Just like the way a girl never forgets her first kiss, a boy never forgets his first bike, a father never forgets his child’s first grip around his finger, and a mother never forgets to check on her child who stays away from her – I can never forget what happened in those few days and what followed thereafter.
It all began in that dimly lit room-
I was seated on a well-cushioned chair in that dimly lit room with just enough light to provide an ambience that would keep one- both awake and focused. I opened my eyes and found the unfinished coffee mug in front of me. I quickly reached for it but feeling the chill on the surface of the container I decided against gulping down the leftover. You can buy a man’s time by paying him enough and by providing him with all the ambience, but you can’t have his attention. At least, you can’t have mine. I enjoyed being in that room, but this fact didn’t imply that I loved what I did.
I don’t remember for how long did I sit there procrastinating and philosophizing but I do remember that when I looked around me, I found only two other colleagues which meant that it must have been well over 8:30 PM when most of those who work with me headed back to their homes, to lead- what people outside that dimly lit room called- the life. I had no one back at home waiting for me, and so I tried to focus back on what I was doing- I was buying a wedding present for my friend. Now, there are two things that I was not good at- the work I was doing for my living then, and buying gifts for people, I suck at the latter even now. Nevertheless, the occasion called for it and I didn’t have anyone else to help me out then. And so I scanned the men’s section on one of the most popular shopping sites but ended up buying something entirely different- which was the hardcover collector’s editions of all the four books by the author my friend venerated the most. Call me a nerd but there’s nothing else I could have thought of gifting to someone whom I had called a nerd all those years of college. So this is what I did- I just blended two things I was not good at- to create something that might be good. Might be.
Then I opened my mailbox and printed the tickets from the office printer. Now, this was the thing about the printers in the offices like mine- before you manage to find your own printed documents from the heap of documents lying unclaimed, you often found others’ documents. Well, I know you could always put them down, but I was a boy and that girl whose bus pass laid on the printer tray- was really cute. Her hairs were just as long as Soumya’s. But before I could let the memories of Soumya haunt me again I replaced the cute girl’s admit card back on the tray and picked up my tickets. I decided against working anymore and made my way out of that dimly lit room.
After reaching my flat and having freshened up, I had my dinner. Post which I decided to trim and tried to be as presentable as I could. I packed up with as few things as I thought would suffice, and made my way to my bedroom early that night. I woke up early the next morning and booked a cab. Luckily the traffic on the streets of Delhi was bearable at that hour, and I made it to the airport on time.
It was still dawn when I stepped out of the cab and walked towards the entry gate of the Delhi airport. The early morning February air was pleasantly cold.
I was travelling to Bengaluru to attend a college friend’s wedding. It had been four years since we graduated from the same college. This wedding was also going to be a reunion of our batch mates. But what I didn’t know was that the reunion would begin much ahead of time; right in the queue in front of the airline counter.
I was almost sure it was she. Same height! Same long hair! Same complexion! Curiosity had my eyes glued to her. And then about 60-odd seconds later, when she turned, she proved me right. My ex-girlfriend stood two places ahead of me in that queue. We had never met after the college farewell.
But, it felt as if I was looking at her just after a few days, and it felt as if I was looking at her for the first time. She hadn’t changed a bit, and she seemed someone I had never known before. She looked like the best thing that can ever happen to anyone and she looked like the havoc she was capable of bringing into one’s life. I wanted to talk to her, tell her how much I missed her all these years, and I wanted to distance myself from her, run away back to any place as far as possible- even to that dimly lit room I hate the most if that’s where she wouldn’t find me. I wanted to tell her how much I loved her, but above all wanted to hear if she did the same too.
And before I could have any more of such thoughts that now sound almost juxtaposition, the person behind me tapped my shoulder, and reluctantly I inched forward.
We boarded the same flight and sat next to each other- more deliberately than coincidentally-as we both preferred the window seat nearest to the flaps. For her- as she had mentioned to me the first time we flew together, the flaps were an epitome of defiance as they refuse to budge even against such a strong force, and for me- frankly speaking, I don’t care where I sit in the flight but it always gave me the pleasure to sit by her side, and to watch her staring at the flaps. No word had been passed for the first half an hour. She kept looking at the flaps as always, and I kept looking at her as ever. We were flying forward but it seemed as if the plane was taking us into the past. After some time, she turned her head in my direction and found me staring at her.
“You have not changed at all”, she told me.
“Except for being single from being in a relationship with you, I doubt”, I replied back.
“You knew I would be sitting right here, didn’t you?” She asked back.
“You knew that I did and still you chose the same seat”, I retorted back. “Still single?” I asked her reluctantly and then regretted having asked it.
She smiled. And turned her head back towards the flaps.
I smiled and began looking at her again.
That was the last piece of conversation I remember having with her before the announcements were made. We were made to fasten our seatbelts. And a little later came the announcements to have our life vests ready. We were told that the engine has blown out. We were so high up, the
Buildings beneath us looked like toys and the vehicles like ants. But we weren’t falling and nor was the plane shaking, and so I thought, “one of our engines had blown, but we had another engine, that’d help us get to some land, and that the pilot had everything under control.” And then came in the announcements that the plane was heading to the nearest water body. Everyone around me began to panic. She took my left hand and pressed it really hard. I can still feel that hold. That hold was the last thing that I felt before I lost my left hand in that accident….
FEW YEARS AFTER THE ACCIDENT:
I am scribbling on my laptop. I am a left handed writer and, believe me, the laptop comes really handy for people who have lost their writing hand and still aspire to scribble. After that accident, I scribble a lot. I write about anything that bothers me. I write a lot about love. Sometimes, I write about misfortunes. And when I don’t write I stare at her. And on Sundays, I tell stories to the children of my apartment. They love to hear me. They all come at sharp 10 in the morning. And we all sit on this verandah.
She never comes out of the room. But I know she listens to all my recitations. She sits on her electronic wheelchair. She has a cervical collar around her neck. She couldn’t turn to her either side without rotating her wheelchair. I wonder how time changes things. The girl who used to turn her head so brusquely now seems to have no control over her neck. The neck that once housed the necklaces and pendants now has a neck brace wrapped around it. I have a very vague idea of that day’s happenings as I passed out before most others on the plane did, and don’t exactly remember anything that happened thereafter. After I gained consciousness I found myself lying on a stretcher in an ambulance. As soon as I was in the position to speak I asked about her. I was told that she was fine and then I was given anaesthetics that kept me alive but unconscious for the next few days. I woke up only to find that my left hand had to be amputated if I had to be saved. I didn’t feel a thing but I kept asking about her.
Finally, I was shown to the room where she was lying. She had this huge network of cables encapsulating her and culminating in her body. She laid as if a dead person. I didn’t know what I felt at that moment and even if I had known I couldn’t have expressed that feeling in words. All I remember is that she looked to me as beautiful as she always did. She was beautiful when we were first together, she was the same when I saw her at the airport counter, and she is still the same with the cervical collar. She will always be the same.
Happiness, after all, was in being with her whatsoever the condition be. We are not married yet and live together in my flat. People don’t judge us, maybe they pity us.
A FEW MONTHS LATER:
The children of my apartment and I have developed a bond now. They have grown fonder of me, and I have grown used to their presence. It has become more like a routine. Today I have asked them to come over at night and have agreed to tell them my story.
And here I am sitting in a dimly lit hall in my flat reciting this story of my life to the kids who have been requesting me to tell them my story in my words and in my way. Some of them ask me if they can see her. I say No because they’ll disturb her and I don’t want that. They ask me if she is in that bedroom. I say yes, she is. They plead me to let them see her, and today I agree. I open the door and switch on the lights. Some are baffled by what they see in front of them and run away while a few others perhaps more mature stay back and stare at the wheelchair occupied by a lady with a neck brace around her neck, and the body wrapped in numerous wires. There’s an uncanny silence in the flat right now- the one quite unexpected when you have children around you. I think this is the end of that special bond I thought existed between the children and me.
But I was proved wrong the next Sunday. They are not scared of me- these kids. They do not think of me as a madman. They still come back to me every Sunday. Some even lie to their parents about doing so. But I haven’t lost a single member of my audience since the day I have opened the door to my bedroom. I might have lost hope once, but these children never let the despair find me. They have done what I failed in doing all these years- they have convinced Soumya to come out to the hall. Tears well up in my eyes and before I could control myself they roll down my cheeks. I see her eyes and they appear wet too.
The reunion as it turns out was never completed but I found the one I needed to find. No matter how incomplete we are in ourselves, but our eyes speak of the entirety that we together are.
And here I am reciting the same story a hundredth time to the same audience with Soumya being one of them. If you listen to the story of misfortune a hundred times it often becomes a ray of hope. And this is what I believe every time I recite my story.
I always end the story with the line, “I embrace my story. And so should you.”
And silently, I pray that no other story is like mine.