I looked up at him for the last time.
The words "last time" seemed to hit me deep inside. I failed to figure out if it was my heart, my soul, or probably both, pricking helplessly. A lump was stuck at my throat while his small, deep set eyes looked at me intensely, painfully yet strongly. I was always amazed in the past at his undue silent pride, like a wild tiger, waiting for his opposition to make the first move, and then slowly retaliating. This time, I waited for him to prowl on me first.
"Why do you want to leave me?” he finally managed to say, still looking deeply.
A pang of guilt left me speechless. I bent down while my eyes caught hold of his hands...those strong hands which held mine over a million times, while crossing roads, on cold evenings, those early mornings, clumsily feeding me, caressing my cheeks, gently holding me in his arms...I closed my eyes, unable to hold back the warm drops which swelled up, and finally breaking the barrel, flowed out. Yet, the gushed out flow could not budge the pain from my heart it safely clung onto.
I fumbled for the right words to say, before my blank mind surrendered to three words, and I blurted out “It won’t work”.
“Why, it did until now, didn’t it?” His repeated “why’s and “how’s” were another subject of laughter in our past.
“I don’t know Joe.” My victim suffered another blow.
“U don’t know?”
“Why on earth are you torturing me like this? It just won’t work. I just can’t fight against anyone, anymore.” I fought back my tears again.
“Don’t you want to spend your life with me?” He said it straight and I knew he meant every word of it. My icy heart melted at his words.
At my childish, meaningless statement, he shot back with a question in his eye before sighing and shifting his gaze toward the ceiling.
Whenever he stared at the ceiling, it meant either he’s lost in thought or in deep torment, I guess it was both today...Damn, why did I know so much about him?
It took him more than two minutes to decide on his last stroke before the final verdict was ready.
“Okay Mel, do what seems right to you, just stay safe and take care of yourself.”
The last sentence seemed very shaky, yet compassionate...another prick inside.
I stood up...The prick inside now seemed to spread throughout my body like slow poison, while my veins screamed inside with exasperation. Like a jilted nut bolt, rusted at all ends, I headed for the front door, and without looking at him, walked out hurriedly. It was over.
An unexpected excursion trip had acquainted Joe and me eight years back. Well, Joe was his nickname and I loved him as much as his name. He called me Mel. Along with springtime blooming flowers around, our relationship blossomed. The sway of wind was romantic then, spreading love around. While my hyper-excited nature added a lighter note to our relationship, his slow, well-paced moves taught me practical ways of life. The friendly sophomore kinship slowly flourished into a deep-rooted companionship. We walked the steps of togetherness slowly unwinding each other’s secrets, laughing uncontrollably, dreaming endlessly and loving each other unconditionally. The differences of our family background set a shudder initially, the fact that I was from a highly educated, elite Brahmin class and he being a scheduled tribe of his community. But we buried our differences and succeeded in believing that it mattered nothing to us.
After my graduation, due to financial crisis I could not study further. Joe initially helped me with the pocket money he received from home. In course of time, with the help and support of Joe, I took up a job of a junior editor in a small publishing firm. My stars shone down and within six months I was appreciated widely for my good work. Soon, I started climbing the steps of success, while Joe struggled with his academics, before finally settling down with a small, decent job.
I kept walking up the path of greed, satisfying my hunger for power, authority and money. Proposals came flowing in, guys flocking in due to my status and money. My parents were well aware of my relationship. However as I soared higher, they kept telling me to find a better guy, to live a luxurious life, and marry someone of equal stature and caste. Their daily dose slowly started diverting my mind until thoughts of Joe were completely blocked. I failed to understand that materialistic pleasure was momentary and my success was a result of his silent faith in me. Roots of pride and ego began to spread around me until I broke off our deep-rooted relationship.
But instead of flying like a bird, I started feeling suffocated inside, resulting in my own downfall. I became a loner, despite having people around me. I realized that new people could not help me forget his absence. I was talking, laughing, eating, doing everything I previously did...yet everything in it was fake.
Joe never called me, met me or mailed me after our last meeting. It had been over a year now. But my guilty consciousness kept piercing me until I decided to meet him one day and ask forgiveness. Reluctantly, I walked up to his small apartment. Outside the apartment, there were little flower pots, with different colored flowers, blooming brightly. It reminded me of the spring when we had met. His memory was still fresh in my mind. The apartment was glowing due to the fresh paint over it. I hesitated, before gently knocking on the door. I had expected my ol’ Joe to open the door, beaming silently at my presence.
I was startled when an attractive, young lady opened it. A playful, innocent face, yet dignified with that pinch of vermillion on her forehead. My mouth went dry and parched, a pang of jealously filling inside. I wanted to scream but I softly asked “Is Joe there?”
“He is off to work; umm...maybe I can call him though. Please come in.” Her fresh smile made me feel like a faded picture.
“No, that’s uh...Alright. I’ll come in some other time.”
“Oh, Joe would really mind if you go without a cup of tea, please do come in.” Joe’s old habit of serving guests refreshments had still not changed. And even better as he has taught his wife. I fumed internally.
“Well, I am kind of late...so some other time, thank you.”
I turned my back hurriedly to hide my large ocean of tears, and bumped into a hard soul quick enough to knock him down.
“Ouuuucccchhhhh”, he screamed while I myself was blinded for a few seconds. I finally managed to look down at the man whom I had bumped so hard, similar to atoms scattering after hitting themselves. It was Joe. I froze. I had not come to spoil his life, to disrupt his well being, his family, his bright and happy future.
He just stared at me the same way he always did. His features were still the same, his intense eyes examining my face.
“I...uh...well, was just crossing...well, how...and”, firstly, I was awestruck.
Secondly, the words formed a circle and precipitated before forming words.
“You have lost a lot of weight!” he had always been like that. Uncomplicated and straight, very concerned about my health. I hated to think of a married man like that now.
“Ya, no, a little maybe” Still dazed.
At this he grinned. “You haven’t changed, still confused and childish as always.”
“But I am happy that you have. You seem to have a wonderful family, a happily married life” I hated those darn tears filling my eyes again.
“My what????” There was a quizzical look on his face, before that grin broadened.
At this, he just walked up and caught me by my hips, slowing embracing me into his arms. I was motionless, not knowing what to do. My ego, my pride, my selfishness had drew us apart, yet I still longed for him. I wanted him to hold me in his arms forever.
“How could I marry without my bride? That’s my sister-in-law for a honeymoon trip with my brother” He HAD told me long ago that he would wait for me till death. I had every reason to believe him.
I just closed my eyes, in fear he might vanish and I would be left alone with my misery. But he just held me, with those magical strong arms, gently stroking my cheeks with his. Only then I knew life remains in happiness with a true companion, the rest can be earned in course of time.
For all those people who think money, power, authority and caste can buy happiness, think twice. Life does not give a second chance to everyone to find their lost ones again.