“You know, I’ve never understood gears”, she said, staring with great interest at the giant horn behind one of the glass cases of the museum.
“Like, I can understand theoretically how they work. You have these circular things with wedges in them. And they have other circular things stuck in them. And so when one moves the other one moves too. But doesn’t the other one complain? Like the other circular thing is literally being forced to move because the first circular thing wants to move. It must be a sad life.”
I gently reminded her that gears didn’t live.
“Have you ever done anything with gears?”
I have. When I was in tenth grade or ninth grade or something, we had a long course or something about robotics. It was like a workshop or something. Our final project was to design a car that moved.
“Ooh, did you manage it?”
We had moved on to another exhibit. While I knew this museum had something to do with palanteology, I had no idea what this thing was. It looked like a black hole. I told her so.
“It’s palaeontology. And did you make the car?”
We made the car. My only contribution to the project was philosophical. Or, as Jasmine said, it summed up to the totality of the human condition. Zero. I told him he needed help with his arithmetic.
“Dude, we know how shit turns. You want to take a left, you make sure the left wheel stops. The other wheels still move, but because the left wheel is not moving the whole thing moves in some sort of circle. And the car turns to the left. You did jackshit to make this car.”
I suppose wheels are not like gears. When one stops the others are just supposed to adjust. I told him to go to subterranean regions of fire and ice. I told him this was not a car. It only had two wheels. There’s only so much you can take from a guy named after a white flower.
“So you didn’t make a car. You made a bike. Typical.”
We had now moved on to the next exhibit. It contained the most relevant thing to palanteology in the museum. Empty. We stared at the exhibit, transfixed.
“I told you, it’s palaeontology.”
When we walked outside the museum I asked her what she was going to do.
“I need a shower. Those ichthyosaurs make me feel dirty.”
No. About me. About us.
“Do you have any of my towels at your place? I don’t want to go to the hellhole right now.”
I didn’t have any of her towels at my place. She had never asked me this question before.
We walked to my place. It wasn’t very far away, but it took a while. She was having some difficulty with her converses.
“I’ve gotten used to heels”, she explained. “Anyway, you don’t need to walk slowly because of me. I know you walk fast. Go ahead. I’ll see you at your place.”
I told her that actually I had stretched a tendon in my knee some time ago. We walked on in silence. I didn’t like that. She wasn’t one of the silent people. She liked to hear herself talk. It reminded her that she was alive. She always needed something to remind her that she was alive. She only read murder mysteries. She downloaded pictures of dead bodies. She went to palanteology exhibits. She ate exclusively non vegetarian food. And then there was me. She was surrounded by corpses.
“Get it right at least once, babe. It’s palaeontology.”
The only person at home right then was my great grandfather. She really liked my great grandfather. He would try to burst into tears whenever he saw her. He couldn’t cry, my great grandfather, because his tear ducts had completely dried up during the war. It didn’t stop him from trying.
I told him the tear ducts might fill again if he had some water.
He blew air through his rotten teeth. No one could understand him except for me. I don’t know why, but what he said made complete sense to me. No one could understand him because he didn’t have any saliva in his mouth. He hadn’t had a sip of water since he had got caught in the rains 32 years ago. He had rushed in, had a single sip from the glass of water my mum offered him and turned pale. He had screamed his last words then. “Everything is acid”, he had screamed. “Help, my mouth is burning”, he had said. Then he had shut up and sat on a sofa. My mother was worried about him, because she didn’t understand him anymore.
“Eat my head”, he was saying. I nodded politely, and asked him if I could do something for him.
“Suck the blood out of my body. Please. It burns. Lad, it burns.”
I’m not a vampire. I told him I would after the cricket world cup ended. Kapil Dev was on 74 not out. We couldn’t hear the match on radio because of some dispute with the broadcasters. Guess we would have to wait for tomorrow’s newspapers.
That placated him. My great grandfather was actually a fossil. The gears… they did not work. I often told her my house was as good a palaeontology exhibit as any in the world.
“It’s paleontology”, she said absently, staring at the exhibit.
When she came out of the shower she said we needed to talk.
“Yeah. I think so t-“
“Shut up. We need to break up.”
I stared at her.
“Yeah. I’ve been thinking, and we’re about as done as anything.”
I spotted a wrinkle. Growing, like an insidious creeper.
“We’re mutually incompatible.”
Feeding on her face like a parasite.
“You’re like one of those gears. You don’t move unless you have to. Unless one of the circular things you’re up against moves.”
Gnawing on her subtle cheekbones.
“How do I even know you’re alive? You’re a dinosaur. Your great grandfather is more alive than you are. He’s rotting, his skin is peeling away and his blood is boiling inside of him, but you’re the one who’s the fossil. You make this place the palanteology exhibit.”
Palaeontology. Sucking on the cerebrospinal fluid.
“I thought it was the ichthyosaur but it was you. You were the one making me feel dirty. I wish I had my towel. All yours stink of dead flesh.”
Stripped away of all the luggage, I saw her at last. She was a wheel, not a gear. I had thought I was moving because of her, and now I realised I was moving despite of her.
“Goodbye. And I’m sorry. But you’re like a contagious disease. I can’t keep the pus from bursting out any more. I’m sorry.”
That night I sucked the blood out of my great grandfather’s body. Most of it had evaporated, and the rest came willingly enough. I told him Kapil hit 175. He sighed in ecstasy. His spine buckled, and his eyes sank inside of him. My mum gave him some water, and he sucked at it desperately. Then he cried. His tears fell on my hair. It burnt. Everything seemed to be burning.
Everything was acid. And I was my own funeral pyre.
“I’ll have you know that my arithmetic is perfect,” Jasmine growled. He hated it when he was called Jasmine.
It’s a little more complicated than that. If the sum total of the human condition was zero it meant it wasn’t zero. It couldn’t be nothing without being something, and of it was something it wasn’t nothing. A paradox. A wheel which is a gear.
“You still did jackshit to make this car.”