An Afternoon Wasted in Short Soliloquies

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Van Gogh's Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette


Adrita Zaima

“The man badly needs a shave,” Audrey says with fake indignation, nodding towards the middle-aged salaryman sitting opposite us, the only other occupant of the room. “The beard really does not add to his charms.”

“You are deviating again,” I reprimand with a small smile.

“Well, what do you want me to say? That I am undeniably, irrevocably in a stuttering state of agony? Zounds, woman!”

We both burst into laughter. Reza sir and his inexplicable infatuation with Elizabethan profanities were already rubbing off on us both after a mere month into his classes. We will be avid, unironic Shakespeare enthusiasts soon before long at this rate. The man opposite’s withering look of ire and disgust manages to throw us into another fit of giggles. Only after the last of our tears are wiped away and the volume of our amusement reasonably quietened—or as reasonably as is required by the standards of propriety of this dingy office—do I broach the subject again.

“He tried to kill himself with sleeping pills,” I say, pulling two cigarettes out of my jacket pocket and slipping one to her.

“Yes, he tried to kill himself with sleeping pills,” Audrey admits around the cigarette now wedged between her lips. I light hers for her before doing mine.

After taking a long drag, I continue, “And you tried to kill yourself by slitting your wrist without even first affirming that your beloved is no longer of this transient world.”

“Yes, madam.” She blows a puff of smoke. The man opposite coughs theatrically.

“So,” I ask with a little animation in my voice, “Did your life flash before your eyes? Did you witness all the joys and regrets, all the inconsequential details of your meagre existence of twenty-two years? Were the burning gates of hell in all their cruel glory shining in the background, awaiting your arrival with open arms, all the while as you stumbled through your barely held-together consciousness?”

“I thought you were an atheist,” she says, turning towards me.

“Curiosity of the afterlife is the bane of all atheists, I daresay.”

“Well, no.” She turns to look towards the man opposite us again. He is trying to ignore us by making himself busy with his phone. “There were only two thoughts that my mind was capable of distinguishing over the static noise that the terror of actually dying was playing on my subconscious—a conscious terror of actually dying and a desperate need to tear him apart from limb to limb for driving me to suicide.”

“And so, after waking up in a lavish hospital bed—courtesy of your concerned and rightfully murderous roommate—you broke all ties with your wretched lover, and demanded he be shipped to some correctional facility.”

“And, in the process, ironically got myself stuck here in this shrink’s office for my, quote unquote, unhealthily dependent and obsessive behaviour towards love partners.”

“Colour me surprised.”

The psychiatrist’s assistant then enters the waiting room and announces, “Dr. Singh will see you now, Ms. Ali.”

Audrey stubs her cigarette on the seat beside her before getting up and looking down at me. “Thank you so much for doing this, but are sure you will be okay here?”

“I am sure. Come on, go ahead and get yourself fixed now,” I answer with a grin. With quivering lips, she returns my smile and moves gingerly towards the white hallway on the other side of the room.

I push the butt of my cigarette against my palm as I watch her receding figure and wonder at how I got myself to waste away my afternoon.


Zaima is a fake poet with a serious problem against anything that resembles seriousness. 

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