Monday, January 23, 2006

Happy Birthday

According to my friends, this is one of the best pieces I have written. Hopefully y'all will like it too.

The illuminated hands on his Omega read 11:10. New York was still buzzing with activity. After all it was the holiday season. For a few moments he stood before his window overlooking Central Park. It was a full moon that night. It added an edge of magic to the glistening silhouette of Central Park. Maybe it was the holidays and magic was truly in the air. Probably not. He had stopped believing in magic a few years back.

He had gone over these moments in his head a couple of days back. He pictured himself pacing up and down in his bedroom or living room. Maybe flipping through the channels without blinking. All the images he had seen in films in the same context rushed back to his senses. He never imagined he would be in a situation like this. So he didn't have any real thoughts about it. In the absence of real thoughts, the mind reaches for the nearest fantasy world. The images that were played were just instances of that.

But unlike these images he had, he was feeling unusually calm. Almost as if a shield of serenity surrounded him. And it felt nice.

He looked around his vast bedroom. Not too many people would have such a bedroom in Manhattan. The d├ęcor was meticulously done. Classic but yet sleek. That had always been his signature style. Also it helps having the best interior decorator in NYC as a good friend. He remembered the hours he and Todd spent poring over designs. But the effort was worthwhile. It was truly a masterpiece.

His bed was unassuming and simple. It took up very little space in his vast bedroom. The bulk of the floor space was taken by the shelves which almost encircled the room. They were choc-a-bloc with his books, CDs and DVDs. All arranged according to genre and alphabetically.

A lot of the books were unread. No creases. No pig-ears. Some CDs and DVDs were still inside their shrink-wrapping. A new bunch of CDs and DVDs which he bought last week were still sitting in the white and red 'BORDERS' bag at the foot of one of the shelves.

“I don't even remember what I bought. It really doesn't matter now I guess” he said. His lips curled up into a wistful smile as the words left his mouth.

He walked across to the CD shelf and started browsing through the CDs. His eyes were searching for something specific. The intensity in them meant that it was a prized possession.

“Ah! Here it is!” He said that in the upbeat tone of a school kid finding free candy.

It was a CD in a plain plastic casing. No leaflets or markings. It was a home made CD. He had burned it when he was around 25. For a moment he marveled at how quickly 15 years had gone by so quickly.

He took the CD out from its blue translucent flimsy plastic case and popped into his music system. It made a few sputtering noises and the CD tray popped out.

“Damn it!” he cursed as he took the CD and wiped it on his t-shirt and popped it back. This time it started to play.

He sat down at his desk and slid down in his chair so that he could rest his neck on the chair's back. After a few moments of static, the music started to flow.

TRACK 1: I go crazy – Paul Davis

Somehow that song always stirred some strange emotion in him. Usually certain songs gain a place in our psyche because of the events one correlates with them.

But this was different. There was no such event he could relate this song to. Neither did he share a few special moments with someone, with this song as a backdrop. But he hoped and hoped that someday he would. The image in his head was crystal clear. Almost as if, it really happened.

The stage is his apartment. The dinner table is set. Food is ready. Candles are lit. This song is playing. And he is slow dancing with his girl. There is this slight smile on his face as he looks into her eyes and lip-synchs to the words of the song.

He hoped it would happen someday. That he would be able to look into the eyes of someone the same way he imagined it. But it never happened. Not even once.

TRACK 2: Same Old Lang Syne – Dan Fogelberg

He always claimed that this was the most tragic song he had ever heard. At least in his book. Maybe it was just because it reminded of someone whom he passed up on in his early days. He was young. He was stupid. When you are young you think there will be many people whom you will meet, with whom you connect and it feels right.

But the wisdom of years had taught him that it doesn't happen often. Heck! You are lucky if it happens once. And when it does, one has to hold on to it and never let it go. No matter what happens. No matter what you have to sacrifice. Unfortunately this wisdom occurred very late to him.

TRACK 3: Love is a battlefield – Pat Benatar

Admittedly, it was a very girlie song. But he couldn't deny its charm. During his mid-twenties it had helped him live through a few heartaches. It always gave him hope that there is someone/something better around the corner.

“Maybe I have been just missing all those corners. Maybe I have been walking the wrong streets. Hope at times can be a dangerous thing. It makes one live in the future,” he thought.

He let those thoughts hang in the air for a while. Brooded over them for a few brief moments and then he walked across and switched off the music.

He walked into the living room. If the bedroom was huge, the living room was humongous. But it was almost packed. His big-screen TV, the Dolby home theatre system, his simple but elegant couch filled the vast space. Then there were the shelves filled with the accolades he had received. He had kept every single one of them. Right from the small memento he received for fundraising when he was 25 to the lovely plaque he was given last month by the NYPD, naming him as one of the 'Citizens for Social Change' for the work he has been doing for the children in the Bronx.

Initially these meant so much to him. It brought him so much happiness. The sense of achievement and accomplishment had been one of the driving factors in his life. But now they failed to evoke any extreme emotion. Of course he still took pride in his work and felt good about a task well done. But awards and accolades just failed to elevate the emotion any more.

He remembered saying to his friends a long time back “I am willing to give up my personal life as long as I do something worthwhile with my life.” And he truly meant it. At that point in his life he was truly driven by the pursuit of success and sense of accomplishment.

At different times in our lives we are driven by different factors. At times, by money. Sometimes, by fame. And sometimes, by plain good will. Some motivations are more materialistic than others. But during these phases, very rarely do we realize that these cannot be the motivations for our life forever. Without someone to share life's moments with, all these motivations die a painstaking death.

“Why do we have to be with someone? The sheer concept that we need someone in our lives to make us truly happy is almost…sadistic.”

“So if this was God/Nature's grand scheme for achieving human harmony, where did my equation fall off? Where did it go wrong? In a city filled with millions, why didn't I ever run into that someone? That someone with whom there are no false pretences or images? That one with whom it is ok to be yourself?”

“Maybe it is destiny. Maybe I am just one of those people who is destined to be alone.”

“Loneliness is a weird thing. You suffer its pangs only when you are alone. So no one really sees what you are going through. To the observer, I live a charmed life. A fabulous career, more than enough wealth and possessions. My demeanour too doesn't give too much away, I guess. Life of the party, the timely jokes and all this philanthropy too. They must be thinking 'Now here is one guy who is truly happy'. I have seen it in people's eyes – sometimes in the form of jealousy and at times in the form of admiration.”

“That's when I have wanted to stand up and scream. 'My life is not hunky-dory. Look at me. At forty, I come home to an empty apartment. I eat alone. I sleep alone. I didn't sign up for this'.”

“Would I give up all this to be with that special someone? Absolutely! In a heartbeat.”

He glanced at his watch. It was 11:55 pm. “Enough. Enough now.”

He walked back to his bedroom. From the top drawer of his dresser he took out a box of pills. He poured himself a glass of water. With the glass of water in one hand and pills in the other, he stood before the large mirror.

His mind was calm. There were no longer any revolting thoughts rushing around. As the clocks struck twelve, he looked at himself, smiled and said

“Happy Birthday, John.”

* * *

Rob hated winter mornings. Especially, when one gets called in for work so early. He got woken up at 6:30 am today. He was driving down to Manhattan. There was hardly anyone on the streets. It was a Saturday after all. He pulled up in front of a huge apartment building next to Central Park. It was a suicide. Overdose of pills it seems. The maid had found him dead.

He took the elevator up to the 11th floor. It was a beautiful apartment. “Must cost a fortune,” he thought. He went straight to the bedroom. The forensic folks were finishing up their work.

He looked at the body. The face was so familiar. “I know him! I saw him at the NYPD function last month. We honored him as one of the respected citizens of the city. I remember reading about him and thinking such a noble man. But why would he commit suicide? Why?”

His train of thought was broken by one of the forensic folks. “A clear case of suicide,” he said. “Oh, there was a note too,” he handed him a paper sealed in a plastic bag.

It was just two lines written very nicely on high quality stationery.

I have read somewhere that “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
So is the unshared one.
~ John

For a moment he was puzzled. Then he walked around the apartment and looked around. A forty year old living alone, no signs of too many visitors, no photographs on the walls or elsewhere. It started to make sense to him.

He got lost in the thoughts for a moment. Then he quickly picked up his cellphone and dialed his home number. It was the sleepy voice of his wife at the other end. “Honey, still in bed? I had to rush to work without saying. Sorry about that. I love you, Honey. Maybe we will go out to your favorite French restaurant for dinner today. I will see if I can get reservations. Will see you in the evening. Bye.”

He read the note once again and headed outside for a smoke.

1 comment:

Kyahgirl said...

devil-that was fabulous. I really enjoyed your writing! Wow. Don't stop!