I’m pondering the two extra half-used rolls of paper perched on the back of the toilet seat when I hear snuffling in the next stall.

“Shit!” a woman exclaims.

The toilet automatically flushes as I zip my pants and rebuckle my belt. For a moment, I reflexively fear mortifying my already-perturbed colleague. But she’s muttering again, and then her severe pointy black heels are tapping, furious and staccato.

Amused, I wash my hands; she emerges from the stall with something in her hands. I’m heading for the hand towels, which hang over the waste basket, but she cuts me off to thrust something deep within the recesses of balled and worried white papers.

I smile my crooked, haphazard smile. “Is everything OK?” She seems like she could use someone being nice to her.

My question hangs in the air for a few tenuous moments; I wipe my hands and discard my towel, then improvise a shrug and head for the door.

“Wait,” she stops me. I turn, heartened. She’s about my age, late twenties, and I think I recognize her as the executive assistant to one of the higher-ups. Her face is quaint, shaped like a little heart, and her liquidy brown eyes are kind.

“I don’t need your fucking pity,” she spits. “So I’m pregnant. So what? Don’t fucking judge me.”

“I … I’m not judging you,” I stuttered. The flecks of black and gold of the bathroom tiles were mesmerizing. “Have you thought about … you know, getting it taken care of?”

“Are you fucking kidding me? Who the fuck are you, Planned Parenthood?” she railed. She splashed water on her face and neck, then quietly dabbed herself dry. “Just … don’t tell anyone, will you?”

“No, no, I won’t … I never would.” She huffed out the door as I tried to respond. I smoothed my hair and returned to my desk; later, I saw her at the elevators, and instead of acknowledging me, she emphatically inserted her earbuds and made a show of fiddling with her iPod as if I weren’t there.

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It’s been a rough month. But I think I’m ready to come out of hiding. Reasons for hunkering down are largely beside the point.

And now, a scene.

Platinum Gym: a family-owned sweat palace populated largely by what appear to be bodybuilders of the former Soviet republics. Our heroine is doing pull-ups, wiggling excitedly between sets to an infectious pop number. She is marveling at a lissome lifter when she realizes that he is no longer kicking his leg to his forehead; he is staring at the pull-up bar, then at her, then at the pull-up bar, then furrowing his brow, and then fixing his gaze, again, on her.

Gym dude:

Hey, girl. I, uh, I wanted to say …

She smiles nervously, as is her wont. Just see what happens: It can’t be as bad as the time another regular mumbled through a discourse on the evils of Google Toolbar before asking her for a drink.

GD:

… you’re beautiful. But it’s not just, you’re not just beautiful. It’s that you work at it. You’re here, what—

TJ:

Oh, yeah, I come five or six days a week, blow off some steam.

GD:

Yeah! Blow off some steam! I’m K—-, and you’re?

TJ:

TJ, good to meet you K—-. And thanks, I, um, appreciate it?

He smiles and starts mumbling something again, and she knows that she should be annoyed, that he’s penetrating the little bubble of herself and the time she’s created when she never has to think about her husband or cleaning or making dinner or those damn cats, those fucking cats. But it’s not always about hormones and gonads and the ceaseless beating of flesh on flesh; sometimes it’s just nice, right when you feel farthest from the world and everything you wanted, to be reminded that there are others going through the motions, making the effort, trying to connect when it’s easy enough to make it through the day with no more contact than a rapid-fire coffee order or an exhausted “Excuse me!” yelped in the crush for the rush-hour train. Only connect, only connect.

“It’s old light, and there’s not much of it. But it’s enough to see by.” –Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye (1988)

My favorite passage from the American Book Review’s list of the 100 best last lines from novels.

Profusion of art is connected to my recent procurement of a combination printer, scanner, and copier. Fervor will fade soon, I imagine.

Related:

Interesting write-up of a photographer’s work on explicit graffiti in Bombay’s commuter rail lines (an example of which I’ve posted above — taken about a year ago when the hub and I visited a friend in Mumbai) — Chirodeep exhibited some of his pieces at the city’s Kala Ghoda Arts Festival.

This was the tenth year of the Kala Ghoda event; a full listing of artists and workshops is here. A blog chronicling some of the work from the festival is still being maintained — and added to — which takes the fest to a new level; even though I’m no longer in India, I can get a feel for Kala Ghoda’s heady, artistic atmosphere. If that’s not enough, there are some great pictures at Fractal Enlightenment.

Man. Wish I could have gone.

Escape
but
remember;
embrace
life’s
ambiguities.

(Inspired by Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure.)

She knew as soon as she found the yellow legal pad etched with his erratic hand that it wasn’t something she should share. But, lacking the abiding sense of self-preservation that develops only around the age of 13 or so, she settled in the garage, sifting through the boxes her father was filling—boxes he would carry off in his silver Camry to a place unknown, a place she didn’t really want to know, either.

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