I have always been here, erect and reflective. I have always spent my days lost in observation; of the people who walk past, of the ones who stop their stride and actually look at me – of course what I mean by that is looking at themselves, as they stare at their reflections, pretending to make changes all the while; others who see themselves fleetingly on my skin as they walk/run past me; and the ones who don’t really slow down or look but steal corner-of-the-eye glances at themselves – while they remain slightly conscious of what they may see. I don’t just reflect people who happen to walk by, the world beyond is truly much vaster, much more general and confusing for the people who choose a self-centric viewpoint when they choose only the images they want to see. The rest remains obscure and faded, but not to me, my perception extends beyond the woman using me for a touch up, it extends to the taxi driver who has just realized that he had been duped by a passenger; to the girl lugging shopping bags in anticipation of the bus that is about to arrive; the kid who has distracted his mom from the road ahead by dropping her mobile; a cigarette butt trailing in the wind moments before it crashed into the road and spilled its entrails under a car’s tire. Nor do I miss the people who seem lost, the ones dolling about in their cars and the ones who consistently take the wrong turn and keep missing the building they passed by countless times. The airplanes that make me tremble in my frame as they streak through the sky, the birds that bang into me as they grossly overestimate their capabilities, the new parents who enthrall their toddlers with my reflections and the dogs who chase themselves untiringly. I have seen a lot and heard more than I could ever expect to see. For ones like me, whose object defies the ability to become a component of the animate world, the sights are everything and to them I remain open eyed and forever receiving. But my visionary senses are limited to my reach and my reach limiting my grasp. There are a multitude of little sounds that emanate from around and beyond. Most of them I can place and assign proximities and sources and these sounds are almost always repetitive and constant. Maybe a tender thud that gets added on or the minor overtone from the apartment that caught fire a decade ago and rebuilt. Everyday a new detail becomes a part of this rhapsody – with everyday having its origin in stillness and absolute and remarkable silence. The colder nights lend a tad bit of frosting which frustrates me but it soon passes, leading way to the backstage acts. It almost plays out like a well-rehearsed drama, the shrilly and sometimes just disturbing phone-alarm sounds; the rush of water for their showers, the smell of coffee slowly distilling the night; creak, shut, lock – footsteps over the dew laden street; engines heating up; the newspaper biker; calls for people to hurry up; yellow of the school buses; honks, swerves and the banal foot-meets-floor bursts of anger; the day creeping up on everyone-child, adult, animal and the likes of me.
I can’t complain though, the nights are always the worst for me, there aren’t many like us and the relative lack of anything animated instils a deep feeling of discontent. I don’t reflect much during the night, but then the world looks at me much lesser then. I become merely an object, not their friendly visual confirmation anymore. They use me to stand by, resting their head on me as they wait for the friend who never shows up or the lace that decides to escape the strangle of its counterpart. It drives an unknown tender chord that lies at some peripheral around me in wanton desire of that completely human existence, making me wonder how it must be to be able to close myself, to reverberate my impulses to the wind. What it must mean to be the one who could fragment my urges and compartmentalize my convictions, I wonder. Sometimes my desire to wander goes past the horrendous bit of concrete present that has been slowly rising before me. Soon, it will be my time to quiver and crumble down. But that knowledge of inevitability cannot stop me wondering what goes on beyond my block, to what those daily noises belong to. And it was during one of those ponderous nights that she was held against her will to my glassy face.
They were two in number, the men who were holding her head to the glass as she tried to scream under the piece of cloth stuffed in her mouth. I knew it wasn’t right. There was something wrong about the expressions-fear and garish lust-not the fear of a child who holds on tight to the string of her floating balloon and not the lustful desire of the boy who wouldn’t drop the book he was reading, even while standing in the dullest light in wait for his evening bus. Their emotions were clashing like the heat that stretched my joints during the peak days and the cold that shrunk my timber and steel-evidently making me creak and groan. I have felt love when the old man hugs his wife’s pillow on one of the upper floors of myself. I know the innocent fear of the lonely mother in 302 when she knows the man in her TV soap is going to have his heart broken. But this girl, her face, I could see was one of horror, of betrayal and I knew by some in built sense of reasoning that the element of neutrality was being ceded by something monstrous. The two men were possessed by a desire to destroy and I have seen that desire in various forms through my years of watching. I knew that I was borne of destruction-of the earth below me, supports being thrust into it to hold me, her hands being held against the cold of my face. But I always thought that my conception must have been the result of genuine desire to do well and I tried against my reasoning to perceive the good in the forceful act before me. One of her hands sprung free but they soon reigned it in, forcing some sort of deep felt hate into her. Did they hate her? Or what she as a female individual signified? The late night’s frost shied away, tearing down me, her resistance failing, eyes open and looking at me-herself and the men behind her. I stole a part of her portentous gaze in me, that night. A gaze that implored help, one that my handicapped self could only silently deny, hiding myself behind her reflection-wishing my sweat-lain bricks to deny oneness, to fall-brick by brick, bolt by bolt; to bury the fallacy of sweat, blood and emotion; to hide the filth of the night from the bright of the next day.
At some point, before the never exhaustible sun stoked up the beginnings of the next day, she stood up, looked at me for a long time and walked away.
Hopes that the day would bring reckoning for the past night or an upheaval of the animate and their emotions were denied. The morning brought nothing new, the clockwork didn’t shrug and screech to a halt as I expected it to, the night became merely a one of the many that were slipping away fast, just another inconsequential date in a timeline. Her gaze, that momentary glance at her face, the moment that I stole; haunted my observances; a faint inanimate longing to see it again pass by, fixing her hair or redoing her lashes. A longing that obviously was the result of an accessory’s guilt-to align all the normalcy around me to the events of that night and assure myself that my understanding of them were wrong, that my sensibilities as a building were as qualitative as the method mixings of concrete I received. But, I was to get no such reclamation of conscience, the tyranny of the night’s jeopardous acts would remain, grow like the new glass modernity that was rising before me, marring my observances, slowly hiding me from the world that I had always so wantonly beheld.
It felt abrupt, a lack of continuity that I was otherwise so used to, the night remained like an unaddressed glitch-an unutterable slur, a ploy that every adult, child, animal, paving stone, signpost and traffic signal seemed to be a silent partner of-one that of which I seemed to have been left out of. I saw their faces differently now, they were all playing their part in the night’s happenings and they all seemed to take it as a nuance, a nothing, something unremarkable and unworthy of further indulgence. But that night had changed everything for me, the smallest moans and shrieks caught my concrete ears, every creak and thud sounded different, they sounded like muffled protests and forced desires. The way I had imagined the sounds beyond my sight stemmed, changed. I listened intently for scratching on glass and the laughter of conquests.
It was during these slow days, days during which that night almost seemed like the creation of a building’s imagination-like the acts I assigned to sounds that reached me from other blocks without visual confirmations of the same-when I did see her again.
Months had passed, a lot of them and keeping count of them were not really my thing, advent of seasons-yes; passing time-not really. But on that day, when the skies were pulling in and rumbling, on the street opposite to me, waiting for the green man in the traffic pole to alight, she stood-looking at me. I wanted to look away for the first time, she must have known that I was the one who had stolen a bit of her. She walked up to me. Forever I have remained purely an object of chance, sometimes even of obstruction and almost never of an absolute choice. She stood in front of me where I could not hide, her eyes looked different now, and that pure innocent fear was replaced by a light that evaded shining on that night. The tears that were tempted, evanesced before they could fall. She laid her fingers on me, the warmth of her palm melting the cold of my face-the glass. I could see that she did not hate. The night was unknown to everyone except us. She laid the other hand on her stomach, rubbing it, eyes fleeting between it and myself. She walked away, waiting carefully till the lights shifted to the right one, walking until the end of the opposite block, eventually disappearing behind it. She had come and left and no one or nothing that followed seemed to notice. Just another person or lost balloon, just another wrong turn or crushed cigarette.