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The sun had just started setting and the sky looked like a mixture of orange, red and blue. I saw an old couple sitting on their front porch enjoying their evening tea. There was a lady playing badminton in the garden with her kids. There were couples out on an evening walk, children walking hand in hand with their parents going excitedly towards the mall. As I walked aimlessly, I could only see happy and smiling faces around me with the colour of the sky reflecting on them. These simple things that came free to others were things I just could not afford.
As I was sympathising over myself, rain started pouring in. When I was young, I used to love the unpredictability of the Mumbai rains but since the past few years I had seen my life become so bitter that this unpredictable rain did not excite me anymore.
Looking for cover, I ran into a bus shelter to save myself from the rain. As I stood there, I saw him running towards me with his hand over his head. Seeing him I was shocked at life’s unpredictability once again. Wishing that I was hallucinating, I pinched myself but he was still there, just the two of us. As I tried to come to my senses, he spoke, “Is that you Naina?”
“Yeah, I mean hi. What a surprise!” I managed to say.
Grinning from ear to ear as always, he came and sat down beside me.
“Wow, you still look so beautiful” he said softly.
I was taken aback by his remark. Was he fooling around or was it just a bad joke.
“Don’t you see these scars on my face? Don’t you see the long hair that I once used to boast about, is gone now?”
“Yes I can see all of that, but I can also see the inner beauty that you have” he said.
As always, I was again bowled over by his boyish charm. He had always been able to read my mind but this time I was afraid that he might come to know about the things that I wanted to hide from him, so I looked away.
The sky had started clearing up and Sahil said, “Coffee?” Soon we were walking towards the coffee shop at the end of the street. The cafe was almost empty and Sahil took me to the corner table facing a window.
I said, “It seems only I have aged. You still look the same like when we had met the last time which was around ten years back. Your eyes are still shining and your hair is still unkempt as I remember. Your skin is still glowing. Did you get stuck at 28 or what?”
Sahil said laughingly, “Ya, maybe because I didn’t want to change. I wanted to stay the same as you had left me.”
Once again I was taken aback as I had not seen that coming.
“I thought you were in the US. When did you come back?” I asked wanting to change the topic.
“I was in the US but I am back for good now. Someone needed me here” he said, his eyes piercing into mine.
“No, still waiting for someone like you” he said.
Again his answer was unpredictable and I did not know what to reply to that statement.
I asked, “You don’t want to know anything about me? Why haven’t you asked how I got these scars?”
Sahil said, “I was waiting for you to tell me. Didn’t know if I still had the right to ask you personal questions? So what happened?”
“Ours was a loveless marriage right from the beginning and we were both at fault. I could not find the person I was looking for, in him and I think the feeling was mutual. We divorced soon after my daughter Muskaan was born. It was her fifth birthday and we were returning from my ex-husbands house after her birthday party. Our car met with an accident and Muskaan died on the spot but I survived. My parents brought me here to look after me.”
Taking my hands into his, Sahil led out a deep sigh and said, “Don’t be so harsh on yourself Naina. Even though you did not show a single sign of grief while narrating the incident to me, I can see that you are hiding many emotions inside. So just come out with them. What are you trying to do? Fool me or fool yourself.”
I didn’t know what to answer. As always he had again read my deepest feelings. I kept staring at him until I finally broke down. He stood up suddenly, held my hand, took me out of the cafe and started walking. I don’t know how long we walked but soon I could see the park where we used to hang out during our college days.
He turned around to face me and holding my other hand too, he said, “Now cry as much as you want. Let me be a part of your sadness.” There was desperateness in his voice and I yearned for his companionship once again.
“I don’t know Sahil. I always try to put up a very brave front but one mention of her and I break down into pieces. I was in coma for 2 months after the accident but I could see her everyday, dancing and laughing around me. I held onto life thinking that she was waiting for me but I was wrong. I woke up from a beautiful dream to a horrible nightmare. Lying on my bed for 3 months was the hardest thing to do. I wanted to run back to my house and sleep with her favourite toys. I wanted to see her photographs hanging around the house but my parents did not let me go because I was still very weak, physically and mentally. I tried to remain strong in front of them but after they slept at night, I lay on my bed crying hysterically.”
I broke down again but this time Sahil was there to hold me. I don’t know for how long I stood with my head on his chest but it seemed as if after ages I was finally feeling at rest. We both spoke endlessly that day and this became a daily routine. Meeting him was the only thing I looked forward to everyday. It was like I was re-living my past, a past that was bright because it had Sahil in it and I slowly started getting better.
Seasons changed like they always did. Monsoon gave way to autumn and then winter arrived. Along with this change, our friendship grew into love and I started dreaming of spending the rest of my life with Sahil.
The New Years Eve soon arrived with all the joy and happiness. The festive mood was all over the world and people were busy decorating their houses, buying gifts and partying with friends. But my home seemed too far away from all this. The intolerable silence that hung in my house was still there. Sometimes I could hear my parents talking in whispers and then crying. As for me, I didn’t cry anymore. The nightmares had vanished. But there was emptiness in my heart that refused to go. On some night I would wake up and see her lying beside me.
It was around midnight when I got a call from an unknown number. Putting on my shawl, I rushed to the terrace. There he was, standing with the gorgeous smile on his face. Sahil came towards me and took me in a tight hug.
“Happy new year, my love” he said.
Cupping my face in his hands, he said, “I know this is not the right time to celebrate but I wanted to bring in the New Year with you.”
I looked at him shyly, “Your unpredictability always leaves me surprised. I love you, Sahil!”
I don’t know why but his eyes were suddenly in tears and he started crying.
Wiping his tears, I stood on my toes and kissed him and the moment he kissed me back felt like eternal bliss. I felt as if I was walking on air and I wanted to stay like that forever. As the clock struck twelve, the sky lit up in fireworks and we stood there in a tight embrace.
Kissing me on my forehead, Sahil said, “I know there are moments when you become so weak but I want to tell you something now.”
I lifted up my eyes to listen to him.
“Remember that I was always there for you and will always be. I love you too Naina” said Sahil.
Before I could say anything, he handed me a letter asking me to read it the next morning. As I walked back into my room, I held the letter close to my heart. Still contemplating whether to read it now or later, I fell asleep. The next morning, I pulled out the letter from under my pillow and started reading it.
“I don’t know where to begin. There was so much I wanted to tell you when we were in college but could never muster enough courage. Later when I should have chosen to spend my life with you, I chose my career. I have had only regrets in my life and those regrets did not ever let me live and neither did the let me die in peace. Sorry for letting you go from my life. I never knew my life would become so miserable without you. By the time I realise, I had lost you and you had gone to him. I tried moving on but never could.
Our life would have been so beautiful. I am really sorry for making you suffer. Don’t worry about Muskaan. She is fine and is here with me. We both want to see you happy always.
I love you.”
I read the letter but could not decipher what it meant or maybe I didn’t want to read between the lines.
Like a maniac, I rushed out of my house. Frantically ringing the bell on his door, I barged into the house. I saw his parents but not him. I quickly rushed up the stairs to his room. I was going crazy at that moment. His room looked just as it had 10 years ago.
So it was true. Sahil had hanged himself on the day I got married.
I went on with my life like a mad woman. Just as I was trying to heal one wound, a new one had started bleeding. His memories were still fresh in my heart.
I still see him sometimes. Sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night, I see him standing beside my bed. Sometimes when I break into tears, I can see him waiting to console me. He doesn’t say anything but just stands there staring at me. It’s now that I have realised that it was not life’s unpredictability that I loved, but his.
One month has almost passed and I don’t know how many more I have to survive without Muskaan and Sahil. I know they are both there, trying to teach me to live without them and also to wait for another unpredictable turn in my life.