I did not have the right words.
Sitting in front of the old wooden table, huddled over a steaming cup of coffee, I realized I did not have the right words. Yet again.
I did nothing for a while but toyed with my pencil, and then I went to look in my head for words again, for that one striking sentence, but when nothing seemed to surface except memories which I thought I had forgotten, I put the pencil down.
He was gone, and I did not have the right words.
Words to tell the world about him.
Words that would waltz and croon; words that would jounce and prance across the emptiness of the pages. Words that would march forward and conquer hearts.
I remember nights.
I would slowly get up from the bed and walk to the window, and see the moon high and ripe in the star-dispersed sky.
And I would wait.
I saw a scarecrow once, standing amidst my plants, having a turnip head, smoking a pipe.
Stars fell from the sky, tumbling down for a life on earth. And girls, with sparkling amulets around their necks, and dragons, and star-crossed lovers, and broken airplanes…
They were real. They were his dreams, and somehow were mine as well.
I stopped looking for words, and went looking for traces of him instead.
But my rummage was futile; there were no photographs of him. I did not remember any photographs or letters. But I found myself wishing for one as I hurled my stories out of the old trunk one after the other.
I did not find any, but found a book on airplanes instead.
I remember winds.
There was always a wind when he was around.
This is the valley of the wind, he told me one evening, looking out the open window that overlooked the green meadows, the wind ruffling his silvery hairs. This is the valley of the wind, and I am its crownless king. He lit a cigarette and laughed at me. He rarely quipped. There was an unfamiliar and pleasing lilt to his voice.
He was the last of his kind in the valley, and while others had migrated elsewhere to make and tell their stories, he stayed back. He told me that he was spooked when he came to his house for the first time. The silence spooked him. But he garnered his courage and went about yanking open all the doors, and he swore to me that there was something, someone in those old rooms that he couldn’t see with his eyes. And the house made noises at night, but it was not an angry house, not really, it was just the stairs which creaked every time he went to the bedroom.
He told me that he did find the “someone”.
Black little things that scuttle away when you lay your eyes on them. Dust bunnies, he called them. Laugh and they will go away, he told me.
I am thinking of witches, young and old, evil and kind, on brooms and on ships, seeking treasures; trundling and jostling castles; castles in the sky; dark seedy tunnels and at the end of it not just light but worlds of magic; mooning damsels, in distress but tenacious; love stripped off its belying garbs; faces and no-faces; warmth and hope and mirth and trust; darkness, raging fires, turquoise waves that lap on not just feet but spirits as well; doors that lead to green bucolic fields laden with flowers of names unknown and mysterious, replete with birdsong and the gurgling of brooks.
I first thought of him as a man of silence, a man of few words, but he was also a man who told me every evening to read him aloud one of my stories, and he would listen to me reading from his chair near the open window, feeling the wind, a faint smile hovering about his bewhiskered face.
And one day he told me to wait while I was getting ready to leave. He scampered upstairs and returned with a battered paperback in his hand and gave it to me, and told me to keep it.
I glanced at the cover. It was a book on airplanes.
I remember a mumbled thank you.
I have lost things as well.
The ones Time hasn’t ravaged… well, I have tried to write them down as best as I can, with words which I feel are not mine but someone else’s. Sometimes I write in my garden, under the bough of a large tree.
He hugged trees. He always hugged trees, that man. One day I was ushered to his garden where he showed me his flowers and told me all their names.
I could faintly hear the susurrus of the winds of the valley, and I saw them gently bending his flowers and ruffling his straggling white hair.
He told me tales about nature and its triumph over everything. He took me to the path that led to the jungle. The jungle in which he had lost his way once, and he was so tired and drowsy that he flopped down under a tree and slept for almost a day. He dreamed that he was sleeping on the paunch of a gargantuan furry creature, and it showed him the right way back when he woke up. Cigarette between his lips, he quickly sketched its picture to show me, and later stuck it on the walls of his bedroom.
He named him…
It was called –
Tottering around my room one night, sloshed and groggy, I found an old journal in which I had written a story for him.
I tore it asunder. The man my words had created was not him. It was florid and ridiculous and lifeless. A failure.
I hurled what remained of it out of the window.
I remember knocking on the door thrice.
There was no answer. Around me, birds cheeped and the leaves shook and lilted in their golden crepuscular glory.
The door was open.
It was dark, the draped windows staving off the remains of the day from spilling inside. Somehow I made my way past the large heaps of boxes and books and reached the bedroom door. I knocked once, gently, and put an ear on it. I heard nothing.
I opened it. The room was empty save for the yellowed papers that remained tenaciously on the grey walls. The lights did not work. I lit a candle.
Overhead I saw a flurry of black little creatures scuttling out of the room.
I looked at the pictures on the wall. Laden with dust and cobwebs, some of them stared back at me. I traced a gentle finger along a thread of the web which clouded the eye of what looked like an elephantine metallic creature which was carrying flowers in its hands. I blew off the dust from the broom of a young witch in flight, silhouetted by the lucent moonlight, and wiped the face of a raging dragon with my palm, and scared off a few spiders from the dreams of a little boy.
There was a fading sketch of the furry giant of the jungle near the bed, a wide grin on its face, and below the sketch was a book.
I opened it.
I remember the time when he clapped his hands, gently, three or four times. The time in between my clapping is ma, he said. The silence between the notes of music. A void fraught with meanings and possibilities. A necessary pause to reflect and examine; a meaningful silence…
It was dark when I left the house. A few scattered stars blinked overhead. It was a dreamless night.
In a novel whose name I have forgotten, the great Kublai Khan and Marco Polo sit together in a courtyard, and Marco tells Kublai stories of the magnificent and wondrous cities he has visited. Kublai Khan listens with a keen ear.
I remember something Marco Polo says toward the end: Memory’s images, once they are fixed in words, are erased.
It’s all going to be futile and worthless. Words fail me.
I can never pin down the nub of the wonder and beauty that was him. I can never bring the magic to the pages; I can never tell you how it felt during those days, how his eyes glinted when I read him aloud my stories, how he would light a cigarette and slightly arch his eyebrows and offer me one.
But if I leave him in the dark, if I leave the memories, the shreds of past that I believe I have a claim to, they will fade away with time, and there would be nothing in the end.
All I want is to create something beautiful. A thing of beauty.
I looked at the blankness again. I wrote one word, and then another, and then a sentence, and I wrote a page.
Maybe none of it makes sense; maybe it is but the rambling of a choppy mind.
I took a paper and began folding it like he used to, and made an airplane. When I was done, I went to the door with it.
I opened the door.
A green field was before me, burgeoning with flowers and filled with nature’s aria, and I heard the gurgling of a brook, followed by laughter and something rising to the sky.
And then: nothing.
It all went away.
Twilight was at hand. I walked to the garden and just stood there, staring at everything.
A winking light in the darkness, he said once, that’s what life is.
I hefted the plane above my head, and hurled it forward.
There was wind.
~ Ananthu MC is an editorial intern with Open Road Review.