Here’s where we are right now: at two empty rolls of cigarettes, one roll stashed with a three-to-one of ganja to tobacco, a separate portion of unadulterated ganja that will fill all of the third joint (exclusively for her), and some spared seeds gathered inside the sheets of the hotel’s menu card. She is checking emails on her work phone. She is huffing and puffing at an MSNBC expert who is predicting another market crash. The joints she is preparing do not have the slickness she once prided herself in, but she is trying. I watch her with a curious indifference. From here, it will take us an hour to get there, where she will put her phone aside and I my indifference. I have time to reflect.
We are here, in this room. Room 203 of Hotel Paharganj. This is our room. Here we spend nights. We spend nights here to become what we were before we became what we are. We are told of the impossibility of this becoming. We wear shorts and sweatshirts and masks to defy it. We fail as soon as we undress and before it too. On the wall is a portrait of a bare breasted tribal woman dressed in jewelry of iron and sea shells. She looks down upon us. We don’t burn her or throw her out of the window or punch her with a hammer because we know it’s an optical thing. If I stand on the bed with my boots on, or if she hangs herself from the ceiling fan it would be us looking down upon her. Not that we would do it. She would never try to kill herself and she would never let me put my boots on the bed. This is our bed. Our table. Our menu card serving as a holder for hemp seeds. We know the omelettes here are horrible and the pastas overpriced. We know they don’t serve dinner after eleven but keep the bar in the basement open till four so if you know Bijay or Jimmy well, they can get you some snacks for free. We have committed to memory phone numbers of the nearest police station, hospitals and fire services, also bulleted in big bold letters on a green thin leaflet on the dressing table for our convenience. We have dialed these numbers and shouted help, this is an emergency!
We have memories. Do we have homes?
I hold my lighter still, she heats up the joint on the flame. Her hand moves like the roller of a paint sprayer, left to right, return carriage, left to right, not hurrying or overstaying.I know her eyes would be squeezed, her lips sucked in, but I try to not look at her face. “What is home?” in passing we ask each other. This is a haven, not a home. Not even for this night. There are no walls here, only curtains. Those moaning or sobbing or arguing in adjacent rooms are asylum-seekers who will leave in two nights and three days, not unlike us.
“Did you know,” she says, smoking, looking at the TV. “Carl Sagan used to smoke this stuff regularly. He even wrote an essay, as Mr.X.”
“Yeah. He felt like there is more to this than this. Like there is more than what can be sensed, other dimensions.”
A sound from the next room. A door opening, a mother screaming after a kid. A bellboy, or two bellboys, with heavy luggage. Once there was a man in that room who wrote obsessively on a typewriter. He would talk to himself loudly, laughingly, in first person, in second person, in third, the same thing in different manners. He seemed suicidal and we did not report. The room was still occupied when we left but there were no sounds that morning. It did not matter. It does not. There was a film crew that shot porn all through the night this other time. If you hear it from our room, screams of ecstasy and anguish sound alike.
“I am losing hair,” I say.
She nods while sucking the dying joint deeply. She does not touch me, my hair; we are not there yet. I light another joint, take a puff and pass it on to her. The drug has stopped working for me since college, leaves me with a burnt throat and that alone, but I smoke it still. This was our ritual. This is our effort.
She puts the TV on mute and plays music on her work phone. The muscles on her paling neck are easing. Soon, she will hum the songs, tap her toes in rhythm, say, “This one, remember?”, or something else, and come closer to me. I fill an empty glass of water and watch her with anticipation.
Here’s where we are right now.