It was one of those scenes from Yash Raj Films or Dharma productions.
The sun was about to set. The sky was clear, with just the right sprinkling of clouds to refract the golden light and make it insta-interesting.
The breeze was just the right amount of cool. The one thing Bangalore boasts of, it’s weather, was doing it’s job right that evening. Tall, lush, half a century old trees lined the huge gym-khana ground in perfect discipline. Interspersed with park benches made of cold stone, atop the uneven stadium stairs that circled the ground.
Young men and women and children were playing, exercising, walking, jogging, talking. A swearing match was on in the cricket pitch adjacent to the football ground. The campus gym-khana was bursting with energy. Like it had done for a century and half now.
Abhishek hobbled to the bench beneath the Gulmohar tree almost along the center of the ground, facing the setting sun. He rested his walking stick along the trunk of the tree, adjusted his dark thick rimmed glasses and slowly sat down on the left end of the bench, knee joints cracking as he did so. He swung his bulging black back-pack off his shoulders and placed it in the center of the bench.
He sighed and stared onto the hyper-active ground. This part of the world hadn’t changed in 4 decades. And neither had he. He was happy seeing and not being a part of the mayhem. He unzipped his bag and took out a book, carefully opened the page where the bookmark was and placed the bookmark towards the back of the book.
As he was engrossed in reading in the dying sunlight, another figure hobbled to the bench, placed her stick along the Gulmohar tree to the right of the bench and slowly sat down. Cursing softly as her bones and muscles ached.
She also placed her bag in the center of the bench in front of Abhishek’s, took out her phone and took a focused shot of a tiny kid running into the sunset as the golden turned crimson. She stared at Abhishek, engrossed in his book for a moment, as she had done often once, before speaking.
“Old habits die hard? Or you were training all your life to be 80?” – Natasha said, softly with a slight smile in her voice.
“Hey!” Abhishek looked up from the book, raised a wrinkled large hand and turned his head. He smiled. He smiled and the smile was as young and innocent as it had been four decades back when she had first fallen in love with him.
Natasha took his hand in hers. Their fingers entwined. Thin, wrinkled, leathery hands that had seen a long, long life.
The universe paused for a moment then. The touch that had eluded both for a long time, brought out lost emotions and forgotten feelings from beneath layers and layers of “reality” and “life”. Like a new fresh sprout shooting out of the earth.
The sun set as they sat there in silence. Looking onto the ground, observing, reminiscing.
“You never finished 50 shades of Grey?” Natasha asked, pseudo wide eyed, teasing, as she noticed the book cover.
“Well….you know. You never finished reading it out loud while I had my eye thing going. Your thesis came before this. And then life happened. So here I am, finishing what you started 40 years back.” He said, a grin forming and his dark eyes, beneath those soft feather like eye-lashes, sparkling with humor as his now wrinkled and lined face started turning red, from the forehead down to the neck. He had always been the text book example of blushing. A trait that had raised his cuteness rating with the fairer sex for a while then.
“Divorced?” – she finally asked, unable to think of a witty jibe. Their banter had always been clean. Innocent to a fault. As if their minds were programmed to think and speak only PG13.
“Ha ha ha ha”, he burst out laughing, his face once again turning into that picture of innocence. “No. Of course not. Why would anyone ever want to leave me? Don’t you know how absolutely awesome I am?”
He said, teasing, pressing her hand ever so gently.
“She passed. Peacefully and after seeing all our grandkids.” – He replied after a pause.
“I’m sorry” – Natasha said. Wondering what to feel for a person she had never met and had only envied in her younger days.
“I’m sorry too” – He said.
And with those words, a dam burst within Natasha that had been sealed for a while now. For years after Abhishek had left, she had wondered what had gone wrong and why had he done what he had done. What caused him to make those choices. How could he have been happily married to someone after having been with her for all those years. How he could start and enjoy a family with absolutely no regrets or guilt. For years she had tried to find these answers, from within her, from him. But he had gone ahead. Moved away and left her. And he was not responding. Had never written back or received a phone call or a text message. It was as if, this…this love story had happened only in Natasha’s head and wasn’t real. It had taken her years to heal. And even then, scars remained. Till date.
“You replied” – She said. Burying her volcano of thoughts and questions for the time being.
“I did. I owed it to you for a long time. A really long time” – He said. In his usual flat and emotionless voice. A voice she had died to hear and had played from odd video recordings in times of distress. A voice that had soothed her and calmed her in some of life’s worst storms.
“So do I finally get my answers?” – She turned to face him now, hopeful, scared.
“Yes…. Yes I guess you do.” He replied, quietly, pensively.
“I am all yours. And this time around, no lies and no easy escapes” – He turned towards her, stowing away the book in his bag as the last sunrays died and the stars started to glitter.
A tear in Natasha’s eyes sparkled. She was finally going to get her answers. After all those years. Not that it mattered now. But a part of her had been hurting and was craving for a closure. The society acknowledges death as a source of grief and sorrow, but the ending of relationships, specially endings where it’s not chosen by both involved, are brushed under the carpet and accepted. But in a manner, they cause as much grief as deaths, as any other loss. And when the endings are unclear, causes unknown, answers dangling, they leave gaping holes that are forever there to haunt on bad days. Slowly filling with moments as life goes on. But there still. Deep and dark and haunting, just a flimsy layer away.
And so they talked. And the night deepened and the stars sparkled brighter. And the universe grew lighter as their words healed a lifetime of hurt.
*Written as part of an exercise for Write Club Bangalore. Don’t forget to let me know if you could relate? Like/Dislike – Comment!