The sun had just started setting and the sky looked liked an amalgam of orange, red and blue. I saw an old couple sitting on their front porch enjoying the evening tea. There was this house where the lady was watering her garden while her husband played badminton with their kids. As I kept walking aimlessly, I saw couples out on an evening walk, parents accompanying their children to a nearby mall, little children surrounding a balloon seller just outside the mall and every other common thing that normal people do in their evenings. The colours of the sky were reflecting on their faces and all I could see was just happy faces all around me. Suddenly these simple things which came free to others became the delicacies of life which I couldn’t afford.
As the cloud of thoughts arrived in galore into my head, the rain started pouring in. I had always loved these summer showers, you know, for their unpredictability. It’s like one moment you are looking up at the clear blue sky, enjoying the cool summer breeze and the next moment you’re dancing in the rain. May be this is how I came to love life’s unpredictability, oh wait, I am not so sure about it anymore.
Looking for a cover, I ran into a bus shelter and sat there waiting for the rain to stop. Seconds later, I saw a young man running towards it with his hands covering his lowered head. The moment he reached the footsteps of the shelter I was bowled out by life’s unpredictability, once again. Wishing I was hallucinating, I pinched myself. But he was still there, just the two of us. As I tried wading through all the scruple in my mind, he spoke up.
‘Is that you Naina?’
‘Yeah. I mean hi. What a surprise!’ I managed to croak.
Grinning from ear to ear like he always did, he came and sat next to me.
‘Wow, you still look so beautiful!’ he said softly.
I was flustered. I didn’t understand if he was being serious or if it was just a bad joke.
‘Don’t you see these bruises and scars over my face? Don’t you see the bandage covering half of my head? Don’t you see those long tresses which I always boasted of are gone now?’ I ranted.
‘As far as I know, I was being sincere. I see all of these, but I also see everything beyond these. You are so much more.’
He was still the same, unpredictable. One moment he is goofing around and the next moment he breaks into seriousness. Sometimes he won’t understand no matter how many times you explain it to him and sometimes he would just pull out every thought from your mind.
I looked away for I was afraid he might see something more in me.
The sky had started clearing up again and that short spell of rain flooded me with memories.
‘Coffee?’ Sahil asked, once again smiling. Yes, that was his name.
Soon we were walking towards the cafe at the end of the street where I live, with petrichor filling up our nostrils and flashes of our good old days running in my mind. I was not sure about his mind though. He looked comfortable and calm, like everything was normal. We didn’t talk. May be we both just wanted to be there in the moment, enjoying the tranquillity it brought to us.
The cafe was almost empty and Sahil took me to one of the isolated seats in a corner facing the window.
‘Looks like I am the only one who has aged. You still look the same, like when we had met the last time and that was almost 10 years back. Your eyes are still sparkling and your hair is as ruffled as ever. Your pale, fair skin is still glowing. Did you get stuck at 28?’ I asked sipping in the hot coffee.
Laughing effervescently, he replied, ‘may be because I didn’t want to change. I wanted to stay the same as you had left me’, with his eyes tinged in some sort of pain.
Once again I was taken aback. I didn’t see that coming. Perhaps, I wandered off to somewhere I shouldn’t have.
‘What about you? I thought you were in USA. When did you come? Returned for good?’, I asked, trying to change the topic.
‘Yes, returned for good. Someone needed me here.’
‘No, waiting for someone like you.’
Again the answer was an unexpected one and I didn’t know what to reply for that statement.
‘You don’t want to know anything about me? Why haven’t you asked me how I got into this condition?’ I asked pointing to my bandage.
‘I was waiting for you to tell it yourself. I didn’t know if I still had the right to ask you personal questions. So what happened? How did you end up like this?, he questioned staring right into my eyes.
‘Ours was a loveless marriage right from the start and we were both at fault. We divorced right after Tara was born. It was my daughter’s sixth birthday. My ex-husband, I and Tara were returning from her birthday party at his house. But we got into an accident. She was declared spot dead and we survived. My parents brought me here so that they can look after me’
Taking my hands into his, he let out a deep sigh and said, ‘don’t go so harsh on yourself, please. I saw you clearly. You didn’t flinch a bit and your face was as expressionless as it can be when you spoke about her. What are you trying to do? Fool me?’
I didn’t know what to answer. I didn’t want to get caught. But having known me inside out, it was a pretty easy thing for him to guess.
I kept staring at him till I finally broke down. He stood up suddenly and pulled me out of the cafe. He kept holding my hand and walked in front. I too didn’t ask him anything and just followed him silently. I don’t know how long we walked like that but soon I could see the abandoned fields on the periphery of our town where our younger selves used to hang out every day.
He turned around to face me and held my other hand too.
‘Now, cry as much as you want. Let your heart out. Let me and only me to be a part of that sadness. Hold on to me once again’. There was this desperateness in his voice, which was a culmination of all those years he had waited for me.
‘I don’t know Sahil. I try, try and try but one tiny prick, I crumble into pieces again. I was in coma for two months but I could still see her in my head, laughing cutely and twirling in her birthday dress. I held onto my life thinking she might be waiting for me but I was so wrong. It felt as if a beautiful dream ended and I woke up to a nightmare. She was not there. Lying on my bed for three months for bed rest was the hardest thing to do. I wanted to run back to my house and sleep with her favourite toys. I wanted to see her photographs hanging in my room. I was craving for her presence and I thought she might be there in that house, like an angel. Every night after my parents slept, inconsolable sobs would creep into me with my heart letting out silent screams.’
This time I broke again but his arms were ready to hold me. I don’t know how long I wept but he stood there patiently, holding me tightly. My head was on his chest and for the first time in 10 years I felt home.
Walking on the rusty and unused railway track passing through that field, we kept talking endlessly that day with evening expanding into night. It almost became a daily routine. Meeting him was the only thing I looked forward to every day. We visited our old school, our college and every other place that had us in its memory. It was like I was reliving my past, a past that was so bright for it had him in it. I was getting better.
Seasons changed like they always did. Summer got drenched in monsoon, spring blossomed from the rains and broke into fall, and fall got covered by the wintery snow. But we were the same. The love that was left unfulfilled was in full bloom now and experiencing the feeling of getting loved by him once again was so overwhelming. It was like a date with destiny.
The New Year’s Eve soon arrived with all pomp ad fanfare like it always did. The festive mood was all over the world and people were busy decorating their houses, buying gifts and partying with friends. But my home seemed too distant from all these. The loud silence that hung in our home was ripping off everyone’s ears. Perhaps, it was not cold outside for we were having the deadliest winter in our home. Sometimes I could hear my parents talking in hushed tones and then crying in anguish. And I?
I didn’t cry anymore. The nightmares were long gone. But there was this emptiness digging a hole a in my heart that made me breathless at times. The emptiness was so vast that I could hear my own echo. On some nights I would turn to my side on the bed, unmindfully, hoping she would be sleeping next to me. But she was never there.
It was around midnight when I got a call from an unknown number. Putting on my sweater I rushed up to the terrace.
There he was standing with his blissful smile like always.
Before I could walk up to him he came rushing towards me and took me in a tight hug.
‘Happy New Year, my love’, he whispered into my ear.
Cupping my face in his hands he said, ‘I know it’s not the right time to celebrate. But I couldn’t help being selfish. I didn’t want to miss this chance of ushering in the New Year with you.’
‘Again? You did it again. Did you practice it all these years? Ever since I met you on that fateful summery dusk, you just keep making me dumbstruck. How did you grow so much? You still look so young but you talk like an insightful one and every time I am with you, I can sense a mystic aura. It just keeps making me fall for you again and again. I love you.‘
After all this time, I saw him cry. I didn’t know why but his eyes looked so much in pain. The spark in his eyes was gone at that moment.
Wiping his tears I stepped on his feet slowly and lifted up my toes to kiss him. The moment he kissed me back felt like an eternity. A nebulous kiss it was. I could feel myself walking in the air of absolute bliss and I wanted to stay there forever. All the missed kisses of those ten years converged into that one wild kiss.
Under the sky lighting up in different fireworks, we stood there in a warm embrace of our lips. The night was too perfect for me to notice that there was something amiss.
As the night grew darker, our moment drew closer to the end.
Kissing me on my forehead, Sahil said, ‘I know there are moments where you get so weak that you doubt your existence. I know it’s hard but listen, I had always been there for you and I always will be. Just don’t forget to let me in. I love you too.’
And before I could say anything he handed me a letter asking me to read it the next morning.
As I walked back into my room, I held that letter close to my heart. My mind was on a mad whirl of pleasure thinking this must be a letter of all his moments of love that he missed in those ten years.
Deliberating whether to read it or not, I don’t know when I fell asleep, a sound sleep after many months.
The next morning I pulled out the letter from under my pillow as soon as I woke up and started reading it.
‘I don’t know where to begin. There’s so much I wanted to say to you but every time I saw you I just couldn’t muster enough courage. All I have is regrets, those regrets that didn’t let me live in peace nor did it let me die in calmness.
Sorry for choosing my career over you. Sorry for letting you go at that time. I never knew my life would become so miserable without you. By the time I realised this it was too late. You were gone to him. I tried moving on but one mention of yours, I would return to the same mess that I created for myself.
Sleepless nights, bouts of desolate tears and the pangs of separation stinging my heart made me numb. I didn’t want to live anymore. I was tired.
It would have been so different, so beautiful just like we are now but for my stupidity.
I am really sorry to make you suffer. I am really very sorry.
I am sorry I couldn’t even save Tara. I tried really hard but I just couldn’t.
But she’s is here with me. Smiling like you. Don’t you worry about her, she is there for you and so am I.
I love you.’
The letter was filled with ambiguities that my ordinary mind was incapable of deciphering. I couldn’t believe what I had just read. I didn’t know if I wanted to cry or scream. Like a maniac, I got up from the bed and rushed out of my house with my coat.
Frantically ringing the bell on his door, I barged into his house as soon as it opened.
I saw his parents but not him. I rushed towards the stairs and sped into his room. I felt I would go crazy at that moment. His room looked the same as it had ten years ago, the walls and tables adorned with our photos.
Jan 28, 2017
So it was true. He hanged himself on the very day I got married.
At first I was unsure if it’s the reality or I am walking in a nightmare. Just I was trying to heal one wound, another started bleeding profusely.
In the wilderness of my mind, his thoughts ran wild. It was permanent winter in my heart but still I was burning like a thousand suns. Dandelions of his memories kept growing in the back of my mind and I fell into an indefinite wait, waiting for him to come as wind and blow them away.
I still see him sometimes. Sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night, I see him standing by my bed. Sometime when I break into tears, I see him. I see him when I am happy. But he keeps staring at me. A strange wordless silence prevails between us. It was much later that I realised it was not life’s unpredictability I loved, it was his.
One month has almost passed and I don’t know how many more I have to survive.
May be he will help me if I let him in, isn’t it?