US

Winter of memories

US
By Sa’ad Nazeer
Fri, 10, 20

The waitress thanked her for the generous tip. She took her purse and was about to leave when she heard the man in his mid-fifties having some sort of trouble....

The coffee cup was closely examining the round apothecary table with drawers circling in the perfect orbit; the books lay half opened, half read; there was a casement - one wall sized - and the remaining walls decorated with Edvard Munch; apart from the murals, the poems were hanging in silver frames. There were gallows where the dresses were hanging properly. She absentmindedly chose the maxi to be saved - red in hue. Life crept like snails for her, and mornings did usually haunt and nights became the sort of a monarch who didn’t want to be one in the first place. She woke up every morning and she just sat there in her bed, looking down, and waiting for hours sometimes deciding what to do next

Dressed up, she leaves her apartment, walks for two blocks until the house with the twisted mailbox comes. She rings the bell, the coarse voice from the upper portion of the house commands her to come up. So, she climbs the stairs, going up like chukar partridge, she opens the door to the attic and there he sits, playing the piano, his back towards her, and there she stands by the door like some self-invited guest, fidgeting with her red maxi. He never looks at her, not looking does something to the soul - it shushes it in unkind ways. Rage is building up inside her, she wants to tear apart everything there is: him; his piano; her own heart.

The next moment she is seen fluttering like a moth on the streets; hair dishevelled. She has shut herself inside her apartment and is sick of everything, sick of her heart. In the evenings, she stares deep into the pale-green coffee cup for some kind of a sign maybe and she remembers what Nietzsche had written about gazing long enough into an abyss.... The etchings of the mountains are seen far down the horizon, mixing some magic while whispering into the sky’s ear; the sound of water creeps in through the squares, repeatedly complaining about the mountains and the sky. Meanwhile, her gaze is fixed on the Munch, perhaps he’s sharing secrets of the trade. She flutters like a moth on the streets for the hundredth time, eyes examining her, the piano-music can be heard falling down the chandeliers. She is there, aloof, stuck somewhere in a maze. ‘Imma Brooklyn baby’ the phonograph rings in the muffled corner.

Months later, she broke the vicious circle and left her harmful sanctuary and visited the café. She sat down at one of the corner tables with a printed cloth stretched about it. A waitress came with a gay apron on, twirling a pencil round her fingers and smiling widely at the slightest of signs.

Waitress: “Welcome, Madame! What can I get for you?“

Madame: “Just an es... (clears throat) excuse me, just an espresso, no sugar, please.“

Waitress: “Right away, Madame!“

Her voice is heard faintly: ‘one espresso, no sugar, table 7, chop-chop!’

When asked, a man sitting at table 6, said, ‘’I’ll have what she’s having.’’ She heard that and they looked at each other and the man smiled in a familiar manner towards the occupant of table 7. The man looked in his mid-fifties, had a book in his hand. She smiled back subtly.

A buzz … some diva had parked her car outside and people had totally gone nuts. She was looking through the window, a contemplative look, unimpressed, while taking a sip. There, she looked too old despite being 28. The drawing of a grey bowl under each eye made her eyes look sort of tired and made her appear even more charming.

The waitress thanked her for the generous tip. She took her purse and was about to leave when she heard the man in his mid-fifties having some sort of trouble. It turned out he didn’t have his wallet. He looked flushed. She went over and paid his bill.

Man: “You didn’t have to do that. Oh! I’m so embarrassed right now.“

Madame: “It’s okay, why are you embarrassed? I do that all the time; I mean, forget my purse somewhere.“

Man: “Ah, you’re a saviour. Tell me, how can I repay you?“

Madame: “Oh, I’m no saviour and it’s no big deal, really. I don’t want to be repaid.“ She smiles kindly. “By the way, what are you reading?“ She points towards the book that he is carrying.

Man: “Well, thank you very much!“ He smiles back warmly. “This?“ He looks at the book. “Oscar Wilde. A Woman of no Importance. Great play. Do you fancy reading?“

Madame: “Umm ... yeah, in general, I do. I haven’t read this one.“

Man: “Oh, you must. I have read it like a hundred times.“

Madame: “I will, someday, perhaps.“

Man: “Tell me, what do you like to do besides reading?“

Madame: “Well, I go for walks. There is this place - a lot of pine trees and a library hidden among them.“

Man: “Seems like a great place! Don’t mind me saying, but you don’t seem like a person who’s content?“

Madame fidgets. “I am not. It doesn’t mean I’m a cry baby either. But, I feel a strange contentment when I’m alone.“

Man: “Well, there’s always a deep sorrow in the contentment of being lonely.“ He stares into her eyes, as if trying to see through her.

Madame looks over her shoulder as if to find the right words, then says in a calm but sad undertone. “I feel as if-“ She takes a deep breath, “as if in my heart a thousand winters reside that won’t go away.“

Man: “A thousand winters!“ He reflects for a moment and gives her a compassionate look.

Madame: “How do you define happiness?“

Man: “I can’t, but I can say this: happiness is hidden in our deepest sorrows.“

Madame: “That’s reassuring. So, if I am deeply sorrowful, can I find happiness there?“

Man, remorsefully: “It’s complicated.

*****************

Dusk had announced its arrival. The light entered more softly than ever. They ordered for the second time. She felt quite calm talking with him. She hadn’t felt like this in a long while. They took sips from their coffee and gazed into each other’s eyes in silence.

Man: “Tell me, what do you think about when you walk among those pines?“

Madame: “I think about a lot of stuff. Well, sometimes I imagine myself as some character, I act as if I’m being filmed.“

Man: “Don’t we all? We are escapists by nature. We believe, somehow towards the end of this we’ll find something or someone worthwhile.“

Madame, looking into the coffee cup: “The irony is that most people don’t even find themselves.“

Man: “Yeah, basically, we are so in love with our imagined ends that we seem to ignore the myriad possibilities.“

Madame: “I fancy my end in terms of what I am going through. It is contagious these days.“

*****************

She took the tram home. The door opened and she let herself in. She opened the freezer, took out some ice, and slammed it shut. She threw herself on the davenport. The packet-full of ice-cubes had numbed her forehead but gave her no relief from her migraine. She stared at the ceiling and feared it might fall and crush her whole existence under its immense weight in a jiffy. Her eyes rolled and stopped at the sight of a piano loathing itself in the corner of the living room. She used to play Chopin in her art class and would ‘fade away into the forest dim’.

A few weeks had passed since her meeting with the man at the café. She would sit in the bathtub thinking about him lovingly for what seemed like eternity. But then the water would change its colour and she would remember the man in the attic; the maxi; the fluttering of the moth. The water acted like some kind of a machine that would turn time backwards. Her past spoke to her all the time, floated around her; it slipped right through her fingers whenever she tried to choke it. The colour in her cheeks would turn grey every time it flashed before her eyes.

One day, while she was playing Chopin, her back facing the door, her past sitting beside her, a knock was heard on the attic door. A young man came in, and stood there quietly, waiting to be noticed. He was the guy she met at the theatre, a week ago. They had exchanged phone numbers and she had agreed to go out with him. He had come to pick her up. He was standing by the door, carrying sprigs in one hand, calling her name politely, but to no avail.

The young man felt ignored and uninvited, something broke inside him, the sound of which was so loud that she heard and turned. He was about to leave, but stopped when he heard her voice asking him to stay. She arose from her seat and walked towards him, her slip dangling loose, they were facing each other now, looking into each other’s eyes, it was now just silence standing between them. She gently took the sprigs from his hand and smelled them and then took the book from his other hand. The colour in her cheeks was restored to its former glory as she read the title of the book: ‘A woman of no importance’.