Ashes to Ashes

The battlefield was bordered by a manicured hedge ,

And all the violence which seduced men into abandon 

Took place outside it where the fallen

leaves had blown to with a gust of hot wind.

Most warriors would choose a battle ground clear of trees, but ours was oak-panelled with marble flooring that wouldn’t let the blood of the brave and broken soak through. We lit the torches and the bedroom candles, and watched the flames dance on our skin. Lamps dripped oil into puddles on the floor as we looked on and breathed in the heavy scents of ambrosial sconces that crystallised in our lungs — naïve little soldiers, we didn’t know that armour was supposed to be worn on the outside.

The light from the scented candles cast shadows on the wall behind it — the wall offered no protection, with the offender and defender on the same side. The hungrier twin of candlelight rose higher, uncaring for the velvet curtains which protected themselves from the fragrant flames with help from the winds. The curtains rose and fluttered with their benefactor, and from the doorway they looked like war flags, waiting to be dyed red with violence and to be trampled upon.

By us.

 

Weapons sanctioned by the office of wrath were invisible 

To the onlookers, who wondered why there were

hints of a smile on our dirt-streaked faces even though 

We were being drafted to the army of the enemy.

 

We were knights-in-training and we thought that our wooden swords were harmless, but splinters from wood could hurt almost as much as rusted blades buried in one’s back. Our naked backs were smooth, except for the welts where realisation had struck us hard. We wanted to survive the onslaught and so we encased our hearts in iron cages and called it an armour; we donned heavy helmets so that our minds were actually prisons. Canons were loaded as our fingers caressed each other and found only cold, hard metal where a heartbeat once was. We were knights-in-training, and so, we mounted our high-horses, not caring that all of it would crumble to dust when we really went to war.

The candles had reached their last drip of wax and in some parallel universe — some other battle — we would be smearing it over the slightly sweaty contours of each other’s backs, because the wax never left welts like those whispered lies did. The sweet fragrance was turning pungent and we couldn’t help but wonder if this was supposed to happen as the candles burned out and the wicks turned black. The fire in our eyes wasn’t a reflection of the sputtering flames in front of us. It was almost cruel how the torch burned brighter as the candlelight was eclipsed.

The cry for battle clung to us like icicles in the cold 

which remind one that touching ice often feels like burning

And as it, perhaps involuntarily, escaped our throats 

We were anything but we, with you against me

Offences were many, and our perceptions pierced by the shards of broken glass behind which we were each other’s attackers. We could crush the shards underfoot, if not for the candles we had lighted that smelled like death in retrospect. The whispers, which escaped us while we were against each other and the oak panelling, had now escaped their wooden sanctuary to haunt us. Our union boiled over us till it was just invisible vapour weighing down our breaths — it was here that I understood the fact that I couldn’t vouch for you any more, for gaseous particles drift apart to infinity.

In all the wars we had waged in our heads, we had only been two sides of a coin, the tip and hold of a spear, but now they were two separate weapons — a dagger and a stick. We were two separate weapons, pointed at each other, like busts of Caesar and Brutus carved out of the same stone. I could only find myself choking on my own destruction, while you were building a bunker with your pillows and closing off the gates to trust. Like a deer in the headlights, I was caught off guard, denied access to both your doors and my own. My ammunition and the strength to use it was locked behind my mistrust of myself — and surprisingly, after all the drills, not of you.

Surprise and cowardice had me taken aback, but terms of war 

were clear as day: the battle would start irrespective of how I

had prepared, for unlike more pleasant things 

It didn’t take two to declare.

 

You kept on building bunkers apprehending a devastating fat man or little boy to drop whenever I flew over you in vain, for I didn’t bother getting into the aircraft at all. I was a failed soldier, a sham warrior, and while you settled on a fight for survival, I only wished I could do the same — wished, but never acted. I was sucked into a hurricane-like dilemma and swirled inside with the hope for it to end in a black hole.

Every night that I had pulled away from the kiss first was not a preparation for a possible coup d’êtat , but a declaration of my inability to train for war. The arrows we had aimed at each other in smaller skirmishes came back as missiles — launched, as if, by mischief rather than purpose. You decided to fight against what you could see approaching for afar, the several crushing tonnes of heartbreak and rust. I let it go through me — ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

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