I woke up that morning, feeling sixty-five and I needed a walk. I needed to breathe in the fresh air. Now I lived on the outskirts of the city and there’s a Jacaranda Park very close to my house. The violet-blue flowers dancing to the rhythm of the morning breeze invigorated me and filled me with confidence. I sat on a stone bench for a while and lost myself to nostalgic reverie. Years spent following the rules and standing up for what I believed in, years spent being a conservative, years spent devoted to one women, and I felt pride swelling up within me and teary-eyed, I returned to my cottage.

The carpenter Bill came home that day because the cupboards needed repairs. I looked at the size of the nails he used and wondered how painful crucifixion is. Those big, slender but powerful nails. I imagined it piercing skin and splitting bone and shivered at the thought. We fortunately didn’t carry out crucifixion at the city. In fact, we outlawed death sentence, but we had Lot constantly criticizing us for doing so and campaigning for it. He really acted like a judge of sorts. Maybe it was sexual tension. I don’t know but he considered himself ‘righteous’ and preached at every quarter of the city. ‘The day of the Lord is near!’ He barked, the spittle falling on faces.

I had a wedding to attend that day. My distant relative was marrying this beautiful woman called Maria. And so, I walked to town and saw Lot barking in a corner. ‘Sodomy! You’re guilty of sodomy!’ He yelled vehemently. I ignored him and went to the town house. The ceremony was beautiful. The man was a young conservative like me, but not radical like Lot. It was beautiful seeing two people in love waltzing and enjoying themselves. The wine flowed, and I drank to my heart’s content. Soon it was dusk and time to go home.

As I walked home I saw two men descending the hill with Lot. They were headed to his house. The men looked angelic and there was a commotion outside Lot’s house. And so, I rushed there, hoping to solve the dispute. And then I got a closer look at the men and dropped my pants. I rushed to the door and screamed with my walking stick in hand, ‘Bring them out! So that I may know them intimately!’ My loins were on fire and even Viagra didn’t compare to this tension, this excitement. I needed those men and it was strange because I was a straight, conservative man. What is happening to me? I thought but brushed the thought away. What about my wife? I thought but screamed at that thought. I needed those men. ‘Sirs, my daughters are virgins, you can have them and do as you please,’ Lot said, but all of us shouted, ‘No!’ In unison. It was then that I realized that I wasn’t alone in my heat and would have to fight others with my walking stick if necessary. But I was ready. ‘You’re always Judging us Lot. Now bring out those men!’ I screamed.

But then the men did something, and I couldn’t see. I stumbled into the others gathered and they all screamed of blindness. It was black and that terrified me. Soon, I thought of my beautiful wife and I decided to go back home. I ran, slipping, stumbling and falling. I hurt myself and I was naked waist down! I don’t know how I got home but I pounded the door and shouted, ‘Jeanie! Jeanie! Open! It’s me!’

‘What happened?’ she cried and took me in and my sight suddenly returned. ‘That bastard Lot!’ I yelled, but she put a hand on my shoulder and then bandaged me and fetched me new clothes. We then ate kebabs, and chicken biryani with some Kingfisher. And then the fire and brimstone struck.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

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Humpty sat in the refrigerator pondering and pondering, which is pretty much what eggs did. They were deep existential thinkers contemplating on the nature of good and evil, the nature of man and man’s relationship to them. He pondered on metaphysical things like the nature of the eternal yolk, the finitude of the shell and predestination. Why do some eggs hatch and become chickens when the rest are refrigerated? Why am I here? What is the meaning of all this? What does tomorrow bring? He thought. He never quite understood man. He very carefully and gently caressed eggs and placed them in the refrigerator with utmost care, but he’d seen another side. Another vicious side that another poor egg who was now either in heaven, hell, purgatory or the void experienced. Man, just picked him up and smashed him over a woman’s head in rage. He watched in horror as shell broke and yolk spilt. How could man who’s capable of such tenderness do something so vicious? Did man have two yolks, one good and another bad? Or did he only mask his depravity? Humpty thought, and wished he could express these feelings but he had no outlet and he felt uneasy and discomforted when the refrigerator door opened, and a child looked at him before picking him up. Humpty remained mute but his yolk froze. Terror gripped him. It was time to finally experience things and face truth or judgement and he didn’t know what lay before him. He couldn’t express his sheer agony and inner torture. A whirlwind of emotion gripped his yolk. Help! Save! Redeem! He desperately thought when the child suddenly brought Humpty out of the house and he saw the light. The sun. Now, he had some innate knowledge of it but had never truly seen it. He felt warm, comforted and consoled when he was placed on a wall. He was ecstatic. He had inner peace. So, it’s redemption after all, he thought and lost himself to the moment when he felt a slight nudge. He suddenly found himself losing consciousness and experienced severe nausea, and he felt the urge to vomit but couldn’t. He was falling. ‘Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall,’ he heard the child sing. The agony was excruciating. And then he crashed against the cobbles and felt his shell cracking: a small crack before a split and his yolk oozed out. What did I ever do to you? Why do you hurt me? Aaargh! It stings! It burns! I can’t handle it! The pain! Please make it stop! He thought, still unable to express himself. And then he saw the murderous child wearing a crown and carrying a toy horse. He crushed Humpty some more with the horse. Oh God! No! Please! Don’t! He thought. The child then squashed Humpty into pulp, letting the yolk run on his hands. Make it stop! Make this murderous bastard quit! Humpty thought and then he heard a voice of a demon when the child shrieked with glee, saying, ‘All the King’s horses and the King’s men. Couldn’t put Humpty together again.’ And everything faded to black just after Humpty realized that existence is meaningless and embraced nihilism.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

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Nathaniel was eccentric and had an idiosyncratic sense of humor. He never let go of his adolescence, and that birthed vivid, creative poetic bubbles that enveloped him. Poetry and rhythm floated through all his senses and he expressed himself tapping into his innate artistry. He always had a song playing in the background when he wrote, and he drifted with the melody and it shaped his writing. If he listened to some Drop D Grunge, he wrote something with a brooding, introspective core. If he listened to jazz, he improvised and found meaning between the lines he wrote. If he listened to classical his poetry adopted a melancholic, wistful stance; barely defending itself, exposed and vulnerable. If he listened to something contemporary his writing verged on mainstream fiction, but still drew back after phrases to literary fiction.

Nathaniel loved June. He truly and deeply longed for her. She was his best friend, confidant and lover. But he was a man given to much soul-searching and his work absorbed him. And so, he disregarded her at times; disrespecting her without realizing it. He’d switch off during conversations and reply monosyllabically because some flash of inspiration would suddenly blind him. But he bye and bye hoped for an idealistic, pastural ending to their relationship. He dreamed of a house on the hills with a few pets and an early retirement, finally giving June all the attention and affection, she needed. But being distracted wasn’t Nathaniel’s only flaw. He was temperamental and often wounded June by saying sharp-edged words which precisely pierced her heart. His moods were erratic and unpredictable, and though he sought God, tried legalistic self-improvement corporate cults, counselling and psychiatric medication, nothing prevailed.

Nathaniel needed catharsis for some deep-seated anger he felt towards June. It stemmed from her leaving him once. He was barely functional except for his writing and he felt forsaken then. Although emotion shifted direction, and he often retreated into that lush, creative world he’d created in their relationship, filled with nicknames and imaginary creatures which she complemented by adding her own additions, and the naïve beauty of it all overwhelmed them both with love, he’d suddenly lash out. ‘You fucking abandoned me!’ He’d scream with rage, and then like a man possessed would hurl insult after insult like stones thrown at an offender in the Old Testament. He’d later grieve, lament and weep, but change wasn’t forthcoming. Nathaniel broke June’s heart over and again.

June personified an innocent, sweeter, kinder love that’s rarely found. When she loved someone, she gave him her heart and soul. She gave Nathaniel her all, exposed her vulnerable core and cherished him despite his oddities. She often played the lyre to the songs he composed, the chords to his singing, the conductor to his avant-garde orchestra, bending the percussion before or after the signature to create symphonic togetherness. June was just as creative but expressed herself more symmetrically in neat patterns of color. She painted landscapes and played the violin. She was drawn more to harmony and melody and had a childlike artistry. But when she created something, she created it with blood and heart.

June loved Nathaniel maybe a little too much. He was her best friend, confidant and lover. But she was a woman given to altruism and reaching out, more than looking within. She often found herself in situations where people hurt her because they took advantage of her kindness. She was also flawed in the sense that she was bitter from rejection and malice shown. She couldn’t forgive anyone else except Nathaniel and once even left him. She claimed that people tear healing scabs with poisonous words and she was justified not only because of personal experience but also because it’s a universal truth whether we accept or discard it. June, however, often played the victim too often. Yes, she was hurt and broken, but she hurt people too, and she justified her stance and plotted excuses. She studied psychology in the hopes of figuring Nathaniel out when so much begged her to correct herself too.

June reached a stage where she needed Nathaniel out of her life completely. Her deep-seated need for an idyllic quietude pushed her to extremes, and made her try to destroy him, without realizing it. She blamed him incessantly for each fight and filled him with self-loathing and unnecessary guilt. It’s true that Nathaniel was feral at times, but if June acknowledged responsibility and owned up for causing him grievances, he’d have done better. June was an angel, but one with a broken halo, and that’s the one thing she failed to see when she looked in the mirror. And this enraged Nathaniel, causing spontaneous bursts of anger. They both needed maturity and closure. June and Nathaniel lived in dreams and imagination when they were drawn to each other, but just couldn’t handle tough ground together.

And one day Nathaniel couldn’t handle it anymore. He was the first to truly snap out of it, and so, he held June in his arms, kissed her and faced with two choices, for once reasoned. He abandoned flawed intuition and instinct and contemplated either killing himself or finding a life outside June. And he stood at the crossroads in front of their apartment complex while she looked on from her window.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

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Dear brother,

I read your last letter and it moved and shook my core because the date nears, and the court has dismissed all our appeals. You told me about Sara deciding to move on, having found another man, and about how she has never brought little Ruth to visit you though she’s twelve now. I always believed that Sara wanted to protect Ruth from a scarred childhood impression of seeing her father in chains, given an hour to pour his heart out and weep because that sort of thing leaves an ugly, indelible stain on the consciousness, and it’s usually suppressed before those grotesque colors coat all sense of identity later in life, making the person see things in monochrome. So, in that sense I believed that Sara was justified. But what outraged me was her questioning your innocence. Now, here was the woman who stood by you these last ten years, meeting lawyers and filing appeals. A woman who knew you from childhood, experienced so much with you as your friend, sweetheart, lover and wife, who knew the ins and outs of your labyrinthine personality, who stood by us when we couldn’t bear seeing mother suffer so much, and then eventually be snuffed out by cancer’s gale. I called her but she doesn’t pick my calls. She’s cut ties with both of us, as if we were putrefying sores so gangrenous that there isn’t any other course but amputation. Now, I don’t know what happened on the 27th of August, all those years ago when some homicidal, spree killer got away and you took his place like Christ did for the Church. I use such strong Biblical symbolism because I believe in your innocence, and even if they stripped off my skin, my blood and bones would cry for justice, my dear brother. Forgive me if all this sounds like hyperbole. I assure you it’s not. I saw you the previous evening with your friends in a local bar, enjoying yourself and infusing the place with your honest vivacity, and I can’t believe that the same person resorted to doing something so vicious and heinous to an innocent family who lived a few blocks away the next day. You didn’t even own a gun. But why did you not say a word and remain mute during the trial like someone unsympathetic and unafraid? You refused to answer questions properly, and your monosyllabic replies enraged me. And though a few witnesses saw another man dart from the house, you strangely dismissed that claim. They caught you with the weapon and blood stained hands, but you stood trial in a place between light and dark; neither defending your innocence or pronouncing your guilt. You, the brother I looked up to, a man of integrity who never conformed to the Janus-faced parade with their gaudy robes masking reptilian skin, suddenly seeming somewhat catatonic. You, who despised the hypocrisy of ‘perfect’ people and embraced fractured finitude suddenly seeming conniving. You knew something that you’re still unwilling to share didn’t you? And somewhere deep inside I know it too, which is why we can never look each other in the eye for an extended period during visitations. I’ve searched and dug but can only unearth hazy traces of who, why and what. Traces just as blurred as my days of addiction back then. So tell me. Just throw it at me. Let it rip through me that the lamb sacrificed himself for the degenerate. And if you have the proof, clear your name. I’ve avoided asking you this because our memories are contortions of actuality. But as the day nears, I sense things inching their way to the surface, and I need to know. I don’t want your sacrifice or love, just the truth.

Yours

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

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I don’t know if I’m a saint or a sinner. I don’t know if motes of good and evil flit past the room I’m enclosed in, or if I’ve somehow transcended those notions through a nihilism that followed a mystical dark night of the soul.

I’ve looked in the mirror a thousand times and I never find the same reflection. I’m like a song who can’t be played the same way twice, and once the musician discards me, I’ll fade into obscurity and oblivion, like a train entering an endless dark tunnel. Who am I? Where will I find myself after the apocalypse – on a barren land with a bloody moon, or some small redemptive corner where the Church bell still chimes and visions, gifts and prophecy endures?

The last time I looked in the mirror, I saw a disgruntled bearded man, having come to terms with the loss of youth’s vanity. No longer was he by any means attractive, no longer did he possess allure or personality, no longer did he find solace in women like he once did. I never envisioned this man when I lived separated from reality in a city of romanticism, but bit by bit, the jade and sapphire turned into brick and rust, the smell of the earth gave way to a miasma of decay that singed my eyes and left a bitter aftertaste in my mouth.

I spat and vomited, knowing things will never be the same. I ran on ash, tar and blood swirling under a beautiful azure sky and on some crag spotted Tennyson’s eagle waiting to swoop down like a majestic golden brown monarch. I reached up hoping he’d land on my arm and guide me, but I was denied providential grace. The buildings looked like putrefied flesh and I ran on to find my house lying in ruins and I was left with two choices: To cling to shattered idealism and stay deluded or to forge the new out of what remained and I still don’t know what I’ve done.

I feel strongly and don’t feel at all. I love strongly and hate bitterly. I call myself out for my duplicity but I can’t repair myself. I don’t possess the tools and the wheel of my existence is losing a new spoke each day, which I stick haphazardly with duct tape and glue, never knowing if tomorrow it’ll still run and there’ll be freedom symbolising the now clichéd, ‘This too has passed.’

And hence, I’m an agglomeration of the moon, stars, rain and sun, and all I offer you is a conglomeration of red, blue, fluorescent and black emotion. I sit now in a coffee shop, smoking my last cigarette, and see faces pass me, some mute, some saying something like, ‘hello,’ and I know they’ve got it sorted out, and as time meets time, they’ll progress while I stay just as ambiguous as the melancholic post-rock playing, and the ash in the tray, never knowing what’ll happen next, until the music player switches off and they clean the tray.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

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~by Nitin Lalit Murali & Maggie Lawson

The different ways I tell you that I love you.

~ by Nitin Lalit Murali

I could tell you I love you in myriad ways, but when stripped to the core, you’ll find seven perfect symbols embodying the holy trinity of darkness, purgatory and redemption. So, while the words only etch and claw, it’s the semantic which personifies the flooding and outpouring of a heart.

The seven symbols are a palm nailed to a cross, a figurine smashed by hands of chaos, the aurora borealis, the hounds of hallucination, the Stoic retreating into himself, the release from the symbols in the sordid cave, and the transfiguration.

When you rejected me though you loved me, I felt the broken flesh and blood spilling, dripping, slowly and steadily on the dust. The place was a Golgotha of crushed vagabonds, knowing but never finding, seeing but never reaching, and a devastated, distracted and disenchanted me, having had his idealism turned into an ice-cold nihilism made me question my duplicity like Jean-Baptiste Clement. Am I responsible? Am I at fault? Did I really love her? I asked while I lay on my bed during sleepless nights, tossing and turning.

And then some part of me, riddled with pitch-black ink, and self-loathing that tattoos with a blade, creating red callouses, said, ‘Yes. You’re Janus-faced and all your affection is trite falsity,’ and what was left of this thing we call a self-esteem found itself crushed by hands of my cowardice. And I sighed, and gave up, deciding to drink myself to death.

And then I found the greens and reds – the former symbolizing enthusiastic hope and the latter the rage of finding an almost catharsis torn asunder by circumstance. Why are we given pastures to lie on under a post-apocalyptic sky? Why are we given this semblance of green when we possess this anti-Midas’ touch—turning everything we touch to ashes? I found myself plagued with these thoughts, and they stripped me of flesh and bone, leaving a crimson heart on a platter of doubt, beating…throbbing…decaying…dying.

Then, I shivered with fear with an endodontic drill sucking out my love and peace, and trembled while I cried out like William Cowper, and screamed, ‘I’m despicable; end this now Lord!’ And the only answer was one he’d received centuries ago, ‘You have perished!’ Maybe you think this is hyperbole, and dismiss it, but you forget the draw, the claw and the blood when love’s involved.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

The different ways I tell you that you’re loved

~ by Maggie Lawson

Sitting at the table with needle and thread, I’m eyeing the pieces of you, cast like discarded clothing, throughout the room.  I move from scrap to scrap, gathering muscle, sinew and bone, laying out the pattern of you in my mind.

My tears run freely at the sight of self-destruction, hitching a ride on my seamstress tracks and I bloody my face as I wipe them away, in between the gathering of you into my fold.

Arms fully laden I place you down, sorting the inners and the outers, the soft from the hard.  I trace the length of your thigh bone, all crimson and white and notice the fractures branching out like a lightning strike.  This is where the truth lies, where you folded beneath the heft of your pain.  Such was the burden of your weighted soul that it crushed you from the inside out.

Fingers sticky with your glue I begin to sew you anew but I need to tell you, need to tell you you’re wrong.

Young man, my precious boy, look what you’ve done.  Can’t you see that you only know black because you’ve seen white?  You only know pain because it rides with delight.  Your head turns both ways, you have a neck, you know.

Let me show you the different ways I tell you that you’re loved.

Remember, it’s the semantic which personifies the flooding and outpouring of a heart and now I will hold yours until you can again.

There are seven perfect symbols of love and if you look where I place my needle you’ll see I’ve sewn them in place.  That way you’ll always have them with you, no matter how alone you feel.

The seven symbols are a scarred palm, a figurine repaired by hands of a debtless stranger, the aurora borealis, the beauty of creativity, the Stoic climbing out of himself, the forgiveness for the journey into the sordid cave, and the transmutation.

These things are my promise to you that you’re loved and when I’m done stitching your flesh and mending your bone you’ll be able to see where I knit you back together, they will be your scars, your magnificent scars that prove you are loved enough to mend, no matter how often you are broken.  I love you enough to do that, not because I know you because I don’t but by virtue of our shared humanity, because we were boiled in the same oil, flayed by the same whip.  I am gifting you golden thread so that you might wear your Kintsukuroi with pride knowing your majestic birth began when you were broken and that your coming of age is in your repair.

But I can’t fix all of you.

I can only pull together your pieces, offer stitches in support.  After my fingers are raw with mending I’ll need you to climb in and wear your history with the fullness of your being; understand that you are the aurora borealis of your own night sky, an exquisitely natural phenomena of your own making.  Stop trying to fit in.  This world is full of tight corners and edges and we, the expansive ones, were never meant to fit but to float, full and free.  Forgive yourself when you crouch in dark places; there’s no shame in needing comfort from the scorch of high noon.  Who can judge you for sucking on cactus in a dessert?

Behold the beauty of your own creation, look at the marvelous warrior you are and remember, you must love the battle, not the win because without it, the victory is empty.  When you can look in the waters of your tears and see that you only experience pain because you are so full of love then and only then will the transmutation be complete.

And it is my hope for you, young stranger, that you learn to love the ashes in your mouth because they are proof you burned bright enough to make them.

Know that you are loved, tell yourself that every day.

©All original work copyright Maggie Lawson 2018

Maggie L. chews crayons here: The Art of Chewing Crayons

You can find more of Nitin’s work at Fighting The Dying Light

When the jury pronounced me ‘Guilty of first degree murder,’ I felt like the good Lord burdened me with all the crosses everyone carried—each burden, each iota of sorrow on my shoulder. The feeling was like being burnt at Calvin’s stake, but worse, because I was more innocent than Servetus. There was a fool writhing for blasphemy, and here I was, a Bible believing churchgoer being punched in the gut by an unfair fist. ‘Why Lord?’ I cried out, and then some idealism that kept me through my youth, and when I was with her—before some sick, twisted individual muted her chirp, and made sure the evidence pointed to me, like the fingers of a disgruntled society wanting someone to blame—falsely glowed within.

‘Motherfucking sand-nigger! You think you can get away with stripping our women of their integrity and blood!’ They screamed while they brutally beat me, and handcuffed me, though I was the one who made the 911 call, screaming, ‘Help me! My wife…’ unable to complete my sentence.

Did my brown skin make them easily pin me to the board of guilt, throwing me like a dart though I knew nothing, and found her in that state, breathing her last? Or is this justice for petty sins committed like lustful thoughts or bitterness? I’d like to believe the former is true, because if God is just, he wouldn’t have thrown me in a cell, where I couldn’t survive, because the very first day, they pounced on me, and soon passed me like a pizza slice calling me Cynthia, Luella and Sharon, and bought me for half-smoked cigarettes and sour tasting cheap booze brewed from ingredients best unmentioned.

But I ironed clothes and played the ‘bitch’ because there was no other way out. And soon, they transferred me to another prison where the rules were relaxed but the predators remained. But I didn’t want to spend fifty-years being a ‘prag’ and I decided to strike back. I made a shank and stuck it into the first inmate who made a pass at me. I dug it deep into his skin and he barely survived. Soon, I needed a gang to survive, and since the ‘Christians’ were self-righteous hypocrites, I joined a gang that embodied my race. And I grew with blood spilt and made it to the top.

Today, I’m back in another maximum-security penitentiary and I look at Clara who does my bidding, and bark orders when needed. I guess I’m well and truly rehabilitated!

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

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