A bonfire

On the horizon, the sun was setting.

And in my own life, a chapter was coming to a close.

I took a rickshaw to the adjacent block, where I was to meet Rohan. Rohan was getting married in two weeks time, and I felt relaxed, contrary to all the times we had met before. I was early and as I waited for him, I thought back to all those times we had spent together. That was such a long time ago.

And yet, as the darkness blurred my present, those moments felt so near I could almost touch them.

Life has its ironies. Sometimes, love blossoms in the most improbable circumstances. We had spent a good part of our relationship, oblivious to the nature of our relationship. Our relationship was about the conversations we indulged in, and the mails we wrote to each other. We never attempted to define our relationship. It was free flowing.

And yet, at some point, love just crept in.

We felt something- something that was so hard to define. Something had changed in the course of our relationship. I had finally begun to take notice of our conversations. Anxiety crept into my mind for no obvious reason and I found myself constantly interpreting our conversations and interactions. I found myself all worked up if I didn’t hear from him. I realized then that he had found his way into my heart.

I was both excited and nervous.

On an evening when black clouds filled the sky, we were seated on the stone bench, and I was crying.

I feel very strongly for you. And yet, I feel that we are incompatible in some ways’, he was saying.

I looked at him through my tears. His eyes softened. I put my hand past him to grab the tissues to wipe my tears, and found myself in a tight embrace.

I was reaching out for the tissues’, I found myself saying, almost in a whisper.

My tears stopped, and I just stayed in his embrace, resting my head against his chest. I didn’t want to move, partly because I was too shocked by his gesture to move, and partly because it felt so good to be there. I found my chin being lifted and I felt his lips on mine. I resigned to that kiss with my lips trembling.

He suddenly drew himself away and looked at me. I had stopped crying.

I am sorry’, he said.

That evening, I had driven back home in the rain, listening to Cascades. That evening, my mother saw in my eyes a glow she had never seen before. She might have sensed the reason.

I was in love. For the first time in my life.

Time thereafter was studded with memories- some happy and some painful. We had never really fought.

But we were incompatible.

Sometimes I don’t even know what that means.

I suddenly became aware of his familiar figure walking towards me and came back to the present. Habitually, I felt butterflies in my tummy. He stood in front of me, 6 foot tall, and smiled at me. The butterflies disappeared, as if by magic. I felt very relaxed and smiled back. He led the way and we booked a table at the restaurant. Sitting opposite each other, I was bewildered by the peculiar mix of emotions I felt. I guess I was expecting a transformed Rohan. In two weeks time, he was getting married. I was perhaps expecting him to talk excitedly about his fiancé, about his dreams and hopes, about his wedding, and about all that was part of being the prospective groom.

But what was it I read in his eyes? He looked at me just as he had looked at me all those years ago, when I was a part of his world-

When I was his world.

 
I talked more than he did. I talked about my life. Never once did I touch upon his marriage. Not that it hurt, but since he refused to touch upon it, I didn’t want to.

When we were done with dinner, I wanted to leave. I had loved this evening- loved his presence, loved the ease with which conversation came, loved this togetherness.

I wanted to leave because I didn’t want to give myself the opportunity to long for more.

My mind was at peace with his marriage, and I didn’t want to break that peace. And yet, when he insisted on a stroll, I found myself complying. We walked in silence, lost in distant memories. The cool night air embraced us in its freshness and fragrance. He stopped abruptly and looked at me. I looked up at him.

I want to take you home’, he said.

Won’t I get late?’, I felt obliged to ask.

I will drop you home’, he said.

I nodded.

To walk with him by my side, and to go home together, was a part of my dreams a long time ago.

When we reached his house, I became tight-lipped for some strange reason. We sat opposite each other, and he leaned against the couch, while I fumbled with a cushion, and looked away. The silence felt eerie. I looked at him once or twice and then looked away. He said nothing, and continued to fix his gaze on me. Eventually, he walked up to me and took my hands in his. I stood up, unsure of what was coming. He took me in his arms and hugged me. I felt calm and relaxed as I rested my head against his chest. He held me very close to him, ran his fingers over my hair and then kissed me on my head. I felt like a baby, and behaved like one. I rattled on at random, unsure of what I really wanted to say, until I got fascinated by a crease on his T-shirt. He watched me meddle with it, and when I looked up at him, I saw the fondness in his eyes. He sat down and he made me sit on his lap.

I continued to talk, and he smiled the smile of someone who listens fondly, absorbing all the emotion, excitement and expression, but failing to have grasped a word of what was being said.

At length, I paused, and he kissed me yet again on my head. Then he kissed me on my cheek. And then he traced my lips with his fingers, brought me close and kissed me on my lips so very softly. I was dazed, but I responded. After a long kiss that seemed to have flooded life into my very soul, we drew our faces apart and looked into each others’ eyes.

Why can’t I understand you? Why are we like this?’ he asked.

I wondered if it mattered any more. He then lifted me and carried me in his arms to the bedroom. He had promised me that a long time ago- that he would carry me to bed every night and tuck me in. He placed me on the bed and kissed me.

Are you happy?’ I found myself asking him.

I don’t know’, he said.

That’s what you always say’, I said.

And that is the truth. I don’t seem to understand the ways of the world. Nor do I understand myself’, he said.

As he kissed me, tears rolled down my face.

Does my marriage hurt you?’ he asked.

No’, I said.

And I meant it.

He doesn’t know what he wants. And I don’t want him when he doesn’t really know.

That night, we slept in each others’ embrace. At some point, I woke up to find that he had encircled his arm around me, and my head rested beneath his chin. I moved a little, and he drew me back, his eyes still closed, and kissed me on my head.

Next morning, when we said goodbye, I felt a strange peace.

Perhaps I had lived my lifetime in a day.

Rohan never called me after that. I wasn’t around for his wedding. Two years after his wedding, I met him. As we sat across each other at the café, I found in those eyes something opaque and cold. They had stopped talking.

It was as if a dream had died in those eyes, as if a flame had been extinguished.

When we said goodbye, he kissed me on my cheek. It felt cold.

I withdrew, said goodbye and walked out into the night.

 

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