It started with the small blue notepad his mother handed over to him. She was busy in the grocery aisle; he was running around, getting in the way. She ripped out her shopping list and gave the notepad to him to entertain himself. His 6-year old fingers doodled and channeled his tiny self out of trouble.
Waiting in the checkout line, she entertained him by dictating all the items in her shopping cart. He was proud of his first list. He felt almost grown-up that day. After all, writing and list-making was the effortless skill of adults. A notebook became his constant companion.
An avid notes taker, the slate lines on white paper were like a mystery, jumbled puzzles, slowly revealing themselves only to his eyes. The sound of a sharpened lead tip across the paper, the mild scent of wood from the pencil in his tiny hand, and the gradual emergence of letters, figures, words, engrossed him more than any toy could ever.
The sparkle of ink just about to dry in permanent unison with a piece of paper was a romantic story for his adolescent heart. Crumpled paper hid fragments of poetry that did not sound right to the evolving poet. Torn and shredded scripts lay in trash bins when stories with precious secrets had to be discarded. In his notebook, he had a friend, a confidant, a punching bag – and the pen was his favorite tool.
Making a list become an integral part of his life – a habit – almost a lifeline, or as many would say, an obsession. His morning ritual consisted of documenting a dream journal and then making a list for the day. The dreams he channeled through his journal, often found ways into his manuscripts. He attributed the magic realism that dominated his writings to the power in dreams.
The list kept him organized; something that his family appreciated. They saw in it a virtue and in him a good man poised for success. It was the invisible director in the grand play of his existence, as it meticulously unfolded over the years. Living was about words, mostly numbered and check marked. He wouldn’t end the day without cross-checking the items on his list.
He loved the rhythm and planned precision of his existence. A happy recluse and a published writer, he was following a script in black and white and today he was meeting a new literary agent, suggested by a friend and critic. The draft of a book was incubating in a yellow folder in his laptop and today’s plan included stepping up its evolution process.
There was something about her. She exuded an aura that was pristine and turbulent, as if no cosmic laws could ever bridle her. Her soul was unfettered in a body that refused to stay still, constantly churning her into a volley of action. Words, gestures, anecdotes, reproach, criticism, sarcasm, laughter, appreciation, all tumbled out of her in forceful gushes fuelled by thoughts as liberated as wild horses. Even the gentle breeze seemed ruffled in her presence and storms danced in glee of a boisterous cohort; waves splashed a little higher and the river gurgled just a bit more. She loved nature and it loved her in return, just as she was – unrestrained!
He gazed at her in awe, slowly absorbing the tornado she embodied. He imagined being swept away in the swirl of her turbulence. He realized this storm would wreak havoc. There are interesting couples and then there are romantic stories that defy logic and are a recipe for disaster from the start. If they ever got together, he knew they would crush each other’s soul because the opposites in them would clash with stupendous ferocity.
Potent forces were already at work. The impulsive girl, in a ruthless relationship with freedom, was drawn towards this creature of habit, of precision, and organized existence. She asked him out for a date, a few days later. It was not on his list for that day. She made him move things around on the white pages dominating his life. He obliged. He was able to make time for her. He then started setting time aside for her. A date featured regularly and conspicuously on his list.
Everything, each time cannot go as planned, especially when you have to cater to another. She called him one afternoon for an impromptu trip into a beach town, to spend the weekend. He panicked. He couldn’t travel without a plan. Love made him shuffle things around, hush his mind, and create another list in-flight.
His list-making amused her but she also liked his persistence. She knew the list grounded him and she trusted him to keep her grounded when they tied the knot. It did not occur to her why a free bird like her wanted to have her wings clipped; why did she even need to be grounded! At that time it was just one of the impulsive experimens fuelling her existence. She lived for today; for the thrill the newness of a bright new day brought with it; wondering about tomorrow was not in her faculty.
Love shrivels with time. Veils drop, shrouded facts are revealed. Quirks that seemed cute and impulsiveness that charmed, soon lose their appeal. Most couples tide over this phase when it is possible to build bridges and meet each other half away. That is how the divine forces may have ordained it. Man and woman need to survive each other’s company, long enough to give a chance to their offspring, who are not designed to be abandoned, well until past adulthood. But when a floating feather meets still waters, gossamer notions are left stranded on a ripple of misgivings. Life stands still or so it seems. She was stranded.
He wanted to live a life bound by lists. She couldn’t understand how those black marks on paper could decide a movie was not on their schedule that night. He was obsessed, she was over enthused. A storm was brewing. She had had enough grounding; now she was galvanized to move on because she couldn’t stay put. He asked her to give it a chance. To plan out their life together, list down their priorities and establish timelines. She looked at him in disbelief, shut the door on his face, and glided away into the wide world.
He had to rewrite their story if he wanted her back in his life. Next morning he didn’t reach out to the journal by his bedside. Dreams lay jumbled below his brown eyelashes. He did not pick them up, sorting them out carefully, lovingly arranging them into tangible words, making images out of translucent, transient memories cradled in the oblivion of sleep. They waited there, clogging his brain cells, shadowing the reality of the day.
The ruled pocket notebook, abandoned, tired of the weight of a fine-tipped pen resting on its bosom, waited to catch a glimpse of his mind. He didn’t appease his lonely companion. Plans played hide and seek within the crevices of his mind. He found a few, gave up on some, and forgot many. Letters, words, numbers, collectively fogged his senses. Blinded, exhausted, confused he stumbled through an unplanned day.
Dreams were replaced by nightmares. There was no purging of these dark shadows. They occupied every nook and cranny of his tired soul, the stillness within replaced by panic and fretfulness. He wanted to write everything down, sieving through the beauty and the ugliness of these etchings, carefully transporting them to paper, decluttering and making sense of these imprints. Relenting to this desire, meant losing. He had to forego the list, slowly releasing himself from its deadly grasp. He plodded on, another day, a week, a few more days.
The notebook and the pen were unnecessary now. Words ruled his mind but not his pen. Pale-faced, stone-eyed he looked into the distance as ideas ran amok, their frenzy making him lose control of awareness. He fought a desire to capture these stray thoughts in a net of words. They smirked and laughed at his resolve.
Then they started trickling from his mouth – incoherent, jumbled. He sat by the window, mumbling to himself, humouring the words he refused to pen down. The hours turned to days and years. A few months back he was moved into a care-giving facility. On some days he can entertain inmates with a story; on most his narratives are nonsensical. The psychiatrist says he must unclog his mind with a daily ritual of writing. Today, they brought him a blue notebook and his favorite fountain pen.