Sunday, August 23, 2009

Making. Things. Up. Down. Yes. No. Maybe.

Cast, Crew and others:
Z and her wonderful house;
D, Z's very incredible but extremely crazy mother;
N, who might not become more than a friend.


The vague outlines of the plan began brewing in my mind earlier in the day. To bring it into fruition would require a rainless evening and clear skies. At least. While rare in their simultaneous occurrence - even more so now when the full force of the monsoon is upon us - they were not the only factors.

“What are you doing this evening? If you're up for it, come over, and we can sit on Z's roof... howl at the moon.” I'd asked N as we were all dispersing, hoping to be out of earshot from the others. “I'm going for dinner with these neighbours/house-guests, and not sure when we'll return. I'll message you, OK?”, she smiled back.

We've never really talked on the phone, except when about work, or if something has to be coordinated. In fact, I don't think I have the “Hi!! I felt like chatting, so just called!” with anyone any more. :-|


It was much after 10, and we had been sitting – chatting, catching up – perched, almost, in one of my favourite spaces of that wonderful house. N had looked at her phone a couple of times already, the preparation and winding down necessary for the coming work-day probably on her mind. Noticing these glances, I realized I'd delayed too much – this evening, and in general – to bring it up, to ask.


Just a few hours earlier, I'd been on the other side of the parapet, pushing, but not too hard, against the small door, hoping to overcome the wood's seasonal swelling. The foray, apart from being preparation for the evening's plan, was many things: part curious exploration, part a childlike-revisiting of previously discovered places and features.

There had been bit of glee too, at the unrestrained freedom afforded by an empty house, and consequently, awareness as well, of how fleeting, strange, and rare these circumstances are. Despite the appreciation and gratitude - a debt that I can never repay - of having learned, experienced and gained so much in this house and its vicinity, I've always felt restrained in the company of its occupants. Z, a precious friend, like an elder sister, and, at times, a confidante, is quite private, organized and very proper. Many delicate negotiations (,/with) un-enunciated expectations and precarious balancing acts have been required to keep relations on the rails. Given the sensitivity of these matters, for N and me to have been able to discuss these things – apprehensions, misgivings, initial impressions and gut feelings, gentle, affectionate jokes on uncovering others' quirks – has been rare, comforting.


The last time N and me had sat on that roof was early this year, on a clear, cold January night. The ladder, of thick, aromatic and expensive wood, noticeable in a country where bamboo – tough, (and in the words of my neighbours and colleagues) “cheap and best” – is ever-present, led us eight rungs up to it. Z was South for the winter, and had requested me, very generously, to house-sit on the weekends. Those days, for that seems like a prior stage in my life now, I would organize my backpack, and reach the village on Friday evenings, leaving early on Monday, to reach work by 9.30.

Like that last time, D had someone staying for the weekend in her upstairs guest room. D's house, two small gardens and hedges, and one thin river stone path across from us, was silent, but not dark. The lights were on, and despite being subdued by an ageing, yellowed lampshade made of handmade paper, we could see. Silently witnessing someone else worried me: was it possible, on this silvery and silent night, for us to be seen as well? At some level, this rendezvous with N on the roof seemed quite clandestine.

Nothing happened, of course, on the roof or off it (I think back now - what was supposed to?), but the feeling reminded me of how my life in this village is composed of many delicate and precarious balancing acts.


We had been spotted in town a couple of months ago by one of my colleagues, when N and me were meeting one afternoon, for chores, shopping, and lunch. “Who is she?”, he teasingly asked me a few days later. “It's easy to tell, you know”, he continued, “guys look straight ahead, and don't notice anyone or anything else, not even their friends.”


Afraid of letting it slip through my fingers again, with wavering courage, and suddenly remembering how I'd wanted to phrase it, I finally blurted it out. “Earlier today, during the assessment I was conducting, you'd said, 'be gentle and don't force things.' This struck me... and reminded me of something from a long time ago. I'd asked if you were single...”

It's strange, but there are very few snatches of conversation from that evening that I remember in detail. Up till then, we'd been talking about a ton of stuff – probably about recent events, things we'd read or stumbled across on the Internet, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, common friends, their proclivities and their mysterious/unexplainable tendencies... Most of that has since slipped from, or isn't immediately available, to my mind. Just three memories remain: discussing the various shapes, phases, faces and impressions of the Moon, how she seemed like she was glowing in the moonlight, and, thinking about it now, what seems more and more like a very gentle “no”...



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