Because If Nothing Matters – by Jigar Brahmbhatt

by TBLM

It didn’t occur to me till much later that Joe had stopped coming to the library. I used to go to the British Council library regularly, and had chatted with him a couple of times. Now I had often met curious people before but he was the most eccentric among the lot. The kind that spend whole afternoons amidst stacks not because they like being surrounded by books, but because they have nowhere else to go. He used to sit on the left side of the entrance, on a comfy couch that’d provide good support to his back, usually reading some philosophy book, mostly In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell. He was always reading that book. He often whined about his back problem. Sometimes, he used to tell me to be careful and take good care of my health coz “when your back starts troubling you it is a sign that you are done with”. Yes, I know. Even I couldn’t relate with much of what he said.

Unmarried, and in his forties, he was mostly on his own. I had never seen him converse with people in the library other than a selected few and only rarely he’d allow a smile to sprout on his face. He had the demeanor of a very serious person. The first impression you could have of him was that he was a quiet man. But once you’d spoken with him, it was possible that you would find him… well, world-weary. Conversations with him often strayed into grim zones. At least, that’s what happened when we used to talk. He was the kind of person before whom one would rather not show their sentimental side. If not anything, he was blunt. Two plus two are four and he won’t beat around the bush to acknowledge that. Well read, able to quote from Vedanta or the Upanishads easily despite being a Christian, he had total disregard for anything remotely associated with the usual social values. He once told me that ‘family is the biggest burden known to man.’

I was reading a lot of bleak novels then and in my mind I thought of him as one of those strange, nihilistic character that populate such books. During a casual conversation on one of my bad days, when I was feeling a little low, he suddenly charged at me by way of giving an example to his argument, ‘Suppose you mother dies….’ And those words, spoken with an immediate power, on a dull and depressing evening, stunned me. I was speechless, shocked, and for a moment confused, a low beep resounding in my ears . He kept on and I couldn’t comprehend what he was speaking. It was like my head had become a block of impenetrable rock. I could make out a word here and there though. And I so much wanted him to stop. I wanted to just find a bucket and pore out all the words that had gone inside my head. ‘Strange cat’ I heard him refereeing to the buddha. I don’t know what he was trying to prove by having the death of my mother and Buddhism in the same argument, but he was always handy in throwing references, and was always ready with offbeat theories. That’s how we passed time actually, by exchanging obscure ideas. But I couldn’t continue then. I had to finally excuse myself because he seemed like he would just go on and on and on.

Maybe these traits collectively formed an intimidating image of him in my head. He was a marketing consultant by the way, a sort of small-scale entrepreneur, and quite suave in his own regard. There wasn’t a day he was not in formals. He used to keep his face clean-shaven, and wore specs that gave him an elitist look. His hair used to be well combed – always. Now, well-combed means well-combed. You don’t have to explain further. But I must add that his hair used to be so finely groomed, with not a single hair out of place, forming a beautiful, firm pattern of toothed chunks that a sight of it never failed to please me. No one who takes so good care to keep his hair in place can be so daunting. Yet my brief encounter with him made me think otherwise. I cannot really say that he was a friend, but when news came that he was missing since last one month, I found myself a bit concerned.

One Saturday afternoon, when I was browsing through the books, a guy from the library staff came to me and inquired whether I had seen Joe. He must have seen us chatting sometime and had thought I was an acquaintance. I said I hadn’t. He nodded, turned back hesitatingly, and let me be. Startled, my line of vision followed him, and he approached a woman who stood at the reception. He explained something to her and pointed towards where I was standing. The woman, draped in a rich sari, glanced at me for a while and started leaving. Then quickly, as if forgetting something urgent, she turned back and made her way towards me. I replaced the book I was holding onto the shelf and prepared myself to face her.

‘Hello, my name is Swathi. Can I take a minute? It’s about Joe. The guy from the reception said you know him.’

‘I do. What about him?’

“He has disappeared,” she said in a forthright manner, which took me a while to digest. She had murky, controlled eyes, almost solemnly penetrating. She was thin, had a sort of watchfulness about her, and seemed a little high-brow to me. Joe had mentioned that he had a couple of drinking partners – a ‘weird bunch’ – people who discuss such curious matters as the relation between particle physics and the dance of Shiva surrounded by the smell of cognac. He may have exaggerated. When a little less guarded than usual, which generally was the case when I was around, he enjoyed portraying himself as a sort of outsider and seemed happy with the fact that only a few understood or accepted him. But I was not one to look down my nose at such oddities. Strangely, I could relate to Joe’s need to glamorize his idiosyncrasies, which is to say that there may never have been any ‘weird bunch’ at all. So the sight of that woman reminded me of his drinking partners or the lack of them. It was then I realized that I hadn’t seen Joe in a while. But you don’t really notice the absence of such people. One day they are there, complaining about the world from their lazy little corner and the next thing you know is that they are gone – vanished without a trace, as if they never existed.

We went to the library café so as to talk freely and she told me that it was almost a month since she had last met him. Few days back, she tried to reach him on his cell, but his phone rang out. She tried after some hours, but the result was the same. She kept trying for two days but his phone was never answered. She got worried, naturally. Now she didn’t tell me how she was related to Joe. But I assumed that she must have been a business acquaintance. If she was not, it would have been interesting to know who she actually was. Because unconsciously I wanted to believe that Joe was not all indifferent and cold. That he also had a woman in his life. That he also required being tamed. I can go so far as to say that she appeared the kind of a woman who could keep Joe sane all through, just with those watchful eyes of hers. Later, Swathi continued, she went to his flat which was situated at Alwarpet in a nice locality, neighbored by well-off people. The door was locked but she had a spare key. The fact that Joe had given her a key to his flat made me all the more curious to know how they were connected, but I didn’t meddle and listened to what she had to say.

There was no apparent hint in Joe’s flat that could indicate he was missing. The main hall was tidy, and the sofa where he generally slept was unmade. The kitchen light was on, the pan had decaying scrambled eggs in it, and there were two brown breads in the toaster. It looked as if he had prepared his breakfast, decided to go for a jog, and could return back any moment now. But since the scrambled eggs in the pan had gone rotten and smelt like a dead animal, she concluded that he had not returned to his flat since the day he prepared that breakfast. She checked all the possible places where he could have had a temporary boarding. Checked with a few friends and business acquaintances, but none of them knew where he was. There was a distant aunt in the name of relatives and an inquiry with her also resulted in nothing. It was possible that he had shifted to a lodge or some motel, but there was absolutely no reason for him to do so. Keeping that possibility in mind, she decided to check whether he was seen in the library at all, a place where most of his afternoons were spent.

“His mother died last year,” she said. “And he has been a little out of sorts since then.”

“I know that. He didn’t tell me directly, but I could make out that much. He used to stay with her, right?”

“She had asthma. He took care of her.”

The mention of his mother somehow reminded me of my first meeting with him. I was in the cafeteria that day and was reading some book, I don’t remember which. He was sitting at the next table, doing something. Our glances had met a couple of times and out of courtesy I had smiled at him.

‘Say, that green tea working for you?’ he had casually asked.

‘As in?’

‘Are you hypertensive?’

‘Not really.’

‘Then why are you sipping green tea?’

’Just coz… I don’t know, shouldn’t I be?’

‘You think it’s healthy, don’t you? Otherwise there’s no reason one can swallow that god-awful drink.’

‘Well, it is considered healthy.’

‘I will let you in a secret. It doesn’t work. I am bloody hypertensive. I drink this shit three times a day. It fucking reduces nothing.’

Hell of a way to introduce yourself! He was always a little aggressive – if that’s the correct word. Come to him unprepared and he had an ability to catch you off guard. But from that clumsy, first meeting onwards I could also sense a sort of sadness about him. I don’t know why. Later it befell me to recall that first memory through the lens of his mother’s absence. It didn’t help much either.

’Have you gone to the police?’ I asked.

‘I have done that. But they can’t really help until there’s some evidence of crime. They did some routine inspections to please me but could come up with nothing.’

‘But they are still looking?’

‘They are, but not with the kind of intent I am.’

‘That is true.’

‘If Joe is out there somewhere by his own will, then it’s none of my concern. But I fear, you know, things are bad now and they can only get worse the next moment. I hope he has not lost his memory. I mean, there’s a possibility of amnesia…’

‘No need to think that far.’

‘I am saying it as a possibility. And if that is the case, god knows how and where he is right now.’

‘Don’t you worry much, he’ll be alright,’ I said and hated myself for saying something so cliched and banal. Had I simply heard about Joe’s absence from someone else the effect could have been lesser than what I actually felt in her presence. She seemed to be holding some anger inside her, the kind that could only be sensed in her measured manner of talking. She didn’t stagger, but seemed very close to. I wanted her to calm down but didn’t know what more to say and before I could come up with anything, she stood up and asked, ‘If you ever happen to see him, would you please be so kind as to let me know?’

‘Sure.’

She gave me her contact details and left. I don’t remember what I did next. I must have gone to grab a bite at the nearby Spenser’s mall or had gone to watch a movie at Satyam cinemas. All I mean is that Joe’s disappearance had piqued my curiosity for a while but as soon as she left I went back to my humdrum routine. There was nothing I could do after all. But I couldn’t help imagine Joe roam around in utter helplessness, trying to figure out who he was – if amnesia was a possibility, that is. I don’t even know his full name. You can call me Joe, he had said. And so it was.

That night sleep came very late to me, after I had tried my head over the pillow, under it, and even sideways. Not that I was anxious or unsettled or anything. For most part I just lay on my bed, Thomas Newman’s Dead Already playing repeatedly on my laptop and my thoughts occupied by Joe. Somehow Newman’s music suited my mood. It only helped make Joe spectral. It made me think of Joe as a conjurer who had played his last trick, and was demanding applause from some invisible unknown spot where no human could reach. The reverberations of his actions from that distant spot reached me. By some spooky force I felt connected with him. It scared and amused me at once. Try as I might, I couldn’t stop thinking about him.

Rummaging through the images running in my head I halted at the one where Joe explained to me that he owned a beautiful leather-bound copy of Ars Magna. I didn’t know much about it, but was really fascinated by the renaissance occult and esoteric sciences, and by a thought of holding a rare manuscript in my hand, so I had asked whether he’d lend me the copy for a couple of days. He had frowned, saying ‘Boy, you’re really up to something, aren’t you?’

Followed by a pause, a brief pause made longer by its recollection, he ended up quoting Saul Bellow: ‘People can lose their lives in libraries. They ought to be warned.’

Somewhere in the same scene, sitting opposite Joe, I also saw Debraj, his face unclear as seen through a mirage. ‘Now this guy… he writes about crowds… all kinds of crowds…’ The tch sound his mouth made with every word gradually kept getting louder. There was no rush. The process took its own sweet time until it reached a point where nothing he spoke was comprehensible save the sound of tch, like a single, precisely measured drop of water falling periodically in a closed chamber.

That’s when sleep found me.

*

My folks lived in a farawar city and I had almost no friends in Chennai. I was doing an absurd less-paying support job (which is a better sounding term for data entry) in a mediocre software firm just because I could get a lot of free time on my own. My job required little or no thinking at all and that’s what I was really looking for. My weekends were mostly spent roaming around the city on its maze-like streets and inside the malls. I used to read a lot, which more or less kept me going. I had no particular ambition. In a way I just dangled. So it had become second nature for me to be at the library in my free time.

Joe’s disappearance had provided me a small escape into the mysterious. It wasn’t that I engaged myself totally in figuring out what might have happened to him. I didn’t become a Sherlock Holmes. I was more an armchair theorist. I thought about few possibilities in my own lazy manner (including a faint chance of suicide). And if in the end I arrived at a solution, it can be more appropriate to say that the solution happened to me. It was not the result of my will. The trick was to be available.

Few days after I met Swathi, I decided to skip work, took bus number 11G and went straight to the library. I stayed there until evening, browsed through the racks, ate my lunch at the cafeteria, and read some chapters from Don Quixote. By evening I met the same guy from the library staff who had escorted Swathi to me the other day. He was polite as usual, said his name was Sarvana. I had seen him around often, had even inquired with him regarding certain books and we had often exchanged smiles of acknowledgment, but we had never conversed at length before. He informed me that one more guy came looking for Joe, this one in formal business attire, looking like an executive from some company. I told Sarvana that I hardly knew Joe well enough to figure out anything at all. It was then it struck me that I hadn’t encountered Debraj of late. ‘Have you seen Debraj?’ I asked, assuming that Sarvana might after all know him.

Joe and Debraj were the only two people at the library with whom I used to have any kind of communication. Come to think of it, I didn’t even miss them until I was told about the former’s absence. This fact was queerly disturbing.

‘I am afraid I don’t know him,’ Sarvana replied.

‘The old chap who sometimes sat with us, me and Joe I mean… We mostly sat there near that rack.’

‘Oh the… I know who you’re talking about.’

‘Have you seen him lately?’

‘Been few weeks. He was such a sorry figure the last time I saw him.’

‘As in?’

‘He came to the library in very filthy cloths…’

‘He usually did.’

‘He did, I agree. But I can’t begin to explain how filthy those cloths were. Not only they were unwashed since days, but they had these dirt marks on them, yellow stains left from some food he must have had. The shirt was not tucked in and he didn’t wear any footwear! Odd, but there you go. His feet were all dirty.’

‘I see…’

‘And he stank. The moment he entered the library, it didn’t bode well. People looked at him as if he was some outcast, you know. They kept staring at him. I had to go get him a chair to sit coz he looked weak. He told me he has been feverish and asked for a coffee. I grabbed him one from the café and the poor bugger didn’t even pay.’

I couldn’t help but smile. The same had happened with me often.

‘He was sick?’ I asked.

‘He looked sick. I left him with his coffee. He stayed in the library for three four hours. Before leaving he called me and gave me a slip of paper. His address was written on it. He needed a small favor from me.’

‘What kind of favor?’

‘He wanted me to get him his breakfast the next morning coz he won’t be able to take his pills without them! Can you believe it?’

‘Well, did you do it?’

‘No. I’d take a train from Tambram to Broadway and travel two hours just to get the old guy his breakfast!? It pissed me off, you know. If he can’t leave his house, he can get any nearby person to do it, don’t you think?’

‘I, for one, have never understood him.’

‘But you got along well?’

‘We used to talk, that’s all. He is quite a learned fellow. So what happened then?’

‘I told him I’ll see what I can do and he left. Mr. Joe was there in the vicinity when this exchange happened. He was reading some magazine. After the old man left Mr. Joe looked at me and silently made a gesture as if suggesting to tear down the slip with the address and…um, if I may, shove it up the old man’s anal region!’

This made me laugh out loud. Sarvana joined immediately. That was so typical of Joe. I could imagine his serious face, without any traces of emotion, while he suggested what he did to Sarvana in a very droll manner, like the good old comedian who’d have you in fits while himself being untouched by the humor of his own making. The more I laughed, the more I felt a need to see him around.

Well, Debraj is dead as I write this. He was or had been a landlord and had enough money to make him live in luxury till his end. And it becomes difficult for me to convince you that it is possible for a well-off person to present himself in a public place like a miserable piece of shit. Joe referred to him as Scrooge, but with more contempt than that harmless word happens to suggest.

‘Crime and criminals have always bored me,’ Debraj had told me when I first met him, introducing himself as a retired lawyer, and his remark was supposed to be playfully ironical but I didn’t get the joke he was trying to make. Almost in his sixties, he was unkempt to the core. That’s what I noticed first. He was as messy as Joe was sophisticated. He actually looked like a penguin. He walked like one for sure. He walked like he’d fall any moment but managed not to.

We used to talk about crime novels, mostly the ‘golden age era’ as he lovingly liked to call it, because according to him the investigations were more interesting in an age when DNA testing and the like was not invented, when sleuths had to rely on pure deduction to arrive at a solution. ‘When it comes to logic and details, how can you beat Christie? How can you keep writing novels based in English manors and still be inventive enough to churn out hundreds…’ His face was the kind I had never seen before: the part above the nose was broad and the one below it was narrow, as if to maintain the proportion. Nature has its fair share of playfulness while shaping humans. He had no teeth and his lips made a tch every time he opened his mouth. He used to speak his words with pauses, taking his own sweet time through his coarse voice, inducing a soothing sensation every time I listened to him. But I tried not to sit too close to him because the foul smell that his mouth released was unbearable.

Joe had informed me that Debraj’s wife was long dead and he had no children. Most of the regulars at the library, including the staff, knew him. He was an ‘ancient presence’ – Joe’s words.

As I remember all of this, I am not able to recall what kind of shoes I used to wear then. Or did I wear shoes or some cheap sandals? It matters because the memory of it will give me a check that the events in my life are referenced in one another. During one of my conversations with Joe I recollect wearing some stone-washed jeans, but I have no recollection of my footwear, which really bothers me. It is one of my ticks – so long as memory doesn’t desert me, I’ll be alright.

Here I was, a twenty-two years old fresh out of an engineering college, and I had stumbled upon the lives of these two loners. ‘A young man like you should spend more time with girls.’ I don’t remember who said this, Joe or Debraj, but one of them for sure. ‘Because they’ll make you realize that your opinions don’t matter. One needs to fathom that sooner or later’. Yes, I was trying to find a pattern. More so I was trying to figure out my future by studying their past. Both of them had appeared in my life as if by chance and had suddenly vanished. Away from home, in a city unknown to me, they were like fellow travelers. In the normal course of events, it doesn’t appear odd. But looking back, it does appear to be more than a coincidence. The fact that I had chanced upon people who lived on the margins of normalcy, and that I took to their company quite effortlessly, made me fear that I might end up like them.

*

‘He is a Zen monk for all I care. How can one doze off so easily? It’s humanly impossible.’ Joe and I were sitting near the reception and Debraj, as is obvious, was napping on the opposite couch. Due to his age and his walking problem, it must have taken him great effort to come to the library daily. But I assumed that he had no other means to pass time. He didn’t read much. He’d mostly nap. He had an amusing habit of getting dozed off during conversations. It was funny really, as if there was an invisible switch in him somewhere – trip and off he went!

‘He sure roams around like a twenty year old,’ I said. ‘I once asked him whether he has anyone to look after him but he nudged off the question… as if it hurt to even think about it. He didn’t even want to think about it.’

Joe remained silent for a moment. Then he turned to me and asked, ‘Tell me something, what are you doing here?’

‘I don’t get you.’

‘Here are two guys who’re almost done with their lives. What are you doing with them?’

‘Oh… I can only sense what you mean.’

‘It’s all amusing for you, right? This place is like a half-way hotel for you, see what I mean.’

Then he withdrew a deep breath, stretched his legs, and said, ‘It was a Friday.’

’?’

‘When I realized for the first time that life is absurd.’

And Friday it was when I figured out what might have happened to him. However, the ‘How’ of this mystery, if I can call it that and I already have earlier in this account, was not as important as the ‘Why.’ I was taking a stroll that night after finishing my dinner. The lodge where I stayed was situated on the Water Basin Street, which was connected to the Mint Street, where I would generally take my night strolls. Mint Street is the longest street in Sowcarpet, and Debraj stayed in one of the shabby row houses on the deep end of the street which was not much happening and was mostly dark after 9 pm. I knew that because I had accompanied him once to his house when he was not feeling well and needed someone to get him his dinner and medicines. So while strolling I happened to walk past his house and kept walking without registering it. My idea was to walk till the end of the street where the old, decaying mint machine was kept, to which the street owed its name. I had never seen it, had only heard that it was installed decades ago during the British rule. But I quickly decided to turn back and walk back towards Debraj’s house. I didn’t really want to see him, or had anything particular to talk to him, but it just occurred to me to do so. It was a mere whim and I gave in to it. He lived on the first floor of the row house. The ground floor was unused and held a lot of junk, old furniture, and the like. The light on the first floor was on. I stood on the street, in front of his house, looking up at the balcony. I could as well continue meandering through the streets of Sawcarpet, but I just stayed there. Hands shoved in my pockets, shifting my weight from one leg to another, I kept looking at the balcony. What was I looking for? I don’t know. In retrospect, it amuses me to think that I could do something so silly. I must have stayed there for not more than five minutes. And the moment I decided to leave, to my amazement, a man appeared at the balcony and began to peel the skin of some vegetable. It was Joe.

He was not as startled to see me as I had thought he’d be. I think he gave a faint smile, but I am not sure. He waved his hand to call me up.

‘How did you figure out I was here?’ he asked as I went inside Debraj’s house. It was quite tidy in there. A tube light was on. A sofa and a bed faced each other, and a shelf at the corner held a lot of newspapers. There was no television in the living room. And there was no trace of Debraj.

‘I wasn’t looking for you,’ I said.

‘Uncle Scrooge is dead,’ he said in the kind of cold, obvious manner he had mastered.

‘Debraj?’

‘Yep!’ he said, and went in the back room, where a fridge was kept. He shouted from in there, “he used this room as a kitchen. Strange, isn’t it? The fridge smelled so bad when I first discovered it that it could kill a cat instantly just by the smell of it.” He brought a chilled can of beer and offered it to me.

‘I was about to have my dinner. Should I fix you a sandwich too? I must tell you though that nothing beats a good vegetable sandwich with thousand islands dressing over chilled beer. It’s like life!’

‘Do you stay here?’ I couldn’t resist asking.

‘Kind of.’

‘But you know that they are looking for you, right? I mean, someone named Swathi came over…’

‘She shouldn’t worry about me,’ he said. ‘She is nicer to me than I deserve.’

The look on my face told Joe that I wanted to hear more. From what Joe told me, he had formed a habit of following Debraj as soon as the latter left the library. It was a sort of obsession he couldn’t explain. He couldn’t resist doing it. To make an effort to put it in words would push him in a disagreeable state. He was curious about Debraj, a sort of curiosity that is more a burden than a means of pleasure. He would keep his distance though. He would follow Debraj till his house and would leave as soon as the old chap would open the door and step inside. In a way, he made sure nothing happened to Debraj between his leaving the library and reaching his house. It was as if some other being had taken command over Joe’s body and was forcefully guiding him to follow an old man incessantly. ‘Maybe, my life was so fragile, so pointless that it could readily slip into someone else’s.

‘I followed him to his house as usual that day. Only that I knew to my gut that the old scrooge was going to pass out. I could sense it. I had been keeping track of him for so long that I could tell from the way he choked while opening the door to his house that those were his last breaths. And I am not being dramatic. I stepped into his house a few moments later as he had not locked the door, and saw him lying on the floor, in this very room we are sitting. Man, it was some sight! It freaked me out. I mean, here was a dead body lying in front of me. Breathless. Ever wondered how breathlessness looks like? We take breathing to be so obvious but the lack of it is disturbing to the core. For some minutes I just starred at his motionless body. Didn’t know what to do. Then I went down and told a nearby shopkeeper that the old man who stayed in that row house was dead. The shopkeeper asked whether I was family. I said I was a friend. He nodded and called a municipality van. They took the dead body and I have no idea what they did with it.’

‘You didn’t go along?’

‘What was the point? The guy was dead anyway. I chose to stay in his house that night, just to see if someone turned up claiming to be his relative or something. I had informed the neighbors that he was dead. Some of them expressed concern, but that was it. No one even asked who I was and what I was doing in his house. It was so horribly messy in here that I spent that night cleaning the place.’

‘Did anyone turn up?’

‘No one. It seems the guy had no relatives. That’s something, isn’t it? It’s difficult to be cut off from all the possible ties of blood. He was successful that way.’

‘How long did you wait?’

‘I have been waiting.’

‘Don’t tell me you haven’t gone to your place since?’

‘You are correct,’ he said and took a swig of his beer.

‘Oh come on!’

‘It’s not too bad after all. It’s cozy in here.’

‘That’s your reason for staying in a dead guy’s house for more than a month? It’s cozy in here!’

‘I don’t expect you to understand.’

‘So you will never return?’

‘Can’t say. I might get bored here too. I might go back to my flat first thing tomorrow for that matter.’

‘Hmm’

‘Don’t tell about it to Swathi or anyone if it’s not much of a trouble for you. I am only in Chennai after all. They’ll know one way or another…’

‘It’s none of my business anyway.’

‘True,’ he said absentmindedly, rummaged in his laptop bag, and brought out a key. ‘Here’s a key to my flat. You can find Ars Magna on a shelf in my study. It won’t be hard for you to spot it out.’

‘But I…’

‘You do want that book, don’t you? Say, if I don’t return back to my flat and keep a low profile like forever. Say, I confide myself to this row house for the rest of my life, and should they declare me dead and auction all my property, I’d want that book to be in your possession. Let’s just say I admire you. And I don’t admire many.’

‘Joe, I always fail to understand you. I mean, really…’

‘Just take the key.’

His place, as Swathi had described it to me, was neat and tidy. Only that being closed for more than a month, a layer of dust had covered all the furniture in the flat. I found the book in his study and held it in my hands, feeling its coarse pages and the title indented in some ancient typeset. The binding was lovely. It felt like a souvenir from a stranger. I didn’t really have much admiration for Joe, but being in his flat, I felt like a voyeur. Giving the key to me just like that, he had exposed me to his life. I sat in the drawing room, on the same couch where he usually slept and read few pages from the book. Finding it difficult to concentrate on the written words, I decided to lie down on the couch, and closed my eyes. Before long, I withdrew to a realm that falls between sleep and wakefulness. Strangely, the thoughts of Swathi took control over my mind. True, she was much older than me but she was a beautiful woman who had a way about her that could not be resisted, and like in a flash, a fervent sensation ran down my spine while thinking about her. Somehow the anonymity of her association with Joe overwhelmed me. I had walked into a stranger’s life and was supposedly having the fantasies he might have had. It felt as if I was not just borrowing that book, but was borrowing Joe’s emotions too. And falling prey to some stupid logic, I started believing that she might come to Joe’s flat any moment now. Just to take a look, like she had said she sometimes did.

I decided to wait for her. It was after all cozy in there.

***