Friday evening. An impromptu plan born out of a craving for Malaysian food. We order plates of roti canai and roti telur, and bowls of potato dipping sauce. And silence the burps with another order. A bowl of steaming pineapple fried rice. Back at home, as the food settles down, we binge watch episodes of Game of Thrones until it lullabies us to sleep.
Next morning, we break ourselves from the shackles of slumber. A task that is achieved after hours of twisting, turning, and stretching in the bed. What follows is a two-hour drive under a spotless sky. Dressed in shorts and and shades, and with a luggage of clothes for that evening and the next, we are off to NYC!
At a friend’s apartment, our home for that night, we rest. From where we sit, we see the New York skyline change color from light grey to black as the sun dips. The Hudson river, turns from a sheet of blue to grey. We remove ourselves from the window, and prep up to celebrate two of our friends birthdays. A cake is unveiled. As the knife slowly digs into it, we sing in chorus. Some hands clap, some hands hold their cellphones steady.
The icing is scooped out of the cake and smudged on the faces of the friends. A cake mask that leaves an oily coating on the skin. Wine bottles are uncorked, and with each sip, stories roll out. Some fizz out as soon as they begin, some are tossed around for long. A question here, a laugh there, keeps them alive. In the elevator, the talks reduce to whispers. On the road, they are yelled out. And in the subway, the voice drops again. But at any given point, someone in the group is always talking to someone else. Until, hot wrapped kaati rolls shut us up.
Stomachs full, it’s time to hit Babylon Hookah Lounge. We are anointed by a blue light as we settle down in a long couch, eight of us. Two hookahs are set up, and a JD Bottle is emptied into eight glasses. As we rest in a cloud of hookah smoke, the crowd around thickens. Some are off their seats, and on the dance floor. One by one, we leave the couch and head to the eye-achingly bright corner where the DJ, sitting on a high pedestal, sets the mood of the crowd. All it takes is a little scratch on the turntable.
The midnight hour comes and goes. The dance floor is cramped. Suddenly, there is a belly dancer in the aisle. With swift moves, she cuts through the air, thick with smoke. Her paprika red skirt follows. She pulls a few of us in to shake a leg with her. In the inebriated state we are, our steps seem to be in perfect sync with hers. In the wink of an eye, she gallops away to a different corner of Babylon, to new dance partners. After a shot and a beer, it’s time to head back.
Out in the streets of New York in the wee hours of the night, we march. While our steps sway a little, our hands hold the other’s tight. We stop without a reason, and walk with one. And at times, we make memories with a click or two. We pass by clusters of people on roads, walking, but with no rush; a tonne of billboards stealing the thunder from the moon. A strip of night sky, flows on top, hidden between the grey of skyscrapers. We walk under it, thanking the stars that cannot be seen, for the laughter and company. We savor the present, which in a few hours will turn into a memory of the past. Safe in the archives of the life that was lived. And loved.