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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!

The Sentence: Part 7

240_F_137707023_etEYP8bYfNQtBISr8iKSsQ80f2RrDIvi

Run back to me!

“Please come in, Maya,” I called aloud, swiveling in my chair to face the door.

Earlier that day, I had emailed her requesting for a meeting. She walked in, smiling but quiet. None of those exuberant greetings that I usually associated with her. As I gestured her to sit, she stood opposite me and looked straight into my eyes. For a fraction of a second. Then she turned away but I could see the shadow on her face now and the guarded look in her eyes. She knew what I was about to say.

Although I have never revealed this to anyone, I have always believed that Maya had an uncanny ability to tune into people’s feelings, even thoughts. She could read people. That day, I knew she had read my mind when her face took on an uncharacteristically unfriendly look. She stared at her painted nails as her fingers tapped ever so gently on the glass tabletop.

What would I not give to hold those hands!

However, I realised that she was impatient for me to start.

“Maya….” I cleared my voice. ” Maya… see there’s just a few things….” I couldn’t find the words and she was staring at her nails resolutely.

“Err…about this matter I heard making the rounds.. actually, I’ve noticed it too. Your….I mean you and the Italian Proff…”

She didn’t let me finish. She looked up at me with shy eyes, all smiles and ecstatic.

“Isn’t he wonderful?* she gushed.

*Am sure he is… but Maya this is an educational institution… Of course I understand. We are all adults here but Maya… I just…want you to be careful…” I blurted out after feeling tongue tied for so long.

Silence. Her face was turned to her right so I could see only a side view of her face. Her eyes seemed to be darting to the door every now and again…as if she would make an escape soon.

I have to do this, I thought. I was somewhat jealous but more than anything else, I was concerned. For her.

“Ok… here’s what I got to say. First of Maya, even though this is a university and the students are mostly adults… still,,,, I mean seeing you on his arm all the time… can be a bit…u know…”

“I don’t…..that’s not true!” Her voice was cold, defiant. “And not to be rude but Mr Sekhawat, my feelings are very personal to me…I really don’t….”

I held up my hand to pacify her and she stopped. I was silent as well, watching the corners of her petulant mouth. They started to twitch in an unbecoming sort of way and she hastily turned her face upwards to the ceiling to stop her tears from rolling down her cheeks.

The tears fell anyway. I sighed, my heart sinking. How could I make her understand!

Minutes passed and now that she made no effort to hide her tears from me, they fell faster. Maya rubbed her face with the palm of her hand, her eyes puffy and the tip of her nose pink. She was a picture of misery… endearing and heartbreaking at the same time. I pushed the box of tissues towards her.

At length, she seemed to calm down.
“Maya…” I ventured.
“I love him!” She blurted out and immediately blushed.

In spite of myself, I smiled. “And?”

I wanted her to keep talking, I wanted to know what was on her mind. I wanted her to stay as she was before… before the arrival of Anton. I wanted her to be out of harm’s way!

She looked up with questioning eyes.

“Maya, do you know if he loves you?” My tone was grave and she did not answer at once.

“Yes,” her voice was barely audible.

“You’re sure of that?” I asked, my temper rising. I could clearly see that this was one-sided. She wasn’t even sure of him!

Trust Maya to plunge headlong into something like this!

“Of course!” Maya replied forcefully, trying to bring on a semblance of a smile.

“He told you?” I pressed on and the gloom that immediately clouded fer face was the answer.

Leaning forward, I touching her fingers gently.

” I hope you really know what you’re doing, Maya!” I heard the desperation in my voice. Did she not hear it?

There was a loud knock on the door. She stood up, looking flustered.

“It takes a lifetime to know people, remember that!” I urged. She had almost reached the door. She paused, her eyes averted from me.

“Thank you… for caring,” she quipped in a small voice and her moist eyes smiled slightly as she looked into my eyes. For a moment she hesitated, as if debating whether to run back to me. Then she was gone.

I came to know the week after that she had moved in with Anton.

That night, I just could not sleep. Maya’s face etched with misery and those red, puffy eyes appeared time and again before my weary eyes.

I had failed to protect her!

The Sentence: part 6

beautiful blur depth of field female

A sprinkle of fairydust: Antonspeak

Believe it or not, I remember every detail of that evening when Maya approached me with tentative steps. I am not blind. I did notice she had been cosying up to me and I quite enjoyed that. Who wouldn’t? Maya was a lovely woman, intelligent, sensuous and seductive. She was a curious mix of shyness and brashness…  just how I like women to be.

I have no qualms admitting that I have been around several women and I know a thing or two about what turns them on. However, with Maya things were different. And it was intriguing… in the beginning. This woman wore her heart on her sleeve and was not bothered by it at all! Most people I have come across… and I speak for myself as well…. we have a difficult time acknowledging feelings for others….or putting them across in words! Not only was Maya very comfortable doing that, she put her feelings on display for the world to watch. May be, even learn. Maya was proud of the ‘love’ she felt towards me, exposing more than just her body. She bared her soul to me and…. and I probably took advantage of that.

Do not say I should have warned her. I did…. more than once! On different occasions. I can think of one such incident..

I was working on my laptop in the little cafe that was my favourite haunt on the University grounds. She must have tip-toed to my table. I looked up when I saw her silhouette looming over me.

“Hi there!” I smiled.

By then, she was already throwing herself at me quite unabashedly. Being older and more mature, I decided to keep it polite but not over-friendly.

She smiled a shy smile and gestured to the chair opposite me. I hesitated, I really wanted to continue whatever I was doing. However, she was waiting patiently so I decided to chat with her for a while. No point being unpleasant.

“Sure, why not!” I replied.

Maya heaved with relief and her eyes shone as excitedly as a truant child’s who has somehow escaped punishment. It made her so unbearably attractive and vulnerable at the same time! Maya wore her vulnerability like a badge of honour, as if counting on the world to do unto her as she did unto others. It was foolishness… utter foolishness!

I sighed softly. Maya started talking at once.

” Were you busy?” She asked, not really wanting to hear an honest answer so I kept quiet.

“Anton… I…. I just thought….. actually I like you a lot… I really don’t know why!” She paused. “I admire you for a number of reasons…” she let out a short, awkward laugh as I sipped my drink.

“Anton, do you think…. I mean, I believe I have fallen in love….”

This was going too far. I cleared my voice.

“Do you want a coffee?” My question took her by surprise. She shook her head in a no.

I had no intention of lying to her

“Look Maya, I know how you feel… though am not sure why….. or how! You don’t know me well enough to…”

“But that doesn’t mean…..” she interjected but I stopped her.

“Let me finish. See, I’m here for a few months…. may be six… or even less if my work is finished earlier. Much as I value my experience teaching here, I don’t think I am going to come back to this part of the world….. anytime soon.”

I stressed on ‘soon’ and Maya’s face fell. She was not much different from a twelve year old, I thought. I continued, somewhat brutally.

“You’re attractive, intelligent and kind and I appreciate your friendship. And that’s about it, Maya….”

As I spoke, I could see the anguish in her expression. For a moment, I enjoyed it. Maya was so raw with her emotions, so real…it was almost unrealistic.

I was not done yet. I needed to make it clearer to her.

“I don’t think I can give you the kind of affection you’re looking for Maya… you’re better off without me.” I finished resolutely.

As expected, the waterworks came. She turned her face away and I pretended not to notice. But I had noticed.

Sensing the manager’s eyes on us in the otherwise deserted cafe, I began packing up. Not that it bothered me but I was getting tired. I got up to leave.

“I have to go.See you later.” I told her and she nodded. I had barely stepped outside when she skipped over to me again.

“Anton…” I stared questioningly.

“My insides hurt. I think I might faint….” her voice was low but her eyes were twinkling mischievously.
I began to chuckle. She showed no signs of fainting whatsoever.
Instead, she was beaming at me.
“Is it okay if I just walk with you…in case I fall?” I nodded, laughing and her face cleared like the blue sky after a storm.

We walked side by side. She linked her fingers through mine and I felt a sudden thrill… a surge of something so strong that it surprised me.

I loved Maya’s innocence and simplicity. I loved how comfortable she was in her own skin and how wonderful she made me feel about myself…like she had just sprinkled some fairydust on me.. Except, I did not love her the way she wanted me to. And that was that.

Within a week after this, Maya was in my bed. She made love to me but I simply sought gratification. She gave and I took… and I didn’t bother to conceal my intention throughout the night. She was too enamoured with me to see the difference anyway.

Afterwards, she clung to me, calling my name. She often told me she loved the sound of my name.

“Call me by my name, Anton! Please!”
Maya whispered in my ears. I was already half asleep and I mumbled something, pulling her warm body closer to mine.

Her name…. yes, I  googled it a few days back.

‘Maya’ means ‘illusion’ in certain Indian languages. But, in Amharic, ‘Maya’ is a lens that helps you see further.

Which of these was the Maya I knew? Or was she both?

 

THE SENTENCE: PART 5

original

You left too soon… 

“He’s here!” she squealed, and burst into a giggle.

“Who is?” I asked absent-mindedly, worried that the food that we ordered would not be enough for the large number of guests trooping in, students and faculty alike, not to mention the other staff. Maya tugged at my ornate shawl again.

“Nafisa! See, he just arrived! Oh my! He is gorgeous!” she said in a hushed whisper.

I shook my head from side to side, realising that she was talking about the Italian Professor from the Math Department. It was quite silly, I thought. Maya had been gushing about him relentlessly for the past few days whenever she and I had some alone time at the staff room or got the time to grab lunch together. Our Departments being different, we did not get much time together at the University but usually caught up later at the YWCA where we were both staying. Maya and I had joined the University on the very same day and took an instant liking to each other during the orientation. Though she was a bit like a child in her understanding of the world and could be quite obstinate when it came to selecting a cuisine on our Sunday afternoon luncheons, I liked her simplicity and honesty in everything.

“Maya! Stop it!” I scolded gently as she tugged my red shawl again, making it fall to the floor. “Look, can you help me with decorating the….”

“Nafisa, let’s go say hello?” she implored, like a school girl with a huge grin plastered across her face. She was not listening to a word I was saying. Clicking my tongue, I turned away impatiently. Maya could really be annoying at times.

As if that would stop her. She skipped along, like a child on Christmas morning. I wanted to remind her to act her age but I had too many worries at that moment. None the less, I was upset with her. I really needed her help and that stupid infatuation of hers could wait!

Maya was gone for the next hour or so and when I saw her again, she was almost stuck to him like glue, much to my consternation True, he was quite pleasing to look at and talk to, judging by the throng of people around him. Or maybe they were just being polite but did she have to make her fandom so obvious?

From a distance, I could see him strolling around, exchanging pleasantries and asking questions about the decor with a feigned, polite interest. However, Maya hardly gave the others a chance to talk, her face stretched in a gloating smile. As I turned around, fuming, I noticed the Dean’s eyes on them, watching intently. Soon, it became evident to me that most people had their eyes on her that evening. She looked resplendent but she was spoiling it all by her immature behaviour.

I came face-to-face with them during dinner. Them. Yes, because she was still next to him with her continuous, excited prattle. When she noticed my disapproving expression, she immediately pulled me by the arm, making me spill some of my drink on my outfit.
“Oops, sorry!” Maya laughed, not looking sorry at all. “Anton, this is my best friend and colleague, Nafisa. She teaches Chemistry.” She squeezed my shoulder, holding me in an iron grip.

Anton?! Too friendly, too soon…. I thought.

“How do you do?” I greeted him and he did the same, smiling. For a brief second, his eyes locked with mine and I saw a shadow flit across. I don’t know what it was but I felt that most of his pleasant demeanour was probably not real. I do not know why, but at that moment I decided that I did not like him. Why did he have to come here!

That night, Maya knocked a couple of times on my door at the hostel. I had slipped away right after dinner and didn’t stop to ask Maya if she wanted to accompany me. Obviously, she didn’t!

“Nafisa! You asleep?” She asked, in a low voice. It was close to midnight and I didn’t bother to get up. I was quite upset, as it was.

That, however, was my first meeting with Maya’s so-called ‘one, true love.’ Much as it enrages me, I cannot deny Maya’s undying faith in the power of her love. She believed he would come back to her someday. See where it led her!

It was I who had discovered her dead body that was just beginning to decompose. After almost two days…or three… I can’t remember clearly. I don’t want to! It hurts like someone stabbing me in my gut! Poor Maya, she was trusting to the point of being naïve. Too many times, too many times I had warned her to be cautious around him.

I still dream of Maya…often. Of those happy times spent here. Before he had arrived. In my dreams, she is always laughing and chattering incessantly, just like she did when she was alive. I want to ask her why she hasn’t strangled him yet.

 

The Sentence: Part 4

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I remember we met… Antonspeak 

My beach holiday with Rebekah was amazing. For once, I had let my guard down and enjoyed the warm sunshine reflecting on the frothy waves.  I would sit for hours at a stretch, staring at the waves embrace the shore and then retreat hastily, just like a playful child whose hapless mother is trying to drag him to kindergarten on a busy Monday morning. In fact, I would do that exact same thing as a child.

My mother never tires of talking about how I made it very difficult for her to get to work in the mornings because I would stop to admire every dirt-smeared stone or a crawling bug on the way. I chuckle when I think how exasperating it must have been for my mum.

“Wait till you have kids of your own!”

My mum will always say, with a frown when she catches me laughing at her stories.

Little does she know that having kids is not on my list. I don’t think I can stand them! They are just too noisy, messy and too much of a bother! I am perfectly happy being kid-free. True, I do have to spend time around pesky children at times when I visit my old friends in different cities. It’s always good to catch up and I usually pretend I am thrilled to see their kids but that’s far from the truth. I know it just makes the parents happy, so why not?

Just last month, when I was away for a week visiting one of my friends from school, his daughters insisted I watch ‘Frozen’ with them! I was bored at their place and his wife’s cooking was tasteless, so I agreed to the movie and the day out. I could sleep in the movies, I thought. Contrary to what I thought, I was quite engrossed in the movie. It was a fun experience.

But that’s about how far I can stretch myself…. a day out with kids of friends or  neighbours, ones I just cannot avoid. I have no intention of having my own and I know that at some point, I will have to talk Rebekah out of this. Rebekah. She adores kids. I know she wants children of her own but I do not. And that’s that. I’d rather invest my time in my research than take some obnoxious three-year old on a piggyback ride. What a waste of one’s time!

Talking of kids, I have had some experiences with Maya which would best be forgotten.  Maya was not only child-like but also very childish in her attitudes and behavior. What do they say? Yes, seeing the world with rose-tinted glasses. She did just that. None was evil, none malicious, no one meant her any harm.

That is all fine, living in your own Utopia but when you try to drag others into your world, that’s when the problem arises. She refused to understand that people are essentially different, as are their tastes, likes and dislikes, dreams and aspirations. I did not wish to hurt Maya. In fact, I actually liked her quite a bit… in the beginning. She changed all that, with her nagging behaviour, unceasing complaints and her foolish notions of what love should be like.

It got so unbearable that I pretty much fled the place, I admit, before my duration of stay was officially over. I had to leave my work incomplete and earned a bad name for it.

“Anton, I love you!”

“I love you so much, Anton!” Her words were like a constant replay from a broken recorder.

Those words had started to annoy me, scare me, haunt me!

Love is understanding the other person’s needs, not expecting them to gel into the mental picture you have of them. What Maya thought love to be had nothing to do with love at all! It was an all-consuming, highly destructive, incurable obsession.  She was obsessed with me!

Had I got a whiff of that earlier, I would not have entertained her the very first time, when she requested me to participate in an event she was organizing. It was one of their celebration days, a holiday in their calendar. I remember the day, a Friday. My classes were  all done and since I had nothing to do at home, I decided to stay for a bit longer and finish pending work. I was distracted by the noise of shuffling feet right outside my door. For about five minutes. Thinking it must be a student trying to hand in a late assignment, I walked to the door, quietly turned the handle and pulled the door ajar.

She froze, her right hand suspended in mid-air. I realized that she was just about to knock at the very same moment. For a minute or so, I just stared, though it was rude. She was quite a vision dressed in a scarlet and gold sari that perfectly complimented her earthy skin tone. Tiny gold trinkets hung around her neck and clung to her ears. My eyes took in the red and golden bracelets that adorned her wrist as she fixed her hair with one hand. She looked exotic and the effect it had on me took me by surprise. She smiled and raised her hand again to shade her eyes from the glare of the afternoon sun. Her palms were decorated with bright red, intricate designs.The bracelets clinked musically, jolting me back to my senses. I smiled back.

“Err… Hello…” I uttered, racking my brains for her name, vaguely aware that I had seen her before. I have never been good at remembering names.

“Maya,” she supplied confidently, “We met at the Dean’s office.” I nodded.

“Of course, so nice to see you again, ” I said with gusto and then added, “You look very… festive. Is there some kind of celebration today?”

Her eyes lit up at once.

“We do!  We… The Fine Arts and Humanities Dept. got together to celebrate Diwali at the campus this evening. It starts in about two hours at the auditorium. Right next to the Convention Hall. We sent a generic email to all Departments but since you’re our guest and new to the place….”

She paused, I guessed for dramatic effect and to catch her breath.

Maya continued, “I thought of inviting you personally. Please do join us.”

I noticed how comfortable in her little speech she was, as if she knew exactly how she would string each word. Yet, it did not seem rehearsed.

“Thank you for the invite. I will just finish something and join you.” I answered politely.

“Great!”  She turned to go and, in her rush, immediately stumbled on the long folds of her saree. As a reflex, my arm shot out to prevent her fall and brushed against her slender arm.

She had already steadied herself.

“High heels are not a good match with saris,” she laughed, trying to regain her composure and I agreed.

However, I was watching her face. A reddish tinge had risen to her cheek bones and was spreading fast on the oval face. This is the second time I had seen her blush.

Did I have something to do with it? I remember wondering.