The dragon’s tail

When Freya was little, her mother was always upset because she knew she would not get to be a part of her future. Not because of any physical ailment, but simply because she knew she would try and she would not be allowed to do so. Like swimming an up-tide.

Of Freya’s marriage, her mother could not even picture her own drawing room. It was her aunt’s. An opening hallway. Some guests passing around turmeric-colored rice. Rhythmic plate music. An audience of irregular desert dunes sitting at every piece of flat surface they could find. And whenever she saw herself in this place of future, her sadness was rather pictorial—her mouth turned in an upside-down U, at the sheer in-credulousness of strangeness of her daughter. Of people suddenly deciding to wear their clothes the other way around one day; as if Freya came out of some communal womb, up from the discolored sky. Do babies just fall after all?

She thinks about the word ‘daughter’ that the world created for her mouth to take up. She had not even remotely contributed to its invention. A daughter, because the world says so. But if the world gave it to her, the world can take it back too.

Freya married a painter anyway, in a place where mules circle around the leaking smell of the City trying to push in. Freya’s mother was upset. But then, she was already upset before.

It was as if the mother lived in a non-linear sad-time. Of knowing. Then, living. Of introspecting whether her knowing caused the living. And at last, if it was worth an ounce to give a shit about Freya at all.

She could have gone to business school.

*

In November, it snowed with a smell of woolen hats, florescent lights and falling men.

Trekkahum was a village of smiling eyes. Every second week of November, they stood at the other side of bridge (or whatever was left of it after the yearly slaps of winter-storms), cheering in their brown-velvet clothes and caps. It was a work of art—the whole view around the village—making me wish I was a painter rather than a writer. But here I am your writer in any case, and at the other side of the bridge stood a row of old men with some very rigid shoulder lines. Their silhouettes were dark against the white of snowy winds that blushed white upon the symmetry of landscapes. It was as if someone had chafed the bridge with the lick of their wet thumb like rainy skies do to the autumn moon.

The village. A faint remote planet of snowscape, and night existed below the heads of the villagers and between their hands. A domestic darkness above which the white snow towered like a bastard of a day. But that was the village. Where it was not, an ominous silence stood at the other side of the bridge across the village. It was inconsiderate of all human divisions such as the night or day and hour or seconds. If you could be here–where I stand, you would have believed  me. The wind is a crowd of its own. Very loud.

They fought in the war. Old men of the ‘November Ceremony’ (termed thus for you and me because translations are often appalling) But none of them really understood what it meant. But then, did they knew what war itself meant? Ah, I cannot possibly answer that.  As far as they care, it is the general’s command. A school rhyme.

‘Old men cross the bridge/ Old men cross the bridge when the winter is nigh.’

The bridge was not at all rickety as most people imagine, being fed on a lot of bridge literature with adventure tropes. It was however narrow. Cement. Originally a pathway for a pipeline that never came to be and so it was a memory of a future that could have been. The snow reigned upon it now. Little hills of snow dunes conspired to absorb the salt that men had thrown for good luck or caution, to let this ceremony pass without any death. Under it, a raging height. Most people think of heights being empty. Stagnant. But the air at heights have veins, they pop like an athlete’s leg. Each man who stepped on the bridge, stepped on the wind too. Fingers crick. Eyes bat.

And so the men cross.

Cheered by a crowd of people that sound like a blown-away candle against the magnanimity of mountains that towered above their village.

And so the men cross.

A Ritual.

After gulping down sips of some rice-wine, they joke. They joke about each other’s death. Cracked skull. Funny shaped limbs. Blood on ice. Winter crackling upon their bald heads. And when some of them do walk and when some of them do die, they drink some more and wait for the next November to come.

A Gamble.

*

May. Trekkahum. Freya and her painter. It had to be May; Painters color well in a writer’s writing in the summer season.

They sit under the dark cavern. It’s ugly as if full of blisters and bird-shit. Yet ‘they’ wouldn’t be the right term to use. They are divided at the moment. She sings at the opening of the cave like an ancient bird. He sits right in front of her, cross-legged, with his papers and paints hungry for the slanting rays of the giant sun that almost burns his hand. Naturally, he is employing more reds today.

She loves the smell of the damp. She thinks it gives her the tangy-ness of an acoustic song, much more than the bubble-like stomach of the cave that cannot taste her music at all. It is so very dark in there, she muses…it could be anything. A wolf’s eye. Endless dark fur of a giant black bear. A star that is dead. A viper’s widening jaw. Time.

She senses some movement. She stares and stares. The painter looks up and is irritated by all the staring. He goes back to his work, his hands should not cease.

Suddenly, a man in a grey suit and a woolen fedora hat comes out of the dark of the cave as if it is the most normal thing in the world.

He has a crooked smile. He pays no attention to the painter and sits near the girl. The painter hates his presence but he keeps sitting nonetheless, like a little child who does not know what to do when his mother stops near the billing counter to converse with a friend she ran into. He puts on his disinterested demeanor and continues to toy with his paints.

The fedora hat man claims to be a magician. Freya is charmed like a little red-cheeked village girl. He praises her music and gives her a coin. It is not a roadside-tip. The coin is magnificently worked upon. The painter looks up. It is silver. Moon. It also looks like a dragon that is trying to eat his own tail. The painter had never seen something like this ever before. And he was certain, what he saw, only he could see.

For days, the painter tries to copy this design; he is so obsessed with it. His hands are rummaged with all the stress. His fingers don’t bend well anymore. And one day it starts happening, the dragon starts appearing all over the village. Every hut. Under a tree’s rolling chin. In the moon. In the sky. It is beautiful but it is still not what the Fedora hat man had showed Freya. The villagers do not like it. But he keeps painting it. He has abandoned all the mountains. The bridges. The falling men. Her eyes. Everything but the fedora hat man’s design.

Somewhere in the mind of some reader appears the caricature of the poor Sisyphus. Is it me? Is it you?

And they say, every day he sits in the black-blistered cave and paints one dragon on each blister of this dark space that is the cave. If you happen to pass by Trekkahum, you will find him closer to the original than I did. He is turning blind but it is no harm because colors come like instinct to him now. His hands move on their own accord. But even still, he cannot perfect the original. And I suspect he already knows that.

A dragon eating his own tail.

*

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