Short story selected for the 2011 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology
I met the girl I fell in love with at the wedding of my closest friend. I met her at the moment that she was getting married to somebody else.
It was very painful, as love often tends to be. I did not know where to turn or what to do.
She was dancing. She danced like the wind and flew like the soul. Everybody stood aside and watched her.
It was not something she was supposed to be doing. An Indian bride is not supposed to dance with such abandon at her own wedding. But she was irrepressible. She did not care. And since it was so joyful to watch her, nobody else seemed to care either. They did not object. They were all just transfixed, like me, and they must all have been in love with her, at that moment.
I’m a writer. She’s a dancer. And I did not even know her till I met her at her own wedding; where she was dancing like the wind.
And I, transfixed, watching her, rooted to the spot, unable to move, like a stone that had lain half-buried in the earth for centuries.
It was as if I had not known what to do for centuries, and now, all of a sudden, I knew that I had not known anything of real importance for centuries.
Oh, it had been centuries and I had not loved. I had been unable to move, and here she was, dancing, moving, loving every second of it, fleeting like the wind. And yet there was such a stillness in her movement, true stillness, not like mine, a mere being rooted to the spot, dumbly, but love that had arrived, that was alive because it was in motion. Because it was, in truth, still, and because I just did not know what to do any more, because here she was, love herself, a surge of such emotion in my heart, staring me in the face, dancing, moving, getting married to somebody else…
The closest one. Who was looking at her and smiling. And I had such a feeling of love for him, too, who was unable to move, like myself, and who was only able to look and admire, with eyes in which I could see a reflection of myself.
I don’t know if this has ever happened to you. Your closest friend, who now lives far away, is getting married and you could not be more happy for him, and you go there and find, to your delight and dismay, a girl dancing with such gaiety and abandon, that love itself could not be more pure than her. And here she is, going away, unattainable.
What is one supposed to feel on such occasions? What transpires when this transpires? How is one supposed to react?
I reacted with the most intense feeling of love imaginable. I cannot describe it. I wished that I could dance like her – that is, love like her, be loved like her. It was a blessing that I had my first glimpse of, then, the benediction that surpasses description.
How could I look, but with love? And yet, how could I look, but with the lack that existed at that moment?
I was fulfilled and I was empty. I was ecstatic and I could not be more miserable. I was everything I could never even have dreamt of being. I was alive!
My self was on fire! It was a flame that steadily extinguishes its source. I was losing myself in order to gain nothing; and there was nothing I could do about it; nothing that anybody could do, except stop, and look, and admire, and applaud.
Neither is she a dancer, nor I a writer. These are things we do, occasionally, to liberate ourselves a little. She runs a gift shop and I struggle to make the ends meet with my editing, translating or (I don’t know what else to call it) hacking assignments.
I do not go around calling myself a writer and nor is she used to presenting herself as a dancer. These are things that we are able to become, from time to time. She, in her moments of glory, and I, in my moments of pure, unleavened heaviness.
Because writing is an agonising experience. A pain in the heart that forebodes an attack and will not go away. You know you are going to die, that no number of surgeries in the world are going to save you when the palpitations begin, and you can do nothing in the world but prepare to die. Sometimes I feel as if the rest of my life is nothing but this preparing to die. I mean, I do this or that, editing or translating, such and such, but I know in my heart that all this is just to delay or avoid or postpone or prepare for the worst possible moment of all, and yet a moment of such utter relief: death. I always die a very painful death. I’m dying it now, even as I write this.
Because writing is a very painful experience. Like a lemon being squeezed dry, again and again, of its contents, twisting and turning, writhing. It is like an epileptic fit that one falls prey to from time to time, that comes upon one, like froth coming out of the sides of one’s mouth, with no-one there to push a spoon into your mouth to prevent you from swallowing your own tongue. Writing is a swallowing of one’s tongue, from time to time, again and again, being squeezed dry till one has nothing more to give any more, no further drop to drip.
Exhausted. Blanched. Gutted.
I lie back. I have no power to do anything anymore, not even to think, about anything. Like a piece of lemon squeezed dry, I cannot even contemplate my own destiny.
I lie. That is what I do as my bleak, enduring compulsion. I’m not a writer. I lie.
It always leaves me exhausted. Weak. Finished. Dry. And my eyes cannot even weep any more.
At these moments, I cannot even remember her dance.
My wounds have hardened and dried, for the moment.
And simply compare this to her dance! Pure, joyful, unrestrained, exhilarating. So much in the moment. She gives it her all, so that there is nothing left at its end (except the sweet lingering agony of its beauty in my memory). There is no “product” that endures, as in my writing, there is nothing that survives it, nothing palpable that one can put one’s finger on and say, “This is what it was.” Because it was simply what it was and there are no other words to describe it.
A flowering as opposed to a running sore, a blooming as opposed to a hardening, a crescendo as opposed to rest and relief.
Can you not, then, believe that I was utterly in love with her?
Because I’m a man of difficult experiences. And writing, I will say it again, is one of the most difficult. There is nothing spontaneously joyful about it, as in her dance. It is the pus spilling from a sore place – thick, viscous, opaque, not entirely fluid or smooth. But filled with the darkness of myself. That is what my writing is like. And it is no wonder that no one publishes it. I accept my fate and go on editing other people’s sores. But my own wounds keep running, the pus refuses to stop oozing out, I look around and there is nothing I can see that fills me with love and support; and then her dancing came and broke me completely, like a child breaks open a toy, and I was exposed to myself like a heart under the surgical apparatus, and there was nothing I could do, nowhere I could turn, to hide my stupid writer’s face from this daze of dance. In truth, I have been a child looking for affirmation from all this scribbling, but have only succeeded in exposing the festers of my soul; and here she was, dancing, as if nothing else had ever existed, would exist, or could, at any moment, come into being.
At that moment, I was not a writer, a dancer, a poet or an artist. I was nothing, nothing that could ever be substantiated, and there was only love, existing at that moment, exposing me to each dark corner of my soul, breaking me apart, rendering me helpless.
I wanted to scream that I’m a writer who does not know how to write; but I was helpless. Her dancing had moved beyond dance, her hair flying in the wind that she was herself creating, her breasts moving round and round with the rest of her body in a whirl. She was so physical and so electric, so earthy and so ethereal, her arms the fingers and the pen, and her face the ink that was writing ream after ream upon my soul, my poor soul that called itself a writer, and that had not known, till then, what it was to mean to write.
She looked at me with her eyes – loveshot, the writing that was making me dizzy, her wine…
Tell me, has this ever happened to you? You fall in love with a girl you’ve just met, and who’s going to marry your oldest friend in just about forty-eight hours? Does this happen to anybody?
The whole wedding process was to last for over a week, but I was there just for three days. The day of the wedding and the two days preceding that. I met her on the day of my arrival.
“I run a gift shop.”
This was my first introduction to her. She sounded so mundane in saying it.
“Well, I’m a…”
I was a little at a loss for words. I did not know how exactly to describe my work, half because I did not know quite what it was.
My friend decided to help me out.
“Nobody really knows what he does, least of all himself!” he said. All of us laughed.
She looked at me with eyes that were bright.
“You have come so late,” said my friend.
“I believe I have,” I said. There were still two days to go to the wedding.
For the entire week leading up to the wedding, there was some event or the other in the evening, which involved singing and dancing.
I had indeed come so late. I could have had a whole seven days of watching her, and here I was, barely able to bear to watch her for even two seconds.
Because the pleasure of this pain was so intense.
The singing and the dancing had started, and soon she was in the fray, after about two seconds of trying to restrain herself.
She danced and made everybody take turns in dancing with her. She spared nobody. Infants and children of all manner, uncles with greying hair and roving eyes, aunties with fat bottoms and suspicious noses, cousins of all description, from here, there and everywhere, her two-days-away husband who could not help but look and smile at her much more than dance, grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers, mothers, sundry relatives and friends, and me, of all people, being led forth by her hand, and made to dance when all I could do, in all honesty, was to stand and stare at her.
People clapped, smiled, laughed appreciatively at my awkward movements, as they did at everybody else’s, and I was so out of my depth in that moment that I forgot for a moment who I was, where I was, and the fact that it wasn’t I who was getting married to this girl dancing in front of me.
It was almost I, at that moment, who was getting married to this girl dancing in front of me. I could almost have believed it. Or rather, this was how it was in my mind, at that moment.
Time was still, the world had stopped, and there was just I getting married to this girl, in this moment.
This, too, was how it could have been like.
I could have been married instead of being a writer. What a laugh!
On the day of the wedding, after all the song and dance, there was, relatively speaking, a feeling of sobriety. I was there, well-dressed, well-groomed, looking like a sculpture inside a museum, and looking on at this spectacle of glitter and light, wondering why the world was like it was.
In the past two days, she and I had come so close together. Using whatever little chances we had got, among this staggering deluge of people, to talk to each other, we had done so. We had drawn instinctively close together. She liked me too, precisely for my lack of movement perhaps, for my stillness. We manufactured as many occasions as we could, to talk to each other, to be faced with each other, to be around each other. Among all the small talk that we had to make with all the extended members of the two families, and all the gathered set of friends, who had all descended to be part of this long and festive occasion, among all this small talk and hello’s then, if there was anything of real meaning and importance, at least for me, it was her dancing and the little exchanges that we could have together, from time to time, little thefts of intimacy from a sea of formality. Like light glittering, dancing on the surface of a body of water that is still and deep within.
Just looking into each other’s eyes was such a feeling of love; the light, occasional touch of hands or skin, the knowing how to be around each other’s bodies like animals. It was as if I could smell her smell, with her body a few inches away from me, and know what it was saying. It was as if her eyes, her arms, her breasts were words inscribed upon my soul, and in no need of saying anything. As if the mere coming into each other’s orbits ignited such a feeling of music and ecstasy, a divine orchestra of two playing with complete harmony. As if love had hidden itself as birds among the trees who were now beginning to sing. Soon they would come out into the light of a new day and begin to fly, as only birds can, or love, with the full freedom of the knowledge of belonging to the skies.
But this was the day of her wedding. We knew this.
I knew it. She knew it. How could we behave but with a sensible head?
Because it seems so stupid to trust one’s instincts and to actually follow them. It is so naïve to follow one’s heart because we can never really be sure of what it is saying. There is nothing that can be done against the grain of logic in us. All our happiness and order are founded on this rationality. Anything else would be madness.
To tell you the truth, even I could not think what I was really thinking. I was afraid. Because we are not given the courage to follow life down to its consequences. And we never acquire it. I never did.
And my friend, my brother, my comrade in arms, my childhood companion, for whom I felt so much love at that moment, was looking on at her with such loveshot eyes.
I hugged him as I was leaving and I tried to avoid looking into her eyes. She gave me a hug nonetheless. Maybe she was much more natural about the whole thing, more balanced in her approach. Maybe she was right to dismiss it as a passing fancy, a momentary whim, or an impossible love.
Why do they exist? What makes them happen? Why do they come like tempests to shatter the windows of our soul, and leave the houses of our selves abandoned and naked, solitary like graves, desolate like ruins.
What love is that which makes it impossible?
What makes it sting and ache?
Whole lives that become impossible.
They come like the winds, like a storm, like the furies, to wreck and ruin, to shatter and reveal, to destroy all our suppositions, and to expose to our own eyes the meaninglessness of constructed walls and fences in a world of vast, unlimited spaces, that stretch forever beyond the horizons of our imaginary boundaries.
Illustration by Alan Van Every
Vipul Rikhi is a writer based in Delhi, India. He writes fiction, poetry and drama. He received an Akademie Schloss Solitude Fellowship for Literature in Germany for 2010-2011. He has published a collection of short stories and his work has appeared in various literary journals.
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