It is that time of morning when I’d wait for the school van.
It is cold in my uniform–even when I’d ironed it with extra vigour to crisp the stubborn collar and pack in some warmth–so I tug my school bag’s straps in opposite directions, and pull my bag closer to my body. I’m excited. I hope I’ll reach school early enough to leave my bag in class, and go exploring. Maybe I’d catch a turn at badminton, or beat the crowd by the swimming pool, or watch the school helper aunties and uncles sweeping up the school with a broom in each hand, rousing dew-lazy dust clouds and piles of rain tree leaves. At best, I’d go wandering to the other end of school near the principal’s office, and sneak a peek at the small pond with fish under the fragrant coniferous trees, and the boughs of bougainvillea in cat-stretches over the cool stone buildings of the younger classes and hostels.
Today, the cat and I are watching the staff at the darshini opposite us set up. As quietly as they can, they bring out tables and chairs, and fold out the metal counters of the chaat stall and the juice and ice-cream stall. They switch on the large chimneys over the endless-hob cooking range at the back of the kitchen, and I finally have an answer to just what that hum throughout the day is.
I tire at twenty minutes of writing. I pause, and feel weight on my eyelids, the crumple of my body, the thrumming of my heart, and my thirst. I feel tired, the effort of breathing is tiring, and something inside the caves of me wants to fold over into a slumber that will on a merciful day come peacefully. I drink water, I remember I took my medicine, and I look for the cat that I know is asleep in the little quilt-tent I’ve made for him at my foot.
On some of those school-van early mornings, my 70-something-year-old grandfather would walk the short road from our house to the end of the cross to wait for the van with me. I mostly held his attention with my pattering on about look! my breath’s making mist, look! I’m mimicking my mother’s wheezing, look! dew on flowers and on windshields — while he always held mine with stories of his sister who looked out for him in the 30?- 40?-strong household of his boyhood, of all his dogs and how each died, of how he met his wife and made his first best friend, of how he’d wait by their classroom window for that small single tiffin box that an uncle would cycle to their school to bring all the kids–a fistful of curd rice with a dollop of pickle.
I dodder through the house in socks and slippers, I’m a housecoat short and a sock too thick. But I pay attention to the breeze my body makes, the scent of mouthwash, the mist of an all-day morning. It has been a while since outside has felt like a balm. The cat is curled on my blue quilt, a round-palmed creeper is blotting over someone’s utility room, and the palm trees are rushing with nowhere to go.
I am tired. But I’m writing. Writing tires me because all I ever write about is my feelings. Feelings that are so full, they leave me empty. It feels like something deep within me radiates an ache, and the rest of me is so hollow, the ache reverberates. The echo inside a white whale.
I don’t know what this state of emptiness is, but I call it loneliness.
My loneliness is currently the one force in the world that compels me, but it’s too painful for me to simply state this is so to another person. So I write. I don’t think my loneliness is the stately white-dude loneliness that generates Joyce. But it is a paltry, personal loneliness full of highly specific minutiae. Like ‘you should’ve been there’ jokes. It weighs too much on me to simply see a person receive my loneliness; to put someone on the spot by having them have to do something in response, graciously or otherwise. It weighs on me like only words said and unsaid can. So I take my feelings and wrap them into wordy-little parcels, and leave them a little away from my person—not surreptitiously, like the pile of trash you leave at your doorstep and it’s magically not your problem anymore, but like a non-threatening suitcase in the middle of the street: children would use it as cricket stumps and kitchen-set stoops, a young man in the night would kick it about, adults by morning would note to each other with eyes that one of us has underthings sprawled on the street. I leave this parcel out to bake in the sun of other people.
Writing tires me. Sometimes it takes twenty minutes. Sometimes, twenty minutes takes five hours, with 13 hours of kicking in my sleep, six meals, two hours of therapy, four days’ worth antidepressants, five days of brownies (making them, cutting them, fixing them with resting, ice cream, dishes, talking, Ludo, the diary, cleaning vegetables, sitting up, nuzzling the cat, feeding myself, bribing the cat, brushing my teeth, noisy news, washing my hair, playing with the cat, sitting in the living room with Dathi and R, gas cylinder guy, messages I don’t know how to reply to, updates about my ticking-away grandmother, putting-off cleaning the fridge, counting money, reading poems). It takes things out of me, and leaves me empty of breath. It leaves me breathless so I don’t know what to do so I push. I push like I’d push my thighs and my calves to remember to grip the sand-brown Hawaii chappals of my childhood that my grandfather had bought me, running and running on tar after that downhill-to-the-cowshed runaway four to save my team a run. I push, I chuck the ball back at the keeper who yells “howayza?” before catching it and the teams and the umpires erupt, I clutch my knees and I hungrily push air into my lungs. I push and I write, because I don’t know how else to fill my yawn of caves.
The license for my proprietary word processor has run out. I let it run out because the word processor’s security system failed. Somebody somewhere with email address sh4 asterisks continues to benefit from my license (that hangs wilted over the corpse of an expired card), and I could not be arsed about fixing it. One of the winning features of this license-illa version is that I am locked out of my own writing. Years and years of my private letters and whispers to nobody and everybody are being held ransom by an entity that owns the means by which I wrote them. Upset that I’m squatting on their proprietary carpet that I put in my computer to doodle on, they feel entitled to either keep asking me to buy a hologram sticker, or at least reassure them that I have no means to threaten their bottomline. For the luxury of making a living by typing into a computer, I have to embroil myself in a dignified protection racket. So I angrily rip into the file’s metadata and change the file’s soulless-as-their-generic-software file format (I rename the file extension), and open the file titled Wallpaper Sunrise dot D-O-C on an alternate word-processor to snatch back my precious doodles.
Can you tell the difference between a coffee headache, and a dry-eyes headache?
My eyeballs feel dry, my mouth feels pasty, and my shoulders ache from my drooping. I can’t stop watching the sky. A laptop wallpaper sunrise is playing and I’m finally full of something. I’m full of the quiet. I’m full of some people waking up gently, quietly filling water in the vessel, holding their breaths at exactly when they pop the lighter at the gas, exhaling collectively to the hiss of the gas catching and the water swirling in the pot. I’m full of some heaping spoons of coffee into the filter, and tying their hair, and walking to the washbasin. I’m full of some going to the back of their homes to wash feet-hands-face with a green soap bar, then maybe wash a plate or two. I’m full of the smell of the soap, the dull heat of the fire, and the cold.
I’m full of a walk in the morning with my grandfather watering the garden. I am in my first school uniform, still warm from my bath, my cheeks flush with a powdery confidence. But my feet are bare. This feels mischievous, without the order of socks and the tap-tap-tapping of black shoes, with just the mix of mulch, morning, and missing-the-school-van mixing with my toes, and he’s watering the nitya mallige he has grown. Like me, a proud little tree in our house compound, full of the twinkle of teeth and white flowers and eyes of a girl spoken-for.