It was a road to dream on. Trees leaned across walls for neighbourly chats that spread whispered canopies over the entire stretch. Spittle starved out under whole sunny days but swam bravely before finicky feet quelled bloated bubbles that rose and collapsed like chests choking in suppressed rage.
In the evening the wafted announcements of boiled groundnuts would bring me to a momentary halt in the zebra crossing. As if the vendor had wheeled in that cart straight from Elliot’s beach. If I’d heard his bell had tinkle in tune to the creak of his wheel, I might have heard the waves that were slowly bulldozing the beach away. But the road made earplugs out of all of us. My fingers wriggle into my ears through each of those million honks, ignition tantrums and war drums sounded between gearshifts and clutches. The evenings were always the best, when you crossed the road as a mass of homebound people tied together by waiting dinners and clock-suppressed yawns. Like migratory birds that travelled in flocks that alternately made V-shaped mobs and scattered like new-born stars in an exploding sky with season, we surfed over breaker after breaker of road-crossings together. Bottled together at the approach of a vehicle and then uncorking in sync, the fizz greenlit and the bubbles shoe-shaped.
They looked unnaturally happy in the evenings. Faces that had performed stoically to the plastic waves of a whistling conductor in the morning would shatter into zombie smiles. But it was a comical sight- a green man prancing after an appointment only to deflate to the inertia of a film negative in 30 seconds.
Sometimes, I’d plot ambitious coups against the timed tyranny of the traffic light. If my treachery was caught red-handed, I’d send smilingly apologetic envoys though wind-pummelled windshields to irritated feet and surprised brake pedals. And gracious reprieves would be dispatched along with those rare return-gifts- a kindly wave to go on forward or a resigned smile that would set their finger joints cracking whips against fatigue during that unexpected recess.
It took me a month to spot that streetsign. Walking everyday on an anonymous road is like befriending wayside strangers. You might take turns for the window seat, hold their lunch bags, and swap newspapers. One day, by pure accident you might chance upon a half-hidden ID card or the scribbled first page of the notebook that cursorily introduce its owner between your half-guilty glances. You realize that you are a nameless shadow in the other person’s head, a shadow that is summoned along with the image of a bus and your anonymity becomes only keener. And their name bedews your memory reducing itself to a lettered rot. Three words. It lay drunkenly in a half squat, drooling peeled paint at the foot of a mountainous pile of a makeshift dump, enjoying his beggar impersonation. Kavignar Bharathidasan Road. Nobody in TN needed the Kavignar prefix to remember that Bharathidasan was a poet. But I think the guys who painted this sign knew what they were doing.
It was a road that dreamed on and on. Plucked a little of everybody else’s dreams that were shed little by little like heartbroken hair and plaited them into wigs, worn and thrown with every violated traffic light. But the walking scalps fallowed on as they followed the road with their nose.
And only three other heads were in the know. For the road dreamed with them.
With the street lamps that stayed awake till seven in the morning and then put its head down when nobody but the road was looking.The road extracted a severe price for the secrecy.
With the bin-raiding woman lodged on the grimy tongued road like a half-tasted morsel of food, saved for later to be picked out between the road’s blue-grey teeth and slurped down into its gutters. She shook out specks of dried gravy and half-grains of rice along with wrinkles premature and hungry out of packing foil after packing foil, her hair as silver as the aluminium.
With the twenty-year old who made up poems while walking on the left side of the road and scattered them through her perforated consciousness, the way she allowed coins to slip out through worn torn pockets and then resisted that stooping instinct that weighed her down more than the coins ever did.
Pick them up she never did.
But she brushed her stray hair back into her elastic manacle at every intersection. Carefully. Each hair secure in its place, each dream safe from the road.
March 5, 2o17. Houston. Tx.
3 months ago