I was stuck in traffic.
It had only been two hours since I landed in this city and I was stuck.
Not just in traffic.
I saw the cars speeding on the other side of the road. It was no surprise. Everything seemed to move away from me real fast while I just stood there, immobile.
The lost story that I am
The one that would never meet its end
The more I walk towards the horizon
The farther it seems to get
So I stand at the shore
Envying the sky
For it gets to kiss the sea
The sea that I love so much….
I sat staring at the sea. Having abandoned the cab long ago. I walked the long sea line and finally settled on a deserted spot.
Love is blue.
Blue, like the sky.
Blue, like the sea.
Blue, like my life….
Or maybe it is Grey.
Like the heavy clouds lingering on the horizon. Influencing the sea. Making it change its colour to grey…
I wondered, when will they rain?
Or will they keep everything inside just like me? And never really stop being heavy and grey…
Blue. Grey. Blue meets grey.
And it is raining now…
No, the clouds couldn’t hold on more.
How long will I?
I don’t know…
The earth is smelling like a heady bride. The one who is extremely happy, drenching in the wedding fragrances.
But what is not rare or unique about this city?
This city of dreams.
This necklace of lights.
This home. Her home….
Just like the clouds, I couldn’t hold on any longer.
With the sky, I mourned too.
After five years, the dam broke.
After five years, my resolve crashed into pieces.
And it had only just been five hours in this city…..
I walked. I walked. I walked everywhere.
Everywhere that she had been. I had been. We had been.
I entered every cafe that she liked, ordered everything that she would, only to stare at my food.
Unable to eat at all….
I went to our little tea stall. The tea maker recognised me. I didn’t respond.
I remembered how she was a tea person in the world of coffee trends.
I ordered her favourite tea.
The tea maker smiled. I tried to recollect his name. Amjad bhai. Yeah, that was it.
“I heard about madam!” he quietly said when I stood there, gulping extremely hot tea. My taste buds had forgotten how to detect any taste or sensation long ago…
My grip on the glass loosened and it broke into many pieces. Just like my life had, five years ago.
I tried to pay for the broken cup. But Amjad bhai didn’t take any money. He handed it back to me, wiping a tear that threatened to fall.
I smiled weakly. Yes, she was so amazing that tea vendors cried for her after it had been five years since she had gone…
The watchman didn’t ask me for the ID when I entered the college. It was funny but I couldn’t laugh. When I was a student here, he would stall us every day for ID cards and we seemed to never have it.
And today, when I had it in my back pocket and well I wasn’t even a student here anymore, he didn’t ask for it. He just smiled at me. I wanted to tell her that our Bahadur could smile. She missed it.
But I couldn’t.
With every step that I took towards the college building, my feet felt heavier. And I didn’t realise that tears were already streaming down my face. I looked to the right, they still had the long creaking swing. I saw her and myself there, laughing hysterically.
With the faint smile that I appeared on my lips, I headed towards the Giant Hall. We sat on the third window from the left end. I stood there and for a second it seemed like I breathed in her scent.
She was there. Everywhere. In this college. In this campus. In this city. Inside me. I could feel her. Literally feel her.
As I entered the building, everything seemed different. They had changed the paint on the walls. The students were different. I didn’t know about the teachers yet.
I walked up to the chemistry lab. As I entered, Shastri sir almost dropped concentrated HCl. He stood there in shocked silence as I headed towards him. He dismissed his class right away. I could see the students staring at me, giving me weird looks before exiting the laboratory.
I went to Shastri sir and touched his feet. She would have done that. He placed his hand on my head and asked me to sit.
We sat there in a comfortable silence for two parts of an hour. And then Shastri Sir removed his specs, to clear his blurry eyes. Yes, she was so amazing that strict chemistry professors cried after five years of her going away….
“When did you come back?”
“Early morning!” I replied.
There was a long pause again.
“How is Chicago?” he asked again.
“I don’t know,” I really didn’t.
“How is work?”
“What brings you here?”
He wasn’t even taken aback.
“I had told your mother, change of scene is not something you need. Did you cry?”
I smiled before replying, “Today!”
“So your psychiatrist is on the right track finally. After five years…”
“Five years, 2 months, 12 days….”
“It was not your fault!”
“It wasn’t… she just… she just… ”
“Is this survivor’s guilt?”
“You did. And it’s high time you accept it. And start living! She didn’t save you for this!”
“I don’t know what she saved me for!” I screamed, and walked out of the lab.
Shastri Sir didn’t come after me.
I went to the fourth floor staircase.
And sat there.
It seemed like an eternity had passed since I was sitting there, but it had only been twenty minutes. This was where we came when we bunked.
“Shaira, Shaira! No! Shaira, no!”
“Oh you dumbass! What’s the fun in following all the rules? What will you do attending all lectures? Just relax for once!!”
I felt my shoulder blades dropping down, my tense muscles relaxing as her words echoed in my head.
“Okay, now that we’ve bunked, what do you want to do?” I wiggled my brows. It was a sentence with a deeper meaning, but she hardly understood my subtle innuendos.
“We could play dumb charades, or we could watch X-men or…. we could…. simply talk….”
She loved talking to me. We weren’t dating. I flirted with her occasionally. And we both somehow knew we liked each other.
Usually, she was very loud and chirpy and so much fun. But when it came down to things like these, she was a chicken! She blushed like a tomato on simple things. And she was an awesome subject-changer.
She hated losing. Not one argument, not one game, not one bet. She just couldn’t bear it!
You would think, how does her petit form store so much ego? But hey, she could kick you real hard in the groin. Not so much of a petit girl she was. Her strength exemplary!
We would sit on these stairs and talk for hours. Bunking almost all classes.
I cannot remember how many memos made way to our homes. But we didn’t care. We both hated our families. My mother essentially considered her bad influence because she was so notorious and before her, I never skipped classes. But I didn’t care. She had been there for me more than my own mother.
Shastri Sir was always, always on the receiving end of her pranks. Actually, most of the professors were. Most of the times, our IDs were confiscated by teachers and this was precisely why Bahadur stalled us so much!
(His name is probably Shankar, but we called him Bahadur!)
“What’s your favourite season?” she once asked me.
“Any season, as long as you’re there with me!” I used this very cliché line and placed a hand on hers.
She had blushed so hard and was rendered speechless for a minute. That was the best thing with her, tiniest of the gestures would take the heat so high up, the fire would rise with such intensity that it was hard to cool down.
However, she mocked me for the cliché line later. I had only said it to elicit a response, I didn’t know I would mean it so much one day….
I got up from the stairs.
Now, it was time.
I had to do what I had come for.
As I climbed up the stairs to the terrace, the memories of that day came flooding back to me.
“Sameer run!!!! Shanti Ma’am is looking for us!” she spoke in half breaths as she came climbed up the stairs. We were supposed to meet on the fourth floor staircase, as usual.
“She is what?” I asked in surprise as I joined her in the sprint.
We were both climbing up now.
“Yes, she left the class on their own because we were not in the lecture and decided to find us and drag us back in there!”
“What the hell!”
And we kept sprinting till we reached the terrace lobby.
Shanti Ma’am was strict and quite the disciplinarian. But she could go to this extent?
We saw her reach the fourth floor staircase from the lobby. Someone had definitely tipped her off that we came here after bunking.
There was a rusty cabinet in there and we hid inside it. She was definitely going to drag us back to her class and we were in no mood of Hindi that day.
“What is wrong with her? We’ve managed 50 % attendance in her class. I don’t see her running behind Avinash and gang and dragging them in. 50 works fine for everyone else!” she whined in my ear. Since we couldn’t be loud, she was whispering. And I was strangely aware of her proximity.
“I don’t know. Maybe because we cause a lot of trouble!”
“Yeah, but that would be me!”
“Now, can anyone tell us apart? Aren’t we together in everything?”
It was not what I said, but the way I said it that made her quiet. To my surprise, she didn’t blush this one time. She seemed to be in some deep thought.
Shanti Ma’am actually climbed up to the terrace. She was terribly breathless and gasping for air. We muffled our giggles as she looked for us on the terrace and everywhere except for the dusty cupboard. Maybe it was too dirty for her to touch!
Once our teacher was safely away from us and the coast was clear, we stepped out of the cupboard and she quickly walked to the terrace.
“God, I was choking inside!” she said dusting her clothes and hair and taking deep breaths.
“Well, I’d rather be in that cupboard…..” I said, and she got the implication.
Yet again, she did not blush.
It was twice in an hour.
After staring into nothingness for a while, she turned to me.
“All these things, that you say, keep saying, do you really mean them? Or you just say it?”
It was not what she asked but the way she asked that made me say the truth and only that.
There was so much hope hidden in one question.
So much that it made my heart bleed.
“They mean everything to me! I mean I may have not shown it that well, because I have been scared. What if they don’t mean anything to you…..”
I was cut short by her hand on my mouth.
“They do,” she said and turned away.
And she was back! Blushing red, she walked towards the railing.
And I was back too. Taking full advantage of the situation!
“They do what?? I didn’t quite get it. You need to say it!” I leaned against the railing, trying to catch a glimpse of her face.
“You haven’t said it either!” she said suddenly looking up to me with accusing eyes!
“Said what?” I leaned back further just to tease her.
And then it happened within seconds. Before I could understand anything. Before it made sense to me. I was lying on the floor of the terrace and she…. she was seven floors down, on the ground!
The period bell rang. It still rings in my head.
The railing I was leaning on, had broken. It would have been me who would have fallen down from seven floors. It would have been me lying there. But she took it away from my destiny and embraced it like it was nothing. She saved me but for what? She pushed me and lost her balance. She loved me and died?
How am I supposed to come to terms with this? How am I supposed to move on from something like this? I always thought these things only happen in movies! I never imagined that accidents could ruin real lives too. I never thought that they could happen to me. Everyone. Everyone kept on telling me that I have to forget. That it was an accident. That I should not feel guilty about it. That it was not my fault.
But they didn’t love her like I did. They did not see her blushing red one minute and stained red the other. They did not hear the hope in her voice when she asked me that question. They were not the ones she was expecting a love confession from. How can they understand?
I went to her parents. Hoping to be blamed. Hoping to be cursed. That was all I could bear. I could not bear sympathy. I could not bear assurance. But they blamed her. They blamed her for being too reckless, they accepted it to be fate and destiny. And they also gave me sympathy!
My mother came up with the best solution in the world, she sent me to Chicago. Because a boy who had become mute after a friend’s death was bringing shame to the family and he needed to complete his education.
I couldn’t shed a single tear. Not until today. Not until I resolved to come here and free myself.
Today is the day I would be free.
Today is the day I would finally be able to forget what happened.
Today is the day when I meet her……
I reached the terrace. The rusty railings were replaced by walls and the doors were locked. I did expect something like this to happen. I used the pin to open it. We did this all the time during college.
The walls of the terrace were high, but not so high.
I climbed up on the same spot, easily.
The period bell rang.
Like it always does.
One foot in air, I thought about every moment spent with her.
I thought about her dreams, ambitions. Her kindness, her goodness. And her love….
She loved me….
She saved me….
She died for me….
I called her name.
Like a cliché Hindi movie lover.
She hated Hindi movies.
She hated suicides.
Will she accept me if I meet her again?
Knowing what I had done?
Panic. Panic. Panic.
Panic rushed through me all over.
Everyone’s words came running back to me! My friends, my psychiatrist, Shastri Sir….
I didn’t save you for this…..
She whispered from somewhere.
And I stepped down from the wall.
I finally broke down. Cried. Mourned. Wailed.
My screams brought up a few people.
I didn’t care.
I wailed like a wounded animal. I wailed like a lost child. I wailed till I could.
No one came near me.
No one dared touch me.
The professors had bid the students to resume their classes. There was only them, and the principal with me.
The new staff was also sent away.
Shastri sir probably didn’t allow anyone to call the ambulance or my home. He let me cry. He knew I had to. He knew I had to let go off the heaviness residing inside my chest since years. He knew I needed this.
Today, I sit along the sea line again. The clouds don’t seem so heavy, even if they are grey.
Today, I sit along the sea line, and watch the horizon.
I miss her.
Will always do.
But now, I am not stuck in that day, that hour, that memory.
But her love, that will stick with me forever….