‘Allahu Akbar’ – the loudspeaker in the neighbouring mosque blared. The phone broke into a melodious tone announcing that its 5am. The woman extricated herself from the warmth of her blanket. Glancing at the figure lying next to hers, she tiptoed out to the living room.
Winter was harsh this year. But her mornings began early; else how would she keep pace with her daily schedule! Ever since her husband’s health had deteriorated, her routine had undergone a sea-change.
The cooker whistled. Tea was almost ready. Just the right colour and aroma – the way he liked it. She rushed to the toaster. Two slices of lightly toasted white bread popped out. Spreading a thin layer of butter, she decided to sprinkle some sugar. She knew how he would react. A look of surprise followed by that smile which still made her heart flutter.
The doorbell sounded. Must be the newspaper. Placing the chai, the toast and the newspaper on the tray, she carried them to him. Propped against the pillows, he sat looking at the dogs frolicking outside.
‘You are late. We have only five minutes.”
“I know. But the toast is special today.” She tweaked his cheeks.
“Ooooh…it hurts. Wont you ever give up this annoying habit of yours?”
“No. Never. It hurt? Let me plant a kiss, then.”
“Banu…. you haven’t changed a bit. Still the twenty-year-old, romantic fool.”
“Oh yes, Monu! And you fell for me! So, who’s a bigger fool? Now get back to your plate.”
Monu picked up the bread and examined it. Sinking his toothless gums into it, he closed his eyes. “Mmmm…this is heavenly. What’s the occasion?”
He noticed the slight turn of her mouth. “Wait! I just remembered. Come, sit next to me. Had I been younger and mobile, I would have scooped you up in my arms and then……”
“Watched the train passing by,” she completed it for him.
They leaned against each other, staring out of the window, waiting for the 9am train to pass by. The train from Delhi to Kolkata. Every day at the same time. It brought back memories of their first meeting. Sixty years ago, their eyes had sought each other out, sowing the seeds of love and tying them in an everlasting bond. They sighed in unison.
The train whistled past at 9am. She leaned closer towards the spot where he lay. It was empty. As she ran her hands tenderly over the soft mattress, thinking of the frail figure which had been bedridden for the last few months, she couldn’t help but cry. Old age was cruel. It was lonely.
He hated tears. ‘Cry-baby’, he teased her. Wiping them away, she concentrated on her writing. It was her submission for an anthology of Love Stories scheduled to release on Valentine’s Day. The perfect tribute to the love of her life.
Her eyes darted back to the wall, where he hung, smiling and reassuring her.
Note: Loosely based on my grandparents who spent sixty years together and then passed away in close succession.
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