Her voice floats in a whisper towards me.
I ask: What? Come again?
Rain, she repeats.
Then, as if teaching a small child, she repeats once again, spelling out the letters, enunciating each one slowly:
R A I N
You mean it’s raining?
No, rain, she insists. This time her voice has a hint of hidden laughter.
It is dark outside and raining. A continuous sleet of dark heavy rain. And this girl is driving me crazy. God knows sitting at which end of the world, she’s driving me crazy.
Are you there?
Her voice swims in the ink-blue darkness of the night. I could touch it, caress it with my fingers and fill my mouth with it and gulp it down so that it would echo inside me. Then I’d be able to know every timbre, every note, every lilt. Before I can say another word, the phone disconnects. Looking at the gloom in the darkness, I wonder. Can anybody have a name like Rain? It is still raining outside. Is this wrong number a dice thrown by destiny into my solitude?
The smoke from the burning butt of the cigarette feels like the taste of her smokey voice.
It’s broken and layered with rough undertones. Like the taste of tobacco on my tongue. Like seeing Zanzibar on the view master for the first time in my childhood. Like saying aloud ‘Zanzibar’ and feeling a row of goose pimples pop slowly on my skin, and making me want to speak it out loud again and again. I remember the Zanzibar view. It was a scene from a village, with a man squatting on the ground and spreading coffee beans, or maybe red chilies, don’t remember which now. Beside the hut, in the background, hazily visible in the shadows, there was a cycle resting along the mud wall. But was there a cycle in reality? Or was it just a figment of my imagination? The cycle was actually not there. It was the cycle
in my memory, like her voice is—in my memory.
In the dark of the night, I call out loudly: Rain! Rain!
Then I catch hold of my voice, touch it lovingly with my tongue and, savouring it letter by letter, bit by bit, say once again.
I will call three more times, and the phone will ring and her voice will whisper huskily:
Is that you?
But even after calling out her name three times, the phone does not ring. I snore in my sleep and dream of rain. Then wake up in the middle of the night, distraught.
I don’t know why, but suddenly I think of Fae Wong. Maybe I am still in a dream.
I want to hold on to a voice and cross the desert. That voice has an echo of my mother’s voice. Somewhere in a faraway playground, amidst an intense childhood game, my mother’s voice would come floating across, soft and inviting, laden
with the warmth of the kitchen, the aroma of freshly baked rotis with hot ghee melting on them, and the sweet smell of Ma’s sweat and talcum powder. And I would, suddenly impatient, leave the game midway and run back home, my
friends’ imploring to get back to the game notwithstanding. Upon entering my house, I would shrug everything off . In the warm yellow light inside, Ma would turn around and smile. She would wave me off , to go and wash, then close her eyes and return to her tanpura.
In the darkness of the night, I can hear the lilting strings of the tanpura. It has been so long since Ma went away. At home, in Ma’s room, the tanpura still rests in a corner in its cover with the small blue foral prints. When I go home, I play the tanpura sometimes when I miss her. My fingers caress the strings much the same way as in my childhood, when Ma would indulgently let me strum it sitting in her lap or the way she would let me wind the handle of her sewing machine.
The next time I am home, I am going to search for the Zanzibar slide and the view master. Until then, I can clearly see the coffee beans man and the Fae Wong girl whose name is certainly not Rain.
I wait in the dark for the phone to ring.
The interior of Bercos is bathed in smoke, hushed, blue and sensuous. At a table for two, I sit, quietly smoking my cigarette. No one brings me a goldfish bowl to share my solitude with. I can see a patch of the blue shirt of the girl sitting on the other side of the lounge. I can see her elbow too. Suddenly an intense yearning to touch her elbow once surges inside me. The girl gets up just as suddenly, and walks towards me. After a minute’s panic, I realize that she is going towards the washroom past my table. Her hair is so straight and silky, her cheekbones so high and broad that I recall Yoko on the cover of the White Album. Then I remember painting with my fingers on the shoulders and arms of a girl whose face dissolves in the blue smoke. Only her clear innocent eyes remain in my memory, like the garden of sunflowers in the blue night.
The waiter has served the soup. It is as thin and mild as the light hanging overhead that wavers and fades by the time it reaches the surface of my table. I whisper slowly to myself:
I walked on the banks of the tin can banana dock and
sat down under the huge shade of a Southern
Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the
box house hills and cry.
The girl, while returning to her table, turns and glances at me. The light plays up her high cheekbones in such a way that I imagine she is smiling at me. I look away. At the table opposite mine sits a woman in a black blouse and black slacks. She is smoking and squinting across the cigarette smoke. The man with her is talking into his phone in soft monotones.
I have an urge to ask the head waitress to bring a goldfish bowl so that I can give it to that woman and say, ‘Here! This is for you to share your loneliness with,’ and then recite Ginsberg to her in my rough, low voice in order to light up a
glow inside her:
…We’re not our skin of grime, we’re not our dread
bleak dusty imageless locomotive, we’re all
beautiful golden sunfl owers inside…
In the dim, yellow light, a sunflower blooms inside me. Suddenly I am overtaken by such restlessness that a dam breaks inside me. I signal the waiter to get my bill.
‘The soup was not good, sir?’
‘The music inside me was not good, dear friend. Your soup was delicious, but please, now the bill…’
Suddenly very anxious. Some words, a sentence, a phrase do a march past helter-skelter, breaking into a sudden jig. I collect my things, mobile phone, Ginsberg’s book of poems, keys, wallet, all my words, every emotion that is bubbling up my throat, choking my very being.
I write late into the night while listening to baul folk songs, a story that has not been written till date.
The phone rings in the night like a song. Her voice is a naughty one, snuggled in a warm blanket.
I call out, Rain?
She laughs. The horizons of a distant world are enfolded in her voice. It has the mystery of a softly padding black cat, hiding, then peeking out once in a while.
I repeat again:
R A I N?
She only laughs. God knows sitting at which end of the world, this girl is driving me crazy. I call out loudly:
Then, in the grip of some strange elation, I listen to Spanish love songs, read poetry, and write beautiful, sad stories of solitude.
Outside, it’s still raining.
Buy Rainsong, Pratyaksha’s book of short stories, here.