Some events in life etch themselves in your heart with such depth and vigour that recalling them feels like drowning oneself in a Murakami novel. Surreal yet lonesome.
The day did not begin with any inch or kilo or second of surreality. In fact, it began with me picking up the Axe body spray. “Very very hot, very very sexy,” the advertisement on the TV proclaimed, whenever grandmother was watching the 7 PM Kantipur samachar. This was before I had an economics degree from the University of Karnataka and therefore all calculations about demand and supply were absent from my brain. Now, I could not think of anything other than how much sales my company made in a day because if I didn’t, who would put food on the family table?
Anyway, I am getting way ahead of myself. I took the can and pressed the top for twice the amount of time than I normally would have pressed. Psssssssss. I made sure that it covered all of my nonexistent abs, underarms, shoulder blades, and my neck. I walked upto the mirror and looked at myself. I had a decent sized beard – not too pedophilic nor too jogi-like – but I realized I needed to shave because there was an empty patch of skin below my chin. It was not that bad, honestly, but the occasion called for perfection of all forms, for I was going on a date. That too, for the first time.
As I was closing the main gate to leave the house, aama shouted from the second-floor window, “Kata jaana laako? Where are you going?”
I sighed and replied, “Saathiko maa. To my friend’s place.”
“Lafango bhaisakyo. He has become a vagabond,” I could hear her murmur to herself. What could one be in this dull city other than a vagabond?
I pulled out my generic made-in-china white earphones and plugged it into my phone. I scrolled down the list of Eminem’s albums that I had illegally downloaded from you-know-where. It took a few seconds for me to realize that I did not feel like choosing any of his music because I was going on a date. I pressed the back button and clicked on ‘Jack Johnson’. Maybe Yugal Gurung would be a good choice too but Jack Johnson worked too.
Humming along Banana Pancakes, I started walking. I was still in high-school so I did not have a motorcycle. I had to walk for twenty-minutes to the bus stop after crossing the chocolaty brown Dhobikhola river. There I had to catch a safa tempo and then ride to Pulchowk for, depending on the traffic jam, twenty minutes to one hour. They were renovating the Thapathali bridge that was located on the route, and because I knew this fact as a Kathmandu-based chief vagabond officer, I had managed to leave my house an hour earlier. Who wants to be late on the first date? That too with a person like Anshika.
It was like in the American movies – shouting shotgun to be able to sit besides the driver. Every time a tempo that was going to Lagankhel arrived with an empty front seat I wanted to shout, not shout but yell ‘shotgun’. My long legs would be saved from the misery of being trampled upon on the back area of the tempo. I kept my joy to myself. I would have actually shouted in utmost euphoria if it weren’t for my fear of hearing old uncles around me talk about me with themselves, “Ko ho yo, paagal bhayechha. This kid has gone mad.”
So I climbed in and sat down. I tried to close the door but the locking mechanism of each tempo was always different. I looked at dai and he asked me, “Pachadi sarnus. Lean backwards, please.” I did as he asked. His upper body swooped in front of me, pulled in the metal door with an inexplicable amount of force, and swiftly pushed the steel lock into place merely by using his thumb.
The tempo started moving. Nepal Yatayats were cruising by to our right at four times our speed. How did I know how fast they were? Everyone knows.
Jack Johnson’s album had finished. I had not realized that my silence was blaring from my earphones until a baby started crying in the back. “Chup. Shut up,” the baby’s mother was shouting. Child abuse? Negligence? Narcissism? Who knows. Who was I to mind their business? I opened my phone and started going over the list of pirated albums. Maybe Sagar Shah would be a good artist to listen to. I stuck by my decision and put my phone inside my pocket.
I reached Pulchowk, my final stop, in twenty-minutes. There was no traffic jam. I paid my twenty-rupee fare to dai and hopped out. I handed him the impossible-to-lock door and he used his expertise to possibly-lock-the-door in a matter of less than two seconds.
I walked to the zebra crossing and crossed the street. At the other side of the road, there was a bicycle repair shop that had made the entire red-brick-paved walking lane black. “Maybe that’s his own art,” I thought to myself and kept on walking.
I reached the coffee shop, our first stop for the day, and ordered a milk coffee. I had to wait for forty minutes. What can one do in forty minutes? I tried looking at the trees around me for a few minutes but it bored me within seconds. I was not interested in biology or botany or whatever they call people who are interested in trees. I had to complete reading a book for my literature class and so I pulled up Charles Bukowski’s Post Office and started reading from the 21% mark where I had stopped reading the previous day.
What a bizarre book it was. I had heard a lot about Bukowski but had never managed the time or energy to read his books. Finding his books was difficult in Kathmandu’s bookstores and if one cannot find a book in Kathmandu, they cannot find it anywhere in Nepal. The book was about a working-class mailman and the language used in the novel was, for the lack of words, sexually grotesque. The more I read the more ambiguous I felt about Bukowski. Did I like him or did I hate him?
After a while, I looked at my watch. It had been fifty minutes past my time of arrival at the coffee shop. Ting. A notification appeared on my phone. It was her.
“Sorry, I can’t come today. Something came up. Next time?”
Why? I wanted to ask. But what does one do on the first date? I replied, “No worries, we’ll figure something out for next time.”
I put my phone back into my pocket and kept staring at the trees. How come bamboo grew in the middle of Kathmandu? What was the metaphor there? I stood up and left, pondering upon the unexplained literary device.