Opia Eclipses Almosts-Ashmeen Bains

Illustration by Shristi Singh

The nine mihrabs of the Turkish Baths served as mantelpieces to the nine-known planets who previously had vowed to pirouette around the Sun, had currently over-turned their position and were now seen undertaking fouettes around Luna instead.  The inlay of celestial marble and lapis-lazuli resulted in a magnificent dome which more or less chanted similarities with a glassy paper-weight (the ones which are placed on the well-polished heavy walnut desk of a lawyer, desks that are hardly ever attended) which had been hollowed-out to incorporate Celine, who was seated on a cemented graphite pedestal. It was around two minutes over half past two in the clock familia of Istanbul and the Geminids meteor shower had just kick-started their flying brooms to cruise through the entire perimeter of Earthy sky.

Seated on the dais she distinctively heard his footsteps approach; if it wasn’t for her preparation of this moment- rehearsed by her instinct, she could’ve easily misidentified those footsteps to have been knocks on each of the niche, the planets thumping their heads against the mantelpieces repeatedly. He approached quietly, nevertheless steadily, and she didn’t fixate her vision on him, not until he had wade the whole lonely orbit to park himself substantially long and strong, right beside Celine. He briefly opened his lips, only to be hastily interrupted by Celine;

“I don’t know you, heck I don’t know you at all. I’ve just seen you and talked to you once. And that too for a pathetic short fraction of a minute.  I tried making you speak, I did, in my imagination. But it was as if…I was perched on the edge of my property of imagination that I boisterously own, the property barely strained by the posh white-picket fence circumscribing it…I was staring out into the horizon, the horizon of soft bubblegum pink and azure nebulae, somewhere I knew you resided, and I couldn’t sow up a fragment of you on my soil when all that my imaginations could toil were to look out for you. That’s it. So now, that’s what I’ll do. I’m going to feed words and incantations in your mouth, always with the fear of making them too liquid or too sweet or too unpronounceable for your manner or taste, but I’ll do it anyway. You’ll look at me the whole while, see, you’ll rather stare as I speak for you.”

“So here I begin,”

“Hesiod, he said that first Chaos came into existence, followed by the broad-breasted Earth and then finally arrived the nimble steps of the infant Love. So, Chaos pre-dated both of them. You, you strike me as the kind of person for whom the Nature had to be the active agent to stir up this brewing Chao-tic soup for the Love to usher in, while me, I’m the kind of person who would raise an eyebrow to warn the Nature to stay at bay as I step ahead cause the whirlwinds with the swirls of my fingertips. That’s how we’re different.”

He closed his mouth, tilted his head slightly, proceeding to smoothly settle himself right opposite to Celine. His palms were relaxed and pressed down on the dais whereas her fist was clenched tight. “Continuing to look at me, you’d thus speak like a wise Zarathustra,”

“If a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil, does it cause a tornado in Texas?”

“Jim,’ you would acknowledge,” bleakly smiling, he lent out his hand to Celine, following the lead. Short-wavy almost silver hair, a long face and none of this mattered as much as his eyes which rather lived up to the designation of Sun (or star) assorted to him; they bore the vital illusionary essence of twinkling, bright and blindingly.

“I know, I would say” as she shook his hand, she smiled in almosts because their act had only started to unveil, and the meteor shower had only commenced across the sky. She had a strong eye, liquid with precision. They were whipped of caramel-honey tints but carried the personality of that of a turquoise hue.

“So this harbinger of chaos,’ you’d question as you configure about the possibilities taking out your cigarette box rapidly but not hastily, you’ll  light one victim of the pack, mentally shushing its cries by falsely claiming to the sacrifice that its greatness was akin to a fallen star. You’ll continue, ‘the chaos that is churned on both of our ends, although differently, is their personality similar in any manner? Doesn’t it have to reconcile and overlap at some point? Otherwise, how are the events, considering talking is an event in itself, then how do the events and people are meant to stumble across and onto each other?” Celine mildly pressed her breath between her teeth when Jim mirrored her tale and extended his fingers in his back pockets for the cigarette, soon to be clenched amid his teeth.

“Funny,’ you’ll remark…” His gaze still steadfast on the balter of her lips and long thin transparent fingers, he lit his cigarette and took one swift puff, Celine gazed up at his eyes- having her vision hypnotised by him and her mouth separately bewitched by the gushing recklessness of her mind that devoured the space between them.

“…how it reminds you of this Aristophanes’ soul-mate theory that I rather ardently argumented for, in one of my books. People, who live by this theory are primarily hunting for another extension of their narcissistic selves, because…the soul-mates that they are seeking out about are either too similar to their existing selves or too alike to the ideal ‘self’ they’re writhing to bag. You will also briskly add that you did notice the example of a rather familiar Virgo and his likeliness to gravitate towards another fellow Virgin mate, and well…state that subtlety isn’t the ideal embellishment of my niche, after all.”

She paused when he threw his head down to chuckle at almost inaudible decibel, she breathed in twice and continued,

“Although you would know better, you’re the writer here,’ you’d end your response shrugging your shoulders while consuming the fallen star simultaneously. But I would wait to anticipate your need to even out my previous accusation. With one brow lifted, shrugging again you’d stare at your fingers that had the cigarette planted in them and neatly contest, taunting,  ‘…also apparently you owe the foremost agency to set things into motion, to be able to brew your chaos, to add tiny strands of your individualism as if being the top-branded saffron.”

“And I would respond, pointing at the ceiling, ‘This, Up here… these intricate carvings of the Islamic architecture they overwhelm me and leave me numb, immobile; while for you, it would grease your motor musculations and other guttural senses to fire away with rapid executions and ramble out artistically. For an excruciatingly long time, I tried to figure out how would an infant creatively respond if she’s just born and brought up in a room containing nothing but enclosed within four-canvas white walls and nothing else. If the infant happens to be me, it’ll set off my neurotransmitters in the most mantis-shrimpish psychedelic way, and if that kid is you, you’ll perhaps annoyingly scratch your head and let your head roll off in a drowsy lull. The personality of a chaos can be incredibly different…it has to be. It has to vary to ensure that the art that each half produces is numerically and qualitatively separate from one another. But I think, rather know the sustenance for the soul-mates, what is sustaining us, well at least in my head it is the equivalent distortion rather demolition of the realm of time… tearing down the peeling tarpaulin of its skin inch by inch as simultaneous rehabilitation of a trajectory-linear intensity is maintained. The waning wax of the candle is the time while the flame is the intensity. This is why perhaps it never really mattered to us, initially at least, to be constantly in touch; maybe it’s a quality of just us, or it’s found to be uniform by the National Geographic of duologies and thus is prevalent amongst other soul-mates too,”

Celine pauses to roll her eyes, mentally noting to not to emphasise on the term soul-mates repeatedly out of the response to the fear that it would end up sounding unintelligent or worse meaningless.

“…that we were thoroughly aware of our boundaries, our skin. We respected our half-being existence and worked to utilise all our sensory perceptions to its maximum utility until we knew we’d eventually bump into each other again. Halves were full, that’s as fortunate as it can get.”

“I’m realising right now how bleak it sounds, akin to a lustrous but meek wave of whispers getting disintegrated in a void of vantablack air.  But most of the times it feels that language has extensions of gracious fingers with high-fidelity motor-functionings on their tops, the innocent, optimistic faith that the listener can indeed sense my linguistic pokes, traces and even scratches on their shoulders and cheeks. But the other times I just get reminded of my reverse puppeteering, these linguistic fingers turning inwards to choke any of my guttural sounds to stillness.”

Celine looks up, “Also, your strict jawline and the bone structure reminds me of this cemented casket that I’ve built and stored in the lower vaults of my cerebrum, which is a very faithful mould to churn out endless bodies of the romantic ‘others’ for my stories. A queue of too many vintage wine bottles getting systematically pumped out of the glass-factory.  How utterly terrifying it is to find your permanent muse when you’re twenty.”

Unsmilingly and thoughtlessly he slouches forward, keeping his chin gently on his palms, he blinks once, the fallen star currently unattended and left to wither gradually. “Getting the hint, you’ll lean in and tell me how you attended my gallery opening a year ago and also stuck around for the book reading, mostly on the perimeters, choosing not to step in my vision-space. You would say, rather sombrely, with a cigarette pressed in your mouth that it was odd to hear about your self, mostly it was the discomfort from the confusion as to why were you drawn to an absolute stranger. After your play, this one particular stranger appearing out of nowhere like the Sophists who chin-outwardly believed in creating matter out of nothing came forward and enquired about your favourite phase of the moon. And with limited nods and an engagement of active opia from your side, she left.”

He raises both his eyebrows as he sucks in another puff, “Opia?’ I’ll confusingly make a distorted face to which you’ll instructively retort, while tapping lightly on the cigarette end, making me deliberately understand in that precise moment how we were born almost a decade apart and no measure of knowledge can outweigh the sledge which is greased by experience. Letting the lukewarm putrid ash fall, you’ll elucidate, ‘It is the intensity of looking into somebody’s eye which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable.’ An image of a glycerine blob of paint of gruesome hue getting merged into an added another blob of pleasant colour, spreading out, acquiring all the space that’s there to it, forms in your mind. ‘What about you,’ you’ll ask me. ‘What vision is painted in your head when you hear this term.“

“Two planets, preferably one aqua and the other one golden in colour; the aqua one being slightly bigger than the golden one and them colliding into each other, I’ll reply.”

His vision affixed onto her, she gets scuffled, and resorts to the look down although not necessarily at any specific thing, she continues, “The unspoken frustration of being so young, inept, barely out of college and who hated to be looked at as any other admirer when you were already in your late twenty’s juggling your existence as a successful theatre artist and a fascinating writer. How inappropriate it would be to consider Frida a mere fan of Diego and how insufficient to think about Boris as an odd interlocutor-companion of Sher-Gil. There was such a strong metaphysical presence of structured essence in all of their inter-crossings, faith in their assured belongingness to each other, the lava perfectly boiled and designed to fit in the belly pits of the volcano. I took my time, and here I also address my contradiction to my previous annihilation of the time’s magnificent emerald realm, it’s almost as if this gangster of a guy-‘time’ does a million terrible things relentlessly but in an extremely Godfather-ly manner promises to keep just one nuance of your life untouched, unaffected, unblemished; I always happened to know that it would be us and we would eventually meet, over and over again. So I took my time to fill in that artistic abyss with whatever trinkets I was able to gather: quills, paper, stories, vignettes, lived experiences, concepts, yarn, and dump it all to make it fuller. You were so unsettled with out the first conversation, weren’t you? Partial and rushed and abandoned. Therefore, I shall ask you what my second question would’ve otherwise been for you four years ago. Have you ever tasted a spider’s web?”

With that Celine leans in and unknowingly mimicks him, placing her chin on her right palm, appearing far shorter than her true stature, silent waiting for his response. He smiled, fully and completely and with a jolt, Celine realises her hiccupping lapse of memory and re-positions her spine to a corrected erectness;

“As the trend has been until now, I’ll proceed to answer my question anyway, telling you in the manner of berry-picking much of my predictable surprises- I obviously did taste it, and how utterly nonsensical it was to find out that it tasted like sheer nothingness. Completely contrasting to the effect I imagined it to have, the slight crinkle noise of the stars one imagine one gets to hear if only she concentrates hard enough.”

“You’ll slightly crane your neck to the side as you light yet another cigarette looking at me, through your whisps of creation, ‘In college,’ you’ll begin, ‘there used to be this one moment where I used to get so smoked up that when the clouds…these spools of smoke used to exit my throat; I could feel a very diluted fragmented piece of my soul depart with it. I knew that because those clouds tasted different. I don’t know much about the spider’s web but now thinking about it, it seems that they are a solidified version of this.”

“Clutching time as the proper equipment, I’ve retraced the enigma of the pattern of smoke with the help of the theory of ‘predictability.’ Who’s more predictable, people or the smoke? In my early thirties, I’ve trickled to the realisation that on any given day it’s people who champion to be more predictable and irascible than smoke itself.”

“You’ll look away, re-think and turn around and say that when I suddenly came into corporeal existence, in front of you out right after your play as if I possessed no real history… at least not intertwined with the world that you lived in or were familiar with. That I seemed like the person who had her personal investment dug and gravelled in the idea of matter being created out of nothingness and thus pervasively manifested it. While you, who carefully calculated that matter only changed its forms and then wanted to understand how this transformation of my entering your life, happened, from where was this energy borrowed.”

Sighing and finally dropping her head to view her toe encircling the engraved cobalt spheres on the floor, Celine merely whispered, her voice flickered with the fast blowing wind of the meteor showers outside- constantly turning audible to inaudible and then shyly back to audible. “I was so hopeful; I remember my early college days I used to carry my passport and other documents around with me all the time. Ready for the disposal on the prospect of eloping, or instinctively fleeing, but then soon, I just…stopped.”

A hushed conspirer- a sweat bead on Celine’s jawline trickled down from her neck to the shoulder, and Jim couldn’t possibly help but begrudgingly lend a maximum chunk of his attention to the snailing sweat bead rested smugly on her collar-bone. He gently inclined in, his head sloped in the hollowness of her head and shoulders; with a single precise movement he wiped off the pearly smidgen of the bead with his thumb, right from her ear to the neck and the fine hill of a collar-bone. The sagely understanding cigarette perched between his fingers of his free hand, pressed lightly against the marble dais chortled quietly as it emanated curtains of full-opaque smoke whiffs to render the image of Rene Magritte’s The Lovers II to them.

“You would then ask me, finally,” she pursued but with an unflickering whisper, staring right into him, “that why did I suddenly bolt and didn’t attempt to continue that conversation, didn’t stir up further the incited space between us and to that I’ll carefully but curtly respond that unlike me that day, I knew you actually had your passport ready and you were flying off to a different city to the Louvre of things or bodies that you love back at home. Would you… would you have chosen to cancel your tickets and stay back?”

There was a whistling-circling gusto of heightened silence in the minaret which made his eyes ablaze, the white light from his eyes blinding her, and perhaps that was the only time she could probably hear the stars crinkle.

‘What were the pores on his skin to him; were they echoing water-drawing wells or a field of hissing hot geysers,’ she neatly unfolded her first question to him at the break of the dawn.

She’s been writing since she was 9, somehow even before being a voracious reader. Currently pursuing Literature major and Creative Writing minor from Ashoka University, she hopes to be involved in all disciplines of Arts someday.