During summer my mother had brought home a hideous portrait of Prithivi Naryan Shah from alleys of Ason and hung it in our drawing-room. The portrait’s sharp bridged nose elongated further from the corner of its eyes brimmed sternness in abundance. Unmistakably the sternness flowed throughout its wave of jet black mustache descending thinner on the pointy ends, each side, upturned against the gravity, pointing towards the ceiling identical to its index finger. I had arrived late to the festivities after giving in to the constant pleading from both of my cousin brothers who were traveling the very next day away from being our brief guests.
Our small drawing-room had just been filling up, mostly with women in their muslin and ivy moss rustling outfits. One of my cousins had wandered off to oblivion to find drinks. I was left stuck with my other cousin Ashish and my sister’s classmate standing over an empty couch staring at the very same portrait with an air of critical analysis. Ashish, a nice-looking young man, with soft features had walked into the drawing-room with a boorish look in his face contrasting it with attentive striking measured steps, his posture giving away his involvement in the military. Such spontaneity of performative personality must have earned him a company immediately, I thought as I stood next to them with my head bent and my big feet spread apart. The girl’s dropped eyelids and timid smile justified the empty wine glass on her wandering fingers. When she murmured something unintelligible that even I couldn’t make out, Ashish inclined forward, lending his ears to the proximity of her lips, “Sorry! k bhannuvha?”
The girl giggled with mischief as she considered a reply unnecessary, perhaps she scraped off whatever she had said and rather corrected my cousin’s dialect, “It’s, k bhannu BHAKO” and further added, “Y’all western Nepalese bring weird accents.” To my surprise Ashish presented a sly smirk, “We also bring unification”, he lifted his chin to Prithvi’s portrait hanging sternly over our heads. “Unification and massive nose jobs”, the girl further corrected him with eye contact and a futile sip from her empty glass. Ashish gulping down his giggle smiled pleasantly, foreshadowing her blush he brushed the tip of her nose and replied, “The upturned finger is an allegory for freeing people from nose-picking” The girl threw her head back producing a giggle so evident that my neighbors must have heard it too. I was surprised at this sudden alacrity of Ashish that suddenly awakened a quite different version which was timid, languid under the devotion of his companion. As I felt abandoned out of a conversation I excused myself and retired from the sight of Prithivi Narayan Shah.
It was my elder sister’s birthday. We had the house by ourselves for the weekend and my sister decided to throw a small dinner party. The drawing-room was now politely chattering in separate but not segregated groups of ladies elegantly engulfed in ball gowns and little dresses hugging their bodies leaving barely any room for organs. Over the shaded patio, I found a few of my sister’s friends smoking, when they offered me one, I declined as politely as I could. I was still underage and I didn’t want to get myself into trouble.
Our domestic help Parvati didi poked her head out the patio signaled me to get inside the drawing-room, her unmoored barefoot, unkempt hair tied into a bun, and a frown requested “Babu mathi table set garnu paryo, aisyo na”, I followed her hurriedly fleeting slouched silhouette towards the kitchen. Adjoining two tables, a checkered cloth was spread and straightened throughout to create an illusion of a long table. It was a night of starless sky and the moon was stuck opaque with stubborn smolders of thick clouds that led the terrace to be engulfed into vacant nothingness. The balustrade of darkness facing the poplars trees on the front yard sunk into melancholic shadow and the asleep concrete establishments left quite a lot to imagination without requiring one to shut eyes. One could have imagined a lake inhabited by abandoned dingy boats to the shore and our terrace resting, over-looking through a cliffside while the stillness of the lake provided music to the night. However, the only thing that resigned from the gulf darkness was the churchy rise of a lighthouse from a nearby airport. It spun around its perpetual orbit like a ballerina tinted in the boredom of green and yellow rotating lights barely making its way to the spectator’s physical presence, making one realize it’s distance being further away than one expected it to be.
The dinner table was set up in the terrace, the air was damp and clogged, our clothes had gotten soggy and the waft of dry air that blessed us once in a while was of no help either. People slowly ascended towards the terrace, drunk, sober, in-between, barefoot suspending heels by the straps, holding away drunkenly to near ones, or simply the walls or along railings. The whiskey I had gulped downstairs was finally showing its full effect when the warm basmati waft surpassed my face like a linen shawl of steam on a blown-up naval field, an image of long-grained spread out on a fuller bowl ingrained in me while in the dark which led me to believe there weren’t enough candles lit for the food to be seen. “Khai didi khana nai dekhena”, I let Pavitra didi know. Upon the realization, she disappeared along with her unkempt hair perpetually flitting sideways, and her drained dupatta knotted to her abdomen with determination.
When Ashish and the girl gradually climbed stairs with hand in hand and with such affection that one would mistake them for couple, or one wouldn’t even have guessed that they were mere strangers till this morning. I sat almost at the middle of the table while Ashish sat across me and the girl sat right next to me. Perhaps, they pitied me for abandoning me earlier.
I couldn’t look straight into her eyes, I stole glances in the pretense of cutting down my meat when she asked me, “Why don’t you go ahead and make friends with Sheetal over there”
I curtly shook my head, without lifting it, no.
“Its fast feelings”, I mumbled
She tilted her head more forward to hear me out properly.
“Fast feelings”, I repeated
“Fast feelings like?”
I sighed, “Fast feelings like the portrait down the drawing-room. The temperature will mold its colors and it will fade away to indifference”
She gaped her mouth to say something then closed it again. Few moments later she proceeded,
“But it happens to all the portraits, both originals and counterfeits”
I remained silent, barging the cut further to meat without any intention of eating. I realized Ashish was also watching me with such contempt and air of concern. Like yearlong parents taking their kids into therapy, I was suddenly being interrogated. When I made sure I wasn’t speaking further, Ashish got up to get drink. As we watched him disappear down the stairs.
I looked up at the girl for the first time, the flames were dancing around her lifeless forehead, shadows emanating her shapely maiden face, “I don’t want to sound rude, but he will be gone by tomorrow and he won’t return for a couple of years from the base camp”, I sounded like someone who spoke of great revelation.
She shrugged with an eye roll like one does to old news.
I further added, “I’d wish to have friends that never have to leave”
“Well, you can’t look for long volumes on a book of short stories”, she caressed my cheek with deep maternal care and left to look after Ashish.
This put me in silence, and I couldn’t utter another word, not because I was speechless but I couldn’t have comprehended the longing and desire for something that I wasn’t quite sure of. When I returned with a drunken stroll back to the patio, I accepted the first offer to smoke. Dragging smoke out of my lungs, I looked into the drawing-room through glass windows, inaudible shrills of laughter while taking photographs. Female companions, unlike the male, brought glamour and unquestionable combust of fragrant femininity which at times translates to aesthetic beauty rarely unable to set one in an amiable mood.
Oh, what a thing to be a woman I wondered, to twirl around, laughing with head thrown back, covering their smiles cupped with palms, getting animated with every emotion from the moans of displeasure to the delicate touch of affections, providing extremity to every human emotion. While the men stood there tirelessly helpless, admiring the bustling beauty, glitters and confetti of female fragrance enticing something within them, without for it having a vulgar motive but rather simply hypnosis as same as city lights, skyscrapers or nature provides you with. My two cousins suffering from a similar state, fascinated by the mysteries of sight of women with such stylish hair-dos and poised mannerisms. The mesmerized and perhaps shy men didn’t take a step forward to girls. It was much later when one of the girls dragged them by the cufflinks, the men grinned from ear to ear with polite resistance. It seemed their will to be photographed was overpowered by their own hesitance.
Soon the exchange of ardent darting glances of desire, with dropped eyelids had led one of my cousins to lose his shirt and accidentally exchange glasses with some girl, while everyone blushed the night away drinking from each other’s glasses. I remained oblivious to such experiences. As I couldn’t figure out if I was more envious of women’s presence and ability to demand such attention or the men’s ability to desire momentarily, oblivious if the moment is coming or going.
The arching exchange in silence between these two distinct groups felt more like a sport abundant of reactions and anticipation for one’s next move. With every long drawn-out inhale I felt like an exile that belonged neither here nor there.
I could hear a faint silvery ambulance pealing in some distant extent somewhere as if the dampness in the air had carried the limpid sound to this certain party where the night was full of youth. It both reminded me of the limit of the time frame and the freedom of the night. What a night! I sighed as I took another puff I proceeded to sit further down in one of the chairs lined up, and like a sudden shock, I felt my heart in my stomach flailing and falling, my cigarette out of my mouth, elbows hurt. I had fallen in between chairs, slipped into vacant. Neither here nor there.