New city. New people. New job. New roommate! Everything around me was fresh and new. But I was the same old person with the same old routine. Nothing much had changed for me. I had just travelled from one metro to another. The only difference was that this city also required a passport.
It had only been two days in London and I found myself out of place. I had met people with different nationalities, who had different culture and spoke different languages. But that didn’t bother me much because my own country had been too diverse.
What didn’t suit me was the loneliness. I was just mechanically going to my job and returning to the small apartment I had been allotted as accommodation. Nothing new or exciting had happened yet, like my friends and family back in Mumbai had guessed. But nothing was bad either. And though it would be too soon to tell I really think my life in London (or for that matter anywhere in the world) would always remain passive aggressive where something happening would almost happen!
It was almost midnight of my day two. I was sitting on my comfortable couch too engrossed in the glowing screen of my laptop. The balcony door was ajar and midnight gale was slowly finding its way into my room. It gently stroked my hair and kissed my cheeks and I just smiled, involuntarily. I don’t know what is it about winds?
As I looked at the world that lay beyond my room, I was astound to see the lights still glowing at that hour! I have been a city dweller since forever but it somehow still makes me wonder that all of us stay wide awake even in the dead of the night.
Those lights on the streets and even in various houses, I think, they just make the night sky less scary.
But then, they also make it less real.
Have you ever wondered why do we have best conversations after midnight? Why do we cry under the stars? Why do we keep imagining and dreaming beautiful scenarios with the ones we love at this hour? Why do we miss people in the dark? Why does everything that has an emotional foundation happen at night?
It is because night brings peace. It brings a tranquillity the day cannot offer. The day goes by in running errands and earning a living. It goes by in small talk and petty motives. But when night arrives, all the so called essentials tasks are put to bed. They can be dealt with tomorrow. And finally, there is time for yourself…
I didn’t realise that I had travelled so far with my thoughts just while staring outside my balcony. I really wished to share my feelings with someone. The night with all its virtues and vices was engulfing my existence and making me vulnerable. I wished I could share my thoughts with someone who would understand.
But the Filipino roommate whose name I still hadn’t written somewhere was fast asleep. And well, was I going to tell her about the night? She would probably get me fired for being a nutter.
So I just sat and kept thinking. I put on my earplugs and opened my desi playlist. It was good to hear my own language first time in two days even though it was merely a recoded song.
I slept on the couch that night. And the other night. And the night after that. It wasn’t like I didn’t like my bed. I’d just spend too much time on the couch near the balcony that I almost always dozed off there.
A week had gone by. I was homesick. But there was no home. I opened my phone and opened the contact list and scrolled down and down, precisely five times, stopped at a name, stared for a while, scrolled on and exited contacts. I did that all first week. The first weekend also turtled away.
The next week brought me to reality. My roommate told me that this week it was my turn at all household chores and since last week she did it all it was only fair.
I asked her to give me a list of chores that were to be performed. First she gave me a look. Yeah all right I don’t know how many basic household chores need attention. Anyway, so she told me I have to get the groceries, cook and clean. It does sound very simple when you hear it but when you actually have to do it; no dear, not so much! Plus, she didn’t mention laundry because it was assumed that we’d do our own. And since I hadn’t laundered past all week, I had that on my plate too.
The next morning I went to the market and I nearly cried. I had never so much as asked a vendor how much he sold tomatoes for when I was in Mumbai, and here I had to do everything on my own! I bought all the groceries home and then rushed to work. When I came back I had to cook and clean and I didn’t know what to do first or how to do either.
I managed a meal somehow. It wasn’t great but it was at least edible.
Laundry was the biggest disaster of all. I didn’t know some clothes have to be washed separately from others. The coloured and whites, the regulars and the delicates! Nope, I had no idea! I lost some clothes forever.
And then it was month end already and there were bills to clear and taxes to pay and paper work to handle. I had done none of it before and so I was stuck for hours reading each sheet understanding each word! All the while, I missed him. I missed him so much that it hurt. Sometimes, things would get really messed. I could not understand basic things. And everything seemed too much to handle. Life seemed too difficult to survive. And I would miss his strong hands and his broad shoulders and his reassuring smile. I would miss the ease of having him in my life. And I would miss him so much that it would practically hurt like someone had just passed a knife through my chest.
And then I would open my contact list, stare at his name, scroll on and exit.
Until one day, I fianlly pressed the call button.
It rang once, twice….
“Hello!” he spoke.
Silence. I could not muster the courage to open my mouth.
He waited patiently. He knew it was me. More than telepathy it was common sense. The country code is different after all.
“He…ll…o… Hello Bhai?” I finally said.
“Yes, chipkali! Bhai is here!” he said it like nothing ever happened. Like Mom and Dad never died, like he didn’t bring me up on his own since I was 7 and he was 12, like I didn’t fight with him before coming here, for coming here! Like I didn’t leave the damn country and him all alone to chase my dreams, like he didn’t cry when I left home for airport, like I didn’t sob when he didn’t come to drop me, like I had not called for a month. No. Nothing. BHAI WAS THERE. Like always!
I burst into tears. What else did he expect me to do? I was listening to his voice after one month! How was I not supposed to cry?
I am sure he cried too. He never sobs. His tears are silent. Just like his effort.
Bhai had always been the stronger one. He never let me realise that I didn’t have parents. He had been mom and dad for me. He tied my plaits and packed my lunch. He was young. He was only 5 years elder to me, yet he just grew up all of a sudden. Our Uncles helped us time and again but he had made it clear that we would stay at our own house with our caretaker. He had built a life for me and had never let even one little trouble, one little discomfort reach me.
His care was so unconditional that I didn’t even realise how depended I was on him for everything. And his life revolved too much around me. Until I got this opportunity and decided to leave to come here…
“How are you?” he asked.
“I am horrible! I am sorry Bhai! I am sorry I just came. I am sorry I didn’t call you before!”
“Are you okay?” and all he cared about this. IF I WAS OKAY!
“Are you happy?”
“I think so…”
“Then there is nothing else that I want. I used to check your last seen on social media, so I knew you were okay; not that I wasn’t waiting for your call. But I was letting you explore. After all that’s what you’d fought for! You wanted to explore the world on your own!”
“Yes Bhai! And you made it so simple for me. I never came to know how difficult it was to do everything. I have no life skills Bhai. I almost cried when I had to buy vegetables and other groceries. And I wondered how you always got the fresh ones. Since Mom and Dad died, you’ve been involved in paper work with uncle. And I think since you turned 18 you’ve managed it all on your own. How bhai how??? How did you deal with it? And laundry!!! YOU NEVER TOLD ME ALL CLOTHES CAN’T BE WASHED TOGETHER!! I cannot wear my pink shirt now, it’s all blue!!!”
With Bhai, I was always a kid. No matter if one day I become the CEO of my company, I’d still remain the tiny girl for him. And he would always laugh when I rant.
“Don’t laugh Bhai! It is serious.”
“Okay, I won’t laugh. But now it looks like my kiddo has learnt everything. Now I can retire in the Himalayas, can’t I?”
“No. You can’t. I need you. And will always need you. Who do you think am I supposed to talk to? My Filipino roommate?”
“Doesn’t she have a name? And is she a decent girl? Does she have many boyfriends? Do they come home? Are they decent? Does she smoke? Does she bully you?”
“Bhai. One by one?? First thing, I don’t remember her name, it is very difficult. She is pretty decent and even if she has a boyfriend she hasn’t brought him home. She doesn’t smoke and drinks only occasionally. She is a very fair person and does not bully me!”
“Hah! Like anyone can bully you! I’d love to see if it is possible. I’ll learn a tip or two!”
“I thought you wanted to share your feelings.” He said.
“I miss you!”
“I miss you more!”
“The nights are very beautiful here. They are so alive, so full of light that I don’t even get scared.”
“I am glad that you don’t get scared.”
“When did I ever get scared when there was light? And there is always light here!”
“There will be starry nights too… where there won’t be any other lights… just stars!”
“They will be scary, but real….”
“You just have to use your own light, and you won’t get scared. And if you find someone, someone who can understand you and your light; be it a friend or a lover or even the Filipino roommate, just go with the flow, embrace that person, make the most of it. You’re there to explore, to learn and to grow, so do that. Don’t think about me. I am right here and will always be! And I have realised, my tiny bird has grown her wings and now it’s her turn to fly!”
“It’s your turn to live for yourself too, Bhai!”
“Yeah, we’ll see about that! Now you take care, eat well, don’t stay up too late, don’t eat junk food, don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t party too hard, take care of yourself and —
“And I know it all by heart MOM! But all of this applies to you too. Take care!”
And just like that, everything was alright in my world again!
I looked outside my balcony, the lights were unexpectedly dim but I didn’t get scared because the sky was full of stars…