It was Sunday morning, around half past eleven. Like every other weekend, Chitra had freshened up, cleaned her house, had her breakfast and was carrying out her most favourite chore of all: arranging her book shelf. Since her childhood, she followed this ritual whenever reality took too much toll on her.
There was something about this chore, maybe the scent of the old and new books, the thick colourful book covers, the parallel world which they opened up whenever she flipped open them, the characters to which she connected thousand times more deeper that any people around her. Maybe it was all this and something more that soothed and calmed her chaotic mind. It was meditation for her.
Chitra Joshi, a Sociology professor in a private college, she has been living all by herself for eight years in her rented apartment. Having celebrated her thirty sixth birthday the night before, she was feeling lonelier than ever. So, to battle with this loneliness, she sought the company of someone who never failed to be there for her: HER PAST. Sitting cross-legged on the chair, wiping off the books of her study, she could not help but reflect on her life.
Thirty six years of her life passed by. While living those years, each day felt as heavy as a boulder which suffocated her every breath. She thought with each passing year, she would be leaving it behind her, far away. However, like a human shadow, her past followed her everywhere she went, like a dutiful servant, ready at her beck and call. And now, the case was such that not only had she made peace with it but she had also started to lean against it, finding solace, whenever loneliness grappled her.
So many years had passed and still at times as if the time would freeze and she would find herself her scared little eleven years old who was girl, grasping for her breath, paying for the pain to kill her.
Betrayed by the closest person of her childhood, she could still hear her suppressed screams of pain and betrayal filling the four walls of bathroom when her uncle crossed all boundaries of decency and humanity. And the gut smacking shock she felt when having confided in her mother, all she got was, "Don't say this to anybody! He's your uncle. It's fine! Promise me you'll not say this to anyone"
Her hands stopped moving, her eyes closed. A sparkling tear found it's way from the corner of her eyes, across her cheek, soaking her already soaked being.
Just then, like a time machine, the sound of the door bell, swiftly brought her back to her present, her apartment, her life. The door bell went again...and again. A weak smile spread across her lips. This nature of impatience and the person carrying it had found a new soft spot in her heart recently.
Almost running, she pulled the door open and showing a fake anger chided, "God!! Hold your horses!!!" A young man of twenty seven, wearing a white, 'Go green' T shirt and cream coloured cargos, holding a black opaque polythene bag in one and pack of bread in the other, stood at the door, with a confused look.
He said, "I'm sorry! But I don't have any horses right now!! But I do have some fresh chicken” and chuckled.
"Ha...ha! Very funny! You know what I mean, Rishi!" said Chitra as she gave him the way to enter.
Walking two steps into the apartment, Rishi suddenly paused, turned around to look at Chitra who was standing behind him, with a concealing smile. He walked close to her, almost inches away her face, gently placed a kiss on her forehead and asked, "Why were you crying?"
Chitra wasn't surprised. She knew he would know. So, without any pretence she replied, "Just... you know!" Saying this, she took the bag and the pack of bread from him and walked towards the kitchen.
Rishi didn't reply. He just stood there for a second. He knew the source of those tears all too well. He had heard about it three years ago that evening when Chitra hoping to get rid of him, had disclosed him everything. She was hoping he would leave.
But he...he just clung to her tighter and firmer.
She first met him at this very apartment when he had knocked at her door, complaining about the dripping water from her wet clothes which she had put that day to dry. Five feet seven tall, average fit, bearded with dark rimmed glasses. His shoulder length unkempt hair, ruffed jeans and a loose T shirt, made him resemble a caveman. But in fact, he was a photographer.
That was a Sunday afternoon too and Chitra as her ritual was strolling down the memory lane, wetting her eyes. That afternoon too, she had opened the door, with moistened, puffy eyes.
It was almost a year later he had told her that it was her eyes which had caught his attention at first and captured a little part of his soul in them. The part for which he kept coming back to her with zillion excuses and every time went back a little more empty. She remarked him to be 'so dramatic' on hearing this, but in her mind she was wishing it to be true.
One day when he realised that there was nothing left of him, he went to her and said, "Every time I meet you, I leave a part of me with you. If you are careful, you'll find them. See, it's there, near your desk when that evening you were so engrossed in explaining me the character of that book, that your eyes sparkled and a zest for life emitted from your being. I lost a tiny part there.
See, on your couch when you shared with me your struggles of childhood that afternoon, and I saw a small, vulnerable, scared girl under this strong, dignified woman. I lost a bigger chunk there.
See at the kitchen door, when that morning, you were making some tea, not saying much. And I just stood there, leaving against the door, looking at you, moving and living. And it occurred to me that this is the sight in which I would happily spend my whole life. That moment...I lost my everything.
So, here I am urging you...to take me too before I cease to exist."
Owing to their age difference, Chitra was reluctant in showing any kind intimacy towards him. More than society's gossip, she was concerned for her fragile heart which she knew was incapable of overcoming any major heart breaks. What if it were just a phase? What if he gets bored of me? What if he finds someone younger? What if I finally open up to someone and he doesn’t like what he sees? What if...What if...
For such many 'what ifs', Chitra very cautiously, even reaching her thirties had kept her heart protected. However, when Fate decides to intervene, nothing and nobody can have any say in it. And just like that, Chitra's heart was not just hers anymore. It now belonged to Rishi.
However, entry of a new member doesn’t mean the exit of the old ones. So, even though Rishi bought love’s tenderness and warmth in Chitra’s present life, the thorny coldness and suffocation of her past held its ground in Chitra’s life, digging deeper and deeper. When the haze of love would dissipate, Chitra would start feeling tormented by her demons, shackled in its grip, unable to move, breathless.
Rishi ambled towards the kitchen, lost in thought. Reaching the door, he paused there and as if having solved a riddle, declared, “Hey...Let’s get married!”
Chitra who was cleaning the boneless chicken pieces under the sink water, startled, dropped the plate into the sink, scattering the chicken all over the sink.
“Shit!” she screamed in frustration.
“Wow!! That’s a nice reaction to what I have just said...” Rishi retorted, knowing very well what Chitra was doing.
“No...This chicken! It’s all ruined! I’ll have to wash again...By the way; it’s your turn to cook today. Last Sunday I did.” Chitra spoke as a matter of factly, trying to avoid his proposal.
Rishi nodded and just replied “Hmmm.” He didn’t leave his eyes off Chitra. He saw that she was clearly at unease, keeping the plate in the sink itself, she went to chop the onions which she was finding it almost impossible to chop as her hands were unsteady and shivery. Her eyes watered. It was hard to tell who watered them, the onions or Rishi. Still she kept her eyes on the onions, trying to chop them off, not once looking at Rishi.
Rishi walked towards her and stood right behind her. Chitra still kept chopping the already chopped onions. He reached his hands from back and rested them on her hands, hugging her from back. Chitra stopped. She closed her eyes tightly. Moments passed. Nobody moved.
After a while Chitra who was still sobbing, could just say, “But why?”
Rishi smiled and turned her around. He now could look at her puffy eyes and pink cheeks. ‘God! She looked so beautiful’ he thought to himself. Wiping off the tears from her cheeks, he straightened few strands of hair which were stuck on her left cheek, gazing at her face with love and tenderness.