The chores are done, and lights switched off, I’m thinking of all the things I’ve done in the day–it begins to itch like the things that I ought not have done.
The coffee arrives with a sachet of sugar. I rip the packet open, spilling the granules, and stir it in. I let a burp escape my mouth. I itch to pay for my sins.
My t-shirt, which I had worn the whole day, smells of sweat, masala, curd, and fish made for ma and baba—Ma who is unwell and wouldn’t switch on the fan, by who I sat and sweated. My sweatpants smell of earth from the morning rain, and Bhootu, who lay on my lap as she slept. My bra smells of deodorant, panties smell of repeated taking off and putting on–water and hygiene wash.
I have just bathed. My arms, legs, torso smell of soap and water, my face feels dry: I can smell the cold cream on my face that I haven’t applied yet.
I am in bed. Beside my supine figure lies a roll of toilet paper for my runny nose, an unopened Amazon package. At the head, numerous strands of broken, brownish-black hair, The Body Keeps the Score, and other archives like ferry ticket stubs, restaurant bills, sketches, bits of posters stapled into a notebook. At the foot of the bed, a pillow to rest my sprained ankle, Bhootu’s blanket-mattress-bed and her covers, Ma’s nightie I want to wear, I wear, I don’t like to wear, White-and-brown fur stuck to the fibers on the faded blue-gray bed sheet.
This record of what has been done throughout the day will be washed away with tomorrow’s water and detergent–habits have ways of being undone.
A moment, please, before I must return home
It is night now, all is still. All can hide, be visible.
I seat myself on a swing in a park and swing high in the air, my legs rocking forward and backward until I feel giddy. I might even jump when my body is midair. I might bruise myself, get mud on my clothes, and the night will let me lie on the dewy grass for a while, touching the dirt on my skin, the spots on my body, which feel sore. I listen to Dire Straits, saunter around the streets. I flick shadows off my fingertips at people passing by, a breeze cools the sweat on my skin. The scent of frangipanis and mist floats in the air–I stand in the middle of a road, taking a deep breath. My insides ache, though not as much as my neck and shoulders.
It will be morning soon. The sun will come out again, flagging off one more day’s race. The jagged, tar chips on roads will scrape the skin off soles. Daylight will move this town as though the living will never be able to pause again.
I have become slow
It is not my age; it is that my body drags like melted wax off a termite-infested dresser. The trail of dirt-white refuses to be clean and proper, no matter how I mold it, hold it, cuddle it, crush it, stretch it, stamp upon it, force it.
Still, I have everything, and I have everything to lose. The urge to die is a lot less, the urge to not-live, more. The clock strikes at twelve-three-six-nine-twelve-three-six-nine-twelve-three–
I have been propped upright in a straitjacket for as long as the earth has been revolving around the sun, replaying the voices in my head, rewriting their wavelengths, feeding them regurgitated food. There is no need to stand and stare, that which was there is, will always be, whether I touch the morning flowers, sing the songs of autumn and spring.
Trijita (she/her) is a 29-year-old queer woman with disability, living in Kalyani, West Bengal. Her work has appeared in WiFi for Breakfast, Lapis Lazuli, Plato’s Caves Online, In Plainspeak, We Apologize for the Inconvenience: A Club Q Benefit Anthology, and Dillinama: A Film and Poetry Journal. She is learning to live the slow-paced life of a small town, and working as an independent researcher.