Hunger

That’s the name of the book I’m trying to read. Hunger. Or at least, it’s the name of the book that is on my mind most of the time these days, although I’m really reading another book which is a pretty decent one. It’s on the top of my mind especially when I’m hungrily shopping for more books even before I’m done with the pretty decent one and a pile of others fighting to be read next.

That’s the name of the predominant sensation I experience every day, may be because I eat very little – may be not more than a little bite a day when I’m in the mood – and that may be because I can barely sense the taste of food when in public spaces – like a restaurant, a mess, a family dinner, a lunch break at office and that sort of a thing.

That’s the name of love that is not reciprocated at all, or worse  yet: that which is returned in meager doses. It is also another name for lust. Love. Lust. Hunger. What sin, what pain, what pleasure.

That’s the name of everything that drives every man to do what he does. That’s the inner voice, the spirit, the sinner and the saint, the will and the winter within.

That’s the name of self-penance, the pleasure of punishing the self. Being the master and the slave. Being the torture and the victim.  The offence and the defense. The test and the outcome. The victory and the failure. The victory is to survive hunger that long and the failure is to not survive it for much longer. Hunger prevails over hunger.

Hunger is what I’d like to call you, my love, if not for your beautiful name, because I want you so bad all the time but I know I’d die if I have you for any longer than this. You are good for my soul in little doses. I think I can kill you any day with just one good meal but you aren’t really dead, are you? You are just temporarily buried under all the barbecue chicken and mushroom sauce and chocolate mousse; you come back to me the next day or the day after, and I receive you with open arms just the same and lie down over there with you, under the sheets, curled up and delirious, happy and hoping to die of you some day, some distant day when I’m happier than ever.

Oh Hunger, I love you.

Do you know I am going to leave you?

Today. Maybe, tomorrow. One day I am going to leave you and wouldn’t give you a clue. I’m burning all the letters that ever passed between us, one at a time. The letters you sent that summer you were abroad boning that older woman while writing about how much you missed me. The letters you sent from college while you were still figuring out if you’d fallen in love with me. The letters you sent, while you were trying hard to be a kid at heart, from home where you were catching your breath mostly. I tore up all our pictures in half. I flushed down all the little trinkets you called ‘twinkly valentine gifts’ and shed one solid tear to go along. I’m making fast and steady progress, don’t you think? The kids, well, expired. I wonder if you remember how many there were. One sultry Sunday evening we gave birth to four, lying on our bare backs, under the stars. We squeezed in one more a little later that night, and you declared, “let’s have a glorious bundle of five, not four,” because there was still space for one more in the imaginary crib and the imaginary car and we were young enough to accommodate, if only in imagination. It’s not like I had to drown them in the bathtub or anything. I don’t think of them and they don’t exist therefore. One way or another, the physical objects and the imaginary ones are shown the exit door. What would I do with the memories though? They stick on to me like skin. Last Sunday the skin on my fingers got burnt by accident on a hot plate. It pained like hell that day. Over the last one week I couldn’t feel anything on those burnt parts of my hand. But, today when I woke up I saw the skin on those fingers started peeling off painlessly. How do I make the same happen to my memories of you, and your letters, and your trinkets and the babies?
I’m positive I’ll figure out a way soon and the day I do that I would leave you without giving you a clue, just the way you did.

Olivia’s husband

Part I

Olivia left home for work at the usual time that day.  Onir stood at the threshold of the house every day to look upon Olivia’s lovely frame till she disappeared around the corner. That day, she walked away from home slowly and without looking back, and paused only to pluck flowers along the way. Gently she plucked them – the magenta flowers of early spring – off the shrubs along the blue-gray road – to feel the softness of their petals against her cheeks and eyes – then softly blew them off into space – watching them as they landed delicately on the grass carpet below. They did not bear the fragrance that she had expected. They had no smell at all. She walked away, the flowers forgotten and wilting fast.

Not far behind, Onir walked and paused too, to pick flowers. He picked them off the grass blades, those magenta flowers that he wouldn’t leave lying there for the insects to feed upon. He remembered to take them back home and put them in a vase. Every day. He remembered to breathe life into them, to slacken the wilting, even if it was just for a couple of hours more. The way the flowers tumbled towards the ground – alighting on the blades of fresh green grass that then brushed against Olivia’s dark blue stockings as she walked off – that… he wished to remember forever.

The flowers had wilted in the vase, by sunset, before Olivia returned home from work each day. They fought that night too, husband and wife. This time over bills and payments. He dragged her by her arm, into the bedroom – latched the door, to be unheard by curious neighbors – slapped her across her face – she cried – their argument ended there. Olivia  stopped crying and Onir was on the verge of a breakdown outside the bedroom. The screams that night were the worst by far. The flowers drooped dead by now.

After concluding the fight, Olivia and her husband emerged from their bedroom, for dinner. Olivia’s tired eyes fell on the faded magenta flowers in the dining room but maybe she didn’t recognize them from that morning. She didn’t seem to try anyway. Morning and evening were like parts of two different lifetimes for her – she couldn’t recall one when she was in the other. She blew her nose into a handkerchief, ran her hands through her long, black hair to set it straight. Husband and wife sat themselves at either end of the dining table. Onir, the butler, looked at her helplessly as he began to serve dinner to the couple.

Part II

With the tip of her index finger she flicked off a tear that had flown over her cheek from one corner of her right eye. That made her suddenly remember the tenderness of the flaring magenta flowers on her cheeks, and her eyes, that morning. She recognized the faded flowers now. She shot a glance in Onir’s direction; he was nervously pouring water out of a jug into her glass.

Her glance persisted and quietly pressed Onir to look into her eyes. He gathered up all his courage, peeled his diligent eyes off the jug to look into her watery eyes – eyes that posed a question.  Onir briefly swept his deep blue eyes across her tear-stained face – her eyes, her cheeks, her nose, her lips – and in that fraction of time he effectively communicated the answer she sought and more. Onir proceeded to the other edge of the table and poured out another glass of water for the husband who was busy gulping down the contents of his plate to leave the table as soon as possible. Olivia smiled at her husband who was not even looking in her direction; she smiled at the dead flowers on the table; she smiled at the plate of food and the glass of water in front of her. Dinner was done in a few minutes after that. Onir cleaned the table for the couple’s breakfast of next morning. She slept peacefully that night.

Part III

The next day, after breakfast they wanted red roses for their bedroom. Olivia walked down to the flower-beds in the backyard to pick some. Onir, who at long last gathered the guts and got rid of his lover’s abusive husband the previous night, set the table for lunch. He forgot to remove the jug of poisoned water the previous night. He replaced that jug with a fine bottle of wine to celebrate. Olivia’s husband turned in his grave below the chrysanthemums in the garden.