The one who was
Drip-drip. pitter-patter, drip-drip, pitter-patter. The sound of falling rain on the roof of the building creates such a soothing rhythm. It’s lulling me to sleep. I could have left for my quarters and the comfort of my bed hours ago but I decided to stay back. The university is going to celebrate its Centenary next year and as the Dean, I have a lot to take care of. However, I just cannot focus. Here, I am now, at my office, sitting at my table and staring at the computer screen. The bluish light begins to hurt my eyes. I turn it off and saunter over to the lone window behind my table.
As I stare at the falling rain, my eyes fill with tears. I am only aware of it when I feel the wetness on my cheeks. Instead of brushing them away, I let them fall. The tears are a tribute to the one I loved, the girl who loved to watch the rain. For hours. She is no more. Maya.
When I first met Maya after her preliminary interview, I had noticed the magic in her easy, effortless smile. As she shook hands with me, the touch of her hand on mine was a soft, warm sensation and made me break out into a boyish grin. I was surprised. I am not one to smile easily. Especially, when I am about to interview a hopeful applicant. Usually, it’s a curt nod in my nod… may be just a hint of a smile I am quite against becoming too pally with the people who work under me. In fact, I am known as a stern task-master among the staff. It’s not that I am not fair or unreasonable, But it is a veneer that I have to don and it is appropriate to my status and position at the University.
Maya came in like a whirlwind, like a gushing river in the monsoon, eager to overflow its banks and sweep everything away in its path. She was almost half my age but that did not stop me from falling in love with her, her entire being, the sensuous woman that she was. She was not a breathtaking beauty, but her smile was benign. She had a certain generosity in her which is hard to come by in today’s world, a kindness that emanates from empathy and a willingness to forgive the entire world for its sins.
Maya did not belong to this world, she belonged in a world which would understand her gentleness, her talent at touching hearts and turning complete strangers into friends. When she came into my life, she seemed very carefree, happy-go-lucky… like a pretty, little bird that has just been given the permission to fly out of its nest and explore the endless, blue sky. She had just begun to spread her wings, ready to take flight, when the unthinkable happened. I remember warning her a couple of times that she shared too much of her soul with others. She was too much of a giver. Maya would just laugh it off. She probably believed she was on a mission to heal the damaged on this earth. And see where it led her to! She had to pay for her folly with her life, a budding, vibrant life of which she had just seen twenty-six years! His betrayal killed her, an unworthy person who neither deserved her heart nor her compassion.
Maya loved a man who would not love her back, ever. People here say she died of a broken heart but I call it a murder. Her foolish love for Anton murdered her and we were all witness to that!
As I said, I loved Maya, in spite of our age difference, the positions we held at the University, in spite of the fact that she looked up to me as a mentor, a father figure. After my divorce five years back, I took up this role and have always been comfortable living my life in comfortable seclusion, immersing myself in my books and enjoying the company of my beloved German shepherd, Buzzo. I did not really crave for human company. Maya changed all that.
The rain outside does not show any signs of abating. Restless, I pour a cup of cold water down my throat. It does not help! A scream is building up inside my chest, yearning to get out. I clench my fists as my mind takes me back to the morning when, sitting at this very same table, I was glancing through the email I had received from the Italian Professor. I liked his profile immediately, His credentials and accolades hinted that he was an ambitious achiever. I had no hesitation in inviting him over for a few months.
He seemed to be a gentleman with a pleasant disposition, much younger than I was and spoke with a heavy accent. I remember welcoming him and showing him around the first time we met. I was quite impressed by all the background information he had gathered and the research he had done prior to joining us. I sensed a spark in him which, coupled with his sense of humour must have made him quite irresistible…. to Maya, at least.
It was a classic case of opposites attract. Maya, a young, exuberant assistant lecturer who loved Literature and Art. She loved to lose herself in the pages of the books that she read and always tried to seek others who would participate alongside her in her magical journeys. She believed in people and in their words. Foolish, really.
I could see that they had befriended each other in a matter of days. Most of the staff members were all praise for the foreigner, about how polite and helpful he was and lauded his vast reserves of knowledge in not only Mathematics and the Sciences but also Literature and world cultures. He was reticent about his personal affairs but not unfriendly, quiet but not unpleasant.
Thinking back, this might be the very place where they had first seen each other. My office. As Anton sat before me, discussing about how he would like to conduct a seminar about the logical properties of random graphs, I suddenly recalled that he had received the Young Researcher Award at his university last year and questioned him about it. I noticed he loved to talk about himself, though he tried his best not to sound pompous. As his boastfulness was effectively masked by his witty repertoire, I was quite happy listening to him. However, with my worldly knowledge and experience, I knew that I would not trust him with a lot.
Anyway, as I listened and nodded, I heard two loud knocks on the polished wood of my door and, before I could reply, Maya barged in. All other staff members including the senior most would have thought twice before doing this but not Maya. Maya had somehow seen through my stern facade and established that she would remain her exuberant, playful self with me. May be she knew I would let her.
So in dashed Maya, beaming as usual. I brought on a severe look and shook my head from side to side in disapproval, but my eyes were indulgent and Maya saw through it at once.
“Mr Shekhawat, you know what I was thinking… about independent scholarly work to support….”
I raised my right hand in a mock serious manner, asking her to stop and gestured towards the foreigner.
“This is Professor Antonio Palazzolli from Italy,” I said with a tiny smile, “he has joined the Math Dept. as visiting Faculty and will be staying and working at our University for a few months…”
Maya stopped short and turned to face the Professor. He stood up politely.
“Professor, this is Maya, from the Department of English. A promising, young associate lecturer.” I smiled at Maya but she was not looking at me.
Anton moved up a few paces and extended his hand. “Nice meeting you,” he greeted with a smile and a slight tilt of his head.
I expected her to reciprocate but she seemed to be at a sudden loss for words which was not like her at all. He was still standing with his hand extended when she suddenly blurted out in a voice which was unnecessarily loud, “I so hate Math!”
Taken aback, I was about to chide Maya gently for her uncharacteristic rudeness when Anton gave a solemn nod.
“Oh, I often get that from beautiful women,” he chuckled pleasantly.
I noticed his amused eyes were still on Maya. I also noticed the faint blush creeping up her neck.