The Incomplete Goodbye

He was sitting calmly at a corner table, earphones plugged in and John Legend’s ‘All Of Me’ beating away in his ear. He took a look at his watch. She’s running late. It had been almost half an hour since he sat down at that place. He was sitting at a window table in the café, looking at passing cars, hoping to see the little silver hatchback her dad owned slowing down at the curb.

32 minutes late. He smiled as the car stopped in front of him and she climbed out, looking as brilliant as ever. Her smile present there just like it had been the last time they had met. He couldn’t believe it had been more than five months already since that little rendezvous at the Oxford bookstore. She walked in and instantly spotted him amidst all the tables. She opened her bag as she walked towards him and by the time she sat down across him, she was pulling out the novels he had lent her the last time he had been home. But he didn’t care. All he had on his mind was her.

He had left the city five years ago to go to college in the hope of starting a new life and getting away from the people he hated there. But not her.

He came to know her towards the end of high school and since then they had been friends. He had left after that but still they stuck together. Friends, great friends and then best friends. She had been an invisible, untouchable and inseparable part of his life for five years now. He never failed to come home in the break and never failed to meet her at least once every time. But not this time. She had finished college and got a job in another state. She was leaving in two days.

They both talked for almost half an hour. Actually she talked and he listened. He couldn’t get a word out for the life of him. What would he say? That he’s going to miss her? That he’ll never be coming home again? That she meant the entire world to him? They both knew that already. He wanted to get up, pull her to his feet and hug her as tightly as he could in front of all these people they didn’t know. He wanted to look into her eyes one last time for he did not know how long it was going to be before he saw her again. Damn, I wish I could kiss her!

A unknown voice pulled him out of his daydream. Son of a! it was her older brother. He had always been afraid of the guy. He had come to pick her up. There was packing to finish, last minute stuff to be done. But! BUT! This isn’t enough! I haven’t even hugged her yet! And they walked out together. He smiled as much as he could and tried to make conversation with the big guy. As they reached the car, he gave her one last look. There she was. Still clueless.Sigh! He smiled and mouthed two words, “good bye.” He turned and left. He didn’t want to but he did. Every brain cell screamed out at him, asking him to turn back. Turn back and run to her you idiot! Give her that hug! There’s still time! But he never looked back. He reached his bike, pulled on his helmet and drove away into the opposite direction.

The city wasn’t going to be the same without her. Things were going to change. And they both knew that.

goodbye

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Open Door

*beep* “I’m gonna miss you”

“me too”

*beep* “no you won’t!”

He smiled at his girlfriend’s text, wondering how long it’ll be before they were going to see each other. They both had different flights to catch the next day and they both needed to sleep. As he let out a sigh and rolled over in his bed, he felt slightly chilly and heard a soft thud. Wondering what was wrong he looked towards the windows just 2 feet away from the head of his bed. It seemed that the last window, the one near to his roommate’s bed, was slightly open. Muttering under his breath, he got up from his bed and walked towards the window. As he stood facing it, looking at the university road outside, he heard the soft thud again! Turning as fast as his baby fat would allow, he saw the door slightly ajar, letting in a thin strip of light from the corridor. He walked towards the door pulled it open and stood in the corridor, looking to both ends of the well lighted wing. Feeling confused he looked at the clock on his phone. 2:59 AM. WTF!? He was pretty sure he had bolted shut both the door and the windows before going to sleep. I did, didn’t I?!

Cursing under his breath he gathered his empty water bottles and started his journey towards the 3rd floor of the empty hostel where the only ‘working’ water purifier existed. He passed room after room in dark corridors reprimanding himself. I should have filled those bottles before going to sleep. The hostel was spooky in the middle of the night. The phone in his pocket silently vibrated almost making him jump in surprise! Whipping it out, he felt better. Smiling again at Sandhya’s texts he carried on his task, his mind almost forgetting the odd fears as he got busy trying to convince his girlfriend to fall asleep while filling up the empty bottles.

***

WTF! How is it open!?? He shouted out in his mind looking at the open door to his room. He was pretty sure he had bolted it shut before going. He looked towards the end of the corridor where Arpit’s room was. The only person in his wing who had stayed back in the hostel for a project. Making a mental note to himself to kick Arpit in the balls next morning for this stupid prank, he went into his room and drove in both the bolts on his door. He kept the bottles on his desk, looked around the room once again, stopping for half a second at the empty bed on the other side of the room and switched off the lights. He looked at his phone again. 3:19 AM.

He laid down on his side and started to type “Babe you won’t believe what just happ…” not noticing the breathing over his neck. As he turned around to switch sides, he froze in fear.

A pair of eyes. Floating eyes.

***

The next morning the door didn’t open. Gaurav had missed his flight.

Dust And Smoke

(from the unseen slums of Bengaluru)

As I stood outside the little ‘variety store’ near my PG* sharing a smoke with my roommate, I heard a sweet little voice repeating a single word while the same reply came from another voice each time. This other voice sounded tired, very tired. Taking a sip from the glass of hot chai* in my other hand, I turned around to see what was going on. My eyes settled down upon a bundle of messy hair in tattered clothes with skin dark from layers of grime. In front of him sat a lady who surely was his grandmother by the looks of it. I couldn’t decide which was dustier, the pavement or the grandma.

chai

As they sat on the verandah of the shop, sharing a single cup of hot sweet tea and half a packet of ‘paav’* between them, the kid kept pointing at the numerous packets hanging outside the store one by one and kept saying, “yeh?… yeh?… yeh?…”* and each time the answer was the same, “naa babu (no dear)… not that one…”. And each time she fed him some of that bread dipped in the hot tea. I stood transfixed. Something inside me made me want to cry out loud but I couldn’t. I looked around and everybody else at that shop seemed impervious to those two. All except me. It was as if they had come to haunt only me.

I turned back to the roommate, trying to concentrate on the almost cold glass of tea and the half-smoked cigarette. I finished the tea in a single gulp and threw away the cigarette. I wanted to get away. I returned the empty glass and prepared to leave. But my roommate wanted a packet of chips! He asked me to tear him one from the garlands hanging outside the shop. I had to turn around again. Turn around again to see that running nose, the messy hair and the innocent pair of eyes they hid partially underneath them. It seemed as if someone was screaming something far away inside me, something unintelligible. I thought of buying one of those colourful packets he kept pointing at and give it to him. I wouldn’t be able to buy a cigarette for that night but it didn’t matter then. But what if the grandmother said no? What if she mistakes my act of supposed penance for sympathy? There were too many questions. I tore off a packet of Lays’, handed it over to my roommate along with two ten rupee notes to cover for my share of chai-sutta*. I left the shop as fast as my feet could carry me.

That night I couldn’t sleep.

Neither did I ever go back to that shop again, nor did I ever smoke. Because every time I caught a whiff of burning nicotine, that runny little nose and those innocent eyes come back to haunt me. They still do and they always will.

***

*PG: paying guest
*chai: Tea
*paav: little square buns
*Yeh: means ‘this’ in Hindi.
*sutta: Hindi slang for cigarette

“There she is!”

Oscar opened his eyes slowly and didn’t recognize the place. He didn’t know the room, the lights, nothing. The only sounds were the periodic beeps of the various machines monitoring his heartbeat and body temperature. He looked at the table on the left and saw framed pictures of the only moments he could remember. He turned his head towards the right side of the room and found Sophie dozing silently on the couch. He smiled and said, “There she is”. She opened her eyes and  smiled at him.

*

The first time he had seen her was a day he could never forget. A mutual friend had set them up for a date. He was running fifteen minutes late. He dashed out of the cab as fast as he could after paying the fare. For the rest of his life, he had described the next twenty seconds something like this, “I saw her waiting, waiting for me at table number 7. The way her eyes looked when she smiled, I felt like crying. I knew that she was the girl I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I looked at her and said to myself “There she is”.”

woman in cafe
Six months later they got married. And two years later, he started forgetting things. Doctor said it was early onset of Alzheimer’s. Sophie started staying at home all the time, working from home itself and taking care of the man she loved so much.

*

Five years had passed since then. Oscar’s disease had hit him with full force leaving behind a broken man. He remembered nothing except Sophie. And during his periods of acute dementia, when he had a few moments of clarity, he would kiss Sophie and utter his three favorite words “There she is.” He would remember their first date, their initial life and then like a firefly, that entire glow would fade slowly.

*

Sophie looked at Oscar lovingly and adjusted his pillow so that he could be more comfortable. She sat on the couch and looked at the first man whom she had managed to love truly. Then that smile slowly faded.
She went outside the hospital room. On a chair sat Matt, the person who was responsible for them meeting each other. As she occupied the chair next to him, Matt asked, “How’s he doing?” Sophie let out a sigh and looked at Matt, “His heart his stable now. The doctors cleared up the blocked arteries. They say I can take him home this weekend.” Matt squeezed her hand and leaned in to kiss her forehead. “Don’t worry Sophie. I’m there with you through all this.” She suddenly felt sick. She told Matt she had to use the toilet. She locked the toilet door behind her and broke down crying! “What am I doing?! I love Oscar! What the hell am I doing with Matt?” she asked herself.
She looked at herself in the mirror and started talking to herself. “I can’t take care of him anymore. I’ve known my husband longer with Alzheimer’s than without. I’ve watched more of him disappear than I ever got to know. I just can’t do this anymore.”
woman crying

*

Oscar gained his senses and became aware of his surroundings. He found Sophie sitting next to his bed, smiling. “There she is!” came out his voice, loaded with love and affection for the woman of his dreams. “Yes, Oscar sweetheart. Here I am”, said Sophie. Her voice sounded heavy and sad. “I need to go and see the doctor, honey. Now, you be a good boy and don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone.”
She stepped out of the room silently closing the door behind her. The nurse handed her a clipboard with various forms attached. Sophie paused for a moment and then signed on all the forms. She was sending Oscar to a special facility where they took care of people like Oscar.

She handed over the forms to the nurse and looked at Matt. He put his arms around her and they walked in silence down the hospital corridor.

Obsessed

He woke up with a sudden start! He glanced at the bedside table. The clock showed 11:17 a.m. He looked back at the pillow. It was completely drenched with sweat in spite of the air conditioning. It was the third time in the past two weeks and every time it was the same. He dreamt about her and woke up from it like a bad nightmare even though it was not. He didn’t remember when he had slept nor did he know what day it was. He just knew he hadn’t slept for three days before that. With a small groan he decreased the desired temperature of the A.C. and buried his head in his hands…

*

He met her through a mutual friend. He had just started at his new job then. He was dumbstruck at first sight. She knocked the wind out of him with those eyes of hers! Big, shiny and expressive… Striking personality, sparkling smile; she had it all! She was the most perfect girl he had ever seen.
From mails to chat and then to phone numbers; everything happened at its own pace in six months. He didn’t know when it had happened (actually he knew but never wanted to admit it). But it was there, staring him in the face. He had fallen in love! But he was too afraid to admit. They were just friends now!… But his actions spoke out loud for him. Too loud. Finally he gathered the courage to ask her out on a ‘friendly date’. Her “yes” had been the best thing he had ever heard from anyone…

Four short meetings was all that he could manage in a month. In a year came his promotion and then his transfer. He was broken. He couldn’t dream of staying away from her! She had just started liking him! But then he was helpless before fate… He had to go…

*

He didn’t know when it had started. First three weeks on the new job were fine. New people, new office, new apartment and a new reason to live; he had it all. But then the long-distance phone conversations stopped. She didn’t pick his calls or reply to his texts properly. He knew she had her own life to be involved in. But even then he found himself slipping. He was going crazy. Like a drug addict he was hooked to her. Every day she didn’t talk to him introduced half a dozen cigarettes into the next day.

On one of those rare days when they did talk, she let a one liner slip into their conversation “out of sight, out of mind”. That was it! He snapped like a dry branch and his bits and pieces scattered out of reach. He spent days replaying those four wonderful meetings and nights went by with him imagining how it would have been had he stayed back with her. His colleagues were shocked to find him sleeping on the job. He looked like a wreck with his dark circles and his unkempt beard. He even shaved off his head. “It is too hot around here”, he would say when anyone asked him the reason behind it.

After a month the pains started. The doctors said it was psychological. Yet it killed him every-time. No matter where he was, shower, kitchen, restaurant or in the middle of a street, the moment a particular memory of hers shot into his mind, his chest would explode with blinding pain, his heart would feel like someone has clutched it tight. Everything would become black for a few seconds and his legs would become jelly and give away. “Breathless and then dead” that’s how he described it to his psychiatrist. All those shrinks and quacks asked him to be strong. Move on even. But his face would remain expressionless at their words. “Idiots”, he would say to himself and wander off. He didn’t sleep for days and when he slept it was impossible to wake up. He had just one meal everyday. Food didn’t interest anymore. His throat remained dry constantly. Water, milk, coke or whiskey, he drank whatever he got and whenever he got it. Then he started seeing her. It was never real or too solid. But at times he would glance over his shoulder and catch a glimpse of her before it vanished. And then again his chest would explode with blinding pain. But then on some days in between she would pick up his call or call him from her side or just plainly send him a “good morning dear 🙂 :)” text and he would become normal for 4-5 days…

*

He had a project report to submit. The company was threatening to throw him out if his performance didn’t improve. But he hadn’t talked to her for almost a week now… He was having the attacks again. They had talked so well the week before that! She sounded just like music to his ears. But she hadn’t been picking his calls since the past five days. Half of the time her phone stayed switched off.

He entered his apartment and slammed the door shut behind him. Throwing his laptop on the sofa he fumbled in the cupboard for his packet of Insignia. He lit one and went out to the balcony cigarette in hand. As he looked at the city and its never ending lights he felt his eyes stinging in the night air. He broke down crying… wailing like a little child… The cigarette rolled off between his fingers and fell down into the busy street below.
“Enough is enough” he said to himself and went into the bedroom. He grabbed the bottle of sleeping pills and went to the living room. As he sat down on the sofa, he felt an odd calm passing over him. He kept the bottle in front of him and took out his cellphone. He pressed 9.

One ring… Two rings… Five… He was losing hope fast when suddenly “Hello” crackled over the speaker!!! “How are you? Where have you been?” he felt relieved as the words stumbled out of his mouth. “I’m so sorry sweetheart”, she said,”I’ve been a little off for some days now… Not feeling too well emotionally… Sorry for not telling you…” “Hey it’s okay! What happened though?” he asked highly concerned. “I’ll tell you about it later… I’m choreographing a dance for some of my friends now… I’ll talk to you later.”

He stared at the phone for the next five minutes and then at the sleeping pills. He slowly got up and walked into the kitchen to make himself dinner.

He was all right. For the next some days at least…

The Ride

“That’s it! I’m not talking to her till she replies to my text”, he thought. He got up, stretched a bit and went out to the balcony. The last five days had been really unexpected. “Of course! I’m in love again after all!”, he muttered to himself. He had met the perfect girl. The most beautiful and loving girl in the world as his mind put it… He was tired from sitting in a chair for the past six hours and he hit the bed. “Not a complete waste of time though” he thought; and before he knew, he was fast asleep.

***

“It’s six in the evening idiot! Wake up and get going!..” shouted father. That was all he needed! In six seconds he was up and was already checking his inbox. “Damn! Two hours and no reply..”, he thought, “I guess I should call her.”

“Hello?” Her sweet voice was like music to his ears. “Where are you?” he asked. “Just buying a pair of jeans in Saron Square. The Levi’s store… Remember?” she said. Of course he did. “Okay! I’ll talk to you later then. Bye beautiful…” and he disconnected the phone. The next moment, as if by divine intervention, mom handed him a list of things to be bought. And he knew exactly where to go.

***

He liked the bike better. But the scooter was gearless and easier to drive. Just what he needed. He wasn’t worried about what to tell mom. He was more worried about her. All had happened so fast! He couldn’t spend a second without thinking about her if he wanted to. “Hell I’m addicted to her!” and he smiled.

“Where are you?” he asked her. “On my way home”, came her cheerful reply. “Well..” he said, “I’m in front of that store you know”. The next moment he was turning around his scooter and was speeding towards the place where she had gotten down from her taxi. He was going to see her again and he didn’t care about all the traffic rules he was breaking.
“I’ve been waiting here for twenty minutes you know” she grumbled, “Why did you come?” “To surprise you” he added, reaching behind for her hand.”I hate surprises” she said. “God! Better get used to it… I love you girl!” and he was grinning like an idiot. The next moment she slipped her arms around him. He was surprised.
He felt alive! He felt happy! For three years he had been searching for this warmth, this love, his life… And there it was. He placed his left hand over her palms and tilted back his head to rest it on hers. “Where should i drop you?”, he asked, “Same place as last time?”… “No! Go ahead a bit further… Near my home.. I want five more minutes with the sweetest guy in the world”…
And he drove on…

***

“Can I drop you at home tomorrow as well?” he asked as she slipped her fingers into his… And they didn’t care about anything or anyone present there… He had found love at last.