Warning: This work has been rated 16+.
[note: please don't hesitate to tear this apart completely. what i'm most concerned about, in this piece, is representation--if you feel i've made any blanket conjectures/ am romanticising any concepts or am putting forward incorrect notions (that may stem from my incorrect understanding of certain people, especially when it's intersectional crossings-into culture), do not hesitate in saying it. i also apologise if i /have/ done any of the above. this piece was difficult for me to write (it's quite old now; i wrote it last year), and i feel it is going to be even more difficult to edit. but i would appreciate the feedback very much, because i feel it is important in helping me grow--not just as a writer, but also perceptually.
so please, tear it to shreds.<3]
‘Four o’ clock.’ The microwave hums; the tape recorder clicks as you press the ‘record’ button, and the kitchen suddenly seems louder, the clatter clang clatter coming together in a dissonant harmony. Rain licking the windows in blind rage. Streets reduced to slush. It is one of those days where the entire world seems to have settled into a chaotic calm, and you revel in the feeling of nature bringing out its claws, of pushing you into a sort of isolation that is beyond the critical social gaze—that is beyond everything, that is just the man and the world.
A hum catches in your throat. A songbird. You tap your fingers on the counter, face splitting into a wide grin. ‘Four o’ clock, ladies and gentlemen. A weather broadcast.' Your voice takes on an overenthusiastic tone. Suddenly, you are the weatherman from FM radio, in blue overalls and sporting a greasy sixties pompadour. They don't make them like this anymore these days, you tell yourself. They make them suit and tie and salt and pepper hair. Manufactured and processed like the old man next door who takes the same bus as you in the mornings, whose sighs always come in threes. You sometimes wonder if he sighs loudly for a reason—as though hoping that the amount of conviction he exhales with would somehow change his life.
Sometimes, you are very glad that you weren't made like that. It would take a lot for you to put the same amount of faith in your lungs.
The microwave hums.
'Four o'clock!' you exclaim. 'The sky has put on its shroud today—dusk has come to rest its buckled toes on the skyscrapers, and the clouds continue to cry on our funeral parlour’—you swivel you chair around, coming to face the countertop again, palms perched horizontally on marble like birds ready to fly at first notice—‘the funeral parlour that is the world, that is you, that is I, that is everything within it.' You pause, wondering just where you were going with this. 'Er, have a good day!'
Tap. The whirr of machinery. You fiddle with the recorder, replaying your recording—again, again, until it echoes in your skull. Even after you press the ‘stop’ button, after you have retrieved a steaming bowl of reheated soup from the microwave and swiveled across the hall to your workspace, it remains. An incessant thrum. As incessant as the buzzing of your phone on the bookshelf, the influx of messages that Bee considers kindness to leave for you every day, amid the mass of workshop drafts and project meetings. You ignore them, although the guilt pricks at you. Later, you know you will apologise to her, and laugh gladly as she forgives you. Bee has always been like that—kind and cruel, both in the most subtle of ways. Bee, whom you could listen to for hours. Beautiful, confident—Bee. She will talk about her dog, and about Gareth—and that is when you will cut the conversation short, because the very mention of Gareth these days makes your insides seize up. Gareth is—has always been—a reminder that no matter how hard you try, there are some people you can never surpass in life.
Outside, the storm worsens. The cat, Abalone, comes and curls up on your feet. You like it when the world is like this, when you can pretend that the earth has died, and you are the only person left to exist. Left to exist with a chisel in your hand, as natural as though it is an extension of your body, chipping away at a slab of wood—shaping it, smoothing out the edges, breathing against the grain. Even though Gareth has always been better at everything, always, sculpting is who you are. It has been the one thing he could never beat you at, partially because he never tried, and partially because, you feel, he never felt the need to sculpt his own world. After all, his world has always been perfect—without aspirations, without hopes and dreams, because all his hopes and dreams came true for him the moment he stepped foot into the art world.
When the chisel is in your hand—the chisel, the gouge, the carving knife—you are fully yourself. You become the instrument, almost as much as the instrument becomes you. As you work, you tap your fingers lightly against your worktable. A hum catches in your throat. A songbird. It flounders in your chest as you eat, as you carve a cheekbone across wood. Lightning skates across the sky. You pause to watch the spectacle. And as you lay your woodcarving tools flat against the surface of your desk, you sing:
‘The clouds cry on our funeral parlour.
Karachi drowns, Karachi swims, Karachi prays
To the tide, prays to the harbour—
Though the sea has neither meaning, nor pity—the city
Prays, prays, prays.’
At six o’ clock, the rain stops. The world starts up again, city wound up and buzzing. You force yourself to your feet, grab your wallet, rush to the nearest grocery store to stock up on bottled water and rice. The climate in the bazaar bespeaks of troubled crowds, aisles jam-packed with more people than they can hold. By the time you trudge into your apartment, the dream has broken—cleaved into two neat pieces like an oyster one discovers, only to find that there is no pearl inside. The pearl is gone, lost amid the cacophony of blaring horns and rickshaws coughing up smoke-filled lungs.
Nine o’clock. The power is out. You shuffle carefully across the hallway, which is littered with woodchips you keep forgetting to sweep up, and deposit the grocery bags next to the telephone stand. With a sigh, you slump against the wall. There is silence, save for the ticking of the clock, and the sound of Abalone meowing from somewhere in the dark. After a while, you slide your cellphone out of your pocket and scroll through the messages. Being stuck in traffic for more than an hour gave you enough time to read through the collection your email has amassed during the day. Apology emails—‘so sorry your workshop had to be cancelled, we were looking forward to it!’—a message from your sister, the customary ‘hope the weather isn’t as bad as the news claims’, and an email from your agent informing you that your flight to Jakarta was to be postponed until further notice. Usual stuff, you think, yet you cannot help but scrunch your brows in disappointment. Not a single message from Bee. You close your eyes and sigh.
Ten minutes past nine. It starts to rain. Lightning cleaves the sky in two.
At fifteen past nine, the telephone rings. Your hands grapple for it in the dark—holding the receiver to your ear, you murmur tentatively: ‘Hello?’
‘Hello.’ The androgynous voice on the other end of the line sounds cold and businesslike; when they speak, it is as though every word they utter is a brittle twig they are being forced to chew upon. ‘This is the Liaison speaking. We are calling to inform you that a Mr Gareth has been carried away by the sea today. His wife has been informed. A network has been established for the transmission of this message. We are sorry for your loss.’ A sound, like that of a thousand bees buzzing, drones in the background. There is a moment of silence, and then the voice begins speaking again: ‘Hello. This is the Liaison speaking. We are calling to inform you, Mill Nazir, that a Mr Gareth has been…’
The call cuts off. You sit hunched next to the telephone, stone-faced. There is no time to process what has just happened—and it is as you are trying to write the phone call off as a practical joke that the telephone rings again.
This time, it is Bee. Her voice is cool and collected, just as it always is, just as it always has been—although there is a spike of nervousness beneath the calm. You listen to her as she tells you that Gareth took off with the dog in the middle of last night, after a fight, and that she had been too proud to call him once he had left. She received a phone call, she says, just now.
Gareth had shot himself.
Her voice cracks when she tells you—they couldn’t find the dog.
For a moment, all you can hear is static. All you can hear are the jubilant screams in your own head—a repetitive stream of, ‘he’s gone. he’s gone, he’s gone’. And amid the joy, a deep, pervading sense of guilt. A hollow thud in the pit of your stomach, and your expression contorted halfway between sobbing and laughter. Bee carries on speaking—‘funeral … called his mother … I was thinking about flying to Islamabad…’—but you are only half listening to her words. Her voice is musical and lithe; you could just as easily convince yourself that she is reciting poetry, rather than sketching out funeral plans. Twirling the phone’s black, spiraling cord between your fingers, you stare at it until it looks like the staircase to some distant intangible mezzanine, an especially-forged-for-you kind of hell. If hell is a white-tiled space filled with droning operators with rubbery bodies, you think dourly, connecting the switchboards of human lives together in the worst ways possible.
But if hell is so bad, you think, why does it make you feel so good? Heart thumping, pulse skittering like a telephone pole being constantly struck with lightning. You grab a fistful of your shirt, breathing in deeply the smell of turpentine and polished wood that fills your tiny apartment. Why does she always, always make you feel this way?
I’m in love with you, your brain is screaming now. I love you I love you I loveyou. You take several deep, calming breaths to keep every nerve of your body under control. Now isn't the time. She doesn't want to hear it. She doesn't want to hear it.
She mistakes the heavy breathing as sobbing. ‘I’m sorry,’ she says, not sounding particularly so—but hasn’t she always been this way? ‘I just didn't know who to call at this time of night. I mean—obviously, Sara’d be the first option’—she laughs affectedly—’but she … I dunno … I picked up the phone and ended up dialling you in. Hope you don’t mind.’
‘Not—not at all.’ Your mouth feels dry. The adrenaline is slowly seeping out of your bones; your muscles are left feeling flaccid and heavy, and there is a dull pounding at the base of your skull.
‘I know how upset you must be—I mean, of the three of us, Gareth was the closest to you, anyway. You knew each other since—middle school?’
‘Elementary, actually.’ You don’t bother correcting her. Neither of you had particularly liked each other—circumstance just kept bunching you together, so you had tolerated Gareth, and Gareth … well, you didn't care what he felt. You only knew that you hated him. It was as simple and mindless as that.