The petrichor Chronicles

Abhinav Kukreja's Blog

Sous Chef – In Memory of Nicolas Leslie

Through one of the many tainted windows of a deserted night club in Berlin, I can see dawn breaking in. We’ve been here two hours, and I can’t remember most of it. In the background, a Swedish DJ plays unfamiliar techno music, that frankly feels a little out of place. I feel like I’m in a constant battle between urging all the muscles in my body to feel the alcohol, and not caring at all.

My watch tells me it’s a little too late to still be up, and considering the fact that it took us two hours to get in, this experience really doesn’t seem worthwhile. I look around, and clearly, everyone disagrees with me. I feel like a clown at a children’s party, wearing a happy mask. I’ve always wondered how clowns feel behind the mask. Are they really happy or sad? Or is it no emotion at all? Tonight, I’m trying to figure that out for myself.

Funny part is, I’m okay when I’m completely sober. I’m also okay when I’m a little tipsy. The problem arises when I try to have some fun. It’s hard not to think of Nick when I’m trying to have fun. In his own twisted way, Nick managed to associate himself with everything that was fun about our trip. So every time I find myself at a bar in Nice, or a disco in Amsterdam, or a night club in Berlin, all I’m doing is seeing, through my groggy eyes and foggy mind – him. And no, I haven’t lost my sanity. I’m not hallucinating. I know he’s not there. I don’t feel his presence. On the contrary, actually. I feel the lack of his presence. And I don’t know which one is more depressing.

In economics, they teach us about opportunity cost. For me, having fun, or ‘letting myself go’, has a really high opportunity cost. I have to be someone who I’m not, and while it’s always a delightful experience, its often too much work. In economic terms, the marginal benefit of me having fun far exceeds the marginal cost. Well, with Nick, the opportunity cost of having fun was practically nothing.

I fade in.

I’m still at the night club. I look for a comfortable place to sit. I look around, but I cannot see my friends or the girls we entered with. The Swedish DJ is still playing unfamiliar techno music. Giving up, I find a place to sit inside a small booth a few feet away. I’m sharing it with two girls, who’re smoking. Usually, tobacco would give me a headache, but that’s the least of my worries. Funny how death can make every other problem seem so puerile.

I fade out.

I’m sitting across from Nick at fancy restaurant in the french riviera. The waiter is standing behind my shoulder, and talking to Nick in broken Italian, while Nick tries to talk to him in broken French. I’m trying to read the french menu. I get the chicken. He gets the menu. He always gets the menu. The food arrives. It tastes great, but I have to pretend not to like it, because that’s what Nick is doing too. ‘Ah, it’s good Salmon but I can do it better. How did they screw this sauce?’ I don’t believe him.

My thought process is broken by an abrupt ‘What’s up’.

I fade in.

It’s the girls sitting next to me.

‘Oh nothing, really. I’m just kinda tired’ I lie to them. I’m not tired at all. Not physically, at least.

‘Whats that accent?’ One of them asks me, in her very British voice.

‘I’m from India, but I got to school in California’

They tell me their names. I forget instantly. They offer me a smoke. I tell them I spotted my friends and walk away.

The alcohol is still not kicking in. I check my watch. It’s five minutes to six.

I fade out again.

We’re up to our shoulders in water in the mediterranean sea, on a small island right off the french coastline called Corsica. A football races the wind as it zips towards me in supersonic fashion. I try to head it away, but I miss the ball and fall face first in the water. I come out, almost cursing. ‘Dude, what the fuck. I wasn’t looking’. Nick doesn’t care. He would do it again, if he got the chance.

‘Admit it, you just suck at soccer’. He laughs. I make excuses again.

I fade in.

‘What’s up with you man? Why aren’t you having fun?’ I hear a familiar voice. It’s one of my friends.

‘Meh, I’ve had a long day, man. Plus this isn’t really my scene’ I lie to him. This is totally my scene. Just not without Nick. Reality sets in. I’m in a night club in Berlin, living with complete strangers. I’ve also been a victim to a recent terrorist attack. I shake off the thoughts. I go to the bar again. I get a shot of tequila.’

I fade out again.

I’m in the fan-zone, in Nice. Italy is playing Germany, and the match goes to penalty shootout. Nick, me, and two Italians hustle around, praying that Italy win. I don’t even like Italy, but Nick promised he’d go to Marseille with me for the actual game if Italy qualified. I’m really praying Italy win. Fourteen kicks later, I see a tear rush down Nick’s face, as the german fans around us cheer in unison. It’s over. I’m shocked. Football’s always been more than a religion to me. Now I know why.I buy him a few rounds of shots at his favorite bar to cheer him up. We end up at a nightclub a couple hours later. Very classic Nick.

I fade in again.

I try to think about the first day I met him. I cannot. I try to think about the last time I saw him. ‘Return my polo, you asshole’. He said. Very classic Nick. The last word he said to me was ‘asshole’. I still have his polo. I’m going to keep it. To kill time, I decide to go check out the restrooms. They’re classic Berlin. Drunk Germans peeing on graffiti. I try to picture him getting hit by that bus. I really cannot.

I fade out again.

I wake up to heavy knocks on my door. I’m in Nice. I open the door, shirtless. ‘What’s up guys, I’m a little sick. Trying to sleep it off.’‘Dude!’ It’s Max Park. ‘There’s been an attack. We thought you were missing. We can’t find Nick.’

I don’t remember the next few minutes, but I’m in the lobby with a hundred or so students, holding on to each other, hurdled in small groups. It’s chaos. Over the next few hours, every single person who was missing comes back, except three kids. Nick is one of the three. We make jokes about how he’s partying in Monaco. I almost believe it. It’s hard to imagine him dead.

I fade in.

My thoughts are interrupted by a change in DJ. I can hear it upstairs. The music is a little familiar so I go back to the dance floor. I run into the girls from the booth again. They chuckle to see me alone again. I smile back. I find my friends. The music is still disappointingly unfamiliar. No vocals, just techno beats. It feels like everyone but me is on Molly. I look around, and everyone’s dancing like a zombie. I go to the bar again. I’m out of cash.

I fade out again.

It’s just flashes of incoherence this time. Nick’s father, Conrad, calls me to tell me Nick didn’t make it. I’m almost breaking down at the airport. Next, I’m choking while giving a speech during Nick’s vigil. Then, I’m going on a pub crawl with his parents to celebrate his life.

I fade in.

I want to leave. I decide to walk and get some fresh air. Its seven in the morning, and the night club, even though I’m standing right outside, feels like a distant memory- a whole new universe really. I check my phone. I walk towards the east, hoping to make sense of the unfamiliar german streets.

I fade out again.

It’s Nice. It’s five in the morning, and Nick and I, after a typical night, are getting kebabs next to the beach. ‘We keep spending so much on these meals that you don’t even like. Why can’t we just have kebabs all the time?’

‘Because we only like these when we’re drunk’ he smartly points out. ‘It’s good that you always hang out man. Half the kids in this program can’t even rally’ We’ve been getting drinks, kebabs and going out clubbing for two weeks straight.

‘Of course, man. They’re soft’ I joke. I didn’t use that word to describe people before I met him. He’s contagious.

‘You’re like my sous chef’ he jokes. I hate the fact that I agree.

We walk towards the residence. It’s a two mile walk, and it’s going to take a while. But we’re invincible.

I fade in.

I’m in Berlin again. The walk is just as long, but I’m alone this time. But that’s not the worst part.  The worst part is that he made me feel invincible and then showed me in the cruelest way how I fragile I really am. I don’t think I can make it.

I fade out.

                                                                         *** *** ***

A special thank you to my EIA family, specially, John Philip Josi, Noelle Forougi Paige Basconcillo Romy Attias Raychel Justice Anjali Banerjee Ken Singer Max Park , Kevin Park, Monika Tarvydytė, Gabrielė Kriaučionytė and Sasha Gawronska, I really hope none of us have to go through this again, but I’m glad I went through this with you guys. I wouldn’t have been able to cope any other way.
I might have lost a friend, but I’m so extremely fortunate to have gained a wonderful family. Thank you for taking me out to Nick’s favorite bars and restaurants, and sharing that experience with me. You guys are really an inspiration Conrad Leslie, Paola Bottoni Leslie and Fabio Bottoni.

NOT FAT

Every time you refuse to acknowledge

That someone is pudgy

In the hope that they

Feel better about themselves

And

And call them gorgeous instead

You are

Actually putting yourself on a pedestal

And with

Considerate condescension

Telling them

That they being who they are

Is not good enough

That their existence,

In their shape and their form

Is hideous enough

For you not only to refuse to

Acknowledge it

But also make you

feel the need to

cover it up

with

Meaningless superfluous adjectives

The worst thing

You can call a fat person

Is

Not fat

Classical Conditioning

Ivan Pavlov called it classical conditioning. It’s a learning process that occurs when two stimuli are repeatedly paired. A response, which is at first elicited by the second stimulus, is over a period of period of time, elicited by the first stimulus.

For example, you slap a dog, and give him a piece of meat. You do that for a month. You do that for two months. The dog starts understanding that the slap is a chronological prerequisite to the piece of meat. But one day, you don’t give him the meat. You just slap the dog, and wait. He’ll start salivating.

What happens here, isn’t magic. It just feels that way.

Same way, you follow a piece of meat with a beating, and the dog will perceive the meat as a chronological prerequisite to the meat, and he’d be whimpering as soon as he sees the meat.

This process seems innocuous; until you ask a question most people never bother to ask.

‘So, what happens to the dog?’

Don’t get me wrong. Classical conditioning isn’t just about helpless canines and blithering masters. It’s an active process that happens to us everyday. Most of us just fail to acknowledge it.

* * *

By the time there were fifteen candles on my birthday cake, I had been hardwired to anticipate danger after a happy moment. I had grown up to be a person who had started living in the future. Constantly.

That much, however, I could deal with.

What I couldn’t deal with was that I had come to find that every happy moment would necessarily attract an acerbic reaction.

It’s very easy to be cynical about the future. It’s very easy to be cynical about anything, actually. But this, this is hard. What do you do when you actively try to steer away from happy moments and live in emotional monotony just so you could avoid nature’s cruel joke that you anticipate would follow?

Most people would call me paranoid. I wouldn’t blame them, really. People like to call it as they see it. And maybe I was a bit paranoid. But nobody tries to understand which fire this smoke was coming from.

Everyone likes to be happy. Everyone wants to be happy. Everything that we say and do, everything that we want to achieve, everyone that we surround ourselves with, every step we take, is with a hope that it would eventually make us happy. But what if being happy really feels like a precursor to being terribly morose. What happens when you take happiness out of the equation?

The good news is that it’s all in the dog’s head. The bad news is, the dog wouldn’t believe that. He’d start to hate every piece of meat you offer him. He’d do everything he can to avoid the meat. Every piece of meat that’s not followed by a beating would make him unnervingly suspicious.

But tonight, quite begrudgingly, we celebrate the good news.

Schrödinger’s cat

Let me teach you how it’s done, kid. You wipe that look off your face. You spend a minute in front of the mirror. You clean up. You make sure the door of the bathroom is locked, and you laugh.

You laugh like no one’s watching. You laugh at nothing. You laugh at everything. You look at yourself while you’re laughing. You’re fine, kid. If you’re not, you pretend that you are. You will be fine. It’s easy. Just keep laughing. Soon, your brain will flood your body with endorphins. You’ll actually start feeling good. You’re not supposed to know how these things work. In fact, the less you know, the more effectively they work.

You take a deep breath. You suck cool blue air in for five seconds. You count the seconds. That’s all you think about. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. You keep it in for six. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. You feel suffocated now, don’t you? Funny how the only thing that keeps us alive can also kill us, if we’re not careful. Life is full of surprises, kid. You let go of the hot red air. You count till seven. That’s all you’re thinking about. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven.

You wash your face. You search for aroma. You try and feel everything. That breezy july wind hitting you behind your neck. Those loose ends of the oversized t-shirt touching you at your waist. The straps of your bathroom slippers clinging on to your feet like an infant clings onto his mother. They call it mindfulness. It’s supposed to work. You feel the water hit your face. It’s cold. You will be fine, kid. It’s going to get better.

I remember when it first happened. I was fifteen. I probably didn’t know what it was until it happened again. I was eighteen then. Bored out of my mind. All I ever did was have coffee, read shitty tabloids, and masturbate. That’s what I did for a month.

It’s a viscous cycle. You stay in bed one day thinking you’re sick. Maybe you are. Maybe you’re not. You think about everything that’s gone wrong. You think about everything that WILL go wrong. You think you are a worthless piece of shit. Well, in that moment, you are, kid. You are a worthless piece of shit. You try so hard not to become someone, that you embody him. You become everything you’re afraid of. And then you HAVE to stay in bed.

I remember how I coped with that at eighteen. I was young, kid. I was the youngest I’d ever felt. I was also scared. There wasn’t going to be second chances from here on out. You’d see the result of every action you take. I was growing up, kid. I was growing up faster than I was supposed to.

I was a smart person. Smarter than most. Often the smartest person in the room. I thought about things no one thought about. I saw things no one bothered seeing. I was seeing more things than my mind could comprehend. All the happy people I ever met either had single digit IQs or a completely contradicting outlook on life. Fucking single digiters. I had mocked them my entire life, shunned them for not seeing enough, but in that moment, I was envious of them. I wasn’t ready for this. I was only eighteen. Re-evaluation could wait another twenty years.

On most days, it felt unnatural. The lack of energy. I tried to fix myself, but I gave up when I couldn’t find anything to fix. The next month was spent reading shitty Internet articles about things I could no longer control. It was a downward spiral-Gravity working beautifully, and methodically. I tried to sleep. I used to sleep whenever I felt like shit. I began spending entire weeks sleeping, hoping that I’d wake up in a better place. But I didn’t.

I had no option, but to pretend I was a single digiter for a while.   I recollected all the moments where I’d seen people happy – drinking, dancing, flirting, singing, doing narcotics, everything. I waited for a week. Then two more. Surely, there had to be some other way. Surely, I wouldn’t have to kill everything I stood for just to feel happy for a while.

I bought the strongest cigarette I could find – a Perique with no filter. I made a jug of black coffee. Extra strong. It was supposed to help me look like I was thinking about something profound. I was going the entire 9-mile. Believe me, I was.

I deciced to do it. I decided to pretend I was a single digiter. What’s the worst that could happen, right? I couldn’t feel any shittier, right? This stuff makes everyone happy. I’ll have to pretend to be someone I’m not, but atleast that someone would be happy, right? I knew it was a shitty argument. But, on that day, it was enough.

I called the sleaziest girl I knew. I flirted with her. I made some promises. Fake love for an hour or so. Then, I invited her to go out with me the following day. She said yes. She had to say yes.

I stole money from my father’s cupboard. I had to steal money. No way I had that kind of money to blow. I immediately felt bad for my dad. It wasn’t his fault. But I decided to blame him anyway. I smoked the last of my cigarettes in the privacy of my bathroom. Stayed inside for a while, with the shower and the exhaust on.

We went to an overpriced club that night. I drove fast and listened to electronic music, on the way. I would pump my fists to try and enjoy the moment. I pretended till my brain kicked in enough endorphins to tell my body that I was, infact, enjoying. My brain had been humiliating me for a while. It was my turn. But who was I kidding? This was one battle I couldn’t really win.

I ordered the strongest alcohol. Drank all I could, till my esophagus burnt up. Threw up all over the place, and then drank some more. Hey, this was supposed to make me happy, right? Why not do the entire clichéd thing? Fifteen thousand rupees and about three bottles of shitty whiskey later, I gave up. I wasn’t happy.

I hit the dance floor. I touched her. She touched me back. She could probably see how much pain I was in. But then again, I didn’t really care about that. We made out. I’d been saving my first kiss for something better. I knew that I had wasted a lot of opportunities to kiss a lot of beautiful women, as soon as our lips met. I didn’t like it. I couldn’t have liked this. ‘How do people do this’ I thought to myself. How do they do this and still look so happy in those blithely photos?

I drove home half unconscious, hoping my car had eyes that worked better than mine. I didn’t remember where I’d dropped her off. I wasn’t that guy. I hated everything about that night. I’d never hated anything like that before.

I woke up the next morning, feeling the worst I had ever felt. I’d tried life my way, and it hadn’t made me happy. I’d tried life the single digiter way, and I was still rather morose. At least before last night, there was a possibility that there was something out there that could have made me happy. Now, I had squandered that.

It was like Schrodinger’s cat. You don’t know whether the cat is dead or not, until you open the box. Well, kid, sometimes, you really don’t want to know. It was download spiral all over again. Gravity’s beautiful ugly trick Read the rest of this entry »

Lines Of Control

I often seek inspiration from lines of control. They face the burden of death and  decay, the plight of lives that were  lost in the battles that were won, and yet they stay unfazed. Unshattered. Unmoved.

Perhaps the way they operate is nature’s biggest irony. They are, at the end of the day, damage control – nature’s way of proving that sometimes the only way to keep things together is to keep them apart.

Like father, like son

I was always the kid who looked like his mother. My younger brother however, carried the baton from the father’s side forward. Same face, same features, same urge to never read, it was sort of the beautiful redundancy grandparents expect to see in their grandchildren. I wasn’t a bit like my old man. In fact, if you saw us together, you wouldn’t think of me as his son.

 There are some things some people are inherently good at. My father was great at arm wrestling. From being just a tool to impress the ladies, to national level gold medals hanging in his closet, it was just something in his life that had remained …constant.

 I was the same. Across all the beautiful discrepancies that made me more like my mother – the excess of emotion compared to my father’s ruthless pragmatism, the passion for literature compared to his for the morning news, arm wrestling was something that united us.

 It was never something I enjoyed doing, though. Heck, it was never something that I thought I would enjoy doing. But I practiced anyway. I practiced because it made him happy. I practiced because just like him, this was something I was inherently good at. I practiced because for a few brief seconds, I was more than just an offspring. For a few seconds, we were father and son, in the utopian sense of the phrase.

 Ten years of passive practice later, I became the son he would show off. I became the son he would bet on. I was the son who defeated every single person who came across the table – everyone but him.

 Part of me wanted to take him down. Part of me wanted to keep losing so I could just extend this unspoken about union. Not like I had a choice in the matter. He was just way too good for me. We never spoke about me defeating him, because we both knew it wasn’t a possibility.

 And then, early onset Parkinson’s.

 Tell an all star track runner that he can no longer run, and it will break him. It will crush his spirit and it will dampen his hope. He will begin to detest himself, and hate his body. And lastly, his anatomy- the one thing that he used to be proud of, would turn into his greatest source of embarrassment and incompetence.

 My father was the same. He slipped into depression, as his brain slowly commanded his body to give up on strength. He lost weight, he lost his appetite, and slowly, he began to lose his identity. To others, it was simple old ageing. To me, it was more like decay.

 The biggest damage was caused to his ego. From the man who took his family out of obliterating poverty, he became the man who was too egoistic to let go of his past and accept the new way of life. He wasn’t sick per se, but he felt like he was handicapped. I’m not saying that he didn’t fight it. But how do you expect someone to beat their own selves?

Slowly, his left side began to give up on him. It reached the point where he could no longer swing his left arm while walking. It crushed me to see him like that, to the point that I felt myself slipping into depression myself. He was my go-to guy. He was the pillar of strength, the guy who magically solved all my problems, and the guy who told me he would kill for me.

 My mother told me that ageing was a part of life, and that I failed to see the grace in his growing up. There is no grace in decay. There is no grace in the damaging ego of the only breadwinner of the family. That’s something my mother never understood. Or maybe she understood this better than all of us.

 We still arm-wrestled. I saw his strength diminishing. It was a slow process, but by the end of it, the outcome was nothing short of catastrophic. I was the only person he would arm wrestle. I was the only person who knew how weak his arm was getting. Perhaps he felt it himself, but if he did, he never spoke about it.

 And then came the night that I had waited for my entire life. We arm-wrestled a total of seven times in ten minutes. He won the first time. I won the second, and I swear I was beyond ecstatic. For a few seconds, I was the kid again who dreamt to beat his father at the only thing they shared. And then it hit me.

 I think it was his eyes, more than anything. They were impassive. Then I saw his lips – tightly gripped. He tried his level best not to let out a smile of embarrassment. Somehow I felt he was staring at me, inquiring how this had happened. I knew him better than to look him in the eye. I had no answer anyway. I was just as perplexed as he was.

 Believe me, I was happy. This was the proudest day of my life as a son. But I knew myself, and I knew him and I knew that my win was less about me, and more about him.

 We went at it for the third time. This time, I just focused on technique. I beat him again.

 He gave me a smile I had never seen before. It was part embarrassment and part pride. I looked down my shoulder, towards the right, only to see my mother staring back at me. She had the same look that my grandfather and brother did. In fact, I’m certain that all of us were thinking the exact same thing, but we just had different ways of portraying it.

 I let him win the fourth time. And the fifth. And the sixth. And the seventh. When I got ready for the eighth time, pretending to be enthusiastic about beating him again, I think he caught my bluff. He got up and he went back to his room. I cannot possibly comment on the look he had on his face. I think it was half parts disappointment and half parts resentment. I don’t think he was disappointed in himself. I think he was disappointed in me.

 I knew he would hate my guts for letting him win on purpose. He had too much ego to win when he didn’t deserve to. Any other day, and I would have crushed his hopes for a victory. I would have defeated him again and again, and then mocked him for bullying me throughout my life.

 The order was restored in the house. My family was no longer looking at us shell-shocked. My mother was back in the kitchen. My grandfather was back to his daily peg of whiskey. My brother was back to staring at his phone.

 We had both been selfish. He’d been selfish because he was angry with me for not being his reality check. In my defense, which son wants to be the final nail in the coffin of his father’s ego? I’d been selfish too. I’d been selfish because I had tried to save the only thing that kept us together.

On Running.

‘I’m a runner’ I’ll tell her. She’ll think I meant the sport. Then she’ll suggests that we workout together sometime. I’ll greet the request with an accommodating smile, but it’ll never happen. My sports shoes have been in hibernation for the better part of a year. But nevertheless, I’m a runner.

At least now she won’t say that I didn’t forewarn her. When she wakes up lonesome, maybe she’ll realize. Or when she calls me two dozen times, and I finally pick up to reiterate ‘I’m a runner’, perhaps, she’ll fathom.

It’s not something that I’m proud of; it’s not something that I enjoy doing. It’s something that I’ve developed over time. I’m a coward. I run when things get bad. Heck, I run if things get too good. I don’t care where I run off. It doesn’t have to have a purpose. Just anywhere but here.

So don’t be too worried when you feel the grip of my hand loosen, and you’re forced to take solitary walks around the boulevard we first kissed on. Don’t be too worried when you begin to forget my phone number, and then slowly my voice, till I’m just an echo of what you wanted me to be. Don’t be scared of the Déjà vu, when I slowly become, for the second time, the pre-conceived notions you had of me.

I’m accustomed to this. One big conflict, one surprise bouquet, or one ‘forever’ that’s a little too sincere, and I’ll be gone. I’ll tell her that the first day we meet. I’ll tell her again when she’ll hug me for the first time. And finally, I’ll say it for the last time, right before I would twist the keys to my car, and step on the gas. ‘I’m a runner’ I’ll hush. ‘I’m accustomed to it’

Huayra

You were nothing like the girl I thought I would fall in love with. In fact, you were completely contrasting – you liked rain more than you liked sunshine. You reminded me of how desolation could be beautiful. You reminded me that gray wasn’t a melancholic color. But most of all, you reminded me that it wasn’t happiness that I was yearning; it was contentment.

I have loved you. I have loved you completely and entirely, and with my whole heart. I have loved your little nuances, like the silent sigh of disappointment before you hung up the phone, and the grip of your hand become firmer while we crossed the roads. I still miss those scarlet etches your fingers left on my hand, and how you stared at the tea, and the crimson color reflected your eyes. I have watched you, watching me, watching you.

You were to me what the giant ocean is to a small coastal town. My life depended around you. In you, I searched for happiness. In you, I hid my sorrows. So, when you finally left, it destroyed me. It destroyed me like an enormous tsunami destroys a trifling coastal town. It rendered me catatonic and it left me helpless.

You were like collateral damage. Perhaps, I was right in assuming that when you’d be done with me, I would finally know why hurricanes were named after people.

My Battle with Hypochondriasis.

Shadowy imaginings seldom hold up in the light of real life experience. I spent my nights tracing shadows of the mysterious creatures that flew past my bedside windows. I followed that olive branch that so eloquently met my bedroom closet. I poured water on the bed sheets, shivering as the cold slowly engulfed me. I did everything I could to distract myself from…me.

Sometimes hot acid danced, slowly, and almost melodiously in my esophagus. I tried sitting up to appease the pain, but my efforts were futile. Other times, a fiery sphere hollowed my head- a pain that would make the most valiant of men scream. Everyday, I fought a new disease, and everyday, I lost. When there were no tears left to be shed, my skin was forced to cry instead.

I would grope myself to check for tumors, incisions, notches, anything. I decided that I wanted to be sick. The fact that my own mind was playing tricks with me was too hard to digest for me. The pain felt more real than anything else. To those around me, I was like a dead tree – Solid on the outside, but crumbling on the inside. I was stuck between two tsunamis, on of which was causing the other.

Every waking minute was spent listening to the sounds generated by my body – the mellow gurgle of food running down my food pipe, the sweet serenade of the heart pumping blood and the wheezing of my breath, as the toxic air bounced off tumor after tumor in my body. There was something very musical about the way my body was destroying itself.

I wanted to fight, but I didn’t know what to fight. I was a war within me, resonating between my very own ideas of well-being and morbidity. I was the paradox – the border that not only joined the two, but also split them apart.

I never knew how strong I was, until strength was my only option. When I decided to face my fears, I let myself cry. Open. I gulped for air, and I cried more. When nothing happened- when I couldn’t pour out oceans to make way for relief- I realized I was no longer the natural disaster I once was. My pain was no longer something that could engulf me.

Perhaps dying and living was the exact same thing.

There is something odd about odd numbers.

Honestly, I did not know what time it was. It wasn’t one of those moments when you can’t tell five in the evening from seven. It was one of those when you wake up abruptly only to see that it’s still dark outside, but you can’t decide whether you’ve slept too much, or not enough. Only, I hadn’t been asleep. I had just been suspended in a hazy daze.

‘Sir, I know these are tough times for you, but we need you to cooperate.’

‘Hmm?’ I looked up, bemused.

‘Sir, I know these are…’

‘Oh yes. Right. What do you guys want from me?’

‘Sir, it’s policy. We need to know what happened?’

‘I just came back from work. I don’t know why she did what she did’

‘Sir, these cases aren’t very common. Was she depressed?’

‘Not to my knowledge, no.’

‘Was she on any medicines?’

‘Yes. Valproate.’

‘Was she sick?’

‘I wouldn’t call her sick.’

‘What would you call her, then?’

‘Many things.’

‘Sir, the sooner I know everything, the sooner we can let you go. I suggest you cooperate. Like I said, I’m sorry, but it is imperative that we know everything. Protocol.’

And then, seeing that I had no other option, I told the police officer everything I knew, or correctly, everything I understood.

Breakfast was always two pieces of brown bread with the same number of boiled eggs, and a single cup of coffee spilt into two. No knives; two forks, one on each side and two teaspoons of sugar for the coffee.

Over the course of four weeks, my entire room had changed. I was always told that life changes once you’re married, but this wasn’t the kind of change I had anticipated. But then, I tried my best to respect, and reconcile with the fact that her ‘ideal’ home could, and probably did, differ from mine. Despite all my efforts to be understanding and accommodating, the discomfiture caused by the fact that I came home to a different place every day left me, well, for a better term, discomfited.

She had disposed off with the solitary sofa, and replaced it with two chairs, one for each side of the bed and two little tables to give them company. She had a keen eye for details, which she exhibited with the efficiency with which she replaced the five ceiling spotlights with two tube lights in the time I went to office and came back.

I thought I knew what I was taking upon myself when I married her, but her idiosyncrasies, ranging from the larger, obvious changes, to the barely conspicuous ones, left me astounded.

‘Why do you keep changing everything? What was wrong with the sofa?’

‘There is something odd about odd numbers.’ She would say.

I agree that her behavior was mostly cryptic, but there was something about her, that made her the only mystery in my life that I preferred unsolved. She was oblivious to my existence sometimes, but I was in love. I had convinced myself that deep inside, she cared as much about me as I did about her.

She also hated stepping outside the house. There was something about the world that rendered her incapacitated, and ironically, there was something about her that made the world feel the same way. The universe has it’s own ideas of restoring balance.

She ensured that the curtains were always drawn, and windows were always shut. I started using the back door to come into the house whenever I managed to get free early. The place wasn’t a home to me anymore. It didn’t feel like one. It was just a house.

Usually, however, I would come home around half-past seven. She would make me two chapattis and one vegetable dish, served in two different utensils. Her behavior was not something I even pretended to understand, but I respected her enough to cooperate. She had found her solace in even numbers, like I’d found mine in her.

Every night, we watched television. She always watched two shows together, flitting between the channels every few minutes, like a restless hummingbird. She shook like one too, shaking her right leg so fast that the entire bed vibrated under her. At the end of this entire exercise, I had no clue as to what was happening in either of the shows, but I had no ideas for a better evening. She resisted change.  In retrospect, however, her routine seemed almost attractive to me.

When we finally went to bed around eleven, would tell me that she loved me exactly thirty seven times. Then, she would hesitate, and say it once again, just to even things out.  Then, she would remember that he hadn’t changed into her nightdress and she would spend another hour fidgeting in the bathroom. It left me strangely desolate in the beginning, but soon I got used to it. ‘Routine is good’, I told myself. ‘Routine is stability. She is stability.’

She used to change into her pink nightdress, but once back, she would decide that green would have been a better option. Finally having brushed her teeth twice, she would come back to the bed, where she would lie, her eyes vacant, completely oblivious to my presence. That allowed me to shamelessly stare at her face. Only, I’d decided not to. Her nonchalance was more agonizing than it was fascinating. Sometimes, she’d kiss me. Once. Then twice. She wouldn’t stop. Or maybe, she couldn’t. It wasn’t me who was driving her. It was her inability to control her own actions.

Our nights were extremely volatile, a hint of desperation coloring the way she clutched at me, and then the sheets, before she pushed me off and stared at the ceiling, just as vacantly as before.I would usually get about two hours of sleep before the affect of her afternoon pills wore off. She had been asked to take a tablet a day- 50 milligrams of valproate, but she couldn’t do it.

‘That’s all? One pill? That’s a bid odd.’

I used to chuckle at her failure to acknowledge the humor in her statement.  She was a genius sometimes, and she had all the problems other geniuses had. She was completely oblivious of the fact. But maybe, she was simply confounded by herself, because she did exceptionally well at what she couldn’t help doing.

We had to specially order pills worth 25 milligrams each so that she could have two of them.

‘This is much better. A single pill wouldn’t have made me feel right. The more, the merrier.’ She used to laugh.

A soft, mellow laugh. It became my existence, that laugh. I gave up more and more of myself just to hear it again. I drowned in her. Then, the pills would have their effect, and in a few moments that were defined by both revulsion and distress, she would fall unconscious, with her lips still hung up on her smile.

At four, she would decide to shake things up again.

‘The bed is dirty. The maid didn’t change the sheets.’ She would complain.

‘It’s okay, love.  We’ll wash them in the morning.’

She wouldn’t protest, but she would pace around the room, anxiously. Then, in an attempt to feel better, she would toy with the tube light switches.

Thirty-eight cycles later, she would come back to bed.

‘You don’t want to wash your feet?’ I would ask.

‘It’s 4:07. Maybe later.’

At four thirty, she would get up again and walk to the window to count the stars. It was beguiling to see her at work.

‘One, two, three, four…five twenty-six, five twenty seven…ah drat.’

And sometimes, when the clouds would hide some of the stars, she would wait, hoping to see an even number through the windows. She was different, but then, she was just finding her solace, like all of us.

This would happen every single night. The first two weeks had been a lot of surprises, but by the end of the fourth week, I had grown accustomed to her activities. I was in love with someone disturbed. I did not know the cause of the disturbance, and I could not help her. I could just be patient. And so I was.

Sometimes, I would go to work in June, and come back in August. She used to flip through the calendar as if it were her favorite book. Time wasn’t her best friend. She often complained about clocks too.

‘I don’t like all the numbers in that circle.’ She would say. I had replaced all of them with their digital variants but she had a problem with them as well. In the end, she decided to stop all of them at 8:48 PM.

She had embraced my life like a tattered blanket covers a child on a cold winter night. I still felt cold, but she was all I had.  Her idiosyncrasies had become a part of my life, and any deviance from this new found version of sanity would annoy us both.

I was working on a little PowerPoint presentation that was due at office the very day, when I heard a splat in the kitchen. Natasha had dropped an egg, and on seeing me, she ran straight to the bedroom. When she came back fifteen minutes later, I was done with boiling an egg and making coffee for myself.

‘Go and get another egg. I’ll make you breakfast’

‘It’s okay, honey. I’m okay with just one egg’

‘No. You always have two eggs. Go rush. I can’t go out.’

‘I’ll have something on my way. I’m late for a meeting anyway’

‘GO GET ME ANOTHER EGG!’ Her demands knew no end.

‘Stop screaming at me, Natasha.’

‘Stop being intolerable, then.’

‘I’m not being intolerable. You’re the one being intolerable. ’

She started crying again, and I as I rushed in to comfort her, which had by then become almost a reflex to me, she pushed me aside.

Haplessly, I fell down and hit my elbow on the breakfast table. She didn’t even grace me a look as I curled up into myself in pain. I didn’t know what stung more- my elbow, or her complete nonchalance. However, I knew I couldn’t retaliate. She resonated between strength and weakness, and I couldn’t tell one from the other.

My phone had fallen out of my hand during the fall. The lock screen read 8:05

‘Shit. I’m late. I have to go, Natasha. I’m sorry. I’ll get an egg when I come home’

I came back from work at five past eight but I had to wait outside because Natasha had locked the door. My knocking was futile, and so were my cries of apology. Finally, I used my spare key to open the door. I always kept a key, just in case.

The house was a mess. The curtains were pulled down, and my bookshelves were no longer shelves.I had come home to a disaster before, but this unprecedented. The kitchen clock read 8:48. Like always.

The door was locked from the inside, so there couldn’t have been a break in. My next natural instinct was to search for Natasha to ensure her well-being.  A few frantic minutes later, I found her in the bathroom tub, covered to her neck in water, murky with her own blood.

I took her out of the water, I mean, the blood, and I rushed her to this hospital. She was breathing, by the intensity was decreasing with every breath she took. I had covered her wrists in large swabs of cotton, and that had significantly reduced the bleeding, but she had lost a lot of blood already.

Upon reaching, the doctor had informed me that she would need blood. Since I wasn’t a match, we had to put her on a list.

‘What about her family? Our yours?’

‘My parents are dead. Her parents are diabetic.’

‘Well, in that case, we’d need to wait for her to be approved by the committee, but till then, we have to carry out some procedures that I need your consent for.’

‘I don’t care. Just get her back to me. Please’

I couldn’t help but cry outside the ICU, checking every few seconds for that red emergency bulb to go off. I was ridden with penitence, but I did not want to feel morose because I blamed myself. I was afraid that I’d already lost her, and I had bid her farewell, but more so, I was afraid of being alone. She was a tattered blanket, but she was my tattered blanket, and I needed her.

As I stood there, I made a mental picture of the Intensive Care. I knew that I’d have to remember this place for a long time. It was one of those moments when a child has to part with his broken toy, only that he doesn’t want to believe it’s broken.

The next thirteen minutes seemed like an eternity, and I hadn’t had plenty of those. The doctor came out, and broke the news to me. It wasn’t the one I had hoped for, but it was the one I had predicted.

‘I’m sorry, Mr. Chawla, but there was just too much blood loss. The wounds are fresh, not even an hour old. The problem is that she slit both her wrists.

Most patients just slit one. That drained her blood at twice the pace. I’m sorry, really. We tried our best.’

‘Yes’

‘Was she depressed or on any medicines? We need to know before we conduct the post-mortem. Also, we need to inform the police.’

‘She just liked even numbers’ I told him.

He had a confounded look on his face.

‘I don’t know what you mean, but I have a surgery and I need to go prep for it. The nurse will prepare the body and assist you further. I’m sorry for your loss. I assure you we tried our best.’

And just like that, he was gone.

And with that, came a realization. I had been cooperative all this while, thinking that she needed my support, while it had been me who needed her all this while. A few seconds later, I was in the deserted corridor of the deserted hospital alone. Sadly, I had to get used to this kind of ‘independence’.

The nurse came in ten minutes later and explained the entire scheme of things to me, but it was all a hazy blur. I just kept nodding until she said something that left my spine chilled.

‘What did you just say?’ I said, as I felt the blood drain away from my face, and as numbness took over.

‘Time of death, sir – 8:48 PM’.