Burning

When Nivedita came of age, her mother tried to set her up with a colleague's son. Said colleague had three sons and was in a hurry to get the eldest one married because the second son already had a girlfriend and was in a hurry to settle down. Nivedita didn't understand this hurry to settle down. She sought romantic love. At the behest of her mother she, however agreed to meet the eldest one. The colleague's family had invited Nivedita's parents to a religious ceremony at a temple near their place. Nivedita, awkwardly draped one of her mother's saris and tied her hair back. She surprised herself at how grown she appeared.

In the temple's courtyard, the colleague's family entertained numerous friends and family. Nivedita and the eldest son were introduced quite cordially and they spoke for not more than a few minutes. It didn't feel special, except for the newness of faces and voices, nothing underneath outstood. 

The matter fizzled out. Noone mentioned it again. A few months later, Nivedita heard that the prospect got married. To some nice homely girl. A year later, they had a son. Nivedita, moved on. She changed jobs, she switched cities and faced the obvious and not so obvious nuisances of life. On a quiet ordinary afternoon, she got a call from her mother.

Her mother called almost every afternoon, there was nothing unusual about that. But the conversation that followed chilled her very bones. There had been an accident. The colleague's daughter-in-law had burned herself in a gas leak. She was in the ICU and was battling for her life. Her son was only three years old. Nivedita was shocked beyond words. 

A few days later, she heard that the daughter-in-law had died. Everyone knew she was going to die, the way she had been charred. Nivedita kept thinking about the little motherless boy. The story she heard was that the daughter-in-law turned on the gas in the morning without suspecting a leak and caught fire immediately. The husband tried to save her and sustained some burns. The boy woke up after hearing the screams but they managed to throw him out of the kitchen and he escaped unhurt. 

The little boy was sent to live with his grandparents so that his father could grieve properly. He took a second wife a year later and  continued to live in the same house. The little boy grew up at his grandparents and visited his father and step mother rarely. 

Nivedita's mother made sure she got every step of the story correct. All the happenings in the life of someone whose wife she might have been, were relayed to her religiously and without mercy. Nivedita, however, couldn't handle the shock even after it reached her third or fourth hand. She kept imagining many random things. But mostly, she kept mentally gasping about how narrowly she had escaped death. 

Had she married that man, she would have died a terrible death. So everytime she turned off the gas, she double checked, triple checked, went back to the kitchen and checked again, and then one more time. 

Progression

Children disappear
Dust settles on furniture
House plants dry
Parents wither and fall off trees like old fruit
Marriages break
Hearts age, astonishingly fast and then slow
Dishes are washed and kept away
Wardrobes fill up with unwearable clothes
Adult coloring books, wait
Love is, forgotten
Diseases come, and go, but not totally
A bit of us dies, everyday
Little bit, but yes
We get new bodies every seven years, you know, albeit our loss be undeniable
What is lost, is never found again
Grass looks lush, only on the other side
Mornings rise, we run incessantly
Hoping that we will forget our morbid truths
But we can't, we're built to persist, blindly
Therefore, everything else disintegrates
Only we stay
Then, one day, without whine or warning
We die, forever and for good.


Filth

Suddenly there's filth everywhere
Hair, colossal clumps of it that am losing
Hair on bedsheets, on the floor, ubiquitous
Dust in all corners
On tables, window ledges, railings
Gossamer under the bed
Clothes piles over piles
Not one fold in place
The wardrobes smell
And no amount of camphor helps
Empty bottles here and there
Strips of medicines scattered
Creams and deoderants, tilted and leaking
The sun filters in through curtains
It's so bright, the filth can't go unseen
And I
Post partum, body aching in parts
Sitting among this raw filth
And meditating about what is

Monsoon Baby

Baby clothes need the sun. Like they really need the sun. But monsoon baby chose to be born in the monsoon. It wasn't strange, I knew he would be a monsoon baby I mean I was due in July so obviously he wouldn't be born in the summer at all. But all seasons are summer, except the peak of winter I guess. So baby clothes of the one born in monsoon didn't get much sun. I wondered why we didn't have those washing machines that dried clothes to the hilt instead of just wringing them dry with still thirty percent moisture. I mean what is the meaning of that. Just because we are a hot country, can't we have those special washing machines. But anyway. It was monsoon when he was born. And a lot of summer too. So monsoon baby's mama, in post partum sat with her swollen body and pained knees and breastfulls of milk, sweating and crying. Sweating and crying, both without a break that she confused which was which. One couldn't crank up the AC you know because, monsoon baby is a baby and could catch a cold. Or is the monsoon baby so tiny that the cold would have to catch it instead. But either way, monsoon mama sat sweating for what seemed like months. To begin with monsoon granmaa washed all baby clothes with baby detergent and soaked them with in dettol and wrung them as much as possible with her arthritic hands. The sun did a bit of the drying and then it started raining and the fans were stuck with the rest of the job. Fuck the heating iron, thought monsoon mama. I mean just fuck it. Whoever has time to iron baby clothes now. We are all dying with lack of sleep and the sun hasn't practically set for weeks and the monsoon baby doesn't know day from night and doesn't sleep. So fuck the heating iron, just fuck it.

Thirty-two

I am thirty-two
I love pottery, DIY and bread
Red wine, summer dresses and Kohl
And wood block painting, of course

I am thirty-two
And beginning to love my glorious body
Magician of a kind, nurturer, medium for life
Hope, by next year or so, I love my soul too, if not as much

I am thirty-two
And I am giving myself chances
Every now and then
Writing, sometimes, keeping a journal of sorts

I am thirty-two
And I can't repeat this enough
Because I've aged like wine
Bottled up, rich, real and scarlet

I am thirty-two
And I cry, crumble, scatter
Into a million particles, ashamed
Wanting to undo my past, erase my future

I am thirty-two
And yet, I haven't found my feet
Probably never will
Still, I tell myself, hold on today

Bender

I jerked awake at ten part three. Like something had happened. Or I was falling in my dreams. I turned to the left. Her side of the bed was untouched.

She must be watching TV in the hall. We had abided by the cliched rule book that said no TV in the bedroom. I checked both bathrooms and then walked to the balcony. The sky was dark with flashes of white. Everything was so still, and quiet, for an instant I forgot that I had searched the entire house and she was nowhere.

She, who was out for drinks and was supposed to have returned not later than midnight. Assuming she was too drunk to drive and had stayed at a friend's place, I tried her cellphone. The call wouldn't get through.

Over the years, she had coached me how not to panic in moments like these. There was a simple alternate explanation behind everything. Let's not assume the worst. I sat down with a glass of water on the couch and started mentally filtering her friends. Simultaneously I checked my phone to see if I had any of their numbers. I didn't know which gang she was out with. Was it her erstwhile work group or the friends from university.

To begin with, we met each other's friends. But it got tough as the years went by. We would end up fighting after each such get together. Seemingly all her friends were doing better. When she met mine, she thought I expected her to behave in a  certain way. Probably I did and she felt rather cagey. So meeting respective friends separately made more sense. That's why I didn't know anyone in the circles she did rounds in. And that meant I had nobody to call in the middle of the night.

I tried reaching her phone several ways. Left a couple of messages for her. Her phone could have run out of charge. I don't think she was carrying a charger. I must have dozed off after pacing the hall a dozen times.

I was up again at about half past five. The sun had just risen. Yellow light streamed in through the gaps in the curtains. The milkman came, then came the newspaper guy, followed by the maid. The cook came and made us two cups of tea assuming her to be in the bathroom or something. It was a painful reminder that I had to find her.

I looked up some old chats on my phone and recovered the number of one of her friends. After calling a few more people I understood that she had left the party at ten like she was supposed to. She had left alone telling everyone that she was sober enough to drive.

We didn't spy on each other. Atleast I didn't. I knew spouses tracked phones and locations via Google. We weren't just upto it. Too much work. If either of us wanted to fool around, considering we knew certain boundaries, it was alright.

It was quite probable that she had gone on a bender. You know, a bender. Like a proper one. She didn't drink much. But she could drink like a fish if she wanted to. An  entire bottle of wine in one sitting and with shots of tequila in between. That sort of thing. And she loved smoking. She could have got totally stoned and gone into hiding. Booked a hotel room somewhere and gone radio silent.

I kept making calls until I figured I absolutely had to call her mother. We hadn't spoken in years. There was too much animosity to even attempt to have an acquaintance. But she could have flown to see her. She had never done anything wild like that in the past. But you never know people. Her mother didn't pick up the phone. May be she had changed numbers. Or she hadn't saved mine and didn't recognize it.

As the afternoon came by, it got scary. I locked the apartment and went downstairs. Some movie plots came to mind. May be they would find her car somewhere with her nowhere nearby. And then they would find her, a few days after.

I thought of approaching the police. That was the one final resort after all. They might suspect me for all I care. I might have made her disappear for insurance money. You know, they suspect spouses first in such cases. Or months will go by and the police would get nowhere. Until one day, suddenly I would get a call. All kinds of things came to mind. I couldn't tame my thoughts anymore.

Perhaps the marriage got too much to handle. But I gave her a lot of space. There would be days when wouldn't talk if we didn't feel like. I respected her privacy, never checked phones, messages, mail, bank accounts, nothing.

Perhaps that was the problem. Too much space had translated into a void and she felt no affection at all. Therefore she abandoned me and ran.

After considering all options, I came to the verge of concluding that she was on a bender after all. Just then..

Dalliance


He came in at 3:30 in the morning. In the night. Julie must have opened the door. Usually I would set an alarm for that sort of thing. To wake up and usher him in. But somehow, I hadn’t. It was a Saturday. I woke up much after 9, by that time he was up and about in the house. In the tiny balcony with pigeon nests and the potted croutons, in the living room by Julie’s recent cacti. Julie had shaken me awake when she left for work.

“He’s here bitch!”

“What? Who?”

“Oh c’mon. Your lover. Boyfriend. One night stander. Whatever you two are calling it”, she whispered.

A lot of reality sunk in. My chest felt heavy, filled with smoke, dry and sorrowful. I shut my eyes and smashed my face on the pillow, attempting to sleep for another half an hour or so.

My room was still dark, only streaks of sunlight entered through the gaps in our deep maroon curtains. I heard her walk out and shut the door close, softly. I heard her make an excuse to the person outside, probably sitting on the cane chair in the living room, which was the only place to sit in there in our minimalistic nine hundred square feet two-bedroom. Apart from the guest mattress on the floor where he most probably had slept his early morning off.

After that, probably around 10, I walked out of my room toothbrush in hand, eyes still closed. Mouth still foul. I heard him the kitchen. He was fumbling around a little bit. Probably looking for material to make tea. Those soft sounds made that heaviness in my chest return. I walked up to the kitchen threshold. He turned to look at me.

After three weeks, we had met again. After our previous one day dalliance. After what four or five years of an on and off unpleasant and yet wildly tumultuous almost one-sided affair. From my one-side. Three weeks ago, he had met me to tell me, he was serious about it all. That was when he was taking off for an assignment and now he was on the way back. He had routed both his to and fro journeys through my city. Suddenly, I was the only woman. That incident, of the telling me so, had made me irreversibly nervous with joy immediately. But sometime after all that joy had reversed.

“I don’t think we have got milk. It was my turn to get the milk, I am sure I forgot”

We didn’t have a fridge, a few months ago the old one went so bad we had to sell it and never got around to buying a new one.

“We don’t have a fridge, we buy everything once in two days, and everything goes bad”

“Let’s go buy a fridge then”

I put the brush in my mouth and half smiled at him.

“There must be milk powder, here somewhere”

I pointed to the sugar and tea packets and pulled out the sauce pan from the pile of clean utensils and went back to brushing my teeth.

I turned away from him to shut my eyes and remember what he looked like a moment ago. He was in khakis and a button down shirt. He didn’t wear a sweater or a jacket anything. His sleeves were rolled up to the elbows, I could see his fair hands. The sun shone orange on his chin. Bits of beard stood on his cheeks. There was no goatee. His pants were rather loose. Or maybe they were alright. I needed to assess them again. His feet were flatter than regular people’s feet. His toes almost made him look perched, like a bird. His toe nails were translucent, thick and clear. Unlike mine which always had tiny bits of nail paint stuck on them, weeks sometimes months old. I was wrapped in a shawl. It covered my loose onesie sleeping dress with animal prints, elephants and giraffes and rhinoceroses. I wondered what he must think about that.

I reentered the kitchen after wiping my face dry, with the face towel strung over my shoulders. The tea was boiling by then. I saw him again. He was smiling more now.

“Good morning to you”, he said smirking, as if to ensure that I was totally up.

“To you too”

“I leave at 4:30”

“Oh”

“My flight back is at 4:30, so I would clear your house by 2:30, is what I meant”

“Julie likes you, you can stay longer if you want”

“I like Julie too, decent girl”

“I am sure you two would make each other very happy”

“Yeah and so would her Dubai based fiancé, I should hope”

“Oh, she told you”

“Yes of course, had a nice chat with her in the morning. We talked every day and how come you never told me she’s getting married in three months”

“No, we didn’t talk every day. And I didn’t think you would like to know, too much information.”

“But I would like to know if I am getting married in three... seven months”

My mind felt hollow, the foul smell in my mouth had returned. He focused his eyes on me, while I pretended to strain the tea into the cups. I handed him over his cup, making sure our fingers didn’t touch. I cupped mine, trying to absorb all that warmth into my ice cold fingers.
I took a sip of mine, it was milky and sweet. The way I liked my tea, the way I had told him a dozen times I liked my tea and about the severe importance of tea in my mornings and afternoons. He was still holding his cup by the handle, he hadn’t started sipping it yet. As if he was waiting for some kind of answer. A few minutes into the act, almost exhausted by the tension of waiting for my answer, he resumed being normal.

When he had told me three weeks ago that he wanted us to get married, I had told him I didn’t believe in proposals. They sounded very archaic, very Jane Austen. He had never read Jane Austen, and I was very sure a man like him liked his answers in yeses and nos. Not similes and metaphors. Definitely not quotations of great fiction. Pushed further by my continuing silence back then, he had asked me to think about it. Like seriously consider.

I had tried very hard to cover my shock and awe. My temples were hot, my hands were cold, and my heart was going wild. We were at the coffee shop just outside the airport. I had gone to see him off. Just like he had come to see me off when I had been to his place. It had been a cloudy and dull day. I had taken the day off. My phone was getting inundated with calls from work which I had to take because I was their slave. But now when I wanted the phone to ring, the bloody call never came. He was holding my hands under the table, subtly so that people wouldn’t stare at us. And he asked me again.

I, rattled with my passive aggressive shit, told him he didn’t have a ring. How was that even considered a proposal? Doesn’t he watch romantic comedies? The smile from his face vanished. He was angry now. I had hurt him. He had the upper hand now. The color of his eyes changed, the length of his breaths stretched. His tone changed when he spoke next. This love was a constant power struggle, a tireless battle of egos.

“What kind of ring would you like?” he had asked in a bossy commanding kind of way.

“That’s beside the point.”

He hadn’t even told me that he loved me. All that had felt very weird. I, who with all her conviction knew that I loved him deeply, which was probably a serious infatuation to begin with but had rapidly turned into a serious attraction and then into love in a matter of days. I had been in love with him through days and weeks and months, even when he had vanished from my life, even when he had forgotten me for other things, I had waited for him desperately through all that. That moment I was happy too, despite being terrified and in between I felt so full with that joy, so overwhelmed that I felt I would rupture. But I didn’t know how to behave. I must have emanated very contrasting signals.

“Let’s go and buy a ring now, we can do that”, he said sounding normal, less angry.

“You will miss your flight”

He could have said he didn’t care. I would have loved to go shopping anyway. I have never been with anyone to the airport who had missed a flight. I was very punctual and careful. Never missed a flight bus or train. This could be exciting. In that instant, had he bought me a ring I would have said yes. Back calculating from the posterity we always project ourselves into, I would like to think so. But he had said that the next time he would get me a ring definitely. For sure, without fail.

We had parted that day rather confused, me particularly in sort of a daze. Had he been planning on revealing what he did and asking what he wanted of me, he would have been relieved but I was too perturbed to even answer. My past came rolling back at me.

I had taken the bus back from the airport even though he had insisted on putting me in a cab. It was just afternoon, there was no need to take a cab, it costed thrice as much. It was a long ride in the bus, I had cried amongst strangers who appeared as if they couldn’t see me cry and wipe my tears away and then cry again and repeat.

I imagined him in his flight, quietly reading his thin travel books, not books on travel, but thin books that he bought just because they could be finished within the span of two flights, one book for every journey, half on the onward, and half on the return. I imagined him on his stop over. In strange airports, in new cities, amongst people who looked very alien. Alien air, alien water, longing for the familiarity of home. I imagined him listening to songs. Imitating singers in his soft husky whispering voice, sometimes. And I held myself back from crying. I obviously couldn’t marry him. We had been through a lot of shit. This was just not feasible.

More so because I had found out a lot more than I would like on that visit. He had swiftly converted into a man of clay from a man of dreams. His fissures were only too visible. His flaws real and within reach. His gaunt face within reach to be plundered with my kisses warned me of all the past he had been through. I warned myself to tread lightly, to tread with tremendous caution because he seemed fractious and anything I might attempt may crumble him, just. I was so frozen with restraint, I just sat that and observed him, go on and on.

He held me in his arms, and we had sex a few times but I was so much in stupor that I couldn’t break out of it. He asked me to snap out of whatever it was keeping me but I was clearly rendered unable to. He re-narrated stories from his childhood but somehow the humor from those had vanished. Unlike the first times over phone when he had narrated them and I had laughed and laughed and fallen for him, this time his telling me in person felt charmless, serious. For instance, how once he had mistakenly seen his father conducting an operation on one of his patients had battered him as a child and he couldn’t stop puking. Or how he had driven their new car with his mother to test drive the thing and they had gotten lost, finding their way out after half a day and running out of petrol. I didn’t know why I had been amused earlier but then I couldn’t just see it anymore. It was the shock of reality that went on.

Earlier that day in my room we had opened the bottle of wine he had brought for me, his first gift of any kind and perhaps the last too and we swigged it from paper cups and then when we were very drunk, directly from the bottle. Julie had excused herself for the entire weekend like a conscientious flat mate and we had cooked a meal together or two, before deciding to order food, Chinese, Thai, whatever I had in my whims and fancies. He entertained me, he tried. But somehow he seemed to have a shortfall. Sometimes he failed by thin margins, sometimes by large irrecoverable ones.

Probably I was too much into myself. But then I asked him about Cora, his college girlfriend. We had never brought her into our conversations. She was beyond reach, just like the few boys from my past. But now Cora had risen from the past. And he would have to spill the beans about her. It turned out Cora was not just limited to college and they had continued seeing her for a couple of years after graduating. She was vivacious and pretty, he showed me an old photo of theirs on his phone. They both looked sheepish and sleepy in their sweatshirts, almost like twins because they were both lanky, almost equally. They looked as if they were drunk with love.

“So why did you two put an end to it?”

“It was mostly the working in separate cities that did it, primarily. Also she was really into a new colleague when she had just started working”

“Oh my gosh, were you jealous?” I stressed on my surprise. Because he played as the cool chap all the time. His emotions under his control, firmly. He never broke down, barely even fumbled. But the color of his face changed on the mention of this.

“Not exactly. But she was far too ahead with him to even look back at us and regret”

“Oh you poor baby” I mocked him very sarcastically, because I was quite high.

He forced his mouth on mine and bit my lips hard and wouldn’t stop until I apologized. I was afraid it would leave a mark and I would be embarrassed to step out. But it left no such mark. I had made him sad reminding him of all that. Just to balance the scales I told him about a certain someone in my past as well. Someone I had briefly seen, over half a dozen encounters a few years ago. For a few months wherein I had been temporarily abandoned by my permanent paramour. He laughed and continued working on some more bites I would be embarrassed about in the coming week.

Even with the scales assumed to have been balanced, something didn’t feel right. Upon probing further, it dawned upon me that he met Cora several times when I was even so desperately flirting with him. He justified that he was always looking for some sort of closure with her because she was his first and he always wanted to make sure there was nothing left, not even the slightest, before walking away.

I could have spilled some more truths to balance the scales on that as well. I had engaged in a friendly romance with a friend for a couple of weeks, but not to explore any untaken chances. Only merely to fill the vacuum that newly begotten youth had got me. But I believed this wouldn’t go down well, if I told him about that friend. You never know how territorial men could get. And if he was territorial, or anything of that sort, some secrets were better kept sealed.

“So where is Cora now? Are you guys keeping in touch?” I pinched him again.

“Should I? Do you want me to?” he retorted, sounding authoritative.

“I don’t want to get into your business. But you never know, if you left their some chances unexplored. What if there might be something, I wouldn’t want you to blame me years later saying that ‘Why didn’t you tell me to check with Cora one last time’ and what would I do...”

He cut me off suddenly by asking “So you intend to be with me years later

“Haven’t I been always there? Except when you have brushed me aside me for women from the past, or other newer hotter women, or work commitments, or family affairs, or your friends, or women from the past, or newer hotter…”

I suddenly realized I was wailing. Very loudly, my throat hurt, how loudly I was crying. He held me on his lap and comforted me by pushing me into a ball but my crying wouldn’t stop. I thought I would free myself from his clasp and run, but there was nowhere to go. I gave in and couldn’t stop crying either.

“I have loved you, always. Always, through my entire fucking life. Since the day I met you. I have loved you”, I heard myself loudly confessing. All the drinking had done the trick. I couldn’t see his face because I was looking away, we were both looking in the same direction, at the walls. “But what have you done to me…”

“It’s okay, it’s gonna be okay, baby”, he whispered and smothered my neck with kisses from behind.

Shortly after I must have fallen asleep. I must have passed out for two hours or more. I could feel the cramps in several parts of my body, I woke up with a jolt and sat cross legged on the bed. I must have scared the fuck out of him. He must be petrified, oh my god.

He was behaving too normally. He looked happy in fact. I had not the slightest idea what had transpired in his head. He looked up from his phone.

“It’s time, I have to call a cab to the airport”

“Is it that late?”

“No, it’s just after 3. You wanna come see me off?”

“Will you pay my return cab fare?”

He smiled and pressed his palm on my forehead. It felt cool, a shiver almost went down my limbs.

“What are we doing!? I will go wash my face and change” I left in a hurry.

I splashed a lot of water on my face, still the heaviness won’t go.

When I came out he must have guessed my situation. “We will get you some coffee at the airport café or something. I am sure the airport must have something nice”, he said sounding irreversibly posh.

“I’m not so sure” I said trying to bail myself out of it.

From inside the cab, the highway to the airport shone in the filtered sunlight from a cloudy sky. The monsoon had not retreated properly. The clouds wore a dirty white color and appeared ominous. It felt as if the rain was waiting.

“I think I left my umbrella at home” I said rummaging through my handbag. He appeared pensive. Almost borderline lost. “What is it?” I asked him.

“What is what?”

“What is wrong with you?” I quickly repeated “What on earth is wrong with you?” I sounded more concerned the second time.

“Nothing is wrong. Although it looks like it’s going to rain. Too bad about that umbrella”

I laughed nervously. Attempting to keep him going in the conversation. But he continued to stare out the window. Had I succeeded in completely alienating him by my nonsensical intoxicated blabber earlier.

“This is not our usual Sunday afternoon traffic. Usually there is more. Much more”

“Oh, is there?”

“Yes I mean the cab barely moves. Also, we are hardly inside the city anymore. This is practically outskirts.”

For a minute there, he retreated and looked at me. In a manner that almost felt condescending. In a way to warn me to keep away with my fake attempts at conversation. To give up trying to trivialize what had happened earlier.

I felt depressed in there. Couldn’t wait for us to reach the airport. I almost nudged the driver on the shoulder to drive faster. I looked up the cafes at the airport on my phone, to be sure that there were no good ones.

“Like I said, no good café at the airport. I think I should just come back ASAP and have my coffee at home. Julie will be back by then. I am sure I can exploit her love for me to make me a good cup that will help me with the hangover. I after all am the broken hearted one, amongst the two of us...” I giggled hopelessly.

This time he looked at me. His eyes were between anger and sympathy. A terrible intermingling of emotions that.

“I just want to retract whatever I said earlier. I do not love you. You wouldn’t have taken me seriously I am sure. These things happen when a girl drinks so much wine”. I was meted out cold silence again.

I rolled down the windows to get in some air, casually warning the driver to turn off the AC. The cool air got into my lungs and breathed back some strength into me. “I am sure, you haven’t taken me seriously.”

I touched him behind his neck, squeezing a bit of his flesh between my fingers and in a way forcing him to look at me. I could feel the dryness in my face, my eyes singed from any lack of focus, my movements still not sober.

He appeared to be deep in thought. As if taking one serious decision after another or weighing something against something else. He looked worried, for the years I had known him to be, the man he is, he appeared worried. His eyebrows squeezed up dividing his forehead into lines. His eyes looked somewhat exhausted. He put his arm around me in the seat of the cab and brought me closer.

“Okay. Alright.”

“What is alright?”

“No I haven’t taken you seriously at all.”

“Good to know. Now we can get back to indulging in what we are good at”

“And what might that be?”

“You exploring chances with Cora perhaps and I writhing in self-concocted pain of heartbreak” I sank into his arms saying this. I couldn’t believe how loosely I was behaving. It was the alcohol perhaps. I chugged in some water and relapsed into his arms. I smelled his shirt, played with his collar, his buttons. I waltzed into a half sleep.

He woke me up when we drove into the airport. I went inside. He still had a lot of time, he had web checked in and everything. He found a decent coffee shop and none of my naysaying would work on him.

We sat down and shortly before getting up to leave, he asked me the question. Then he left.
For three weeks, my recently converted two sided love affair stifled me. It shouldn’t have. Why should it? Isn’t this what I had expected? Isn’t this the best that could happen? We were finally settled to see this through.

But this made me awkward and uncomfortable. Julie told me that it was going to be alright. Obviously she was enormously happy for me, for us both, as she pointed out. But there was something ashen about her expression that made me think deeper and deeper until I lost all track of what I was thinking.

He had called me to let me know that he would return through my city in a few weeks, and on the way back would like to know what I felt. The timeline made me dread. He was calm about the entire goings on. He had come out of his shell for a sometime only, probably in the cab to the airport when he had been stuck in indecision and had expressed worry on his face. But soon after he had said whatever it was he had been weighing for or against, quietly passed the ball to my court and retreated into his shell. Inert, as he always had been to the turmoil of short-lived romance.

But my angst of unrequited love had suddenly and uncontrollably transformed into anger. We might have never made it to this point. Given my chronic shyness, had he been even marginally more ignorant of me, we would have never made it to this point. And at that point I was too stoic to let any other force get the better of me. I loathed how my fates had turned thanks to a sliver of chance. And I regretted it. It was very ironical, but I was going to refuse to him.

Obviously, he might think I was just trying to play hard to get. And if he did try hard, he might eventually get to it. But till then, I was refusing to jump to any conclusions. So I didn’t answer him in the three week interval. He even went out to buy a ring apparently and asked me if there was anything specific I wanted. I didn’t budge in my indifference.

And he’s finally here. In my apartment making tea. Giving me a timeline again by when he would leave.

“Do you want to see the ring? I got it on Tuesday. I would have sent you a photo. But wanted to show in person.”

At that point he held my hands and kissed me. I looked at him in the eyes and told him we could keep the ring for later.

“How was your trip?” I asked.

“Same old, same old. Except that this time I experienced every minute of it what you had been feeling for years”

He sounded honest. Distraught even. Like he had shrunk my years of suffering into a span of three weeks and undergone it all.

“If only such fast forwards were possible!” I said, trying to sound indignant.

“Do you want me to beg?”

“Won’t be such a bad idea. But I wouldn’t recommend it”

We were getting nowhere this way. I took a shower and decided we should get some brunch. Considering it was too early for lunch.

“And you can get moving to the airport from the restaurant”

He looked perplexed and confused because he was trying to hide it. I told myself there is no going back on this. If I was letting him go, this was it. This was what I was supposed to do. Push him away for good.

I kept on going about my banter about films and books and my artsy friends. About places in the city that were a must go to. Probably, he should try them out the next time he is here. He gave me blank expressions that didn’t suit him and made him appear like a completely different person, someone I couldn’t recognize. He spoke in bits about his family. His mother, his brother, their small-town house. We had ordered a lot of food. There was some that I would pack and take for Julie I told him, the rest had to be left at the table. I offered but he paid. We stood out in the shade of the parapet, he had his small trolley with him. We were stranded in mid-September heat.

He appeared weak, vulnerable. A gust of warm wind came and blew my hair astray. He sized my face up in his hands and cupped my cheeks and smiled faintly.

“For posterity”

I didn’t stop him. He had accepted my refusal. Together with whatever repercussions it might beget.

“Since I see no point in my staying further, I think, it’s time to hail that cab”

We hugged. I squeezed the flesh behind his neck for a bit and condensed that moment to be a source of warmth for emptier years to come. Then he left and never explored our chance again.