“I saw you for the first time when upon my stubborn insistence my mom lowered you, a baby wrapped in a pink blanket, on my arms which she had made me stretch on her lap, unwilling to entirely trust you in my four-year-old arms. You were only three days old and we were visiting your mom in the maternity ward, she had lost a lot of weight since last time we visited her…. my mom and yours were friends, last. You did not cry like other babies but simply looked at me and laughed and that was incredibly beautiful.”
“Ever since, we saw each other almost daily though you, of course, don’t remember. I would make faces to make you laugh like I was a grown-up already. Sometimes I would just tickle you. I was a superhero. Every time you smiled or laughed it was a victory and each of those victories was beautiful.”
“Your mom would leave you with us every day when she went to work. We were amazing friends. We would play lots of games every day. I taught you video games and karate (the last I didn’t know myself but pretended to know). But our best times were in our backyard, where we would run around hand in hand and I chasing you or you chasing me. You giggling when being caught in a way that was simply beautiful.”
“We both loved the s. Your wet skin shined under the sun. Sometimes I could not help kissing your cheek or forehead. And you would love playing in soil building hills and houses and you were quite a Vinci of wet soil architecture but what I loved most was how you would get dirt in tips of your nails and afterward try so hard to wash them clean. They never did come clean, and oh thank God for this, since those dirty nails made you even more beautiful.”
“And you loved the feel of wet soil on your cheeks and forehead. Soil would often be wet after the rain and I would myself rub it in your face, holding tightly on to your arm with one hand to make you stand still (you could never be made to stand still, could you?), and when I would do so, you would laugh as if feeling tickled and you would sometimes say when I was done with that, that you love me and I loved you too but never said it instead hold your arm in one hand tightly not to lose a thing so beautiful.”
“And you would ask a lot of questions. Why didn’t rainbow had a black color in it? Where do clouds from? Do you grow more beautiful if you eat flowers? Why is the so angry when the is so cute? Naturally,I could not answer all of them. And so, I would give make-believe answers or tell you tall tails in answers. “Liar” you would say in protest refusing to believe but, smiling at same time as if, all the same, you were accepting my answers – perhaps not as truth but the way you would accept as if it was a very special gift that you keep not for its material value but because it is beautiful.”
“I would often make you cry because I loved teasing you that much – especially when, sometimes, you wanted to act and be treated like a lady and you would swear never to talk to me again. Sometimes you could withhold talking to me for as many as three days but no matter how angry we were with each other, I never failed to add ‘My’ before your name when talking about you and you never forgot to add ‘My’ when using my name and I don’t think there ever was anything more …… okay excepting you of course, beautiful.”
“And we never stopped playing in the yard as we grew old or playing video games, even though you would increasingly want to act ladylike only to get teased by me. Sometimes though I would be a gentleman and get you a leave of grass that has grown too pale to be called green any longer. Such leaves were rare to be found, they would stand there amidst crowds of other green ones, clueless in their solitude but you loved them though they were nothing fancy. Loved them more than flowers and this strangeness of your taste is what made you so beautiful.”
“And one day I was gone on a school trip, and you caught fever while I was gone. When I came back you were crying because no one would sit by you when you get bored all by yourself in bed and in fever. And you hugged me and cried into my chest begging me never to leave you again. My heart beat so fast in a strange excitement as if the tears you had shed on my chest had penetrated inside my clothes and the skin beneath and my heart now held them like a much longed-for treasure. And they were beautiful.
“And soon it was your fourteenth birthday and because you were so far more beautiful, maybe with all the gifts you got and because you always loved gifts didn’t you? And because I wanted to make your birthday even more special and because it was true and because I could not any longer not say it, and because the sight of your tiny ear provoked a bit of cannibal in me and because you had managed to develop a ladylike grace without losing the wilderness I so loved in you, and even though you had not said “I love you” to me for a while or perhaps because of that ….. but the point is I went to hug you there when you were standing among your friends and whispered in your ear, “I love you too” And, for first time, I saw you blush. The little scarlet glow in your sweet little brown cheeks. You didn’t reply but your silent blush was a yes and even more beautiful.”
“You were my, and I was your, first kiss and having kissed you, everything else had an ugly taste for me but I would not tell you that for a while because I was afraid you would get airs. But you were all my kisses that followed and I am sure you would never kiss anyone else since all your suitors would only get you flowers. That annoyed expression on your face when you got them! Sometimes I would send them to you anonymously just to see that expression. You never knew how it made you so much more beautiful!”
“And of course those were not the only kisses we shared. Kisses on cheeks, forehead, even lips must be followed by ones involving tongue and ones on neck. Sometimes I would indulge the cannibal in me and bite your ear a little. And kisses on your tiny breasts, navel and beyond though you could never talk about it. “Dirty” you would label me afterward disgusted in retrospect at what you had done … Again. And again. Embarrassed by how much you enjoy it and in your embarrassment beautiful.”
All the time we were not in school or college we were together. And often we quarreled. Often we would come down to blows. You could be a lady when in public, but in private you could fight like a wild animal but I was growing stronger with age. Sometimes I would not know my own strength and you would get hurt a little too much. And you would cry with accusing tears but with silent sighs so that no one should hear you cry and know our little secret. I would get mad at myself and feel guilty and sometimes cry too. I would try to console you in my arms and whisper apologies in your ear and you would nod still looking down. But I would not forgive myself so easily for having hurt something so…”
“Beautiful?” She cut into his story ironically.
She was always a bit touchy but the disease has made her even more so. The cruel irony in her voice hurt him. ‘Hurt’ was only one of many thi gs he was feeling. Others were – disappointment at himself for having hurt her, offense at the tone, anger at having his story interrupted and a kind of despair one gets when one feels disillusioned.
“I was just trying…” He started to reply but then stopped as if needing a moment to remember why or even what he was doing.
“Trying to do what?” Her eyes were piercing. He could never stand her anger – that cruel woman, he sometimes wished he had not loved her. But this time he knew it was something more than her anger which had got him to lose his grasp of the d.
But what exactly was he trying to do? He fished hard for the answer. Than reminding himself as much as her, “you said we had so little time together, so …”
He looked at his lap clueless trying to remember his intentions as he continued sitting there on her hospital bed near her feet saying nothing.
“I asked you a question, H__. So what?”
He didn’t say a word judging it wise not to say anything and too confused by what was going on in his own mind. But perhaps she was not being entirely rhetorical in her question and actually wanted him to say something that would help her excuse him.
“I die in a few days H__. I waited for your first 25 years of my life. And you didn’t come. Only nine months we are together. Only nine. And even of those nine, last six have been spent with me in this hospital bed.”
He wanted to protest, to say something light, lie or no lie, that would put a lighter color on the thing. He could not figure out anything … Only one little thing he could think of and he could not say it. And so he sat there in silence and look at her face in profile. The light brown skin on her cheek glowed in CFL bulb light, there were no tears on it but there was something so wrong in their absence that he found himself willing her to cry a little. And then quickly felt guilty at having wanted to see her cry.
She spent a few moments looking at her feet, no longer expecting him to answer anything perhaps but battling with her own anger which was, she had began to realize, too undeserved. Finally, she looked at him again and asked, “Why do you even continue to come here after all this time?”
“Because I…” He finally found himself losing into his instinct.
“Don’t you dare!” She said her index finger raised in warning.
It was the cruelest thing she had done. Forbidden him to say he loved her. “Or don’t ever see me again.” She had said as if it was possible. The prohibition came when she was in an angry mood but she was very strict about it. He had always to be on his guard since with her around these words could slip his lips as easily as a child slips into sleep when in its mother’s lap.
“but I do love you Z__.” He replied in anger. He had said them in sadness, happiness, excitement, of compulsion, of despair, of need to convince himself he did love her, of need to convince her he did, of need to make his love stronger by telling her he loved her, of need to hear her say back “I love you too”, or mostly because it came to him as naturally as breathing but it was first time in their short time together he had said it in anger. And it seemed a bit paradoxical.
“Get out” she said now a fury.
Anything but her anger! He should have known better than go against the prohibition. He felt himself quivering as if in fear that comes from a scary premonition. Already feeling it would go bad.
“I said GET OUT”
Someone was bound to hear her and he was clueless as to what to do. He no longer knew how to calm her. Stay and drink the insult? The lover in him wanted to but there was some hurt ego that wanted to storm out. The lover got the upper hand “I was just trying to make you happy?
“HAPPY? BY LYING? LIAR. You are a liar. LIAR! LIAR! LIAR!”
This added insult was enough for the ego to get the upper hand and anyway he saw the nurse enter who would surely … yes, the nurse wanted him out.
He stormed out of the room, out of the hospital and sat on a step in the parking of hospital. “Why won’t you let me say I love you?” He had asked her when she was in one of her better moods. “Because it would make dying so much more difficult.” At that time he had promised himself to respect her wish for after all he loved her and could not see her hurt. But it was difficult. She should have understood it. And she was one who was lamenting that they had so little time together. Even though he felt that way too, even though unlike her, he would have years of loneliness to follow. But did she thought about that? No! Alright, he did not care either.
His phone that was set on silent vibrated in his pocket to alert him of a call. He let it do so.
Yes, they had so little time together. He could start lamenting too. But he so wanted to see her smile again. And so he decided to build a dream instead. “But we did have a lot of time together.” He had protested, “I saw you when you were only three days old.” “Liar” she had said but softly with an unresisting, if not encouraging, smile. “Yes, I did. I saw you for the first time when upon my stubborn insistence my mom lowered you, a baby wrapped in a pink blanket, on my arms which she had made me stretch on her lap, unwilling to entirely trust you in my four-year-old arms…” And so he had continued, predating some of their habits, using pictures of her childhood which she had shown him or childhood habits she had told him about as his clues. And he was sure, that for some time she had let the tides of his sweet lies sweep her away. And there was something inside her, perhaps the younger versions of her that had been thirsty for love, and those versions were still alive in her – because no moment deeply felt ever passes away entirely while one is alive, and perhaps those versions were happy to satisfy their thirst in the amorous mirage of the false dream.
His phone rang again, and again he refused to give it attention.
But he himself had, for the same reasons, been drawn into the enchantment of his own lies. The story was an end in itself and no longer a mere means to see her smile which it had already managed to do in very first few lines and so at some point, he stopped checking her face for the result of his words and had his attention entirely concentrated on his own story. And so he didn’t see her expression change as the story moved closer and closer to the present moment and, because of it, the reality of it became harder and harder for her to ignore until finally, she snapped … Perhaps that is the problem with mirages, he should have remembered, no one can hold on to them for long.
The stupid phone rang for a third time. He ignored it again.
He walked to his bike and looked at it cluelessly for a few moments, unwilling to go away like that. The ego was calming down again and that stupid lover in him was getting better of him, making excuses for her, changing his mind to go back and make amendments. Apologize if need be. Self-respect can go to hell. His phone vibrated again. This time he picked it up.
“Where are you?” It was her. An angry tone – but this was of a different kind of anger. The kind that wanted to be humored, the kind that he loved to hear. He knew well that she was using this tone because she wanted to make things okay with him without having to apologize. The number was unknown, perhaps that of nurse. “How dare you left like that?”
“You asked me to go.” He said with a smile. He was already heading back to her room but could not help teasing her.
“Oh shut up! Just Come back” she said in same tone of annoyance.
“Coming. But why do you want me there?” He asked mockingly.
“I want to hear the rest of the story.”
Copyright – Sidharth Vardhan