It was dark, of that I was sure. The rest, not so much.
I hadn’t had a glimpse of her face. The face that held a million memories for me. The face that calmed me down even when I was an inch away from bursting off.
“Koi probleym thaa ne ki (Were you guys having trouble with each other)?” My neighbour, the bespectacled, kurta-trouser-clad, quintessential bhadrapurush had queried. I was not sure, even as he sounded unsure of the question himself.
To say I was confused would be understating it. We’d been together long enough to be both fond and contemptuous of each other. If you’d ever been with someone long, chances are, “not having trouble” would have been troublesome.
But then, she had never gone off. And now I couldn’t reach her, not on her number, not at her parents’ home, not at her friends’. I covered the usual jaunts – the marketplace, the mall, the acquaintances, but she wasn’t to be found.
Sometimes it was easy know what was going through the other’s mind.
Like this one time when we were strolling on the walkway. The faint smell of flowers from the overhanging branches of the trees lining the track was making its way to my nose. The sun had gone down a good while ago. But colours were still leaking on the canvas, every hue of red and blue and grey and orange mixing through in a way no artist could imagine. Faux Victorian-era street lamps, intermittently placed by the track, kept struggling in their attempts to pierce the darkness. The ambience would have been intimidating had either of us been alone, but together, with that gentle breeze whistling through the leaves, it tugged at my heartstrings the way only she ever had. She was walking by my side, but even so, when I stopped focussing on her shimmering, lively eyes, her silhouette against the lake stood out in the relative darkness, as I wondered who she was – partner? Friend? Goddess?
Other times, it wasn’t nearly as easy.
“Where are my socks?”
This could have been a soft query, or a screaming demand, or anything in between, depending on the way you read the line, and the way our previous night had gone. There was a correlation between the two, night and morning. Active-passive nights were great for the morning. But not the passive-aggressive ones. The ability to start afresh after them kept declining with time, as if a resilient virus was annexing uninfected territory, inch by inch by bloody inch.
This very morning we’d had a tiff.
“How couldn’t you remember the deadline for the insurance premium deposit?”
“Is it my sworn responsibility, that?”
“Responsibility? Don’t get me started on responsibility.”
” Why? Would you go off on another round of showing me how inadequate I am?”
“I don’t need to. When have you ever done anything you didn’t want to? You are in your own bubble, with no time for shared duties.” Her snigger couldn’t have been more apparent.
“And what about you? You haven’t been here since, I don’t even remember when. Where’s your sense of “shared duty?” If the emphasis wasn’t enough, I made a point of showing airy quote marks. There, point made!
“You’re so little. Gosh, I can’t believe this!”
“Says the one who’s not tall herself.” I walked out of there, ensuring I won the argument. The rest could wait till the evening.
I was at the walkway now. And the breeze from the lake had picked up again. I crossed my hands under each other, cupping my head in my chin. I took a breath, fully feeling the passage of air from the nostrils to the alveoli and back. It was subconscious, the reaction to the cold, but it consciously reinforced my state of being — alive but alone.
There was a flock of birds on one of the trees. They seemed aloof to my solitude, boisterously singing away, much to the delight of my fellow walkers, who were in pairs and coteries, enjoying the birth of one season over the demise of another, as the smell of fresh flowers swayed in the air.
I turned the curb around an ice-cream stall. The owner’s cheerful recognition turned to a mere nod of acquaintance as he saw I wasn’t with her. I nodded back and paced ahead, recalling the first time we had been here.
We were looking at one another, searching for signs of something, maybe? Maybe finding the most exquisite thing about your partner wasn’t all that easy.
“You should not eat ice-creams in winter, darling.” I’d opined after her first lick of the chocolate cone.
“And why’s that, hmm?” She hadn’t broken eye contact, and mischief dripped from her eyelashes.
“You don’t know?”
“Umm hmm,” she shook her chin, lips drawing in a pout. I looked at them, and looked away to the stall owner, asking him for the bill.
The warmth of that memory left me as the sound of laughter rang in my ears. A group of elderly men was passing by. The smile faded from my lips. I looked down at the cobbled floor and walked on.
As I turned left again, I saw someone sitting under a tree, on a wooden bench. The bench was off to a side of the track. There were no stalls around it, and it seemed an odd place to be ruminating, that too in the dark. Nevertheless, this person was sitting there, engrossed in a phone.
As I crossed the spot, the figure on the bench didn’t look just a person anymore. No, it was her! Oh my!
I ran towards her, my arms flailing around my torso.
“Hey! What are you doing here?” I took seat beside her, unsure how she was feeling, but finding myself starting to smile all the same. I noted she only had her tote bag.
She didn’t say anything, but turned off the screen of her phone, her head down.
I waited for a response.
“I was so worri…”
“I missed you.”
She looked up at my face, her eyes struggling to match mine.
“Come here,” I extended my arms and drew her into a hug, rubbing her back as I heaved a sigh of relief. After maybe an eternity, I spoke.
“I missed you too.”
It wasn’t dark, of course. I could see that. Light was streaking through.
Featured image courtesy: http://www.traveltriangle.com
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