– This story originally appeared in the August 2012 issue of B O D Y
The day I bit an apple, and it bled, I knew we had died.
Downstairs, in the kitchen, you were brewing tea(rs). Love is under fire, in someone else’s home: a kettle’s weak scream. We have died. The snow has turned to water, falling like (sh)eaves from the roof. It is already mo(u)rning.
You smile, kiss me, turn back to (English) breakfast. The s(l)ight of your shoulders makes me want to weep. I reach for milk, an outpouring; my hands shake, wild spills deflect off the light on the spoon in the sun. I set things right. I walk to the table, steady myself, sit still. You place the cup in front of me, your self across from me. I need to go, I say. Did I say it out loud? I put a hand to my throat, say it again, I need to go. Mmm, where? you ask. A way, I think, I look for, a way out. There is (n)one. Away—from here, from this, from us. You look at me, unendingly, you look uncomprehendingly: you leave me. Upstairs, on the bed, the sheets are stained with red. You look at me.
God, look at me.
A lone gull cries across the seas of streets that fall away beneath my feet. Sun flares, furious glares, through the cracks in the walls of the world. It is not yet mo(u)rning, and already it is killing me, dy(e)ing me in red.
In the dream I watch, you run, blind, through the broken city. I call your name, my voice— it breaks, and you cannot hear. Tears stream from my eyes, scream for the once you left in your wake, I wake, to find you gone, the bed stillwarm, our love stillborn, between the sheets. It is more than I can take, without you here to hold—to take—in my arms. You take nothing, leave everything, as if everything were mine, as if I were a mine field(ing) these bullets that graze the single strand of hair across your pillow, where you left it, left us, behind. I cannot move, cannot remove, these secrets of your skin scattered like glass akin to your heart where it shattered across this room when I was downstairs in the kitchen with the tea(rs) and you were,
in this room where the stains from the apple s(l)eep between the weave of the sheets,
I weep. I grieve.
It was not the kiss, the tenderness or the way you said goodnight, but all the times you brushed the hair from my cheek when I would sleep beneath the light of the moon in our room. The train is pulling out of the station, the breath is hurt(l)ing out of my chest, every tear on my cheek is a gash on my heart. The elderly woman, she sits beside me, her fingers veins of leaves—you leave me—reach for me, for the scarf, sighs dear it is lovely, just the colour of your hair, brings out the colour of your eyes, your eyes which are shot with blood, which she cannot see because she is (colour)blind. I look through the window, through the driving rain; driving through the blinding rain, I look through the water, coming down in sheets, in the morning, in the winter, you will wake to find me, gone. Every mouth is your voice, every face is your smile, I cannot lose you cannot find me before we drown between these sheets where we can not breathe. Venice, you would say, sweet, city of love and tears. It is where we will go when we die.
We have died.
In the morning, in the winter, in the water: when I need you, to find me, love where will you be?
The first time I left you, at the airport, you were still a child: you clung, you cried, you capsized. Your drowning eyes, so big with tears; I looked at you and I was lost, in the(M), in the mist amidst Montmartre on that day when I lost you for the first time: chats noirs scowling from corner shops, hawkers hobbling through cobblestones, drops of sky so big with rain—‘Monsieur! Un parapluie?’—all this paraphernalia, then: you, standing in the lane, in the rain, with that écharpe de laine, you put the scarf around my neck; you put your arms around my neck, buried your face in the smell of my skin, I said, “It won’t be long, love”. You whispered something so soft your cheek as it pulled away from mine. I took your chin in my glove, wrapped your face in my love, said breathe in when you think of us. You smiled, we kissed, I let you go.
I let you let me go.
The first time I met you, at the airport, you looked like a child through those deep drown brown eyes. I watched you make feet with your hands in the mist, on the glass, this side of the wind(ow). I sat beside you with my café au lait, you looked up from your blizzard of frappé-latté, I held my breath and heard you say:
I’m going to New York.
New York. It’s where we go to start a-new—yes, you say, you start again, I’m going to New York, I know, it’s where I’m going to(o)—New York?—yes, again. I (mis)placed my heart in that city, I think—a city with a heart, you were saying—it’s why I keep going back, I think. Is there anything I should not miss? you ask.
Yes. A heart. A plane. A chance.
Instead I say: the bridge.
You smile. You reach for your bag, pull out those apples, rub them on your sleeve, look at me. Would you like one?—
—your voice it sings my breath let go. We have only just begun and already I miss you.
This morning, in the darkness, I try to find my way.
Downstairs, the milk has soured. Tea leaves jagged hearts mocking fortunes at the bottom of the cups. I try to breathe but how, when you were both light and air? Everywhere, these images of you that live in me(mory), I cannot look away and I cannot breathe.
I open the door: fresh milk, fresh news, fresh ink: a letter with your name, the letters of your name. You still live here.
I bring it inside, put it on the table near the telephone light: urgent flashing red. Messages, for you, for me, for us. I put my head in my hands, pain pulsing through my nerves, wonder how it is that everyone but me can live, this li(f)e: You still live here.
I open the door. The neighbour’s daughter, selling cookies, thin, uncertain, shy; struggling for balance on too-long legs, like those wading birds: flamingos, herons, cranes her neck to look beyond me, to look for you. You still live here.
We are standing in the doorway. The bird cocks her head. “She likes the one with hazelnuts”. I look at her: strange timid tremendous creature, she knows things about you only I should know. Yes, yes she does, I say slowly, and take the box she is now holding out, an offering. She smiles, a little, shaky teeth; then turns and flies down the porch steps.
I am here, again, in this place where I was born standing my ground on a rock salt on the breeze, on my cheeks, in my eye lashes, a wave lashes my skin, and I am displaced. This place was before you, before us, before me the ocean stretches to a hidden sun. I walk up the slope, to the house, the gradient so familiar stones in my shoes so peculiar this wind that never lets me go. You said you’d never let me go.
I open the door: into the room, into the past, into the light. Nana radiant in the chair, he has grown so small, the dog so big, the fire so bright. Nothing has changed. Upstairs, on the landing: memory, history, time. Outside, in the garden: crabs, apples, rain. Beyond, in the kitchen: tea, warmth, dreams. Downstairs, by the window, a little bird finds shelter. Nothing has changed.
Nana’s face breaks into a smile creases the laughter lines around his eyes wrinkle, lights twinkle, I walk into his fra(g)il(e) arms, he sways, a little, shaky legs; then steadies himself, says: “You are home”.
We are standing in the doorway. The bird cocks her head, then turns and flies, down the porch steps through the orchard to the water by the bridge. The flap of wings, the phone: it rings: your voice still sings, come home again, that place I used to live, that boy I used to love, Nana, apples bleeding tears (s)weeping through the dust over the wood into the floor, that boy, Nana, I left home for—he does not love me anymore.
I rise among the ruins.
Cookie crumbs and scars on skin, feathers on the windowsill, mouths and cheeks and little sins.
You always draw me, you would say, draw(l)ing in that lilted smile, reaching up to tilt the blinds, hints of laughter in your eyes, glints of noonlight on your thighs.
Like spells, you cast the nets so wide; like sprites, you splashed away my pride; your fingers kissed the knots I’d tied, yet in my heart I could not undo what I had done before you and your eyes and God, when you would look at me I could not forget, and your eyes like God, when you would look at me and now, God, look at me.
Even when our ship capsized, the sun was always on your side.
I wake, in the darkness, in my father’s father’s wake, I wake, in the night, he has died. I step out from under the stairs, and the lights, and the star(e)s, lean on the wrenching, retching, wretched pain, and now you: (em)brace me in your arms, (ef)face what we betrayed, break on me in waves. Oh, love. Nothing has changed. Only you know how to hold me, know where the wounds are still bare, know that nothing could ever be said. We could move away, we could move apart, but we could not move on. Your fingers kiss the viole(n)t bruise, the one from when I was ten(der), the scalding water scar(r)ed my skin; it shivered the way skin does when it is cold: do all our extremes evoke just one response?
You were a refuge(e) of love, in the deluge of my wanting, and I wanted it to be you,
in this life
I wanted it to be you.
NIDHI ZAKARIA EIPE grew up writing her way through the Middle East, South Asia, North America and Western Europe. Her recent work has appeared in such places as T Qatar: The New York Times Style Magazine, TED, REORIENT, Dissident Voice and Culture Unplugged. Acutely peripatetic, she lives, for the moment, in Doha, Qatar.