A phone call, and that too around 2.30 am.
Everything returned as I was pouring out the feelings of my heart against the six culprits who had raped a 23-year-old student in Delhi before killing her with all brutality using iron rods.
My fingers danced. They flew from one little square flat black bit of the keyboard to the other. Like salsa where the weight changes though the upper part of the body remains level and unaffected.
It was 2:30 am. My breath was a fume, hot fume. And my steady mind was now forming the last stanza of the poem against this atrocity:
…Who raped and killed the 23 year old?
Don’t blame us said the country’s laws
we are only born to be sleeping away
then stuffed into office cupboards of old.
Don’t blame us repeated the country’s laws
it was actually destiny’s fault
and so it was only God’s will
thus it wasn’t us who did it at all.
WHO RAPED AND KILLED THE 23-YEAR OLD?
And then my cell phone rang. The ringing flew tangent over my head, sounding faint as it shot past. As soon as I hit the question tag button of the poem I picked up my cell phone lying on the study table amidst that day’s newspaper and stared at the screen. No name flashed, except a number. An unknown number, beginning with a plus sign followed by the digit six.
“Hello,” I breathed, my voice heavy and curt, my mind unsteady, heart thumping, surprised at the night call.
“Hi, it’s me!”
An unknown voice, yet there seemed to exist some familiarity, a faint familiarity in the tone. My mind formed the word, but the audibility froze at the throat.
“Hello!” the voice stopped, but its breathing could be distinctly heard. “Are you there?’ The voice came clear.
“Yes… But… But…!” Picture of a familiar face suddenly appeared in my mind.
“Rachnee,” the voice on the other side was calm. And the voice was steady.
My mind raced. And my heart now pounded. RACHNEE!
“What! Who?” My head began to spin to an extent! “Rach…nee!”
Is this what I heard? “How…!”
“It’s a long story.” Now a long pause came from the other side. “Can you meet me?”
I wanted to say, Where were you all these years? But the words stuck at my throat. Instead I said, “Umm… I’m coming by the nine-fifteen flight.” I couldn’t stop the sentence. It was a direct outpouring of the heart. When the tiny bell in my mind pealed to bring her picture, the heart spoke out the words.
I was flying to Bangkok to attend a conference beginning from Monday. But I was leaving today, Saturday. I am up for last minute packing; hence I opened my cupboard, pulled out several kurtas and pairs of jeans, and put them inside the luggage.
In the darkness of the night, I lay in bed, a fitful bag of restlessness, making utmost effort to snatch some sleep before having to leave around six for the airport.
What do you do when you meet someone fifteen years ago in a South-East Asian country, where you had gone to attend a five-day congress? What do you do when walking down the road the aroma of the street food crawls into your nostrils and slows down your feet, and simultaneously pulls your eyelids down for maximum concentration. And no sooner that happens than the diary slips from your hand, and you continue walking, unmindful of the fact?
And what do you do when a soft and gentle voice from behind you says, “Excuse me, I saw this falling from your hand.” You smile a hospitable smile, a sudden smile at the simple features, the black semi-large eyes, the straight cheeks, the thin lips, the face glowing with a smile. And the entire face framed by the silk-smooth hair till the shoulders. You gently take the diary and with a thank you, your face lights up in an apologetic smile. Again, as a sign of gratitude, you point your finger at the roadside coffee bar and request her if she could spend ten minutes of her precious time. “This is my way of thanking you,” you tell her. And hearing your drawling voice, she cannot reject the offer.
Then you extend your days of stay from five to ninety. All because you and she had exchanged your contact numbers. And didn’t you two fall in love? Yes, the way the faint light of dawn stirs a bird from its sleep, similarly the dawn of a new love caressed over your heart. And over her heart too.
Then you had to return to your country and continue with your writing and mind healing. Over those years, the relationship shared hung like a bridge between two countries, spanning a distance of around nine hundred and some odd number of kilometres that distanced them. The bridge made from the language of love in so many forms: silence; laughter; holding hands; looking at each other’s eyes; a quiet smile. Even burying your face in her hair as she did the same in yours. Even giving birth to the quiet lapping of the sea water on the rocks as you two sat with your eyes on the little waves and the sand.
Then communication over the phone was exchanged after I returned. We blew flying kisses just before hanging up to allow the invisible couriers of the air to take our kisses to each other.
Then silence. From her side. The phone on the other side continued ringing for more than a month. But no voice answered. My calls lay unattended. Unanswered. Then a beep-beep followed, announcing the death of the number. Then silence. The long silence stretched to fifteen years, till a few minutes ago the Hi, it’s me sounding as mesmerizing as it had been all these years ago.
I listened to my heart, as I lay looking into the darkness of the night gently punctuated by the glow of the street lamp which had filled the closed frosted glass window. My heart had jumped up at her voice, and my heart said, Go for it.
I reached the airport and in ninety minutes was sitting in the plane. In no time we flew, my mind actively anxious yet my appearance as pacific as it could be. The plane touched the airport and, immigration completed, I was sitting in a cab with instructions to the cabbie for Sukhumvit Soi yee sip ha khap. Sukhumvit Soi 25.
The ride took me fifteen years back. To the buildings, the streets, the food – into a different world with a different ambience. Memories returned, perhaps, faster than the flight.
The cab slowed down. The cabbie turned his head, a glint of smile on his face. Soi 25, Sir, he said in a typical Thai tone. I looked out but failed to spot the hotel. I got my luggage out and headed to a shop which stood facing the road.
A young man opened the door. “I’m looking for The Haven.” I looked around. A certain stillness seemed to have settled all over. The sunshine had paled, and the movement of traffic had died down. A slow-sinking solitude gradually seemed to have settled in the entire city.
The young man stepped aside, gesturing me into the clean and well-lighted shop. I passed volumes of cloth materials standing like books on the shelves. He opened the glass door to the right and took me down a wide passage. Now I could make out. There were several tables surrounded with four chairs spread in the open area. This was the restaurant. All around was the building. This was the rear entrance of the hotel. The main entrance was remodelled and I could see the name put up further inside from the side street.
I went up to the reception and finally checked into the room.
Even though I had looked at all this with one glance, my mind was preoccupied with the phone call early morning and the little conversation exchanged. As I lay down in the bed, my feet on the carpeted floor, my eyes fixed to the ceiling, my mind calmer now that I had come to the end of the first part, doubts gradually wormed into my brain. Was it really Rachnee who had called? And why in the middle of the night?
It could be someone was hunting me down.
I rewound my past. Past past and immediate past. I haven’t ever dealt in drugs. I had had weed sometimes, just for kicks. But nothing beyond that. I remember my cousin and I sitting on the steps of Sandvik Koromant and smoking weed. Then we would walk down to Allen Park across or walk down to the roadside teashop.
Immediate past to begin with five years behind. No, nothing untoward formed any picture in my mind.
If that was the case, was this some kind of a trap laid in which I had so stupidly fallen. How could the caller know that I was coming for a conference here? And why call just several hours before my leaving the house? Did Rachnee have some plans to waylay me? But why? I did not start and nurse the fifteen-year silence?
Had anyone been following me all these days in my own city? Not even when I jogged every morning was there any strange faces that I could recall. And why should a jogger study faces of other people in the park. I’m not a detective!
I looked at my cell phone. It was just after three. I contacted the room service for some coffee. The light lunch in the flight was good and hence coffee now would be a good choice.
My God, how would Rachnee know that I was boarding at The Haven, I spoke out aloud. How will she find me? The last time I did stay here, but there was no surety that I would be once again checking here! Well, I would only have to wait for chance; and if not there, then at the conference site. I’m sure the dailies had already advertised about our conference.
Finishing my beverage, I reached the lobby. I fished out The Bangkok Post from the side table. No, neither an advertisement nor any news on our conference. Even The Nation showed no result. I asked the reception to give me the newspapers of the last seven days. Scanning them brought no fruits.
There’s the internet, Bruce, and I reprimanded my foolishness. I went up and checked in my laptop. Good, the Wi-fi was available here. I typed the name of the conference. And the news of it came pronto. There it was, the date eleven days ago.
That’s from where Rachnee found out about my coming, because she was very aware of my passion for poetry and mind healing. Perhaps she had taken a chance that I would be making it here. Well, we’ll have to wait, Bruce!
When the mind solves some problem or a part of it, it reaches a state of elation, a quiet and steady elation. Wanting to shelve the thought aside in my mind, I went down. It was nearly six, and the sunlight had vanished quite a while.
The sound of traffic was a drone. When you do not look at a particular vehicle but your sight is at the general movement of the stream of vehicles, the mind wanders away from forming a picture of one particular vehicle; and that is the time a larger than the physical existence of the object takes over. That is when the general sound is heard far above other existence. Thus, the drone of traffic ruled on the road as much as it ruled in my mind.
I will wait for time to tell what would happen next. I concluded that I had nothing else to think about the telephone call. If the caller had to meet me in person, he or she would contact the hotel reception and get my information. I would not wait the entire Saturday in my room or at the lobby for that matter for the caller. I wanted to be as much a part of the weekend evening as the fellow pedestrians even though it was quite hot and humid.
I looked to my left and right. Ahead lay a small crossing. People passed up and down, in blues and reds, and in greens and yellows. The clothes had tints of these basic colours, as well as their shades. Blue had always been my favourite colour; staple colour you may say. Like staple diet of a region.
I walked on, rather ambled forward. The pavement shops seemed to spill out their displays of dresses. Locals and foreigners stopped in front of stalls to study silk scarves, and bags. Someone brushed past, the colour of the dress a shade of blue. Instinct nudged me with its elbow and I turned my head. The back draped in straight black hair till the shoulders, a shade of blue dominating over the light yellow patterns of baby snakes. Flat Roman sandals strapped to the feet till the shins. The movement of the back confirmed it was Rachnee.
Should I walk back and find out?
I stood pondering in the middle of the pavement. Pedestrians walked past. A child nearly ran into me, only to make me realize that I was hindering others’ movement. I turned and started out on my hunt. I dodged fellow walkers who took lazy steps while casually turning their heads from one side to the other. I side-stepped an elderly lady as she slowly moved ahead with a walker. Then very soon I found myself blocked by a male and female hand. A couple was walking with locked palms. I gave a hurried apology as they lifted their hands to avoid a collision.
It’s no use. She must have melted into the crowd by now.
You are being stupid.
Looking around I spied a balcony bar. I walked towards it. Soft light orange glow from ceiling lights rested on parts of the floor and on some tables. Several couples sat with drinks. I took up a vacant table for two. Rather than move with the people I could now move with them while sitting and watching them from this nest. Wasn’t this a metaphysical walk? Walking in your mind. Armchair travelling. If I have to see her I will see her from here. If chance has it, she will pass by here.
I sipped straight from the bottle and easing my shoulders, touched my back on the chair’s, allowing my mouth to let go a sigh. With closed eyes I could easily picture the lady with shoulder-length hair and a blue dress with light yellow baby snakes. Well, there could be many others with similar dresses.
Taking the last few remains of the beer, I smiled to myself, allowing my mind to wander. Oh yes, the last time Rachnee and I were together was at the Suthanee Asok (Asok Station) of the sky train.
Now I smiled as I came out of the bar. The station was just a five-minute walk. Lessening the distance between myself and the station, a feeling of niceness spread in my mind. Reliving past moments is as if you are there, and that’s heavenly, Bruce. And I’m not alone. I smiled.
I walked up to the central suthani of the sky train, and boarded the train. The vehicle was moderately full and I enjoyed the ride though it was three stations’ distance to Asok. Suddenly my nostrils captured a strange whiff in the atmosphere of this closed train. Orchid flower smell. Female deo. Yes, Rchnee’s. While in such a train, fifteen years ago, I had allowed my nose to reach behind Rachnee’s ear. I had closed my eyes as I hung to this fragrance, this smell of orchid.
Yes, we were in the metro suthani a decade and a half ago. Smooth as a knife passing through a
piece of bread, the sky train had sliced through the platform. Asok suthani blinked on the monitor, and the doors opened and Rachnee and I had stepped inside. We stepped into the quietness of the station, into its emptiness. I almost felt we had stepped into our respective minds – she into mine, I into hers. We did all this without speaking a single word. Gradually the doors closed, but our mind was open for each other. Sometimes you don’t need to speak and that’s what we had done. We had exchanged wordless words as we looked at each other. Invisible waves of energy passed into our minds. Rachnee looked at the glass windows as the bright light of the compartment flashed our reflection in a hazy shadow. Then she turned her face towards mine.
“When will I see you again?” she asked.
The train went on slicing its way. “Very soon, sweetheart,” I responded, looking into her dark eyes.
She looked up at my face, a soft smile parting her lips and showing the glint of her white teeth. “If we die before that we’ll locate each other with Mind Location.” Saying this she cuddled closer to me, and the fragrance trapped in her hair seemed to release itself a bit to allow me to bury myself into it. Keeping my face in that position for a few seconds which seemed like minutes, I released my face and gently kissed her on the tip of her nose and ran my hand over her breasts in all gentleness.
She looked up at me smiling. “We will meet after death too,” she whispered and before she had completed the sentence she rested her head on my shoulder.
“Yes,” I whispered too, looking deep into the language of love in her eyes. “Love survives conquering every action.”
The train came to a gradual halt but we were still cuddled to each other. Our heads were on each other’s shoulder, and she ran her fingers over my chest, writing her name and mine on it. I did the same, tracing our names on her breast. Very soon the train became an island of darkness as we stepped out, Bruce and Rachnee.
“We are the modern pair of lovers.” I whispered into her ears.
But now it was different. The voice over the microphone came crisp and clear, announcing Asok station. A group of people disembarked, and very few boarded. I stepped out of the train. The passengers proceeded towards the entrance. The train eased out and emptiness rushed in, swallowing the platform. The naked tracks glistened. The orchid smell was still lingering at my side. I lowered myself, bending towards the floor of the platform, towards the orchid smell which now came from the tracks. Very soon I eased my right leg onto the track. And then the other, before my entire self was on the track. I took my right step and rested it on the shiny metallic snake. No sooner did I place it there than sudden high voltage electricity shivered through my entire being. Next I found myself on the track. Someone was holding me. Someone smoky with a shade of blue dominating over the light yellow patterns of baby snakes. Orchid smell exuded from her. My face went closer to hers. The smell of her deo appeared in a faint attraction from behind her ear. She kissed on my smoky cheeks. On my smoky lips. She rested her head on my smoky shoulder. I got up. But my body still lay over the naked pair of metals. We stepped onto the platform. The security at the gate was dozing. We passed him and took the escalator. The cool weather outside touched our faces. We walked light-heartedly, my hand on her shoulder, her hand around my waist.
We were made for each other. The two smoky beings.
Rachnee turned her face, aware that I was giving her loving looks; and she smiled, her teeth flashing her happiness.