by Sanjoy Dutt
(Portland, OR, USA)
The sound of the waves crashing on the beach, he could hear footsteps approaching. He moved to the left to get out of the way, but the turf crumbled against his boots. He lost balance and looked panicked as he fell down.
"Be careful," a female voice called.
He didn't answer because he wasn’t sure who the voice was for but to him the voice seemed familiar.
The soft hand of a woman helped him up, and she assisted him in brushing the sand off his clothes.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Please be careful, the hidden rocks in the sand make it difficult to walk,” she said
“I know, I have been walking here for six years.” He smiled.
He had discovered she too walked the same path around the same time every day. Do I know you? The question occurred in his mind and he wanted to ask, but instead held himself back.
The other day she brushed against him and said, "Sorry!" as she passed. That was the first word she said to him, an apology. Not unusual. He was used to people apologizing to him. He was somebody everyone in the town knew yet he had no friends.
It was strange, he picked out her voice and remembered it with no idea what drew him to her.
"Well, are you all right?" she said again.
He realized she was still standing there, an act of kindness.
"Do you really think I am not all right?” he said. Although he did not want to be rude that came out of his mouth at that moment. Kindness tires him.
"I'm just concerned," she said. "There's no one out here to help you."
On warm summer days, he would hear thousands of voices around, but today was different, it was cold and windy with the possibility of an ice cold shower.
"There's no one I can run into, you mean," he smiled.
She laughed, “The wind has become colder, it will rain, and do you mind a cup of coffee?”
He felt the first drop of rain on his face, “At the Prince Café?”
“That is where I was going,” she replied.
“I have so much memory attached to that place.”
“Really? Me too.”
He felt the warmth of her palm in his as they crossed the traffic-less road. He could feel her walking beside her. The strong smell of coffee beans and the warmth inside made them feel better as they settled around a table by the window. The rain fell heavily and made
the outside look hazy.
“This is the place I met the love of my life,” she said.
“Where is he now?”
“Perhaps I was meant to lose him, but I’m hoping to find him again. What about you?”
“The best days of my life got lost six years ago. Today I live with my memories.”
“I came here with my college friends, never knowing this place would change my life forever. That day was cold and wet like today and after I ordered my coffee I realized I had forgotten my purse at the hotel room. He was watching me and offered to buy me a coffee. That was how we met and fell for each other soon. I did not go back with my friends and stayed back to spend one more week with him. I remember we walked the beach together and came here for coffee every day. He loved his coffee. I was excited to return home for Halloween and break the news with my family I found the love of my life. We decided to get married soon, and he wanted to share the good news with his family. Early that morning he was driving me to the airport. It was still dark outside, and there was no traffic on the road. My heart pained at the thought I would not see him for the next three weeks. I leaned over to kiss him, just then that monster truck appeared from nowhere. I regained my senses in the hospital with a bandaged head. My memories remained closed for five long years. Even my parents had a hard time convincing me they were my parents and well-wishers,” she said.
“What is your name?”
There was a surprise in his voice and his walking stick slipped from his hand and fell on the floor.
She bent down to pick his stick for him.
“Was his name Benjamin?”
“Yes, how do you know?”
“Because your Benz is sitting in front of you.”
“You look nothing like my Benz.”
“The world sunk in darkness permanently after that accident. The doctors had to reconstruct my face many times. Now I can’t even see what I look like.”
She looked surprised and stared at his face for a few seconds. Holding her head in both hands, she rose from her chair.
“Oh God don’t do this, I can’t take this,”
She sobbed and rushed out in the rain.
Benjamin listened to the sound of the falling rain thinking, can he live with the memories and compassion? ***