Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Elba

The act of turning up, showing you care, call it what you like. I always left it to others to pander to Karma; my contribution limited to the monetary. I will oil the wheels and even wipe it down for you. But don’t expect me to walk along side as you provide for. I left an ‘air-lock’, a kind of safe distance from the ill fortune I might have been spared. Rather execute an online fund transfer than face the humanity eking off it. From experience, I’ve realized that it saves me from sleepless nights and unhappy thoughts; a knot in my gut which never goes easily.

 Or a nameless face I am condemned to remember.

 Regulation close cropped hair, ill fitting hand-me-downs and an air of resignation. Not very different from the rest of his brethren, some laid out on iron beds, corporate benevolence branded on each bedstead. The air was musty with the heavy odor of cheap floor wipe, only the light rustle of sheets as slight frames shuffled on and off. None betrayed much emotion; ennui perhaps. Also, they were used to do-gooders gawking at their state.

 I’m sure he’d seen better days. Pater Familias, a career, grand kids even. What might have passed, I shudder to think. For time evidently flew with fortune, leaving in its wake waning years at a desolate senior home. A face wracked by time, an eye unseeing. Gaze fixed into the distance; at what was or would be I knew not.

 His grip was firm, head tilted to compensate. It would be awkward being seated next to him. But all others were taken. If it were any consolation, I was not the only one seeking indifference. I passed on a pack of cookies making its rounds, and swallowed hard as he folded hands in gratitude. Almost immediately he livened up, as if in me he found a familiarity needing no introduction. He spoke. In Tamil, a language I barely followed. Of people and places, I suspect visited only in his dreams. In a tone, steady and polished, save for the one time it faltered, as he mentioned a town by name. He did not resume until his lips had stopped trembling.

 I wonder if he noticed me nodding all along, all at sea translating, and wishing being elsewhere. No more than an interloper from the other side of the tracks, seeking to offer solace by mere presence. Unable to linger with a handshake, for fear of remembering how it felt. Speechless, dense, a voyeur devouring a sight he might never find himself in. Self-assured that the constants in his long, pointless life were indeed safe from Fate.

 Then maybe, he never did mind. For while leaving, grip firm as ever, I managed to pick his parting words.


“Son, it’s not every day someone visits”.

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