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.