Lost in Home
Lost in Home19 mins 780 19 mins 780
It was the month of December. The undraped trees stood spreading its bare branches by the busy streets of the city. Now and then gusts of winter winds danced through them, swaying them. The sky was azure and white puffs of gay clouds crossed across its heart. At late evening when Jishnu was returning to his home from the airport the streets were jammed, and there were the incessant honks of a thousand cars. He rolled down his window and let the smell of Christmas glide across his face. He took off his glasses from his eyes and looked over the street hovering quite out of the window. The youths were on the road strolling in the pavements wearing coats and jackets. The blasting lights blinded his eyes. Everything around him was painted red and white, and huge banners hung that read 'Happy New Year'. The bright blue lights showered over the street, reflecting over the heads of the cars stuck in front of his. The laughter and chattering that adorned outside his car made him smile on his own. He always loved the winters of Kolkata, the charm it had was held dear by him. Every year for the past four years he had returned from Delhi during this time. This year he would be finishing his IIT and he still had no knowledge, did not even think to conjure one about what he would do next. He thought at times, he would return home, here. Because home, he missed. Also, there was not a thing to keep him in Delhi. The friends that he mostly referred to as acquaintances would not make him take a week to forget about them. At first, he would pause a while to recall their names when telling a story. Then after a month or two he would forget how they looked. He would see himself and a few other people whose faces would be just brown blotches and nothing more. But the stories, he would remember those, he thought.
It was his first night at home. His room, whenever he returned was kept just the way he left it. His books, his audio tapes, his empty bottles of beer that he once stored to make lamps, all had stood there flowing through the stream of years, aging. He stood in front of the window overlooking the street. The Christmas trees made of green shimmering lights flashed onto his eyes. He thought how he had missed his little room, shabby, yet his own. He shivered while the night's coldness trespassed through his ajar window. He let his weary body hit the cradle of warmth of his home at that silent night before the Christmas Eve and sighed softly, "Home, home."
The morning light blasted through the glass window over his face; slowly Jishnu opened his eyes, and immediately squinted them. He turned his head towards the wall beside him where there was a clock. It was quarter to nine. He laid there for a while staring out of the window, watched the bare tree, which stood like a forgotten king who was draped off of his glory. After a while, he dragged himself out of the covers of his snug bed and grabbed his sweater that he left on the top of his chair beside the end of the bed.
Outside he saw his father sitting on the veranda with a cup of hot brewing tea on the side table, reading the 'Crime and Punishment'. Jishnu chuckled and said, "You never get tired, do you?"
His father looked at him from over his round bifocal glasses, "Never." He said.
"Is this what, the ninety-ninth time you're reading this?"
"See Jishnu, I am a forgetful person, so I have forgotten how many times I have read it." He then again resumed with his reading. Jishnu smiled and walked over to the edge of the veranda, rested his hands over the railing and leered down below. The old street, the old shops, the dusty bicycle kept outside the garage of the house opposite to his. He knew all of it. But he never got tired. Probably never would, he thought, like his father. Inside, in the living room, his mother was sitting with his grandmother. She was listening to the radio and was knitting, her tiny, wrinkled, bare feet brushing over the softness of the carpet that covered the floor. She always knitted, for whom that was quite a mystery and where all her knitted stuff went was one too. Seeing Jishnu, she put down her needles over her lap and said, "I was fast asleep when you came home yesterday night, I told your mother to wake me up later, but she didn't. She never does. Come here." Extending her weary hands she held the young yet rough hands of her grandson and patted on them.
She then said looking at him, "Is your hostel's food so bad, Jiji? Every time you return, I find you half the size you left in. How will I knit if you keep on fluctuating like this?" His mother looked at him, and he laughed looking at his grandmother. To him, these everyday's little normal conversations had become something to treasure. Oh how he missed them.
"You have to eat, eat like a young man, so that you fit in one of those sweaters that I've knitted for you."
Jishnu nodded obediently and sat on the reclining chair opposite to his mother who was fondling with some bills, he did not understand. He found that her mother's hair near her ears had begun to get touches of grey. But it suited her very well, he thought. He leaned back and rested his head over the wooden top of the chair. Listening to the radio he looked at the dome shaped fan above his head. It was cold, but not as cold as Delhi. He despised the winters of Delhi, its wetness and gloom made him sick. It felt like death and that suffocated him. But here, it was all so pleasant. There were the mellow rays of the soft sun of winter, and the cold felt bearable. He tapped on the handle of his chair. He had just woken up but still felt as if a slumber was taking over him. His stomach growled, he was hungry. After months he would be having his breakfast at home. Not his hostel's food. Most days, he missed his breakfast as he woke up late; he stuffed few biscuits in his pocket and hurried to his morning lectures. It had become his routine and he never thought to alter it either. But here, at home, it was different. He would have a proper breakfast and he would not have to hurry anywhere. He had plans with some of his friends, his old friends from school, but that was in the evening, which seemed far off.
His mother put down the bunch of bills from her hand on to the three legged table in front of her, leaned on and tapped on Jishnu's knees, "Why did you wake up, if you plan to sleep again?" She asked.
"I'm not asleep."
"Then why do you look like you are?"
He opened one eye and tilted his head towards his mother, "See, wide awake."
She grinned at her son, got up and walked towards the kitchen. His grandmother lowered the volume of her deafening radio and said in a low voice, "I have heard, you're planning to return here after you complete things there."
"I'm thinking so."
"Why is that? Well, I will be more than glad, obviously. But why?"
"I miss home, Nani."
"You will get used to it."
"It has been four years. When I left home and returned on my first holiday you said the same thing. Four long years! And I'm still not half as used to it as you say I will be. Maybe I do not get used to places, I miss home."
"What about your friends? Aren't they going to miss you? Think about them."
"I have got no friends there."
"Here comes a blatant lie."
"Oh my god, Nani. I do not. There are a few who I talk to, but I do not think they will ever miss me. They have not even called me since I left campus. Not for once."
His grandmother sighed, "I really do not understand you kids."
"I know and neither do I."
"Aren't you one of them?" She tilted her head and continued, "I do not understand you either Jiji, but if you want to return home, I will be the happiest."
She smiled for a while and said again, "I never liked when you left, but told myself that one must let the birds leave their nests."
"Now the bird wants to come back to his nest." Jishnu replied.
Their conversation was interrupted by his mother's calling from inside the kitchen, "Jishnu, come on here, and help me with the cups." Jishnu left and came back with two cups of tea, followed by his mother holding one. He placed one in front of his grandmother and sat holding the other one. Taking a long sip from her cup, his mother asked, "I heard about birds and nests, what were you two talking about?"
A thin line of smoke rose from the cups on the table. Nani laughed and said with overflowing excitement, "Jiji, by birds I remember, the caretaker, our caretaker." She stopped, "You remember him, don't you?"
Jishnu sipped his tea and said, "I met him last night."
Nani sat upright and clapped her hands together, "He gave me a bird a few months ago. I don't reckon I know what bird it was but it was blue, a beautiful shade. Let me show you." She leaned forward slowly looking for something and pointed at the cushion behind Jishnu, "That blue. Indigo." She smiled looking at the corner of the room, leaned back again, squinting her faded eyes she said, "It was like a peacock."
His mother gasped, "A peacock? It couldn't have looked any more different than a peacock. It looked like a crow, Jishnu, which was blue."
Jishnu laughed underneath his breath and asked, "So what happened to this blue crow?"
"It fled." His mother replied.
Nani put down her empty cup of tea and looking at Jishnu she said, "That's what birds do Jiji, they fly away, and never return."
"Maybe, there are some who do come back, and never want to leave at the first place."
His mother said in a very serious tone, "I really do not think that has ever happened."
"You do not know about all birds, do you Ma?" Jishnu asked smiling with a grin.
"Jishnu!" A heavy voice shouted from the veranda. It was his father's. "Do you want a Christmas tree for tonight?"
Jishnu turned his head towards the veranda in sure astonishment, where his father was now standing under the glittering streaks of the morning sun, "What?" He asked.
"I asked whether you want a Christmas tree for tonight."
"I'm old!" Jishnu exclaimed, in a sqeaky voice.
"And also hard of hearing." He sighed, "Okay then, I will get one for myself."
"But baba, you're almost fifty." He said looking like a fool, who had been asked questions about things he never heard of.
"You tell me that you're old, I accept that. But don't come and call me an old hag." His father looked at him and walked across the living room whistling towards the stairs. Jishnu sat there puzzled. His father was getting a Christmas tree for himself. The thought of this made him laugh and he did. He glanced at his mother, who said, "Do not ask me anything." And got up, walked behind his father and said, "The old one is still there, I think, down in the store room." And she was gone.
Nani was drooping, her head lowered, and a soft music from the radio lingered around Jishnu. Soon his afternoon was taken over by evening. When he was leaving his house he saw that his father had placed the Christmas tree near the veranda, and had decked it with small bulbs. He smiled at his father who was sitting beside it on the reclining chair and called, "Ma, I'm going. When nani wakes up, tell her that I will be back before midnight."
His father looked at him. Smiling and raising both of his eyebrows he asked, "Midnight?"
Jishnu hurriedly walked towards the door and said, "Before that, way before that." He waved and he was gone.
Getting out of his cab, Jishnu walked the rest of his way. The Christmas celebration was brimming with life, glamorous lights of all colours, like an artist's happy canvas, his joyful feelings smeared all over it. Around him walked beautiful ladies with their friends, some with their lovers, wearing Santa's hats, laughing, forgetting about each of their shackles. An old tram passed in front of him, he saw the soft amber light that wrapped the gay passengers inside. They smiled, talked, some sat glaring out of the wooden windows and soon ringing its bell it went out of his sight. He walked over to the Silver's and found it was packed with howling youths. He did not mind them. He stood and heard the pouring of drinks, the cluttering of glasses, and now and then a shout, deafening everything else, "Cheers!". The laughter and all of the talking were so loud that to him it all appeared as an incoherent pulp of cacophony. The tables were jammed, many stood around them, since there was no other place left to sit.
At the far end of the bar where there hung a 'No smoking' sign, a woman was sitting with a cigarette between her fingers. What an irony, Jishnu thought. Then looking around he found most of the crowd had gracefully ignored the sign. He jostled through them and came near the table where she sat. There was a half filled glass in front of her. He thought for a moment and seeing the empty chair opposite to her he asked, "Is it kept for someone?"
She was looking at her burning cigarette and without shifting a muscle she answered, "It's vacant."
He stepped closer to her and felt a churning in his stomach. She was quiet sensuous, he thought. Her dark black hair was cut short, hardly reached her shoulders, nose was as sharp as the tip of a knife and she had a long neck where over its curves the scarlet light flowed. She wore a maroon shirt and a black sweater, and underneath, below the table he could see, was her crossed legs in blue jeans. He exhaled and asked, "It's weird that none took your chair."
"None asked." She answered, still not lifting her eyes from her cigarette. It was burning and she kept looking at it. Like a moth. Then she took a puff, looked at Jishnu and said, "You can take it if you want."
Jishnu stood there like a fool, not knowing what next to say to her. He knew he did not want that chair. He saw her alone and he did not know why he walked up, maybe because she sat quietly amidst a celebrating crowd and he thought she might want anyone to talk to. Or maybe she wanted to be left alone. He had done a terrible mistake and he felt a sudden feeling of embarrassment closing on him. Still looking at Jishnu she said, "You may sit if you like."
There was nothing surprisingly unique in her voice, nothing uncommon. Everyday hundreds of people hear such voices. But at that moment it felt different to him. It felt like the whistle of a train passing by at a cold silent night. He dragged the chair and sat down. The sound of the whistle slowly fading away. Around them the softly lit bar was flooded with dozens of different noises, yet there was this silence that blossomed between the two of them. As if he could hear the rhythmic pounding of his own heart along with hers. He wanted to say something; he wanted to keep on listening to the pounding. And within him this indecisiveness became more and more unbearable as each minute passed. Dipping her cigarette in the ashtray she asked, "I look old, don't I?"
Jishnu was taken aback. It brought him back and he answered, "No, you look quite young, because you are. Younger than me I can say." He had no clue why she asked what she asked.
She smirked, "But do I look young?"
What kind of a question was that, he thought. She was in her early twenties and possessed an undeniable beauty. "No you do, you do." He said.
"Yet I do not feel it. I feel like an old lady, who had lived a long life; you may call it a boring one or a happening one. She had seen several summers and now is at the edge. One more step and she will be gone."
He looked intensely, directly into her eyes. They were black as her hair and were like two tightly bolted windows. Yet to open. She shifted her eyes towards the singing and dancing. Taking a deep breath she continued, "You see all of them? I do too. I enjoy looking at them, like a spectator or an onlooker. I feel I had been there. I have sung like them, danced like them a thousand times, but I haven't actually."
Jishnu was quiet. All the songs, shoutings and flashing lights muffled and faded away into a far off world. At that moment, there was a woman sitting in front of him and he heard nothing but her voice, saw nothing but her face. She said, "It's all so full of warmth, you see. All these sparkling little bulbs, the mistletoes, the smell of freshly baked Christmas cakes, the taste of a fine alcohol, the rhythm of a known song, all these stop moving you at one point. I am sitting here, waiting to merge into one with them. To become what they are. But it seems unreachable."
He glanced over his shoulder to where she had fixed her eyes. Six people danced; among them two were nearly drunk. Then he looked back at her and asked, "Why?" which sounded as a whisper.
"Maybe because, even though right now I am sitting here, talking to you, within me I am somewhere else. Where I am not trying to feel things, not trying to become one, where everything seems reachable and I am not just a poor spectator, waiting."
Jishnu felt a pricking pain within him. He was not supposed to feel hurt, why should he? What she said was nothing to do with him. Still for a second Jishnu felt empty. But she was no one, he thought. He then asked, "And where is that?"
But she entirely ignored his question and smiling she asked, "Do you want anything to drink? Because I do."
He nodded and beckoned the waiter. He made his way through the crowd, stood next to their table, "Yes?"
Jishnu looked at her. She clapped her hands on the table and said, "A whiskey for me, and..." She looked at Jishnu, "Rum for me." He said. The waiter pushed back to where all the bottles were kept in front of a large mirror and returned with two glasses. Placing them on the table he asked, "You need ice?" Both of them said no.
Sipping onto her glass she watched the waiter leave and said, "You asked me where I belong? Didn't you?" She raised one of her eyebrows and glanced at Jishnu. He nodded. He felt his phone vibrate in his back pocket, but he did not care. He knew if he was late, his friends wouldn't mind. He glanced at his watch once and then again fixed his eyes at her.
She said, "I dwell in the past, my past. Like old people. Often like them, I just sit and stare at nothing for hours. And I think of all those times I have been happy, have laughed, felt connected, fell in love and befriended someone new. Someone new? They are all old now, and gone. But not forgotten. At the beginning, I used to try to forget all of them, because I felt this rage within me, but that only makes one to think about them more. So I gave in. I stopped trying. I let them come and go like cluster of clouds. Throughout my day, they come like little surprises and I welcome them. I sit with them for some time and then they leave. I learnt to live with them. The pain, sometimes that they inflict, I take that too. Somewhere it makes me feel alive than I actually am, in spite of the fact that I feel I will die." She scuffed and continued, "But you know, after a while it just passes. And you learn that. Again, from the very next second you want to live like a normal person." She sighed. Lifting her head she thought something and smiling she resumed, "I never let things go. It feels so funny that earlier I used to run from them. But not anymore. The people from my thoughts have ceased to exist in my life. But here, in my head they are more real than they ever were, fresh as the leaves of spring; sweet, young and filled with this unattainable innocence, which to my surprise they did not possess actually. In this life of mine they turned out just as rotten as me.
"People gone are left alive in my thoughts. It's silly to keep holding onto things that happened years ago. I cannot forget. Moreover, now I don't want to. Because that is all what is left of them. The memories, the thoughts, the places we went, and the conversations we had. In this reality that hits you like a bullet, those will never happen, I know. Still my mind wants what it wants. And my heart? I don't think it wants anything at all."
Immediately she stood up and smiled. Jishnu was on his feet too. "You see why I said what I said earlier, me being an old woman. I bored you, didn't I? You want to walk?" She asked. They paid their halves and a while later they were walking outside. The crowd was thickening. He saw closely now, her eyes shone under the dancing lights in the street. Those bolted windows were gone. Her black eyes were not a blind abyss, but a trail to wander on. At times her face lit up in red, then suddenly blue, then green. And with each of these changes of colours, Jishnu perceived how she felt like a friend, not an acquaintance, not a stranger.
They stood near St. Paul's Cathedral and stared at the candles that were flickering in the wind inside. The large windows were open, the chandeliers were lit and it threw a graceful glow. She looked inside for a while. Hearing a shrill choir rise, he asked, "Are you hear now? With me?"
She was leaning on the wall beside the black gate and said, "Yes."
They walked away towards the metro station. On the stairs Jishnu realised she would leave soon, she would go away. He felt as if an unknown fear of loss, a void was entrapping him. It was not right. Who was he to stop her? He thought. He bought tickets for both of them, she tilted her head threw a faint smile then laughed. They both stood near the yellow line, now and then Jishnu roamed with his hands tucked in his pocket. It was warmer there, but he felt cold. It was her metro that arrived first. The door opened making the sound that it does and she walked towards it. Jishnu felt as if she took something away from him, and he wanted that back. Everything was fleeing somewhere, he was going back to Delhi, and he didn't want to go. His hands were as cold as ice, as if not a drop of blood was left within him. He wanted to stop all this. He wanted to stop her. But how could he call her? In what name? He hurried towards the door, it closed and inside she was lost in an endless sea of crowd. There was a gust of strong wind and the metro was gone, with it she was too. He felt his phone vibrate in his back pocket for the second time and above the ground, the city remained as it was, people laughed, lover's drowned in each other's warmth, smoke rose from the roadside fires, bottles of whiskey, wine and gin kept on cluttering, the smell of baked cup cakes lured little kids, the blinding lights still flashed, and not a second anything stopped. It was his home, his city, and he was lost.