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conjunctions by Mrinal Kalita

Art by Ramkinkar Baij

In my old city, the 72 year old sweeper whom I like to address as Rahim Sahab is performing his duties so he can quietly recline to his makeshift lodging at the end of the day, located at the foot of one of the rare willow trees found in my city, where he also nestles a stray dog so he can have someone to come back to, but most times, he does not recognize the forest track back to his tree, so he remembers the last road bend that he must get off from by the milepost that says Guwahati is 87 kilometres away (most times, I also like to imagine that that is where he comes from and that maybe he has a little daughter waiting for his return) the next morning, Rahim Sahab continues his routine and the stiff edges of his broom scratch against the tar of city streets to wake the IT intern newly renting a single room at Laitumkhrah, and he has remembered how this sweeper almost always arrives at 8 A.M. everyday and it is time for him to have his morning smoke, at the cigarette shop, he learns the air of my city and remembers it as his mother’s cold eyes— six months later, the intern carries Rahim Sahab to another city only as an odd memory and watches it slowly decompose every morning that he is woken up without the sound of footsteps and stiff edges of a broom to tell him it is 8 A.M. In the single room that the intern vacated in Laitumkhrah, he left behind the red semi-transparent ashtray that the new resident now discovers on the window sill, and uses as her own— every morning, at 8 A.M. she is almost always awoken by a stray dog howling and remembers it is time for her morning smoke, at the cigarette shop, she learns the air of my city and remembers it as seasons dying in her backyard as if hoping to be eulogized— she returns to her room, fleshes out her imagination and begins to paint, starting from the backdrop travelling inwards to the last detail of ash in the cigarette burning between fingers of what she thinks the last resident would look like smoking; later, she laughs at herself for painting an absence she has never encountered It is January when I return to my city and the willow tree across the milepost that says Shillong is 13 kilometres away has now been cut down, but I imagine Rahim Sahab has finally gone back to his daughter except the dog he once nestled looks like every street dog now and without Rahim Sahab, he does not exist anymore— at the cigarette shop, a madwoman tells me she wants to paint me holding a cigarette I say, if only I can write a poem about you, and at this moment, I learn the air of my city and remember it as the place where memory comes to die


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