Sunday, July 29, 2012

Of Hand Written Labels on Second Hand Records

July was drawing to a nondescript close. Like a short story, skimmed over after a couple of paragraphs. That the writer was famous and usually quoted to mask one's own literary shortcomings did not matter. The rain had stopped beating down an hour ago. There were little pools in the gutters which waited for the sun to liberate them at daybreak.  For now, they sat there rippling silently, reflecting the glow of speeding tail lights of tired cars.

He walked alone. Occasionally, droplets shaken off leaves by a mild but persistent wind and blown his way settled in a cool spray on his face. A movers' truck trundled by, weighed down by old teak furniture and collective sighs and memories of a family moving to a new city and a new home. The warm engine only made the late evening chill hit harder as it moved away and around the bend onto the busier roads. He hunched his shoulders up and shivered briefly and uncontrollably.

He was now walking past the rows of government housing. Identical boxes differing only in door numbers. The pavement had been pushed right to the walls of the houses in a recent road widening exercise. He passed a bathroom window with shadows playing on frosted grime coated glass slats. Someone was showering. The water gurgled down into drains in a steady flow. Steam mixed with scents of a cheap familiar soap poured out of the window lit hazily by a low wattage naked electric bulb struggling to penetrate the translucence. He walked past taking care not to stop and look through the gaps in the slats through which he could see the moldy damp roof which hadn't seen a painters brush for a long time.

He wiped the dampness off his beard with his palm and quickened his pace. A hot shower and a drink would do just fine, he thought to himself. He rarely drank alone. Today he would.Like one of those people in Hemingway's Men Without Women.But they were all better men than he ever hoped to be.

He reached the gate and fumbled in his pockets for the key. The land lady locked the gate at 11 every night. The Great Dane was loose. It was big but harmless . He never really trusted it or it him .  He tiptoed past the dog onto the stairs to his lodgings two floors above. He walked past the open bedroom window of the couple staying on the first floor.The window was open, and the curtains were flapping gently. The ceiling fan creaked familiarly. They stopped whispering when they heard his footsteps coming up and they started again as they heard them going away upwards.

After the shower, he sat by the window with a bottle of dark Caribbean rum on his teak rocking chair. Caramel infused rum. The rain had resumed when he was in the shower. Sometime later, one of the couple switched off the ceiling fan. He was not sure who, though he guessed it was the man. He seemed to have an unhealthy pallor of one who was always on the verge of catching a cold or a whichever fever was the flavour of the season. He poured some more rum into his glass.

He switched on his record player. He had picked up a scratched record in a garage sale with a red colored label on which with a fountain pen someone had carefully written "Recitations of poems of T.S.Eliot". The E in the Eliot was smudged by a drop of water, probably condensation dripping off a glass of single malt whiskey and ice or a silent tear of a once pretty woman slowly and irreversibly going to fat. An anonymous but a now familiar voice flowed out of the horn, as he gently placed the needle on the tracks. As the rough voice intoned "The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock", he sat back staring into the dim streets and distant silhouettes sipping his rum. He sat there remembering the nights when one realized that it soon would be daybreak by the uncertain first light of dawn creeping in and gently outlining the contours of the fall of her back. And when she turned over, her chest gently rise, gently fall.

He fell asleep with an open bottle, a glass with dregs of the last drink and distant voices from a second hand record mingling seamlessly with more real ones from a not too far past.

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