Dust to dust
- The dust never really settles here in the dustbowl Valley but it gives me the power to recognise people by just their eyes
May 13, 2018-We met for the first time in a tempo. We didn’t speak or anything; our eyes met, and that was it. Her curly hair so perfectly framed the broad cheeks that were covered by a surgical mask. Blue, I remember. It was blue; and mine was green. However, my friends often told me that those masks never do much and were really just for show. Colours barely mattered. Wearing a mask barely mattered. Never mind though because we were well used to living inside of a dust-bowl.
It was supposed to be a cold evening but the dust-bowl has its own rules. It was stifling to be inside that congested little tuk-tuk that blared and droned on and on. A dozen solemn bodies like mine rubbed and squeezed each other, someone’s elbow ran into someone’s face and no one was to blame even if someone’s nose were to break or bleed.
But she was there, she hummed her own songs and seemed oblivious to the ruckus outside. She played with her earphone wire, she nodded to the beat while she locked and unlocked and locked her phone. One must’ve had superpowers to be that calm while trapped in a steel box like we were. Then, someone rammed their head against the tempo’s ceiling so loudly that even she took her right ear-piece off to see what happened. But that was the disappointing part. Nothing ever happens in this country, though everything is happening all at once. For most people, nothing interesting ever materialises. Such is life.
I pretended to see what time it was. My phone was dead, so I peeked at her. Someone’s protruding belly had been my hiding post from where I would peek at her since the very start of our journey. It was always good to be sat when you know you could be hanging from the vehicle’s edge. Brakes creaked, and my heretofore hiding post got up and with some hassle, succeeded in squeezing out of the tempo.
I took my eyes off her. I had to.
“What do I train my eyes at now? Should I turn my head right and pretend that I’m looking outside at the dusty street? Or should I turn my head left and breathe in the rancid fumes of sweat and misery? I hated dilemmas. I stared at my new pair of Goldstars that I bought off of the internet the previous week. I had paid for them in cash.
“Courage is the first step.” I incited myself. “Enough with these cheap shoes, I’m going to look back at her again and maybe she will meet my gaze? I have to,” I thought.
I lifted my head as high as the low ceiling permitted, and slowly turned my eyes towards her. Determined not to retreat, I kept at it and then she too looked at me. We just gazed at each other. Should I have smiled? Now when I think of that moment, I like to think that she too had wanted to smile but at the time there was no telling, we were both wearing masks. Under the mask it could have been a smile. It could have been anything. I couldn’t say for sure. A middle aged man was arguing with the tempo driver about why the fare should be fifteen and not eighteen rupees.
Back to the cheap shoes, I rolled my eyeballs. I lost the stare game.
I wished that journey would never end; but sadly the brakes creaked again. She paid her fare. One Ten, one Five, two coins: eighteen rupees. Then she took off. She walked away with her silhouette trailing behind her. Good things never last long in the dust-bowl city.
I got off at the next stop. While doing so, I too hit my head on the tempo’s ceiling.
When I got home, I checked the plants I kept on the window sill in plastic vases. They looked like they were going to bloom once the winter was done. They thirstily soaked up all the water I poured. My plants had stood privy to my restless walkthrough, to and fro, as I thought of a good many things I ought to do with my life... I loved them for they never complained about the internet being slow; they had this awfully patient aura about them— they could wait until spring.
Then came summer.
Summers in the dust bowl are unbelievable. Winters are dusty, but summers are dusty and muddy and unbearably hot.
It was one of my friend’s birthday the day before. I don’t know why people get so excited about being older—probably an old habit from when they were young. However, I couldn’t feel bad for being invited. “Come on man,” they had said in the group chat, “Barbeque! And beer. A lot of beer.” The only time these group chats were active were before someone’s birthdays and during live football games.
Beers are good during summer.
So, I put on my old pair of Goldstars and rushed to the birthday boy’s place. At the stroke of midnight we sang ‘happy birthday,’ six or seven times in a row—with a guitar, without a guitar, with a piano, without a piano, and two more times just to remind our ageing friend that now he could think about getting married—lest it be too late. But he never thought about it. He was that drunk. And so were the rest of us. We had even suspected him of being gay which had bothered some people there but drunkenness knew forgiveness very well.
I had this weird history of oversleeping at someone else’s place, and that day too I had kept on snoring till the birthday boy’s girlfriend showed up. She had brought him a ‘surprise’ cake. A pineapple cake. She cut it and we ate it before she could even fetch plates and spoons from the kitchen. No one cared if it made her boyfriend surprised or happy. We sang ‘happy birthday’ once again. This time, the girlfriend’s voice was the loudest. I was thinking how she should’ve auditioned for a singing competition. She then made some good coffee. We all sipped as we watched our drunken videos from the previous night. I couldn’t believe they’d even made me recite a poem. The poem was good, but I don’t think I liked hearing my own recorded voice. Who does?
All the other guys had already left by then. “I need to go.” I had said, and took off as well.
I had thought I could walk all the way to my place, but I was wrong. My head was throbbing. I didn’t feel like doing anything. When I crossed a bridge that was named after its colour like so many others, there was a dreary smell that had made me hate my nose. My mother often told me that this nose looked kind of nice on me. It’s a pity that I had to cover it all the time with masks in this city. Since surgical masks don’t work no more, I had switched to a fancy, expensive mask. This too, I had bought off of the internet and again, I had paid for it in cash.
It was Saturday, and I was supposed to call my father. But I needed to get rid of the nasty headache first. I searched for a fruit shop and ordered a glass of mixed juice. I drank it all at once. I only had a hundred rupees left on me. I should’ve called my father earlier but it still wasn’t too late. I reached for my pocket to take out my phone and realised it wasn’t there. At that moment I loathed the world. I needed to walk back to the birthday boy’s room.
I wasn’t quite sure if that glass of juice worked. I still felt dizzy as I dragged my feet back to where I came from. I felt like puking when I reached my friend’s door.
“I left my phone.” I told him. I felt stupid not to have noticed that we were watching the previous night’s videos on my phone.
“They are watching your poems in the kitchen.”
“Who ‘they’?” I asked.
He replied that his girlfriend had invited one of her friends.
I heard my friend’s girlfriend and her friend giggling in the other room. I felt sorry for my silly poems. I went to the room to fetch my phone. The girls stared at me. I stared back at them.
“Wait, do I know you?” I asked the friend.
“We’ve never met I don’t think.” She replied.
But I knew those eyes very well. We had met six months back, on a cold dusty evening, inside that clangorous tempo.
The dust never really settles in the dust-bowl and that has its own perks. It played with my mind and gave me the power to recognise people just by their eyes. I felt so glad that she was there, I asked for her name—Sunaina.
Published: 13-05-2018 08:31