Girish Joshi


Popcorn Coffee

On a Sunday afternoon in a downtown café in Mumbai, while having a slow meandering conversation with Kajal, who had been his friend from high school, Girish had a moment of awakening. All the stories that he had ever loved were written in the third person. Like a cameraman zooming in and out of the scene of a movie, as a third person he could reach places which were unfathomable otherwise. For Girish, it was like finding a way out from a cul-de-sac without needing to reverse his car. When Girish first found out that he could write, he wanted to write even better. So, he did what anyone in his place would do: he began taking writing lessons. His shelf was soon filled with all the books on writing one could find on the market, and his computer was filled with all the popular writing courses one could find on the internet. The more time Girish spent learning how to write, the more it dawned on him that there was so much he didn’t know. The more he looked at the road, the longer it began to look. And now, years had passed without Girish being able to furnish a readable short story. He might have given up on writing had it not been for what Kajal said that Sunday afternoon in the café.

            “I stopped using Grammarly for writing,” Kajal told him while sipping her popcorn caramel coffee. They are adding popcorn to the coffee, Girish murmured to himself, where is the world going while looking at his normal ginger-lemon tea. When he had told the waiter that he wanted a regular ginger-lemon tea, the waiter gave him a perplexed stare. “Sir, that’s a black tea,” he told Girish as politely as he could. One could not possibly add lemon to the milk without metamorphosizing the milk into the cheese, which Girish had known, but now he wasn’t so sure since he had seen a coffee with popcorn on the menu. So he told him what he loves telling everyone, “I’m lactose intolerant.” There was a certain pleasure he derived from the look on people’s faces when he told them as if they all were wanting him to tell the story of being lactose intolerant. There was nothing more satisfying than having eyes upon you who wants a good story, and so terrifying either.

            “Even before I finish my sentence, Grammarly be like—you know it’s good but it can be better, let me show you how you dumbass. Also, will you give me the number of the teacher who taught you English in high school, because here are seven mistakes you have made in the eight lines you have written in the last hour? God! For once I wanted to write without being told that I am not good enough, I have enough people in life to tell me that already,” Kajal ranted with her eyes so big Girish thought they might just pop out of the socket and fall into her popcorn coffee. Perfectionism was not letting them write, Girish told her. He thought about the times he had spent optimizing the structure of one sentence that he totally forgot what he was going to say in the next one. Words are like the river; how would the words flow if you’d keep placing check dams in between?

            “I rewrote the first two chapters of the novel that I had told you about last year in the third person, plainly on a Microsoft Word file without Grammarly poking its nose in my business. I’ll save it for the editing,” Kajal said gleefully. “On MS Word? You know there’s a software for novelists called Scrivener…,” Girish paused midway realizing better now that he had been going circles, that it was just another Grammarly, another way to be told that he wasn’t ready yet to write the story that resided somewhere within and around him. The curse of knowing so much is that you end up knowing that you can never know enough. And that is indeed a disturbing thought to live the rest of your life with. Is that the reason why they say ignorance is bliss and fools are always happy?

“There are two types of writers in this world: gardeners and plotters. I had been a gardener earlier, planting the seed of my story and seeing how it grows, but it didn’t work for me. I guess some people are not cut out to be a gardener. I wrote the plot this time before writing my novel, this helps me channel my imagination and acts as a guiding light — telling me where to go,” Kajal blurted as she finished her popcorn coffee. Girish didn’t know whether it was the lemon tea or the charm of the evening but he felt the heat from the gears of his brain fuming. In that moment, Girish just knew what had to be done. He asked Kajal, “Do you want to play a game of chess?” Amazed, Kajal replied, “But I just know the basics, I’m no good at it.” With his grin reaching his ears, Girish told her, “We don’t have to play a perfect game to call it an evening”. Perhaps he was right when he said that, all they had to do was play. Maps were slowing them down, and if all roads were going to be their home, they could safely throw the maps away.

the one in which Abu says “just write”

“I feel like the words are betraying me.”

“Or do you feel like you are betraying your words?”

I gasped.

“These eyes, these eyes, when they look at me, I feel as if they are taking away something I love. These eyes of expectations. They are like slithering blades over my throat. I lose my breathing, and I lose my words.”

“What are they expecting of you?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know. Sometimes I feel that want my everything. As if nothing I’ll do will ever be enough. How long can a man live knowing that he’ll never be enough?”

He sighed.

“Do you feel like running away?”

“All the time.”

“Then why don’t you run away?”

I paused.



“But what if I start missing these eyes?”

“What do you mean?”

“As long as I don’t write, I’ll never find out how bad I am. What if maybe I’m afraid of finding out how bad I am? I’m afraid of finding out that I cannot run faster or longer.”

“Then these eyes will keep watching you.”

“Why do we fall in love with the cage?”

“We don’t love the cage. We love the captor.”


“Because we believe that someday, the captor will see our love, and set us free. It’s our defence mechanism, it’s our survival instinct.”

“I just want this feeling to go away. This heaviness. It makes breathing impossible for me.”



“Just write.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You don’t have to. Just write.”

“Write what? Anything?”

“No. Write the story you want to tell.”

“Sometimes I feel as if I’m losing my voice. I wake up every morning and don’t know how it is night again. I don’t even know who I am anymore. How do I tell the story? One must know who they are before they tell the story.”

“One often finds out who they are when they tell the story. The kind of stories we tell define the kind of man we become. Some men live their whole life without telling stories. But we don’t talk much about those men once they are gone.”

“I want to be the kind of man people talk about when I’m gone.”

“What do you want them to talk about you?”

“The good things. I want them to remember me for my goodness, not greatness.”

“Then you have to tell good stories.”

“But what if I don’t have any good story to tell?”

“All stories are just, well how do I say it? Just stories. It’s the storyteller who makes them good.”

“And what if I’m not able to make them good?”

He paused.

“Then you’ll make them bad. But so what, a bad story is still better than no story.”

“Which story should I tell then?”

“The one that’s closest to your heart.”

“I feel like closing my eyes and drifting to sleep.”

“Dreams are where the best stories reside. Goodnight, Ali.”

“Goodnight, Abu.”

“Morning rosebud.”


“What did you dream last night?”

“Why do we start forgetting our dreams the moment we wake up?”

“So that every night when dreams visit us, we watch them fondly, as if we are watching them for the first time.”

“Are you telling me that I have been watching the same dream for years?”


“And you have been watching the same dream for years?”


“Is your dream the same as mine?”

“No. We all dream different dreams. They come to visit us at night when we sleep, and we spend morning to evening forgetting the dream. When the night finally comes and we drift to sleep, the dream can sweep inside our heads again just as virtuously as it came on our first night on this planet.”

“Is that why we think of the dream so fondly?”

“Yes. That’s what being a dream watcher means. People have spent their whole lives trying to catch their dreams in the middle of the day, madness I say. It doesn’t do good to dwell on the dreams, dreams which would eventually come back to you every night.”

“But what if my dream doesn’t come back?”

He laughed.

“They always do.”

“No. There have been nights when I don’t remember having a dream at all.”

“Remembering is a funny thing. Sometimes we forget about the dream even before we wake up. This dream that I’m talking about, lives within us, so in reality it never leaves us, just that we forget about under the sun.”

“Then how does this dream gets her Vitamin D?”


“I’m joking.”

We chuckled.

“The purpose of our lives is to realize that dream. The dream we see under the starry sky. Some people say that these dreams that we see are about death. And we forget about them in the day so that we can carry on living. But I disagree. I think these dreams are about life. When our first woman and man must have gained consciousness, these dreams would have given them a purpose to wake up in the morning.”

“Abu, but I wake up in the morning for the breakfast. What’s in the breakfast?”

“But you did not tell me about your dream?”

“I forgot.”

He kept his hand on my head.

“Come, I’ve made waffles.”

“You know what I am going to write about?”


“The Dream.”

“Do you have a story in mind?”

“Listen to me: once upon a time, in a place far away from the city lived Ali and his Abu. Ali wanted to become the greatest storyteller but the stories just wouldn’t come to him. One moonless night, when everything seemed to have failed Ali, he turned to his Abu. And Abu being his sweet Abu, heard his little Ali’s worries. The words seemed to have failed him, Ali had thought. But Abu had just two words for Ali, and those were ‘just write’. That night Ali fell asleep belonging to his Abu’s arms, that’s where he always belonged. When the morning shone, Abu told Ali about the dream we carry within us but forget under the sunshine. Abu told Ali that ‘the dream’ is the purpose of our lives. This dream that pays us a visit every night when we sleep is the reason why we wake up in the morning. And Ali had spent his entire life waking up for his Abu’s waffles. Maybe this was it, maybe Ali needn’t be the greatest storyteller when he could just be the greatest dream watcher. And since then, in a place away from the city lived a boy who spent his night dream watching, and his days writing about them.”

“And that is how he became the greatest storyteller that ever lived?”

“Stop teasing me, Abu.”

Abu hugged his little Ali, and then he whispered to his ears.

“It’s time for you to go to school.”

Things you see on the beach

Beach sand.

The Juhu Beach, Mumbai

A little girl in a withered floral dress is selling balloons. She’s got five of them—all of them are so different. A teenage love, the boy in black and the girl in green. Probably carrying some books in their bag as they walk on the sand. A family of three—wife with her husband holding the baby in his arms. People are playing volleyball on my left. And on my right, where the sea meets the sand for a moment soaking the beach with its presence but not completely engulfing, people are playing cricket. The little girl with balloons passes me again but at a distance this time. Barefoot. She rubs a balloon against the palm of her hand to make a screeching sound only a little girl with balloons can make. I lift my eyes from the notebook to the sea. She’s staring at me intensely as she walks. Maybe she’s trying to understand what I am doing on the beach with a pen and a notebook. I hope she has them too—a pen and a notebook.

A boy writes his name on the sand with a stick longer than him. Maybe tomorrow, waves will fade his name leaving behind an illegible blemish on the sand. But he doesn’t care—he’s happy now—unconcerned about what the time will do to his name. An old lady is sitting in a wheelchair. Another old lady sits beside her on the sand. They are looking at the sea, not speaking to each other. There’s silence between them, the kind of silence which speaks louder than the sound. Maybe they have known each other all their life. Are they family, friends, or strangers? I will never know. Two brothers are trying to build a sand castle as their dad sits on the sand looking at his phone next to them. He’s carrying a water bottle that reminds me that I need some water too.

Lamps on the beach have started to glow as the last rays of the sun remain in the sky. The orange hue at the horizon is disappearing. Soon it will be dark, but this city will not sleep—it never does. A little boy in my front is hopping like a frog, and every time he lands, he draws a heart on the sand with his little fingers. Happiness can manifest in peculiar ways when you are little. Some people are far away at the point where the waves are crashing, getting their feet wet in the salty waters. The sea begins where the beach ends. And the sky begins where the sea ends. And as I look up to see where the sky ends, an aeroplane passes over my head, and towards the sea it flies, and my gaze follows it till the end of the sky.

A couple in their fifties or sixties is looking towards the sea. The husband has kept his hand on the shoulders of the woman of his dreams. Whether they are good dreams or bad dreams, only they know. The wife rests her hand around his hip, claiming to the world that he’s mine. After all these years, she’s still possessive about him. They look at the phone the husband holds as they talk, laugh, and breathe in those moments. I look at my phone—two text messages and a missed call. I smile a little. The sand castle those brothers were making is beginning to look more like a volcano, or maybe just a giant heap of sand. But my eyes are searching for that little girl in her withered floral dress with balloons. How many balloons has she sold? I think she’s gone, hopefully to her home, where there’s a notebook and a pen.

There’s still some orange hue in the sky. I can see that, but it’s dark now, and night has fallen. I hear the sound of the bell, and there I see a man selling cotton candy on the beach. And before I know it, I’ve travelled two decades past. I see little me and my young father, with my hand in his hand, he’s buying me cotton candy on the beach. A raindrop falls on me, a tiny little raindrop, and I’m back to the present. An old man is walking with his young son. I wonder what they are talking about: father to son. Is he telling him the stories of the war? Are they talking about love? He is using the umbrella as a cane. You can never be sure when it will rain in Mumbai. This city has survived too many storms to be bothered by raindrops. A raindrop fell on my arm, I ignored it, and then another raindrop fell on my notebook, and I ignored both of them. I just sat there looking at the sea from that sandy beach as the warm winds flew over my face, listening to the sound of the waves. Raindrops began to fall on the beach, forming tiny craters on the sand, and I knew it was time to go to the hotel.

Wonderfully Weird Tale of The Invisible Girl

THE WEIRD GIRL CAME EARLY in March, one sunny day, in the garden that lay far away from her home. In the city in which the weird girl had lived almost all her life, weird things were starting to happen. From the outside, it was hard to tell what was different, but for those who had lived and lost in this city, everything was. The winds blew with more water in them than this arid city could ever provide. The sun was like a flaming pie and it was only March. But it wasn’t about the bad weather, if it would have been bad weather, this story would not have been told, and the weird girl wouldn’t have come.

She seemed to be waiting—for someone to come or something to happen. It was hard to tell for the other folks because she just walked around looking at everyone through her weirdly huge eyes. As if she was really seeing them. When she got tired of walking she sat on one of the unbroken green benches and took out her phone. It looked like a slim black-coloured brick. It wasn’t a good phone, I could tell for a fact because it didn’t have a half-eaten apple imprinted on the back. It was just an ordinary phone, she wanted to click pictures with it. Probably for that place where these humans put happy memories. Everyone’s just happy there all the time. There weren’t many people around where the weird girl was sitting. There was a pair under the palm tree: his head laying on her lap as she whispered something into her ears. She captured them on her phone. There were five kids playing with a flying disc, and one of the kids always seemed to miss that flying disc. She captured them too. There was an old man around the corner, stiff as an iron bar but trying hard to stretch. She captured him. She then turned on the front camera of her brick, I’m sorry, her phone, and saw herself. She looked into her own eyes and made weird faces, she pulled out her tongue and tucked in her lips. And then sometimes, she’ll just raise her eyebrows and try not to smile. And once she gave her widest grin. She seemed to be lost in her own world, a weird girl, in a weird city, at a weird time. Aren’t these human beings weird? I sighed.

My people think that humans don’t fear being seen. But in the last five years and sixty-three days on earth, I’ve learned that being seen is what humans fear the most. They are hiding but they are just not good at it. As if nobody taught them that there is more to being invisible than just wearing clothes. Their technology is outdated. Almost all of them still wear clothes. I’ve seen a few naked humans too, but I’ll not tell you about them. From where I come, gentlemen are not supposed to tell such things. And what’s weirder is that they have even forgotten that the reason they started wearing clothes was to hide, to not be seen by others, and to not be seen to themselves. Now they wear new clothes every day, hoping that the other humans would look at them and appreciate them. They are fine if you look at them, but the moment you start to see them, they run inside their cocoons. It might not look that way on the surface, but they are always hiding. They are trying hard to be invisible. That pair under the palm tree is using this garden to hide away from onlookers. And if you’d look just as closely as I’m looking, then you’ll see that they are also hiding their true self from one another. The kid who just got hit by that flying disc is smiling. He’s hurting, but to save himself from the embarrassment, he had put up a smile like a bandaid. And that stiff old man, he’s just trying to hide from death. The inevitable home of all humans. Humans are so afraid of being seen that they can live all their lives beneath a mask. They are walking projectors—just trying to project an image of themselves onto others, and each one of them wants their image to be brighter than the other. This is all very blinding, and weird.

The weird girl yawns and then looks up, she sees me standing there. She squits her eyes as if she had just woken up from a deep slumber. As if someone had taken her from a dark chamber to sunlight, and now her eyes are trying to adjust. “You made me wait forever”, she said. “It takes time to see beyond obvious, I was here since the beginning,” I told her, “and your city needs you to do just that—see beyond obvious.”

“So you mean to say”, she says, “that only I can see you in this garden?”

“Yes, that is exactly what I have been trying to explain to you for the last thirteen minutes.”

“And you are telling me that I’m invisible?” she asks me.

“No one can see you before sunrise.” as I tell her, I can see her weird face becoming weird, her eyes grow bigger and bigger, and I wonder if they might just fall out of the socket? “Listen to me, being invisible is not easy, there are three or maybe four things I want you to know. First, you are invisible, that doesn’t mean you are intangible. People might run into you and discover you, or worse they might drop something heavy on you because they can’t see you. Protect yourself. Second, you are invisible, that doesn’t mean you are inaudible. People can still hear you. They can feel your breaths. Walk slowly on the creaky floors. Third, you are invisible, that doesn’t mean that you can escape motion sensors. There will be a lot of motion sensors in Krayton Hill, be cautious.

A Conversation with Kurt Vonnegut

Let me tell you something about life which Kurt Vonnegut told me many springs ago. I met him in a bar, and how did I found myself in a bar is a story for another day, but trust me I was sober all night. Kurt was standing at a corner with a glass of champagne in one hand, and a cigarette which he wanted to place between his teeth in another. It was one of the coldest nights of Phalodi, and how did Kurt found himself in Phalodi is a story for another day, but trust me that old man was anything but sober all night. He was probably in his eighties, he had curly grey hairs and wore reading glasses over his moustache. When I saw him, I knew it was an unusual setting for a man like that, unusual things had always been my fancy.

‘May I’, I said as I moved my lighter towards him to help him light his cigarette. He didn’t say anything. He looked at me for a second and then submitted to my help. I stood there, not trying to see him into his eyes, wondering what should my first words be? I always had this weird obsession with first words. How should a gentleman greet another gentleman? And just when I thought I had something of the worth to say, he told me, ‘Where is your cigarette young man?’.

‘Some of us only have within them what it takes to ignite, and not what it takes to burn. Is it necessary for a young man to smoke who walks with a lighter in his coat?’ I smirked as I spoke. And this time Kurt smiled at me, and he said, ‘I like you, young man. I like you.’

I knew it was going to be one of those nights which I’ll remember every morning thereafter in my life. I just knew, there was something about this unusual old man. He told me, ‘I assume you don’t drink either?’ and I said, ‘Yes sir, I was born a teetotaler.’ He growled and said, ‘You don’t smoke, you don’t drink, what is then the purpose of your life?’ And I kept starring at him unable to hold my cognition. I thought he must have been kidding me. He took a sip from his glass and while looking at his glass he said, ‘Two yeast sat discussing the possible purpose of life as they ate sugar and suffocated in their own excrement.’ After a pause, he said, ‘Because of their limited intelligence they never came close to guessing that they were making champagne. Aren’t we like that two yeast?’, he asked me. I looked at him how you look at a professor who has finally made you understand what you had struggled all your life to get inside your head. ‘I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different’, he told me that night, the night I never forgot.

For that moment my robin felt that he had found his batman. So I asked him, ‘So who are we? and what are we doing here?’. That’s the thing with old men, they just want somebody who’d listen to them. Kurt placed his hand on my shoulder as he said, ‘We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.’ We both laughed so hard that everyone in the bar started looking at us. I guess they were all just jealous of seeing me bond with this old eccentric man.

‘A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.’, Kurt spoke as he took a drag on his last cigarette of the night and then crushed the butt beneath his heel. I asked him, ‘So who do you think is controlling us?’. He laughed, and laughed, and laughed, and then it got hard for him to breathe, he started coughing. I fetched him a glass of water. There were tears in his eyes from laughter, he asked me to come close, and then he whispered into my ears, ‘True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.’ I was taken aback, and I couldn’t help but laugh at that moment. He stopped laughing all at once, and said to me, ‘I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”’. And then my mother woke me up from my dream, and I said to her, ‘if this is not nice, then what is?’.

All this happened, more or less.

The sun and the moon

The sun is the brightest thing in the entire universe. I know there are stars that shine brighter than the sun, but from where we are, the sun — our sun, is the brightest star. It’s the source of life on our planet, it has been shining for life from eternities and would continue to do so till eternities, and yet it is loveliest on only three occasions. First, when the sun arrives at dawn. Second, when the sun departs at the dusk. And third, when the sun is covered with clouds. It’s only on these three occasions when you can truly enjoy its company. For the rest of the time, you are fine looking for some shade. The brightest thing in the entire universe, the source of the gift of life, is also the loneliest thing in the entire universe except on these three occasions. Some people are like that, they burn too much for their own good.

The moon on the other hand is not a very bright thing. Unlike the spotless sun, the moon is full of scars. You don’t take a note of the time when the moon arrives, and it has a habit of disappearing in the depths of the night sky. Sometimes I think the moon is deceptive. Every time you see it, it’s a little different from the last time you saw it. The shine it carries is not even its own, it merely reflects what it receives from the sun. And the moon even has a dark side that it never talks about. And yet, someone can spend the whole night in the company of this imperfect moon, fathoming the beauty, reminiscing what could have been, and dreaming what is going to be. Some people are like that, on some nights they can make their presence felt through their absence. And when they are not there, it’s not that the universe is suddenly gloomy, they leave you with a sky full of stars to cherish.

If we shall ever meet

If we shall ever meet, then I want us to meet each other on our worst possible day. You know those days when the words you say don’t make any sense. Those days when you find it hard to be yourself, or days when you are brutally honestly vulnerably yourself.

If we shall ever meet, then I want us to meet each other with hair unkempt, nails uncut, teeth unbrushed, dark circles under the eyes, and pimples on the face. Those days when you look into the mirror and can’t fathom to like being in your own skin.

If we shall ever meet, then I want us to meet each other on the day when we don’t need each other’s company but a book and a coffee. Those days when it is rainy outside, and your coffee is getting cold, but you are lost somewhere in your book.

Because with every passing day after the day we finally meet, we are going to learn that maybe both of us are not as bad as we found each other to be on the first day we met. Because with every passing day after the day we finally meet, we will get to know each other a little more, our love for each other will only grow.

How rare is that to meet them one day when you are not exactly ready to meet them, and then look at that same person after thirty-six years and whisper, you look prettier than the day we met. And they whisper, your words are making sense now. How rare is that to fall in love and feel more grateful about the love as the days pass by?



A Cage Without Bars

— Riku —

She kept crying, don’t let me go, don’t let me go, don’t let me — and then she let her go. Riku closed her eyes tight and gritted her teeth. Unfold the wings and let the winds take you where they want to, Riku. Her mother smiled as she embraced her daughter for her first flight. Her mother had an unwavering faith in the winds. She loved the freedom that the winds gave her. The only thing that she loved more than her freedom was Riku. When Riku opened her eyes, she gasped. She could fly.

Perhaps, it takes courage to let your children go. Perhaps, it is the fleeting nature of happiness. Riku could never understand. A bird-catcher had been following them for months now. She knew someday that bird-catcher will catch hold of Riku. Please, my daughter — she is young, she has not seen the world, she has not fallen in love with the winds, let her go, I’ll come with you.

On that night, she traded her freedom for Riku with the bird-catcher. The next morning, when Riku was flying for the first time, the bird-catcher was waiting to cage her mother. Perhaps, it takes courage to give away your freedom for your children. She just smiled. Every time Riku unfolded her wings, she remembered that her mother sacrificed her freedom so that she could have hers. Riku’s mother wanted her to see the world. She wanted her to see the beauty in everything, and she wanted her to see everything in beauty.

Riku closed her eyes tight and gritted her teeth. From the cracks somewhere, a tear rolled down. It fell on the page of the book a boy was reading, sitting on the bench. When she opened her eyes, she saw the most beautiful garden she has ever seen.

— Charlie —

He sat there on the bench in his garden with a book. What else does one need to be happy? He got birds, books, flowers, and the moon in his garden. A garden that smelt of hyacinths, and of his sweat. His father always used to say, life begins when you start to garden. Maybe that is why he planted a hyacinth when his father died. His father said a lot of good things, and he had learned everything in his life just from listening to his father.

People garden for all kinds of reasons: to give without having, to love the growing, to please the soul, but most importantly, people garden because they believe in beautiful tomorrow. There’s not much a garden needs from us, but one thing. Do you know what that one thing is, Charlie? Charlie smiled and shook his head. He knows the answer, but he wants to listen to his father say it all anyway.

Love. You have to love your garden, Charlie. You have to nurture the flowers and take care of weeds. Garden is not made by sitting in shade. Garden is made by sweating under the sun. And that is why his garden smelt of hyacinths, and of his sweat. Charlie always listened to what his father had to say. Tell me, Charlie, how is a gardener different from an emperor? An emperor wants to conquer what he can see. A gardener wants to make tomorrow beautiful. A gardener dreams bigger dreams than an emperor. Remember my son. And Charlie always remembered that there was no greater joy in life than to be a gardener.

Charlie has never seen the world outside his garden. He never felt the need. His days would start before dawn. He would sweat all day nurturing his flowers and digging out the weed. Weed is the biggest enemy of the garden, Charlie. You must dig out the weed every day, or the flowers will die. And at dusk, he would sit on the bench in his garden, reading the book, and feeding the birds. The only thing more beautiful than a garden was a garden with birds.

— Garden —

It was a fine evening when Riku came into Charlie’s life like a cool wind on a warm night and sat beside him on the bench.

What are you reading?”

“Flowers in the Attic,” said Charlie.

“What is it about?”

“It’s about a mother who cages her lovely children in an unused attic for years because a fortune was at stake.”

That is terribly unfortunate.” sighs Riku. “My mother used to say let the winds take you where they want to, Riku.”

“And where have they taken you?” said Charlie.

“To your garden…your garden is beautiful. It’s the most beautiful place I have ever been to.”

“I’m so glad you are here,” said Charlie.

That was also the most beautiful place Charlie has ever been to, the bench in his garden with Riku sitting beside him.

There was something about Riku. It wasn’t her ruby neck or pointy beak. It wasn’t her voice, although her voice was beautiful—and warm—and it made you feel hugged. Maybe it was the fact that she truly and genuinely wanted to listen to what Charlie had to say about his books and his garden. Maybe it was the fact that she was always so cheerful and full of life. She would sit beside Charlie on the bench every evening, and every evening Charlie would feel as if he was at the most beautiful place he has ever been to. It is uncanny how that same bench, that same book, that same evening, which Charlie had to himself for years, looks so different, so colourful now. As if Riku had filled a void in Charlie’s heart that never existed before. What else does one need to be happy?

— Winds —

Charlie loved Riku so much that there was no place inside his heart to love anything else. He couldn’t love his garden anymore. Now his days weren’t spent nurturing the flowers and digging the weed. They were spent thinking about Riku. Now his evenings weren’t spent reading the books. They were spent waiting for Riku. They were spent talking with Riku. There was so much that he always wanted to tell her. There was so much he always wanted to listen from her. In his garden, weed was growing like wildfire, and flowers — flowers were dying like it was the plague. His garden doesn’t smell of hyacinths anymore. His garden just smells of Riku. And Riku could see that his garden wasn’t the most beautiful place anymore. She could see that the Charlie as she knew him, the Charlie who loved his garden, the Charlie who loved his books, was lost somewhere, nowhere to be found.

But this is just the poetic way to say that Charlie loved too much. To love too much is to put your lover in a cage without bars. To love too much is to not love yourself enough. To love too much is an act of selfishness. Loving someone is to trust someone to be vulnerable enough to share your deepest fears, knowing that you will always be protected from those fears. Charlie knew that Riku feared cages. Charlie knew that because Riku loved Charlie, to be vulnerable enough to share her deepest fears. Because that’s what love is, giving someone your deepest fears and trusting that they’ll never scare you with them. So when Riku told Charlie that she wants to explore the world, that she wants to see all the beautiful places in the world, that how sometimes she feels that his garden has become a cage without bars, Charlie didn’t say anything.

You cannot love a flower and a bird just the same. A flower can stay rooted forever in one place. A bird has to unfold the wings. But what was Charlie’s fault? His father taught him to love things with roots. And what was Riku’s fault? Her mother taught her to love the winds.

Dawn was lining the horizon, but there was darkness all around Charlie. A cool wind was blowing, but Charlie was panting. There was weed all around. Riku was gone, maybe forever, maybe she’ll come back someday, we don’t know. All the flowers in his garden were dead, but there was a newly planted hyacinth near the bench. Charlie started to dig the weed around that hyacinth. He closed his eyes tight and gritted his teeth. From the cracks somewhere, a tear rolled down. It fell on the note Riku had left him before leaving:

Life begins when you start to garden. Life begins when you start to love yourself. But Charlie, remember, life begins. I’ll come back and tell you about the beautiful places winds are taking me to, but don’t wait for me. I want you to see beauty in everything, and I want you to see everything in beauty. Charlie, please, don’t stop loving your garden for me. Because life begins, and so must you. Your heart’s big enough to love everything you can see Charlie. And your father was right when he said, gardener dreams bigger dreams than an emperor. Because only a gardener can love a flower without plucking it. Because only a gardener can love a bird without caging it. Tomorrow will be beautiful. Take good care.

A boy named Azure

The winter sun is rising, morning, awakens Azure to another indifferent day. Mrs Parks, your child will not be able to feel emotions, the doctor had said when Azure was six years old. But Mrs Parks heard it as your child will be an idiot. And so it was, Azure—the idiot boy, who could not be understood, who could not understand either.

It used to make Mrs Parks sad, now it just makes her angry. Azure never minds; he cannot understand what her mother is feeling and why? He shrugs the dust on his bag, polishes his boots, and starts to move towards the school. Nobody knows what Azure did on the weekend at home, nobody wants to know about it either.

There is a pale and aimless river that flows towards the south, Azure walks on the road, but his eyes are always on that untamed river. He does not know how to swim, but he is not afraid of the waters either. All the children are walking around him in groups, with their polished boots and shiny bags, Azure just walks alone.

A dog is lying on the river bed, hardly moving, overlooked by all the children who are chirruping and singing like little birds, on the way to school. Azure stops all at once, and then in pieces, like how the ball hits the ground. He goes towards the dog on the river bed, brushes his hands gently on the dog’s head, and says: how are you, pup? Is it hurting? The dog has broken his lower limb.

They say Azure can’t feel maybe they are right when they say that, maybe Azure is just an idiot. He takes out the biscuit from his bag and gives it to the pup. The pup eats the biscuit. Azure watches him, but he doesn’t know how to feel. But unlike those who can feel, he knows what to do. He holds the pup in his arms, like a mother who holds her baby, tenderly. He is going to take him to the vet. He is going to miss school today. His teacher is going to complain to Mrs Parks. She is going to be angry, she’d cry,  why can’t you be like normal kids? But that’s alright, Azure won’t feel anything. Nobody will know what happened today, nobody wants to know what happened today either.

Painting the Picture

He is always telling her draw, draw, draw. She is always telling him write, write, write. They seldom listen to each other’s advice, but they always listen to each other nonetheless, every night. And every night they paint the picture of their day for the other. Her words are like brushstrokes, detailed and always colourful. His words are like words, verbose and always philosophical. His palette has only two colours, light and dark. Her palette is like a box of crayons, with fifty bright shades. You don’t have to agree with me all the time, she frowns. He agrees. That’s just how two friends make the other one feel belonged in their ordinary life.

Once she asked him, why do people cry when they are abundantly happy? He has only cried twice in his life, and it wasn’t because he was happy. He thinks for a while and then says because happiness is like a balloon. What do you mean? It’s like an inflated balloon that pushes the tears out by filling all the corners of the soul. There is no space left behind for sadness, so people cry tears of joy. But what if someone pricks that balloon, she asks. He winks at her and says, I’ll give you another balloon. She shrugs.

Sometimes I really think that you speak in circles, she said. Sometimes I don’t know what to say but I want to say something to you anyway, he sighs. C-I-R-C-L-E-S again, she exclaimed and laughed. Tell me why do circles always remind me of you? She asked, being witty. I don’t know. Does it have something to do with the pi? I am feeling hungry. She laughs again, and he thinks, but I wasn’t joking. She says because circles are round, just like you. He makes the poker face in his defence. And then she gives him the brownie that she saved for him since morning. It’s like a brick; he says. I’ll kill you; she says. That’s just how their conversations are, it’s hard to get hold of the head and the feet, but it makes sense to both of them, somehow.

There is so much they still want to talk about. The picture is only half complete. Her brushstrokes still need finishing. His philosophy still needs explaining. The colours in his palette have mixed and he is able to see new colours which he couldn’t imagine before. The colours in her palette feel brighter, but they need rest now. So, she asks him, in the politest way possible. I’m feeling sleepy. Can I sleep? As if she is not asking permission to sleep but forgiveness for leaving him with the incomplete picture. It’s not fair. It’s so early. I also had some questions to ask. But he holds himself from saying that. Good night he says, sweet dreams and take care. Good night she says, imagine pleasant nonsense. They both know they’ll be back tomorrow, to paint again that incomplete picture. She’ll come back with new brush strokes and brighter colours. He’ll come back with new words and different stories. Both of them trying to make each other feel belong. Just two friends painting one picture that will forever be incomplete. As they sleep tonight, both of them will still hope, maybe he writes tomorrow, maybe she draws tomorrow.