[This short story love is selected for Love’2012 Story Writing Competition]
“It was so easy to fall in love then.”
9th November 2012
On the ninth day of a November night as I was walking down the narrow lanes of a road not taken otherwise (rough, serpentine, slithering into darkness with invisible truncated ridges), I felt my vision slowly betraying my fading sight. My steps seemed to falter; the serpent seemed to move by its own. But soon, like all other mistakes vaporizing into the oblivion under the chimney of my memory, I realized, this was another, incomparably minute though. The torch of the sky dipped in the milk of light had suddenly failed to accompany me as the black of the night started devouring my shadow. I looked up. The moon was forlorn.
The rays couldn’t defy the shackles tied to the ivory obelisk that the smoke of the clouds had build up all around it. Tufts of ivory cotton hovering under the firmament had added themselves as the guards. The chimney lightened itself as my heartbeat escaped and my breath gave away for a second. The same air, the same instigation, the same anticipation. It was November and it was rain…An inchoately considerable phenomenon, far from being usual and a marked deviance to the monsoons. I could never understand the plans of nature. The Pandora’s Box seemed far predictable. It was the fourth time, a frequency strong enough to instigate in me my darkest fear…my past. I never wanted to go back but somehow the thread of life always seemed to complete its circle from the point it had started. It wound around my soul and started pulling me into the labyrinth of the smoke which the chimney by now was sending off into the air.
22nd Nov, 1977.
It was raining and I was 21…Waiting near the entrance of the Law school in an age that never let the mast of the mind to follow the winds…Eclectic, puerile, far from being conscious and oblivious to all things redolent of the fifth decade of life, as of now.
An amorous breeze sweeping past my silken black had gulled me into believing that fortune was to bring with it, its own goodness for me as I stood waiting for a known face to company me along the corridors on my first day in the Law school.
Dia arrived. As always, planning for the very long to give her a good thrashing on being late, somehow her face made me relinquish all my anger. She smiled from a distance. It was always so easy to make out a smiling Dia.
The corridors were wet and different varieties of leaves had made a natural mosaic on the floor. The rain became heavy with every passing footstep of ours and the breeze turned itself to a wind as Dia’s chattering about Indian Penal Codes kept on banging hard onto me, making me more nervous.
Dia and I studied together in Carmel School. She was the topper and my literal Godmother. Perhaps she was the only one I owed my heart and soul to, until I met Professor Henderson…Luke Henderson.
Luke Henderson was the first person after Dia, I was ready to handover my potentialities incubating inside me in all its fecundity. In one of those inchoately long conversations with Dia, I had spotted him, and shame perhaps had already worn the mask of Love. Yet I did not let my feelings pollute my frugal emotions. I stopped and let every damn thing come to a halt.
He was a handsome man of 32, with burgundy hair split apart on sideways. He wore thin horn rimmed glasses and a lost look on his face. His eyes spoke of his iridescent brilliance and his 5’10 long body wore all that Michelangelo could have sculpted David in a black courtroom suit.
Sitting in the first bench was deviously shameful more than frightening over a teacher’s question but it was always Dia whose questions were far harder to answer than Mr. Henderson’s. So I always kept myself on the third bench from the left row. Dia would start whispering then,
“What is the greatest potential that a girl harbours?”
“Her ability to conquer all she sets her eyes on, with nothing but Love” I had answered smilingly.
“Bullshit! Such a spineless excuse for an ambitionless woman” Dia would blast me on the spot.
I would keep quiet then, but I always knew that however feeble, frail or lame it may seem to be, Love is the greatest ambition, easiest to perceive, yet the most difficult to realize.
“What does section 302 IPC stand for?”
Came the question from the dice. Luke Henderson opened up as if in a whisper. He always seemed so quiet, even when he spoke.
Dia’s hands rose up into the air, as if multi-tasking between talking to me and listening to the ongoing lecture. I felt so lost.
“Yes, Miss Diara Matthews.”
“Its Murder Sir”
“Absolutely. What else.”
The lecture went on as I poured over my imaginations, thinking of a tree underneath which Mr. Henderson ruffled his exceptionally long fingers through my curls; of clouds and rains and both of us getting wet.
I looked out of the window and it was raining. The drops were dancing on the window glass, smashing themselves and splattering like my falling dreams. I wondered how come rain adored such a time of the year, it was November then. Nothing of that sort usually happens in Mumbai.
Perhaps it was like the first dawn of my love, raining down for me and Mr. Henderson. I could never call him by his first name—Luke.
25th December, 1977.
The Bonfire outside was crackling in its own rhythm. Rockets and bombs were marking the advent of the festive day—Christmas. We were all sitting on the college lawn. The building on the 2nd floor was lit by artificial lights—blue, green, red shaped like petals of roses. The room on the extreme right was lit and a shadow lingered round the corner of the translucent curtain. It was Mr. Henderson. I started tugging at Dia’s sleeves. “It’s Mr. Henderson”, I whispered.
“Give the letter to me”, Dia replied back demanding.
With trembling hands I handed her over the ill-fated letter and Dia, who by now had become my sole confidante in this one sided love story had vowed to transfer the letter to Mr. Henderson’s desk.
After 15 minutes she returned from the spot from where she had disappeared.
“Do you think he would say YES?” I asked keeping my hands over my mouth.
“Why not?” Dia snapped.
27th December 1977.
The dustbin, which carried the letter had a single word on its back side. He had thrown it into the dustbin as instructed with the
“p.s. please reply back and throw it into the dustbin on the left of our classroom”
The answer was “No”.
I did not cry like other girls. I stuck to resolution. Winning love as I had told Dia was not easy anyway.
19th November 1985
I ran in the splattering rain carrying the file over my head, so as to prevent myself from getting wet. With every step, I was filled with anticipation.
My first case. It was crawling like a monster over my head, and rain was making it worse wetting my white saree all over. Somehow I climbed the stairs of the High Court and wore my Black coat over.
I had still not met the client and Professor Debnath was waiting for me in the room with my client. I went inside and walked the corridors mosaic infused, wet leaves from the nearby drenched banyan. It was November, I had never realized then. Now when I recollect, I think there was every reason for this to be such.
I knocked the door and heard Professor Debnath’s voice from inside.
I went inside. A man in his black suit was sitting with his back towards me and facing Professor Debnath. I apologised Dr. Debnath for my drenched state which he slimily ignored.
“Come, meet Mr. Henderson”, said Professor Debnath with his Lion-ish voice.
For a moment my heart skipped a beat and then when I saw the man facing Professor Debnath, my heart fell from its place. I felt I would collapse now under my own weight.
It was Luke Henderson. He had the same face and the same hair. He wore the same black suit and his eyes still spoke of his brilliance. He hadn’t aged a bit.
I was dumfounded and I couldn’t speak a word.
Professor Debnath did all the speaking for me as Mr. Henderson kept looking at me as if asking for help. Tears were rolling down my cheek as I started questioning him about his crime. He was convicted of killing his wife. I couldn’t buy this at all. I knew this was not the truth.
Somehow, his youth made me question him in the middle of the conversation, “What must be your age?”
“32”, he answered.
I nearly fell off my seat. Surely he hadn’t recognised me, now all 29 and my hair tied into a bun instead of those curls and in a saree with skin carrying endless blemishes.
The rain was banging harder now and somehow I lost in him and his truth, as he narrated his story.
That night, I did not give much of a thought to the case or to the fact whether he would be saved from his alleged crime or not, but I kept wondering. I wondered how he hadn’t aged a little. How did he carry the same hair without any streaks of grey? How did he carry the same 32 year old skin? My head was going haywire, trying to solve the puzzle of his youth but in the end I gave up thinking that perhaps my love did not let me forget his face when I had seen him first. Perhaps it was nothing but delusion of love.
28th February 1985.
By the time the case got over and he was freed of his alleged crime, I had expressed my Love to him one more time, never revealing my past identity.
This time he spoke to me (for a change).
“It’s too late I think. I do not think I have love enough inside me to love back someone. She died and took away all that I could shower. I am really sorry Rhithika. I think you can understand my position and forgive me. I will be forever grateful to you for saving my life”, and he walked away.
I still did not cry. I knew Love was again a battle worth fighting whether you win or not.
2nd November 1992
It was in a train that I met him last.
I was returning from the bathroom and took my seat which was laden with all sorts of bags and bag gages of foodstuffs of the nearby passengers. The station was drawing near and just then it started raining. Somehow I could not guess the absurdity of the situation that it was November and it was rain again.
The passengers with the bag gages got down at Mugal Sarai station and a different passenger got up. He came and sat near me. For a moment I did not care looking at him but after a while when I roved my eyes over him accidentally that too, I felt the ground beneath my feet dissolving through nothingness.
It was Professor Luke Henderson and Oh my God! He hadn’t aged a bit. He was as youthful as I had seen him last or last to last. I tried to hide my grey streaks of hair behind my ears. Time had made them grey and not the age.
He was wet and and his hair was split sideways as always. His face spoke of his brilliance like it always does. The same blue eyes and the youthful skin. I was feeling dizzy now, wondering how could this happen?
The rain was making it all the more difficult.
After a while when the talking was done and the introductions were over, I asked him the same old question,
“Why couldn’t you love me?”
He smiled and chose not to answer.
We kept silent until he got down and bade me his final goodbye.
9th November 2012
It was November again and it was rain.
Winning Love was perhaps never easy.
He was standing at the bus stop, on the road not taken otherwise under the forlorn moon, still 32 and still young. I with my faltering steps walked towards him now in the fifth decade of my life and asked my last question,
“Why couldn’t you love me?”