The longest time

For longer than I wanted, my father asked me to become someone else, not verbally, but by the time I told him, not verbally, that I couldn’t be that person, he said he had known all along. 

“Tell me what you want.” 

A man rides his bicycle, the one he’s had for many years now, the Hero cycle, brown wearing out in places, the chains creaking with each pedal, the man growing old every time the wheels turn one complete revolution. He is at least 53 years now, and as he rides his Hero cycle into the city every morning, he thinks that he has grown old much too fast. 

He remembers a day distant in the past. Then, a beard was growing, beneath which a man-boy smoked a cigarette happily, contemplatively, retrospectively; the cigarette falling slowly to ashes, and the man picking them up, happily, knowing he had another cigarette left; and as his mother called to him from inside the house, his house, a shrill, long voice saying his name, once before he heard it, twice before he decided to respond, and thrice before he shouted out— 

“HAJUR, MA, WHAT?” 

It has been many, many years now, since he heard his mother’s voice calling to him on a yellow afternoon; sometimes her voice would bounce against raindrops and come out louder, yes, but more distant. On those afternoons, he would be extra careful about the things he said to her, because, more than anything, he missed her, even when she was right in front of him. He missed her lips, her fingers, the pinky on her right that would go oh so confidently into her nose once in a while, excavating the insides in search of gold, and often, too many times, only snot would come out. On those afternoons, he would not raise his voice, not even if she said the same things a hundred times over, not even if she would say his name out loud with no apparent purpose in mind. Once in a while, she would ask him, “Chhora, how much do you love me today?” and he would reply, “Aama—” 

So much. 

This was before one of those afternoons. On one of those afternoons, she was alive. On another one of those afternoons, she had already died. 

Her body was replaced by a stone called rigor mortis, and her voice was no longer loud nor shrill. It was as though the world had come to an end, but the man continued to live, like a flower that blossomed to the very last moment until its plant died. The world had come to an end: there was nothing left, no oxygen, no air, no sounds, nothing to hear. There was no rhythm to the things the man did mornings and nights, and in that lack of rhythm, the man found something else— 

Love. 

It was a girl that he met when he was outside, bicycling on his Hero cycle. It was early morning, much too early to be outside, especially here, where no one went outside until it was too hot to be outside, and then everyone went outside. When the chains on his cycle escaped where they ought to 

have stayed, he clambered out of his seat and straight onto a muddy ditch that he didn’t see, ruining his shoes and his pants; and as he tried to chain back his chains, he caught glimpse of her. 

She was only twenty maybe. He was twenty and one. She walked up to him and she asked him— “Hi?” 

“Hello.” This was before he had looked up to see her face; only the sounds of her voice had entered his ears, and in the cold of the morning, in the air that the soundwaves traversed through, they did not sound as magnificent as they ought to have. 

“What happened?”
“Nothing. What happened to you?” “Nothing. What’s wrong with your bicycle?” “It’s old.”
“Well, I’m sorry.”
“Thanks.” 

This was before he looked up to see her face, before he found looking at him the most beautiful face in the world, before he found a piercing eyes convincing him that everything that happened in the world happened only once. 

The next day, his Hero cycle broke down again, just as he neared the street closest to the one from yesterday, so that the girl would come again, that lovely girl of only twenty maybe, and he would see her face today, and he would allow his brain to register her head. 

The girl didn’t come. 

Again the next day, his cycle broke, but the girl didn’t come. 

The day following the next day again, he told himself that maybe it wasn’t his Hero cycle that ought to be unchained this time; maybe it was something else, maybe something as stupid as a book that he dropped on the street, so that when he bent down to pick it up, the girl would be towering over him, so that when he looked up to see what had stood between him and the sun, he would see poetry. 

The girl didn’t come. 

The next day following the next day following the next, until all the days melded to form one singular stream of continuous time that never seemed to stop and kept going around and around in a straight line, he decided he would write a love note to this girl. 

He sharpened his fountain pen and began writing— 

“Dearest—” he started. 

After two weeks of suffocating himself in the same room in which he sang the Shriman Gambhir to his dying mother, the man realized that he was only twenty-one, that he was utterly much too young to be writing a love note to a girl who was twenty maybe that he had met only once but never seen. 

Now, when the man rides his Hero cycle, he reminds himself that there was a day in the distant past when his mother had died right before his eyes at an age so young, when she had been only forty- seven, when she had assured him that chronology did not matter as much in the real world as it mattered in matters of the head. When his mother died, he did not give himself a moment’s breath to weep, to embrace the idea that there was such a thing called meaning in death. When his mother breathed her last memories, he had gone to hump the thick plastic seat on his Hero cycle. 

It had been early morning, much too early to be outside, and his bicycle had broken down next to an empty street somewhere in New Road, where it was much too early to be outside breathing and well. He had met that girl, she had talked to him, and by the time he realized that he ought to look up, she had already gone. 

He remembers saying to his mother, moments before he met this lover, “Ma.” “What?” His mother replies, her voice fine, well, breathing.
“There’s so much happening in my head.” 

He was sitting on a couch that stayed parallel to his mother’s bed, because they were too rich to afford chairs. When his mother asked him to come sleep next to her on her bed, he refused. She said that couch looks too uncomfortable. Why don’t you come and sleep here. You look tired, too. He refused. When she asked why not, he refused to answer. 

And then he said, “Because there’s so much happening inside here,” hitting his own head with a curled up fist that held in it an anger that deprecated too much of the self. 

When the man remembers the love note that he started but never finished writing, he thinks that there are much too many things that he should have, could have, written to her. He should have told her that when she spoke, her eyes engaged in a motion so perpetual that it never seemed as though she stayed in the same place. He should have written that when he touched her skin, his own body teetered on the verge of falling apart, never to be put back together again, never to become one and only one. He should have told her that, weeks before they had met on that deserted morning in New Road, in a place that no one knew the name of, he had written a poem, with his fountain pen, the same pen with which he is now writing her names without knowing where to go from here, that he had written a poem about finding love in Kathmandu, and his mother had read it because he had let her read it, and she had said that it was beautiful, it was so beautiful, and it was so small. He could have told her that he wished he had seen her face before she died. 

His mother had cried once, long before time started to matter, long before days turned into hours, and hours turned into seconds, and seconds turned into circles, and he had asked her not to cry, please, because when she cried, he felt like crying, too. It wasn’t that he wasn’t strong; he was strong, of course, he had always been, a man, but it was just that his tear ducts gave away. His face scrunched itself up, his chin wrinkled into his quivering lips, and his eyes wet. He had nothing to do with it. His mother had cried many times after that day, and every time, he had cried with her, and long after she had stopped crying, he had found himself looking at her, unable to contain the loneliness that inhabited a whole layer beneath his skin, crying until he was sure that he had run out of tears, only to cry the next day, and the next day, until he remembers that day, now. He touches his fingers to his face and admires the spirals his skin has started to form around his eyes and his cheeks. He thinks 

that the craters in his skin would hold the tears that exited his eyes now, so that they would never fall to the floor, but it has been so long since he cried. 

He remembers that day again. It was the day his mother had died so quickly, gone one moment and disappeared in the next. When the blood that flooded her veins turned cold, he was outside, turning the wheels of his bicycle effortlessly until it no longer moved, until it was held in place, grounded, by the very chain that indeed allowed it to move, so that he had to stop. He had to stand up, to let his eyes understand that his cycle no longer let him move. He had to bend down, head and all, to see the grease from his chains feed on his hands. He remembers that day like the last second, the split second in which he heaved one foot over the other so that he could traverse space and time, so that, today, as much as yesterday, he has one more dimension than his dead mother. 

The week before his mother died, every day, he would bathe her in liquid water that became ice cold when it entered the pores in her body. He would wake up every morning only to remember that he needed to bathe his mother, because she needed to stay clean, because she had once told him that she really liked to stay clean, but she had always been too rich to buy soap. 

Moments before his mother died, she asked him why.
He replied, “I don’t know. I’m not sure.”
She asked him what that meant, then, and who would know, then.
He replied, “Me, of course, me! I would know! But I don’t know right now.” She had asked him if he was depressed.
He had replied no.
She had asked him if he loved her.
He had said yes.
She had asked him how much.
He hadn’t replied. 

When she had asked him what he wanted, he cannot remember, for the life of him, if he should have said that he wanted to be happy.