The fingers are drumming out Alanis Morrissette’s Ironic on the steering wheel. No, she isn’t singing or humming with the singer. The morning’s smile is gone. Her mouth is pursed in concentration. She will tell me soon what she is thinking of. I like her without the concentrating mouth. I like her little-girl features. I just mean her eyes here, mind you. They’re giving her away. If you take your attention from her concentrating mouth to her eyes, you’ll know that the mouth is only pretending. Her clear eyes are honest, and they betray excitement.
The world’s been running away from us. Trees, side-walks, houses and offices, cows on the side-walks, beggars and policemen. Farms. We could’ve been running away from them, but we aren’t. We are just in her new car. We entered Agra a half hour back, and could now almost touch the Taj Mahal if we stretched our arms out. If we wanted to. If I could stretch my arms out and walk, I’d want to walk to an ice cream parlour on my own, and point my finger at the huge vat of Cookies’n’Chocolates, and ask for two scoops. Or three. And then pick up the spoon with my fingers, and eat one delicious spoonful at a time. Myself. But I can’t. And I never will.
Don’t jump to conclusions. I can think. And talk a lot. And that is important. Speaking of which, she is important right now. Let’s look at her. Alisha. My kid sister. My fun world.
All is not fun in her own world. That is what she told me this morning. She came to get me at six. Amma let me wear my bow tie. Appa wheeled me out, and squeezed my shoulders just the way he squeezes the lemons for our morning lemon tea. I like it like that. Our parents are my care world. But I am still talking about myself. I do that sometimes. Alisha says I do that all the time. I just show her my tongue and ask about her day at the office. If we’re talking on the phone, I tell her I am showing my tongue. She should know.
Her office walls are red. I went there once. That is the only good thing about there. I don’t like advertising. It is like this road. It will take us to the coffee shop, but it will ask for too much of too many things. Being lifted from the wheelchair, getting adjusted on the car seat, the strangeness of the AC, the staleness outside. You know what I mean. Advertising is just like that. Alisha agrees with me. But she is the senior copywriter there. She told me.
She’s replaying Ironic.
We’ll reach Barista soon. We come here every last Sunday of the month. Just Alisha and me. Delhi to Agra. Just for coffee. People used to laugh at us, but Alisha said she didn’t care. I never care about pleasing people. Unless they are nice.
She’s not spoken a lot since we left home. That was three hours back. It must be because of the thing she is concentrating on.
I say, “Yeah?”
“Did I tell you I like that pink-roofed house over there?”
“Who likes pink roofs?”
“I do!” She couldn’t look defensive even when she tried. If I could put my arms around her, I’d hug her until she told me to stop, she was driving.
“Is it your paintings? Is that why your world is not fun these days?”
“My exhibition.” The drumming stopped.
“Do the people at the gallery not like them?”
“They do. But that’s not the point.”
I don’t understand. If the gallery people like the paintings, then there can be an exhibition. What is the point? “What is the point?”
“I don’t like them anymore.”
“But you painted them!”
“So what?” She pouted.
I think. I think I understand her less and less these days. I think I must try harder.
I say, “But the exhibition begins next Friday!” But I am thinking — can she repaint all of them before then?
Alisha decides to bite off her thumb’s nail. Just at this moment. She knows I hate, hate, hate it.
“Don’t do that!”
“Don’t chew off the nails.”
She looks away. The moment is gone. She could have told me. But the moment is gone.
There’s Barista. We first came here 12 years back. And fell in love with it. That is when Alisha and I decided that this would be our Barista. There must be at least 200 Baristas in Delhi. But there’s none like this.
All is not fun today, though.
Alisha’s been running circuits and doing weights for years. Just because she doesn’t want to huff and puff when she lifts me off the car seat to put me on the wheelchair. And the other way around. She says it’ll spoil her nonchalance. I don’t like the word.
When she wheels me in, she says, “Our seat’s taken. Choose another. Quick. Look at those crows over there, they’ll take a seat before we get in.”
I can see through the glass. Why does she have to give a speech?
“Let’s sit next to the girl with the cream moustache.” We hate the poster. First, it is too huge. Second, she could’ve wiped off the moustache before getting her picture taken. But that’s advertising for you.
“Why don’t you like the paintings?”
“Vic. I couldn’t explain even if I wanted to.”
“You don’t want to?”
“You talk too much.”
I sometimes feel like getting up and banging my fists on the wall. I’d prefer if it is a red wall.
“The gallery walls are cream.”
“Jess.” We took to pronouncing yes this way a month back because we liked it this way. So there.
“Your paintings are all purple-y.”
“So what’s the problem? Cream goes with purple.”
“They, somehow, don’t go with me.” My sister takes pauses between words only when she’s really, really, really confused. This does not look well.
“I thought I was painting my soul out, Vic. Is my soul purple-y? The eyes of the girls look wistful. I am not wistful. The, the, background’s all yucky.”
“Yucky? Why did you continue painting, then?”
“I didn’t think it was yucky then.”
“I don’t know.”
“I am tired.”
This happens to me. But I don’t chew my fingernails. Raja, our favourite waiter, has got us our favourites. Mine is Devil’s Own. Alisha’s is Brrrrista.
I like it when she opens her mouth while putting spoons of cream in my mouth. It’s like she’s letting me have what she wants. I love her for that.
“The strokes. Do you like the strokes this time?”
“Jess. I think I did good.”
“Al, you can’t paint all of your soul. It is too, well, a lot.”
“So I just paint a tiny part of it? Everytime?”
“Jess. Every single time.”
I can lift up my hand and pat on hers. So I do that. I have a feeling the fun’s coming.