Days when the pictures don’t make sense are strange, weird days. But they are always there. I often lie on my back playing with my hair, wishing it was longer or shorter depending on the situation. Nothing else to do. Suns don’t shine on these days. They are tiring and boring.
I often look into the mirror for inspiration. I mostly try to create something better, something more acceptable. What I end up painting are mostly pallid abstractions. Well, at least they make sense to me. I think.
I have a design submission due sometime in the next few hours. I know the exact time and date, but have wilfully forgotten the present to keep myself composed. It isn’t helping.
Right now, all I want to do is sketch random lines and see what forms. I can’t find a piece of paper close enough that wouldn’t have me move. Pieces of paper are hard to come by in this apartment. I wonder how I manage to survive in this profession.
There’s a slowly coiling string of smoke rising from my right hand. The cigarette has almost burnt out. My fingers are feeling the heat coming forward slowly. I just can’t seem to stub it out. There’s hope of a last remaining drag. There isn’t any hope at all.
The first sting of the fire burns. I let it drop with a bad word. It’s not as liberating when not directed at someone. There’s an indistinct chorus of people presenting caution for my reproductive ability. I curse my uterus and pick myself up from the bed.
Today is a warm day. Warmer than most Sundays. Sundays are usually mellow. They get under your skin only as the evening draws near. But today has already crept into my bones. I can feel my muscles sweating. I feel vaguely sick.
I look at the time.
It’s not a good time.
The sun is yet to set. I can hardly see anything from this room. Minimalist ground floor rooms are easy on the pocket, but terribly tiring on the aesthetic. But there are whispers of sun that drop in once in a while. One of them is lying on the red ribbon floor in what I assume is the western side of the room. It looks much more depressed than I am.
You know those moments when words and lines dissolve into meaningless patterns and all you want to do is make marks on paper till you have wasted time, ink and paper, and earned a little solace? There’s a broken pencil lying around somewhere, I am sure. How odd that pencils are never ever intact things. They are always broken. It is almost as if they are like people, only smarter.
I don’t know.
There’s no pencil anywhere near the bed. I pull up my bag and take out a very old copy. It has a few empty pages. There’s a pen neatly kept within its pages. It was marking something situationally important. I take it out and start scribbling lines in the vague shape and form of a face. Accidental faces are beautiful.
There’s the hint of an eye emerging from the nonsense, a crooked eyebrow, and a rather stubby nose. They don’t seem like they will ever come together to become something coherent.
Hair hair hair hair hairhairhairhairhairhair…
Hair falls down all over the face in swift strokes. It looks like a windy day. The lips are tight, and roughly drawn. There are lines, but I want to kiss them. They seem firm and soft like lips should be, but never are. The hint of cheeks and double chins irritate me, but she is a real person. The features come together. It is a face. She looks at me from behind confusion and is profoundly saddened by her existence.
I fling the pen across the room, regretting it the moment it leaves my fingers. Satisfaction makes you do strange things.
Satisfaction is too temporary. Usually.
The continuing observations of all works make them progressively flawed, till I do not want to look at them anymore. But I have to look.
The room is dark. The sun probably isn’t whispering into the room anymore. The waves have stopped. But whatever of the picture remains in darkness, it looks perfect. Drawings aren’t supposed to be perfect, are they?
I crawl out of the bed and switch on the light. The sudden light looks odd; weird. And a little sad. All early evenings are sad. All evenings are alone.
The picture still looks beautiful. Perfect.
The woman in the picture looks at me with mild confusion and irritation. It is a very familiar expression. It is a very familiar face. It is my face.
The face looks like me. No, that is wrong. The face is mine. It is me.
I have its eyes, its lined but perfect lips, the puffy morning cheeks and the asymmetrical double chin. A couple of old, foolish lovers eulogizing about my lips slips into mind. I forgive them, momentarily.
I look like the face. But it’s one of those drawings. Too perfect. Reality won’t match up to it. I will wish that life was randomly intersecting lines making accidentally perfect pictures as well. But I know that looking away from the picture, there will be a world of dull colours and rather boring design. Not enough chaos to make anything interesting, but chaotic enough for hangovers and burnt fingers.
I stare at the picture a little more. I haven’t drawn glasses on the face. But it doesn’t look odd. Unlike in life, the face resembles me even without the glasses. I chuckle.
I look at my hands. They have been shaking a little lately. Most people have asked me to cut down on smoking, but it is not because of that. I know. Looking at my hands always makes me want to draw again. Draw hands. Fingers.
I wish I saw life like a Bill Plympton animation; messy, weird, out of shape, but riveting. The picture I drew, the face, is so terribly perfect. Is it narcissism? Is that even a question? I might even be Narcissus; can’t stop staring. But is it the beauty of my face? My face isn’t beautiful. No one’s is. It is just the way it came out. And I didn’t draw it. I did not draw it.
Lines and strokes come together and everything seems to fit in. How can everything fit in so seamlessly? Nothing ever fits in. Factory produced pieces meant to fit together have rough edges. How does this not? How do all its rough edges disappear inside the face?
I need a cigarette.
Did a picture scare me?
No, of course not.
Sundays are bad. Christian holidays make heretics out of believers. I am sure Ruru wouldn’t like me speaking like that. Not that Ruru likes me speaking anything related to his religion.
Sundays are bad. They are creepers. They have tentacles forcing under the flesh, entering through the nails. Sunday evenings, in this neighbourhood, are always too silent. Complete silence in the heart of the city is terrifying. But only on Sundays.
Lighting cigarettes under a ceiling fan is such an irritating thing. Yet I can never bring myself to move away from its influence. Too many failures later, I finally light one. Immediately realise that I didn’t need one.
Cannot stand the smell.
What brand is this? The one I smoke? Yes…
There’s something wrong.
I realise that I have been doing all of this while staring at the picture. There are no ashes on the perfect picture. No ashes, no dirt. I hover my hand over the page. I wish it was worthy of the picture. I haven’t signed it yet.
Is the picture mine? Yet?
Do I belong to the picture?
I look at my arms. Then my naked legs. I haven’t shaved them in a couple of weeks. I usually don’t like shaving them, so it’s not surprising.
There aren’t any signatures on the visible parts of my body.
What is wrong with you?
Another drag. A longer one.
It still tastes terrible, the cigarette. Favourite brands fall from grace on Sundays.
I hate Sundays.
My phone is lying next to me. I pick it up to take a photo of the sketch. Perfect. Perfect. Perfectperfectperfectperfectperfe….
I catch my reflection on the phone’s unlit LCD screen. I take stock and actually look at something else for the first time in a while.
There is no face on the reflection.
It’s odd. Not frightening. Or disturbing. It is weird.
At least initially.
There is no face. The grammar of it all seems so confused. There is no coherence to my reflection. But it seems to make sense. It seems to exist. Just a face that is not. A face without faces; a collection of features that are together, but not. I don’t know how to put it. I don’t know the language in which this reflection is written.
The unnaturality of it dawns on me. My face isn’t there. There’s something or nothing, or everything in its place. But it doesn’t matter. The thing which filled that space has been replaced.
The phone involuntarily slips out of my fingers and bounces on the bed. I am still looking at it. It has fallen right next to the portrait, which accidentally looks exactly like me. My reflection, however, doesn’t.
I should panic. I think. Or think this isn’t true. I should probably think that it was a play of shadows or something.
How am I supposed to react to my face being gone?
I look at my reflection again. Bend over the phone, not touching it, and look deep into it. There’s the audacious hope that I was mistaken. Narratives are very confused sometimes. But sometimes they make too much sense. I know my face isn’t there even before I decided to look into the reflection.
It’s just an odd incomprehensibility. It isn’t even surprising. It just is.
And it’s true.
The grammar has certainly collapsed. There’s something there. It looks like a sentence written in an unknown tongue. It looks as if it makes sense, but I don’t know what it means.
I pick myself up from the bed and slide out. Almost slip and fall into a heap. The floor has melted away but is still there. A very liquid presence. The floor or my legs? I do not care which.
The portrait still is perfect, and still looks exactly like me.
I gingerly raise my hands towards my face. Levitate them over my it, as one does when trying to touch someone deep in sleep, as someone does when trying to touch something too hot or too cold; as someone does when one is afraid of getting hurt.
I wait, maybe counting down unconsciously. Then I touch it.
There is a cold, alien texture to this face. I can feel my fingers on the face; I can feel the face on my fingers. But they feel a part of different bodies. Different structures. All the features seem to be there. My large, round eyes that look tiny behind my glasses, my stubby nose and rather perfect ears. All of it remains on this face. But they do not seem to be in the right place. They seem to be mobile, moving like trains of flesh, changing position the moment my fingers leave them. I am not sure if that is just the unfamiliarity of this face speaking. But my despised cheeks seem to have subsumed all of the rest of my face, maybe even the hint of the double chin that has been proving more and more difficult to hide. The sensation comes from elsewhere, as if touching a phantom limb, too far away yet always there. But the flesh is living, natural; real.
My hands jerk away. I am afraid that my wrist might experience whiplash on its own.
I don’t try to make sure if they are shaking more than usual. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were, or even if they weren’t. Surprise isn’t a word yet.
There’s a desk right in front of me, cluttered with uselessness. I wipe away a couple of empty cigarette packets, a few nail polishes and some other things of unimportance I don’t intend to notice. I sift through my collection of empty and/ dried up water colour tubes to reveal the small mirror I look into on particularly bad days.
Today counts, I guess.
I gingerly look in. Oddly, there’s a taste of ginger in my mouth. An aftertaste.
I am not there.
It’s empty, except what is there. How is it so coherent yet nonexistent? What am I seeing?
I forget to ask the why. I probably realise that it doesn’t matter.
Will I be able to draw it?
I pull the copy and towards me and look at the mirror again.
Waves make sense. And sand dunes. On certain days, even tornadoes make sense. The swimming nature of water makes sense, both from within it, and outside. I see my face swimming. I just don’t understand it.
Poems in middle school.
What the fuck is wrong with me?
The mirror lands somewhere near a corner. I am sure it broke. I did not hear the crack. Fuck mirrors. Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary.
Tubelights have sick glows. They glow like epileptics seizing the remains of control. Dead and white, and sick. Sick sick sick sick sick sick sick…
The portrait is still perfect.
I didn’t draw it.
The entire city is as silent as an ideal library. If only there were enough books to make sense of things. If only there was enough sense to put into books.
Ideal library. Queer, queer thing, wouldn’t that be?
I fish out my id card from my bag. The picture over there was already distorted. But the distortion made sense. It was distorted in a language I knew.
I am repeating myself like a broken watch.
I can’t remember that picture anymore.
What do I look like?
I look like that picture. The picture looks like me.
That drawing. A drawing. Perfect drawing. Perfection. Drawn by me. But I didn’t draw it.
The picture in the id card is gone. It’s the same picture, but the face is lost. The face is absent. I cannot see it.
I don’t have a face.
Crumbled id cards are of no significance. I realise that it has been crumpled as I ease the tension in my right hand. I drop it with the rest of the debris around the apartment.
Where’s my phone?
I dropped it on the floor. Or the bed?
The bed. I have forgotten the pattern to unlock it. I want to break it. I want to throw it down on the ground multiple times till all the possible broken pieces have been formed. Then, perhaps, break it again. Break myself.
I unlock it. Suddenly. I wasn’t aware that I was trying to.
I take a selfie. A haphazard one. No angles, no light. Just a picture. I don’t think my face was entirely in the photo.
I run through the gallery. I keep looking through the pictures. All of them are swirling in and out of things that do not exist. I do not recognise features. There are no features. There is nothing except bodies and heads and people. And there’s a girl with a forgotten face. Is that even the right word?
I don’t have any photo albums in this apartment. I have to call ma.
Do I call ma?
No. What am I looking for?
I stare at the picture that is open on my phone right now. In one of the too many cafes of this city. All of them look the same to me. Always. They are just painted walls standing on painted walls, pretending to understand.
It’s odd how so many things are like people.
It’s in one of the cafes. There isn’t much else. Just me. There isn’t even that. The head seems cocked to the side. The picture makes me feel like a woman again, suddenly. A lonely girl on a rainy afternoon, waiting for tea cups to fill on their own. I caress myself. Try to keep myself from falling apart.
But I already have…
The picture is still there. The page is surprisingly white. I do not remember my face.
I don’t have a face. I am not going mad. Or perhaps I am. I don’t think it matters right now. My face is that picture. I look like that picture. That’s the only face I have remaining, hiding and smiling on a white page; ordered in random lines, as only accidents can be. Accidents are strange things.
I miss my other faces; the ones which have dissolved into confusion. Now I only have one.
I keep wanting to touch the face. I don’t know what I expect to find there. Maybe I expect to find change. But then, that is a word much bigger than it is.
I am picture perfect on Sundays.
I still haven’t signed it. Neither has it signed me.
Shakko Bose_PG1, Sem1 (Sociology)_South Asian University