SONG OF THE CURVING STREET
[Written for a project 'Behind White Storeys' based on the Connaught Place Middle Circle.]
She crosses me and stands on my extreme edge, almost on tip toe, to catch the last few rays of the winter sun. Her clothes are damp and smell faintly of garbage; she is cold. There are a couple of hours of duty left, with two more garbage points to sort out, and then a long bus ride home. I am familiar with her tiredness; it makes her nearly sink into my rough macadam around this time every day. Her co-worker follows in a minute with a small plastic glass of tea, as he usually does. She smiles and starts telling him of her son's impending wedding.
My body resounds with steps. They are so easy to distinguish. The fast step of the employed, who need to return to their workplace after a half hour away for lunch; the slow steps of pairs enjoying each others' company; the eager steps of youngsters with some money to spend; the laboured ones of men carrying gas cylinders; the leisurely pace of the odd tourist; the uneven shuffle of the shop owner who steps out for a minute to stretch; the weightless paws of dogs. My belly hums with electricity and the underground transmissions of water and energy. Above me, voices call out, chattering, discussing, instructing, commanding, buying, selling, informing, declaring, persuading, transacting, spitting, coughing, hawking, urinating... I barely miss a scratch or a hum. Horns honk incessantly, wheels roll, mobile phones ring often. Paranthas are chewed during the day, policemen are given placatory drinks at night. It all falls into a harmonious pattern, you'll be surprised.
Except when something strikes a discordant note, and I, for a moment, pay all my attention to it. A scooterist fell yesterday and couldn't get up. His not getting up was the loudest moment. But it passed; a small crowd gathered to help him. Or that young girl who drank too much at the expensive new bar and vomited. Her helplessness was screaming. At such moments, I shrink a bit. I want to gather myself to go help. But my role is to not move so that everyone else can. I can just lie here, in my circular solitude, bearing witness.