Dear Melissa

When you read this, I won’t know if you’ll be shocked or just subdued. I won’t know if you’ll think I took the coward’s way out or had the courage to do something most people only dream or talk about. Life is filled with tragic curves and barely guarded hairpin bends and there’s only so much I could climb. You’ll ask yourself if what I did was the most selfish, cowardly act someone can commit or if I said what I needed to, did what I needed to, left behind both rapture and devastation and left on my terms. Each day felt like an inner concentration camp, gripping my soul and squeezing hard, crushing my will and slowly and steadily I became a slave to forces within beyond my control. I tried explaining this to you and if one person got me, it will always be you. But words are both spoken and unspoken and the latter always resides even after you think you’ve purged it all out. I felt like I was being a burden, a curse and a shame; thriving on my self-pity like a leech on blood; growing fat, drinking the blood of sorrow, and by and by I needed freedom and though I smashed the trapdoor with my fists, clawed at it even; it refused to open, and day became night and night became day and I lost sense of purpose like a walking cadaver doing his duty. But I kept at it, until fate wrung me dry of emotion, and apathy kills darling, but also gives a man courage. I didn’t want to fake love, to fake sorrow, to fake that you meant something long after my heart grew cold. I wanted you to mean something always because nobody else gave a damn, nobody else fucking cared. I’ll remember your touches and kisses if there’s an afterlife where sorrow lies defeated and we drink from the waters of beauty and rest on the shores of inner quietude. Now, I don’t expect you to understand. And even if you did, I don’t expect you to forgive me. I love you and though they’ll say, ‘He never meant it because love translates into action,’ and they’re right, I just want you to move on, to exorcise yourself of me, if necessary. If what I did is selfish, then use it against me, but let me go right there. If what I did is difficult, don’t try solving that puzzle. If what I did is cowardly, then remember me for being yellow and nothing else. I wish I could explain more but I can’t. I write this with dry tears and a dead soul and if that sounds harsh, remember me for being cruel and for not walking hand in hand with you, and breaking ‘forever and always,’ even though paradoxically you are forever and always.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

Originally published in The Literati Mafia 

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)

Michelle

You were bold, too much for your own good,
and when alliteration, analogy, allegory, metaphor
and narratives within narratives failed, you
typed it out on Facebook plainly,
but black suits and white gowns
stay, extending but not reaching, deciphering
but not connecting, what’s circumstantial fades,
which is why you’ll find them drinking cherry-vodka
or whatever it’s called these days, tattooing themselves
with portraits of musicians who died for that very reason,
and getting a hundred likes for one post about pain,
from similar folks, saying, “I know how hard it is,
I go through it everyday,” I’m sure they do,
but you and I know what cripples
eats you alive, bit by bit, piece by piece,
never withholding or forgiving,
but I’m guilty too for not bothering then
and suppressing my pain, I’m guilty of not even sending
you a text though I had your phone number stored,
I’m guilty of avoiding those places, trapped in
a corridor of false youth, thinking it’ll lead to
a room with soft blue walls, a cushioned bed
to lie on, a multi-hued quilt that will comfort,
and opera to lull me into sleeping soundly,
but you know how circumstance becomes a
meta-narrative and you’re just a mote trying
to fight the omnipresence of suffering, and so
I think I did the right thing when I didn’t attend,
the same black suits and white gowns did,
fake-weeping, feigning, while your mother
who never cared did the same, and your father
who had no business being there, suddenly
bellowed, while they made you
look your best, the dark circles, and bloodshot
eyes gone, a beautiful soft blue dress covering
all your scars, and I’ll say now, that yes, I fucking
love you, but just not enough to go down
the way you did, and so, I’ll express myself
and let fate cut me into two with his axe,
everybody owes him that (whether they
admit it or not) and I couldn’t care less
about what they think or say because everybody
loves becoming somebody, or somebody else, or
everybody else, but you taught me enough to
just stay me.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

Dear Manisha

Yeah, I read some of your messages,
and hoped you’d go away,
but you keep coming back, urging
me to look at that website you started,
saying you created it just for me,
that our thoughts collide in
that parallel reality, that alternate universe
where you’ll always be mine, and so
I finally read through it, and all it
spells is a metaphorical clusterfuck of
who you’ve become, velocity running
through each line, but both positions remain
the same, a blurred vision of me years ago:
some bike, some café, some booze,
and it is divided by time alright,
seconds riddled with high blood pressure,
a perverted fiancé, visits to psychiatrists
who fit you into archetypes, and encourage
the shit you’re doing, and maybe Prozac
to lull you into not taking responsibility,
I never wanted to write this, but those
one liners I’ve sent encourage you,
make you think that it’s still him,
the stereotype who makes the girls swoon,
and if I were to shave my head,
grow a filthy beard, eat a bit until
I’m paunched and then meet you,
you’ll still say, “It’s him!
Just a little older that’s all,” and if I were to
tell a friend to pretend, jealousy will
kill you off, and so I’ll just be frank,
wielding that same figurative scythe you do,
what do you know about pain?
You’ve never watched a woman you loved
go through five stages of death, while she’s still
living, while you go through the five
stages of grief looking at her, the bloom in her eyes
withers, crushed with no fragrance
of forgiveness or remembrance,
and a death-spirit winter looks back,
fuel injected into arteries, the vomiting,
the need to survive, and the finitude of
what you can do, making you suppress
it all, before you smash glass and bleed
because you want to suffer with her,
and then pray with a hard heart, though
you know it’s hopeless, and then smoke
a pack, watch overtly sexual TV shows, and drink,
before quitting, but just moving
on lifeless, disoriented,
disconnected, distracted but with an apathetic
grit making the clock tick,
you’ve never watched your mother
grow frail, creaking joints, one climb
up the stairs, dislocating her hip,
and you just can’t be there anymore,
you’ve never watched your father weep
while he speaks, his lines soaking with
self-pity, that very voice a shriek
bursting your eardrum, until you just
finish your coffee, and walk away from a
ruined house he still haunts like
a ghost, just like you, so stop please,
I just hope this makes you realize that
you’re a messy mass, and you need the
speed of light (times two) that only
fate can provide, to get the energy to move on,
before you end up as lifeless as me.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

Silence

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When you walked into that coffee shop, with its rustic strength:
the beige tables, the blotchy wooden benches, unadorned
and homely, you brought with you the allure of a Japanese
Maple: both a wild, orange liveliness, and a lacy stream of
thought, and yes, the side-swept medium length hair, the
rare hazel eyes, the blue dress, and the tattoo, curving down
the side of your neck but stopping in the middle of your
forearm, not overdone, made me call you again,
what transpired was a relationship
of strained passion, and cold reasoning,
you were so attached to the culture you left, and
I moved because I wanted no part of it, we called each
other hypocrites, but want kept us alive, you said that
I turned against everything that made me, and I hated
your blind faith in the imposters ruling home, we gave
up, you left, and it relieved me, I travelled for a
few years after that, finding joy in nature:
a simple Flag of Bavaria sky, hillsides painted in purple,
green, and fading red with a winsome flourish, parks
where you heard the sweet aubade of love birds
complementing the slow rise of the sun, and I knew I had
happiness that would sustain me until I met someone
who wasn’t you, but coming back to my apartment that
cold night, after a few beers, elated, made me want
to watch the news at home, to scoff at the inane
political debates, but when I saw the face of a young journalist
who was killed because she stood up against
intolerance and the strain of fascism, all
sense of beauty left me, the worn chintz curtain,
the threadbare couch, the motes of dust suspended
in the dim light of the bulb threatened to engulf me,
my thoughts were a swirling mass of chaos trapped
in a paperweight of dying restraint: I wished I had never called
you back, I wished that the silence between my words
didn’t say more than it should have, I wished I had
never let you go, but my thoughts have taken shape now
and my bloodshot eyes reflect the gun pointed at my
head that urges me to throw lead.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

For dVerse 

The life he leads

He walks a boulevard of wistful reverie
I watch him smoking, reading pensive books
With eyes that dart but strangely cannot see

He’s lost his hope, but yearns to calm the sea:
Capricious, wild — it rages in those looks
He walks a boulevard of wistful reverie

He blames his fate and tumult won’t let be
Such men are not redeemed from scars and hooks
With eyes that dart but strangely cannot see

He frets and moves, I’m just glad he’s not me
The lines he reads are anchors, broken rooks
He walks a boulevard of wistful reverie

He’s lost his smile; he’s paid his life a fee
Of fractured promises and selfish nooks
With eyes that dart but strangely cannot see

He lives alone, does not know unity
I know he thinks we’re time bound, hopeless mooks
He walks a boulevard of wistful reverie
With eyes that dart but strangely cannot see

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

The Eulogy I never delivered

I’m not sure if I ever cared about you
and even if I did, I’ll never admit it,
you were sick and twisted,
mooching off the drama you created,
writing line after line about
how people screwed you over,
unable to get a grip,
suffering’s supposed to create persistence
(or so they say) but in your case
all it created was a virtual zombie,
addicted to the numbers and stats
on your blog,
writing oversexualized, hardcore nonsense
or malodorous, self-pity soaked,
‘He fucked with my life! My heart! O my fucking heart!’
Blame game poetry,
you spent hours on that site feasting on
even semblances of gratification
and in the end, you couldn’t live without it
even though the stress to produce something
of depth was eating you alive – flesh, muscle, and bone,
you wrote and wrote, romanticizing everything
and when people called you out, they
were called, ‘dated narcissists,’ by people
who wanted you to forever be the wilted flower
in that cracked vase, you even wrote suicide
letters and deluded yourself into thinking
it was expression when it was pride and the
need for a like or a comment that fueled you,
they buried you yesterday and the Pastor
read Psalm 23 which is ironic because
nothing about that song of praise
reflected your brusque, impatient
manner of attending to anything
except for your blog,
it wasn’t a romanticized suicide
with you jumping out of a window like
you’d pictured it, but a car careening into you
and severing you permanently from your all
your addictions and tossing you into the void,
I didn’t attend though your mother called me
and asked me to deliver a eulogy, I heard that
a cool breeze wafted over the old pink
Rhododendron in the churchyard where they
lowered you in a black casket into the ground.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)