The brokenhearted optimist (paper Soldier 2)

Paper soldiers

All in all, there is a lot to say. I have begun to notice things I couldn’t for the last month. I turned twenty officially a few days ago and today, I went to a Tango class. Why did I go? I hope to answer that question through introspection and through my exhilarating exhaustion. All of my colleagues from the University have left to go back home. I am now the only foreigner left in this city, and there is no sense of loneliness, there is a comforting solitude to my walks through the city. I find that there is much to notice now, like the children who play outside on the knoll near my apartment, or in the number of pretty women walking around in floral print dresses (for whom I have an admitted weakness), and in the thoughts of Adara that catch me off-guard.

I walked down the street from my apartment and I saw a group of people signing up for a Tango class. i stood for a moment looking at the posters and then a very tall, slim, brunette stepped out of the building and walked to me.

“Come now, sign on the dotted line”, there is a pleasant crispness in her accented English, “You’re from the University, yes?” I nodded in agreement and then, with a smile I signed on the dotted line. She led me through the crowd into a studio on the first floor. There was a large hall and on the wall-sized mirrors, I saw my reflection. At this point, my hair is almost shoulder length, my body is slim, and there is a cheer in my eyes that I can’t explain. There is a word, Iskra, which means spark in Russian, and I found myself thinking about this word. Was there an Iskra in my eyes? I couldn’t say.

Behind me, the crowd from the street filed in, everyone was cheerful, particularly the woman who led me in. She was dressed in a white floral dress with red flowers. She was taller than me by an inch or so, but that could be attributed to her heels (I am not a very tall man, I’m five feet seven inches tall).  She introduced herself as Yvette Matrosova, and she smiled when she said it. I did too. Thinking back, in my exhaustion and in the company of one of my Holborn cigarettes, I can’t help but laugh. How many women have I fallen for in my twenty years on this planet? Here I am, a foreigner, a lone one at that, and within moments of meeting this woman, I have this attraction to her. I can see the Iskra in her. I can see the sparks in her being, in her eyes, and I could write odes to her beauty, her voice, the way her hair fell gently on her shoulders, but I wouldn’t know where to start.

She asked us all to form pairs and chose me to be hers. The music began and we danced. Her face was inches from mine, her right hand was on my shoulder, and her other hand held mine. When she moved, she was fluid, as if she was nothing more than a feather in a breeze. There was a softness in her pleasant grip on my right hand. She grasped my hand tenderly and she constantly searched my face. What was she looking for? She and I danced for what seemed like an eternity when she announced a break. By this time, I was sweating, my legs felt like jelly and I felt as if my heart was going to explode. I was exhausted, and I stepped out into the afternoon sunshine to smoke a Camel. I stood outside for a moment when I heard footsteps. I turned around to see Yvette beaming at me. She drowned the sunshine with her eyes. As my fingers glide over the keyboard, I can see her eyes close to mine, the hazel specks that looked so fine and detailed, as if she had been made by a pair of hands which carefully, with artistic labour, painted every detail in her eyes.

Of the dance, there is not much to say, we had our lessons in movement and exercise.

“What is your name?”, she asked me. I offered her a cigarette and she lit it.

“Ativ Schuberg”, I replied. I told her where I was from.

“Do you like this city?”, she asked again, although on a quieter note.

“I do.”


I was at a loss for words. Where do I begin? Do I begin where I left home, disgusted by my life back in the land where I was born? Do I stick to the poetry of being a foreigner in a city where no one could have guessed I would be heading? Do I tell her how I loved the winding streets, the sunshine, the silence that comforted me in the dark hours of night? I said nothing. I looked up to her and saw her smile again.

“You know, you do look like him”, she said, “Like the Paper Soldier”.

“Do I?”, I asked. How did she know of the Paper Soldier?

“You aren’t the only one who can find people by talking, you know”, on her lips was a smile. She pulled on the cigarette and let out a smooth cloud of smoke from her nose. just above the left corner of her lips, there was a mole. It was small, almost smudged by her bright red lipstick, and when I looked into her eyes, I saw the hazel specks again.

“I knew you would come down this way, your make your way to the park bench near the library where you just sit and dream”, she said, ‘Your eyes look so far away.”

So, she was following me. I grinned.

She had something so disarming about her, was it her smile? I know that poets are lovers, and they have described at length the beauty of their lovers. They have written odes to the mysteries of women, of their women, to be precise. Poets and artists, they sat and wrote and painted what their hearts ached for. I am neither poet nor artist, but I know that there was an allure to this woman whose floral print dress hung with such perfection around her shoulders, and whose voice sounded so musical that I could have listened to her forever.

“How do you know about the Paper Soldier?” I asked her, this questioned burned my mind for a blinding moment.

“I am his daughter”



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Paper soldiers

In the last week, I have done nothing except lie in bed or sit at my laptop and watch movies. I indulge in the occasional impotency of conversation and “socializing”, but it is a drag. It is raining again now and that is a relief because it was too damn hot in the last few days.

talking of the weather, how the conversation has stooped to a beggaring dull whine. Do I have any ideas left? Am I so silent these days that the fertility of thought seems to have vanished, as they say, “with a poof”? No, the ideas are the same, but I am just tired. Words are becoming impotent again, but then again, when were they so fertile? I sometimes look at the rhetoric on Social Media, the current state of the world, the blanketing rape of human dignity and all I feel is a cynical resignation. My indifference is feverish.

We have examinations at the University, but I haven’t studied anything. I feel no urge to study. To my friends, I have taken a “Leave from academics”, and this vacation from work seems to be one that is indeterminate in length and soothing to a degree. I watch movies to help with the listlessness that plagues me and I am never disappointed.

However, a couple of nights ago I went to a restaurant that operates right next to my apartment. It is a nice place, quiet and cheerful. The restaurant owner has two very beautiful children and is himself a pleasant bloke, always ready to serve with a smile. I sat there smoking and after a while he asked me for a cigarette. He’d run out and I give him one. Truly, nothing bonds people better than cigarettes. Who knows, years later when the cancer develops, we’ll need the company of those who are in the same situation.

Over cigarettes and coffee (provided on the house, as it were) he talked about this town and its rich history. The town is on a valley actually and the surrounding hills give it a magnificent winter and scenery. He told me that there was a man once, a Paper soldier, who lived during the Soviet era. That man, he said, looked a lot like me.

So the situation is this: I am sitting in a restaurant with a sentimental but cheerful bearded man, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee and this time, he has a story to tell. A story to tell, and I am a man willing to listen. A few moments of pregnant pause and he tells me a story that makes me rethink my own existence.

Many years ago, this town had no foreigners. It had its own people, poor and hungry. Sick people travelled from across the country to go to the Hospital because of its fame as a proper hospital in this corner of the Soviet Union. The Cold War was on, but this town was cocooned in its own poverty and existence, a clockwork routine of work, death and taxation with the shroud of the secret police hanging over them all. Sometimes the town celebrated and this is did with the faux happiness of people who had nothing except the government and a dictator’s fancies.

One day, a foreigner arrived in the city. He came in a black car that dropped him in the Military club where he retired to his room wordlessly. He wasn’t seen for a week and during this week, the news of his arrival spread like wildfire. He was a coloured man, from some country that was not European, but was there somewhere on the globe. Thus, the legend of the foreigner began. People gathered in bars talking about this foreigner and the footman at the Military club was the hero of the moment. That man talked conspiratorially of the foreigner, for he was a coloured man and a silent man who didn’t utter a word. He took his keys from the Receptionist, a soldier-clerk, and went up to his room. He had his meals delivered to him from the Dining Hall and all he carried with him was a suitcase and a briefcase. He was usually dressed in a black trench coat, and when he walked, it looked to the observer as if he was stalking something. His gait was fixed, his head always looking down, his eyes seemed fixed on a destination only he could see. His hair billowed around his face in the wind. All in all, the town was intrigued.

On the morning of the 12th day since his arrival, the Foreigner stood in front of the gate to the Military Memorial. Names were inscribed of the men who lost their lives serving this nation under the Soviet Union. He stood wordlessly and his hands gripped the gate tightly. He could have pushed the gate, but he didn’t. He stood for a long time just looking ahead at the large, black memorial, ostensibly reading the names.  When the spell broke, he walked back to his room at the military club without a single word. No one had heard the man speak. There was a silence around him, his presence incurred a hush, a stillness accompanied him wherever he went. he spoke to no one, and his eyes were difficult to read because he never looked at anyone. What was he thinking, this man dressed in black, a foreigner and a  silent one at that, as he walked through the streets continuously?

The restaurant owner knew more of the Foreigner but he was called to the kitchen by his wife is the cook. I sat back on my chair and looked at my overcoat hanging from a peg. It looked like  shroud from where I sat, could it be that there was a comfort I sought in covering myself? There was no need for the overcoat, it isn’t that cold, but I wanted a sense of completeness that comes only with the overcoat. Who was this Foreigner? What was he doing here, of all the places, at a time when the Cold War was at its peak? Where was he now? I asked myself these questions and found that I was intrigued. Who was the foreign man, silent and mute? I could see a shadow of the man in my own life, a stillness seems to follow me, and I am a man of very few words, but then again, I am oping for a connect. One with a legend of a man who didn’t speak.


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She left


Marija left 10 days ago.

Marija packed her bags, her books and her life and went back to her Estonia.

I remember the night before she left like a distant memory. I remember the touch of her lips upon mine, as we sat on the couch sitting in silence. An hour later, we were both exhausted, but happy. I watched her walk to her cupboard and there was nothing there except a book. It was “This side of Paradise” by F Scott Fitzgerald, and she handed it to me. I opened the book and on the inside cover, she had scribbled her name and a few words. There was a letter folded in there and she told me to read it when I went home. I walked back home, through the winding streets and apartment buildings that stood like giant sentries of the night. If I felt anything then, 9 days ago, I felt elation. Weeks of listless nothingness and a calm that felt more fragile by the day, and 9 days ago the colours and the sounds returned to the fore.

What I could not have predicted were the words on the letter. I knew somewhere, in the vast tangle of neurons of my brain, that she would leave. But those words on the paper were a bur of incomprehensible grief, something that I could never, for the life of me understand. She left no reason as to why she left. She wrote:

I am leaving as you read this. I will miss you.

Admittedly, this was no letter but a note. 10 days have gone by and every moment of my life is spent wondering where in Estonia she is now. Does she see the ghosts of her lost country? Does she smell the corpses wrapped up in white sheets as they are buried in long due graves? I keep asking myself the reason behind her departure. I can’t find any. I knew that she wasn’t happy here, perched atop an old communist-era apartment building, drowned in alcohol and substance abuse. The light was gone from her eyes and then from her life and now, she was home.

If there was any grieving on my part, it is now over. I spent the days sitting at my desk, unable to think, unable to walk or speak because everything, from the sun and the breeze reminded me of her. I see her in my dreams. I wish she was here but there is nothing I could do but dream. I dream about her and I wake, looking for her for a few seconds, until I realize that she is gone. I often ask myself if she will return, I hope she does but she probably won’t. This city was her defeat, I was a reminder that she needed help. Little does she know that every moment spent with her was a lifetime of peace, as if I had walked back home over and over again.

Her note lies on my desk now, amid a packet of Old Holborn and cigarette tubes. I roll my own cigarettes, that way I choose the amount of tobacco I wish to smoke and I also control the number of cigarettes I smoke. There is a soothing rhythm to filling the tobacco in the cigarette tube, a certain skill and art to it, a meditative calm in the mechanical skill in the motion of my fingers. Old Holborn’s blonde blend reminds me of Marija because it tastes like her, Scotch and honey and a tang of spice somewhere. Every time I smoke a cigarette, I can feel her lips, her soft skin on my fingers. I miss her.



The clockwork fence


I sit at the my desk facing my balcony. Diffused sunlight through a cloudy sky casts a soft light in my study. On my left, a table fan whirs and whines, rhythmic, I believe, so the silence of solitude is bearable. I have found that there is a comfort in my isolation from the world. My desk is littered with empty packs of cigarettes, and there is a bowl to my right which I use as an ashtray. Occasionally, I light a cigarette and blow the cigarette smoke upwards, to see it unfurl like a grey flag. It collects around the door to the balcony and makes its way out into the street, where it disperses in the wind.

There is a van outside, parked on the street, and there is an old man I can see. He carries stocks for the departmental store below my flat. I can see the muscles in his neck strain under the weight of the things he carries. He walks heavily, his breath comes in short gasps for air and I can occasionally hear a wheeze. Years of living on this earth have given his eyes a glaze that looks, to me, like a weathering of paint. There is not much to say to the beauty of manual labour. I walk to the balcony occasionally to watch the cars and vans that ply the street. In each of them, I see someone looking out of the window where they, presumably, see me. I catch the eyes of countless strangers everyday and there is a wonder in what they see. What do they see? Do they see a young man with very long hair? Do they see a stranger? Do they see nothing at all?

Kochetov’s Do not regret me in my old age, plays on my speakers. The Russian Oktavist’s voice fills my apartment. Can those people walking on the pavement below hear this man’s voice? In moments of rare euphoria, I too sing my favourite operatic pieces, usually Luciano Pavarotti’s Ave Maria. It is an odd habit, I admit. It is rare to see appreciation of Classical music, and I often replay moments in my life to the background of these songs. Song, the word itself, means nothing. There is birdsong, there is the song of the evening, there are songs playing everywhere I go, but Classical Music is, music.

I walked to the Primary school to see Vivienne, the landlady’s daughter. I was just passing by when she called out to me from the fence that lined the basketball court and I looked up from my dreaming walk to see her, her green eyes looking at me from across the road. I hesitated a second and crossed the road to her and greeted her. It’d been months since I last saw her. I took in her hair, blonde, curled in wide curls and I noticed the thread that stuck out from her floral dress.

I can remember her smile, there was an ink stain on her index finger as she held up her hands, lightly grasping the school fence. A group of small children ran around the basketball court. Vivienne followed my eyes and we stood watching the children in their play. Her colleague kept a weather eye on them and Vivienne turned to me.

“Children”, she said. She has no lipstick on.

I have nothing to say that I can put into words. We seem to have the world now, as we stand across each other with a fence in between us. Her fingers lightly grasp the fence. I notice that she has no nail polish on. Her nails are very lightly pink. I light a cigarette and puff it, blowing the smoke away from her. I turn my head to the left and see the towers that house families and I could see a man cleaning his windows. I turned to face Vivienne and she took the cigarette out of my mouth. Her touch was soft, and for a moment her lips brushed my lips. She traced my lower lip with her thumb, straining through the fence. I let her. She touched the tip of my moustache trying to curl it. We are inches away from each other now. I can feel her soft breath, I can hear, I fancy, her heart. She put the cigarette to her lips and draws. She breathes out a soft cloud of cigarette smoke through her parted lips. It rolls out smoothly. I trace the bridge of nose up to her eyebrows and my eyes rest on hers. I reach out to her cheek, my hands on the fence. My fingers are too large, and I can’t stroke her cheek. My index finger is on her lips now, a touch so soft that I am not sure if I am just millimeters from her or miles away.

Her face is clear to me now, but the metallic touch of the rusted fence plays on my fingertips. She and I stood wordlessly but I could hear her voice as she whispered that I looked like a Prussian Officer. Her fingers stroke my cheek. She traces my jawline with her fingers, her eyes turn up to mine, and I can see them for the emeralds they are. Here we stand, a foreigner and a young girl in a floral patterned dress, and a gush of wind blows my hair. I touch it down and she pushes my spectacles up the bridge of my nose. The spell hasn’t broken as she steps away from the fence, her lips more set, smoking. She blows the smoke out of her lips and I want to feel them on my fingertips but my hands are too large. I stand at the fence grasping it with a forlorn determination. She smiles and  goes back into the school building. I stood where I was, watching her go, my lips still feeling her soft touch, but my fingers can only feel the powdery rust on the fence.






















Inconsolable ghosts of our past

My fingers are hesitant as they glide over the keyboard. I am not documenting the witness statement of a war gone by, I am not writing to state endless moral dictums and preach compassion to a crowd I do not think even exists. I don’t write these words with pride or with humility, I write them with a resignation to the cruelty of life, the bitterness in its truth and this displacement of grief that I cannot bury, even if this grief wasn’t mine. In Europe’s backyard, years ago, there was once a war. My countrymen know nothing of it, and if they did, dismissed it in light of our own wars that seemed not to end. The wars of my country were not the thundering crash of tanks exploding in alleys, nor were they boastful declaration of machine gun fire, my country’s wars were a buzz in the air, like the background static that plagues old records of old songs. This war that Marija breathed in was nothing to her then, because she didn’t remember, she remembered what happened years later, through the stories of grief and loss repeated themselves with a numbed repetition.

I was sitting in her apartment, her books strewn over every conceivable surface. My eyes caught “The Aerodrome” by Rex Warner, a rare gem that is forgotten now, and regrettably so. I waited for her to speak, silently hoping that there was some redemption since our first meeting. The spark in her eyes is returning, and I can see that there is a forlorn, almost melancholic determination behind her pupils. I wait.

“I saw the village again”. Her voice is soft, her lips form these words as if she kisses them in the continuum of Space and Time. “I heard the voices and smelt the stench of the mass graves”, she said, her resignation sounded like a bar on a piano that we seldom notice.

Her slim shoulders were turned towards me and in the moment she lit a cigarette, I could see the glistening tears that welled in her eyes. I could trace her collar bones, jutted out in her slim frame, with my eyes and I saw that there was a vitality in her that reminded me of a sapling forcing itself through the cracks in the cement of a building. There was a resilience in her that I began to admire, a quiet stoicism that did not announce her bravery with a clarion but with the clarity of a stringed instrument.

“What did you see?”


I am not a counselor or a therapist, I am a medical student who is an Ear now, and if I was a Greek God, there would be a metaphorical litany dedicated to my presence in Marija’s apartment on a Summer evening. I am not, however a Greek God, metaphorically or otherwise.

What was “everything”? Was it the culmination of growing up in the soil where blood had flown with such recklessness that nothing wounded the innocence of her spirit? What did Marija, who was ten at the time when the mass graves were discovered, see in the presence of men and women in contamination masks? The anthropologists who came with the pathologists and the observers of the UN didn’t have any words of consolation to give to the villagers of whom Marija was a helpless part. There was a stench in the air, and it wasn’t the stench of death. The bodies didn’t smell, but there was a stench of grief that permeated the air like the ether of a disease. The women and children of the village, having spent a few years in refugee centers, returned to this ruined shadow of their simple lives. The men were dead or were missing. Only the old and infirm answered the questions of the visiting forensics team.

One by one, the mortal remains of the lost were exhumed. They were lifted from their undignified resting place, twelve bodies that were counted and matched. There were three children, and nine adults, all males. Of the sixteen missing people, twelve were accounted for. In some record book, in some filing cabinet somewhere in the world, there would be a clerk, changing the statuses of these people. No longer would there be a question mark alongside the names of twelve missing persons. There would now be a black cross, and these names would be filed into a different folder. In my mind’s eye, I could picture the clerk filing away these names, making the appropriate changes and closing the filing cabinet. What was the clerk thinking as he received the directives from the Observation team? Would he be relieved? Would he just make the changes, lock the filing cabinet and go home, unfeeling? Would he weep when he was outside a grey building with the UN’s flag on it?

A funeral procession was held, pierced by the wailing of the womenfolk. The old men who had lost their youth and now had lost their sons and nephews carried the caskets draped with the flags of their identity. The children’s bodies had to wait because the Observer team accompanying the forensics team could not get them on time. The remains of the children were laid in the bombed out courtyard of a broken house. There was no room where they could leave the children and there was one man among the Forensics team who said that he couldn’t bear to leave the children out in the cold. The women brought out some blankets and covered the bodies of the children. Mementos were laid next to them. Candles were scarce, so there was no candle-light vigil for them. The courtyard was washed with the pale moonlight of a European night. Marija remembered the burnt blankets that were wrapped around the bodies. She could still feel its texture as she handed it to her mother who didn’t speak a word that day.

I wonder why I am writing this. It is an ungodly hour and my head is tired, my eyes want the soothing embrace of sleep. My head is light from the cigarettes I smoke, my throat is comfortably warm, there is a comforting bewilderment in my sleep-deprived state. I wish there was something consequential I could say to Marija, but I found that my voice was, suddenly, absent. For a few moments the two of us sat in silence. She remembers the funeral for the three children, their burial in graves that were more dignified than a hole covered by mud stamped in by military boots. As I sit now, fatigue weighing on my eyes, I find that there is nothing that I can say. There is a numbness to my verbosity. I took Marija out for dinner that night, after which I dropped her off at her apartment. Pale moonlight washes over the streets as I return home. There is a comforting silence in my apartment, a solitude that reminds me of something I cannot quite put into words. I too can hear the mourners and for a brief second, I think I too can smell the stench of grief, but it disappears in the clouds of cigarette smoke.


















Angel of Verdun

I haven’t written in a few days. Time, elusive Time. I find that there is a listlessness in my being that makes me want to switch off the lights and sit in the dark silence of this city and listen. What do I listen to? Do I listen to the pulsating calm of this city, or do I wait to hear a lover’s footsteps? Philosophizing is a triviality now, all that is said and done is transient. I have taken refuge in my apartment, in my solace and in my long walks through this city that I have begun to cherish as it were my own. I long for the sunshine of my adolescent years, the tumultuous sound of life in my own country but this encompassing silence in this city is a balm, dream-like but true.

I was walking silently through a very quiet neighbourhood, trying to gather my thoughts and relieve my unease. I walked through streets and by-lanes again, dreaming of something or someone I couldn’t make out. My  mind is a marsh, it is a cold, misty night where everything seems at rest. I sat on a bench somewhere and felt the darkness of my day-dreaming return. There is a term for it, melancholia, I think. Melancholia, my true feeling, my measurement of this world in my terms. I felt a light from a distant in the marsh and opened my eyes to see John, the Angel of Verdun.

“Ativ, you ray of rare sunshine”, he beams. 16 years old and he is happy. 16 years of walking these streets that are familiar to him and yet, there is a freshness in his step, a joyous exuberance from his being that makes me feel that I am in the right company. I smile a greeting at him and he sits next to me. I apologize for cancelling out on the dinner we were supposed to have a month ago. He is sympathetic. I look into his green eyes and see the spark of life. Marija’s spark is returning, and I am glad for a moment. I soak in his smile, his hair and his eyes, and I can’t help but feel a momentary elation. It is like being led out of a dark room into the warmth of sunlight.

“That evening in May”, I began, “You saved my life”. I am blunt, unapologetic, if not humble. “You saved your own, Ativ, come on”, he replies. I tell him the story of the Angel of Verdun, and he listened attentively. After I finished, he sat back on the bench while I lit a Marlboro. We are silent, as if we had just shared a moment of rare intimacy that makes you feel a twinge of shame. The shame of last month returned and I wished I hadn’t told him about the Angel of  Verdun. He leaned his head on my shoulder, hesitating for a moment to see if I was comfortable. I was.

I write this now because I promised the unfettered truth. There is no point in self-censorship. I face the consequence of my own actions, and I face, unapologetically, my doubts about myself. What started as a chance encounter between a drunk foreigner and a 16 year old boy is now a moment of humility for both of us. John’s father died in a drunk driving incident; he was the driver. He rammed his car into a bus, but apparently, even in his drunken state, he turned his car ever so slightly so as to not hit the children in the bus. His last act was an act of redemption. John was 10 years old then. He doesn’t have brothers. He has an older sister who hasn’t spoken to him or his mother since his father’s death. I listen. I listen and I can picture a confused, heartbroken boy in a black suit, burying his father and carrying the burden of a broken family. His voice is husky, thick with emotion as he recalls the police officer who told him that his father was taken to a ‘happier place’, and he knows the hollowness of those words, but that unenviable task, that of telling a 10 year old child that his father is dead is one that makes the entire disgust of platitudes and religion so obsolete. He has no resentments, just a wish that his sister would return to the house, even for a minute.

At that moment, I didn’t know what to do. Should I cradle his head to my bosom and stroke his hair, saying “there there now”, and try to console him? I put an arm around him and the two of us just sit there in silence. The streets are empty and there is peace. There are no cars, there is nothing. The only sound I can hear is the sound of John’s breathing. I stub out my cigarette and turn to John. I ask him if he is hungry. He knows a cafe nearby where there will be quiet. The two of us walk in silence and there is a gravitas. We are in our own bubble, a 20 year old man and a 16 year old boy trying to understand the greater meaning in our own suffering.

We enter a cafe and sit in a private booth in the corner. We sit next to each other on the sofa and he again rests his head on my shoulder. He is tired, mentally exhausted and the exuberance of an hour ago is gone. He is a man, I conclude, because he has borne the weight of an adult. Tragedy hardens us so much but I am glad he is not a cynic. I have lost friends to accidents, and I am a cynic, so I know how retaining your optimism is the more difficult thing to do. I often see patients for whom there is nothing that we can do and I feel disgusted by it. I feel the disgust and helplessness at my inability to do something for a Stage 4 cancer patient, or for a victim of trauma that is not going to make it. I witness the grief of humanity whenever I am called to the hospital as a student of medicine. I don’t know if my colleagues feel the same, grief and pity are private emotions and we, medical students and doctors in the making, keep our grief to ourselves.

But John is not a patient. He isn’t my patient, and neither is he someone who I pity. I admire his strength and the fact that he opened up about this grief to me, a stranger. Worthless are the trembling words of compassion, the sharing of grief, the emotional bubbles we choose to keep, like a broken heirloom. Eventually, our order comes around, served by a tall, thin woman who reminds me of Mrs Adams from the Adams family. John and I eat in silence. I break the ice by telling him that his taste in food is very good. The pie that I ate then was divine, made as if it was an act of love and devotion. Forgive my swing from gravitas and emotional depth to a mundane mumbling appreciation of good food. John laughs widely, he is glad that I like the pie.
































Happy Endings

We need happy endings. Often we don’t get them, often, the world is too brutally real and life is as cruel as it comes. Fiction gives us an alternate reality, a truth that exists in happy endings. Happy endings exist, happiness exists, possibilities for recovery, joy and gladness exist. All manner of positivity is a tangible reality, but then again, the past is a forest of horrors. The past is a brutal forest of terrifying truths cloaked in a mist of regret, but at times, the sun just shines through the pain.

A drop of dew is lens enough for our crimes. We must look for happy endings, and I can say that happy endings are real because I believe in them. We may get ripped apart in many ways while we live but as long as everything works out for the best, we can say that life has been a positive experience. I look around me in this strange city, I look at the people that aren’t mine and I know I am home. A foreigner I may be, but I have done my part for the joy I hope I bring.

Why do I feel this positive feeling? Why the gladness and euphoria? I am sober, there is no alcohol, no drug, but there is a grave realization, an epiphany that glides around the room I am sitting in, reminding me that there is hope, there is happiness, there is real beauty in the bloodthirsty chain of nature and relationships, and that it is real. I felt the grand weight of the stars as I sit, a foreigner at home, at heart and in mind, but a welcomed foreigner in a country that is beautiful. Home is where the heart belongs, and my heart is here, for now.

We have set our sights on ambition, I certainly have, but there is a calm relaxation in realizing that in our search for reality, we often forget that happiness is real. Cynicism is real, but so is optimism, however misplaced it might feel to those of us who are having our blues. I look out of my windows in the hopes of catching a crescent  moon drift across a cloudy sky. I see the streetlamps, our closest stars guiding the lost where they may be found. They led me to my flat as I walked gravely through the streets again, and I reached the door of my apartment to find a welcoming hum of silence and a warmth to my acceptance of the fact that this, right here, is home. I miss the streets of my city, but I am courting this city now, the streets here are my lovers, and in them I find solace.

The man on the verandah

I love nighttime here. I spend the whole day waiting for the night and when the sun sets, I am content. I feel satiated, as if I have been hungry all day. I feel that my thirst has been quenched when the sky turns black and the streetlamps come on. Sunset is at a late hour, but sunrise is pretty early, which makes the dark hours of the night seem so precious. I have heard that mythology exists that tells the story of a man falling in love with Dawn, but nighttime? The streets are silent except for the occasional pedestrian or car. The buses glide smoothly now, towards the bus station and I can see that there is a smooth motion to the buses.

A little distance away are apartment buildings, large and towering. I can often see people on the verandahs, smoking, or just dreaming away at sunset. Occasionally, I can see people move about in their homes. I wonder if they can see me here, and I have wondered about this question for quite sometime. This was answered this evening.

I was standing in my verandah, smoking Rothman’s mild cigarettes. the rush of nicotine was pleasant, breathtaking, and there was an uneasy comfort in its lightheadedness. I stood there, savouring a cool breeze at the end of what was a hot day. I was at peace, probably. I was at rest, dreaming away about my muses when I heard a voice come from below. It was far away, lost in the distance between my flat and the pavement below. I looked down to see a young woman wave up to me. I smiled back, wishing her something inconsequential.

“Hi”, she said.

“Hello”, I replied.

“Do you live here?”, she asked.A simple enough question.

“I do”, I answered, shifting to a more comfortable lean against the railing that borders my verandah.

She smiled, unsure of what to say next. I waited for her to speak. I am a patient man.

“My friend lives nearby, on that building over there”, she pointed to a building a short distance away, “She often sees you stand here”.

“Your friend has great eyesight, I can barely see anything at that distance”

“Yeah, well, you know”, she stutters and I realize that there’s a greater game afoot.

“She’s got a pair of binoculars, hasn’t she?”

“A telescope, astronomical”, she says. I laugh.

“It’s not that we are spying on you or anything”, she says again. I am amused by her stuttering. She’s apologetic about the fact that her friend, armed with a telescope, can see me and probably spends her evenings stalking me while I smoke cigarettes. I laugh and tell her that she has nothing to worry. An astronomical telescope is called so because it’s used to see stars. I thank her for the compliment. She laughs, and I can see her white teeth.

“It doesn’t matter, though, all you’ll see is a man standing at a verandah. In your defence, it is difficult to see anything clearly”.

She agrees. I know this technical detail because there is only one model of astronomical telescope available in this town and it is pretty useless for spying on foreign men. The technicality lies in its purpose. I cheekily ask her if she and her friend have named me something, as is customary with stargazers.

“Yeah, we call you the “Man on the Verandah”. There is a poetic way she says it, like it is some title of a book or a movie. I laugh again, I am, after all, a Man on a Verandah.

Una furtiva lacrima

I am listening to Luciano Pavarotti sing Una furtiva lacrima, an operatic piece from Cavalleria Rusticana. I don’t understand the words, but I think that the opera is rarely about the words, it is more about the beauty of the bars and notes that seem so elusive to the human voice. I listen to the operatic pieces of the great opera singers, but Luciano Pavarotti is my favourite. In his voice, I can feel the underlying emotion that flows like an undercurrent of a stream. In his voice, I feel a certain verbosity that I lack, a completeness that seems to make an empty apartment full of an ether that livens my mood but brings with a gravitas.

What do i feel as I sit smoking cigarettes listlessly, standing in my balcony? I stand in my balcony to escape the stifling silence of my apartment and to seek solace in the company of the traffic that moves on the road opposite me. The buses that travel past me are my favourite vehicles, and in each bus I catch the eye of a citizen, a person gazing listlessly out of the window. Who are we to each other, except strangers that choose to give each other company in a brief moment of time, never to see each other again? Is this a longing I feel or a dysphoria?

The track has changed to Christopher Spellman’s Sola perduta abbandonata, a guitar instrumental. I’ve been listening to it on loop and in each note of the guitar strings in a message that I can’t convert to verbiage even though I understand it fully well. It was the end track for a movie “Two Lovers”, about a man who was torn between two lovers. His sensitivity, his monochromatic emotion, his sentimental drive to try to do the best he could for both of his lovers left me lost. I find that I am lost, lost again. It isn’t a surprise anymore.

Where am I?

I am in an Eastern European town, and yet I am miles away. Miles away into nothing in particular. Where is my mind that soars and leaves my body behind? IIs this body such a shell that all it does is to carry my head to places it wants to go? My body is no amusement park, it is no temple to a spirit or a shrine to a God I don’t believe exists. My body is something I wish I could recognize. The face in the mirror is mine and yet, I see myself as if I am standing at the end of a long tunnel. It is cold, and it is warm and it is forbidding but welcoming, a dichotomy that makes my mind yearn for an anchor. I am looking for a lighthouse. I may have found it already but I am miles and miles away looking for a shore I can rest in.

I long for an endless expanse of sea, an endless expanse of sky, not this boxed sky that I look up to, bound by buildings and telephone poles in my sight. I don’t understand if this is an ennui, or a wound, but I know that neither does it hurt nor does it feel numb. There is a feeling I can’t place. I wake up drenched, feeling the embrace of someone I don’t remember. I feel wet kisses on my lips, the laughter fills my ears but my ears hear the seductive whispers of a lover. My mind knows there isn’t a lover, my  body knows there isn’t one. Of the two I don’t know which one of them craves for this embrace so much that it creates phantoms that chase me in my dreams.



In the long list of women I lust after, or have lusted after, is another one. Two more, in fact. With each passing day I feel as if there is a shift in the way I see the world, and every day I have a new muse. Who are these muses, you might ask, and I ask the question to myself. The weather is stiflingly hot even in the evening, the pressure of the upcoming examinations is starting to make its presence felt, but there is a sense of optimism somewhere in my mind that I am trying to find. It is like hearing something rattle in a dark attic, I hope to follow the sound to find its source, and who knows? I might find something interesting.

So there are two more women in my mind now. But before that, I need to re-establish a few a things. Past women, so to speak, are like ghosts now and they need their closure.

The Receptionist, the Waitress and the Projectionist I haven’t seen in quite some time. They’ve faded from my memory. Nothing remains of them except some empty, parchment like phantom feeling which I don’t think too much about. The Lab Technician has, like the Lecturer, been re-assigned to another branch of the University, and I haven’t seen either of them for more than a month.

So that leaves me Adara, the passing fancy.

It is funny how things come and go. I have been sober for more than 2 weeks now, and there isn’t even a slight urge to taste alcohol. I’ve stopped smoking for a week and that too is now a dead longing. It is as if they have become the decomposing roots of a tree that once thrived, green and lush. My interest in all of those “Unattainable Women” has just fizzled out into nothing. Masturbatory activity is now diminished and this is not a reduction in the interest for sex (my body longs for the company of another, some bright sanctimonious prick once said) and there is a gnawing dissatisfaction with life in general. Pessimism is realism, but sometimes reality is a weight that seeks to push you down into a quagmire of desperation.

Adara, Adara, Adara. The more I think about her, the farther she recedes into the dark. I see her sometimes but we don’t speak. I can’t think about it. I can’t bring myself tto having conversations with people because in a way I have become an island. I tried to keep some connection with people but I’ve found that it is so difficult. Guess Adara has receded into the mass, like a drug that I stopped taking and whose withdrawal brings nothing but an emptiness I am glad to have. I have Marija to think about when I can but she too is gone. She’s gone to Estonia for a week. Adara has shrunk into nothingness and there are times when I read this blog when I forget how Adara looks.

My obsession, crush, romantic interest, or whatever cheesy title you feel is good enough for this longing I have for two girls is, in some way, a little more concrete. I am not substituting a girl and my feelings for her for a drug. I am not, in any way, trying to complete myself, nor am I looking for companionship. One of them is British, the other is Turkish, and I am hopeless and wordless when I think about them. I meet the British girl everyday because she is in my class and I hear her talk about her frustrations in academics and feel normal for a little while. Someone once said to me that it is easy to be lost in your own shell in medical school, and probably it is this feeling of isolation that comes from being a foreigner that seals it, but it is an effort to speak, it is a burden to be a realist because that cynicism that comes with reality is concrete.