Editor’s Choice: Love Short Story – LIKE IT NEVER EXISTED
Rising till it finally mixed with the air. Leaving no trace.
As if it never existed – the smoke.
Wow. He marvelled.
Like it never existed. He took a long drag again, and exhaled slowly, giving rise to the dancing white fumes again.
“You smoke a lot.”
“It’s bad for health.”
“You’ve told me that before.”
“But you never stop.”
He stubbed the cigarette butt on the window. His gaze never shifting from the forest of buildings outside.
“Can we talk?” She said softly.
He knew she meant it. He knew she didn’t want to crib. She wasn’t the cribbing type. He knew if only he’d sit down and talk…..
If only he sat down.
He didn’t. Why? Wish he himself knew.
She got up from the bed and walked to him. He felt her coming towards him. Even with his back towards her, he could feel her. Even when her light feet didn’t make a sound he knew exactly when and where her next step fell.
She was behind him now. He knew the exact look on her face – one of worry, concern, and helplessness.
“I don’t want it to go this way,” she finally spoke. Her voice faltering.
He didn’t turn back.
More smoke mixing with the air.
Like it never existed.
He felt her breath. Uneven. Unsteady.
He felt his own heart sinking. He could just turn. Embrace her, like all those times when she used to get angry but this simple gesture would instantly mellow her down.
But he didn’t do anything.
“I’m going to a friends’ place,” she said.
She stood there for a while. Lingering. Maybe, just maybe he turns. But he didn’t.
She turned. Picked her bag, and with those light steps and sad face she left. The door closed softly behind her.
He still stood there. A tinge of moist water in his eyes. A sudden urge to run. Run towards her, hold her in his arms and apologise.
Relax! She’s just going to a friends’ place! She’ll be back!
No! This is symbolic. How can you let her go like that? How can you turn your back on her?
Two voices inside his head.
Both equally strong. Both equally convincing.
A ripple in his heart.
Just the phone in his shirt pocket vibrating!
He took it out.
Where? I’m waiting.
The text read.
He kept the phone. Reverted back to his cigarette. The smoke rising again.
He quietly finished it. Three in a row. He turned back, put on his shoes, locked the house, and left.
Only to return at midnight. She was asleep. He looked at her face. A million thoughts crossed his mind. He could no longer seem to look at those eyes when they were open. Those questioning eyes. Those eyes which at times seemed to shun him. But most of all, those eyes which at all times seemed to be confused – why? He felt them asking him.
Why? He didn’t know. He desperately dodged it. But he knew he would have to spend the rest of his life with this “why?” He could escape her eyes but what of his own eyes which he met in front of the mirror each day?
You can change things.
No. It’s too late now.
You’re being a coward. She’ll forgive you, you know that.
Yes. She will. But what of my own eyes? How will I face her everyday?
These are just excuses……….
His phone vibrated again. A loud buzz. She woke up with a start. In his trance he’d ventured too close to her. He jumped back. Just in time. She got up. Faced him. Their eyes met. Her intense gaze, even from those sleepy eyes, with a tinge of softness. Why? Why the softness? He would have loved to see a loathing, a brewing hatred in them. He turned his back. Checking his phone.
He looked up from the phone. She still looked at him. Did she know? He turned a dark shade of crimson, his ears burned. She knows. His mind said. She knows. If only he could just run away.
She looked. A tired gaze this time and eventually turned back and went to sleep again. Or that’s what he convinced himself into believing.
After replying to the message he changed. He’d had dinner. He no longer remembered when was the last time he had had a meal with her. He slowly got into the bed and careful not to touch her in any way, made himself comfortable.
He slept in snatches. Woken up, periodically, by her continuous shifting and shuffling.
Life carried on for a while. Her pleadings eventually stopped, as she finally felt that the end was inevitable. Throughout the Court proceedings there was an eerie silence at their home. She didn’t speak. He smoked.
It was a comparatively easy separation. They didn’t have any kids. She didn’t want anything from him.
When the separation was given the last go-ahead, they had to go to the Court for some final formalities. Incidentally both of them got ready at the same time and walked out of the house together. She didn’t so much as glance towards him. Simply walked towards her car. Even in such a grave moment he couldn’t suppress a smile. He remembered how they always, somehow fought before going out, and how she’d walk up to her car and drive alone.
The engine of her car coughed and came to life and in a swift turn she backed off the car and headed towards her destination. Their destination. Like it was just another fight.
All through the way he kept an eye on her car. Out of habit or care, it was difficult to differentiate even for his own self.
The formalities got over much earlier than he expected. Wasn’t divorce supposed to be a lengthier procedure? Peoples’ life depended on it? He mused.
Outside the Court he took one last look at her. She resolutely looked away. His anticipation grew. Just one last look. He thought.
She turned her back.
She’ll come back to collect her stuff from the apartment. His mind comforted him.
Damn! Why did this one last look mattered so much to him?
When he reached his apartment he was surprised to find the entry door wide open. Inside, a man and an elderly woman were packing things in huge cartons.
Her dads’ servants.
They had packed her clothes and were now packing her books. In silence they worked. Grimly. Not looking at him. Within ten-minutes they were done. Within ten minutes they polished off every speck of her existence in his apartment! Wow. Easy enough! He thought.
They got up to leave. He started off with some formal conversation but they ignored him completely.
For the first time it hit him that the separation wasn’t only between him and her. Many other ties had also snapped with it.
He nodded to himself. The house lacked any signs of her existence now. Just a lingering emptiness which somehow was the biggest reminder of her than any of her material belongings.
So, he’d lost his one last chance to look at her.
He lit a cigarette.
The fumes still rose in the air.
It’s almost 6 months now.
He has absorbed himself in his work. Vartika is proving to be a good wife. After work, he is greeted by her smile in the apartment. She has used all the empty space to fill up with her stuff. The apartment has undergone revolutionary artistic changes. Vartika takes an uncanny interest in interior decoration. He is proud of her.
Today is Vartika’s birthday. He has ordered for a huge cake garnished with judicious amounts of chocolate – Vartika’s favourite. He will himself go and fetch the cake. She is special to him afterall!
In the evening he takes Vartika out. Coming out of a restaurant Vartika finds some of her old friends. After formal introductions, he starts feeling left out amongst the chatter of women. He walks two- three steps away and lights himself a cigarette.
The cigarette tucked between his index and middle fingers he passes aimless glances at life outside. The usual hustle-bustle. People running. People walking. Life in all forms.
And then there, talking to someone – a pair of eyes!
Smiling eyes. Soft eyes. Which had looked at him so many times, but had evaded him that one last look.
She is standing with a tall man. No matter how he tries to avoid it, he can’t help noticing his fingers slithering on her waist.
A snake rises from the pit of his stomach and raises its head on his throat. His throat simultaneously feels the burning of its venom and the sickening caused by it.
He suddenly wishes Vartika was with him. He would show her how well he was. But why was he thinking of it? She didn’t even know he was looking at her!
His eyes seem to fix on her. An intense hatred intoxicated him. He wanted to walk upto her and humiliate her publically. Words, which he had never ever dared to bring to his tongue now seamed effortlessly in his brain. He stared at her. On purpose. So if she looks, he would make use of all words he had in his mind.
He looked. With hatred. Rage. He didn’t call it jealousy. He did not realize it was jealousy. Blind hatred. Just that.
After some endless moments, she finally happened to look at him.
For a split second his lips parted and some word tried to slip out desperately.
She looked away as if he was just a stranger! Someone, whom she just saw on the road!
He didn’t expect those soft eyes for which he longed so much, but an acknowledgement? Even a hateful admission that he had been important to her for some time in her life?
If not, then even that questioning glance? Those eyes which seemed to ask him – WHY? Even they would’ve been familiar to him!
Has she really seen him?
Vartika was walking back towards him now. She excitedly talked about things which mattered little to him. He nodded, smiled occasionally. She didn’t seem to notice and happily talked. He smoked furiously. She didn’t like the smoke. He smoked. A futile effort to get back at her. Did that tall man smoke? He wondered.
He drove towards his apartment in complete silence. Vartika is still talking.
Once back, he hurriedly absorbs himself in his work. Vartika doesn’t mind. She’s used to seeing him as a workaholic.
Late at night, when Vartika has gone off to sleep, he is still in his study. Smoking. The fumes dancing in the atmosphere. Slow, uneven movements. And then, they simply diffuse with the air.
He gave out a small laugh – like it never existed!
They say, he still clutched the cigarette, when they found his lifeless body in the morning.
STATUTORY WARNING: Cigarette smoking is injurious to health