Never Again

If he took a boat and went straight towards the setting sun, he’d reach Yemen. Or Oman, perhaps. Oman was more likely. Definitely not Dubai, Dubai was north-ish. He let out a small smile, almost unnoticeable. He knew his geography better than most of his friends. Considering that he should have been shattered by what she had just said, the smile that escaped was almost blasphemous. But taking the boat to the west wouldn’t be much fun, he’d have to come back to Mumbai – none of these countries had visa-on-arrival. Which also meant he’d need a lot of fuel. And he’d be back where he started, so what was the point?

He knew he was evading dealing with what she had just said.

Never again, she said as she turned and walked away to become another human outline in the crowd. He watched her for a long time. What if everybody in the world wore long flowing white robes of the same material – he would not have been able to identify her in that crowd. I’d call them human tessellations, he thought. Perhaps her hair. Unmistakable, lovely, flowing hair. I’d recognise her by her hair. But what if we wore hooded robes? He was thankful that we didn’t wear long-flowing white hooded robes. She was far away now, and he could still see her; know that it was her in that distance.

What if this setting sun said that – never again?

Never again won’t work. He knew there would be one more time. Actually, he knew there would be many more times. She wasn’t convincing enough when she said never again. If you know that you are never going to meet or speak with a person again, you should say something nice, perhaps something dramatic. It should have impact. So, if you actually never meet or speak again, there’s something interesting and valuable to remember you by.

“It has been a roller-coaster of a life with you, but the car has stopped, the ride’s been paid for and the park is now closing forever.”

He would have said something like that. It’s over at so many levels and it’s quite visual, a picture that you can always carry within your heart, even after the park’s closed and the scare of the vertical loop is dealt with. So much better than never again. But it’s never over. It’s always there. There is no going away for some people. Certainly not for us, he thought. We always come back to the same place in spite of the miles we travel. Maybe it’s not the same physical location, but it’s the same place. No matter how many twists and turns and how many ups and downs, we’ll always come back, if not to the town then in our own head.

She doesn’t realise it. She wants to be with me, but perhaps, not at this time. He remembered how people in Hollywood movies call their loved one’s a minute before they are dying. They say that if they had a chance to do it all over again, they’d do it differently. Some, of course, say that they’d do it exactly the same way. (These people aren’t the one who are dying, though.) It’s all about regret – and both involve going back to where you started. It doesn’t matter if you want to do the same thing again or some thing else.

*

Turn it, twist it, do whatever, it’s always the same. Twelve years; and we are back where we started – nothing has changed. Like a racetrack. Back where we started. The footpath was blurring through the tears, but she commanded them not roll down. She didn’t want to wipe them, walking in the middle of this evening crowd. Well, not exactly like a racetrack; there have been times when, in her heart, she felt that they had left the racing strip onto a reciprocal plane in a different dimension. She could stop the tears, but not the smile, as she remembered the times with him when her entire being swelled with euphoria.

Every time she felt they were growing away from the sameness and crossed over to a newness that was refreshing, they were back to where they started. It had to be him, with his lack of direction, he just moved aimlessly where a path would take them. Even in his choiceless-ness he had an uncanny ability to choose a path that folded on to itself.

She had thought of the various ways that she would tell him that it was over. She’d explain what exactly was wrong, but then she’d be at loss for words. She didn’t want to explain everything – he had to understand for himself. She definitely did not want it to become a conversation, or worse, an argument. More than anything, she was sure she did not want to get pulled into his Escheresque world.

‘Never again,’ she said, with as little leak of emotion as she could manage, and she turned and walked away. There is no other way he will understand. She was a bit surprised with herself; it was clean and sharp, she thought. That should drive the message home. Maybe she should have made that into a sentence, instead of a phrase; complete the context of what it was that will not be repeated.

He would not follow her, she knew of that, he wasn’t given easily to public display of affection, or of any emotion for that matter. There was a part of her that was curious to see if he was suppressing that stupid smile of his, as he always did when things got serious. He always thought of himself as a good actor, however, that was the start and the end of his theatrical popularity. His attempts at being dramatic were humorous by virtue of their banality.

She felt stagnated, even though things were moving ahead. The 8:42 slow to Andheri wheezed out of Dadar station. She watched it blur away and open up the view to the opposite platform. A woman, not very unlike herself, was sitting on a bench on the opposite platform. She didn’t seem to be in a hurry and she didn’t seem to be waiting for anyone. She was looking in space, with her head down at that angle, where it seems that looking at that particular angle somehow reflects seeing within yourself. In the midst of stationery platforms and trains moving up and down, she seemed to be at peace with herself. With each passing hour, she thought, my blurred train is returning on the opposite track to become her blurred train.

I should take the next one, he knows I’ll be sitting here. Maybe he’ll not come; maybe he knows I meant it when I said never again. Or, maybe I should sit here to know for sure that he knows I meant it.

*

in between the new distances
lie our footsteps
west and east.

we wait for a full circle, again.

the smug smile of the days gone by
ignored for now
stale after the remix.

i keep looking back
in the hope that
no new diversions
have come into being

*

He got off the 10:16 Borivali slow.

She saw him come towards her. She wasn’t surprised that he came. She was surprised that he didn’t have that stupid suppressed smile. She saw a face she had not seen before – there was no joke being told in his complementary world.

He didn’t say anything. He sat down beside her, quietly.

Time is a definite measure, but it behaves differently at different times. She did not know how long they were sitting like this.

He hasn’t understood what never again means. She was looking down at the platform where nothing was interesting. Suddenly she looked up to him.

Maybe he has understood, after all.

*

‘Where do you want to go?’ he asked, after some time, but she had no idea how much time had passed.

They both got up from the bench without saying a word, crossed over to the opposite platform and boarded the 12:04 Churchgate. From Churchgate, they walked to the south end of Marine Drive.

**

A good friend and I decided to write on the theme: Möbius strip. This was my submission.

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