ON A WARM, WARM NIGHT, WE LIE AWAKE

Its a narrow night, squeezed between a long day and an early sunrise, thinks the little girl in the house next door. She thinks of the story she’ll write tomorrow and how its going to be funny, and everything will be just the way she wants it, it’s her story, after all.

 

Then she remembers, vaguely, a song that the boy in the corner of her class had told her about. He’d asked her, evidently apprehensive, did she like music. Well, of course she did, it was MUSIC! Who didn't like music?! Well, his brother didn't  he liked ... Well, the boy wasn't sure what his brother liked. She had looked shocked, verging on appalled. A few girls from their class were also going the same way; they tittered, at a distance. She didn't like these girls, she said, he murmured a subtle agreement (maybe) and they’d moved away. Then he’d shyly told her about a song by ‘Porcupine Tree.’ She’d listen to it, ‘Porcupine tree’ sounded funny though, she laughed out to him. Ears red, he volunteered his ipod. She listened to it, it wasn't like much she had heard before, it was true, she glanced at him three minutes into the song. Two and a half minutes later, she gave him her verdict. She liked it. It was cool.

It hadn't been like anything she had heard, and she had downloaded it as soon as she got home.

Now, lying in the dark of this narrow night, she thinks of how she had thought of smoke, of feet slowly climbing creaky stairs and alien orbs in the night sky, and she isn't so sure. Maybe the story isn't her own after all. Maybe it’s all charted in a master tape. She realises she isn't being very coherent and exhales slowwwly. It’s a very hot night; the AC needs to be turned up.

 

She feels sleepy, but not.

 

The boy from the corner of her class remembers the journey home today very clearly. He’d had an ice cream afterwards, but his brother hadn't waited for him. He said he had ‘stuff to do’. His brother always turns the AC up too high, like now, and now the boy is shivering under the sheets, acutely aware of pages turned sharply every time the preceding numerical is solved. It’s a whip crack, he thinks. Every fucking page turned is a whip crack. He notes the expletive in his head and realises he’s getting annoyed. He turns violently, making his brother note his annoyance.

His brother turns a page louder this time. Him, and that stupid guitar, that could never wait, so why should his studying wait? Even Mumma would agree. He smiles, pleased at his wise conclusion. He turns to the next page.

 

He knows Mumma agrees because she has always said so. Always said that it is so lovely to see his hard work, to see the results every month, and Mumma is sure he will get into the top three IITs at least. Shuruthi Aunty thinks so too. In fact they all do, all the uncles too. He’s a very hardworking boy, they’d expressed, this last Deepawali.

 

The boy from the corner of her class is annoyed by Shuruthi Aunty every morning when he goes to school. She watches him every morning. She watches him LIKE A HAWK, she thinks, it pleases her to watch her neighbours like a hawk, she knows things about them, then. She believes in BEING AWARE. She likes to be aware of that girl in the next building, the one who comes home only for vacations and wears much too much kohl. That girl is so vain, she likes being pretty, Shuruthi Aunty always told her maid, when she saw the girl leaving the compound gates. It is NOT SAFE, this liking being pretty, she thinks. She believes in being safe. Her like for being aware has something to do with her dislike for being unsafe, she has always said. She stands, every morning, at her balcony, being aware, making her maid as aware as she is.

 

This is because she likes being safe.

 

The maid is having a hard time falling asleep tonight. She has thoughts of her two little children, left behind in the village. It must be cooler there. It never gets this hot there. She wonders what they ate tonight. She thinks and thinks of them, unable to stop thinking. There are too many mosquitoes tonight. She feels like they will eat her alive. She wonders if the children are bothered by mosquitoes every night, and a sudden fear grips her. She creeps out onto the balcony, she will ask didi if she can talk to her children tomorrow. She hopes they won’t contract malaria. A few more months and she can go home. She stares out onto the road, thinking of all the names of all the neighbours that she can’t remember, for a brief moment, before she goes back to worrying about her two little children.

 It’s a narrow night, squeezed between two very long days, the little girl from next door thinks. She nods her head to the implacable beat of a beautiful, unusual song, where there seem to be three separate beats, and she can choose any one. She can almost feel them, the metallic tones. She nods her head, but she isn’t really nodding, she only thinks she’s nodding. She thinks that she is falling asleep, and it’s such a warm, balmy night. She likes the word ‘balmy’. It’s a good word.

 

The boy from the corner of her class wakes up very groggy next morning, thinking, as usual, of excuses not to wake up, listing them in his head, while Shuruthi Aunty watches from the balcony, the street, and the sandwich that the maid is packing for her son. She’s being aware. She’s always on top of everything. She’s telling the maid there were so many mosquitoes last night. In fact, there were so many mosquitoes last night, that the family next door, they lit a mosquito coil in their daughter’s bedroom, you know, to kill the mosquitoes.

 

They lit the coil, and the daughter asphyxiated and died. In fact, it just happened an hour ago.  It was so sad, really, she went on, the girl next door, so young, too. She shook her head. The maid had packed the sandwich, and Shuruthi Aunty went down to drop her son off at the compound gate. She saw a neighbour on her way back up, and shared the news about the girl next door. Really Shuruthi, how did you find out so soon, said the neighbour. It really was too sad, it was agreed. 

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