Strange Affections- A short story by Prannay Jha


‘The ultimate dream has so much of desperation, that it scares us to actually touch it. Imagine that that little child you had been nurturing for an eternity but never allowed to grow; dies…What would you do then? Where would you fall?’

Chapter 1: Stranger of the trip:

“Give me another, Mark”. By now he must have known why I came to the bar every day, the past week. He came with his special Sundae; dark chocolate melted over some rum laced vanilla ice cream.

My trip was about to end and hunger was at its peak, I had never been good at sobering up, hence the rum. It made the breeze flow a little longer.

She was sitting diagonally across my table. I noticed her for no one else sat inside the pub in the afternoon.  They’d prefer their beer in the sun, with the slight breeze flowing. I on the other hand, sat just beside the glass entrance. Somehow the chilly wind never appealed to me.

She was wearing something local; I never have the right vocabulary to describe clothes; something similar to harem pants and a long cream shirt with a brown sleeveless jacket above. She was playing with her jug of beer. She perpetually kept her eyes down, engrossed in the drink which she hadn’t touched past four minutes. Her dark brown hair seemed golden in the bright sunshine coming through the huge windows.

She finally looked up and found me staring at her.

“What are you staring at?” She had a middle-eastern accent, the one you know you’d find alluring, tone regardless.

I was still staring shamelessly, the wonders of marijuana. I finally whispered looking blankly at her, “You have green eyes”

She didn’t understand.

I smiled and with an expression of exaggerated ecstasy I said again, “You have green eyes.”

She gave me a disgusted look and did not bother a reply.

She was looking at her mug, now conscious of the fact that I was staring.

I went back to my Sundae and did not say anything for a while.

Still busy with my sweet delight, I tried again, this time granting her the void of my gaze.

“I am sorry, I’m awkward. They say it’s a condition,” I chuckled. “Let me start again; hey I am Adriaan, and am on a weeklong vacation here, that ends today.”

I knew she softened, maybe even muffled a smile, but who would blame her for still maintaining the quiet. So I continued; “It’s a strange place isn’t it. People drink in the evening, fish in the morning and are swooning to colloquial blues by the night. No corporates, no big cars and yet a prosperous happy place. (I paused for a second) Is it too different from where you want to run to?”

She had to look up now; looked straight at me, I knew the questions so I explained.

“Everyone wants to challenge monotony. Your face wasn’t born here, and you are wearing a perturbed expression and I am sure I haven’t caused it so early. You are wearing local so I presume you had settled, still your solitude and Mark’s strange greeting to you suggests your first time here.” I questioned the impulsion of her predicament.

She looked at me blankly, not a hint of surprise or confusion. Finally she composed a reply, “You are wrong in thinking it as an impulsion. Inebriants are not the only source to enable contemplation; it’s merely an alibi today to refrain from it.”

“Do not say you are another one of those women who is looking for freedom from their moribund life”

“Freedom is too clichéd for a woman, sir. I was born in this place to seek it, I come here (raises her mug) to challenge it now. ”

“You were born here…” I whispered to myself. “So do you wish to go back? (I paused)I am sorry my alibi makes me bolder.”

“No”

I was hoping she’d explain but she seemed too lost. I never understand what to make of mono syllabic answers. They seem so stupid yet so apt for someone like me; kept me in confusion. I am used to studying situations. I knew she wanted me to back off, but I gave another try anyway.

“Can I dare to ask about the fairy tale you wish for, lady?”

“I do not hope for fairy tales.” She chugged the last two sips and left in haste.

I sat there for a while. People oft say that women prefer being called beautiful rather than pretty. I could never comprehend the difference; however this one seemed she could be called beautiful. The elusion of a vulnerable woman is what seduces a man. I had met a lot of women who pined for freedom from their husbands, family or their very existence, but they never knew what they’d do if they ever got it; similar to dogs chasing cars. This one however seemed different. She seemed to have a dream and dreams are what I look for.

I went to the river side that evening. I never had trouble understanding the nature. So much plan and so much predictability; it enabled my thoughts to rest. I prayed. I do that every time I wish to chase a dream. It was my last day there and I yearned for what I came. I decided I’d pursue.

I went back to the city with some hope.

The town’s evening spot was a lover’s paradise; sunset and the birds. The matches felt as if they were exclusive on that busy cliff. It reminded me of what we called the ‘suicide point’ in our college. I’d often go there alone. I’d carefully go down a little from the cliff and sit there for hours, studying whatever I could.She was there sitting on the cliff overlooking the river. There were couples, but she was not noticing them. I went closer, I had to.

“It would be an honour if you had a drink with me, it is my last day here and I want it to end with something beautiful.”

Cliché sometimes works on foreign lands. She smiled and I took out the wine I had brought. We talked for a while. I finally asked her.

“If there was one thing that you’d die doing what would it be?” I asked.

“I’d love to paint every part of the world, the mountains, the deserts, and the glaciers, everything virgin”

I smiled and we continued our talk. She had been living with her uncle and aunt. She wasn’t very close to them and lived like a paying guest. I didn’t feel the compassion one should; probably just because it meant I could spend more time with her.

It was now time to leave. She had beautiful earrings, not very big, seemed like small roses. I went forward to touch them, my ring finger lingering softly under her lobe. She twitched a little. I asked her to come with me.

“Why” she rustled.

I whispered, loud enough for her to hear and left, “Because love is too ironic a word for someone who doesn’t believe in fairy tales”

 

Chapter 2: Nascence

I was tired of concrete. From where I came, there were tall skyscrapers and a line of greenery at the divider of the massive highway. It represented the modern age of meticulousness; the proficient structures and rules. It made me miss wood;the smell of a wooden house, especially when it rained. I always felt strange after the first rains. Later, I learnt about petrichor and eventually associated the smell to the feeling of welcome freshness.

I preferred my boat to be of wood. The cockpit however, was made of steel; hosting the wonders of technology. I had got a variety of features removed for the sake of my privacy and my love for primitive simplicity. I had to get it polished. It could reach five knots and I had anyway planned to use it for staying.

I knew I’d wake up late. She was up and I presume might have been guessing what happened. She did not wake me up; shy nature or maybe just the shame of waking up with a stranger. She was sitting on the deck, contemplating what must have conspired last night.

I woke up, helped myself to a cup of orange juice and poured one for her. I spared her the trouble of breaking the ice.

“You passed out and I had no idea where to take you.” I looked up to meet her eyes. The confusion was now evident.

“I passed out after getting you here and even I have no clue as to what they call this place.”

I had found the place many years ago searching myself a spot with solitude. The lake was formed by the melting snow from the hills.  The pine trees were so dense that it barely gave room for any shrubs. It seemed beautiful in winters; but I refrained from the place then.

I went back to bed and resumed reading my novel. I wondered what took her time but she eventually came in.

“When can I get back?” She had a tone of ironic confidence.

“I go back next week, enjoy the beauty till then.” I did not care to look up. I generally love to notice the confusion but thought that the truculence would be uncalled for. She took time to reconcile her thoughts. Humans are not defined by societal sophistication but by crudeness in grave situations. People have very extreme views about abduction. It’s as if their logic turns childish; parents take unwilling kids to interesting places!

“I wish to go back, now.” Her voice was with a hint of fear and the typical ironic woman strength. I did not reply.

“Are you kidnapping me?”

“No, I just do not intend to disturb my plans for the week.”

“Just leave me at the bank and I shall find my way.”

I smiled and agreed.

I left her near the bank, the pines started almost nearly. The wind was cold though there was sun after a long time; made me feel like sitting on the deck all day with a shawl around myself. She asked me which way to go. I honestly didn’t know. I usually followed the swifts that came from the lake side. While going back I camped in the forest for weeks while I finally discover civilisation.

I resumed my novel that I had left for about a week. There’s something about thrillers; I never find them interesting. Its’ stories become redundant after a while and once you get to know the style, it becomes easy to foretell climaxes.

I spent most of the day lazing around reading and sometimes my usual Beethoven.  I had just started watching Prison Break and was hooked to it. It was the perfect fight between Scofield and Mahone; two geniuses after each other.

It was four in the evening and it would have started to get dark soon. I thought I’d leave the boat after a couple days. The good thing about humans is that you can trust their general instinct.

I spent the next two days finishing Prison Break. By the end it had been dragged so much that it was no fun guessing what might happen next.  Scofield’s death seemed befitting such a story. My acquaintances always felt sad about the death; I never reasoned with them about it.

It was finally time. I picked up my bag and went for the forest. I wished everything would go according to plan. She probably was too scared off me. I just hoped she’d have come to terms with the scenario and maybe start to cherish it by now. The forest was dense and vast but there were always signs, signs to take you towards more living. It was a long day ahead of me.

Chapter 3- Flick the dominos

I followed the morning sun.  I loved how I could wear different layers of clothing. It was as if I was in the military. I had bought myself a carbon knife from Switzerland. Although expensive, they looked elegant to me; they solved my purpose well. It wasn’t the usual rainforest. The base was far less dense, no animals to be weary of but a chilling cold was perpetual. There were less sources of water so one had to carry a handful when going for a hike.

Forest is one place where you thank the corporates for tinned food. I decided to camp during the evening. I collected some broad dry wood as I did not like blazing fires, especially during the night. I love how every adventure yearns for equilibrium, an ironic symphony.

I had once been to the circus. We were travelling Asia if I remember correctly. It was my first time, so I didn’t know what to expect. I was awed by the end. All the performers had already performed. Towards the end there was something very close to chaos. There were trapeze performers flying, the clowns were all in the background, repeating their trademark moves;there were animals in one corner and the tight rope walker was moving towards the audience. If you looked at it without watching the show, it made no sense; but when youlooked at it closely, it seemed like an orchestra. Every instrument beautiful on its own, and ironically when all are played together, they created euphoria.

I had managed to light a small fire beside my tent. I went back to reading my book. It was probably midnight when I realised that the morning would be pivotal to my plan. I thought about all that could happen and eventually fell asleep in an hour.

The chilly morning wind woke me up. The sun had come up already and it was time to leave. The place was probably a dozen kilometres away from the tent. I had been very fit past few years; adventure sports, rock climbing and had finally settled on camping in the snow.  It still took me all afternoon to walk the treacherous terrain.

I was finally there. Supported by tress was my tree house, roughly fifteen feet above ground. I had made it myself a few years back. I always enjoyed tree houses as a kid. Privacy is always a priced possession for a child. This house had everything, a view of the lake when the mist cleared, a makeshift furnace, food and for this time, some special things. The window seemed to have broken, maybe it was the winds.

I climbed up. The place was in chaos. Things were lying around, curtains taken down and there was paint all over the floor. By the window was a painting. It had captured the scenery outside, beautifully. However there were houses there; who would want to stay in that cold?

I finally noticed the artist lying on the floor. Her hand was covered with a piece of cloth that was red. She must have broken the window. It was pretty cold and the thin mattress wouldn’t have kept out the chilling wooden floor. She still was sleeping very peacefully.

I sat beside her, not wanting to disturb her. She looked weak, but nevertheless stunning especially after I had seen her passion. She was the perfect choice, I thought to myself as I sat their imagining our next conversation.

 

Chapter 4- Surreal

‘We were sitting by the lake. There was a serene wind blowing through the lake and we were sitting close by each other for some warmth.  No one had said a word for an eternity now. I had one hand around her waist which I clasped with the other to bring her closer. I rested my chin on her shoulder. Her eyes were still fixated on a spot in the lake; she seemed to be in deep thought.Her perfume made my breath cede to its trance. I kissed her neck, my nose gently prodding her chin. She turned, looked at me and leaned in. It wasn’t submission nor was it out of custom but something I could not comprehend. She retreated a little, slowly opening her eyes exuding confusion. I couldn’t blame her but I couldn’t resist either…

I loved the cosiness of a bed in the winters. Her head was resting on my chest. She was fiddling with my fingers. “Why do you have to do it?”

“To feel”

“Feel what?”

“Compassion”

“Do you really think I paint that well?”

“You painted that yesterday (pointing to the painting) and anyway it is your content that matters”

“What if my priority is your approval?”

“Well then we’d have a paradox on our hands” ‘

I woke up with a startle. I had never discussed my plan, to any extent. I knew it must have been a dream. All the research on the realms of dreamsfinally paid off. I had slept on the chair in the tree house.

Though my happiness was short lived. She was sitting in front of me with a kitchen knife. “Who are you?” she shouted.

“I am Aadrian Peralta” I replied looking straight and being as calm as possible.

“Why did you get me here?”

I did not reply. I knew there were many more questions to follow.

“Did you follow me? How did you know I’d paint or even find this place? Where am I?”

I replied after a narrow pause, “It is strange how one can lose track of days without a calendar. It is Wednesday today” I smiled. It hit her now that there was a day missing. We had met on Saturday.

 The Devil’s Breath (Scopolamine) was a fine discovery. The ease and the use, all were perfect for me- I needed a day for the set up hence I did so while she was sleeping for hours on the boat all through Sunday. The paint, canvas, brushes and off course the food, had to be arranged.

I knew she’d find the place, they always do. I didn’t think she’d settle this fast though. Chaos if given the time turns unidirectional, a direction that’s most stable and the initial impulse is what defines it. Civilisation tends to find outlets to chaos. For example we are enthralled by the idea of an apocalypse alleviating us from all evil. We don’t realise that we came after a similar apocalypse and that same start is what defined us. There is never a guarantee of the flow but I take my chances.The house was a mess but it was meant to be for that mess conjured beauty.

I got up from the chair, with her knife still pointing at me. She wouldn’t have killed me. She just wanted to leave and I was in no mood to deny that.

I gave her a key and told her- “Walk about eight kilometres from here in the east direction and you shall find a car. It’s a fifteen minute drive from the highway.  Say Auf Wiedersehen while you cross the borders. Your passport and everything you need shall be there“.

She was very confused and had a million questions. She just asked,“Why did you do it? Did you rape me?“

“I shall be gone out of the country before anyone can trace me. You were not touched.” She somehow believed me; for reasons I never understood; I hope I do someday.

Chapter 5: Ascent

Dull are the days of spontaneous, Love

And dull are the days you tried

With a knife at your neck I’d leave you a lull

And you’d have pined it inside

 

 

Love is not even close to being the strongest emotion. There is no perpetuity in it; the crude adrenaline cocooned by the ‘butterflies’. It is like a cigarette; you always like the first one and then the rest is just a habit. There is always a set of rules that define such glory. I never understood it. I usually found romance in irony. It is good to be a little selfish sometimes. People rarely realise that it is easier and way more convenient to discover than to change.  I never had a choice, hence I strangely felt blessed. Yet, I found it sadistically amusing to observe love always.

I had always been around artists. My incapability forced me to rely on pre-conceived notions of connoisseurs. I discovered that chaos is generally regarded superior. We have come to a world where people no longer are afraid of the unknown; instead the more confound the art is, the more it is appreciated. I could only justify it to myself after observing their struggle to explain their own work. There must be something so compelling in their heart which they could only portray using a canvas.

There is some chaos in everyone’s head. It is hard for them to overcome it. Genius is generally born when this chaos is given a slight direction. My heart said that I had in this case. I did beseech the stars to comply. I had hoped she’d come often, that she would finally figure out the ultimate dream.

I would go back there every second month. I knew she visited, but I made sure we don’t intersect. Every time a new canvas… every time a similar idea… but every time a different scenery… There were houses, there was snow, sometimes flowers or vast stretches of just trees but never were there any people. It is so beautiful to see an artist suffer with the dilemma of the craving solitude and a need to share. I could never have been an artist. I however had started to respect one who could get over this dilemma that often transformed into pride; one who could accept that there is more than one pair of eyes in the society and it shouldn’t be an abomination to look into them.

It had been about eight months since she first stepped into the house. The window was still broken but now it just made it pleasant. I had a stack of questions whose answers I just wanted to hear despite having some idea. I finally decided to meet. I knew when she visited.

She was working on a new piece when I entered. Engrossed in the canvas with a pair of earphones on her. I was curious what she was listening to but my lust for perfection meant it was not a question I’d risk to be answered.

“Why are there no people?”

She did hear me and stopped painting, slowly putting the brush down. She turned to see me but did not seem startled by my arrival. She smiled and replied, “People believe that a painting is something that captures a beautiful moment or a fashion of emotions. I feel it is futile to capture something that shall seize the very next instant.  Civilisation makes everything dynamic.”

“Then why keep houses?”

“The belief in romance of idealism”

“Don’t you think that’s unrealistic?”

“Shouldn’t hope always be?” She asked.

I smiled, “You seem to be enjoying this.”

“Oh! What can I do? Someone forced it upon me”

“Do you think I can keep that last one?”

“Why?”

“Let’s just say I am an ardent collector.”

She had anyway finished it. She allowed me to take it while I bid adieu.

“Thank you” she said while I left.

 

 

Chapter 6: For love is embossed in distress

I remember when in school, I was in the football team of the Tulip house. Ours was not particularly the strongest in the school. Students were divided into houses and Lotus were always the defending champions. It so happened that we were pitted against them in the semis after a gruelling first round. Tired of pulling off an underdog win in the first round, we were exhausted. They had an all attacking line up while we just defended. We were 2-0 down in the first half itself. It so happened that we got a goal from a very steep angle and that pumped us up. Soon we were at par as the momentum shifted to our side. By the end as the scores were still level, the match went to penalties. I remember everyone praying. I never had faith so just looked up in the sky while the players got ready. We lost 3-0 on penalties. I was sad, but not as much as the people who took the penalties. It is rather uncanny to see guys cry. Especially for me it had always been difficult to relate to such emotions. It was then I that I regretted the unusual in me. I soon realised that the precedence of any high is never the same amount of drug. For me, it was just higher.

Being a personality who had always been close to art one way or the other, I had a fair idea how to sell. I never intended to keep the painting. I never had a single one at my house. I only kept posters. Somehow keeping someone’s passion on my wall meant an invasion of my privacy. There comes a person in everybody’s life, for whom we are ready to refute self-respect. We hide it under the parasol of love, it is pathetic, but glorified so much in the delusion that it actually satisfies a lot of emotions. Now the question is not about practicality but about how life should be lived. I would not deteriorate it to call ‘logic’ but should life be about sane straightness of thoughts or should passionate foolishness that glorifies sadism also be considered? The beautiful thing about an artist is that on the very rare occasions, love need not be with life, but with a drive to give life to your delusion.

I orchestrated an exhibition. Connoisseurs from the area had come. It had a spring theme and being a Shelly fan, hers was the first piece on display, with the same quote. Every piece a more beautiful scenery. The genius in art is how you present it. Why do people come back to the solitary, the dark when nature itself is your companion? Why choose the lady sipping her drink alone and probably wants it that way? There is always a romance in such hypocrisy.

It was a big hit. It sold for a thousand pounds as compared to the combined eight hundred and seventeen pounds of the rest ten combined. Soon the artist’s identity became the question of the hour. It wasn’t to be revealed, at least not yet.

Over the next few months I took random pieces from the tree house. I knew she’d know, but then I didn’t think she’d mind enough to stop. It did offer her greater relief. Exhibitions, with different themes, but always the same result. There was a buzz now. It was now time. In the final exhibition, I told everyone a story. About how an artist found a place of solace where her passion could ooze; the escape from the moribund. No one cares if there’s a tinge of hatred in a world of love, but a put a little love in a world of hatred, and people give their hearts to it. You see people aren’t much different than me. Their emotions too are governed by relativity. If you say you love someone, you’d be treated with numb oblivion; say you never felt that way before and a princess they become. As I said before, love in rare cases can be with inanimate. And the princess was a woman- The Dark Queen.

Finale

I went to meet her that day.

“I see someone has taken a liking towards these fortnightly escapades.”

“What can I do? People keep on stealing my art.” She said with a smile.

“I am an ardent collector! Have you ever thought of having an exhibition? You do paint well.”

“I think I might, after I am convinced that I should. I still need to improve. In addition to that I am not sure I want these shared.”

“Every piece of art is meant for certain pairs of eyes. The irony however is the need to always know what you want; the paradox however is that when you do realise it, it is too impossible to hold on to it. (She stared while I paused) I never hang paintings on my wall. I sold them off in exhibitions. They love you. They call you the Dark Queen. I told them your story.”

“Why would you do that? It should always have been my prerogative. I don’t have a story.

I got up to leave, “I thought you needed it.”

The next day morning, people started flocking in to greet the queen beside the lake. It was too late and too rude for her to leave. She greeted, she explained and even managed a smile while at it. All she could see, was that there were no houses still, but people; tarnishing her idealism. Humans are not defined by societal sophistication but by their crudeness in grave circumstances.

I knew she cried after they left. She knew it ended. She had burnt the entire house by the time the night ended. She planned to go back to her stability, her life, her practical life. Perhaps she’d paint again, perhaps she’ll come back, or maybe she just didn’t love it enough. The love for art is so delicate that I wryly laugh and ponder how it demands so much moribundity.

I don’t know people I don’t feel pain, I don’t know emotions; but I know faces. I can tell what they might feel. So I create the strongest emotion I know is coherent. Perpetuating a dream long enough that it becomes a part of you, and at the very peak, the very beginning of achievement… Bring it down. It makes me feel.

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