One more person had died that day. And a lot of people were dying that month. It was a depressing time in general; the economy was going down, government’s policies were fucked up and the working class was overworked. When I inquired further, the gatekeeper said, “He was young”.
“How young?” “Late twenties. Maybe twenty-eight or twenty-nine. Doesn’t matter now. Does it? He is dead. He will always be dead.” “But wait … ” I said, “that’s just … and … so … we don’t know how he died?” “We do, we do. And listen to this, it was a suicide. How often do you hear about such a thing?” “Not that often and that’s horrific.” “Indeed! He was a business consultant, quite like yourself. And they found a ligature and a stool in his apartment next to his hanging corpse. I think he was a failure. Classic suicide story. Right?” “Man! How the fuck do you know all this?” “Well, sometimes they have to give out the details of the deceased to the authorities here before they are allowed to bury the body. Like, they need to fill up a yellow form, a death certificate, if you will. And sometimes I overhear things in the assemblage, from the family members or the friends … whoever stands closer to me. I overheard about this one. I think it was his brother who was talking to a relative. Lighter?” “Huh?” “Cigarette lighter. You have one?” “Ah. Of course.”
Then I came back to my workstation. I pulled the curtain sideways. I had a very morbid view of the cemetery on my left. And on my right, people had buried themselves voluntarily. Their faces were too close to their computers and desk files.
I looked at Shreya, 27 and thought, well, she looks like she will never die. She loves her life; always laughs loudly, in fact, laughs at the wrong jokes or before the punchline and puts no amount of effort in her conversational skills. These are hard things to overlook for a normal person. To be frank, she is dumb. Dumb people have it easy. They live a very long stress-free life. In fact, if stress has an arch nemesis, then it’s dumbness.
There was Shiva too, quite younger than all of us, 25 I think. He will die early. He works hard, comes early, leaves late and never smiles. If you told him a joke, his responses were at best, a nod. Like he understood the joke, but he had better things to do. His life span would be very less, say, 45 years. Five years give or take.
Then there was everyone: Abhilash, 30, right next to my cubicle, already had two kids and a perpetual tensed forehead. The longer he lives, the more miserable he will be.
Neeti, 33, pregnant for the first time now, but what a hateful bitch! Hateful people shouldn’t be allowed to give birth and pass on their genes. (If Hitler had ten kids, I bet one of them would have turned out to be just like him.) She should die sooner than everyone else, I thought. It was not even a fair judgment of her age-stress balance. I just hated her.
Three hours later, one more dead body had arrived to the cemetery and I was out for another smoke with the gatekeeper.
“Lighter?” “Yeah! And what happened to this one?” “He was your age, they are saying … 35… but the cause of death is depression? How’s that possible?” “It’s possible. And 35 is slightly older than me, but that’s still very young. Don’t you think?” “Depends.” “On what?” “If you think 35 is young, then it is.” “Come on!” “It’s true. Hear me out, people drop dead all the time. Have you not noticed it? Some are dead while they are alive … you know what I mean? They give up, lose passion and purpose.” “That’s true.” “Not everyone has a job and health like you. You know? You could be 50 and full of life. Or you could be 27, and be miserable for three years and give up by the time you are 30. It depends on who you are. My job as a gatekeeper sucks. But I have a great family. So one balances the other.” “True.”
I was back to my workstation again. It was late but not entirely unusual for any of us at the office. People typed incessantly on their laptops and overanalyzed charts and numbers.
They should have been home by now, I thought, I should have been home by now. Should have been on a treadmill or in a park, jogging, or surrounded with the loved ones. But yet, there I was, with the cry of printers and conference call auto-tones, and the mildly exhilarating smell of colorful markers.
My coffee had turned cold and my laptop’s lid was fragile and shaky. At an angle, I could see my own dark reflection, shake in it. The whole background shook with me; the co-workers, the floor and the objects. There must have been at least a dozen files open on the screen, mounting my face; excel sheets, powerpoint slides and a series of intranet tabs, you know, those sort of dead things; they had also buried my face into a fix of non-existence.
Started writing diary today. My first post. Never been into diaries before, don’t know if I should start with a, “Dear diary”. Because what’s the point? Diary doesn’t listen. Diary is dead. All the things I talk to, are dead, except for things that aren’t dead, in which case, they are annoying and I don’t like them.
Ellen said yesterday, I must write diaries. Diaries are great ways to remember things. You keep a diary today, it will keep you someday, she said. I don’t know what she meant. But she is smart, so I am sure she meant something nice. Anyway. Got to go. This is all I have to write today.
18th Sept 2001.
Drove car today. Dad said, go slow. I said, I am going slow. He said, then go slower than that, you idiot!
I said, I am not an idiot. Dad said, you are an idiot, and did this thing, where he tapped the back of my head with his knuckles. I pressed the break.
And you wonder, why no one likes you? He said, because you’re an idiot. No one likes idiots.
Dad was angry. I let him be. I don’t like angry people or my dad or my dad when he is angry. I drove slower. He said go slower than that. I went slower than that. He still yelled. I hate my dad.
23rd Oct 2002.
Saw a puppy on the streets. It was raining. Puppy was in the corner. Shivering. Picked him up. Brought him home.
What the hell do you think you’re doing? Dad yelled.
Rescuing a puppy, I said.
From what? He scolded. It’s an animal. It knows how to rescue itself. God knows, where you got it from you fool, he shouted again, do you have any idea what all that thing is carrying on him; germs, worms, fucking bacteria, virus … you stupid fuck. Jesus, you’re nothing like your mom and your sister. And your mom and your sister are stupid as fuck.
I like him, I said. Can I have him? I asked. No fucking way, he said.
Please Marshall, mom said, let him have it.
Fine Stacy, get a fucking pig and a few bears too while you are at it, dad said.
He got angry. Stormed off. Drove away. Heard him pullover at the driveway. Bumped in to mailbox. Dragged the mailbox with him.
Puppy licked my palm. Got him in my room. Put him in a basket. Fed him milk. He licked my palm again.
24th Jan 2003.
Raining outside, but nice weather. Have named the puppy, Jim. Clicked a picture of him, printed it out and pinned it next to Jim Morrison’s poster. Jim and Jim Morrison. They look good. It’s weird, but I like them both. One speaks to me, the other one speaks to me too.
25th June 2003.
Jim is growing faster than I thought he would. His tail is always wagging. He is abnormal. How can someone be so happy all the time around me? He’s got to be abnormal.
Dad having problems with coworkers. Mom said, he could get fired. And if he gets fired, she said, we will have to move to the country side. Give up on this house. Sell the car and the computer and a few furniture.
Told this to Jim, he licked my palm and wagged his tail. He doesn’t know, it’s bad news. Maybe he doesn’t know it’s news at all.
4th Sept 2003
Ellen was crying. Asked her what’s wrong? She hugged me and sobbed.
What’s wrong? I asked. She cried more. Don’t tell dad, she said. He will kill me. I don’t want to die.
What’s wrong? I asked again.
Failed my exams the second time in a row, she said.
Oh, I said. Yes dad will kill you, I said, he won’t consider if you are good at other things. He doesn’t like failures.
I don’t want to die, she said.
I hugged her. She hugged me back tight. Jim hugged her too.
She cried more.
6th Sept 2003
Around forty people came to Ellen’s funeral. Classmates, teachers, friends from her swimming class, her hockey teammates. She was popular. Erik, her bf, gave a nice speech, said, she was the best person he ever knew existed. Cried too, I think. His voice had cracked towards the end. I felt bad for him.
Dad said mean things like, if she wouldn’t have overdosed on pills, I would have put a bullet through her head myself. I don’t like failures. And I wouldn’t tolerate failures. She has not just failed herself. She has failed me too. And I am glad she is dead.
4th Aug 2005
I am tired, due to people, due to dad.
Mom’s not keeping well. Dad is still well, but always angry. He slapped me the other day, and said, if I don’t get a job and move out by the end of the year, he will kick me out. I don’t want to get a job. I barely know what jobs are.
I can’t flip burgers, or clean toilets. I can fix a computer, but I don’t think they give that kind of jobs to teenagers. I have never applied for one, but if I did, I won’t get it. I don’t know. If he kicks me out, someone will have to rescue me from the streets, like I rescued Jim. Except I won’t be able to lick anyone’s palm, and I don’t have a tail, which is unfortunate. I like tails. It would be cool to have one.
4th July 2006
Tasted alcohol today. Was forced to, Sam, my friend at school, got it. Said have it. It will ease you up.
What is it? I asked him.
Just bourbon, he said.
Just bourbon? I said.
See, he flipped the bottle and showed me the sticker.
It said, Jim Beam. I knew it was alcohol. Whiskey. But it was named Jim, so I trusted it. I liked the taste too. Smooth. He gave me the bottle. Carried it home. Put it in the cupboard. Hid it from dad. Told Jim not to tell anyone about Jim. Jim wagged his tail. Licked my palms.
I am tired. Due to alcohol. Due to people. Due to dad.
Dad is an asshole. Finally, I said it. I am no longer scared of him. If I saw him right now, I will knock the fuck out of him. That asshole. He never knew how to treat people as people. Doesn’t know what love means. And his breath stinks too, if he is too close to you.
I am addicted to alcohol. Been having a lot lately. At this rate, will have swollen liver symptoms by next year. Will have died by next year.
Going to sleep. Not that late, but, because sleepy, because tired, because drunk.
Dad kicked me out, said go get a job. Gave some money. I rented a room. This room basic, furniture basic. Doesn’t have a TV. Water comes twice a day. I sleep through the first time. The second time, if not drunk, I take shower.
It’s next to a garage. I smell wet paint. I like it. The sink is broken. Clogged by hairs of the previous tenant.
Feel bad for Jim. Can’t get him good food. He doesn’t have a bed of his own. We both sleep on the same bed. But he doesn’t complain. He is nice.
2nd Jan 2007
Received a letter. Mom met with an accident. Dad did not take much care. She died. Was on bed for twenty days. Doctor said, she could have survived, given dad cared. But dad being dad, did not care. Twenty people came to the funeral; mostly her relatives and uncles and aunts, I have never met.
I wasn’t invited and thank god, because, dad must’ve said something mean again. He never loved her and if he did, he never said he loved her. He never loved anyone. Hope he gets fired and dies soon too.
4th Aug 2007
Can’t feel arms. Arms numb. Got up last night with sweat. Been drinking a lot every day. Tried quitting whiskey, had withdrawal symptoms. Got back to whiskey. Eight pegs down as I write this, pen is shaking, due to alcohol in blood. Due to too much alcohol in blood.
8th Aug 2007
Nose bled a lot. White pillow was red when I got up, this morning. This is not good. Jim looks worried too. Doesn’t wag his tail much. Must be scared.
Must get up and call for help. Must get out and get food. For myself, for Jim. Must take shower, must clean up myself and Jim. Can’t get up. Due to blood loss. Due to tired.
12th Aug 2007
Took painkillers. A few more than I should have. Hands numb again. Can’t see things properly. Blurry. Feet bleeding. Had stepped on broken glass last night. Was drunk. Is still drunk. Plus took a lot of other pills too. Did not call an ambulance. Did not call dad. No point.
Plus, he will not help, plus I don’t want him to help.
Plus, I don’t want him to come for the funeral, if I have one. Looked at Jim. Jim looked at me. Did not wag his tail, just licked my palm.
“Did you do something with your hair? It looks like you kinda did … you did right? It used to be all, I don’t know, wavy, somewhat curly. Right? It looks like it is more straight now … and wait … is it correct to say more straight or is it supposed to be straighter? And straighter? Is that how you say it? Straighter? Is that even a word? I don’t know. Anyway … how … how have you been?”
So that was a no-brainer, I was over-compensating for the damage by doing the awkward talk and she said, “Really? You called me all the way here to talk about my hairdo?”
I sagged in the chair. On my way to the coffee shop, I had already had an entire, fuck this, fuck that, fuck you conversation with myself, but as soon as I saw her, I, by the very own default nature of mine, wanted to be nice; give her a hug, ruffle her hair, tell her she is beautiful and all that. Basically, my feeling was: hello? Can we end this already? It is too much for me to handle, plus, I kinda, sorta, miss you.
And after the long pause and more awkwardness, she decided to flinch her eyebrows, which I thought was an inappropriate reflex and also somewhat late in arrival. And then she removed her glasses, placed it on the table and said, “So when was the last time you’d actually noticed my hair?”
“Always”, I said, “I always noticed your hair. And you know that’s true. See, I could tell the difference even now. I can tell that you did something to it. You see, if I had never noticed your hair before, how do you think, I would have been able to tell the difference now?”
“But can you?” She said.
“What do you mean?” I said.
“Can you tell exactly, what is different with my hair?” she said.
“Not exactly, exactly. But I –”
“Stop it” she cut me off, “don’t even try.”
“Now, hold on a second”, I barked, “This is what the problem is. You never let me complete what I am trying to say. You don’t ‘even let me –”
“Is that the problem? Really?” She shouted mid-way, which I thought was so funny, because she was only proving my point.
“Isn’t it?” I said.
“No it isn’t” She said, and did this thing, where she hammered the table with her purse. The coffee cup bounced like its base was made out of a spring. It went like, I don’t know, somewhat like, toing toing toing. And it soaked her shades kept on the table. Big ones.
“God! Since when did you start wearing these kind of retro shades? Aren’t they too big for your face?” I said.
“Maybe”, she said, “But they cover my whole face from all the dust and the pollution outside.”
“Might as well get a helmet then?” I said.
She chuckled for a bit. I smiled too. I could tell she hated me for making her smile. She did not want to smile. She was too uptight and proud for a smile in these times.
“Look”, she said and gathered herself. Brought that uncaring, cold, go-fuck yourself, face back on and whispered through her teeth, “I don’t know what is going on with you anymore, and just so you know, we both have been through this before, but in case your slow ass has forgotten it, let me remind you one more time, that you, my dear, are an angry person. You like to shout and nag and then you also like to throw things around. And I am not OKAY with that. You understand?”
“Interesting you brought that up, and I wanted to tell you that I only threw that mug away because it had a hole at the bottom. I saw that. You probably did not. But I did. ” I said.
“And why is that Interesting?” She said.
“What do you mean? It’s just a way of saying it”, I said.
“And how so?”
“It just is.”
I took a long sip of my coffee and made one of those, left over bubbles in the straw sounds. It was a loud sound. She was pissed off. But of course, that sound could piss anyone off, shit, even I was a little pissed off by it. It’s a mental disorder; misophonia they call it, I think.
“And how it just is?” She said. She was losing it. I could tell.
I kept quiet and stared dead in her eyes.
I took one more long drag, waited for a few more seconds and said, “So we have been through this a lot of times huh? And you wanted this to be the last one. Right?” When I called you.
“Yes.” She said and “Your point is?”
“My point?” I said, “My point is, that how come we never talked about what your problem is?
How come we never said, that you, are an unresponsive jerk. You, don’t know, how to communicate? You, think, I shall assume everything on my own, about what you are thinking and what you mean. What am I? A shrink? A fortune teller? Clairvoyant? A fucking Tarrot card reader?
You know I am none of those. Because, I don’t have a crystal ball. I am not wearing a goat head, neither have I charged fees for my sessions thus far. You did not walk in to my room, with a dramatic effect and left my door ajar”, I said.
“There we go again, with your weird ass analogies and anecdotes.” She said. “Can’t you, for once, for the love of god, say one thing, the way you are supposed to say it? God you suck!”
I felt angry. But she had a point. So I kept quiet. She kept quiet. We both were quiet for what seemed like a good solid dog year.
“Look, when I say things loudly, it doesn’t really mean I am angry at you for doing something wrong. It doesn’t mean I am angry at you. Shit, it doesn’t even mean I am angry. It simply means, I have an opinion that I am deeply passionate about and I want you to hear it and maybe agree to it. That’s all. But hey, you can disagree all you want. That will never be a disappointment. But what frustrates me, is when you don’t talk to me. When you just go quiet. When your lips don’t move. When your face suggests me, that you saw a ghost. Maybe in me? Maybe behind me? Fuck, I don’t know. I can never decipher. So please, can we just agree, on one basic thing, that, you will communicate whatever it is that you are feeling. At least to me? You don’t have to blog about it. And I am not asking you to update those “feeling angry, feeling happy” posts on Facebook either, because, let’s be honest, that’s stupid and immature. I am just asking you to talk to me about the way you really feel? All the time. Can you do that? Please? Pretty fucking please?”
And then she closed her eyes.
“Shit it’s working” I thought, did a happy dance in my head. Popped up a cheap champagne, mostly because I was on a budget and also because I don’t like champagne that much.
Her face had turned red and her nose was flickering in a way, that it suggested me, that she was either going to cry or needed a bear hug or an ice-cream or both, plus some unicorns and koala bears and puppies, but, man, could have I been more wrong?
She picked up that black phone of hers and did something on it and soon, as if in a haste, called someone, and the way she sputtered through it in her awful Hindi, harshly and ungratefully, using wrong gender pronouns, I could tell, she was talking to her UBER driver.
As you grow older – and oh boy, are you getting older faster than you thought you would – you realise, birthdays are like the beeping reminders of a ticking time bomb. You have thirty more beeps to go before you explode, or fifty, or five, depending on how you are programmed.
Now, do you want to worry about the bomb the whole time it’s beeping, or do you want to forget that the explosion is inevitable, and therefore, you go ahead and indulge in things that make you happy? Like, I don’t know, perhaps, you go and make yourself a sandwich? Or watch a video on YouTube where people are tripping on hoverboards, or read a book about the Nagas or the secret or the secret of the Nagas, or get a tattoo, or have sex on your leather couch. Although, if you ask me, you wouldn’t enjoy having sex, if there is a ticking time bomb involved. But on the other hand – the hand, that you aren’t using for sex – it would be totally wild if you enjoyed it, despite being aware of the bomb in the back of your head. The bomb, that somehow feels like it’s strapped to your chest – there is no escaping from it and you’re a breathing kamikaze.
And so what, if some of them continuously but subtly remind you, that you have lesser amount of beeps left than they do, and yet, you are spending it all on unimportant things; like finding happiness and peace and being as yourself as you can be. And not on more important things; like worrying and being an opportunist and reproducing, and all that. But all you know, and oh god, in your own very heart you know it’s fucking true, that you’ve not only survived through all the beeps so far but also enjoyed their sounds and learned from them, shit, you even danced to a few.
But the only problem, as it appears to you, is that somehow the beeps have now sped up. Every beep, seems like it arrived before its time, and yes, you, of course, weren’t ready for this one, and this one, and the one that is about to come, and the one that is here, and the one that will be forgotten soon.
So what do you do? Give it an old college try? A few desperate attempts in vain, to cease the moment? Because the bomb isn’t going to diffuse itself. Is it? But ah, then it all dawns on your thick skull, that there aren’t any plausible diffusing mechanisms known yet.
So then whatever, this whole fuckery and the creators of it can suck on a giant donkey hog, and that’s about how much you care!
You obviously can’t step out of the blast radius – because it’s that big – and it’s also a no-brainer, that you try very very hard to give a fuck, and hello …? That’s the best you could do. So you chin-up, make yourself one more sandwich, read one more book, have sex one more time, and do not bother, or cry, or worry, or reproduce. But that is because reproducing to you, sounds a lot like sex went horribly wrong.
Meanwhile, the bomb has beeped a couple of more times, and one beep dissimilar to many other beeps from the past, sounds a lot like an epiphany of some sort, but duh, just a temporary one. You already know, it is going to explode some day, but you still turn a corner, and someone close to you comes over and whispers in your ears, wow good one, things are looking better, aren’t they? Keep them up! And you say, thank you very much, and yet, somehow, by the next beep or the one after that, you fuck it all up, and congratulations, you’re back to square one.
But never mind, this all shall, and must, balance itself out, because, after all, it did pop-up on its own. Didn’t it? You did not plant the bomb, they did not put a snooze button on it, and oh yes, you know intuitively, acting a fool has perks involved in some good way, so go ahead and forget the beeps, put rave in crave, and the blessings shall be bestowed upon thee.