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It was winter again.
Cold, dark and silent. I watched the leafless trees covered in snow, the shades of green invisible and only stark blinding whiteness staring back at me , looking so lifeless, a picture of perfect melancholy.
My tired eyes closed for a moment as a gush of cold wind blew past me as I wrapped the mint green cashmere sweater tighter, pulling it closer with my cold clenched fingers . There used to be a time when I hardly felt the cold but instead stomped around on the snow, flinging snow balls at a passing friend and lying dreamily on the ground, making snow angels until my palms would turn pale, frozen and numb, it was many, many years ago. Today as I sit here on the same old creaking wooden bench, I watch as everything around me is still the same, everything so constant, I close my eyes in pain as I realize that it is me who feels incomplete, my life that has suddenly made a drastic turn, leaving me so alone.
As my eyes remain frozen, staring at the package I had brought along, I wonder if I have it in me to open it, I did not know if I could be flooded with memories so soon, I did not know if I was ready to face the pain they might bring along.
I brushed away a cold tear and reached for the neatly wrapped package inside my bag, my wrinkled hands shake as I tried to gently unfold the creased cover on the edges. I knew this wasn’t going to be be easy, I pushed back my gray locks with a sigh, pulled out a sheaf of neatly folded papers and held back tears as my eyes fell upon that familiar handwriting, it was his. Daniel’s words clearly ring in my ears as I begin to read ‘This is for you, my love’ he had said tiredly but not failing to wink and smile at me mischievously.
My Dear Claire,
‘Snobby Scrooge’ does that name ring a bell, darling? Even after so many years I remember the fierce burning anger in your eyes when I had chosen George’s expansion plan over yours during the Department meeting and then later forced you to work with him even though you were against the whole idea. I heard you muttering my name, calling me Snobby Scrooge followed by a string of curse words. You never noticed me standing right behind you in the elevator and then all I could do was purse my lips to keep myself from laughing, weird right? I should have been angry but the way you were flapping your arms around and pouting with that annoyed look on your face, you looked so comic, I couldn’t help but be amused.
I still remember all those sleepless nights just to reach the deadline, I caught you yawning most of the time and dozing off with your mouth open on the large pile of paperwork. You would fetch coffee for everyone and sleepily look at me without even a hint of a smile, it was hard to admit back then but this did bother me, I’m not saying I fell in love with you already but something about the cold ignorance left me unsettled.
The first time I felt something besides amusement and irritation for you was during New Year”s Eve. I remember walking into church an hour before midnight, I glanced blankly at the empty rows and decided to head to the cafe until service begins, that is when a flickering light caught my eye. I saw you standing right there with your eyes closed, your brown hair left open, the curly locks falling gently over your cheeks and your lips moving in silent prayer. This time your eyebrows were not scrunched up in a frown like they always are when I’m around, you looked beautiful, so calm, an aura of serenity all around you as you stood near the lit candles and whispered a prayer. I forgot about heading out right then and made my way to one of the empty benches in a daze, that moment was magical, Claire and the image of you standing there amidst the enchanting silence, your face aglow above the wavering light of so many candles it is still frozen in my mind.
We became friends after New Year and it was only later that I discovered why. Your resolution to not have grudges is what bought us closer and well I have to say it is the best resolution ever. You were crazy, so vibrant, dragging me along for movies when there was too much work to do, singing right in the middle of quite work hours and often earning annoyed, angry glances from me. My days would begin seeing your wide smile each morning and end giving you a ride back home as you almost blasted my car with loud music and that screechy, terrible singing of yours. I have no idea when and where but somehow along the way I fell deeply in love with you, that night on your birthday when we were returning from the movies, I asked you what do you want most in life, you rubbed your eyes sleepily with your head leaning lazily against the seat and murmured ‘I want to be happy, hopefully fall in love and….be loved back’ such a simple thing, that night I knew deep within that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you .
I still remember how you stared back at me with wide eyes, your ice cream spoon frozen in your mouth when I told you that I loved you, right out of the blue. You were quite throughout the ride back home and said nothing but squeak a rushed goodbye and goodnight as you stepped out of the car. The way you came up to me after two days and cleared your throat nervously before saying that you loved me too, oh gosh Claire, that has to be one of the happiest moments of my life, your brown eyes looked so happy right then.
Years have passed, Claire but I can still picture you walking down that aisle, the enchanting smile lighting up your entire face and the white gown flowing behind you so gracefully, you looked so beautiful darling, I felt breathless staring into your deep eyes, I couldn’t believe that I was blessed to be so much in love.
I put the letter down and stare at the thick cloudy sky above, not a ray of sunlight, just endless darkness and his words bring back to my memory an incident of such drastic contrast, a life that was so different, a smile that was still alive and not lost.
The ice cream parlours back then were just tiny stores and offered only three flavours, chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. There were no fancy shops with glass counters giving you a glimpse of flavours in all the colours of the rainbow. The shopkeeper simply scooped up the one you wanted from a plastic container and offered it to you in a plastic bowl, if you paid a few rupees more then he would sprinkle chocolate flakes too. On a quiet Sunday evening Daniel and I sat in a tiny shop like that laughing over stupid jokes deciding which movie to go to.
I let the chocolate ice cream melt in my mouth, ‘utterly blissful’, I closed my eyes and savoured the meld of rich chocolate and cream. I scraped off the chocolate on the corners with full concentration, my eyebrows scrunched up in a frown ‘Claire….’, I hardly looked up when he called my name, the bit of chocolate flake stuck to the corner of the plastic bowl earning my full attention. I nudged at it and even tried licking it off and finally with a satisfied smile picked up the spoon and enjoyed the last nibble of ice cream. ‘Claire, I love you’. ‘Oh crap! What the hell did he just say?’ was the only thing running through my mind right then. I was frozen, my mouth closed over the spoon and my eyes wide open and by wide I mean really, really wide. My silence and astonishment lasted through out the ride back home, I really looked like someone turned mute after being struck by lightening.His genuine kind eyes kept flashing in my mind and I wondered if this was really true, was I dreaming?
I often had such crazy dreams but all this really happened, it was actually true. As I lay in bed that night with my fingers tightly curled around my blanket, I finally smiled, I let the truth sink in. He felt the same way. I was not a maniac who was loving someone who saw me only as a friend. Right then I felt like flinging the blanket away and doing a stupid dance all around the room, but I just lay there. Quiet and silent, absorbing it and reliving it all over again. Two days later I told him I loved him too, the moment I did his eyes brightened with so much happiness and the confusion I had seen previously washed away in a second, right then I put an end to my doubts and believed that he really meant it. He always spoke through his eyes and all I could see in them right then was love, deep and unfailing love.
I paused and smiled, flashes of our wedding day playing so vividly before my eyes. I took a deep breathe and imagined every moment we were together, all the simple times that were so beautiful.
I used to wake up in the middle of so many nights and just stare at his relaxed face while he snored gently, his disheveled hair falling over his forehead, his one hand folded beneath his head and the other loosely hanging over my waist. I remember how each day he would knock the door after returning from work and before I could even get to the door Nikki and Drake would fling themselves at him I shut my eyes and sighed deeply,it all seemed just like yesterday,all those smiles still remain engraved in my heart, I still hear the joyous laughter ringing in my ears . I slowly pick up the letter and start reading again…
I laugh aloud each time I remember your sudden bizarre idea to paint all our walls a bright magenta, despite my million refusals you still finally had it your way. I had to stare at blinding pink each day for a year, Claire and to top it off you would sigh and exclaim ‘Eeeee, this is so gorgeous!’ I could do nothing but wait with a pathetic smile until you finally got tired of being blinded and decided to go with a bland beige like most normal people do.
Do you remember the time when you were first pregnant with Nikki? I have to admit that it was the toughest time in my life, those mood swings and sudden cravings, gosh, you once even sent me to get you a tub of chocolate mouse ice cream at 2 am in the night. Ahhh…you were definitely the most fussy and crazy woman but I don’t regret any bit of it because you deserved every bit of pampering for bringing into my world such lovely angels that I will always be proud of. Your face when you held Nikki in your arms for the first time…my heart skips a beat when I think of it even after so many years, you looked so beautiful Claire, I could see the bottomless love lying right there in your eyes as you clutched me close and cried tears of joy.
Everybody wishes to spend their life with someone they truly love, each time I look at your face I know deep within that you are my miracle, my lover, my companion and the one without whom my life would be incomplete. Our life together is the best thing that has ever happened to me, you’ve given me my two little angels, not so little anymore but darling it just seems like yesterday when we were changing diapers and carrying them to nursery each day, I admire you for the strength with which you have brought them up, how each time you showed them to keep believing and never back down. When I see Nikki and Drake now, the relentless effort and perseverance that you have taught them sparkles right through their eyes.
Thank you for being there with me throughout the toughest times in life Claire, when I first found out about mom’s death, you just stood there, staring at me with gentle eyes and let me cry, during the funeral you held my hand and gave me strength. That night you held me close as my entire body shook with sobs, you never said a word Claire but you somehow made me feel better, feel strong. Through all the different troubles at work, the moments when I felt I had to give up and all the times I was ill and weak, you were there,assuring me that everything is fine and letting me know that there is still a way.
On our 50th Anniversary when I held you in my arms and danced, I felt like I was back in time. The slow movements reminded me of our wedding day, I also realized we both have aged, aged together happily. I could see our entire life together playing before my eyes, the graceful woman standing next to me was the one who stood by my side always and it was one of those moments in life where you realize how far you have come, how much you have traveled together and you are left utterly speechless by the immense magic embedded in your life.
I know you are crying right now Claire, I know how much this all must be hurting you. Just remember that we’ve had a wonderful life together, I couldn’t have hoped for a better one, I had someone who loved me with no boundaries, we did have our own share of arguments but they did nothing but make me realize that your silence and the absence of your smile tears my heart apart. Claire, the best years of my life were spent with you, fifty years in the span of which I learnt what it really means to share your life, your heart and your dreams with someone who means the world to you. I’m a lucky man Claire, I’m lucky I had the most lovely woman in the world holding my hand through everything, even as I am writing this I see your tired worried face,your fingers clenched around my arm as you close your eyes in disturbed sleep , you need to stop worrying darling, its all gonna be fine.
You’re reading this and I know that I’m not by your side right now. Just look in your heart and you will know, I am there, with you, always and forever. Don’t worry about how life is going to be without me, you are the strongest woman I know. If I could relive my life all over again, I would choose to be with you, I would choose to fall in love all over again with the woman who never fails to steal my heart. Darling, we have lived, loved and shared fifty precious years together, so Claire do not cry. Smile, it has always been the most beautiful thing in my life, smile because though I may see to be miles away from you now, we will always be together, you and I, we are inseparable.
Remember I have loved, I do and will always love you. Be strong, Darling and never forget to smile.
With a heart full of love
I held the letter close to my heart, even though he had asked me to smile, there was nothing that I could do to stop the endless flow of tears. It has been a week now since he passed away, a week since his weak heart finally gave up and let him sleep, a week since all I’ve been able to do is weep for my loss. I wipe my tears and reach for the package, I then notice a photograph, its tattered ends looking brown and aged, I pick it up and can’t help but smile when I notice the picture. The huge trees behind, with mist rising right over the mountain tops, him and I, his arms tightly around me and the smiling hazel eyes looking so affectionately down at me, I never liked this picture because I had my eyes shut and was in the middle of a horrible loud sneeze, I never remember getting a copy of it, obviously I had insisted on another pose where I had my eyes open. Now all I see is the endless love in his eyes, the adoration with which he looked down at me, he called himself lucky but it’s me who is the luckiest to find a man who loved me so deeply despite my flaws, someone who loved me for who I am, wholly and truly.
My eyes turn misty again but this time out of love, for being loved so abundantly. I gently put the letter and photograph back in my bag and slowly rise up to leave.
‘Granny lets go, its getting cold’ Lilly squeaks and hugs me close. I hold her hand and smile at the wonderful life that he has left me with, a beautiful family, so much love. Right then I feel his presence, smiling at me, holding my hand firmly as Lilly and I make our way out of the churchyard slowly, the same misty white churchyard where I had first smiled at him and shred my prejudices.
I knew right then that he would always be there, right within, deep in my heart.