I really like your room. He says, while placing the skinny monitor on G’s desk. Must be the lighting. It really does everything. Just the right mix of yellow and white. I shift the cigarette between my fingers. It’s just a butt now. He attributes the fascination to rather the chalkboard and the window aloe and everything else tangible. I am meeting him for the first time and the last time, like catching the nearest open liquor store’s shutter going down, halfway through. He’s leaving town the following week.
The house is two blocks of grey and white caught in greyer shadows of the opposite tree — its crown finding root in its kaleidoscopic apparitions shapeshifting on the street with every turn of the breeze. The main gate is canopied by an angled roof slanting downwards as if to meet the smoky profiles. Moths bomb the sodium lamp on the electricity pole to the right — a slender rectangle of concrete, wearing fat blue wires with staunchier curls than mine around a body svelter than I could ever have. There are pots lined up — like a docile row of students in a prayer assembly — against the front wall that takes over from the gates to circumscribe the house on its left frontiers. A cocky red Hyundai parked right ahead is a wink for breaking code of conduct.
He’s a friend of G and is dropping by to contribute to G’s study with G’s monitor. G is my flatmate who is presently away.
Once inside the main gate, a miniscule veranda spreads out with an aquarium the size of two shoe boxes with fish in ombre of gold and of black, and a clothesline marks the width with checked kitchen cloth one after the other after the other after the other like flags boisterously proud on the little mountains of The Times of India running under them. The floor is all squares like a chess board — only these are red and white and you always win because hey! this is my flat. Then ten odd steps lined with more planters to an intermediary landing — a favourite of cats — whereupon it’s just four or so rungs to the welcome mat. A Spanish colonial-style lamp submerges you in a peanut butter pool of light as you walk in through the white door.
So what do you do? He asks. He’s settled himself into the scrawny sofa by now — all frame and no flesh, the sofa, not him. Exactly, at least. The metal skeleton with its bony appendages holds his back, his rear, his arm as he speaks. The distracting vines of pink flowers floating horizontal on the beige fabric are offset by solid maroon bands, as if a lawn mower had blazed right through, marking its territory in the blossoming little garden of that skimpy cushion.
Not a lot, I answer. Quit my job. Yesterday was my last day. Cake’s still in the fridge. Have thought little about much else. Other than the quitting thing. Not the cake thing, I mean. Though that is not entirely untrue either.
Before us, across some ten foot of nothing, lounges a twin-size mattress clothed in a fine floral orgy of mustard and pink cotton from P. A koala-faced pillow with crazy eyes — white balls peeking from within black eggs — and a sprightly red tongue, a comparatively sobering headrest with Oswald and Weenie on a parakeet green lawn perimetered by even sides, and a stuffed baby panda on all fours are lounging on their thrones. Beck and call from ceiling hooks for hanging macrame pots in knotted jute — that’s how I’d like them — has remained answered.
Was my last day too. He states. What a coincidence.
He surveys the three-row bookshelf — A Burst of Light by Audre Lorde abutting The Greatest Bengali Stories Ever Told by Arunava Sinha abutting Dilbert books by Scott Adams — as areca palm spills over the pear-shaped dining table in the corner.
And you’ve got yourself a nice place. He adds.
A mauve rug with tufted yarn more like eyelashes occupies space beside a rack with the first bunk painted ochre and abandoned midway as if picking up the brush had inspired urgent activity elsewhere. The coat of colour is now cracking and exposing the black shiny surface beneath. More books attempt to provide cover for the whim — Azadi and Indira Bai alongside Fantastic Mr Fox and The Invisible Man.
Ummm — thanks. But these past few months haven’t exactly been easy…I mean…everybody’s left the city owing to COVID…sometimes…often…all this…this house has felt as empty as a political speech.
But anyway. What were you doing? And what are you going to do? Now that you’ve quit. Too. I remark.
Was into engineering. Not really into it but working with it. Will be 3D printing stuff now. I am starting my own business.
Got a proposal to do a plane model. He completes, before launching towards G’s room to untape the cardboard box in his hands.
From inside it, comes out a pocket Thor with a handsome jumbo head ballooned over a muscular petite body, the lustrous Mjölnir in one hand, and a sexy swat of blonde hair tied into a button of a pony in the back. Balmy blue eyes above a raunchy beard and an unflinching flutter of a red cape from the shoulders which are not very conspicuous right now but — you know him.
Ah! escapes me. So this is what your rest of the months are going to be about.
More like years. I am never going to be doing a job again in my life. He declares — with a conviction that had preceded him in those resolute blue eyes.
Oh. Wonderful — that you have got things sorted out. For you.
What, what about G. Are you going to miss her, miss it, now that you are, you know, leaving.
I believe in going with the flow.
Right. I am shifting the cigarette again. Had replaced the butt a while ago. Do you want something?
Water will be fine.
Cool, I fill in as I advance to the kitchen.
An Alicia Souza illustration of Julia Child invites you in with two irresistible platters of cupcakes and a completely resistible dictum — find something you are passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it. Sure. I cast a side glance to the loo. It’s through the kitchen. Whoever designed that, fucking savage.
What are your plans anyway? He asks.
I-I am a fan of the same school, you know, go with the flow.
So why did it not work out? I mean, between you and G.
Wasn’t really my thing. In fact, I am dating someone else now.
Right. And what’s she like?
A complete opposite of G. Independent and head-on with stuff. I like that.
O — kay. In any case, good luck. I guess.
Yeah, thanks. I should be booking my Uber now.
Right…Do you smoke?
I haven’t. In my life. But I can try.
You don’t really have to.
I want to.
Okay. I say, extending the one in my hand.
He takes a long puff and exhales.
Nothing. He passes it back to me.
I’ve been trying to quit. I say, and exit to the balcony to get the ashcan.
God! How many are in there?
Just my entire year.
Why don’t you throw them away?
I think about it.
Are you stressed about something? You know, I could help.
Not about anything in particular, not really.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable, warns one wall poster — an unmissable disclaimer beside the killer orca in action by the keys.
I stub out the fag in the flip-open pseudo-notebook-kind ashtray (had flicked it from a pub) and go on to address the stiffness with ‘your cab must be here’.
Yeah, 2 minutes to location. Okay, I’ll be down now.
Over the metal latch clasping the gates shut, I mouth good luck with a genuine grin and break off to head back up to my fortress.
Home, the mat announces in moss, with a coral heart-silhouetted O, in a cobblestone print.
Thor is still on his watch on G’s table. If you look closely, his sexy swat of blonde hair reveals army green undertones, his ponytail is kinda chipped, and his costume and all the silver and even the Mjölnir — they aren’t exactly finished very neat. But it’s still something, the model. It is a force and it conjures that in you. Unsolicitedly. And now it’s already out there. Conjuring more of it. In more people. Notwithstanding all its imperfections. In utter disregard of them rather. What you got is enough to get you started. Erect, ready, with his guts in his eyes. Balmy blue eyes.
I place it back where it belongs and retire to bed to blow away another hour with Phineas and Ferb. On a completely different note — for some evil reason, I really identify with Doofenshmirtz.