Outside the Window by Paribrita Sanyal

Dawn is breaking, and the world is a square one. A window, joined from corner to corner by a drooping Gulmohar branch, made weak by the storm that came last night. It swings from side to side, sagging under the weight of a crow that sits, watching. The nest it has spent weeks building has, carried away by the gale. I stare at it, unconsciously running my finger over my laptop’s touch pad. I have filled out yet another application. Yet another of many attempts to make myself useful. God knows the virus has imprisoned many, and from me it has taken, in addition, my job – my reason for awakening every morning. Here I am, still, my hopes chained to this rectangular screen of 21st century salvation.

The sun has now risen fully, but it hides behind clouds. My eyes slowly travel down a short and narrow path that opens onto the main street. People and vehicles move this way and that, their silhouettes fewer and more between than ever, leaving trails of eerie emptiness. The thunder has stopped roaring, but what remains is an endless ringing in the ears, interspersed by the monotonous drip, drip of raindrops from leaves. I turn to my screen again and begin counting all the applications I have sent. Could one really be so helpless? After centuries of living, our hands tremble, and hearts clench at those same, silly troubles. After having made it through a million yesterdays, we still shudder at the thought of tomorrow.

The narrow road is flanked by tall, light yellow buildings. Their colour fading, it is only the rain’s wetness now that gives these walls a little vibrance. But the doors and windows remain as inscrutable as they have been since the virus landed in our midst. They open and shut before the breeze can make its way in. I, too, try to sneak a smile and a nod when I can. At the puffy eyed boy who languidly brushes his teeth at noon. At the woman who hangs her washing on the balcony. This morning it is the old man with the limp. He opens the window and looks out, his mouth slightly open and a questioning look in his face. He sees me and frowns. I stop smiling and lower my gaze. I know what he thinks. ‘Keep your troubles to yourself. If anyone is to blame for anything these days, it is your young ones!’. Distrustful man! I see that he is tired of having to go on. And strangely enough, every face we look at now is a mirror. We see the same questions and the same apprehensions. We witness in their eyes, if we look long enough, the very same wait for the tides to turn – for the heavens to change their course.

It is almost noon. The vegetable seller has been walking up and down the main street for ages. If I were to chart his path with a pen, I would make a tear in the page. The maid next door says his vegetables have gone soggy and his prices are high. The storm has ravaged his stock, and in all likelihood, the dwelling of man who runs from house to house, begging for money. Nobody wants anything to do with either of them. I can hear cries and remarks of dismay, still, as they run up and down their stairs, surveying the damage from every angle. We are all useless to each other now.

I suddenly feel chills all over my body. I know nothing of what the storm has done. I’m not sure I want to. I’m happy where I am, by this window. But who would move the logs? Straighten the wooden boxes and tins on the terrace? Rescue a trapped little plant from underneath some giant, God-knows-what? I walk upstairs, feeling as tired as the old man with the limp seemed. How am I to go really? What right or reason had me to exist anymore?

It is surely the crow who has lost its nest, now, that is pulling at bits of twigs from one corner of the terrace! I don’t know how, but I can tell it is. And maybe it is because I have heard so many people speak without words, that I can almost hear it say, ‘What in God’s name do you do but try again?’ I feel myself smile and look up into the sun, its rays as delicate as a new-born, softly touching my face. Then I sigh as I look around. All the cleaning I must do! I run back down to get a broom and a cardboard box. At a sudden, irresistible urge, I check my laptop again. There is a new email. For a job interview. At last!

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