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The Longing

By Amitava Mukherjee All Rights Reserved ©



A man's struggle to write a literary fiction, something that he has been waiting for a long time. After his retirement when he sits down to write he faces a different reality.


Always around four in the afternoon, Rahul feels the weight. There is something, he does not know what, that belongs to that time of the day. He never feels that way early in the mornings or late at nights or when he is busy at work or his friends are around. It occurs when he is alone for a while before the afternoon. After everything is taken care of: work emails, answered; desk, tidied up; water bottles, filled; floors, vacuumed; clothes, folded and put away; curtains, pulled and tied; and so on. After all of that when he sits at his desk by the window and watches the leaves, waving at the topmost branch of the large oak tree, the dead feelings begin to lift their heads, move their bodies and make themselves noticeable. As though he has gained fifty extra pounds around his chest and because of that a task as simple as breathing becomes a lot of work. As he inhales, the wind from this time and place, the wind that has the waft of the summer or the crispiness of the fall of southwestern Pennsylvania, travels through the towering trees of dark forests, climbs up the narrow and serpentine mountain trails, glides over the turbulent oceans and finally reach a place far away, far far back into the past. And a place inside him where his lungs that encircle the heart get the oxygen it needs to stay alive. Not to thrive but just to not let it decay and disappear.

These feelings are for places and for people that were subtracted from his life long ago. Many good things that he once wished to build his life around, were snatched away and demolished in front of him; many good people he wanted to cling to rest of his life were not there when he returned home. That is why Rahul calls them dead feelings. What good is love or affection if the receiver has disappeared into obscurity? What folly is in looking back at them as he walks forward and never back? He doesn’t know what to do about those feelings, how to discard them or turn them into sterile relics of the past. Relics that sit of the shelf for hundreds of years and gather dust. So he writes them down.

He gets up and holds the corner of the desk until the dizziness clears. It happens when he sits for too long in one place. He brings a bottle of water back to his desk and keeps writing. From that time of the day forward he was not in control. But those dead feelings were in charge. He writes that down too.

Rahul believes the things that took place in his life aren’t parts of any long story; instead many short ones, tied together one after the other in no particular order. Sometimes they are so short that one might just call them incidents. They are like flashes of light or brief periods of darkness, whichever way one might sees them. Time is a string and those incidents are like beads, ordinary ones, hanging from an ever-extending necklace. It is one of those necklaces without any real value in the real world. No one would buy it. It’s an ornament put together by a child. But it is all he has.

A lot has happened on his way to this place and time and chances are no one else was there with him when it did. One has to take a leap of faith that he is telling the truth. Above all Rahul has to have faith in himself that the portion of the memory, is under the spell of repression, the inaccessible part, wouldn’t change the stories in any significant way. What is truth anyway.

He called home twice a week to let his mother know that everything was fine. Everything wasn’t. But he told her what she wanted to hear. Otherwise she would worry. His mom kept asking about trivial things of everyday life. He didn’t have time for that. ’Yes, I had dinner mom, yes I will drive the car cautiously mom; No I don’t have many friends but I have many books and I am happy with that mom and so on. That’s what moms do, he knew. That is all what moms do. He was by then a grown up man and he was going to accomplish something big one day and trivial things didn’t matter. So he started skipping those obligatory phone calls; he made up excuses.

But the incidents, he wrote them down and he still does it everyday. He categorizes them into two collections: one, stories from abroad, which will blow his friends’ mind back home when he visits. The way people live and the way they love in this country. And the other, stories from his past for his new friends in America. He even writes down stories with special care for a special friend who might be interested in him. One should be prepared for all the possibilities. Holding her hand on a moonlit night along the river he would open one of his special collections.

Many years has passed since he came to this continent. Rahul is now retired from the University and lives in a suburban home by himself. Occasionally he visits the town in India he grew up. His friends are busy with their families and their families. Also, they know everything about the place Rahul lives now from the Internet and from the TV. As it turned out his stories are not new to them anymore.

He writes everyday out of habit and he has filled a few of those notebooks. Late at night when sleep escapes him, he writes and when he finds nothing else to take care of, he writes.

He thought there is a possibility that after a long time, when he won’t be there, someone would find his diaries. There is always a possibility that she would get to know him finally from those diaries and feel something for him. It wouldn’t be love. But it could be something very close to it. That is what he has to settle for this time around.

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