Friday, September 19, 2008

How To Play Dumb-Charades

E felt that the best part of any meal was dessert. It couldn’t be resisted. It couldn’t be supplanted. The effect of dessert to him was implacable, sweet and gooey. The texture made him grope toward it. The smell nauseated him immeasurably, in a nice kind of way, made him tingle. The thought of it made him salivate. As he sat there, in the middle of the crowded café, he felt all of these things again. It lay on a platter in front of him, waiting to be eaten, passively inciting him to devour it. He looked at it for a long time and then diverted his attention. He felt he had to look away. Something about the place was remarkably wrong.

He thought about home. The privacy of the kitchen. The warmth of his enclosed room. The blinds drawn across the windows. The little table beside the large dining one, encompassed invitingly by little stools on which he occasionally sat. He thought back to these things and imagined himself eating the dessert. It was so tasteful, the place, the food in his mouth, the complete, inviolable silence; it all staggered him. He made him feel strangely inadequate. All around him now, people jostled and crowded and sauntered in and out of the café. It was a ceaseless flow of a pushing crowd of faces. It frightened him. He felt afraid for the sanctity of dessert. It almost seemed brutally violated by the kind of noise around him.

He felt a hand on his shoulder. He hated the obstreperous café. But he disliked having to talk above the din even more. It was a friend.

He rarely chanced upon friends. He usually knew who he was to see, at what time precisely, and for what reason. He did sometimes meet them without any real plans as such. This he reserved for those close to him, because they always knew what to do; eventually, they wouldn’t need to make an additional effort. It would simply be worthwhile to do nothing, and just be in the other’s company. But it piqued him when he did need to make an effort. To resist the desire to ‘plan something out’. To resist the temptation to ask the same questions all over again; to keep away at safer distances the repetitive questions that scurried around in his mind impromptu when something like this came up.

But this time, he turned around to find someone he had met a couple of times the previous year, and was exceptionally glad to see. Later, he would have to change his mind.

He liked the way these chance encounters worked out. It didn’t involve any unnecessary thinking up of ‘plans’ on anyone’s part. Everything was left entirely to the flow of the moment. If something demanded instant attention, they didn’t fumble or titter around to distract themselves. For example, if they needed to know which way led to the office from the café, they wouldn’t trundle around the entire place, trying to let time pass by so deliberately so that they wouldn’t have to wait, sitting in the cane chairs; they would simply walk up to the office, intentionally getting the needed work done, without contrived attempts at being casual.

K stood behind E and waited for him to say something. It was usually like that. People waited for him to say something, always say something first, to which they could say something back. It annoyed him. But he liked it when K did that. It held a feeling of unanticipated expectation suspended in between. He thought he saw K divert his eyes and look toward someone else.

R stood in front of them both, and she giggled and giggled. She giggled interminably. She didn’t giggle just for those who could withstand it, but for everyone. Even those whose aural tendons flinched at the sound of her caterwauling noise. She tittered and swayed like a ridiculous pendulum, making every passed second go by most annoyingly. Everything seemed to hinge on the maniacal titter – her inauthentic presence in a full crowd, her passage from one table to another like a loitering, redundant school girl taken advantage of, wallowing in a slight, almost imperceptible bit of shyness.

It irritated E to be here. It annoyed him endlessly that he had to wait for no reason at all, to watch the tedium of their interaction, their trying to talk to one another, their need to be seen together. It made him feel like a spectator in an already defunct performance of limbless trapezes and leprous acrobats. He felt he should leave.

When he came back, with a drink in hand, K looked at him and twitched his mouth into a suspicious smile. He said, This is R. And R, this is E. E looked back at him and said, Well, hi, but I know who she is. K looked askance at E. R seemed flustered. She had said something to the contrary a while back. K saw that it was an admission of some kind of unmentionable feeling of mutual distrust. He looked at R for a while, but didn’t elaborate. It was clear already. They were playing the ignorance card. The act of not knowing the other person even when actually doing so. The ignominious game of dumb-charades.

R tittered some more and then flitted away. E wanted to walk away right then. But he didn’t. He didn’t feel like slamming the door on K’s face. He didn’t think it was right to make him feel silly. The awkwardness didn’t affect him at all. And it didn’t justify any meanness directed at K. He decided he wanted to be nice. He would tell him later. He didn’t want to dumbfound his social censors, ticking away eagerly from minute to minute. K felt that a lot of what he was as a person converged in the café. E’s breaking away from the myth of the web would anger K. It would certainly anger him.