by Geetika Sodhi Lohan
As Hannah checked her emails two days after her 72nd birthday, she clicked on Venu's mail with the same excitement that his name had made her feel in the past 30 years.
30 years back on her 42nd Birthday Hannah had decided to take up a trip to Kolkata to witness the world famous Kali Pujo. The month's trip had landed her at Kalimpong, a small mountain retreat in West Bengal. She had travelled with a group of seven women and had opted for a separate cottage, unlike others who had taken up twin sharing. Women her age had all settled in marriages with kids, but Hannah had failed to convince herself to get married and submit her life to any man, due to a childhood that had been exposed to physical abuse by none other than her own father who after her mother's death had used her to satiate his needs, unless one day Hannah had escaped from the captivity at the age of 18 when the stigma had trespassed her forbearance. Since then she had lived an independent life, completed her education, gotten herself a decent job and thereafter an apartment. The ride, however difficult had never felt as bad as those years she had spent under one shelter with her so called father.
The cottages gave a beautiful view of the valley and the extremely cold weather added to the excitement of being cosy around bon fire all covered in thick woollens. With very few couples on board everyone had found a companion to laugh with, to avoid feeling awkward, except for Hannah who did not mind sipping her white wine in the corner gazing at the lights in the valley.
"Hi, I am Venu"
Venu approached her on the first night of the week long trip. A simple looking man with grey hair and seniority in his conduct he had made Hannah comfortable in no time and they continued chatting long after the party finished. Venu had completed his 50 a week ago while Hannah had entered her 43 just while chatting with Venu.
"Happy Birthday Hannah". Venu decently passed the wishes to her after learning about her birthday.
Having chatted for the whole night they agreed for a morning walk towards the outskirts. Beautiful passages welcomed them with broken leaves and flowers which they walked past carelessly. Venu shared how his married life had broken twice due to his epileptic disorder which had made him hurt his partners unknowingly during attacks. They had both left fearing their lives and he had decided to live alone and not put anyone in danger ever again. Hannah listened to Venu with a heart full of sympathy. Venu spoke as if he hadn't spoken to anyone for a long time. His words and childlike excitement to share about himself displayed loneliness which found solace in Hannah's good listening skills.
"I am sorry. I don't generally speak so much" Venu confessed apologetically.
Hannah nodded with understanding and the chat ended as they returned back to the cottages.
Rising old age did not allow them late night chats but morning walks became a part of the week long regime. Every morning Hannah would find Venu ready at the gate, for the walk. In the whole tenure Hannah refrained from talking about her childhood and quoted her ambition to be the reason behind her spinsterhood. She however shared everything about her passing affairs, crushes and the
men in her life. Five days passed in blink of the eye. It was the last day for the walk. Venu reached the gate well in time to be informed by the guard that Hannah had left half an hour before. Hadn't they decided to visit the Church together on the last day?
Hannah sat there in the backyard of the isolated church that smelled of dampness due to an age old architecture.
"Left me alone. We were supposed to see the church together lady." Venu cheerfully teased trying to ignore the elephant in between them. He sat beside her, this time closer than ever failing to hide his own sentiments overflowing his grey hair.
"Venu I had a great time with you. You are a nice man. But not everyone is. My father was my rapist for 6 years unless I ran away from the home and took charge of my life. I don't think I will ever be able to be with a man under the same roof. May be not even the man I love." Hannah wasn't ready for any commitment at the stake of her already bruised soul.
Venu knew how pain and loneliness felt like. He had never expected commitment from Hannah but he couldn't rule out his desires to feel her close to himself. He wrapped his arms around her. The heavy clouds gave up and it started raining.
"Romantic like a Yash Chopra film isn't it?" Venue did not veil his emotions and they lip locked.
The rain intensified their want for each other and they shifted to the forlorn cottage in the backyard. Age had signs but not enough to curb what they felt for each other. While Hannah after a lifetime of insecurities, felt safe in his arms, Venu felt understood and accepted around her, having always been rejected for something he had no control over.
"We need to leave." Hannah lifted her face from his chest.
This walk back to the cottage was silent. Before they boarded their vehicles to return back, Venu kissed her forehead.
Since then Venu and Hannah stayed in touch through Emails and Venu's mails gave Hannah the same excitement she felt in the cottage.
Coming back to the present 72 year old Hannah opened Venu's mail like every day -
"Dear Aunt Hannah
I am writing this mail to inform you that Uncle Venu passed away this morning. In his drawer I found this letter with a note - To be mailed to Hannah if I die. Please find the letter in attachment.My Dear Hannah
These 30 years with you beside me were the happiest years of my life. The time stopped for me when I held you in my arms in the cottage. I would have reached heaven(or hell who knows) by the time you will receive this letter but don't you shed a tear my woman for remember I would have taken my last breath smiling and having that ticklish teenager like feeling in my belly merely by thinking about you. I never felt your absence for your thoughts were there with me day and night. Everything I did was to make you smile and so now I might have left this body but my ghost might just be sitting beside you trying to wipe your tears. Promise me Hannah you will be mine the next time. Eternally in love with you.