It‘s odd how it all started, how my fate, my destiny entangled with hers’. It started with a bet.
We were sitting under the big neem tree in college: ‘Kutti suvar’ the lecturers used to call, a place restricted for the outcasts, misfits. Classrooms were only for imbeciles.
I was doing what we usually do: bunk class, award marks to girls, their face, their figure, visit canteen by noon, play cricket or basketball, visit Babu Cinemas. Obviously we did everything except of course studying.
“Eight”, Kumar said examining a girl.She wasn’t even close to the average girl whom I dated previous week.
I voiced out my opinion. They all said: I was being cocky, there were girls whom I could not get and I was just a flashy advertisement.
I laughed it off.
But they persisted; one said he will buy booze for the rest of the college years if I got a girl, a real girl and not a diva picked up from a bar, not a babe from a discotheque.
How else you provoke someone as reckless as I was: You bruise their ego. And they did just that.
“Who”, I asked.
“Sandhya from second year.”
"A junior girl? Come on guys..."
Sandhya Rajagopalan, the witch with an angelic aura, an angel with a witch like spell.
I did not know she had the gargantuan record of rejecting 84 proposals flat in a month, even if I had known I wouldn’t have listened; I was obviously cocky back then as my friends said.
The trap was set.
How foolish, how naïve and blind I was?
Where’s my manuscript: my first question as I woke up to the realization that I haven’t died yet.
The perfect ending still eluded me.
The nurse had no clue.
“I can’t…”, my bruised lip pained “...Can’t lose that…”. Yes I can’t, it was my four years life.
“Please…Take it easy, Mister... You shouldn’t strain…” She said looking worriedly at the equipment that began to beep hysterically.
“Can you please look for it?”
“Sure, I will. Please relax… May be that woman knows”.
“She admitted you here. It’s been 6 days, she came back here 3, 4 times. ”
“The woman with the kid? Pink sleeveless kurti?”
“Yes… So you know her?
No, I did not.
I only knew her name, her form but not her.
Her clothes, islands of tired protectors, slept in awkward positions on the floor. The room was dimly lit though it served its purpose: I knew where she was, she had darkness to slip into.
The looming separation should have done the trick as the college days were coming to a close. Though I didn't think about the dangerous waters of life I was about to be pushed into in two months which she seemed to know everything about. She should have known that she won't see me everyday and there won't be any cushion to fall back on, take it easy and love one another all day when the matters of survival and life grabs you by the throat. I honestly had no clue, I never thought further than a day. She knew these two months and the remaining moments were all she had which she had to preserve in memory for the days, weeks, months she won't see me. And she was making sure she has best of the moments.
As for me, I did not know why I wanted her: the bet of free booze did not matter anymore, I obviously never thought of marriage and a life with her, as I said I never thought far, I also had no intention of wrecking her life and I wasn’t even fancying a night’s pleasure.
What was I doing then, what I was thinking I had asked myself later? I never knew.
I looked at her.
A sculpture of a Greek goddess on bed.
“Dangerous curve ahead”, the road sign I saw made perfect sense.
Silence lay between us as if it had formed an invisible boundary, as if a flimsy wall was slowly forming, growing between us. We have just parted from our confluence falling apart like burning meteorites, falling back to our sides of the bed moments before.
I hoped she spoke something, that’s what most of the women I pick up from bars and discotheques do. To talk…To talk a hell lot…
Was she feeling embarrassed?
I imagined her getting dressed up and leaving. It would at least save me from these lulls of silences, the uncomfortable silences that …
“Shomy…” she called out, with a husky, mellow voice drenched with a generous coat of intimacy. I have wondered many times and don't know where girls come with such stupid pet names. But I liked what she called me, how she called me.
If she even called me a pig, an ugly mule in that voice I would have taken it.
“My Pumpkin…” I turned towards her.
Sandhya- Morning. Shyam – Evening. How did I miss, I should have known.
Mornings and evenings never met, they are poles apart.
I touched her. Again.
The curls of the strands of her hair that fell beyond her shoulders looped and looped like an endless maze entangling my fingers.
I drew them to the side. Her bare back: sandal hued, velvety and oddly flat quite contrary to her other well-contoured, highly curved side enticed me.
My anxious fingers started its curious sojourn.
“What is this?” I asked probing a mark - brown, old and fading, clinging on her skin like a dried skeleton of a leaf beneath her left shoulder bone, straight in line with the heart that thuded in her ribcage.
“My cousin brother’s gift…”
“Gift? Sounds like a cool dude…”
“Cool? Huh...You boys…” She should have made a face, but I couldn’t see.
“What did he do?”
“Went to his home... Think it was a summer holiday… We were so close when we were kids… He acted all sweet... Shared his toys, chocolates, let me play with his dog and all that… “
“Suddenly he asked whether I wanted to play in the swing… There was a big mango tree in the garden and a rope was tied in a branch… I said yes...”
“We went… He said he would push…I sat on the swing… You know he was so sweet... I decided by then to give all the crayons I had..."
“Pushed you too hard and you fell…”
“No, the rope was half torn… The psycho knew all the while...His idiotic idea of a prank….”
“Ha ha ha… Really… Sounds like a cool man…”
“Ughhh! Never... He was a total nutso…"
The curious sojourn of my fingers continued all the while. They ran over her back, browsing through the shoulder bones, drawing invisible lines, tracing her spine up and down while we spoke.
"I fell on a stone... My yellow shirt was red before I knew it… Didn’t speak to that dog after that…”
“I get it… It must have really hurt you…”
“No… I mean I did not speak to him for 20 years.…”
“Twenty years? For a prank? That’s way too much..."
“You wouldn’t know what it made me feel back then… mom, dad, uncle, aunty and everyone persuaded me to talk all through my teens but I didn't. Only last year did I speak to him when he got married..."
"You sound like a dangerous girl?" I said laying my lips, gently kissing the mark. May be that wound stabbed her heart.
"Sure I am Mr.Shyam. You better be careful...”
She was really something… The sense of touch my fingers experienced was something.
She spoke some more, a lot more… My fingers ran over her back some more, a lot more…
Einsteinan time, space theory, his relativity bullshit seemed obsolete at that moment.
I was lost in her husky voice, her asinine stories, her curls and her bare back.
How unusual it was I thought as the night crawled slowly towards the morning with her sleeping beside me: the bubbling interest on a girl will never be the same after making love, never have been. It tends to dip, like the wave from its rise, few notches.
In my case I hardly noticed girls after the game, sometimes I even forgot their names; one night stands, casual adventures were only my turf not relationships and certainly not commitments. But here I was lying beside a girl, having drunk her beauty just hours back another time, having submerged in the pleasure she offered which still lingered, which sent ripples of delight even long after making love.
Her bare back, her voice, her dumb stories had something, they did something even after many days of passionate rendezvous in many dimly lit rooms, even when I knew every secret, every molecule of her, every word she would say. I never felt something like that with other girls, ever before.
When I thought, it all referred to only one thing: Sandhya, the uncrowned beauty and her bare back still held my interest, like that of the string that controls a toy in a puppet show.
So, is this what they call love? A drop on the walls of the crucible, an ounce at the bottom of the container when it was supposed to be empty.
“So, a writer?” she asked.
It’s been three months since the accident.
I was in her home. Between me and her, my manuscript sat on the table with splashes of dried red stain.
My manuscript - looked like mended by her- seemed to have recovered from a certain death: the possibility of an eventual burial in a dustbin.
“Not quite… Got to be better …” I said.
“ What? It was good. Did you think I haven’t read? "
She looked beautiful in her violet top. She looked nothing like I remembered; she was not that fragile, innocent thing anymore and had descended into the next stage in the cycle of evolution in womanhood. Though the charm she had; the charm that is the lamp to the moths like me to dash against and die stayed the same.
Gosh, what am I doing?
My deep rooted loathing was put to test. And at the same time I had a revelation that moment which said that the change that happened in me while I was lost in her bare back that night still held its sway. I could almost feel it returning.
Dark room… Bare back… Distorted mountains… Glistening eyes….
It had been many years since that night but I could still feel her: her skin, her touch, her dumb stories, the leaf shaped mark, the smell of her fragrance.
I was losing my mind in her again: a rat losing its mind again to old bagpipe music.
I scolded myself; she is someone else’s wife. But does love, a wild force, a thoughtless emotion, bend to the beatings of reason or rationality?
“What’s up? Hellloooo” she interjected.
“Sorry…The publishers… They..They don’t think so… Been struggling with this for two years now…” I said.
“May be because it is a difficult read... May be because it is ambiguous, of course in a good way… And I thought the ending is all too obvious... Or I should put it as less magical?”
“But it is how it ended, isn’t it? Between us…” I cut in.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have said but I did.
There was a silence; an uncomfortable one pregnant with words that were not said questions that were not asked. I was resuscitating the buried demons of the past that should never at all be awakened.
“I am sorry…" I said, " Not only for what I said… But for everything I…”
“Please don’t…" She said, her old self raising its head from the pits of her persona," I don’t want to talk about the past…”
“I just wanted to…”
“Please… Drop it…”
“What’s his name?” I asked looking at her son.
“Ashmith” She said. The man who collected my manuscript amidst all the hullaballoo she would say.
Ashmith sat with a Dairy milk bar before the TV and watched Tom-and-Jerry.
“Nice name. What does his dad do?”
“He is dead” She said blankly, like always.
Amazement struck me more than the obvious shock.
But how tough she had become? How much that night has changed her? Perhaps it was the last time I saw her weak, innocent side.
“I’m sorry” I said lowering my head.
“I’m not” She scoffed “We are actually divorced…. But to me, he was dead long before” she said.
By that standard what was I, a ghost? Now shock overwhelmed me than the amazement I earlier felt.
To be Continued...