A new year?

I woke up this morning
And looked outside the window
To the same view
Constant for months now
10 months to be exact –
A quiet yellow house
jaded by rain and sun
With a rusted red door
And a black car
I think,  a Wagonar
That disappears at 9
and reappears at 7,
Sharp.
Dutifully parked across the
asphalt abraded road.
But I know the house has
residents
As they sun dry their clothes
In their verandah
On an aluminum stand
Near a banana tree
That refuses to grow any taller.

But they say
A year has gone by.
A year, is it?

True it must be
As it was this cold,
A long time back
When we wore 2 pairs of socks
And sweaters and pants.

Also, some people have
Made their presence scarce.
But alas, sooner the better.

Yes, a year must have gone by
For I don’t remember much from
That life.
The one before the virus.

Yes, the virus
That succeeded in breaking
My body but
Not my spirit
As I came back
Even stronger than before;
Ready to take on
Whatever comes next
And so did many others
For there is no other way to go on
Than to go on fearlessly.

Outside, the winter air
Hangs heavy with silence
Of those who mourned the past
10 months
From the loss of lives and livelihood.
Their heads
Scarred yet unbowed.

But apart from that
Everything is pretty much
Constant
yet they say,
A year has gone by.
I don’t believe them.

Walls

The walls were
pretty high
when you first started knocking.
No, I wasn’t behind the walls.
I was curled up
Under the bed, behind
the walls.
And you walked straight in
like you
owned the place.
You started talking
And looking around,

fiddling with my things
while i was still under the bed
I kept listening.
I can’t remember
at what point
did I decide to peak a boo-
Was it when you called me home?
Or was it when you told me about the time you decided to kill yourself?

Was it when you told me
you can’t sleep without me by your side
I can’t seem to recollect the exact moment
When i changed my mind
I wonder if it was when you told me if you hadn’t felt this way in a while
Or was it when you told me
that you had never felt this way before.
You said it
So many times
That i believed you
And slowly i crept out
From under the bed
And sat on it
Right where you were sitting.
And you put your
Arms around me
And told me
Your deepest darkest secrets

And i can’t remember when
But somewhere at some point
The walls came down
Oh, I cannot seem to remember
The exact moment when
I changed my mind about you.

but I know it doesn’t matter anymore
Because just when
I changed my mind
You changed yours too.

1 folly less

I know

our guise

changes

in time

forming

depressions, folds

and lines

sagging

underneath the weight of

Judgment 

and dust

collected every minute

with the air we breathe

and on we go 

changing and changing and changing

and transforming 

But wouldn’t it be 

so much better

I wonder

And I wonder –

Would

you still

look the way you do

If

your face resembled 

your deeds 

And 

your thoughts.

If not all of them 

even a few of them

And if 

and your guise wasn’t really

a surmise of your genes. 

and yet 

There are

advocates and advisors

of law and equality?

When

It seems like

Even the nature did

Not intend 

Transparency. 

If only 

you resembled

your deeds

I’d be

One

Folly less.

That first sip

That first sip of morning coffee
The music that trickles down my ears to my soul
The mirths of laughter
that make my body come alive from merely existing
That book on the bookshelf
The warmth of happiness
that spreads across my chest
like sun
on a winter morning
when my dog runs in circles
chasing his tail
just as I do
time to time
A call from a friend
lost in the race against time
A poem
transforming a lonely night into
a gathering so magical
that now I don’t want to shut my eyes
Watch my mother
adjust her bindi
in the mirror and
tuck that loose strand of hair
behind her ear
because she knows it’s time
and dad’s about to come home
A gesture of kindness
from the one I thought needed saving
A gesture of love
I thought had no feelings

Make me wanna keep coming back
From the precipice
to witness the colours of life
and to laugh
with him, with her, with them
laugh so much that
now I want to cry
Because once I believed
very firmly
I’d never laugh
this much.
again,
or ever.
What else could I ask for?
What else is there to live for?

I should have known

I should have known that the world has become a shallow place,
a little vain
But the values from antecessors
Remain.
To give us a reminder of
What we’ve lost
And what we’ve gained.
It’s a confusing
time to be alive
To be forever torn
To be a semi-fit
Rather, an ill-fit
To have a grounded body
But a fluttering soul
Like a bird about
to take off
And off I would have gone
If I could
But only that
I cannot be everywhere.

do everything
not possibly.
There’s a limitation
There’s a price to pay
For one to be born as
Nature’s proudest experiment
To be its finest creation.
or a cosmic joke
Equipped and armed for
any adversity
But,
Only on the outside.
There’s a universe
Vast on the inside
That cannot be
Fathomed
Can never be fully explored but
Only survived.

The Price of Freedom – A Short Story

Inspired by real events


August 19, 2019, 9:20PM

Aditi

Tonight is going to be a long night. I look at the clock and I know it’s showtime. My father laying still in front of me. Ah, what a sight! His chest heaving up and down to the rhythm of his torpid breaths. I almost want to paint this tranquility. I want to capture this serenity, this moment. The tables have turned. Today, I am in control. Today, I am spoiled by choice. I could talk to my boyfriend, I could be out till late at night, and I could watch a movie. I could do any goddamn thing under the sun. Today, I am a bird and I will spread my wings. I think I want to dance.

Overwhelmed by choice, I decide to play some Frank Sinatra. Music calms my nerves. It’s time to examine the subject. I go near my father and slap him just to ensure that the sedatives have kicked in. He doesn’t move. Impulsively, I slap him again. This one’s for taking away my phone. Then another, for throwing away my skirts. I am enjoying this now. One more, for forbidding me to fall in love and for hitting me. One, for being alive instead of my mother. And last one, for taking away my freedom. His cheeks have flushed red at this point but he doesn’t move. I know he won’t move for a while.

The first time I wished to be away from my father was when I had to go through a whole year without buying a single new piece of cloth because I hadn’t scored all ‘A’s in my third standard. When my grades didn’t improve, the cable connection was cut off next year and this feeling of wanting to be away from him intensified. I felt like a dog on a short lease. I was only rewarded when I performed. Worse, I felt like a circus animal. A performing animal. But I really wanted him to be dead when he almost beat me to death for falling in love. There is this boy with who I want to spend my life, make babies and my father almost kills me for that. I remember laying in a pool of blood. My blood. I felt molested as there was no part of my body, his belt hadn’t touched. The scars were all over my body. My flawless face wasn’t so flawless anymore. My reflection almost irked me. He not only took away my beauty, but also a part of my life. Today, it’s my turn.


August 20, 2019, 5:59 AM

Dad

The rain is relentless. I hear it thrumming on the metal roof and running down the broken pipe into the mud, and I moisten my cracked lips with my tongue. I wonder if they’ll bring me food and water. I wonder if they’re coming at all.​ The last thing I remember was going to bed and the next thing I know I am here, waking up from a hazy cloud of numbness. I am wearing the same clothes that I had worn to bed last night, my white ​kurta pajama which are now mildly soiled as if I have been dragged through my bedroom to the living room to the porch and further down my garden until here. I feel paralysed with my limbs tied and my mouth taped shut. My mouth feels as parched as it gets on the morning after a continuum of inebriation. My head weighs like a hundred kilos. I realize I may have been drugged.

I could hear the thunder ripping the sky outside. It seems even the Gods are furious. It hasn’t rained like this in New Delhi during the past six years.

I am almost certain that this must be a case of robbery as I do not have any enemies that I know of. I suddenly remembered my daughter and wondered where she was. A current jolts through me and I become fully alert. I realized that she was not here so she must be inside the house. Has she also been left to die somewhere like me? But goons don’t just tie up little girls. She could be raped. She could have been gang raped and then killed. No. No. No. No. No. ​Dear God, may they not touch her. Dear God, may Aditi be safe.I​ tried to call out her name but I cannot. There were just stifled cries.

Almost 10 feet away from me, is our backup LPG cylinder that we keep here, as it is safer to keep it outside the house. Next to it stands an antique wooden cupboard that contains a whole arsenal of weapons: a tool box with a hammer, pliers, handsaw, screwdrivers, and knives amongst other things that would have helped me untie myself right now, if only I could reach them. I know this because I assembled this kit myself over a span of 14 years that I have lived in this house and today, I have been held captive in my own garage. I have been tied to a hinge that I planted myself almost ten years back. I helplessly looked around. I observe that there are two sets of muddy shoe prints all over the floor. One must be around size 10 and another it’s half. Probably a male and female.

I must have been dreaming because I see the door storm open and Aditi walks in. She glides in like an angel in her spotless white school uniform. I almost jumped with happiness to see that she’s alright and unharmed. Hot tears once again streaming down my cheeks. ​It’s over.


August 20, 2019, 3:00 AM

Aditi

You know you are soul mates when even your thoughts are in sync. I remember seeing Praveen almost three weeks after the incident. My whole body melted when we embraced. With my best friend’s help, we managed to meet after school at her place. I wept that day in his arms. His strong protective arms almost felt like a warm blanket. He stroked my hair and softly kissed my scars. He told me everything will be alright. “Nothing will be alright till that man is alive…” I said somewhere between my cries. “Then let’s get him out of our way,” he said. I looked at his face to fully understand what he was saying or to search for any traces of humour but there were none. I knew he was suffering too. Praveen and I are not just any high school sweethearts but we have actually battled hardships together. We are endgame. He was the only person by my side when my mother succumbed to her illness and father drowned himself in alcohol without a care in the world. I knew Praveen truly cared for me. We hadn’t been with anyone but each other in past three years. In my heart, I knew I couldn’t live without him. No one else matters. In life, I know you are either a hunter or the hunted. I choose not to be hunted. I choose life.

I have to admit that this was the day when the seed was planted. This was almost two months back. But when last week, he found out my secret phone inside the pillowcase, he not only smashed it against the wall, but also declared that I will be sent off to an all-girls boarding school, almost 5000 miles from Delhi. That was the exact moment when I decided to kill my father and I am not sorry about it. Only I have the decision to choose my own life. No one else can choose for me. Not even “my father”. With Praveen by side, I knew I could do this. Nothing is invincible.

I thought about this decision for days. My decision only became stronger when I realized how much there was to gain from it. After all, one cannot put a price on freedom. I may not have been a class topper, to my father’s plight but this time, I had done my homework. I had watched at least a hundred documentaries and read at least a dozen books on the subject. I am almost excited for my future for the first time in years. I know I will get away with this. I had called Praveen from a friend’s phone and asked him to be here tonight. He should be here any moment now. Outside, the rain hasn’t stopped pouring for hours. It looks like God’s on our side. Amen.


August 20, 2019, 6:15 AM

Dad

I see that Aditi has carefully locked the door behind her. Her angelic face looks eerily calm and composed. I felt a pang of guilt for treating her the way I had been for the past few years but children tend to be lost and they need to be guided. Her grandfather wasn’t the one to spare a stick and that made me what I am today. I am thankful to my father and I know in my heart, one day she will thank me too.

“So you are up, huh? Sooner than we expected.” she says as she looks at me without blinking. “The pills were supposed to knock you out for at least 15 hours.” She continues speaking as if it’s business as usual. She crinkles her nose as she comes closer. “Did you piss your pants, Dad? Ewww!”

I realize the questions were rhetoric. My mind’s running haywire now. Why hasn’t she untied me yet?

“Praveen will be here soon. He’s probably late because of the rain.” She announces. For the first time, it begins to dawn on me that perhaps it is not a case of robbery and maybe, I have been held captive by my own 15 year old daughter. “This must be a joke.” I thought.

“What now? Why do you look so shocked? Don’t act like you didn’t see this coming.” she says as if reading my thoughts. Her voice laced with childlike rebellion. “Did you really think that you could get away with trying to sabotage my freedom? Not-going to-happen. ​Dad.​ ”

There have been a lot of times in the past 41 years when life hasn’t made any sense to me such as when the only woman I ever loved died a slow, painful death right in front of my eyes and there was nothing under the sun I could do to save her but this moment definitely takes away the prize. I hadn’t felt more futile in my whole life. After each chemotherapy, I could see my wife withering away until there was nothing left of her. I knew that life would never be the same. And now, it seemed like my own daughter, the only thing left from my wife, had trapped me in my own house and is on some kind of childish mission to teach-me-a-lesson.

It wasn’t long before I heard another knock on the door. Aditi unlatches the door and strides in the boy whose face is etched in my memory. He too is in his school uniform which is drenched from the pouring rain outside. He’s the boy who took away my little girl. The animal in me awakens, I want to tear him apart. He’s the boy who’s fucking my daughter. Period. There’s no other way to put that.

I still remember the night I first saw this scumbag. I had come back home after a hard day at the shop around 10:30PM. As I parked my car outside, I could hear the music coming from my house. This was unusual. Aditi usually slept around this time and almost never had any friends over. As I walked inside my home, the music got louder. I realized that it was coming from Aditi’s room. I opened the gate at once and there he was, merrymaking with my daughter. The room was filled with cigarette and Aditi was smoking one herself. The room was lit by fairy lights. She was draped in only a bed sheet. It seemed like a scene from a movie. I did what any father would. I grabbed the little bastard by his neck and kicked that piece of shit out of my house, naked in the middle of the night. No warnings were left to be spoken. The message was clear. I wondered for how long all this had been going on, under my own nose. In my own house. I wondered if the maids and the neighbors knew before me.

My daughter, as beautiful as she is, like her mother, walks up to me and rips off the tape from my mouth. That hurt but I didn’t make a sound. I realized I was choked.
“What’s with the tears now, Dad? Do you really expect me to buy all this drama especially when you never gave a shit about my feelings? Huh?”

“Are you going to kill me now?” I asked, sarcastically. She wouldn’t, I knew. We were blood after all. But I felt like I had to ask.


August 20, 2019, 6:47 AM​

Aditi

Praveen was finally here and he had brought everything that we would need today. I looked at my father who was looking at me intently. His face was almost unreadable. I didn’t like that. I wanted him to be scared. Like I had been of him all these years.

“What’s in there?” Dad asks looking at the container.
“Just petrol.”
“What the hell are you thinking? Release me right now, you dumb goat!!” He yells, just as he always does. Yelling is his first reaction to everyone and everything.
“How does it feel to be tied up, father? To feel that your life is in someone else’s hands.” I asked playfully. I could finally afford to be playful after all.
“You have gone mad. Release me right now!” He commanded again.
“Why did you had to be so strict, Dad? Why couldn’t you just let me be? Let us be?” I wanted to know. “He is just using you, you dumb girl. Boys use girls like you and then they leave when they find another one. You think I don’t know anything? I had lived in a boy’s hostel for 8 years. I know how young fuckers think. Your naivety almost terrifies me.”
“You terrify me!” I yelled back but realized now is not the time to lose my cool. “It’s too bad, these will be your last words.” I told him.
“Open the fucking knot…” He almost pleaded. His voice almost begging. I looked at him and for a moment, it all seemed too unreal. He didn’t seem like a man who could hit anyone, let alone his own daughter. He looked so sweet. So vulnerable. I wondered if I was doing the right thing. But it’s not like I had a choice. If he lives, I suffer. I become the hunted.

“Don’t look at me like that, Dad. This story is real. Maybe, a bit too real. No one is going to come in to rescue you. It will be short and simple. You will die and I will get my life back. It’s really that simple.” I told him calmly. I did not want to be angry at him in his last moments.
“Wouldn’t you wish me Happy Independence Day, Dad?” I asked, as I lit a cigarette.


August 20, 2019, 14:59 IST. Times News Network.

Delhi: Businessman killed after fire breaks out at residence in West Delhi

A 41 year old businessman was killed after a fire broke out in his garage at his West Delhi residence on Tuesday morning. The victim lived with his daughter in the house. As reported by his daughter, the victim had gone to fix the garage door early morning when the fire broke out due to a faulty cylinder, supposedly after he lit a cigarette.

“The fire department received information at around 7:30am regarding the fire. We rushed to the spot with two fire tenders. The fire was doused before it could spread to the rest of the house,” said a senior Delhi Fire Services officer. The victim was a widower and is survived by his 15 year old daughter.


29/9/19.

PC: Unspalsh. elijah-hiett-ISUqlGMU7o0-unsplash. ❤

Why Me?

I don’t go to a temple often

Neither do I go to a

A mosque or

A church

or anywhere else

Get the drift, right?

But yesterday I went

To a temple

Not too far

But the one in my home;

It was awkward

I have to say

The face off

With Him

Like meeting an

Old lover.

So I cut straight to the chase

And asked –

Why me?

I stood still and

Waited for an answer

Minutes passed

But nothing happened

No one spoke

None of the statues moved

But a tear did trickle down

My cheek

And I collapsed

On my knees.

Ok. I am on my knees.

Now, tell me.

Answer me.

Why me?

First, I howled

Then I pleaded

In a mumble

That barely escaped my throat

I submitted in a barely audible Why me?

I waited for a sign.

The hibiscus or the marigold

To fall on my feet

Or a cosmic intervention. Anything.

For I am stranded

in a vast

pitch-dark-room.

But, nothing happens.

So, I wanted to unhinge the temple,

slam it on the floor.

Watch Their smiling faces shatter

Into tiny little pieces

Perhaps then they will talk.

But they were quiet

As a stone could be.

And I collapsed further

My warm cheek pressed

against the cold floor

I need an answer.

See. You got me.

You got me on my all fours

for never bowing

before You the

Omnipotent

Omnipresent.

Now

Tell me-

Why me?

I did everything by the book.

I followed protocol.

I need an answer.

A reason to go on.

I laid there for a while

Made myself

Comfortable.

Maybe His holy Highness

Is busy

I laid there for

I don’t know how long

Like a wounded animal

Only wanting to be relieved of

her misery.

Wondering why people

Are so scared of death after all.

As I studied the scratches on my floor

I realised

Perhaps

The silence is the answer.

The quietude

The still flowers

The motionless figurines

Because you see

I had never raised

this question earlier

Never had I wondered Why me?

When self absorbed

I had strutted around

Like an

Entitled

Little

Snob.

Ashes

I walk through ashesLeft beh

From the fire 

that consumed my dreams.

The ones I concocted 

As a little girl

Sprawled on the grass

Under a tree

beneath the sky

Of chocolate houses 

And unicorns 

Swaying with the swings

thinking-

monsters are four legged

And fairies have wings.

The dreams 

Uninhibited Vast 

Lark, Open. 

 

Quite a fire it was 







Ignited by a spark

Of doubt. 

 

I walk through ashes

That fly

From the fire that

emblazoned my reveries 

The ones I concocted 

Sitting in the classrooms 

Bedrooms, parks and places. 

Comprehending the

quagmires of the system

And their measures 

of artistry

Knowledge 

Decorum and

Duties  

via books and lengthy monologues, 

Telling me about the foundations 

And a way of life.

 

Quite a furnace 

it was, 

Ignited by incongruity

Of the preacher that practiced

Hypocrisy and atrocities. 

 

I walk through ashes

Left behind

From the fire 

Which consumed my dreams

From when I was younger 

And walked with a 

Cloak of invincibility-

That years 

Will bring clarity

Less, if not much 

Half, if not full 

And a Change

shall commence 

Sooner or later

For 

They must 

see their oversight,

their error.  

 

The dreams I concocted 

of walking alone.

For those who seek love 

are weak and imbecile

And friendships don’t fray

Just as flowers don’t wither,

That honesty must win 

hard work must pay.

 

Radiant it was 

The pyre of 

My visions and dreams

Or lies force fed to me 

In legacy. 

 

And then the world tells me

They think I have changed

In ways they don’t recognize. 

Of course!

Of course,

They do not recognize 

The immolation, the devouring 

Of my dreams, in the fire

That raged within me 

An inferno in my core 

That singed my soul 

Time after time

They tell me

I am not the same

But they do see a

Flicker of

light in my eyes

And 

a fleck of ember

When i speak

attimes. 

Caught off guard

I don’t know what to say. 

I lean forward

Closer to their ear 

Unsure how else to cover  

I clear my throat 

And I tell them-

Likewise. 

 

An Ode To My Lover

Dear darling,
this one is an ode
to the love lost
to the world
in which I myself am lost
the world that lured us
with other fantasies
and we got sold to what seemed to be best.
But must I say that
appearances my darling,
can be a fraud
and life a witch
only revealing as much as it wants
till one day,
it’s too late.

An ode
To the love lost
to the world.
the world as a stage
on which we’ll never bow together
for our acts are different.
the world as a circus
but we will never perform together
we will walk this life
alone or worse, with someone else.

This one is an ode
For the museums we will never visit
the gardens we would never stroll
the roads we will never kiss on
the mountains we will not take on

An ode to the poems
i will not send to you
the love songs I will not
sing for you
to the nights
i will not come back home to you
the days i will not spend with you

this one is an ode to
the prayers i will not say for you
and eventually will come the days
i will not think of you
and apart we will drift
tell ourselves-
it all happened for the best.
as if beggars are choosers

My soul, darling, feels cold
Feels hollow.
Is wounded.
Is bruised.
it’s too scared to be touched
by anyone else
But you.
and the heart doesn’t trust itself-
it’s never been this unsure
for the only thing it was sure about
was you. was us.
but oh, quite a joke.

the heart, darling, is still not listening
to the silence that came
with the absence of you
it’s being silly darling-
stubborn as a child
who thinks crying will get it what it wants
but life is a strict teacher
and soon it will learn
this teacher rewards the smartest. the bravest.
heart is a slow learner, darling.

but i wonder- does it not break your heart-
to go on without me?
it looks as if it doesn’t.
It clearly, doesn’t
because you darling don’t rest till you get what you want.

but then,
why does it break mine?
does it not break your heart
to embark on this journey of life without me?
to not celebrate your victories with me
and to not have my shoulder to cry on.
if this-
none of this-
doesn’t matter to you
doesn’t render you sleepless
doesn’t make your insides twist
then i might as well
prepare for this journey alone.

this one is an ode
to the future we do not hold.

Love is Love.

All this love

in my heart

couldn’t be wrong.

this i knew.

the touch

the sparks

the butterflies

couldn’t be wrong.

this i knew.

the mind doesn’t work

in matters of heart

and that only her love

got to me.

this i knew.

and I knew

my lover was

proud of me as I

was

proud of her.

yet a lot of worlds would crumble

if i told them about ours.

this i knew.

so i cradled this love

close to my heart.

behind closed doors.

hiding altogether

a part of me.

my better half.

but today-

we will kiss

under the stars,

holding hands

just as lovers do.

not worried to be

put behind bars

not worried to

prove the truth.

for they realised

what i always knew.

and i knew

All this love

in my heart

couldn’t be wrong.

Amelia- Part II

Every morning I wake up with a burden of million tons weighing me down, immobilizing me from leaving my bed. If I could put a finger on where it weighs the heaviest, I would point to my chest somewhere close to the left shoulder. I bury my head into the pillow waiting for this feeling to pass because succumbing to it is a trap. You cannot surrender for if you surrender, it sucks you in and before you know, you are standing midst a labyrinth of madness. You are spiraling, circling and nothing makes sense. It’s a place untouched by a ray of light.  I know the drill to escape these traps. I created it. I give myself a minute for the haze to lift up and the reality to sink in after which, I get up and walk towards the bathroom to splash my face with cold water, hence triggering the domino of routine.

But seldom. I do wonder if there will come a morning I will wake up to, feeling not this way. Any other way but not this. Some days I do get lucky when I am in a hurry and my brain gets no time to think. In a hurry to reach somewhere, be someplace. I hurry as if things depend upon this thing that I am hurrying so much about and for a moment I do feel like it’s all not so bad. My heart sometimes, feels light as a kite. I smile an untainted smile like nothing heart retching ever occurred to me.

Conversations, sceneries and events also play a role to keep me momentarily distracted. But life passes somewhere between these brief moments. Doesn’t it? And one day, maybe there will be peace, unperturbed by any of my yearnings. Undistorted by pain. I am willing to make peace with peace brought upon by monotony. But I know there will come the night, as constant as it is, followed by the morning and yet again, the feeling will return, tiptoeing like the moonlight behind the clouds and it will begin all over again: I will wait for my phone to ring. I will envy anyone who has been fortunate enough to be loved.  I will yet again wish I hadn’t woken up. But I also know that I will find a way to dodge this familiar trepidation somewhere between my drill and distractions.


Chapter 4 – Surrealism

Café Viena was bustling with people and activity which gave Amelia Buch more choice of subjects to draw and observe. She would rise with the sun at five am to go for a run along the Mediterranean Sea and would later cook breakfast for herself that mainly comprised of toast and omelette on all seven days a week. She would be ready just in time for her daily tours after which she would go to Viena to work on her thesis. She had set short term and long term checkpoints for her thesis to track progress and had targeted to finish it within a month after which, she had decided post much consideration that it was time to move to Paris to complete its final leg. On alternate days, she had arranged to take Spanish lessons from Africa in exchange of English lessons that she gave her. She would return home tired and exhausted mostly just to sleep ensuring to give herself not much time to think. Why think when you can act and accomplish? She would occasionally drop by the studio to catch up with the band who were busy preparing for their upcoming multi-city tour. Amelia was relieved this would give her some time to reconsider her feelings that she believed, she had delusionally developed towards Diego. She felt utterly silly for deciding to admit her feelings to him and then him taking off to see his ex-wife the very same day. A sign, she thought, only a fool would ignore.

But today she would face Diego for the first time since he had left for Seville. It was Nicholas’ birthday and there was a party at the studio At around eight pm, Amelia and Africa reached the studio where everybody including Nicholas’ family and friends had already gathered. The studio looked different decorated in fairy lights and white balloons, matching the white studio walls.

It was almost midnight before everyone went back home leaving just the band members, Amelia and Africa. Clarence had passed out on the couch while Matteo was helping Africa in cleaning up the studio.  Diego went outside to sit on the porch which was dimly lit by the lights escaping through the studio’s door and windows. The night was dark and across the lawn on the other side of the road hung a huge billboard of a cement commercial with a funny tag line. Diego smiled.

“What’s so funny?” Amelia asked as she sat next to him.

“You would know if you could read Spanish.”

“Ouch.”

“Long time.” He said looking at Amelia.

“Indeed. How was Seville?”

“Successful…if I must say. It’s over now. The divorce papers have been signed. I am a free man.” Said Diego feigning enthusiasm.

Amelia recognized a similar somberness in his eyes, the one she had first seen the time they had had their first conversation outside Marty’s. A pang of guilt overcame her as she realized all through she had been thinking only about herself, oblivious to his problems. They both sat quietly looking at the bill board, not speaking anything.

“Is this is your diary where you write your compositions?” Amelia continued as she reached out for a ragged brown diary sitting next to him.

“Yes…”

“How long have you had it, it looks really torn.”

“Almost two years now. I always buy the same journal when one runs out, makes me feel as if the sanctity has remained intact.”

Amelia smiled. “So this contains all the songs that you wrote in past two years?”

“Most.” He looked at her going through the diary, “In fact, there is something I wrote about you.”

Amelia looked at him surprised but his face was expressionless as if he had said the most natural thing in the world.

“If it’s about me, then I deserve to hear it.” She said.

“Well, if you must.”

“Yes of course, nobody ever wrote me a song. It’s good to be somebody else’s muse for a change”

He took a one long glance at her and began:

“Thought that I stood

Made in time

Been there, done that

A man past his prime

But then came along you

Oh Amelia,

Like sunrise

Like sunshine.

And I was hit

By a wave of surprise

For they said there was more

To the air we breathe

But I didn’t know

that there existed

A scent so sweet

I didn’t know

There was a void

as old as me

But then came along

You, oh Amelia,

and life itself

rained over me

and now I am alive

more than ever

more than life

itself could be

For you are a rainbow

With all shades of life

Oh Amelia.”

Amelia looked at him both surprised and confused. Does this mean what I think it means? A million question crossed her mind. Why doesn’t it feel so great?

 “It’s lovely.” She said, “Could you please read it again?”  Diego did without asking any questions. He could almost sense her confusion and did not rush her to respond. His face radiated composure as if it was only important to tell.

“I didn’t know I inspired you like that.” She finally said.

“Everything about you inspires me. I think it’s very brave of you to travel by yourself. You are so young and look at you…” he trailed off.

“How long did it take you to write this?”

“I don’t know. 15 minutes.”

“15 minutes?” Amelia echoed. “That’s it?”

“Well, what can I say? Strong was my inspiration.”

“And when did you write this?”

“It’s been a while. A month maybe. Look, I am sorry if you think this is inappropriate…”

“That was a lovely poem, Diego. Loveliest things anyone ever said to me…in years.”

“I am glad you liked it.” said Diego.

“I am leaving for Paris in a month… maybe.” Amelia said.

“Oh, is it? You never told.”

“Well, how can my thesis on Picasso be actually complete until I cover France.” She smiled.

Diego felt uneasy. He wondered if this was in reaction to his poem. He knew something remained unsaid. Her lips were talking but her words were empty.

“It’s not you.” Amelia said almost reading his mind.

“So what’s the plan?”

“The plan is to go home, sleep. Wake up tomorrow morning, go for a run, go for the tour, study, etc.”

“That is an excellent plan. But seriously, what’s the plan?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I will study further or I will follow my ancestral footsteps.”

“Had enough of Spain?”

Amelia smiled. “Can I just say that I felt at peace after a very long time. I felt…” Amelia paused to light a cigarette, “hopeful. And it’s been all because of you and the beautiful family I found in you guys.

They sat there in silence and shared a cigarette looking into vast nothingness that spread forth their eyes.  Both united by pain they had quietly suffered but never shared.

“You gave me a hope too.” Diego added after a while. “And this poem that I wrote about you, is in itself a sign of that. I wrote something after…almost a year, something I truly felt other than indifference. So, thank you. You should know that you will always have a home here.”

Amelia leaned forward to kiss Diego on his cheek.

“Please don’t slit your wrists when I leave next month.” Amelia teased.

“I’ll see what I can do.”

“Do you think I will ever make big as an artist?”

“Big?”

“Yes…you know. Successful?”

“That depends upon what your definition of success is.”

“You know…like Picasso.” Amelia said carefully.

“Do you think Picasso drew because he wanted to be successful?”

“Hah! I doubt.”

“Tell me, would you continue to keep drawing if I told you that you will never be a successful artist?”

“Yes I will.’

“Would you continue to keep drawing if only five people came to visit your exhibits including Africa that is. I am not making any promises though.”

“Yes I would. Amelia chuckled.”

“Would you keep drawing if you didn’t have to?”

“I don’t think see that ever happening but yes, I would.”

“Would you draw if there was no hope and would you draw honestly?”

“What else would I do?”

“Well may be, just maybe, you might actually be “successful” someday. Artists, my love, are too consumed to choose. They do whatever they do because there is nothing else they are able to do. And I don’t know if you will be successful, but you will definitely be happy. The joy of creation is unparalleled.”

“I must admit that coming here, really helped me. I think my Blue period might finally be over.”

“Blue period?”

“Yes. Picasso’s work has been broadly divided into: Early works, like when he was a child and was doodling, the Blue period- that was when he was so poor and his best friend died that all his painting looked blue and sad, the Rose period- that was when he moved, eh, wait for it…Paris!, Cubism you already know.  Classicism, Surrealism. I could explain-“

“When was your blue period? Where was I?”

“Oh it was before I moved to Spain. Nothing important.” Amelia said dismissively.

“Amelia, you can talk to me.”

“It’s a story in itself.”


Chapter 5 – The Blue Period

Amelia vividly remembered the first day at the university where she had been wait-listed for more than two months for the Fine Arts course and the anticipation of making the cut had gnawed at her at every waking second. It was while standing in a queue in the Admissions office, she had noticed Neal for the very first time. A guy in baggy blue jeans and a plain white t-shirt standing ahead of her. Amelia only saw his back for first ten minutes until he turned around a couple of times. He had not shaved in days and his dark brown hair were wildly unkempt. His face looked placid in contrast to his shabby appearance while he skimmed through a book titled “Quantum Mechanics”. He was unperturbed by ongoing conversations and the occasional bursts of laughter in a room packed with freshers, as if an invisible wall separated him from the inessential, distinguishing him from everyone else. He would lift his eyes every now and then to see how far along the queue had moved, his hazel eyes in contrast with his dark brown hair.

Amelia did not see him until next two months in the library where he was making notes from a number of books carefully laid down in front of him on the table. His gaze was intense like that of an observer and betrayed his otherwise empty face. Amelia flushed with embarrassment when he suddenly looked up, meeting her in the eye as if he knew all along that he was being watched. It was only after a few minutes that Amelia looked at him again to see if he was still looking and to her astoundment, he was not just looking but also, grinning openly. Amelia’s heart skipped a beat for the first time ever in almost two decades. She knew it was a beginning of an era.

Getting to know Neal was an experience. He came from a middle class family where his father was a high school Maths teacher and his mother was a nurse in a local hospital. He was the third youngest amongst his four siblings comprising of two older brothers and a younger sister. As a child Neal learned the value of money and hardships that came with the absence of it. He witnessed his parents work extra shifts to ensure private education for all their children. As a child he vowed to be rich when he grew up and provide his parents with every luxury the world had to offer. By late teens he had realized that the only way to earn some real money was to become a businessman and he couldn’t wait to finish his education to become one. Every morning he woke up to The Financial Times and The Economist and never missed a class.

He admired Amelia for her kindness and compassion and would often tell her about his dreams as if they were already true. He told her how he would become an industrialist one day and she would tell him how she would own an art gallery. He would talk in facts and she would talk in poetry and they would both lay consumed in each other’s vastness. She was an idealist while he was pragmatic and they both knew how much they needed each-other to complete the spectrum. They were like lost pieces of a puzzle. The more they appreciated each other’s mind, the more they desired for each other’s bodies. They would travel across cities together, at times indulging in inebriated lunacies and on other times just being silently by each other’s side, reading their own books, listening to their own music. On other times, they would just walk by the beach holding hands, taking a dip in the ocean. Occasionally they would argue but one of them would always concede sooner or later. The price of separation was too high to pay in a life this short.

It was in an evening of their third summer together that a nineteen year old Amelia walked into her hostel room, after a hectic day of classes to find her otherwise shabby room to be decorated with candles and fairy lights. In the middle of the room was Neal, down on a knee. Oh my god! He is going to propose!

“Amelia, I know life is full of uncertainties and as we grow older, it is only going to get tougher. But if there is anything I am certain about, then it is you. I don’t know what future holds and but I am certain that I can go through anything as long as I am with you. I am certain that I cannot go on without you and believe you me, I have tried. I am certain that life will be beautiful with you. And so I want to celebrate my love for you and let the whole world know how proud I am of us. Would you spend your life to me? Amelia Buch, will you please marry me?”

“Bloody hell, yes, yes and a thousand times yes! Please tell me I am not dreaming.” Amelia exclaimed as she threw herself into his arms. Amelia couldn’t believe that love had finally found its way to her. That night she lay in bed, cuddled with Neal, beaming at the ring. The ring wasn’t gold or diamond. It was probably aluminium but she couldn’t care less. She giggled as she said out loud, “hello, fi-an-cé” and they kissed for the hundredth time. Amelia knew that the ring was a promise of commitment and she knew the value of one. Even her own parents couldn’t make one to her when it seemed to come naturally to all the others in the world.

Amelia carefully examined her surroundings. She wanted to remember every detail when she tells this story her children years later. She remembered the light pink floral curtains. The dim lights. The white window panes. The light blue cotton sheets sprawling carelessly across the bed. Her roommates’ Black Sabbath posters on the wall. The tilted photo frame on the bookshelf with a photograph of Neal, Grandma Lily and her from her previous birthday standing next to the only picture she had of her parents from their wedding day.

Must they be still together, mom and dad? Amelia knew of her parents only through her grandmother who had told her that her parents were travelers. Her mother had left for a fourteen day trip when she was twenty but had returned only a year later to inform that she will be travelling for the rest of her life. Her mother had blonde hair and sea green eyes on a heart shaped face, it was a face that must have left a string of broken hearts. It was while travelling to India that she had met her father and had been instantly smitten by his sun baked complexion and stout muscled built. Mother wanted to travel through India and father wanted to leave for Europe so they had both decided to take turns. First, her father showed her mother the gigantic Himalayas, and the dry Thar, the valleys of Kashmir, the royal palaces of Jaipur and the beaches along Indian Ocean coastline. And then it was her mother’s turn to show him the colors of Europe that shaped the history of entire world. Somewhere between the two, Amelia Buch was created and that was when her parents got briefly married somewhere over the Atlantic in a cheap ferry. How drunk they must have been, she thought. Her mother had dropped her off at her grandma’s house, promising to come back once she had run a few errands in Japan. But she never did. Never called and never turned up. What was in Japan though? Amelia wondered.

She looked at the photo frame and then looked at Neal who was casually lying next to her. She smiled. It was a moment of absolute bliss. It’s all too good to be true, she thought.

Amelia and Neal had moved in together in a small one bedroom apartment. Neal had joined as an intern at one of the top corporate firms and Amelia had been taken by a local artist for shadowing in central London. It was only five months later when she was looking at the calendar to pick a date that it struck her that she might have missed her period. She sat there baffled to see if there was a discrepancy but in her heart she knew she had never missed a date. Not once. But today she was late by twenty days. Even the thought of missing her period, let alone getting pregnant had never occurred to her as she had never missed a pill. There was even a reminder in her phone for every night at ten pm. Dredgedly she dragged herself to a pharmacy and got five pregnancy test kits. On her way back home, while sitting in the bus, she stared at the cover of the kit, on which a blond white girl smiled gaily as her stick reflected a positive sign. The blonde girl was happy about being positively pregnant.  The sheer irony of it mocked at her. She decided against telling Neal yet, in case it was a false alarm. Hours later, sitting on the bathroom floor, holding a stick, Amelia felt nauseous. All five sticks surrounding her reflected a positive. She couldn’t bring herself to walk out the door and tell Neal about the…baby, she thought. There’s going to be a baby inside of me. She knew she wasn’t ready for this. There is no job, no financial security and no matrimonial bond yet. It was almost thirty minutes later that she heard a knock on the bathroom door. “Babe, are you in there?”

“Yes…yes.”

“Are you okay? It’s been a while.”

Amelia looked flushed when she opened the door. She walked up to Neal who was listlessly changing channels on the television. Neal noticed that she was drenched in sweat. Before he could ask any questions, she handed him the pregnancy stick.

Neal looked at the stick for a good one minute. Amelia could see his eyebrows raise and knit in confusion.

“But this is not possible…just not possible.” He said without conviction. “How’s this possible? You were on the pill.”

“It’s yours”

“I know, oh baby, don’t worry… we will take care of it.”

In that moment Amelia felt as if somebody had burst her bubble. “Take care of it?” She echoed. “It could be a him or a her. There is no it. We created it.” She said, her eyes blazing with betrayal.  She couldn’t believe that Neal had referred to their child as an object who could be taken care of.

“Yes, I mean…you know what I mean.”

“I don’t think I know what you mean. Look, we cannot waste any more time. This needs to be meticulously planned. We need to pick the next date. How about Sunday? And get married as soon as we can so that we can begin getting ready for the baby. I know it’s going to be really tough but I could use my savings and prepare for the baby. We could get married somewhere cheap and save the marriage fund for the baby…”

All Neal could here was “the baby”. He could see Amelia talk passionately for about next ten minutes but he didn’t hear a word.

“Yes…yes…of course.” He said at the end of it.

“Should I call grandma?”

“Let’s wait until tomorrow. Let’s go and see a doctor first. One could never trust these sticks.” He calmed her down and put her to bed. Exhausted from all the weeping, Amelia drifted off to sleep while Neal lay wide awake.

Neal wondered what he is going to tell his parents who expected him to join one of the Ivy League colleges. He felt like his head would explode. Next morning, he woke up and got ready for the doctor’s visit even before Amelia woke up. He prepared breakfast and woke up Amelia who ate in silence. The visit to the doctor was a quiet one and even quieter on the way back once their biggest fears were confirmed. He started massaging his forehead with his fingers not knowing how to say what he really wanted to say.

“Baby, I have been thinking a lot about this and I don’t think that the timing is right. I mean we haven’t even started our career yet and how are we going to look after a baby? It’s expensive you know, education, medical, and so on and we are just twenty, we have all our life to make babies and we will. I promise you but not now…please. And think about all our plans of accomplishing things together, travelling together? Prioritizing our career? Please, we are not ready for this.”

“but it’s our baby, Neal? We can’t run away from this and I know we can do this together. I was scared too and I thought about it. Really thought about it. I even googled it and this situation is somewhat similar to cold feet but believe me, we will figure this out. We will love this thing more than we ever loved anything.”

“Do you seriously believe in all these things after what your parents did to you?,” there was mockery and anguish in his tone.

“Are you suggesting that I get an abortion?”

Neal nodded, his lips pressed in a straight line. “You just need to take a medicine.”

“Just a medicine? Is that right?”

“At least sleep over it?”

“I think you should leave.”

“Leave? This is our home. Where should I leave for?”

“I don’t know.” Amelia’s snapped.

“Are you sure you want to keep the baby and there’s nothing I can do to change your mind?”

“Bloody hell Neal! Yes I am keeping the baby. You can get lost if that’s what you want to do.” Her eyes were brimming with tears as she stormed out of the room into her bedroom.

In the morning she woke to an empty house and realized that Neal had left. She tried calling him but he didn’t pick up the phone and didn’t reply to her messages. It was on the fifth day that Amelia realized that he probably will never come back. She lay in her bed restless, feeling anxious. She didn’t tell her grandma or her college friends that Neal had left without a word. She didn’t have courage to tell anyone that she had loved a man who didn’t have courage for responsibility, a man who had left her at her worst. A man who had abandoned her and their unborn child. Amelia didn’t leave her bed for next fifteen days. She couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep and couldn’t change. She never left her home, in case Neal came and always charged her phone in case Neal called. She felt incapable of even crying anymore. It was only when she had decided that things could not get any worse that a month later she woke up in the middle of the night, confused and deranged. Did I get my period?


Chapter 6 – Classicism

Diego looked at her, his expressions soft. They both sat in silence. Diego wanted to give her a hug but he knew she was too strong to be pitied. Amelia understood his silence and was relieved that she didn’t break down, neither were her eyes moist when she finished talking. Instead she felt lighter. It felt like a story from a hundred years ago. None of the characters from this story were around. She smiled at irony of all of it. She wondered where everyone was? What were they doing in this very moment while she was looking at the Spanish sky with a full moon? Were they looking at the same moon or were they looking at the sun? No one could tell.

“Neal was a first class coward and I am not saying this to make you feel better.” Diego finally said.

“He was perhaps a lapse of judgement, now that I look back.” Amelia said nostalgically. “Sometimes I do wonder what the child would have been like. What would I have named it? Would it have been a boy like him or a girl like me with dark locks of hair and Neal’s dark brown eyes?”

“Don’t go there.” Diego said as he held her hand.

“Sometimes I also wonder if I subconsciously killed my own baby. Not willing to face another living reminder of yet another failed relationship for the rest of my life. I wonder if I had been selfish all this while, playing a victim while actually being a perpetrator. You see…I denied myself food when it was someone else who needed it more than me. I did to my child what my parents had done to me. Abandoned it. Selfishness must be a genetic trait.” She said dryly in a flat tone.

“Do you hate your parents?”

“Well. Let’s see. I definitely missed them around the parent teacher meetings and birthdays and sometimes Christmas and I still think about them every day. I wonder if they aged gracefully or if my mother became fat and if father became bald. I wonder if I have step brothers or sisters. I wonder if they wonder I was a mistake. I wonder, if they are even around. I miss them. Sure. But then I also know of a friend whose parents abandoned him and he was raised by his uncle and aunt who were really bad people. His aunt used to burn him and abuse him and what not. They didn’t send him to school for a very long time and said really mean things to him, so the poor guy is still very shaky and sensitive. I think I got lucky to be raised by my grandma who is so smart and intelligent. We both love each other so much. I think she raised me better that anyone ever could. I was home-schooled till thirteen which I loved by the way. But no, I don’t hate my parents because honestly… I don’t really know what it is it like to have parents and so I don’t miss it in that way. I know having parents is mostly about being unconditionally loved and I was fortunate enough to be loved by my grandma. Plus what’s wrong in being selfish? Aren’t we all thinking about ourselves first? Even those who say we love “unconditionally” do it because it kind of makes them feel like a bigger person or makes them feel good about themselves. I don’t hate my parents. I know they must be a little guilty and they definitely are cowards but… what can I say? Right now, as selfish as that sounds, I am happy that I didn’t have my baby. No, I don’t hate my parents.”

Diego nodded.

“Can I tell you I had a crush on you for a brief moment? And I was slightly disappointed when you just left for Seville. All those feelings came back and I felt like, another man I loved has left the town. Déjà vu.” Amelia continued.

“I would never leave you,” said Diego his eyes burning with sincerity.

“We would never know.”

“You are the only women, if I may say, I really liked after a long long time. After my wife left me, I thought this is it. This is the end, I will never feel this way again. But thank god for you and you have inspired me in so many ways and after today, everything has changed. Thank you for telling me everything”

“How drunk are we to talk about life and matters of heart? Think we should call it a night?”

“It’s almost sunrise.” Diego nodded.

Amelia rose and they both hugged each other. They went inside the studio where the others were sleeping. Amelia packed her stuff and headed towards the door.

“Should I walk you back home?” Diego asked.

“I think I’ll just walk back on my own.”

Diego nodded and planted a kiss on her forehead.

“Will you forgive me, if I never come back?”

“I could never be angry with you.”


 

Dedicated to my late grand parents – nani-nanu, dadi-baba, who I know shine bright with the stars.


 

You can read Amelia- Part I here. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amelia – Part 1 (16 minutes read)

“Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth. – Pablo Picasso”.

On a sunny October morning, Amelia fathomed the depth of a graffiti inscribed on a wall of a buzzing La Rambla street. Though it had been a while since she had moved to Barcelona, Spain, the artistic aura of the city still captivated her. Appeased with herself, Amelia smiled knowing that she had made the right decision.

She looked at her watch and it was fifteen minutes to twelve pm. She opened up a big red umbrella that read ‘‘Amigo Tour Agency” and wore her badge around her neck that spelled out her name in black bold letters, big enough for anyone to recognize from a distance. Her black hair floated in the soft breeze and her luminous olive complexion reflected the sun’s light. Standing tall at 5’8 in brown khakis and a red polo, she was hard to miss.

In next few minutes, she was approached by a middle-aged English couple, “Hi, are you from the tour agency? We are here for the walking tour.”

“Of course” Amelia flashed her best smile as she diverted her attention from the graffiti, “Let’s wait for another 10 minutes so that everybody’s here.”

A group of enthusiastic tourists soon began to swarm around her. At exactly twelve pm, she gathered her audience as she cleared her throat to recite the same speech that she had been reciting every day for past six months.

“Hello everyone, I am Amelia Buch and I welcome you all to the walking tour by Amigo tour agency. Today, I’ll take you through some of the best works in the history of architecture by the legendary Antoni Gaudí i Corne also known as just Gaudi in… English language. Spanish speakers can join my friend José in that circle.” She pointed across the road where another group of people stood with their backs showing. She paused for a smile as a few people left. “Okay, so that’s 4 less.” She resumed. “For those of you who are here today because they didn’t have anything better to do this afternoon, rest assured that you have made the right decision because Gaudian architecture is the essence of this beautiful city of Catalonia and without this experience your trip remains INCOMPLETE.

To give a brief introduction about myself. I am from England and I am half-British, half-Indian. I decided to take a gap year after university and come to Barcelona for a month-long vacation. Well, this was about a year back.” Some people in the group chuckled.  “I would say I am still discovering this city and it amazes me how much it has to offer, including the sun which you barely see in England. I love my job as I get to meet people like yourself from across the globe on an EVERYDAY basis! How cool is that.

That’s pretty much all about me. Now let’s hear your names and country. How about we start from this end of the circle?”

Over the next four hours, Amelia took her tourists through Palau Güell, Plaça Reial, Block of Discord, Casa Batlló, Passeig de Gràcia, La Pedrera and Sagrada Familia, saving the best for the last. At the end of the tour, the tourists often tipped her generously for her accuracy of facts and her energy that she would continue to maintain throughout.

After the tour was over, Amelia would stop by café Viena for lunch, usually accompanied by some of the people from the tour. She had now become a regular at this café which was a cozy little restaurant near Sagarda Familia. The staff treated her warmly and the owner Javier was a heavyset man in his early fifties with curly locks of black hair. Javier never charged Amelia for food as she always brought new customers through her tourists.

Everyday, Amelia would sit at the same spot in café Viena which was a quiet corner by the window. Now a routine, she would first order her espresso and then count the tip she had received for the day. Then she would order ‘today’s special’ for lunch. Sometimes her quiet routine would be interrupted by over-zealous tourists who would ask for recommendations for places to see, food to eat and clubs to go to. Amelia always answered patiently to all the questions for she related to being a foreigner in a new city. She remembered what it was like when she had just moved to Barcelona. She didn’t speak the language and was completely clueless about where to begin but the locals had helped her figure out everything, from an accommodation to a job and she felt like she owed a lot to this city especially after everything she had been through.

After she finished her lunch, she would either read a book or draw sketches of people who stopped by the café for a coffee or a drink. She found it absolutely intriguing the variety of people who visited the café on an everyday basis from across the world. It seemed almost orchestrated how strangers in strange clothes with strange accents would blend in. Strangers that would describe the city with brand new perspectives and enthusiasm towards things that had been constant in the Catalonian streets for hundreds of years. Strangers who walked out as friends and lovers.

At the end of the day, Amelia would walk back to her apartment which was in Carrer de Còrsega, a place she had discovered with Javier’s assistance and was a fifteen minutes’ walk from the Viena. She had rented a tiny studio apartment on the 3rd floor of a private building. The owner was an amicable old woman named Mariana who lived on the first floor.

Amelia had decorated her apartment with posters of artworks by Dali, Degas, Picasso, Goya, da Vinci, Van Gogh and Rembrandt. She had studied 20th century arts during her under graduate program in London and had been especially taken by the works of Pablo Picasso. She appreciated the modern artist’s talent, struggles, spirit and his attitude towards life but more than anything she admired his display of boundless uninhibited imagination. There was no apprehensions in venturing. Though ages apart, he inspired her in ways and it was this inspiration that prompted her to write a thesis on him. She believed that researching about him might throw some light on her own self as an artist. It was then she had decided to move to Spain, Picasso’s birth place.

At exactly eight pm, she would call her grandma who lived in Birmingham to tell her all about her day. It had been a ritual for past six years, since the day Amelia had moved out from her home to the university hostel. There had been a brief period of time when she resented calling her grandma everyday but over time she had realized that through every thick and thin, this was the only thing that had remained constant in time – a phone call to her grandma at eight PM and now it had become a habit ingrained so deep that her mental alarm triggered off naturally no matter how busy she was or in which corner of the world she was.

Chapter 2 – The Rendezvous

One Saturday afternoon, Amelia noticed a poster of a band performance outside café Viena , when she reached their after finishing her tour. She approached Javier who didn’t notice her coming as his eyes were glued to the television screen showing Barcelona vs Valencia and the latter was making the former sweat. Javier almost looked cross.

‘Isn’t 25 euros a lot to see some random band? I could see Imagine Dragons for 30 pounds in London. I haven’t even heard of these guys.’ Amelia said as she sat on the chair next to Javier.

“Ah…not you Amelia. You don’t judge music by cover. And why you worry? We no charge you. Plus these guys play good music. Even English music.”  Javier for the first time removed his eyes from the screen to give Amelia a quick friendly wink.

“English music in Spain. Jackpot. And by the way, it is a book by its cover.”

“Si, Si..”

Later that night, Amelia reach Viena 20 minutes before the performance was to begin. The stage was being set up and she observed that people from all age groups had come to see the performance. The Viena was buzzing with couples, friends and families and all seemed to be animatedly chatting. A few minute later, the band members walked up to the stage.

The band opened with a subtle ‘Stand by me’ by Ben E. King and progressed to ‘Billie Jean’ by Michael Jackson. In no time, the people were singing along and by the end of an hour-long performance that was concluded ‘Crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley, a lot of people were dancing including Amelia herself,  who was utterly thrilled. The ‘once more’ chant resonated so loud in the jam-packed café that the band had to return for one last song after which the lights were turned on and everyone had risen to give a standing ovation.

Amelia noticed that Clarence, the lead singer, was standing at the bar surrounded by people who wanted to congratulate him for their extraordinary performance. He was a colored man in his mid-forties who got freckles around his eyes when he smiled. Unable to contain herself, Amelia approached him herself when the other fans had left.

“I think you are crazzzyyy.” Amelia sang the last song from their gig as she approached Clarence.

“Thank you for coming today.” Clarence replied smiling eye to eye. He was still soaked in sweat after all the jumping and singling on the stage.

“Oh well, thank youu for performing today. The last one and a half hour was entrancing. Bewitching. Captivating. I can keep on talking. I can’t believe I never saw you guys before!”

Clarence laughed “Thank you so much love. We perform every Thursday at Jamboree. You must be new here”

“Well, I have been here for a year now though I must admit that today feels like a ‘Eureka’ moment.”

“haha, Thank you. Would you like a beer?

“Ya sure.” Clarence signaled the bartender for two beers. They had been joined by other fans who wanted to thank Clarence for the great performance.

“What’s a pretty girl like you doin alone here?” Clarence asked when others had left and it was just the two of them.

“Well…” Amelia blushed at the compliment. “The pretty girl is on a break from the pretty boys.” Amelia stated matter-of-factly.

“Pretty boys are the worse.” Clarence responded looking almost nostalgic. “Do you wanna join the gang for the afterparty? We usually go to Marty’s after the performance. It’s round the corner.”

“Marty’s? I may have been there once or twice. It’s so overpriced and shady, I never understand why people go there”. Amelia looked unimpressed.

“I see. Marty is my boyfriend so we always chill at his restaurant after the gig.” Clarence grinned.

“Oh. Oh? I am so sorry. I may have confused it with some other restaurant. Let’s go there!” Amelia replied feeling embarrassed.

“Haha, don’t worry. It’s fine. Marty is a ripper. I have to pack my guitar first”

Clarence and Amelia went to the green room where Amelia finished her beer as Clarence packed his guitar after which they left for Marty’s.  It was quarter after midnight and the streets were deserted. The night was cold and Amelia reprimanded herself for not carrying a warmer jacket. After a ten minutes’ walk, Clarence and Amelia reached ‘Marty’s’ where the rest of band members were drinking and chatting. The lights were dim and yellow. The ambience matched the lights.

“There’s my hero, muchachos” Marty cheered when Clarence entered the restaurant and everyone clapped. Clarence blushed and greeted Marty with a kiss. He later introduced Amelia to his friends and band members.

“Ola, this is Amelia from London and Amelia, this is Juan, Diego, Nicolas, Matteo and this pretty lady is Africa.”

Amelia greeted each of band members with a peck on each cheek while Marty poured her some red wine. Amelia recollected that Juan was the guy on the drums, Diego on the bass guitar, Nicolas on the electric guitar and Matteo on the synthesizer.

“You guys are so amazing! I loved every bit of that performance.”

The gang smiled at the compliment. “Gracias, bella” Matteo responded.

Africa came forward to greet Amelia and said something in Spanish that Amelia did not understand.

“Que? Español, poco poco” Amelia made a hand gesture to indicate she understands little Spanish.

“No Espanol, Catalan.” Africa almost snapped. The election results were round the corner.

“I apologize, I meant Catalan. Of course.”

“Me, Matt’s girlfriend.” Africa continued. Amelia wondered if Africa was marking her territory.

“It’s lovely to meet you. I saw you cheering backstage. It’s great how supportive you are.”

“Que?” Africa called out to Diego, the guitar guy who was standing next to them in a different group, amidst a very intense discussion about Barcelona’s poor performance earlier in the match today. Africa said something to him in Spanish.  “Oh so you need a translator? I charge for my services, ladies.” Diego teased, his wayfarer blue eyes alight with mischief.

Amelia noticed that he was wearing a wedding band and her heart sank a bit. The three of them talked for a while and after which Amelia felt like she needed a break from all the translations, iterations and hand gestures that it took to convey a simple idea. She decided to step out for some fresh air. A few minutes later she heard footsteps and saw it was Diego who had stepped out for a smoke himself.

“Fancy some Mary Jane?”

“I am a reform but by all means, please carry on.” Amelia chuckled.

“Then let’s keep it that way.” She watched as Diego went on to roll his cigarette. There was a minute of silence and Amelia noticed there were very fine lines at his forehead which she hadn’t noticed earlier in the dim lights. She wondered how old he was.

“How long have you been playing?”

“5 years with this band and before this I was a solo artist for almost a decade.”

“Wow.” So he must be somewhere in his mid-thirties but then why does he look like he is in his mid-twenties.

“Yes, I don’t remember doing anything else except for playing music. It keeps me in balance and these guys…they are like family.” Diego continued.

“That’s just commendable, dedicating your life to something you really love.”

“Yes, it is. So what brings you to Barcelona?”

“I am actually writing a thesis on early life of Pablo Picasso and I work as a tour guide during the day.”

“Oh really! I am a big fan of Picasso and I totally love some of his works, you know like Bottle, Glass, Fork painting and of course the famous painting of his girlfriends..Les Demoiselles d’Avigon, saw it when I was in States. Quite a revolutionary that guy.”

“Well, I swear by that-guy and yes, he did like to mix his wine, women and art.”

“but hey, Madrid has a better collection some say. Did you check that out?”, he said as he took a long drag.

“Actually, I do have a trip planned in a couple of weeks. I must admit that I am quite impressed to see your interest in art.”

“What? Whyyy? Because I am a guitarist am I supposed to be all about drugs and alcohol?” Deigo teased pretending to look hurt.

“And women” Amelia added, “and Nooooo. Come ‘on! Even non guitarists don’t like to talk about arts and let’s not forget that you are wearing the clichéd leather jacket!!”, Amelia exclaimed.

“Well, I like modern art, Cubism for one and then I too must admit that my wife used to work at an art gallery and I did my homework right.” Diego smiled like a child who had been caught cheating in an exam.

“I see. Wouldn’t it upset your wife that you are not home yet? It’s 3am” Amelia carefully asked.

“I guess it did upset her but it doesn’t… anymore.”

“I wouldn’t blame her, any girl would be threatened if her husband was a hot guitarist” Amelia blurted.

“Well… we separated a few months back.” Diego said.

“I am sorry to hear that.” Amelia could see he looked sad.

“It’s okay, been a while. Time heals” Diego said drawing a long breath. Amelia could feel an awkward silence creeping in and wondered if she had brought up a sensitive subject.

“So..you think I am hot?” Diego asked feigning to look serious but his mischevious smile gave him away.

“Noo…” Amelia laughed. “Or maybe yes, don’t be so smug!” Diego chuckled.  “Maybe I could read your work sometime.”

“Really? I could use some feedback. You should come by Viena sometime. I am usually there in the evenings after wrapping up the tour.”

They went back inside when Diego finished his smoke. Inside, Clarence was strumming his guitar and playing a Christmas song. Marty was standing next to him and playing a Tambourine. Some others had formed a circle around them and were singing along with him. There were couples who had started dancing by the bar. There was happiness in the air similar to what it was like when the band was performing at the café. Amelia and Diego joined others and the night turned into an early morning before they all went back to their homes. This was definitely a night that Amelia would remember.

Chapter 3 -The Rose period

Over next few days, Amelia would frequently stop by the studio where the band practiced and jammed. She would see them writing, rewriting songs and practicing notes a hundred times over. There were cycles of frustrations, struggles, progress that would ultimately culminate into grand celebrations. In a short time, she had developed a healthy friendship with all the other band members including Africa, who loved to click photographs while the band practiced. They would sometimes go back to Africa’s apartment with a tiny darkroom where she taught Amelia how to develop photographs. Amelia noticed that most of the photos were of Matteo, capturing him in his various moods and just like Amelia, she liked to capture people when they were not watching. “These are the moments of truth,” she remarked.

Amelia learned through Africa that Clarence had been a street artist for almost a decade before he got his first break. It was through one of the locals, who happened to be present in his audience, who gave him an opportunity to perform at a restaurant near Park Guell. He was hired on a trial basis but in no time became a permanent employee as his music lured great number of audience who turned into customers for the restaurant and since then, there has been no looking back for Clarence. It was Clarence who had eventually discovered other band members with time and formed their band.

That night after Amelia came back home, she searched for his videos on YouTube and surprisingly she came across a number of them uploaded by random tourists. Those videos depicted a young Clarence playing his guitar with his guitar case laid out in front of him. Back then he had a much slender frame and shoulder length hair in dreadlocks but the exact same smile that spread eye to eye. There were people dropping change in his guitar case every now and then as he sang some of the songs that he still did with a spirit that had only grown if not remained consistent with time.  At that moment, Amelia felt almost guilty for telling Javier that 25 euros were too much for a local gig.

Next day when Amelia went to the studio she gave Clarence a hug. “What’s up sunshine?” he asked a little surprised. “Can’t a friend just hug another friend?” Amelia replied authoritatively throwing her hands in the air and left smiling.

The incident with Clarence and her time with Africa made Amelia wonder if she had undermined her favorite subject, the people. Something that even Picasso never did who on the contrary loved to explore his muses in various shades and perhaps that brought out the finer artist in him, she wondered.

Amelia that day went back to her apartment to open the folder where she stacked all her sketches. For the first time she noticed that although her drawings were technically accurate, they perhaps failed to talk to its viewer and convey certain emotions. Later, she opened a photo of Diego in her phone and started drawing it on a blank canvas. A few hours later, after she was finished drawing she looked at it for a long time and realized how happy she was in that moment to have met everyone who had become a part of her life in these past few days. But more than anyone, she felt happy for having met Diego, who talked like a child but behaved like an adult. He was kind, compassionate and honest. Every day after the practice sessions, Diego would walk her back home and it had now become an unsaid ritual. Amelia eagerly waited for the day to end for those fifteen minutes of walk back home.  She loved how he talked very openly about things. He was always eager to tell her how his day went and ask her about hers in return. He described even the minutest things in details and waited for a reaction. It was as if her opinion mattered to him.

Amelia wondered if this is the life that she always wanted and all the pain in the past had been culminating for this moment in her life. She loved how she had built an environment around her that fostered creativity and not only her mental health was improving but she was also growing as an artist. That night, she decided that she would express her feelings to Diego but before that she had to tell her Grandma. She poured herself a glass of wine and said a little prayer in her heart, thanking the stars for the family she never had. Next day, Amelia reached the studio after wrapping up her tour but couldn’t find Diego. He had left for Seville to meet his ex-wife.

…to be continuted. 

Picture Courtesy: http://imgfave.com/view/5142195?r=pin