By that standard what was I, a ghost? Now shock overwhelmed me than the amazement I earlier felt.
“I thought you were a mistake…” she said in a reflective tone after minutes, “I thought what happened between was a mistake… But … Men are all the same...”
I remembered her saying not to talk about the past, but there she was, “It felt wrong right from the beginning … You know… There is nothing more insane than an arranged marriage…
“And love? You know how it is… If it is not with the…” she said,” right one”, eyeballing me reminding that I am the wrong one, the unfortunate thing that happened to her…
“Well… I sometimes feel… Why is marriage so important especially to a girl? Why is it a girl’s destiny … than being what it should be…? A choice… I mean why should marriage define a woman? ”
“It’s all wrong...Isn’t it?”
“Oh my god! I don’t know why I am talking about all this… I don’t know especially why am I saying all this to you…?”
There was silence again.
I thought she made sense, perfect sense, it is one of the things about being a writer; you empathize, see other’s version of an idea but whom I to say, to nod in acknowledgement with her being who I am in her perspective: a perpetrator, the vilest villain.
“So… What do you do?” I asked after a moment, it seemed a safe question.
“I work at a NGO… Woman’s welfare, that kinda thing… They provide enough for me and Ashmith…. When I applied for divorce I was working in a MNC but didn’t like it… They only gave me money…”
“My job involves providing counseling and invigorating a sense of hope in exploited, betrayed women. We remind them that they can stand on their own and teach how not to succumb to the society’s pressure“.
“Teach how men are unimportant and how to toss them aside… That sorta thing…?”
Somehow she was taunting me and I gave in again to that impulse, to that deaf, dumb and senseless beast called anger.
“Sorry, I meant no offence…”
“Right... Thought so…” I said rubbing my cheeks, “You know…How all these..This meeting, this talk of yours… Make me feel way lot better… Thank you…”
What the heck? All she wanted is to spear me?
”I don’t understand… Why did you even invite me over…?”
“I think I told you already…” she said,” I read the manuscript…”
Our voices fading into a deep silence, the place went silent again. The giggles of Jerry and the screams of Tom filled the room.
“You know? I saw you…”
“I saw you before you had that accident… I recognized you but I had nothing to do with you by then… You were a ghost, an ugly reminder of the ugly past…”
“But I could not take my eyes off, harden my soul and walk away when I saw you dying there minutes after… “, she said with emotions filling her eyes, “See, I didn’t want to be a killer… Again...”
Her eyes glistened with held up tears.
“Yes, I get it. One murder is difficult enough to answer for…”
She stared at me hard. You had your vengeance? Are you happy now?
“You think all that was easy for me?” She asked tears breaking the confines, breaking her determination to not cry, dripping in torrential streams silently down her cheeks.
That’s what happens when old memories, good or bad, are dusted.
Her bare back, it had something, it did something even after many days of passionate encounters in many dimly lit rooms, even when I knew every secret, every molecule of it and its deeply curved counterpart.
I was thirsty again. Her beauty was to the brim as always, waiting to be consumed.
It was another dimly lit room, another passionate encounter.
I took her hand, made her turn. The blue night lamp’s light blushed against her regal beauty. Her curves were distorted mountains in the horizon. Her face was a full moon obscured by foggy clouds.
Her lips glistened in the dark, like burning coal, like the eyes of a hungry predator. I reached for them.
By then I noted something else glistening, a tad less feeble, a tad less fickle like that of the moon’s shadow on running water: it’s her half-moons, her eyes; the waxing crescents.
“What” I asked. Did I hurt her?
“Have I made a mistake?” She asked.
“What do you mean?”
“I heard about a bet… ”.
“Are you cheating me? “, she asked.
“I think you love me truly… I believe you are a good man… Isn’t it?”
To lie to a girl was nothing new especially on bed. I wanted to say yes, I could say it over thousand times if that girl was a beautiful girl like Sandhya, but even in the dark I saw her, saw her eyes. They glistened not only with tears but with love, hope and trust.
They did something to me, more than what her bare back did.
Suddenly I knew what she felt when the mark on her back was a fresh wound. I knew why she didn’t speak to her cousin and worse I saw how right she was in doing what she did.
Damn, I couldn’t lie…. Forget about thousand times, not even once…
“Tell me… Isn’t it?”
Her composure, her belief on her face splintered into million pieces and metamorphosed in a second to become pain: a raw, unbearable, killing pain. I wondered how as much as a simple silence could have that effect.
She sat up silently, slipping out of darkness with her bosoms visible, her face lighted by the night lamp.
She took my hand in hers,
"Will you marry me?” She asked hiding all the pain, all the doubts that began to creep in her mind.
That was my last chance I knew. She was being generous event at the face of a betrayal.
I hated myself.
Tears rolled down her cheeks after minutes.
“I’m sorry” I said: my dumb idea of a confession, a lifeless, customary sorry thrown out of obligation.
She crumbled to the bed.
She broke down under the veil of darkness: the dimly lit room seemed to have another purpose I didn’t know of.
What was not easy: being betrayed by the one you love, carrying a child while you are unmarried or aborting the child to punish its creator?
When the change, which started that night while I was lost in her bare back completed in me when she crumbled under the veil of darkness I knew I truly loved a girl for the first time. I felt it unmistakably. Later, I apologized to Sandhya; I knew I had made a big mistake. She said she was pregnant. I did not know what to do. I proclaimed my shame to my parents. Father kicked the hell out of me and asked me to get out of the house but mother? She wept and had pity, what a unique creatures mothers are? She said I had committed a sin; she was not talking about my fling but about the betrayal. She said I should marry her. We met her, my mother tried to convince her but she said she had nothing to do with me or the child. It is wrong and it is equivalent to murder I said. She asked what my betrayal was equivalent to.
I implored her not to do anything out of anger, I begged her for a chance. But she went ahead as if her innocence, her compassion and her conscience had crumbled along with her when she crumbled on the bed breaking into tears that night. After some days I found her in college, I called her names, I shouted at her in front of everyone. She hurled abuses at me. It was all a mess.
That was the last time I saw her before she came back in my life wearing a pink kurti three months back.
“How is aunty?” She asked.
“She asks me to shave the beard off… To have a life… To get married…She cries everyday looking at the mess I have become… “, I scoffed, “When she has a son like me what else could she do? … ”
“Why don’t you marry someone?” she asked.
I stared at her.
“I’m sorry. After reading the manuscript it is ridiculous of me to say something like this…Yet I think you should try…”
“Don’t mistake me…", I said tentatively, "I shouldn’t say this now but you were my last love… You will always be... Forever…”
A tinge of discomfort crossed her face.
“So who is talking in the book? ”
“The one that is dead…”
“So the child?”
“No, it is the story of both of us. Unrequited love…I don’t know unrequited is an appropriate word here… of a child that was aborted… A tragedy of what would have happened if he had a life… Ironically he would have committed the same thing what had happened to him... He is both the victim and the perpetrator… “
“Not clear. Magical realism?”
“No, it is pure non-sense… Guess that’s why it is not getting published…”
“I felt it compelling… Felt a feminist theme running all through... I mean abortion is anti-feminist, right?”
“Not, anti-feminist. I would say anti-human.”
She went silent again.
“Tell me something, why can’t you forgive me?” she asked suddenly,“I have forgiven you… Why don't you do the same?..I read this…” she looked at the manuscript,” and saw how you have changed, how you had your punishment.”
“Thank you. But I guess a person can forgive only when he is ready to let go the sinner or accept the sin.”
“Let me go then… I am not worthy of what you think of me … I am just human… ”
I looked straight into her eyes. “I don’t know… I still feel very raw… I still… Still couldn’t come to terms… It is difficult Sandhya…“
Sandhya! I said that name out loud after 6 years.
The held up tears found new strength and broke the confines of my eyes this time, they trailed down my sorry cheeks that once received her slap answers.
“I know in my heart you could not have done anything… I empathize with you… I do… You were a twenty year old girl, you were in college... What else could you do…? I know you were right, I knew by then, I know it now... yet… yet… “
The memories locked inside came as tears, the words unsaid came as sobs.
Tears roll down her cheeks too.
What was I doing? What was happening?
How long could I go on live like this: in memories, in agony and in the past?
Fate is an insidious psychopath.
“Well… Fuck it… Fuck everything…”
“I love you Sandhya…” I said finally.
She looked into my eyes; it was the look she wore that night when she imploded.
” Tell me you are not cheating me… Tell me that you will marry me…”
“Oh Shyam… My son called you uncle. I don’t know what I would say to him to make him call you dad.” She said.
“That may work as a good ending to your book but this is real life…” She said becoming the counselor to the exploited women after a moment’s reflection.
Perhaps she was right.
Real life is real life and stories are stories they are not to be muddled together. Ever!
I prepared to leave.
She gave me the manuscript back. And not to mention, a good ending, the SOMETHING, which was always missing in my manuscript, the SOMETHING which will wipe out all the BUTs.
I planted a parting kiss on Ashmith’s cheek. Ashmith had his mother’s eyes minus the blank stare.
She walked with me to the door.
I went out.
” Goodbye “she said.
This door when closed will shut down one good thing that ever happened to me in my whole life, the one thing that has been the reason for my life.
Should this end here, end here now, end here like this?
I turned and went down on my knees. I didn’t know what else to so. My rusted imagination came up only with this with the courtesy of movies and novels of our time including the novels that had been rejected 17 times.
I took her hand.
“Will you marry me?” I asked, kneeling on the doorway.
I looked at her face. Her stare was not cold, her expression was not blank. She even looked like she was going to smile.
May be there was a drop of love at the bottom of her heart when it was supposed to be empty.