Choose a setting, they said.

But how could I imagine when I already knew?

Here, the onset of summer stretches time into a thinly spread hammock where we idly rock, as the minutes dart away unnoticed, like the grains of sand in an hourglass.

Winter brings some clarity, and tears away the fog of haziness.

Leaves crunch and trees fall. The wind brings tidings to the entire city, as a dusty maroon coats the horizon. I open my balcony door expecting to be greeted by a rush of cool air, but instead the raw tang of smoke finds me.

The news stations are ablaze with reports of the bushfires, but it just surrounds me like white noise. I breathe in the smoky air in frantic gulps until I cannot take in any more, and cringe at how the slightest associations bring back memories, and a palpable feeling of loss.

“Shut the window!”

All I wanted was a glimpse of dusty air. I wanted to escape this air-conditioned taxi, this precarious shell of privilege which separated me from the streets of Calcutta outside.

The window was sealed. We were bathed in pure, unadulterated silence.

He knocked on my window, gritty, matted hair cloaked in saffron from the evening streetlights.

I glanced at him, and prepared to summon the face I kept for situations like this. A face as cool as glass, a face to thwart the ting and clinking of wine glasses. Immutable and unchangeable.

It was like a slow motion film. The mouth deepened into hollows. The lips enunciated “Didi.”

Yet let us not forget, this film was a throwback to the anecdotal reminisces of Charlie Chaplin, when actions spoke louder than words; the crux of the silent film era.

The silent film was cut short as I dared to open the window.

My hand was slapped as I gave a pithy sum to the boy. “Don’t touch him!” A face filled with disgust to my right.

I crawled back behind my shell of indifference and stared straight ahead. Yet he refused to follow the pattern of other beggars before him who just moved on, their eyes flat and vacant.

There may have been a time when they had started off with bright eyes, an anticipation of the goodness of humanity, which had been eroded slowly by hateful glares, and a gradual degradation of spirit which had now reduced them to beings, whose only duty was to maintain their own existence.

Instead he stood there, eyes filled with tears, and a strangled cry emanated from his throat which sounded like it had been drawn from a well of despair.

It was this final act of helplessness that broke me. The act in which lay an unanswered question – “Am I human enough for you to help me?”

“We are taking him home!” I announced, at the end of reason.

Chuckles, and sneers at my naivety resounded through the car. The car drove on, like a bullet incapable of any deviation.

I stared through the rear window at a figure which became smaller, until it was just one of the many beggars in the city, an entity whose existence was only acknowleged when it came to collating statistics.

They say, “Awareness makes one wise.” Yet awareness broke my spirit.


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