Deaths, beginnings.

The day is ending.

Dark night, slow breeze, eyes gritty with dust or sorrow, I can’t tell anymore. I am carrying everything I need in a red bag.

This must be what homelessness feels like. I thought I had been familiar with this feeling. I had thought wrong. My own arrogance astounds me.

It is strange that it is death that feels like home. It is this collective misery for a stranger; this misery makes me settle into my skin quietly and gives me some measure of rootedness and belonging. Today, I am like everyone else. I am grieving. Or something.

He asked me once, why are you fighting this so hard? When are you going to be okay with homecoming?

I told him it was my fear of settling down. But perhaps the truth is, in hindsight, it was my fear of facing myself; seeing how much of myself was emptiness, how much of myself was darkness. I had been resisting this.

See, that’s the thing about homecoming. It unravels you and brings you back to the beginning. Sometimes, this beginning is fraught with a residual trepidation that you aren’t all that you have made yourself out to be. It is a strange place, this beginning. It is a strange fear.

At this very moment, light is glinting off the paayal on my left foot. There is a song playing about love. There is red on my skin tonight: all of these point to life. Or love. What’s the difference? Does it matter?

Earlier this morning, I had written:
An entire nation mourns.
A leaf rolls across the road, slowly.

What’s the difference? Does it matter?

So what happens after cancer?

The most agonising part of any hospital visit, is the waiting in the waiting room. Writing becomes an outlet.

So, what happens after cancer?

You wake up in the middle of the night, after a bad dream of needles, and falling hair, and your hand immediately reaches up to your right breast to check, just to check, if what should be, is there, and what shouldn’t be, isn’t there, as if your hand can tell what happens at a cellular level. But you do it anyway. You do it anyway. Your heart continues to beat quickly, and you start shaking. You wait for the sunrise so that you don’t have to go to sleep and see the darkness again.

You will come back home after a day of work, and there will be no one around. The air will be heavy, and it will smell of loneliness, and the staleness of sweat, and you will stare at the pills that you have to take every evening; the same pills that give you the bone aches so terribly excruciating, you wonder whether the pills are worth the pain, after all. Your eyes will blur slightly; you’re not sure if it is caused by the tiredness after a long day, or by the fat, hot tears that are threatening to spill down your cheeks. You take a deep breath, and pop the pills into your mouth. And so, another day will come to an end.

You will try to talk about your fears to other people, on the days you feel particularly chatty. There will be some who will be busy, and you hurriedly apologise, not wanting to intrude in their lives. There will be some who will pretend to listen, but only hear what they want to hear. There will be some who will listen, but they will have nothing to say; they will reach out to take your hand in theirs and finally, your breathing will start to slow down, as if the anxiety, the worries, the depression that you don’t know what to do with, slowly, slowly starts to leak out from your fingertips.

Then, of course there will be some days, when you are sitting in a hospital, and you are angry at the world, angry at the world because you have come back to the starting line yet again, though really, maybe this time, maybe this time, it could be the ending line. You also start questioning things; why you again, why this again, why were you still alone when dealing with all of this, when was this going to get better, who was ever going to be willing to love you and live with you despite all of this – then you slowly quieten down, because you know, that just like that first time, there would be no answers. There would be no answers no matter how many times you screamed at the world, or how many times you wished that things would be different. There would be no answers.

The doctor calls your name, and you stand up, pray that your legs don’t give way, and you enter through those doors. And you pray with every fibre of your being that tomorrow, tomorrow, you will live to see the sun rise, the flowers bloom, and be grateful for it.

This is what happens after cancer.

Confessions: Part 3

The last in a series of love letters. The first, here, and the second, here.

***

This makes me sound dramatic, I know, but it all began and ended with you.

I can’t quite remember me before you – everything about that time seems a little more pale, washed out, murky, amorphous, not quite there, just barely outlined, just about.

I don’t want to talk about me after you – that journey is utterly private, the sorrow, utterly private, the pain and the scars, utterly private. This does not belong to you, the after, and I want to keep it that way. It is all that I have left. It belongs to me alone. I need that assurance that not everything is a result of you. I am insistent on this. Give this to me.

But between that time, between the before and the after, it was all you, and some of me, but oh, so much of you and your beauty, that even now, I can only see it in a blinding, gold colour, though the rational part of me, the sane part of me reminds me that I am not quite telling it as it was, the fights and the tears and the anger were all discolourations in that blinding colour, but. This is my story. I want to remember you and me this way.

I learnt many things with you. There are several things I have never quite forgotten. I know I never will. It is how it is. I have made peace with how you will always be with me, in this way. At first, it used to drive me crazy, but now, I hold these little habits and idiosyncrasies (with you, it was always a quirk) close to my heart. You are a familiar. You will forever be my familiar. This is why it all began and ended with you. Because there will be no one quite like you, again. I know this.

There is a picture of us cooking together. You used to, in your more misogynistic moments, make fun of me that as an Indian girl, I knew nothing about the insides of a kitchen. I was 20, and easily irritable. You knew the best things to say to make me lash out at you, and then reflect about myself. So, I began. Cooking. I used to watch you, first. How you would methodically cut the vegetables, the way you would spread butter on bread, how you would sautee the spices first, before the onions (“you don’t want the onions to be too burnt; you don’t want the spices to feel dry and powdery on the onions”), how you would experiment with different ingredients because you were adventurous and always hungry, how you hated me being hungry at any time of the day. I used to watch you cook, but really, what I was watching was the way you loved, so damn carefully and completely, immersing yourself in creating the perfect dish, and then sharing that perfection with the ones you loved.  I was never as methodical as you were, and I know I never will be, but I have learned to love the way you cooked. Fully, wholly, irrevocably.

I still have that picture of us cooking together, me in a red knit dress, you in an apron. I also remember, all too well, the number of times I used to kiss you while you cooked, and you would be so angry, so angry (“the onions are burning!”) but your hand would find my waist, and you would pull me closer so that you could kiss me deeper still. Then you would push me away, and I would smile. Your eyes would be smiling, your mouth still red from my lips. “Get out of the kitchen if you can’t be useful!”.

We were as different as night and day, weren’t we? I used to spend hours holed up in bed, reading. You would be pottering around the house, doing one thing or another, or you would be in bed with me, using your laptop, watching another QI video, or another cartoon, or another cooking show, or another movie. I could never sit still long enough to watch anything, you could never sit still long enough to read anything. But we managed. We managed. I still have the copy of the book you gave me by Kunal Basu. I know you still have the Murakami I left with you on the last day we were together. There are some things you can’t part with. I know this. You know this. You would ask me to watch a movie with you and I would begrudgingly agree. We would settle in bed, you would dim the lights, and because I was always cold and demanding, I would settle into the crook of your arm, my arm resting gently over you. That was another big difference between us. I was always cold, cold hands, cold feet. You were always warm, like a furnace, pulsing with some kind of life force I was always aching to have more of. I’d slip my legs between yours, because I was so greedy for all that warmth, and also because I was really cold, and because you were the most comfortable thing I had ever lain on, and 7 minutes into the movie, I would be fast asleep, hugging you like my life depended on it.

I am writing this now, and smiling, because I remember, how you would tell me with exasperation the next day, that you would never watch another movie with me in bed again, never ever, because all I did was leave you alone while I comfortably drifted off into dream space. The next night, we would do it again. I would fall asleep again. I know now, that you secretly liked that I could only sleep so peacefully with you. I know that a small part of you reveled in that I never slept well anywhere else, except in your bed, in your arms. The things you learn when you leave a love is immense. This too, you have taught me.

There are other things in the lifetime we spent together. The colour of tulips we fell in love with, during spring, still come back to visit me on the colder, darker days. There is a picture of me in sunlight that you took, with my hand on my womb, my face turned away from you. I didn’t realise it then, but you were paying homage to my woman. Now, when I know better, when you are no longer here, I can tell you that I love you more for it. I love you more for it. The train rides and bus rides and boat rides that we took together – we loved transience, you and I. That was why we met in the first place, came together so hurriedly and eagerly, because we knew that it would never last, it couldn’t last, we were two characters passing each other in our individual stories. Only, I had underestimated your imprint on my skin. Oh, how I had underestimated you on my skin.

Now, I know.

Now, I carry you with me everywhere I go. You are no longer a transient.

They are true, these words. It all began and ended with you. And it is okay. It is okay. It is okay.

Confessions: Part 2

A series of love letters. The first, here.

It was not a date.

That’s what I’m trying to tell you. It was not a date.

Nevermind that you got my number from your friend, who is also my friend, who is one of the best people I know, who insisted that you were one of the best people she knew, and because she loved me and she loved you, she said that we would have plenty in common. She told you how fantastic I was, and she told me how fantastic you were, and then finally, you asked her for my number and asked me for coffee, and I said yes, though we could only meet weeks later because we were both busy.

It was not a date.

You brought me to a book store, and talked to me about Dostoyevsky and an amazing crime scene at the end of Crime and Punishment and I told you that I could only handle him in bits and pieces because there was too much of him to swallow in one sitting (I didn’t quite say it that way, because I didn’t want you to run, but it was how I would have said it if I could, if you must know). I marveled at a picture book about love, and tuned you out for a bit, but I vaguely registered that you had a lovely voice, and that you looked better than I thought you would. You held the door open for me, and I walked out soon after.

It was not a date.

You brought me to a cafe, and asked me what I wanted, and I looked at you for a while, and said, next time, when we meet, I will pay, and you seemed a little taken aback that I hadn’t fought you for it, like an Asian would have, only because I had known better, that  it was good manners to accept these things, and also because it gave me an excuse to see you again. I ordered a cappuccino that evening.

It was not a date.

The next few hours passed and we talked about so many things, in quick succession, interspersed with laughter and giggles, and so many interesting stories, and anecdotes, and all the while, I watched you and tried to understand what it was about you that made me want to sit and listen more – was it the kindness in your eyes, or perhaps the keenness which you listened to me, properly listened, making me the centre of my story, which I had not had in a while, or perhaps the way you gesticulated wildly, and you had nice hands, and hands, I always appreciated. I watched you and we talked, and sometimes you watched me too, and we laughed, and sometimes I tripped over my words, and my hair was probably standing straight, and my eyes grew too big when I became excited. I was excited, and my face was flushed. My eyes were probably too big for my face.

It was not a date.

It was time to go, and you said you would walk with me to the metro station, because that was where you needed to be anyway. We talked about something or other, and you interrupted yourself, and asked if I was wearing heels: “the road is uneven, so be careful”, and I stopped for a second, because really, when was the last time (if ever) had anyone cared about the type of shoes I had worn so I wouldn’t trip and hurt myself. I stopped, and you thought I wanted to walk elsewhere, so you started walking on the smoother roadside, but you kept looking back every few seconds “be careful, there is a car coming” to make sure I was safe.

It was not a date.

We were in the train, and it was time for me to leave, and you interrupted yourself again (you had a habit of doing this) and you told me you didn’t want to embark on the newest topic we were talking about because I had to leave, and I told you we could always text, because that’s what phones were for, and you seemed surprised, and then you laughed, and went, yes, send me random texts, I like receiving them, and I laughed and I said, yes, yes, and I walked out of the train doors, and didn’t look back.

It was not a date.

It was not a date.

Oh dear lord, it was not a date.

To Be A Woman.

I am lying on my bed, there is no breeze, the air is still, my breath makes my womb rise up and down. My mother walks into the room, looks at me, and hands me a leaf.

Remember, she says.

I place the once-living on my womb, watch it rise and fall with each breathe I take.

Inhale, exhale. Inhale. Exhale. The leaf sits, placidly.

I’m carrying the beginning and the end on my skin, inside of me.

This is what it means to be a woman.