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)