(J01E08) Red Letter Day – V

“What the fuck was that all about?” asks the girl sitting beside me on the auto speeding slow then fast then way too fucking fast across campus and then suddenly my tired jittery coked-up noggin spits her name out one tired jittery coked-up syllable at a time.

I know her.

“You cut your hair,” I say, more to myself than her, and there is a brief flicker of understanding in her eye before she puts one electric finger on the side of my nose and then looks at the white dust on the tip of her nail.

“Is that coke? Did you seriously just find coke in a fucking restroom?” The moment snapped way the hell up by the wind streaming way too fucking fast through her hair.

When I last knew her there were brown-black waves reaching halfway down her back.

She swore roughly the same amount, though.

Dhoondhne pe bhagwan bhi milte hain,” I proclaim. Look hard enough and you will find God.

The sodium streetlamps outside are a flickering orange chain. I wonder if God is hiding somewhere in this blurry light. I wonder if the auto has broken the land speed record yet.

“This is the limit, man.” She sounds pissed so I decide not to tell her about the half-empty salt shaker burning a hole in my back pocket.

We go over a bunch of those little speedbumps they put in for the sole purpose of pulling your back out of alignment and the auto has never been in the same sentence as shock absorbers let alone the same room.

“F-u-u-u-u-u-u-u-u-ck,” I remember saying.

I also remember going cross-eyed at the last bump, her fingers on my right forearm, the sodium streetlightchain billowing like the arc of a skipping rope.

Then I came to with my head on her lap, watery-eyed and stuck in the past tense again.

The streetlights were no longer moving at all.

The wave had broken.

“You can keep the shades, Jimmy.”

“Thanks, Anvesha.”

*

Anvesha, Anvesha, Anvesha!

She had been a spinal cracker, glorious, crazy.

I met her in second year at a creative writing event held in one of the south campus colleges.

We hit it off despite my badmouthing said college, which eventually turned out to be her college.

“Fellow litcritter, huh?” I drawled as I lit her smoke later that afternoon. “Vocab of a science major on top. So have books always been your thing or are you acting out your personal rebellion?”

“Neither,” she said, raising a single eyebrow at my ridiculous private-eye impression. “Journo major. First year. Looking to change the world rather than tarting it up in flowery metaphors.”

We crossed the road.

“I wish they give our stories back,” I said. “Those six pages are all I’ve written this year.”

“Oh loosen the fuck up, skinnyman.” She’d kept mispronouncing my name and I’d bet her a Mild she couldn’t come up with a more annoying form of address. “Put words on paper and surrender them to the universe. Roll your eyes in the midst of a rainstorm. Get your heart broken and write shitty poetry. Then take a deep breath and let it all go.”

“Easy for you to say,” I grumbled. “Accustomed observer and everything. My world melts under direct light.”

“I feel guilty about taking this cigarette now,” she said. “Your existential crisis is way more annoying than any nickname. Come sup with me, Skinnyman. Grumble about the food instead.”

The next evening I took her advice and went to this party, where I stayed up all night talking to a girl named Manavi.

Anvesha returned my story the day of the prize distribution. It would be the only other time we met.

I didn’t mention the shitty-poem-generator in my life, but I didn’t really have to. Ditto the new nickname that stuck to me like a wad of week-old chewing gum on an overpass.

“Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy,” she said in parting. “Go knee the world in the nuts.”

I placed third. She took home the big trophy.

*

Now, on this excruciating bloody Thursday, she enters right behind Mandy, who picks up his recorder from the bedside table, shoots me a brief look, and leaves.

-You should grow your hair out. Did I tell you that?

-About a thousand times. Ever thought of moving permanently into a fucking hospital bed?

-Why, you know any veterinarians in the area?

-I am starting to wonder if your sorry hide is worth all this trouble.

-Really?

-Well, only a little.

She manages a brief but troubled smile. I feel more horrid than usual about getting her involved.

-Anyone still running that marathon?

-Save the drawl for when they pull the tubes out. Three of your friends racked up hospital visits of their own. Another made it to Wednesday morning before ramming a stationary truck with a stolen bicycle. He’s currently in remand.

-Right.

-Yet another ingested roughly fifty g’s of pure black Afghan and went dancin’ with monkeys.

-Fifty fucking g’s?

-Yeah. Still in a plastic baggie and everything. Everybody got together and pumped his stomach last night. Everybody been having nice chai ever since. Did I get around to mentioning my disbelief at the way you campus folk live?

-About a thousand times. Did you try the chai?

-Yesterday. One cup with some friends of friends. Someone played a Crow ballad and I thought of you.

-Blue Murder EP?

-Last track. Coulda died, Jimmy. Can’t you just let the dust settle?

Today I’m the one with the plot points but don’t know where to begin. She stares out at the concrete overpass.

Bit by bit we have drifted into different stories.

I notice the heavily taped-up notebook in her hand. It is one of mine.

-Did you go back to the flat again?

-Nah. Picked it up the first day. But this was a finished notebook, Daddy-O. The last entry was a month ago and spoke vaguely of visitors. Ditto the one before. And there was no point looking for anything more recent, was there?

-What do you mean?

-That flat. Your so-called home. You go there when you have to meet people. They think it’s where you live. But you really put up someplace else, don’t you, Jimmy?

-Lot to infer from a purloined journal, Anvesha. Investigative chops shaping up nicely.

-Hysterical, skinnyman. You groovy but can’t disprove me. 

Cold furrows settle on her brow.

I make up my mind to tell her, but I guess I’m more medicated than I thought, because I blink and open my mouth and she’s already at the door.

The journal on my bedside table has a thin paperback on top.

-Got you some hardboiled to kill time. And get a new pen, that one’s gnawed through.

The moment drops like a melting icicle and shatters on the floor.

-Goodbye, Jimmy.

Click.

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