Thursday, Aug 18, 2022
Weekend Reads

Short Story: A Piece Of Cake

I felt calm in the face of all that noise, all that exhaust, dust, spice and the faint but persisting smell of waste that dresses so many of the shaded nooks of this little town. 

Blue mountains of Nagaland
Blue mountains of Nagaland Chinki Sinha/Outlook

On the day that I was meeting J for the last time, I woke up to a frenzy of decrepit coins falling on the floor of my one-bedroom house in suburban Kohima. I had kept my handbag on the side of the bed and that had slipped out and fallen off the bed. I knew I had to jostle my sleep away, as engulfing and arresting as it was because the bag carried lotions, sanitisers and some PhD admission receipts of students, and that is a potentially explosive concoction if left to its own synergy. "Come on," I repeated to myself, wake the hell up.

In the quiet stupor of the dawn, I went about scavenging inside the perimeters of my bag, pulling out not only the things I have just mentioned but also stuff like the corpses of cigarettes, slivers of more receipts, some pens, cash, a silver cross pendant his sister had gifted to me, the butt-end of plastic wrappers and a confessional I had written on the inside of a brown paper bag to mark the corruption in our one-year relationship. It went something like this:

2:30 pm on Friday, Ete Coffee
You are all the places I want to go
All the spaces I want to explore
All the sounds I want to hear
All the fury I want to claw through
All the breath I want to unearth 
All the hope I want to spare
All the mistakes I want to preserve
All the business I want to meddle in
All the garments I want to fling
All the verses I want to splash
All the words I want to mount 
All the leaden skies I want to hem
But you’ve turned and gone
Your shoulders pulsating with mountains and
Rocks and trees and rivers.

I smirked and let out a half-belch, feeling an unusual knot in my stomach. I had again smothered poems on our time together with a demonic obsession but this time, I was determined to bid farewell to the person I had fallen out of love with, and the person who had told me I was too intense. The morning thickened around me like a fat and creamy scent as I remembered my lover’s complaint, split between phrases, you keep writing about him, how do you think I’d feel, Areno, why? What is it about me that stifles you? And had it not been for my neighbour with whooping cough injecting his spit into the morning zephyr, I probably would have remained in that inertia for a bit longer. I had gotten habituated and comfortable in the recesses of that relationship that allowed me to breathe the breath of cries, his words spread out over a carefully staged set, while mine danced through that perforated darkness. I guess it was love that kept him that long with me, a whole year of hanky-panky, or it might have been the habit of having someone around, a familiar presence with which to summon another morning, I really could not tell, because he never gave it a form or name and to be honest, I had enjoyed that unregulated freedom of ambiguity until he told me to curb my intensity because it no longer suited him. 

Later that day, as we sat across from each other like vultures amidst the inky black décor of Ete coffee that eerily symbolised the dying embers of our failed relationship in a gentrified part of Kohima, it was a piece of cake that set me off. It lay on black china, neatly seated into the hollow, glazed and sinful with not an iota of that sweltering heat outside threatening its pulpous dimensions. A sober piece hung clumsily off his fork, just about to punctuate him talking of the unkempt poem that I had boldly sent to The Bombay Literary Magazine, that he felt, had something to do with how different we were as lovers. It was then that I gathered that tasty morsel in my hand, my emotions as if devoid of time — like being able to be in slo-mo indefinitely — it was then that I gathered that piece and smushed his rugged face with it, starting for the sake of simplicity at his forehead and following the taper of his cute pug nose, across the bump of his puckered lips down to his immaculate chin. Chocolate never looked better! I caught the bits that gravity forced down on the black napkin, no need for that chiselled table to bear the scar of my indiscretions. At this, he was rendered speechless — and most of the people in the cafe with him. I gave him a smile, rose, proceeded to pay for our meal — and made for the door. 

“Areno! What are you doing! I am done with you!” was the last I heard before the blare of traffic burst into my ears and the heat descended in obscene waves, as I heard a yielding giggle across the road. An urchin stood awkwardly on one knee mixing gutkha besides a beggar I regularly saw in that part of the town. I pulled out my coin purse and placed it firmly on the beggar’s hand and left. I finally felt at peace, unencumbered by the desire to belong to anyone and as for my mind, it was working just fine, all its nuts and bolts fitting into each other so well. I felt calm in the face of all that noise, all that exhaust, dust, spice and the faint but persisting smell of chopped alder that dresses so many of the shaded nooks of this little town.