Trickle by Aravind Jayan

Someone plays Round Midnight by Thelonious Monk. I don’t listen to a lot of jazz, but I have heard just enough to recognise Round Midnight. This is a Christy Baron version; and I know this only because Pratika tells me so.


Well, she doesn’t actually tell me that.


When the song comes on she says she likes Christy Baron.


We are sitting across each other at some coffee bar. We did not plan to meet but have found ourselves at the same place at a strange hour. My head is on my fist; hers is in the proper place. She hasn’t changed at all. Maybe she’s a little thinner now – she was always thin in school – and her eyes are sunken, as if all she did between then and now was read. Her wrists though, are as bony and elegant as ever. The kind of wrists you want to see handling cutlery. She has the kind of mouth you want to see saying cutlery too.


I don’t know if we have time for small talk. Maybe she’d have done the hihowdoyoudo dance if I had; but she looks too tired for that sort of thing.


‘Stop for coffee on your way out?’ I ask.


She smiles weakly, tells me she hasn’t been sleeping too well. She can’t remember the last time she rolled over in bed and it was morning. ‘You have changed though,’ she says. ‘I like that.’


Then she elaborates,‘When you have stayed awake for as long as I have, everything becomes boring. Take today morning for instance. I didn’t just wake up to find the ground wet, I knew it was pouring all through the night. The turning of the day itself becomes so suffocating.’


‘Like being stuck in traffic.’

‘Yes. Gradients everywhere.’


The table we sit at is outdoors and far away from the counter which is inside a small open shed with a little blue fan and a cheap chandelier. The fan is on and spinning slowly; the chandelier too is lit but a few bulbs are out. There’s no one around to take our order. As a matter of fact, the place is deserted.


‘Is that why it feels like I’m seeing a ghost?’


‘Maybe so,’ she says after a while, ‘But to me it’s more like being immortal.’


Her words are carefully measured, the way you add sugar to your coffee.


I light two cigarettes and give her one. She takes a deep drag, almost as if she’s sucking in someone’s soul. Nothing comes out though, or maybe I’m distracted by her wrists once again – gracefully arched as she holds the cigarette – and her fingernails too, which are long and unpainted.




My wife Parvathi and I are drinking her father’s whisky when I tell her all this. We are in the single room on the third-floor of his house going through the library. She’s sitting in one of those foldable deck-chairs, looking through a hardbound picture book titled Kerala: The Definitive Images by Gunter Klein. I’m lying shirtless on the floor, soaking in the cold marble. It’s a little after three on a Sunday and the French window lets in a nice breeze.


Parvathi listens to me without a word, looking now and then at her picture book, turning a page here and there. Then she ventures a question. ‘When was this?’ she asks.


‘A long time ago,’ I say, ‘before I met you. Maybe in college.’


I realise then that she doesn’t want a date or time-period; what she wants is a clarification of detail. So, I say, ‘It was night time.’


Then I get my shaving kit from the bag and a mug of water from the basin, stand in front of the small mirror and start working on my beard.




In the cafe we are surrounded by little trees the size of goblins, and creepers winding on wooden poles. A few larger trees form a canopy overhead. At times it feels like we are sitting inside a greenhouse and at other times in a bird sanctuary, especially when I hear the flapping of large wings close behind me. There are times within this short period when I look up and see only a single patch of sky though the trees and I feel as though we are in an astronomical tower. That’s when Round Midnight starts playing, when I’m looking up and that’s when she says she likes Christy Baron.


Across the road is Hotel LemonTree International. The light that falls on our side of the cafe – though the cafe is for all intents and purposes entirely ours – comes from the large electrified lettering of the hotel and the lamps by its side. From where we sit we can see the hotel’s glass doors and the large lobby with white couches and a crystal fountain. Though I can’t read it, I know the soft letters on the door spell ‘pull’.


I’m mesmerised by the sight of the towering hotel issuing this command. She is too, I guess.


‘It’s a full moon today, and it’ll be high tide now,’ I think she says. She’s talking about a different kind of pull, I realise. There are all kinds of pulls.


Between that word and her frailty, I feel brutal; I could reach over and break her neck if I were so inclined. Her sadness on the other hand is overwhelming; it could very well enter me and turn me inside out like a cotton t-shirt.


While sitting there I think about some old things, or rather she makes me think about them. Like how back in school, I wanted nothing more than to catch the girls dance team right after a performance.


It was a strange fancy, but a solid one.


I didn’t yet understand the reason, but it was clear to me there was vitality in it. If someone had asked me then, what I expected to see, I wouldn’t have been able to answer. Of course, I knew there was a reason, but even that was covered in a shroud of shame and confusion. It wasn’t about being a peeping tom. I told myself that I wanted to see something that others weren’t allowed to.


It was only later though, in tenth grade, while standing backstage with a stranger’s guitar slung on my back, waiting for the dance team to exit stage that I thought fully about the secrecy of what I sought.


Through the walls, I could hear the muffled music of an old folk song. A few words would drift by every now and then: Fjord, Shrine, Paper, I think. Kadalssu. Or  it could be sea. Kadalu.


The backstage area was painted a sickly shade of green with only a few forty-watt bulbs here and there. I would freeze against the wall whenever somebody walked by. Occasionally they were teachers, sometimes with their heads bent over clipboards, but more often than not, the faces were painted deep red or black or caked with white make-up.


I felt then, standing against the dim light there, that I was going to be trapped in this sticky awareness forever. That it would be impossible to share any of this. Maybe I could explain it in part, or talk about the circumstances leading up to it, but I wouldn’t be able to it tell it whole. The whole as such would be uncontainable and never-ending; this was simply the entrance into incompletion.


Muffled applause began when the song ended. There was a terrible rush backstage as trees and rhinos, pre-historic birds and cave men stampeded past me toward the stage area. After them, there was nothing and for a short while, only silence. Then the girls walked by, covered in bright sarees, thick, embroidered and complex. Their faces glistened, and their mouths were half-open – as if someone somewhere had paused them in mid-sentence; I expected them to sigh. Their gait seemed uniform, slow, mannered and punctuated by the chimes of their anklets. If their hearts were beating too fast, I couldn’t hear them over mine – and if they were panting – their chests rising up and down, I couldn’t see it through my embarrassment.


The last girl to walk by had cut her hand against broken bangles. Her palm was bloody and her eyes were wet; nothing escaped her though. I knew then that I couldn’t stand there any longer.




‘For a while I thought that girl was you – the one bleeding. I don’t know why I thought that,’ I tell Pratika.


‘No,’ she says, ‘that wasn’t me.’


‘Perhaps it was a thought that formed later then.’


‘Maybe.I don’t think that was me.’ She looks at her palm and inspects it for gashes.

‘Do you dance now?’


We don’t know if we are still waiting for someone to take our order. The counter is empty. There are a bunch of stacked bills on it and a ledger with its pages flapping softly under the fan.


‘I feel sleepy,’ Pratika says. ‘Maybe it’s the humidity. With the plants and trees – and the quiet over here.’


‘Yes,’ I say, ‘it’s the plants.’ As if I’ve been studying them for years.


I notice Pratika slouching, looking over her shoulders at the LemonTree International now. There’s a couple standing there at the edge of the road against the bright lobby light. Behind them everything else is still the same – the glass doors, the large reception with the white couches, the bubbling crystal fountain. They have a small trolley bag which the man holds; the woman has an arm around his waist. They must be waiting for a taxi, I think, after checking out.


I wait for Pratika to say something. I don’t know the shape her words are going to take though. It’s a little like looking up at an empty sky and having to imagine clouds as they should be.


When she finally speaks, it’s to say that she’s leaving, that she’s going back to her hostel to get some sleep. The couple too has disappeared; probably walked further down the street.




The room smells of Old Spice now and there is shaving foam on my chest and shoulders. Parvathi pours me another glass of whiskey as soon as I stop speaking. She throws me a towel, moves over to the window and pulls the curtains close. She comes over and plants a kiss on my neck.



Aravind Jayan studied journalism at the Symbiosis Center for Media and Communication, Pune. He was born and brought in Kerala. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in many places including Open Magazine, Nether and The Bombay Literary Magazine.