Print Edition - 2019-04-13  |  On Saturday

Talking into the night

  • Sometimes, conversations touch on more than words. They become fingers, hands held carelessly and the smell of bodies that seek familiarity.
- Prateebha Tuladhar

Apr 13, 2019-

It has started to spray. We’re about to step out for lunch. We’re both starving. Let’s borrow this huge umbrella, I say. I pick an abandoned umbrella from the reception, the largest one available. It’s enormous, the size of a restaurant shade, black with an orange lining. We step under the umbrella and it’s like stepping inside a room. We start walking together. Slowly. This is nice, you say. Yes, I say. But I can’t tell if you mean the size of the umbrella or the rain. I also want to ask if you mean it’s nice that we’re walking under the same umbrella in the rain. But I don’t ask. How do you ask a stranger such questions?

There’s a brief awkward silence. I’m perturbed by your presence. I can’t tell if we’re strangers, because there was something in the moment I plopped myself across the table from you in our very first meeting that dissipated all strangeness. I had walked into a crowded restaurant and found you sitting alone at a small table, waiting. You apologised on behalf of the table. I apologised for my lateness and we laughed and continued talking.

We spent the evening eating, talking, walking, then drinking on a deserted terrace. The bile from my past that usually spills out in contrived laughter had caught an honest flow that evening. I was telling you of my fears, the sufferings and tragedies of those I love, and the abject lack of want. You listened. We caught on a tone. We both spilled on the terrace of that abandoned restaurant in Durbar Marg. And as we spilled, our silences punctuated the rivulets of our minds like little barrages, holding together a sea that cannot be contained.

Later, walking down the deserted stairway, I felt like you’d almost stopped for a moment to say you wanted to pause. But you hadn’t. I think I had imagined it.

As we walked into the night, at one point, you stopped by the pavement and pushed scattered pebbles back into the flowerbed from the slabs of stones, arranging them neatly. Your toenails, painted cream, shone in the semi-darkness from under the strap of your sandals. And then I asked, OCD? You looked up at me, smiled and told me to shut up, and we both laughed again.

You took sips from the green beer bottle as we walked. I didn’t know if it was okay for us to do that, but I liked it that you appeared so liberated, putting the bottle to your mouth and looking up at the sky. Then, two policemen caught up and warned us about the bottle. I apologised quickly, more in an attempt to protect you than to voice regret. And my thoughts brimmed on fear. Were they going to touch us? After announcing a list of prescribed behaviour for good girls, they left us to our beer bottle and the endless pavements. In a small way, we now shared a crime. And maybe it made us partners in our feeble act of defiance.

You continued to drink from your bottle and I continued to walk alongside you. The streets were quiet and we permeated them, even with the smallness of our existence. Specs in a universe.

The evening was strangely familiar and surreal. I had never before fallen headlong like a shooting star into an abyss, one where I could finally bury all my demons and ghosts, and still have them accepted as a part of me. It felt like the monster in me had risen that day in greed, a greed for the quietness of a conversation. The tone we conversed in was not jarring to my ears, like my own words often are to me.

For a moment, I wondered if I had mistaken myself for someone else. I was walking beside you, such a tender young person, offering to you only my endless years of meaninglessness. What I saw in you that evening was a reflection of my own brimming need for conversation. Sometimes, conversations touch on more than words. They become fingers, hands held carelessly and the smell of bodies that seek familiarity. But that evening, I was too much in my element to challenge my own apprehensions. I look back and think there was something un-nameably pleasant to that night.   

That pleasant feel is borrowed over to this moment of us walking under the same umbrella.

Do you like rain, you ask me. How strange that you should ask, I think. Everyone knows I’m crazy about rain. Then it strikes me that you hardly know me. So, I answer: I love rain! After an almost pause, I add: I think everyone likes rain. Not everyone, you say. There are people who complain about it.

Maybe in countries where the rain is polite, I hear myself say. Polite? You ask and smile. Then I elaborate. I guess rain would have to be as mad, cruel and intense as it gets in South Asia, for one to love it. It’s so unforgiving, yet beautiful in its brutality.

We’re inside the restaurant now.

Is it going to rain in the mountains where I’m going, you ask me. Maybe, I say. Mountains are unpredictable.

Published: 13-04-2019 10:19

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