Making friends

I’ve always had trouble making friends. Possibly because I don’t enjoy large crowds or loud conversations, but probably because I have trouble making friends.

For years in I had only one or two friends with whom I shared a lot and whose lives I was a permanent mark. It took me over ten years to two others who were as bespectacled and as touched in the head I.

Before I got used to it I changed schools. And the friend-making process started again.

It took me a year and a half to find the one person who was around for a while. But alas, it was only a two year course.

Life happened. She went to college (or university) while interned intending to study from home. In the five years since, I found two co-workers I call friends.

And now I’ve moved again. This time, it’s across the seas. Down Under is my new found land.

But as is always the case with moving, I still had to make friends.

The older you get, though, the harder it becomes. You’re conscious of wet hair flying about, dry skin cracking in the wintery breeze, and the damned jet lag leaving you like a zombie every morning. Approaching people is daunting, your low voice could reveal your fear, and you never know if the old man returning your smile is being polite or responding to a whole different social cue.

So it was for me. I encountered folks walking in tank tops and shorts, running in speedos with dogs on their tail, and striding in suits and pointed shoes with a McDonald’s bag in their hands. Should I smile? Nod? Purse my lips and raise my eyebrows, ‘Sup?

I’d no idea. Oh, and sunglasses. I couldn’t guess if people were making eye contact or staring at the patch of autumnal trees over my head. Most times, they didn’t even see me. Being short doesn’t help.

What did help, though, was volunteering. I found a co-operative shop and cafe in town. A small non-profit organisation with a massive potential and an ambition to match. It’s a great place to work too. I dropped by one day to check it out. And a few days later, I was in the kitchen peeling onions.

It was the least I could do to help with the onion marmalade. I peeled about fifty onions—red, brown, and white. And all the while, I was making friends out of people I’d never met before. Like those onions, we all came from various places, too. It wasn’t much, but it sure seemed like the beginning another friendship.

Here we go again.

War

The darkness pressed his face as cold air brushed against his exposed arms. He stepped forward tentatively—he didn’t want to trigger whatever was lurking just beyond his vision. Or perhaps it was sleeping. He couldn’t tell.

Bling!

Suddenly, out of no where, light was everywhere. Bright, white, blinding. Jason doubled over—he’d never thought lightness could hurt. As he crouched in pain, his grip tightened around Lyfe, his custom-designed handgun. Whatever was out there, he would get it. He would get it and thrash it, and get out of this hell alive. Couldn’t afford to lose this battle.

He raised his head from his navel, and—bam! A big blurry blob knocked the wind out of him. Searing pain shot up his head as blood flow scattered. Hitting the ground hard, he rasped for breath while peering for a glimpse of his attacker. It was Marcus. Marcus, his friend. Marcus, his partner. The same Marcus who who’d spent all his childhood weekends playing soccer with him, had almost cracked his skull open.

Towering over six feet, with shoulders as wide as a guitar, and muscles that bulged from its sockets, Marcus waited for Jason to stand. Jason took his time. He knew Marcus. Knew that he never liked killing dead rats. Regaining his breath, Jason stood up—there was no use stalling the inevitable. It had to end, and it had to end today.

“How dare you?” He spat at Marcus. Marcus wasn’t rattled—years of practice had taught him never to let personal emotions get in the way of getting the job done. And his job was clear—kill Jason and get the others one by one.

“Spare the chit chat.” He growled and attacked. Thrusting his fist at Jason’s unprotected ribs, he drilled his way deep, cracking a few as we did. Despite a seasoned fighter, Jason stood foolishly, his weapon still in his limp hand. But his mind raced, and he retaliated even before he’d recovered from the hit.

Swinging his arm at nothing in particular, he pulled the trigger hoping to hole Marcus in the shoulder.

The bullet never made contact.

Before he knew what happened, a grand fire erupted around him, searing his skin, tearing away at the tiny fragments of torn cloth wrapped around his calves. His brain paralysed the body, and he stood helpless as the fire enveloped his shoulders, as if assuring everything would soon be over.

Marcus was still standing, unmoved from his stance. The fire danced about him without a single graze. Jason took a great shuddering breath, and preparing to fight his way back, looked up at Marcus’s black eyes boring into his.

And it happened. A tiny piece of metal pierced Jason’s chest, crookedly making its way to his heart. In less than two seconds, the world went black.

Beep!

Game Over. The mechanical voice rang through the living room.

Gone too soon

Dear stranger,
I knew not much of you
except that your eyes glowed
at the prospect of new horizons
that your curiosity piqued
and your spirit lightened up
when your fingers were at play
on the vastness of a canvas
I knew not much of you
except that you dreamt big
that you craved experiences
which will change your art forever
that you remained in patience
and eagerness-pulsing heart
for the one big opportunity
of great exposure of your talent
I saw expectation in your eyes
for all the world’s appreciation
and the applause you deserve

Dear stranger,
I knew not much of you
yes I’d planed to change that
but alas, you moved on in a flash
I know now—death is dismissive


In remembrance of a colleague who went too soon.

Hello, stranger

“Just send me a message if you need help.”

That was the last thing I told her. She was neither a friend nor a family member—just a colleague. I wouldn’t have met her if I hadn’t stopped by a friend’s seating location at work—she’d joined their team a few months ago and was, along with my friend and a few others in their team, expecting to attend her first corporate event in the United States. They were all preparing for the visa interview—filling up forms, double checking spellings and passport numbers, cross-checking each other’s details, and raining me with questions of what to do and whatnot.

It was amusing. I’d gone through the same nerve-wracking experience two years ago when I first applied for a visa. And so I was only too happy to help out these first-timers.

Every one of them was excited beyond words, making plans, discussing which places to visit, and what to eat on the plane. Tiring is an understatement when referring to the journey from India to anywhere in the US—it involves around 22 hours of flying time and additional transit times. No first time traveller has any idea of how they’d endure it. And every far fetched idea they do have evaporates when the plane takes off. I saw the same conundrum in their eyes. I could understand of course—growing up in a developing country, the only thing you want more than to visit the United States is to visit the United States.

But she wasn’t like the others in the lot. Although she, too, was excited, nervous, and earnest in her effort, she had more than blatant thrill in her eyes. She clung to it as if she couldn’t believe she deserved it.

She died in a car accident yesterday.

She should’ve attended her visa interview sometime this week. I’m sure she would’ve got through despite all her fears of not. I’m sure that would’ve cherished the jet-lagging journey and discovered a different side of herself in the new found land. She would’ve brought back more than candy for her friends—she would’ve brought back countless memories and an endless ocean of inspiration for her work. For she was an artist—one who inhales the world with new eyes, expelling a brighter, moe hopeful, version in a consortium of colours.

I never got to know her as a person. And yet, I felt a deep sorrow descend on me when I heard of her death. She wasn’t a friend or a family member—just a colleague I met by sheer chance.

It’s strange how much we under-appreciate the impact of people in our lives. We seldom realise how much we retain from even a brief conversation. I spoke to her only about three times in total. She wanted advice to clear the visa interview. She wanted assurance, and I was there at the right time to tell her it’ll all be fine. However, every time I spoke to her, I spoke from the top of my head—sharing my experience, my lessons, and my joys. Those weren’t deep, soul searching conversations, but they swirl in my head, haunted now, still in shock that the person whose pupils dilated upon hearing my adventures is no longer alive.

Spring cleaning

These days are difficult times
bidding farewell to the old ones

clothes I’d bought years ago
in impulsive shopping sprees
laying waste below newer ones
collecting stains and smells
as well-aged, handmade cheese

metallic keychains, rusty buttons,
identity symbols of a younger self
school life—a life now long gone
yet bloom afresh, the memories
of squabbles for those collectibles

souvenirs and FLAMES analysis
scribbled texts, empty notebooks
remaining shadows of a shady past
of classes missed—teachers pissed
some faded moments photographed

in dusty shelves surviving in silence
discarded memories are for ages