Mar 29, 2008

This pen doesn't work.

This pen doesn't work.

I must throw it out. He lit the cigarette, puffed its smoke out his nose and scratched his round, bulging belly.

I'll get to it later.

The afternoon heat was blistering. His family had never understood why or wherefore he had discovered the love of sitting right under the scorching sun. His sister always hated the fact that it never did anything to his complexion and his mother was always worried about melanin balance. 34 years of his life had made no difference to his family's concerns. He was still his mother's cocooned child, his father's precious asset and his sister's source of all psychological dilemmas. He puffed again. The slight burn in his nostrils made him smile. If only they knew he was smoking inside the house instead of in the street, where he was strictly instructed to fill his lungs with tar.

The senile servant brought tea and biscuits, he never liked those biscuits. "Bring me back something else," he drawled and shuffled back with is cup of tea and enjoyed the sun glaring on his closed eyelids.

His hands comfortably enclosed the round cup. This was his cup. He knew the comfort of his engraved initials, the grooves of its design, the slightly chipped handle. No one could drink from this cup. No one could touch it apart from he who owned it or he who washed it, put it carefully up in the shelf and brought tea, water or coffee in it. You don't have memoirs from the French Riviera everyday.

"Sahabji. Phone."


"You have to be here. I don't know when you are going to get that guy to fix your cable, but you can't miss this. Get over here, and bring cigarettes, okay?"

He didn't have to say goodbye because the line had been disconnected. He didn't have to ask who it was or what it was on television that was so urgent to watch, but he got up, carefully and deliberately. He called the servant to take the dishes, ordered him to clean the room and, of course, do it without touching anything of consequence, and tell Maa that he will be back late.

This street is neat. Too neat. A sudden image occurred in his head. The street was filled with all kinds of filth and dogs and mice. He wondered what that would make residents feel. If we turned into a slum area. Just one day. One fine day, out of the blue, if we found these nice, shiny roads filled with dirt and garbage. He parked the car, got out, lit his cigarette and dropped it halfway, right on the road. That felt good.

Throughout the game, he only laughed or yelled obscene remarks whenever his favorite team lost a wicket, dropped a catch, misfielded, yelled at the umpire, got no-balls, wides and did what it could to lose the game. His cigarettes finished, his eyes felt heavy and tired, so without explaining much, he smacked his friend on the back with his heavy hands and walked out. They never needed to know what was going on in his head. It was only him, who knew, and what an odd satisfaction that was. It was satisfying that he never had to explain. It was satisfying that he only laughed when he needed to, wanted to. And that he never had to explain what he was laughing or grinning or quiet about.

He went back to his bedroom after quietly listening to his family go at lengths to discuss how it must be for his friends to live in Pakistan without their families, how terrible it was for Pakistan to lose the match, what a sad day it was for so many who had lost their lives in a terrorist attack recently in the city.

He opened the window to his room to let out another puff of smoke so that the morning maids wouldn't go snitching to Maa about it. He saw the street again and leaned on the window frame. Obsession. Shit. He had to go to that meeting his father had set for him in the morning. Quickly blowing out the leftover smoke, he yelled out his door for someone to get his clothes ready in the morning. By 12, at least.

Now I don't know what I'm going to do at that damn meeting. Sit and stare and hear Abba talk until I stop listening. He flopped back on his lounger. His eyes wandered to his hands, his increasing waistline, his loafers, the foot of his servant-made bed, the bookshelf. The pen that still lay on his writing table. Is this the same pen that didn't work? He went up to it, saw that the ink indeed had run out of it and put it back on the table. These five rupee ballpoint pens. I don't know why I buy them. And use them.

The sun was gleaming again, the shadows were interesting if you fidgeted with the biscuits. Kept one busy on an afternoon like this.

"I don't understand you, beta."

"Abba. Didn't see you there."

He was white haired and had less of a waist than any member of his family. The people at the office secretly called him the sixty year old Heidi Klum of corporate executives.

"You were ... quite ... late yesterday."

"Aa-aah.. when, exactly, Abba?"

"At the meeting? I had especially asked you to be there because we were discussing future strategies? For our company? Now that ... I think you should get ... more ... involved?"

He hated that word. "Abba, you know I ... "

"Yes, beta, yes, you aren't made for that kind of work, but who is going to-"

"Not me, Dad. Not me."

"Son, I have no one else." He got up and said the harshest words he could have mustered in his lifetime to his son. "Why is duty a dirty word to you, boy?"

He lay there all night, smoking as much as he could, out of rebellion, out of anger, out of hope, out of misery. He couldn't move, couldn't sleep. He couldn't even think. All that went on in his head were thoughts so random, they had no place in his reality or could offer no help to his situation. It was sunrise and he collected the remains of the cigarette butts and threw them out the window on the street. The morning sweeper gave him a glare but he had closed his window before he could admonish him with looks or words or a threat of complaint to the household.

5.25 a.m. Sleep still evaded him. God damn it. He picked up a book. Some autobiography. Facades. So he tossed it away to pick up a magazine and began filing through its pages. Hmm. Fiction. At least they're not pretending to pretend. Jokes. Crosswords. Where's Waldo?

He picked up a pen and was irritated that it was the same dysfunctional piece of stationery that was not thrown out after three weeks of lying there. He angrily got up from his bed, opened his window and aimed directly at the morning sweeper.

Lousy bastard, he muttered, and put the pen back in his shirt pocket.

That night he dreamed he was being chased by dogs on a conveyor belt at JFK. But they weren't dogs. Their faces were like dogs, but they wore ties and had small briefcases at the end of their leashes. "But I won the game! I did my best!" he kept shouting but the dogs were barking and ferocious. He woke up suddenly, almost as if he'd been given the Heimlich Maneuver, and breathed loudly. Running his fingers through his thinning hair, he went down to breakfast, saw his father's sullen face turn into an expression of shock when he saw him.

"But it's only 9..."

"Yeah, I .. slept early."

Still confused and dubious, Abba poured him some tea. He stiffened. "Just a second, Pop. My cup." He pointed at the topmost kitched cabinet at the word 'my'.

"Oh. Sorry." The cup was half full.

The servant hurriedly brought forth 'his' cup and placed it on the table with hot coffee.

He looked up and saw his father staring. "Doing a bit of writing are we?"


"I've never seen you wear a pen. On your night suit."

He quickly pulled it out and placed it next to his cup.

"This. Doesn't work."

His father's stare deepened. "Right."

"What doesn't work doesn't have to be thrown away."

Abba raised his eyebrows. "Are you trying to tell me something, beta? Because I'd love to hear an explanation."

He shook his head.

Abba waited. After a minute or two he got up and walked back to his room.

He picked up his pen and cradled it in his palm back to his room. He reached behind his dress coats and dry cleaned clothes and felt a wooden box. Pulling it out and opening it, he put the pen inside. Right next to a faded piece of cloth that his mother claimed was the first bloody nose he'd had. Next to the couple of coins he'd collected. Next to the letters he had exchanged from his old French flame. Next to a small gel minute minder his father got from Holland that he and Fari had fought over like lunatics. He put the box back inside. He smiled and shut the closet. His eyes felt very heavy and the sun was gleaming. It was time to sleep under the sun.

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