To most of us, the nature of reality is not complex. It is all that we experience through the senses but mostly, it is what we see through our eyes. That is a watch on my wrist and a tree in the garden. This is a woman in my arms, whose ink-black hair cascades to her shoulders, whose eyes reflect the brown-black of her skin and whose smile breaks like dawn over a dusty city. We sit in a field of open green and there are people around us, friends, acquaintances and strangers, all of whom flit in and out of our cocoon like vague impressions on an oil painting. Our reality is confined to a bubble, which, in this case, includes her and me. But the bubble breathes; it expands and collapses like a set of lungs. She points to the moon, pregnant and full in the sky, and my reality grows to encompass that celestial rock in all its perceived glory.
But there is a point at which this stable, ordered world begins to fall apart at the seams or rather, unravels like an old sweater caught on a nail. Borders, boundaries and dimensions are semi-permeable membranes, letting in and letting out. Her hand in mine no longer seems to have a definition. Instead, it is an unrecognisable, undifferentiated mass of fingers and blood vessels and no longer skin on skin but only skin. I look again at the moon and it begins to leak from its confines, spreading its hazy glow into a penumbra. The sky is not black but the deep, dark blue of rich velvet. Into this plush canvas comes the yellow of the moon, spreading like spilled ink, crafting Rorschach blots and shapes that live only in imagination.
I see, she says, as if seeing what I am. Her pupils are dilated and she is wide-eyed, as if hypnotised. Her lips are parted and her breathing is slow, deep and steady. She follows the direction of my gaze and says again, I see.
I stand and she stands with me. We walk directionless, arm-in-arm, occasionally jostling heads. We cannot seem to stop smiling and when I hold out my left hand, the palm facing downwards, my splayed fingers tremble as if afraid. There are ghosts in the trees and spirits in the leaves. We walk behind a massive oak and it hides us completely. We are a thousands hands, a thousand mouths and a thousand tongues. For what could be minutes, hours, days, seconds, we are no body. When we finally separate, there are still tendrils of desire between us but we are confused and our eyes are unfocused and staring.
When the wind starts up, we instinctively draw together again. Her hair is in my mouth and the wind flings its strands against my face. Clouds have rolled in and the moonlight no longer guides us. In the darkness, we are bound and limited; our eyes no longer see and reality becomes infinitely more complicated.
I can feel her warmth against me and her hair against the nape of my neck. We walk together, feeling our way forward with our feet. There is soft grass, in clumps and mounds, underneath. We sit down again and there is no one else around. She fumbles in the dark and there is the spark of flint being struck, that sudden light, sustained by the smoldering end of a cigarette. I hear her draw in, deep and long, and hold it and exhale. I feel the smoke against my face, its wisps like invisible caresses. I take the cigarette and the first inhale shocks life into my body. But I see cells dying, asphyxiated and blue. I see alveoli collapsing like shoddy structures from an earthquake. I see blood seeping, boiling, expiring.
The first drop of rain lands unerring on my cigarette, effectively putting it out. Then the others arrive, a pitter-patter on my head and a dampness through my shirt. She makes a sound, like a squeal only more pleasant. The rain catches us before we can seek an overhang and when soaked to my boxers, the water droplets clinging to every inch of skin, we stop trying.
She moves away from me and I see her silhouetted against the hazy, far-off glow of a streetlamp. She stands, arms outstretched and face toward the sky. Raindrops on my eyelashes create blurs of bokeh behind her and in that moment, I think she is the strongest protest against death. She laughs and it is musical and rings out through the quiet night streets. There are other sounds–rain on roofs, harsh cloud rumblings and a din of voices tempered by distance–but her laugh penetrates through it all like an arrow. I smile because I cannot help it.
Lightning and thunder and rain and she dances through it all, twirling like a dervish and though I call out, warning her to avoid the streets, she wanders into them as if wading into a river and being carried by the currents. The wind shakes the trees and leaves begin to fall. I am distracted by their shapes, their outlines seemingly twisting and changing and morphing. I reach out, pluck one from the air and it is buoyed by a cushion of raindrops. They break apart and scatter like dust, floating in the air before splattering into nothingness. Then, another distraction as she weaves in and out of the light, scattering photons in every direction. She pulls me along and we run, heading for a horizon we cannot see. I trip and we both fall in a tangle of arms and legs. We are still laughing, now uncontrollably, and I do not feel the pain but I feel the broken skin on my arms and on my shins and the blood that is escaping.
As we lay there, slumped and knotted together, reality shrinks into a pinpoint. It is located in between the eyes, hers and mine both. I feel broken and she intuits it. She draws closer and ever tighter. And I begin to think that it is all in the mind and that reality is as much illusion as it is allusion. It is an intricate fashioning of idea into form and in this working, idea always seems to escape, leaving behind only a partially filled shell.
I begin to say this and she puts a finger to my lips. To say it would be to smash it. There is only so much language can do and reality is as much my ability to recite as it is my ability to perceive. The world of the senses has no room for documentary, only metaphor. And as we sit, soaking, bleeding and laughing, reality is all skin, broken and bruised but like always, an anchor.
(Published in The Kathmandu Post, June 8)