Afternoons in the outskirts of Mumbai

Written by Micha Braaksma

It was a late Wednesday afternoon, I think. Nevertheless, it was still scorching hot. There laid a heavy smog above the entire city. It apparently hadn’t rained in weeks and the wind was dead silent. Down in the streets, there was an orchestra made up of street vendors, honking cars, beggars and businessmen on their way back home, arguing over the latest politics with each other. I sat in the shadow on the balcony of a room. I had rented it for the week, not knowing what I wanted to do here. I couldn’t pay for much, and I’ve always been bad at haggling, so I had to settle with a room in a seemingly crumbling flat, around the outskirts of the city.

I sat outside because the AC wouldn’t work, and when it did, it would only heat up. I didn’t seem like the only one with the problem. Across from me was another building; almost everybody sat on their balconies. Or, well, nobody was actually sitting down. A lot were arguing, some with their neighbors, others just with themselves. I think it was because of the heat. I felt it too. I wanted to find things or memories about which I could be angry. I tried continuing with my book, but I kept rereading the same few lines. I drank a sip from my lukewarm water and immediately spit it out again. It annoyed me, and I threw the bottle down onto the streets; not looking whether it hit someone. I tried to find more reasons to get annoyed or angry, yet I couldn’t. I was actually rather satisfied with everything so far. It felt odd; I felt anger yet nothing to be truly angry about. I just stared out to the other building looking at what the other people were doing. The sun was going down and now both buildings were fully laid under a shadow. 

Only one column of apartments, all the way on the left side of the other building was spared. My eyes were pulled to one of the balconies at the top. A girl was lying in a chair. She had a gentle smile on her face as far as I could see. Her eyes were closed, and her head was swaying slightly from side to side, up and down. It was hard to hear, but I think she was listening to Vivaldi’s Spring. She took a small sip from a glass of water. She seemed just as satisfied with life as I was, more so. She wasn’t even bothered by the heat and the noise. 

She stood up and it looked as if she said something, yet she just looked out into the sun. She turned away from the balcony again, with her eyes closed. Then she leaned back and made herself fall.    

I turned away and walked downstairs. “केवल आपात्कालीन स्थिति के लिए” a sign said on the elevator. I guessed it to mean “out of order” or so. There were a lot of stairs, but I took my time. After all, she wasn’t going anywhere. I got into the chaotic street and tried crossing five or so times, but each time a car or moped nearly hit me. Eventually I managed to get across. Nobody seemed to notice her, and neither would I if I were simply walking on the street on a warm and busy day. You couldn’t see her face, because she was laying on her stomach. I turned her over and you still couldn’t. An ambulance and a police car arrived without sirens.    

A week later, late in the evening, when some paperwork had been signed, I was standing in a crematorium. I had no idea why I was even there. I don’t think I really cared for her; I hadn’t even read her name on the papers. I did read that I was right about her listening to Vivaldi’s Spring. It’s one of my favorites, together with Moonlight Sonata, specifically the third symphony. No one else had shown up. There was only a man from the crematorium, citing lines from a book. I didn’t understand a thing he said. He was done rather quickly. And immediately after citing his last line, he pushed a button on the furnace and left through a backdoor. A moment later I heard a slight buzzing noise coming from the machine. I stayed there, sitting in a chair in the corner of the room, for about two hours. When the buzzing noise stopped, I supposed that that was it. I walked out, the same way the other man had done. I saw him smoking on the opposite side of the street, while also on his phone. I asked for a cigarette from him. He didn’t seem to understand what I said, but understood what I wanted. He gave me one and I left.    

On my way home, the train was almost deserted. I took line 7 and then changed over to 2A. My phone had stopped working, so I continued reading from my book (Le mythe de Sisyphe).    

-Micha Braksma

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