On questions


I remember the time when I was working at a publishing house — torturous months of my life, where at the end, I thought this is how it will all end, me coming to work every day, reading manuscripts that violated my soul, day after day I will fade into a non – entity in the middle of an industrial dystopia. Even suicide seemed too much of an event : as if I was alive enough to kill myself, as if I wasn’t already dead. But what was so wrong? No one had behaved badly as such, every one has to deal with work, people were generally tolerable, if you get more work experience, you can get a job somewhere else. So you cannot open a window, cannot touch anything alive, you haven’t seen a flower in days, the air conditioner gives you a headache, you feel like a prisoner each time you have to punch in, so what, so what, so what?

I remember a particular afternoon when a colleague, in another cubicle, took out an orange, I couldn’t believe its fragrance, I couldn’t believe that oranges, with all their colour and beauty, were still happening somewhere, that I hadn’t hallucinated, that life was happening : just not to me.

So what if now oranges make you cry? You don’t quit a job, my boss told me flat out when I first tried to resign. I thought maybe you don’t, so I stayed. Of course, you don’t — this is a poor country, jobs are hard to come by — here everything is done out of necessity, unless things get very bad, horrible, torturous, physically violent, even then you try not to leave: but now oranges make me cry.

One morning, unable to get ready for work, I told my mother that I couldn’t write my column anymore : I had just started writing it : that I will have to give up writing for as long as I have this job : only until December, but, I will quit then (it was April, or May?) … no writing, but only until then, because you know, you know it’s all too much, and I think it’s good to honour a commitment, I can’t quit now, and, in any case, what will I do? You know I don’t feel like doing a PhD, and something has to be done with this life, otherwise :

otherwise what? My mother asks me questions in a way no one else can. She stood at the door – fed up with me – and instructs me – yes, instructs me, you know, because sometimes she can – to email my resignation. (She does these things with elan – one afternoon, she went to her job of 27 years and resigned without telling anyone. I tell her, you know, it’s a privilege – not everyone can do this – she tells me she knows – she grew up very poor -, but even so, even so: strength, she tells me, to rearrange, to discard, to leave : twenty-seven years in one afternoon. I tell her again it’s a privilege – we both believe each other, only a little.)

This morning, I was making my coffee : with cardamom, and a pinch of salt, and I thought about how much I don’t want to die, I might change my mind, but not today, not at the moment : no, no, this moment : life. It’s a privilege, I know, I haven’t forgotten, how can I? Sometimes people ask me how do I afford food, how I spend my days, how am I alive – and the veiled – why am I still alive?

All legitimate questions, perhaps, but I don’t answer every question that’s asked. I refuse in a moment of pure life.

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