“I think I know what sort of person I am. But then I think, But this stranger will imagine me quite otherwise when he or she hears this or that to my credit, for instance that I have a position at the university: the fact that I have a position at the university will appear to mean that I must be the sort of person who has a position at the university.”
-Lydia Davis, ‘A Position at the University’
Inside me lives this woman: a finer, sharper, surer, more advanced version of myself that I aspire to. Her hair is cut short with jagged ends, trifling now and then with her ears. She might have cut it herself. She smokes with a blank stare and makes love with abandon. She opens her eyes and looks into mine whenever I am slighted: the times I end up feeling hurt while wanting to be nonchalant, and the occasions on which anger surges through me while I wish to remain indifferent.
When I am tired of feeling the room and it is not feeling me back, I go to my own room and shut the door softly behind me. She takes a walk, slamming the door of the house behind her, not to prove a point but because if she lingered to close the door softly, it would be too late already. I stay in, looking at the roads she is travelling; it is foggy. She is bringing in a glow through her cigarette end she has lit just by breathing. (In her released breath, there is taut decision; she does not sigh.) The nictoine doesn’t give her a kick; it’s there so she can practise inhale-exhale with a cylindrical object.
She wears lipstick, matt. I put some gloss; it’s an attempt to affirm myself, my resolve that I won’t get shamed for asserting through my body, would not treat it as incidental baggage. She finished asserting a while ago. Now she walks in, she occupies. She owns the land she walks on and is humbled by it; she couldn’t be bothered about property.
She has seen too much by now to keep focusing on her individual life zoomed in. She has chosen to be a cog because it keeps moving, keeps seeing from different places. Her wheel is wooden. It carries earth and is run down. She is not run out.
She loves with her mouth full and protects with a vengeance. I do too, till I learn to practise caution with passion, fairness with loyalty. Her throat is lined with husk and she sings with a headtilt and closed eyes. She does not anticipate applause/criticism. Her heart is racing. She is running to catch up with the song and become it. I listen to her and sway. I don’t want to answer questions so I do it when people are moving to other rhythms of their choice, when the room has sanctioned movement.
In my dreams I am scaling up fortresses to escape my assailants. She goes out and stands in the middle of the road and dares them to come. If they do, she looks them in the eye. They want to crumble her, they might, but she pierces them clean. There is no win or defeat. Shit happens, it doesn’t. She is there. She is always there. She doesn’t run away from, she doesn’t run towards, she runs when she wants to excite herself.
Sometimes I withdraw. I let everyone see her. Then she laughs with the guests, or doesn’t. But people feel safe anyway because she does, secure and whole in herself. I feel envy on some days but she couldn’t care less. Parties aren’t her thing. Too much unorganised action.
She looks for lava and black holes and epicentres of seismic zones. She bites her lips and makes them bleed and keeps her mouth slightly open. She is not suicidal, or homicidal. She wants all to live and grow in her and to still keep standing. If a shrapnel hated her eye and her eyeball popped out she would carry it in her hand and walk through the fire and smoke and take it to someone who could stitch it back. She knows when to ask for help. She does it rightfully and earns respect for it. She does the same for others, offering help. Because what else is there to do, when you know you are but a dot and would rather be joined with the others, and not be a bot? The next day she looks at her burns and wonders if nature can heal her or if her animistic gods annoyingly witness these moments as her laziness, and scowl.
Where am I? Where was I? I don’t know because I was too busy looking at her.
She goes places, I go to different ones. We don’t know if we want our paths to be one. We are sure we want them to cross. We go and get the same tattoo.
First published in thREAD, The Hindu, 1 September 2018.