This happened last week.
We were in the bus, on a long journey – tiresome and uncomfortable at its worst. To alleviate the stifling boredom, I said, “I’m going to tell you four stories.”
She said, “Okay, shoot.”
A: Three lifetimes ago, when I was much younger, less worldly-wise and more content, I participated in the preliminary rounds of the Inter-House quiz contest. I wasn’t very good, but, with my mum’s encouragement, I decided to give it a shot. One afternoon, after school had ended at 1:30, 4 of us lined up by the basketball court, and the Head Boy, who was in my house, conducted an informal oral round of selection. I remember him asking where the Winter Olympics were being conducted that year, and I blurted out, “Tokyo,” or some such thing. As it happened, that was the right answer and I was elated. Unfortunately, the question hadn’t been addressed to me, and the bright opportunist whose question it was picked up the slack and immediately repeated my articulation. Fighting tears, I pointed out how unjust the selection was, and was told, “Tough luck.” Watching the quiz a few weeks later, I remember my classmate answering, in the final, tie-breaking round of the quiz, that entomology was the study of the environment. His house lost, and perhaps, it was us who won. There was a bout of elation in class that afternoon and a round of jeers for the boy who had got it wrong, because we had studied precisely this topic in biology a few weeks preivously.
She asked, “Did you ever go up for another quiz?”
“Yes,” I said, “A few years later, I remember very well being in the team that came last. The only question I managed to answer involved identifying the movie that Seal’s ‘Kiss from a Rose” featured in. Another house got a question on Kapil Dev’s 175* against Zimbabwe in the ’83 WC. But anyway, that was another lifetime, and it wasn’t important.”
B: Two lifetimes ago, a little older, a tad wiser (or perhaps I was deluding myself), I used to play tennis in the mornings at the University courts under a coach. It was a glorious summer, perhaps one of my favourites – warm weather, blue skies and plenty of friends. It was in that summer when two friends came over one evening – one of them was spending the next few days at my house, since his family was going to be out of town, and the other was just passing time – we really had nothing much to do in those days; perhaps a little work, an hour or two at most, in the day, after tennis, and the afternoons and evenings were devoted to television, long phone conversations, downloading music and stuff like that.
That particular day, we were talking some nonsense and generally goofing off, listening to music (Alternative was the flavour of the year). At some point in the evening, I had an argument with one friend, and I told her to get lost, before leaving in a huff to my room. I showered, cooled off and came out and life carried on as it had before. A few weeks later, I found out that during the course of my ablutions, the other two had kissed, in my study, behind the stained glass, in a tiny alcove.
“What happened when you found out?” she asked me.
“Well,” replied I, “I felt betrayed that they felt they couldn’t tell me then. I was angry, but I controlled myself for a few weeks, and when a friend who had left school the previous year returned for a visit, I told him. Oh, there were many tears shed. But it didn’t sour anything or have any real lasting effects.”
C: A lifetime ago, after a concert in early August, a friend and I were looking desperately for a place to eat and drink. The previous year I had managed to sneak into a bar underage, and we were looking to repeat that feat. When we were told that the bar was full, we were pretty annoyed and walked around to find another place. While crossing the road near a flyover, I felt the urge to run in my new shoes and while sprinting about, I tripped in the middle of the road and fell flat on my front. No harm, no cars, fortunately. My friend and my driver looked at me strangely, probably wondering what the hell I was doing. Ten minutes later, we found ourselves at a restaurant that had opened very recently. There was going to be a bit of a wait, but it was a reasonably pleasant evening, so we sat on one of those EB boxes with the little ledges. My friend pulled out his pack of cigarettes that I had just bought him and took a puff. We were not discussing anything in particular – watching the traffic go by at a more sedate pace than usual, it being 10 pm or thereabout on a Saturday evening. A large, well-designed hotel was across the road, and we watched the cars full of guests enter and leave.
“Did you finally manage to have the drink?” she asked.
“No,” I said, “But that wasn’t the point of the evening – we weren’t looking to get drunk or anything, we had to go home after that. The drink was just to, you know, sort-of chat around, if you get what I mean. The time we spent outside the restaurant, and after that, while we were eating dinner served the same purpose, without the inebriation.”
D: In this lifetime, there was a great period of loneliness when I interned in a big city on the coast. I didn’t know too many people around my flat or at work, and consequently, I spent most of my time by myself. Most Saturday afternoons, when the weather was warm, I would take the train to a hookah bar and sit in their courtyard, I guess, and smoke and read or listen to music and watch the world go by. One evening, a blond guy wearing glasses sat at the next table, and we struck up a conversation either about the exorbitant price of the sheesha or the book he was reading, which I had read parts of. We talked and talked and talked for hours until even the summer sun decided to bid us adieu – we had discussed subway systems, his travels to the Middle East, banking systems, economics, his admission into a prestigious university on the other coast for a PhD, the tsunami that struck a few years previously, my city, his and all topics under the sun. I never got to know his name, but remember him riding away on his bicycle as I headed in the opposite direction the train station.
“Found him on Facebook?” she asked.
“As what?” I replied, “I don’t remember whether he told me his name, and even if he did, I don’t know what it was. I know where he studied, and where he was going to study, but that’s all.”
“I have something to ask you,” she said, “What do these stories have to do with each other? And what do they have to do with anything? I mean, it’s not that I didn’t enjoy hearing them, but what am I supposed to make of them? I can’t see how they’re connected or anything…”
“There’s nothing more to them than what you just said – I was just thinking about my past. How it used to be, what it isn’t now.”