I was sitting by the window in Barista and sipping leisurely a very warm and very foamy cup of cappuccino. I left office early. Outside the warm summer afternoon was slowly edging towards the dusk. Adjacent to the café is a new park, bearing testimony to the current beautification drive of the city. A handful of people, mostly young couples, were sitting scattered in the park. They were snatching a few moments of togetherness before getting on with the rest of the day. Their sparkling laughter and animated chatter were rising from the ground and slowly seeping through my ears, bringing back some long suppressed memories.
It was another time and another place, so long back the memories were hazy like a dream. They would walk in the wood hand in hand on warm summer evenings. Darkness would descend and Cape Eagle Owls hooted from the hollow of the tree while they kissed passionately. They would jog in the beach in the early mornings and watch the sun rise together. Their peals of laughter mingled with the cry of the sea gulls. I stared at the reflection on the glass. Is there any trace of that young girl left in the woman staring back at me?
At 7:30 in the morning I was still groggy when I walked into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. The mobile rang. Usually I don’t take calls so early. So I let it ring. But after a while it started again. Irritated, I picked it up. It was Elsie from Cape Town. Elsie was my neighbor, best friend and my closest confidante till date.
‘El, what’s up? What happened?’ I was worried. It was not yet daylight over there and she was making an international call.
‘Nicky there is something I need to tell you. Just sit down somewhere.’ Oh no! I know that tone. There definitely is something serious.
‘Nicky, when we were travelling from Australia a couple of days back, I met with Aaron.’
‘What?’ I felt a hammer beating against my chest.
‘Yeah, you heard it right. He is now working with Lufthansa, you know. He was to fly to Europe. We recognized each other instantly. We talked a lot about the old times.’
I pulled a chair and sat down. Aaron! She met Aaron and they talked about the old times! ‘Aaron’s call woke me up. The guy wants to meet you. He will be in your city next week en route to Singapore. I gave him your number. So, I decided to call you.’
I was taken aback. ‘You did what? Why?’ I couldn’t believe my ears. ‘It’s been too long Elsie. Too damn long. What makes you think I will want to meet him?’
‘Meet him once Nicks. He really wants to. I’m not asking you to fall in love with him all over again. Just this once, may be for the last time.’ She paused briefly, to catch her breath. ‘Please Nicky. Pick up the phone in case he rings.’
I almost didn’t hear her next words. When I recovered from the shock of the bomb shell Elsie had just dropped, I found that the mobile was still pressed against my ear. She had disconnected already.
I met Aaron O’Hara, during his visit to his parents in Cape Town, where he stayed briefly, for one summer, before proceeding to USA to train as a pilot. His parents lived in our neighborhood and were close friends of my family. Aaron was a guy of mixed descent. His Irish forefathers came to India during colonial period and made this country their home. But his mother was a thorough bred Indian from Mumbai.
He was a tall, slender guy with striking features, but not noticeably handsome. He had his father’s blue eyes and mother’s jet black hair. When he laughed, his expressive eyes sparkled like the ocean under the radiant sun. He certainly had an infectious laugh, an easy-going temperament and lot of wits.
That summer we both were twenty-one year olds, fresh out of college. Both had ample leisure time before starting our higher educations and thus plenty of time to spend together. We soon became fast friends. Most weekends we would drive to the nearby Clifton Beach. For hours together we would sit on the soft white sand, mesmerized by the turquoise water of the Atlantic. For hours we would watch the waves that crashed on the shore, spraying foamy mists on our face while we lazily drank a bottle of Witblits or Mampoer. Sometimes the balmy summer evenings were wrapped up with a sunset picnic on the beach.
I didn’t know when I fell in love. All I knew that I was deeply in love and prayed fervently that he too felt the same way. On one such evening when we rounded up and were ready to go home my prayer was answered. The sun dipped in the ocean. The horizon was painted with a purplish hue announcing the impending dusk. Aaron was teasing me about something. That day he teased me a lot. Suddenly he began to run on the beach, daring me to catch up with him. I ran after him. Soon I couldn’t run anymore.
He walked back to where I was standing. He looked at me with a gaze that was deep and intense. All of a sudden he pulled me towards him, enclosing my petite body in his warm embrace. His tall, lean body bent forward and sought my lips, kissing deeply yet gently; I no longer was in control of my emotions. Though puzzled at first, I after a while tenderly surrendered myself. In the twilight two enthralled souls stood hugging each other in the deserted beach as the mighty waves of the Atlantic crashed on the shoreline with a billowy rush. A lot had been forgotten over the last quarter of a century but this moment survived the onslaught of time.
At the end of that summer Aaron left for USA. We remained in touch for about a year, but gradually his replies became less frequent. Eventually they stopped altogether. I kept writing for few more months. But as no more replies were received, I finally accepted the fact that he has moved on. I picked up and glued together the shattered pieces of my broken heart and concentrated on my career. Six years later my job brought me to Kolkata where I met Josh. We soon got married. I made many trips to South Africa from time to time, but never visited Cape again.
When I walked out of the café, it was raining hard. So no one could see my tears as I crossed the street to the parking lot. I thought time healed all wounds; what I didn’t know was that time is also capable of opening the floodgate of long-buried emotions.
Over and over again I told myself that I didn’t need to hear from Aaron. But as each day ended I felt more remorse and disappointed. As the week drew near I decided that Aaron had changed his mind. But that Friday evening as I was getting to leave the office, my mobile rang – an unknown local number. I didn’t think anything of it and picked up.
‘Hello Nicky. Is that you?’ said a thick voice on the other end of the line. The world stood still. ‘Aaron!’ was all I could whisper.
‘Nicks, I’ve just arrived in Kolkata and I’ll be leaving tomorrow night. Can we please meet once?’ There was a hesitation in his voice.
I bit my lips. What do I say? I can say no and tell him never to contact me again. The choice was mine. ‘Why do you want to meet?’ I hoped I didn’t sound as miserable as I felt.
There was a long silence. ‘Felt like. I… I just wanted to see you.’ Suddenly he sounded like a child who is asked to explain his ridiculous demand for some inaccessible object. ‘I’m staying at the Airport Hotel. Will you come? It’s not a demand Nicks; just a request.’ Another long silence followed. ‘I will be waiting for you at the lounge of the hotel at 7:30 in the evening.’ A sigh and the phone was disconnected.
‘Tomorrow I will be late. Please don’t wait up for me,’ I declared at dinner.
‘Mom, it’s Saturday night,’ the boys protested in unison.
‘Sorry guys. Can’t help it. I’ve an urgent meeting.’ My entire plan to remain tough and not meet Aaron just evaporated.
I spent a waking night and a restless day in the office. Here I was, a forty six years old highly successful corporate woman, married with two sons, waiting eagerly to meet her long-lost lover.
At 7:00 I left office. I drove like this once before twenty five years back. Aaron was flying from Cape Town International Airport to USA. That day before proceeding towards the departure lounge he called me aside and hugged me tightly. The moment froze in eternity. I wanted to memorize every minute detail of the moment – how his mouth curved with a tender smile, how lovingly he looked at me, how handsome he was in his pink and white pin stripped shirt and grey trousers.
That’s how I still remembered him. When I entered the lounge of the hotel forty five minutes later, the man who sprang up from the sofa and came towards me didn’t look much different. Time has added some fine wrinkles around the mouth. The jet black hair is streaked with gray. There is a touch of sadness in that gentle smile.
‘Hello there!’ His voice quivered. A musky fragrance of expensive cologne surrounded me.
‘Hello.’ I tried to force a smile but the lump in my throat was threatening to spill over.
‘Shall we sit in the coffee shop? You must be hungry.’
‘You are wondering why I wanted to meet you.’ Aaron continued after placing the order for coffee and sandwich. He seemed the every bit of gentleman he used to be. A long awkward silence lingered between us. ‘You have done well,’ he said at last.
Gosh! What did he expect? Did he think I wouldn’t be able to survive his absence? ‘I’ve done pretty well, as you might have heard.’ The sarcasm in my voice didn’t escape him. ‘You too have achieved all that you ever wanted; being a senior pilot of Lufthansa is a big achievement. So, have you any family?’
‘I had. Didn’t last. Got divorced seven years back. No kids. There were few casual flings. None of them lasted long.’
‘Just the way it was with me.’ I couldn’t keep the pent-up bitterness from my voice. ‘By the way why did you contact me? I didn’t even think you still remembered me.’
He looked hurt. ‘Can’t blame you for thinking that way. I won’t give excuses. I know it really is useless saying after all these years, but I’m sorry.’ Aaron gently placed his right hand on my left. I felt an electric shock pass through my body. Damn it! This guy still had such an effect on me!
‘I came because I needed to see you just one more time,’ his voice was heavy with emotion. ‘Guess a piece of you remained inside me all the while and I sub consciously ended up comparing them all with you.’
I was watching him talk, watching his lips move and listening to the soft tone of his voice. Some of those long suppressed precious feelings; those solemn passions were overwhelming me. Fragments of words, moments of love and laughter were all bubbling up to the surface. Elsie, you were wrong. I didn’t need to fall in love again; we are bound together forever.
Time was short. I knew I would have to go home and he would have to fly in few hours’. When we finally walked to the parking lot it was almost 11:00 o’clock. Suddenly he placed his arms on my shoulder and turned me around. ‘Aaron!’ was all I could say in surprise. But I didn’t protest.
‘You were never my fling. I can forget everything except that summer.’ He looked deeply into my eyes. His soul lay bare before me at that instant. Slowly he lowered his head and touched the tip of my nose with his and whispered passionately,
You came to my life and took my soul,
You came to my life to make me whole.
It’s been long since you were gone,
But, inside of me you still live on.
He lightly touched my lips with his and then kissed one long, intense kiss. Twenty five years faded away in that single moment. This was the reality, the only reality; everything else was a dream from which we just woke up.
‘Time is running out. We have to go.’ There was such a profound pain in his voice. His tears mingled with mine. He planted one final kiss on my forehead. Aaron then turned and started walking towards the hotel. I wanted to tell him all the things that remained unsaid. If not now, then never. I wanted to ask him, ‘Shall we meet ever meet again?’ But I didn’t utter a word. I wanted to run up to him and give one final hug. But I didn’t move an inch from where I was standing.
I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew the time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. ‘Ten, nine, eight, seven…’ I didn’t want to lose sight of him. He receded further and further till the door of the hotel closed behind him. Never once he looked back.