From the point where I sit, this city spread below, appears like a crystal-studded gown of a bride, dazzling and vast, like a million embers of all shapes and sizes tossed around. Staring at the lit pharaonic landscape, I smile to myself while taking another puff from the cigarette that I bought on one of my official trips abroad. Closing my eyes, I let the smoke fill me up, and when it can’t be held any longer, I breathe out just as unhurriedly, finding a few moments of solace in the fiery poison.
My flatmate is dead asleep in her room. She goes to bed early because she is new to this place. Her small-town country heart finds itself bruised every day, yet I say nothing to her and offer no sympathies. My experience tells me that she will find a way soon, and will understand that one needs a brain and not a heart to survive in a dashing metropolis. I see myself in her every day; in her timidity, in her reluctance to be candid, in her constant fear of sounding rude and in her curious wide eyes that, like two small sponges, find it hard to absorb the copious change around her. The stars above fade into oblivion and the lights I stare at fill my eyes. As I close my eyes and muse for a while, I find a zillion thoughts crisscrossing my mind, like railway tracks at a busy junction, like multiple radios with different channels tuned in simultaneously; a lot is going on and everything is blurred and incoherent.
Some years back, I rented this flat located in an upmarket area. Soon, I found it rational to further rent out one extra room, which I had not been using ever since he left me one night. When he had introduced her, I genuinely had no inkling of what was to unfold and was in awe of her fascinating nail-art. She was his colleague in a company and wanted to start her venture. Daughters of rich fathers have the weirdest of ideas that more often than not manifest into startups. When they both worked together, she used to visit often to ‘brainstorm’ with her colleague. They would use this room, and as naïve as I was, I believed them. I sometimes laugh at this now, but earlier I used to cry all alone. When I was in my town, which was so much like my old drowsy grandmother, I used to cry over petty things. Tears would sit just on the edge, waiting for a trigger to rush out. My native town, although old, dusty, sleepy, and unhurried as my grandmother, had a warmth that would melt all my grief away, but one cannot have every wish fulfilled. Old buildings with faded walls, vast playgrounds, and rivers would write me nostalgic letters; they would enter my dreams and I would tell them bluntly that they were knocking at the wrong door. “Your girl does not live here anymore,” I would repeat. “Then where does she live now? She is lost.” They would ask in their typical slow manner, and I would smell wet earth and grass in their cool breath. “I don’t know, but I am certainly not who you have been looking for.” I would try my best to make them understand, and they would go away with drooping shoulders and sad eyes. It took them a few years to understand, and eventually, they stopped bothering me. That cool mud breath is a faded memory. Now room fresheners, perfumes, and deodorants fill my nostrils. The changes this metro made to me, like rushing hormones to a child’s body, were something I had to grapple with. I now have an adult mind and free will, as well as adult lust and greed. I am not very different from a plastic succulent – charming, firm, but rootless, and fake. Nonetheless, I find succor in the fact that I am not a singular exception here.
When he and that girl, his teammate, both announced that they were moving out together, I slapped him, and I distinctly remember that he cried, “When did I ever vow to spend our lives together?” and I stared at him like a deer in headlights. “Look, her dad is funding our start-up, try to understand,” and pity floated in her small eyes done in silver-green eye shadow. She stared at me with a relief that I could read clearly. Silence sat as another person watching our words and we kept quiet for some time in silence pregnant with sighs. Later, I told my friend about them and she said, “Who gives a damn? Keep moving, my gal!” while taking another drink in the club. She also told me that strings pulled one down. “I tell you, this city won’t let you sit and brood! Alright, just return to that countryside of yours,” she remarked casually. I kept listening to her with my eyes fixed on my drink. I nodded, attempting to dismiss the thought as if it were a dead maggot that had fallen over my head while taking a long solitary walk on a gloomy fall evening.
A few months back, after the office, I happened to see my boss, a divorced man of forty-five, and a young trainee red-handed in the washroom. I stayed to get some printouts. I neither screamed nor blushed, but was as quiet as my phone camera. This city has given me enough practical wisdom over the years. The next day, the trainee was out, and I had a promotion letter and more perks. He talks to me nicely now and praises my efforts openly as well, something I missed before this burst of late-evening luck.
I have learned to trace a pattern in the din and make a long and short of it. This metro barged into my life and claimed it; I could just stand and watch as it squashed all the old fusty stuff that reeked of ancient monuments, twilight bird flights, wet mud, rain, and vast grounds to spread itself into all the nooks and corners. It kept spreading till it choked me under its thick, starry blanket. It pinned me to its wheel, and I have been spinning ever since. It is too late to detach myself now. Do not be mistaken that I live in this city or am a part of it; I am seeped into it. My soul is dyed in its flashy fluorescent colors. I am its creepy loneliness and deafening noise; I am its candor and no-holds-barred bluntness. I am its avarice, its ambition. I am its detachment, its coldness. I am its apathetic urban structures and hard concrete; my bark is peeling and my roots are drying. I am the fancy pot and the fake succulent. I am its sleepless nights and busy days. I am its emptiness, its void. I am the storm and its hollow core. I am this city, and this city is me.
That’s why, at times, I sit at the parapet of my high-rise balcony and watch myself burn while taking deep puffs to fill that cold, restless void within.
When not playing rummy with her neighbor’s cat, Ankita Sharma loves to write and paint. Her words and artwork have managed to creep into various literary journals and anthologies around the world. She has designed handmade cover art for some Indian and foreign books, much to the chagrin of the authors. The five books she has written, have greatly cured the chronic insomnia of many readers. She resides in Faridabad, India, in a mushroom. Her roommate, Russell is a cranky, old caterpillar who smokes and blabbers unwanted advice all day. her latest novel ‘Indigo mansion’ was published by Ukiyoto Publishing in May 2022. Instagram- ankita.s.26 / Twitter- AnkitaSharma_26
© 2022, Ankita Sharma