Swamped

It just lay there, doing nothing. Completely still, apart from the occasional slow, gurgling bubbles that broke its otherwise smooth, thick surface. It had been like that for as long as it could remember. It thought of the rain falling every now and then, mixing it up even more. It didn’t like the rain much, as it washed away even the little bit of form that it could muster, making it gooey again.

It didn’t like being gooey. Sure, being a thick sludge had its advantages; like adaptability. It liked how it could take any form it wanted, albeit temporarily. One moment, part of it was a crater to accommodate a stone before it sunk to its murky depths and the immediate next, it took the shape of a fallen leaf, cradling it in its arms as long as it floated on its sludgy surface.

The rain broke it out of its reverie, hammering it with its cool, stinging raindrops as it sought to churn its surface, once again. It let it happen, the way it always did, for there was nothing much it could do. The rain came whenever it wanted and muddled it up a little more, leaving it even sludgier than the swamp it was.

It always thought of its existence as simple. Mud and water, with the stray organic waste from plants and animals around it. Living things, as it referred to them; things with a definite form and a definite purpose too, it seemed. It found it fascinating to observe these living things, whether it was the tree whose foliage spread out over it like a canopy, or the birds that lived in its branches, or the insects that inhabited its trunk, or the rat that lived in its roots. They all fascinated it.

Living things, it thought again, as a bird above it decided to mix its refuse in the muddy sludge below. It wondered how it would feel to have a form, to have a life. Not that it did not know about what it entailed; of course it did, having observed these beings with a definite form and shape for as long as it could remember. It did know. But it did not feel. No. Feeling was something restricted to living things, wasn’t it? Yes, it was.

And hence, it longed to live.

It longed to have a defined shape, a definite form. It longed to free itself of the fluidity that had defined it for as long as it could remember. It yearned to be able to feel specific things in specific places, rather than feeling itself all over the place. It longed to be.

The first time it saw him, it was confused. “What is this?” it thought to itself. “Its form is so well defined.” It observed his long arms, ending in slender fingers, his long legs ending in chiseled feet and toes, his head flowing out in smooth black hair. It observed him for what seemed like an eternity.

It was so lost in observing him that it hardly noticed the rain pummel it again. “Who cared about some rain when there was such a fine living thing to look at?”, it thought to itself.

It was then that it knew what it wanted to be.

The rain finally ceased, leaving the swamp fine and glossy, like it was gossamer-coated. It began to feel itself again, all of it at once, spread out in randomness, but the effort behind feeling itself was different, now. It started to focus on feeling those parts of its being that could take the form of that wonderful living thing it observed, on its edge. Tendrils of slushy mud began to flow and churn as it struggled to hold together the form it had observed. Parts of the swamp glared out in focus as it struggled to hold itself to shape, wanting to be, wanting to live.

It seemed like forever, but shape finally began to form and define itself as it struggled to rise and stood, wobbling, on its gooey legs, balancing its soft body on them.

As it took its first step out of its erstwhile muddy confines, it smiled. It smiled and it felt its newly formed teeth under its fresh brown lips. It felt the night air tickle its nostrils as it made its way inside it, filling its new lungs up. It stuck a muddy tongue out to taste the same night air, relishing the way it felt. It moved its hands about in wonder, every movement making it feel even more alive.

It finally began to live.

It became him.

Goldfish

He hated the rain. I mean, it was one thing to stay indoors in the cozy confines of his snug room and watch it pour with a steaming mug of coffee in one hand and a smoking tube of paper in the other, but he couldn’t stand those cold drops from above piercing his skin with a chill that seemed to permeate right to his bones.

It was one of those times when he had to walk home in a chilly drizzle that the idea struck him. “I should get a fish bowl,” he thought. “It would be interesting to observe something that lives in water.” The same water he couldn’t stand smattering him, as he quickened his pace, trying to reach his house faster.

Later that night, he stood in his bedroom, admiring his acquisition- A large fish bowl, filled with crystal clear water, with a single goldfish swimming circles in it. He placed it in the middle of his room, under a dim blue light that lit the room up with its soft, dark hue. The blue light suffused the bowl, lending the clear water its shade. The fish’s golden scales reflected the blue as it cut its regular circular course through the otherwise still water, making the colour shimmer.

The goldfish fascinated him. He couldn’t get over how it moved through that water so easily, accepting it, enjoying it, depending on it to breathe, to survive. It was its routine, nothing more, nothing less; something it had to do, and did, so nonchalantly.

It soon became his routine, to spend all his time at home staring at the goldfish, fascinated by its submerged existence, watching it shimmer in gold and blue, observe it open its mouth and close it, gulping in that water for air, as it continued to circle the bowl.

It was another night like that. The rain beat a steady drum, outside. He was thankfully indoors, standing next to his fish bowl. The goldfish was darting about, tonight. Deviating from its normal circular recce of the bowl, eyes wider than normal, as if excited.

He exhaled a long stream of smoke as he leaned in closer to the bowl, watching the goldfish streak across its glass cage, its scales and fins all shades of gold and blue. The rain grew louder outside as he exhaled another puff and the smoke enveloped the fish bowl for a second before it dissipated, adding itself to the blue-gray mist that hung about his room now, clinging to the ceiling, blurring his surroundings.

Something came over him. He hardly registered his footsteps as he made his way to the terrace, taking one last drag. The rain drenched him in an instant as its torrents cascaded from the clouds. He accepted it as it washed over him, making him shiver and shake. He suddenly felt alive as his body screamed with protest against the deluge drenching him. He stood there a while, accepting the rain, overcoming his urge to dart back indoors. It pleased him that he did.

As he entered his room after what seemed like an eternity standing in the steady downpour, he noticed something was different. He moved close to the fish bowl, lighting up and inhaling deep as he did, the smoke warming his lungs and clearing his thoughts, and he saw it.

The goldfish was perfectly still, not an inch of movement, but very much alive. It stared at him, unblinking, its mouth opening and closing as it gulped water down, breathing. He was fixated by its gaze, his hand mechanically moving as he took another drag. As he exhaled, the smoke enveloped the fish bowl once more, but this time, it didn’t seem to dissipate. It hung there, surrounding the bowl in a misty blue-gray aura. An aura through which the goldfish’s bulging eyes held his gaze.

He slowly straightened up and leaned over the bowl. He was looking at the goldfish from the mouth of the bowl, now, and it seemed to turn upwards to meet his gaze, once again, its mouth opening and closing with the same mechanical movement. Holding the sides of the bowl, he lowered his head into the bowl, the water stinging his eyes, but not stopping him. His hair swirled around in the water like the goldfish’s fins, the air bubbles he exhaled clinging to it like tiny shimmering jewels. The goldfish held his gaze as he finally overcame his irritability with water, letting it submerge him as he held his head under it.

He knew it was a good idea to buy that fish bowl.

Replay

It had been a while since he stood on his terrace by himself, doing nothing but gazing at the sky, willing the clouds to clear so he could glimpse a star or two. However, the clouds seemed reluctant to grant him his wish as they hung heavy in the cool monsoon air, all set to explode in a torrent of rain, but flattering to deceive.

He loved watching the stars, though it was difficult to spot them in the polluted concrete jungle he called home. There was a perpetual haze in the air. During the monsoon, what was difficult became almost impossible as spotting a clear sky or something even remotely close to it was rare.

Yet, he persisted, leaning against the parapet as he waited for the stars to show themselves.

He did get lucky at times. One or two stars would peek at him from behind the dense cloud cover, like shy brides-to-be catching the eye of their groom just before exchanging vows. He smiled as he anticipated that familiar joy he felt when they showed themselves, expecting it to happen soon.

A cool, slightly damp breeze ruffled his hair, gently caressing it. The soft sensation took him back to times spent in the past, the same concrete jungle bearing witness to them, though he did not live there, at the time. The slight nip, the warm blanket, the slow-moving, creaking ceiling fan that wasn’t really needed but was on, anyway, and the dark room.

He didn’t know why the breeze brought back those memories, but it did. Maybe it was the way it ruffled his hair or maybe it was the way it seemed to softly whisper things he loved hearing in his ear. He couldn’t really tell, but it did.

He smiled to himself as he pulled a heavy drag, the smoke banishing the memories, clearing his mind. His smile became broader as the irony hit him; smoke making things clear. He pulled another drag as he waited for the stars. They seemed to be taking their time, tonight.

The wait for the stars brought back some more memories; this time, of another polluted concrete jungle, one that he loved and longed to return to, someday. That narrow balcony, the window in the grill that enclosed it, leaning out of that small space, watching the rare stars that were such a luxury in those smoke and dust infested skies that watched over the sprawling metropolis. He recalled that conversation, that comfort, the silent acknowledgement that the time had come for him to leave. Leaving; he had done a lot of that lately.

He loved his terrace. It was a luxury that he cherished. The open space and the visual access to the skies made it his favourite spot. He noticed the similarities between this terrace and another one back in the city he hailed from; the same broad space, the same metal object that looked like a cross between a staircase and a ladder leading up to a higher terrace, the low parapets.

He smiled again as another deluge of memories washed to the front of his mind, from the very terrace he compared his current spot to. The laughter, the smoke, the company, the anticipation.

It was a strange night. The neighbourhood was quiet, the yellow light from the streetlamps spreading across the street he looked down at, flecked with sleeping dogs and parked vehicles, everything dormant, letting the night’s rest calm them. Above them all, the dark rain clouds still hung in the air, threatening a shower that would send the sleeping dogs scurrying for cover, but not carrying their threat out. Waiting..

Just as he was about to give up after taking the last drag, a heavy breeze hit him and he looked up to see the clouds finally starting to move, like a gigantic ship lurching as its engines are started. He grinned as he thanked the heavens for the wind above and the breeze below.

The first star showed itself, twinkling as it met his longing-filled gaze. Then another appeared, and another, and another.

The night sky that the clouds had painstakingly hidden for so long looked like it belonged to another universe. His mouth opened in amazement as he watched a sky decorated with a tapestry of stars, so wonderfully spread out, it looked like all the stars were placed there with a purpose, each fulfilling it, resulting in a canvas that took his breath away.

Mesmerised, he watched the universe reach out to him as it blended with his mind, sifting through all the memories he had earlier recalled and more, letting him live each of them all over again, as time became irrelevant and he drifted through it, reaching out to everything he longed for.

He hoped dawn was a long way off.

The Snowglobe

She had a snowglobe. One of those pretty glass orbs with confetti in them that falls like snow, sprinkling itself slowly over figures that dance inside them to a tinkling tune.

It was a haunting melody. Eerily similar to one of her favourite songs. She loved that song. She still listens to it. Even if it means subjecting herself to that haunting vision she beholds every time she does. She loves listening to it.

That tinkle set if off. She was relaxing by her armchair, just having set up her speakers. The snowglobe on a mantelpiece across her. It was wound up and the figure of the woman inside the globe was slowly moving to the tinkle. Half a turn this way, half a turn that way. It was a strange movement. As if she was being held in the embrace of an invisible lover as they moved slowly to that melody. But her lover wasn’t really there. It was just the figure of the woman. Turning away inside that snowglobe as the confetti fell all over her.

The song started playing as she relaxed in her armchair. The haunting melody starting to play. She started to let the music get hold of her as her mind started swaying to those tunes. For no reason at all, she turned to look at the snowglobe, the melody coming from the snowglobe sounded just like the music flowing from her speakers; the figure inside the snowglobe moving to the tune of the song just as much as she was moving to the tinkle coming from the confines of her glass orb. Just that half swivel in either direction, nothing else.  

Her eyes focused on the figure in the snowglobe, meeting the blank, painted eyes of the figure, itself, focusing on that painted smile that was more scary than happy.

She couldn’t look away. It was as if that lingering, smiling stare of that  figure held her there. Transfixed. Staring right into those blank, unseeing eyes.

As the music hit a crescendo, albeit with that same haunting riff, the figure was in front her, come to life.

Or was it? For nothing that had life could have looked like that figure. The same painted, blank eyes, staring but not seeing. That etched smile. The same movement, half a swivel here, half a swivel there.

She looked at the figure, transfixed. Staring at that movement. Her head following each turn that figure made. Her eyes locked with the false eyes of that figure.

And for a moment, those eyes saw. Saw her with such envy, with a burning desire to be her. With a longing to break out of the confines of that wretched half swivel, wanting to writhe free of the embrace of a lover who wasn’t there, wanting to live, for once. Wanting to be her.

As suddenly as that stare appeared, it was gone, and so was the figure. Gone back inside the transparent confines of that glass orb, with the confetti falling on it. Gone back to the lack of existence that it momentarily broke away from, liberated by the tune and by her own imagination.

As the music stopped, so did the tune. The figure stopped moving too, with a click. The only movement that it was capable of also deserting it. But it still smiled. And stared. Stared right at her. 

She could not look away. 

When the stars shone down

The cold made him feel alive. It always did. The icy winds tried cutting into him as he stood on the outcrop of rock jutting out from the riverbank as the waters rushed beneath him, refusing to be frozen still. His breath fogged in front of his face, forming a mist before it dissipated a moment later. Even that breath felt alive, just like all of his others. He was alive. And it was cold. 

The night was clear, not a single cloud in the sky. The snow remained on the ground, though. A vast white expanse that crunched beneath his feet as he shuffled, fighting the cold; a tangible vestige of the heavens opening up and showering the land with pure white confetti only they could so flawlessly produce. 

The night thrummed with life. The waters of the river flowing with an intensity that defied everything that stood in their path as they made their way downhill. The sky was lit with a moon that illuminated the freezing landscape; seeming to warm things with its soft glow, but hardly succeeding. But he wanted that. He wanted the cold. 

And the stars. 

The stars seemed to have been placed on the vast black canvas of the sky by hand, each having been kept in its place after meticulous planning, each having been created to play its own unique role of twinkling in and out of the canvas at the time it should, each one of them so ethereal, so radiant. 

He had never seen stars like these before. The night sky in that cold winter dusk had been transformed into a tapestry of brilliance. Constellations, and galaxies themselves, seemed to blend with each other and yet stand out in their own unique place. The result was so surreal, he wondered if it was actually true. 

The world forgotten, he stood and gazed at the light coming from another world. Light that had taken myriad years to reach him, travelling though that vast empty expanse of space as if it had undertaken that journey just to reach him. 

It was the light that made him feel alive, now. The cold all but forgotten. 

Falling snow and an avalanche

The wind howled around him as he walked, blowing drifts of the falling snow all over him. He still had a long way to trek, the distant summit looming above him, lost somewhere in the clouds that spewed snowflakes and the snow itself. It was difficult to tell the clouds and the snow apart, made of the same water, yet so different in nature and state, but still managing to give him the illusion of looking the same. Snow surrounded him on all sides, the slope of the mountain a vast white expanse that seemed to flow and blend into the milky snow covered plains below him. All of it looking the same on the surface, but so different beneath it. Snow did have a way of masking differences, he thought.

And yet, there he was. Standing out in the glaring white that surrounded him, shielded from his vicinity’s dazzle by those sunglasses he wore, clothed in his black woolens. A lone speck of a blemish on the otherwise pure landscape. Snow hadn’t done a very good job of masking him, had it? He was one impurity that everyone could see, adulterating the spotless surface with his very being, fighting the snow that tried to mark his shameful presence by covering him up by trudging on and on towards that summit that was getting nearer, one step at a time.

His breath fogged and froze into a thin sheet of frost as he walked on, only for it to be broken an instant later as his head rammed into it when he took a step forward. Even his own breath was turning against him as it left him, he thought. It seemed to become one with the snow and ice, conspiring to thwart his progress, trying to make him one with the snow, not by changing him, but by covering him up.

Pondering this as he climbed, he thought about how this current predicament reflected how his entire life had been. He had always stood out from everything around him, choosing to be different. He was never afraid to be a part of the cover-up that was the norm of his time. Painting everything with a shade that is acceptable, hiding differences and shame by covering it up with the false sheet of serenity, just like the snow did to the land. He always was a blemish that had come to the surface by rebelling against that blanket of false purity that sought to cover the shame up. He fought on against it, staking his claim to be noticed, determined to show whoever was watching that it was all a sham, a sham so wonderfully deceitful, it all looked perfect until someone scratched the surface. But nobody did. So he took it upon himself to break free of the suffocating falsehood that enveloped the dirty picture it was hiding, and here he was, fighting against the cruel snowdrifts as he climbed to the top. One slow, laborious, painful step at a time.

His footprints were filled in an instant as he walked, by the falling snow. It was as if his presence could not be revealed and the snow was obligated to obliterate any proof of the fact that he was once there, any proof of the fact that somebody had dared to defy and had succeeded fleetingly. He never once paused to look at the path he had left behind, knowing it did not exist anymore. He knew that he had left nothing behind. No legacy that someone could follow. For those who defy do not follow, but lead. He went on towards the summit, not caring for what he did not leave behind, but what lay ahead of him.

As it came closer and closer, he urged himself to walk fast, for the feverish excitement of nearing his destination overtook everything else. He almost ran up the remaining distance, the snow finally seeming to have given up its earlier relentless aim of burying him under itself.

As he took that last step to stand on that one piece of jutting black rock on the summit that the snow dared not cover, he let out an exalting cry. It reverberated and echoed all along the mountains, carrying down to plains and beyond. As the vibrations of that powerful cry carried, the snow began to rumble and the very summit seemed to shiver. Almost poetically, ever so slowly, the snow, which had so far clung to every surface, began to shiver and shake. As the last echo of his thundering scream faded, another scream began. The rumble of the snow as it began to fall off the surface. It was as if the snow was shrieking because it was finally being stripped from the surface it had tried to hide. The rumble intensified as the snow fell, becoming an avalanche. An avalanche that stripped the surface of all its cover and exposed it for what it was.

He stood, panting, as he  beheld the brown surface that he had come from finally reveal itself. His job was done. For now.

Imprisoned By Escape

Lost in the crowd. Lonely among many. These generic phrases echoed in his head. He hated himself for it, for the fact that he equated himself with these generic phrases, that he used them to describe his frame of mind, because he was anything but generic and he knew it. 

He always thought of himself as something others could not see him as. He was an entity that didn’t fit in anywhere or under any definition. That made him stand out in the crowd. Or not. He was a needle in a haystack. Colossally different from everyone he was in the midst of, but too small and too minute in number by comparison to be noticed. Lost in the crowd. He hated being described by that phrase. Vicious cycle. 

Part of a crowded ensemble in a room cramped beyond capacity, he was lost, once again. Lost in thought. Lost in his twisted imagination of the alternate reality of things that were happening around him. He turned, looking at every face surrounding him, each lost in its own thought or the lack of it. But that is a different argument. A relative one at that. 

So everyone was lost. All in ways unique to them. Just like his way was unique to him. Some stared into space, some with eyes half closed, ready to drift into the land of nod, some others looking with purpose, (feigned, in most cases) at the person lecturing them endlessly, while some others were absolutely blank, having lost all semblances of description. 

His was a face lost among them, but lost with clarity that stood out. So was he lost, after all? He didn’t know because he did not want to describe himself with common phrases and hate himself for it, once again. 

His mind wandered aimlessly in a dimension of its own, painting pictures for his eyes to see. He saw bleak sunlight fighting its way into the insulated room, battling for dominance with the artificial illumination that lit the cramped space up. He saw the head of the fiercely concentrating individual in front of him glow with the rays of focus. Almost palpable, but his mind circumvented them and his eyes quickly forgot what they saw. He watched the walls shift colours and flow into one another, seemingly mobile but still at the same time. He watched the floor come alive and swallow everything that was on it and retch them out, instantly, so it looked like they were there, all the time. He saw the ceiling collapse on them all. Almost crushing them, but he saw them retaliate with such brute force that it went right back to where it was. He could see the person who was speaking exhale flames as he spoke, suffusing them all with the soporific warmth of his words. He witnessed the person next to him shift and blend into the air and then stand out and gain shape in immediate sharp focus. He saw what his vagabond mind wanted him to see. A mind so drunk on imagination, so high on the non existent, that what wasn’t real was becoming real with every second that seemed to pass. 

Such was the power of his wandering subconscious that things started to become exactly what they looked like to him. The entire premise of seeing was believing, which he had rejected stubbornly all along, was proved right in the context he wanted it to be. His mind was seeing and his eyes were believing. That was his undoing. 

His mind imagined the air around him suffocating him, making it impossible for him to breathe and as he saw and felt what his mind was asking him to, he thought he was undone by what he had always wanted. 

He hated himself for that yet another generic phrase describing him, once again.