I had a terrible fever that summer. I remember people passing like ghosts in the small room. I was always thirsty. Gallons of water would not satisfy me. When the fever went down a bit and I tried to get up, it returned with vengeance. Then I stopped moving altogether. My parents were too confirmed a bunch of atheists to suddenly turn to religion so they could save my life. As if to compensate that, the whole day they would be by my side, disappointed by the many doctors called in and the failure of each of them to restore me.
One night in that fever I dreamt of a leaf. It had veins like those of a thin, delicate hand. I could see each of them branching out and multiplying into thousands. The sense of endlessness could be entirely unreal since there was a boundary shaped in as the leaf’s outer edge. The luscious, verdant veins were there in front for me to stroke them. One, in particular, held out a strong temptation by virtue of having a lucent quality. Lucent may not be the word. It was probably the ravishing green that seemed to have a heart of its own, a heart with vehement poundings and fierce throbs that I dared not touch.
I reckon recreating that leaf with all its corporeality somehow came upon me after all these years, for I am now inclined to believe that the dream of the leaf has never left me. Incapable of either obliterating or articulating, I tucked it away like a child does a toy that she suspects can transmogrify into an ogre.
The writing of this takes me to another night when I saw a grass court that used to be in front of our house. I remember the day was sultry and the brutal sun did not let anything go out of its clutch. Lying in my invariable position, the whole day I looked at a tree across the street of which I never took any notice before. In my confused state, it looked like the tree in my school with scarlet flowers, whose seeds exploded in summer days and from whose wombs wisps of cotton flew all around. When I dreamt of the grass- court in the night, the tree seemed to have gotten in the middle of it, creating a sense of shade around itself. Suddenly, something appeared in the foreground. It was a buffalo with pitch dark, shiny skin. The smoothness of its hunch was so immense that rays of streetlight seemed to slip on that. I saw it crossing the grass- court with the lightest conceivable steps, leaving an impression of forlorn desire. When it came close to where I was, I discovered traces of hyacinth stuck on its moist body that made me shiver for reasons unknown.
The night I saw the buffalo, a cool breeze started blowing towards the end. I could feel it when the piece of cloth soaked in eau-de-cologne that lay perpetually on my forehead those days suddenly gave out a fragrant vapor. It could rain, I thought and the thought of a long-awaited rain made me perspire. I thought of a tiny pond with the shape of a cavernous loop with thick-foliaged palm trees on its fringe. If the rain came, it would fall obliquely on the pond’s still water, I thought. I thought of the crevices that lightning made in the sky still red with riotous colours, of the stridulating cicadas that disappeared in the darkness lest they got their wings wet, of the impossible boys playing ducks and drakes the whole day on the pond’s still water.
Maybe I did not think as much but saw all this, to the extent one sees dreams within dreams, thinks within dreams or can suddenly retrace dreams in their thoughts again. As if I were in a museum with strange alleys and senseless corridors where all the dimly-lit rooms were painted plum-red and the small machines with glass coverlets had holes to see psychedelic images and stepping onto whose labyrinthine floors I was struck by a dizziness that could not be forsaken again. As if I got riveted in my position by a force stronger than myself and felt that my head could burst at such a point, convinced that they were all there at that moment to take a final toll upon me.
Next day, when the morning light sifted through the small opening, colonized by a sparrow’s nest with its precious inventory of hay, twigs and long dry grass, I realized that my fever had vanished. The rain-splattered earth and the pulsating leaf, the dense palm trees and a buffalo dark as night soaked it up and disappeared slowly into an unnamed expanse. What I lost that night is hard to tell, for, I felt that it was then that the secret sapling of my childhood started withering and a strange destitution came my way.
Rongili Biswas is a writer and musician based in Kolkata, India. She has several
books to her credit. Rongili is the recipient of ‘Bangla Academy’ and ‘Katha’
awards for her fiction. She has recently completed a novel on the nineteenth
century French literature and Flaubert. An economist by profession, she has also
published widely on development and public economics.