RUNNER-UP: A Moment for Indra Singh

How I came to know that Indra Singh regularly went to other worlds was nothing more than a bookmark nestled in a Kurt Vonnegut book that came spinning out when I knocked the book off an end table.

A eulogy that doubles as an ode to storytelling before the opening sentence ends, the truly honorable mention that is "A Moment for Indra Singh" finds Arvinder tracing, channelling, and then ultimately accepting the lingering impression that the titular, vanishing Indra has left. Complete awe I felt through, between, and because of Indra and Arvinder, the former’s quest to figure out “what we were” straddling the line that separates reality from imagination. This pawing embrace of a stranger winks the reader off to Indra and Arvinder's mesmerizing world, one that had me glowing after the end. A moment indeed.

—Cody Caetano

How I came to know that Indra Singh regularly went to other worlds was nothing more than a bookmark nestled in a Kurt Vonnegut book that came spinning out when I knocked the book off an end table. Indra was the type who would re-read this book every couple of months, almost as though he missed the characters so much that he couldn’t bear to be too far away from them. I often wondered if, given the chance, he wouldn’t give up his life to snuggle into the pages and join Jonah in his quest for ice-nine, in a world of Nobel laureates and atomic bombs. A world of physicists, Indra said, one he would surely join, even if that meant he only had a bit part as a background character.

The bookmark fell from the knocked-over book, merely confirming things I had suspected about Indra. “Where do you go, Indra?” I’d often asked him, for Indra simply disappeared. There were times when I could have sworn that he was in his dorm room, only to find it empty, the window jammed shut and too much ice crusted on the ledge to let him out that way in any case. He just went. Indra just went.

In the earliest moments of our existence at Lambton Hall, Indra found me. “Can I have your sholae?” he’d asked in the cafeteria. I’d given them to him and watched as he’d sat next to me, steel tray clattering with the effort of securing his cutlery while dealing with a glass over-filled with milk. The sholae had been gobbled. Not eaten, but truly gobbled, four heaping spoons that he’d slurped between his lips and swallowed without a hint of exertion from his teeth.

“No one likes sholae,” I’d told him. “My name’s Arvinder.”

“Old-fashioned name back in style,” he’d said. I think that was when he’d finally looked at me, and I’d discovered that Indra could lift his eyebrows one at a time: the left one first, the right one joining it, until there was a Roman archway of dark hair across his face. “Come to my room later. 2312.”

“Why would I do that?”

He’d fixed his glasses and sipped the bubbles off the milk. He was the most serious boy I’d ever met, and thinking on him now, I wonder if that’s because he was aimed at something beyond me, something I couldn’t understand or grasp, as though not only did he want to vanish into a book, but that possibly he’d come out of one, too.

“Simple,” he’d shrugged. “I owe you for the chickpeas.”

In his dorm room, Indra scribbled on the chalk board above his bed. I’d sat against his desk and watched the dust float onto the purple fabric of his turban. “Did you know that big things come from small things?” he’d asked, as I wondered if he would try to kiss me. But he didn’t. Indra scribbled straight lines on the chalk board, in different colours, almost like intersecting tic-tac-toe boards. He talked while he was doing it, telling me how he’d like to paint someday, but that his first and greatest love was physics.

“It doesn’t look like much,” I’d said of the drawing. He’d continued to scribble. “Where do you live? How come you’re at Lambton Hall?” He’d mumbled something about his mother’s job and her need to be in Jammu, hence the international school, in-between strokes of rapidly-diminishing chalk. I might remember it strangely, after everything that’s happened, but now and then, the tic-tac-toes flashed, the overlain boards separating as though they weren’t written in the same plane. As though they were on top of each other, stacked in a configuration that was growing out of a dimension hidden within the solidity of the board.

“Done!” he’d said finally, tossing the chalk. There must have been a thousand lines on the board. “Are we square now?”

“I don’t see how,” I’d told him. “Even if it was chickpeas, this is a bad trade for me.”

“You haven’t added your bit yet. Go to the middle. Use your finger to make a line down the middle.”

In that strange, kiss-less visit, that had been the strangest part of all, but not nearly the strangest thing about Indra Singh. I’d wetted my finger with spit and run it down the middle of his drawing. Indra had been leaning against the wall, smiling. Serious boy that he was, he didn’t smile much.

'Like I said,' he’d said, as though that were the point he’d been making all along, 'big things come from small things.'

“Come here,” he’d said.

“No funny business…” But I’d gone to stand next to him, wondering if he was going to try and hold my hand. But he hadn’t. In the strange, hand-holding-less air of that chalky dorm room, I’d looked at the board. That one mark through the middle of the scribbles had transformed the picture until, staring back at me, was me: the black straight hair, the hazel eyes, the hairband, the green of my uniform sweater, the knot of my tie.

“Like I said,” he’d said, as though that were the point he’d been making all along, “big things come from small things.”

But Indra’s true love had been physics. He’d sit in the library, teaching me everything he knew on the subject under a bronze lamp. It had been more than enough to get me through my classes, but he’d never stopped pushing into that world, the one where the smallest things combined to explain all the big ones. “Arvinder, hand me some licorice. It’s getting serious in here,” he’d said once, opening a Stephen Hawking book and reading it from memory.

We spent our lunches together. “Indra, you haven’t estimated the proper density of your daal, hence the overflow,” I’d told him, wiping the mess off his leg.

He’d grinned. “Daal’s tricky. It’s pretty enough to be ornamental, healthy enough to be stewed, and red enough to be very lonely in its existence as a legume.”

“Like that’s much different from you…”

That had been the first time I’d heard him laugh. It was an awkward sound, like dragging a stool over a kitchen floor while dropping a tray of glasses. The sound repeated three times before he caught his breath. I remember the glances we were getting: a mixture of genuine concern for the health of this boy for some, but for others, the fear that a mountain animal had come to lunch.

I’d invited him over to the girls’ dorm that day, where he’d met my roommate Giselle. Indra had stuck out his hand. “Hello, pleasure, nice to meet you, haven’t we met before, weren’t we in a class together, aren’t we in a class right now, that’s right, we’re working on an assignment right now! Have you got your part done yet? Yes, let’s set a time to work on it tomorrow.”

Giselle had shrugged and given me a look. “Indra, fix a heater for us?” She’d pointed at the space heater in the corner. Indra had ambled over, plugged it in, and opened it up to inspect its innards. He’d asked for a screwdriver.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I’d told him. “It’s plugged in.”

“Watch,” he’d said. The screwdriver had gone in, bit by bit. I first realized Indra was being electrocuted because his ears were quivering and there were sparks coming off his glasses. Jaw clenched, his turban began to rise: all those yellow layers waking up from their long slumber, coming to attention as they took stock of the situation and prepared for the battle ahead.

“Don’t touch him!” Giselle had warned, as I’d jumped over to help. I’d grabbed a pillow and smashed him with it, knocking him away from the heater.

“Fixed,” he’d said, lying in a heap, the screwdriver stuck to his flesh.

“You electrocuted yourself,” I’d said, as Giselle jumped up and down on her bed in panic.

“Nevertheless, fixed.”

“Indra, we have to go to the nurse…”

“Nope. Fixed.”

And he’d been right. The space heater hummed away after that, as though it had never gone through a long history of fits and electrical vulnerabilities, never given up the fight as the outside temperatures dropped and it was required to shoulder the load. By the time I’d left Lambton Hall, that heater was still working, and I often wondered if its inheritors could have suspected the means by which it had been rescued from the threshold of obsolescence.

Indra had been fine. He’d done it intentionally, he’d explained, because he’d felt bad for forgetting about Giselle. When my roommate left the room later, I’d leaned over and given Indra a kiss. It does bother me that it was the only one we ever had.

Near Christmas, Indra’s mother Lovely came to Lambton Hall and took us out for lunch. It had been snowing, and the world was white. We’d sat in a café, drinking cappuccinos and eating stale burfi sprinkled with lemony cranberries. Above us, the mountains rumbled with secrets.

“Are you two dating?” she’d asked. Mrs. Singh hadn’t eaten a thing the whole time.

“That’s a funny question,” I’d said. “What did Indra tell you?”

“Nothing. That’s why I’m asking, dear.”

“Answer is yes.”

She’d leaned back. Indra, if he’d heard the exchange, didn’t seem the least bit interested in it. “Well,” she’d continued, “that is a surprise.”

“Why’s that, Mrs. Singh?”

For a moment, she’d closed her eyes. I’d started counting, slow in that river-spun way, getting into double digits before I’d suspected that she might have fallen asleep right in front of me. But then she’d opened her eyes. “You’re so pretty, dear. Honestly, you are wonderfully gorgeous, and Indra… he’s never shown any interest in anything other than books. It all seems so unexpected.”

“You’re telling me,” I’d said, trying to ensure that she wouldn’t have another mini-nap.

This time, her eyes had stayed open. I’d almost counted to double figures in that river-spun way before the blink had finally come. “Things are so different than when I was young.”

“They are, Mrs. Singh.”

“I suppose, dear, that that is a good thing.”

I’d nodded, giving Indra a flick to concur. He’d come out of his cappuccino with bubbles on the curls sticking out of his turban. Mrs. Singh and I had reached over at the same time to clean him, which had baffled Indra enough to make him start paying attention.

“Well dear,” she had said to me, “it was nice to meet you. I don’t think I’ve had so pleasant a time in a while. Hopefully, I will be able to see you again, but I hold out not a lot of hope of that, for you see, I have a rather advanced form of illness. Incurable, they tell me, as though the doctors can rightly assign such an absolute statement to what is inevitably a probability proposition. Farewell. Thank you for the cappuccinos. And for all the bread crumbs along the path. I just want you to know that the most significant stop along that road has been this boy right here. I want you to know that.”

I’d risen and shaken her hand. And for whatever reason, I’d just left, going to the front door. I’d waited for Indra there, watching him say a few words to his mother before the staring, stark trim of her body had suddenly gelatinized and swamped over him in a hug that took Indra a few moments to return. When Indra had reached me, he’d stared at the floor, as though he didn’t want me to see what he was feeling. At the table, Mrs. Singh was as straight as a board, a pencil-yellow figure with the eraser worn to bronze, the lead chiseled to nothing.

Indra took it upon himself to inform me of his mother’s condition at random times, as though to minimize the possibility of overlong discussion. In the middle of class, he’d reach over, “She’s on an experimental drug and says it makes her smell like garlic”, or “The doctors have cleared her to have carnal relations with dad, but he had some performance issues, so they made popcorn instead”, or “She’s seeing a witch doctor, and took a bath of heated moose urine imported from Canada”. And if it weren’t in class, it would be during a movie, Indra’s grip on my hand tightening just enough that I knew what was coming, the strange, silent update delivered into my ear during a lull in the movie dialogue or as the camera panned over the landscape of some place neither of us ever wanted to go if it existed in this world.

The winter was cold. We picnicked in true Indra style, in alcoves of the higher levels of Lambton Hall, perched under statues of former headmasters, surrounded by bay windows edged with frostings of snow. There, we ate Indra’s version of food, cucumber slices with paneer, carrot medallions, bits of pakora, the thickest crackers I’d ever had, double cream with raspberries, apple cider squeezed just down the valley.

“You’re a type of vegetarian,” I’d noted once.

“No, I’m a non-cooker,” he’d said in return. “I am never going to cook. Don’t want to learn how. I eat everything as it comes.”

“That means you can’t eat meat,” I’d explained. “Which makes you a type of vegetarian.”

He’d looked up. “You can cook meat for the kids, if you like. Doesn’t bother me.”

“Oh, we’re talking about kids, are we?”

“No, we’re talking about vegetarians…”

But it had been too late, and I’d ridden him on the subject, until I concluded with, “Did you just ask me to marry you? Well Indra, did you?”

And he’d looked at me, so serious, with those eyes gleaming as though in that moment, he well could have. Under the bay windows, beneath the bald pate of Mr. Ula Patel, the snow falling, he might even have, and I wonder a great deal about how I might have responded. When Indra was present, when he didn’t simply leave, he was totally present, extremely there in a manner that made him more real than the matter around him, as though he were made of different atoms. We’d stared at each other for a long time, thoughts condensing on the windows, leaking out into the corridor and down the wooden staircases until I was sure that the whole of Lambton Hall knew what was happening.

Later that evening, we’d promised to get together to study math, one of the topics where I was better than him. But his dorm room had been empty. Indra had left. I’d found him in the library, under a lamp on the second-floor balcony, books of equations in front of him, red ink scribbled all over the library’s property. I’d taken the pen out of a shaking hand, and let him lean his head on me until that silent whisper had finally come, the status update that couldn’t be cached in another event this time. Indra had gone home to see his mother the next day, and returned to tell me that she was in good spirits despite the news, but that his father was having a hard time with things. He would need to go home every weekend. I’d told him that I would get my father’s car and drive him, and he’d been grateful for that. That had been how I met his dad, a tall, hunched man who always wore a sports jacket and had easily the world class crop of grey hair.

Reaching down through the glass for that red sustenance, silvery trees with limbs carrying leaves like feathers, feather-leaves that reached for the clouds and transmuted their substance into the subterranean vaults of a world that was surely not ours.

But I will always remember the day after Indra’s first visit home. I remember it because I’d gone to his room the next day, and he’d simply been gone. He had left. And in his place, in that dorm room, there had been a painting—because he’d always wanted to paint—still dripping wet. In it, there was a purple sky and clouds hovering over a land made of glass, the transparent mass struck through with veins of red liquid that might have been underground rivers. Reaching down through the glass for that red sustenance, silvery trees with limbs carrying leaves like feathers, feather-leaves that reached for the clouds and transmuted their substance into the subterranean vaults of a world that was surely not ours.

And Indra just left. I’d go look for him in the mornings for breakfast, fully prepared for a meal of unprepared food, and not find him in the room. I’d go to class with him, and in the hallway, he would just vanish when I wasn’t looking. Or I’d wait for him to come out of the bathroom, but he simply wouldn’t, and later I’d find him in another part of the school, utterly oblivious to the magic in his trick, so nonchalant about it that I often thought that this must have been an Indra doppelgänger, someone he had finally succeeded in raising from the pages of his physics books so that Indra could do all the things he wanted to do, or slough off all the things he didn’t want to think about.

“Where do you go, Indra?” I’d asked him.

“Other worlds,” he’d replied.

“That sounds like somewhere I’d like to go.”

He’d nodded and taken my hand. It was seldom that Indra thought to show what we were to each other in public, but that day he’d held my hand all the way to class, and not a few times, I caught him looking at me from his seat, as though he had made a mental note and was trying to transmit it to me.

Every time Indra left, a painting appeared. Soon, his room was filled with them, a canvas-and-chemical mirage of worlds that just weren’t and simply couldn’t be except that Indra went to them and brought images back of what they were. There were things in them I couldn’t imagine, and can’t now, though I have his paintings downstairs where I look at them all the time. There were black waterfalls, mountains as perfect as pyramids, spires of lava so tall and sharp that they looked like teeth, eruptions of lavender that came from deep cracks in planets that spun about each other as though bound by the colored bands. Suns orbiting suns, moons colliding and eating each other in expulsions of mercury. And there were creatures that occupied these worlds too: birds with the snouts of elephants, horned beasts running on six legs, sea creatures that slid their ponderous bulks towards the land and pulled themselves out with great arms, as tsunamis slid down their back. And somehow, Indra created colors, mixtures of tones and shades that I could barely name, either that or in fact they were normal but assembled in such odd combinations that the worlds on display seemed eminently far away, even for the strange boy who lived in that room.

Nothing in the paintings made sense, but all the insensible elements merged to form landscapes that were plausible, if far away, and creatures that were biologically possible, if not locally. I’d often sit on Indra’s bed and hear sulphur winds blowing over the planets, or nebulae erupting into galaxies. I’d smell the emptiness of whirling comets, and the life of green twisty stalks that grew as thick as continents, winding their way around and around as they reached upwards. And I’d see the paintings move, as though these were movies more than anything else, as though I’d intercepted a trail of evidence for one brief moment, the only one to which I was privy—and that just beyond the golden horizon or across the next pulsar, realities lay unburdened by the smallness of what I could imagine or hope for.

Indra left. The paintings came. And every weekend, I took him home in a German sedan that smelled of cigar smoke, to see a mother who could no longer get out of bed. Indra would give his dad a hug when he got home, now so proficient with this simple mode of human expression, due to the circumstances and my persistence that I wanted to touch him at times, that his dad would start. Indra would sit on the bed with his mother and they would joke about how bad her face looked, how perfect her fingers would be for a horror movie, and how releasing yourself from the sneaky life obligations imposed by head-hair presented that much more time for the other things, the important ones.

Indra left. Paintings came. And in a room filled with public radio and perfume bottles that had never been used, Indra shared his worlds with his mother, bits and pieces that he kept in his pockets for these weekly visits, things that were contraband, proofs that were not exposed to the world where the rest of us lived, elements that I suspected had been taken out of those paintings in the dorm room but for which I never had any proof, until I saw that bookmark.

But in time, the paintings ended. They had reached such a level of complexity and strangeness that there appeared to be nothing further Indra could add. The paintings lay in his room, a forest of unmitigated oddness, consigned to the available spaces as Indra made his way around them to the door. Now and then, Indra would still disappear. One time, I was with him in a store, he looking for chips in the adjacent aisle while I searched for cough drops. And then Indra went, just like that. I’d walked to the cashier and pleaded to see the security tape, and owing to there having been no one else in the place, she’d agreed. There, on tape, was Indra Singh searching for chips, vacillating between salt and vinegar, and sour cream and cumin. His hands had touched the bags. And then he had left. He had just left, and behind him a vacuum in the aisle, a blank spot of dirty floor with his boot prints on it.

Winter grew deeper, and going home to Indra’s house became more difficult. But we never missed a weekend. I kept thinking about March, what it would be like, and that maybe under the heavy snows, there really were worlds such as Indra had painted, just ones that I had never taken the time to see before. Or perhaps the world had changed since November, some kind of upheaval in physics that had resulted in a profound change in reality that only Indra had glimpsed, maybe by tunneling down to the bottom of the snow drifts in those moments when he left.

Indra’s mother went into a hospital, and we would visit her there, Indra’s pockets stuffed with secrets he would only share with her. I would bring cookies. I told myself that we were all waiting for spring. I told Mrs. Singh that she should look forward to that, too. And she would just smile. And Indra would laugh that incredible vacuum cleaner, smashed glass laugh, until the windows were fogged and no one could hear the public radio.

It was deep in February that I’d found Indra in my room, appearing out of nothing. He was sitting between Giselle’s bed and mine, the purple turban illuminated by a reading lamp I’d left on.

“Indra, how did you get here?”

“Been here a while. It’s creepy watching someone sleep.”

“Being watched while sleeping is just fine, though,” I’d said, inviting him under the covers, as though that had been a perfectly acceptable thing to do. In her sleep, Giselle had turned and stirred, and I’d thought Indra would simply vanish in response. To his credit, he’d stayed, though he’d declined the offer to share a comforter.

“Dad’s dead,” he’d said, serious boy that he was. “Heading home with groceries. Car slipped off the road, into the other lane. A school bus hit him head on. The kids are fine, though. The kids are fine.”

“Indra,” I’d said, taking his hand. “Please come under the covers.”

“Bus’ engine block was ruined. Torn right off. Bus driver has stitches. Dad’s car was flattened. But the groceries were fine. Not an egg broken. Not a banana smushed.” He’d brought my hand to his cheek.

I’d wondered in that moment not about where Indra went, but, like him, about the one place he had not been but could have been, the one spot where he’d been needed and not appeared, not been present at all.

“Do you want me to drive you home? We’ll go right now.”

And he’d looked at me, in that strange, so-present way. “I’ve already been,” he’d whispered, and I’d wondered in that moment not about where Indra went, but, like him, about the one place he had not been but could have been, the one spot where he’d been needed and not appeared, not been present at all.

Indra had sat there the rest of the night, my hand against his cheek. And when Giselle had finally rolled over and opened her eyes, that was when Indra had gone, and I’d been left alone.

Spring and the snow melting, uncovering the miracles that I had managed to miss, yielded instead muck and mud and the wonderful chill of the melt. I’d spent a lot of time in Indra’s room, with paintings that had finally dried. Indra had sat at his desk, reading out of a book, dressed in a robe that made him look about eight years old, serious boy that he was.

We’d gone to classes. We’d held hands as we’d walked the grounds of Lambton Hall with our scarves on, our mitts tucked into our pockets. Three or four times a week, we drove to see Mrs. Singh in the hospital. And that was it. That had become the completeness of our existence, not physics or paintings or anything else. Every time the sun had come out, I’d taken Indra to an alcove that could receive it, as though this was my version of another world. And I think he’d appreciated that, those narrow, familiar sunbeams on his skin.

“You are so pretty, dear,” Mrs. Singh had kept saying to me, every time I’d visited, as though she’d been afraid that I would inevitably disappear. I’d wanted to tell her that it was not me she should have been worried about, but she’d just kept talking: “My son, when he was born, nearly killed me, but I withstood that. He grew up solitary, do you know what I mean? It hurt me to see him aloof, unloved except by me and my husband. I don’t dream of other things. I don’t dream of them.”

“Mrs. Singh, please,” I’d said. “I’m coming back. I’m going to keep coming back. I’m going to be with him.”

And I think she’d believed me, in the way that she’d squeezed my hand and glinted with the treasure of secrets, of faraway places that she had glimpsed through a son that had nearly killed her upon his birth. Every time, every conversation with her, had been like that, right up to the end. In her stillness, she’d been prettier somehow. Indra sat at the edge of the bed, muttering to her deaf ears as I’d huddled on the other side, crying my eyes out.

Outside the hospital, he’d looked up and down the street, past the screaming ambulances and the sleeping figures on the sidewalks. He’d looked at me, super-present, and asked me to go for a cappuccino. It had been the last thing I’d expected of him. But in the coffee shop, he’d dunked his front-most curls in the foam, and looked up as though to amuse me, as though that were somehow important. And I’d been crying. And I’d been present, but not in the way that I would have wanted to be for him, and that was the very thing that perplexed me the most about Indra Singh, how he could be there in an ultra-dense form, absorbing through the gravity of his serious look all the grief that I could give him instead of the other way around.

I’ll never understand where Indra Singh went. I can only guess. There are paintings like movies that record his journeys. There are remembrances given to a dead mother that would prove what had happened.

Spring was lost in a rapid thaw, nudged aside that year by a summer that had been too impatient to wait another month or two. Lambton Hall brimmed with students spilling into the laneways and the walking paths around the flagpole out front. It was May when I’d felt that I’d reversed the direction of grief with Indra, to the point where I could, as appropriate, be useful to him, and help him with what was next. He’d smile from behind a book, now and then, as though I was the prettiest thing in all the world. He’d put an arm around me, now and then, in some corridor, and pretend for a moment that we had been dancing, as though he knew how. It was May when I’d felt a glowing again of something, anything, in the hot air and the cool sunbeams. And it had been May when I’d gone to find Indra, and he’d not been there. Indra had left. He had simply left.

I’d come back later in the day, but no Indra. I’d come back that night, lurking outside his door, but no Indra. The morning had been uncomfortable, me in the same clothes, knocking on his door, letting myself in. There were paintings everywhere, but no Indra. That had been the longest, hardest day that I could remember, trying to sit in class and concentrate on some lesson or another, fully expecting that Indra would appear – but not in the way that anyone else would. No, I expected Indra to suddenly populate the chair next to me, the one that I’d left for him. Or to jump out of a shadow, and pretend to dance. Or to be in my room that night, leaning against the bed with my hand on his cheek.

Eventually, the school had noticed he was gone, but there had been nothing to do. There was no sign of where Indra had gone, no way to find him, no family to reach out to. There was no one to report his absence to, not anymore. And people had asked me: where has Indra gone? Don’t you know, when was the last time you saw him, do you think he did something bad to himself? And I’d answered, but everything a lie, and in the quiet alcoves on the upper floors of Lambton Hall, I’d wondered about what it meant to be living in this way, without Indra in my life. Where do you go, Indra? I asked the shadows, as though they would reform into his shape and answer me.

I’d sit with his paintings. There’d been one that always took me, no matter what: it was of a purple-grassed plain, out of which grew a tall spire of black stone. Caves had been worn in the obelisk, through the weathering action of blue mists that hovered around the peak. There’d been creatures perched at the cave mouths, great creatures with broad wings that leapt over the purple plains. And there they’d gone. There they’d went. Flying as I wished that I could, in a place that I wished I could go to, because that had been the net effect of Indra Singh on me, the desire for places that weren’t and could never be, but that were present in me now. That was the first painting I’d taken, but I’d removed the rest as well. No one else had come to claim them, and now they sit downstairs in my house, where I go to see them often.

In time, I said goodbye to Lambton Hall, and moved on. There had been no choice but to move on. People had told me about the many things that I could do, the places I could go. I hadn’t understood what they’d meant, and still don’t. I think about that boy all the time. I wonder about him, how he’d entered my life and departed in basically the same way. I think about where he is, how far he’d been willing to go because of the things that had happened, and why he hadn’t taken me with him – because I would have gone. I would have gone with him. But in the end, it had not been my choice, and I’m just glad for the paintings he left behind, because that is something of what it means to be far away, to not be present, and to mean it.

The last day at Lambton Hall, I’d gone in and cleaned out the rest of Indra’s things, because no one else was going to. And that’s when I’d knocked that Vonnegut book off the end table, and it had opened up on its way to the ground. Out of it had floated a bookmark. It had been a feather, made of the lightest gold and flecked with ruby dust. Its stem had bits of the soil in which it had been grown, mineralized debris made of silica and glowing blue sand. I’d tucked it into my pocket, that inconsequential amount of proof of the things I’d always suspected, as though I’d needed that, as though Indra Singh and the boy he’d been hadn’t already been enough. I’d closed the door for the last time that day, to start my own journey, and I’d resisted opening it again to make sure the room was empty, that it was in fact deserted. And I’d walked outside into the summer sunshine, and suddenly it felt fine to me that Indra went to other worlds, that that’s where he’d gone forever, for Indra had loved physics - but he’d always hoped someday to paint.

About the author

Trent Lewin is a Canadian writer born in the UK, with roots in India. He has been longlisted and shortlisted a number of times in the CBC Short Story Prize and the Commonwealth Writers Prize. He is a winner of Grain’s Short Grain contest in 2022 and 2023, and Boulevard’s 2022 Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers. His focus is on blending genres in fiction, while trying to remember that humour is good! Trent works in the field of climate change, and this theme appears often in his fiction. An immigrant to Canada and a BIPOC writer, he is also interested in themes of belonging, and what it means to truly be from a place when you are from no place. Currently, he is working on a novel about a reverse Indian diaspora, where people leave the western world en masse and return to an India that does not remember them.