Mirage & Madness - A Story
A few birds sat on the bare branch of the lone tree I could see from across my table at the café. It was a quiet little one, with small tables and cheap coffee. Living on a student’s allowance it was the only thing I could afford. An old jazz song played on. I sipped my coffee and turned the pages of a book I’ve been reading, Kafka on the Shore. Murakami always gets on my head, I thought. Exhausted by the conversation between a man & a cat, I closed the book and looked around searching for familiar faces. Much to my grief there was only an old man sitting in the farthest seat. He sipped on a concoction of some sort, his eyes telling savoring the taste of liquid but screaming the horrors of old age. Soon it’d be dark and students from the university would swarm here, sharing tales of their bravado, heartbreaks, and inexplicable experiences. I was getting desperate to leave. Socializing was never my forte. People were depressing, and the happy people were the worst among them. They told you tales of their bliss as all in life was roses, wine, and poetry. Haven’t those souls known grief? Haven’t they been beaten by life? Their words were rosy, their stories exciting, but their eyes searched for some peace, some love, and someone to actually make them feel alive? They breathed the same air as others, but they were long dead. A tall little ghost entered the café, solving mysteries of the universe on his smartphone, and it was cue for me to leave.
I walked across the street towards my humble accommodation. An old lady had been generous enough to let me live there. Her husband died in the war and her daughter was married to a stock trader and resided in another part of the city. The only rent I paid was in the form of listening to stories of her youth when she once travelled around the world. She was sweet, didn’t intrude in my life affairs, listened to the radio all day long and smoked cheap cigarettes once the moon came out.
I passed by an old bookstore in an alley. It was a dingy one and was once frequented students before the age of e-commerce came. I remembered my first year in this city. When I came as an uninitiated 20 year old to study law at the university. Searching for accommodation I had entered the same bookstore to enquire whether they knew any rooms or dorms. The owner was 40 year old woman who hadn’t had the time or interest to occupy herself with such boring things as books. The store was managed by an old uncle who had curly hairs and spoke with eloquence of a baron. He not only gave me a few leads but also treated me to a pastry. I then browsed through the books and brought a new book by John Grisham. He smiled at me and asked me to come again.
It was a busy month. I had been writing poetry and stories for a magazine. Some money had flowed in recently so I could afford to indulge myself in such noble adventures. I entered the bookstore and the familiar smell of books and wood filled by nostrils. It was the best fragrance in the world. ‘Shanti Da’ as he was addressed by everyone sat in a little corner writing something on a paper. He saw me enter and smiled at me. I returned the affection and began with what was my favorite activity. I picked up a Rumi, a Seth, and a Roy. I browsed the pages even though I had read them earlier. I returned those books to their places and picked up a poetry collection by ‘Walt Whitman’. I had heard of the poet but never had enough luck or time to read him. A shadow fell on the floor and I looked back. A girl stood there browsing through an ‘Agatha Christie’ book. Her face was hidden by the book. Just as I was about to turn my attention towards the affairs in my hand lowered her hands and her face came into my view. She was beautiful. She was beautiful in a poetic way. Her eyes were black and deep, as if trying to hide the intensity of emotions inside her. Her hair was let down and she had a hint of gloss on her lips. Just as I was surmising to myself the aspects of her beauty she stared dead at me and said, ‘excuse me’. I came back from the trance and found myself staring at her for more than what would have been a decent time. I quickly murmured a low sorry and rushed out of the bookstore. I’m sure she wouldn’t have even heard my apology.
My feet had developed a mind of its own and before I knew I was standing in front of my door. Only when I entered the room and found myself in a familiar setting I realized that I had forgot to buy myself dinner and also had left my bag at the bookstore. Empty stomach I lay on the bed and put on a Qawalli by ‘Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.’ The godly voice filled the room and my heart. I lay there on the bed for quite a few hours, turning sideways, fiddling with the lamp, and staring dead at the fan. No sleep came to me, no thoughts came. I willed myself up from the bed and walked upstairs to the terrace. A fine breeze blew and a few stray dogs barked in the neighborhood. I looked up at the sky and saw the few stars that covered the carpet of dreams. All that time her voice echoed in my ears. I came back to my room. Only did this time I fall asleep, void of all thoughts, void of all ruse. But noting was void. Neither my thoughts, nor this room. My thoughts were filled with her, and this room of all the emptiness that my existence was. Finally when nothing could help me, I cried myself to sleep.