This short story is selected as Story of the Month October’2012 and won INR 1000 (US $20)
Editor’s Choice: A Love Story – Like an Untold Fairy Tale
The last three hours. They felt like three years. The corridor was long, dark and reminded me of an endless tunnel. I wondered why all the hospitals have their operation theatres at the end of a corridor. The smell of floor sterilizing lotion filled my nostrils and I felt suffocated. It was getting darker and darker. Or was it my vision? My eyes were blurred and I felt dizzy. I could no more hear the rain outside. I sat there on a chair with my face buried in my arms and white shirt drenched in blood, waiting. And I was praying. Being agnostic I was always confused about the existence of that power that oversees the universe. But there will be times when you need a shoulder to lean on. When there is no one else for a support. And when there is nothing more that you could do, but pray. I prayed for her life that was struggling yards away from me inside the operation theatre. Déjà vu, I thought. And I knew perfectly well what would happen next.
Six hours ago
I was at my desk in my office on the 16th floor of the building. The afternoon sun was shining right behind me through the glass window…I worked as a graphic designer for a renowned advertising firm. My innate skills in drawing fetched me that job. However, I sat at my seat staring at the open windows in the computer thinking where to begin. I was fed up with the morning session and had missed lunch for the work I had to finish off. Something was really wrong about the day. Narrow escape from hitting an auto rickshaw on the way to office in the morning, even coming by bike I had to get stuck in the traffic block for an hour and that unnecessary argument with the lift operator. I felt bad omens. Anyway I made it to the office by 11. A couple of assignments on designing a logo and making posters for two new firms were waiting for me at my desk. The folder had the copywriter’s notes on how to place the copy and a special note from the Account Head suggesting the work to be completed as soon as possible. Weird it was that I couldn’t make the slightest progress within three hours. I felt miserable. Was it with the day or was it with me, I wondered. In fact it was both. I knew what was wrong. Involuntarily my eyes travelled to the bottom right corner of the monitor. I had a jolt in my stomach. My heart grew heavier. The sadness that I used to tackle and had locked inside somewhere started to leak. You can get addicted to some kind of grief. And this one, it was my personal drug for facing the uncertainties of life. I made it like that or I would have broken down completely. The thing is you can face the world from a different perspective when you have nothing more to lose in life. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Anyway it was a bad idea coming to work today, I thought. Shutting the system down, I took out the laptop from my bag next to me. While turning it on, my phone started to ring. The call was from an unknown number ending in 277. I chose not to attend… Anyway I was not in a mindset to talk level or calm. It was better to ignore than attending and having trouble…
The laptop asked for the password…While entering the name I heard her inside somewhere.
“Nanda, will you marry some other girl if I happen to die after our marriage?”
I felt her presence by my side. A sudden chill hit me that covered me with goose bumps. I wanted to see her right away. I took a sudden glance backwards. It wasn’t sunny out there anymore. The sky was getting darker. The dark clouds that hid the sun in them were like a pair of eyes holding the tears. It may rain anytime, like the tears may roll down anytime too. She liked this gloomy weather the most.
I clicked on the icon of my private folder. Under the ‘Tools’ drop down menu I ticked on the ‘show hidden files’ option and a folder named ‘Pensieve’ appeared in it, which had been hidden for the last three years…Hundreds of pictures, thousands of messages and all the seven Harry Potter eBooks were left in the folder. And I started a slideshow. Everything had a story to tell.
She was a fair girl with shiny dark brown eyes and curly black hair. Her head was like an isosceles trapezium though a strangely large right ear made her face asymmetrical. She had the fragrance of sandalwood always and used to wear ‘kalabham’ on her forehead on almost all days. She was a proud and conservative little young girl. She preferred to wear ‘salwar kameez’ mostly and I had never seen any other girl till date who wore their shawl in such a neat way as she did. Sometimes she was just like a little kid, a really mischievous one. But some other times she was the most matured person in our peer group. And yes of course, she was my soul mate. She was the elegant Princess and I was the artist shepherd boy in our fairy tales. I called her Lux and she called me Nandan.
“Why are you obsessed with Harry Potter this much?” someone asked me once.
I just smiled
“What did you earn from that stupid kids’ fiction?” he wanted to start an argument it seemed.
“Everything” I said.
He was puzzled.
“Harry Potter gave me friends all over the world and a soul mate forever. It taught me what friendship, love and sacrifice really meant.”
That conversation ended there but my memories had a shuffle.
I was an introvert and reserved person at the time of joining the college. I seldom talked to my classmates. And they all must have found me weird. Even after three months of joining I had no friends. But that day when all were discussing to find a name for the batch, Harry Potter changed everything. Unlike other occasions I found the event very interesting and suggested a name from the book. And a few minutes later I heard someone suggesting another name from the girls’ side and I knew it was from the books only. I felt elated. I grinned broadly. It was like meeting someone from your place when you are in a foreign country.
Within no time I got two new friends. And one of them was Lux.
The rest of our story was stranger than fiction. I always felt our relation was like a fairy tale. We built a world of our own around the college campus in our imagination. We named each places and each person there with our own fictional names. The main advantage, it was so easy to talk about them even in others’ presence and they understood not a thing. And we wandered all around the campus always upgrading our world. Three years were like three seconds.
Five hours ago
It started to rain outside. Rain splatters slammed against the glass window with such force that I feared it may crack. I took a look outside. The distant blur of trees indicated there was heavy wind out there. I was back in front of the system. The slide show had finished already. I felt a heavy heart. She was lost forever. And I was left with all those digital copies of her memories. One of the pictures I had just seen was still popping up in my mind. The best picture I had ever taken of her.
One Sunday in my hostel room my finger got accidentally cut by a blade. The instantaneous gushing of blood from the cut alerted my vasovagal response and I felt nauseated. But suddenly she came to my mind and I had an idea. I just wrote her name with the blood-dripping finger in the last page of a notebook that lay aside. After cleaning and dressing the cut I wrote under her name with pen. “You are worth more than anything.” And it was so happened that the book was my genetics’ class note.
The next day during lunch break we were sitting in the class. She had seen my dressed finger already and was worried. I couldn’t write the notes in the morning hours because of my finger. Since there were only a few pages she said she will write it for me instead of photocopying and took my books out from my bag. I was busy teaching my left hand how to write, just in case.
“What is this, Nanda?” she asked after a few minutes and her tone was unmistakably serious. She was holding the genetics’ book at me.
“Err you saw?” I didn’t know whether to grin or look serious. I looked at her. She was so angry that her white face turned red. Even her ears had the red tinge. And her eyes had two tear drops about to fall.
“You cut your finger for doing this?” She asked sounding angry.
I didn’t say anything. Till then I haven’t had thought of that possibility. I preferred not to answer letting her believe whatever she wanted. It was true that I thought she would be impressed by the act but her reaction was totally unexpected.
“Are you crazy? I’ve never expected such a stupidity from you. If you think this is love, you are wrong ok?”
I was thunder struck. I couldn’t reply anything. I felt guilty.
“And if you are gonna do anything like this anymore I assure you, that will be the end of our relation”
That last sentence was a severe blow for me. Like the last nail on a coffin.
She walked a little away from me and sat on a chair opposite, looking away from me. I saw those two tear drops falling down.
I felt so miserable. I never thought she would take it that way. It was up to me for solving the issue. But then I didn’t feel like talking to her. I simply watched her sitting there. Even in distress she looked so charming, so pretty. The reflected sunlight that was falling on the floor made her face and hair glow. The damp yellow background of the wall behind her and her bright cerulean blue and cream dress made the scene enchanting. Taking care not to move much I took my phone out and clicked a photo of her without her noticing.
She didn’t talk to me for the rest of the day. I was confused and worried how to handle the mess. In the evening we made our way to the hostel in silence. And then she asked me softly.
“Nanda, will you marry some other girl if I happen to die after our marriage?”
I felt strange. She never talked to me like that before.
“Are you kidding me?” I asked irritated
“No, seriously” she was calm.
“Well what do you expect me to do?” I snapped.
“That’s up to you, right?”
“Don’t you know me still?” I was angry.
“You feel annoyed on the thought of losing me, right? Now do you know how I will feel if you actually hurt yourself for me?”
I couldn’t answer that question for a moment. She was wise. I said sorry for my mistake and explained what really happened.
“Anyway what will be your answer if I ask you the same question?” I asked winking at her
“You know my answer” she had her best smile.
Yes, I knew her answer because our relationship was an unbreakable vow.
Anyway I was so relieved that the issue got solved in a happy note and a few weeks later I drew the picture I had taken and gifted it to her.
“Now, this is love” she smiled whole-heartedly.
Four hours ago
“Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead,
Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead”
Adele sang in my headphones…I was riding my bike back home… It was still dark outside but the rain had been stopped. I have to reach home before it starts raining again, I thought. The day was an exhaustive one, emotionally in particular. The road was rather clear of other vehicles. It would have been a joyous ride if it weren’t March 12th. Seven years it has been since I proposed her, I thought. Years passed like seconds. I was lost in the song and in my thoughts. I saw a school van moving in the same direction as mine at a distance in front of me. My speedometer showed 70 kmph. And within seconds I reached behind the van. I couldn’t overtake it because of oncoming vehicles. The back window of the van was glass and I noticed a little girl waving at me from inside. She was so cute that her face reminded me of the cupids in some old Greek paintings. She was making all sorts of actions to catch my attention. I too waved at her. She couldn’t see me smiling since I wore a helmet. Then the van stopped at a bus stop and I continued my ride at a steady pace. But after a few minutes the same school van overtook me. The little one was still there at the back. And I could clearly see she was sticking her tongue out at me. I had to smile. And she reminded me of Lux again. She used to stick her tongue out at me every time she teased me. Again the van came to a halt and I sped through the dark road laughing.
It was a chemistry practical class. We were in the same batch but in different groups. The teacher gave an introduction about the experiments we had to do and the materials for the same. She took out a small glass bottle that looked like a small tube attached to the half of an hourglass, from the shelves. She started explaining its importance beginning with its name, Pycnometer. And then teacher left the lab leaving us to do the practical. All four groups got one pycnometer each. I saw Lux taking their pycnometer carefully and observing it curiously. I approached her leaving my group behind.
“What’s so special about the bottle, lady?” I asked
“Look Nanda, isn’t this cute?”
“Err what’s so cute about it? It’s just a glass bottle. ”
She had a weird look at me.
“Don’t you artists find beauty in small things?” She had one of her eyebrows up
“Sorry I’m not that kind of artist you are referring to.” I said showing a proud face
“I like small things. Miniature forms. They are cute. See”
She pointed her little finger at me. It was so small.
We both laughed.
“Anyway you want one like this?”
“Will you buy me one? No Nanda it’ll be costly.”
“No problem” I smiled
With a worried look on her face she moved on with the experiment. And I joined my group.
Within an hour the experiment was finished and both of us made our way back to the classroom together. Then she never knew one Pycnometer was waiting in my jeans’ pocket to make a wide smile on her face later.
That afternoon there was no class since we were having a South India tour two days later. Students wanted to go home for packing. But she was not coming due to some family related reasons. It was really upsetting for both of us though we had to accept the situation. We thought of having an evening walk around the campus before I left for home that day.
“Nanda, will you remember me when you are at ‘Kanyakumari’?” She asked anxiously as we were walking together.
I had to laugh at the expression on her face.
“You are telling like I’m forgetting you always. Am I that forgetful?”
“I didn’t mean that.”
“Then what’s the matter? Shoot”
“Will you take me to all these places you are visiting after our marriage? I’ve never been to ‘Kanyakumari’. I wanna go there. Wanna walk through the beach with your hand in mine.”
“Nice wish. But it is not gonna happen.” I always loved to tease her and make her angry.
“Why? You won’t take me there?” Her face became grim.
“‘Kanyakumari’ doesn’t have a long stretch of beach to walk.” I had my tongue stuck out at her.
“Oho, that’s news then” she was irritated.
“Anyway what should I bring you when I’m back?” I changed the topic.
“I don’t want anything, Nanda. You be back safely as early as possible. That’s enough.” She said.
“You don’t worry dear. I’m not going alone you know? The whole class is with me.” I said grinning
“Yeah that’s my worst fear.” Now she had her tongue stuck out at me.
“Possessive lady” I smiled.
“Yeah I’m, humph”, she had her nose up in the air.
Then it was time for me to leave since I had to catch an early bus for home. When I turned away bidding her goodbye, she asked suddenly.
“Or Nanda, can you bring me a little sand from there?” She grinned
“Sure” I said smiling and walked away.
It was around midnight. I walked to the beach that was nearly one kilometer away from our stay. Still there were those shops that sell seashells and other sea products by the side of the road, opened. Wind was blowing from the direction of the sea. And it was carrying the fragrance of sandalwood. May be from the temple nearby but I preferred to believe it as her presence by my side.
Then I knew what love is and how it feels in real. I understood we love more when the person is not with us anymore, physically of course. Kumaranashan had a point. Love is not just physical. Thoughts guided me faster to the beach. It was deserted except for some monks who slept on the beach benches. Rolling up my jeans I walked into the sea. I just wanted to collect a little sand for her and had a small glass bottle with me for the mission. It was called Pycnometer. I filled it with the wet sand from the beach. And I closed that bottle of love with a stopper.
Even if she was not with me for those twenty-one days, the journey became dear to me. Knowing her presence everywhere I went, realizing someone was missing me always and longing for that day of coming back. And to see her again was a refreshing feeling. I had gifts for her from every place I went. Those I bought and collected. Unique objects that matched her character and her liking for small things. All of them helped me to see that charming smile and glittering eyes on her face.
Three hours ago
I was only a few kilometers away from my home and then it started to rain again. I thought of riding in the rain but because of the laptop in my backpack I chose to take shelter at the waiting shed nearby. There was no one inside. I looked around the area. There was no one to be seen around in the pouring rain. I stood there inside watching the rain and thinking about Lux. I saw a figure coming from a distance on the other side of the road. The rain banged on the waiting shed roof. Then a school van stopped in front of me. The little girl who was waving at me few minutes before came out of it. She had trouble opening her colorful umbrella so that she ran inside the shed. Seeing her struggle with the umbrella, I reached my hands for it.
“Give it to me” I said
She was taken aback. Then only she noticed my presence there I felt. I was sure she understood me since I still had my helmet on my head. She didn’t give her umbrella to me and somehow managed to open it.
“Hey what’s your name, kid?” I asked again smiling
She had her tongue out at me once more and had a run towards the other end of the road. Everything happened the next moment was in slow motion, I felt. And my heart failed to recognize the emotional blow of the scene for a few seconds. She ran towards that person I saw earlier who now stood on the other side of the road. She must be her mother. The little girl was at the middle of the road and a car from nowhere hit her. She and her umbrella flew several feet away and landed on the road with a thud. I saw she had a jerk and stopped moving. I heard someone screaming and her mother fainted on the spot. The car that hit her didn’t stop. And I ran towards her with as much as strength I could muster. All this happened within a few seconds. I was the first to reach her side. She lay there motionless. Blood was spreading on the wet road like red colour on a wet canvas. Nature might have been practicing wet in wet technique. I grabbed her in my both arms and stood there at the middle not knowing what to do. I couldn’t speak up. Someone stopped a car and the next thing I know was we were speeding towards some unknown hospital. She lay there motionless on my lap. We both were wet in blood and rain. She still had her school bag on her back. I placed my palm on her chest. Her heart was beating. I felt relieved. I thought of removing her bag but I was afraid I might break her bleeding small hands. I didn’t know what to do but prayed for her life. On reaching the hospital I had a run through the dark corridors towards the casualty clutching her close to my chest. They took her from me and entered the operation theatre at the end of the corridor for emergency surgery.
I sat there on a chair in front of the operation theatre with my face buried in my arms and white shirt drenched in blood, waiting. And I was praying. I prayed for her life that was struggling yards away from me. She was no one to me. Few hours ago we were perfect strangers. But at that moment I felt she was everything to me. Déjà vu, I thought. And I knew what would happen next.
It was an afternoon. We were having a fight like the countless fights we had over a period of three years. Like we found beauty and love in small things, we fought for small reasons also. They said we were immature to hold a relation but I knew we were so close to each other that we couldn’t separate for a moment. But yes, we fought like kids, loved fairy tales and the so-called mature world was far away from us. Because we both believed in the Bible verse “Heaven is for those who are kids at heart”.
At the beginning of the relation when we were having fights, our friends got worried and some others got happier. If we were on a fight the whole college used to know that. Because we walked together side by side always but there would be a twenty-foot distance between us on fight days. I still don’t know whether it was because I walked faster or she chose to walk at a slower pace. However the distance was only on the outside and our hearts were always side by side. Everyone thought we would end in a break up. It never happened.
But that particular day was different. We were having our final year exams. That afternoon after the exams we were sitting in our class room and we had a fight. Those who were there in the class were paying no attention at all. They were fed up with our fights and knew perfectly well that we would be seen laughing together about something on the next day. But they didn’t know it was the aggregate of all the small fights we had earlier. We argued with each other. And it ended in me telling
“Ok let’s stop this here. It’s been over three years and still we are fighting this hard. This won’t end up good Lux. I’m fed up with your arrogance. Let’s break up. I’m going home”
I said so just to end her dominating arguments and thought I could make up things better later. But without showing any consideration on my face I stormed out of the class in fury. But I had to pay heavily for that single lie I ever told her. I went to the library and got immersed in newspapers and let my thoughts wander. I didn’t pay much attention to those who ran through the corridor outside half an hour later. Then my phone started vibrating and I was sure it’d be her. She wanted to compromise. So this time my ego won, I thought. With a smug face I took the phone out. However it wasn’t her but Anil, my friend who was there in the class. Walking out of the library I attended the call. I heard only one sentence.
“What did you do to her? She just cut her wrist”
I felt like my heart just stopped. I couldn’t feel my limbs. But the next moment I found I was actually running. I ran with all my strength to the class. From a distance I saw a pack of teachers and students carrying her to outside. She was unconscious and her left hand had her white shawl wrapped around which was dripping blood. The corridor was crowded. I couldn’t make my way to her. And then someone dragged me by the collar of my shirt and into the class room. It was Anil.
I struggled to let go of him. But he shouted at me and locked the door.
“Are you aware what’ve just happened..?”
I didn’t know what to reply. Only thing I wanted was to get out and be with her.
“Hey listen to me now, I’m trying to save you”
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?” I shouted
“I don’t know what has just happened between you two. But it’s sure she did that because of you only. And I know this much also that your relation is known to her parents and they warned you before.”
“SO WHAT?” I yelled
“You stupid, you had better go home now. Escape from here. They are gonna corner you. I’ll drop you at the railway station. Come to your senses man, please.”
“No, I’ve to be with her. Yeah it was my fault but I’m not gonna leave her alone”
“Oh please. You are in trouble. Try to understand.”
I had to think. But then I had a look around the class. The tile floor had a line of blood splatters leading to a pool under the chair she sat half an hour before.
The one who cried over a few drops of my blood had draped our relation with her own blood.
I couldn’t think of anything else. It was my fault alone. There was no turning back.
I asked him to take me to whichever hospital they were taking her. He tried to convince me further but realizing there was no point in arguing other than wasting time, the next moment we were on his bike chasing the car that took her. Sitting behind him I couldn’t feel myself and I was sweating heavily. I tried to console myself that nothing would happen to her. On reaching the hospital I ran through the dark corridors searching for her. Those who had taken her to there were standing in front of the Casualty. I came to a sudden halt. Some of them had a strange look at me. I didn’t care anymore. I heard someone telling Anil that she had been taken into the emergency room. Her shawl lay there on a chair. Anyone who looked on it had terror in their eyes.
I sat there at the end of the corridor with her once white shawl in my hands. It was dark out there. I wondered why they were not turning the lights on. Or was it dark inside my eyes? It seemed half of the college was there. The corridor was packed. I couldn’t see anyone clearly and no one talked to me either. Everything was a blur to me. I just closed my eyes and tears made their way through the cheeks. I prayed. I prayed like I never did before. I prayed for her dear life that was struggling yards away from me inside the Casualty. Few years ago we were just strangers. But at that moment she was my world and my world was crashing down. I had her shawl close to my heart. Apart from the ferrous note of the blood it still had her sandalwood fragrance. I saw her smiling inside me. Each second passed with a pain I had never experienced before. Then the Casualty door opened and a nurse appeared.
“O positive blood is needed. Please make arrangements” she announced to no one in particular
I couldn’t move a bit. I sat there helplessly and saw one teacher going with the nurse. And then I noticed Anil was sitting beside me.
“She will be alright” he patted on my shoulder with an assuring smile.
“Let’s get some fresh air, come”
I refused at first but he made me to walk with him outside. And after a few minutes awkward silence he said.
“Her parents are not here yet. It’s better for you to leave right now mate”
“How can I leave her now?” I was puzzled
“There is nothing more you can do about her now, do you?” he snapped
I had no answer. He was right. I had done my part perfectly well that she was half way through life and death.
A feeling of extreme guilt was flowing inside me. For a moment I had a thought of following her lead.
“So before they come you must leave” I heard him from the end of a tunnel. I had to come out of it to process what he had really said.
“I’ll be here and will text you,” he said.
And I had to leave the hospital on his advice. However I didn’t know then that I was leaving her forever. And I never met her again.
I wanted some fresh air. But Anil was not with me this time to lead me out. And I never had to flee without seeing her smiling face again. In fact the little girl’s parents would be grateful to me for saving their child’s life. I felt a little proud of myself and had a look at the man sitting opposite to me. His eyes were flooding silently. He was her father. His wife was still unconscious in some other hospital and his daughter in operation theatre here. He must be going through hell, feeling terrible, I thought. There were quite a lot of people around by this time. May be her relatives, I guessed and I sat there with a sinking heart, still waiting.
Then the door creaked. I was sure a nurse would appear there and ask for O positive blood. As I expected it was a nurse who opened the door. But without paying any attention on our eager faces she simply walked away with a tray. The girl’s father was near the door by this time to have a peek inside may be. I wondered what was happening. I was on my feet too. I followed the nurse who walked away half way through the corridor and made her to stop.
“How is she, sister?” I asked eagerly
“Err the doctor will say.”
But before she could complete the sentence I heard the screaming of the girl’s father from the other end. I felt like the floor beneath my foot eroding. I stood there transfixed. I saw him leaning over a stretcher that just came out of the room with white cloth over it.
I didn’t want to witness the scene. With overflowing eyes and numb heart I just walked away. People were running past me towards the operation theatre. I walked as fast as I could and out of the hospital. It was still drizzling outside. I walked through the rain towards the bus stop nearby. Her cute face filled my mind. And she was sticking her tongue out at me. Then I felt something there in my hands. It was her school bag. It was there on my lap all the time when I was sitting there. I didn’t know what to do with it. Getting inside the bus stop I had a closer look at it. There was a name tag and it read, Laxmi, LKG C. I felt a lightning bolt passing through my nerves. I sat down there on the damp floor. I took my phone out and searched for ‘L’. I was calling Lux after three years. For a year after she left the hospital, I tried to contact her. None of my calls were answered and messages were replied. She must have hated me. But I wanted to hear her at that precise moment. There was nothing else that could dissolve my grief. Her phone seemed to start ringing but then I heard a recorded female voice.
“The number you’ve dialed does not exist”
I was in the bus and I felt devastated. I got a seat right behind the driver. People were staring at the blood stained me. Not paying anyone any attention I sat there detached. All the windows were closed since it was raining. I felt the carbon dioxide increasing inside the bus and had a sensation of nausea. I slid the glass window open and felt the rain splashes on my face. Hugging her school bag I sat on that seat with endless thoughts. Then my phone rang. I didn’t even bother to take it out from the pocket. But unlike earlier it rang again. On a second thought I took it out. It was the same unknown number ending in 277. I had a surge of epinephrine through my veins. I was angry. I was angry at the whole world which denied the right of a four year old to live here. They say all fairy tales have happy endings. Well life is not a fairy tale, is it? With trembling hands and swelling heart I answered the phone.
“Hello, who’s this?” I asked almost shouting
It was my Lux.
(This story has been dedicated to Tharuni Sachdev who’s now a star in the sky)