N O T E
You speak to me as if you’re afraid we’ll fall in love.
I poured water into the reservoir and put the carafe back on the heating plate. After adding the required grounds and mixing it with appropriate amounts of water, I waited on the coffee.
A minute has sixty seconds. Five minutes have passed; that means 300 seconds have passed and that’s how long the image of Zaahid with another girl has stuck in my mind and I am sure it will haunt me for atleast a week. I’ve imagined all the worst case scenarios. The first kiss, the first date, the second, the tenth and the hundredth one, the scandalous sex, the angry sex, the cheating sex, the kids, the family. So, today I wonder what is mine.
Growing up I was considered the mannequin of the family. I was dressed in clothes they would pick out for me; my extra curricular activities included everything others wanted me to do. Then when the night befell, and everyone slept, I would change clothes and dance freely. My tolerance levels competed with New York’s skyscrapers and that is why, I believe, people choose to do me wrong.
My insides begin to quicken and I become vaguely aware of the fact that my mind was starting to divagate into old territories. A frisson of fear runs through me. I immediately step back. My subconscious has stopped twirling around in her pink tutu dress and is staring, open-mouthed. Taking a deep breath, I close my eyes, and run both my hands through my hair while slightly pulling at the roots. Oh no.
When the season of extraordinary misfortune arrives be it with a real loss of a loved one or a love long lost, the world offers sightful hints of the ghastliness. For me, it was the latter and it occurred abruptly and spinelessly. I deem that I reach out to him often—metaphorically—but only hear the silence of unrequited love and it feels like an Ashok Leyland truck ambushed me on the highway. The loved one is gone but I am still here and the loss impacts every part of my being. Then, one day I realize that I’m not the only one to suffer, and this is not the last time I’ll witness immense loss.
By then, every one of the recollections associated with the lost one will turn out to be mixed. You can recollect all the great circumstances, remember them, and still proceed onward with your life. It’s a sweet indication of the way that this loathsome experience has not squashed you, but rather you are enhanced by it.
When Zaahid first left I would describe my anguish like an unquenchable fire that consumed all the oxygen in my body leaving me enervated and empty. Now it is more like a thin layer of frost, icing the burns left behind, and a delicate souvenier of the torment that preceded and a warning not to fondle that fire again. They say once bitten, twice shy, but I think for me it’s more like forever shy. I can’t see myself putting my heart out there again; I don’t think it can survive another inferno.
After all, the human mind can only maintain complete trust once for each person. Once broken, it’s never the same. Strong wafts of coffee as it bubbles in the water break my line of thoughts. I have always associated coffee with Venus and these two correlated to my musical journey. It’s been six years and I am still convinced that due to some magical fateful day did I manage to clear the auditions and awaited the Boot Camp invite.
“We need a party! We need a party!” I remember hearing the thuds as 8 pairs of hands went up and down banging on the table. Surely clearing an Ultimate Sing Off audition was a big thing and had to be celebrated, so there we were all making our way through the labyrinth of roads and driving off to our next destination: a club.
Craig, who was behind the wheel juggled through the roads and finally applied the brakes harshly just outside the Club as soon as we had reached our destination. I was pulled out from my seat by Riya, another college mate and my only “homie” in Newcastle.
The day I had first met Riya Patel was a sweet, sunny morning back in India. We were those preteens in fifth grade. While she was an outgoing student, I was timid. While she mastered and later developed leadership qualities, I had developed my academic abilities. While she was teacher’s favourite, I was their last option. While she could talk nonstop in front of a crowd, I could barely utter a sentence. We were poles apart. So different that none had imagined that our companionship would soon develop into an eleven year old friendship.
I still remember the music class where we were sitting beside each other on the last row in the auditorium. I didn’t know her then. “So you girls might already know about the scales? Right?” our teacher Sir Samuel had asked. After a long silence, he joked about how only Riya understood what he meant since she played. I remember gazing over at her, trying to unleash what she had that I didn’t.
“What instrument are you learning?” I had questioned her slowly, completely aware of the fact that she might not even know about my existence. I stared down at my hands, as I knotted my fingers together.
"I learn the Casio,” she had smiled at me.
“Keyboard you mean?”
“Casio is a company. The instrument is a keyboard.” I had explained. My mood had shifted immediately, and I had become even more interested in the conversation, part of me wanted to jump and punch the air. YES! My inner goddess was thrilled.
She had giggled in a response and questioned me if I was learning something. I recall looking at her, adoring her sharp feature—black eyes, dusky skin, curly long hair, well built physique—and questioning as to what else makes you popular?
Trust me when I say I never wanted love as much as I wanted to enter a room and be the only source of light.
“I am learning the piano,” I had said with a smile and then our conversation tumbled from discussing Beethoven’s Minuet in G to Smith, Seymour’s Dorothy to Prelude in C by Bach, J.S. to the chords, andante con moto, to cantabile and scales we found difficult. As the class progressed, we had soon started talking on lighter topics. Sir Samuel had glared at us few times but didn’t say anything only a note of detention that was passed onto the two of us after class ended did explain his silence.
What blossomed after that conversation was now a full grown friendship of over eleven years and who knew that when we thought that we are never going to meet again because I was going off to another country to study, we met again and that too not in India, not in our regular meeting spot but in another country.
I had already bumped into a rack of muesli and was the center of attention of a wild store manager when Riya and my cart carshed into one another at a grocery store in Chester-le-street when I was in my “lets-explore-this-place” phase. We were shocked to see each other and I do remember pinching myself by declaring her standing before me as a figment of my imagination until I had heard her usual greeting, “tu pagal hai?” Her strong hands gripped by arms and turned me around before I was crushed into a hug.
It was apparently a coincidence that Riya got selected in for the course of Masters of Arts in Contemporary Fashion Design at The School of Fashion, Chester-le-street, Durham, at the very last moment and she couldn’t convey the message to me in person as I had already left the country a week before but she did leave an email which got lost amongst heaps of Amazon promotions.
“Come on! Let’s get in!” I had felt a hand dragging me somewhere as we stood outside the club entrance. The music was as loud as a thunder; it made the cutlery on the tabletops rattle. Neon lights flashed wherever like police sirens, yet significantly more beautiful. The bass thumped in time with my heart beat as though they were one, filling me from head to toe with music.
Over the roar of music, a distant, hazy chatter of Venus and Craig could be heard. I couldn’t make out any words, but laughter rang in my ears and wouldn’t seem to stop. The song that was playing got louder, pulling me in and wouldn’t let go. I had no choice but to join the crowd, jumping in a huddled group of my college friends like Tic-Tacs being shaken in a box.
The dance floor was invisible; it was wall to wall people trying to enact the latest Subeme la radio dance moves. There was no room to even lift a hand yet as Riya stepped in the space magically came. We danced like we were in a Bollywood movie, crazy antic moves, twisting and turning, holding hands as we changed sides. We were all grins; happy and alive than we could ever be in university.
In ten years, I know I’d never remember the days but I’ll always remember that night and how it made me feel—free. I love the quiet life, mostly because I don’t have it now, but I relish crazy fun times too because then I could focus in class, learn the facts, and be the good girl.
The week that followed after that night is a bit blurry. For most part, it was uneventful—just filled with university assignments, band practices, theatre act rehearsals and classes at ungodly hours—followed by another five our drive to London for the Boot Camp Auditions—the second phase of auditions and the stage where judges picked their teams. The mere thought of it made me giddy. How could I not think? You can pretend to act more like a ‘winner’ of at least two inter-college band competitions. Yeah? My subconscious had made an unwelcome vitriolic return. I ignored her.
Au courant, I pull open the top drawer to take out the mugs and walk into Zaahid’s bedroom, placing the hot mug on the bedside table do I catch sight of his absence. The noise of running water from the bathroom ascertains his presence. The water stops and moments later he walks out. He glances up and our eyes lock, his hazel and softy luminous in the diffuse glow of the lamp. My heart skips a beat, and then starts pounding, coursing heat through my body. He continues to walk, not faltering at all, as I turn around to make my way out of the room. The air between us holds everything that we didn’t say.
Our act is a sham; the relationship is built on faulty premise. There is a void between us whom we keep packing and repacking with our hopes and dreams; never love.
Each morning I lose myself in a mountain of echoing thoughts. Leaning against the steel—cool—railing I sip onto my very mug. In my world tours I’ve visited the most curious places. One of them is a region where the air smells fresh and hopeful and the wind brings with it the diverse languages from the place I grew up in—my balcony.
“Watch out!” a man yells as he shoots a rolled up package my way. I realize it is the newspaper guy. “Sorry ma’am!”
I barely miss the paper as it lands a step away from me. Picking it up I smooth the sheets and read the headlines in the entertainment leaflet first because politics never made sense to me.
“Logan Heath from Southern Contagion present on Ultimate Sing Off UK season 11.
London, Britain 30th October, 2019
It has been reported that Logan Heath, the lead singer from the Southern Contagion boy band famed star, has finally agreed to mentor the Ultimate Sing Off UK season 11 and the star has already shot for two weeks of the telecast. The star now, 26, is currently on the fourth world tour along with his band mates, the bass guitarist and drummer, Connor Hunter. Their recently launched album has struck a chord with the audience and is said to be their best work till date. The star is said to make his first public appearance since the news went viral in the American Music Awards (AMA’s) which are scheduled for next month.
Logan, the most eligible bachelor among his peers, is yet to give his word on the news.”
The news brings a small self-congratulatory smile on my face. After years of hardworking, Logan finally had opportunities knocking on his door and he was accepting it. In the music industry nothing is guaranteed; neither fame nor failure. No body decides how many years will lead to commercial fame. Everyone essentially has individual journeys with their own speed and time line so stop competing with others. Things will fall in place for you when they line with your time line. Don’t rush your pilgrimage; live it.
My Ultimate Sing Off journey has played a major part in my personal growth. A stray tear slides down my cheek when I least expect it. Light cool wetness shocks awareness into my system. Those days made me happy though now six years after I can’t say the same. A certain pain lines the happiness I can’t explain and that is alright because happiness is meant to be felt even if I can’t put it on paper.
It was an eye-opener incident. Meeting and competing with hundreds of people from around the globe made me more observant than I ever was especially in the top five stages with Megan heading Michael and Margaret, Caitlin leading Deborah and Carolyn and Stephan mentoring me. There was Michael, the born-to-be-a-Jamaican-singer with top-notch vocals but with an even bigger superiority complex. Then there was Margaret, North Englander and desperate to win; she couldn’t handle criticism. People don’t realize that everyone has a breaking point; choose the right words and they’ll shatter like glass.
Swirling the spoon in my coffee, I look afar in the sky. My overactive imagination almost draws out Deborah and Carolyn’s faces in the clouds. The identical twins were credited for the best duet on Ultimate Sing Off, but they couldn’t stand each other.
The house’s unkempt autumnal shabbiness gets highlighted by the weak rays of the rising sun. In front of the house lies a vast expanse of green garden on both sides of a rather wide drive-way. At night you would find yourself under a thick blanket of stars and none of this shabbiness would be on display. Yet, the graffiti walls of the garden would always find a way to dominate. Squirrels run and crush around golden crimson leaves as the security guard sets to sweep the carpet of autumnal glory.
I have always been besotted with people who are outlying and aren’t easy to understand. I am infatuated with the kind that reveals cautiously and get offended when people poke their noses in often. I adore the ambiguities and enigmas of people—the harder to crack, the better. Therefore, the ‘people pleaser’ in me back in my USO days always tried to mend feuds, bring harmony and make everyone happy and that was becoming one hard square to circle because: Cherry Foxes.
Cherry Foxes: the girl band headed by Caitlin consisted of four English women: Lily August, Jane Tate, Jenna Nelson and Penelope Evans. Girls with glitzy vocal power and ostentatious confidence always found a way to browbeat me. Whenever I was near them, I looked crest fallen, stunned even and a small part of me has resented me ever since.
I stand immobilized in the center of the balcony, paralysed by the harshness of their voice and the horrendous memories that replayed what had befallen on me, attached to the bedroom as my thoughts recollected themselves. Ultimate Sing Off taught me that however bad today seemed, life does go on and it will be better tomorrow; if it doesn’t you will repeat it until one day you realize it. Looking back I can clearly see how the bad times were important—they taught me patience and perseverance. Every moment that lead to happiness that I today have revolves around certain kind of awful darkness. Sometimes the darkness was good—I have found myself most productive in that period—and sometimes it lead me to a place from where I had no guarantee to return.
It taught me that life seldom gave second chances, so if you get one, grasp it! It taught me that ‘living’ and ‘making a living’ are stark contrasts and it’d be foolish to try to conceive them as one. I learned that I can’t always be on the receivers end; I need to be able to toss a few things back. I grasped that regardless of the status of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them once they are gone from your life. I discovered that consistently I should connect and touch somebody—everyone cherishes a warm embrace. People can let go of quite a few things—your words, your actions—but they never forget how you affected them.
I learned that even when I have troubles, I didn’t have to be one.
Penelope always radiated the competitive, ‘can never be friends’, sort of vibes and I always tried to fit in with her—low self esteem issues and all—be friends and break the cold wall. I even tried pick up lines but they never worked maybe I did actually lack something on her list: Who to Be Friends With.
I slowly materialise back on earth. Softly ragged brown crunchy leaves got carried in the wind, and then fluttered down leisurely to join their sisters under the tree. Together they made a carpet of brilliant colours of autumn and more work for the guard. A small girl walks with her father along the sidewalk on the road visible to me, their each step bringing a crunching sound in the morning air. I tug my sweatshirt a little closer to my body to keep out the chill, the first sign that old man winter was not far away.
A ring tone of Nokia reverberates in my mind and I recall the nuisance daily calls of my mother created, but now I miss them. She wouldn’t stop trying to pry information out of me. How was everything? Do you feel welcome enough? Is education difficult? When are exams? When will you be home? You have to come on Diwali, you already missed Raksha Bandhan! We miss you! Are you happy?
When that phase would end, she would try to fix my dad coming over to Newcastle. Papa is thinking about next week, is that fine? Do you have exams then? Oh you’re free and that research paper is done? Please take out time for just a day, Maira! We haven’t seen you in months!
The truth was, I hadn’t informed them of my participation in the show; I dreaded their reaction. They lived in the illusion that I was busy with semester exams, getting along with life in Newcastle and thus couldn’t talk much or be in touch. If only they knew. The then nineteen year old me had no clue how to break this to her parents that she had refunded her college fees—the one for which they had indebted a huge loan—and was for the past two months living in a so called ‘Judges’ house!’
A light breeze touches me and a thrill runs through me. My thoughts of Ultimate Sing Off evaporated in the air as I hugged the sweatshirt tighter to my body. The empty cup of coffee in my hand gave me the cue to start working and begin my long day—filled with concerts, interviews, and photoshoots along with Denise’s, Harry’s daughter, birthday party I had to attend tonight.
I walk back into the room to find Zaahid stretched on the bed and deep in sleep. He has his back turned and is lying on the bed in just his boxers. His right arm and leg cuddle a pillow while the left hand supports his face. I walk closer to where he lies and pull up the duvet to his face so that it covers him entirely in its warmth. “Stay with me,” he mumbles in his sleep, his hand catching mine as soon as I had started to walk off. My brain freezes, stunned into inactivity by this admission.
“Huh?” I look back at him with a confused expression. I stare at him, unable to articulate anything—even my subconscious is silent. Since when did he want me? Because the last time I checked he was dating his ex-girlfriend.
“I need you,” he mumbles. Curiosity kicks in big time.
“But I like Penelope,” he again says in a sleepy voice. It breaks my heart and makes me question why I want him to be ‘the love of my life’ when he isn’t even ready to hold my heart let alone nurture it.
“But—I guess—I—” he starts to unveil. His voice is wary. He frowns for a moment and seems to be engaged in some kind of internal struggle. Then his expression relaxes, a decision made. “I—I love...” he mumbles but sleep engulfs him completely and I long to hear what he wanted to say next.
I regard him for a moment, my eyes speculative. He smiles an enigmatic smile in his sleep that doesn’t reach his eyes, and I know immediately this is not the first time the ‘woman of his dreams’ has visited him. The thought is unwelcome. I squirm uncomfortably, moving past him towards the desk while loosening his grip on my wrist.
I grab the laptop off the desk and plop on the bed whilst stretching my legs and placing the laptop on my lap. I roll up the sleeves of my sweatshirt so my arms are free to move. While scrolling through the number of fan mails I am supposed to answer, the movement on my bed makes me look over to my left.
I gaze down on him, drinking him in. His light snores fill the air in the room. He tosses and turns in bed and changes position so that his left arm wraps around my calves and his head is situated beside my thigh. He is sleeping at an angle now. Probably he made a sixty degree angle with the edge of the bed, if I have paid proper attention in my geometry classes.
Sitting here looking at Zaahid, I smile at the thought of him for the first time in months now. I wonder if he is the type of person you cross paths with once and never again. I am so sure that both of us wouldn’t ever be able to start off from where we left off because that is too far back and neither of us are capable enough to traceback those ten steps to apologize for all the things we did wrong. I believe in a few years he will never see me again and I will never return because I know there is so much living to do—so many more people to love and forget; and he will always be one of them.
I look back at the screen in front of me and open up a word document and frantically type.
All he had done, I had hoped to pardon.
When the death of love was slow for me— for him it was sudden.
Now the years go by, and my heart has hardened.
Maybe the things we’ve been trying to fix are really the unbroken parts that went misunderstood from the beginning.
“And my hopes, they are high, I must keep them small. Though I try to resist I still want it all. I see swimming pools and living rooms and aeroplanes. I see a little house on the hill and children’s names. I see quiet nights poured over ice and Tanqueray. But everything is shattering and it’s my mistake. Only fools fall for you, only fools” Song: fools by Troye Sivan
Please drop me a comment or a vote if you think this deserves it and give me a chance to improve. All the love as always, Mahak xx