And I ask myself what it is about me that makes this wonderful, beautiful woman return. Is it because I'm pathetic, helpless in my current state, completely dependent on her? Or is it my sense of humour, my willingness to tease her, to joke my way into painful, secret places? Do I help her understand herself? Do I make her happy? Do I do something for her that her husband and son can't do? Has she fallen in love with me?As the days pass and I continue to heal, my body knitting itself back together, I begin to allow myself to think that she has.
Slowly, even though I thought it would never happen, New York lost its charm for me. I remember arriving in the city for the first time, passing with my parents through the First World's Club bouncers at Immigration, getting into a massive cab that didn't have a moment to waste, and falling in love as soon as we shot onto the bridge and I saw Manhattan rise up through the looks of parental terror reflected in the window. I lost my virginity in New York, twice (the second one wanted to believe he was the first so badly). I had my mind blown open by the combination of a liberal arts education and a drug-popping international crowd. I became tough. I had fun. I learned so much.But now New York was starting to feel empty, a great party that had gone on too long and was showing no sign of ending soon. I had a headache, and I was tired. I'd danced enough. I wanted a quiet conversation with someone who knew what load-shedding was.
I walk in the direction she tells me. I feel my pores opening, sweat and heat radiating out of my body. A firefly dances in the distance, leaving tracers, and if I turn my head from side to side, I see long yellow-green streaks that cut through my vision and burn in front of my retinas even after the light that sparked them has gone.I emerge from the mango grove into a field. In the distance unseen trucks pass with a sound like the ocean licking the sand. A tracery of darkness curls into a starry sky, a solitary pipal tree making itself known by an absence of light, like a flame caught in a photographer's negative, frozen, calling me.
I push against the tree and run away, stumbling, the unreal night playing with me, gravity pulling from below, behind, above, making me fall. And I run through a world that is rotating, conscious of the earth's spin, of our planet twirling as it careens through nothingness, of the stars spiraling above, of the uncertainty of everything, even ground, even sky. Mumtaz never calls out, although a thousand and one voices scream in my mind, sing, whisper, taunt me with madness.
Some of my relatives held on to imagined memories the way homeless people hold onto lottery tickets. Nostalgia was their crack cocaine, if you will, and my childhood was littered with the consequences of their addiction : unserviceable debts, squabbles over inheritances, the odd alcoholic or suicide.
If you have ever, sir, been through a breakup of a romantic relationship that involved great love, you will perhaps understand what I experienced. There is in such situations usually a moment of passion during which the unthinkable is said; this is followed by a sense of euphoria at finally being liberated; the world seems fresh as if seen for the first time then comes the inevitable period of doubt, the desperate and doomed backpedaling of regret; and only later, once emotions have receded, is one able to view with equanimity the journey through which one has passed.
The poets say some moths will do anything out of love for a flame[...]The moth takes off again, and we both step back, because he's circling at eye level now and seems to have lost rudder control, smacking into the wall on each round. He circles lower and lower, spinning around the candle in tighter revolutions, like a soap sud over an open drain. A few times he seems to touch the flame, but dances off unhurt.Then he ignites like a ball of hair, curling into an oily puff of fumes with a hiss. The candle flame flickers and dims for a moment, then burns as bright as before.Moth Smoke Lingers.
I commit her to memory. When I'm alone, I feel a strange yearning, the hunger of a man fasting not because he believes but because he's ashamed. Not the cleansing hunger of the devout, but the feverish hunger of the hypocrite. I let her go every evening only because there's nothing I can do to stop her.