WSPI-2012-03: Love Short Story – COME BACK SMILING
This short story is participating in Write Story from Picture India 2012 – Short Story Writing Competition.
[Love Short Story – COME BACK SMILING]
It was after a long time, almost six years that I was visiting my country.
As soon as I entered the IGI airport Delhi.I could sense a tremendous change around me, my city where I grew up had changed. Delhi had changed and so had I.
I grew up in Delhi but the reason of my return was not my love for the city, it was for a special someone, it was for Arjun.
I missed Arjun so I decided to visit him. He is not only a friend but my first love, the first one who made me aware of my sexuality, my homosexual partner or rather my first partner.
Hate always makes us do things that we would not vaguely think of doing in a rational state of mind. Maybe it was hate that kept me away from the people I once loved and from the city I once adored. My parents and my younger brother had no clue of my visit. As I checked-in to a boutique hotel in Connaught Place, I remembered Arjun’s last words at the airport when I left “ time heals all wounds ” , but the bitterness in my heart hadn’t mellowed down, time couldn’t heal my wounds.
I had only three days to meet Arjun and I wanted to make full use of it so I took a quick shower and left my hotel.
I went to Arjun’s home in Green Parkand as he opened the door I could figure his happiness in his quiet smile. We sat in his living room trying to figure out what to say to each other after all those years of living separate.
Arjun got me a glass of water and asked me “so what brings you back.”
“You” I answered without any drama.
“Me, really! When I checked your email that you would visit me I was almost shocked but it’s good to see you.”
“So you are not happy.”
“Harman I am happy but just a little surprised to see you after so many years I don’t even remember ” his words reminded me of the time that had passed and the things that had changed.
“You look the same just a little fitter and more handsome; London has definitely improved your style.”
“Since when you started noticing style, Mr. History teacher”, I asked with sarcasm.
He smiled back and asked, “How have you been all these years.”
“I have been good”
Arjun knew it had been a tough journey for me all these years, away from home and family but he also knew that I had come a long way in life. I had a flourishing career and had been able to carve a niche for myself.
“So you are good but I haven’t seen you smile for quite sometime.”
Arjun almost caught me. The only person who could read my mind was him; he somehow knew the emptiness of my life like no other.
“You haven’t seen it because you have not seen me in six years, and I do smile” I answered convincingly.
“Your big idiotic smile Harman, the smile of a laughing devil, you remember the two laughing masks made by potters, that smile of yours is missing.”
How could I forget the two laughing masks.
When Arjun and I were studying in Delhi University, we used to sit at the roadside pavement everyday to chat and indulge in some street food, accompanied by a potter who sold earthen pots and masks. Though he sold quite a few pots everyday, but the masks never got off his stall. Those two masks accompanied us for three years, Arjun often made fun of me comparing my smile with those on masks. Sometimes I wanted those masks to be sold so that I could get rid of the nasty comparison but that never happened. Everyday we were accompanied by those two masks who silently listened to us without changing their expression.
With the passage of time our expressions constantly changed, especially mine when I told my parents about my sexuality.
I felt instantly comfortable on the thought that Arjun still remembered our time in college. For me it was undoubtedly the best experience of my life, wandering the streets of Delhi University with Arjun.
After a brief pause I continued.
“Yes, I do Arjun, the ones with their tongues out though I still don’t remember when did I laugh with my tongue out.”
I was almost smiling as we started ourselves from where we had left, no grudges no complaints.
“It was not the tongue but the devilish smile, the mischievous smile, where is that smile.”
“Well I left it here after visiting psychiatrists to whom my parents took me, constant fear, endless taunts, and its better I left it here.” I answered looking straight into his face.
Arjun knew that I had left my country as I was emotionally disowned by my family. They just provided me with money for my masters and never called me as I had not obliged them with false hope that I would change my sexual preference. None of us mentioned the trauma or our parents, though both were synonyms in our case.
Since then on parents neither physically figured in our lives nor in our conversations.
Our relation began with a friendship and slowly led us towards a path of self discovery. Through each other we discovered ourselves. The “First’s” in our lives always have a special place in our heart. I dated several men; Arjun was the first, the awkwardness, physical intimacy, clandestine meetings with him made me aware of the tough path I had chosen for myself.
Looking at Arjun and sitting with him made me feel deeply happy but happiness often has a timeline and it was already running out. I had a life in London and I could never see myself here and Arjun could never see himself there.
The whole day we kept talking about the years gone by, my banking job and his school teacher job, the changing scenario and evolving education system, new laws on homosexuality, but we did not ask each other was about our families as we both knew nothing had changed or will ever change.
In the evening, I decided to leave and he asked me where I stayed. Though I wanted him to ask me to spend the night with him but he didn’t.
As I sat in my room, the doorbell rang and the visitor was surprisingly Arjun.
“I was bored of my apartment so I thought why not spend the time with you in this hotel.”
I smiled almost like a virgin teenager. We spent the night together and I felt something that I had missed for a while being with someone I once loved. Still loved
The subsequent next two days he spent all his time with me, took me to my favorite food joints that had stood the test of time, we visited my favorite sweet shop in Old Delhi, he took me to Delhi university where we studied and as I crossed the Kamla Market red light I asked him about the street potter who had those two laughing masks, Arjun told me he was asked to leave around The Commonwealth Games and he never returned.
It was time to leave for London and my monotonous bank job. Arjun never asked me to stay. Leaving one’s country is often a nostalgic feeling but in my case it came down to only one person.
After a week of my return I never heard from Arjun. I kept looking for his emails but he never wrote.
After a few days I received a parcel from Arjun, it was his first in six years.
I opened it furiously and I found one of the two masks inside a box. The mask bought back a lot of tacit memories which I had concealed in my heart. The whole week I had thought about Arjun, I often spoke to him in solitude. Just when I thought that our memories had faded, the strangest one was right in front of me and I pondered in my past, commemorating our friendship, repartee and intimacy. The mask reminded me of the way I laughed, something that the world had taken away from me.
Arjun wrote me a letter which read.
I know I have problems , Delhi has problems , your parents have problems but I want you to smile , smile like you never cared and love like you always did , I bought these masks when you left and kept them so that I could smile when I missed you. But now I have to let go one of them as I fell you need it too. I am sending you one mask to remind you that the other one is with me waiting for you, waiting for you to smile. I know it will take you another six years to come back but when you come back I want you to come back smiling.
I kept the mask in front of me. Life was never fair to me but Arjun’s words made me forget all of that; I had someone in some part of world waiting for my smile. The mask reminded me of the best times of my life and just like that bitterness flew out off my window and left me with a smile.
I moved out from my apartment, walked the road and crossed the same people. Everything was the same around me and I was smiling.