Such banal truths, I can’t confess
That I author pretty lies
So no one may guess
The pedestrian behind the prize
I have found within me
A corner which is mute
The only silent portion
No wind in that flute
It is condescending in its silence
It is puny and it is small
My vitality it eyes mockingly
I hated its voiceless call
Until recently, when I discovered
When all else was too noisy
This corner was inviting
Its silence was all too cozy.
Since then, the corner has grown
Its silence is my shield
It mocks me cruelly no more
I dance in its hushed field.
Bizarrely, I thought, the situation has finally gone my way. I was not expecting it, but I now had my chance. Like a coiled viper, I struck.
My neighbor’s intrepid little son had a proclivity for superheroes. Not one, but all of them. In his warped little comic-bookish universe, I had managed to secure the much envied spot of the arch villain. I am not sure if it was my receding hairline or my occasional toothless grin (dentures are all too fine, but if god intended me to be owner of only gums, only gums I would flaunt), but the coveted position of the super bad guy had been thrust on me.
His parents were one of those modern thinkers who let the imagination of their child run with him to whichever nonsensical universe he took them. I would have been tolerant of parental indulgence, but what took my breath away was that they expected the same saccharine forbearance of me. I had been labeled as the benign grandpa of the neighborhood and they confused my scowls of indignation for grimaces of arthritic pain. I am, generally speaking, a broad minded man with normal levels of patience. But being subjected to a child’s inane games and being pelted by his super-powers at odd times of the day was more than any reasonable man of seventy nine could have put up with.
I had put up with the days of Superman when the child “flew past me” knocking my walking stick out of my hand lest my Lex Luthor character get to the grocery store and find supplies to enslave the world. I had put up with the days of Batman when he would pelt me with several coins to confuse my Two Face Harvey Dent character in his decision making process which would have led to the destruction of his Gotham City. I had merely grimaced when his Spiderman had thrown a sheet over my Green Goblin to trap him- the sheet, of course, was his spidey-web. That I stumbled into a puddle because of that godforsaken sheet was a clear sign of victory for this super hero. And the daft parents of this little pest were convinced that a polite half-hearted apology to me and an even less spirited censure to their son were sufficient to make up for my troubles.
Now, however, the era of Wolverine had dawned. And I of course, was his William Stryker. The only fair play on part of the kid was that he yelled out my character’s name every time he decided to vanquish me. His sharp jabs of chopsticks held between his fingers were punctuated by broken angry narrative like dialogues which informed me that I had robbed his life and memory from him and condemned him to eternal youth. This was the insult to all my injuries that I could not abide. A few knives between your knuckles were a small price for eternal youth, I thought. It was time I taught the brat a lesson. He wanted a nemesis and I was finally willing to oblige.
By now, I had learnt to peek outside the door before I left my house and peek around the corners before I turned. Needless to say, it did not always work. This ‘Wolverine’, though, could only attack me during his play time-5 to 6 in the evening on weekdays and all day on Sundays. This gave me leverage. I decided to leave my house early one day and lie in wait for him. I would shake the child until his adamantium claws fell from his hands and hopefully, this would be sufficient to scare his seven year old mind. I thought I’d be sly so that no one would see me and if he complained to anyone, I would show my broken glasses to his parents and tell them that my vision was not even allowing me to leave my house, thus escaping the guilt of alarming a child.
I had underestimated the little guy. As I lay in wait around the quieter corner of my building, I heard the child approach. I snickered under my breath in a way, which I now realize, must have been quite sinister. As the child appeared I took him by his collar and started to shake him. To my disadvantage, I have not been seven years old for several years. I had forgotten how children kick when they are scared. And this one had his “claws” on, too. I yelped and let the little devil go as my heart sank at the failure of my evil genius. Even as the child ran back around the corner, his father appeared at the turn. The child and his father collided painfully and the chopstick claws lodged themselves between the poor man’s legs.
Rarely have I seen so many colors on a man’s face all at the same time. He yelled and the child cried because one of his chopsticks had broken. Blind to his father’s pain, the child screeched on about the loss of the chopsticks claw and my villainous attempt to thwart him. His father’s face was now like a dangerously puffed up purple balloon. I saw my chance.
Even as I started to sagaciously bring to light the dangers of his son’s super-heroic tendencies, the father registered several sharp raps behind the boy’s left ear. Father and son retreated to their cave with an ominous cloud hanging over them. Several capes were found in the dumpster next morning. The accident had taken a greater toll on the child than it had on his father. A superhero’s misstep is all a super villain needs to establish his dominion and live undefeated. My evening promenade is now free of caped vigilantes and my toothless grin has relocated its position on my face.
It was like waking under a lamppost after a night’s drunken revelry while being sniffed by a stray mongrel. But I had not been drinking, I was not on a street and no canine of any description was sniffing me. I had dreamt a lot that night and my head was full of dreams that had left their onerous print on my day. They were heavy dreams and now my head was like a liter of mercury. So, weighed by the dreams and the gently smothering pillow, I stayed in bed some more.
The doorbell rang and I lugged my hundred kilo head to the door. A friend had stopped by ‘this pleasant Saturday morning’ to see if I’d be up for a brunch at this place he had recently discovered, well not so much discovered as read about and what rave reviews it had! He blabbered on for a while. I took the opportunity to notice his head. It was big for his body and it seemed to float a mile above his shoulder, rather disconnected to the reality of his limbs existing in its own dimension. In fact, I believe his head had floated in through my door without any invitation and had placed itself hovering over the sofa before I had invited him and the rest of his body had accepted the invitation.
At some point during my cranial musings, he had stopped talking and was looking expectantly at me through his protruding eyes and a vague smile. I had no clue what he had said. My head was sinking into the carpet under the weight of my dreams. I wanted to explain to him that my head was so far down, pressed against the floor, that my hearing was somewhat impaired. I considered the excuse for a while, but didn’t think that it would fly. So I smiled, remembered his original invitation for a brunch, told him I’d be ready in a few minutes and dragged my head back to my room to follow through on that intention. However, by the time I got to my room, my intention had only managed to add a couple of pounds to my head and its details mingled with the colors and sounds in there. So I went back to bed, my head safely under the pillow gazing at the blackness in front of my eyes.
Eight headaches later, my friend knocked at the door, peeped and asked if ‘all was good’? The redundancy of that phrase was all that struck me. I told him that my dreams last night were bad, the weight of my head was breaking my neck, the day ahead promised to be littered with heads and that his own head was a mile high; it was for him to decide if that covered either the category of “all” or “good” or both. If I had removed the pillow from my face, I’d have seen his expression, but all I heard was an ‘are you feeling OK’? Another redundant question, I thought. Mustering another coherent intelligible reply was beyond me, so I got up, put on a jacket over my night clothes, ran my fingers through my hair and asked him where that brunch that he had promised me was.
I had been right. All I saw were heads. The walk to the brunch place was like a walk through a lively waste-basket at a guillotine. Heads floating here and there – not a body in sight. Round heads, pin-heads, block-heads, potato heads, extension-of-neck heads, turtle heads, oblong heads, bobbing heads, drooping heads. None, however, was dragging along the floor as mine was.
At some point, my mile high headed loquacious friend directed me inside a box full of more skillfully packed heads. All these heads were munching, slurping and crunching – making sounds which were promising to push my head to a level below the sea. Then a cup of coffee materialized in front of me. The aroma of the java blend found its way into my nostrils which was fast filling up with the smell of dust on the ground. The warm wafting delicious smell pulled my half a ton head off the ground and lifted it all the way to my neck. It sat there on the table- the brown hot liquid with vapors so fragrant that the seemed to create gardens with lush butterflies in my dream infested head. I found my arm dangling by my side, I only thought of its motion when the fragrant vapors coaxed it to the handle of my cup. I lifted the cup and sipped the draught. Its warmth filled me and made the rest of my body appear. All the disembodied heads in the room found bodies to be attached to. My own head was lighter, the dreams of the night disappeared and my friend seemed to be smiling at me for some reason.
In a fit of rage, Nisha burst the bubble of silence one day. The hisses and buzzes and the wordless monotony had been safe and comforting. She had learnt to ignore her rattling dead baby. Jatin had overcome his spate of ill health and had secured a new job. It was an onerous job, not for the quality of the demands of his post, but for the communication with others that it took for him to get through the day. He, too, had been content coming back to the blankness and the wordless monotony of his home. Anyone else would have said that they were leading a miserable life. Nisha and Jatin would have said that they were content. In truth, they were numb.
Their numbness was broken by Nisha’s raging screams one day. She had tripped over one of Jatin’s shoes, a habit of his that had caused her mild annoyance at worst – when there were no snakes or red clad madness or dead babies. However, when she tripped on this shoe, she seemed to stumble against the seam of the invisible bubble of silence. She did not initially recognize that maddening sound as her own screeching voice. But it continued and eventually started to form words, coherent only in their fury. The words started to form sentences; nonetheless, it was all disconnected. Not a word in there was about the shoe, though. They were not about the petty annoyance caused by her husband’s carelessness. They were words of blame, of accusations, of a heart so bloodied that its blood was obscuring her vision and she could not even see the object of her wrath – Jatin.
Jatin looked at her from far away. He sat still inside the ruptured bubble. Nisha looked madder to him than he imagined he had when he had worn his red t-shirt around his waist. She seemed to be clawing at that bubble, which had been his haven the last few months, that space where they had wordlessly communicated the ache to each other in shapes and colors of each other’s thoughts. Her screams came into that broken bubble only a muffled sound, but he could make out the words. It took him a long time to process them. She was blaming him bitterly for the misery that they were in. She was calling him names and asking him why he had killed her baby so ruthlessly. From inside his torn bubble, Jatin saw her standing in the pool of blood oozing from her fatally injured heart. In a strange way, Jatin thought, it seemed to be Nisha’s turn to be covered in insanity and red. He tried to zip up the bubble and save himself from the blood that Nisha was slithering in, but so persistently was she clawing at it that the bubble failed to heal itself.
Jatin clutched the silence to his chest and started screaming back in the vague hope to drown Nisha out. Strange words fell out of his mouth. They were stranger, he thought, than the ones stumbling out of Nisha. They were words like ‘crushing expectations’, ‘weak-womb’, ‘hollow’. The hollowness, they both realized was now a permanence. It was like a battle for survival where no mean tactic was spared. They shredded each other’s bodies and organs in the hope to return to either the numbness that had preceded this mêlée or the mundane normalcy that had preceded the numbness.
In the end, the bubble was in tatters. The snakes and the insanity had left them. They were now standing naked in a pool of each other’s blood, blaming each other for the dead baby, wishing each other dead. Finally, they were too tired to even hate each other. They sat in silence and looked at each other. It was not the same safe silence that had comforted them until twenty minutes ago. It was different. They looked around and saw the blood that they had left around them- the blood from the cruel combat they had just indulged in. The blood had drowned the shoes, the snakes, smothered the rattling of their dead child and even taken the shroud of madness away from them. Now all was red and they writhed in their pain. In this drowning red, they were once again indistinguishable from one another. They were identical, miserable, aching, naked blobs with nothing to cover them but blood. She lay down in her corner as he lay down in his and they both slept. The last thought that they shared between them, a fragment from their comfortable days of bubbled silence, was that they’d mop the blood up tomorrow.