Act VI

Life had not snuck silently past. It had been a slow, deliberate, high-octane drama played out in five acts, with staccato dialogue and questionable direction, hysteria and inept expression, banal music and imagined climaxes, its protagonists as naked from the back rows as from the front, its predilection towards a trite end evident in the rank imperfection of its beginning.

The books in her vast mahogany shelves were the changing backdrop as one set disappeared into the darkness and another was arranged with more tired fonts, more worn clichés and more minimalist emptiness. The rectangular void of those gone filled with more benign contradictions, carefully curated so the new bore no resemblance to the old. Tolstoy, Gibran, Eliot, Marx, Gandhi, Whitman, Tao, Baldwin, Tagore, Aurelius, Nietzsche – the coming and going of the books like konnakol beats, vocalized percussion rhythms, that traced her every movement— faster, slower, towards, away, louder, softer, year after year, feet dancing, feet dragging— the scenery changing, until that moment in the darkened theatre, the sounds deafening, watching herself, a book clutched on her lap, turning, as if compelled by the tempo, catching the eye that caught hers, moving through time, feet dancing, feet dragging, even while she was spot lit on the stage, even while her head turned back from the fourth row, watching the seventh, naked, clothed, pulses in timeless meter, time stranded in the aisle, the book clutched harder, the book that had not fled, the book that had not replaced the one that had not fled.

The music cracks— a cough, a snigger, one beat too many, two beats too less, the mridangam drummer overcome with horror, the unseeing audience not seeing as phones twinkled between pockets and skin in arrhythmic insolence, the rustle of silken dhotis and sarees as the knowing knew and shifted uncomfortably, calves and eyebrows raised in arched judgement. The scene pauses till eyes shift and the spell is broken and the book falls and curtain falls and the backdrop is gone forever.

Life had not snuck silently past. She pushes her hair away from her face, still young, still old, still ageless, her heart loud in the forced interlude, the drama of her life drifting into act six without her on stage, without her in the fourth row, the empty seat in the seventh watching intently the empty circle under the spotlight, a slow violin sliding into the quiet, the book climbing into the seat in the fourth row, the empty seat three rows behind it burning through the back cover, still young, still old, still ageless. The drumbeats gone forever.

this mulberry tree, this worm, this untouched skin,
this silken shroud —
everything in lockstep