It was the first thought that came to her as she woke up. He was gone. And, soon, this bedroom, the house in whose eastern corner it sat, and the tiny garden outside with its gnarled old red hibiscus and the half-grown mango tree they had planted together, all those would be gone as well. It was the strangest feeling ever.
Maya tried to analyze this feeling. Was it just shock, humiliation or something more? She knew her heart was breaking inside her chest, she could feel the intense pain…like being pierced with broken shards of glass. Yet, her eyes were dry. She tried to stand up but she felt her legs would give in. Holding onto her last bit of self awareness, she almost hobbled to the table for the glass of water that stood on it. Her parched throat gulped down all of the water and she collapsed on the chair which, frequently, would be occupied by Anton. Feeling his arms around her, she lowered her head onto the hard wooden surface and closed her eyes. She forced herself to think.
Anton! Anton! The sound of his name always brought a smile to her lips. The perfect gentleman, ‘Perfetto Italiano’ as she always referred to him as. Gone! Her love, her soul mate, her Master! Her inspiration! Maya trembled slightly as the gravity of the situation overwhelmed her! Just a phone call from him had ended it all…. She shook her head repeatedly, as if trying to tell herself that it was all a lie. Perhaps a bad dream and she would wake up any moment? It couldn’t be! It couldn’t! Her scream of rage, like that of a wounded animal, startled her and she looked around. The glass that was sitting serenely on the table now lay broken in tiny bits on the floor! The little finger on her right hand bled profusely and her palm bore a deep gorge-like cut! Maya smiled. Anton was her God and she was going to sacrifice herself to appease her God.
The Mathematics professor from Italy, Antonio Palazzolli, was visiting Maya’s university as part of an exchange program. Maya, who had just joined as an assistant lecturer of English Literature, found herself being drawn to the foreigner’s easy demeanor, friendly smile and vast reserves of knowledge, not only in his own subject but also Literature. Their friendship blossomed over coffee, Tagore and Shakespeare. Maya was pleasantly surprised to find that Anton took a lot of interest in Indian Literature and culture and it stirred her romantic, twenty-six year old heart so much that soon she was almost inseparable from him. They were seen together in the library, the coffee shop and of course, the staff room. Anton, who had the luxury of a small, plush office all to himself, was almost never alone in there. Passers by often heard Maya’s giggles and hushed whispers and a few had the good luck to catch a glimpse of the two in cosy companionship, with Maya leaning over Anton as he focused on a difficult problem or sitting on the arm of his chair, talking animatedly, while Anton smiled and nodded.
The other staff members found varied ways of entertaining themselves and a few over enthusiastic ones insisted on a wedding date. Maya, more exuberant of the two, laughed and blushed and beamed at the mention of Anton or of the life that they were soon to begin together, basking in the glory of her youthful love. Anton smiled patiently whenever such discussions brought him to the limelight. He neither denied nor affirmed their relationship or the feelings that he had for Maya.
As Maya sat there, in a half delirious state, she remembered the day she had moved into this tiny house that Anton had already rented. He liked beauty and luxury and the university quarters offered neither. This little bungalow, not far from their workplace, sat at the end of a dusty little road and overlooked the sea. Maya remembered moving in with Anton and the thrill and fear she had felt at the thought of being with him under the same roof. It was a Friday evening and she had packed her suitcase and bags after class, said goodbye to the friends at the U working women’s hostel where she was staying. Her middle class upbringing coupled with a catholic school education had stopped her in her tracks before but this time she was determined to give herself to the man who made her feel so complete. She remembered being pulled into his embrace as soon as she was inside, and as she stood motionless, her lips crushed under the weight of his. Her mind protested as his hands ripped off her blouse, she resisted, tried to push him away, as his smiling, hungry eyes scanned her urgently, as his arms guided her to the turquoise couch… but how do you say no when God asks you for a sacrifice? Maya surrendered herself completely to her God.
On occasions, she found herself tied to the bedpost, her wrists and ankles secured with rope. As Anton’s unblinking eyes and artistic fingers played with every curve on her bare body, she wished she had the will to resist him. Night after night, his wildly passionate, assertive side became predominant and he invaded every deep, hidden secret of her womanhood. After every passionate episode of love and lust, Anton would trace her nubile body with his gorgeous lips.
“Mine! Forever! ” he said in a fierce whisper. As her soul bowed before him, she found herself whispering back, “Yes . Forever!”
Sharing a bed with him made Maya extremely comfortable with Anton, when in seclusion, and extremely uncomfortable when in the company of others. She hid from his sight during their working hours and blushed fiercely if she happened to cross him on the corridors or if he walked into the staff room while she was there. Anton only laughed.
“I enjoy your silent ordeal at the University”, he had joked and winked, and it sent shivers of something undefinable through her entire being.
Almost a year had passed and Anton had not proposed to her. Maya knew that it was a difficult decision for him as he wasn’t a believer in the institution of marriage. Yet, he had made an exception and met her parents when they came visiting. She had not noticed anything strange about his behavior until a few days ago when he suddenly started looking tense and upset. He had received news that his father’s poor health had forced his mother to hospitalize him, yet again. Maya tried to comfort him and he had hugged her and smiled. So then, what went wrong?
A fresh face… her brain told her. He had gotten bored and left for good. The phone call had shocked her so much that her brain had not really registered what Anton had said. Only that he was leaving her and going back to Italy, never to come back. He did not give any explanations and she had not asked for any. The next few days were the toughest for her to endure. Mocks and jeers at the university were one thing but it was hardest to tackle the wave of sympathy that washed over her. She knew some were genuine, while others were just there for a good laugh at her cost. She trudged on, heroically, picking herself up everytime her heartache crushed and buried her. There was a burning need to know…. he had left her with so many unanswered questions! Yet, deep inside, she knew that he had answered every question with that one act of deserting her….he had shut her off from his world and explanations were not important.
As days dragged along, she felt like the victim of a cruelly played prank, standing alone, surrounded by a crowd of onlookers who scrutinized her with stern eyes. She hoped time would make things better, but she did not know how much time it would take for her to feel normal again.
A month had passed and Maya had braved her misfortune with a stern resolve. People who knew of the incident were now looking for other avenues to entertain themselves and she was fast becoming an object of pitiful scorn. Whispers still followed her, as did curious glances but they were much less in number than when it had all begun. Maya planned to visit her family as Easter Holidays would be starting the next day. As she lay in bed that night, listening to the sound of the welcome shower outside, she felt a sudden presence in the room. Even before she turned her head to look behind her, she knew it was him. The mild, spicy fragrance of his aftershave that she loved so much, the subtle gleam from the gold frame of his glasses, the smile that seemed to light up her very core with delight.
She turned her head, as if in slow motion, and there he was, in the sky blue tees that she had gifted him on his birthday. Maya smiled. Blue was his color. It complimented the brilliant, sparkling blue of his eyes and Maya marveled again at how perfect he was. She tried to get up and run to him but her weak, emaciated body could not take the strain. She felt light headed and landed in Anton’s strong arms. He lifted her carefully, as a mother cradles her fragile child, and laid her on the bed that had so many stories to tell. Maya was spellbound! Her Anton! He had come back! Her prayers were heard. But how had he come in? Had she not locked the front door? She reminded herself that Anton always kept his own keys with him…. even when he went out for a walk in the park. As she lay in bed, happy tears rolled down her cheeks. Anton’s bemused glance bathed her in such ecstatic delight that she forgot herself. She lay there, secure and happy in his arms as the clock ticked on. She wanted to ask a hundred questions, she wanted to say a million things but she did not. Somehow, Anton’s presence, his eyes, his dark brown hair and that perfect face made her oblivious to everything else. She was soaring, her grateful heart singing a love song and she closed her eyes.
Maya’s lifeless body was discovered three days later when her close friend came to check on her after several missed calls on her phone. The shock of the incident left the tiny, buzzing University town very quiet. The post mortem report ruled out foul play of any kind. Maya, young and otherwise healthy, had died of a sudden cardiac arrest. Such deaths were uncommon, but not unheard of. As friends tried to console her inconsolable parents at the funeral, they were baffled at the loss of a young, vibrant life sacrificed at the altar of love and loss.
Weeks later, Anton was horrified by an email that he sat reading in a hotel room. He was on vacation with his fiance. The Monte Argentario beach was abuzz with sunbathers and water sport lovers. A moment ago, he was longing to go down there and splash in the frothy waves with Rebekah, his wife-to-be. As Rebekah entered the room, she was startled to see his ashen face and learned that a dear friend from his University days in India had passed away. She kissed and hugged him, then started packing her beach bag. Anton escaped to the balcony. He struggled to breathe.
Unknown and unseen, Maya stood right beside him. She gazed at those bright blue eyes which were now moist and grave. She wished she could hold him, one last time! She leaned in to him and whispered his name. Anton closed his eyes as a gentle wind ruffled his hair. ‘Maya!’ He sighed. Maya sensed a soothing calm surround her. She was with her God. This was heaven.