"Door of Consiousness" by Andrey Bobir.
© Please do not reproduce without artist's permission.
THE OTHER ROOM
by Tanuj Solanki
The year was 2012, and the month, December. Those were the days when I began to realize that my poems had no ability to suggest what is beyond language, that my poems were imprisoned in their words and in their planar feelings—that they just couldn’t and wouldn’t do what poetry was really supposed to, whatever that is. Bombay’s heat and humidity offered some respite, and the smells inside the local train were less loaded with the sourness of sweat.
My total output at that time had been twenty-one poems, only four of which had ever been published, all in the same literary magazine. T had been a regular fiction contributor to this magazine. He never submitted poetry. I had read all his stories there, and he was a figure of interest to me for his stories suggested that he was young and struggling with youth, which was a problem I believed I shared.
That November, a poem of mine was published in a print issue that also carried one of T’s stories. I remember particularly liking this story of his; I think it was called The Bombay of Life. It explored love and literature, and how a writer’s life could be a vacillation between the two. It had a sense of vulnerability quite opposed to the sickly assuredness that seems to assail big writers.
Surprisingly for me, T knew me as a poet, which is something I learned when he accepted my Facebook friend request and chatted with me. We both thought of a meeting as a good idea. The place decided upon was Janata Bar in Bandra, which I found comforting since it was inexpensive: something I knew from having frequented it with my university friends. The location also worked for T as he lived only a hundred or so meters away.
I remember that when I was in the long train ride that evening—toward Bandra station, diddling through a book of poetry that I had recently stolen from a friend—I was thinking about the postures and mannerisms that could suit the evening. Houses and other structures fled past the train’s windows, and so did the silhouettes of ragpickers. There were some in the woman’s compartment who strained their necks outside the open carriage doors, letting the wind play with their hair.
I confess that for this first meeting of ours, I’d perceived and shaped T’s online persona to fit whatever criteria I was looking for in a mate at that time, and I presume he had done the same to me. I’d a notion, though, that I shouldn’t sleep with him that night. I’d been doing a lot of random fucking in those days.
Janata Bar is a place for common janata: the public. The tables are non-exclusive, which is to say, you share your table and therefore the chances of meeting new people are high.
It’s not true that the clientele in Janata is so eclectic as to be unclassifiable. Basically, the young and/or “young-at-heart” come to Janata. I remember I overheard a conversation once between three guys well into their fifties. I don’t want to marry her, I just want to fuck her, one of them said aloud. The others goaded him on. So yes, that’s the kind of “young-at-heart” people who come to Janata. The rest are in their twenties, mostly copy-editors or advertisers or guys and girls doing design work in Bandra’s tiny creative agencies—guys and girls who think of themselves as cool, but don’t really have the money to go to better, more expensive places. Only the MBA guys get to go to the better places.
A Literary Conversation
T was an MBA guy, and as he stepped into Janata, dressed formally after work, lugging a laptop bag to his left side, I had a moment when I thought this could be a mistake. He might not belong here as much as I did. We shook hands. He ordered a quarter of Royal Stag whisky. His brand of whisky reassured me.
You’re quite a writer, I said.
T reached, took the poetry book from my hand, flipped over a few pages, and then returned it without reading anything.
I asked him what he was reading these days.
Saadat Hasan Manto, he said.
I don’t know who this is, I said.
T smiled at that, and I feared I’d conclusively revealed how dumb I really am with this whole business of literature. It is one thing to write poems, and quite another to know the writers other people expect you to know (and you know you should).
He was Indian slash Pakistani, T said.
What did he write about? I asked.
India, Pakistan, the partition, the film industry, the world as it was in those times, he said. I said it was a bit weird that T was reading him for T’s own fiction was very contemporary and very apolitical.
I just like the writing, T replied with a flourish of his hands. And Manto’s spontaneity. Sometimes I feel he creates the illusion, T went on, that Manto creates the illusion that he is not concerned with the demands of the narrative, that he is just rambling, that he is just recording events and conversations. But you can’t miss the sense of doom in every sentence of his. In any case, the afsana always reaches a precipice from which everything is hurled. And down it all comes—all crash and burn—sometimes in a single sentence.
This guy is a reader, I told myself. And the word afsana!
Do you read a lot? I asked him.
I don’t know, wish I could read a little less and write a little more, he said.
I nodded, as if I knew a lot about what he was saying.
You must have a big library, I said.
Never big enough, he said.
We talked about some other things then. Slowly the whisky diminished and another quarter was ordered. We got tipsy. We hushed a joke about the two men we were sharing our table with. We joked about the pictures that hung on the walls, especially the one above the cash counter: a naked Jain guru making a gesture akin to catching a basketball for some reason, something that I’d always found funny here at Janata. T never really laughed. The maximum he offered was a smile.
Our talk returned to literature. I told him that I had another book in my bag: Beasts by Joyce Carol Oates (borrowed from Martha, who works at the same academic publishing company that I do). I took it out and gave it to him. On the cover, there was a sideways picture of a young woman whose face was outside the frame, lying turned on a bed, her legs bent. I told him that a lot of what Beasts had to say came from D.H. Lawrence’s poetry, which was quoted in many places inside the book. He said he hadn’t read either of them, and returned the book. I told him that Lawrence’s best poetry was about ripe peaches, passions on the brink, passions served, the ethic of serving passions, the natural feel of all that is erotic and the erotic feel of all that is natural.
T looked at me with a somewhat strange expression, lips apart, eyebrows slightly raised, as if he was surprised by what I had said. I didn’t know how to respond to this expression. Then, out of a sudden impulse, I said, Can we see your library? Of course, he answered, and we were off from Janata Bar in five minutes.
T was not only the MBA guy: he was the rich MBA guy. A flat as spacious as his in Bandra, while being only thrice the size of my shithole in Malad, probably cost him six times as much. The door opened facing a kitchen and a bedroom, which was a bit awkward, but the glowing white of its walls, the creamy sparkle of its tiles, and its generally minimalistic look made one forget those things. On the immediate right, there was a door, which T promptly shut. I asked him if he shared the flat with someone. I like having two rooms, he said.
Past the entrance to the room which T had shut, there was the large living room, also on the right side. He took me there and we sat on different sofas, both waiting for the first words to be uttered in this new Janata-less zone. There was a table in one corner of the room, its glass top naked and cracked.
If he had said the right words then, I would’ve fallen. But he didn’t look like he wanted to say anything, or he looked like he was deliberating what to say with the assumption that he had all the time in the world.
Can I see your library? I asked, remembering that is what I came here for.
T looked about for a few seconds. No, he said then. Because my library is in a room I can’t let you in.
Why? I asked.
I just can’t, he said. I’m sorry, I forgot at Janata, I should’ve told you there, he added.
What the fuck? I thought. Well, I can deal with a very dirty room, you know, I said. I’ve seen guys’ rooms.
No no, it’s not that, it’s just, it’s…I can’t, he said. Look, he added, I would love to show you my library but it’s just in the wrong room, if you know what I mean. And I’m sorry, I should not have brought you here. But I forgot. I really forgot. It’s so shameful that I forgot. I should not have forgotten. I’m sorry.
I understood the situation. T had probably bragged that he had a library. I had believed that he had stacks of books in a cupboard or in a rack. He didn’t. Perhaps he only had a couple of books that he borrowed or stole from friends. Perhaps he was not the reader I’d thought he was.
A Nervous Exchange
And then T moved the conversation. Have you read Beasts ? Can I borrow Beasts from you? he said.
Yes, why not? I said.
In return I’ll give you another book, T said. A book by Yasunari Kawabata. Have you heard the name?
A Japanese writer, very subtle, too subtle, T said. He said that word subtle too softly, too deliberately, as if there was some other bigger subtlety behind it.
I would like to read him, yes, I said.
T rose from his sofa and went to the other room—the room that he had shut when we entered the flat, the room that was supposed to house a phantom library. He returned with a book titled The Sound of the Mountain. The cover was quite battered, it was beautiful: an old man staring at a distant peak. It was not a big book, only around two hundred pages.
Looking at the book, I thought maybe T did have a library inside that room, and that maybe he had a neurotic reason for barring entry. Maybe there was someone in that room right now, some drugged girl that he had met just before me and raped multiple times, or a corpse that he had forgotten about and remembered just in time; a corpse tangled in a way only death can achieve. Maybe the room was strewn with syringes that he had been using to serve his addictions, or maybe there were ghosts, soporific ghosts who would awaken if they sensed a foreign presence. My thoughts were scaring me, but perversely, I also liked the morbidity in them, for they made me feel I was still myself, even after so much whisky.
I'm paranoid at times, but I’ve learned to be reasonably comfortable with it.
T opened a bottle of expensive whisky. We must have talked about something then, but I don’t remember what, for many things had somehow become less important for me. Somehow a good part of my interest was fixated on the mystery of the other room. Not that I was bored otherwise. I was, in fact, having a good time—with the AC running at just the right temperature and good whisky flowing—and as far as I was concerned, there had been nothing wrong apart from that little glitch.
Perhaps we passed an hour like this, perhaps two, though it is sure that we were getting drunker by the minute. And then my attention converged again. This is when T asked me, without warning, without context, if I would like to have him read a chapter of his novel. No doubt I would, I slurred. It is still a novel in progress, he gave me the disclaimer. I don’t care, I said. And I really didn’t.
T went inside the haunted room again and emerged with a sheaf of papers. He then placed himself on the same wide sofa that I was seated on. The distance between us was less than two feet.
T started reading. The chapter was about a man, quite like him, taking a train from Bandra to Church Gate for work. Stations passed, and the third-person narrator spoke of the many quotidian details of taking a morning train—the rush, the smell of sweat, the noise, the newspapers, the students, the beggars, the hijras.
It was boring to begin with, but I allowed T to read on. T read on as the young man reached Church Gate and established a metaphor about life itself, a metaphor that had something to do with leaving a manageable system (the train compartment) and entering the larger chaos of the world (the station) every day. It was a metaphor that I wasn’t sure I got the total significance of. T read on as the young man reached his office and logged into his computer, and as the young man felt, for the nth time, how boring and how meaningless every workday was, and as the narrator took us through the young man’s daily routine of using nicotine, caffeine, and furtive reading-and-writing as ways to pass his ten hours at work. The initial boredom of T’s text slowly acquired the quality of genuine horror. I thought this was symptomatic of my drunken state, but then I understood it as an organic effect created by the text itself, though I couldn’t pinpoint how.
T read on as a fear began to settle in my heart and I moved closer to him, almost touching him. The young man left the office and walked through traffic to go to a nearby restaurant to have food, the same food in the same restaurant, every day. The young man went to a bookstore after his dinner and walked through the large racks where silly bestsellers stood menacingly. The young man grew disillusioned with literature’s standing in India all over again, and then walked backed to Church Gate station to take the train back to Bandra, where the young man dithered about taking the train—as if there was something else that he could do at the station. T read on as the young man watched the train start and move away from him and pick up speed, and as the young man then began to follow the train, running after it, and as he jumped to get inside—making it clear that the man had let the whole thing happen to him deliberately, to enable an accident, like a foot slipping on the edge of the compartment door; an accident that would only be partly his making.
The young man sat in a near-empty compartment and perceived, in the dangling handles overhead, the absence of souls in this city. The stations passed again in the reverse order, and as a vague memory took hold of the young man, he took out a pen and paper from his pocket and wrote down a poem—and then T read that poem and I clutched my heart and I held T’s shirt because the poem was the most beautiful poem I’d come across in my life, and it was a small poem, and it was a beautiful poem, so very beautiful that T choked on its last words and all the whisky drained out of my head. That was the end of the chapter, and I whispered to T to read the poem again, and this time he read it a little less intimately, a little less personally, and although I’d then memorized the words of that poem, I cannot today bring them on.
Of course there was silence after that, a silence on the edge of a howl. Perhaps it is my imagination now that tells me that T was shaking. Perhaps he really was. Could I hear his heartbeat? Very possible, for I was almost cuddling to him now, cuddling out of trepidation or something else. Anything could have happened. Something should have happened. I wanted it to happen. More whisky? T said. I said yes, and T fixed me another glass. I’m sleepy, I said. Finish this last drink and then you can sleep, he said. No, let’s sleep, I said. Ok, he said.
He took me to the room that was not hidden, and he switched on the AC there and gave me a sheet to cover myself with. Sleep, he said. I was surprised. I was surprised he hadn’t gotten any clue regarding what should be the natural course of such a night, and I realized this was the kind of man you had to hand-hold right till the brink. So I said, Won’t you sleep with me? It’s Ok, I’ll sleep in the other room, he said.
A Boring Dream, and the Morning After
I was disappointed, but I don’t think it took me long to fall asleep. I’d a dream in which I saw a room with towers of books and papers, and ghosts of writers billowing about in a post-mortal confusion. I saw a man sleeping naked on the floor of this room; a man sleeping in a fetal position, with his thumb in his mouth. I knew this man was T and I wanted to make sure, but my dream wouldn’t allow me a close-up, and perhaps this non-discovery was for my own benefit, for I did not really, deep inside, want to know if this man was T, for that surety would have then converted—somehow, I don’t know how—this dream into a nightmare. Nevertheless, the dream went on without a direction. It was a dream stuck in a room where nothing interesting happened, where the main character just slept. To say the truth, it was a boring dream. A boring dream that recurred all night.
I woke up early, close to four. It was still dark outside and I was dehydrated. I went to the kitchen and opened the fridge to drink some water. There was nothing in T’s fridge except water and whisky and wine. I got curious and opened the cabinets above the stove—there was nothing there either. I wondered if the house had always been like this, or if T was in the process of leaving it.
I decided I would go into T’s room then, but as I pushed the door I found that he must have locked it from inside. I felt a terrible nothingness, a nothingness given me by the emptiness of T’s apartment perhaps, and I left the flat in the next five minutes.
I took an auto to take me to Malad. The driver glided over the road, and I mused that my life was a like a road being swallowed by a vehicle moving ahead with insufficient headlights. The sky was womb-dark.
Over the next few days, I thought of T many times, and I sometimes thought of the secrets that he hid in the other room. I tried to make sense of what had really happened in our first meeting, or whether anything had happened at all. I carried his Kawabata with me everywhere, though I never quite read it. I met a rich friend who had recently turned into a Communist: a believer in the possibility of a leftist social transformation, as he called it. This guy drove me from work to his cramped flat in Worli and showed me Youtube videos of a rabid leftist philosopher. He waited for me to be impressed, which I wasn’t. We eventually ended up sleeping together and he turned out to be more than half-decent in bed.
During this time, I chatted online a couple of times with T, nothing more substantial than the usual Hi and Hello. I didn’t know if we should meet again, or if it was I who should be the one asking for it. Then one Friday, T wrote to me: I’m alone. Do you mind meeting me?
The second meeting also took place in the Janata Bar, two weeks after the first. The first thing T did was to return the Joyce Carol Oates book that I’d given him and demand his Yasunari Kawabata back. Though his book was in my bag, I told him that I’d not finished it and needed more time. The truth was, I’d only hardly begun it. I read only the first twenty or so pages, and I read those with a scattered attention.
He said he wanted the book back, whether I’d read it or not. He said it was unbelievable that I’d not been able to read the book in two weeks. And by the way, he said, this book you gave me, this Beasts, is trash. The bisexuality of the main girl is unreal, it is just a contrivance for the sordid tale the writer wants to create. The writer has nothing to say.
T had clearly taken offense at me not reading the book. But what about me? I didn’t know then what to think of as more offensive—the fact that he found Beasts trash and said so, or the fact that he wanted The Sound of the Mountain back so expressly.
I let things go, I didn’t take offense, and I gave him his book back. But if I’d somewhat hoped that his rudeness was a joke that would now be concluded, that notion was quickly quashed, because he put the Kawabata firmly under his elbow, almost symbolically, and waved to the waiters to place our order.
We ordered rum and cola. His anger trailed off slowly. He looked good. He was not in formals today, which meant that he’d had the time to go home and change. He was in a loose T-shirt and bermudas. I think I was wearing a grey tank top and blue jeans, or maybe I was wearing a salwaar kameez.
Soon our moods lightened and we shared the same jokes that we had shared in our previous meeting, which according to me, is a symbol of deepening friendship. T didn’t really laugh, just smiled.
When we finished a quarter of rum, he stopped me from ordering a repeat and said, Let me take you somewhere else today. Where? I asked. Somewhere close, to a friend’s place, he said. We can walk there.
We went to a building not very far from Janata Bar, and very close to T’s flat. We climbed the four floors we needed to, and rang the bell to an apartment whose heavy door could not quite hide the hilarity that came from behind it. The door was opened by a guy with bloodshot eyes who smiled a drooly, otiose smile—and who took great pains to introduce himself, but whose name I cannot now place conclusively between Sridhar or Sriram.
Inside the living room, there were ten or so people and perhaps half of them were girls. The flat was as spacious as T’s. All the girls were prettier than me. In fact, all of them were almost grotesquely pretty, with lipstick and all. It took me a while to adjust.
The room was inordinately hot for some reason, and it felt as if we were inside a warm beer bottle, tipsily coagulating. The ceiling fan seemed to be complaining about the number of people it had to serve. There was a couch facing a TV that hung on the opposite wall, and two people from the group would sit on this couch and play a video game looking at the TV, while the rest would strum a guitar or talk or drink or pass a joint. T and I took a drag each, and then T decided that the stuff was too strong. I liked him for doing that, for deciding for me.
The atmosphere in that living room was like a sluggish carnival, and just like in a carnival, it wasn’t certain that everyone knew everyone else. T knew all the guys present, and sometimes they’d call each other with nicknames; the girls, however, were almost summarily unknown. Just who had invited them remained unclear. They had names like Preity and Sonu and Shazia, which—compared to the guy’s real names of Sriram/Shridhar, Akshay, Amresh—seemed incongruous.
They (the girls) were drinking, smoking, and one of them whiningly snatched the guitar from a guy who I thought was playing Don Mclean’s American Pie really well; but no one seemed to really know them. No one knew me either, and with this thought I settled back into my chair and looked at the toil of the ceiling fan. Perhaps the drag hit me now, for I thought that all the women here were whores. Was I a whore? I looked at T, and he was smiling with this wrinkle-producing smile of his, that I’ve only now realized I’d classified as wrinkle-producing.
Suddenly, it was our turn to sit on the couch. T put a controller in my hand and explained to me the maneuvers of the game we were to play. It was called FIFA and it was about simulating football. He told me what I would need to do to score. I told him that I’d never played a video game in my life, so it would be a waste of time. At this, the other participants of the room, the men, got excited and told me that all of them had one fine day played the game for the first time and gradually become better at it, and the same would be true for me.
The first thing to do was to choose a team to play with. A guy stepped in and gave us the idea that Spain—the football team Spain—was the strongest configured team in FIFA and that, because I was weak, I should play with Spain. Another guy came in and suggested that T should play with India, for India is a weak team, and India is India, and T is a strong player. It happened so: I took Spain and T took India, and the game began. Some of the guys laughed, though I didn’t get the joke.
I looked at the screen and its chaos: miniature electronic illusions flitting like flies, and I couldn’t make out what was happening or which buttons I needed to press. I pressed all the buttons that I could at all the times, and I’m not sure if anything happened. T asked me to calm down. Every now and then, he would say Wow or Shit, and I wouldn’t understand what it was supposed to mean. And then he scored against me. India went up 1:0 against Spain. Then he scored again, and then once more. Each time he would score, he would exult for a microsecond and then give that crow-feet smile of his, a smile that he probably thought he generated only for himself, though I was always noticing. The other guys would laugh and do high-fives—apparently everyone found India scoring against Spain comic, and I had mixed feelings about how they were reacting.
Soon it was half time, and players from my side looked to the turf and walked back into the pavilion dejectedly, their faces showing an electronic emotion they shared with me to a lesser degree. The computer commentator said something horrible about Spain’s performance. A joint was being passed around, and unthinkingly, I took another drag. T looked at me but said nothing. Instead, he poured himself a shot of whisky from a nearby bottle and took a large gulp.
The next half began, and for some reason, I resolved to perform better. I narrowed my eyes and made sense of the colorful figures trotting about on the screen. I figured where the ball was. I pressed the buttons one-by-one and figured what they did. T kept saying Wow and Shit intermittently, just like the first half. I played as if the entire reason of my existence was to keep the ball and to pass it to someone who was Spain. The guys around were not laughing as much now, or if they were, it was about something else and not the game.
I passed the ball around and T’s players kept chasing the ball for a few minutes. This routine was turning into banality, when, all of a sudden, something extraordinary happened—one of my players closed in on the goal and actually put the ball into it, and the net swerved back in a cathartically exaggerated fashion. I don’t know what got into me just then, because I jumped from the couch and hopped up and down and kept shrieking Wow, Wow, Wow, while T looked at me and gave me a wrinkly smile and topped another shot of the whisky. All the guys and girls around looked at me with wide eyes.
Slowly, I settled back into the couch, but my heart was still beating wildly as I had the notion that I had achieved something big, something that would at once announce my arrival as a potent person into this milieu, or perhaps even into the world. But as soon as I thought about it again, it made me sad with an amount of sadness that is tough to describe—a tyrannical sadness. I came on the verge of tears, as if my whole life till then had been a random walk into nothing, as if this was all there was left for me to achieve: a stupid outcome in a stupid simulation. I put the controller down and pulled T to myself and said, Let’s go.
The Setting for a Disclaimer
We left the place hurriedly and walked toward T’s apartment. While climbing the stairs, I asked him if he had taken me to that place to play some game with me. He couldn’t answer for a while, and his silence told me that he was thinking about the question, which meant that the question was somehow important for him even though I don’t think I meant it that way. He spoke while turning the key to his apartment. He said he took me there because he didn’t want to bring me here.
Inside his apartment, the other room’s door was open, but before I could peer in, he shut it. We settled in the living room and he got together two glasses of wine. I asked him why he didn’t want to bring me to his place. He said that if he had brought me to his place, which he had done now, he would have had to ask me if I had liked the chapter that he had read to me the last time. That is something, he said, I’m not asking right now in a very self-conscious way.
I guess I was relieved. I told him that I’d loved that chapter. Didn’t you see how speechless I was after it? I said. But that was it, I didn’t say any more, though I knew that there was something else to be said. There is always something more to say after someone exposes their writing to you. The n + 1th comment has weight, I thought. But I remained silent. In fact, I was scared to say something stupid. And although I could see in his face some discomfort, T didn’t ask me to talk any further. There was some silence, during which I tried to act as if I was not drinking the first glass of red wine I’d ever had in my life. At that point, I decided that I needed to fuck him tonight no matter what.
I’ve never seen anyone score in their first game, T said. Maybe that was because you were playing with Spain and I was playing with India.
Maybe, I said. I think it was obvious that I didn’t like wine. Wine is not an Indian drink.
Do you want me to read you another chapter? T asked.
I would love you to, but tonight I’ve something else on my mind, I said.
What? he asked.
Your novel is going to be great, I said.
Really? he asked.
Yes, it is going to be great, I said. And we will have enough time to read all your chapters.
So what is on your mind tonight? he asked.
Fucking you, I said.
Hearing this, T coughed loud and disbelievingly. He coughed so much that I thought the wine from his glass would spill and make a bloody wound on the tiles. He coughed and coughed, as if there were some risk in his life stopping. And it was somewhere during this coughing that we ended up coming close to each other. We kissed. I felt electric, and our hands soon went into search-mode. He fondled all that could be fondled on and in me, and maybe I did the same. Then he lifted me up and took me to the bedroom, the bedroom right in front of the entrance, the bedroom that was not the haunted room. We were going to begin at last, I thought.
Then suddenly I remembered. I might be a bit dirty, I gave the disclaimer.
What do you mean? he asked.
I mean I had the last day of my period yesterday, I said.
I don’t care, I’ve condoms, he said.
Yeah? I asked.
Yes, I’m sure, Europeans do it all the time like this, he said.
I found it weird that he would justify it like that, by using what Europeans did.
And then suddenly something changed, as if we had teleported to another planet, a planet where I was closer to my real wants.
What is in the other room? I asked.
What is in the other room? I repeated.
Why do you ask me this? he said.
I want us to do it in the other room, I said.
Why? he said.
The moment in jeopardy: I was thwarting him, and if I did that anymore, or if I said one more thing about the other room, what could happen wouldn’t happen. But I couldn’t stop.
I want to do it in the other room, I said.
But why? Why are you so insistent on that room? he said.
I don’t know, I said, why are you so secretive about it?
I’m not secretive about it, it’s just privacy, he replied.
And is what we are going to do a public thing? I asked.
Pff, he exhaled.
Pff, I exhaled in mimicry.
I don’t understand, he said.
I don’t understand either, I said. What do you have in that room? A graveyard?
He didn’t answer. I tried to kiss him again. He let me, but it was not like the ones before. Please, I said. I still didn’t know why I was insisting. Please, he answered, circumflexing his eyebrows.
Then we stopped. We stopped and suddenly there was an eternity between us. Or a truth hung in an aleatory set-up. An unsurpassable truth, unknowable and invisible, but very present. I realized that it was the planet of this truth that I had taken us to. I straightened my clothes, hating myself. T didn’t move an inch. He was looking down to the floor, staring into a void that had nothing to do with the floor. Was there a tear in his eye? I couldn’t say. I gathered my belongings and made to leave. I stumbled upon something. I was too drunk.
You can sleep here, T said.
No, I shouted, and then I lost my footing and fell.
I don’t know what happened or did not happen immediately after that. When I woke up, I found myself on the bed alone, a sheet draped over me. Some hours had passed; perhaps it was again four in the morning. Eternal fucking recurrence, I thought.
I was dehydrated and went to the kitchen and drank some water, and then I pushed the door to the other room. It was not locked! I went inside. T was sleeping on a large bed, opposite which there was a huge shelf with loads of books. Lots of classic fiction, contemporary literary fiction, and some poetry too. Big fat dictionaries. English, Hindi, French. A lot of stuff in Hindi. Beside the shelf, there was a large wall-hanging with grooves for photos. Dozens of photos. Photos of a beautiful woman, a white woman, photos of T with this woman, this woman who was definitely his lover. T and this woman on the top of a mountain, T and this woman in a desert, T and this woman beside pine trees, T and this woman on a bed, almost naked…
I looked around the room. It looked like a room that had been set by a woman and upset by a man. I opened the two cupboards. One had T’s crumpled clothes, all a sorry mess. The other cupboard was clean and empty. I sensed that it had been recently vacated. I thought of the word European. I thought of the word graveyard. His woman had left him, it was clear. Just then, T changed his posture, breathing heavily as if in a sad dream.
I got nervous and left the room and then the house and came downstairs. I took an auto to take me home. The road was once again swallowed by the auto. But this time, there was a break of light in the sky—this time there were grey clouds in the sky, so this time everything was not black, but grey.
I thought that the auto was going straight to heaven—that I was dead and the auto was going straight to heaven—and suddenly, emerging from a strange place that had somehow been accessed, a poem formed inside me, and when I reached home, I wrote the poem down on my computer, and I realized that this would be a poem so dear to me that I’ll never show it to anyone else. Then I broke all that could connect me to T online, forever.
I read my poem to myself, again and again, till I fell asleep. In that light sleep, I dreamt of a FIFA match, of two electronic teams playing against each other. One of the teams was stationary. Perhaps that team was not interested, or perhaps it was only a collection of shadows. Meanwhile, the other team was performing all its movements again and again. It was difficult to say if it was I who was controlling either team, and it was difficult to say if there was any winning and losing.
I hope T has left that flat of his.
Tanuj Solanki lives and works in Bombay, India. His fiction has been published in national publications in India, like the newspaper DNA and the monthly The Caravan. Work has also been published in online litmags like Atticus Review, Burrow Press Review, elimae, and many others. He was nominated for the Pushcart Prize 2014, was a runner up in the DNA-Out of Print short story contest 2014, and had work featured in wigleaf magazine's best of 2012 list.