Rahul had a dream — of someone who wasn’t his girlfriend.
Rahul thought it was bad to have such dreams. He woke up and paced the room.
He then closed his eyes and went back to sleep. He had another dream — of his high-school English teacher. She was in his room — dry.
Rahul opened his eyes. He was still dreaming. In his dream, his teacher behaved a lot like his girlfriend. She was going away, she said, forever. Rahul’s eyes fluttered open and shut. “What does this mean?” Rahul asked his dream. “And why was she dry?”
A long silence followed.
When he opened his eyes again, he found that he was still there.
“What if a porn star had the face of a child?” Rahul asked, staring into a computer screen.
He could only see who her old friends were, who her new friends were. He could not get on to her wall.
“Dear Nadia,” he wrote, “You don’t know me,” and the thought of all the people who knew Nadia, and how, in comparison, she knew very few of those, came to his mind.
He decided to change his name to Sirtaj for Nadia’s sake.
He called his girlfriend and told her that Nadia was his new name for her and Sirtaj was his new name for himself. He still needed a name for his high-school English teacher.
She could be Nadia too, Rahul thought.
He went to bed before his mother awoke. When she came into his room, she found a piece of paper pasted on the wall over his head as he slept. He had drawn a large stick figure with permanent marker, under which was written: “Me, Sirtaj.”
When he awoke, he went downstairs. He sat at the dining table; his mother sat next to him. They waited silently while the bread toasted. The chair on his right-hand side was empty, but a vanishing crack on one of its legs indicated that the fat man who had once sat there had disappeared. The crack, more like a cut on skin, was mending as the sun’s rays gave luster to the chair, the freshly toasted bread and the white tablecloth.
“Mama, I changed my name to Sirtaj.”
His mother’s face was like round, flattened white bread.
“Mama, I changed my name to Sirtaj,” Rahul said, loudly. He sipped his coffee, swallowing some of the grime, and left the house. Before reaching the tall metal gates, he turned around to see if she would herald him good-bye. She was staring at him from the kitchen window.
Kishore then walked into her view.
Kishore and Rahul stood at the gate, one on either side. Rahul and Kishore waited for Rahul’s mother to come out.
Her head finally peeked out of a window in the roof. From a distance it seemed as if a bird had just landed.
“Kishore,” she shouted.
At the door, his mother flourished Kishore with kisses. As for Rahul, she plucked his cheeks with her fingers, barely grabbing any skin. They sat down at the table. Kishore sat on the empty chair.
When they finally walked out through the tall metal gates, Rahul’s mother smiled at them through the windowpanes. She went back to her oatmeal, which had grown cold. She tried reading the newspaper. Folded in it was a yellow brochure. She tried reading it but it didn’t make sense. She went into the garden to see how her flowers were blooming, to check on the maid, what was she busying herself with. Finding no one there, she remained standing outside the maid’s room for a few seconds, staring at the blue door. She then returned to the dining table and started reading the brochure again.
Meanwhile, Rahul and Kishore had made their way to Narjis’s house.
Narjis’s sister, Nida, was seated on a sofa, making calculations. She was good at arithmetic. Narjis was running her fingers through the many gowns they had designed to sell at their exhibition tomorrow.
The sisters were busy, running around the house, leaving Kishore and Rahul alone. Rahul and Kishore kept themselves busy by posing in front of the many mirrors in the house. Getting bored, they began to stare at each other.
It was getting late. Narjis was not around, neither was Nida. Kishore and Rahul decided to leave. They wanted to say goodbye but couldn’t find the sisters anywhere in the house. They waited some more. People walked by on the street alongside the river.
“Doesn’t it look like we are in Siberia? The white patches of snow drifting in the river.”
“But it doesn’t snow here.”
Kishore’s eyes followed one patch until it was no longer in sight.
He wondered where will that patch of snow go. Will it settle down somewhere. Will it keep on going. Perhaps there is no such thing as the world. Perhaps there is only going. And if there is something like the world, it too, is also going. The world, like many other things, is going.
He wondered when will it all be gone.
They both stared in silence at the patches of white.
Soon they were walking down a street. Trees were lush, dogs were bathing, children came out to play. Kishore wanted to play too. Rahul allowed him to do so but at the same time reminded him that he would only be a reflection of himself. Rahul laughed at this so loudly that he became the center of himself. Rahul looked unto himself and found an empty center.
He held tight onto Kishore’s arm.
They kept walking down the street.
Kishore told Rahul that he had dreamt he had died on the roof.
“Did you wake up when you died?”
“No, I just waited. I was dead.”
They turned a corner, then reappeared.
Upon reaching the tall metal gates, Kishore waited for Rahul’s mother. Although he could hear her voice, he could not see a bird perched on the roof.
In his room, Rahul soon found that his mother had removed the piece of paper he had pasted on the wall earlier that day. She had replaced it with a note: “Your sister has had a baby girl. Her name is Leela and she weighs six pounds.”
There was no drawing of a baby anywhere.
He went out to his balcony and looked at Kishore on his own. He lit a cigarette. Kishore lit one too. He showed him his mother’s note but Kishore merely took out an imaginary piece of paper from his pocket.
Rahul went inside.
Kishore knew something had stirred. He paced the length of his balcony and talked to himself at length. He tried to get some sleep. Then all of a sudden he left, coming out of a tree’s cover.
Rahul sat on his chair. He thought of his sister and suddenly an unexpected glimmer of joy, like a warm sun, cut through his frame. He stared for some time at the empty chair downstairs.
Rahul wanted to have a look. At what, Rahul asked himself. Rahul looked around and couldn’t find anything to look at except for himself. He couldn’t stop himself from doing this. He thought the only way out was to not think about it.
Rahul spent the whole afternoon thinking of not thinking about it while looking at his whole person.
He asked his girlfriend to have a look but she wasn’t there to have a look. So he cut himself off completely and dried the blood with what was once himself.
No one sitting in the room where Rahul cut himself off can possibly be in the position to even think of asking, even themselves, whether there was someone in the room.
Rahul failed to understand how something can be bad for you. How is something bad or good when you, yourself, are nothing.
Rahul did at some point, however, think that he was not nothing.
He once thought that things would never come to a happy close.
He thought of his mother, who died too young, whom Rahul could have easily said goodbye to, alive.
There is nothing you can do, Rahul. Absolutely nothing, and perhaps also no one to share this with.
There is no point to even try to begin talking to the dead. They will not give you peace.
Rahul wished he had never received news of her death.
As long as he never returned home, she was still around.
Rahul switched his cell phone off and never switched it back on. Instead he stayed away.
At a café (away) while he was sipping on his coffee, his stomach started to gurgle because of the coffee. He knew that it was the cause. He kept thinking of his gurgling stomach and then thought of what it would be like had he not had the coffee. Would his stomach still gurgle? It was possible that it would not. He never knew what pain felt like unless he found himself in a painful situation. He wondered whether it was possible to feel pain in a situation which didn’t give rise to it.
A storm blew over. Nothing, anywhere, changed its usual position.
Rahul looked around. It appeared as if he couldn’t tell the difference between himself and everything around him.
There was nothing to hold onto.