Monday, November 21, 2011

Writing in Assamese

When Bhupen Hazarika died, I was first informed of it in the dining hall by a conceited (albeit well-informed) freshman friend of mine - a South Asian cinema enthusiast and auteur-in-the-making. ‘Some big-shot singer from your hood is dead’, said his smirking white face. I was not as overwhelmed by his death as I should have been though. I was never crazy about his music while growing up. When the essence of a song eludes you, it is merely a collection of random sounds. When my friend gave me the news, what I felt immediately was mild surprise and an almost perverse curiosity about popular reaction. Later that day I felt a bit guilty about not caring enough. How does one who calls himself Assamese reconcile his nonchalance with the grief of his people? Does this indifference mean he is less compassionate or just less constrained by labels? Is it forgivable not to make sustained efforts to understand the artist’s work better?

I got a hint of the answers much later when I was attempting to translate a Chinese poem into Hindi. The endeavour was neither as erudite nor as tedious as it sounds. I was in said poet’s/friend’s room alongside an aimless-looking tree trunk that he had hauled in because he “liked trees”. On the wall were numerous charcoal illustrations of trees and on his bed were strewn printouts of Tagore’s poems. He was squatting on a chair, teaching me how the French blow smoke rings. Occasionally he inquired if he looked like a hipster artist to the wider world. I think his earnest, culturally-oblivious self-image does him a disservice - he is much more and better than the label he chose for himself.

I soon learned that his new-found love of Tagore meant that I was expected to translate one of his own Gitanjali-inspired poems into “Indian” in return for the original Chinese version. But we hit upon a stumbling block when he realized first, that I did not know Chinese and second, that he could not translate the poem to English without massacring it. I confessed I would have made a very sloppy job of translating even if that was not the case. So a compromise was reached, native speaker to native speaker, to use our lingua franca to transliterate into English and then Hindi.

It was after I had converted a few letters of his Anglo-Chinese script that I realized that Eastern Nagari letters came out more instinctively for me than did Devanagari. This was a bit perplexing, given that my memories of Assamese classes in school are of missed assignments, aggravating boredom and failed attempts to woo the Head Girl. The first language I picked up was Gujarati from my mom and I am not certain if I learned Assamese or English right after. But then, having spent most of my life in Assam, I had little reason to be surprised.

The faltering translit into Assamese reminded me of a quote, now imagined in a mocking voice: ‘One has to convey in a language that is not one’s own a spirit that is one’s own’. The language that I attempted to write and the one that actually materialized were both not the ones I have owned for myself. I cannot write well in Assamese because I have been unable to integrate the heart, the essence, the consciousness of the language. Without this, the language is merely an accretion of memorized sounds and symbols to be regurgitated out of sheer habit. You grow up with workable fluency in speech but with so little literary integration as to be validly called illiterate. To native speakers and native writers with whom you try to find or create resonance, you are just someone blabbering decontextualized sounds. Empathy is hard to get by if the tool you use is English and if your method is appropriation.

And yet I am just a claimant of the English language, not a true custodian. The price paid for owning the language is detachment from my own people, a relegation to the status of an outsider looking in. I individualized English out of necessity because of its promise of future benefit; because history is on the side of its evolution; and of course because it is perceived to be the dominant form of linguistic consciousness among many - and I hesitate to use this word - classes of people, including the ones I was born into. Identifying with English means being both embraced and betrayed by it.

You cannot claim to reflect the spirit of your people if you do not have mastery over native form. Bhupen Hazarika’s oeuvre now seems so much more impressive. I finished transliterating the Chinese into Assamese and regarded it for a while: for me, the final product was the poem's sound preserved in familiar form; for my friend, it was its essence preserved in alien form. He could not translate the poem into English and I could not translate it into Assamese. All the same only one of us was a true native writer, the other was just trying to be. I knew then what it meant truly for Assam to lose Bhupen Hazarika.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Spiritual Window-Shopper

I ran after the three of them to the end of the path where the woods stopped. I tripped and he laughed. The girl winked and I felt my stomach lurch. The third person was slouched at the foot of a tree; on his form I saw my flesh, on his face I saw my features and in his eyes I saw fear. I could not stop staring at the other two, at their self-contained demeanors, their supremely confident movements. We reached a huge pasture and an abandoned caravan fire left to flare itself out. Beside it, Rumi sat with a ney flute and played,

Free of who I was, free of presence, free of dangerous fear, hope,

Free of mountainous wanting.

I moved where the melody took me, responded to what it told me, felt what it wanted me to feel. The two of them joined me in my dance, suffusing me with their warmth and energy -- facilitators of a shared trance. The third person regarded us from a distance.

I wasn’t sure which of us was me. I wasn’t sure when I depersonalized myself from the ecstatic, esoteric crowd. I looked at myself dancing with the other two and I knew fierce longing. I approached them but they remained at a fixed distance, aloof, happy and beckoning.

Come, come whoever you are,

Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.

It doesn’t matter.

Ours is not a caravan of despair.

Come, even if you have broken your vows

a thousand times

Come, yet again, come, come.

I pleaded but Rumi merely smiled, a smile of compassion, not pity. He told me he was saving me by denying me. I yearned to believe him. I asked him who the other two people were and he said I had always known them.

Was it true that every craftsman searches for what’s not there to practice his craft? A voice counseled me from inside to live every moment with utter ignorance and sheer faith. I could then embrace and not seek, create and not stall, love and not fear. I was convinced that this was true but I was not ready. Not yet.

The flame had died and they had disappeared. Someday, I was certain, we would resume our song.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


It was kind of problematic for me to attend to my friend’s drivel about his most recent joust with his bandmate while appeasing an antagonized woman on the phone and hurrying to reach the Chinese food place on Main Street before it closed. Luckily, her diatribe reached its denouement and she huffed off, leaving me to conceive of appropriate responses to my friend’s obvious aggravation. Apparently, in senior year, the bassist accused him, the vocalist, of sullying his name with their circle, which my friend vociferously denied. The band broke up but the resentment remained. He handed me my ticket to the New England Metal Fest at Worcester. I was pleased. I had been planning to go for quite some time. My mind drifted to the events of yesterday, when we sat in the the dining hall in a small group exchanging inconsequential - and some clearly embellished - happenings from our previous avatars as high school kids: a life story constantly at peril of being rewritten.

Something about his tone right now made me discomfited, and it had little to do with the rancorous transpirations of former musicians. But it was useless trying to pin down the thought or the cause of my unease. This is something that has happened before - the feeling of grasping for an epiphany titillatingly close but not quite reachable, of almost arriving at the resolution of a dream before being rudely subjected to the shrieks of the alarm, the impression of catching a glimpse of something ugly in a lake before it sinks to the depths and you are left staring at your perplexed reflection disfigured by its ripples.

I picked up the food and started to head back. We talked about Libya for a while and I soon forgot about my earlier preoccupation. It was already quite late so we picked up our pace. Political correctness aside, I dreaded nighttime Middletown, although I had no corroborating experiences to prop my apprehensions. I entered the Gasman near the bookstore to get a pack of cigarettes. It was newly opened by a Pakistani from Lahore. He greeted me warmly and I noticed he had assumed an Americanized speech pattern and an accent that was entirely absent when I met him first about six weeks back - very quick by South Asian immigrant standards. I remembered when I first met him, a very genial, witty man with a golden tooth on the upper left side, who spoke to me in Hindi. Whenever another customer entered, he switched to broken English and he turned from a relatively confident man to a shifty-eyed, nervous sponge. Now he was merely a facade of mannerisms and intonations picked up and stitched together in an all-or-nothing patchwork. I searched disconsolately for a glimpse of the person I used to like, but he was gone, drowned in layer after artificial layer. He gave me the pack and bade me a good day. I stretched my lips and left without a word.

We were supposed to meet some of my friend’s buddies back in his dorm later, a collective of kids loosely bound by shared attributes: an affinity of certain genres of music and substances that go with it, a tendency for sharp - often immediately decided - political opinions, a professed ardor for the East, demonstrated in huge part by rooms painstakingly bedecked with oriental paraphernalia, carefully nit-picked and arranged to hit all senses as soon as you enter, and an almost universal scorn of non-vegetarian food.

The night passed in foreseeable fashion. A relentless procession of people overran the floor, dressed to impress, seduce or plain befuddle. Some were wholly unconcerned with the teeming mass around them, some were trying hard to appear nonchalant, bolted down in their places by invisible chains, a lot of them revelled in the scrutiny of strangers, imagined or not, almost all of them were magnetized to converse with anybody within arm’s reach because god-forbid they be seen alone. My friend glided around from person to person like a comb through greasy hair. The night eventually drew to a close and people started trickling off along their own trajectories.

As I said goodbye to everyone, I thought of the tale Mohanda recited to me back home about one of his father’s eccentricities, as he contentedly chewed on betel nuts and paan, spitting majestically out of the window, while I sat reverentially next to him in his room, the area hazy with beedi smoke (and other plant-based vapors). Mohanda was our fifty-five year old driver, badass player (in his youth, although I wouldn’t at all be surprised if he had a line of nubile, drooling women falling over his wrinkled, atrophied body), knowledgeable guru of a dozen occupations, god-fearing devotee, lifetime exponent of hedonism, charismatic philosopher and incisive examiner of the human condition. Mohan was his name; ‘Da’ was an honorific conferred upon him by me and my friends.

As his story goes, back in the days before he ditched school to intrepidly take life on by its horns, he was quite the rebel at home and the village he grew up in. His father would hit the roof everyday whenever Mohan came home declaring he had eaten outside with his friends. Then would follow a procedure beaten into efficiency by routine: he would strip his son, drag him by the ear to the well, pour cold water over him, strike him a number of times with a worn-out bamboo stick and send him to his room without food the entire day while he performed rites to ensure his wayward offspring wouldn’t besmirch the purity of the household. At night, his mother would quietly slip him cold rice under the door.

I was intrigued, less by the details of his recapitulation than by its implication. Upon further prodding I surmised his father distrusted people immensely and lived in a cocoon his entire life. He was not that way at first but he managed to alienate the village-folk because of reasons I did not inquire. He cared about only two things: his land and his sacred thread, two heirlooms, temporal and spiritual, and one state of mind that he passed down to his son.

I walked back to my room, humming ‘Godless’ by The Dandy Warhols, a song I had been listening to every other hour for three days. My mind was fixated upon the image of a thread and a golden tooth. These were excoriated of the meaning and value imposed upon them by their creators, beholders and treasurers. To me, now, they were representations of an idea I felt an intense aversion to. I was met with a feral resistance from inside when I tried to ratify it, like trying to pet a crazed rattlesnake. I recognized three forms this idea could take. The first is when you are unaware that you are subsumed by it, making you automatically dependent on externalities for security. The second is when you can faintly determine its function but follow its muted directions regardless because that is the only way you know how to live. The third - the thought of which filled me with repugnance - is when you know perfectly well, but consciously abscond wherever the waves of circumstance take you, living with the guilt, finding resonances with other people and being complicit in every action, knowing the motivation behind them but being too embroiled in the web to challenge them.

In my pocket, I felt the ticket my friend gave me. I thought of the unobtainable epiphany, the conclusion of my dream, the nature of the creature in the lake and I let my mind dwell on just how much I disliked him.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My first sestina

[For the uninitiated: A sestina is a highly structured poem consisting of six six-line stanzas followed by a tercet. The same set of six words ends the lines of each of the six-line stanzas, but in a different order each time. This is the structure:

Stanza 1: A, B, C, D, E, F
Stanza 2: F, A, E, B, D, C
Stanza 3: C, F, D, A, B, E
Stanza 4: E, C, B, F, A, D
Stanza 5: D, E, A, C, F, B
Stanza 6: B, D, F, E, C, A
Tercet: AB CD EF]

A: Camden
B: school
C: Spring
D: walking
E: wandering
F: rain

It was a rainy morning in Camden.
People hurrying in haste to school.
Thor had forwarded monsoon to Spring.
All around with stoic expressions, walking
Thinking, brooding and wandering;
Were people, pelted by cold rain.

It is easy to lose yourself in the rain;
I found myself meandering away from Camden.
It is easier to not think and just go wandering
With no destination, last place in mind being school.
Easiest, maybe, is to fool yourself that you are walking
When all you are doing is wait for eternity, for Spring.

It was an ironic season, this year's Spring
When you expect sunshine, you get rain.
When you want to stay still, you see yourself walking.
When you need homely warmth, you receive the frigidness of Camden.
When you feel yourself drawn back East, you move toward school.
Mentally, physically, perpetually wandering.

I saw a drenched warbler wandering
In the sky - a subdued daughter of the Spring.
The songbird flew high over school.
I could catch her faint lament, through the sonorous rain.
The cry of the songbird in Camden
Seemed louder than the garrulous talk of the crowd walking.

It seemed to me ominous that amongst the masses walking
With individual purpose, I was the only one wandering.
I could see in the distance the outline of Camden.
The clouds had set in, in true nature of this year's Spring.
Bombarding us with the austere force of his guardians, the rain,
Thor struck his hammer not far from the school.

I could not remember the direction of my school.
I had finally stopped walking.
Ultimately muted, was the scream of the rain.
The idle blur of the surrounding was the only thing wandering
In my mind. The last season I would witness was this year's Spring.
The last place I would stand on, was meant to be Camden.

On my mind was neither Camden, nor my former school.
It was the ephemeral image of a real Spring, and me with joyous step walking.
There would now be no more wandering, no more clatter of mirthless rain.

Friday, January 29, 2010


"Never wash your hands with soap - always use fern and honey."

He said this with so much conviction, I had to laugh. Later, whenever I would wash my hands I would always be conscious of this little detail. It was a confirmation of the oft-unverbalized adage I had come to acknowledge without reserve over the months - people will believe anything said with the right amount of passion. I am surprised how so many people (I'm sometimes guilty of the same sin) lend credence to anyone claiming authority.

Anyhow, with that declaration he started to cross the street, unmindful of the honks, while I hastened behind, pacifying the drivers with elaborate hand gestures and receiving quite unelaborate finger gestures in return. Reaching the other side, he appeared bemused as I reproached his flippancy toward such trivial matters as life and health. I said goodbye and we went our ways.

We met at the subway station. He was a lanky man, probably nearing sixty, dressed like he never grew out of the 60s - long hair, scraggly beard, intensely colorful T shirt, the works. I was listening to Jimi Hendrix's 'Manic Depression', murmuring an awful impression of it with even more terrible air guitar gesticulations. He looked over inquiringly and notified me impishly that he had lost his virginity to that song. Well, that was believable - it was a heady song. He told me he was there in Woodstock when Hendrix played. Unsure whether to believe him, I nodded appreciatively and offered the elaborate, all-occasion adjective - "Nice". I wasn't sure why I was reluctant to believe him. He looked the part. Perhaps what made me wonder was the fact that he was sitting in a padmasana position on the bench and had three cigarettes just chilling in the wild locks of his hair.

We made small talk for a couple of minutes till we heard the prolonged chime of the train in the distance rising in intensity. He got up and asked me why I didn't come along and have a hoagie with him. Well, why not. I had nothing in particular to do in Philly anyway, except get a couple of books and maybe catch a nap in the park bench. Maybe it was because I somehow sensed a stark, implicit intelligence in the man in the way he talked, in spite of his appearance and quirky mannerisms. It might have been misplaced intuition, although I later discovered my hunch was spot on.

Half an hour later, we found ourselves in South Street - hoagies and hot chocolate in hand, sitting in the cold on the sidewalk, giving a street performer moral support. I learned he was a painter by choice, dropping out of college in the early seventies. Divorced twice with children he could not support. He took out a couple of crumpled canvasses from his sling bag and showed me. They were some of the most violently emotional pieces of art I had seen, in person. It was a riotous convergence of bold colors into abstract pieces brimming with primordial passion. I was awestruck.

He then said, "I painted the last one in 1995, after a gap of 3 years. Then, I just stopped. When you're a struggling artist, there comes a point in your life when you are creatively spent and you realize that you threw all the eggs in one basket, or in my case, all the paint in one canvass. Then it hits you that your entire life has been nothing more than a sordid catalog of bad choices. But as they say, life is too short to be anything but happy."

We talked for quite a long time that day. I sat near the window of the train, coming back home, in a pensive state. Passengers around me had vacant expressions; a conditioned impassivity brought about by routinized lifestyles. I listened to the muted undulation of the train, anticipating every curve and turn; a skill learned again out of the consistent drill of daily modus operandi. Routine makes you captive to the mundane.

The man's words seemed to ricochet around my head. His life was a substantiation of a fear many harness, but seldom admit. Reaching a point of no return. A stagnation no mental thrust could overcome. A crisis of inspiration. And what happens when the crisis does not elapse over time? I used to consider existential angst as an overrated condition, in the insouciance of earlier years. But of course it is real, as I was discovering for myself. As is its nature, you come to a time when you start dreading the freedom that you have. The all too familiar insecurity about the future and the overbearing feeling that only you are responsible for your choices. In case of my old friend, he seemingly overcame it by making a choice with an unassailable conviction. He was great at it and produced according to me, some very good representations of Dionysian art, but his distrust of the system and lack of ambition stopped him in his path. Now he was compelled to do odd jobs while living with the fact that his kids barely recognized him anymore. In spite of everything, was he happy? He certainly seemed to be, but of course, I have no way of knowing. I suspected strongly that this was merely an outer appearance. A mask concealing a regret he was too scared to come to terms with. They say life is too short to be anything but happy. Wouldn't that conversely mean that if you are not happy, life goes on forever? I do not particularly like the idea of time prolonged by misery, and this chance encounter did not help much.

A week later, getting off at the same stop, I paused for a minute and looked at the number I took from him on my phone. I smiled, remembering one of his many quips ("The difference between an asshole and a pussy is like asking the difference between McCain and Palin. One gives you shit and the other is a pleasure to screw"). I stared at it for quite some time, before giving it a ring. Apparently the number did not exist. I chuckled wryly.

I pulled my jacket closer and started to move back home. Behind me, I could hear the chime of the train, fading in intensity and moving away fast.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Blue Octavo

I was in a bit of a daze. C's voice was like a drone that refused to depart from my head; explicating something about an insipid law of thermodynamics. It was a constant stream of monotone I was trying in vain to shake off. Meanwhile beside me, a gentleman was enthusiastically elucidating how he and his ‘crew’ battered another crew in Maligaon. I expressed my regret at not being present and conveyed my spirited assurance that I would lend a hand next time anybody needed battering.

It was a nice autumn day. Everyone was quite cheerful; they had all received their papers and took a pathological delight in earnestly discussing the answers. I felt suffocated in the classroom. Lunch break felt like the (alleged) manna the Israelites received from the high heavens during the Exodus.

One of the few things I liked about school was that it was right beside the mighty Brahmaputra (yes, I realize what a clichéd term that is) with huge rocks on the banks. I really liked that place; I was drawn to it like Eve to the serpent. I remember back then there was a mongrel that used the place as his humble (sic) abode. I trudged along there and I told him about my day. He looked at me with languid interest as I pontificated about the utter irrelevance of everything happening to me to this point and the ragtag I had to share room space with. As always, he evinced his empathy for me by relieving himself on the school bus tire.

I often wondered if my apparent neurosis had any valid grounds. Then I realize - attempting to brand an experience into a mental disorder was a lame attempt at escapism. It implies an inability to confront and absolve an issue. Well, I do confront. How? By talking to random dogs in your free time? Well, I have a right to dissociate as I please. Yeah, I’m sure your desk lamp will be de-‘lighted’ to hear about your travails today. Ok, stop, both of you. Like the illusion of one disorder wasn’t enough. I didn’t want to saddle another one; MPD at that. Loser.

Fast forward a year. Summer, in short, was like that Metallica song. What seemed to be the soothing light at the end of the tunnel was just a freight train coming my way. Temporary injuries of course; I soon forgot about the crash. I remember a line from a Woody Allen movie which I’ve somehow never forgotten. According to the protagonist, life is divided into two categories: the horrible and the miserable. The horrible are the kind of people terminally affected with disease, blind, crippled, et al. It was the worst kind of living possible. The miserable are all the rest. Hence, people should be thankful they are miserable and not horrible. I loved the concept. When someone asks me to describe the last two years of high school, I have an upbeat reply at hand.

There was a short, rotund, utterly jovial, slightly naïve guy in our class with a slight moustache, a permanently frozen grin on his face and a comical stutter. Poor thing almost always got picked on for some alien reason. I liked to observe him because of something funny about him. Unlike any normal person, insults just bounced off him. He was so unperturbed that I made it a hobby of mine to delve into his psyche, categorically strip him of all ego defense mechanisms and watch him flounder, like a cruel little boy pulling the wings from a beetle. All this had no effect however. It was almost as if he did not require any defense mechanisms for his functioning: it was frightening. I was always greeted with the same huge grin every day and a friendly pat, no matter how harsh I was. The bloke was like a little masochistic beetle.

Fun times. So yes, maybe senior secondary wasn't entirely the Kafkaesque dystopia I was making it out to be, although thinking of it in those terms makes me strangely exultant and misanthropic at the same time. There wasn’t much to be done about it though; freight train drivers have the luxury of momentum. It was a learning experience, albeit in a boringly redundant and wasteful way. I suppose it all comes down to what you make of the situation. You can either look at it as misery (and as a logical progression, be grateful) or shrug off all attacks to the ego with a morbid grin. It is vaguely similarly to Kafka’s paradox of Paradise. After all, Adam’s first domestic pet after his expulsion from Paradise was the serpent.

The World As Representation

The walk to my bench took longer than usual. Something about Camden gives people a heightened sense of awareness. Maybe it’s the ghetto ethos pervading the air; a single movement in the corner of your eye is bound to make you reach for whatever protection you’re carrying. I jumped when I almost bumped into someone from round the corner. It was just a guy in a suit, dressed to impress. Probably just out of law school, criminal lawyer I wagered to myself. There were many of that kind around.

Slightly discomfited, I meandered around aimlessly for a while before retiring to my bench. I loved that bench. It was by the river, very secluded and conducive to isolated, reflective musings. I try to grow out of this seemingly invariant state of nature, but solitude is a refuge. From what, I don’t know. Reticent detachment versus garrulous gregariousness. Debateworthy, but as of now, I’m inclined towards the former.

There was an earnest poster of Beneficial Bank to my left. ‘Beneficial Bank’: what an oxymoron. After my college loan fiasco, my regard for the banking sector was reaching rock bottom.

I lit a cigarette, observing the stick slowly getting transformed into steady smoke. I thought dimly about the analogy Ayn Rand used: ‘When a man thinks, there is a spot of fire alive in his mind--and it is proper that he should have the burning point of a cigarette as his one expression.’ Fire tamed at man’s fingertips. Not that Rand was a tobacco lobbyist, she was thinking in metaphysical terms. It is a refreshingly novel idea. At least it gives me moral justification for getting nicotinated with cancer sticks. Symbolism apart, I amused myself watching the smoke rings evanesce gradually.

I was slouched comfortably, imagining myself to be d’Anconia, when she came and sat down in the bench. Chafed at this intrusion to my narcissistic mulling and the willful seizure of my private spot, I sized her up. Very good looking, tanned complexion, looked like she was used to running. Cute chin. She took out her book. Not wanting to look planless, I did the same. She was wearing an Anthrax T shirt. This intrigued me. Then number of female metalheads is probably countable. I wondered what could have made her join the ranks of the headbanging brethren.

She looked up. I realized I was staring at the Anthrax logo at her chest. Face slightly hot, I turned back to my book. She had quite a rapacious look. It reminded me of the fiercely beautiful warrior women of Slavic folklore.

‘Are you into metal too?’

Her voice was mellow, a perfect singing voice. I was taken aback by the question. She was either too perceptive or I was too readable. I affirmed her question. In retrospect, my wild hair was, in all likelihood, a giveaway. A lengthy discussion later and after much debating whether Wagner was the inspirer of the genre in the Romantic period or whether it was the slaves from South in the form of Blues, a pregnant pause followed. I made no effort to bring anything up. I was observing the dozens of little whirlpools in the river, momentary and fleeting. Disappearing shortly after being born, like the smoke rings.

Every now and then I looked at her surreptitiously, along the lines of the Schopenhauerian notion of genius, so I could make an aesthetic analysis of her chin. She looked unperturbed and peaceful. I suppose I was seeking emancipation from the ubiquitous Will. Not that I fully endorse Schopenhauer’s views. They’re the kind I turn to when I’m at a loss, or when I know the fierce volatility of covetousness could never turn out to have a salutary effect on the state of mind. Conversion of need into pure perception: that is the heuristic rule for me for some time to come.

There were a hundred things I wanted to say to her. I got up abruptly and started to leave.

‘You dropped your card, Adit.’

I started and looked at her. She smiled and motioned to the ground. I had dropped my college ID card. I nodded, smiled back, picked up the card and hastily started to move away. I felt much lighter after I walked a distance. The clawing in my mind started to become more savage, but I somehow suppressed it. I didn’t turn back once and walked faster.

Benefit and banking. Are they really that contradictory? It was too confusing; I did not want to push.

I flicked away the cigarette. It flickered away after leaving a trail of bright orange, momentary and fleeting.