Shouldn’t have lied to MPD. Forgot he has access to this notepad every time nurses/doctors come in to disapprove/run tests.
So in college we had this system – I don’t know if you’ve heard of it – called ‘backs’.
How it works is: you blow off studying until it becomes impossible to cover enough of the syllabus, and then your examiners are kind enough to give you another year to strike up a better acquaintance with said subject(s).
If you’re very lucky you can indefinitely postpone graduating!
That was why I was in college the day everything began – should’ve been a graduate two years ago, but a single paper kept getting my damn arse stuck. A qualifying exam, no less – the marks wouldn’t even count in my aggregate.
The first wasted year went by in a drunken haze, but on my second go I dropped the old crowd, stayed home, stayed clean, gave my paper, went underground until the result was due.
The twenty-odd folk were probable there for the same reason I was. Most of them looked like they’d been up all night (just like the old song said).
I mean, I know I hadn’t slept a wink.
And just like the old song said, we all got lucky.
The pitch for F.D.F.S. was not new. One year old to the day, in fact.
I’d sat in the college canteen with the old crowd and delivered the inaugural speech, which some sod was currently reciting to a mix of old and new people, all dazed or confused:
“Well, boys and girls, we gone and dunnit again. A wasted year behind us, the prospect of yet another in the future, and nothing to show for our troubles but scenes from the high life and vague sensations of falling, falling.”
The bastard even said it twice, like I had.
“The solution? We stay clean and work shit out. No exceptions, no excuses, nothing. Except...”
a pause for effect,
“except it’s before noon. On a Saturday. Who goes home at 11:40AM on a Saturday morning?! The high life needs a proper send-off, one we’ll remember til we’re old and grey; wise men call it aversion therapy.”
Here came the kicker:
“A party to end all parties, stretched across this bloody campus, hell, the whole fucking city. We empty out ATMs, max out credit cards, lie, steal, beg, borrow. Nobody – I repeat, nobody – goes home. Not today, not tomorrow, not the day after. To go home is to give up.”
and sealing the deal with a suitably arbitrary endgame,
“Whoever makes it to Friday comes to watch the first show of whichever crappy movie-”
I stopped listening. Hardly anyone would last the weekend.
Nobody ever made it to Friday.
“Bhardwaj?! It’s been forever, man! Where the hell you been?”
The shadows across the old concrete overpass are shifting. Afternoon on Thursday.
I broke my year-long tryst with sobriety on Saturday; early Wednesday morning I was being given a tune-up by Bhardwaj. Woke up today in a hospital bed. And there wasn’t a single clear-headed moment since that speech. Not one. Even after the thing with the Crow-
But I am getting ahead of myself.
The point is, it wasn’t an ordinary binge, in retrospect. There was a clear and deliberate feeling of escalation – I wouldn’t change a thing if it were one of my godawful stories.
My sole problem had been with alcohol (which we will get to,
unfortunately presently); giving up on smoke(s) had been an act of self-punishment. Can’t clear Formal Logic (or Communicative Hindi or Personal Hygiene 101 or Motorcycle Repair)? Be like that, then. Stay clean you lil shit.
The stuff in the tulip had been clean, fragrant and soothing. I smelt it as soon as the dude with the two lighters lit up and it was like I hadn’t been gone at all.
I will smoke until the lights go out tonight. I will make up for the months and months, and tomorrow it will be over again, this lapse. Not a drop of ethanol shall be spilled, for I am in control. Right?
Wrong. Wrong as fuck.
But more on that later.
Bhardwaj said no a couple of times, but he took the tulip in the end.
We sat in silence for a bit: him smoking, me swaying a little. The colors around us seemed a bit.. brighter? Like they didn’t look any different, but my mind kept insisting I pay them attention, and a dude with a guitar played something soft and downtempo but was drowned out by birdsong. Four other people sat earnestly discussing the degree to which ‘Apocaparty’ sounded ridiculous (Answer: every fucking degree).
I tell you all this so the conversation that followed doesn’t seem as weird.
“Didn’t the landlady’s husband have a forwarding address? A number he could give you?”
“He was in no shape to help. Been drunk ever since his wife went, I think. The whole place was reeking and dusty and stacked with empties. Plus I.. I don’t think he likes me much.”
“Maybe he just doesn’t like anyone anymore.”
“Funny as fuck, being left behind.”
He asked about the writing. I was less snarky than I’d been with anyone on the subject. He also asked about the Private Detective Story, which was easier to relate since it was funny and off-colour (maybe later?).
“You still seeing that girl, whatsername?”
“Still think of her?”
“Um. Sometimes. She had this annoying habit of hogging the covers and nudging me out of bed around 4AM. Still blame her for the first time I bombed this paper.”
“Was that the straw?”
“The what now?”
“Well, you know. The straw that woke the camel’s aunt. I mean why’d you break up?”
“We didn’t. Her blood went bad on her last year. The chemo did the rest.”
What would Bhardwaj say to that? What could anyone?
He kept quiet. To my surprise I found myself going on anyway.
“The boorish night habits are what I think about the most. I got a smaller mattress, cut the sheets into half, but it all still seems so fucking large. Way too much space for one person. Or two people. Or all the people in Hudson. You know? Every night I lie with sheets tangled awkwardly around my legs and think, mine all mine. Then I sleep on the floor.”
He gave a mirthless grin and motioned for me to take the tulip, which was almost done.
“Funny as cancer,” he said, “being left behind.”
And Babli and Mandal and half the world have been asking why I agreed to help him, why I got embroiled in an ex-con’s mess (who, as it turns out, might just have been on furlough rather than free).
Why I asked him the landlord’s address and offered a hand.
What nobody seems to understand is, he deserves to know.
The world is cruel and ugly and miserable, but it offers rays of sunshine to remind us that all darkness can be scrubbed off with time and effort.
It didn’t matter if he’d been gone eight months or eighty years, didn’t matter if he was a crazy druglord or framed simpleton. Bhardwaj deserved to know what had become of Vrinda.
It’s a pity my investigation got nowhere.
But more on that later.