a space for youth writing & mental health discussion
a space for youth writing & mental health discussion
Vivian, like any God’s loneliest creature; a queer mixture of memory and forgetting, out of place everywhere, at home nowhere. Awakens on this downpour morning with dreams disturbed by the arrival of the dumpster truck from the city’s trash removal and for a length, he stares in confused remembrance towards where the window opens to the sky which has slowly changed color from dianthus-pink to hydrangea-blue.
“It’s the day I die” he finally realises. ‘I’m 26 today. When did it all pass?’
Climbing feverish from the bed, his entire body demands to take a break like it's one single bone. In his black track pants, he stares doorwards. There’s so much to be done. Later- he must go and buy a strip of aspirin. Much later- he must go to pay his tithes. Outside, the rain has mopped the streets. Small buds sprout; climbing the air like a growing child and everyone on their way home has been touched by the rain.
“It’s the day I die”
Next door the neighbours are indistinctly bickering: ‘You said you’d take the trash out’
‘No, I did not’
‘Yes you did’
‘It’s not even my turn’.
Under the park bench a dog scratches the ground for a nibble of yesterday’s bread. Further ahead, people shrink into shadows as it walks ahead of them ushering them into the unending streets. The clouds have now waned into hiding. Bringing forth the cessation of rain. The sun breaks through- stretching its long arms and legs across the city.
“Life is fleeting,” Vivian mutters.
He’s engaged in an internal monologue- because who would listen?. Up in the still shadowed car a man is talking over the phone and Vivian prepares to face the day. When he turns on the T.V the news arrives like cardiac arrest. The world is slow burning with the smell of rancid meat and apathy is the taste of salt in everyone’s mouth. He turns up a dial and his friends’ voice rings through the mouthpiece: “I’m telling you. The zeitgeist of our generation is not a spiritual, but a material crisis. It’s all about capitalism now”. But it was different back then. Back when love divulged itself naively in elevators used by kissing teenagers.
“No...stop...uh...not in here. Someone might find us”
Vivian chuckles and picks up Baldwin’s Another Country as a journey companion. Then he dresses up and walks to the front door and checks the windows and bolts until it's all secured. At nighttime, Vivian thinks of murderers and thieves lurking in the shadows, keeping vigil like feral predators. He thinks that people’s selfhood is dearth of authenticity; with so little in them to express that they’re one bad day away from expressing themselves as murderers and thieves. To adopt their own fears as personalities. To break faith with humanity.
“What a volatile world!”
Vivian swings open the front door and sees Shubhi standing there, smiling like a poem of sunlight
“Good morning. Viv”
Delighted, Vivian smiles back and sighs because Shubhi isn’t really there. Shubhi. Eighteen. His high-school sweetheart. He’s been seeing her a lot lately. She sat next to him during the seminar hours yesterday and when he stepped out of the station she was hailing a cab for them to take home.
“I came to pick you up” Shubhi says
“Will you come along with me?”
“I can’t Shubhi. I can’t. You’re dead.”
Vivian disdains the supermarket. It's too smothering. And for the fact that it exhibits the mediocrity of life that he refuses to live in. Children frolicking about in aluminum trolleys. Men in their late 30s shopping for lingerie. Something about their body temperament suggested a schedule mired in 9 to 5, and their faces resembled the facades of a white collar’s efficiency. Women, who were the personification of conformity to materialism, shopping, haggling, compromising prices down to a minimum and ravenous eyes scrounging for one product to another yet walking out of the market without buying anything. The palaver of the supermarket and its instantaneous simulation. Too overwhelming. Too modern. Too smothering for Vivian.
He goes to smaller stores, familiar with its tradition and gets the strip of aspirin. Further ahead outside the Church Mrs. Roy beckons with an inquisitive greeting.
‘How are you keeping?’ she asks, looking past him.
‘Quite alright. What about you?’
Life is a masquerade of formalities
Vivian walks home through the rain mopped streets at five- twenty five.
‘Shubhi’, he ruminates and her name tolls like the dreadful bell of eternity.
Come back. Shubhi. Return soon.
Shubhi. I am bereft here. O, return
Soon, now. What is taking so long?
I am encumbered here. Quite sad. Quiet too.
Come back. Shubhi. Return soon. Shubhi .
Vivian repeats her name until repetition becomes its own prayer. His eyes closed. He becomes replete with delusion. Then abruptly he hears the house gate unlocking its metal jaw. Vivian scampers down the stairs and when he opens the door with trepidation Shubhi is there; eighteen and brimming with womanhood, opulent enough to buy all the treasures under the sun.
‘Will you come out for a walk, Viv?’
He looks behind, another ghost stands in the corner. It's his mother, smiling.
‘He’s got to do some chores for me, Shubhi dear’
‘I’ll lend a hand, then’. Shubhi replies. Amicable as ever.
Later , we’ll take a walk about the city. Is that fine?’
Mother agrees, embracing Shubhi like the softest part of her son’s heart.
‘Absolutely. It's fine by me. Shubhi dear’
Vivian and Shubhi walk to the kitchen and subsequently commence their domestic chore. Shubhi fills the dishpan with water and inundates the plates for a few minutes of soaking and scrubbing. Then warily pulls each plate out of the water to check for any missed spots. Finally, passing it onto Vivian who wipes them with a clean towel and settles them on the drying rack.
What Auden alluded to when he said “Death takes the innocent young” became true of Shubhi. Shubhi, eighteen akin to the loveliest of spring’s bloom, whose petals were nipped too soon, died before the promise of her fruition came true.
Vivian and Shubhi go on meticulously washing the dishes. With shoulders tilted backwards and each facing the opposite direction. Shubhi turns towards Vivian and passes him a plate. (Their hands fortuitously touch in proximity). Then their eyes meet. And a change happens as in flipping a switch. Love’s synergy opens with four O’s. They cannot stop looking into each others’ eyes. They have now discovered the prerequisite of love. They have now discovered how each of them contains the presence of that which is absent in the other.
‘You will go on loving me?’ Vivian asks.
‘Yes, I will. Yes’. Shubhi gently kisses Vivian and all his inhibitions dwindle away like tumbleweed on the hot summer road.
Life at eighteen, sanguine and florid.
Then Vivian goes to Roorkee. A college excursion. Roorkee, an outlet for youthful commerce. Musical nights. Hard liquor, menthol cigarettes. The frenzy throb of oxytocin. A hundred ways to debauchery. A hundred invitations of trouble. Now Roorkee is washing his bluish-red eyes with tepid water and the last drag of a cigarette in Vivian’s repressed memory of a hangover.
Vivian with his newfound college friends. And three nights of partying finds him a one way ticket to love. Vivian finds her dancing in the haze of cigarettes swirling miasma-like. He finds her in fishnets and gloves that crept like living tendrils up her ivory arms and legs. But it was her eyes that enabled his amorous advances. A wink. Summoning him hither. Blue they were. Her eyes. A blue beyond blue. Vivian dances with her until dawn and back at her room upstairs she says her parents are out indefinitely and Vivian submerges in the blueness of her eyes.
‘Let me put you to sleep’, he says, learning the rules of infidelity and when to cheat.
At eighteen Shubhi smelled of melancholy and lilies. The girl is suave with punch drunk love. Pearls on her neck, a fiery throb in her heart. Naked...she drips copiously. Vivian falls into her and surrenders. Shubhi, at eighteen gave him everything but this. Her consummation is reserved for the marriage bed. Vivian wanted more. At the heat of the moment. To live in the now. To live in the transient.
For the rest of the year he avoided Shubhi. Assimilated into guilt. He became evasive as the migrating birds. He kept Shubhi at the pit of love which is an endless falling. Shubhi, eighteen pale and alone with sickness gnawing her insides. All of her existence tapering away like a helpless voice in the dark does when it realises there’s no light at the end.
Shubhi’s innocence discarded like a toy wounded, obsolete and futile. Shubhi’s youth scattered to the wind of malady and retribution. Death was imminent.
Shubhi succumbs to illness.
On Vivian’s arrival, the doctor lowering the corner of his lips greets him with perspiring interlocked fingers.
“I’m afraid. It's inoperable”, the doctor whispers.
Vivian matures. Instantly.
Now Vivian’s blood turns cold each time he calls her name. His bones rendered stiff as the flowers on her grave in dirt. All of his thoughts like brown leaves sparsely fallen; twirling listless in cold air. Shubhi, once the private sun for his soul to bask in; his dream, his fervour. Shubhi, once his only and singular hope, his inward candle, his burning wick in every word. Now gone. gone. Dust to dust.
The clock chimes in monotonously. Tick. one. Tick . two. Tick . three.
Vivian awakens from sleep- speaking her name into the earful darkness.
He hears nothing. Everything was quiet as if the silence was eavesdropping. The darkness of the room overwhelms him like a huge rain cloud looming overhead. Vivian shivers and pulls the shades for the light to peek in. Rubs his thick veined hands. Then touches elbows to knees and begins to pray.
He wanted an intervention. Because she had subsumed the idea of God that no one could live either with or without- and as history observed God seldom came forth into palpability. But whenever God did appear such an impetuous crowd would rush into congregation, in child-like hope that every broken limb and lives lost would be salvaged.
He now wanted providence to command her, under the ontological struggle of life’s imprisonment to appear like God in utter darkness for one minute, every week in the privacy of his nightly prayers. Ever since, she died.
Yet again, he hears nothing. The wheel of silence stays forever still
Later, he takes a walk on the terrace looking towards the rising moon. A plane passes overhead, swift as a dart hitting a bull's eye. As for him there is nothing to cast his eye on except for the birds spreading like buckshot into the sky, spreading into a plume of ominous direness. Then on recalling the lines by Dylan Thomas “though lovers are lost, love shall not and death shall have no dominion” he feels a momentary solace.
Much later, the clock chimes like a death knell. Reminiscent of the traditional lore where a foreboding bell is rung to announce that someone is dying and is in need of a pastor. With sedatives dissolving in a glass by the bed. He chews more in the mouth and washes it down. Vivian turns off the desk light and watches the shadows fall obliquely against the yellow wallpaper. Adamant to stay awake… Vivian slowly falls into a catatonic stupor.
At first, he feels weightless as if suspended in the air. He perceives two forces countering each other: Gravity pulls him toward the ground whilst inertia pulls him towards the top. (In the same manner his body seems to tussle with his soul). Then the center of his unconscious mind uncorks; he feels it drilling down into the deepest pits of his souls and unleashing all his repressed darkness; rage, corruption, guilt, debauchery. Finally, his immobile body sinks into the bed and the bed slowly sinks into the ground. The clock chimes again. But this time it is much softer, like a lonely flute playing in a memorial service.
‘Were you waiting?’
‘Yes! I was’
‘I can go for a walk now, Shubhi, If you like. I’m finally properly dead’
‘Yes. Viv. I’ve been waiting for a long time’
Vivian rising from bed, leaves his twenty- six years in a photo album, somewhere in death’s chest of drawers. Soaring through the night, with Shubhi by his side, the pair of them shoot like comets into eternity while the chiming clock now stops.
Forever and forever.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.