Pooshie sat staring into the void. The blue, almost aquamarine void. They said she was colour-blind, but they were bigheads that were filled with empty spaces. In truth, she could not only see, but also smell colours. Like right now, in the void, she could smell a sea cloud locked in a beach sky, bursting with secrets that bigheads didn’t have the brains to intercept. She stared and stared, till her eyes turned aquamarine too. Now the void could stare at her too. They were staring at each other, like old school friends who didn’t recognise each other’s middle-aged faces.
A different smell brushed her face. She excused herself from the void and twitched her nose to discern the new smell. It was a known one and sounded like felt. Smells have sounds too, she just couldn’t get it why the bigheads always got confused by these obvious facts. It was Ghoth’s smell. Urgent, yet drawled out, deliberately designed to create an impression.
Pooshie was anything but impressed. She was so seldom impressed that she had marked the times out on a wall. The first was when she saw herself first. On a polished black granite wall face. She remembered the awe she felt as the hair on her back stood up in astonishment, then the disbelief that this was indeed her, and then the serious experimentation with her image that followed. She had to make sure it was her. Childhood is a panicky period. Too full of new things. While she loved inspecting new things, she didn’t like to live in that unsettling box of surprises.
Well, so she smelt Ghoth. With his grey-white coat barely covering his paunch and the rest of his unusually fat body. Ghoth and Pooshie were a thing, well, almost. Ghoth was a very young boy when he first saw Pooshie. Grey and obsessed with UFOs. Chubby even back then, younger than her, and awestruck. Pooshie was never what one would call beautiful, or even pretty, at first glance. But she was striking.
She struck an impression, like she was meant to.
Pooshie had already reached the age when she was having affairs. Old men, young ruffians, every male caught her indiscriminate utterly democratic fancy. Ghoth came along, a small boy in awe of the world and of her, and she seriously did not give him any thought. She was busier with other things. For example, female emancipation, and the Maoist Revolution. She was older, not only in months but also in stature and worth. It was but natural and socially appropriate that she wouldn’t pass a glance in his direction. He would, if he had to, vie for her attention.
Yet years later, in the sunny prime of middle age, here they were, instead of wallowing in midlife crises, a couple. She didn’t marry again. Because, huh, who wants more baggage. And he, after all his adventures and sexcapades just wanted someone to belong to. They stuck, in the most organic way possible. People said they were a thing.
Pooshie never agreed with people anyway. They were beneath her, and if she had the world her way, she would throw them off the continental shelf. Because that’s what shelves are for: throwing things off them. She hated most people. So most people thought her to be aloof and icy and unreasonably sassy. But truth was, she hated them, viscerally, her insides churned at the sight of them, recoiled in disgust. She hated them more than she hated tiny grey mice.
Ghoth flopped down unceremoniously, with the hint of resignation that was always writ large on his bottom. He sat there, within swatting reach of Pooshie, ingratiatingly licking himself. He did love her. When the sun rose high on autumn mornings, he would watch a sunbeam fall on her, lighting up half her face in a zigzag triangle, razor-sharp blade of light. That pleased him inexorably. He took care to take care of her. In a world of two-minute noodles relationships, he believed in a carefully baked lasagne.
In a world where men chose giving up over giving things a chance, he was different. He believed in himself enough to believe in her.
He had had his share of wars, struggles. She knew, though she took care to not show any care. On slow winter afternoons, Pooshie watched Ghoth stare outside, his pistachio eyes alight with memories of his heyday, and she distracted herself by brushing one of her two daughters’ already perfect hair. Maybe she should have shown more care? But that would be so out of character, and a weird example to set for her daughters.
They were impossibly beautiful, complete mamma’s girls, and more extra-virgin than paltry salad dressing. They adored their mamma, looked up to her. To break their bubble was something she would never let herself do. So she kept up being haughty with Ghoth. But he understood. He always did. In a world where men chose giving up over giving things a chance, Ghoth was different. He believed in himself enough to believe in her. Because he knew it was all worth it somehow.
When she sat with him in the winter sun, silently, he knew, like she did, that they were in this together. And that kept her young and beautiful, and he went head over heels like that first time. Though her daughters weren’t always pleased with their de facto stepfather, they were used to him. Sometimes, the younger one, reticent and unpredictable, would often express her resentment against Ghoth; the elder girl was more restrained in her manners. Together they managed.
The food was good here. The water, okay. There were birds outside that the girls were inordinately interested in. But they never ventured out. Their mother had taken care of their every need but this. They lived cloistered lives. And now they were too used to it. Ghoth frankly did not understand the girls much. But he bore them like he bore spring days spent indoors.
Pooshie was watching Ghoth. Just watching him lounge on the sill had a soporific effect on her. She felt the world fold around her in soft down, as she curled up into a comfortable ball. She knew this was not the best life, but right now she wouldn’t complain. She could feel her daughters pottering about with their awkward ladyness, and her heart brimmed with love. She remembered that she had had two boys too, though they were faraway in her memory now. She was softly drifting off to sleep.
Ghoth, overcome with emotion at seeing the love of his life sleeping so sweetly, chose that moment to brush past her and sit on the extended sill that was made (or so he thought) for him, having the best of both worlds—the splendid view outside, where he could quarrel freely with Toortoori without risk of physical injury, and the beautiful vision of his lady-love inside. What followed was that he leapt. Mid-leap, he regretted his decision to not exercise enough when people asked him to, to not go out to play as a child, to always be the responsible one, planning future investments and retirement schemes. He knew he had miscalculated. Land he did, but on Pooshie.
Out of the one million and one things that made her go livid, being woken up rudely from sweet slumber topped the list. And when he landed with his full eleven pounds and thirty ounces on her delicate sleeping beauty, saying she got irate would have been an understatement. As her fuzzy happy dreams went off in unicorn smoke, her anger rose from the pink pads of her soft feet and hit the tips of her ears in one swift motion, and like a trained guerrilla warrior, she swatted him hard, with both hands slapping his face back and forth in superfast motion. Clearly, it was not Ghoth’s day.
To add injury to insult, or insult to injury (hard to decide which was which and which was worse), Toortoori was sitting on the peach ledge opposite, and watched the whole episode with a scathing smirk on his round yellow face, dotted with the roundest eyes seen in these parts. Had Ghoth been a Bighead, he’d probably have gone to court and filed for damages and whatnot, or least of all, left. But he wasn’t one of them, and so he felt the heat from his cheeks seep into the depths of his ears, till his nose smarted from the deep embarrassment. It was so not his day.
It did not help that Pooshie turned contrite immediately afterwards upon seeing there had been a witness to her loss of temper. Because she knew she was coveted by both males, she knew what a sore point this would be for Ghoth. Though she did fancy the younger guy, she had to remember he didn’t have his loyalties in place, as Ghoth did. She was genuinely sorry, but to openly admit it would mean losing ground to Ghoth, and that was something her pride wouldn’t ever let her do.
Did she love him? Did she love anyone? Had she loved? She scratched her ear vigorously as she pondered. All she remembered was a monsoon from several years ago. The hair on her back was prone to being excessively twitchy and on end at the slightest stimulation back then. And she was easily stimulated too. It was then when youth had just begun to blossom in her, that she met him. Tall, advanced in years, aged like wine, nonchalant, and in love with her. She had never been stirred in her soul that same way ever again. No wonder she conceded to him being the father of her children. Four of them, healthy, beautiful, too perfect. If she had to rake up a memory of love, he was who came to her mind. Yet did she not love Ghoth? She did not know. She just knew she was so used to being with him, that were he not to be around her, her world would feel very amiss. She did not know if this was or was not love. But he had to be there, that was a given.
They said she had nine lives. She honestly thought that was another human exaggeration. And also, quite a bore. Did Ghoth too have nine lives? How many had he spent? She did not have time to wonder much though. Toortoori had walked away some time ago while she was thinking, and consequently not paying him any attention. The afternoon sun was slanting its last rays on the house as though loath to let go. Pooshie found herself stretching close to Ghoth, close enough to just curl herself around him, her head against his. She allowed herself to be surprised by her own little movement, because she liked to think she wasn’t thinking about it at all. Just a spur of the moment thing.
But Ghoth knew. And smiled in his sleep, as Pooshie’s warmth spread through him, like cheer and other lovely things, only cats are privy to.
Cover Image from iStock by Getty Images.
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