Thursday, 12 December 2013

when i was young
my room had no windows
except the one
that looked on the gate
of my house. but
that one was locked
with a key that only
my mother had
and i never was able
to open it, not at all.

now i am old
and my window has
curtains that are torn
and a lock that
does not work.
the mosquitoes
treat my room
like a particularly
shabby dhaba
so while they enjoy
eating here, they do not
bother to tip the waiters.

when i die, they will
probably put me beneath
the earth, where i will be
left to make my own
windows.
then i will
look through them
and wonder where
all the sunlight has gone.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Joan

I have always known I am a heart attack. Though there are signs of my arrival, I’m usually sudden and deadly. My brother is a kind of cerebral dementia: slow, inexorable, but not fatal on his own. My elder sister is cancer: catastrophic sometimes, clever always. But most of all is Joan. Joan is an aneurysm. She’s a time bomb without a clock. And she explodes spectacularly and without warning.

There are four of us. Vinay’s the oldest, and likes being the oldest. Then there’s Deepika, who for a long time was The Akka, until I realised other people had older sisters too. I’m third in line. Vaijayanti is a stupendous name for a child until people realise how much it sounds like vagina. And then there’s Joan. As if my name wasn’t enough, Amma really went for it and called her Jyotilakshmi Nityaneshwari. She was no sooner christened than Nanna looked at the birth certificate and called her Joan. Joan’s never been just my sister, though. If you woke me up in the middle of the night and me my sister’s name, I’d say Akka’s name without even thinking. Joan’s only a year younger than me, but in reality she’s about four hundred years older than all of us.

It really gets on Vinay’s nerves.

You might wonder why I describe my siblings and I as diseases. It’s a fair question, but it’s also a little irrelevant. We are what we are, as Nanna likes to say. Nanna’s an engineer, out of interest. He worked for Boeing, years and years ago, and his fascination for flight never ended. Even now he flies kites every day on our terrace, while Amma shouts at him to come down and eat before he falls and breaks his head.

Amma’s a type of her own. After Nanna changed Joan’s name she lost it a little. She’d call Joan Jyoti for hours on end, hoping to imprint her name onto her. But Nanna would say, in the soft tones he’s perfected, ‘Joan, da!’ and Joan would forget all the work Amma had done. Now in the office they call her Nitya, which is disconcerting for everyone. I’ve called her office and asked for Joan only to be told no Joan works there. It was only when we got a call on the landline asking for ‘Nitya’ that I understood what was going on. Joan didn’t seem to mind; then again, she never does.

Now only four of us live at home. Vinay got married three years ago and wasn’t about to live with his parents, his sisters, and his wife. He wooed her the same way he wooed every woman: patiently and persistently. He would buy her these artsy objects from all sorts of weird places. When she asked why, his answer was only that they reminded him of her. They’re all kept in their flat now, each with a story and a memory attached.

Deepika only left three months ago, and it’s still a little odd not seeing her toothbrush next to mine. ‘I’m going to Bombay and you’ll have to deal with it!’ she declared at dinner one evening. Not even Joan had the heart to tell her we were quite looking forward to having the use of an extra room. We Skype each other every now and again, and she’s still as neurotic as ever.

So now it’s just Joan and I left in the nest. It’s completely different from anything I’m used to. It’s astonishing when you think about it, but all four of us went to college in Hyderabad and lived at home. Vinay went to the Central University, Akka and I had a blast at St Francis, and Joan, being Joan, went to Nalsar without working a single hour for the entrance exam.

It’s comforting to still have her around, lounging about in the drawing room and flirting with her latest beau. I’ve never been able to fall in and out of relationships the way she has. When Abhay dumped me in second year I was an angry wreck for months. Amma would see me come home and pass some comment like ‘Vai the Volcano is back,’ and Nanna would giggle in the irritating way he has.

But Joan simply chops and changes. Her ability to take decisions bewilders me, and I’ve known her all her life. In the middle of breakfast today, as we’re all eating our puri and chattering about nonsense, she put her coffee down and said ‘I’ve decided I’m going to work in an NGO.’ ‘Which one?’ Nanna asked. ‘Oh, any old one. I haven’t really decided yet,’ she replied. I don’t know why I was so surprised, but I was. You’d think I’d be used to it by now. She’s been on her laptop googling NGOs in Hyderabad all day.

It’s just a matter of how well you really know her, I suppose. Amma wasn’t surprised at all, but when I told Vinay and Manju (who’s his wife) they were pretty stunned. I’m not too worried. Joan always lands on her feet, even if she has a tendency to shock the ones she’s landing on.

We’ll see how it goes. In any case I’m not going to leave home for a good long while. A PhD doesn’t write itself, and Nanna needs someone to remind him to take his medicine. Diabetes isn’t one of the children he had, so he’s not as used to managing it. Maybe in a few years, when it’s part of his routine and I’m ready to move on I’ll think about leaving. Until then, I’m going to stay, and I’ll make damn sure Joan stays with me.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

You! Over there! Come over 'ere and join me

Listen, because while you’ve probably seen and heard a load of weird things, and so have I, this one is special. It is special, because it happened, and is happening, and will happen. It is odd, and you should listen.

There was a guy, right? Called, um, Jack? Jack sounds about right. He was normal, in the way normal people are. He’d done some stupid things, he’d almost died in a car crash that time in Naples, his girlfriend cheated on him and he swore off women for a whole three months, he had a job and a life, and he was completely normal.

Yes, yes, I’m coming to the odd bits.                                                                                                      

So there he was, our Jack, going about his normal life, filing reports and taking calls and making money and doing whatever it is normal people do. And he lived this life until he received a very strange notice, and proceeded to have an even stranger twelve hours during his twenty-seventh year.

The meeting he got after a date. He had taken a charming young girl he had met the week before at the office to a swanky restaurant, and they had hit it off rather well. After dinner and dessert, they walked back to her apartment, where she did not invite him in for coffee, but did tell him she had a wonderful time and why yes, she would certainly like to see him again.

Oh, what’s that you say? You want to know what the girl looked like? You realise it’s not in fact her story right? Ok, fine, if it’s a description you want, it’s a description you’ll get. Imagine a classical beauty, right? Like, Ingrid Bergman, or Lauren Bacall. Now, throw that image out of your head. This is important, because now you know what she didn’t look like. You don’t really need to know that, after all. What you need to know about her is that she had a laugh like a waterfall, all thunderous and joyful. She could name every ingredient in anything she ever ate, and many she didn’t. Unlike what you might read in the romance novels, her eyes didn’t sparkle. But if you caught her at the right moment, they positively gleamed. She had a deep voice and a killer uppercut and listen, cause this is important: Jack took her on a date, so let’s get on with it, shall we?

Thanks.

So, after a night of carousing, Jack gave her a kiss, took her phone number (though he already had it), and turned around fully expecting it to be the end of an enjoyable night.

Ah, the hopes of the naïve.

Just as he started walking back from her apartment, a little bit drunk, a car stopped on the road in front of him. No, that’s not very odd at all. Stop interrupting, or you’ll never find out. What was odd was that this particular car had a particular problem. Or rather, it didn’t have a particular problem. In fact it had no problem whatsoever with gravity, for it was floating quite merrily (some might say in a manner almost smug) six inches above the ground. As if this were not enough, the vehicle also lacked any form of suspension. It had no wheels, unless one counted the one used to steer. But Jack was not in the rightest of his minds, so he took no immediate notice of it, proceeded to hum something that lacked a tune, and continued to stroll aimlessly down towards his own home.

You could excuse Jack for missing a car with no wheels, but even he would not have missed a man with no face. It is a good thing then, that the man who accosted him did in fact have a face. It just wasn’t attached to his body at the precise moment that he spoke to Jack.

‘Jack’- hmm, I’m not sure I can remember his last name. McReady? Jablewski? N’gorso? Shall we just call him Smith, and leave it at that? Yes, that sounds like a fine idea.

‘Jack Smith!’ came the call from behind him. Jack, to his credit, did not stumble or curse at being hailed in this manner. He merely turned around nonchalantly, as if to say, ‘Why does anybody want to speak to me, Jack Smith, of all the people in the world on what must be a very fine night indeed?’ When he noticed that it came from a face hanging in mid-air, what he did then is possibly a little embarrassing. Jack screamed.

‘AIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!’ Jack screamed, like the Devil was out to get him, and for all he knew it was indeed the Devil giving him such visions.

‘Oh dear, calm down, man. I’m not about to kill you. I’m just here to serve you a notice.’

Jack had been drinking a fair amount of liquid courage, but nothing prepares you for lawyers in the middle of the night, particularly disembodied ones. Predictably, Jack screamed again.

‘AIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!’ came the noise once more.

‘A touchy customer, eh? Well, it could be worse’, the face said. The face itself seemed to belong to a Japanese man, with a thin mustache gracing his upper lip and a bald patch just beginning to grow from being funny to being serious.

‘You’ve been subpoenaed in the divorce proceedings in case number 24315e^34, Smith v Smith. You will report to the High Court no later than fourteen o’clock, the 11th of December 2351. A car will be sent to pick you up from your place of living at your convenience, as long as it is convenient for you to be picked up at ten o’clock tomorrow. Please do not eat or drink four hours prior to the journey. Neither the court nor those involved in the case will be held responsible for any problems caused. Good day.’

The face then seemed to move towards the bright purple car, in through the window, and settle itself next to a body that Jack could see sat behind the steering wheel. With a flash the car sped of into the distance, and disappeared.

Jack, being a sensible sort of man on most occasions, took in nothing but the fact that he had been speaking to face with no body, which had driven off in a car being steered by a body with no face. The fact that the car had no wheels did not even figure in his thoughts.

Having undergone a thoroughly terrifying and bizarre experience, Jack decided his best bet would be to return to his home, and sleep it off. It would all seem better in the morning.

Ah, the hopes of the naïve.

*

Jack rose at six the next day, an unseasonably early time in any other circumstance. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a choice, because he needed to go to the toilet rather desperately. Having had that surreal dream where Jack found himself in a toilet about to relieve himself, he awoke with a start.

Cursing under his breath, he stumbled into the bathroom. He then proceeded to have a shower and sat down at his dining table, intending to make the best of a bad morning and at least have a hearty breakfast; the kind which the English are known for cooking so as to maximise the chances of heart attack. He made himself two rashers of bacon, fried himself some sausages, heated up some baked beans, and buttered up some toast. His mother had always said that a good breakfast was essential to having a good day, and Jack tended to agree.

Having breakfasted well, he then found himself with a conundrum. He could, he supposed, call her and ask her how she was. But Jack was always wary of coming on too strong, and in any case it did not befit a gentleman. On the other hand, he rather liked her.

Contemplating this dilemma, he put on the TV and settled in for a morning of news that kept breaking, but never broke. It was a novel mix of lurid politics and dreary entertainment, which was certainly a change from the dreary politics and lurid entertainment that usually dominated his screen. It was in this way that he passed the morning, when the doorbell rang.

It annoyed Jack when the doorbell rang, for it meant that someone uninvited had turned up. He never invited anyone round, and certainly not at half nine in the morning. His house wasn’t central enough for parties and he invariably ended up at his date’s house on the occasions that he had them. And if there was one thing Jack knew about uninvited guests, they kept ringing the doorbell until they got their way.

He pushed himself off his couch with a shove, and padded over to his front door. Upon opening it, he found two men standing in front of the door, in what seemed to be suits made of brown plastic. They were so shiny he could see the sun glinting off them, and their ties changed colour as if they were on a bad acid trip. Jack blinked twice, and shut the door on them. It really was too early in the morning for this.

As soon as he did so, the doorbell rang again, and due to his now much closer proximity with it, it blared through Jack’s skull with the force of what seemed like a thousand corkscrews being twisted through his brain.

With a bellow of what he was sure was manly rage he swung the door open again, determined to tell these men what was what.

‘Now see here, you fools-’ he began to say, when one of them men interrupted him.

The man was the one of Jack’s right, whose tie tended towards the ultraviolet end of the bedazzlement spectrum. Upon closer inspection, though Jack was probably not in the mood to inspect more closely at the time, it also became obvious that he was a little taller than the other man, though both of them were around six feet and wore suits that seemed like they were made of brown plastic.

Oh, I’ve already told you that? Well, no need to get all worked up about it, I was being thorough is all.

Now where was I? Right, the man on the left. Well, his left, which was Jack’s right.

Yes, he interrupted, and said ‘Mr Smith, first name Jack, of 123 ABCD Street?’

Look, I can’t remember all the details, now can I? What does it matter what street he lived on, anyway?

‘I say, you are Mr Jack Smith, are you not?’ he said again.

It was becoming rapidly clear to Jack that he was not about to get rid of these men any time soon, and that perhaps the best way to do so was to just answer their question and leave him alone with his headache.

‘Yes, I am Jack Smith, guilty as charged, now get the hell off of my doorstep!’ he said.

‘Indeed. A Mr Ishigawa contacted you last night regarding your travel arrangements, did he not?’ he said, in a reedy voice that reminded Jack of a particularly nasty mathematics teacher he’d once had.

‘Mr Ishigawa? I don’t know any Mr Ishigawa, I have no idea what you’re on about’, Jack replied.

‘Are you sure, sir? He would have informed you that you were to be taken to the Court of Superinfranormal Petitions for Separations, consistingbutnotrestrictedtobodyandlife,headandhair,loveandmoneyandothersuchmiscellany?’ he said, in a way that implied any question regarding the last jumble of words he’d spoken would be severely regretted by the asking party.

‘I… wait. This is about that joke someone played on me yesterday, wasn’t it? I was drunk, and someone thought it would be funny to make a fool out of me! Well, I’m hungover now, and I’m not impressed. So please, will you kindly leave before I call the police?’ Jack said, now getting very irritated.

‘Ah, that would be confirmation, would it not, Gerald?’ the man said to his partner, who was a little shorter than him.

‘I rather think so, Viktor’, the previously silent man replied.

‘He looks like he’ll resist. Do you want to do the honours?’ Viktor said.

‘Ah, it would be my pleasure’, Gerald said. He pulled out a small bead of red metal from one of the inside pockets of his jacket, and before Jack had a chance to react, he threw it at Jack. It struck him on the ear, and upon so doing made Jack collapse.

‘Losing our aim, are we Gerald?’ Viktor said.

‘Oh, to Belgium with you’ Gerald replied.

It is a curious fact that in their time, telling someone to go to Belgium was the cultural equivalent of telling someone to fuck off. Which as a matter of fact was what Jack very dearly wanted to say to both Viktor and Gerald before he was given a mild sedative by Gerald, though it was somewhat hampered by his admittedly poor throwing skills.

As he sank into unconsciousness, the only thought on Jack’s mind was ‘Blast, I left the kettle on.’

*

When Jack awoke, he was sitting on a rather comfortable leather chair with a blue wire that seemed to be coming out of his left ear. Alarmed, he tried to pull it away, before a voice that seemed to emanate from the heavens spoke.

‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you. It’s draining the sedative from your system. You’ll be completely lucid in a few minutes’, it said.

And that is indeed what happened. Everything in the room came into focus. In the corner was a large leafy plant, one of the sort that seemed to have evolved to function as a nondescript office ornament. The walls had pictures of a family on them on what had to be a holiday, he could see pictures of children enjoying time on a beach and an amused man wearing polka dotted trousers.

As he regained consciousness, he also became aware of a pressing need to throw up. Without any warning he heaved, and he found the remains of his previously satisfying meal on the floor in front of him, and it seemed yesterday’s dinner was about to follow.

‘Oh dear, you didn’t listen to the instructions, did you dearie? No matter, we’ll have you fixed up in no time’, came the voice again, and it befuddled Jack no end.

In moments a hypodermic needle shot itself into Jack’s arm, and the nausea faded. The floor folded up around his vomit and with a hiss seemed to reduce it to some sort of dust, which then promptly swept itself away.

‘You’re fine now, aren’t you? I’m coming in, don’t be alarmed’, said the voice again, only further alarming Jack.

‘How very exciting, we never get someone from the early 2000s! Usually we only take people we’re allowed to mindwipe, but I suppose they’re making a special exception for your case’, the voice said again, only this time it came from a woman who seemed to appear out of nowhere. She was large and bald, but Jack thought it best not to mention this to her out of fear of offending the only person who had not yet completely scared him out of his wits since he’d met the floating face.

‘Erm, can you tell me what’s going on, please?’ Jack said, hoping to make at least some sort of sense out of all of this.

‘Oh, that’s not my job, I’m not paid nearly enough for all of that. No, someone will be along to explain everything to you, I’m sure. I’m just here to make sure the anti-sedative doesn’t kill you. Speaking of which, you really should pull it out of you ear, love, too much and you’ll never be able to sleep again’, she said in a jolly voice.

Jack yanked it out of his ear, which was by far the stupidest thing he’d done so far, since it hurt more than the hangover he’d been nursing previously.

‘AAAAAAOW!’ he shouted.

‘Oh, do be careful. They’re only supposed to be taken out slowly and smoothly, you know. Anyway, it’s out now so it can’t do anymore damage to you. And look, your travel advisor is here! Good luck on your stay!’ she said to him, and then opened a door that wasn’t there before and flounced off.

As Jack stared in bewilderment at her exit, his travel advisor walked in. Or floated in, rather, for the person who had arranged his subpoena had been none other than Jules Ariera Garlsberg, probably the most sought after lawyer of his time. He was forced to use an antigravity ring to move around, as he was also unfortunately impaired by a congenital condition that prevented him from moving around properly, and indeed from speaking or listening or do any of the dozen other things that we would normally associate with being human.

For Jules Ariera Garlsberg, champion of the rich, uplifter of the upper class, hero of those too wealthy to represent themselves in court, was also a banana. But no ordinary banana he, his stock had survived countless plagues and had gone through many hardships to bring him to where he was.

Jules Ariera Garlsberg, whom I’ll call Arry from now on like all his friends do to save us time, had subpoenaed Jack to testify in a very special court case, and indeed to answer only one specific question.

It was that question he was prepping Jack on now.

‘Jack Smith, yes?’ Arry said, with no visible means of speech. One of his many talents as a scion of the great banana clans of Jupiter β was the ability to speak English like a suave Mexican lion tamer, and this ability had won him many court cases in his day.

‘I, yes. Um. You’re a banana.’ Considering all that had happened to him, Jack was taking this in remarkable stride.

‘Indeed sir I am a banana, a citizen of the Great Banana Republic of Jupiter β. I am told you know of my ancestors’ beginnings in the great economic enterprises called… malls?’, Arry said.

‘What? Uh. Well, I. Yes?’ Jack said.

‘Dumbstruck by my presence, no doubt! Don’t worry; I’m used to it! I hope you know I’m not here to take advantage of you. I just want you to answer a few questions to the judge, that’s all. Really, it’s not even a few, just one. And I want you to think extremely carefully about the answer, which I’m going to write down on a piece of paper and for some reason leave lying around. And if it turns out when you go home that there’s a new car waiting for you, well, we won’t speak about that.’ Arry said. With a flourish- what’s that? How can bananas flourish? What sort of stupid question is that? If you keep asking me silly things, we’ll never get to the end of the story!

With a flourish he produced a piece of paper, on which was written a single word. That word was: Maria.

‘So, and I want you to think about this very carefully now, answer me just one question, Jack. The lady you took to dinner yesterday, what was her name?’ Arry said, and his voice had just a little menace to it.

Frazzled by all that had happened to him, Jack did what he always did in times of crisis and followed the instructions he’d been given.

‘Maria?’

‘Ah, you’ve got it kid. Great, we’re ready for court.’ Arry said, and in a single moment Jack found himself teleported out of the office room and into a long hall with double wooden doors at the end. It seemed to be full of people, bustling around, and when Arry arrived with Jack the crowd went wild until three men in uniform forcibly formed a wall around Jack and Arry.

As Jack grew more and more nervous, he finally decided to speak of his own volition. ‘I’m sorry Mr Banana’ which was the only thing Jack could think of calling Arry at that point, ‘what am I supposed to be doing here?’

‘MR BANANA? What am I, some sort of vegetable to you? Just because I look like one, that means that’s got to be my name? Mr Banana? Do you have any respect? My ancestors died so I could have a name just like you lot!’ Arry thundered, ignoring the fact that he’d never actually told Jack his name.

‘Oh, that is, I’m sorry sir, please excuse me.’ Jack stuttered, silently telling himself to keep his mouth shut from then on.

‘Look kid, when the judge calls you in, the men’ll bring you in. Until then, shut up and stay put!’ Arry said. He floated through the courtroom doors, and through the din Jack thought he heard a gavel bang.

‘Let it be known that case number…’ came the drone of a voice as the doors closed once more, preventing all sound from leaving the room.

Jack waited, and waited, and waited, and finally when he thought he could wait no more, the policeman next to him jiggled his arm and said ‘You’re up, dude’ in what he probably thought was an endearing and disarming manner.

The policeman led Jack through the doors and down a staircase, at the bottom of which was another door. As he walked through it he found himself in a dock vaguely reminiscent of the ones he used to watch on legal dramas, except shinier.

As he sat down, he looked up to see the judge was an old lady with thick round glasses.

Across from him, floating up and down the floor was Arry, and at the desk to the other side was a swarthy man who had a scowl on his face. He couldn’t see the faces of anyone on either side of the case, or the audience.

‘Would you state your name for the record, please?’ Arry said.

‘Erm. Um. Yes. I’m Jack Smith.’ Jack said, still a little scared of Arry.

‘And do you recall, Mr Smith, taking a woman out to dinner on the 3rd of April, in the year 2010?’ Arry asked.
                                                                                                                   
‘Yes, yes I do’ Jack said.

‘And tell me, Mr Smith. What was the name of this woman?’ Arry asked.

And like a trained parrot, albeit one who had been through some pretty bizarre events in the last five hours, Jack replied: ‘Maria’.

If ever there was doubt that a banana could look triumphant, Jack would have sworn he had proof right there.

‘No further questions, your honour’, Arry said.

The swarthy man from the other side rose.

‘Hello Mr Smith’, he said, attempting to smile and failing.

‘Hello’, Jack said. The smile the man had tried to give him had been rather disconcerting. It looked like someone who did not quite know what a smile was trying his very best to reproduce one, and had somehow managed to botch it up. There was something in his eyes that reminded Jack of a shark with its eyes on its prey that made success at that endeavour altogether impossible.

‘Tell me, Jack, what colour shoes was she wearing?’ he said.

‘Huh?’ Jack said.

‘Objection your honour!’ Arry said, his antigravity ring propelling him a foot higher than his normal hovering height.

The judge looked at the banana quizzically.

‘This question has already been asked and answered, your honour.’ Arry said.

‘Sustained. You will direct your questions elsewhere, Mr Menkoff’, the judge said.

‘Yes, your honour.’ the man said.

He looked back at his client, who seemed to Jack rather familiar, though he was not sure where he could place that face. The client nodded to him, just once, and the lawyer smiled, this time in a much more natural and bloodthirsty manner.

‘Mr Smith, have you ever been in love?’ he said.

Jack was almost bewildered by the question.

‘I- yes, I think I have’, he said.

‘And on these occasions, when you were in love, did the woman in question hurt you?’

‘Objection, your honour! Relevance!’ said Arry again, this time shooting up at least five feet.

‘Oh, I’m curious as to where this is going, aren’t you, Mr Garlsberg? Overruled’, she said.

‘So, Mr Smith, if the woman you loved broke your heart by sleeping with another man, what would your reaction be?’ he said.

‘I guess I’d be pretty mad. I mean, trust is what relationships are based on, right?’ Jack said. He could feel the banana get more and more displeased by the minute.

‘And if it happened to another man? Wouldn’t you also agree that the one who breaks the trust is the one who ought to bear the consequences? In fact, wouldn’t you say that if the woman you loved cheated on you, and tried to take your money away, you’d be pretty angry at her?’ he said. Jack was pretty sure there was some subtext here, but he couldn’t think clearly enough to get what it was.

‘Your honour! Mr Menkoff is clearly just going off on a tangent!’ Arry said again.

‘Hmm. I am inclined to agree with Mr Garlsberg. Do you actually have anything meaningful to ask, Mr Menkoff?’

‘I apologise, your honour. No more questions.’ The man winked at Jack, smiled at the judge, and finally glowered at the banana, before he sat down.

The judge looked at him and said ‘You’re dismissed Mr Smith, you’ll be sent home as soon as possible. I declare a short recess, we’ll be back after lunch.’

With that Jack was escorted out, and he sat at the bottom of the stairs, wondering what the hell was going on.

Now, Jack had always been rather normal. He’d never really broken any rules, and he didn’t like doing things that he felt would be frowned upon by the authorities. But after everything he had been through, he felt justified in a little insanity.

So, instead of doing what he was supposed to, which was to walk up the staircase and go back into the crowded hall, he opened the door into the courtroom just a teensy bit, to see what was going on.

What he saw was the two sides, the plaintiff and the defendant, and their lawyers aggressively conversing with their clients.

He squinted, trying to get a better look, when it finally struck him why he found those faces so damn familiar.

One of them was the girl he’d taken out yesterday, except ten years older and with blonde hair instead of brown. She was glaring knives and daggers at the man on the other side, who was returning her glare with equal force.

The man, of course, was Jack.

As Jack slammed shut the door, a few words from the night before came back to him.

‘… subpoenaed in the divorce proceedings … Smith v Smith… the 11th of December 2351…’

Jack was not the smartest of men, but he came to important conclusions pretty quickly.

The conclusion that he was testifying in his own future divorce proceedings was pretty damn important. The one that the divorce was happening because she had cheated on him, that was probably even more significant.

As he walked back up the stairs, and walked back through the giant double doors, dazed and confused, the Japanese man from the night before accosted him. Thankfully, this time his head seemed to be firmly attached to his neck, and his neck to the rest of his body.

‘Mr Smith! Thank heavens we’ve found you. Listen, we must get you back immediately of course, so I’m going to let you wait in my office until the transportation boys are ready to take you home, is that ok?’ he said.

‘Why, sure.’ Jack said, at least this time prepared for the faintly electric sting of the teleportation.

When he zapped back into the man’s room, Jack found himself gripped by a terrible thirst.

‘Ah, would you like something to eat? Drink? Some light entertainment perhaps? I think we have some vintage movies around here somewhere’, Ishigawa said.

‘I would very much enjoy some whiskey, if you have it’, Jack said in a most heartfelt manner.

‘Ah, I have none I’m afraid, but I’m sure I know someone who does. Please excuse me for just a moment, and do not leave this office, I beg you’, Ishigawa said, as he scurried out.

Jack took the time to settle down in the chair he was sitting in. He swore to himself he’d never marry the bitch, who clearly didn’t deserve anything if he was just going to cheat on him, dump him, and then dare to take money away from him. As if she had any right to any cash that he made. Not that he’d made it yet, of course, but you know how these things went. Concede future earnings, and then next thing you knew you’d be giving away present earnings, and that was just a license to give away your past earnings too.

It was while he was waiting for his drink, and getting impatient while it happened that another man walked into the office. Now, Jack wasn’t an expert on matters relating to witnesses, especially the handling of ones from the past, but he was fairly sure you didn’t allow people to see them without good reason, and this man did not look like he had good reason. For one thing, he was slightly out of breath, and for another, his eyes kept darting back towards the doorway, as if to check that he hadn’t been caught yet. Jack had learnt very quickly to be suspicious of men who, well, looked suspicious.

‘What the hell?’ Jack said.

‘Sorry, let me catch my breath’, the man said, panting. He seemed about as tall as Jack was, though he was clearly older and there was some grey showing at his temples. There was a faint scar around his right eye that looked extremely familiar, but he couldn’t place it at that very moment.

‘Look, if you don’t tell me who you are right now, I’m going to punch you!’ Jack said. While he was not very sure that he could actually punch anyone, Jack thought he could give it a pretty good try.

Upon hearing this, the man burst out laughing. Upon regaining enough self-control to throttle the laughter and turn it into a chuckle, which then became a grin, he spoke.

‘Sorry, sorry. No, I just wanted to check in with you, make sure all of it went ok’, the man said.

‘All of what?’ Jack replied, bewildered as ever.

‘You know, the trial, Arry training you, meeting Maria, all of it’ the man said. Wait, it’s going to be a pain calling him ‘the man’ all the time. How about we give him a name? I mean, it’s not like it really matters, right? Then again, this is Jack’s story, not whatshisface’s. Ok, ‘the man’ it is, then.

‘Just tell me who the hell you are, and in return I won’t knock your teeth out!’ Jack said. While he had no experience of actually fighting anyone, clearly he was learning the art of pretending very quickly.

‘Ye gods, I was never this irritating when I was your age’, the man muttered under his breath.

‘Oh, can’t even speak up like a man, can you? Coward!’ Jack was really getting into this whole trash-talking thing, not knowing how close he was to disaster.

‘Oh, shut up! You’ve never thrown a punch in your life, and I should know. In any case, you don’t seem too shaken up by the whole experience, which is good. All I need to do is give you the anti memory sedative. Now, I know I had it on me somewhere…’ The man started patting his pockets absentmindedly.

‘You’re not doing anything until you explain to me exactly who you are and what you’re doing here. Who sent you? How do you even know who I am?’ Jack demanded.

The man was growing steadily more exasperated with Jack’s antics, and it seemed he’d finally had enough. It also helped that he’d found what he was looking for.

‘Listen, I’m just here to make sure you don’t get mind wiped. Trust me when I say my whole life is riding on this one moment. So, for the love of god and all his pretty cupcakes, shut up!’ the man said.

Jack was having none of this, and prepared to punch a man for the first time in his life, when the man threw a purple pellet at him. Unlike the red pellet that had been so inexpertly aimed at him by Gerald, the purple one was thrown with the utmost care and precision, and struck him squarely upon the temple. The other, important difference between the purple pellet and the red metal bead was that while the latter caused Jack’s brain to stop working, the former increased the ability of Jack’s mind to capture and retain every detail of every event happening around him. This had the nasty side effect of giving him a blinding headache, which Jack did not appreciate.

‘Argh! What is it with you people and throwing stuff at me?’ Jack asked. His brain had gone into overdrive. He noticed that the walls had a peculiar habit of changing shades from a rather leafy forest green to a slightly less leafy forest green every seven seconds. He wondered why he’d never picked up on that.

‘Oh, it worked! My job here is done, then. Wait, one last thing. Say Hi to Mum for me, would you? It’s been a damned long time since I’ve seen the old bird. Growing up, responsibilities, you know how it goes. Bye!’ And so saying, the man shook Jack vigorously by the hand, and then left.

Jack was still in that daze when, a few minutes later, Ishigawa returned with a bottle of whiskey and two glasses. There was something about that man that seemed extremely offputting, and it wasn’t just that he’d acted suspiciously.

‘Ah, sorry about the delay, you know? I had to track down the transport guys and all that. You ok? You look like you’ve seen a ghost! Here, have a drink.’ He filled one glass with whiskey and pushed it towards him.

Jack downed the glass, and felt the world go fuzzy. He struggled to keep hold of his thoughts, and he knew there was something important that he was missing.

‘A thousand apologies, my friend. I put the sedative straight into the whiskey. Didn’t want to risk another episode like the last time. I really am sorry about this, old chap.’

As Jack faded into oblivion once more, he grasped wildly whatever thoughts he had left. There was a scar, and an accident in Naples, and a mirror? Then he knew no more.

*

Jack awoke in his own bed. He looked over at his bedside clock, and found the time to be 23 minutes past eleven on Sunday the 4th of April, in the year 2010. He’d woken up after an extremely enjoyable, rather debauched night in his own bed, wearing completely different clothes. How odd.

Being unable to rationalise recent events into a frame of normality left Jack with only one choice: to pretend that they were the insane musings of a drunken stupor. As he rolled out of bed, determined to make for himself an English breakfast for what was quite possibly the second time that day, he came to a decision that would significantly impact the rest of his life.

He picked up the phone, and called her.

*

So what’d you think of that, eh? Twists your brain round, doesn’t it? So how about another drink, and you can tell me a story? Wait, where the hell are you going? Oh come on, you can’t just leave me here! Who’s going to help me drink all of this gin? Have a heart. Come back, it’ll be alright!

Fine, be that way. I won't tell you about the man who ate the moon, then, will I?

*

two and a half years this sat on my hard drive. time to let go.


Sunday, 8 September 2013

పెద్దిల్లు

I come from what my 3rd class social studies textbook called a ‘joint’ family. When I was a child, three of my father's five siblings lived with my grandparents. Even though my father was not one of them, I spent most of my childhood in their house. We always called it ‘Peddillu’, which means ‘The Big House’ in Telugu. Even now I remember its address: 80, 3rd Main Road, West Marredpally, Secunderabad.

It really was an enormous house, with seven bedrooms over two floors. The main room of the house was called the Triangle. At one edge sat my grandfather, in a sort of reclining chair they call a Bombay fornicator. Every so often, he would tilt his head just so and whistle Carnatic music. The one defining memory I have of him is his Kharaharapriya, delivered with the calmness and confidence of a man who had a lifetime’s experience of both music and whistling.

Along the hypotenuse of the Triangle was a row of wooden chairs. These were the chairs used by relatives near and far, family friends and sometimes even strangers as they conversed with my grandfather and sipped my grandmother’s tea. Most of all, they watched us children run dizzy circles around them and the veranda that the Triangle was attached to. In all the world there will never be a house more welcoming to the joys and miseries of being a child. We hid from parents who tried to feed us, played cricket in whatever space would have us, argued about the rules of Monopoly and Pictionary. We were taught music and Sanskrit by much-hated teachers, and the art of batting and bowling by knowing older cousins who treated it more as a sacred duty than a mundane sport.

Perhaps my favourite room was the Question Mark room, which was quite literally shaped like a question mark. It was home to the only computer my grandfather owned, a machine fit for a museum when it was first bought. It was in that room that I wrote my first story, hunched around the keyboard with three of my cousins, all of us convinced that our words were the best. The plot of that story stays with me even today, as does the delight on my aunt’s face when she first read it.

80 Marredpally is now the home to a large purple atrocity of a building. After my grandfather died, the Big House seemed to lose a part of its soul. Though my uncles and my grandmother continued to live there, the house itself mourned him. In the years that followed, it fell into the sort of disrepair only weary neglect causes. My father and his siblings all wanted houses of their own. Their father’s house was too big, and too full of memories of him, for any of them to live there. They sold it to a property developer who turned it into apartments just like the ones all around it. I know that road intimately, but I have not been back in years. It is too difficult to walk past and not remember the large front yard, the bougainvillea trees that grew wild and manic, and the Little Heart biscuits my grandfather fed me, all the while telling me that having too many hearts was as bad as having too few.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Coyly they kiss
In corridors that whisper
Lovers' secrets
That linger still
Will ever they miss
Their secret kisses
In hallways that will
Never forget their bliss

Friday, 5 July 2013

For word and meaning
Are intertwined, like
Parvati and Parameshwara
Without one, the other is
nothing.

They are two, together.
Conjunct, each to each
They beget the world.

To them I bow,
Saying, softly
In the beginning
There was the Word.


वागर्थाविव संपृक्तौ वागर्थप्रतिपत्तये।

जगतः पितरौ वन्दे पार्वतीपरमेश्वरौ॥

*


The original, in Sanskrit, is the first poem in Kalidasa's Raghuvamsa. The translation is my own poor attempt to convey what I feel when I read it. For word and meaning are together two-who-are-one.

And if Kalidasa regarded his version of the tale of the clan of Raghu a wooden raft upon the ocean of milk, how much poorer I, having not even a sail, or a hull.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

a lifelong romance

for i was in love with thee
but now, all i'm in love with is me

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The sea, my friend, does not dream of monsters.
Tiny beings, bursting with vitality,
throwing themselves at him,
sinking or swimming or drowning,
no, the sea does not dream of these.

He does not wonder about his own endless
depths, or the way that the world has made him. He does
not speak to himself about himself,
though he is boundless, and in him
swim things even he does not know.

Those rafts that sail upon him are
swatted hither and thither,
an angry god, a beast
ridding himself of mild
annoyances.

One such as he
is ever-changing,
but does ever one such as he
dwell over that change?
He does not witness the oil towers.
He does not judge the parting of waters.

He does not contemplate change,
for he merely is.

Though you may dream of the sea, my friend,
the sea?
he does not dream of you.


Friday, 29 March 2013

Home

They say home's where the heart lies
For home is a sight for sore eyes
So though home is built from brick made of lies
Home is also the only place that tries

Home is where you wear no disguise
However small home is, it's always the right size
Whenever you leave home, a little part of you dies
For you know that leaving home is ever unwise

Staying at home won't earn you a prize
For you'll never see the colour of the rise
Of the sun, as he stains the oceans and the skies
You won't get to hear the dawn and her cries

But home will tolerate your hows and your whys
She'll protect you from your enemies and their spies
Watch as she kills them, and as their blood dries
She'll keep you and your heart safe from their lies

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Words in Chains

Write your words on twilight paper
Keep them away from the deep blue night
Read them by the light of a thin brown taper
Never let them wander out of your sight
 
They live in the wild, with bears and with sharks
They will not stay safe, surrounded by walls
Their home is the dangerous, the deadly, the dark
They won’t hark to any of your calls

                                                                So you must
Trap them with honey and glamour and wit
Chain them down with whispers and gold
Tie them together with bootstraps and spit
And don’t let them go ‘til their stories are told

The words of the wild dance for the sea
They sing only to the moon and the stars
To make them listen to you and to me
You must cage them behind adamantine bars

The fables they spin are more wondrous than whales
Use them with wisdom and you’ll not go wrong
The work of the wordsmith is to assemble her tales
Words only fear strength; you must be strong

Write down your words on twilight paper
Keep them away from the deep blue night
Teach them how to obey their shaper
They won’t go down without a fight.
 
*
 
this comes from anger and betrayal. once i wrote well. now i don't write at all.

(Stake them, drown them, stab them in the back
Break their necks and hang them from the trees
Stretch their souls on a silvershine rack
Cover them with honey and throw them to the bees)