Last May, my right shoe ate a sharp pebble, and gave me a memento in the form of a scar under my big toe.
Last May, I killed my dreams by eating them. It wasn’t a very easy process, but was urgent, as they had started to become a lot more uncomfortable than the pebble in my shoe.
It was an enchanted, enchanting May: the sun caressed the skin in a way that made one feel as if the whole body was being gently rubbed with sandpaper soaked in acid. The wind was slow and heavy, like a woman who’s become miraculously pregnant after menopause. The people were sweet, for they were afraid of being nasty; everybody’s temper was on a fuse burnt away by the sun to a short stub.
It was then that I met her: my muse, my destiny, my sweet witch. My executioner.
I remember the evening; it was shamelessly golden and cool, like a cliché dragged out of countless romantic novels that give prepubescent girls their first flush of erotic excitement. The place was…… I’d better not name it, for it was startlingly unromantic. But when I saw her, the background just underwent a blurring mechanism that the Adobe experts would have envied. Only she was there. Only her. Only.
I walked up to her and stood there, speechless. Of course, I could have uttered a banal phrase like “I’ve always dreamt about you”, but I couldn’t; with the consumption of my dreams, all the words and expressions related to them had been erased completely from my inner vocabulary. I only managed to smile; weakly, and keeping in mind the place where I was. Fraction of an inch increases the smile, and the moral guardians of the universe would swoop down on me in a body and tear me from limb to limb.
The smile worked; she smiled back. Not with her lips, though. But her eyes, like pools of liquid amber, just took on that extra sparkle that only some women (and no men) could radiate when they’re genuinely happy, or genuinely amused. I wasn’t in the state of mind to know or care which; besides, with my dreams eradicated, there was no reference to fall back on. I was a child, my mind a cleaned palimpsest, ready for new experiences and realizations to embed themselves in it, in varying degrees of depth depending on their importance.
The next few hours were embarrassingly good; we were “meeting cute”, as self-proclaimed ‘smart’ people would have said. A corner table in a glass-fronted place that sold coffee and coloured drinks in sweating glasses proved to be more congenial to our conversation than we had hoped. I surreptitiously made her sit in a way that the setting sun would light up her face in just the angle I’d like. Playing around with her, you might think. No, it was just a set of cosmic coincidences – not to mention a star residing ninety million miles away suddenly deciding to become benign and caring. I was rebuilding my dream-library, but only with good ones this time.
And we talked. Did I say “we”? I talked. She didn’t. She didn’t need to. Her eyes did all the talking, the brown fire in them changing intensity and hue in accordance with my rambling monologues. It was a strange conversation, with my words and her gazes dueling in a soft shuffle, embracing, uncoiling, jousting, kissing, and all the while keeping away, like the isolated points of the masts of a ship sunken in shallow waters; joined within, aloof without. The subjects of our exchanges – my rants – were varied and trivial: pop culture had always been my forte, and in its slime I wallowed like a housebroken pig, snorting in self-centred satisfaction. She played along, occasionally creasing her moist Rubenesque lips in a nudge of encouragement. Encouragement always nourishes me in small doses; she knew this, and kept the phial tightly shut, handing out pinches of the same like a miser who’s suddenly realized she cannot ever be happy by not being a miser anymore. The sun lowered itself gently in the enclosed green fields behind the whitewashed monstrosities huddling across the street; harsh fluorescent lights suddenly exposed her face from the other, unprepared, angle. The effect on me was that of a soporific gone bad. Still, she was there, her corporeal existence pressing down on my heart and capillaries with a longing so great that I feared imminent aneurysm.
The evening dragged on, the sky turning into a bluish-black ichor that only manifests itself so well in a tropical city: the unfiltered smoke from thousands of ramshackle vehicles playing catch-me-if-you-can with the corpuscles of a dying light. She looked bright, happy, and slightly distant. I was throbbing with a pleasant ache that was slowly paralyzing me from the chest down; only my mouth and my hands remained animated, but not in the purpose I had envisioned for them in the silent moments before dawn when I laid awake in my bed, in the company of pillows, sweat and primitive flashes of self-enlightenment. Suddenly I stopped; she had asked something, and I hadn’t managed to catch it as my flood of words had swept her small query away in a mighty fury. She understood, and repeated herself. This time I caught it; “What are your dreams?” she was asking.
What are my dreams, Princess? After so much of pain, so much of walking barefoot on jagged rocks (when my shoes failed to protect me from a mere pebble, I discarded them like leprous parents), so much of thinking and envisioning your face, your lips, your long fingers with their cool tips, your wavy hair tied up in a careless bun, I had no dreams anymore; I had swallowed them like an ogre swallows children who believe in him. All I had now were binary speculations. Black or white, short or tall, thin or fat, sad or happy, loving or spiteful. Dead and alive. I’d consciously cleaned my psyche of the grey areas, for it is from there that the dreams arose every night to invade my peaceful narcissism. But how could I put this forward to her? Would she understand, or would she behave like countless people have done before her? I couldn’t answer her; not then, not with so much at stake. All I managed was a mumbling non-answer, a gibberish of well-practiced social masquerade. She understood that she shouldn’t understand, and turned quieter. A nod to the proprietor of the place for the bill; “I must go now,” she said, the amber pools avoiding my surprised eyes. She was confused; I was embarrassed; the bill had been paid. We walked out, in the half-warm breeze.
Me, in what I thought to be my self-absorbed magnanimity, offered her a walk to the not-nearest bus stop. She, with her infinite patience, acquiesced. The dwarf of an ego that resides in a wet, mossy corner of my mind swelled with pride, and limped forward into my eyes to look afresh at this creature who so readily accepted my whims.
The walk was just as I had hoped it to be: silent, soft, oblivious of the surroundings. We were wrapped up in our cocoon of freshly-spun familiarity, and it was cutting through the crowd like a dolphin gliding through the oily waters of a ship-strewn sea. I was too happy to indulge in my usual game of dodging people without touching them whenever I’m walking down the busy pavements of that neighbourhood (yes, it will go unnamed; no revelation for you at the end of this story, dear reader), and was busy stealing sidelong glances at her staccato profile etched out of time-sharpened quartz. When she lifted them to scoop up a handful of unruly locks from the nape of her graceful neck, the easy sinewy movement of her arms was accentuated to an ecstatic level by the thin white fabric of her innocently sleeveless top. The easy curve of her back toward the gentle swell of the derrière was embossed into the pattern of her hand-printed cotton skirt by a Creator who still goes unnamed in the dusty corridors of Babylon.
The view changed; we kept on walking. From the illuminated billboards and thumb-smeared glass windows displaying stuffed corpses of consumerism, to the brick-strewn playgrounds and dust-greyed shrubbery of a neighbourhood that didn’t believe in itself anymore. Has it, like me, eaten its dreams in a futile attempt to escape into a better life? Such cannibalism shouldn’t be rampant, or else the half-digested dreams might unite to form a shadow-republic of their own. No, those thoughts didn’t cross my mind then; I was too busy soaking up every last sweat-drop on her gleaming shoulder with my thirsty eyes to philosophize like a Byzantine priest. But now when I recall those scenes, the lines dissolve into blurs, and what lie between them come forward like resolute Bogatyrs on their stony steeds.
Finally, our destination: a confluence of four roads chasing themselves in a vicious circle around a grassy patch lying in wait like a predator of existence gone stale. Automobile drivers jostled for every inch; their colleagues jostled for every potential passenger. She stood there, in the orange lamplight, purity blemishing itself merrily amidst all that commonness. My query on any chance of a future meeting went unanswered; was she suppressing tears? I hope not. Let’s not end this tryst with regret, my Sheba. I give you freedom from the bonds of my all-consuming love that is more hateful than hatred itself. But like a lightning flash, I knew what I had to do at the instant she was boarding her conveyance. I waved my arms as magic dredged from the bowels of Palaeolithic eternity surged through my fingers.
And the world stopped.
All the transportation, the people, the stars in the sky, the languid noxious all-pervading smoke simply froze into their very position. The impotent middle-aged men craning their necks to catch a glimpse of my Ayesha, the ugly middle-aged women hating her ethereality, the mindless zombie children rushing from one lesson to another – all of them sucked in their latest breath and kept it in their worthless lungs for as long as I commanded. Even she stopped; she, who had absolute power over my heart and soul, had none over my black magic.
And then I started folding the scene in front of me from the northwest corner (for simplicity, I imagined it to be a stereoscopic rectangle; I advise you strongly to do the same, lest you go blind). I folded it neatly, triangle after triangle doubling up on their predecessors, until I had in front of me a multi-tiered pastry of metal, stone, oil and flesh. And then I started pounding it into a lump. For I had decided what ought to be my duty now: to create and eat my last dream pebble that had her at the core, like a guileless pearl in the bosom of a textured oyster. I performed this last task with a lone tear trickling down my cheek. “Now we shall not part again, my Queen,” I said; “I won’t have to face the tumultuous ignominy of rejection that will hit me like a tonne of barbed-wire bricks six months from now,” I intoned solemnly as I felt the pebble making its way slowly down my gullet.
I don’t dream anymore. For she is with me now, as was destined to be. What walks this earth is her shell; the ‘she’ of her is safe in my heart forever. My last dream pebble, which I built with the help of my Empress.
No, I don’t dream anymore. And I still walk barefoot. But this time, I don’t walk alone.