I’ve been here before. Haven’t I? Yes I have. The winding lane does seem familiar. So does this rickety bench. But perhaps, the sick green paint wasn’t so sick before. Is that why it looks unfamiliar? Or perhaps the green sickness is what likens my heart. Sick.
That familiar sickness that creeps up from somewhere between your left big toe and the toe next to it (does it have a name?), to that knee broken earlier by a stray football. There were no complaints then. The football had been kicked by my first crush. (I wonder now if he became my first crush after that football incident. Or was it before? Damn these memory wisps that twirl and twirl and twirl, and choke you in its smoky trail. It also leaves behind a smell. Don’t you think? A smell of burnt love letters and crushed flowers? It doesn’t? It must be me then.) I am digressing. So the sickness that grows from that unnamed point from near the big toe to the broken knee, to that navel that bears a tiny mark of once having been pierced. (We got it done, yes ‘we’ got it done in a place that had pictures of people with piercings all over their body. They also had a tattoo salon, but then we had decided on the piercings. I got mine on the navel, he had it on his right eyebrow. Shit it pained. But it was worthwhile having him kiss it afterwards.) From the navel to the neck, a battleground of love bites, to that taste in your mouth when you puke. Blech. Yes that sick feeling is what I am talking about. Its colour is green.
It is funny or maybe it is not funny. I don’t know. But it is strange how many memories are linked to those men, nah boys in my life. Do I recall all of them? There weren’t too many. No no. Not too many. But enough yes to choke me for the rest of this walk. This lane with its trail of yellow wild flowers and acacia and eucalyptus trees and an occasional squirrel is I trust about a kilometre long, and am no fast walker. Never have been.
So these men. I have always felt for Amina Sinai in Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. Learning to love her husband in parts. It was the same with me, I recollect now. Karim had a long nose. Rather too long, but straight. Unlike mine, which bent at the end, and when he smiled, there was a crease that shaped like a sea-wave. There were many other creases on his face—he was 68, I was 17. Mujib was my neighbour. My parents always wanted me to be like him. Smart, polite, studious. I couldn’t never manage it, quite. So I loved him with my 11 year old heart. But that dint make me like him. He liked me I think. He smiled at me every time we saw each other, and even winked at me once or twice. It dint grow into anything though. He suddenly fell out of favour with my parents and I was forbidden to see or talk to him ever again. I think I loved him all the more then. He had begun growing his hair, that hung around his face in ringlets, and his lips and teeth had a queer blackish tinge. All the more exotic for someone who was growing up on Hobbit and Narnia.
And then there were Vipin with his craze for photography, who gifted me an SLR, Abhinav and his obsession for the flute and the way I tried to learn to whistle, Salman and I shared something more, spiritual—I called it then. His conversion to Buddhism made him exotic to others, but I think I fell out of love with him then. But this sickness today, this awful stench in my nostrils and the slimy feeling in my throat, that horrible pricking at the corners of my eyes. It is only for him. Who did not walk out on me. But came just a little too late into my life, and left too early.
It is true that he was the occasional man in my life. I shared my heartbreaks with him and he stitched my poor heart back to one piece with his fingers and tongue and wine and caresses. I went to him when I was lonely and he gave me company in his little grey apartment, with blue walls, and lungi curtains. At those times when I woke up to horror, seeing that the other side of my bed wasn’t empty, and that it was filled by a man with whom I’d with last night’s sex fallen out of love with, I rushed to him and he made me coffee, and hugged me to sleep. There were those times when I had no one to go shopping with. He came with me then and taught me to bargain. He was my m-seal. He filled up my cracks, and I walked out into the sun, the cracks healed, and now merely streaks on my body, that people take to be body art.
I perhaps realized that he was more than Dr.Fixit for me, when I saw him give coffee to Aysha in my cup. I stole it from his apartment that day and smashed it on my washing stone. Aysha was lovely. In a way I probably could never be. But more perhaps was the fact that for her, he was the only man. Rehman came into my life when he should least have. He was there all along, yes. But I was too busy with my other occasional men. Aysha took him. Or perhaps he went with her. And here I am walking this path, the yellow flowers reminding me of a time when I wore it in my hair, to be photographed by him. I sat on the sick green bench. Only then, it was not sick green. It was just green.