The Sentence: Chap 14

 

The+Cast

Back to your memories ….and how! Antonspeak

‘Remember the thread that bound us together?
Seemingly fragile, but oh so mighty!
A cord that hardly sings of its existence
But when one pulls, the other answers
And so have you answered me in my dreams, dear one,
Like a sudden, sweet fragrance and I woke up in tears.

I welcome the tears that speak of you
And the sighs my lips part with
I would not know of a love so strong, so real so brutal yet so kind
Had I not known you, precious one, who would teach me of love so true
How would I know of a lover’s bliss if it hadn’t been for you?’

***********************

Strange! I did not have the slightest idea I remembered these lines! These were written by the woman who wanted me with all she had. Whatever that may be, I cannot believe Rebecca actually talked me into
coming back here… to India and the University where I once taught….albeit, for a few months, to the town which is still rife with her memories. I cannot believe I came here again!

And for what exactly? Seeking closure? May be my thoughts are showing on my distressed face. Rebecca just squeezed my hand and smiled a reassuring smile. I can’t ignore the sense of dread that’s building up inside me. As the car is rattling past the dusty roads, I can hear the hum of the sea, the familiar sights of the town that I once inhabited with Maya. This is her town, the warm breeze that rushes past my ears everytime I step out of the car whispers Maya’s name….as if reminding me that I am late and the person who would welcome me back here is long gone.

“Stop here, for a minute…..please!” I blurted out suddenly, tapping the elderly driver on his shoulder. He is a pleasant fellow, chattering non-stop about how he is an excellent guide and how he can show us all the ‘oh-so-wonderdul’ tourist spots in and around this town. I kept nodding and smiling as Rebecca listened to his ‘vast reserves of knowledge’ with interest. Actually, his incessant prattling was giving me a headache but I chose to be polite.

Now, startled, he slammed on the brakes and Rebecca was caught off-guard as her body lunged forward. My arm shot out, trying to stop her from hitting her chin and she grabbed it gratefully. The car swerved to the right before coming to a final halt.

“Whaa..What? She stammered as the driver turned around to find out why I had asked him to stop.

“Sorry, I just need a moment. Be right back..” I answered their questioning looks with those quick words and sped off to the corner of the brown road filled with multiple cracks. ‘I know this place so well’ was all I was thinking.

As I turned the corner, my breath hitched in my throat.There it sat, just as I had left it, just as I had seen it the last time! Partially hidden behind the bushy tree I remember so well…. but I forgot its name…. Maya knew what that tree was called…..was the cottage that we had lived in. Together. For seven months almost. I stood, as if in a trance, staring at the little villa that suddenly seemed so welcoming…. I started walking towards it with tentative steps…. as if waiting eagerly to see who would be on the other side of the locked front door…. waiting for me with bated breath….

“We’ll name it love-nest….Anton?”

The words seemed to drift into my ears, as if they had materialized out of thin air. Maya’ voice. From the past, buried somewhere in my memory. As if they knew it was a good time to pounce on me. I remembered Maya then, surprising myself, I remembered the exact scene. Maya sat on the bed in my favourite red dress that complimented her dark hair and brown skin perfectly. Perched on my favourite chair at the other side of the room, I was eyeing her hungrily. She knew that look in my eyes and brought on a mock scowl on her face, only to burst into fits of giggles a minute later.

Things took a beautiful turn as expected. Maya was a wonder in my arms…. so alive, so ethereal but so real, all at the same time! I breathed in the fragrance of her washed hair as the wet locks plastered on my chest. Her favourite part after we had made love was rubbing her head against my chest, shoulders and back. I used to tell her she looked like a mountain-goat doing that.

I began to smile. Did anybody live in our cottage now? On a sudden whim, I decided to find out. With long strides I reached the little gate from where I could get a good view of the garden. I could still see the stump of the hibiscus but the little place was filled with weeds and tall grass. By the look of the cottage and garden, I knew it was deserted. The paint had started peeling from the outer walls and the windows looked dull and lifeless under layers of dust.
##########

“We’ll name it love-nest…. Anton?” She asked as she lay on the bed, her head on my thigh, her red dress riding up, giving me an eyeful of her legs. I had rolled my eyes.

“Yuck! So cheesy!” I answered with apparent disgust and she shot upright at once, her face clouding over. I had to laugh at that grim expression and it made her angrier. As she hastened to get out of bed, I caught her hand and pulled her back.

“But hey, I like cheese,” I whispered in her ear and as my lips tickled her, she laughed too.
“Of course you do! You’re Italian!” She had quipped.

#############

I was about to open the creaking gate and step in.

“Anton?” A woman called behind me.

I spun around so fast I almost knocked myself off my feet but somehow grabbed her hand and steadied myself. I was half expecting it to be Rebecca but it was not. Actually, the moment I heard it, I knew the voice wasn’t hers.

The woman was still grabbing my hand. I felt her nails digging deep into my palms. Her face was slightly flushed and her eyes wide, as if she was bursting to tell me something.

“So you have come…. now!” The tone…. the accusatory tone, I had expected it all along. Her eyes scorched me, her nails still trying to cut into my flesh, trying to punish me for the death of that one friend who loved me. Why could I not remember her name! Darn, my memory always failed me at these moments!

Was it… Naisa? Nadira? Something like that…. damn!

“Hello….. How are you?” I greeted awkwardly. She stared at me with unblinking eyes, her face had turned a terrible shade of red, her nostrils flaring. For a moment, I thought she would attack me with those clawish nails.

But the next minute, her grip on my wrist loosened and the anger in her face melted away. As I saw those large eyes fill up with tears, I knew the worst had passed. Clutching t my shirt, she broke down in violent sobs and her knees buckled. As if on instinct, my arms went around her and before I realised it, the front of my shirt was getting soaked with tears.

Those tears were falling from my eyes.

“Nafeesa is my best-est friend on earth! She is more like my soul-sister, honestly!”
Maya’s voice chirped in my head.

Nafeesa! I remember the name now Yes, Nafeesa.

The Sentence: Part 13

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Sighs and unheard cries…

Like a bolt from the blue. That was my first thought when I read the email from the man who I hold responsible for Maya’s death. Not directly, but he was the one who thrust her into a pit of morbid despair, after he had taken what he wanted from her. Maya, though she was a beautiful soul had invested her trust in the wrong man who neither loved nor valued her. And I will never stop saying that!

When I had shared with him the news of Maya’s death, I had at least expected a heartfelt show of grief. Instead, I had received a two-liner saying he was sorry to hear the news. Personally, I am sure he was glad that she was gone.

Some people are like venomous snakes. Only worse because their bites cannot be seen with the human eye…. they harm the spirit and the victim dies of slow-poison. That man was just that!

But I am curious. Having read the email a couple of times already, I still cannot clearly deduce why he wants to come back here. Again. He has already snatched the person that I adored…. a woman with the most gorgeous smile I had ever seen. Whenever she bestowed it on me, I used to feel like the luckiest man on earth! Perhaps I would always adore her from a distance and never really speak up about my feelings, Yet, the sight of her filled me with a childish delight that I cannot express adequately in words. Just can’t stop the tears threatening to spill down my cheeks. May be, I should let them flow… to heal, to forgive myself for not forcing Maya to abandon that man when she still could, for not getting more involved in her personal life, for resigning to fate and allowing destiny to take its course!

A long, audible sigh escapes my lips and I can feel myself bristling with rage. I did try to stop her and not just once. She was getting upset with me…. I feared that she would no longer confide in or trust me.

I shake my head. Excuses! See, I feared I would lose Maya’s friendship if I interfered too much in her personal life. Then I would not get to see her anymore! My life would feel empty again. Her smiling face, her ceaseless chatter, the subtle floral fragrance of wildflowers that always clung to her body…… all that would be taken away from me! I didn’t want to lose that…. I didn’t want to lose whatever little I could have of her! It turned me selfish and I lost her forever!

Late in the night sometimes, I suddely wake up and can see the moonlight spilling through the window shades. I wonder how it would be if I asked her in time, if she agreed. Would Maya be my wife then? Would she be by me, may be sitting on the porcb in the luminous night, sharing ice-cream from a tub and laughing away to glory until Maya fell asleep on my lap? And then, would I carry her inside in my arms, thanking my good fortune for making her mine?

And sometimes, when I am thinking about this, I feel her presence in me… her scent fills my room and the pain in me slowly goes away. It is as if she is standing by my bedside, smiling like before. I take her scent in my lungs greedily and drift off to sleep. But when I wake up in the morning, I am skeptical if it really happened or if I had just been dreaming!

Anyway, he said he will be arriving in two days time and he mentioned a companion. Its good they have arranged for their lodging because I will definitely not allow him any room in the University quarters. I still recall that moment when I got that frantic call from Nafeesa. It took me a while to understand, she was crying so much. When I realised what she was saying it was as if the air had been sucked out of my lungs! For a while, I struggled to breathe. The light had gone out of my world and I heard a buzzing in my head that made no sense. I can still hear that buzzing when I am thinking about the sight of her dead, yellowish face and her limp body in that bedroom of hers….. that she shared with him!

With Maya’s death,  I feel I have been served a cruel life sentence that I did not deserve. I did not want to see him, ever again. But now I will prepare myself for the meeting with…. with the man I loathe, like I have never loathed anyone else in my life!

The Sentence: Part 12

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Bonds that still bind.. and pull: Antonspeak

Her tears would not stop flowing. They kept coming….. trickling down like droplets from a faucet that has just been turned off. Her eyes were puffy and red, making her look rather cute. But then I heard her questions. I sort of knew they would be coming as I had finally told her every detail of my life with Maya . Honestly, I did not have to, neither did she ask. Just that, Becca’s expressive eyes questioned me and I could not run from that. Somehow, I thought I owed her an explanation.

Or, may be I owed Maya one.

“Are you okay?” I asked at length and as an answer, she threw her arms around my neck and sniffled.

I have always failed to comprehend why women get so upset over things. Yet, after questioning myself a few rimes over, I do not feel guilty in anyway about leaving Maya behind. It is true that Maya gave herself completely but she knew I would not be a permanent factor in her life. She knew that from day one. There were no promises made, from my end, at least!

The fact that Maya was still invading my thoughts was clear in the way I had called Becca by her name. That shook me, somewhat. Becks is intelligent, mature….I knew she would hear me out patiently, as she always did. Unlike Maya, who was always so eager to fill the time we spent together with her unceasing words about how great I was and how much she adored me. I don’t think she understood that love was not the only thing on my mind 24*7. I valued my work and my research most of all. Becca does.

However, its strange how the mere mention of Maya still brings a little smile to my lips. More than anything else, I remember her exaggerated pouts. She was like a child in so many ways. And a beautiful woman in so many other! But she was suffocating, to say the least! In her overtly affectionate, attention- craving, smothering way.. ..it got very suffocating around her!

“I don’t blame you,” Rebacca’s low voice nudged me back to the present.
“I don’t blame her either. Love is like that…”she added, her fingers playing through my hair like tiny rivulets chasing one another. I loved when she did that. It relaxed and calmed me down.

“I have never met Maya. But I feel connected, in some way. I guess because we love the same man!” Becca said, trying to smile.

I smiled too. Rebecca seldom spoke of her love for me so openly. Thankfully, she was more guarded when it came to that….. quite a contrast to Maya whose love washed over me like a tsunami…. unrestfained, uninhibited and destructive. It destroyed her and perhaps would take a huge toll on me had I continued staying with her.

“Didn’t she ever try to get in touch?” Becca asked. I sighed and nodded.

“I guess you were determined to stay away?” I nodded again, mentally thanking her for finding the answers herself.

“I thought it would only add to her pain,” I said quietly and she nodded this time, indicating that she understood. Fresh tears had started leaking out of her eyes.

Finally, I decided to voice the question that had been burning within me since that email arrived…… a question that had haunted me all this time. I cleared my voice.

“Would you say I am responsible for her death?” I asked, trying not to let the turmoil the question caused overpower me.

She looked into my eyes and pulled me into a close embrace.

“Anton, I don’t think so. You can’t be held responsible for a person’s death by cardiac arrest. However, there might be some people who could hold you accountable…”

I know what she meant. I was thinking of Maya’s parents.

“Her world revolved around you. True, you can’t really control how others feel about you but….” Becca paused, then continued.

“She had found her world in you. Call it crazy, childish or whatever. When you left, her world shattered beyond belief and I… I think she gave up her will to live,”

I sighed. Becca smiled and there was a touch of motherly affection in her voice when she spoke again.

“You said that Maya was very child-like in her understanding of the world. Sle loved you like a child, Anton….. fearlessly and without boundaries. I guess her craziness for you is the stuff that poets write about…”

As I was listening to her words, another question had started bothering me. I decided to ask her right away.

“See, you told me a while ago that you loved me… but what if…I mean this falls apart and we drift away?”

Rebecca chuckled.

“Am not Maya, Anton. You’re not my world, just part of it. And I know how to hold my world together.”

I was relieved to hear that. I felt lighter after days….. probably since I had got the news of Maya’s death. However, I was surprised by her next statement.

” I think Maya’s story needs a closure
Don’t you?”

She picked up her phone and started to browse. Looking over her shoulder, I saw that she was checking flight schedules from Rome to Delhi.

“Do you think we can fly in two weeks time? How long does it take from Delhi to reach the University you worked at?”

She looked at my puzzled expression and smiled.

” And yes, am coming too!”

“But Maya isn’t there….anymore. So, what’s the point?” I protested gently.

The evening had unexpectedly turned rainy and dark. She turned on the kitchen lights.

“Do you want some cocoa?” She asked.
Minutes later, Becca had joined me with two steaming cups.

“I read somewhere that every story has a destination,” Becca was saying, “Maya’s destination was you, Anton. And if her story could not reach its destination, may be the destination itself will have to get to the story to provide closure.

She inched closer and touchedoò my lips with hers. I tasted the cocoa.on her lips.

“I know what you’re thinking. But you know what, the place is still there, the university and the cottage where she stayed with you and the people who knew you both…. you’ll find Maya there… ”

I closed my eyes and let out a deep sigh.

“I have a feeling you need to play your part now, to end the story which started there…” Rebecca said in a quiet voice, “There are strings attached, sweetheart. There are always strings attached.”

The Sentence: Part 11

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You in me??

The car had stopped at a traffic light. He was engrossed in the picture of the Indian model clad in a gorgeous saree. She was dusky but attractive although she was too decked up. I was driving, but I had noticed the magazine open on his lap and he had been staring at the unknown Indian woman for the last five minutes or more. His eyes were contemplative and it was as if he had been staring not at her really but at something beyond.

“Seems familiar?” I asked with half a smile.He didn’t seem to hear me. I touched his hand…. those long, artistic fingers…. and tried again.

“Anton? Is that someone you know?”
As I asked, it seemed rather absurd to my own ears. How would he know her?

This time, he heard me and shook his head slowly in a ‘no’. His eyes still had that faraway look in them and for a moment, I was worried for him. These past few days he had seemed a tad vulnerable, a bit sad and disturbed under that light-hearted, witty veneer. As if, he wanted to tell me something, let me in on a secret but then decided against it in the very last minute. He had not been.sleeping well either and at times, I would wake up in the dead of the night to see him sitting at the table in our small, cosy study pouring over his books or even just sitting up in bed, hugging his bolster and lost in deep thought.

I had not been living with Anton for very long but I had read his habits well. I knew his likes, dislikes, those little mannerisms that were sometimes annoying but mostly so endearing. He was a deep- sleeper and even though I fought with him regularly for his habit of going to sleep rather late, I had never seen him sitting up in bed before in the middle of the night. However, knowing him for almost a year, I knew he would not tell me anything until he himself wanted to, no matter how much I pleaded, so I refrained from asking.

Soon however, we reached the little joint which was our favourite for a late Sunday brunch. The air was chilly and I sneezed as the cold air tickled my nose. He put his arm around me and pulled me closer and I relaxed immediately. There was something about his touch… something indecipherable but almost magical.

” Becca? Have you ever tried Indian?” He asked as I laced my fingers through his. We had just ordered our food and the little diner was abuzz with the lively chatter of the Sunday afternoon crowd.

” No,” I shook my head, “people say its too spicy!” He smiled and again I felt that he was dying to tell me something. This was disconcerting and I decided to try my luck.

“You seem anxious about something…. for some days now. Mind sharing?”

He looked at me and momentarily, a look of surprise flitted across his face. Clearly, he had not realised that I had noticed. Anton himself wasn’t much good at noticing how people felt. I sometimes joked that his emotional capacities were as good as a toddler’s. At times, he would be rude to me without even realising that he was hurting my feelings and seemed surprised when I told him so. But then again, it was part of his charm. He drew a long breath and I sat taut. Something was coming.

“Its funny how you mentioned Indian food is spicy….I sort of had the same dialogue with someone, years back.”

I guessed it was a woman. Indeed, it was.

“She took an instant liking to me, I am not sure why,” he shook his head and I smiled.

Perhaps, a woman can never explain well enough why she likes a man. Why did I like this man with his intelligent blue eyes, thinning hair and rimmed glasses? Was it his witty banter? His easy-going and undemanding persona? His vast resources of knowledge that surfaced only when he spoke passionately about something? What was it exactly about this workaholic Math professor that made me go weak in my knees?

But Anton was talking and I forced myself to be alert. It was seldom that I got to peep in his past.

“I was telling this fine, young woman that I would love to try a few Indian dishes but they are usually too hot for me.”

He chuckled, reminiscing.

“She replied with an innocent face that so are Indian women. I laughed heartily…I still remember…”

I wanted to hear more but the food arrived and he clammed up. Back home, we relaxed on the couch while staring at the television but not really watching anything. It was still going to be a couple of hours before sunset and our living room was bathed with sunlight that drew criss-cross patterns on the floor. I leaned into him and drifted into a cosy siesta.

I do not know when he had laid me down on the couch and pulled the curtains close. His hands were pressing down on my shoulders and my eyes flickered open. I was ready as his mouth came down on mine and then slithered down to my neck. His stubble was so ticklish as it rubbed against my skin, it made me giggle helplessly.

Within minutes, he became more demanding. It was as if this Anton only emerged in the most passionate moments….. an aggressive animal, very different from the slightly aloof, reticent gentleman the world knew. As he took control, I lay under him with my eyes closed. My insides trembled in anticipation.

His lips were moving against my face, my ears…. whispering words of desire. Frenzied, my mind was a whirlwind…… and my soft moans answered his almost inaudible ones. I gathered him in a loving embrace and….

“Maya!”

My eyes shot open to see him with a ghastly expression on his face. Releasing me, he sat bolt upright, looking dumbstruck.

“Ahem, its Rebecca but agree ‘Maya’ is easier,” I tried to make a joke of it.

He slowly stood up and I quickly put my hand on his arm to restrain him. However, I was looking at his eyes. They wore that confused, disoriented expression again. Shaking my hand off easily, he left the room quickly and I lay there wondering whose name it was that he had called me by.

 

Frenzy (poem)

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Again, those nights of sheer ecstasy
Nights that always seem so new
The touch of his mouth on her craving one
Once a prayer in her heart
Now answered at last.

As the pleasure and pain seer her soul
Not a single sound escapes her lips
Till he possesses her entire being
Once and for all, he claims her free will.
Never hesitating, she makes the offering.

A giant serpent is he and entwines her
Nailing her down, he smirks with pride
Trembling, as his hands disrobe her
Over and over, she rejoices, she cherishes
Near-ecstatic, her teeth sink into his back.

A man she feels so complete with
Yet she knows not if he loves her
In her adoration, there are no lies
She does not demand, she only thanks her stars.
He takes, she gives. He rejects, she believes.

She believes he is a blessing sent her way
And she worships, like the undaunted sunflower that adores the sun,
She knows perhaps he will not stay
Yet deep in her heart, she feels they are but one.

The Sentence: Part 10

Silhouette man leaves from the woman

  I meant you no harm but….Antonspeak 

My mind was made up. However, I did not want any of the histronics that I would have to deal with once I broke the news to Maya. For the past few days, she was draining my energy, asking me why I looked so disturbed, if she could do anything to alleviate it, if I was still offended with her….. boring! So boring! Knowing that she would not leave me alone unless I gave her a definitive answer, I cooked up a story about my dad’s failing health adding that I might have to travel to Italy soon, albeit, for a short while to make sure he was getting the required treatment.

She immediately bought into the story. Her anxiety was immediately replaced by extreme empathy and support. Her heart cried for my dad’s ‘plight’ and the fact that I was far away from home. How very predictable this woman was! She even insisted on accompanying me to the Dean’s office and explaining to the Dean why I should be granted the special leave of a fortnight before the completion of my teaching period at the University.

Secretly, I was elated. She was making it so much easier! She was quite paly with the Dean and when he heard of my ‘genuine’ reasons, he agreed to grant me the ‘break’. The Dean, however, did politely remind me that the students would be taking their exams in a couple of months so I should not overextend my stay. I nodded solemnly and thanked him for his understanding.

“Thank you, Mr Sekhawat. I knew you’d understand!” Maya’s voice was almost choking with gratefulness.

Such unnecessary and over-the-top display of emotions! It disgusted me! The Dean gave her a tiny smile but his eyes were fixed on my face, as if trying to delve deeper into my thoughts. Almost like a hawk, he was trying to watch for my reactions as Maya gushed about how I would be so grateful to him for allowing me to visit my parents at such a short notice.

I always told Maya that she talked too much. Too much! She would take it as good-natured teasing but she hardly knew that she was letting strangers into her domain so easily by giving out so much information about her likes and dislikes, her thoughts, her emotions. People who were smart enough to know what to do with that could easily manipulate her using the valuable information that she so unwittingly disclosed. I did it, quite a few times. It was easy as anything, using her childish notions of empathy, honour and ‘love conquers all’ attitude to twist her around my little finger. Such archaic emotions don’t work in today’s world.

I might come across as a villain but anyone who gives too much without even being asked always runs the risk of losing…. their self-esteem, individuality, dignity and more….

We were about to exit the Dean’s office when he stood up from his chair and escorted us outside. When he spoke to me, his voice was quiet but almost accusing.

“Professor…” he paused and I turned around, “You do intend to come back here as per the terms of your contract, don’t you? And… for Maya?”

Startled, I almost dropped my guard but the next moment I could manage a warm smile.

I would not utter a word. Glancing at Maya, I could see the puzzled expression on her face and I reassured her by taking her hand and squeezing it gently. She was all smiles then.

As we left, hand in hand, for our respective departments, I could feel the Dean’s eyes boring into my back. This man did not trust me and because of his position at the University, he could hinder my plans. I knew I had to act quickly.

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The next evening, I was on a flight to Delhi. Maya wanted to accompany me to Delhi from where I had booked a flight to Rome but I reasoned with her that leaving her behind at the airport would make the departure a very difficult one for me. I promised to call her before my flight from Delhi. I did.

Maya was relieved to hear my voice.

“Anton! Is everything okay? Are you alright?” Her voice ridden with anxiety and her usual barrage of questions…all too familiar, and irritating.
However, I decided not to lose my cool. This would be my last conversation with her anyway, I remember thinking.

“Maya, there’s something I need to let you know…. it’s important that you listen before you ask your questions, ok?”
My voice was soft and casual. She responded after a short pause.

“Ok!”

“Look, I have been here a long time and I think its time to head home…. permanently….. my research is almost over…”

I knew I would be interrupted and I was.

“What! But you…you… promised Mr Sekhawat you’d come back… Anton…and….me! What about…. me! ” She stuttered.
I could hear the hiccups as she spoke but I was prepared to ignore her dramatics.

“Maya, you know my dad is unwell and my mother all alone…” I kept glancing at my watch. I had to finish off quickly.

“I know that! But you said, you promised you’d come back after….you promised me Anton!”
She almost screamed and I had to hold the phone away from my ear for a moment or two.

“Let’s be clear here,” I resumed, “I have made you no promises, ever. I do not know what the future holds but am sure I might have to stay away for a long time! I will write to Mr. Sekhawat and see if….”

I paused. She was sobbing hysterically at the other end. I was not much bothered, really. My conscience was clear. If she had made her own plans about her future with me, a future that I never promised her, then it wasn’t my problem. However, I tried to calm her down, one last time.

“Maya, its not easy for me either, so I’d appreciate it if you could act more mature and not make the goodbye so difficult for me…”
I had used the word ‘goodbye’ with a purpose, to make the finality of my decision sink into her mind. It immediately worked.

“So…this is goodbye?” She asked hesitantly, in between sobs.

“I think so,” I answered simply.

My flight to Rome was in an hour and a half and I needed to complete immigration. I told her that and hung up. She was still sobbing uncontrollably and did not reply.

At that moment, the only thing I wanted was to shut off her sobs and go some place far away where Maya’s despair could not reach me.

However, I did not wish for her to die!

 

 

 

 

The Sentence: Part 9

A hand holding a yellow leaf with green background,Yellow of leaf in autumn

In Remembrance..

‘Do you know why a moth flies to a flame? Does it not know that it might singe its wings? Or worse, perish in the dancing fire that attracts it in the very first place? I know why…… because it feels that that is where it belongs, in the glowing flame that warms it up and then hurls it in death’s cruel embrace. It’s a fatal attraction, deadly but undeniable! It’s a call the moth can not but answer to….

I am that moth.’

The line ended there and the rest of the page was blank. Gasping, I sat upright in my reclining chair and felt sudden goosebumps on my skin. Maya knew where she was headed, yet she could not stop herself! And I could not prevent my friend’s untimely demise! A friend who was more of a sister, a confidant, and an accomplice at times! Did she really deserve death for her foolish yet sincere love for that man? I knew he was bad news… I knew it instinctively! And Maya was a more-than- willing victim to his predatory charms.

Unbeknownst to me, my eyes had welled up and a tear drop rolled down my cheek. I had been reading Maya’s diary, one that was found under layers of clothing in her suitcase. I knew of this journal that she religiously wrote in. Even when she was living in the YWCA Hostel, I would often see her scribbling in this diary that had light blue pages. Maya wanted to become a writer. She had told me she was writing a romance novel. However, she never showed me what she wrote and kept telling me to be patient till her novel was completed. I wonder if she had foreseen the death of the author.

I could not sleep last night. I was thinking about the day when I went to meet Maya’s grieving parents. They were seated in the Dean’s office.That was the same day that I had found her dead in the little bungalow that she and Anton had been living in. Before he abandoned her and fled to his country. I remember pressing the doorbell several times. Maya lived in the cottage all by herself. It had already been more than a month since Anton had abruptly left the town.  However, Maya, silly as she was, stayed behind with his memories and photographs. She just would not believe that he had gone. Forever.

Why wasn’t she answering the door! I hadn’t heard from her for the last two days. With a rising sense of dread that almost choked me, i recalled that there was a tiny window in the bedroom that opened into the garden behind the bungalow. With some luck, I might be able to see…..

The curtains were drawn and the window was locked from inside. Pressing my cheek to the glass pane, I tried to peer through the narrow wedge between the curtains. The first thing I saw was her hand, dangling from the edge of the bed. For a minute it seemed as if it had been severed from her body. A powerful surge of panic almost overwhelmed me but I am not one who loses her head easily. I forced myself to stop imagining things!

Looking around hastily, I saw a broken metal pipe that had been cast in the rubbish bin. There was no time to waste. Grabbing it, I hurled it at the pane. The glass shattered under the effect and I stared as the peach curtains fluttered in the warm breeze that rushed in.

A peculiar stench was emanating through the broken window of Maya’s room. Just standing there, I knew what had happened inside.  I tried to shut my eyes as a corner of the curtain lifted, providing a view of the inside. Maya lay in bed, as if in a drunken sleep. Her right hand was dangling at an awkward angle.Her eyes were closed and mouth half-open, as if she had fallen asleep mid-conversation with some unseen being.

Horrified, I looked on, as if in a dream. Or a nightmare. I knew she was dead. She had probably died days before.

When I came back to my senses, I realized I was screaming. Screaming, sobbing and fumbling with my phone, all at once. I have no recollection of the numbers I dialed and how long I was there, trembling and shrieking in Maya’s little garden, watching her dead body through a broken window. I had a vague sensation of people filling into the garden, some surrounding me, some wrapping me in an embrace and some trying to gently pull me away from the sight of my best friend’s motionless body. My brain registered the arrival of policemen in uniform, the Dean talking to them in a low voice, his face set in stone and as dark as a storm cloud.

At length, he came to where I was, under the shade of a garden umbrella, sitting on a plastic chair. I had no idea who brought it there. It was all very surreal and the colorful umbrella suddenly reminded me of the beach where I had picnicked with Maya and Anton several months back.  Mr. Shekhawat walked up to me and put his hands on my shoulders, gently pulling me to my feet.

“Go to my office, Nafisa or my quarters. Wherever you want to go. My driver will take you…..you need to….”

I stared blankly at his face. What was he saying?

He beckoned to someone and his Private Assistant came running. This time, he spoke in a loud, almost commanding voice.

“There’s nothing you can do here! She is gone…….. beyond our help! Nafisa, go! You are in shock! You need to be looked after.” I felt his arm gently guiding me away from the garden and his words started to sink in.

She is gone! She is …. wait! How…! It’s my birthday in two weeks and she promised me a treat and movie!

The howl that escaped my lips the next minute startled me greatly. It was animal-like, raw with rage and grief. As I felt my legs give way, the Dean helped me up. I sobbed in his arms, and, by the way his shoulders shook against mine, I knew he was crying too.

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This diary with the light blue pages was Maya’s favorite possession. I requested her mother to let me have it and she agreed, trying to stall her tears. I flipped through a few more pages and found a little two-line poem:

If this is a goodbye, let me keep your heart

My soul I give to you, now that I’m  forced to       part….

She signed her name below it with the date. I realised it was in the week before the Easter Holidays. It was probably one of those last few days in which I had seen Maya, still alive.