Leave it to a headache to crash a party when you are just getting started. It starts like that irritating drip of water running in your bathroom in the middle of the night, grows into a motorcycle which lost its muffler somewhere and finally cavalcades into a mad elephant stomping through dense foliage. All of this is so cool when you are thinking about them inside your head, images falling face down, like a pack of cards in slow motion. But, in the real world, it’s crazy. Like a pin pricking the back of your neck, five times per second. A bundle of chalks dragging across an endless blackboard, right into eternity.
The sun is still simmering, as we weave into deeper parts of the locality, passing useless information, one stranger to another. It’s mostly him that does the talking, the variety that I like. I am not too good at making stuff up and it’s not a good idea giving away what I have. Call it instinct.
He is from about three hundred miles west of here. Loves rock n’ roll, none of that country shit. Says it makes him want to puke his guts all over the guitar of the guy fingering the instrument. When you have a guitar, you treat it like a bitch; spank it a little, make it scream. Make the people around take notice. Make it feel like a real thing. Don’t stroke it and treat it like your pet dog. It won’t lick your face.
He likes farming. I like checkers. He thinks the politicians in the country should go eat shit. I think the buffaloes around here are thinner than the ones up country. He thinks marijuana should be declared the National plant of the country and then sinks into thinking if there is such a thing at all. I hate water colours. He thinks heaven sucks. I think my headache is growing worse.
Yada yada yada.
We make it to his house as he breaks into a monologue about how vegetable oil is less fattening in summers than in winters. For a moment he makes me think that he is the kind of guy who sell scuba gear to fishes. The guy who makes the flower smelling detergents and fucks up match-the-following. God help us all.
The house is a log cabin on the low hills that start on the end of the city limits, where the ground starts climbing a little. A friend of a friend was leaving town so he sold it to him. A bargain. The hills and the trees and the birds and the animals keep his spirits high. After all, what is man but an animal? An animal without a jungle?
I suddenly start believing in fairies and wish for a chainsaw.
The house inside is pretty unremarkable, except for the paintings. The whole cabin seems to be full of frames with strange twisted roses painted on them, all in red. At least that’s what I hope they are, because I am a little conservative to pass it off as modern art or something. A valley of flowers in hell.
You have found out my secret hobby, he says, as he catches me staring at the paintings. That’s the only style I do, the red blotches. They are a part of my creative fulfillment. Red, now that’s a real colour, he says. Not like sky blue, fleeting, always beyond reach. Not like black, making you wait till everything disappears or the whole bright day slowly slinks into the gutter holes, one painful hour at a time. Not like any of the other colours. Red. Raw and true. Like blood. I don’t like the way this man talks.
I crease my brow to show my disagreement, but he doesn’t notice. He is busy getting his new pan on the fire. He opens up a beer for me and another for himself; says it helps him focus while cooking. What’s on the menu? I ask, walking around the house checking out knick knacks here and there. I hear him laugh, but I never quite make out what he says.
I go and check the windows out, one at a time. There are a total of three; none of them look over the town. It would be weeks before someone came knocking at all. Even then, they might pass it off as some wild buffalo or other animal which bit the dust. I smile to myself. This is going to be easier than offering candy to a kid.
Back here, where the limit of habitation ends and the ground starts to rise, it gets dark quickly. I could always finish my work in the dying light of the sun, but I never tempt fate. I maybe itching to go, but patience never killed anyone. I don’t want to do something stupid and get the force running after me, trying to take me down, hook, line and sinker. I hate the Titanic anyways.
The headache is still there, except, it’s like someone hammering on an anvil inside my head. That’s how it all started in the first place. No pills would work, no amount of massage or balms or any of those fancy medical things that they now have, for everything from mucous to mutation. Some doctor called it migraine while another called it something else. Whatever they did, they never found a cure. So I decided to find one myself.
The first one was mostly by accident. We had gone up the trail back where the view from up there is probably the best in the neighborhood, and carried my headache with me. The person accompanying me was a postman, someone who had gone on the job recently, about two months back. We went through the trail, hacking at forest growth on the way, sharing things of little or no consequence between us, climbing all the time. My headache kept getting worse, as the sun kept getting low on the horizon. By dusk, we were at the top, overlooking a cliff face, thoroughly spent. I was almost blind with pain, without a clue to get back. We got up from the face of the cliff and decided to get back. The details of what happened next are mostly a blur. I think it had something to do with lose rocks and me pushing him away from me, because I couldn’t stand him next to me anymore, thanks to the raging pain. That pain makes me a little unsocial that ways. What I do remember though is, me coming downhill from there, whistling to myself, the pain totally gone. It was almost dark by then, and I should have been afraid of the wild animals which would be out by now, but no! I traipsed along rocks and grass, my tiny flashlight guiding me along the broken path, almost making me believe it was the sun on a bright spring morning.
I had the best sleep that night, better than I had in months.
Give them a chance and they would make you believe anything. They would tell you that there is no cure for cancer or you couldn’t possibly lick your elbow. There was no El Dorado and the dinosaurs were all but dead. Mona Lisa was an alien from outer space. I say, don’t trust their word. I cured my own headache. I have learnt it a little hard that way, but I have learnt it nonetheless. A lesson in life is a lesson. Is a lesson, is a lesson.
Needless to say, I left that town in a week or so, after the search for that postman started heating up. No one had seen us getting out of town, and he was a bachelor. I don’t need to spoon feed you the rest of details. It’s something you would get by without knowing.
The outside is almost dark. I have my trusted pen light to show me the way. I wouldn’t be expecting much of lighting on this side of the town. I can hear that guy calling. Whatever he seems to be cooking, is probably done. If you have ulterior motives about someone, do you share a bite with him? Do hidden agendas count as a deterrent towards ill practices in gastronomy? Whatever is on the fire smells like heaven. I could do with a bite. No sense in going back with a happy mood, no headache and empty stomach. But, first things first. Got to get the job done. I could always help myself to generous servings later.
He is standing with his back to me, sautéing the final bits of whatever he is cooking in the pan. He is still gibbering on. No wonder the guy doesn’t have company. The amount he talks could make your ears bleed. I guess I would be doing his acquaintances a big favour. I grip the handle of the knife tucked in my pocket tightly and go stand right behind him.
He is still cooking, making that huge blob (meat?) go round and round in boiling hot oil. And talking. The headache has turned into a steam engine, spilling molten coal and steam inside my head and rumbling on. A quick recap of the scenes from the past is running in front of my eyes in quick succession. The guy on the bus, heavily sedated, his wrist going drip, drip on the floor. The woman standing with her head inside the sink at the publish washroom, not knowing what hit her. Another, sitting quietly on the bed, his television running on full volume, never to be seen again with his living eyes. Relief in various packages, signed and delivered. Relief standing right in front of my eyes, frying food. The knife is in my hands now. Raw. Quiet. Waiting.
My eyes wander towards the paintings. Remember what I told you about me hating water colours? That tiny detail makes me linger just a little longer, drawing my attention towards them. The paintings stand, shoulder to shoulder, glowing softly in the light of bulb planted in the middle of the room. There is dullness in the paintings that attract me. I don’t find the red in them repulsive; there is almost a growing fondness towards it. There is a strange uniformity in the shapes of those objects, something that I am familiar with. Each of those paintings, varying in size, has features, features you wouldn’t associate with a rose or a tulip or any flower at all. And suddenly, the roses in the painting aren’t roses anymore.
I never find out when the guy stopped talking. I stood too long. I did not care about getting the work done first, and chilling out later. I cannot afford mistakes. I could not afford mistakes. I fucked up. I probably looked like an idiot standing behind him, knife in hand. I lost my chance. I did not wrap up the Christmas present and now its back to bite me.
The last thing I see is a big black sun, rushing to meet my face. And then,