Thursday, September 26, 2013

Another Act

She was old. So old you could not tell whether she was a woman or a man. Her jaw was once proud; now it was just a bone, waiting to shed the undulating folds that clung on to it for their dear life. Her breath sounded like a locomotive that had run out of steam from all the climbing up, now wheeling its way down to a place it could finally park itself. She looked around from the doorstep, which opened into the balcony. It was dark and light from the solar lantern shifted as her hands shook, revealing a crumbling edge of the parapet, greening the black of the Tulsi leaves, exposing the tail of a nocturnal insect - all in a few seconds. Just like flashes from her memory - barely coming together as a coherent whole, shifting too quickly to take any form, leaving behind only a sense of the past. Was it ever there?

Very slowly, she placed the lantern on the parapet.  If it fell down, she would have to grope her way through the hall and climb down the cumbersome stairs. She drew nearer the wooden stool, still damp from the rain, lifted the pleats of her sari and carefully adjusted her buttocks so that her weight may fall evenly upon it. As she sat down, she let out a faint groan. The locomotive had found a temporary parking lot.

The light from the lantern was stable now. And it fell on her forehead. The grey of her hair shone like the silver of the moon, under which glistened the lotus pool of her eyes. Her shifting gaze had also settled and placed itself somewhere distant. Or at least it looked like somewhere distant, for she could no longer see too far. What use is seeing too far anyway?

This act, of getting up past midnight - getting up and not waking up for it never looked like she slept - had become a familiar sight. Familiar, if there were an audience to witness, that is. Her balcony would transform into the only stage that mattered, for in this stage she could once again be the Prima Donna, acting out all the parts she once had. Or wished she had. The difference between the two did not matter any more. Fact and Fiction were only matters of labeling; it was Fiction when she was an audience and Fact when she was the actor. And she would spend what would remain of the night, alternating between the actor and the audience. Until the break of dawn, when the curtains would fall, the lights put on again, the soliloquy replaced with the approving tinkling of bicycle bells or the jeering cackle of the peahen. No thundering applause though. There never was. 

The moon slid behind the chiffon blanket of clouds. The edge of her lips curled into the faintest of smiles. Which part was she playing today? The lover into whose ears had just been whispered the promise of faithful love? The friend who had just taken the blood-oath of sisterhood? The little girl who looked into the mirror and saw in it a queen? In any case, it must have been a happy part tonight. Or perhaps it was the fabled smile of knowing. Knowing that there was nothing to be known. 

The moon slipped out, surreptitiously, from under the clouds. Their rendezvous was short lived. One of them had moved on, it didn't matter which. The space between them grew and the wind was in no mood to reverse direction. She blinked, let out a sigh and began to twirl the corner of her sari around her index finger. In some time the black of the night would turn violet, then red. Black and White would be filled with garish colours. And she would retreat into her tomb, waiting for another night, another act.


Anish Basu Roy said...

Love the bit, whee you have captured perfectly the futility of seeing too far for someone who's already seen a lifetime gone by. There's in fact an uncanny and ironic humour in it.

Anish Basu Roy said...

Love the bit, where you've perfectly captured the futility of seeing too far for a person who's seen a lifetime go by.

the who said...

@ Anish - Thank you for reading and commenting. Always good to have an audience, and even better to have one that gets it :)