Inside a dusty bathroom cabinet lies an almost empty bottle of body wash. Expiry date: 10/11/15. I unscrew the lid to get a mild whiff of orange and lemon, remnants of a citrus concoction that lathered my supple, young body years ago. It reminds me of how it would make me feel, invincible like the wind, the earth, the sky and everything that enveloped it. Every time I would use it, I would feel like a sunny summer afternoon that couldn't be contained, a poem that was living in someone's heart but never penned on paper, a butterfly that would get away every time someone got too close. I was so sure that I was born to be relinquished to whimsicality.
I dig through the slush pile to find an old, chipping black hair clip. It snaps back and forth. Back in the day, no number of hair clips or elastic hairbands could tie down my disobedient mane. It really did have a mind of its own. In the past decade, that nest has dwindled to a humbler bun (but still with some flyaways). Today, it looks more put-together, older, wiser, as if the sun has worn down its defiance into acquiescence. I wind a twisty band three times around it into a thinning ponytail.
When I was twenty-one years old, I went on a solo trip to Ooty. Two days to discover anything I pleased. I met backpackers, an ex-naval officer, an Indonesian model, an engineer-turned-hostel-caretaker. But I hired an auto all by myself to visit Tiger Hill Cemetery in Coonoor. A thousand rupees and forty-five minutes later, I arrived at a cemetery that was shut. I jumped over a low wall to stroll past graves of little girls gone too soon and old men who probably lived out their whole lives in a foreign land. Pressed between the pages of a blue notebook is a wildflower from the cemetery, translucent pink with its nectar spilled across the lines. It is a keepsake of that spirited girl who trespassed on dead people's land just because she needed to feel alive.
In an empty green glass bottle are wisps of forest wind that waft up its lips every time I stroke it. Pebbles clang against its insides like tambourines, a potpourri of past escapades, really tiny paper boats of hope sailing out on request. I think of songs a friend has composed, words and tunes that soothe this burgeoning emptiness within me, sometimes throwing open a window that lets stillness settle in, albeit for a fleeting moment.
I wonder what it is about my obsession with whacky stationery. My purple unicorn pen has run out of ink. There's a hippopotamus stapler sitting on my desk – shiny brown, beady-eyed and wide-mouthed – ready to bite into a growing pile of inconsequential sheets. It feels smooth against my thumb. There were days I'd stream my conscience on paper, pin it together as wisdom for some other lonesome evening. Years have passed since I've written to myself. When I was sixteen, I wrote a letter to my older self, congratulating her on all that she had accomplished. If I were to write to my future self now, I would congratulate her on simply making it that far.
Somewhere buried in my laptop folder is an image of a Japanese woman, cutting off the ends of her kimono so as to not wake a cat. Sitting in my air-conditioned room now, I pick at the loose threads of an old sweater my Paati knitted on a cold Calcutta morning. I watch her hours unravel in my hands, possibilities forgotten in favor of responsibilities. I wonder if I will ever grow into half the women they are.
I am learning how to self-soothe. I am rediscovering my love for crayons, coloring outside the lines in children's books. I have a hula hoop that I use to teach myself to be comfortable in my own skin. I wear bright green tulle skirts on some days and pizza pajamas on others. I am not who I was, but every day, I am becoming a little bit of myself again.
I want to grow into
a simple, old woman.
With wrinkles under my wristwatch,
I will tend to a terrace garden full of
wildflowers. Then I will put on
Ray Lamontagne (or Kishore Kumar)
on a gramophone and prepare
my famous garlic rasam for my nieces.
They will come by, a little later than planned,
and I will sit by the large glass window
to read my favorite poem aloud
for the umpteenth time until
I am interrupted by the quiet click
of keys in the lock.