He picks me out of the throng
in Brownian motion on the sidewalk,
puts an arm around my shoulder
like we’re friends; he looks rich,
so I decide to go along with it.
He walks carelessly through the crowd
as if certain that his strong limbs
could part it easily if he wanted to.
Though he’s bald, I keep imagining
a mane about his head.
I’ve picked a pub with cheap drinks,
but for the past half-hour
all he’s had is masala-dripping chicken
and five glasses of plain water.
He holds up a sixth to me as if
it were wine, and as he turns
the glass to catch the light, I see
the deep red tinge of the water.
“You see it don’t you?” he asks
with a knowing feline grin.
“Dragon’s blood – no joke, no drug,
no alcohol, this is the real thing…
This breeds bravery, this fuels the fight.”
I can see his body tightening up,
growing stronger with each sip.
“Perhaps this is not for you,”
he tells me and directs my gaze
toward the bar where a blue-haired woman
sits sucking ice-cubes that I
notice are a deep cobalt blue.
Her face brightens by the minute
and I can’t help staring at her
and waiting for the sudden
ripple of joy that I know
I’ll feel when she laughs.
The man with me, slaked at last,
leaves, and I leave with him.
In the following days, I meet
others like him – the seekers
of water that is more than water.
I begin to see like them, and soon
I too share visions with the silent man
who sips lilac-hued water
from a steel tumbler
in a small udipi joint.
And one day I feel the dangerous
tendrils of all possible futures
through the slime-green water
dripping from a leaky pipe on a slum wall
three buildings away from my apartment.
I begin to think that I understand
it all, that I have tasted
all the waters in this deep-veined city.
But the man in gray shows me
just how shallow I am.
We sit in a small restaurant, sipping tea,
our water glasses untouched.
I call him a man, but truly
I cannot place his age or sex.
I stare only at his face
because his clothes are unbearable to look at—
its edges ending in blinding white
or receding into perilously deep black.
We talk of trivialities, and just before
he pays and leaves, he says to me,
“Look at the water – what color
do you see? None. It’s completely clear.”
But you can feel the thrum, the shift
in light? You know this is no ordinary
glass of water. So what is it then?
It’s something too dangerous
for all the addicts you know.
But what about for you?”
He leaves, but I stay
and stare and stare at the glass.
Three quarters of an hour goes by
and my throat is parched
from the tea which has sweated
every drop of moisture out of me.
I sit fingering the wet outside
of the glass, its rim inches
from my cracked dry lips
that long to touch liquid,
but dare not take a sip.
— Rohinton Daruwala
Rohinton Daruwala lives and works in Pune, India. He writes code for a living, and speculative fiction and poetry in his spare time. His work has previously appeared in Strange Horizons, Liminality and Through the Gate. He tweets as @wordbandar and blogs at https://wordbandar.wordpress.com/.
Editor’s Notes: The fractal image (by Qualia Computing)—the scale-free fractal “beauty blue”—is combined with “Shiva” (by Psycofairy Ortiz for Desktop Nexus). This blue lady in the center of the image is an abstract interpretation of the poem.