The tires screeched as they hit the gravel. Abhay jerked forward. The seat belt prevented his head from hitting the steering wheel. Beads of sweat broke on his forehead and he twitched. His nostrils quivered as he inhaled a subtle hint of smoke. He rolled the window down and observed the smoke rise and swirl into the air. Getting off the car, he opened the bonnet. His fingers stung. Ignoring the blistering pain that radiated through his right arm, he tried to fix the car.
An hour passed but the car failed to start. The yellow ball of fire pounded mercilessly. He reached for a bottle only to find it empty. His crisp white shirt clung to his chest partly revealing his well-kept muscles. He freed the top two buttons and a warm breeze ruffled the silvery hair lining the upper half of his body. Running his hand through his wet hair, he looked around. There was no mechanic in sight.
‘Of all the venues available in the city he had to meet in the outskirts,’ he cursed the client while shielding his eyes with his hand.
A series of low-pitched shrieks at a distance caught his attention. Through his squinted eyes, he noticed a group of children swirl in circles. The verse he had read eons back flashed in his mind’s eye.
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a cloud,
A host, of golden daffodils,
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
The kids reminded him of the vibrant daffodils. Oblivious to the scorching heat, they gyrated like birds. Their squeals shattered the castle of solitude he had built around himself. Their hair fluttered in the air and he felt a faint smile flash on his chapped lips for the first time in years. An enigmatic magnetic pull dragged him towards the partially opened colossal gates. The rust-covered gates creaked as they sluggishly swayed in harmony with the breeze.
He continued to walk like a hypnotized soul when a young woman asked, “How can I help you?”
He stared at her hazily like someone tugged him out of a dream. She looked at him expectantly and her gaze prompted him to focus.
“My c…ar..,” he stuttered and the woman’s eyes widened.
He took a deep breath and tried to make sense of the surroundings.
A few seconds later, he gathered his thoughts and said, “My car broke down. Can I wait here till it’s restored?”
The woman nodded hesitantly and ushered him inside. He sat on a sparsely cushioned chair and made a note of the trophies, medals, and certificates that were aligned on the wall. A girl dressed in a blue-colored frock appeared before him. The fibers in the corner were frayed and the color was faded. But her gleaming eyes cast a shadow over every shortcoming. He felt a surge of warmth envelop him like a familiar blanket as she handed him a glass of water. The cool droplets calmed the walls of his throat. Her smile acted as a balm alleviating the pain he has been harboring in his heart for years now.
“Thank you,” he said and placed the glass tumbler on the tray. Letting out a short giggle, she hopped out of the room leaving him alone. Children of different age groups took turns and peeped from behind the wooden pillars. Their constant whispers sounded like the cacophony of mosquitoes. He was surprised that their rapturous demeanor didn’t irk him. Instead, he felt intrigued. He looked at them and waved. They ran away making him wonder if something was wrong with him. He reached for his phone and contacted the mechanic only to be informed that the vehicle would be all set to use in three to four hours. Weary and frustrated he buried his face in his palms and closed his eyes.
“Let us adopt a baby,” her voice echoed in his ears and her dove-shaped eyes and soft, luscious lips flashed before him.
He felt pain radiate through every nook of his heart and he pulled his knees closer. No matter how hard he tried to shut those memories they resurfaced from time to time leaving him tormented. It has been years since she left the mortal world. But every word she uttered, images of the moments they spent together, the ups and downs in which they sailed hand in hand remained ingrained in his mind. He never tried to obliterate them. Those memories were a fine thread he held onto tightly while he continued to tread through the dark and dreary life filled with despondency.
His mind prodded his gloomy soul to meander in the vibrant alleys of the past. He resisted with full force but finally gave in.
Pregnant clouds drifted in the sky waiting for an opportune moment to free themselves. He stood at the bus stop with his gaze alternating between his ticking watch and the street. He tapped his feet continuously almost splitting the earth below him. He felt a tiny drop land on his cheek and looked at the sky. As if taking the cue, the clouds burst open and the rain descended like glittering drops of silver. The sweet smell of the earth wafted in the air heralding the arrival of something good. He covered his head with a leather bag and bent forwards trying to catch a glimpse of the approaching bus.
A few seconds later, the bus had come to a halt and a cool, crisp whiff of air caressed his cheeks. He let out a deep sigh and absorbed the encompassing beauty. It was when his eyes fell on her. Her kohl-lined eyes shone as she placed her hand outside the window and let the raindrops dance on her soft skin. Her lips parted revealing her wide, bright smile and he felt his heart thrum the tunes of love. Her earrings swayed and a wisp of tresses landed on her eyes. He clacked in disappointment and lowered his gaze. The engine sputtered and he looked up. Before he realized, the bus left the station. He stood dejected while his heart twirled around the thoughts of that girl.
The next morning, he reached the bus station on time. His eyes longed to see her one more time. Those eyes didn’t seem to stop flashing before him. That smile had kept him awake the whole night. Yet he felt energized. Minutes later, the bus pulled up before him. He inched closer and there she was. Her orange-colored bindi dazzled under the warm yellow rays. An Identity Card with the words “Ganga Women’s College” caught his attention. A victorious smile crept up his lips as he repeated the name of her college. She peeped out of the window and it felt like she looked at him for a split second. But before he could confirm she diverted her gaze. He yearned to board the bus but he nipped the idea in the bud.
“Not today,” he chided himself.
He stood watching the bus leave the terminal. This had become a part of his daily ritual. Something he followed religiously. Three weeks later, he mustered the courage to board the bus and approach her. She sat in the third row with her eyes fixed on a book.
‘She loves to read. Just like me,’ he wondered to himself and smiled.
He sat by her side but it felt like she didn’t care.
“Talk to her,” his mind instructed but he didn’t relent. A few minutes later, she turned to face him and his heart flipped inside the bony confines.
“Hello,” before the word escaped his lips, she displayed a card with her photograph on it to the bus conductor.
“Aparna,” he spoke aloud and she looked at him with her eyebrows arched.
He lowered his gaze and fidgeted with his bag while arguing with himself if he should change the seat or not. It was when she whispered, “Finally, the day has come.”
Her voice was pleasant and divine. But his throat went dry and he absent-mindedly scratched his head. She broke into a pearl of laughter. He felt like drumbeats filled the air and his soul broke into a happy dance. She snapped her fingers and broke his reverie.
“It took you a week to sit by my side. How many days is it going to take before you utter a word?” her eyes danced as she spoke animatedly.
He smiled awkwardly. But the realization that she too was observing him filled him with newfound confidence.
“Abhay,” he said and extended his hand.
She shook his hand and her warmth dissipated every drop of sweat.
“You already know my name,” she smiled and thus began their conversation. Delving deep into each other’s eyes they soaked in the warmth. Only when the bus stopped did they realize that their hands remained entwined. A flush of red spread across her cheeks and his eyes reflected the color of her soul.
“I’ll meet you in the evening,” he said as she got off the bus.
She nodded. He hurriedly followed suit lest he got late for work.
They started to meet earlier than usual from the next day onwards. Standing under the shade of a tree, they sipped the soda. As the fuzzy droplets wiggled down their throats, their eyes spoke a million words. A flurry of air caressed her face and a few tendrils concealed her eyes. With his index finger and thumb, he held them and gently reunited them with their companions. He bound them together with a barrette, inched closer to her, and spoke in an undertone, “Those beautiful eyes must not be concealed.”
She averted her gaze and smiled. In appreciation of her shiny smile that resembled an array of stars, he recited a few lines from his favorite poem.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in a never-ending line,
Along the margin of a bay,
Ten thousand saw me at a glance,
Tossing their heads in a sprightly dance.
She looked at him confused.
“Your vibrant smile reminded me of the lines from one of the poems I had read a long time back,” he spoke and drew her closer.
The leaves danced and droplets of water landed on them as their lips met. Closing their eyes, they were transported to a utopian world. They parted only when the honking of the vehicles reached a crescendo. Difficult it was to stay away from each other even for a few seconds but they did it anyway with a promise to meet soon. Like the pink blossoms in spring, their love bloomed with time. Every evening, he read verses from his favorite poems. She listened to every word intently but her eyes didn’t gleam like they always did.
“Don’t you like poems?” he asked while playing with her bangles.
“Poems are filled with pain. They are tear-jerkers,” she said and kissed him.
“Poems placate the reader’s soul. They are like a fresh breeze on a sweltering afternoon,” she nodded on hearing his words but wasn’t convinced.
Her lips lingered around his and she said, “Still, they are painful. Why indulge in pain when we can be happy.”
Though her words had an impact on him he never stopped reading to her. Lazing around in the park, reveling in the evening peace, they spent days after days swimming in the currents of their love. She graduated and got a job. He thrived professionally and they felt that it was the best time to divulge their love to their parents.
His parents blessed them wholeheartedly while all they faced from her parents was stark opposition. In the presence of his family and a few friends, they tied the knot. Days passed. Together, they had built a little cozy world for themselves. Painting the walls of their home and hearts with beaming colors of love and understanding they lived a content and happy life. Two years later, Aparna had seen the two pink lines and was delighted to embrace motherhood. He had wrapped her in his arms and twirled her in the air until she felt dizzy.
“We will visit you soon and take care of Aparna. Be rest assured Abhay,” his mother had said, unable to control her happy tears.
The destiny that favored them until then took a three-sixty-degree turn. During the second trimester, Aparna met with an accident on her way to work. That day, they not only lost their baby but also lost a part of themselves. The doctor had informed them that Aparna might never be able to conceive again. Aparna who once flourished under the umbrella of positivity seemed to wilt with time. He was heartbroken himself but he put up a brave front and tried to pull her out of the rabbit hole. The more he tried, the deeper she slipped.
“You must seek professional help. There is no use in mulling over the past. Aparna deserves to live a happy life,” his father had suggested.
His father was right. One evening, he walked to Aparna, held her hands, and said, “Let us go for a drive.”
She nodded but didn’t say a word. Holding her hands, he walked to the parking area. She got into the car, leaned against the seat, and closed her eyes. He sat by her side and drove. An hour passed. She neither opened her eyes nor did she speak with him.
After carefully weaving his thoughts into a sentence, he spoke, “Aparna, we must give life a second chance. I know it isn’t easy. But we must move on. An entire life awaits us. We must not waste it chewing over a bad incident.”
She opened her eyes and looked at him. For the first time, he felt that her eyes were fierce. Those eyes that usually resembled petals exuded lava.
‘I know that you are in pain. But I don’t want you to suffer. Not anymore,’ he thought.
She inhaled a lung full of air and choked, “How can you suggest we forget our baby? I can’t do it.”
He squeezed her hand gently and said, “Moving on doesn’t mean that we would forget our child. It means we will learn to smile amid tears and open the doors of our hearts and embrace happiness one more time.”
She looked away as though his mere presence suffocated her. He didn’t leave her hand even for a second. A few minutes later, he kissed her hand and shoved those wayward tresses that had turned silvery behind her ear like he always did. She rolled the window down and let the breeze caress her. And, he smiled.
“We can seek professional help,” his words were followed by another spell of silence.
Though not immediately his efforts eventually bore fruit. He booked an appointment and after a few sessions, Aparna showed signs of improvement. She smiled occasionally, took interest in the house, and engaged in conversations with him.
Months later, “Can we adopt a baby?” her voice was calm but stern reflecting her grit.
He was happy that Aparna had finally embraced hope and newness. But he was reluctant about adoption. He couldn’t point a finger at the reason but he wasn’t comfortable with the idea. Though he never stated in clear terms, his constant evasion shrieked about his disinterest.
A tug broke his reverie. He turned and saw that a little girl was pulling his shirt. Her innocent eyes reminded him of Aparna and his lips inadvertently curved into a smile. He stroked her hair and asked, “What is your name?”
Before the girl could answer, the woman approached him and said, “Sir, your car is ready as new.”
Surprised, he intoned, “When did the mechanic come? I was lost in my web of thoughts.” His voice trailed off as the emotions rose like a tide in the sea.
“No sir. One of our boys worked on your car,” she said pointing to a slightly older kid.
“That’s amazing,” he said.
“Our kids are skilled,” she beamed with pride.
“I see that,” he nodded.
He thanked the woman, walked to the boy, and gave him some money.
“I didn’t do it for money,” the boy’s words changed something within Abhay.
“Consider this a token of appreciation,” said Abhay and trusted the notes into his hands.
The boy smiled in gratitude. Ignoring the warmth and amiable vibes Abhay left the orphanage in a hurry.
He got into the car and drove stopping only after he reached home. Placing the keys on a stand, he walked to the kitchen. He placed the teapot on the stove and entered the bathroom. Bindis of different colors embellished the wall. He ran his hand over them and noticed that were tattered and their color was faded. But they reminded him of her and he never tried to get rid of them. Turning the faucet on, he let the water calm his searing soul. The teapot whistled and wrapping a robe around his frame, he walked out of the bathroom. He filled a cup with tea and plonked on the couch.
For oft, when on my couch, I lie,
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye.
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
The words from the same poem echoed in his mind and it felt strange. Aparna had succumbed to fate a couple of years back. She tried to fight against destiny. She tried to don a robe of happiness. But finally gave up. Maybe, she never recovered completely.
She was gone and so were his desire to live and read. He hadn’t remembered any poem until that morning. But the sight of the children brought back memories. Both good and bad and he felt overwhelmed. It felt as though Aparna was nudging him to start afresh.
“You need a companion,” his mother’s words rang in his ears and his head throbbed.
Closing his ears with his hands, he tried to shut the thoughts that strangulated his mind. Popping a pill, he tried to sleep. Sleep eluded him like always. He tossed and turned on the bed while twisting the blanket with full force. The dates on the calendar changed but his turmoil didn’t reduce even a tad bit. Loneliness seeped deeper into his mind and he felt his life wither at a faster pace.
One morning, on his way to work he came across the little girl he had met at the orphanage. Holding an elderly woman’s hand, she stood at the same bus stop where he used to wait for Aparna. He got off the car and walked towards her. She waved at him and smiled brightly.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
The elderly woman narrowed her eyes and tried to get a better glimpse of him. Her grip around the girl’s hand tightened and Abhay realized that he had caught her off-guard.
He introduced himself and said, “I met her at an orphanage a few months back.”
The woman hesitated for a few seconds like she was debating about how much she can share with him. After a minute of contemplation, her voice rose, “My daughter and son-in-law adopted her. She is my granddaughter,” and pulled her closer.
Abhay nodded and said, “Congratulations to you and your family.”
He placed his hand on the girl’s head and blessed her.
Tears rolled in his eyes and he rushed to the car. He felt like the Universe was signaling him to do the right thing. Two hours later, he found himself standing outside the same orphanage. As he pushed the gate, he argued with himself if he would be able to do it. And, he felt a soft hand caress him. He felt solace envelop him. He could feel Aparna around him. She was being persistent like always and he decided to do it.
He walked to the office and stammered, “I wan..t,” when he felt like a familiar hand enveloped his.
“Do it,” Aparna’s whisper echoed in his ears.
“I wish to volunteer on weekends,” he announced while fighting back the tiny beads.
“Maybe, read poetry to them,” he continued.
The woman smiled and said, “You sure can.”
“This is for you, my love,” he muttered and felt Aparna caress him. He would become a father someday. Until then he would spend some time under the canopy of their innocence.
Connect with Penmancy:
Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!