‘I’ve been learning to pray again,’ I said, breaking the silence that was beginning to stretch. We were sitting on the terrace of her apartment building, the spring-heralding breeze caressing the slow darkness of the adolescent night, drinking tea and smoking cigarettes, the view—a glimmering Delhi skyline.

‘That’s good,’ my friend said. She did not seem uninterested, but keen neither. We’d had many long-winded discussions about faith in the past, and maybe all the energies we’d spent on them were yet to return to us, or at least to her. Despite having waded through enough sorrow and tragedy to break anyone, the one thing she clung on to when everything else failed her was her faith. ‘What do you pray about?’

‘Not those kinds of prayers yet,’ I said, wondering if I was telling her all of this just to break the silence. We’d been seeing each other less frequently this past year. There was nothing keeping us apart and there was no reason to not drop by every other week, but it happened so seemingly naturally and so subtly that neither of us noticed the growing gulf between us until in the brief silences amidst our conversations there manifested a nervous air. ‘Just the simple ones, like praying before meals, before bed.’

‘That’s a good start,’ she said. The cigarette between her fingers was burning down on its own and her eyes stayed fixed on the lights in the distance.

‘I think so too,’ I said, looking out into the distance as well, half-searching for what she might be looking at. I went on: ‘I mean, I’m not really doing it because I want to “regain my faith” or whatever or, like, I’ve found something in my life that made me want to try to believe again. You know? That river has been crossed, so to speak. It’s just something that . . . feels right for me, for this moment in my life.’

‘I understand,’ she said and she turned my way briefly and offered me a smile. She tapped the ashes off her cigarette and put it to her lips and blew the smoke up into the air. ‘It’s something that comes and goes on its own, as far as I understand. Sometimes, no matter how much you say you believe, you can’t help all the doubts that come to your head. And sometimes it’s simply knowing that a prayer feels right.’

‘I don’t know if it’s had any effect on me, though,’ I said, keeping my eyes on her, watching her watch the night. ‘But then, all the praying that I’ve done are basically just, like, the routine ones. Template prayers. The ones you basically just recite without thinking.’

I smiled seeing her smile, but I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I saw her laugh. She took another drag of her cigarette and after the smoke escaped her in a sigh, she said: ‘I don’t know.’

‘What do you not know?’ I asked when she did not continue.

She looked at me with a contemplative countenance for longer than a few seconds before she looked away again at the distant skyline and said: ‘I guess it differs from people to people, or from moment to moment in a person’s life.’

‘I still don’t know what you mean,’ I told her.

She dropped the stub into her empty mug, the ember going out within with a brief hiss. ‘I’m talking about what prayers mean to different people, and what kind of prayers. For some, maybe it’s better to only pray when they need a prayer. You know? And for some, those routine prayers, maybe they offer a sense of comfort. Some like to pray for the world—world peace and such. And maybe, the kind of prayer you need could also depend on whichever stage your life is in.’

I noted her use of “whichever” in my head but I made no mention of it. We neither of us were native speakers of English, both of us having descended from differently coloured hills in the Northeast and into the sprawl a decade ago. She’d always been the better speaker, though, the more articulate, the more vocal, the one with the better accent. I always felt like I was fighting to not swallow my tongue whenever I spoke an adopted language. And when we first met on orientation day in college, she was the one doing most of the talking. She was the one making a friend while I was too busy staying conscious of my articulations and regretting the words that came out of my mouth.

I asked her: ‘So which stage is your life in right now?’

As if it was something that was a fact of life, a stage every single person in the world went through or would have to go through, she matter-of-factly said: ‘The one where nothing seems to matter and you think about ending it all every morning you wake up, but you hope that as the day goes on it can only get better, but it never does and it only gets worse. That one.’

I uttered a half-laugh, not sure how else to react, or what to make of it. And I could see her smiling too, but there was no humour in that smile. The night seemed to grow much older in the space of the few moments of silence that followed. Elsewhere in the bustling distance under bright city lights, horns and siren blared, a metro pulled into a station, engines revved; and closer somewhere unseen, music played, people talked, and there were other sounds that had no obvious source, but all of them filled the seconds of silence that began to tick longer than I dared to count.

Then I said: ‘Maybe I should say a prayer for you.’

She smiled sadly.

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