A sample from the novel ‘One Month In Mumbai.’
Chapter 2, Balcony
The sky was melting from blue to red when it touched the sea. There seemed to be no point where each sky colour changed, no definite line, like it was the perfect achievement of an artist, the greatest sky she had ever painted. From behind the blue in a thing from far away, the sun put something onto the colours: transferring them out from a basic watercolour to an oil but I could not see the sun, it was hidden behind the filthy skyscrapers that marked the city – the city of contradictions, where light and dark stood beside each other, a perfect sky, a horrid crime ridden building. I was back in Mumbai. It had been ten years.
The sounds were the first thing to make me remember. The ringing bells of bicycles from seven flights below, the honks of the horns and the squawks of a hundred black birds, flying from high rise to high rise, with breaks in between on telephone wires where they’d perch to find. I remember this apartment from before. Eagles soar now as they did then and they are still different to all the other black birds. The murmurs of creepers living in every tree and scrub, it’s all coming back to me. The black birds are racing now, bee lining as one bird army for something I cannot see… I refused to stand, bend my neck or even raise an arm, I was restful, had found peace again, on my balcony high in the tree tops of this perfect disgusting building.
I can see the sun now, it is a plunging orb, a ruby orange, lighting a lane of ocean that vanishes into trees that cover the shore from where I sit. A fisherman’s boat bobs, a silhouette in the lane that the sun had designed on the sparkling silver surface. A young woman walks in her emerald blue kurta past a man in a white dhoti and a lady in a gold and orange saree, I have stood and moved slightly, it is why I can see the sun and the girl who is walking. A boy passes her, one hand on his handle bar, the other on his cell phone. I was watching them like the black birds but although I may wish sometimes, I won’t jump. A child walks with a rucksack home from his school, passing two boys with faces buried in the engine of a car. Exhaust fumes mixed with saffron, light bells chime, from where I don’t know. The doorbell rings.
By the time she spoke, the sun was sinking into blue grey clouds but amazingly, the colours in the sky had not changed, it was still the full range in oil, only the sun was moving, the sun and the birds and the people. She had confused me and I wasn’t seeing it for what it was. I could hear the light singing of a woman but I couldn’t find her with my eyes, her voice carried all the way up the side of the high rise, to me. I loved being high up in the tree tops, the sea and the sun to watch and be with. Now she was next to me, my first day in Mumbai was almost complete.
It’s late now. The sun is gone, all that is left are the birds. They fly around forever. They only stop when I’m sleeping. Two men on a motorbike pull up to the boys who have their heads still buried in the car engine. Some money is given.
The birds are resting, perched on a lower, whiter building than mine, staring with their heads, like a line of labourers watching from the scaffolding of half a building. The birds are not moving, but for one and the quick sharp sudden snap of its beak. It presses feet into ledge, and dives – up – climbing – soaring – with wings into air that has become frozen. All the trees are still now. It had been ten years since I stepped onto this balcony and watched this city. Last time I came for a woman and I found her, but things were different then. Not the smells though, they seem to survive time, the hard erosion of time that can kill a building, kill a man, it can’t kill the smells, the perfume of lemongrass, the reek of urine up a crumbling staircase, the rot of a dead bird. They survive it all, the smells. The sound of a bang.
The sudden blow of Sanam’s handgun, so loud it rocks the very heart of Andherri but I’m almost immune to the sound now, it doesn’t shake me like it should. Birds that I thought had left this part of the city jungle suddenly emerge from every tree branch, window ledge, telephone line and bush. The sound echoes, for some it echoes still. The birds: in a great state of alarm, they climb and climb into the the sky. They leave here, fluttering in panic. Black daggers attacking God.
I peer down to the ground below where a dead man lays, the blood spread across the road and she was holding me. The sound didn’t effect me, but a dead man in India did. I can’t remember if she screamed or not. God was alive though, Azaan sounds across the city from the mosque through loud speakers. If that was the sound of God, then the gun was the devil. The sky had changed, there was grey in it. A little bit of black and Sanam was racing off on his motorbike.
Screams. Night began. I wanted out. The amber lights from the buildings beginning to emerge as the light from the skies torch was dimming. The city was changing, the mosquitos were coming. there was a dead person below me and I knew who it was because I had paid Sanam to make the final hit for Victor. This time, I was going to make some money.