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The Companion

A gray-walled room with a window. That's how he remembers it. It looks the same now: a large window in a small room. It makes the room look even smaller. The window-sill is thick with dust. Beams of sunlight stream in singly, their path illuminated by many-sided dust particles spinning. Or seeming to spin. Is the room this dusty everywhere? He wonders to himself, trying not to breathe it in. The sunbeams merely illuminate what's already there.

Slowly, as his eyes adjust, more details of the room start revealing themselves. The room is bare. Devoid of anything except walls and tiny patches of plaster embedded in the cobwebs at corners. The effect is almost artistic. He wonders if rooms could feel. If they could, what would this room be feeling. Do they remember the people who lived in them? It's almost impossible to believe that people would have lived here once. The walls would have been new and shining with paint and resonant with echoes of laughter or tears or screams. The walls are empty now. They appear dull and numbed. Fatigued with the weight of decade after lonely decade.

Do walls dream? He'd like to believe that they do. If so, what would these walls dream about? Would they even remember those days so long ago? Of course they would, the thought comes unbidden to his mind. Everyone remembers their youth. Except the young themselves. They are too busy looking forward to the time when they'll be in a position to remember the time they're living now. Like a snake eating its own tail. It's a paradox. But it's true. We don't live in the present anyway. Henri Bergson was right. The present is just an ungraspable advance of the past, devouring the future. All sensation is just memory. And what is time to memory?

What is memory then? Why is it not affected by time? He wonders. It is affected by time, he waves away the thought irritably, shaking his head almost as if jerking off a fly. Memories are not affected by time. They're affected by the rememberer. Yet, how are they affected? He purses his lips, seeing and not-seeing the spider crawling on the window-ledge. Memories are images of events stored in the point of view of the observer. Over time, like atmospheric air and moisture affect film, ones views, character and self start fogging out the memory to a more fitting version.

What do these walls remember? Do they miss those times when they were young or do they like the peace and quiet in their old age? At least they're all together. But are all four walls one entity or separate, like brothers?

The spider has climbed up the ledge now. It is quite still. It too is thinking perhaps. If it can think that is. But then, if walls can think, why can't spiders? Although admittedly walls appear wiser and more solemn. They should appear dull and stupid, but they don't. Out-walls are like guards. Big, beefy and stern. They hulk over the landscape like sentinels. Watching. Stone walls like the ramparts at Purana Quila are the beefiest. They're in a worse state of repair than the Red Fort walls, but they seem more imposing somehow. Like experienced veteran troops. Toughest and highest paid and used only in the worst of situations. They are scarred and grizzled and some have arms and legs missing. Like the walls. They have holes in places, cave-ins and other disfigurements. Oddly, these add to their stern demeanor, their strength although they shouldn't. Indoor house walls like these are like parents or grandparents. Like ordinary citizens. Average of build and bulk, they are more urbane and belong indoors. Who would want a veteran soldier inside their house anyway? Their personalities are too harsh for that. Unless they're relations. One gets used to relations. Whatever they're like.

He is stirred from his thoughts by a sharp noise outside. There it is again. It's a creaking, bending sort of a noise. He goes to the window and looks out. They're cutting a tree down. It's not fighting but it's not submitting either. Like the captain of a ship going down with it, they stand tall and proud. Until their mighty crowns are felled by water or the Axe. A saw is crueler than the axe somehow. It prolongs the agony. It also sounds like it's enjoying it. The screeching, cutting, sawing noise it makes seems harsh and crude. An axe chops. Chop. Chop. Polite, to the point, minimum contact and with dignity. Like a man compelled to do a hard job.

He remembers why he came here. To say goodbye to the tree. It was planted before he was born and was already a mighty patriarch by the time he grew old enough to climb its branches. By no means the tallest or the oldest tree in the garden, it still had a quiet dignity about itself. Just like the boy. Content in its own spot in the sun, it endured. The boy often sat under that tree. He felt a special kinship for it that he couldn't explain even to himself. Even when older, he always made sure; consciously or unconsciously; to include the tree in his life. When he was applying to the college of his choice, he made sure to sit under the tree while filling out the form. When he got in, he watered it to give his thanks. Not that it needed it, but it made him feel good all the same. He had added a special fertilizer to the water, one that the gardener had lent him. The gardener was a wizened old man with a halo of salt and pepper hair and a surprisingly wrinkled face. The boy liked him. He was a taciturn man with a kind heart for trees. The boy had never seen him talk to other humans. Except him of course. He looked just like a gardener should look. Also the gardener, unlike his parents and siblings, understood the boys fascination for the Tree. The others had just accepted it as one of his many eccentricities. He was the one who truly understood. Or seemed to understand. That's all that counts when you're young. If someone seems to take you seriously, that's all that matters.

He visited the Tree every time he came home for the holidays. Even after his family moved away to a newer house, he made sure to visit it whenever he came to the city. But he hadn't come for the last twenty years. He had been working in another country. Somehow, he never ever found any other tree; or animal for that matter; that he could love as much as the Tree. He thought he loved his children as much, but he wasn't sure. And his wife was long dead. Had he loved her? Yes he had. In a different way. What he felt for her was distinct but also confined to the boundaries of human emotion. He didn't know what to call what he felt for the tree.

Why had he come? He remembered. He remembered hearing from somewhere (where?) or someone (who?) that the plot of land had been sold recently. He remembered wanting to see the tree one last time. He would have liked sitting under it for old times sake, but that was not to be. It was just as well, he mused. It wouldn't be the same anyway. What do you say to someone after not meeting them for twenty years? What do you say when you can't say it in words and every emotion lies bare to be examined? How can you hide what you know you cannot? From yourself? It was just as well, he concluded.

He walked to the window. The last stroke was about to come. He waited patiently for it. For some reason, it felt like dying. Even though there was no pain.

Comments

  1. For me, this is perhaps the first post you've written without any fear (referring to the fear you once mentioned in a comment you posted on my entry)
    It is very well written, I was expecting something else after reading the title, yet I was pleasantly surprised.

    ReplyDelete
  2. sublime and potent...good work..

    ReplyDelete
  3. The fluidity! :) you write very well!

    ReplyDelete

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