A life well-lived

Story vaguely prompted by: https://thefuzzyinbetween.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/dsc_0163.jpg

When the old lady looked back on her life, things didn’t seem so bad. It seemed a life well-lived.

She had enjoyed her school-years, though not necessarily her school; worked for a while and lived alone; fallen in love; studied society and given it up to study nature which had at first seemed more predictable but had then betrayed her with it’s uncertainties.

She had married the man she was expected to and had never regretted it but always nursed a secret curiosity about life with the one she had fallen in love with. She had had a child, refused to leave her job to care for it, and had had another.

She had buried her headstrong daughter after a freak accident claimed her life in adolescence, and had proceeded to protect her son till he resented her for it. She had lived with her son and his family long after her husband had died and watched her granddaughters grow up. She had managed to maintain a relationship of minimal friction with her daughter-in-law.

She had believed fervently in the God of her religion, lost faith and then later, had unexpectedly stumbled upon it still within her.

She had been a revolutionary in her own little way, though not many would remember her rebellion and had eventually become a fractious part of the establishment as was expected of her. She still treasured the memory of her rebellion, and every time she held it up to the light of her own experience, she was reassured by the rightness of it in her world-view.

She had experimented with the fashions of her age, rejected some and adopted others as her own. She had enjoyed alcohol and flirted with marijuana but had not taken to either very strongly. She had dressed in severe minimalist black and then in explosions of colour and eventually had ceased to think so hard about her clothing. Her hair had grown to great lengths, been shaved off, coloured outrageous colours and had now slowly turned white.

She had acted in plays, written poetry, painted canvases and had refused to ‘judge’ the work of others because she did not believe that art could be judged until she was no longer taken seriously in those circles, though she continued to paint and write sporadically.

She had loved passionately and without reason and it had never faded though the object of her love had ceased to reciprocate. She had loved very differently along channels of respectability, and this love was not hampered by the other, nor was it in any way less.

She had risked her reputation on an idea that quickly went out of fashion and had carefully built it up again according to the rules of the world, though she never lost faith in her idea.

She had had her spells of being unreasonable, and had contributed her share of scandal to the world though both were quickly forgotten against the respectability of the life she had lived.

She had carved a life out in a world that was at times hostile to her, and then had become such a part of it that she had to guard against being hostile to those younger or more invested and intractable in their idealism than her.

It had been a full life. She had lived vigorously all the roles available to her at the time. Dutiful daughter; rebellious student; hard worker; loyal friend; passionate lover; daring daughter-in-law; loving wife; responsible, grief-striken and finally possessive mother; interesting colleague; doting and then forgotten grandmother… she had lived them all to the hilt.

And now, her days had fallen into a rhythm of basic needs. Food, sleep, exercise and the occasional conversation with a dwindling number of contemporaries. The conversations sometimes dwelt on the eventuality and inevitability of death though more often they distracted themselves from it with reminiscence, faint sorrow and laughter.

From time to time when they visited, she would remind her granddaughters that she too had been young once, and they would respond with wide-eyed interest, respect, mild amusement or embarrassment varying with their age and mood at the time of the conversation.

The old lady smiled vaguely as she tried to collect her increasingly scattered thoughts. Her pale veined hands shook slightly as she ran the wide-toothed comb through her white hair. She glanced again at the mirror on the colourful wall opposite, which her artist granddaughter had finger-painted for her, last summer.

She had never really thought of herself as an old lady, even though her hair had grown thin and turned completely white. Was that what made one old, she mused, or was it the smile-wrinkles around the eyes and the frown wrinkles on the forehead? Was it perhaps the slowly increasing folds that hung between one’s neck and one’s chin? Was it the veins that showed blue-green and the gradual fading of colour from the skin? Or was it the tendency to live more and more in one’s head, dwelling on memory and forgetting to see the every-day?

She often thought of her contemporaries as old, but herself… why she did not feel much older than nineteen. Perhaps that was vanity. She was much slower, now; her mind wandered more and she had many aches and pains that one simply did not have at nineteen. Perhaps age had more to do with a state of mind, than of body? She smiled to herself at her wishful thinking and watched her hand shake as she ran the comb slowly through her hair. Why should she wish to be something that she was not? She was eighty-seven, and proud of it.

She tied her scant hair into a bun and crouched down to a squat in the gateway, dressed in her comfortable faded white nightie. Her daughter-in-law often complained that she dressed this way and sat at the gate in a way calculated to embarrass the family. Sometimes her granddaughters agreed with their mother, so she would go back inside, change into newer clothing and bring a chair out. But sometimes she forgot and sat there, gazing down the road.

Perhaps one of her granddaughters would visit today.

When the old lady looked back on her life, things didn’t seem so bad. It seemed a life well-lived.

Limbo

In the ever changing microcosm
Of being neither here nor there, is
The delicious lingering of the dice in hand,
As the Caster stops, mid-sweep
Releasing them into the game of Life,
Where the paths are all untaken, untrod
The stories as yet untold, songs unsung.

There is a vantage point at the fork in the road,
Where the Wanderer pauses, to survey.
And possibilities dance just out of sight.
The rustling of the leaves brings promise,
Of fruits untasted, bogs uncrossed.

Both futures, to the mind’s eye,
Appear vividly unclear,
Sometimes blending into one…
While other avenues glimmer in the twilight
Just beyond perception.

Pause, a moment, Wanderer.
Rush not headlong to the moment of Choice.
Savour the richness of not knowing.
Wonder at the gentle interweaving of realities,
The endless warp and weft of the unknown,
As the hues of possibility blend into the tapestry.
For though knowing brings comfort to the Wanderer,
It brings death to Adventure.
And is not Life itself, an Adventure?

For what is Choice,
But the walling-up of an avenue?
The road not taken is overgrown
And hung with spider webs and Mysteries
The air is thick with the uncertainty of Romance,
Dusty stones to be dwelt on, another day…
And the buzzing insects of the path ne’er trod,
Mesmerise.

For though it grows fainter, the Call of the Other persists,
The primeval wail of the Forgotten.
And poor linear Time,
Can ne’er answer that Call.

Hark then, Wanderer, as the Time of Choice approaches,
Linger a moment longer,
Listen.

For it is in the Call that is ne’er answered,
That the quickening heart of Life itself, beats.

White Chocolate Muse

I’m sorry, I’ve seen you before, but I can’t seem to place you. Who are you?” Her eyes were large and wide, and a slight curious frown furrowed her too-large forehead. Her half-smile wrinkled her left cheek, leaving her right cheek smooth. Her pale fingers were cool white chocolate against his arm, where she’d placed them a moment ago, to stop him as he turned away.

Time stopped. Or rather, he stopped and time rushed on, like a thudding motor-bike, racing past him. The heat of the chai spread through the paper cup he held, burning his insensible fingers.

Who was he?

He didn’t remember having been born… but then, who did? General consensus was that he had been born, at some point. Officially that point was January 16th, 1974. But that had just been to make it easier for him to get admission in a ‘good school’.

Colours had always fascinated him. From before he could remember. The way they changed as the light did. He’d always felt a strange kinship with colours.

He was told he had been born Abdul Akshay Khadar. But that had not gone very well for him… and he did not remember being called by that name, except during his mother’s ‘episodes’. When his father died and his mother returned to her family, his grandfather had insisted on him being renamed Abhishek Krishnan… but sometimes his mother would forget and call him ‘Abdul’, and then burst into uncontrollable tears before having imaginary conversations with his father. At first he hadn’t known what to do, and had run to get his grandfather to help. But after watching his mother be held down and sedated, twice, he started trying to hide these bouts from his grandfather, and keep his mother as quiet as possible.

Shapes were another realm he enjoyed exploring. The way everything he saw could be reduced to a few basic shapes. Sometimes, as he looked around he didn’t see trees or cars or people, but circles, rectangles and triangles. Triangles were his least favourite shape. Too many triangles and he would have to close his eyes to rid himself of his shape-vision and see people, trees and cars again.

As a child, he’d been afraid of butterflies, with their feathery segmented bodies and flaky triangular wings. His grandfather had been angry that such an intelligent boy would have such an irrational fear. He had been locked up in a room with twenty segmented-eyed butterflies and moths that his grandfather had managed to catch. All night he’d heard his mother sob and plead outside, for the key. His grandfather had ignored her.

Music played him, sometimes. He did not know how to use an instrument to make music, but sometimes all he could hear was music. Rhythmic chirping of crickets, the beat of water dripping from a tap,  the thunderous drumbeats of his grandfather’s voice, the sharp blasts of vehicle horns in traffic, the soothing harmony of the wind…

Once, he wrote a poem in class instead of listening to the physics lesson. His teacher had caught him. But instead of punishing him, she’d pushed him to write more. She had even mentioned this talent to his grandfather. His grandfather had beaten him, and had got the school to dismiss the teacher for not doing her ‘duty’. After that he’d never written a poem, till his grandfather died. He kept them in his head.

They grew there, the poems. Some grew stronger, and preyed upon the ones that didn’t. Others withered away of their own accord. Some tried to mediate an uneasy peace. Others grew sly, and hid in the recesses of his mind. Some sucked the music out of his life, leaving him at times breathless, pale and sickly grey. The doctors called this acute asthma. But he knew the truth. Still others absorbed the panorama of the colours he could see, feasted on them and exploded, freeing a riot of colour that seeped haphazardly into yet others. Some entwined themselves together and became one. Others spawned little versions of themselves…

Every report card-day, his grandfather bought him a bar of chocolate for doing well. If he’d scored high in maths and science, he’d get two bars of chocolate- a Dairy Milk and a Milky-Bar. Because his grandfather had thought it such a treat, he didn’t dare tell him that he preferred the Dairy Milk, till he was in Class VIII. His grandfather had been quite hurt that he hadn’t told him before, and after that only bought him Dairy Milks.

His father had been a poet. And his mother had believed in him. She’d run away from home and married him. They’d been happy for the most part. She worked and provided for them, while his father wrote poetry, painted and looked after their infant son.

When his grandfather finally died, his mother had wept uncontrollably. It was far worse than any of her ‘episodes’ he had seen so far. But after that, she began to smile again. And he had started to write poems. She told him that his father had hated butterflies too.

At first he’d been shy. And a few people had laughed good naturedly at his uncertain poems. Later, they would boast of having known him from the start.

His mother played the flute in the evenings. She used to play, she said, when she was young. Her father had loved listening to her play. When she got married, she’d had to work, and there’d been no time for her music. She hadn’t really minded, but she enjoyed playing again.

The first time he’d seen her, she had been reading a red book, her short, curly cloud of hair spilling around her head, obscuring her face. She had been leaning forward onto her elbows, holding her book and balancing the plastic chair precariously on one leg, as she shifted the balance, moving her legs. She’d been wearing a faded grey T-shirt, and deep blue jeans. She shook the hair out of her face and looked up for a second, biting her lower lip on the left. Her eyes had been far away, lost in the world of the book in her hands. He had been sorely tempted to accidently kick her chair as he walked past, but he’d refrained. She’d lost balance anyway, as he passed her, making him feel guilty. A few people in the shop had looked up and laughed. A slick sun-glassed boy with headphones in his ears had run to help her up. And he’d walked out of the shop without looking back at her.

She made him think of white-chocolate, which he’d always hated. He developed a taste for white chocolate. And wrote intense white poems.

His mother wanted him to study abroad. She felt his talents would never be discovered here, and he would die unrecognised, like his father. She showed him a few of his father’s poetry and one painting. The rest, his grandfather had hidden or destroyed. His mother had never been able to find them.

He saw her again, at a bus stop, her curly hair drenched in the rain. She fished out a yellow umbrella and opened it, smiling to herself and pushing her wet hair off her face, revealing her too-large forehead.  He’d taken a bar of white chocolate out of his pocket, and broken off a square. He’d carefully wrapped the rest of it back in the silver foil and watched her play with the ripples in the puddles under her yellow umbrella, as he tasted the square of white chocolate.

That night, the music rose in his head, and he wrote till dawn. The poem was white and strong and beautiful.

When his mother died, he couldn’t afford white-chocolate anymore. The music died in his head. He tried to write new poems, but they were colourless shadows on paper that he crumpled and threw away.

He cancelled his plane ticket to pay for her funeral. After that he had started looking for a job.

He began to give tuitions in English to school children. That was where he met Mira. She was the beautiful elder sister of a little boy who had trouble with tense and the neutral gender. She read a few of his early uncertain poems and was impressed by his potential. They talked and laughed about the ways of the world. She told him his white poems were too beautiful. Too monochromatic. They lacked something important that his early poetry had had. She was studying to be a lawyer. She believed in him.

His grandfather had explained refraction to him, with a piece of broken glass. He remembered the magic of seeing light split into so many colours, on the sheet of white paper they’d used as a screen.

They were married a year later. She supported him, so he no longer had to struggle with little children who could not understand tense and neutral gender.

Mira was kind and funny. Their home was filled with light and laughter. He could afford it now, but he never ate white chocolate.

Their first baby looked like her, chocolate brown with sparkling eyes and straight black hair. She had his nose, though, and a mole on her right knee, just like him. They called her Kalpana. Mira couldn’t work for a while, after Kalpana was born, so he’d had to find work.

Their second baby was small and sickly. Like the poems he wrote, alongside his boring desk job. They named him Abdul, after the name he’d been given originally. Mira was much weaker after Abdul was born. She was often tired and irritable, particularly when he retired to his world of shapes, colours and music.

When little Abdul died, the poems dried up altogether. Mira couldn’t bring herself to even try to live again. He had to look after Kalpana.

The music came back, one morning, when he saw her again on his way to work. She was cycling past, her hair pulled back with a purple hairband. She leaned back easily and rested the palms of her hand on the handle-bar, guiding the blue cycle past his black car, deftly. Her hair was slightly longer, and her eyes were outlined with kajol.

He wrote a few more white poems and approached a few publishers. When at last, a publisher accepted his work, Mira was still critical of his work. She felt he could do better. He bought himself a bar of white chocolate, to celebrate when his book of white poems was published.

Mira began to smile again. Kalpana joined the basketball team in her school.

He never saw her again. Till the day time froze for him.

It unfroze in a rush of scalded fingers. And he dropped his cup of chai. It splashed in a beautiful circle, around the paper cup, which landed upright on the pavement. It drenched his toes, in his sandals, and a few drops splattered on her lemon yellow churidar.

I’m so sorry!” she said, quickly, bending down to pick up the cup and throw it into the bin. “It’s my fault!” A strand of curly hair escaped her black hairband and fell across her eyes. She pushed it away with the back of her hand as she straightened up and smiled at him. “Can I buy you another chai?”

Thanks,” he said, the word escaping his mouth, unbidden.

She bought him another cup of chai and handed it to him. “I feel like I’ve seen you somewhere before.”

The music rose to a crescendo in his head. Colours seethed.

She smiled at him expectantly, her triangular earrings glinting in the sunlight.

Suddenly, he felt a deep revulsion for the sickly alabaster sweetness of white chocolate. “Have you?” he asked, “I can’t remember having seen you before.”

Who was he? What was wrong with him?

She grinned, “I’m sorry… I seem to do this a lot. Kishore says I live in a permanent state of déjà-vu!” she gestured the handsome young man beside her, engrossed in a conversation with someone else.

It’s perfectly alright,” he replied with a smile he didn’t feel. “Thanks for the chai!” He turned to walk away.

It seemed to him that the revulsion for white chocolate had been there all along, suppressed in some part of his psyche along with his fear of butterflies.

Wait!” he heard her say, “Are you Abhishek Krishnan?”

Yes,” he replied, turning around.

Kishore!” she gasped, tugging at the man’s arm, “Look who I’ve just met! It’s Abhishek Krishnan! We love your poetry,” she added by way of explanation to him.

He smiled, as he shook hands with Kishore and replied politely as they gushed over his patently ridiculous white poems. Her name was Maya. He introduced Mira and Kalpana to the two of them.

That night, he bought a box of dark chocolate for Mira. They laughed and talked till she fell asleep.

He wrote a new poem, filled with life and love, joy, colour and music. There was sadness and death as well, shades and hues of life. It wasn’t as pristine and unnaturally beautiful as any of his white poems… but it was far more real. Bitterness offsetting sweetness in a pleasantly palatable way. It was beautiful, and he knew that this was what Mira had believed him capable of.

He brushed a strand of hair off Mira’s sleeping face, and settled into the bed next to her. She smiled in her sleep.

Comfort

She didn’t turn as he settled down beside her, on the rock.

What took you so long?”

I ran into Arnab, Gayathri and that gang on the way here. Major party, they’re having. Brought you something.” He held out a beer bottle to her.

She took the bottle, without turning and took a swig. He smelt of Old Monk and too much deodorant.

He followed her eyes. The moon shimmered silently back up at them from the lake. An almost perfect reflection, rippled by the occasional wave.

She sighed. And took another swig in the silence.

Reminds me of that old poem we learnt in school. ‘Silver’.”

She smiled. “Yes. It does, doesn’t it?”

He took the bottle from her hand and took a swig.

Hey! I thought that was for me!”

Sharing is caring.” he replied, handing it back to her.

I don’t care. And I can smell the Rum you didn’t share.”

He grinned and pulled a small Coke bottle out from his backpack. “Rum and Coke?” he offered.

She grimaced, “Maybe not right away. Don’t want to pass out.”

Suit yourself,” he took a swig from the coke bottle.Then he leaned back on his elbows and gazed up at the sky.

Infinity, eh?” she asked, leaning back as well, and tossing her head to dislodge a few stray wisps of hair from around her eyes.

Yeah. Infinity.” And then after a companiable pause, “Have you seen that Calvin and Hobbes strip? About the stars and infinity?”

Yup. Love Bill Waterson.” She sat up and gulped down a mouthful of beer.

Pure genius, that man.” he lay back further, hands supporting his head using his backpack as a pillow.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a cartoonist. I loved that show, ‘Caroline in the City’.”

He laughed, “I bet you had a crush on that struggling artist character. He’s your type.”

Richard! Yes, I loved him. I dreamt about him. Still do.” she took another swig of beer and held it in her mouth, allowing the fizz to wrinkle her nose.

And now you have your very own struggling artist. How does it feel?”

Don’t say that.”

Don’t say what?”

She took a deep breath, “We broke up.”

He sat up. The silence stretched between them, like the rippling waters of the lake. He couldn’t see her expression. Her profile was silhouetted against the moonlit night sky.

I’m sorry.” he said, finally.

You are?”

Well, I never liked him. You know that. But I know you cared about him.”

I don’t know. I wonder if I ever cared about anything or anyone other than myself.”

Right…” he drawled, rolling his eyes.

No, I’m serious, Sahil. I feel like I’ve never cared about anyone or anything. All I’ve been doing all my life is acting. Playing a part. Whenever anything happens in my life, I go over the possible responses in my head, and play out the appropriate one in my life.” her eyes glistened.

In a sense, I suppose we all do that…”

No. Not so much. Some people feel. I know he did. He does. That’s how he gets inspiration for his art.”

Amu, I think you might be overthinking this.”

She ignored him. “That’s what life is to him. Inspiration for art. Very Gaimanesque. Everything he thinks and feels fuels a painting or a sculpture. That’s what he’s doing right now, I’m sure. Pouring his pain into a work of art. And it’s all so genuine, no one else ever completely understands what he’s created. I certainly couldn’t.”

The silence slowly surged back around them.

What happened?”

Nothing momentous. We realized we’re different people. We want different things out of life. I want more involvement. Excitement. Adventure. He wants to observe the world and document his reactions to it.”

That’s it?”

What do you mean, ‘that’s it?’” she snapped, turning to him. Her eyes glittered in the darkness.

I mean, that doesn’t sound too serious. It sounds like any one of your tiffs. You always knew you wanted different things.”

It’s not a tiff.” she snapped.

Look, i’m not suggesting you get back together. Personally I think this is good for you. Pardon me for saying so, but you deserve better than him.”

He deserves better than me,” her voice shook.

Hmmm… let’s stick to: you’re different people. Makes more sense.”

He gazed at her, without quite turning towards her.

A little tremor shook her frame, and he moved closer, putting an arm around her. She leaned against him and cried silent beery tears on to his shoulder. He patted her head awkwardly. After a few moments, she grew still, and wiped her cheeks with the palm of her hand.

Sahil?” she said, softly, looking up at his face, her head still resting on his shoulder.

Hmmm?”

She lifted her head off his shoulder, and looked into his eyes. Their faces were inches apart. Her eyes searched his desperately.

He looked away, awkwardly. His one armed hug around her shoulder grew strangely slack.

Amrita, I thought you knew. I’m gay.”

The First Time

Don’t get me wrong!” she said, cheerfully blowing the smoke at him, “There are a lot of positives to nomadism- variety, constant stimulation, you’re never tied down to one place- no clear cultural loyalties, new people, new things, new food…”

He nodded, wide-eyed, rapt.

But after a time,” she continued, gracefully tapping the joint so that the ash fell neatly into the broken coffee-cup she used for an ash tray, “It’s those very same attractions that grow old, if you know what I mean…”

Kala laughed at his earnest nod, and passed him the joint. “I suppose it all depends on your mood…” she said philosophically, and shrugged, “I love and hate the same things about my life!”

So… ummm… how did you get into this lifestyle?” Rashid mumbled inarticulately, fumbling with the joint.

She narrowed her eyes at him for a second, then sighed. “I’ve been asked that so many times, in so many ways… It gets tiring.” She tugged absently at one of her plaits, “Though it seems strange to you, it’s the most normal thing in the world for me… the permanence and geographical grounded-ness that you see as natural… it scares the shit out of me!”

He grinned nervously, “I didn’t mean to offend…”

She smiled at his obvious discomfort, “I know. I can tell, when people want to offend.”

Kala watched as he finally took the joint to his mouth and took a small drag. For a moment his eyes bulged. Then he coughed and spluttered violently.

She leaned forward and patted his back, till he subsided and looked mutely up at her through smoke-induced tears.

Why didn’t you tell me you’d never smoked before?” she asked, amusedly.

No no…” he protested wheezily, “It’s not my first time. I have smoked before… but it was some time ago…”

She hid a small smile, “Maybe this joint was a bit strong…?” she offered.

He nodded, earnestly. “Why do you keep calling it a joint?”

Because that’s what it is… what do you call it?” she asked indulgently.

Beedi… cigarette… sutta,” he suggested, tentatively.

Oh!” she sat up worriedly, “You do know this isn’t just tobacco, right? It’s weed as well…”

Rashid’s eyes widened in inadvertent shock. “Ganja?” he whispered.

Yes,” she said patiently, “I thought you knew… I’m so sorry. I should have checked specifically…”

That’s alright…”

Don’t worry, though. You’ve barely inhaled any.”

He nodded, looking down at the floor “It’s okay… I just didn’t realise. So, I was surprised. That’s all.”

He glanced up at her, “I have a cousin who smokes ganja. He doesn’t have a job…  keeps moving around… is that why you…?” he looked concerned. Scared to cause offence and worried for her.

Why I…?” she asked, eyebrows raised.

No… not like that…” he mumbled miserably, “I didn’t mean to cause offence…!”

She smiled, feeling faintly maternal. “Here,” she said, handing him the joint, “lean back, relax and smoke this slowly.”

He stared uncertainly at it for a moment, then glanced at her. The scene seemed benign enough. He did not know how to refuse. Besides, she was so beautiful. So beautiful and so strange, and if he refused an invisible barrier would come between them. She would still be polite of course, but… Rashid nodded and took the joint from her.

The smoke rose up lazily before his eyes, curling in on itself like a serpent. Rashid smiled, as it grinned at him.

He breathed slowly, and tried not to cough, though it was harsh on his throat and the smell grated on his olfactory senses. He liked the word ‘olfactory’. It sounded clumsy and awkward. Like a tortoise with wings. He giggled with the serpent and the cobwebbed beetle on the ceiling, and considered seriously the political posturing of pimples as a means of protest against unhealthy living. Or something.

He tried to tell her that he was fine. It wasn’t an effect of the substance. He was just seeing things very clearly, and everything was connected in beautiful ways. Like the colours on her loose spaghetti top… merging into each other in concentric rings of resonance, clashing slightly at times with the sober browns and greens of the dried-seed chains that hung around her neck in a strangely fitting harmony. He wasn’t sure he was too coherent, but he felt she understood.

Kala smiled down at his wide-eyed, amused form, lying prone on her mattress, discovering the wonders of his own head. His pale blue shirt was comfortably rumpled as he twisted to find a comfortable position. His eyes were far away as they stared at the ceiling through his neatly black-rimmed glasses. He finally settled lying on his back, with his head on his hands, elbows sticking out, so that they formed the shape of a large eye with his head as the pupil.

She rolled herself another joint. It was always fun to watch new initiates.

Rashid watched Kala as she deftly rolled another joint. She crushed the weed and picked out the seeds efficiently with her long dark fingers, glancing at him from time to time to see if he was alright. He tried to reassure her with a bright smile each time, but it may have been too bright a couple of times. And once he may have giggled rather foolishly.

After a few minutes, Kala asked Rashid and set some music to play on her laptop. The familiar strains of Beatles music tickled Rashid’s brain with images of a Blackbird on a Magical Mystery Tour, as Kala patiently and concentratedly rolled the mixture of weed and tobacco – from half a cigarette – into a thin long joint. She smiled at Rashid as she lit it, and leaned her head back inhaling the smoke in an almost reverential ritual manner. Her numerous little plaits moved like awkward baby snakes which hadn’t yet teethed, as she moved her head. Rashid wondered idly if snakes teethed or whether they were born with teeth.

Kala’s eyes opened slowly and she let that familiar far away feeling show. Her mouth smiled slightly of its own accord, and she leant back in the chair letting the waves of music crash around her, like the Fool on the hill, and buoy her up as she floated on peacock-blue oceans of thought.

Rashid watched Kala, lifting his head slightly and craning his neck to see her from his position on her mattress. She shook her crimson Patiala-clad legs in time to I am the walrus. The light from her dusty tube-light cast shadows on her face, under her eyebrows and nose. Rashid let his head fall back and watched the stories in the spider-webs play themselves out before his eyes. Everything seemed both infinitely beautiful and infinitely futile.

He glanced up at her once more, before losing himself in his own head. She was smiling slightly with her eyes closed. And for a second he felt terribly alone. The terrible loneliness of existence brushed his soul, ever so lightly, and he thought of how no one ever actually left their own heads… how reality itself was composed of infinite facets and no one could see through more than their own, no matter how hard they tried… how no one but he would see through his, no one else would experience life quite this way, think these thoughts in the way he’d thought them………. and the world spun madly on with it’s billions of inhabitants each trapped in their own heads.

Then, as his head fell back onto the mattress, and the laptop crooned Let it be, he laughed at the audacity and self-centredness of his thought.