Nostalgia and the Past

An extract from Lost, a love story to make you fall in love again

by Bob D’Costa

1

Nostalgia

 

He stood at the pavement near the crossroads. To his left was the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. A clutch of people entered through the glass door. He fixed his eyes beyond them where he noticed her coming down the long flight of the last arched stairs. She walked down the landing, her pair of blue jeans and the white loose shirt haunting him as always. He realized then he always admired her graceful walk. He took the few steps forward as she came out of the glass door.

   A smile appeared on her lips as her eyes fell on him.

   “Sorry, I’m late.” A twinge of apology appeared on her face.

   He smiled. “It’s okay.”

   They held each other’s hands, and stepped on to the concrete road, and walked to the pavement across.   

 

Rohan jolted out. He opened his eyes in slow measures, and looked ahead. Fai was not anywhere around. Yes, it was a reverie, no doubt. He shook his head with some vigour, and could make out the sleepiness fading away. He raised his head and looked at the western sky. The last red bit of the round glow was left to sink on its knees behind the building ahead.

   He had been sitting at the balcony of his house since the sun had been turning crimson. He loved this transformation, this slow metamorphosis of the sun’s colour from yellow to this blood red. It somehow made it alive in his mind that red meant energy; fire. Fire in Thai was called Fai. Her name. Fai, the girl he loved.

   But, then again, after this redness, this fire, came darkness – the night.

   In slow steps, the sky turned ashen, and even the balcony began to take the same colour. He looked down. Far to his left a young couple was strolling hand in hand. Otherwise the pavement lay deserted. The silence of the evening came soft into Rohan’s ears. The couple too, perhaps, understood the silence, for they paused, and looked at the western sky. The lady pointed her finger at the overspread grey. The man too gazed. Then he turned his face towards her and very soon their lips met. With the man’s arm around the girl’s shoulder and hers around his waist, they resumed their walk.

  Rohan took the tea cup. Some tea was still left, around one-third of it. But it tasted different now. Yes, it was not warm any more. He looked out again. The call of the crickets came in rhythm. A few fireflies blinked like floating lights around the bushes. Rohan smiled. He liked this time of the day. This time fading away. Fading to become something else. Wasn’t that creation? Yes, this was his favourite time.

   This time had become his favourite since the last five years when he had spent three weeks in Bangkok.

   With the sound of the insects in his ears and the picture of gloam in his mind, Rohan stepped inside. His was a small house. It had a sloping roof, and two of its walls were actually wooden. Teak wood. His father knew some timber merchants who supplied wood to the wholesalers in Sealdah Market. When one of the walls began to show signs of crack, his father had decided to change the cracked wall and the one opposite to it, and fix wooden ones instead. Even the balcony was wooden, complete with its shade down to its side walls and including the floor. To top it all, the house stood on thick legs ten feet above the ground. Rohan had christened the house The Ranch House and it stood in the middle of one acre of land on the edge of a quiet road overlooking a lake. The other end of the road, about five hundred metres away, joined the main square, and this meant hustle bustle, with private vehicles and cabs, and passenger buses, and snack shops, cell phone shops and a petrol pump. But this part where Rohan’s house stood, the silence was meaningful.

   His father had laughed at the name Rohan gave to the house.

   “The Ranch House.” His father tapped his chin. “And that too in the city.”

   “That’s the best part, dad,” he answered with mild challenge in his voice. “A Ranch House in the city. That’s unconventional, and so it’s unique.”

   His father had only smiled.

   Rohan took the guitar standing against the wall and strummed some chords, turning his head around the room all the while. His father had said that every being on earth should learn to play at least one musical instrument.

   And while in school, he had gone for a stroll with his father to the New Market. They were walking down when Rohan’s eyes had fallen on the glass case of the musical shop. And inside it stood a guitar. He stopped. Something in him said, “Rohan, you should possess a guitar.”

   As Rohan continued strumming, he recalled how the very sight of the instrument more than fifteen years ago had pulled at the strings of his heart. And how that whole night he had restlessly moved about in his sleep. How true his father’s words were when he had later told him: Express your feelings by playing the guitar.

   His father played the flute quite well. He would, at times, sit at the balcony holding his mother’s hands at the fading dusk, the flute on his lap. In the midst of his reading, the melodious sound of the flute would reach Rohan’s ears.

   The strumming continued bringing old memories. His mother passed away in her sleep in the nursing home. His father sat alone at the balcony since then looking at the setting sun, the gathering dusk, and listening to the crickets and watching the movements of the floating spits of fire. A few weeks later Rohan noticed the flute still lying in the glass showcase.

   “It’s been long, dad, you haven’t touched the flute.”  His voice had a slight enquiring tone.

   His father looked up at his son. His deep brown eyes were washy, and they were wise.

   “All the music is in the head now.” A gentle smile appeared on his face. “I sing them in my mind. I sing them to an audience in an open-air theatre.” He paused and looked out at the starry sky. “All the seats are empty. And yet, all are full.” He stretched his hand and gave a gentle squeeze to his son’s hand. He looked up at him. “Your mother has always been my audience.” 

   Two weeks later, his father too passed away in his sleep.

   Since then Rohan took to writing more furiously. He would look at the sky from the window or from the balcony and suddenly some lines would appear in his mind. He jotted them in his notebook. Staying back at home gave him that freedom to choose his lifestyle. He worked as a content writer. In between his work of collecting details from the internet and writing the articles, he made sure not to devote more than four hours per day, five days a week, into his profession. He gave the remaining time to his own creativity. He sent his poems to online journals. Some got accepted, while the editors sent rejection letters for the others. Comments began pouring in.

   One day he found he had composed more than hundred poems. He selected fifty of them and sent the bunch to an online publishing house. They made e-books and got them published online through the largest digital printing company, keeping thirty percent for themselves and sending the rest to the author’s paypal account. His book got published. Reviews came up in online journals.

   Several things happened in the country. The price of petrol escalated, and so did cost of essential goods. A paramedic student was gang-raped and killed by a group of three young men in Delhi, bringing nation-wide wrath. Religious and social organizations held rallies and prayer services. A few weeks after the incident, Rohan received a call asking him to take part in one such gathering and a request to read out a poem on social issues in Allen Park. He did so. The next day’s newspapers flashed Rohan’s picture reading the poem. They even published the poem next to his picture. Rohan looked at the news. But one single corner in his heart was still empty.

   Then one day as he opened his inbox, he found an invitation letter from the secretary of the apex body of SAARC organization inviting him to attend the SAARC Festival of Literature. But, Fai, are you aware that all this is taking place? That was all Rohan sighed out to the sunset that evening.  

   And now Rohan’s luggage was ready. He took the letter from the table and read the contents once again: We are happy to invite you to take part in the five-day conference of AP Writers and Translators Association to be held in Bangkok, November 5-9, 2012. Accommodation to the writers will be taken care of. The letter then spoke of the various venues on various days of poetry readings, creative writing workshops and book launches and the like.

   Rohan wondered where Fai was. After his return from Bangkok, he had sent her an e-mail.  But somehow she hadn’t written back. He had sent around three e-mails every week since then. But no reply had arrived. Both of them never believed in social networking sites and so didn’t have an account in them. All of a sudden, she had closed the window.

   But he was leaving for Bangkok tomorrow morning, and on that thought emotion began to stir. He had some difficulty to comprehend the feeling within. It brushed his heart with some happiness, yet within that happiness lay some moments of sadness. It was not nostalgia. It was something different. It was a Fai-Rohan feeling only he could understand. And perhaps, perhaps Fai too could. 

   His eyes continued moving, and his fingers strumming as he remembered all this. His head turned to his small study table and allowed his eyes to rest at the picture of a Thai girl. He began strumming a Thai number and his mind drifted back five years ago.

 

 

2

The Past

 

It was the month of November when he and two of his friends – Raj and Max – decided to take a short holiday to Bangkok. The air was comfortable and warm. They had checked in at a simple guest house. After some rest they had gone sightseeing. In the evening they went to the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre close to their guest house. It was a large building of five stories with paintings and work of sculpture displayed. When Rohan and his friends came to the ground floor, a group of high school students in white shirts and black trousers and the girls in black skirts were standing around and listening to a man talking from the pulpit. Very soon a lady went up and began reading from a book. 

   Rohan and his friends went closer. The girl next to him glanced and smiled at Rohan.

   “Sawasdee Khap.” Rohan said in a soft voice, bowing his head slightly and with a namaste.

   “Sawasdee Ka.” And she smiled with a slight bow of the head and returning a namaste.

   “What’s going on?” and he pointed at the person in the pulpit.

   “Xan bth kwi ka,” she smiled.

   His forehead creased, and his head shook.

   She smiled. “Oh you don’t know Thai. Okhay. I’m sorry,” she said with a South-East Asian accent. “Poetry reading.” She smiled again.

   He observed her at this time. She wore her hair open, and they were straight and jet black that reached till her shoulder blades. Her cheeks were fleshy to a slight degree, the cheek bones high. Her pair of eyes was narrow but one could not say they were small.

   “Oh I see,” Rohan whispered. The poet at the pulpit had lowered her voice now and continued reading. “I’m Rohan,” and he smiled.

   “Pardon,” and she craned her neck.

   “Rohan,” he whispered again, but this time close to her ear, pointing to himself.

   She ran her fingers over her left wrist. “I’m Fai,” she smiled.

   “Fai. Good name. Sweet name.”

   “Okhay. It’s sweet-ter,” she whispered still smiling, “when you pronounce it correctly. Fa Ee”

   “Ah, I see,” and he pronounced it correctly this time.

   The girl next to Fai, in school dress, looked at her friend and both smiled.

   “Okhay. Dee ma,” and she smiled at Rohan. “Dee ma means very good. We get invitation… to listen poetry reading, you know.” She whispered again. “We have many poet and writer… but they write in Thai.” She paused. “So now some serious pepawle decide to translate Thai poem and other literary work into English.”

   “Oh that’s good…. Dee ma.” He flashed his teeth, doing a thumbs-up gesture at learning two new Thai words. And she smiled.       

   Raj and Max looked at their friend deep in conversation. Raj nudged him. He smiled at Raj, then turned to Fai. But her head was turned to her friends next to her. With her head facing him, Rohan could smell the fragrance exuding from her hair. His eyes closed, as if she had lightly touched them. He pictured her sitting at a cove looking out at sea. Dusk was about to embrace the shore. The last light of the day was vanishing in stealthy steps. But the approaching dusk was trapped with the heady smell of the mermaid’s hair. Fai’s hair.

   A sudden noise hurled him back to reality. Everybody was applauding. A poet, with his salt and pepper hair tied to a pony tail, came down the pulpit, his book in his hand. The poems must have been really amazing. 

   Rohan’s friends were clapping too.

   “Clap, you donkey,” Max said, gritting his teeth. “You can’t be flirting so much as to forget the poor guy on stage,” and he aimed a kick at Rohan’s leg.

   And Rohan began clapping like a clockwork toy. He turned his head to his left. Fai was also clapping. A soft murmur of words was filling the landing as poetry lovers exchanged views among themselves.

   Fai turned to Rohan and smiled.

   “These are my friends, Max and Raj,” Rohan introduced. They both exchanged greetings with Fai.

   She turned to her friends. “This is Meesook, this is Sangduan and this Wutthipong.” All of them exchanged greetings.

   “That is Thai poet, is Sitthichai,” Fai exclaimed. “He a famous poet of our land,” and she nodded her head with pride.

   “Come with us,” she looked at Rohan and turning to her friends, they began walking towards the side of the pulpit. A long line of tables were laid. On it were kept sliced fruit cakes, cookies, and other kind of dishes – Thai sweets he had seen in Google images. Students were already proceeding towards the tables. Some poets were drinking coffee.

   Fai and her friends were already at the tables. Rohan hesitated, and his two friends stopped too. With snacks in her mouth, Fai and her friends were busy talking. She turned her face after a while, looking within the crowd. Then she craned her neck, and spotting Rohan, called him with a gesture of her hand. Rohan began proceeding towards the crowd when she came up to him.

   “Why don’t you come, Raw-han?” she enquired.

   “Umm, do you think it’s fine?” he hesitated, running his hand through his hair.  “I mean it’s for the poets and for you all.”

   “It’s okhay. You come.” A slight determined tone lay blended in her sweet tone. “Food is for everybody, and here plenty food.” She held his hand. “You come with me. Your friends come with me.” And she looked at Raj and Max. Rohan was struck by her determination. Her South-East Asian accent coupled with some broken English sounded so fresh in his ears.

   Very soon all of them were at the tables. Rohan picked up a plate and a few snack items. By this time his friends were busy talking with Fai’s friends. A lot of laughter and smiles were exchanged. Meesook was holding her stomach with laughter at a joke by Wutthipong and then very soon the others joined in.

   The coffee container was kept at the end of the table towards the window. Fai excused herself and walked towards it. Taking a cup and filling it, she turned and found Rohan at the window. She came and stood by him.

   “Which school do you study in,” he asked after he had finished the cookie inside his mouth.

   “Ruam Rudee International School,” Fai spoke biting into a sliced cake.

   Then she asked about him, about his hometown and what he did. He was in college, he said and he didn’t have anything particular in mind about his profession, but would surely find something to his liking.

   “I’m in high shcool, and will be appearing for final examination in a few months,” she said while sipping coffee.       

   The day light outside was running away, and streetlights were already on. People were walking over the walkway of Siam Square. He turned and also found her looking at the street outside. From his position at the window, and with her beside him, Rohan didn’t want any other world. He believed in living one day at a time. And what could be better than living only for today; and especially for this moment. Yes, Fai was next to him, sipping coffee. Right now, he observed, her cup was on the saucer, her middle finger lightly rested on its edge and the forefinger and thumb held the handle of the cup in all gentleness. 

   I wish that handle is my palm you are holding. He was surprised at his thoughts. Thoughts are the only part that will be honest to you, his father had said. Hearts will stir, but thoughts will be honest.

   He noticed her fingers. They were slender in form. He noticed their curves at the joints, the thumb nail very pink; and the back of the hand where a few veins stood out in prominence in their light green colour against the fair skin, like streaks of rivers in a map.

   “Where are you staying here?” she looked up at him still holding the cup.

   Her voice sounded reaching him from far.

   “I’m sorry. What did you say?”

   “In which hotel you all stay here now?”

   “We’re staying at The Asia Guest House at Phayathai Road.”

   “Okhay, that is not far from here.”

   “No, it’s around ten minutes walk.” He took his cup to his mouth. “We came here today morning.”

   “And do you like Bangkok?”

   “Oh it’s a lovely city. So vibrant. No honking of cars. The people look so peaceful.” He stopped.

   She continued observing him, and she smiled.

   “It was earlier called Siam. See-am,” and he pronounced it.

   “Yes, Siam. But you say Sa-yam, and not See-am.” She smiled. “It looks you have done your homework very well. But,” she smiled, “I can only give you five out of ten.” She laughed.

   He laughed too. Then he took a sip from his cup. “By the way, Fai, where do you stay?”

   “I stay in Ladprao neighbourhood. It is around ten kilometres from here.”

   Except Rohan, Fai and their friends and a few people, the rest had vacated the snack area. The poets and the organizers were talking among themselves. Rohan, Fai and the rest began proceeding towards the main door.

   “Fai,” Rohan’s voice sounded calm but he could make out it was a bit shaky. She turned her head and looked at him. “Thank you. Khop khun khap.”

   “Ka. But why do you say that?”

   “For the wonderful time. And for giving your time.”

   “No, that was nothing, Raw-han. We came. You came. We laughed…”

   “And we ate free of cost.”

   They both laughed. He looked at her as she laughed, her teeth flashing in all whiteness. All of a sudden she looked up at him, and her eyes locked with his. She spotted a certain strangeness in his eyes; in the way he rested them on her, his head tilted a bit to one side, his lips open, his eyes with a faraway look, as if magical.

   And she stopped in the middle of her laughter. She brought her eyes down, and very soon raised them at him. She was fidgeting with the handle of her satchel.

   He found his voice at last. “We were given free sim cards at the airport here.” He hesitated. “And, umm, I purchased a Bolo card from Family Mart next to the guest house.” He took out his cell phone. Hesitation crept in him again. “May I give you my number?”

   She nodded. “You may give me your Bangkok number.” She took out a notebook from her satchel and Rohan jotted the number down. He scribbled his name next to it.

   “Umm, would you mind giving me yours? Your number?”

   She called it out and Rohan fed it into his cell. “Fai what?”

   “Thongtaejing,” and she spelt it slowly and steadily.

   All of them stepped out into the pavement. They waved out at each other. Fai and her friends crossed the street. While Rohan and his two friends waited for the traffic to halt at the other crossing, Rohan glanced at the other crossing across which Fai and the other two took. But they were already gone and were waiting at the bus stop.

   “Hey Rohan,” and Raj put his arm around his shoulder in a squeeze. “It looks like someone’s heart strings have been strummed.”

   “Welcome to Bangkok. The land of Fai.” Max teased with a twinkle in his eyes.

 

Nostalgia and The Past are the first two chapters of the novel Lost.

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