This story is selected as Editor’s Choice
When I was still young, I used to stare at the sky for hours, admiring the impeccable beauty of the blue heavens. I wondered how the blue sky so far away reflected into the oceans and painted its color all over it, making it blue. I wondered how the moon sparkled so bright that it illuminated our soil and sea. The evening breeze felt so soothing as if it was gods own breath flowing against me. I had numerous questions and a very few answers. As I grew up, science answered my questions pretty much. And then I wondered, how something so beautiful and serene could be explained in terms of such plain words and equations?
The question remained unanswered, until one day when I met her.
It was one cold morning of December winter and I was on my way to my workplace. I was occupying my seat in a metro and following my daily routine, reading the newspaper. I could still feel the distasteful taste of smoke on my tongue while I slapped the roof of my mouth with it. I was kind of a loner then. I didn’t talk much, didn’t smile much, I can’t even recall the last time I made an eye contact with anyone. My day started with a smoke of a cigarette standing over my balcony reading the newspaper and ended with the last sip of scotch while I shuffled through those files, again on my balcony. I had bought the most expensive of a cellphone which rarely rang and most of the time I had to dial my landline to ensure whether it still worked. My letterbox did quite well, at times there were some bills or pamphlets or advertisement posters. But most of the times it consisted of dry twigs, pebbles, wet papers or any other things that those spoilt neighborhood children felt fascinating to drop in.
The morning sun reflected on the window pane and contrasted few colors while some were too faint to be observed. The colors formed an apparition of a blossoming flower rich in colors, which spread it’s petals in every direction. As the train advanced the flower shrunken and in a matter of minutes it was all but a straight line at one end of the window until it vanished completely. I titled towards left slightly when the train made a humming sound, it was about to halt. I bent my knee at a slight angle and grounded my foot to the base to maintain balance. There were about twenty people in the compartment but that girl stood apart when she entered, as a glooming rose in a pot of grass and weed. She walked along the aisle until she found herself a seat. She sat three seats across me and I tried my best to evade her attention as I was not sure how to react if she smiled at me, if she did, by any chance. I was not sure if I could take it.
There was something about her which tried to pull my heart right out of my chest. She was tall, fair and had a polite smile on her face. It was her eyes sparkling like a lone star in the dark sky, deeper than the deepest of the oceans, brighter than the beam of a full moon. Face as soft as the wings of a fairy looked richer than a land which reaps wine even if it was sown of poison. Her smile had a catastrophic influence on my heart, giving me a hard time to breathe.
When she smiled, her lips curved like a crescent moon, getting slimmer as it stretched further. My heart weighed as heavy as a brick when a faint dimple dug on her cheeks. I was so nervous that I felt as if the sound of my heart beat was audible to the person sitting next to me. I placed my palm on my chest hoping to suppress the beating. I gazed upon her from the corner of my eyes. Her palm looked so delicate that it appeared to be made of the finest soil of the seventh sky. She was too confident to keep her hairs unfastened. Her hair descended down like a curtain whenever she bowed down to explore through her bag. It appeared like a dark river flowing down the Olympus. Her attire appeared so appropriate as if it was created for her. It was difficult to ascertain whether her dress really was that pretty or she made it look pretty by her glare.
An incurable pain was flowing through my body. I imagined her eyes looking right into mine and just the thought of it gave me goose bumps so high that I almost slid off my seat.
She pulled a novel from her bag, crossed her legs and started reading. I pretended to read the already read newspaper. My stoppage passed two stations back. If I remember accurately, I was feeling colder than the rest of the inhabitants of that compartment. And did I mention I was sweating too? Well I was, sweating of the cold temperature. I was reluctant to meet her gaze. I hooked my eyes on the newspaper. While I was struggling within myself, a man entered the compartment and sat right next to her. He looked at her, she greeted him with her smile, he smiled in return and then he occupied himself and she resumed reading. I was astounded at that mans ignorance. How did he do that? How did he just ignored the irresistible urge to talk to her and survived the utter depth of her eyes?
I looked at her as she bookmarked her novel, placed it in her lap and pulled a jacket out of her bag. She tucked her hair behind her ears and wrapped herself beneath the warm jacket. She then grabbed her loosened hair and tucked it inside the jacket. I realized that I was reading the same page for too long so I carefully turned to the next page. As she was about to go into reading she looked around briefly and that’s when something happened which sent an intense chill through my veins. She caught me. She looked right into my eyes as I kept gazing at her, lost in her.
As soon as I gained my senses I broke my gaze and pretended reading the paper. I turned two pages in a hustle and raised the paper in order to hide my face. Seconds later I felt someone sitting right next to me as the seat made a peculiar noise. I carefully moved the paper to take a peek; it was her, sitting right next to me, looking at me, with a descent smile on her face. A smile appears more beautiful when it is extended for you, I realized. I folded the newspaper as I knew my cover was blown.
“Hi”, she said in her charming voice which was sweetened by her smile. Her voice resonated in my ears for quite some time and had a long impact on my mind. I was left dumbstruck and I could sense my lips trembling. Her fragrance was intoxicating and I could feel myself possessed by its vigorous scent. It could beat the finest perfume and no earthly flower that I ever came across had such an aroma. Her wiry finger topped with neatly manicured nails tucked her hair behind her ears again which had stubbornly came off.
“Hey?” she said in louder voice assuming I had a problem hearing.
She extended her palm towards me, “My name is Kirti”, she said in an even louder voice.
“Hi”, I responded with my shaky voice, “I am Kartik”
I held her hand and realized that I had never touched such a delicate thing in my life. She had a stain of ink on her palm which stung my eyes.
“So, where are you headed”, she inquired while she tucked her stubborn hair back again.
“Last station”, I said, looking spitefully at that ink stain.
“Hey, that’s where I am headed too”, she chuckled.
“Oh, great”, I was falling short of words for a conversation. We stayed quiet for a while. Meanwhile I was resenting the stain on her palm she broke the silence,
“Yeah, And what about you” I inquired, reluctantly.
“I am expecting someone there. I’ve never been to that part of the city for a long time. And also my schedule is so robust that I barely get anytime to have a good time. So, my friend there thought it would be good for me if I drift my mind elsewhere and give myself a break”
“Oh okay, I hope you have a good time”, I was robbed of words again. I was thinking of anything and everything that I could speak of but unfortunately I couldn’t think of one. I could see her annoyance in her face.
“Hey, I am sorry. It’s just that I don’t speak much. I’ve never been in a healthy conversation for a long time. I have been living in solitude for quite some time and that doesn’t make me much of a talker, if you know what I mean”, I said.
She looked at me with the same charming smile that kept piercing right through my heart while it hammered on my ribcage. She maintained her silence and continued looking at me. It made me nervous.
“What is it?” I asked, finally.
“That’s the longest you have spoken since we started our conversation. I was wondering if there is any chord that must be struck in order to let the man out hiding inside you.” She chortled as soon as she finished speaking.
“Yes, and you definitely struck the right chords” I thought to myself.
My heart was beginning to feel lighter like a hot air balloon as our conversation advanced. I was growing fonder of her. I had never experienced such happiness in my life over a long period of time. I’ve never laughed so heartedly that I had to press my mouth with my palm in order to suppress the noise. Her words passed through my heart before reaching my mind. There was an essence of innocence in her behavior. She looked vibrant as a dove, as if there were no worries in her life. She looked carefree. There was no boundary of unfamiliarity between us. We talked, laughed and got along so well that it was impossible to conceive that we only met minutes ago. I wished that the journey could be never ending. I wished I could spend much time with her so that even the thought about those moments would bring smile in my face in future. But wish is only but an illusion to remind you about the harshness of reality.
I’ve never felt that way before. That feeling, it was something that I’ve never believed to exist. I had fallen in love once; or rather I thought I fell in love. But never before did I felt so weightless. Never before was I so detached from the world or my sick life routine.What was it back then if not love? It was definitely not love, so was it lust? What creates a boundary between the two?
I had never talked that much in my life, laughed like an infant or felt alive like I was flying above the clouds. I had never seen that person in me for the past ten years. Maybe she was right. I hid that person within myself. But now, she liberated him, and I was feeling addictive to that persona of mine.We talked, discussed and debated on various topics; agreed on some, disagreed on others and some topics went unresolved.
She told me about her work, how she hated it. She told me about her little sister, Angel, maybe which was her nickname, I didn’t bother to ask. She told me how much she loved her. They were inseparable and she missed her more than anything else in her life. She told me that she wished to go back home, to meet her little sister, to kiss her forehead and to lay by her side, listening to her stories. To place her palm on her cheeks as they flutter when she talked uninterruptedly. She yearned to tickle her and hear her soul charming giggling. By the time she finished talking, I could see her watery eyes turned pink. Before I could say anything, the shuttle made a humming sound,
“I think that’s our cue”, she chuckled while she turned her head to flick a teardrop from the conjunction of her eyes periphery.
“That’s it, I guess”, I buttoned my jacket and pulled its sleeves tucking the shirt sleeve inside, “I… I have…” I hesitated.
She gave me a raised eyebrow and patted my shoulder to remind me of the time we spent together, as an act of insurance that I don’t have to hesitate anymore.
I cleared my throat, “Kirti, I’ve never had such a good time throughout my life. I don’t know why I am saying this but I never imagined that any moment could be cherished to such an extent. Such an extent that it could be remembered over years. Thank you, Kirti.”
She smiled, “You’ll have more of such moments, Kartik. You are a good man. But just make sure next time you see anyone that you want to talk to, instead of pretending to dig yourself beneath a newspaper, go an meet her”, she chortled with a wink, “Look around you. There are so many things to cherish yourself that by the time you finish counting them you’ll forget what you started with.”
My heart smiled. She pulled her bag and suspended it from her right shoulder, “Have a nice day”, she said while she tucked away the stubborn hair behind her ears, turned over and walked.
I watched her leave, and then I carried myself out of the compartment. She left behind her a persisting fragrance like a cold mesmerizing scent of soil accompanied after a rainfall. I looked for her amidst the heavy crowd of impatient passengers. And I know it wouldn’t be difficult to find a rainbow in the sky. And then, I saw her,and I saw a young man. He hugged her and displayed his affection by lifting her some inches above ground. He greeted her by sticking his lips on her cheeks. He was handsome, tall,and fair with medium short hairs. His eyes were light brown and his nose was flat but long, distancing itself from the lips by some inches. His upper lips were much slimmer than his lower one. His ear lobes were fleshy and he had a stud on one of them too. They looked happy together. He looked happier, and it didn’t surprise me. Maybe I was happier than him minutes ago.
Strangely enough, I was not sad seeing them together, a little heartbroken though. But I consoled myself. I don’t have any reason to be disheartened, I told to myself. Why should I be? She was never mine anyway. But what she gave me within a span of those minutes could be cherished forever. I discovered a new feeling, a new entity within myself, all because of her. What else could I ask for?
I retreated myself and just when I reckoned she was about to turn facing me, I turned over. I imagined her looking for me, maybe to introduce me to his lover. I Imagined her walking towards the exit and looking for me inside the shuttle but I didn’t turned back, I kept walking. I heard her voice, yelling my name from a distance, she saw me or maybe she was just yelling to catch my ears within the crowd. I kept walking, until her voice dissolved in the atmosphere.
When I was little, my mother used to tell me that god created the universe, he created the planets and then he created nature. But when he sensed something missing, he created humanity to adore his creations. Today I learnt something else. God, to keep his creations from falling apart, to keep it intact, he created the most beautiful thing in the world – love. A feeling which I was unaware of until the girl taught me. Love, is not only amongst us, but also the nature. Its love when the sky showers upon the oceans or the moon when it shines upon the land and illuminates it in its darkest hours. It is love when the cold breeze flows against us and gives us an utmost solace.
The most misunderstood feeling, love, is not about togetherness or getting married and having children. It is not about separation and reconciliation. It is not about creating a past or taking a walk together and planning for the future. If only a fraction of minutes could give you the happiness of a lifetime, then that unusual feeling is called love. I knew then, that there is a very thin line between love and lust, when you can quench your thirst by just the fragrance of her body. I was feeling awake and enlightened, but more fortunate to have found love when I met her.