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Dev Patel here. Life is a Poem & You are Poet of your Life.
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The sky was unambiguously clear and the sun was on its full swing but inside him a thunder storm was cutting its own umbilical cord. A squeaking melody leaked from his rocking chair matching the motion of to and fro. The back and forth motion resembled his swing between existence and burial. A low-priced cigarette hung between his wrinkled lips and the smoke was forming a rainless cloud. He gazed outside the window towards the happy faces and blurted, “Sons of bitches.”
It was his seventy-first birthday but there were neither gifts nor guests. He certainly had ordered no pineapple cake. He received birthday kisses only from his whiskey and cigarettes. Anyone could interpret his eyes; he was starving for a companion but nobody served him the dish of empathy. He was hiding his anguish from the other people but all his fabrication washed away each time he dripped in reality.
“Grandpa why don’t you send your children to buy your groceries?” a young girl at the vegetable shop suggested.
“I know your kind,” his thunder storm erupted, “You think you will always be this happy happy young girl?”
“I ain’t your freaking grandpa. Just pack the rotten potatoes and give me my change.”
The girl’s face turned sour as the lemons in her basket. But in no time she was attending to another customer. “Do you want carrots madam? It’s just forty rupees per kilo; totally fresh.”
The word “fresh” bit his ear drums; he moved away from the shop. “Who does she think she is? I have plucked Cinderellas far younger and enhanced than her when I was a young.” He tried to dissolve in the thick crowd of Asan market but the happy faces kept scanning him.
He returned home worn out. After a short nap he began slicing the potatoes. He didn’t wash them before slicing and it was intentional. He just dipped them in a bucket for half of half a second and unleashed them on the pan. The process is known as frying. He slowly chewed them one by one. Some of it got stuck in his fake front teeth but most made it through. His wands were too feeble to wash the dishes in cold water so he just left them unattended. And why did he have no hot water? Because his electricity was cut off last month as he could not pay the pending bills. It did not affect him that much; well, nothing really does. It was not like he owned a television or a radio so…(you know). Reading was his beloved hobby. He had over ninety books in his collection. He had been collecting them since his youth. He had spent so much time with those books that the books had read him thoroughly. The characters in those stories were his only friends. In his youth, he had some real friends too, who didn’t live in castles with dragons and unicorns. Some deserted him when he finished his money and some isolated him when death slayed their time.
Family was an awkward word in his dictionary. The only family he had was a son who lived in an another city and a daughter who lived in an another generation. His son was in a mental asylum at Dharan. He hadn’t met him for eleven years. The last time his granddaughter came to visit him was seven years ago. Back then he nearly stabbed her drunk boyfriend. “You’re the reason why dad’s in a madhouse you old man,” she had yelled. Those words still echoed in his nightmares every now and then. That was when whiskey came to help him but Mr. Whiskey did not come alone. He came with Ms. Bills. He drank everyday and his savings were running out.
He drank because he had no money. He drank because he had no sex. He drank because he was lonely. Well, he just drank because he was himself. Only the snoring time was when he didn’t touch the bottle. One not so fine Wednesday, his Armageddon arrived. He discovered there was only two hundred rupees left in his bank account. He didn’t give an ‘Oh my God’ expression. Because the word ‘God’ was never present in any of his conversations. While young he had onced joked, “Do you expect us to believe those saucy thirty year old nuns are virgins? Well, some might be virgins but they’re surely on the verge of doing sins.”
He scavenged for anything worth selling in his rented apartment but there were only old books in his vault. He thought of calling his granddaughter but his ego slapped him hard. The choice was tough; he brought home a bottle of cheap whiskey with that last piece of currency.
The shopkeeper said, “Here’s the whiskey – one hundred and ninety rupees. And here’s your change – fifteen rupees.”
On his way back he saw an old man, roughly his own age, begging outside a shopping mall. The poor guy looked pale and weak. He was asking the happy faces for money. “Excuse me son, can you spare this old man few coins? Excuse me madam, I haven’t eaten since yesterday morning. Excuse me…”
What’s the difference between that beggar and me? He reached inside his pocket and took out the fifteen rupees. He placed in the beggar’s hand. That’s the difference.
He never had any guests at his apartment so he never used to lock the front door. But that day he did. He locked it and put the keys inside his pocket. He kept whistling a song. “…the times, they are a changing…” He piled all his books together on the floor and sat on it as if it was a bed. He took the bottle of whiskey and an “intentionally unwashed” glass. The taste of that whiskey felt like a chilly kiss on his lips (of one of his Cindrellas). He tried to gulp the whole thing in haste. Most of it fell on his clothes. He took a pause and stared hard at the bottle. Almost half the bottle was empty. He looked beneath him. His right foot was on William Shakespeare and his left knee was on Emily Dickinson. May be his ass was on…(let’s not go there.) He spilled the remaining drink on the books. “Drink up Romeo. Drink up Othello. Drink up Frankenstein. You have been good friends to me.” He took another look at the bottle. There was barely a spoonful left. Drop by drop he rejoiced the last sip inside his throat as a fat kid rejoices candy. His old lips then splurged on a cigarette. He turned right and looked at a picture on his wall. It was of his son when he was just three. He gazed at it for a few seconds and blew a cloud of smoke. Everything around him was spinning. Next moment, he dropped the cigarette on the bed of books and cried, “Oh mother, take me home. The happy faces have no hearts. Sons of bitches. Sons of bitches.”