“He said this is the only family he knows; the only family he’s ever had,” her persisting spring of tears were making my heart sink. Yet, I wanted to know all the details of her conversation with Aryan.
She continued, “It is not like he is unfair in any way which stops me from approaching him. I just don’t love him anymore, Kabir.” She looked up at me, “what’s wrong with me?”
“Nothing, Aaish…” I reached out to empathise with her.
“I told him that I love…
“He went silent,” her eyes wandered away from me and drifted into a void.
The quietude between us was seething. She heaved a sigh, that felt heavier on both of our hearts.
We were back to where we started. Aryan’s presence between us was not a deterrent but it continuously niggled our conscience like we were supposed to remove this iota of doubt.
We just needed to know that he did not love her…too.
And now I do. He loves her. Perhaps he always did. Moist-eyed he made all efforts to conceal his grief but the remorse in his stature gave away his fortitude. The three-year-old clinging on to him showed me everything that I needed to know about all three of them. Something that I had known and was now for me to witness.
She’d always told me enjoyable stories of her outings with her daughter. Tiny droplets of laughter sprinkled over her description of the together moments. Guarding her little one fiercely, she’d constantly promise never to hurt her. And today that pledge lay listless, a revulsion for everyone to witness.
Sitting four meters away from her mortal remains now, there was not one teardrop that slid from my eyes. These eight years that I spent with her were enough for me to live by. I’d not hope to see myself estranged with such abruptness. The crescendo that we had achieved of orgasmic proportions now bereft of the sound of music.
The clinking laughter that she brought, the vibrant colours that she wore, the musty whiff of fragrance she carried everywhere she went, the lilting smile that lit up every ion of my body, all cloaked under a pristine white cloth with her wrist traversing away.
“Cut it out… leave my wrist, you scoundrel,” she teased me.
I instantly eased my grip from around her wrist. Her eyes smiled and then she did too.
“Silly you,” she dug her index finger on my cheek, “will you always do whatever I tell you to?” Her mischief was possibly her best trait- childlike, unabandoned, untethered.
I unleashed the crooked smile she’d told me she’d fallen in love with. And that was enough for her to fall into my arms and kiss me with all the passion that she could muster. When she pulled away, I noticed a teardrop trailing her left cheek. I dipped my head in a pretend question.
“I wish I just die right now…”
I smiled at her declaration, “…in my arms I hope…”
And I was rewarded.
My arms longed for her embrace. I wish there was a way for me to reach out and hug her now. I looked around to witness a sea of people from her family gathered to pay their respects to the woman they knew as a part of their life. For me, she WAS my life and yet here I am… reduced to an outsider- an ex-colleague and possibly a friend.
Her mother’s wailing sounds would emerge every so often, tearing through the calm in the room. The gossipy whispers trying to uncover the reason for her sudden demise.
What would have made her take her life like that?
For sure, this question would be the top rung of their thought. So was mine. How my heart ached to comprehend what made her push herself to the brink of self-destruction. What would have caused her to hurt herself so? What would have made her think she could not talk to anyone about what she was going through?
What about me?
I thought we were soulmates. There was nothing under the sun that we had not discussed, nothing that we had not fought over, nothing that we did not resolve. And yet, she decided to take the plunge.
And in that one moment of her choice, she had instantly made me a stranger to herself, her thoughts, her hopes, her life.
I felt a lump in my throat at that thought. I looked around, conscious at all times not to shed a tear. What was to be made by it if I even dared? There was no explanation that I could lend.
Amidst the humdrum, the family priest continued his prayers. The soft flurry of fumes emanating from the incense, at her feet, filled the room. Drinking water made a couple of rounds. My eyes again fell on her little daughter who by now was seated in a relative’s lap, unsure of what to make of the situation. Would she have known her mother as I knew her? Would she be able to recall her life form around her when she grows up? They say the consciousness of a toddler is deep-rooted. They can recover their deepest memories even if they have a sliver of recollection as an adult. Would she be able to relive her moments with her mother? Would her tearless eyes carry the glint of her mother’s sparkling gaze?
Would she be able to remember the warmth that her mother engulfed the room in just with her presence? Contrary to what it was like today.
The air was cold, despite the balmy summer. There was a stifled muzzle in the room that was unsettling. The one question that loomed large on everyone’s mind- why?
“Why? Why?” she let out a loud grunt. “Why would he still want to be in this marriage? It means nothing to me. Sure, as hell, it does not mean anything to him too.” Her waging arms were in complete harmony with her discord.
We’d gone over this multiple times. Aisha wanted the separation and Aryan wouldn’t relent. Getting into a legal hassle was not an option too. There was a child in the mix and we wouldn’t let her be traumatized. That she would not eventually be a tad hurt by the splintering glass was anyone’s guess. And the glass did shatter.
A loud clamour breached my reverie. A couple of people strode towards the din in the kitchen. A broken glass, a gash, and blood wiped off the counter later, the bunch returned and settled in their spots. The blanket of gloom enveloped the room again, almost instantly.
My attention drifted towards the girl who’d injured her hand a while ago. She winced in pain from time to time reminding me of the throbbing ache in my heart. My wound was as fresh, as raw, and as distressing. My laboured breaths resulted in feeble sighs every now and then.
My other colleagues who were accompanying me agreed that it was time for us to leave. “I’ll stay,” I affirmed. The colleagues walked out of the door one by one. Reserved nods of acknowledgement to the family registered their presence at the assembly. Some of the eyes roved over towards me, questioning my stance of staying back while the rest of the party left. Was I putting myself in a tight spot here? How is an outsider supposed to act in situations like these? The fact remained that I was not an outsider but they wouldn’t know that. Or was I giving it away just by prolonging my stay? I shuffled in my seat.
Watching her lying under a sheet of white cloth, in peace, was unnerving. Somehow it made me jealous in a peculiar way. She was now in a place where no one would judge her choices. None who she’d have to prove her innocence to. No one to put up an appearance for.
Right here, right now, I was carrying the baggage of both of our deeds. Was I supposed to be guilty of who we were together? It never felt like an aberration. If anything, she was my extension as I was hers. We never managed to complete each other. We were similar in many ways and different in as many.
Happiness was our choice and we diverted from the path that was chartered for us. Walking by each other holding hands, countless hours of conversations, long drives accompanied by a mutually agreeable playlist, books and music exchanged to switch over to another’s pursuit, connecting over lunches and dinners simply to discover each other’s food choices- the crossover was gradual and by the time we realized we were not just walking towards each other but into, it was over.
How bitter am I about it right now!
Only if I could just wake her up now, shake her back into consciousness and ask her to rewind it all. Wasn’t there a promise that went like- ‘through thick and thin’?
Well, this is thin- the thinnest it could get. Now, where the hell are you!
That shrill, resounding, internal conversations were resulting in a massive headache now. I could very well have a stroke right away and no one would realize why. For sure her death would not part us. She would always stay with me. Possibly my death would. How smooth is this realization that just dawned on me! If I die right now, I would really be apart from her. Forever. No one really knows what’s beyond, anyway. The cynical smirk played in my mind in vivid awareness. Damn! I am neither here nor there, it seems.
I have been abandoned.
Oh, these tears that keep brimming my eyes, eager to drop, fail to be contained now. Will I ever know what made her do this? Goodbyes are heartbreaking, indeed. But what if one of them even forgets to look back?
“I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye,” this dialogue from the movie Life of Pi kept ringing in my ears strangely enough.
With every breath, my heart was sinking into a deeper abyss. Her face kept appearing in front of me. Was her smile mocking me now that I was defenceless? Was it the vulgarity of this truth that made me vulnerable to every glance? Was this supposed to be her final goodbye, without actually lending me one?
It was just the perfect time for the priest to announce that Aisha’s final journey would commence now. How dramatic it sounded- how absurd- that her final journey was, in reality, ours with her. All of ours- who had known her, loved her- carrying her and leaving her into the unknown, away from us all. Of course, she is not to return but would she ever leave me?
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 us 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 is 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.
The sequel to this story is here.
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!