nthposition online magazine

Different worlds

by Anuradha Majumdar

[ fiction - august 09 ]

What can I say? However hard I tried, your mind refused to change its skin. It got thicker by the day. One day it will feel like a coarse rubber sponge and what will you do then? Auction it? Put it in a safe deposit? Clean the floor with it? There are always possibilities.

Toss your brain a little. Go on. Must you always be so scared? Do you know what happens to it when you fall in love? Imagine a cloud, opening indefinitely. That's what a brain looks like when it is in love, pure sky. But with a brain like yours that comes complete with a steel zip, such hopes are distant.

Still, you asked for help and we must proceed. You've got a panacea and I've got none. Your standard solution to everything is to defer decision till the last moment and then leave town in panic.

If we inhabited two different planets, it might have been understandable, but we've been neighbours in the same town. Same high school, same classroom, same books, same movies, sometimes. Your feet grew to size ten, mine stopped at five. That's when our minds chose different worlds. You developed seven filters with which to see life. I developed none. But the possibility of transilience grew infinite. Transilience is a word most dictionaries shy away from. But why fear a word which simply means crossing over. It happens in a moment, in movement: the crossing, the merging, everything lights up and the inner identity grows self-aware. Is that worth fearing? You seem to think so. I will not insist.

You have seen it all, first hand: the smell, the touch, the power and glory, the disasters and deceit and success. I've only been witness. I accepted my inability to fathom everything and treasured wonder. That is how we both became traders in antagonism.

One day, when the world was wounded on every side you knocked my door but I wasn't home and you left town. When I returned, I found the note stuck under my doormat. Bitterness is such a thick word. It can coagulate blood to stone. I lit a match and let it burn. You went away but that did not change the world.

Many months later I heard that you were researching heaven. I put down my teacup and laughed till I cried. You got to hear of this and I was told you would never forgive me. You had found heaven and it was no laughing matter.

When you returned home after a long gap of years, I stayed out of sight. Your feet had grown to size eleven, mine were still five. Heroism was never my calling but it's no use pretending to be coward for too long. Sooner or later it had to happen. You were buying coffee, I was checking out a packet of tea.

At first you pretended I didn't exist; then you decided I did. We exchanged a subdued greeting and then my curiosity did it: I invited you for tea. I wanted to see your heaven for real. You accepted, just to satisfy my curiosity it seems.

The subject required delicacy. By the time we found a table at the café your jaw was already taut. My brow grew fraught with worry lines. We needed time, so I tried roundabout access. We spoke of the sudden surfeit of neon signs in our quiet town. We spoke of the new variety of birds. We spoke of the alarming increase in mosquito populations and incidentally, as we commented on this small but serious flaw in Creation, we chanced upon God.

You rushed for cover, looked at your watch and regretted that your time was up. Our little tea-break was terminated. But you did drop a warning as you got up to go.

"Never imagine, Mira, that I'd allow anyone to come close to my secret."

Let me make this clear: I'm not the Mira who sang adoringly to the thousand-eyed blue god. But the name does rub into my breath sometimes.

 "Of course not, Arim," I said, "I wouldn't dream of it."

But that is exactly what I did for the next three months, for even our parents had spelled our names back to back. Mira. Arim.

We didn't try to meet again but I could see the lumps hardening in your brain.

You stopped me one day in a perfunctory manner, "By the way, Mira, your brain's in tatters."

 "I know," I said, "It's changing its skin."

You stopped, spun around, eyes bulging like marbles.

 "Have you gone mad?" It was the squeak of a tame banshee.

 "Of course not," I said, "I wouldn't dream of it, Arim."

That afternoon my telephone rang.

"Mira, you are getting on my nerves."

"Wrong, Arim, I'm getting on my bicycle to go to the beach."

"We must talk, before I leave."

"Bring your towel, then, we can talk and watch the sunset."

"No! No!! No! I have a pot of coffee ready."

When I walked into your hallway, I saw that your bags were already packed. You ushered me into your living room and said severely, "Do you know what's wrong with you, Mira?"

Everything, Arim," I said comfortingly.

You sighed. It was to be expected.

"Arim," I whispered. "Go on, give it a toss."

There was a flash of fear on your face.

"Mira, this time I'm leaving for good. Do you know what that means?"

I kept quiet.

"Don't you understand why I run away from here every time?"

"To research heaven?"

Your face morphed into a coal mine. Quite scary. When you finally stopped pacing the room and crumpled on the sofa, you were crying.

I crossed the room and sat beside you.

What do you say to someone when you no longer have anything in common?

"Arim, my friend, look how beautiful the sky is from your window. Look at the green ribbon of grass and the red velvet bug. You don't have to go away."

"But that's not heaven, Mira! Men are criminals and our cities are poisoned. There is no justice and nothing is heaven. You're just a fool."

Heaven, you said, was a multimillion dollar research project. You were the project director and it failed. It had the best scientific backing, the best equipment for investigation, best media support, the highest political clout, tax reductions, but no one believed it for a second. It couldn't score higher than God. The multimillion dollar project kick-started like a supernova then died muttering like a dung beetle. You switched off the television and wept like a torrent.

I held your hand and watched the brilliant blue sky. A small cloud wisped into the sunshine. An eagle listened to the rose. A snake gobbled a frog.

Slowly in between sobs you spoke of something I had given you once when we were both seven years old. A live green caterpillar with bright orange spots. You watched it eagerly for days, watched it weave a cocoon around itself and you counted the hours it would take to turn into a butterfly. Your butterfly. You watched it like a hawk but it wouldn't do a thing. Then, one night, when you fell fast asleep, it emerged from its cocoon and flew away. You woke up to an empty shell.

"Heaven never yields destiny unless you fight it, Arim. Or love it without reserve."

"What?" you looked up at last.

I didn't say a word. You got up quickly and went to look for your boxing gloves.

Innocence is a clear stone.

When your fist reached heaven it was grabbed on the other side by a butterfly.