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.

“Of course!” I uttered in my most sincere voice. 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.

 

 

 

The Sentence: Part 8

Pairing-Love-Drawing-min

 your will or mine? Antonspeak

The gentle touch on my throbbing temples was cool and comforting. Keeping my eyes closed, I clasped her hand.

⁰”How are you now? I told you not to…..” Maya’s touch was so soft but her unnecessarily loud and anxious voice made me puff with irritation.

“Relax! It’s just a mild fever, I just need rest.” I tried to reassure her. I knew she was worried but her habit of smothering me with care and affection was not something I looked upon too kindly. It was suffocating, the way she swooped down on me, like an ominous mother bird protecting her young.

Not to be deterred, Maya kept on with her persuasion. Her voice went up at notch, the shrillness starting to hurt my ears.

“You don’t know these things as well as I do, sweetheart… It’s the change of season. You never know how many…..” I sat up, unable to take it anymore.

“Trust me, I am ok… if I need a doctor, I will let you know!”

Trying to keep my voice as casual as possible, I walked over to the table for my wallet. I could sense her eyes watching me intently and somehow my irritation seemed to multiply. Why couldn’t she leave me alone…. even if only for a short while!

I grabbed a light jacket because the evenings were getting mildly chilly. Negligible, compared to the cold and wet winters back home but still. Grabbing my keys, I headed to the living room and the front door. I just needed some fresh air.

She followed me out, much to my chagrin, with that wide-eyed, shocked expression on her face.

“Are you going out? In this state!”

My headache was too bad by this time. I chose not to answer and instead focused on putting my canvases on. She rushed to my side.

“Let me make you a hot drink… Will help you…” I stood up and after some effort, I brought on a smile.

“May be after I get back, ok? I really need a walk in the fresh air,”

I planted a quick peck on her cheek. The fragrance of wildflowers that I had become so accustomed to wafted to my nose. I loved her fragrance.

“Then I will come with you! You are not strong enough and we could take a short walk up….”

She went on and on. I was only half-listening,  alarmed. I needed some peace and quiet to clear my mind, to think things through and Maya was the last person I wanted to do it with. Nonetheless, I did not want to sound harsh. Her feelings were easily hurt.

“Err…. Maya, you just came back from work… Why don’t you use this time for yourself? May be watch some tv or something? I will be back before dinner, promise!”

I grinned at her and she nodded, realizing, at last that I wanted this time alone. I saw the hurt eyes and the slight pout of her lips but I ignored that.

The nippy breeze outside was refreshing and I immediately felt better. I had to think… I was feeling suffocated in there with her. With Maya. Her behaviour was changing rapidly….before my very eyes. The constant nagging, hovering, mollycoddling.. it was too much! What happened to the intelligent, open-minded girl who had a great sense of humor? She loved to live in and enjoy the moment… just as I do, and now, all of a sudden, she was this motherly, overprotective, high-strung person! Like this countrywoman I once knew…. always babying and cuddling and making plans for a future that had not even been promised to her! How annoying!

Anton this….. Anton that!

“My parents so want to see you Anton! I have told them so much about you! They are so eager for our engagement!” She gushed a few days back, breaking the news to me as if I was the luckiest person on earth.

 

I stood stock-still. Why on earth should there be an engagement! I had told her explicitly, time and again, that I had no intention of a long-term relationship with her. She was a great girl in many ways but not my idea of an ideal partner. And she knew that! What made her think I had changed my mind?

Anyway, I tried to talk her out of it. I was fine with meeting her parents, even if just to make her happy. I treasured what we had together, the time spent with Maya. Maya was so alive with energy and enthusiasm that she made me feel like a joyful teenager by her mere presence. She had a smile that could light up a dark room. But all that was changing!

It had started drizzling. As I rushed home, I was planning how to spend the night with Maya. The whisper of the rain, the gentle caress of the dark night and Maya’s allure! Maya was an absolute delight in bed. Thinking of the last time I had felt her trembling body under mine, a wicked grin played on my lips. I could almost hear her rasping breath that was a common occurrence whenever I held her close.

Maya, however, was in a very different mood when I reached home.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, wary of her reddish face and watery eyes.

She was standing by the window that overlooked the little garden. I loved gardening and though she was not much of a nature-person, judging by the way she shrieked when a harmless spider crawled up her leg one day, she always accompanied me. Stealing a glance at her now was enough to ascertain that she had been crying. Don’t women get tired of their own drama and tears, at least sometimes?

She turned her face away and sniffled. Sighing, I decided to go to bed. My headache had returned.

“Nafisa called, and Ma did too! They told me…. in fact, Nafisa is quite sure… that…that….” I stared, “that you do not love me at all!” Maya finished. I watched as her pout grew more prominent.

“Is that why you’re crying?” I questioned, trying my best not to lose my cool. She nodded vigorously.

“Anton why can’t you be more… more normal? Like the other partners? Why are you so detached and uncaring?” Her voice was rising and I felt my temper flare in tandem. I pursed my lips, trying  not to hit back instantly.

“Maya, I am what I am and you knew what you’re getting into when you started living with me. I have told you how I see it and do not feel the need to behave in a way that seems ‘normal’ to your friends and family,”

The steely coldness in my voice was all too clear and I knew it would cut through her as she stood staring at the floor.

Thanks for ruining a perfect evening! I thought, and declared that I was going to bed.

“Dinner is ready! You should….” She protested but I had had enough of her controlling and nagging ways for the evening.

“I’m not hungry, I need to sleep,” I repeated.

I was almost at the door of the bedroom when I heard her whisper to herself, “He doesn’t love me!”

For once, I felt something tug at my heartstrings as I heard the note of despair in her voice, I wanted to retrace my steps to her and tell her that it would be okay. I did not.

Later that night I awoke to find myself alone in bed. The drizzle had abated but through the glass windows, I could see streaks of lightning flash across the night sky. Where was she!

As I sat up, I spotted a tray on the night stand next to my side of the bed. There was a covered bowl and spoon along with something wrapped in aluminum foil wraps. They were bread rolls, I realized. She had imagined that I might get hungry in the middle of the night.

I padded to the open door and saw her dark silhouette by the same window where I had spotted her a few hours back. With her back to me, she was staring motionlessly at the inky blackness outside through the partially open window. Not wanting to startle her, I shuffled back to bed.

When I awoke again, it was past seven o’ clock. The morning light was filtering in through the thin glass panes. Maya was fast asleep next to me, her lips parted and her tousled, dark hair almost covering her pillow. I smiled as I lowered myself over her and she stirred in her sleep, frowning slightly. Maya had no idea how irresistible she looked then and I did not want to waste the precious little time I had left…. to get intimate with her.

Precious little time… because I had already made up my mind the night before. I would have to desert her….before she morphed into someone I would hate the very sight of!