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The Sentenced: Chap 17 (Epilogue)

Dearly Awaited

“I believe that all of time already exists, so may be some can sometimes get a glimpse of things but probably have trouble interpreting what they see….”

These were the words of Mr Sekhawat, the Dean.

I know it’s time to go. It’s time we wrap this up… the story of a broken heart, a repentant heart, hearts grieving and so on. What had to happen did ultimately happen and we have to take it in our stride. We have to move on…. from one phase to another, one season to another, just like dry leaves that are blown around by the winds of time. Nothing last forever, neither do we. But as long as we are here, we strive for permanence, we strive for moments that immortalize us… in the memories of a beloved, in the laughter of friends, in the sighs of those who would give anything in the world to snatch back a handful of time that they had spent with us. Sometimes. it’s just too late!

Mr. Sekhawat wears that steely expression when he is at work. The measured smile, that confident approach. People look up to him, respect him, and emulate him. He is very aware of the seriousness of his position at the University and many of the staff members are in awe of him. Although, deep down, he alone knows how he suffers… every waking moment those thoughts come to bite at his peace and he lets himself be tortured. It’s his penance. The face looms in the background like the black and white poster of a tragic saga. Sleep brings some respite but nights are often spent in mournful repentance of what could have been! If only he had the boldness to speak his heart out when the object of his affection was still alive, things could have taken a very different turn! Instead he let go… although grudgingly. Now, he has resigned himself to those years that stare him blankly in the face. With nothing to comfort himself except the memories.

The flight is on time. It’s time for tearful farewells, watery smiles and promises. Sometimes unspoken. The two women hug each other and tears turn their visions blurry.

“I wish I knew….” Rebecca hesitates. She is at a loss for words but Nafisa understands. She smiles and squeezes Rebecca’s hand gently. Words are not necessary. Somehow, Nafisa could not ignore their request of accompanying them to Delhi and spending a couple of days exploring the many mysteries of old Delhi before they took a flight back to Italy. Somehow and quite unexpectedly, Nafisa and Rebecca formed a bond of trust and of mutual respect. Nafisa grew to love the woman who would someday become Anton’s wife. Then, it was Anton’s turn. He stepped up and hesitated but Nafisa did not. As they hugged, Nafisa let out a sob and Anton’s arms held her securely. When they let go, they looked into one another’s eyes for a brief moment and they knew that both of them was thinking about the ‘dearly departed’. Nafisa thought back to the day when she had first met Anton at the Diwali dinner. For the first time, she was able to fully appreciate Anton’s return, even though for a week.

Anton sighed and closed his eyes as he leaned back on his seat. It was going to be a long flight and he needed sleep. Rebecca was concerned about his drawn face but he reassured her he would be fine. His long, artistic fingers ran through his hair, making it messier. Those witty eyes behind the thick glasses are now mournful, grave and he is thinking…

He is thinking of me.

The wheels have whirred to life and started rolling down the runway. It’s time to go. I do feel a strange sense of calm mingled with something else that I really don’t have words to describe. It’s something akin to sorrow or longing, perhaps. But this I do know… someday, in some world, in some way or another, you and I will meet again!

Until then Anton, you remain my ‘dearly awaited’

Love, Maya.

The Sentenced- Chap 16 (contd)

Closure: Antonspeak

“Hi Maya. I’m here.” I whispered, glancing towards the centre of the room where the double-bed used to be. Where, Nafisa told me, Maya’s body lay sprawled in her nightwear. She had  died in her sleep and when her death was discovered, her mortal remains had already begun to decay. These details were not in the email that I received from the Dean, of course. But these I needed to know, I definitely needed to know.

The room looked oddly bare. I wondered who disposed of the bed, and the study table in the corner… and the nice, comfy chair, the seat wrapped with wine-red velvet. It was my favourite perch… I pulled open the wooden wardrobe where the two compartments used to be… hers and mine in stark difference. Maya’s cluttered, disorganized. Mine just the opposite.

Like the rest of the room, it looked oddly barren, too. I do not know why I say ‘oddly.’ Did I expect the room to be furnished just as I had left it? Those last moments when she clung to my arm and wept. Despite the claustrophobia that I sometimes felt when I was around her and which finally made me plan my escape, I knew I would never forget that moment. Her pain was so tangible… it was like a solid, heavy block crushing her and for one tiny second, I had almost changed my mind.

I never did tell you Maya, but that one moment summed up all those months I had spent with you. I remember feeling so stiff, I couldn’t even put my arms around you to comfort you. Terrible guilt knifed inside me but what alternative did I have! I could not let myself get smothered Maya, I…. I never had plans to settle down with you! I’d been clear about it since…..

A heaviness obstructed my chest. I needed air. The window should open unless it’s jammed. No, it isn’t… it opened without much shoving and I sighed with pleasure as a familiar gust of fragrant breeze rushed into the room. Just like her.

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“Do you like how my hair smells?” Her shoulder-length, dark hair was wrapped in a towel but the whiff of her shampoo had filled the room. I nodded without looking up from my laptop. Out of the corner of my eyes, I knew her exaggerated pout was well in place. Almost everything about her manner was exaggerated… her flair for dramatics, her little joys and sorrows and the love she felt for me. I decided to play along and tease her a bit more. I focused on my paper as I heard her storming out of the room, then back inside, then out again, clearly trying to get my attention. I feigned ignorance.

Then I heard her trotting out of the front door and into the little garden. She positioned herself where I could have a clear view of her through the window. Spreading her legs ever so slightly, she unwrapped the towel from her head. Black night cascaded down her shoulders and caught the light of the golden sun. I held my breath. As if she was performing on stage, her body started swaying, almost imperceptibly. She flipped her head from side to side, trying to shake off the water droplets from her glistening hair, occasionally caressing those gorgeous locks with her towel. I was not fooled as my eyes lingered on her form and that almost suffocating feminine allure. The chair screeched as I pushed it back abruptly and stood up. She tiptoed to the window.

“What! I’m just drying my hair!” She retorted with a pretend-frown. I laughed.

“You were doing more than that, you imp!”

I made to join her in the sun and she gave a little squeal. Such a drama queen! I held her wrists firmly and buried my face in her wet hair. “Strawberries,” I mumbled and drew in a long breath.

The familiar need surged inside, rearing its gigantic head and I began to lower her onto the green and brown earth. “NO!” She shrieked, pushing away. It was my turn to pout.

“Oh, why not?”

Her eyes now held a look of fear and embarrassment.

“Don’t you know? Amma!” She had dropped her voice to a whisper and pointed to the second-storey window of our nosy neighbor.

A lady in her fifties or sixties, she lived with her daughter and a domestic help. We would often meet her on our way to the University or around the local markets. Although very friendly and prone to chatting, we never failed to notice the overtly-curious look in her eyes as they swept upon the pair us, especially me. On a couple of occasions, when we were tending to our little garden or just standing there chatting, we had caught her face hidden among the fluttering curtains on her window. To be honest, I didn’t mind much. Everyone is entitled to some harmless voyeuristic pleasure, after all. But not Maya. Her shy, Indian upbringing made her very conscious of the fact that she was living in with me. Maya would always turn slightly red when we were together and happened to meet somebody we knew.

“Let’s go inside!” She said urgently, trying to free herself from my embrace. “Absolutely not!” I quipped, “I’m loving this sun and this red-faced you!” My smirk widened and she was almost in tears. I could feel her go limp in my arms before struggling a bit more. I was careful to lower her down gently but she gave a small yelp. The garden was filled with pebbles of all kinds and sharp twigs. Neither of us was very diligent in maintaining it rigorously.

Thinking that a jutting stone or a sharp twig had hurt her, I whispered, “Oops, sorry!”

Her wide eyes stared straight past my head and across the little arbor.  Amma’s window was now open, I recalled it was shut when I came into the garden. Our voices must have carried. Taking a quick glance, I chuckled. It seemed someone was clutching the closed curtains tightly, leaving only a very narrow slit. As Maya’s breathing quickened, I crouched low and lifting her in my arms, carried her behind the half-grown, dwarfish mango tree. In spite of herself, Maya started to giggle and I knew why. Now, even if she strained her neck, all Amma would get a glimpse of were Maya’s dirt-smeared feet.

My eyes drank her beauty and she lay still with half-closed eyes. He lips parted slightly, inviting me to her. When Maya looked like that, I forgot the world. The scent of the warm earth mingled with the scent in her hair and her fragrant body.

“Darn! I had just taken a shower,” Maya grumbled but I comforted her. “You can take one more… with me.”

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“Anton! You alright?” It was Rebecca’s voice. What’s she doing here? I spun around and walked out to the front door. Her eyes were apologetic as she tried to bring on the semblance of a smile.

“I…I… just that it was taking you so long…” she stammered, “I know you wanted to be alone… I got a bit worked up,” Her face flushed slightly. I nodded.

“It’s okay,” I replied, “Come in, it’s too sunny outside. Did you walk all the way?” I noticed Becca panting and realized I didn’t have a drink to offer her.

What the heck! I thought, I don’t live here…anymore.

“It really isn’t too far from Nafisa’s… nice, little town.” Becca said casually but I saw her eyes darting from one corner of the bare living room to another, as if she expected Maya’s ghost to jump out at her from the dimly-lit corners. I put my arm around her and pulled her close.

“There’s no one here, Becca. Just you and I,” I said, teasing as I ruffled her hair. Embarrassed, she smiled but it vanished in the next minute.

“Are you done yet? Can we… just go back to Nafisa’s? It just is a bit…. weird standing here.” I understood. But I reminded her that she need not have come. Besides, the idea of visiting Maya’s memories and seeking closure was hers. She looked flustered but did not budge.

“I understand you feel uncomfortable here, Becca… someone passed away in this cottage…” I was trying to make her feel better but she shook her head vehemently.

“I’m not scared, Anton… not because Maya died here. Just that, I feel… it’s a strange feeling I can’t really describe. Like… you know, when you feel you don’t belong somewhere?” Her face looked pale, strained.

“Anton, this place… all these people who knew her… her, her diary… it’s like… this isn’t our world…” She gasped, “Oh my God! I… I shouldn’t… we shouldn’t have come…. Maya….  and all these people! They were waiting for you!”

It didn’t help that the front door slammed shut at that moment. Becca screamed like a frightened bird as she clung to me, shivering. Her face had drained of all color. I decided enough was enough and gripped her shoulders firmly.

“Look at me, and get this in your head. This door always had a problem, been like that since I moved in here. Maya isn’t here and even if she was, she wouldn’t hurt a hair on your head. I can vouch for that! Maya held dear all that I love, and I love you, Becca, very much!” I finished forcefully.

She threw her arms round my neck, breaking down in sobs and I knew it wasn’t out of fear. This was really the first time that I had confessed my feelings to her. For a brief moment, Maya’s dazzling smile flashed before my mind’s eye. On our way back, Becca seemed slightly better as I mimicked how scared she was back in the house. Nafisa realized what had happened from her visibly shaken appearance and rushed over to comfort her.

“I suggested her not to go, but she seemed agitated,” she whispered, as Becca went inside to lie down. I nodded before asking, “Nafisa, why isn’t the front door ever locked?” At first, she looked confused, then realized I was talking about the cottage.

“Oh, the owners want to demolish the place. Quite old anyway, and hardly any buyer for such property these days.” Nafisa replied, shuffling into the kitchen to get us cold drinks.

I sat down, feeling that abrupt heaviness in my chest return. Maya loved that cottage. Perhaps that’s why she remained there after I left, alone with the memories that we had made together.

That evening, Becca seemed tired and went to bed early. We were making preparations to leave the town soon. Nafisa sat on the couch, her make-shift bed. Her generosity was starting to weigh heavily on me.

“Nafisa… am just so sorry,” I paused as she looked up. Her eyes were vacant but she tried to smile.

“Thanks for coming, Anton. Maya would be so glad,” she said as tears filled her eyes. I looked away and she sniffed, retrieving a tissue from the box on the table. We sat there in silence for a few minutes, our unspoken thoughts pervading the room. Glancing at the clock, I stood up.

“I’ll go to bed. Goodnight, Nafisa and thank you for being so kind!” I added sincerely.

She smiled and pulled something out from behind the cushion. It was Maya’s diary that Becca had been reading. I tried to recall if I had ever seen Maya write in this journal. No. May be, she started after I left for Italy.

“Err… Anton, would you like to keep this?” she asked hesitantly.

I wasn’t very sure, especially after the way Becca was in the cottage but I could plainly see that she wanted me to have it. And rightfully so. This diary was a constant companion in her best friend’s last years, months perhaps. And Maya’s writings were addressed to me. Most of them at least, from what I had heard from Rebecca. Nafisa longed to see her best friend’s prized possession find a home with me.

“Yes, of course!” I replied, thanking her.

Later, I lay awake next to Becca who was sleeping soundly. Slowly, I sat up and turned on the tiny bedside lamp next to me. A soft amber glow spread around the bed, not enough to light up the entire room. I opened Maya’s diary, just leafing through the pages.

The last entry said: ‘I need you like I need air.’

The tears came unannounced and totally unexpected. For a long time, they would not stop. I was relieved Becca was sleeping. I’ve never been comfortable crying, much less in the company of others.

Goodbye… Or Not!

The darkest hour has come and gone… when I lost sight of you
May be, you removed me from your sight..
who knows which one is true
But when the dreams wake me at night, I lay awake and think
And even though its for the best, my mind gropes for the link
My link to you is now severed, the cords of care have snapped
Like the wind now you are free, my arms no longer wrapped
Despite the tears that must well up, despite the hollow sigh
I say my prayers with you in mind, to you they gladly fly.

We weren’t meant to be, I know, I merely fooled my mind
Your love would always hold me close, your love would always bind.
Now that our ways must part so soon, the pain of loss is more
How can I forget your scorching words that shook me to the core!
Your hand I could not hold for long, my greatest regret be
The memories, those thoughts and smiles are now a part of me.

parting-hands-AB5BAB

Yes, I eat and yes I sleep and yes life trudges on
I wait for you like the dead of night that awaits the morn.
Somewhere you’ve just woken up, my day drags to an end
Gazing at the sunset hues I ask for strength to mend
Heal my heart from the wounds it braved because its love is true
Let my tears now gently fall, they write an ode to you.

Although I know the dreaded day to say goodbye is here
Hope whispers its not goodbye… somehow you’ll still be near

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!

SAUDADE

 

canoe on body of water
Photo by Jack Gittoes on Pexels.com

It’s that time of the day again…. I sit back, close my eyes, and a deluge of memories descend upon me.

Memories of you…. my ode to you.

‘Saudade ‘ a beautiful word in a foreign language… if you only look it up, you’d know….

‘Saudade’, my feelings exactly… but how to explain feeling to one who shuns ?

How to show my soul to one who laughs at that reckless passion?

What do I do… except….  walk away.

Or so I think!

‘Saudade’ haunts, and I was never any good at calculated indifference
If I could only wrench those backdated feelings out of my core..
But then… I wonder.
If I did, who would know the difference between you and me?

‘Saudade’ might make me weak but I will last
Like a rock, unwavering, steadfast…
Like spring that waits for winter to retreat
Like the voice in your head, deafening but discreet.

And that voice speaks to you, if only you’d hear
For its that one call you eternally run from
Yet I see it crystal clear, like the light of day
That I am the shield to your every fear.

I will be repose when your tired soul aches
The light in me will shine so bright
Dispelling the darkness in both our beings
Give me ‘you’; and the world would seem just right

And if some day, say, ‘Saudade’ beckons you
I will still be where you left me.. still fierce, still true….

The Light Shines through

blue-moon-lotus-kate-hungerford

 

The lotus stands alone, forlorn, in the dark waters of the lake
The black night around her, densely packed
With the chirping of critters, adding to the eeriness of the place.
But does the lotus care? She is pre-occupied, staring steadfastly at the dazzling moon
She strives to reach that silvery orb, she hopes, sighs and hopes again.

 

For she knows that the moon cares not for her existence
Yet, she adores his light, it soothes the restlessness in her soul
When his beams cast their magic on her quivering petals
She starts to shimmer, feeling his touch all over her being
She dances with delight, gently swaying in the playful breeze
Her grateful heart whispering a serenade as she worships her unattainable..

 

I ask the lotus, “Are you not a fool? Why waste your youth on the faraway moon…
That neither cares for the purity of your ardour, nor for the virtues that commit you to him?

 

Amused by my ignorant probes, she softly laughs and answers
“I adore the light that brightens my soul, I bow before that, it makes me who I am..
My beauty, my virtues, my passionate love
Soar toward him, as a silent prayer
He listens, he knows, he understands
And though the moon seems oblivious to you,
He answers my call when his light shines through.