Words

I was fifteen and he was the same age, perhaps. Or perhaps we were both younger, or older. Who is to say after so many years? He lived nearby and he sometimes came over to deliver a message from his mother to mine because they were friends. He and I – we did not say a word to each other because we were young, like I said.

It was not that I was shy, rather it was because he was always tongue-tied and I was always loud. Or perhaps, that is how I remember myself. It took me a few months to realise that he was the one that called me everyday at the same time even though he never said a word. He played songs sometimes, and I stayed on the phone asking who it was and therefore drowning out his music.

Over time and with the shared maturity that comes with sharing such secrets with the school best friends, I learnt to identify his patterns. He called when I was alone, or when he was alone, he never said a word, he hung up when I had said Hello – he did this everyday. That is all he did. He never tried to talk to me. He did not strike up conversations if he saw me alone at the corner shop. He saw me with other male  and female friends, yet he persisted with his silence.

I got used to the phone calls over the years, my parents laughed about the situation. They were too kind to say anything to him and they pretended that they did not know it was him that called us ever so often if he came over.  I was not that kind though, sometimes I gave him a talking to on the phone, sometimes I rolled my eyes at him when he walked past.

Age gives you that kind of confidence, you feel brave and free and you can discard the attentions that come your way.

You can make fun of love when you are young. Only when you are young.

I met other people. Interesting people. People who called me at designated times and people who talked. I would take the phone off the hook on days like those when I did not want the phone lines engaged because some voices were so important to me.

He called me and played music for me for seven whole years. Every Monday. Every Friday. Every Sunday if the parents were out and about.

The song was the same too – the actual words are hazy now but it was a song about life changing forever because of love at a first glance.

It made me feel good on some days, the song, it made me feel beautiful and loved and desired on the days when high-school maths and bad hair days and perceived affairs of the hearts had reduced me to tears. I went from high-school to university, I got a degree. I packed my bags and left. He called and played the song whenever I went home for a few days.

I moved overseas and my mother gave me snippets about him over the years.

He graduated from college. He took over his father’s business. He built a new house. He got married.

Somewhere along the way, the calls stopped. I still went home once a year, I still saw him around the place. But he didn’t call. Not anymore. That thing about growing up spares none of us.

We went to his new place for a house-warming party when I visited my parents last year. My daughter sat next to his children. His wife and I discussed the weather. His brothers spoke to me, his mother insisted that I eat some more.

He was in the room all along. I saw him and he saw me as we mingled but there had been too many phone calls and silent hours to let words ruin anything now.

My mother disappeared into the crowds with Miss A in tow after lunch. So did his family.

After twenty odd years of the silent communication, there we were - two grown-ups, finally face to face, without a telephone in between.

“Your mother,” he said, looking at me, “did she eat? Did she like the food?”

That was all he said.

His eyes did not leave my face. Not once. Twenty years of looking away now bundled into one gaze.

I had never once acknowledged his feelings. He had never once said anything. He was young and so was I. And yet here we were. And now there was no music and there were no songs and so much of life and living had happened since.

Yes,” I said.

That was all I said.

He smiled. I think I smiled back.

Then we finally ran out of things to say and it ended that day, the little one-sided love story that began many summers ago.

Words, man.

They end everything.

And this is a journey too…

The year doesn’t matter. This is about the age and the time and the year doesn’t have much to do with a specific point in time. If we must talk about the year, it was an year around the cusp of when teenage and a peek into the life beyond hopscotch squares and giggling over bike rides around the mango orchards was scary, intangible and exhilarating. Being an adult is not something you can grasp when you are firmly ensconced in the no-man’s land between a childhood fast receding like a summer shadow and a teenage that sullenly walks with you but refuses to say much.

 

Summer breezes and the slivers of the sparkling, shimmering Indian ocean on a school trip is how this memory unravels itself. Sun and sand and laughter and shy smiles. Like any walk down memory lane, this one too meanders, mind you. Much like a set of footprints at a beach that will inevitably get wiped away after the bounty of the next tide. Crowded dorms and “thali meals”, sunsets and building castles at the beach and collecting starfish and shells and racing the tide are what this time was all about. The first real trip as a teenager, away from home. The same faces that surround you in school every day but suddenly by the sea-side these are the faces of people – real people –  and not just the usual contingent swathed in the bottle green and chequered school uniforms.  It is an era of discovering that your hair looks nicer if you wear it a particular way. That the boy who sits two rows away from you, is _actually_ staring at you as you navigate the dorms to get your meal. It is wishing for the first time that you had swankier clothes to wear even when though you have no clue how to dress up better.  And so you borrow the “know-all” girl’s lipstick and hurriedly wipe way the remnants of the gloss from your lips almost as if the red tinges on your lips speak openly of your longing to grow up overnight.

 

Sometimes you don’t even know when love shares your seat on a journey. You think the seat next to you is vacant and there is love in all its regalia, wondering if you will acknowledge its presence and yet your eyes are on the destination and you don’t realize that sometimes love gets off several stops earlier, sulking because it is unacknowledged. And then you get to the destination and there is no one waiting for you underneath the crowded bus- shelter and you wonder if this is where you were supposed to get off. And all this while, all this while, love has been ruing the incomplete journey as much as you have. And you both go your ways wondering if the journey was never meant to be which is often an easier thing to accept than the sad truth that you parted with your co-traveller when you didn’t need to.

 

And there you have it, a shimmering ocean, a vacant seat on the journey, the young lad from across the second row staring at you, and the same song playing endlessly on the battered tape deck of the hired bus. You haven’t heard the song in the past and you don’t know that in the future whenever you hear this song, time will skip backwards with a twirl and raise a suppressed murmur of unsaid words in your heart. You listen to the song and the pledge of endless love and you think “endless like till you are grown-ups” and you would be right in a way because being adults in some strange way does include spring cleaning your heart and your memories and your baggage and throwing out a favoured pebble, a dried rose and an old card smelling of glue.

 

You don’t know it then but love doesn’t get easier when you grow up, what gets easier is knowing when to get off at the crowded bus shelter even when there is no one waiting for you. But the thought of endless love is giddy at that age and you smile back at the boy who smiles back at you. And you wonder if this is love, even as you wonder if he has noticed the new shoes and the borrowed sunglasses and the traces of makeup and that you are singing along to the song hoping your words and his meet somewhere mid way.

 

The boy is shy and you are too and you would rather giggle with your best friend about the hapless waiter who messed up your order again. And so you never get around to talking to him much. You stare in awe at the other “couples” who are actually talking and walking along the expanse of the waters and you hum the song to yourself. There is a tiny but defiant storm in your heart, where you have no words to articulate how you feel about everything – the boy, the ocean and the song. Years later, you identify this as the season of the heart getting to know itself but that afternoon by the beach, you realize that life, the real “this can and this will hurt and you can and you will survive this” life is about to happen.

 

Perhaps it is a premonition, a prediction or perhaps you have listened to what the heart has been trying to tell you all along – life doesn’t have a plan, always. That is all you need to know when you are travelling. This is about a meandering memory like I said. This is about a snippet of time, complete in its lack of conclusions. The trip ends, normalcy and high-school resumes and you never see the boy again after year 10.

 

You read his obituary in the local paper, he killed himself a few years to the day you stared at each other across a sand castle. There are no answers and there are no questions and you didn’t even know he didn’t live round the corner anymore. By the time you realized that he had moved away, he really wasn’t around the corner anymore.  

 

This is not about the year like I said.  This is about the age and the time -  the age and the time that you leave behind. When love and life and age terminate their voyage abruptly; a snippet of a song, a flash of the ocean and an old school photo tell you that sometimes the only way to make peace with life’s plans is to travel backward in time, when all else fails. And that is a journey too….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When You Are Old…

 A summer afternoon long ago. From far away echoed the tumbling laughter of a class having it recess.  

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,

And nodding by the fire, take down this book,

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep; 

Sunlight pattered in through the old and dusty windows of the Year 7 class, making undecipherable patterns on the black cuddapah tiles. Old,wooden benches stood embellished with the stains of ink, tired notebooks bore doodles in the margins of the foolscap pages and the scribbling sound of notes being made filled the air as the words of WB Yeats were read out aloud by Ms S. The charm of childhood and perhaps teenage to some extent is that you do not fully comprehend the intricacies and the complexities of the journey that lies ahead. Eternity isn’t a reality when you are a child; it is a mere concept of a time far away, a place beyond the safe fences of your imagination. You do not appreciate the convolution of love anymore than you understand the realities of old age. You do not understand that there is a love that remains when age has staked its claim and that this love is quite different from the love of shy glances and stolen kisses and hastily scribbled notes.

Ms S was a person I adored unconditionally. She had a soft but firm voice with a gentle lilt to her dulcet tones. She was a strong personality with a face that asked you to maintain your distance if you were not sure of yourself. She was a tall, well built woman too, who strode down the school corridors leaving a trail of discipline and an aura of awe in her wake. You prayed that you wouldn’t be summoned to her office because while she never raised her voice, she used her words carefully and often acerbically. I adored her because I looked up to her, because her tough exterior made me feel safe and made me feel that she was in charge which she always was. Mostly I loved her because she taught English and because she always had time for my ramblings and essays, because she took the time to make me look up the dictionary if I dared use a word without understanding its meaning and because she knew just how much the English classes meant to me.

But this is not about Ms S, not really anyway, for when you are a child, and when you look up to an adult, you don’t see the adult for what they are but rather for what you want them to be. And so it was that when Ms S took me along to an Inter School Dinner, I tagged along eager and honoured. We chatted like acquaintances for a while and when a tall, handsome man with greying hair came up to chat to us, I felt annoyed that my little party was being intruded upon. This was my day with her and I didn’t want him stealing the limelight.

“Will you alright by yourself for a few minutes?” she asked me even as she got up to go away, “The Colonel and I would like to catch up since I haven’t seen him for long”. So he was a Colonel and so she knew him. Was he a friend, I wondered idly? She had been a spinster for as long as everyone knew and the Colonel didn’t exactly look very young. I stayed inside the hall by myself for about 20 minutes and then I decided I wanted to see where she was because I was sure it was time to go home. The air was redolent with the smell of jasmine and the ground smelled of the first bounty of rain as I stepped out into the night.

It took me less than 5 minutes to find them, they were under a jasmine laden rotunda and he had his arms around her, her head on his shoulders. I stood there for eternity staring at the woman that I had always thought was incredibly strong and yet the vulnerable look on her face, taught me my first lesson about the truth that lurks behind facades. I should have looked away but I watched dumbfounded as he whispered sweet nothings in her ear and she blushed. And again before my eyes, the woman who could silence you with a mere raised eyebrow stepped away into the shadows and in her place I saw a woman whose features had been softened by the evening. She saw me then and broke free from his embrace. The magic of the moment receded into thin air as she walked towards me as in control as ever and took my hand. “Shall we leave?” she asked, “Shall we get something to eat first?”

I don’t remember my answers but I shall always remember the feeling of the air going dull and heavy around us as if the last traces of life had been sucked away from the evening. If she was upset that I had intruded upon a special and rare moment, she didn’t show it. It was as if she switched roles and my peek into her world ended as she closed the windows. She took my hand and led me inside, turning around to acknowledge him only once, as we opened the doors to the hall and merged with the milieu inside. I saw the look on her face then, and learnt that hope and love and heartbreak are a  family. That time always manages to have the last word no matter how much is at stake.

When I mentioned this encounter at home, I was told that the Colonel was a much married man with a family of his own in the next town. Nothing more was ever said on the topic and I didn’t tell anyone though it was the kind of thing that a 12 year old on the cusp of teenage would have loved to share with friends and giggle over, in the comforting recesses of her room. I didn’t tell anyone not because I thought I would get her into trouble by mentioning this daring display of affection in an era of supposedly gentle sensibilities but because that brief encounter opened my eyes up to the love that the moment exuded. I would understand it many years hence but suddenly I knew that love even when it is at its messiest and fragile best, rises above the confusion and the shackles that bind it, and anoints itself as the one magnificent force that has the power to change lives and fates. And in that romantic interlude between Ms S and the handsome Colonel, this power of belief impressed itself upon me more than their sad situation and the frailties that both of them had to contend with.

I saw her again, years later, the ravages of time had peppered her hair with white strands and crows feet and the first appearance of wrinkles had changed her face with firm reminders of how the years had treated her. Her voice was the same; the unmistakable lilt was the same. “How are you?” she asked me with the same warmth that had graced me all these years. I could not take my eyes away from the small ‘mangalsutra’ that adorned her now. “The Colonel and I got married”, she said, as I got up an hour later to say goodbye. It is almost like she owed me this explanation for the evening many, many years earlier. A plethora of questions rushed to my aide but she answered all of them with a mere “He couldn’t leave his life and start anew – so we lead our lives as before. We do meet every now and then when he is in town”.  There were no more questions after this, because I knew that she didn’t have any more answers.

But yet, I pretended I hadn’t heard the resigned sigh in her voice, I pretended that the strands of white hair were not due to a fate that took victims of those that dared gamble with life. I wondered if she lived with her memories of the future as she once dreamt it, I wondered if his was the face that made her smile as she taught us Yeats years ago. Did she believe in eternal love? Does one ever stop believing in eternal love? When the future arrives and it is not the sepia spool of your dreams, do you dream again or do you sift through what once was?

I saw her getting ready for a class and I muttered a goodbye. My eyes roved to the lesson she was teaching for the day, the same words of Yeats she taught me many summers ago, came back to stand between us, this time though, they were real and solid and full of painful truths.

And bending down beside the glowing bars,

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled

And paced upon the mountains overhead

And hid his face amid a crowd of stars. 

It may not have lasted and the love may have vamoosed in a crowd of stars. But I know that love visited her doorstep however briefly. How do you ever force a gypsy to stay? Don’t you merely gather a slice of the night and a dying ember of the fire and wait for the gypsy to pass your way again?

To Sir With Love

Tucked away on the last page of a dog-eared handbook is a scribble that says “I wish you well. I hope you come back to this place after you are done with wandering the world”. Age and fading ink have turned the black writing into a sepia pattern. I don’t need to decipher the words for I know them by heart. Behind the facades of classes and lectures and gradually blossoming relationships, there was a special spot in a crevice of my heart for you. You were more than the Professor who taught me Programming, you were the reason why I enjoyed all my subjects that golden summer. I don’t know if you know this but for what seemed like eons back then, I hung around your office waiting to ask you questions that I didn’t need answers to. I took more effort with your subjects than I did with anything else. When our paths crossed on the campus, my route meandered after yours till I couldn’t keep up with you any more. 

After a seemingly usual class, when one day, you stayed back and asked me if I knew the meaning of my name, love entered the heart and declared it was there to stay. It must have been a normal question but when love is leaning against the door waiting to get in, a gentle nudge is all it needs to announce its arrival. I daresay you didn’t know the old trick of “If you love someone, then they will turn around to see you as you pass the corner”.  You had this habit of turning around several times as you walked back to your office, and I stayed in your line of sight every single time, ensuring that I didn’t miss that one last glance. It is these small things that define love perhaps, for when it is in its fragile state, love does not lay much in store, by time redefining moments.

Once in a lifetime comes a love that doesn’t demand anything because it doesn’t know how to ask for anything. It lives for the moment, and it barely peeks into the future; so happy is it with the present. The summer that year gave me such a love – a quiet, unassuming, placid feeling in the heart that had no rush to go anywhere with no reasons to win anyone over and no future to conquer. And so when I took to visiting a friend that lived opposite your house, you learnt to wave and smile at me. I didn’t stop to talk and neither did you. We had the equation of a Professor and a student down pat and you sometimes asked me what I was up to if you happened to bump into me, on the unpaved, cobbled sidewalk outside your house. I walked past your house a few times after you moved away at the end of the year. You cannot miss someone you never really knew. Instead the feeling of missing someone is substituted by a gnawing feeling of the possibilities that could have been. When you think of it, one sided love can be so liberating really because there is no one to limit your dreams of the relationship- sometimes this even makes up for the truth that your dreams will always remain dreams. 

I googled your name the other day- after many years. I don’t know why I did it, I wasn’t feeling nostalgic and I didn’t want to walk down memory lane either. It was perhaps an overpowering need to return to something that had once been pretty perfect in its restricted framework. The college has changed so much from what I could see. I did not know that you were now the department head. Did you still go for walks around the main cricket ground, I wondered? Oh, you have changed enormously too – the salt and pepper hair tells me that we have both traversed a long way down the cobbled paths.

 

The battle between love and fate always leaves a casualty. You could end up disbelieving in love. Or you could end up believing in a fate that is out to short-change you. Sometimes, just sometimes, though there are no causalities. There are snippets of time that teach you that you don’t always have to win. Just being part of the game, no matter how one-sided, can be enough for a life time. I wish you well too; I am not yet done with wandering the world. But someday perhaps, I shall come back and smile at you again as our paths cross on a stone cobbled path – and as always after we have asked each other about the journeys made, we will go our own ways happily…..

-S

Thank You For The Memories…

Dear ,
I know I will never post this letter but I need to write this for, like they say, every relationship is complete only when it ends. It came as an email, the invitation to your wedding and I was besides myself to read about the girl who would be your wife. You didn’t send me the email of course, it was forwarded by a friend who had known us from the time when such a wedding invitation would have been an unspeakable thing.

Do you remember how we met on the first day of our new jobs, new to the city, the surroundings and to each other? And yet a month later, you said I had transformed you into being more like myself, you were familiar with my love for Shakespeare, autumn and Vivaldi’s four seasons. When you looked at my initials and declared that if we got married, I wouldn’t have to change them, I had stared at you and then broken into peals of laughter. I don’t remember how the friendship grew, in what was an age of newness, you became my oldest buddy. 

When I went home for the Christmas break, you asked to come along. I had looked at you incredulously and reminded you that I wasn’t called the Colonel’s daughter for nothing. You had offered to stay in a motel and stand outside my house everyday. “Why would you do such a thing?”, I had asked even as visions of my father hauling you for trespassing floated before my yes. “Because I will miss you if you go away”, you had said simply and the familiar feeling of hurried heartbeats had left me confused. I was caught between being loyal to my baggage of memories and moving on with the echoes of my heart and a reply was not forthcoming.

When I came back, you asked to meet me and right there on the office lawn with its jasmine and begonias, you asked me to marry you. “You are the one for me”, you said even as you pushed a single red rose into my hand. I didn’t say yes and I didn’t say no. I knew this was coming but I was waiting for a homecoming from someone else across the seas. He would never come back but hope is always the last one to leave the room and it stays on with the lights turned on bright,even as everyone walks away.

Do you remember how you sang to me every time you asked me if I had made up my mind and I pleaded you to stop, because you couldnt carry a tune? Do you remember how you stopped a bus midway and walked back 3 kms to check if I was okay because I had looked upset when we bid each other goodbye for the day? Do you remember how you had pointed to the sky and given me half the stars, saying you would keep the other half for yourself if I ever went away? And yet, I took my share of the stars and gave nothing away. I remained stuck in no-man’s land even as my photograph appeared in your wallet, even as you told me that I had to merely ask and the world would be mine.

Do you remember how you offered to cancel your trip to be with me because I was going through a bad phase at work? But I asked you to go and my last memory of you will be the two of us in the moonlight where you knelt down beside me and gave me the biggest cards you had found and asked me to marry you again. When I come back, we will never be apart again, you had said. And I had let you go, even as a dull ache settled around me. And I had realized that when you have your own journeys to make, a goodbye will not shatter you. So I mailed you one day to tell you that my answer was a no, and for the rest of my life, I will chide myself for not being gentle enough. You had called up then from a land of freezing winters, late at night and asked me why I couldn’t have told you this earlier, were you not my best friend ever? I didn’t want to think of you, alone, across the seas, dealing with the pain that was my doing. And yet, I was not brave enough to deal with it so I moved on and blocked it out because I couldn’t have handled the guilt and the pain both.

So I didn’t return your calls and pretended that I had never been loved madly, irrationally and completely like you had loved me. You resigned from your job and moved away and while my scars healed, as a reminder of a stubborn memory, a faint mark remained.

I can say this now, a part of me is proud of the fact that I did not go along and say yes to you because the person I am today is not the person you loved back then. I don’t know though, maybe we could have grown together and the future would have still been rosy. And here we are, exactly 7 years to the day you asked me to marry you, love has visited your step again and this time you are in it for the long haul. For loving me beyond belief, though I may never have said it then, I give you a big thank you. For allowing me to walk away and wishing me well for my journey, I give you all my gratitude. I am sorry for all the promises and the memories and the unsaid words. I want you to know that no one escapes their heartache and that I did fight my battles and lose people I loved. In the long run, I hope time has been kind to you as she has been to me.

I want you to know that a walk down memory lane is better because of you, that I consider myself lucky for your love and faith. Someday I would like to meet your wife and tell her what a special person you are. But for now I will think of you as I remember you from that moonlit night and hope that your share of stars always shines brightly. Someday when I am old, under a fading autumn sun, I will think of you and of a love that was brave enough to allow us to make journeys alone and I will smile to myself thinking of the red roses. I hope you do too.

Sincerely,
The Girl You Once Loved

A Rite Of Passage

In another time and another place, I adored Allan Border. Wait, make that, I loved the guy in a “heart-stopping-knees-going-weak-I-believe-only-in-you” manner. It was, for what it was worth, love in its truest form, with all eyes firmly on the present,the past discarded and the future royally disowned. Like all love stories, it must have begun with a special word or a half-etched smile or a meeting of the eyes even as time appeared to stand still. Given that I was in a tiny town in India and he was across the oceans in Australia, in all likelihood, growing up in the “cricket is our religion” family , the eyes must have met over a TV ad or a newspaper cutting or over ecstatic whoops at his batting during a cricket tournament.

Slowly and gradually over the world cup season, I graduated from a fan on the sidelines to a diehard,know-all about Australian cricket fanatic and more importantly became an authority on Border’s batting scores from the last few seasons. The final rite of passage came when I took on collective family wrath by putting up his posters in my room. With the walls bearing pockmarks of cellotape, I made the great leap into the teenage years, wearing my heart on my sleeve with his love firmly etched in my heart. I scoured for articles on him, I took any criticism to him personally ,I wrote his name in calligraphics on the back of notebooks and I played the “flames” game with his name and mine till I ran out of scraps of paper.

Young love believes in itself more than it does, in the object of its affections. And so I believed, that one day I would meet him and the sparks would fly and a fairy tale would commence. I hadn’t worked out the details, but then love has its eyes on the road and hardly ever, has any time to pack for the journey. While friends around me, flirted with the first traces of lipstick and wore their hair low to get the boy down the road look at them, I went to bed dreaming of Australia and Border, neither of which I knew much about. On the day he scored 10000 test runs, I treated a gaggle of young cousins to icecream. I stayed up later than usual staring at his photograph in the night lights and made a scrap book of his special day.

One day, some one gifted me with his autobiography which was dedicated to his wife. And like all love stories,my story met its share of tears, wasted promises and harsh awakenings. I cried myself to sleep even as I refused to give up on my dream. Yet. Over the endless summer, I gradually went back to my books and my movies and stayed away from the game. I conceded that the boy down the road was pretty good looking. I discovered lipstick and romance novels. On one such day when the earth seemed full of promises, I cleaned out my room and the posters came down. The tape marks stayed, it was just that there was nothing to define them any longer.

Cut to a decade later, in my home, in suburban Adelaide. The Aussies were reigning supreme in their quest for the Ashes, and I was solving a crossword puzzle on a lazy Sunday afternoon. And 21 across was an Australian cricket to have scored 10000 runs in test cricket. And the letters A-l-l-a-n-B-o-r-d-e-r fit perfectly. And the rest of the pieces fell into place perfectly. There it was, his name in my handwriting written on Page 35 of the The Sunday Mail in neat blue ink.

One day the best time of your life, the greatest passion you had ever felt, the sharpest pain that ever stung you, the deepest fears and the truest joys will get diluted with ounces of time. One day, the bright colours will fade and be replaced with an easier-on-the-eye sepia memory. One day, while you have been living through it all, life will come full circle. One day the loving without a thought for the outcome, the endless summer nights of promises and the possibilities of grandiose dreams coming true will make sense, even though the dreams themselves did not.

One day , a summer love story which could have been the love story of your life, will become the clue for a missing word in a crossword.  And in that instant of time, a feeling of freedom and comfort will settle around you, even as the next story begins …

Old Love

Old love. O-l-d l-o-v-e. She half mutters to herself as they crank up the radio for her to hear. It is late afternoon, patchy sunshine lies on the grass and a brave ray manages to reach her gnarled ankle. Time hangs heavy in mid-air. Just like her, time has nowhere else to go at the moment. Everything starts off as a ritual, spring arrives gaudily, summer follows on its toes breathlessly, you throw in a few autumns along the way, and from nowhere a pattern emerges. Time still doesn’t have a place to go to but you do and therefore you don’t notice the slow ticking of the clock. You miss the fact that clocks are never in a hurry. You miss the fact that one iteration leads to another one but you cannot break the mould, for if there is a pattern inside the circle, there is a void outside it and after a while a void can drown you, so it is safer to be confined endlessly. But a void is filling her up now, drowning her even, as she follows the clock and she is in no hurry this time and she has nowhere else where she can be. She knows now that there is nothing universal about time, a minute is an eternity when accompanied by old age.

In a short while, the sunshine will pass, easing away, walking backwards like a young child that has lingered too long: slow, retraceable steps at first and then a sudden about turn followed by a quick scampering of feet along the horizon. Not that it matters really for it has been a long time now since the sunshine managed to make its way inside her heart, she seems to be a victim of an endless dusk. He has been gone for a long time, she has spent more years cherishing his memories than holding his hand. She has aged without him, he wasn’t around when she noticed the first signs of grey hair, he wasn’t around when she learnt that time keeps a counter for you and paints your skin with wrinkles as a reward, she didn’t have to ask him to speak up because silences are always loud and especially from those who have long since gone on their own journeys. She has talked to him sometimes, when she was by herself, she would ask a question and wait for a response. When none was forthcoming, she would shake her head at where he should have been sitting. “Always a man of few words”, she would mutter as she got up with her aching knees and clear his plate for him. After a while, she stopped the role play, sometimes the characters you create don’t depart when the curtain falls, they hang around and start demanding their own lines. Sometimes, worse still, they wander away in the middle of a performance and you realize that for all the power you think you exude over your imagination, you don’t have the last word.

She goes through his words, she sifts through the times they had spent together, she lives a parallel life where she has accepted that he isn’t around and she very much is. And all the time the counter has ticked and the wrinkles have arrived, the reality of the past has been blurred and the days have become a jumbled maze falling over each other to get to the end. She smiles to herself for she knows that her days of chasing recollections are almost over. And so as the sunshine tiptoes out, and the radio hums an unfinished symphony, she gathers her wrap around her and with trembling hands opens a parchment that has seen better days. She traces his writing on the paper and thinks of his face as he went off to war and knows that in her heart, he came back a long time ago.

His words spring out and for a minute sunshine abounds everywhere.

There will be a summer some day
In a hidden corner of my heart
When an icy fog shrouds
Everything that I once knew

Through eyes that can only see
A few scattered memories
I will see you walking
Towards me, this time forever

And life will come full circle
As I hold on firmly this time
I’ll walk with you into a promised land
Leaving any parting behind us.

Old Love, O-L-D L-O-V-E,the radio continues to croons. She half nods to herself as they prepare to wheel her back to her room. She wonders if she should tell them about her old love – not a love that grew old along with her but a love that stayed around un-exorcised even when it died a young death.

The Letters that were never posted

Dear H
Its been 6 years, 3 months and 21 days since I last saw you . I don’t remember what you were wearing or what I was wearing or what the weather was like but I know that I was thankful for the darkness around us as you said goodbye, because you couldn’t see the solitary tear trickling down my face. I knew it was a final goodbye even as you said that we would perhaps meet up again someday.

It is not like I have been counting the days or anything. I have moved on and so have you. There are days when I don’t think even think of you. It is just that when I made an appointment with the hairdresser this morning for next Tuesday, that I remembered that it was your birthday on Tuesday. I knew then that no matter how hard I tried, I would never be able to forget this date. So I leaned over and told the hairdresser that it was your birthday and even as she stared at me, I told her that I hadn’t seen you for the past 6 years, 3 months and 21 days.

R

Dear M
Do you remember how you once told me that the greatest of love stories is a mere play of emotions? Do you remember that when I was clinging on to you as you packed your bags to leave, you told me that life runs in single lanes and that it is quite possible to live without the person you love the most? Do you remember that when you called up to say you were getting married, I told you that I had more loyalty to a hazy past than you would ever have and that I would love you forever? Or that no matter what you did, I would always love you this deeply?

Will you forgive me for taunting you for moving on? You see, it has taken a while and I hate to admit this but you were right. I have just finished burning all the letters you ever wrote to me and as I look at the black bits of soot on my hand, I know now that I am past this mere play of emotions and I wouldn’t even call our love the greatest of all love stories.

R

Dear V
Love does not come with guarantees of forever. It is at best vulnerable, clingy, needy and desperately in need of reassurances to fuel it and keep it going. You really have to get over what was a beautiful prelude to reality. Reality is the long term solution to dreams, you have to believe me on this. My bags are packed, the bridal dress waits in its gauzy paper. A solitary amethyst smiles to itself on my ring finger. It is a matter of hours and then I will disappear past the bend in the road. Please do not scan the roads for me. You see it doesn’t matter who passes by if you are a mere onlooker. It is not your journey anyway.

And yet as I write this, I hope you will pine away for me, I hope you will pen sonnets about the love we once had and I hope you disown reality and accept your dreams, broken as they are. I hope that you go one better and teach me that it is indeed possible to love someone…forever. I like the sound of the word, perhaps you could aim to make it a reality.

R

When The Red Roses Go Out Of Season…

The phone rings as I am about to leave for the day. My rather weary “Hello” is greeted with exuberance as a friend cheerily booms down into the phone. “Guess what”, he gushes, “I met this guy yesterday who is a palm reader and he reckons love is on the cards for me, in other words I am about to meet my dream girl very,very soon”. “That’s wonderful”, I murmur and hope he will leave it at that but he persists “What do you think?”.

I hear his excited voice, the unbounding optimism that the love forecast seems to have generated in him and suddenly,I want to tell him very honestly what I think…

I want to tell him that love will walk its way into his life just like that, one fine day, hardly stopping to ask him if he is ready, that no palm reader and no astrological forecast will ever prepare him for the life changing emotions that will follow.

I hope he knows that he can’t choose whom he will fall in love with, all I hope is that he loves with all his heart and follows his heart without constantly second guessing himself. Love is as much about the little things as much as it is about the big decisions and this I want him to understand. Long after the Hallmark cards and red candy boxes have been exchanged and relegated to moth ball lined drawers, what will remain etched in memory forever is a look, a kind word, a pat on the back and a squeeze of the hand.

I want to tell him that rather than finding a person who says “I love you”, I hope he finds a person who says “I’ll always be there for you” because at the end of the day it is more about support than about declarations, it is more about having a familiar number to call and pour your heart out than about having to put your best voice on.It is more about caring for the other person than guarding your own vulnerabilities.

I hope he finds a love that does not fizzle out after the red roses have gone out of season, rather I hope he finds and gives the sort of love that packs an umbrella for a rainy day and waits at the window anxiously when the other person is running late.

Long after the love ballads and the duets have been sung and they have become silent melodies buried in the recesses of the mind forever, what will sustain him on a cold wintry day is someone with whom he can have a heart warming, honest talk. Sometimes you do not need to be poetic to do your soul searching. I hope he finds someone who can make him smile and someone with whom he can laugh himself silly, you can never go wrong if you can make each other smile.

I hope he realizes that acts and facades are hard to keep up and harder still to unmask, all he can do is hope that he will meet someone who will allow him to be himself and accept him for what he is and this will be much,much harder than he thinks possible. To find someone with whom you can discuss anything under the sun, is to find your piece of heaven and I wish he grows that lucky in love. I hope his love matures from counting the stars all night to staying up with the other person all night when sick and upset.

Lastly I wish I could tell him that luck and love do not always go together, that perhaps he will love with all his heart and it will never be reciprocated. Instead of being bitter and turning into a non believer, I wish I could tell him that it does not matter, he will still win in a game that declares no winners and makes everyone lose something in a way.

There is so much I could tell him but like with all miracles, I want him to experience this one in its entirety, I want him to walk this path and perhaps stumble a bit but move on nevertheless and learn and keep his heart opens as he travels.

“Are you there?” he asks me, suddenly realizing that I haven’t said anything for a long time. “I am very happy for you” I answer, and as he says goodbye, I softly respond “It will all work out in the end, it always does”.

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