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Tuesday, 07 April 2015 18:51

Small Scale Life

By  Nké Mu
Wednesday 15 May ‘13

The cawing crow had flown right to left, like Arabic, Hebrew or even Japanese, but certainly not English.  The dead insects on the floor had wings; you had mistaken them for seeds blown in by a gust of wind from the dancing swaying hopeful tree.

It was the day after you’d seen a jumping spider in your bed as you woke and reluctantly struck it again and again until it curled up in an eight-legged ball, dead.  Why didn’t it jump up and out of the window instead of up and into your bed? 

You had thought of the spider as you revealed your secret in parts – an ounce of blame mixed with a splash of apology; inevitability sprinkled generously and doubt poured in to flavour the dish.

This happened before the monsoon; when heavy clouds darkly luminous promised rain but did not deliver.  Sweat collected on brows and ran down collared necks and scarf-covered bosoms.  Flies settled lazily on mangoes, watermelons, litchis, pomegranates and pawpaw on corner fruit stalls. 

 

“Rain! Rain!” An invocation unheeded.  “Shed this lugubrious mode, refresh, fall, skies release the water that burdens you”.  The plea is unheard. 

 

#

 

Monday 10th June ‘13

You leave with a large barely smoked joint in your bag.  The rain has calmed down like a quick temper soon quelled.  The drops are interspersed and hardly make a sound as you walk down the two flights of stairs to catch a rickshaw to the beachfront. 

You notice the rickshaw wallah looking at you, appraising you: cotton midnight blue scarf falling at an angle and held in place by a cloth bag with umbrella knob sticking out, the black slip’s V-neck hints at the full breasts that are not firm enough, the remnants of a time when you weren’t quite this slim, when food was a means to fill the space that friends, crushes, boys, sports should have. 

His longish hair subjected to the discipline of coconut oil lies in heavy waves over his collar.  His shirt is white as are his trousers, a lesser-worn alternative to the khaki uniform that rickshaw wallahs wear.  His eyebrows are thick with streaks of white; they stick out over his light eyes; you see a judgment pass through them before you step into the rickshaw.

Thus starts your journey.  The motor’s taktakataktakatak like a monster insect that rubs its feet together and creates a sound that you feel as much as hear.  The man you’ve just left is not attractive, he is losing his hair and is rather short, but he doesn’t have the belly of the typical man here. He’s a real stoner and his relaxed manner is pretty comforting.  You met him months ago at a short-film shoot (where you were working for no pay) and he was subbing for the regular sound engineer who was ill.  You were both part of the small group that shared some joints that afternoon to while away the time. 

An hour ago you were in his room softy stoned sharing a moment of silence after having watched a short he had edited in film school.  The fans moved damp air around and whirred shadows on the white ceiling. “Do you want it?” he asked with clarity in intention that underlined the vague question.  “What!” you snapped, irritated. There was a pause where the kssssssssshhhhhhhh of the rain became audible.  You had suspected that this would happen, the fantasies and memories tinged with regret that comes from a relationship quickly, brutally suspended projected onto you; the second Africaine he has met. 

You imagine that he sees you as a potential sexual partner, or girlfriend perhaps, and that your second solo visit to his flat reinforces the possibility of this desire.  You stand up and walk to the living room playing your part, that of the shocked, angry, disappointed mate.  He takes his cue and follows, excuses gushing from his mouth like water down a newly full waterfall.  “Where did we learn to play these roles so perfectly?” you wonder to yourself.

 

You listen to him but don’t react.  You pick up your bag and swing the strap over your left shoulder.  You wait.  He sorts and crushes the marijuana, his last portion, still apologising he makes the joint with oft-repeated gestures: thumb over forefinger rolls laden paper into cone; a lot of saliva on the glue seals the affair.  He offers it to you to light, you say no but ask him to light up.  He takes a drag, two drags and passes it to you; your “no thanks” is accompanied by a slight shake of the head.  He puts out the joint and wraps it with meditative concentration in newspaper with the square symbols of the English language and not the hanging calligraphy of Hindi.

You thank him when you receive it.  The air lightens. You feel that you’re being unkind but you want to be alone under the moon for a while.  They say it’s a red-moon tonight, you do not know what that means but after shedding so much blood you feel it’s apt.  “Red is the colour of my lost bébé” you whisper with not so much as a grimace on your face.

 

#

 

It starts to rain and the rickshaw, open on both sides quickly gets wet and clammy.  You clumsily untie the nondescript flaps that are stained grey, black and an oily yellow.   Kssssssssssshhhhhh, beep beep, toot toot, haaaaaarrrnnnnn, beep beep beeeeeeep, ksssssssssshhhhhhhh.  Rain, the white noise in the background, the hooting a mad mechanical menagerie.

You imagine that instead of horns, les claxons, out of all vehicles in Bombay emanated animal sounds – meouw meouw meouuuwww warns the cyclist, woof woof averts the speeding rickshaw, ssssssssssss goes the deadly red bus, prummffffff exclaims the impatient taxi at the traffic light. 

You and E. made love on the living room floor ksssssssssshhhhhhhhh ksssssshhhhhhh the rain was a song and an accomplice and a pretext.  After you revealed your secret, as you stopped hiding the morning nausea, as you began absently touching your tummy, the monsoon rain seemed to be your ally; it made it possible to believe that things could be great between you and E.

You left him today.  Today you said the words that end a long season of uncertainty, hope and forgetfulness.  And yet never have you loved someone so completely: his flaws, fault-lines, friction points, fallacies, fables, fictions.  Never have you had a better teacher of the myriad of your possibilities, never so clearly confronted your woven imperfections, and defences. 

 

The plastic flap beats about in the wind letting in rain and fresh air.  Outside, cars like fish swim in and out of lanes with a well-placed honk.  No one indicates.  No one gets angry. A van promising ‘wrinkle free iron’, and ‘steam dying’ drives past.  Three lanes converge to one as murky water collects around a dip in the motorway, stuck in traffic the meter’s red digits flicker from the distance travelled, to rupees owed to the time: 20h44.      

You catch the rickshaw wallah’s eyes in the rear-view mirror; he mixes beetle nut powder in his hand, forefinger and middle finger rub and roll all the while staring at you.  You think of A.’s story of his friend who had encountered a rouge rickshaw driver who tried to kidnap her – he refused to stop when asked exclaiming, “you think I’d have picked you up if I had any intention of dropping you off?”  She waited until he slowed down at an intersection and punched him hard in the ear with a key placed between her index and middle fingers.

Hand cupped over ear, a line of blood trickling out, no doubt further staining his nondescript shirt that may have been white, which is a lesser-worn alternative to the usual khaki, crimson red that would later turn a rusty earthy colour; he had stalled the rickshaw and the girl jumped out and run off.

“I would like to be with a brave woman like her, so she could protect me” A. had said to complete his story.  You had all laughed.

 

 

#

                      

A gust of wind blows one of the nondescript flaps that are stained grey, black, and an oily yellow, onto your face; a wet uncalled for slap.  You wipe your right cheek with a dryish spot on your scarf swearing under your breath.  You look out at the moving yellow lights blurred by the large drops plopping and dissolving on the slick tarmac.  You think of The Sisterhood…

…The Sisterhood of Sheba practise a bad-ass martial arts that has been conserved over thousands of years by African women fighters from the Rift Valley, it is as old as human life itself.  Your story began like this:

In a land not so far away, one that you know of, one that you perhaps live in, women are disrespected, distanced, oppressed.  Dissuaded from taking positions of leadership in any sphere, they are silenced.  Their bodies are regarded as dangerous – capable of provoking the basest instincts in man; and as a consequence are often the receptacles of violence at the hands of male humans. Rape.Beat.Molest.Kill.Repeat!Rape.Beat.Molest.Kill. 

The body of a local businessman was found on the pavement of a quiet street, crimson blood had already turned a rusty earthy colour in the cracks and fissures and fault-lines of the concrete blocks.  His naked chest had a paper nailed to it detailing his crime: the rape of a 15year-old domestic servant that worked and lived in his home.  She was a foreigner, alien, migrant, non-citizen, with no family, few friends, money and passport held by her erstwhile now deceased employer.

The images that came to you in that time, before this story like so many others had wilted then withered away, were of grape coloured blood gushing as from a hosepipe, Tarantinoesque, série-Zesque violence.  Flaccid penises nailed on guilty men’s chests and the S.O.S tag left next to the defunct man to confirm that it was the Sisterhood of Sheba that had avenged another crime.

Your story went no further than vengeance.  The eye for an eye kind of retribution: no policemen, no courts, no judges.  You may not have lived in any lands where women are forcibly veiled but you have lived in a number where the violence enacted on women is frequent.  Where you cannot help but feel impotent and angry when faced with the condescension, objectification and sanction of women.

The murders of men that have raped, abused, beaten, mistreated women continue in this unnamed land.  And the anonymity of the dark shapeless forms that are the veiled women triggers fear in the hearts of the men.

Panic in the city.  The nebulous black figures glide noiselessly and the men shrink back in fright.  Is it her?  Is it them?  Could it be they know about me, what I did?  Will I be next?  Ban these black robes and veils that we may look the women in the eye and know that they are our sisters, wives, daughters and not murderers.  Ban the veil that conceals the assassins of our fathers, our brothers our friends. 

Afraid!  Yes, they were afraid, afraid of the voiceless, faceless, shapeless figures that hugged the shadows thrown by indifferent and inelegant concrete buildings. 

Shadows must not be underestimated, for they are the conjunction between physical concrete matter and the movement of the earth.

 

#

 

The rickshaw brakes heavily, bushy eyebrows converge around the hooked nose of the rickshaw wallah and hands stained red with beetle nut juice twist the steering wheel sharply to the left.

Grrrach.Thunk.Thump.  The rickshaw has hit someone, something.  Yelping.  A dog.  One of the thousands of stray hounds that share the streets with market vendors, darting rats, colourfully clad women, children playing cricket, clucking hens and arrogant roosters, bicycles laden with loaves of bread, trays of eggs in delicate balance, or blocks of ice weeping into the raffia sacks they are bundled in, cows ruminating on multi-coloured plastic bags, TATA trucks leaving black fumes in their wake, and crows that may fly right to left, like Arabic, Hebrew or even Japanese, but certainly not English.

Mangy, dirty, and free the mongrels laze about in the daytime, head resting on crossed front paws, curled up in the nooks and crannies that the writhing city contains; but at night they turn mean and territorial roving in packs, aggressive and scared.   

You push the flap aside and look diagonally behind you; you can barely make out the injured dog’s form as it lies in shadow away from the diffuse red light cast by the taillights.  You know that you will not leave your relative comfort to see if the dog you have run over is still alive.  The rickshaw wallah mumbles long and darkly in Hindi.  He lifts then pushes down the lever that starts the engine and with a taktakataktakata you’re off again.  Still holding the stained flap you look back at the dog and imagine that you see it crawling to the edge of the road.  You are filled with suffocating shame and prickling pity. 

“The dog will be alright na?” you ask looking into the rear view mirror trying to catch the light eyes under those bushy brows.  The reply in Hindi is short and followed by a head wag that leaves all possibilities open.

 

#

 

Your mind settles on the Sunday that you had spent plunged in the words of another, your imagination pulled and prodded in directions that you previously not chosen to explore.  This was before, before a line of blood trickling out had stained your nondescript shirt that had been white crimson red that would later turn a rusty earthy colour.  It was hot, muggy, water in every breath.  Clouds blanketed the sky a uniform grey, the heavy sluggish air refused to stir leaves on static branches.  A dry crisp brown leaf fell heavily to the pebbled ground and lay inert.  Death. 

Perhaps you are of that age where one does think of death, though you are not old as yet and generally it can be said that death; accidents or murder or grave illness withstanding, which some try to escape or avert by not smoking, or eating organic food, exercising, not walking alone at night where insecurity is present in everyone’s conscious, taking multi vitamins and anti-oxidants, checking the road again and again before crossing though the green pedestrian light with its flashing walking man beckons you on…, all this that none will ever do perfectly for we are human; imperfect and all too mortal.  Indeed one may say that you are of that age where death does feel far off, but not impossible, as it once seemed. 

You had thus contemplated death, your own and that of those that you love, of those that love you.

You had ruminated on the demise of those that you had once loved, of those that had once loved you, of how one by one like petals falling off a dried flower these people fell away from your life, delicately, without great fuss or fury; how, finally, the movement of life is often as final as death.

You think of E.  You left him today.  Today you said the words that end a long season of uncertainty, hope and forgetfulness. E., the person you had chosen to be with.  The person that you had to look at, to share and live with even when you were angry, upset, ashamed, devastated.  This person you feel tangled up with, tied to, and have an obligation to.  The almost father of your almost baby.

 

#

 

The rain has subsided; drops hit the canvas roof like notes of discord.  The rickshaw bumps along on the uneven paved road in Bandra, potholes are filled with already stale rainwater, tarred manholes rise up like small islands: vindictive and ultimately unavoidable.

22h04, you have reached your destination.  235 rupees owed, you hand the rickshaw wallah 250 and wag your head to indicate that you do not want any change.  You step out into the night beneath a spitting sky.  You walk to the beachfront, waves way out in the distance held in place by the pull of the moon, plastic bottles and paper masquerading as luminous sea creatures interspersed between the rocks leading away from the man-made shore.

The promenade still holds a small share of the lovers who find a modicum of privacy out on the rocks, backs turned to the city and a view with no vis-à-vis before them, dog-walkers have fat Labradors, un-muzzled bull-dogs or even a Rottweiler at the end of a limp leash, they walk languorously along the paved pavement stopping to allow the dog to raise its leg and urinate on post, plant, wheel, statue.  Roast-maize sellers call-out as they lean back to avoid the red sparks jumping up from the crackling cobs, you walk along looking up ever so often at the moon, fat and yellow (not a trace of red) hanging daintily over the large modern bridge.

You wonder where the pull of gravity, of life, of love, of passion will direct you next – you who have shed all that you had in this, your small-scale life.



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