With a bunch of beautiful pink-white-purple flowers in hand; blushing face trying hard to resist a cheerful grin; her eyes playing hide and seek with his through the white veil; slow but steady steps closer to her man who had waited long enough; she looked the most beautiful she would ever look.
The church smelled serene and so did her heart.
He stood upright as she walked down the aisle. He waited, and waited a little more to hold her, kiss her and comfort her through their lives.
Gazing through the ageing eyes, he concentrated hard to believe what he was seeing around. What once was an abandoned ground where hardly anyone ever visited, had turned into a crowded park; gatherings of kids and elderly shared the place and noise in near equal proportion. In the midst of all the chaos, he could still feel the tranquil he had left behind back in his twenties. He could still visualize the infinite landscape all around.
Over time, everything had changed; everything but what he had come in the quest of. Even with all the fanciness and modernization around, still very much there; standing taller, firmer and denser than before; the banyan tree gave him the same affinity. It had matured colossally. He observed it up and down time and again; it was the only familiar entity in the surroundings.
He orbited the mammoth trunk of the tree to locate the clue that he was looking for. He smirked at seeing barely detectable script which only he could spot out of everyone present there in the busy park. It faintly read, ‘Until Then…’!
He sat quietly and started digging damp sand with bare hands.
He couldn’t resist a smile as he was dragged down the memory lane located four decades back.
If gorgeous and handsome were to be defined in a pictorial dictionary, it would certainly have her and his pictures. Individually, they exhibited God’s art of human beauty at its finest; as a couple they were cupid’s best job ever. Stunning bodies, alluring faces, youthful-carefree attitudes, magnetic smiles and chaste souls to top it all, made them an enviable blend.
Today, however, she was a tad different.
She stared down the ground at nothing in particular. He held her chin and made her look into his confidently loving eyes. A couple of tiny tears rolled down her cheeks.
Whistling winds, roaring clouds and ash grey skies boosted the love in the air. In a deserted backdrop, fighting through the leaves and branches of a dense banyan tree, a few rain drops fell on her cheeks and blended with her tears; as if saying, it is going to be fine!
‘I love you Harry!’ she said. Innocence wrapped her words.
‘I know Jenny. I love you too. And that is why we are doing this, right?’ he held her face between his palms.
‘Hmm.’ she went back to staring-at-nothing. Her nervousness was turning into shivers.
Harry enveloped her with his strong arms and kissed her forehead.
‘So, let us revisit our plan once last time. Shall we?’ he said.
‘I will leave for Punjab tomorrow, close the deal in a week, take the money and come back to Goa. We will meet here, right here, under this banyan tree next Sunday, sharp at noon. And the next morning we will see a novel sunrise, together.’ His smile had a hope.
‘Hmm… But I really wish there was a better way to do this.’ She sighed.
‘I wish too. But we are not left with any other choice, are we? And it is not that we haven’t tried, sweetheart.’
‘Hmm.’ was all she could utter.
He continued, ‘Jennifer D’costa weds Harmeet Singh. Do you think they will approve, even in their wildest dream?’
He was right, she knew. Her parents would never approve of her marriage with an orphan musician belonging to other religion especially after her sister’s failed cross religion marriage, which ended up in cheating, misery and tears.
Love at the first sight, they say! For Harry and Jenny, it was Love at the first fight! They were introduced to each other by a common friend four years back at a wedding after having a spat over the universal debate; who is the best- the boys or the girls. Right from their first eye crash, they had the spark. Time had fueled the spark to grow it into a forest fire that had blazed all practicality-sociality and soaked their souls with shower of love that would nourish them forever and above all.
Struggle and eventual failure in making her parents see their love through her heart instead of the society’s perception had made Jenny agree to Harry’s idea of going through with it on their own, alone, for their love’s sake.
Harry had planned to sell his only possession, his ancestral home in Punjab, and shift to Mumbai and start afresh with the love of his life – his lady luck- which, he thought, would change fortunes for his career, as a musician, too.
Breaking into Jenny’s thought stream, Harry pulled out a ring from his pocket and presented in front of her. Harry could see the diamonds shining; one on the ring and others in Jenny’s eyes. Her tears, topped with a smile, resembled the diamond the closest or may be beyond.
‘We will do it your way. In a church, just the way you have envisioned it while you were a little girl.’ Harry said.
Harry bent down to dig a hole close to the banyan tree’s mighty roots. He placed the ring in a little box and the box in the hole. He covered it carefully with the sand and thumped it hard, leaving his finger marks on the ground. He picked up a sharp edged stone and scribed ‘Until Then…’ on the trunk of the tree near where he hid the ring.
The iconic banyan tree had witnessed them cry, laugh, hug, kiss, smile and frown over the years of their togetherness.
‘This place understands our love. We will take the ring out when we meet here next Sunday and head straight to the church and get married before leaving for Mumbai.’ He said dusting his hands off.
‘Hmm… I should go now.’ Jenny said. ‘Dad must be home. I am already nervous and I don’t want to give him any clue about what I am up to.’
‘Yes. We will not meet for a week now. I will see you next Sunday noon, right here. Ok?’ Harry gave her a firm hug that was only what she would have to carry on for a week.
Hardly ten steps away from the tree, Jenny turned around, ‘Harry, I trust you.’
‘I know.’ He said and smiled.
He halted digging sand, and time, on hearing something he never anticipated.
‘Harry?’ the sound felt proverbial to him.
‘That can’t be her.’ He thought before gathering belief and turning around.
His eyes lit up like they never did in last forty years. That was her!
Forty years was the era way beyond what hope can survive.
‘You?’ she said. She was equally flabbergasted.
‘Jenny! Oh Jenny!! Jenny…’ he was too astonished to inch further.
‘Don’t you dare take my name, you cheat!’ she blasted.
‘What? What are you saying? Why? Don’t you trust…’
‘Trust??? She couldn’t even let him finish. Your Sunday never came, you scoundrel! I had loved you with the purest of my heart and you used me, what for? What did you gain? I had betrayed my family to spend my life with you without giving it a second thought. I blind trusted you. And you, rogue, didn’t show up!? So you had a happy life after ditching me, didn’t you?’ Four decades it was, till she had held the volcano within. It deserved a vent.
‘Let me explain, please Jenny.’ Harry was desperate to put his case.
‘What petty excuses have you been lining up in all these years? Shoot!’ she said with folded arms. Even in her sixties, she still possessed the flair and poise.
‘After we met last time, I went back to Punjab to make the deal, which I managed pretty well too. The night before I was going to leave back to Goa, I was raided by some investigating people and, I don’t know how they found some illegal drugs from my bag. I still have no clue how it came there, who planted it and when. I was arrested; I was not even allowed to contact anyone. I so desperately wanted to let you know that I was innocent and though I would not be able to make it on the day and time we decided, I will be there with you as soon as I can. I came here, at this very tree, after spending two years in jail. I also went to your home but only to find that you had shifted to some other city with no traces left behind. I tried every channel to get in touch with you, but failed. I had never felt as helpless in life.’ Harry ran out of breath.
Jenny’s folded arms untied. Suddenly, broken links started hooking themselves in her mind. Her father, a senior CBI officer, was sufficiently influential to achieve what Harry said, with snap of fingers, if he was evil enough to mistreat his powers; that evidently he was.
‘That must have been the reason why about a year after Harry apparently ditched me, dad insisted on getting a transfer to another state.’ Jenny thought.
‘Say something Jenny, please.’ Harry intruded into her thoughts.
‘I am so sorry for what you had to go through and for what I said earlier. I think I know how it happened and who did it.’
‘I know that too.’ Harry was smart enough to decode one of the easiest cases under circumstances.
‘But I am so happy and proud to learn that you tried your best to keep your promise.’ She said.
‘You know what Jenny, deep down I knew we will meet again, some day, somewhere. Over the years, everything has changed, including my love. My love for you; it is not the same, it has increased immensely.’ He said getting closer to her.
She smiled straight from heart, in ages.
‘You must have your own family, kids and may be grandkids. I understand and respect that. It was me who unintentionally, stranded you. You had the right to move on. But I could not. I did not marry. How could I marry someone without a heart when I had left it with you?’
‘Really?!!!’ Jenny’s eyes lit up. ‘Me too. I feel so lucky for my decision to shift back to Goa with my brother’s family.’ She said.
Now was the time for Harry’s eyes to sparkle.
He wasted no time and turned back to digging sand. Even in his sixties, he did it with the energy of a teenager. After few minutes of hopeful excavation, he discovered an old, dusty box that seemed no less than a priceless treasure to him.
He opened the box and found the ring as safe as it could be in world’s safest vault. The custodian had kept it away from the eyes of the world with great finesse.
Harry looked up to the tree and bid a Thank You. With the wind, swing of leaves acknowledged.
Harry turned to Jenny.
Down on one knee, with the ring in his hand, he asked for her hand.
‘Jenny, I might have been a little late or may be more than that, but what it has done is only increase my desire to be with you. It has made me love you even more with every passing day. There has not been even a single day in these forty years when I have not craved to do what I am doing right now. I must have done something good in my last birth to deserve meeting and falling in love with you in this; and I must have been good enough in this lifetime to be able to see you back after an unbounded void. When I imagined doing this in my dreams a million times, I never imagined my heart thumping as fast as it is right now.’
He sighed and continued, ‘Jenny, I Love You! Would you, please forgive me for keeping you waiting for a little while, and give me a chance to make it up to you by allowing me to craft each today of your life more beautiful than the yesterday?’
He extended the ring closer to her with a hopeful smile.
A tear rolled down Jenny’s eyes on to Harry’s hand that held hers.
‘This would be your last tear in this life, I promise.’ He kissed the tear. ‘Marry me?’
Jenny nodded with a choked throat and teary smile. Their love had aged like wine.
The ring, after hindrance of decades, found the purpose of her existence as Harry slid her in Jenny’s finger.
With a bunch of beautiful pink-white-purple flowers in wrinkled hands, blushing face trying hard to resist a cheerful grin through creased cheeks, her slack eyes playing hide and seek with his through the white veil, slow but steady steps closer to her man who had waited long enough, she looked the most beautiful she would ever look. The church smelled serene and so did her young heart.
With vaguely bent back, he stood as upright as he could as she walked down the aisle. He waited, and waited a little more to hold her in his wobbly arms, kiss her and comfort her through the rest of their lives.
‘I Do!’ she said.
‘I Do!’ he said.
Their moist eyes collided, hands wrapped each other, smiles merged and so did their lips.