Monday, 26 May 2014

The Two

 Things of the past are obscurities, they exist only in memory. Inside me the nebulous cloud of remembrances are ever thinning and one day will be no more. I must pin them down with words before memory becomes no different from the northern lights of old age.

Across the road from the old white building of Quetzcal, built by the lost founders of this city, there is a statue. The restaurant I work is on the slopping road behind the statue. People from the archaeological department inspect the statue every year and every year they reach the same conclusion- no one knows whose statue it is. It is a man who is remembered because his name and his language has been forgotten. Some times when customers are sparse I go out to look at the bronze plaque that bears his name, but like the rest of Quetzcal I cannot read the now forgotten script of our founders. Then I look up and I often see white fumes coiling upward from the shabby dome of the white building. Perhaps this is how all things die after they have been abandoned, evaporating away in the summer sun. I see these fumes every day, exhaled by the old men who visit my restaurant, as they catch the beams of sunlight that comes in through the glass windows. Sometimes I see those fumes on horrid days, coming out from my own nostrils, those days are more frequent now, the fumes and the sepia air haunt me like the bronze plaque of alien tongues.

The memory of the two is a hundred years old. I was young. The beef ularthiyathu that I carried from the kitchen counter to the tables in white porcelain plates did not tremble from the fear of death. The two spoke the same language as that of the statue, which I knew back then. I have forgotten it now. Their names too are lost, but I remember what they spoke for I heard it when I was young.

They always ordered the same things. Beef ularthiyathu and two black tea, sulaimani as they called it. The one with the mustache ate more. Picking up dark pieces of meat off the white china, talking while he sipped the black tea. They spoke of trivial things and rarely of their work. They spoke about the weather, rain always excited them, food, politics, and the police of Quetzcal. They were journalists, and sometimes they spoke about writing too, but always about writing of others and never about the process of writing itself. Rain excited them, words seemed to roll of faster from their mouths when it rained, and each syllable reverberated with enthusiasm. Back then it used to rain often in Quetzcal. It rains a lot even now, but the rhythm of the raindrops is lost, and forgotten.

I remember that day. Students (that’s what they call themselves) clashed with the police in front of the white building as usual. White fumes of tear gas rolled down the road behind the statues. I had closed the shutters. The two watched the road through the glass windows, shaking.
‘Shouldn’t we get out there?’ one asked the other.
 ‘No, we wait’, he said.
‘But the violence will pass us by, we need the photos of broken bones and smashed skulls.’
‘No we wait’, his eyes were unwaveringly fixed on the chaos outside and he continued to talk in a serious tone ‘These idiots will beat each other’s to death and while they languish in pain on these roads their leaders will come. They’ll come to pick up their comrades and wipe their tears and talk to them. But only when the fighting is over, only when there tear gas subsides. Because the white khaddar that they wear is too expensive to be thrown away if stained by blood and chemicals. Let the others have broken bones and smashed skulls, it is the scavengers that come after that will make a great story.’

Sometimes I wonder why he couldn't be satisfied with the bones and pieces of skull. I can only guess his reasons. They spoke a language and represented a culture that was forged in red. A tongue that had questions in abundance. Where is the equality you promised? Where is justice for our dying brothers? Tell me in what whore houses did you pawn our freedom to ascent the ladders of power?

Don’t they have wives and beautiful children to go back home to? Did they not know that in Quetzcal the people who are supposed to protect them with laws can harm them and paint their dead bodies as those of radicals, extremists and terrorists? Perhaps not. I heard the shots later, the sound had penetrated trough the shutters. On my way back I saw their bodies below the statue.
The road behind the statue slopes downwards and for an old man it is easier to walk down it. But sometimes the statue draws me to it with a pull stronger than gravity of the slope. The bronze plaque is usually covered by dust from the day’s traffic. I wipe off the dust and I try hard to understand those words, words of generations past, as if staring at it hard enough would bring back those memories, and I fail every time. Then I start my defeated descend down the road and sometimes the skies open up, as if the clouds are laughing at my failure to comprehend those words. But by drenching in the rain I understand how they made this culture and language. They made it from the sound of rain drops make as they skid off the green leaves, as the rain drops hit small puddles, as the rain drops are gobbled up by bright red flowers of hibiscus. Yet I have forgotten the language and those two are dead and now in Quetzcal there are no leaves, no puddles and flowers are grey from the dust of the day’s traffic.


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