I remember the exact moment when I became an addict. I was sitting by a wide window overlooking trees newly painted by the season. It was Fall because leaves had taken up new disguises, bright orange like pumpkins that sat on doorsteps of overzealous families weeks before Halloween, and dark red like the color of bricks that burn in kilns on the outskirts of Lahore, and new yellow, like the crayon little kids use to color in their suns. The sharp gray outline of the house next door cut off the scene abruptly. The smell of spiced caramel hung in the air – candles burnt low in their glass houses.
The wind was too cold for a day in early Fall and I couldn’t tell the smoke from my breath. It was deathly quiet save for the faint strains of a piano. My mind was at peace, and my heart beat slowly, serene and regular in its rhythm. My hands were cold because I had the window open, and when I inhaled, the end of the cigarette lit up like a firefly had come to rest on it, I inhaled and the cold, clean air mixed with the nicotine and rushed down my lungs, filling my veins, stilling the flow of thoughts and blood inside. The week before dissolved like salt on a bird’s wing, soap bubbles popping at the touch of the wind. It was a moment of perfection that hung suspended while the cigarette continued to burn, the smoke settling in my hair, in the wrinkles on my dress shirt.
The minute hand clicked into place with the hour hand – 6:30 pm, and the timer went off. The chicken was ready. I looked at my cigarette and it was almost gone. I remember the exact moment I became an addict. It was a day in early Fall, somebody was playing a piano and dinner was ready. It was 6:30 pm.
I remember the exact moment I realized I was not in love with you anymore. I stepped out from the warmth of your dimly-lit house into the sharp cold of a winter night. The sky was beautiful, black, a few stars glittered, bright and lonely like tears. Most of the stars had made the trip to my town and settled all over, across the branches of trees and sturdy bushes, along the eaves of roofs, and curled around balustrades, draped, taped, scattered and twinkling. It was deathly quiet, almost as if I was enclosed in a glass bell-jar. The air was still and cold like ice. My breath formed a small cloud in front of my face, I breathed out slowly, and the cloud promised life and then dissolved into the night air like a magician’s dove. My cheeks were starting to feel as if they were sculpted out of ice, smooth, so cold they almost felt wet.
I dug my hands into the pockets of my jacket, looked both sides and crossed the street. You live on a street of quiet, humble homes that house raving intellectuals like you. Mostly PhD students who have chosen books over people, and like infatuated teenagers or new mothers or new dog-owners, all they can talk about is their books, refusing to read the lack of interest in other people’s eyes, lost in the delight of their own love.
My love for you is not like that, my love for you is painfully, beautifully private. Nobody knows, except for the tree beneath which I bury the letters I write to you. I feel the stiff paper in my left pocket, a poem you have written and I have stolen from your desk.
You are a poet, a Persian scholar, with soft brown eyes and you do not know that I love you.
I stand next to the bus stop, beneath an orange street light that creates a small halo at my feet, a private performance on a private stage; I am the only audience to your poetry. This is not the first time I have stolen your work. I suppose I cannot help it, as I sweep your floors and caress your furniture with a duster, slow and purposeful in the holograms I create of you sitting at your desk late at night, head drooping over a thick, leather-bound book, putting your feet up on the chair next to the sofa, resting your head back to gaze at the wooden ceiling fan that is not attached to any switch in the house…
I love reading the words you write, always in black ink, in the neat cursive of a boy who has just learnt to write like that. I always thought you write so well, your words flow over my skin like the river over a bed of rocks, like the warm breeze that plays with umbrellas and blankets on a beach, like the leaves that try to grasp the wind, rustling longingly.
I remember the exact moment I fell out of love with you. I took out the piece of paper and read the words you wrote in your black ink pen, and waited for a few moments, realizing that they had no effect on me, that they sounded hollow, and even stupid, your handwriting appeared limpid, contrived, and your words so hackneyed, impersonal. I folded the paper into a small square and lifted my eyes, surprised, feeling lighter. I heard the silent snowflakes tumbling down from the sky before I saw them, as if the gods were naughty little children running along the heavens, kicking over pails full of soft cotton. I looked up and one fell on my lip, a whisper, a kiss, melting at the lightest touch, dissolving into me. The snow came down quietly, beautiful and breathtaking in its magnificent silence, and then I heard the bus. The glass dome was lifted. I knew the exact moment as the bus pulled to a stop in front of me, exactly three minutes late and the minute hand had already left nine behind.