One Song, One Story: Nicole Atkins “Neptune City”

I Could Learn To Love The Landscape I Was Born To:
Nicole Atkins’ “Neptune City”

Sitting behind the piano in the living room of my sixteenth floor apartment, thunder rumbles so hard the floor beneath me quakes. Lightning dazzles the room like the strobe lights of a post-apocalyptic discotheque. It’s the last wave of the Mumbai monsoon, refusing to say goodbye without a final, declarative statement. Down the street, at the coffee shop, the Bollywood café society is hard at leisure, uninterrupted: creatives chit chat about the state of affairs, prolonging minutes into hours before they delve into the work they’ve come to discuss. I lift my foot off the sustain pedal, drape my rain poncho around my shoulders. Dare to tread the sodden, storm-tossed footpaths drenched in muck, dog shit and mysterious lost halves of slipper sets for an americano, maybe a distraction. I’m invisible, high above and down below. ‘Least till the alien ‘r’ rolls off my tongue as I place my order, puncturing the sonorous texture of thunder and familiarity in the air. Now eyes hold their stares a second too long before deviating finally to the sight of the waiter in the corner. It’s been ten months now, since I’ve returned. Ten months after thirteen long years. I’m still not used to it, to the storms that dissipate into a drizzle and retreat back into heavy downpour. To the stares, the second glances. The quiet questioning.

On the surface, a borough in Monmouth County, New Jersey, has nothing in common with Mumbai. Nothing at all, I dare say, besides that they’re both united in the quest of being desperately liked by two native narratives. Nicole Atkins’ and mine. I’ve been trying to love this city for the past twenty-one years. Desperately trying to fall for a charm I seem impervious to. Still, the sandstone fabric of the afternoons is piss yellow to me. I feel like a fraud, guilty of never having given it a chance. Of never having offered it romance.

“Neptune City” swirls and swivels through my consciousness often when I’m home. It’s still home, isn’t it? It always will be. No matter how far I’ve strayed, how long I’ve kept away. I scrounge for recollections of lost childhood memories as I walk down the street back to my apartment. I think about how many times I must have walked this walk as a child. Surely I must have loved this place. Once. Maybe if I paid attention, I could learn to love the landscape I was born to. By the river in the rain, let it make me new again. The thought of maybe lingers, stretching into long, imaginative possibilities.

I sit still by the piano, the thought of changing out of my damp clothes yet to cross my mind. I depress the keys, let the deafening silence the storm has left behind stir me until the words pour out: I’ll hide out a few more days, then I’ll be leaving this place soon. And it occurs to me, this is the most honest conversation I’ve had with myself in the past ten months. I’ve been living here, all along, with the intention of leaving soon.

I’ll come down, walk around a while until I’m sure I can never go home again.


Gauraa Shekhar is the founding editor of The Sympathizer. Follow her on Twitter here.