Death’s Favourite Colour – Sumer Sharma

posted in: Collab Week 2015 | 0

 

Today’s Collab Week post by Sumer Sharma is about the colour black. About it, he says, “I’ve written a story that tries to bring out the given colour, black, in a thematic, indirect manner through the experiences and ideas of characters that bring out some of the things I feel the colour symbolizes. Particularly in its ending, and the characters it creates; the story tries to display the different shades of black – and it’s meaning in the context of human nature.”

black

Pitch. If you looked into his eyes, at his pupils – or should it be his irises, you would register a frequency reflected (or not) that was nothing. It was also everything. But it was nothing. Though pitch isn’t the colour. I would prefer to describe it actually as that which was matched by the blank screen before him, or the hair that scruffily covered him. It was too matched to the colour of the aura that surrounded him – an aura that was discouraging to any that approached him. The colour of the aura could mean a multitude of things: but, in this case, the menace (and related words) that were usually associated could not be ascribed. Instead the “vibe” (if I may) was one of defeat, of despair, of depression, of consummate disengagement.

As perhaps a vindication of that, his black eyes (or irises) swiveled about with a singular disinterest interrupted only when they happened upon, only half-accidentally, some point outside the expansive window of his drawing room. It was always the same point, but one could not place one’s finger on what it was he saw there. The beauteous horizon, perhaps? Or maybe he was mesmerized by some ghastly apparition produced entirely of his uneasy mind; that he could neither avoid nor wished to entertain. He sat in a corner of the room, an observer might have concluded that it wasn’t dark enough – for, even though he did not express explicit displeasure at it, it was obvious that daylight wasn’t his element. His hand lay studiously casually on his temple, preventing sunlight from reaching those eyes- and casting a shadow on the already darkened face. He tried his best to wallow enclosed by his gloom, but fragments of the conversation could not help but filter through. “…..that the one failure, the one fallibility of your perfect scientific method – the hinge of the entire argument against empiricism – is that, in itself, the scientific method cannot be validated, and therefore, invalidated. Because obviously, commonsensically, one would require the empirical method to provide a rigorous, or empirical, proof (and so disproof) for the empirical method – which, of course, makes no sense. I did, in the days of my youthful naivety, try to overcome, or rather, sidestep this conundrum using the fact that at its core all empirical thought, all of science and mathematics – the very concept of the empirical method, stems from logic and rationalism; the question then becomes of finding a rationalistic evaluation or proof (and disproof) of the scientific method.” “So then why can’t we? And I don’t entirely get the point about the empiricist contradiction – why it’s so illogical – to me it just seems like a matter of choice. You either choose to accept the fruits of civilization the scientific method and rigour has borne, or you choose a mystical rejection based on unfounded concepts.” “Bullshit. What is going to become clear to you, my boy, at the end of all of this is the sheer futility of it all. The Germans, or rather, the more puritan philosophers have been vying for this elusive proof for over two-hundred-and-fifty years. How successful do you think they’ve been, huh? So much so that later schools of philosophical though rejected science altogether and….”

Reading existentialist philosophy was one thing, and listening to his father and brother quite another. He disengaged himself from their conversation, instead focusing those dissecting eyes on a little eucalyptus his mother diligently tended to, that she was just about allowed to adorn the drawing room with. His eyes didn’t quite glaze over, but they did look both at the plant and through it; a look would confirm there was a greater stillness in the abyss than otherwise. In a vague sort of way he liked to watch the little sapling struggle – it’s combative growth and withering a slow torturous journey to full bloom reminiscent of our own. He also enjoyed observing his mother’s efforts to help it on its way, her misguided stratagems and pyrrhic remedies contrasted with a few lucky successes. He was brought out of his reverie by his brother’s growing pitch that suddenly cracked the surface his excitement and realization had waxed to. “…..so basically , all of it – beyond the existentialism, touching the nihilism and your beloved Nietzsche boils down to the all encompassing concept that it doesn’t bloody matter.” His lifeless gaze then wandered to the painting filling the wall – a painting he spent an abnormal amount of time looking at. It was the last thing he remembered actually fighting for, when there was talk of its removal. It was a simple painting at that, featuring an array of elderly women clothed entirely in black standing with their backs towards the observer in a vaguely semi-circular fashion around a sad grey tomb. There was the suggestion of rain in this somber black and white piece that was contrasted by a man sitting at one edge of the tomb and laughing uproariously. The other edge of the painting, however, was spared the B&W look, instead showing a small portion of a nonchalantly colourful, blossoming tree with two rabbits making love at its foot.

“Yes. But if we stretch ourselves a little bit, across the boundaries into theophilosophy, it’s ridiculous to ignore the genius of the Campbelliam hypothesis: that science is also a –” “…Ya. Yeah I know, him again. But it’s just – y’know – what am I supposed to do? It’s no longer just phases now – he remains perpetually in this….state. So disinterested in everything. At least before I know that if we weren’t part of his life – his friends are. But now – he never goes to school, nobody comes visiting anymore, he doesn’t go out, no more phone calls – it’s as if he’s shut them out too. Ya I know what clinical depression is – I tried to get him to see a doc. But he showed us – or rather, him – half the stuff they talk about I don’t get anyway –” You foolish woman, we can hear you. The chauvinistic epithet gave him pause, but he dismissed the doubt almost instantly. He had neither interest in nor obligation to the feminist revolution, and what did it matter anyway. His hand snaked, from where it was perched lazily in his luxuriant black hair, towards his phone, wavering a few seconds halfway between them before withdrawing. The peculiar action didn’t go unnoticed in spite of its brevity, but provoked no comment but a look from his father. “– with some research and jargon that his ‘condition’ isn’t depression, and convinced him of that. So, there’s been no doc – he just continues to lounge around, saying barely a word…..doing NOTHING. You know how he rejects our attempts to talk to him – he’s even stopped reading these days. He takes his meals in his room, – always playing that god awful music of his. He does go out – but god only knows where. It’s like he’s created this shell around himself, and slowly, gradually, completely withdrawing from –” “We can hear you, you stupid bitch”, bellowed his father. His brother smirked snickeringly, and in the silence that ensued an image of his mother’s momentary shock at abuse she had been subjected to, in no common amount, for the past 21 years flitted through his mind; followed by another, well practiced (or copiously used), of resignation and acceptance. A door was hastily shut, following which there emanated whispers just barely reaching those in the drawing room, hinting sharp emotion.

His father’s ejaculation came later than expected: truly, he had been listening with interest until that moment when he decided on irritation. There was a time, a considerable time – but past now, when such a situation would have angered him. There was a time his mother’s pathetic state troubled him deeply; when he could not stand his father’s blatant abuse of her. When he fought. He reflected on his brother’s smile. Was his brother turning into him? Was he his brother? His detached ruminations ended with him electing a no: he had never quite been as in the fold as his brother was; even in younger days he never accepted his father’s ideologies and mannerisms as gospel. There was just that hair’s breadth of a difference, that caused him to question rather than conform; and eventually to vilify where his brother had idolized.

A shape made to scurry across the hall from the house’s innards, rather like a mouse hoping not to be noticed. The resemblance did not end there as the black clad shape came into focus, somewhat due to a long low ponytail of an unhappy colour, but mainly due to her rather mouselike demeanour. Her hopes were dashed with her dash being halted by father barking her name. “Yes father?”, she questioned, hopeful of quick relief. “When I call your name, you jump to attention before me.” She did the needful. His voice was loud but not too loud, at moderate pitch on the higher side, and only a little heavy. Although it was a little bit of all; it was not aggressive, reproachful, concerned, abusive churlish or questioning. It was one thing only: pure domination. “ I hear that you were giving an unusual amount of exclusive time to some boy at your school?” “No father –” “No?” “I mean I was just talking to him,…and not for an unusual….,” her voice faded away at the look that was coming into her father’s eye. “No it’s not unusual – it’s disgusting.” It was maybe leaning towards an aggressive, abusive shout now. “You are only 11 years of age. 11. You hear me? The only males you are to interact with are your two brothers and me. And bear in mind then too that we have things to do.” He could see that she had much to say, but slaps (and worse) indiscriminately delivered had done their work well. He knew that his mother was listening. But she didn’t appear with an impassioned defence. “Why don’t you spend your time in the kitchen, or do something actually helpful? You know what it’s been for me – sending you to school? Do you have any idea what it takes to be a father and send her to an uncertain environment – filled with all sorts of – in this day and age? And then you associate with some random guy from god knows where. Do you have any sense, any modicum of understanding of what is expected of you?” A pause. “Say something you stupid –” Girl. And he knew the response would be a mumbled shameful apology. He stood up and walked out of the room. That suddent, spontaneous action stopped the torrent of abuse. He walked looking at no one, and nothing in particular: it wasn’t an angry walk but it was emotional. ‘Why?’ was the one thought that occupied his mind. Why’d he do it? Was it true? Did he still care? Emotions, which had – for a few day at least – beautifully left him, now wreaked havoc inside. He shut his bathroom door attempting to soften the blow, but it was more than audible enough to those in the drawing room. Was she the one person he still cared about? Was his sister the one thing he still loved? Could he still not bear to see her abused? Did it still destroy him to see her mistreated? Was she his one attachement? His one failing? He lifted his head slowly to look in the mirror, and as two pairs of abysses met with destructive power; a single tear fell from one – tracing its silent path to the cusp of his lip. He tarried in wiping off the trace, and by the time he did: it was already too late.

***************

Night. He loved it, because it was everything he loved; the darkness that brought thoughts of a strange other kind – the discomfort it caused, and it’s twin purposes of concealment and exposition. He couldn’t have explained what made it so important to him; and wouldn’t. But we can glean that he was closer in the night than at any other juncture to that sublime state devoid of all emotion.

“What happened to you?”, she repeated, this time accentuating the disgusted puzzlement even more than the obvious extent to which it was overlayed before. Still there wasn’t a response except for that look that she hadn’t quite gotten used to yet, only marginally less discomforting than his turning away and looking about immediately after. They sat on a bench one, maybe two spaces apart, lush but insidiously invisible grass surrounding them on three sides. Her hair, strangely, was not black but a distinctive brownish, as much as she claimed otherwise. She remained one of the few he continued to meet: which was also strange since she shared none of his recent despondence. “I recall a time, barely a year ago, when you would get riled up about these things just as much as I do. When you and not I was the proponent of a sweeping movement against sexism; a war against them. Screw that – there was a time when you actually gave a shit. I don’t even know if you’re listening to me anymore?” She looked away in frustration, but wasn’t surprised at the lack of response at her outburst: he didn’t react to provocation. But a cursory glance at their somber surroundings – which she, unlike him, despised – ended with her studying him, and his careless relaxed pose as he too surveyed, with a slight interest that troubled more than assuaged her concern, the black sky, and the black people under it. She had once looked up to him. “I heard about today’s incident. Do you know what inspired it – who the “boy” was – and what he has to do with ____? Do you know the kind of bullcrap your brother’s been sprouting? Or do you not care anymore? It’s your own house for god’s sakes. And you love her. I know you do. I want to go and beat the shit out of those two bloody…..How can you be so –” “Can we change the subject?” Fine. At least he’d said something. “What would you like to talk about? I do remember an impassioned discussion about the failure of the NGO model, and a half-decent plan of doing something about it?” “Yeah I remember. Incorporation under unspecified purpose seemed to be the problem there.” She sat up and turned more toward him. This was one of her most dear ideas. “Yeah so I did some research. The incorporation issue can be easily sidestepped by what amounts to clever wordplay; so the only real obstruction is sustainability itself. That’ll have to dealt with specific to each issue being tackled. I really want to do this – because there are just so many things that bother me, and that I want to change. Taking the issue of poverty first, sustainability can be ensured in a number of ways: first being the cyclical employment generating poverty alleviation model. It of course needs capital, and designing of some perpetuattable service and good provision models – but it’s plausible. And we also have the brilliantly executed entrepreneurial catalysis concept…..”

If there was a single word to describe her, it’d be passion. She was passion, belief and drive all over – an alternative definition for constructive dynamism perhaps. But it wasn’t just that: she was, most assuredly by report, a conjunction of sweetness and pleasantry so desirable that it for once actually deserved the “heart of gold” epithet. She was exceedingly intelligent too, and outstanding company altogether. (Fortunately she was not philosophical) Sadly this perfect combination of qualities had not led to the most expansive circle of friends; but it was not out of need but hope that she continued to associate with him. Her sharp blue eyes saw through the ragged curtains of her hair with uncommon clarity, and she knew she wasn’t making a dent in his shell. “What do we fear, ___?” The question took her by surprise, as he ceased his study of the star to fix her with an intent gaze that was perhaps scarier than everything before. The stars’ twinkling was to him a curiously pretty metaphor that raised a little bit of excitement from that numb body – for, he extrapolated, they would all fade out into nothingness in the end. This epiphanic thought, sure to shock another mind, gave him but a pause from his mire: and instigated many others. “What is love, but a futile effort to imagine connection in an individual existence?” He paused. “Look into my eyes.” He grabbed her wrists and pulled her closer than comfort allowed. The smile that accompanied his next sentence, as he locked his voids of discontent with her innocent blue eyes, was something far away from sanity. “Do you fear me?,” he asked malevolently. She tore herself away and stood; staring at him with disbelief, before walking away quickly. What is hope, but a lunatic rejection of the obvious futility of everything?

**************

She took one final dive up, and a couple of bobs downward, before she finally stabilized about a metre above his eye level. The stability lasted maybe two seconds until two quick flaps of her pretty little wings signaled another ascent. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the twisting, turning – constant activity – of her lithe body. She, too, was of Death’s favourite colour. He hadn’t committed yet to naming her, but knew her well from the shape of her body. There were, on any odd day, maybe 6 or 7 sparrows visible from the spot. However, five he knew visited everyday, and five he could identify anywhere. The genders he allotted arbitrarily – no, he corrected me, on instinct alone – but the females were the graceful but dedicated toilers, whom he enjoyed watching much more. She was one of the two that dance before him every evening; a spectacle, that, he wouldn’t miss for much else.

Bird-watching was one of the few things that still interested him. Standing there, in his balcony, gazing lazily away from the setting sun, a scarce, if slight, improvement on its usual incarnation, he wondered at it. He wore a loose fitting t-shirt, whose colour would be everyone’s guess, and plain trousers that matched the latter’s hue to the subtlest shade. It wasn’t that he cared, just something that happened, or came to him, naturally. Why was it that he was so uninterested in everything else? Why was this all that interested him? It wasn’t so bad – no, complete – before. His reduction to this state of nothing else mattering came only after his realization of the futility. The futility of fighting, of believing, of searching, of doing. Nothing mattered to him only because nothing mattered at all. He resumed his scrutiny of nothing in particular. But he saw only one thing, and one thing only.

She speared down once more, determinedly, driving lower and lower in what may have looked like a search. He turned way and returned to his room: he too had something he needed to do. His room wasn’t anything special, a blank screen stared out from one end – and posters of past obsessions long forgotten filled the other. However, the he first went for his desk – directing his glance at the notebook that was its only occupant. He considered: was there anything more he wanted to say? Indecision led him away from the desk and towards his closet: another choice awaited, of equal if not greater magnitude. He picked up his phone from his bedside, and music emanated from his speaker by way of response. Burzum or Bathory, as he scrolled down the names – or perhaps Sabbath. Yes, Paranoid it would be then. It wasn’t perfect lyrically, but the music harmonized most awfully beautifully with his mood, and the situation. His t-shirts presented a more complex predicament altogether, and he perused the monochromatic array of increasingly grotesque, disturbed covers looking for he one. Taking his time, taking in the music, he found it eventually – a t-shirt bearing a single abstract face – of so many colours mixed up and enmeshed together, that it was of none. ‘The Stranger’ was italicized below the face in white, and he pulled the t-shirt over the black Ouroboros that disfigured his back. He picked my The Hall of Mirrors for one final read – it was one of his favourites, metaphorizing the disengagement and devolution he had come to embody.

On his bed lay a shortish segment of jute rope, lazily entwined about itself. He locked the door and got to work, and a little while later one could see, rather impressively, an elaborate setup wherein the rope was at one end tied tightly to the ligament above the fan, and at its other end was a noose, hanging loosely at the moment. He stood upon his bed and took his head through the noose, making one final check that everything was fixed right.

He closed his eyes, and was enveloped immediately by the blackness. He saw all and he saw nothing, and what more really was there to see. He did it differently, conducting himself well, calmly taking his first step. Some pain and convulsion – but all would end with the second. There was nothing to fear from death: it was inevitable, it was everything and nothing. The second step, without hesitation, and the awful blinding white light was but a precursor to the absolute blackness of death. Black is death. And death is black. And with that stunning realization, he plunged forever into the black.

-Sumer Sharma

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Upamanyu Acharya is a writer who doesn't write. Sometimes he's an artist, musician, photographer, physicist or lazy student. His hobbies include being vague, bending rules, time-travel, and embellishment of words. This is his personal blog where he writes on topics ranging from leadership skills to the consistency of jam.

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