Of her Character

Image from mhoye

The girl bit into her lips as she stepped onto the bus. No, not here, not now. She didn’t like those things that were forming in her eyes. Blinking hard, she rummaged through her bag for the yellow slip, a bus pass- to take her home so that she can cry. The writer pauses at these 0verly melodramatic words. When had she become this kind of writer? Je ne l’est comprends pas, the girl’s thoughts continued, paying no attention to the writer’s apparent deviation. These days, she doesn’t understand much. The writer acknowledges that perhaps she never did. The bus driver gives her a slight nod and the girl dutifully curls her lips up. That’s all she can manage right now.

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She doesn’t know where to stop her thoughts. Silly- everything is so silly. She is such a silly girl. She places her headphones into her ears- slowly, as though they too have the ability to be broken by a touch. A song plays but she scarce hears it run. There’s a grander, much more violent song in her head and she tries hard to muffle it with straightforward observations. Perhaps, she thinks, if I think other thoughts, other unimportant thoughts, these will just stop and go away. These will soon stop hurting. It’s windy outside. Today has been a cold day, much unfitting late April. Just reading the sign advertising cheaper ice cream made her shiver. How could they do this to me? She didn’t even look. When did she become so good of an actress? She had not expected this. She had not expected their ability to turn so sharply.. almost as though they’re skating on ice. But she didn’t know who the “they” referred to and what exactly “they” did. She only knew of a sense of emptiness and of the song inside her head, that was getting louder and louder and louder. She wasn’t mad, she never was. She was only sad, a bit..  desperate. Desp- conversations in Manglish had provided new meanings to that word. The thought made her smile.

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This was her idea of distraction, of stopping the other kind of thoughts and making the song get louder. She imagines these words on a white Google Docs screen. She sees her keyboard and hears its sounds as each key is tapped, with a background meter provided by a clock’s second-hand. Distractions come in the form of simple observations about cats and dogs and birds seen through the window of a yellow school bus.

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The red light has stopped the bus. All was still except for a man carrying a laptop bag and walking towards a bus stop. He was presumably Indian.. and that too from the South. Probably in the computer field. Probably unmarried. Probably alone. Probably the kind that comes home from work and drowns himself in Youtube videos and painfully naadan forums. The wind kept trying to tear his jacket away. His jaw was clenched in the cold. His bus had not yet arrived. Inside the corner store, a man is selling cigarettes. Through the glass door, the girl sees a teenage boy place the pack in his jacket. The glass reflects the green light, and they lurch on.

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The small American flag on the porch swirled violently. Red, White and Blue- she could not even remember when she learned their meanings and they ceased to become solely colors in her head, merely uncapitalized adjectives. The writer smiles in her head because she remembers that in India, very few people have flags- though, in her opinion, the Indian flag is much more visually-appealing. But actually, the writer has never seen one atop a house in her motherland. The girl sighs, lost in her own thoughts. For a few minutes, even the writer is locked out and left to ponder the shades of flags and true nationalism. The girl, the writer realizes, does not like to share her story. She doesn’t provide backgrounds, only simple observations.

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Rang De Basanti now begins to play in her ears, just as she notices a small bird flying off a tree. It flaps its wings in sync with the beats. Even birds can do bhangra. The writer shakes her head and laughs at the girl’s thoughts.

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The street they just passed, the girl remembers, is the way to that Pakistani girls’ house. How she wished it was hers! She was jealous of those girls. Because when they went home, she knew, they’d knock on the door loudly and be greeted by their mother, who’d yell at them for being late and having dirty shoes and knocking too loudly and speaking too fast. Their younger siblings would scream and run around them as they tried to study. The house would strongly smell of spiced food. Soon, someone would hit another and someone would start crying. Another would trip, another would fall, another would break into wails. The mother would run around frantically, yelling at everyone and comforting them all. There would be utter chaos and by the time everything is settled, it’ll be time to head to bed. She.. She knew that she’d reach her door and find the key in the bottom of her bag, strung on a key chain from Jayalakshmi with an engraved picture of Christ. The house will be colder than it is outside and darker yet. She’d turn on her own lights, microwave some food from the endless frozen supplies, grab her laptop, try to fill the room with pointless songs, and work. There would be no disturbances and no interruptions. Peacefully, she’ll eat dinner in the company of young Mohanlal or stalwart Suresh Gopi, heroes of an old Malayalam movie with the convenience of the WorldWideWeb. If the phone rings, she’d pick up and answer with a tired voice- tired of not being used.

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They were at their first stop and a boy approached, ready to descend. “Have a good day,” he called out to the bus driver as he got off. The bus driver half-heartedly replied, “Thanks. You too..” His words trail off as though he has something more to say. It’s either that he doubts the sincerity of the boy’s wish or his ability to have a good day. It was already past four. There was not much of a day left anyway.

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The female part in Rang De Basanti began. “Dheemi aanch pe tu, zara ishq chadha, thode jharne laa, thodi nadi mila..” The girl envisioned herself, singing that song. The setting for today’s dream-sequence was an airport and the background signified delayed flights and an impatient audience. In this world of hers, she was laughing endlessly as the song continued and the dance sprung forth. Hypothetical situations- daydreams if you must- were an inherent part of her character, especially on days when reality played games of Pretend.

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She remembered this cul-de-sac they were on from last week. She had been the only one left on the bus, just like today. And the bus driver had told her that he was familiar with this place because his mother used to live here, many many years ago. Now, he said, she lives in the retirement center, where the girl regularly volunteers.  He haven’t been up there to see her in “ages”, not since his brother moved down to Florida. And they, he laughed, they haven’t talked in God-knows-how-long. I hate him, he shook his head, I hate him. The girl’s eyes filled again as she remembered the conversation. She hadn’t known what to say and so, had remained silent with a pasted half-smile. Would they become like that one day- she and her sister?

“But you know one thing?” he continued as they made another turn, “the old lady can cook! A very, very good cook.” He meant his mother.

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Her bus stop had arrived but he drove past and turned into her street. He was very tired too but he always liked to see her smile. “Only 10 more weeks of this,” he told her. “Yes, 58 days till graduation!” her own voice’s cheeriness startled her. “God bless you, God bless you..” he murmured softly. “Have a good day,” she said as she stepped out in front of her house. “You too, you too..” The bus and its sole occupant turned into the corner and disappeared from her sight. She dug into her bag and felt Christ’s edges. She opened the door and entered. In the silence of her home, the song on her iPod seemingly screamed its way through her ears. But she was not yet fully deaf. Step by step, she thought. Let’s  take every minute and divide it up so that there’s not even one second to spare for silly thoughts. Just like that sister in Jane Eyre. So she won’t be sad and she won’t have time to cry. She turns on her laptop, turns up the heat and microwaves a quesadilla. She turns off her iPod and pulls her phone out of her pocket. Half of something somewhere falls as she sees that there are no new messages. She turns on the ringtone and places it on the counter. She is waiting for something. Inhalation. There’s still more. That half-second it took to get oxygen into her alveoli was enough for the song in her head to begin its new beat. Her cheeks are now wet.

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The writer holds her shoulders as she staggers into the bathroom and turns on the faucet. I simply don’t understand. Je ne comprends pas. Qu’est ce que j’ai fait? What had I done? She collects water in her hand and fiercely throws it at her face. The drops jump and swirl, performing acrobatics in thin air. The black of the kohl she had applied that morning collects in curved lines on her cheeks. The contacts in her eyes push out tears and water with the same strength and turn her eyes a shade of crimson. The rough towel brazes against her skin. She can now clearly see that face in the mirror.
The song will surely make her deaf.

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1. AP Exams begin next Wednesday. I am NOT ready. Good luck to all the AP and IB students!

2. I chose Penn, for sure. Philadelphia and Malayalam classes it is.

3. And I can’t wait to leave.  58 days to graduation.

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6 thoughts on “Of her Character

  1. hello there and dont really know how to email you back but thank you for your comments on my blog. They were lovely and most appreciated.

    I went through a few posts on your blog and love a lot of what you have done.

    “These days, she doesn’t understand much. The writer acknowledges that perhaps she never did.”

    Story of my life for sure. 🙂

    I am busy transferring my diaries from paper to word to use in my catalog for an upcoming photo exhibition. Keep in touch and I will keep you posted regarding the same if you’re interested. photolobo@gmail.com

    Warm regards

    Ryan

    1. Thank you so much for the reply and for the compliments on my writing (though, it quite rightly does not deserve to be commented by someone as talented as you).
      That sounds like a really amazing project.
      Good luck with that! And I’ll email you with my address.

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