When Opens A Knot

Sep 29, 01:34 AM

Challenge: In 2000 words or fewer, weave a tale using these threads: rain, banana, acceptance.

ish called yesterday. He is in the city on a business trip. He called to say he wants to meet. I said yes. We didn’t talk much. He’ll be here in fifteen minutes and we’ll go out for dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant he picked.

It has been raining intermittently all week. I look out of my office window. Rain drops hang from the ends of barren tree branches, glowing in the damp sunlight like so many little bulbs. Departing light of the sun is caught on the few tall buildings in strange angles making them look like corners of an unfinished painting. I am always uncomfortable after these spells of rain. There is something about it that fills me with sadness. It’s strange for me because I remember loving rain as a kid. Those memories stick in my mind distant and formless, like clouds in summer. I must have been four or five years old. Now I am jumping in the puddles with Vish. Now I am making the challenging little run from under my mom’s umbrella to the bus while the sneaky little raindrops make every attempt to drench me. Little paper boats make their doomed journey in the endless little streams by the road — I am running alongside. Vish is running with me. He is always there in these memories.

I haven’t talked to Vish in fifteen years. What happened to us? I rake my brain. We somehow drifted apart. That happens with friends, doesn’t it? It always happens. I remember our last fight. It was just before college. I remember telling him about Maya, this girl I had started falling in love with. He said I was being stupid. He said I shouldn’t try to start something when we knew we were going to different colleges. He said he had been in relationships and I hadn’t and that’s why he knew a lot and that made me mad. Yes, that was it! His self righteousness. It annoyed me. He always made me feel small, insignificant. He criticized everything I did. I hated it. But then he wasn’t always like that was he? No not always. When did he change? When did he start to become so caustic?

I get a call from my secretary. Vish is here. We say hello and hug; I can see he is uncomfortable too. I show him around the office. He makes useless remarks about drab paintings we hang around in office for exactly these remarks that save you from having an actual conversation. We finally get a cab that crawls through the busy traffic. The driver is playing some sort of flamenco guitar music. I look outside at the street lights go by and drown again in my thoughts.

I remember how Vish and I became friends. It was the first day of school. Let me clarify. It was the first day of school for me ever, my first day being outside of home by myself for an entire day. I had never attended pre-school, we moved around too much in my early years. I missed home, I labored through the classes, then there was the lunch break. Students from my class had already started forming groups, I didn’t have the heart to talk to anyone so I found a table for myself and started eating alone, crying a little in my heart. I missed home terribly. Suddenly I saw a boy waving his hands towards me. It was Vish, he was part of a big gang, he asked me to come sit with them. I was shy but grateful.

We reach the restaurant, but they need some time to prepare our table. We sit waiting on the benches next to the receptionist as she heroically deals with the slew of customers and their ridiculous comments. An old lady negotiates:

“How much time did you say for waiting?”

“40 minutes ma’am.”

“Why that’s just too much. I am a regular customer!”

“I am sorry ma’am, you can reserve ahead of time on phone.”

“Unbelievable, Unbelievable! I come here all the time …”

A man unsure about the number of friends he has:

“So party of ten sir?”

“Actually, it could be twenty.”

“Could you give me a smaller range sir?”

“I don’t know, I can’t remember everyone who said yes. I didn’t keep track. I invited twenty five people though. I am sure at least ten said yes. Did Mark call? Oh damn …”

We get our table and are relived to be finally freed from the craziness at the waiting bench. We order some wine, Vish reminisces old days.

“Hey man, do you remember the unevenly shaped hands of our hindi teacher? He was like a little Popeye!”

“Do you remember the day Sid took that girl during break and asked her to explain the chapter on life processes to him and she slapped him?”

“Do you remember the day when you came into my house and created all the havoc with the priest. That was the most awesome thing, I still remember it and laugh sometimes. What a joker, that priest!”

I am suddenly very tense. I remember the day he is talking about. I had forgotten all about it. But I remember now. We were coming back from the playground after a game of cricket when it started raining cats and dogs. Vish’s house was closer, so we went to his place. He went in to get towels to dry ourselves. I was sitting on their dining table. I was dying of hunger and on the table lay two bananas. I was sure Vish wouldn’t mind, so I ate them. He called from the other room telling me that he is still looking and I should turn on the TV because our favorite show was about to start. I sat on a chair in front of the TV and tuned it to cartoon network. Suddenly, I heard a shout behind me.

“Where did the bananas go? I put them here when I left the house! Mrs Bhardwaj! Vish!”

I turned back. A priest stood next to the dining table, fuming. I didn’t understand. Vish came running. His mom arrived soon after.

“What happened Panditji?” she asked. I stood up, petrified.

“I had kept the bananas here that were supposed to be the prashad for today evening. I went out to get some other stuff and now the bananas are gone. Puff! Just like that!” he snapped his fingers.

“We have more bananas in the kitchen Panditji,” she said, trying to calm him down.

“No no no! The ceremony for blessing all these fruits took half an hour. I don’t have the time.”

“Panditji, I’ll pay you a hundred rupees extra. Can you please do the ceremony again?”

“OK OK Mrs Bhardwaj. You are a good family, so I’ll do it again.” the priest said. A little cash seemed to be the perfect anger management for him.

“Vish, do you know where the bananas went?” Vish’s mother asked him when the priest had left.

“No mom, I don’t know.”, Vish said lowering his eyes: he looked like he had eaten the bananas himself. She turned to me. I was scared to my bones. But she only said, “Nevermind, come on you two, I’ll give you something to eat. You must be hungry, you played all afternoon.” As we walked to the kitchen my eyes met Vish’s. He seemed to be judging me. He didn’t say anything all through dinner that day. I knew he knew my guilt and hated me. I went home in anxiety.

Next day I missed many catches during cricket. Vish shouted at me in front of everyone. “You incompetent moron! Can’t take a catch. And then you don’t score a single run also. What’s the use of having you in the team.” He always shouted at everybody in the field, but I could see a new disdain in his voice now. He thought I was a thief and an insult to him. From that day on, I heard the disdain in everything he said to me: when he scolded me for not paying enough attention in writing exams and losing marks, when he taught me how to ride the scooter, even when he gave me birthday presents. And we drifted apart. I could now see the invisible trails that all connected everything to that first strain in our friendship: when he judged me for unknowingly eating two bananas.

Vish continues, “That priest was a first class idiot! But what was I to do yaar? I had to look sad, if I didn’t do that my mom would think that I was the culprit and then scold and punish me. That’s what always happened. If I looked sad she would say nothing even if she thought I had made a mistake.”

So the disdain in his eyes was just affected despair? Something to get around getting scolded from his mother? But the next day in the ground? And so many times after that?

The air is suddenly clearing up around me. I feel like I have only been half breathing all through the meeting. All those times, Vish was just being himself. He just cared for me. The scoldings, the fights, the mean comments — there was nothing new in them after the incident. He remained the same. I changed and added new colors to everything he did.

Vish keeps talking. I feel a weight lifting off my shoulders. He’s making those little jokes and laughing uncontrollably way before the punchline, just like he used to. Now I am laughing too. My eye wanders outside for a second. It has started to rain again. Raindrops fly off cars and signboards and people and the sound of our laughter plays in the background. I love rain.

Rahul Jha




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