Abigail

Abigail and I walked to a ramshackle bar after her father’s funeral service. She wanted to get away from her mother and her brothers. She wanted to wallow in self-pity, and I guess she picked the introspective, brooding me because she thought I’d make a great companion and well…because misery loves company as the old adage puts it.

Paunched, sleazy cops and haggardly men with no purpose filled the bar. We ambled along to the counter where a man with a lopsided grin and a squint looked at us. Abigail wore a sari and didn’t look all that attractive, but that didn’t prevent the bartender from looking at her from top to bottom.

Abigail usually picked lounge bars or elegant restaurants, but both of us were short on cash, and so, we settled for this place where men belched, and masala peanuts were the only appetizers available. The acrid stench of the strongest and cheapest liquor overwhelmed us, but we braved it anyway.

We asked the waiter for two glasses of Old Monk and a bottle of Coke. We received our order in less than five minutes. That’s the only beauty of ramshackle bars in India. You don’t have to wait long for your order. Abigail suddenly decided to drink her rum raw and just gulped it down. She didn’t even look disgusted after she’d finished. I guess grief has a way of overwhelming us and killing what’s left inside.

‘He was the only one who truly loved me,’ she said, ‘The only person who stood by me despite me throwing my life away.’

‘I felt the same way when my mom passed, but even though the grief never subsides, you find a way to pull through eventually.’

‘Now, I’m left with a mother who hates me and two brothers who’re too young to understand deep emotion. She shields them from me, you know? She thinks they’ll end up becoming an addict like me if they hang out with me long enough.’

‘I don’t know what to say, Abigail. I’m a fucked-up person too. I threw away every opportunity fate gave me; handed it back to her like a spoiled, ungrateful child, and I guess that’s what I am: A man-child with zero sense of responsibility.’

‘At least your father financially supports you. I don’t have any support, and I can’t keep a job. Don’t you wonder what all this is about sometimes? The meaning of suffering and the final purpose? I’m tired of just going with the flow, but I can’t aim myself in any direction, and when I try, I’m more directionless than before. You get the drift?’

‘Yeah, I do. I think we fall into these inescapable patterns of recklessness that lead to the same tragic consequences again and again. I think it has to do with some deep-seated hurt that we suppress initially before bottling it up becomes unendurable, and it violently breaks free.’

Abigail looked at me with her brown eyes but said nothing. We never fancied each other even though there was a time when she couldn’t handle her mom’s incessant verbal abuse and lived with me for a while before her father took her back home. We just drank and did drugs then, just like we’d done over the years. We always opted for antihistamines and codeine. She got prescriptions from a friend of hers who was a doctor. We’d make sure we never visited the same medical shop thrice though. We made this decision after a pharmacist threatened to call the police if we ever visited his shop again.

Soon we were well into our fourth drink, and Abigail suddenly surprised me by placing her hand on mine and locking fingers. Grief does strange things to people. I wondered where our friendship would go if I gave in to her impulses. Will it end up in a garbage dump with the two of us feeling even more sorry for ourselves? Will a romantic relationship blossom? Will we go back to being just friends? I also felt guilty because she was replacing the bond we had with another more intimate one on the day her father died.

‘I can’t give you what you what Abigail, and besides, it’s the grief talking,’ I said and hastily removed my hand from the table.

‘We don’t love each other and we’ll never be attracted to each other, but let’s make an exception tonight. We’re both broken, and can never fix each other, but just this one night, please.’

‘Now it’s the alcohol talking. You need to stop. You can come to my place and sleep on the bed while I sleep on the couch. But that’s it. Besides, I have this on-off thing with Mary, and this is wrong, very wrong…’ I said, quite tipsy myself.

We managed to get to my apartment, wobbling and laughing randomly. Once there, we popped a few Avil, and soon we both had an ugly bad trip. We couldn’t laugh or suppress the pain anymore, and so, I just sat against the bathroom wall and looked up at the ceiling, a cigarette dangling from my mouth while she rested her head on my lap.

Suddenly, she plucked and threw my cigarette away and kissed me. I kissed back, and she led me to the bedroom where we got naked.

‘Are you sure?’ I asked her, ‘This feels wrong.’

‘Hush,’ she said and kissed me everywhere, and we soon made love.

I fell asleep and woke up, only to find her staring teary-eyed at me. I wept a little too. A maelström of guilt coursed through me, and I knew I had broken both our hearts; fractured them even more. I looked away and stared at the decaying cabinet, embodying all we were and all we were becoming.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

Decay

Spring lost its luster
I stare at forlorn Autumn
My life ebbs away

I don’t know when I changed for the worse. Maybe it happened when paranoia gripped me, or when I tussled with fits of rage and madness. But now, there’s a beast within me, threatening to break rib-cage and tear flesh and destroy when provoked. I try suppressing him; I try bottling the raw pain like flayed skin, but I never succeed. He eventually consumes me and everybody around him, and then the guilt of hurting the people who love me the most breaks me like that picture of Spurgeon smoking a cigar broke him and forced repentance (or so they say).

I then resort to self-medicating and drinking and chain-smoking. A false euphoria envelops me as the antihistamines hit, the alcohol goes to my head, and nicotine rushes to my brain like soldiers rushing on a battlefield. But soon, that touch from a false god loses its potency and defeated, deranged, and damaged; I look at the wall opposite me and spend hours practicing a twisted anti-mindfulness.

Then comes the craving for more codeine or antispasmodics. I beg mother for money; I say, ‘Just this one time Mom. I promise I’ll never ask you again.’ But we both know that this redundant ruse, this scene on repeat is just a way for me to always get what I want. Nowadays, this charade leads to confrontation, which eventually unleashes the beast within. A vicious cycle has me trapped; I know I’ve lost sight of Spring and Autumn’s decay personifies me, but I refuse to change because it demands excruciating effort, and so I stay as the crimson refuse slowly envelopes me and my blood, spittle, and shit rupture even a semblance of beauty.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

For dVerse 

On the nature of time

Is time a creature or a waltz that lasts?
A truth that makes men purposefully fret?
A painful snare or tightened ropes that net
Or are those stepped on toes forgotten pasts?

We dance, we laugh, we sing and fly our masts
But spiteful noon makes even sluggards sweat
And fearsome rain unwanted will be met
But this is not about time or those vasts

Say they arrive and give us choice that sways:
A plethora of roads we’ve always sought
Uncertainty lost and no narrow state
We’ll still make a resolve that always stays
We’ll only know the price of freedom bought
We’ll say with Louise that there’s only fate.

(Inspired by the movie Arrival)

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

Requiem

Funerals are difficult but delivering a sermon at a murderer’s wake is excruciating. I see just five of you seated here. His mother, his three sisters and one friend who could bring himself to come. Now, I don’t mean to insult the bereaved in any way, but if I didn’t speak my mind, even if it’s for an audience of five who knew this man better than me, I might as well resign from shepherding my church and find another vocation.

What this man did was heinous. He was a teacher in a school, a man meant to educate, and facilitate intellectual and moral growth, but he broke bad and losing his grip on sanity, murdered thirteen precious young lives before taking his own. His wife has denounced him and isn’t here and that’s her prerogative, but the one person I wanted to see was his father.

When I spoke to you, I realized that he came from a troubled home and had a tortured past. His father took discipline to extremes which slowly deteriorated into both physical and verbal abuse. He never once said that he was proud of him, and rarely said that he loved him and when he did, it was in a flat, emotionless tone. His father asked him to ‘man up’ when he was severely bullied in school and disregarded every cry for solace. And now the man has the audacity to say that he took a ‘dark path’ and ‘chose’ to destroy himself. So, I’d like to address that man even though he’s not present and is busy giving interviews on news channels to purge himself of his guilt.

What you did sir, is just as heinous because you emotionally starved someone until his soul died. You’re guilty of murder too. In this age, we either don’t talk about feelings at all or we talk too much about them. But to live healthily is to feel healthily. And I don’t mean cheap thrills or ephemeral highs that drugs give you, which this man struggled with, before quitting completely, and tragically did what he did before he could celebrate his redemption. I mean a deeper, more profound connection to someone or something noble and dignified. Emotion is always two-dimensional. There is the object and the protagonist. Now this man was a protagonist when he was young. He was a young man, full of ambitions and dreams. Today, and as long as this world lives he’ll be denounced and degraded, and treated like a vile antagonist, but there was a time when he longed for something of quality and substance. If only you’d just nourished that need, my dear sir, instead of quenching it and indoctrinating him. A dogma becomes a snake in the mind which bites, poisons, and eventually devours, unless it’s given and received with love. You exasperated your child and today you aren’t even here. It’s tragic that you didn’t stop what you could have.

Having said that, I’d also like to address society. If we continue allowing our children – especially in this millennial or post-millennial age when technology which isn’t inherently bad but used abominably by men, spews all sorts of venomous ideas into their already addled heads – to emulate what we see or hear, in schools, to create cliques and enforce stereotypes at a young age because that’s how drama presents adolescence, then we’ll have to reap such consequences. There is more to life than a click-bait carousel on which digital avatars revolve. It’s a box within a box within a box. That’s how shallow and superficial we’ve become. That’s how bland and tasteless we’ve become and I’m just as guilty as everyone else. So, let’s make a change and get a hold of our broken, disjointed lives by knowing how to live in solitude, by finding simple pleasures, or by just taking a stroll in the park.

Returning to the deceased, God is merciful, but He is also just. And sadly, we’ve lost him forever if you believe in the Christian faith. He will suffer for his crimes and I can only hope it’s in the fires of an intense purgatory which enables him to finally know everlasting love.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

A double-edged insight

I cannot fix the past, and myriad horrors await me, but I still haunt my castle of delusion, unwilling to change things. Each chamber in this monstrosity that my mind has created over years of maladaptive dreaming contains either an illusion of the future or fabricated memories. In one, I’m an accomplished writer, in another I’m bedding a beautiful woman, in the third I’m an accomplished musician, and these are just the fantastical tomorrows. The chambers of false pasts ignore the hate, the abuse, the bullying and see me lying on green pastures where a lilting wind caresses my features or replace yesterday’s whiskey with a pen and a finished sonnet.

I don’t know what’s worse: the imagined realities themselves or the insight that tells me I’m trapped in a chimera but gives me no hope.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

For What Pegman Saw

I cannot make promises I can’t keep

I cannot be your whimsical country cottage
with its beige roof, stone walls, and chimney,
against a breathtaking backdrop of Rainbow
Eucalyptuses with their postmodern barks:
The home you can retreat to whenever you
seek solitude,
I cannot be the solitary boat on the calm sea:
The one that always points you
to a saddened, Autumn-hued horizon
thereby empathizing with your every sullen state,
I cannot be the archway of cotton wool trees
under which you walk on a carpet of white clouds:
The winter vacation you need when it’s hot, humid
and unbearable to live with yourself,
I cannot be the layered tea-plantations in the drizzle
like pyramids, only natural and alive:
The elegance you suddenly desire
after a day like watery coffee,
you must understand darling that I’m flawed and finite:
just dice thrown not knowing where it will land
or what it will show,
a mote of dust sometimes suspended in the sunbeam,
a freshwater pearl that isn’t that valuable,
and you cannot expect a love that surpasses me,
because even the most beautiful people in one’s life are tragic,
but know this:
whether we’re ramshackle huts or idyllic bungalows,
whether we listen to the cock crow or the silence of the stars,
whether we’re eating in silence or walking hand in hand,
I can be the oak you rest under,
not always comfortable to touch, aging, losing its luster
and one day gnarled and leafless.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

Goodbye Suzanne

I guess it’s time to bid adieu to this slipshod romance — a shared delusion that we allowed to suppurate over years and years of jaded flowers sent and lackadaisical love letters penned with dying ballpoints.

Reality cut us to the bone a long time ago, but we selfishly conditioned our eyes to not see the hackneyed chipped off desk, the cracked paperweight, the moldy paper and the leaking redundant ink pen.

We mooched off each other’s sorrow and self-pity for so long and believed that sorrowed, cracked shell which enclosed us — grimy and spotty — was love.

We reached a stage where bitterness coursed through our veins and arteries, tainting our hearts a sordid green and hardening them, but still pretended using forced tears, forced guttural wails, forced smiles and facades of affection like gaudy graffiti on a crumbling, hurting wall.

We thought we’d possess blueberry sunsets and halcyons; spirits of bountiful, beautiful forests; skyscrapers and pulsing fancy locomotives, but fate granted us what we deserved — a pseudo-Leprechaun’s empty beggar’s bowl.

I guess it’s time to bid adieu to this slipshod romance — this abstract pipe-dream like a chimeric vision of a torn slipper possessing the will to fasten our feet and prevent them from scraping the spittle riddled ground.

Originally published in P.S. I Love You

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)