By Sudharsanan Sampath
She smiled at me as the autumn night’s cold breeze cradled her already messy hair. She smiled at that too. I waved at her, ever so subtly. She waved back. She had just made a new friend. Moments later I saw her falling asleep on her mom’s lap.
I flicked my last cigarette and watched it disappear in the dark, into what lies beneath. I think a river lies beneath the bridge I was standing…I think, I am not sure. I stood there longer than I had to, watching the distant dancing city lights.
I got out of the train and headed straight to the desolate subway staircase that leads to the street. Except for the distant howling dog, there were no other signs of life on the street. There usually isn’t at this time of the night. It’s always just me.
I washed the dishes in the dark after dinner. I left the window open and climbed onto the bed. Ignoring the cold breeze on my face, I looked up at the night sky and the small moon shining indifferently.
Blood was dripping down my hands as I helped the paramedics to put his lifeless body onto the stretcher. They carried him away to the ambulance. The crowd gathered, then dispersed soon after. The factory floor was loud; workers gossiping about what had happened. But I headed to my unit, turned the machine back on and continued the production from where I left off.
“Where’s the ocean grampa?”
“Right around the corner. Do you smell it?””Can you smell it?”
“Yes! Do you hear the seagulls now.””Yes, yes, I hear them!”
“It means water is nearby!””You can tell?”
“Always.Have you ever seen an ocean before?””No.”
“Can I run to the water?””Only if I can run with you.”
“It’s a race then. See you there.””I’m gonna dip my feet.”
“Don’t just dip, I’m gonna throw you in there!””… ouch!”
“Don’t you even have a small light bulb?””No … I like the street lamp.”
“You are weird.”
“Well, you look beautiful, but you smell like cheap perfume.””For $300, that’s what you get.”
“Can I kiss you this time then?””$350”
She started kissed me with a fifty dollar passion.
Wet moss covered the entirety of that massive single point cliff. Waves were violent down below. The sand was pure black and fine, with some rock formations along the coast line. Birds were fleeing the frame, while the ominous dark sky, rumbling only occasionally,was ever present in the background; a monstrous giant quietly observing the proceedings.
I was lying on my back, facing the clouds, on the very top of the cliff. So far down, the woman was lying motionless on one of the tiny rocks, the waves collided on her with such force. They moved her effortlessly, but she was still from within.She didn’t notice, she was not present. I didn’t notice her. I was not present.
I woke up from that recurring dream, sweating and breathing heavily. I got up and took a cigarette out. Sat near the open window and began smoking, first, looking only at the street light and the light flies that were going on about their night.
When I returned with the next cigarette, a window was lit, one among thousands, nested in the aging highrise that’s right opposite to mine. I smoked while looking at the window for any activity. Nothing happened. Minutes later I watched as a silhouette of a man appeared behind the window. I knew it was a man. I knew he was looking at me or … maybe he was just looking out, staring at the night sky, completely empty inside. As I was about to lie down he waved at me. I was not sure whether he could see me, but I waved back.
I couldn’t sleep through the morning commute like I always do. The train gently rocked me back and forth as I looked around. Sleepy faces, anxious faces, scared faces,hopeful faces, faces covered with newspapers, newspapers with war stories, giggles, corporate talk,papers lying on the floor,faces staring the ad posters,faces looking out of the window, city towers, bridges, stores and streets passing by …
“Hey! Here is a face I’m not used to seeing in the daylight. Where are you going?””To work.”
“It’s been half an hour. Is this why you paid me?”
“Well, you asked me if I had any friends. I have a friend and I am going to introduce you to him.”
“We are just looking out of your window, are we stalking someone?””No, look, there he is!”
His silhouette appeared behind the tiny distant window. He waved.I waved at him
“Howlonghaveyouknown…Imean,howoftendoyoutwostareateachother like this?”
“Well, it has been… almost two months.”
“Have you ever met him, like …”she wondered how to phrase the question differently. Finally, she gave up“in person?Have you ever met him in person?””No … He shows up at 12:30 am every day. He waves at me and I wave back.””and then?”
“I smoke a few cigarettes. He gives me company. Then I wave him goodnight. He turns the lights off. I lie down.”
“and this has been going on for two months?”
I took another puff and nodded in agreement,“almost…””You know what I think?”
“You are a serial killer… I think he is also a serial killer.That creep behind the window.”
I smiled. I gently ran my finger along her delicious curves, while looking into her eyes.
She leaned in and kissed me.Then she almost whispered, “Why do you always ask for me? There are other girls, different kinds of girls.””I know”
“Maybe because…I love you.”
“Grandpa…can we go to the beach. Please say yes.”
He struggled to sit straight from his chair and gently rested his hand on my shoulder.
“I can’t. It is getting hard for me to walk. But you can go there alone, and tell me all about it in the evening. How about that?”
“What do you want to know?”
“What color was the water?””It is always blue …”
“Tell me when you come back,not now!” he smiled.
It was pouring outside. I was watching the rain drops fall on on the car that was parked to the side street. It was my fourth cigarette for the night.I looked at my silhouette friend and whispered“Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything. What do you think?”
He stood still for a long time, and waved at me for one last time and then the lights went off. I stared outside, definitely way longer than I had to.