Someone jumped on the tracks today,
I tell my partner over dinner,
all I saw were his boots beneath the tarpaulin.
they were blue.
In the same breath I tell him,
that I’ve decided to reply to the notes,
that the octogenarian next door has been writing me,
since our move here a month ago.
I say this
as though the blue-booted man’s suicide,
and my eccentric neighbour’s strange
and frequent letter writing habit,
are somehow related.
The truth is, I’m alarmed at the frequency and over-familiarity
of his messages and cards,
the lamingtons and Tim Tams in gift wrapping, perfectly taped,
that he leaves on my doorstep,
the increasing number of diary-like entries about his day,
that he slips under my door –
small stream of consciousness notes
from how good the coffee at Lane Cove’s Whitefire Grill is,
to what a cad and reprobate Barnaby Joyce was.
All this epistolary stretching,
when we live just one door and ten feet away
and could just talk at the ring of a doorbell.
What irked my partner though,
was the blank map of India the old man left in my mailbox,
with the peculiar request to mark the cities I’ve lived in.
It came with a bold postscript and a smiley,
that asked if I have by any chance,
been to the Taj Mahal.
My partner retorts, that I
am not the medicine for some stranger’s loneliness,
or some exotic, subcontinental pen pal,
his irritation flaring, at this conversation
that we have had a hundred times
since the barrage of notes began,
and as much as I love him,
I tell him that I hate this cold, impersonal side to him.
We argue – him contending
that we probably had a psycho on our hands,
I shouting that I didn’t see how a feeble man
with a wobbly walker and a hearing aid,
could be any threat,
and my partner scrapes his chair back and leaves the room,
heading to the couch for the night.
Under the yellow warmth of my reading light,
I smooth out the blank map of India,
and proceed to mark cities in little dots with red markers,
jotting dates and events –
the nondescript hamlet where I was conceived,
the sleepy town where I was born,
New Delhi, Old Delhi, Jaipur,
penning blurbs and drawing arrows,
circling cities for uni, travel, jobs,
love waged, lost and won, marriage, children…
In the dark, my printer buzzes and sputters,
and unspools a photo of me at 21,
standing on an icy cold morning
in a peachy-pink parka and bright blue boots,
with the majestic Taj Mahal rising sadly behind me,
in all its marbled melancholy.
In the photo, I’m smiling through my darkness –
the anchorless young me, that I wish
I could reach out to and love.
And I recall the body on the tracks,
the flapping tarpaulin; the blue of the boots,
and the pent up disjunction that I’ve felt all day
breaks like a brimming dam.
In the morning, my partner still asleep on the couch,
I sneak out and leave the photo of me at the Taj,
and the detailed timeline of my life
etched in red dots
on the map of my Indian wanderings,
in a large envelope,
in my elderly neighbour’s mailbox.
Oormila Vijayakrishnan Prahlad is a Sydney-based writer, artist, poet and improv pianist. Oormila has exhibited her art and accompanying poetry in Kuwait, India, Singapore, and Australia. She holds a Master’s in English and is a member of Sydney’s North Shore Poetry Project. She regularly performs her poems at venues in Sydney.