The azure blue and citrus orange curtains fluttered in the hot afternoon breeze. The woman in the painting on the wall, huddled and peered out of one long lazy hazel eye, the bindi on her forehead twinkling with the ray of light sharply piercing a gap in the curtains.
The man in the green shirt stretched his aching back against the faded criss-cross patterns of the armchair and closed his eyes.
From far below sounds wafted in of an army of prattling tourists who sat in the white wicker chairs and noisily urgently demanded lunch. The man could hear the complaining tone of someone splashing out of the pool and demanding attention for his slightly bleeding toe which he had nicked from a protruding tile at the poolside. Beneath his closed eyes the man wondered if the someone would lodge an official complaint.
The man thought of the three rooms upstairs he might need to break down. Rooms he had built in an uncharacteristic moment of arrogance.Rooms he had had no right to build. He thought of the big sweating government official who had driven down in his shiny beeping Jeep, and told him so, sweat pouring down his face on one such summer afternoon.
His mind wandered to the new boy in the kitchen. The one who made egg pies like his father used to make when he had come home from school, hungry and yet refusing to eat.The new boy who he had seen furtively pocketing the tip of a few dollars an appreciative American tourist had left for the whole staff.
The man opened his eyes and looked up at the ceiling. The wooden beams needed to be repaired before the monsoon came.
The woman across him sat curled up dozing in the afternoon heat. The fan whirled lazily billowing out her skirt. He could see the bandage on her swollen ankle and her slight wincing as she moved in her sleep. His mind went back to the morning when she had stumbled down a steep flight of stairs and fallen heavily on her ankle. Would she be able to leave the next morning? What if she didn’t?
The swinging armchair didn’t miss a beat.
It was one of those days. Those little fluffy pretty days when everything fell right. When you let out a gentle sigh and just sank in..a little curious, a little amazed and largely grateful.
So when she opened the door for the first time to the man, she accepted that he smoothly walked in into the zigzag unfinished open slots of her. She watched unquestioningly when her fingers entwined in his and the calluses smoothenend on their own. She leant back into him.. she did not ask why the gaps closed.When she sang, he joined in and when she danced, he fell into step. Yes, it was one of those days.
And of course, there were other days. The day when they met and the jagged bits flared up, red and angry. The day when their laughter choked and fell silent. The day when the music was loud and rankled and when they stepped on each other’s toes.
Then many more days happened. The sun seemed less harsh. Spring floated in. She smiled once again. And he laughed throwing back his head once more. The pieces didn’t fit anymore but maybe they didn’t need to. Maybe jagged edges if they didn’t cut and bleed and cry every single time, can create patterns too.
And so they sat down. The man and the woman. Like children playing at a new game. The pieces all laid out on the fresh dewy grass. The sun shining in a bright blue sky.
She listened carefully to the voice at the other end of the line. Have you understood, the voice asked repeatedly, worriedly. Yes, yes, she nodded into the phone.
The voice said he had had a stroke and asked if she would fly down immediately to be with him. No, she had said and replaced the receiver gently back.
She looked at herself in the mirror and wondered what she should be feeling. She looked into the eyes staring back at her..was there pain in them? Were tears welling and would they suddenly trickle down her cheeks? Was she shaking? Did she need to fold herself into a cocoon and lie still, hoping the pain would go away?
She picked up the book she was reading, and turned the page.
My parents were called Madhurima and Benoy. When my mother went visiting her parents at their native village, my father missed her terribly. The postman delivered at her doorstep bold open yellow cards scrawled ” Dear Honey, from B.”
When someone asked her what she did. She said she collected days.
Soft, lazy, floating days under the banyan tree with the hot sun trapped between the heavy branches. Flitting sunshine days of fumbling kisses, breathless laughter and sleepless nights. Dream filled days of mango afternoons hanging heavy with stories and sleep. Dark moonless nights waiting for the wind to rise and gentle sounds of people in slumber. And unending opaque moments of remembered words, forgotten love and numbing regret.
She kept them all pressed between the pages of a brown leather bound book.
One day there was a fair in town and people came from all over to display their collections. She was very excited and took her book out of the safe where she kept it and unwrapped it of its soft red silk and reached the fair.
There were many stalls and a wide variety of collections on display…enchanting wind sounds, haunting melodies, bottled laughter and diaphanous wings of tiny fairies.
People gathered around her when she laid out her beautiful leather book and craned their necks eagerly as she opened it. “Days on display” said the board over her stall.
As she opened each page waiting for each day to tumble out gracefully, brown crumbly powder trickled out leaving sad stains on each page. Each and every day was gone!
The people slowly moved away and she put her head down on her hands and wept and wept for the days she would never see again.
When she looked up again after a long time, the evening had passed and a golden sun crested the skies. It was the most beautiful day ever.
She wondered if she should cocoon it in soft cotton and place it in the shiny new trunk in the attic or just let it go free. There was just too much rusty brown powder around.
She believed in many things. If you stood at the exact same spot where you had last kissed him, he would come back so you could say your goodbyes this time. If you whispered your name in your lover’s ear when he was asleep, he would think of you even in another woman’s arms. If you looked deep into a man’s eyes when he spoke of his love for you, you would want no other love.
She believes different things now. She has learnt to recognize the goodbyes in the most ardent of kisses. She has taught herself to not want a man who thinks of her in another’s arms. She knows now to look away when a man declares his love, remembering always to love herself.
She believes she has learnt to live.
I found a letter of yours today on my birthday. You had written a song for me..in green ink..you knew I loved that the most. It made me cry seeing the familiar slanting letters, the faded paper from the note pad you used to keep and the way you spelt my name with an extra a. You said I was the best so you gave me an A. I believed you.
I miss that your laughter is not mingled with mine anymore. I miss that your skin doesn’t touch mine anymore. I miss that I cannot see me in your eyes one more time.
And I miss the extra A you gave me.