Author’s Note: This story is a continuation of Till Death Parts Us
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.
Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep
by Mary Elizabeth Frye
My final destination, with her, was morose. The reek of her skin, melting in the fire, was nauseating. This is what she intended to make me experience after promising me a life of fragrant flowers? My stomach churned; my eyebrows twitched in my final attempt to wade off the tears. In a matter of a few hours, my life had turned from ‘could have been’ to ‘what went wrong?’
I woke up with a promise yesterday, messaged her, and went about my work. I was happy. She seemed happy. And then this.
I don’t see her soul emerging from the pyre. I don’t feel her hand on mine anymore. I don’t smell the warm breath close to my neck. I don’t hear her random ‘I love you’ declarations.
And the fact of the matter is- I never would.
She robbed me of everything that I had known about her and left me with this chasm, I fear, that would never fill.
The menfolk lingered briefly by the pyre- waiting for the apt time to drift away. What was the apt time, I wondered? My heart was still holding on, as if grabbing onto the last shreds of her body through the flames, hoping that she would return to fulfil the promises she’d made with me.
The priest signalled dispersal. The men started exiting the premises. Aryan walked up to me, reflex tears flowing unabashedly. He paused for a bit and then fell into my arms. My tears gave in.
Was it finally a goodbye for a lifetime? Was I to retrace my steps from the bridge I had begun tracing? Was this his way of sharing the weight off my heart?
I felt a release, regardless.
I felt pardoned.
As he pulled away he slipped an envelope in my hand, looked into my eyes and walked away. The sudden change in his demeanour was incomprehensible. My eyes were stinging with the smoke that had engulfed the premises. More than that, the heartache that I was experiencing at the moment was an amalgam of guilt and remorse. I looked around to check if people had noticed this exchange of the envelope between us. My eyes roved back to the white sealed envelope in my hand labeled ‘for Kabir’.
Every now and then my eyes drifted away from the road towards it. Driving back, the whole way through, I kept wondering what it would hold. I recognised it as Aisha’s handwriting on the envelope.
Why would she write me a letter?
The police had confirmed there was no note left by her, so what was this?
Did Aryan get a letter of his own from her?
What could she have written…that she couldn’t tell me on the phone…or in person?
“Are you going to stay on the phone forever?” she chided; her sing-song voice streaming through the receiver.
I responded in a sing-song way myself, “I’ll be there for you…” This tag line from her favourite F.R.I.E.N.D.S. theme song always made her cheer up. “I just want to keep listening to your voice.” I concluded.
“Even when I am mad and screaming?” her mood instantly lifted.
“Always and forever, my love.”
Always and forever? There is never anything like forever… in life and in death. All the forevers that were promised or not, would by now be burnt to ashes.
Tears kept streaming from my eyes as I reminisced her face- the twitch of her eye, the dimpled cheek, the single stray white strand in her eyebrow. I’ll never cup that face in my hands, will never look deep into her eyes and profess my undying love for her.
My heart was pounding while driving back home as I kept checking on the white envelope placed on the navigator’s seat. I couldn’t wait to go through the contents. The car came to a screeching halt in the driveway and I leapt towards the door. Clutching the letter in my hand, I fished the keys from my pocket with the other. As soon as I flung the door and sat down to open the envelope, I felt my heart stop for a second. In that one nano second, I felt my whole world caving in- the sounds hushed, the sights paused. I ran my fingers on the letters written by hand- ‘for Kabir.’ My heartbeat returned.
Was I brave enough to discover what was inside the envelope yet? I guess not.
I paced to the bedroom, plonked on the bed, placed it on the nightstand and dozed off-exhausted and overcome.
“Love cannot be coaxed or controlled,” the helplessness in her heart was pouring out of her eyes, “it is a blessing that arrives unmasked and unsought.” She paced away from me, looking beyond.
“Why would he still want to stay married to me, when I don’t love him anymore?”
My eyes followed her as she kept contemplating and, sometimes, mumbling to herself. Ever since her revelation to Aryan about me, she had been on tenterhooks. Every other day our conversations would hover around how she would feel defenceless in front of him. Her baring her heart out to him, ‘coming clean’ as they’d say, made her even more vulnerable.
“Did I just make a mistake telling him that I love you, Kabir?” She was obviously not looking for me to answer, as she continued, “Am I even being a good mother?”
Oh, that just broke my heart into pieces.
This was nobody’s mistake.
We fell in love with each other and that was all there was to it.
So many people around us would be affected by ‘us’ was never even a consideration when our eyes fell on each other across a room full of colleagues in a meeting on an International offsite. Our marketing convention in the Swiss Alps was just the perfect work-ation that we all needed. The client was paying for all the expenses so we made the most of meetings as well as after-work drinks. But more than that, it was when both of us drifted away from the crowd to venture out and explore the expanse of beautiful Zürich that we found our similarities and differences amalgamated into a blend of something beyond mutual fondness.
It seemed like destiny. When I fell in love with her, I only saw her as this awesome, fun-loving, charming person whose only indulgence was her career. That she was already married came to my knowledge much later when she returned onsite.
By then she had already germinated like a flower in my heart and started blooming to take up all of its space. I was too afraid to profess and even if she had an inkling, she would not display.
Resistance, disregard, restrain- nothing worked. This did not seem like a unison of hearts, rather a familiarity of having an acquaintance from times we had no memory of. It somehow fit. Despite her marriage, her tribulations, her career standing in the way of motherhood and the cloud of doubt over four years of our relationship, we maintained a compact connection. Unsure of where this was headed, she decided she had to give her marriage another chance. This was around the time when she conceived and I found myself out of her scheme of things. She moved from the Marketing Office to Corporate Office and even our chance encounters dwindled.
I woke up with a start. The ache in my heart, as real as the sun falling on snow and melting it one degree at a time. The smothering grief that choked my breath I felt yesterday, had now given way to hollow countenance. When I oriented my poise, my eyes roved over to the night stand. The letter was missing.
“Suman didi! Suman didi!” I stormed into the living room.
The woman watering the plants jumped inside the living room in one brisk move, fearful of what she could have done.
“Where is the letter that was on my nightstand?”
“The letter…er…in an envelope….white envelope… where is it?”
“I think I kept it back there after cleaning the room.”
“It isn’t there!” I almost screamed at her.
She ran inside the room, hunting for the envelope she had no knowledge of what it was about. Neither did I?
Shuffling through the few pages of my work diary on the study table, she managed to fish it out, “ is this it?”
“Oh, thank god, Suman didi…yes, this is it.” I snatched it from her hand. She was startled.
“Is it from Aisha didi?” she composed herself enough to pronounce this.
She was sagacious much to leave me alone.
I looked at the envelope again and all those memories, those intense feelings came rushing back, brimming my eyes.
“Are you crying?”
“No, I’m not!” I retorted.
She continued to tease me.
Concern writ over my face, I smiled, “I was scared, Aish.” I held her hand in mine.
“Yeah, me too… I thought I’d lost the baby.” There was a brief silence that hung between us. We were meeting after 6 months and as much as I was relieved that she called me, I wondered what our stance from here on would be.
“When I couldn’t reach Aryan, I thought I’d call you… thanks for rushing over to the hospital.” The smile that we exchanged at the moment was more than words could have expressed. She needed me; she thought of me…and I was there for her. That feeling of fulfillment in a fragmented relationship was unique to both of us. No other relationship had ever delivered this for either. Aryan was thoughtful and considerate, but was he available for her when she needed her? Not that she had ever complained but I observed, I sensed it.
“Don’t worry. I called him and asked him to come over. I think he’ll be on his way. He was busy so could not take your call, perhaps.” I squeezed her hand as I readied to leave, recalling the most awkward conversation with Aryan.
‘It seems like busy is all he has,” that grievance of hers was not unreasonable.
But we had decided to stay apart when she wished to give her marriage another chance. Relieved that the baby was healthy and fine after this minor accident that she had while returning from office, I hoped that this would be her source of joy, the least. As I was about to step out of the room, Aryan walked in. We paused for a bit, our eyes met. No words were exchanged and then he moved towards Aisha.
Aryan could have skipped giving this envelope to me, but he didn’t. Did he know what was in the letter? I checked the seal again, it was not tampered with. I checked the handwriting on it again- ‘for Kabir’. This was surely Aisha’s handwriting.
If Aryan wouldn’t have slipped it in my hand, I would have never known that Aisha had left me something. Something that she could not say or message me about! Something that she had to write down, possibly considering and deliberating each word.
How we had mutually agreed that the best way to profess one’s love was to write it down for the other. These better be words filled with love!
Love- a word that she seldom explicitly mentioned, for me. She believed in demonstration rather than declaration. Not that it bothered me, but I would pronounce the word abashedly and never did understand why it was so hard for her to.
I put the envelope down again. Every time I would look at it placed anywhere besides my hands, a sudden sense of melancholia would engulf me. As if someone were plucking the veins of my heart. As if someone were pulling Aisha away from me.
How imprudent of us to presume that what we have is indefinite. That nothing can invert what we have already accomplished- in life and in love. When, in fact, we all accept that every minute of our life, our love, is transient. When I would hold her hand in mine, I’d believe with complete honesty that this was eternal.
You said you won’t let go of my hand, you promised, Aish.
The sudden gush of emotions poured out from my eyes at that moment. I plucked the envelope from my desk and tore it open. Unfolding the three-fold I began reading-
My dearest Kabir,
I always saw myself as the tuft of a dandelion, wafting aimlessly along with the breeze, hoping to find root somewhere. Every time I would touch the ground I would be blown by the winds again. After a while I realised, it was perhaps the choices that I made which never allowed me to hold ground.
While I kept making my choices based on what I was expected to, I always found myself proud about the destinations they led me to. From education to career, marriage to motherhood, everything seemed charted out for me as if it had slid from a mould. I believed it was all that I wanted to accomplish in life. I seemed happy. And gradually, that conformity became suffocating.
But then, I met you.
Every time I would think of you, my eyes would glitter with glee and my heart giddy with abundant joy. Every time I talked to you I felt a cosmic connection from yonks. It never felt like I was beginning to know you- I knew you from years before- that I was just unraveling some untangled past. This new emotion overcame my whole being and I found myself cocooned in the safety of your presence around me.
Amidst the many attempts that I have made to forgive myself for having to give you only the remnants of whatever I could, I now seem to have exhausted all claims of surfacing from the constant grief that I feel. I am supposed to feel guilty for having to apportion my love but I don’t. I believe that I am lucky to have loved and shared more than a person is adept. And yet, amongst the many feelings that I have, sadness overtakes them all.
My heart is full. Now it seems like it has no more space for anything excess. I have put others before me and never regretted it. Now I wish to put myself before anyone. As selfish as it sounds, I mean to make my choices hoping that it would not constantly plague the lives of people around me. I want to fly and soar as far away, with the breeze on my face and the clouds to blanket me- not having to worry about constant meetings, balancing work and life, grappling so poorly with motherhood, and just being clumsy at handling the matters of my heart.
It is only opportune now that I move on. My unfinished life will cause you a lot of pain, I know. But I hope it is brief. The person who is left behind has to live a full life, regardless. I know that you will cry a lot. And laugh too. And I know that you will overcome your misery to bring smiles to people around you and within your heart. I know this because I have been a witness to all of this and more. I may not be around you to remind you of this but I am sure that you will find a way to mend your heart.
Don’t be heartbroken too long, Kabir. I guess I will make my way back to you in due time. I promise I will plead for a life again where I do not have to give you a half of me. Until then, I will remain in your heart. And when the time is right, I will come to you. Without guilt, without remorse. As a whole.
Ugliness overtakes you- your looks, your demeanour, your conversations- when you begin fitting yourself into the narrow cast of people’s perception. Expectations and dilemmas overshadow your confidence that you’ve built with all that you’ve got, piece by piece, all your life. I tried not to be a victim of any of it. And yet here I am. My reasons will remain unknown to you or to anyone who would be curious, and I won’t make an attempt to clear the air. You may have to round up your own answers.
As I leave, I wish not to fall into the ritualistic trap, anyway. But my departure will have everyone claim a piece of me. And the last of what I wish for you to do for me is to help me cross over. Find a way for me to be scattered in the winds and the waters. I know that if you do that I will ultimately return to you. I hope my family allows you that.
I was rewarded the day you became an integral part of my life. You will always remain so forever; and remembered as that. I know I don’t say this often, but I love you. Now and forever. Death can’t part us.
I’ll be back soon.
“No, no, no….Aish” the ache in my heart was insurmountable. I wished my laments would bring her back.
I sat there for what seemed like a lifetime, wishing that I could somehow turn back time and tell her that I would be there for her- no matter what. It’s too late now. I will do everything that you wish for; whatever.
“Oh, but will Aryan allow me this…?” I dashed out of the house, clutching Aisha’s will in my hand and heart, hoping that I am can fulfil the promise.
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