Like the old photograph in an album, feelings fade away. But the photograph always remains, so does the feelings.
It was the winters and I was visiting my relatives is when I first saw her. We met in one of our family gatherings. She was the neighbor of my relative. She was wearing a hello kitty t-shirt and a long skirt. She had a round face, long hair till her back, big eyes and quite fair. She was not the prettiest girl I had ever seen but she was certainly beautiful. My aunt introduced us saying “Pinky come meet my nephew…” turned to me and said, “she’s Pinky and she is in the final year of her school.” She looked at me and said hi, I nodded saying hi.
I was there for a week. Though I saw her couple of times that week but we didn’t have any interaction, except one evening when she came up to me with her physics textbook. I had just started college and she was in final year of her school. I thought she needed me to teach her something. Boys have this insatiable need to impress a girl. Turned out, I was no different.
She handed me the book, it concealed a paper with few questions in it. She said ‘so I hear you are in first year Science. Solve these few questions for me, will you? I have some work and I’ll collect it in the evening… ok!’ I was stupefied at her audacity and before I could react she was out of the there.
Let me explain why I did it for her. I guess I wanted to prove a point or maybe I didn’t want to look stupid. In fact, I did my best to look good in those answers, hoping she would notice. Did she notice? I would never know because I didn’t see her at all after that day. I left without a goodbye.
Next two years I got busy with my studies and college life. During one of those days I feel sick and the doctor suggested a complete bed rest for a month. Since both my parents were working I was sent to live with my cousin’s family. In the last couple of years, I didn’t think about her much and I was positive that she would have forgotten me as well. As I reached my cousin’s place and went to my room she came running to see me. She stood at the door, looking at me with a big grin on her face. She had grown into a beautiful girl. She was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, a hint of a lip-gloss and a very light makeup… I was surprised to see how much she had changed in just two years.
She said “Hi, how have you been? I didn’t get a chance to thank you for the help last time. Get well soon, I’ll take you out for a treat.” Saying that she turned to leave but stopped. She turned back and said, “I was waiting for you since the time I heard you were coming.” And then she ran out of the house just like she came in. It was like a hurricane, stormed in, shook me up and left so quickly that I didn’t get any time to think what just happened.
Since then things changed between us, there was an electric spark around her, between us. She would often come to visit me bringing me food or to check on my medicines. Whenever we were among others I could sense that she was stealing glances. And whenever I look at her she would look down and look elsewhere.
My health improved very quickly. Just in two weeks, I was back on my feet. I think this therapy, whatever it is love or flirting should be deployed in every hospital. People would heal very quickly.
One day she asked me to get dressed, as she would take me out for a movie. She didn’t believe in requesting, it was always instructions that I was supposed to follow. Very unlike me but I found myself following those instructions without asking any questions.
We went to the movie and while watching the movie she asked me if she could keep her head on my shoulder? I was thrilled and yet I looked at her with a fake surprise on my face. So she explained it’s because the movie is boring and she was feeling sleepy. I suggested then let’s get out of here. To that she said not at all since we paid for the ticket we’ll sit through the entire movie. She kept her head on my shoulder and I had a big smile on my face and a numb hand for the rest of the movie.
After the movie, she took me to a place little away from the city. It was half an hour’s drive. Near the hills, there was a lake. There were some old people sitting by the lake and fishing. There was a tree by the lake. We sat down below it. It was a beautiful evening, the sun was setting and the sky was velvet. We sat there in silence for some time and then she said, “This is my most favorite place in the world. I always come here alone, you are the first person to come here with me.” I looked at her and smiled she smiled back.
Later that night I was on the terrace sitting on the swing think about the day. I really enjoyed going out with her. I enjoyed the closeness more perhaps. I was lost in my thoughts and smiling to myself is when she came up and sat next to me. She wanted to say something, I knew she did and I wanted to hear it. Instead, we just sat there looking at the stars. After some time, she said, “I want to tell you something.” I said, “I know.” She looked at me and I looked back at her. Nobody said anything and then she got up and sat very close to me. I said, “I am going back in few days.” She said, “I know.” After a while, I said “Time to go and sleep. Good Night!” She said, “Have you read Archie’s comics?” I said “yes.” She said, “Say goodnight to me the Archie’s way.” After a bit of hesitation, I kissed her on the cheeks and said goodnight. She got up and slapped me saying, “that’s not how they do it” and turned to leave.
Damn it! I ruined it. I ruined the perfect moment. Why did I do that like an idiot? Why did I have to kiss her? While all these thoughts were going on in my head she turned around and said, “You are an idiot, you don’t understand anything do you?” Cat caught my tongue, I just managed to say, “I am sorry I thought…” before I could finish that sentence she came close and kissed me on my lips. That kiss, what seemed like an eternity… slowly broke into a hug. I don’t know how long we stood there hugging each other because I remember that the morning came pretty quickly that night with a wink of an eye.
That started an unending long distance telephone calls and weekend travels, hiding from family and friends and meeting, stealing away time together. This went on for 11 months until one day she just disappeared. She stopped picking up the phone. I kept calling that number for days and it kept saying, “the number doesn’t exist.” I couldn’t even ask her family as we had an understanding not to let our families know about us. I tried to speak to her family indirectly about her but didn’t get anything. After few weeks I stopped trying, the concern had become frustration and the frustration slowly developed into anger… to hell with her, I thought. I continued with my life. Meanwhile, I graduated from college and got a job.
Few months at my job I was already bored. One day it started raining and it was a usual boring day at the office is when I received a call. It was an unknown number… I picked up the call and the voice in the other end said “meet me in front of the city center in an hour… bye.” Before I could say hello or understand what has just happened she had disconnected the line. I just sat there looking at the phone. What does she think of herself? She can just show up suddenly out of nowhere and order me around and expects me to comply? To hell with her I am not going… definitely not… let her learn a lesson.
I was in front of the city center with 10 minutes to spare. She wasn’t there. I waited 25 minutes when she came out of the shopping mall with tons of shopping bags. I looked at her and thought to myself “Oh I forgot how beautiful she looked, how could I be angry with her?” She came close and I opened my arms to hug her. She put the shopping bags in them saying, “Hold these and let’s go” while walking away towards the taxi said, “I just have a couple of days and a lot to do.”
In the taxi sitting next to her, I had millions of questions and so much more to tell her but I just kept looking at her. She just kept on talking about how it’s her first time in the city and what all she plans to do, places to go and people to visit. Later that evening after a nice dinner in a restaurant she asked me to walk her down to her hotel which was not very far from there. We just kept walking in silence mostly. I was just thrilled to be with her again. I am glad I don’t have a tail otherwise it would be wagging so hard, giving away my feelings. When we reached the hotel, she took the bags from me and said “I’ll see you tomorrow then?” smile and turned to left.
That night I lay in my bed and thought how ridiculous is the predicament! I still had so many questions. Where did she disappear? Why didn’t she tell me anything? Why did she come back? How can someone be so selfish? Is she using me? Does she like me at all? I decided next day I would clear it all and get my answers even if she gets upset. “Oh, damn what if she’s really upset? Shut up you idiot and go to sleep” I thought to myself.
Next day she asked me to pick her up from her hotel in the evening. I waited in the lobby, carefully preparing all the questions I had in my mind. I thought about how am I going to begin and how I would not give her a chance to get away with it this time. And then she appeared from the elevator, dressed in an elegant knee-length white dress. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.
She came up to me, smiled brightly and said, “Hi, how do I look?” I no longer remembered what I had in mind… I just kept looking at her. I stammered “You look… err you look… gorgeous.” She said, “ok, let’s go.”
We went to a pub and we ate, we drank and we sang with the music. We had a great time there. It was getting late so I started to call for the bill but she stopped me saying “ You know what… let’s leave without paying.” I looked at her, shocked!! I said, “Why would we want to do that?” She said, “Common it’ll be fun, don’t be such a bore. I’ve never done anything like that before.” She always had a way to convince me. We made the plan, she would leave first and then few minutes later I’ll pretend to talk on the phone and walk out and we’ll run for it. She took off, and after few agonizing minutes I pretended to talk on the phone and since the music was loud I got out of the pub and kept walking. My heart was beating fast and I was quite scared and nervous but I must admit it fun in a strange kind of a way. I kept walking and gradually I started to run. Caught up with her and ran past her screaming RUN!! We both ran though there was no one behind us. We laughed and we ran till we reached far from that place and in the process she broke the heel of her sandal.
It was quite late in the night and the streets were deserted. She couldn’t walk without her sandal so she demanded I give her a piggyback ride. So I did. She told me on the way that she went away to prepare for international law entrance exam, which is apparently quite tough. If she gets through she would be accepted in a university in the UK and she didn’t want any distractions. Before I could ask her anything else she spotted a street-side shoe shop. It was just about to close and there were very few choices. There was a pink bathroom slip-on with a yellow flower on it. It looked so ridiculous that no one in the sane mind would want to buy it. I quickly took out the wallet to pay for it. She protested initially but had to settle for it in the end as the shopkeeper was also not will reopen his shop.
It looked very funny and I wanted to see her pull off wearing those ridiculous slip-on with that elegant dress she was wearing. She didn’t think about it much and confidently slipped it on. She looked poised and made that look graceful somehow. Was I being absurd or was it love that I failed to see any imperfection in that woman?
When we reached the hotel, she turned to me and said, “it’s already very late and I have an early morning flight. It doesn’t make sense to sleep for 3 hours. Why don’t you stay tonight and we can talk till its time to leave.”
I didn’t need a second invitation. In the room, I sat down on the sofa and she started packing. I switched on the radio saying “this time of the night they play lovely romantic songs.”
She finished packing and came and sat down next to me. My arms were stretched on the sofa, she laid her head on it. I turned my head and kissed her on her head. She said, “don’t get any ideas mister.”
I said “Ha! With you, I never get any. I can always expect a surprise.” Next thing I remember alarm in my phone ringing, which is always set for 6:30 AM. I woke up and she was not in the room. The song in the radio played…
You came like the wind and destroyed everything…
Then, you left without a word, without turning back
You convinced me with words that don’t make any sense…
A toy you cannot have, the road that you can’t take and a love that you can’t have seems, even more, tempting.
Another year passed since she took off. Her memories were still fresh in my mind. I would often take a walk on that road we walked that night. Love hurts but I don’t understand why heart always wants to go back to those places to keep the wound fresh.
One evening I was at my sister’s place helping my niece with her studies. I would often spend time at my sister’s place. Her husband was my best friend and my drinking buddy. After dinner, we would sit in his balcony and have a couple of drinks talking about our lives and relationships. One evening while we were drinking my little niece came and asked: “Maamu what is the past tense of hate?” I smiled, pulled her close and said, “Often the past tense of hate is love.” My sister who was doing the dishes shouted “Shut up!! Don’t spoil my daughter.” Then she called her in “Naisha come inside, let papa and maamu talk. It’s late, go to sleep.”
My brother in law took a sip of the drink and said, “Why don’t you get a job in another city? You’ll never be able to forget her living in this city. Change of place will do you good.”
I smiled and said, “Leave this city? Haven’t you heard about the captain? Who would rather drown with his sinking ship than try to save himself.” I took another sip from my glass and continued, “This city has become a bad habit. It’s not easy to leave bad habits. Isn’t it?”
He laughed and said, “You are just afraid that if you leave from here she won’t be able to find you? You are just waiting for her to return. How are you so sure that she will even return?”
I said “She will. I have a feeling that she will.”
My sister interrupted “You know what you need? You need a date. Let me fix you with a colleague of mine. She is single, smart and funny. You will like her because she’s your type. She is also out of a serious relationship for some time now.”
I protested “No way! I am not going on any blind dates.”
She snapped back “You shut up, you are going and that’s final. Let me talk to Tanya and fix the date.”
I said, “Do whatever, I am not going.”
That Saturday I met Tanya at a coffee shop as planned by my sister. She was very pretty, curly hair, big eyes, and a sharp nose. She was smart, eloquent and classy. She would be a perfect girl for any guy, why was she single I wondered. She suggested that we should go to and get a couple of drinks. Once we were in the pub the conversation was limited because the music was so loud. I was little relieved because that meant there would be less awkward silence between us.
Some time later I looked at her, she was finishing her second drink. I said, “hey want to do something crazy?” She asked, “like what?” I said, “Let’s leave without paying.” She looked at me, stunned, and said “are you mad? Why would you want to do that?”
I said “never mind, just wanted to do something crazy. Forget it.”
She called for the cheque. While we were waiting for the valet to bring her car, she suggested: “you won’t get a taxi here, let me drop you to a taxi stand.”
While she was driving I asked her “Can I ask you something personal?” She said “Hmm.”
I asked “Why are you single? I mean a girl like you… err I mean…” she looked at me and smiled and said, “thank you, I’ll take that as a compliment.” I said, “of course”. She continued “Well I was in a relationship for 3 years and then…” she paused and said, “Besser eine ende mit schrecken als ein schrecken ohne ende.” I said, “What?” She smiled and said “Better to have a bitter end then to have bitterness with no end. He was from Germany, he had to go back sometime.”
We reached the taxi stand “she said, looks like there’s no taxi where do you stay?” I told her my address, she said: “That’s on the way, will drop you there.”
I said thank you. After a while, she asked, “so what’s your story?”
I said “My story? Oh! the place where I use to work shifted, and they didn’t tell me where.”
She giggled… and we drove in silence for a bit. We were about to reach when I said, “You know there were two snakes, and one snake asked the other ‘brother are we very poisonous?’ The other one said ‘Yes but why do you ask?’ The first one said ‘I’ve bit my tongue by mistake.’”
She smiled… I guess she understood what I wanted to say. She stopped the car where I was supposed to get off, turned towards me and looked deep into my eyes. I leaned forward a bit and she responded… and we kissed. I got down saying, “I’ll call you, bye.”
I walked back to my place with a smile on my face. But that smile disappeared as I reached home. Pinky was sitting on the steps… waiting for me. The prodigal girlfriend was back.
Her timing was impeccable, how do girls know that their ‘backup’ is about to be compromised? But she was never a backup for me. She was always my first priority.
She looked a lot older and tired. While I stood there looking at her she broke the silence “Are you usually this late? Are you cheating on my back?”
I was at a loss of words all of a sudden… I fumbled “No… no… why would you say that?” Why was I scared anyway? She left, not me. I was right here where she left me. Why am I scared of losing her when I don’t even have her?
She got up saying “Chill I am kidding. Let’s go inside I am famished. Do you have anything to eat…?”
Later that night after she slept I sat there looking at her. She was sleeping so peacefully, not even aware of my predicament. Oblivious to how much I missed her, longed for her and wanted to hold her, kiss her, make love to her. Early morning she tiptoed out of the door. I got up just in time to notice that she went out. I got up in a flash and ran behind her. I couldn’t let her go this time, not so easy. By the time I reached out she already sat in the taxi and left. I ran behind the taxi desperately shouting her name. I tripped on something and fell down. I woke up panting in my bed. It took me while to come back to my senses and recompose myself. I looked around she was in the kitchen. She smiled at me and said, “Wake up sleepy head I made tea.”
She came back this time, to do her internship in a law firm. It was suppose to be India’s best law firms and I was supposed to be very proud of her. What I wasn’t supposed to do was to drop her or pick her up from her office because she had no fixed timings and something to do with her work ethics. I found it very unreasonable. I wondered… was there anything reasonable in our entire relationship at all?
We found a pg nearby my place for her to stay though she stayed at mine mostly. Since the time she came back I never slept in my bedroom. I had put a couple of mattresses on the floor in the living room and I slept on that. I had left the bedroom for her. Whenever she was late and she would find me sleeping, she would snuggle up next to me and take up most of the cover, held me close and slept. I loved that.
Meanwhile, Tanya texted me a couple of times, initially, I made excuses and then I started ignoring her text. After a while, she stopped and I was relieved.
One evening I was finishing off work at the office when I got her call saying, “I want to sing.” We went to a karaoke bar that night. We drank and she sang. She was really a terrible singer. But I was enjoying her singing. She looked very happy.
Until one guy commented how bad she’s singing and that she should get out of there. She got into an argument with that guy. I tried to stop her but when does she ever listen to me? The argument went out of hand and she slapped the guy. He was about to slap her back when I jumped in between and pushed him. Maybe I pushed him little harder. He fell on the table where he was sitting. That’s when I noticed there were four more guys with him and they all got up. Ready to beat the living daylights out of me.
Thank God other people and bouncers intervened. She took my hand and ran out of there. We quickly took off from there in her scooty. We kept looking back if they were following us. After a while, we realized that nobody was following us and how silly the entire thing was… we started laughing. We laughed so much that she crashed the scooty in the middle of the street. Thankfully the roads were empty that time of the night. There were minor scratches and bruises. We sat there in the middle of the road laughing.
I said “I can’t believe what just happened… you are unbelievable. It’s so much fun with you.” I kept laughing.
She said, “My visa will soon be done. Will you let me go when it’s time?”
The laughter disappeared… I said, “Since when did you need my permission?”
One day I went to a hospital to visit a friend who had an accident. While coming back, I spotted her coming out of the doctors room. With her, it was always like expecting the unexpected but I definitely didn’t see this coming. She was a bit shocked to see me there. When I asked her what was she doing there, she was quite for a little while and then told me that she is visiting one of her aunts. I said, “Then let’s go and see her”. She denied that saying that her aunt has cancer and she’s at her last stage. She isn’t allowed many visitors. She saw my face and probably understood that I am not convinced so she took my hand and dragged me outside one of the rooms. I looked through the glass window on the door. There was a middle-aged woman on the bed and a man about same age sitting next to her.
Later while returning from there, I asked her how come I didn’t know about this aunt of her? She replied, “There are many things that you don’t know about me yet.”
Typical of her to reply like that, I was expecting it. I asked about that man who was sitting next to her aunt.
She said, “He’s a fool.”
I said, “You mean he’s the husband.”
She replied “No they are not married, he is in love with her since a long time knowing that she won’t live long. He can have a normal life, get married and live happily but he won’t leave her side. That why he’s a fool.”
I said, “If I were him I would have done the same.”
She smiled, and looked out the car and said, “You know why cancer kills people? Because it keeps growing. It doesn’t stop… unlike other cells in the body.”
She had tears in her eye. I thought she was sad about her aunt, so I put my arm around her and pulled her close. She kept her head on my shoulder, and the rest of the journey was in silence.
Few months later she didn’t come home for a couple of days, which was not unusual, but I panicked because when I called her phone it was out of reach. After some time, it said the phone is switched off. Has she left again? I wasn’t surprised, but this time, I was really disappointed. I tried not thinking about it much. In the evening, I went to the local shop to buy some things for the house. As I was going out someone said hello. I looked up and it was the girl from her pg. After an exchange of pleasantries, she asked me “How is she now? Can we visit her in the hospital?”
I found out from her that she had collapsed and she was taken to the hospital two days ago. It was the same hospital where I found her talking to that doctor. The world started spinning around me. I dropped the shopping bag in the dustbin and rushed to the hospital. Once I reached the hospital I found that she was in ICU. When I asked the reason the nurses asked me to talk to the doctor. It was the same doctor she was talking to the other day. I had millions of questions for him. However, he apparently knew all about me. He said “when she first came here she told me that one day you might come looking for answers but not to tell anything to you. But I think it’s time.”
I was flabbergasted, confused, angry, perplexed… I cannot explain the mixed feelings but mostly it was agony.
I told the doctor to tell me everything.
The doctor started narrating… he said it was during her first year in college she had an accident and during blood transfusion something went wrong and she got AIDS. I felt the ground moved beneath me. The doctor made me sit in his chamber and gave me some water. He continued saying since then she’s been in and out of many different medical centers for the treatment. She was also planning to go to UK for advanced treatment. However, it’s too late to go to UK or anywhere. Then he said that she is in isolation for a couple of days but I could meet her next day during visiting hours.
I didn’t go home that night. I sat there in the hospital connecting all the dots. That’s why she stopped picking up the call when she first disappeared. She came back for a couple of days to check out this hospital and make the arrangements. And since last one year, she’s been getting treatment here. All this time, I didn’t have the slightest of the idea what’s going on with her? How dumb am I? How strong is she to go through all this with a smile?
“… will you let me go when it’s time?”
In the morning, I was told I could see her. I went to her room it was one big room with a single bed in the middle of the room. She was lying in a white hospital gown with an oxygen mask on her face. In two days she seemed to have aged a lot. She looked tiny. But she was still very beautiful. Her eyes were closed, she was breathing slowly. I stood there in the door and cried. I wiped my tears and composed myself and walked in, I stood there just looking at her. She opened her eyes slowly, looked at me and smiled. I didn’t smile, I went close and held her hand and said “Do you know this hand, the lips, the eyes, this face belongs to me, it’s not your’s… it’s mine. You are just given the privilege to use it. How dare you destroy it just like that?” She smiled.
She removed the oxygen mask and said in very feeble voice “I saw you there in my dreams… you remember… there was a lake… where those old people use to sit and fish… and there was a tree next to the lake… I saw that you were sitting there… fishing… the sun was warm… and the wind was cold… you looked happy… whenever I feel very sick… I think of going there… sit next to you… keep my head on your shoulder… it feels nice… I feel relaxed… I wish we can go there again…” she seemed exhausted and in lot of pain saying that. I don’t know what was more painful? Was it physical or was it knowing that she would never make it to that place again? Or was it just even thinking about it.
My throat was dry when I replied, “Come anytime, I am always there.”
She said “But I can’t go now… my visa has arrived.”
I saw tears forming up at the corner of her eye. I fought back mine and said, “I am not letting you go this time so easy. I am waiting for you.You have to come back home.”
Few more days went by and I rarely got to see her as she was in isolation ward most of the time. One Saturday evening while watching TV I fell asleep in the living room. I felt she snuggled up next to me, held me from behind and lied down like she always did. I smiled, took her hand and kissed it, it was cold, I curled up and kept sleeping. I felt her warm breath on the back of my neck and then she whispered “Bye”. I got up instantly and sat back on my bed. The door was locked from the inside, it was dark and my phone was vibrating non-stop. I thought she’s in the kitchen but there was no one in the house. I checked the time it was 9:15 pm. The phone started to vibrate again… I picked up the phone it was the hospital.
Time of her death was 8:45 pm.
This time, she did say goodbye before leaving.
After all the formalities the nursed handed me her things she always carried with her, a travel bag, a handbag, and few documents.
We are tormented because love goes on and not because it goes away unlike the person.
I missed her too much so I decided to vacate that house. I couldn’t possibly live in that house anymore. I was cleaning her room and putting her things in the boxes. I opened her travel bag… it had her clothes. I picked them up and smelled they still smelled like her. That’s when I noticed… under the clothes… there was a pink bathroom slip-on with a yellow flower on it.