She smelled of funeral. He craned his neck, trying to catch a glimpse of her but could not spot her. The whiff of the perfume he had caught began to fade away. He turned around wildly, desperately trying to drink it in, to capture it, to smell it…deeply, but it waved off into oblivion. It sparked memories of a time that had once been…
It had been a really long time since he had seen her last. He did not even know if she actually existed or was a figment of his imagination. But then who was to say what was real and what was not? Or rather who was real and who was not? People told him that he had become a shadow of his former self. He wasn’t even sure if he had a former self. Things change, people change, life changes. It’s a gradual process. Can one draw a distinction between what was and what is now? But then, he argued back: if she indeed was real and if he had indeed seen her, shouldn’t he be able to draw a distinction?
Frankly, it was muddled and confusing. He did not have the heart to go into it. It was clear that his arguments were convoluted and self-contradictory. His thoughts recessed back into her memory, if indeed memory it was. That’s how it would usually be the case. He would be busy musing about things and his thoughts would converge onto her. That smell. The smell. Her smell. He wondered who’s funeral it actually was. His? Certainly not…he felt awakened to subtleties. He felt awakened to what was beneath the surface, to the colours seen in grey…
And he wondered about the birds…it seemed that the birds had really left. He had become deaf to their song. Or to music in general. The songs he had once loved, those CDs were packed in a box, stashed in a closet and forgotten. Their lyrics and melody a mere illusionary memory. He strained himself to try and remember the tune of one of his favourite numbers but could not. He sighed heavily. They had been replaced.
He came back home and settled back into his chair. The road to the café had been routine, the timing though different today. He had been inevitably delayed and had not been able to reach the café at the hour. Had I been missing it all along, he wondered now? What if the hour had changed and he simply kept to the old hours and hence stopped seeing her? A chance event had forced him off the usual track, and he had caught the perfume again. He wondered what it would be like to see her again…would she recognize him? More importantly, would he recognize her? Of the latter, he was completely sure. He would recognize the funeral in the perfume immediately. Even today, the perfume had been different. Yet, tragically the same. It was a different funeral at different time.
An envelope of heaviness encompassed him. He wanted to sketch. He wanted to paint a landscape in all the glory of monochrome. Black and white, streaked with greys. They were the same. He wanted to listen to tragically beautiful sad music but could not get himself to get up and put something on. He thought he heard the opening tune of Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen but it passed in a moment. He thought of all the beautiful music out in the world, the kind that would smother you in their melancholy till you became one with them. It was like one kept absorbing the sadness in them till the bubble broke and one was suddenly released. Like a prisoner on life sentence, suddenly finding himself free, just when he was getting used to it. Would he want to be free?
He felt himself getting restless. His thoughts were all over the place. He felt average. Mediocre. He felt his frustration at being unable to paint the picture he wanted. As if he were an artist who wanted to paint in black and white, but only found himself with colour tubes. Or a musician who wanted to compose the most heart-breaking violin solo in history, and found himself without one.
He forced himself to think back about the chair under the tree, the birds, and the whiff of the perfume…from three years ago. He began to calm down. What if his timing all along had been wrong? Would he go at the changed time tomorrow to see if she passed by, shrouded in her black dress, black veil, and black gloves? He briefly wondered about why he had never followed her to find out whose funeral she was going to? Somehow he felt confident that she was going to a funeral, not coming from one. But would that make a difference? His finding out…
Next day he was at the café since morning. It was slightly clouded, the sun cool and shaded behind the clouds, but not particularly grey or gloomy. He hoped beyond hope that it would get oppressive and overbearing. That would be a sign that she would come! He knew it was senseless and illogical to believe so, but he continued looking up once in a while, hoping the clouds would turn black. The usual hour came and he felt himself stiffening up. However, nothing happened. It would be another few hours before the new time. He sighed and waited. The hour came and almost passed, but nothing seemed to happen. He was disappointed. He was restless, anxious, sad, and filled with a different kind of melancholy. The melancholy of missing someone you never knew…of losing something you never had. The pain of separation upon being united…he looked up in the sky one last time before he got up to leave. In the distance he saw a flock of birds passing by. He did not hear their song but he knew what it was. It was the arrival of the birds.
- Parekh, Pravesh
September 29, 2016