This time she didn’t wish for a happy ending for she stopped believing in one. She stopped hoping for a miracle. She was tired. Exhausted. And above all, defeated. The light that filtered through her broken being passed right through; sucked into the black hole she had created for herself. Not only did the solitude comfort her, she craved it. Her eyes didn’t betray the heaviness of her soul. She lied well. No one cared to look under her cloak of indifference. She wore an armor over her heart and reveled in its solidity. She saw nightmares and wrote about dreams. Dreams that she knew would never come true. She had long lost the battle with destiny. She wasn’t fighting anymore. Just struggling. Struggling with identity. Struggling with existence. Hope was a word she had long forgotten the meaning of. The sun burned her, the moon taunted her and the birds spoke of freedom of which she knew not. She was friends with the sea though, for its endless grey matched hers. She was living a harsh reality, and this time she didn’t wish for a happy ending. She just wished for an end.
“How was it?” she asked before Crystal was even halfway through the door.
“I think I’m in love.”
Beth was pretty sure she was imagining what Crystal said. “It was your first date!” Forget loving, two years that they’ve been roommates, Crystal had never even said that she liked any guy. She had always been the shy, staying in reading a book in her PJs, avoiding relationships kind. This was big news.
“How was it!?”
“Oh Beth, it was perfect! He’s so perceptive and fun… and super intelligent. He could understand everything I was saying. He was surprisingly patient. And my heart melted every time I looked into his eyes. He liked the food so much, he devoured it in no time. It was cute. It seemed like he was a regular to the restaurant so everyone kept coming up to say hello. I didn’t want to leave at all.”
“Woah. I’m so glad. But promise me you’ll be careful.”
“Careful?” Crystal asked, puzzled. “Beth, he’s so gentle and playful. No way he would hurt me or bite.”
“Bite?” exclaimed Beth, taken aback.
“Yea, dogs do bite sometimes.” Crystal said matter-of-factly.
“Yes! Harley, Neil’s pet dog.”
“Neil, as in your date for the evening?”
“Yes Beth, what is so difficult to understand?”
“WHAT IS SO DIFFICULT? You just told me in detail how you’re in love with a dog.”
“Not any dog. Harley.” Crystal said smiling fondly.
“What about Neil?”
“He’s nice. He takes very good care of Harley. They adore each other.”
“You’re hopeless.” Beth said. “I’m gonna go sleep. You can go and text sweet nothings to Harley.”
“I wish!” sighed Crystal. If Beth rolled her eyes any further, they’d disappear in her forehead.
P.S. – Somewhere not so far away…
“Dude, how was it?”
“I think I’m in love.”
“She loves Harley more than I do. Didn’t think it was ever possible.”
I wish I could tell someone. I’m scared. I’m scared of the storm that’s raging outside. Each time the lightning strikes, the empty space comes alive with light. But only for a second, before everything plunges back into darkness. The windows are whistling. No matter how hard I try to fasten them shut, the storm finds a way to reach me. The rustling trees sound like apocalypse and the rattling doors feel like monsters trying to break in. I’ve never felt more alone. I try to think happy thoughts, and for a moment it works. But within seconds they’re replaced by the voice. The same voice that derides me for being happy, the voice that tells me that I don’t deserve it. The voice that keeps me from feeling too lucky, being too content. The voice loves the storm. I hate it. It seems like it’ll go on forever. Can’t imagine a more miserable infinity than this. The lightning is striking closer with each passing second; the clouds are angrier, and the shadows darker. The goosebumps on my skin are the physical manifestations of the chaos in my head. But one singular thought can be heard out loud. The storm, make it stop. I wish I could tell someone. I’m scared.
“He’s mine.” she said
“He’s mine.” she replied
“He said he loves me more than anyone else.”
“He has promised me his life.”
“He is my world. My happiness is only because of him. You can’t have him”
“My existence is only because of him. I need him.”
“He deserves better.”
“He chose me.”
The mother lost a son, the motherland won a soldier.
She’d stopped checking for mail a long time ago. Handwritten letters were now in the same list as dinosaurs, flip phones and Orkut. That’s why she was taken aback when she saw a letter sticking out of her mailbox while returning from work.
It could only be from one person. Him. Only he knew how to catch her off-guard, make her feel like no one else ever did; even after all this time. She took a deep breath and grabbed the letter.
She let herself in, dropped the letter on the coffee table and went to the bedroom. She took a shower, wore her nightclothes and came out. She went to the kitchen, put the coffee pot on and took out the chocolate cookies. Now was not the time to ration. All this while, she was acutely aware of the letter being there, like it had a heart of its own.
She didn’t know if she was trying to postpone opening it or if she was waiting for some kind of feeling to kick in. She had thrown his memory away in the endless dark depths of her heart. To bring it to surface would be going back in time, breaking the dam she had so deftly created and letting the memories flood her conscious again. So all she felt right now was annoyed.
This was the first letter he’d ever written to her. You need a certain kind of courage to put your feelings down in writing. He never had that, until now apparently. As for her, he’d featured in all her journal entries since the day she met him till the day she realized the redundancy of it all. Plus there were several letters. Few she gave him and few she kept for herself; about things she would never tell him and things he would never know. So it was her million words against his, she was guessing, two fifty.
Finally, when the coffee was ready, and there wasn’t really anything else left to do; it was time to open the letter. She had a mad urge to play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on the music system. But as she scanned through the letter, she was glad she didn’t. The letter was highly anti-climactic. Actually if she ever wrote an autobiography, it would be titled anti-climactic.
The letter was everything a letter is supposed to be; heartfelt, well phrased, funny at the right places, and ending on a hopeful note. Timing was the only problem. It was a bit too late. There were apologies she’d long given up on receiving, there were confessions of mistakes she had long forgiven him for, there were questions about second chances and she was no longer a person who could answer those. She was almost disappointed. In him for being so… ordinary; and in herself, for having let go so easily when at one point she’d claimed she never could.
But the coffee still tasted glorious, there were three more chocolate cookies to go before the jar was empty and if not Beethoven, there was still time to play some Top 40.
She was born with a tortured soul. She didn’t need any childhood trauma, personal tragedy or heartbreak to go spiraling into the black hole. She was perpetually on the edge of falling. The void was her home. She was the kind to run away from the light at the end of the tunnel. Darkness was all she knew, all she was fond of. There was nothing she was afraid of, except for herself. Her thoughts were darker than her own shadow.
Yet, she was the brightest star of his universe. She was the only light he would ever need.
“You can’t save me, no one can. I’m unfix-able.” she used to say.
And all he would tell her was, “You fool, can’t you see? You’re the one saving me.”
She thought of writing him a letter. The task was daunting. She felt that all the paper in the world wouldn’t be enough if she had to put in words everything she felt.
She could write about the first time she met him. She would not write, ‘you had at me hello’, because he didn’t. It took time. It took the realization that their wavelengths matched. It took smiles exchanged during several small, seemingly insignificant moments. It took incessant laughter over shared jokes. It took rare proclamations of personal truths. It took long walks with the smell of salt in the air.
She could write about things she liked about him, though that list was yet to see its end. The way he removed his spectacles to rub his tired eyes. How any form of mediocrity annoyed him. The twinkle in his eyes when he discussed something that he loved. The outer guise of insensitivity. The air of self-assurance. His phone voice. How he saw the world around him as pretty photographs. The way his back arched while he was working. The way chocolate stuck to his lips. How he always knew what to say. She could go on forever. About things she liked about him and about things she wanted to do with him, to him. She wanted to explore him, mind and body.
She could write about how it was no surprise that she didn’t get what she wanted. Sometimes words are just that, words. Ego, manipulation, cynicism; the flip side is never as pretty. The smile she thought she could trust would never be just for her. Nothing she said or did would ever change that. She knew any reciprocation she felt was a farce, just her heart deluding itself. But that’s the thing about love, you fall anyway. She would write how he was never hers and yet she would take his name under her breath whenever they talked of first loves and broken hearts.
She could write about moving on, and how it’s never an option. You don’t move on, you just make peace with reality. You realize that for a moment you put the reins of your happiness in someone else’s hands and that person didn’t do a great job. It’s time to take them back. She would write about having no regrets and about the world of new possibilities that lay in front of her. The unread books in her shelf, the interesting recipe she tried out in the kitchen, the exciting new job opportunity she was contemplating about, the Euro trip she was planning with her friends, the text from a guy she’d just met, that made her heart flutter anew.
That’s when she smiled, because she realized she wouldn’t need much paper after all. Hers would probably be the shortest love letter in history.
It was like every other Sunday afternoon; Mr. Sharma in front of the television, kids holed up in their respective rooms and Mrs. Sharma in the kitchen, cleaning up after lunch. Mr. Sharma’s phone rang. He excused himself to the balcony.
“Are you crazy, calling on a Sunday afternoon like this?”
“You’re so cute when you’re angry.”
“Do not sweet talk your way out of this. Why have you called?”
“Husband had to leave for an emergency surgery. Come over!”
“Well guess what, my wife doesn’t do surgeries like your fancy ass husband so she’s still home.”
“Make some excuse.”
“You know I suck at it.”
“Just say you’ve got an urgent errand to run.”
“Urgent errand? Who really talks like that anymore.”
“Everyone. Just say it.”
“You know I can never say no to you. I’ll be there.”
Mrs. Sharma was used to her husband having to go out on a Sunday. Real estate was a demanding industry. The timing today was actually perfect. She could do a quick trip to the parlour.
The Golden Glow beauty salon was packed. “Do you have an appointment, ma’m?” the receptionist asked when Mrs. Sharma showed up. “Umm actually I don’t. My husband had an urgent errand to run so I decided to come here.”
“I’m sorry ma’m , we don’t have any vacant…” the receptionist stopped as the phone rang. She picked up the receiver.
“Hello. I’m Malini. I have a 4 pm appointment?”
“Yes ma’m. It’s almost four.”
“Yea I’ll have to reschedule. I have an urgent errand to run.”
“Come again, ma’m?”
“I have an urgent errand to run.”
“O…ok ma’m. Let us know whenever you’d like to reschedule. Thank you.”
The receptionist turned to Mrs. Sharma, “A slot just opened up.”
“I guess it’s just my lucky day today, huh?” Mrs. Sharma said smilingly.
The receptionist didn’t really know whether to smile back or not. “You know what ma’m? I’d like to offer you a complimentary head massage.”
“We do have something.” he said, holding her hands tightly in his.
“We do?” she asked. She couldn’t help but laugh. From nothing to something this quick; at this rate it would be three more drinks to ‘I love you’.
He held her close and looked into her eyes. She could smell his perfume mixed with a hint of whiskey. This was all the intoxication she would ever need.
“I like you. What we have is special.” he said again. In that moment, she wanted to say a thousand words. I like you too, more than I’ve ever liked anyone. I want to sing to you. I want to whisper my favorite poem in your ears. I want to hear all your secrets and I want to tell you all of mine. I never want to look away because your eyes shine brighter than any of the stars above us tonight.
But she kept quiet. She knew the eloquence would be wasted on him. All he would remember in the morning is a faint shadow of hundred such conversations he had last night. She let her head rest on his shoulder and closed her eyes. He held her like he’d never let go. They sat like that for a long time.
“Let’s get back to the party?”
“You go ahead, I’ll join you in a while.”
He kissed her on the forehead and left. It took all her self control to not pull him back and kiss him. Not tonight, not like this. It will have to be some other night, a night that she knew would never come. She looked at her watch. Only a couple of hours to go before the dawn break. Only a couple of hours for something to go back to nothing. Again, she couldn’t help but laugh.
It was when she reached the front of the queue that she realized she was short of cash. The ticket was 450. She had 400.
“Is there an ATM around?” she asked the guy manning the ticket counter. He looked at her with an impatient disdain that a girl usually reserves for her boyfriend who cheated on her.
“No, could you please step aside and let people, who do have money, buy the ticket.”
“Sure, but you could learn to be a little more poli…”
“I’ll pay for you.” she heard someone say from behind her. She turned around. It was a guy her age. Tall, fair and handsome.
“Umm… are you sure? I’m 50 bucks short.” she said.
“Yea it’s not a problem. Let me buy the ticket. The bus leaves in 20 minutes. You can look for an ATM till then.”
“Awesome. Thanks!” She stepped aside and let him buy the tickets. She asked around for an ATM but turned out the nearest one was not so nearby.
“It’s just 50 bucks. Chill.”
She couldn’t. It wasn’t an ideal situation to be in. Cashless and indebted to a stranger. She could already imagine her mother’s reaction if she ever told her. But she’d stopped caring about her mother’s reactions long time back.
“Hello, let’s head. The bus is gonna leave soon.” he snapped her back from her thoughts.
They settled down in their seats. She was still not completely assured. How could she be? All her childhood she had been warned not to accept favors from strangers, however exceptionally good looking they may be. She glanced sideways, she could see his profile; the curve of his nose, the slightly overgrown stubble, the mole on his neck right under his ear. He was looking out of the window and humming to himself.
“Hi, I’m Maya.” After what he’d done for her, least she could do is hold a decent conversation.
“So is everything else.” he replied. She smiled. It wasn’t the first time someone had cracked that line.
“I’m Zeus. And before you ask, yes it’s an unusual name especially for a Hindu, but my father is a Greek mythology enthusiast.”
“Well your mother must be really kind to have agreed,” she said. He laughed, a clear and confident laugh. She liked the sound of it.
They fell quiet. She took out her book and started reading.
“Couldn’t have pegged you as a bookworm.” he said.
“Really? Why so?”
“You’re way too pretty.”
“That’s a really awful assumption to make. Who said pretty girls don’t read, or girls who read are ugly.”
He shrugged. “It’s just logic. Pretty requires maintenance, time. Book lovers would rather just read.”
“Flawed logic.” she said.
“May be.” he said with a smile she found highly annoying and yet endearing at the same time.
“I’m dying of hunger. Hope the bus stops soon.” she said. “Oh look, you should have wished for something better.” he said as the bus slowed down near a small food joint.
She got down and made her way to the counter to place her order. For the second time tonight, she realized she had no money whatsoever and for the second time tonight Zeus said from behind her, “Let me pay for you.”
“No I’m good. I suddenly don’t feel like eating at all. It’s motion sickness I think.”
“Don’t be stupid. You just said you were dying of hunger.”
“I changed my mind, my stomach changed its mind actually.”
“Please, consider it my birthday treat.”
“It’s your birthday?”
He held out his driving license. It really was his birthday.
“What are you doing in a bus on your birthday?”
“Going home to visit dad. Since mom passed away when I was 10, I’m all he has.”
“Sorry about your mom. But, HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Let’s eat.” she said as she thought about all the times she wished she didn’t have to spend her birthday with her family.
They boarded the bus again. She fell asleep eventually and woke up just as they were nearing her stop. She collected her stuff and started to walk to the front of the bus.
“Thanks for everything.”
“No problem. You were good company.”
Right before she was about to get down, she smiled as she asked him, “What’s your full name? I’ll look you up on Facebook. I need to return your money anyway.”
“Don’t want my number?”
“Nah, too mainstream.”
He smiled. “Zeus Shah.”
It was an easy name to remember and it was only his profile that popped up when she entered the name. Sitting on her bed, way past midnight, she was surprised to find herself excited as his profile loaded. The excitement drained out of her the second she read the first post on his wall.
The post was dated exactly a year back.
“RIP Zeus, still can’t believe you are no more with us.”
She scrolled down, her hands shaking.
“You deserved a long and happy life more than anyone else. We’ll take care of uncle for you.”
“You always loved the road. Accident on the highway that too on your birthday. I know you are laughing at the irony, wherever you are. RIP.”
As her breathing slowly returned to normal, she smiled. “He was indeed too good to be real.”