The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes
Love and a pinch of nicotine
The city is silent tonight. Not asleep, but like a huntress, she prowls me. My footsteps on the pitch road are accompanied by occasional heavy breathing, rustling of the leaves in the dry, cold breeze, and a callous noise of a passing vehicle, breaking the rhythm of it all.
But tonight I am in a forgiving mood. So is the city. Calmness returns in an instant as the red light of the cab fades away.
I am walking on a bridge. I stop by, almost mid-way where the arch is at its highest, and hold the concrete fence, looking down. Amongst the pile of plastic bamboo and silly what-nots I see some people asleep. The little kid neatly tucked inside mother’s cove. The breeze blows away papers, plastic, rubble – those asleep hardly move. I look forward. The glasses look pallid in a mixture of halogen yellow and black. Farther ahead, the field looks like a sea, a black abyss encircled with dark silhouettes of the tress, leaves undulating ever so little with the breeze. The cathedral spire peeks from the veil of the tall, black buildings and flowing black greenery. God sleeps tonight, tired of his chores.
The city is silent tonight.
The road ascending with the bridge runs straight as much my eyes can see, before blurring away. It is empty. Not even a dog bark, not even an owl flies over. The remarkable stillness is ominous, yet my heart flounders at the possibility of a long walk with someone tonight. Absurd, I tell myself. I have been searching for love in this city for two years now, and like the little girl who sits and watches you on the balcony happily nibbling a slice of salted raw mango, love has been watching me from a place I have always known, yet can’t reach. The breeze picks up again, bringing in a familiar scent: nicotine.
Someone is smoking.
Noticing one woman amidst the hullabaloos of a busy pandal-hopping day was next to impossible: for there were thousands of them donning every avatar a sane mind could come up with. Yet I had seen her from a distance, casually handling the ethnic borders of a curry colour saree and some casual makeup. In one corner she was, standing incognito, with a cigarette between her fingers. She was taller than the average girl I had seen in this city, and quite often her eyes scanned the crowd in front of her, and rejected the idea of blending into that sea of chaos.
It was certainly a sign, I now think.
I slowly make my way down along the bridge slopes. Skeletons of shops line up along the footpath, shadows of what they are during the day –now hollow, gutless. A truck wheezes past, the sound of metal clonking stirs the silence of the night as the tires clumsily pass over a bump.
The wind whispers things to me. Lazily, I don’t reply. Memories make my trots slow down to a lethargic gait. Whenever I think of her, it confuses me more than before.
I wish I can see the talking cat again now.
“So you don’t smoke?”
“Your mom must be proud of you!”
And then, after a brief pause, noticing the glow on my face, comes the jibe –
“But that doesn’t get you a girl je, Mister. A guy without fags is no guy at all”
“Says who?” I retort, irate.
“All of my friends. And their friends. And their boyfriends.Aaro shunbi?”
My bucketful of ego dies a slow death. I sit there, watching through the glass people walking by on the footpath, cars wheezing past through the white on grey pitch road, zebra crossing lying there, dead, trying to warn the ignorant crosser-by.
She rolls up another, and lights it. I see her pomegranate lip gloss painting the white paper, before everything disappears in smoke.
“What does cigarette mean for you?”
“Salvation” She whispers, and then winks at me.
I jeer back into the coldness of the night. The smell fades away slowly. The road runs around a concrete island. The neglected, vine-smeared statue looks out straight, his chiselled eyes vacant, cold, still. A little creeper extends from his stretched hands. Dirty-white marble looks even blacker in the lack of light.
A police jeep stops at a distance from me, and then speeds away, pricking my senses into a heightened consciousness. I check my watch. It’s way past midnight.
I better hurry home.
Like a zombie, I walk down where the road finally gives away to many alleyways. Some lit by flickering tubes, others not so fortunate and looking like hallways to horrors unknown, they all present themselves in front of me.
I close my eyes and pause for a moment, then make my way towards where the main road took a bend. It’s a couple of clicks away from this spot, I murmur.
“It’s all here” She points to her body, “All here in ze body!”
“So you don’t believe in love?” I ask. She looks at me, cheeks puffed with smoke inside her mouth, and pauses a little before letting it out on my face. Through the choking layers of pungent smoke, I see her kohl eyes staring at the grey water flowing through the Hooghly. Thankfully the distance from the bridge above us kills the noises of a city afternoon. The fading sun paints the water crimson.
We sit there, amidst jungle, and rubble, with a train track behind us.
“I do.” She replies, “But my love is not psychedelic like yours.”
“Physical, then” I nod my head. She hits back at me, her nails biting through my flesh in what appears to be retaliation. Then she stops, and throws the cigarette into the river. The fisherman idly sitting at the boat looks at her, and then gets back to his fishing lines.
“Think whatever you want to.”
“It’s awfully late for hanging around, innit?”
I follow the known tone, only to find that it is coming from her. She sits there on her four paws, ever so lazy, pouring her glances on me. Every now and then she breaks out into a cleaning chore, meticulously licking her legs and body.
Cats are such fine creatures.
“You’re the silent type tonight” She speaks again. “I’m always silent, they say” I reply, much to her amusement. The wide smirk looks like a whiff of her whiskers.
“How have you been lately?”
“Not bad. The city has enough havens for a cat to find her necessities.”
“Wish I could say the same about humans” she winks at me. The contagious grin returns, now in me. I walk a step or two towards her, trying to alienate myself from the yellow light of the halogens above. She licks her paw, watching me find a niche.
“I was thinking about you” I quip.
“Everyone I’ve met usually does” she replies, “I’m quite an impressionist.” Cats are, I think to myself, momentarily broken off from the current errand. She continues.
“You should go back to her.”
“I don’t know for sure” I fumble.
“Love isn’t something you find in an empty street, you know “she gets up and leaps down on a stack of cardboard boxes, and pauses there. We return gazes.
“You’ve been ignoring the obvious signs” she fixates on me, “Did you even give it a thought?”
“I’m not her salvation” I whisper, almost to myself.
“She’s good in bed, no?” the cat replies, feigning a disinterest in my murmur. It feels like a jolt, this feline inquisitiveness.
I look at her, baffled, out of words.
“How did you feel?” She’s persistent. The breeze picks up. A couple of leaves come down falling, some yellow, some not so. Somewhere a wind chime tolls, ever so faintly. It feels surreal.
I want to tell the cat about the musky smell of our sweat. The Pink Floyd on the wall. The bell chimes, the cigarettes. About her biting my lips with pleasure, moaning and arching like a gymnast on top of me.
I want to tell her how awkwardly it had started that night, and how unceremoniously it ended. There we were, drenched in sweat and dried of our energies, lying with each other, her hands anchored to me.
She was smoking that night again. In the pallid orange glow from the cigarette tip, I could just make out the outlines of her drained face.
“How did it feel?”
I thought she wouldn’t reply. “Empty” was the word she spoke, before letting out another jet of smoke. “But you have amazing lips” her words had ended with a moist gush of her breath on my face, her lips touching mine.
I remember that was the first time I had smiled that night. I also remember that we had spent the rest of the time talking, nothing specific, but there was an overwhelming feeling of something missing – as if we wanted to do it, but found no meaning in such physicality.
“Hollow” I come back to the present. The cat is still there, looking suspiciously at me.
“It’s...” my effort to satiate her question dies early.
“What are you searching for exactly?” she asks.
I look at her.
“I don’t know anymore” the hollowness I feel is irrepressible.
She stretches herself, and gets up on her all four. “Time for the cat to disappear” she mews, and then looks at me with care, “She’s the one.”
“Stop getting lost. You both are.”
I try to reason with the logic inside my head, but it doesn’t comply. What comes out sounds terrible, needy.
“I want to see you again.”
“I’m always around” she smirks, the familiar Cheshire grin of hers, and gracefully leaps to the railing.
“I didn’t catch your name” I shout. The expression comes out loud, tearing the silence.
“Cats have no names” she replies, “It’s you humans who give them names, trying to identify yourselves with them”.
“So you can call me anything you want.”
“Irma” I react, “I’m going to call you Irma”.
She pauses a little, and says “You love Frost, don’t you?”
I nod. “Figures” she says, and disappears in darkness.
I succumb into the bed, beside her. I know she isn’t asleep, but silently keeps her eyes closed and says nothing.
“I met the cat today” I break the silence, whispering, and turning back to face her “it was weird”.
She says nothing. I run my hand over her, trying to feel the warmth. The feeling of disconnectedness returns, creepily. I attempt to come close.
I don’t want to feel lost again. The little distance between our bodies feels like eons.
“What are we doing here?” She asks me.
“Searching for love” I innocuously reply. She comes closer-I can feel her breath on me, and it doesn’t smell of nicotine.
“I feel” she says, “I don’t feel anything at all.” The tears are warm. Bare skin touches onto bare skin.
The Pink Floyd poster on the wall looks blasé. Faint glows coming from outside paints the walls a lonely white, the solitary bookshelf looks out of place. Amidst all melancholia, two souls try to break barriers.
The kiss that comes after sends shivers in our bodies.
When I wake up the next morning, I find her still sleeping in my arms, content like a little child. I slowly run my finger through the outlines of her face. Her eyes twitch a little, and she grabs me even tighter.
“Back to her” a voice lingers in my head.
Cats do watch people all the time.
© Suvojit Banerjee April 2014