The Reply

Stilted conversation raged in my head. It was an epiphany of sorts when I came to a conclusion. Should I stop or proceed. It was a raging battle. I still hadn’t put the thought away but I’d concluded the proceedings and moved on to listen to John Frusciante’s Sphere.

Distance. Time. Clarity. The epiphany resulted in these three items. Items that have diverse meanings. I knew I had to spend time with them but there was a higher calling, the calling of a lazy bum. I heard John Frusciante’s guitar going overload and facebook chat sound trying to match his tone. It was her message. The last time we’d talked, we had told each other that we were breaking up. I wondered what she had to say.

“hi”, she wrote.

Distance. We lived 1000 kms away from each other. We had met twice. It was the only two times in my short life that I’d felt totally at home. I remember how her small hands fit perfectly in my large, fat ones. She had a teenager’s small hands. Soft like a baby’s and yet so firm and welcoming when they held mine. My fondest memory of those hands are of the day she first dropped me back to my hotel. She held my hands firmly, her fingers entwined in mine. Never before had an autorickshaw ride felt better or more complete. The rickshaw driver’s eyes kept glancing at us, the rear-view mirror getting a constant glare. I felt like a teenager who had his first crush, a kiss on the cheeks, chaste yet something that could make you blush endlessly. The rickshaw driver’s attention made me content. I was 22. I hadn’t felt better in life. Whenever I think about her, I end up with this memory. Amid the dirt and garbage strewn close to a railway station, we were holding our hands like our life depended on it, the severance of hands a symbolic death for without her presence, I was half the man I am. In that brownish tinge on a rain washed road, the smell of vada pav with tarmac, she stood apart in her blue top and black pant, wishing me goodbye but her eyes willing me to stay. No matter how old I grow or how far I look back, this will always remain my favourite memory of her. It was a day we had found each other in Rabindranath Tagore’s paintings and masala dosa from a migrant roadside vendor. Her fingers entwined in mine, that is how we were meant to be.

Would she still have any thought of it, I wondered. I knew I’d never ask her about us again.

“hello”, I replied

To this day, I don’t know why I replied. Like everyone else, I should have simply blocked her and tried to forget that she once loved me. It would be so much easier if I could but alas, the time I’d had with her;
the memories of her are a constant reminder of what it meant to be happy, to be alive. Until her, I was walking dead.

Time. So much had happened over so little time. In a period of 10 months, I had come to know her, become her lover and now didn’t know where I stood. Like a good glass of bourbon, memories become better when they are old. We become less critical of them. I remember reading Sartre telling that in love, 1 + 1 = 1. In those 10 months, I vied for such equality. For 9 of them, we persisted and we held on to that. The smart Camus brought us together, Sartre was smarter and his words rang in me whenever I felt that things were slipping away. I was 8 months old, the first two I’d spent finding myself. It was thanks to her, I found myself. Little conversations about what I did, what she liked and her playful enthusiasm for what I was pursuing ignited feelings I’d buried before. Hope sprung eternal. It vaulted higher than Pavarotti’s tone and announced its presence. She found me. I found myself. I still wonder if I’d have found myself if not for the everyday communiqué we shared. A pleasant “how was your day” from her meant more than a “Well done son”from my overbearing father. Time, it changes priorities. It heals old wounds and opens new ones. Yesterday’s conversation was still fresh in my mind, a new wound had sprouted and along with it my happiness bar reduced, drastically.

“how was your day” , she shot like nothing had happened between us.

I was transported back in time to the day I first felt her breaking away. Like burning cigarettes crumbling to ash, I crumbled that day. It had been only one month since we’d acknowledged what we felt for each other. Like every other day, I called her. Have I told you about her voice? After a busy day, as I dialled her number, I’d wait in anticipation to hear her breath release first and then her chirpy hi. Imagine a deep river falling over your feet as it flows through the narrowest of streams. Her voice was like the softness of the rush of the river as it flows through the narrow stream after it thins down at the entry and before it rushes at the exit. There’s a calmness with an ocean of depth, a voice fit for a singer, a voice meant to light up your day. On that day, the voice sounded like it had crossed that narrow stream and was gushing to meet the ocean. It sounded like it was about to reach its crescendo. It was the imminent sound of approaching death. For the first time, her voice failed to make me feel home. Instead, I heard the words that reached far into me and pulled at my core, shook me dry like only a  hot summer’s day could and made me week at my knees.

Ask anyone who has played cricket on a May Saturday in Chennai how it feels after a game that lasted 4 hours. They’d tell you that it felt like your life source had been emptied but there was pleasure. I felt like I’d been in that ground on a May afternoon when she told me that she thought it was wrong of her to believe that she loved me. The life source was drifting away. There was no joy in this. There was a cold pain. Dark like a winter night with no stars or moon to shine any light. Such darkness descended upon me. I pushed. She pushed. She cried. I broke down. We didn’t know what to do. We held on. Like an antique clock that we aren’t ready to give up on because of nostalgia, we held on but even a once broken clock doesn’t function as it did earlier. Similarly, we struggled. When we met each other, that life source replenished itself. It would last till the darkness descended again. Distance. Time. I had my clarity yet this time, it felt different. This time, there was no foreboding. There was just a removal of the feeling like removing the stains off a shirt. The feeling was buried. All I got was a coldness.

It is over. I don’t feel it anymore. I can’t try anymore. You don’t understand. I heard these words with bated breath. I still remember the anxiety, the anxiety of losing everything that is dear to you. That day I learnt what it meant to be alone in life. Alone in the head, alone in the world. That day, I wanted to disappear. Never to be heard from again. I didn’t. I am still here. The sun had set in my short life. I haven’t seen it rise today. It is stuck at 12, like the hands of the broken clock on my table. The darkness of midnight had drawn its curtains, it was a grave time.

I stared at my computer screen again.

“how was your day”, the message read.

I closed my laptop and took a walk. I needed clarity. I needed space. I needed to find myself again. It was not the time to reply. I had my chai.

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