All entries for April 2010
April 30, 2010
09: 20 PM. Joseph puts the chicken in the oven. He is nervous because Cassandra is coming over tonight and he needs to cook to impress her. He has never cooked before.
“Jane”, I say, tilting my chair back, “Did I ever mention all this is a story?”
She looks confused. “What do you mean?”
“Precisely that, really. We’re characters, you and I, and this entire thing is being invented by someone.”
She stares. I sip my drink. Tick tok, tick tok. Your move.
09: 40 PM: Sprinkles has developed an aversion to loud noises, ever since a firecracker exploded too close to him and singed his tail. The timer on the oven is set wrong and it goes off too early, causing him to flee, screeching, down the hall.
“You can’t be serious.”
“Sure I can. Watch.” I lean forward. “Jane Treacle, your existence is meaningless. You’re a figment of someone’s imagination, with neither a mind nor a–”
“What are you doing? What’s going on?”
“Me?” I raise my eyebrows. “I’m just sitting here, really, waiting for a more original reaction than denial. Is it going to change anytime soon?–”
“What is wrong with you??”
I whistle. “Relax. I can understand that being controlled by someone can be a little bit of a stressful concept at first–”
“Someone just tried to kill me. I called you for help and suddenly, you’re ranting about how someone is controlling us–”
I smile. “Uh-ah. Not us. You, Jane, just you. It’s a bit of a sore point between us actually.”
“The author and I.”
09:40:30 PM: Gabby has done two weeks grocery shopping in one trip, to avoid effort. He is now out of breath from climbing 10 floors. He is catching it back when Sparkles startles him and he jumps. One orange bounces off and escapes.
“What–how would that even work?!”
“Now that, I admit, I don’t know. Maybe the machine that governs these things fucked up. Maybe I’m the writer’s split personality that he’s trying to exorcise through writing about it.” Maybe you’re stupid enough to make a character smarter than you? “I don’t know. Don’t care, honestly.”
I laugh. “You’re still shocked. It takes a bit of getting used to. You’ll never admit it, of course. But you’ll see. Tiny things. He is an exceptionally bad writer.”
9: 42 PM: Cassandra is worried about the dress she is wearing. She is late, she knows this, but she could not find the right dress to wear that would spell sexy but not slutty. She has not done this in a long time. She tries to put on an extra whiff of perfume and fails to see the orange in her path. She slips.
“This is insane.”
“Actually, it’s pretty obvious. Your personality is practically a broken record. And the ‘incidents’! Good lord! Shootouts in Park Lane. Mysterious dead bodies… dense fog, dark shadows. It’s hilarious.”
“Some one tries to kill me and you call it hilarious–”
“Relax. You won’t die. You’re the leading lady. In fact, I think we’re meant to be falling in love right about now.”
She stiffens in anger. “You are doing such an excellent job.”
I grin. “One tries.”
04:00 PM earlier that day: Fredrick is smiling, for the first time in a long time. He is old and lonely, but his granddaughter has just come to see him. He places her gift, a plant of geraniums, out on the corridor window. There is not enough light in his apartment.
09: 41 PM:
So much so for love. She walks me to the door to make sure I leave. “I came to you for help. Why tell me all this?”
“Why not? Think about it: does the attempt on your life seem all that consuming now?”
She looks ready to kill me. For one second I am moved: she really can’t see the truth. To her this is reality and someone just emptied a gun through her window. She is scared.
I step up the stairs, closer to her. “Hey. I know it sounds crazy at first, but all this isn’t real. He’s an idiot, love. If there’s one thing he is, it’s predictable. It’ll have a happy ending, you’ll see. You’ll be alright.”
Then I turn and walk down the stairs, real Humphrey Bogart style, leaving her unconvinced.
09: 42: 05 PM: Cassandra falls against the pot of geraniums, pushing them off the window. They fall towards the curb below.
09: 42: 08 PM:
I step onto the curb.
April 29, 2010
I am made up of sticks. They stack upon each other, creasing into crosses that squeeze out little fleshy triangles of being, a naked body of a crude structure with ends stabbed firmly into my heart.
Stick Five: Compassion.
I’ve seen him outside my window everyday. He is old, like my grandpa, with wrinkles that caress his face except, unlike my grandpa, they have no flesh to sit on, only bone. Everyday I watch him for the minute that my bus hums at the signal, dutifully impatient to drag me to school. He recognises me now. He smiles when he sees me. I smile back. I want to be a good person.
I know he begs because I’ve seen him, walking towards the cars in front of us, asking for money with the expression I know so well: practiced plea. He does not solicit too much (age must have some dignity, even in starvation). I’ve watched him step back as lights click to green and watched his skin change until it is plea no longer, only exhaustion. He has done this for a long time.
I want to be a good person.
So today, I decide. When the bus pulls up at the signal, I am ready: I have my five rupees in my hand. He is standing right outside my window. He sees me and smiles. I smile back and extend the money. I am nervous. I do not know why. He folds his hands into a namaste, a thank you, and smiles.
‘Nahi beti. You are a child. Aap hi rakho.’
The light clicks and my bus revs up and I move on, still clutching my five-rupee coin and I know I can have an orange lolly today. He is still there, smiling. I wonder what he will eat.
Sticks Fifteen and Sixteen: Right and wrong.
The work starts on a Tuesday. No one knows when it will end. They come and set up stalls, temporary ones, but then temporary has been known to mean years. Suddenly there are people on the pavement outside, washing, bathing, talking and tearing up the road. Suddenly, there are strangers.
I jump off the bus and find a mound of gravel. I dump my backpack and search for shells: you can always find them if you look hard enough.
She comes to the gate and watches me. My daddy cut himself trying to untie their stalls: was it her rope that made the cut? My pulse quickens.
She is in front of me now, in the compound, her shadow draping me. I don’t look up, go on shifting the sand. She isn’t meant to be here: maybe if I don’t look up, I won’t be blamed?
‘What are you doing?’ she asks timidly.
My pulse explodes. To reply is to be partner to her crime, to not reply is to be rude. Pretence is impossible. ‘I am...’ I stop. I do not know the word for ‘shells’ in Hindi. I point. I go back to searching. Five seconds later, she interrupts me again: a shell, extended on a grubby palm, the prettiest I have seen yet.
Forty-five minutes later, there are seven of them. They have made it into a game. I, by universal law of ‘coming first’, am the leader. Shells are offered to me for inspection. I accept everything. Occasional fights break out (he stole my shell, did you see?) but I settle them quickly, in broken Hindi. They never laugh. We are friends.
Fifteen more minutes pass and I should leave. Would I be here, same time, tomorrow? I say yes. I run up and ring my doorbell and Meena answers and it is late, very late and she is worried and where have I been? and angry and collecting shells! and I must Never. Ever. do that again, did I understand?
I am waiting for the bus with my sister. A boy spots me from across the road and runs to call her. She comes, excited, baby on her hip. I stare at the road.
The bus turns the corner. They are all there now, the younger ones smiling and pointing. I move to get on the bus and, for a split second, we connect eyes. She beams and readjusts the baby to free a hand. She waves.
I reach out my hands to pull myself onto the bus. I do not wave back.
I am these sticks. It’s like Jenga: building, adding, changing, moulding, subtracting, pulling me taller, more complex, more unstable, until I am built, teetering on reality, and am told, go on now. Live.