A Fiery Tale
by Priyanka Roy Banerjee
Something made Palash stir in his sleep. It must be something really important, for it woke him with a start. Still, he couldn’t remember what it was because the surroundings surprised him even more. He was sleeping in his office, for godssake! A bewildered glance at his computer reminded him in a flash of the crisis his project was into. He checked the process which was running for the last eight hours, and finding it secure, breathed a sigh of relief. Stretching his stiffened arms, he looked at his cell phone. And remembered. He had switched it to silent mode while dozing off, and there were eleven missed calls and four messages. It was five-thirty in the morning, and the last call was about two hours ago. God, not again! The inside of his mouth was slowly turning bitter in anticipation of the showdown waiting for him later in the day. It was his fiancée, Konkona. She hated her calls being unanswered, and wouldn’t take work for an excuse. She was also very particular about their daily routine of chitchat at night and made a huge fuss if Palash missed it even once. He hated this specificity. This was probably the only issue of disagreement between them.
Shoving the matter away for better times, Palash got up from his chair and decided to move around the office. Growls from his stomach made him realize their emptiness since last evening. The coffee room cupboards provided him fresh biscuits, thanks to his female colleagues. Starting the coffee machine, he began to ponder over the progress his team was making towards submission of the project in a few hours. It was almost through as the last code was running, and successfully. Earlier that night, he had sent a few of his team members home, and stayed in case he was required. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee knocked on his senses, and suddenly he craved for a shower. It had been his habit since long. He could survive a day or two only on coffee, but even a quick, express shower in between was imperative.
Though he was enjoying the calm in an otherwise bustling office, Palash thought better of keeping an eye on the code. It was running stably enough to be completed in another hour. As soon as it would, he decided to hand-over rest of the situation to somebody else and run home for a quick shower and maybe a nap, before another strenuous day. Opening the venetian blinds in the normally dark corridor, he held his breath sharply. There was a riot of red in the horizon outside, which changed into deep orange in a moment, and the sun leaped into his eyes. The blinding red flooded him with many emotions, memories, realizations – the first one being his name, his full first name – RudraPalash. The sun’s nascent rays were a fiery red, just like the flower palash which blooms in blazing summer. He was named by his grandfather who expired shortly after Palash was born, and nobody else ever bothered to explain why he was named so. He was called ‘babai’ at home, and he preferred to be called Palash in school, college and office, though his full name is in all official records. Only one person, ever, called him RudraPalash, “My RudraPalash.” She was Amrita.
He felt too dizzy to keep standing on his feet, he felt stabbed, again and again and again. It has been eight years, and the pain was still so sharp that he could measure the rivulets of life oozing out of him at the very moment. Amrita wasn’t in his life anymore, but she was still so much a part of him. He kept sitting on the floor leaning to the wall, gasping for breath and feeling the tingly rays of sun filling up the space, piercing through him as if they were extracting energy from his soul. Who was Amrita? How would he ever be able to explain that to anybody! They met each other in college. Palash hadn’t noticed her until second semester; she wasn’t conventionally beautiful or labeled ‘hot’ by people. He saw her for the first time in a boring statistics class, sitting diagonally from him, equally bored and inattentive. When their eyes met, he found she was happy to see him. They sat in the library after class, talking about courses, exams, assignments, and everything else. The rest, as they say, was history.
Amrita wasn’t an extraordinary girl, or maybe she was. She was a quiet but cheerful girl who did most of the communications with her big, deep brown eyes. She was reckless in making love with Palash bunking afternoon classes, careful otherwise. Days went on, and both of their identities, existences, personalities were blended with each others’ carefully by time. Their tomorrow was inevitable, together, as if there was no yesterday. Palash could never be happier than the way his life was shaping up. Amrita had become the most integral part of his life, the one he couldn’t live without. Or so he had thought. Eight years after graduation and Amrita, he was still living, wasn’t he? And pretty normally at that too.
The memories kept gnawing at him until he became numb enough not to feel the scalding tears trying to form a pool in the hollow of his neck. He was lying there for quite some time till somebody tapped him. He tried to regain consciousness, but the film of tears on his eyes wouldn’t let him come back to the present. Incessant nudging from his colleagues and a splash of water on his seemingly unconscious face were able to break the spell for the moment. Ensuring that he’s alright, everyone wanted explanations of such unprecedented behavior from their most disciplined employee. Palash excused himself and spent some time in the washroom to come back to his senses. This dawn had turned into one which he hadn’t expected it to be at all. Realizing the all-encompassing nimbus of depression hovering over his being, he thought of getting over it this time. Steadying his nerves with huge effort, Palash came back to his cabin where his team was waiting anxiously with final copy of the project. He chose to offer them no explanation, just mentioned sudden illness due to stress and lack of sleep. He reviewed the project details with a heavy head, his mind draining off every drop of energy to fight the oncoming depression.
Adding woes to his worries were Konkona’s phone calls. Given last night’s situation, normally she’d have been irked enough to ignore him till this evening, but she called quite early. At his present frame of mind, she was the last person Palash wanted to talk to. Rejecting her first few calls, he was able to receive one. Bursting into anger and rebuking him for constantly ignoring her, Konkona finally enquired what was wrong with him. Her lovely real self took over the obsessive possessive persona she was lately floating into. She was again the sweet, comforting Konkona he had always liked. He knew she was insecure about him, that she knew he didn’t love her, yet. He decided to let out his secret to her, to let go of Amrita whom he had tried to keep alive in his heart secured for the past eight years. He asked her to meet at his place for lunch, and an important discussion about their lives.
After a shower and another spell of numbness, Palash faced her. When he was narrating his life to her, he didn’t notice her reactions. It took him enormous time and effort to come to his secret. Konkona couldn’t watch him bleeding tears when he was describing how he had discovered Amrita hanging from the ceiling of her hostel room. Yes, that was the secret. Nobody could discover yet why Amrita committed suicide, not even Palash. It was on the day of the last semester they had their viva exams and she had seemed perfectly alright to him the whole day. Palash went into a recurring period of clinical depression for the next year. He had tried to kill himself thrice for not knowing the reason of her death. He ought to have known, and yet, Amrita had still managed to remain a mystery as long as he had to live. He didn’t want to, anyway, anymore. Each day that followed, poisoned him slowly to oblivion about how little he had actually known her. It was extremely strange how he could have missed any cues that she might have given in their daily lives. His family’s utmost care and rehab had made him able to recover, join a job, and continue at it. He had fled to an absolutely unknown city which had no one to remind him of his past. Though, he could not flee from himself. In the last few years, memories kept coming back into spell of depressions, which made him a zombie for a long time.
Konkona was dumbstruck as she was listening. Tears seemed to be free-flowing as compassion and love for Palash increased the more she heard him. She had met him in a party where she knew a few people. When she first saw him, he looked interesting enough to be observed. He was holding on to a drink for quite some time, conversing normally with everyone, and yet, there was something about him. She had noticed the faraway look in his eyes even while he was speaking to his friends. She had introduced herself to him and taken the initiative for further contact. Even before she knew him much, she had fallen for his rumpled look, his calm and somewhat indifferent demeanor. He never ignored anybody, and yet at times, seemed greatly ruthless. She hadn’t heard about Amrita before, the topic was banned for discussion. And it took her one year to finally know the secret. She had waited patiently, for she guessed it to be the reason of his behaviour.
Palash was weeping silently. Konkona reached out for his hand. Her touch was gentle yet firm, like a friend, like someone who cared for him, and only for him. The room was gradually filled with a thick, milky darkness. They hadn’t realized it was sunset so soon. Palash looked out at the sky with bleary eyes – its fiery red at dawn had transformed into a smooth, soothing dusky purple.