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Loner – Rituparna Mukherjee

Apr 30, 2022 | Fiction | 0 comments

Loner!
He hurls the word across the room at you, his eyes see it travel across the room, expecting it to hit your ears, its sound wounding you, its contours scratching the surface of your skin like a cheese grater. He expects it to hurt you. You slowly watch his eyes change from anger to disappointment to resignation as the sounds in your head drown the sharpness of the word, but not dim its shine. It stays with you, like the mark your wedding ring has left in your ring finger, even though you wear it no more. You look at your ferns in the window. They sway in the delicious March breeze. The sounds in your head swell, then soften, they sway with the fern fronds. You smile, he walks out of the room.
You see him leave, his back taut with emotion, with silent rage. You try to recall exactly why he had called you that, loner, why did it seem like an accusation? The sounds gurgle. You sigh. No, not an accusation. He is not someone to make one. You had never really accused one another. Yours was an oddly calm marriage, one without many words. You had married him because he was so quiet. His silence calmed you down. It felt companionable. You would sit for hours at the banks of the Ganges, lulled into a half-sleep, the sounds dulled with the rhythm of the river, your mind somewhat still. You would watch the rains together silently, smiling at each other and even now, after eleven years of marriage and twelve years of togetherness, the first hint of rain, a storm, gusts of wind, smell of wet earth, would bring your hands together, your phone would buzz with a smile while you were taking a class and the sounds would hum with you. You find those days beautiful, as close to magic as is possible among the banalities.
Your paths had crossed in the mountains. You were exhausted, of sounds, of people talking endlessly, of yourself talking banally every day, till you ran out of words one day, every last one of them, such that you would stare at people with sounds in your head and your mind knocking corners of your brain searching for words. It was time. You had to leave. You sought shelter in the mountains in Sikkim, a homestay, less people, beautiful plants and flowers. The sounds lulled, mellowed back; you felt restful. When you met him, you were so indescribably attracted to the tee-shirt he wore, his gait seemed very familiar, you couldn’t place him, but you knew that you knew him. And you spoke. Words came out of your mouth like they were in a rat race for a petty promotion. Till he said, “Why don’t you relax? We have all the time in the world to get to know each other.” And you smiled. You fell in love. The sounds swayed like ripe harvest in the wind. And you lied. You told him you loved the mountains more than anything. The sounds disagreed. They loved the seas. The waves made them restful. The waves made you restful as well.
There weren’t many lies in your marriage. One or two. Misunderstandings, you called them. For instance, you never told him that you didn’t like talking. He thought you were so good at it; it was unreal that you didn’t want to. He thought you would be his social side. You weren’t. With each passing year, your friends grew thinner, you became more wary of the compulsive lies, of the social imperative to live a good life, whatever that was. The sounds inside you gnashed and screamed and raged, and you moved inside. You never told him about the sounds. How the incessant horns of the traffic blinded you with their ferocity; how in your teenage years, when you desperately tried to make friends, the sounds would scream inside you, wake you up in the middle of sleep only to realize it was not external but within your mind. You remembered the accusation in your mother’s eyes when the doctor suggested a psychiatrist for your repeated dreams, lack of sleep, and exhaustion. You told him everything, you didn’t introduce him to your sounds. Best keep them inside, you had thought.
You had put him on a pedestal. Only to realize that he had lied to you too. At the moments when you were quiet, and he was quiet, the moments that drew you nearer to him, when you would lift your eyes from the book you were reading, and he would smile at you, you would long for him with a furious passion that would fizzle out in bed. You would be afraid of waking him up, thinking he doesn’t have sounds like you do. You would hear him snore softly, your mind would be at rest, as if on a sea beach, your eyes would become heavy, the sounds would softly snore as well. He told you tearfully, he needed words, when you held his phone that flashed her name; when you came back home that smelled a little different. You felt words claw your throat but said nothing. You looked at him and your heart swelled with love. The sounds saw this and rebelled in compassion. You wept together silently.
From then, you make an effort. To talk. To spin words, so many of them, with his friends on a good day that he would smile at you, his eyes sparkling with pride. He understood your desire to escape unto yourself and saw you fill your nest with plants, with ferns that reminded him of the mountains, ferns that quelled you down. He took you to the sea once in August. It rained, the sand whipped and scarred your face, the sounds leaped in joy and lay down at the back, you felt free, weightless, with a curious ability to float. You bathed in the sea, your hands flapping like a sea gull, his face smiling at your bird-like movements, and you found true happiness. But he got burned. His skin peeled off like remnants of the holiday that you had, eager to shed off the moments you held dear, and you never went back. You went to the mountains. You heard the hornbills sing. You smiled. The sounds satiated somewhat.
That was the last time you had gone on a vacation. The lockdown kept the two of you in your nest and you watched television, cooked, read, enjoyed his company. You were happy. He was too, somewhat. Sometimes you would see him looking outside with such keenness that it would startle you. You would caress his soft hair and say, soon, he would look at you and nod. You prayed for the lockdown to be over so that you could go on a vacation, but when it did, he went away, with his friends and left you back. You would study and tidy your nest. You would wait. Till you got tired of waiting. He came back and went out with his friends again. They would always be at your place, their loud boisterous voices filling your home, but not drowning your sounds which would screech at your ears as the storms would at glass windowpanes. You start going for walks. He starts coming along. You both want and not want him. You walk to what people call the wind alley, where its as windy as the sea beach, the wind knocking at the houses in the narrow alley and coming at you with all its might. That’s how the sounds are in your head. Relentless, but there. They don’t ask you to talk, but they’re not silent companions either. You have come to be hospitable to them, like the hotel manager is when you visit the same place a number of times.
It breeds a sense of familiarity, you think. That’s when the word comes to your mind again. “Loner!” You remember why he said it. He was worried. He thought you were lonely because you didn’t make an effort with people. You touch the composted soil of the plant nearby and smile. You pity him, but not his lack of friends. You are glad he has friends. You are not glad you don’t have as many. His words taste like something. You try to put it to words. They taste like your favourite roasted almond ice-cream, mixed with paprika, the mellowness marred by the zing. But you let it slide in your tongue, and fill your mouth, and corrode your throat. You don’t throw it away because it’s your favorite.

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Rituparna Mukherjee is a faculty of English and Communication Studies at Jogamaya Devi College, Kolkata. She did her MA in English literature and currently pursuing Doctoral degree in Gendered Mobilities in west African and Afro-Diasporic Literature at IIIT Bhubaneswar. Her areas of interest include African and Indian literature and Post-colonial and Feminist theories as well as English Language Teaching, Second Language Acquisition and Communication studies. She works as an ELT consultant, translator and ESL author outside of her work and research schedule.

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