The Leaves of Autumn

2003
“How are you. Have you settled in well?”
I left it read.

It was my first time in a foreign country. In fact, the first time I’ve ever travelled for more than two hours. I’m an introverted IT guy hailing from a middle-class family. I don’t have much friends here, so I stick to my routine in a punctilious manner, in other words I was the vanilla dude of my office.

2004
“Rithvik told me you were doing really well at your job. The youngest team leader,” he said. “Did I not tell you that you’d do well.” I left it read.

Was it only a year, it felt like eternities have gone by. I’ve been working so hard, had debts to settle back at home. My educational loan needed be paid off. I was frowning hard into my drink, my past creeping into my bemused mind like a haunting mist.

2005
“You’re still mad? Come now, what did I do for you to become so unforgiving? Please, call me once.” I stared typing in a reply, but then hit backspace.

It was almost New Year’s eve. The city was snowy and beautiful. The streets filled with happy faces and adorned with pretty lights.
We were promenading along the well lit shops.

Her name is Ishara.
She’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, a fireball with an angel’s heart. I loved everything about her – her musical laugh, her fiery spirit, everything. She reminded me of someone back home. And I stopped with a jerk, at the thought, both physically and mentally.

2006
“Is there a girl? Is she pretty? Are you serious about her? Is she trustworthy?” Irritated I shoved my phone back into my pocket.

What’s with her? Why does she care?

“You’re a ‘Momma’s boy’ Dhruv,” she mocked in a shrill tone. “No girl ever wants a boring ‘momma’s boy’. Play some guitar, go out with friends, try to be normal for God’s sake.”

“Dhruv. Dhruv!!”
I jolted back to reality, with an unconscious scowl,”Sorry what, umm I was…”
“J.M. asked to meet you.”

2007
I was thrilled about the date. I had planned it all meticulously. The music, the table setting, the flowers every single detail was her favourite. And yet, I felt nervous.

She was right on time, looking a bit agitated. Her pretty brown eyes widened with surprise.
“What’s all this Dhruv?”

I got on one knee, “Ishara, together we could easily cram a million stars into my pocket.” Shit! I had rehearsed this all week.

“Huh?” She was clearly amused.

“Ishara, will you be my wife?”

“Only if you promise to never talk about stars again,” she nodded laughingly, her eyes brimming with happy tears. We kissed and had a wonderful evening.

Once outside I checked my phone, seventeen messages. Two from her.

“Don’t you have any love for me?”

“Talk to me for old time’s sake at least.”
I switched my phone off.

2014
I was blankly looking at my phone’s screen.
It was our sixth wedding anniversary. We’re blessed with two beautiful children. On the work front things looked promising. On the whole, I had nothing to complain about. But, why did I feel so innately sad? Like a part of me is always dead.

Maybe, it’s because I hadn’t received a message from her for the past two years. Did something happen to her? Or did she finally accept defeat and moved on?

I opened my inbox.

“Don’t you have any love for me? Talk to me for old time’s sake at least.”

2008 – “Rithvik told me that you’re getting married. I saw your pictures, you both look beautiful together. Are you never coming back to me? I’m still waiting for you. I know that you love me, you being quiet is your way of venting.”

2009 – “You know I’ve got used to this way of talking. Alone.”

2010 – “I’m really sorry for everything. I regret my actions every single day.”

You’re sorry? I smirked. Lighting up a cigar, I took long drags trying to fill my void. Sorry. What a fucked up word that is.

I had lost my father at thirteen. It was tough. We were immensely close, him and I. I was a confused adolescent boy, grieving my father’s demise. I took days off from school, not leaving the comfort of my home. Obviously, my performance at school had taken a blow.

And this didn’t sit well with her. “What are you trying to do, locking yourself up like this?”

She was like a cold stone, unfeeling and never caring. She was too flawless to be human. And I loathed her for it. She yanked me and dragged me away from my bed. Got me to go to school.

I hated her more with every passing day. Nothing apart from an A GRADE made her happy. She had a fucked up idea of life, no matter what happens you have to deliver your hundred percent.

Years passed and I had taken it as her way of grieving. That she had to vent out her frustration on me. I got into the city’s best university. And it was all the same, nothing had changed. Study, eat, sleep. Study, eat, sleep. I always got the highest marks like she wanted me to.

But that wasn’t enough, “You’re a ‘Momma’s boy’ Dhruv,” she mocked in a shrill tone. “No girl ever wants a boring ‘momma’s boy’. Play some guitar, go out with friends, try to be normal for God’s sake.” And I laid there listening to her lullabies.

And then came the doomsday, when I got a placement in a foreign country. I was scared, too scared, so I told her that I didn’t want to go.

And she started yet again, “Will you stop being a coward? For heaven’s sakes why are you so stupid. Can’t you see that it is a wonderful opportunity? With your terrible skills you could never land a better job,” she went on.

I wasn’t listening to her, I guess she was always this greedy. Her whole life was about certificates of excellence, gold medals, promotions and so on. Always running in a pointless race. She was so pathetically perfect and permanently unhappy. A fucking crowd pleaser.

I hated going back home, I hated seeing my mo- her cold eyes. I wished, that my papa was here. I wish that, I could cry like a baby and stopped being an adult.

Suddenly, it hit me. Maybe she wanted to cry too.
Maybe, she did cry at nights. Maybe she was tired of being too strong. Maybe, she was falling apart because she was holding it all in. It was like an epiphany.

“I have to find out what happened to her,” I thought. I tried calling her number but it was dead.

The next day

It was a busy day at the cafe, I was waiting impatiently for the crowd to clear up. In about an hour, there was some quiet. I walked upto the man behind the counter and called “Uncle Rithvik?”

He ignored me. I tried again “Uncle Rithvik?”

“So you do know who I am, but never cared enough to talk to me or drop in for a coffee. Anyway, I never thought much of you. I was only helping my sister, she loved you so much. Shame on you. May you rot in hell.”

The man spat fire in a heavy Indian accent and I just stood there. I mustered up some courage and asked, “How can I get in touch with her?”

He gave me a colder than ice look. He gave a grumpy sigh, and rummaged through a wooden drawer. After a while he pulled out a folded sheet of paper. It was a letter. He threw it at me and without another word he left through the back door.

I walked out slowly, my feet a little tired. The dead leaves crackling as I walked. It took longer than I anticipated to face the truth about her. The autumn air had turned chilly without much warning. I felt a chill run up my spine.

Why do I feel so nervous, or was it guilt?

I couldn’t put a finger on it, but it made feel like a demented soul. It felt like I was standing on top of a fading rainbow, if I opened this letter I may either be free man or a prisoner of my actions.

Maybe I was too overwrought to read this now. My whole life was like fragments of blown up emotions. I’m a broken man racing against the sands of time. But not many know about this.

To the world, I’m a distinguished man. Someone you can have faith in and rely upon. But I’ve kept a secret, a bad one. That I’m an unforgiving man, once someone has wronged me there’s no second chance for them. I’m ruthless like that.

I usually feel unapologetic about this trait of mine. But this time it was different, I feel like a wretched demon, almost as if I knew what was in the letter. I condemn myself for all my weaknesses. I frantically look for a way out of my self-destructive thoughts, so I lit up a cigar.

I needed to do this to completely heal. To appreciate my scars and accept it all.
I finally opened it.

“Dear Dhruv,

How are you? I hope you and Ishara have a blessed life. I know you don’t think much of me. But that’s ok, you were always a Father’s son.

You adored him, and so did I. Losing him came off as a terrible shock, he was so young. I loved him so much you know. He was the best husband ever. And a wonderful father, he was always there bringing out the best in you. So I never really worried about you.

And after his death, things changed. You never spoke to me, almost like it was my fault. After your father’s prayer meet I heard from no one. Not one relative or friend had called up to ask us how we were doing. I felt incredibly scared and lonely. So I made myself strong for the two of us and in the process of being strong I became a mean mom.

And now when I think of it, I can see how much damage I did. Instead of talking to you, I traumatised you. You never reached out to me and that made me mad. I wanted you to argue or fight back but you were so indifferent.

Our relationship was so strained and beyond help, so I did what I could to give you the life you deserved.

And you hated me for that too, because I never asked you if that was what you wanted. I’m not the best parent you could’ve had, but I loved you nevertheless.

So, you know how well I took care of myself right? I always ate the right food, did my exercises and all that, remember? Well nothing paid off! I’ve been diagnosed with stage three stomach cancer. The doctors say chemo would help, if I was willing enough I’d live for three or more years.

But what’s the point? The people I loved the most aren’t here with me, so I might as well leave.

I don’t have much time left. There are times when I stay up all night crying, wishing that things were alright. The other nights, the pain keeps me up. I don’t have much funds to have a full time care taker. But a kind neighbour drops in every morning to check on me, if I made it through the night.

I’m ok with death but dying alone is terrifying. I’m very, very scared.

And I don’t think you’ll ever talk to me again. So I’m leaving this with Rithvik hoping that you’d want to know about me sometime soon.

I’m sorry my darling Dhruv,
with heartful of love
Your Mom.

23rd, October ’10.
P.s. I didn’t think you will read this letter too.”

The last few lines were smeared. She must’ve been crying. But it could also be my tears.
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