Someone I haven’t touched in years emerged again in the shape of words, after a night through which fear and worry had not let me sleep. Sapped of circumspection, I had sent a simple message. Dawn had still not diluted the darkness, yet he replied immediately. He’d just been thinking of me. He too had been restless all night. He’d woken mid-way, he said, and seen the constellated sky through a parting in the curtains. The stars had coaxed a memory of another night under the same sky, of us in other chapters of our lives, of me. He asked me what I remembered.
We’d been back in contact for some time, without meeting, and an ease had returned to our acquaintanceship. But not this much, not yet.
He expected he’d be in my neighbourhood after the lockdown lifts. I offered lightly that we could meet – but not hug. “We could fist bump, with gloves,” he said. Everything and nothing is hypothetical now. The only gloves I own are fingerless lace ones. What could they possibly keep me from? Before I finally slipped into sleep at that swiftly brightening hour, I sent this: “Talking to you as the sun came up reminded me of some mornings long ago. Don’t disappear on me again. I don’t know if I will forgive you next time.” He responded; but not with words.
Days pass, in a calendar that seems to loop on itself. Hours upon hours. Do you keep count? How do you measure this strange and revealing circumstance? A healer told me once, after everything had changed for me, when I wept that the world was like it had never been before: No, the world is exactly the same. It’s you who has changed. Now the reverse is true. I believe we are closer to our truer natures, while what is beyond us has altered. We choose: guile, doubling down, mirroring, or to behold ourselves whole.
One afternoon in my own captivity, a transformer burst and quietness descended. No fan blades whisking the air, no electrical thrums, no traffic or construction anyway – then, I heard a voice. I’ll never be certain, but I hope it was the neighbour whose own words are always soft, and can’t counter her grown son’s frequent and miserable scoldings. She was singing “Poongkuyil koovum…”, with its lyrics about encountering divinity in nature, in a seaside flower grove where a kuyil opens its throat in seduction.
It’s the bird’s mating season now. I thought of a kuyil I’d watched for a year, in a house I miss every day – a house where this confinement could have been more bearable, where I would have observed a courtship unfolding on the boughs of a crow-nested tree. The woman’s voice faded away, perhaps because my imagination overwhelmed my listening. I didn’t catch my favourite line – “Thanimaiyil inimai kannden…” – but I felt it, felt it like the vibration created by stroking upon the rim of a resting prayer bowl. In solitude, I saw sweetness, the woman sang, even if I could no longer hear her – those words reaching through the ether to touch, and to touch again.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on April 30th 2020. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.