You run, worried about what was behind you, and worried about what is in front of you.
You scramble down the staircase, the suitcase bumping the railing and the stairs.
The screech of tires, the hum of traffic is dull, over the thoughts going on in your head as you flag down a taxi, and get in mechanically. “___Station, Go fast,” you tell the driver, shoving the case beside you in the backseat. He nods and speeds up.
The town you were so in love with, buzzes past as the car weaves through the lanes, trying to avoid the traffic from the main roads. The Variant Café’s blinking sign flashes at the turn, triggering memories in your head.
You can hear laughter, faintly on the wind blowing in through the windows. You taste the sweetness of the cookies, feel the crumbs on your fingertips – you wonder if this is indeed the right choice. Is this me running away, you think. Am I a coward?
You think about what you are leaving behind. A home, built lovingly, memories, blazing ones, soft ones, hard ones - and that person, who you once told you had given your heart, irrevocably, forever to keep, yet you now run away, stealing it back.
And you think about what it was going to be like. You would call up your parents, tell them what you had decided. Your father wouldn’t say anything, but you know he will break a little on the inside. He was a shy man who had always rooted for you, and you hate letting him down like this.
Your mother, on the other hand, would have a lot to say, and she would find ways to insert little pieces of advice in between casual conversations. You don’t mind the love, but you do mind the constant reminder.
A sudden brake movement throws you down from the car seat, as the taxi skids to a halt. “What the hell!” you shuffle back up. “I’m so sorry ma’am!” The driver too is out of breath, and you lean up to see through the front screen why you had to stop.
A small ball lies on the street a little way ahead. And a boy – teenager, by the looks of it, sharply running towards it from the sides. The driver had spotted him only a moment too early.
You watch as the boy picks up the ball, and turn to stare at the car in the middle of the road. It’s as if the kid’s eyes are boring into you, and you can’t look elsewhere.
You can’t stop the tears that come, you cannot control the wrenching of your heart, you cannot stop the images that come to your head, of a similar person, of your happy triangle, and the pain of loss. For a split second, your hands trail towards the phone in your pocket, words bursting to be spoken in your head.
“Drive. Please. Take me away.” You half scream, through the blinding tears and pain, drowning the words away.
You rush to the little balcony attached to the living room, as you hear the rattle of the raindrops on the window-roof. You quickly pull off the sheets and clothes drying on the lines in the balcony, cursing inwardly about weather cheating you again. “Sunny day, my foot. They’ve gone clean mad in the forecast department, they have,” you murmur under your breath as you run inside, clear of the pelting rain, assessing the clothes. Most are fine, only the smaller shawl is a little damp.
You lay the damp shawl on a chair and proceed to dump the clothes on your bed. This day – or rather, night, hasn’t been going well. Firstly, the tasks listed are still undone. Then, the food in the house has run out, and you are both hungry and angry, at yourself, for not going for grocery shopping earlier in the day. Lastly, you’re mad and this is just a horrible, horrible day, because it’s the date in the calendar that you wish never existed.
You go back to the window, mechanically, to stare at the outpour, to drown the pain and the misery and the – oh, the sheer agony.
Because you don’t know why you still go on existing, even when all the meaning of your life died two years ago today, and you have no idea what you have been doing for any day past that one day.
You feel you are alone in the world, and yet, that nagging voice in your brain has kept telling you, about an another, who faced what you did, who sits where you do and you feel ashamed, about – about the road you took, leaving someone else’s agony in the dust of your escape.
You wonder, if you should – try to find out, try to call, to talk, to say all the things you had thought about, through the two years, to apologize, to run back, to put it all back together – and you chock at the last thought, because you know you can never get back that what has crossed the veil.
You contemplate the height from the window to the ground and wonder if you would survive the fall, as you have many times before. You stand up, leaning outside the window, and imagine letting yourself go, into the freefall, and into blissful forgetfulness.
Suddenly, you tilt dangerously out, swinging out of the window, and your hands grip the frame of the window so tightly that it hurt you. Your breathing turns heavy and spluttered as you balance yourself back and withdraw back into the house.
And your stomach turns with disgust - even through all the pain and agony of loss, despite the needles under your nails and burning below the skin, you still don’t want to die, not truly.
This has been a good day, you think. You had woken up early, gone to work, had no one nag you about work. You had had a nice coffee in the small place by the office, come home listening to songs on your phone, had a nice quiet meal with some randomly funny show blaring on the TV – in all, a comfortable day.
You turn out of the kitchen, having cleared up, and then remember – you haven’t collected the mail. You run down to the mailbox, and pick up the five-six envelopes. The card bill – you don’t open that. The phone bill – you peek at the number – sounds about right. Another about some office paperwork due, promotional pamphlet, the monthly installment of a magazine, and –
You almost bump into the door of your own house, at the name of the sender on the cover. You push the door absently, entering the room and sinking into the sofa. The rest of the mail falls down to the ground, as your trembling hands open the envelope, and draw out a single folded page, words written in a slanting, but unsteady hand on one side of it.
How are you?
Stupid question to ask, I know, but one must start somewhere. I bet you’re thinking about why I am contacting you, through a letter, instead of a phone call, or a message, or your parents. Or why I’m contacting you at all.
Ani’s group, they’re having a program in his honor, in a month – on the date of –
They are performing all of Ani’s writing, and they want me – us, to be there. They wanted to talk to you, to invite you to come for the evening to their event.
I didn’t know what I should tell them. They begged me to talk to you or give them your number. But I didn’t know what you would say to them. So this letter, because I could not disappoint them. They want to display their love for Ani, they want to remember him and cherish him. That is something I would never want to take away from them.
But I couldn’t face calling you myself. Or messaging. I bet you aren’t so enthusiastic about hearing my voice either. I apologize for this letter, for intruding into your life again, and I and the boys will understand if you can’t make it to the event. It’s perfectly alright.
You read the letter so fast it makes you dizzy. You barely remember it, focussing on the ink spots in the letter, the scratched words, but mainly on the signature scrawled at the end, in shaky hands. He had scratched something at the end, before his name, and you know it had been ‘yours’.
Yours. Mine. You say those words in your head until they lose all meaning, and you begin to laugh hysterically. Mine. Yours. Who in the end, is anyone’s, you think; and that sad, sullen thought suddenly seems funny to you. Yours, you had once said, before you took that away. And now you laugh like a maniac, with a fire of regret starting in your heart -
And then the tears begin to flow, as you spot yourself on the floor with the fallen mail, clutching his letter, and feeling like you were a lie yourself. Like a ghost or a shadow of someone who used to exist.
Once you calm down, you re-read the letter, this time really taking in the words.
You know, in your heart, somewhere deep down you were glad that this letter came in. you also know you don’t have it in you to respond to the invitation.
You know you would not survive reliving memories of Ani, Ani who would have been taller than you today. He had already reached your height. He would have taken his band, his writing, his words higher. He would have found love one day.
And he hadn’t gotten to do anything of it.
You sigh, and lean back into the sofa, letting the letter drop down to the floor. For hours, you stay there, with a strange emptiness in your brain.
You swing in through the door, and your eyes glance at the large clock in the living room. You had arrived late enough to warrant a short stay, but not seem like you avoided the party altogether.
Ever since the letter from Neal had arrived, you had been on an auto-pilot mode with the rest of your daily schedule, arriving at work and leaving without much engagement. Your co-workers had noticed, but they knew what month it was, and that it was hard for you.
But this party was for the oldest team member, and it would have been very rude to not show up. So, there you were, with a perfunctory greeting to the host, an average cheerful countenance in front of them all, slinking off into a corner with a drink in your hand.
You gaze at all the people at the party, one by one, wondering if they were really happy as they appear tonight, at this moment. Whether they truly feel sad that their colleague was retiring, or it was just social binding that brought them here. Were any of them hiding a sorrow like yours?
You spot the guest of honor coming towards you, and hurriedly change your expression befitting to the occasion. “Hello, JJ.” You smile a small smile.
“Hey, what are you doing over here by yourself?” JJ, the oldest woman in the office, with a kind face and strict pace, leaned on the wall by her. The crowd was a little sparse now, but no one was paying keen attention to her or JJ.
“Nothing, oh, just a little out of it, I guess.”
“Is it –
“yeah.” JJ knew about Ani, the anniversary coming up, mostly everything.
“What are you going to do?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Besides, It’s your party. We should be talking about what you are going to do.”
“Tell you a secret? Even I don’t know.” JJ laughed a little. “I thought I should retire because frankly, I have nothing more to give to the office. Maybe I’ll find out what’s left after all these years of giving.” JJ spoke with a tone of experience.
You stare at JJ, the woman who always had answers. You wonder if she had the answer to your problem. “Tell me, JJ. What should I do?”
“I don’t know if you should go. But if you did, do it for Ani. Do it to make yourself feel better, to move forward – not to fall down into a pit again.”
You look away from JJ, trying to blink back tears. “I wish –
“I wish I hadn’t left.”
You look around the little hall, chairs arranged a little chaotically to one side, and open floor on the other side. The stage was filled with instruments; three young men were rushing in and out to the backroom, bringing out wires and mics and other things.
You tremble with every step you take.
Maybe I should go, you think, with another step.
It’ll be okay, you tell yourself. Next step.
Is – Neal here? Your gaze darts all over the room, as you take one more step.
You settle finally, at the back of the room, leaning against a wall, eyes on the stage. The room is blinking soft lights focussed on the stage, so the audience is in partial darkness, and therefore you are unnoticed.
The hall fills slowly; the lights blaze up the stage, the music starts.
You listen, crying, and laughing, and crying at the songs, the melodies and love of a person beyond reach, yet who was touching your heart.
It is during the last song you notice someone else, sniffling a little loudly, at the other corner near the door. And you don’t need lights to recognize the features once etched on the memory.
You watch him, and not the song or singers. You follow his actions, right from wiping away the tears, to going to shake hands with the band, hugging each member in turn, and then slipping away from the crowd.
You know you only have a few moments before he disappears out of this place, where time and past are alive but don’t hurt you so much as they would outside. You need to get to him – to do something, say something, anything to reverse the gears you turned five years ago. To tell him that you are sorry, to abandon him, that he lost a son too, that it wasn't his fault -
But you are frozen to the spot, with the hesitation of five years, with muddled feelings bubbling inside. As he nears the exit, you shake your head, your heart jumps into your throat, and it’s almost as if you can hear Ani’s voice beside you.
“Go, mom. Please, go to him. Speak to him. Something. Anything.”
And if you don’t move now, you know you will regret it, because ever since you have left, you have done nothing but regret.
You shake with the emotions rising, as Ani’s voice floats in your ear. “What will you do? Will you take that one hard step, or will you let the fear swallow you?”