Passing Ships in the Night…

No one loves a small town forever, you had once said.  Right before you reminded me that you were made for bigger and perhaps better things. I didnt know enough to correct you and I perhaps adored you too much to disagree with you. My dreams found their haven within the safe confines of the bylanes, the meandering,crooked streets and the genteel rambling houses that our town was famous for. The old lake aglow with dinghy tubelights from the surrounding streets spelt home for me and the glenn behind the old primary school reminded me of how much of our past we always carried with us . You spoke of a distant land and I half listened to you even as I watched a plethora of rain drops slide off the dusty gulmohar boughs. Your horizons loomed wide and daunting in places that sounded foreign and yet rolled off your tongue so easily. I said these names out aloud to myself at times and wondered how people could form a new home in  a new country and forget where they came from.

I called you up from the corner telephone booth after you had left. My mother gave me a 100 rupee note and asked me to wrap up my talk in that amount. Perhaps she knew better than me that when you are summarizing an entire future that is not to be, you need very little time and very few words. The telephone booth had a rickety,wooden stool and a calendar from 1995 – another stark reminder that some places, like some people, have trouble moving on. Someone had lit an incense stick in the booth that morning and the air was heavy and thick with the sweetish aftersmell.  There was a fine layer of grime on the wooden ledge that housed the phone and a couple of phone numbers had been etched on to the drab sunmica panels with a ball point pen. A sequence of digits. A sequence of lives. One reality depending on the other like a chain. A link between two lives. Perhaps the last link in the chain.

I was in such a rush to talk to you that your receptionist didnt understand who I wanted to talk to at first. When I finally got through to you, you stayed your usual non-committal self. Your visa had come through, you were leaving soon. I could call you up in a new contry next year, you suggested. I wondered for a moment if, like my memories of a better time, a 100 rupee note too could stretch and sustain forever.  But I ended up telling you I would call because I didnt know what else to say. I even managed to get some change on my money.

I dont know how your evening unfolded after that call. But I chatted to the shop owner. And to the old lady across the road as I wheeled my bicycle back home. There was a storm soon after and then the heavens poured for what seemed liked an eternity. I let the rain talk to me and I soaked up the rain, the bone drenching showers and the monsoon chills believing that I was letting the pain wash away. When the sun came out again, a part of heart was still shivering.

I stayed in the town for a few more years. And then like you, I packed my bags and left. And I never went back in any true sense of a homecoming. But this year after many,many moons I found myself on the same streets again. The sidewalks had a profusion of wild grass like always, the crooked lanes still meandered and the lake was older but still caused a ripple. The corner grocery store was no more. Familiar faces from another era were dotted with grey and sepia, and yet there were sweeping chasms of lost memories and lives where an old friend or a dear neighbour once existed. Everything was so old and so much in place that it was almost new again. The STD booth was there too – was it the same rickety stool that had once stood witness to us sealing our fates and bartering our futures for the allure of faraway lands?

There were no clouds in sight – the rain gods had abandoned their bounty and the sky was inexorable in its blue cheer. I paused by the booth and for one, pure, undulated plump moment, I thought of you, of me, of us. Of the way we were back then. Of the roads we never took and of the patois of the heart that we ignored. And then just like the day, I had walked out of the booth with change in my pocket and a burning hole in my heart, I walked on. Except that there was no pain left anymore. Someday, if you keep at it long enough, time will announce that its dues have been paid and leave you to your fate. It will promise you no victory – all it will promise instead is that someday you could be trounced again on a level battlefield where there is no book-keeping for the victor or the vanquished.

I nearly didnt say those words back then, I nearly didnt wish you well for everything that lay ahead. I am glad I did though because someday at some crossroad, everyone struggles to find the way home.  You didnt know this when you left because you had your eye on the destination. I didnt know this when I left because I had my eye on the starting point. And yet we both lived to tell the tale. It was not our tale anymore, it never needed to be so. We journey alone – we arrive alone. The greatest of love stories is but the tale of passing ships in the night.