It started innocuously. I was at a promotion, signing autographs. Without any idea or forewarning of what was to come.
I noticed him staring at me. This was going on for the past one hour, in between sips of the cheap whisky that I’d made the organisers arrange for. He was, likewise, aware of the fact that I had been stealing glances at him. I looked at him, piercing him with my eyes. He seemed transfixed and walked over to the table as if bound by a spell.
There wasn’t much to write about him in the looks department – thick eyebrows over clear, grey eyes, an uncultivated beard and moustache and puffy, dull cheeks that would have looked killer on anyone with a regular use of face wash. He was hesitant at first, of course. I had seen people of repute getting their tongues in a bind when faced with me. So it was left to me to break the ice. It didn’t take us long to hit it off. He told me he was a big fan of mine. He was…..nice. Yes, I guess that’s the word I’d use.
It isn’t the men themselves but their age that makes them see the best in others.
We met a lot over the next several months. He would attend my promotional events and inevitably we’d end up having a drink afterwards. He said he was in awe of my body of work. I told him it was a lifetime of disillusionment to me. It was incomprehensible to him that a person would not enjoy their own creation. I provided an analogy of parents and their grown-up kids, how they grow out of love, sometimes even going to the point of hating each other.
His views on contemporary matters stumped me initially. I’d forgotten that youth is the source of optimism. It isn’t the men themselves but their age that makes them see the best in others, fight for them and generally hold on to egalitarian values. He probably didn’t even know how Time transforms us all into pale caricatures of our younger selves. Liberalism and equality were good words until the time when grey strands of your hair outnumbered the iridescent ones. I told him as much. He thought I was being pessimistic.
There were liaisons of all kinds. From the quickie in the alley around the pub to the slow-burn of hours spent exploring each other, we made sure we weren’t going to die wondering what could have happened if we had done this or that. But it wasn’t going to stay like that for ever. Perhaps we both knew that. Or maybe neither of us did.
He once asked me why I hadn’t ever married. I spoke about the absurdity of the whole school of marriage. To me, it was a shenanigan that we enacted in order to reconfirm to society that we were “normal,” as if that was something to aspire to. It wasn’t, in the same way that sycophancy wasn’t. He wanted to get a legal stamp of approval on our relationship. I didn’t. I told him how we stood out like a sore thumb in every social setting. I even tried to play the “age difference” card. He was unimpressed. We aren’t all cut from the same cloth, are we?
Suffice it to say that we both succeeded where the other wanted to take us.
It was a prosaic morning in the middle of August when we talked about our problems. We had no electricity. Incessant rain was battering the glass windows of the kitchen. The sky was dark, leaden with the paintings that gave birth to a million folk songs and poems. Those poets considered the rainy season to be their darling. Me? I couldn’t wait for time to be called on the taps that had been opened. Every hour that went by with that terrible downpour stabbed me in the heart. The darkness was a metaphor for the dissolution of my own love life. Unanticipated? Yes. Ironical? No. At least not to me.
I had seen more summers than I was going to see in the rest of my life. And yet, Time hadn’t prepared me for the chilling realisation that people don’t become fans of the artists, they become fans of the art. He had arrived in my autumn like a whiff of spring air. And we had completed and complimented each other well. He was searching for someone who could guide him. I was waiting for someone who’d show me how to lose my way again. Suffice it to say that we both succeeded where the other wanted to take us. But we never realised that it wasn’t what we actually needed. He realised that the worlds I’d conjured up in my work were suited only to paper and celluloid. He was searching for life where everything was already funereal. I realised that I had created walls around myself in my years of solitude and they had left him broken and bruised. I saw how the differences that felt classy earlier had bloated into painful blisters. It was our fault. And yet it wasn’t. We hadn’t loved deliberately. Could anyone? It just happened. You don’t think and love. You love and then think, that too if you are lucky enough to have your senses remaining intact.
I’d given up on the trappings of companionship long ago. It was a curious thing, being with someone and trying to forget your own pain in their love. And yet, these pouches under my eye told me what I didn’t want to believe – I missed being with him. I missed the sense of being loved, feeling desired and cared for, despite all my narcissism and self-indulgence.
Ultimately, though, it ended like it had begun. Without any forewarning or clue. I guess we fell out of love with each other. It was clear to us that we had gone past the point of no return, despite our noble intentions.
It was good while it lasted. The end result doesn’t get to decide how we perceived it. The memories do. Maybe we will meet again one of these days. Maybe we would have a drink or two. Who knows? After all, there aren’t many clues in life.
Thanks for reading. Please share your thoughts on the story in the comments section.