Background picture courtesy: The Internet
It was all white everywhere I looked. There was no one, not a single object in sight. Far away on the horizon, the blue of the sky met the white of the ground resulting into a magical shimmer of white rays. I was standing in my all-white kurta. In front of me, Sneha was standing in her red saree, staring at me. A silence hung in the air and nothingness prevailed everywhere. And out of nowhere a gusty wind came and swiped her off of her feet. I tried to get hold of her, but the wind blew her away. I tried to scream. But my voice did not come out. And then my sleep broke. I sat up straight on my bed, with a sweaty body and trembling hands. Nightmares were not uncommon in my working-13 hours a day to meet the deadline-life. But weird dreams about the ex-girlfriend whom I have not met for 8 years was indeed rare. I reached for my watch. It was 4 a.m. in the morning.
The morning clock started its irritating jig at 7.30 am like every other day. I woke up, the second time that morning, cursing the whole damn economic system of the world which compels me to reach office every fucking day. I settled my yawning self on the sofa. My wife had left my tea on the table and went about her daily chores. I opened the newspaper. The front page had Sneha, posing for a luxury watch brand. I was used to seeing her pictures everywhere and passing by as if it was just another brand. After all, when your past flame becomes a celebrity, you learn to live with it. But that day, it suddenly seemed hard to elude her daunting gaze in the picture. At that early hour of the day, a palpitation was rising somewhere inside me. I threw the paper away helplessly.
My wife called me from behind while I was leaving for office. My heart skipped a bit. When I was younger, my grandmother used to forbid me to call someone from behind. She used to say that it brings bad luck to the traveler. Being the practical, rational chap, I have always laughed at the notion until that day when I impetuously uttered, ‘You shouldn’t call me from behind; something bad occurs.’ I rued my words as soon as those came out. My wife shot me a dazed glance. The last thing she would have expected of me was a prejudice.
‘Your speech!’ She handed me a note. It contained a speech which she had written for my award acceptance oration. Yes, it was a special day. I was going to be awarded the title of ‘Employee of the Year’ that day. Hence, I easily identified the rising reverberation in me as a lead up to the event.
I started off. My car halted at the signal. The Monday morning Delhi traffic didn’t seem to move an inch. I looked around with exasperation. The speech was lying beside me. It distressingly tickled the memories of Sneha’s last speech that I had attended in person. She glimmering on the stage, making the world swoon with her words of acceptance of the Filmfare best debut singer award. And I, the ordinary boyfriend from the same business school, was standing there in the crowd, clapping for her.
She gloriously descended the stage with the black lady in hand and walked towards me. Her pace increased with every step. For the last ones, she almost ran and threw herself on me and kissed me. Her eyes twinkled when the kiss broke. So did mine. The paparazzi around captured us in that moment pride and togetherness.
‘Marry me!’ She asked me out of the blue.
‘What?’ I was stupefied.
‘I love you. And I stood there on the stage and saw you shimmering with joy. I knew you love me as much. Hence, Mr., I tell you this. I want to spend rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?’
I looked around. The paparazzi were still clicking us. It was overwhelming. But I was among the rational ones. So I subdued my urge to say ‘yes’ and stated with a calm manner, ‘We’ll talk about it later.’
The car hubbub brought back my senses. I realized the signal has turned green and I was standing still, blocking the way of other cars. With a snort of disgust, I started the car again.
I walked past my office corridor and reached for the doorknob of my cabin. And again my heart thumped out of fear. Something inside myself screamed that Sneha would be inside. I felt helpless. As if her memories since morning were not tormenting enough. Though my pragmatic soul knew I could be wrong (There was no purpose for Sneha to be there), I couldn’t bring myself to open the door. I loitered in the passage aimlessly. After some time, I finally pushed myself to open the door. With a trembling hand, I unlatched it and looked for her. It was empty. A sigh of relief came out along with a realization- it was not any simple nervousness for any award event. Because it felt more complicated, almost to the level of spoofy.
I went inside and took my seat. I was still quivering. I buried my face in my hands, all the while trying to self-diagnose this pulsation. Was it a guilt trip?
My mind traveled back to my college farewell party. Sneha’s presence made that a starry event. Everyone wanted one glimpse of her. I stood in a corner and watched this all. Sneha tried to make her way to me, but photograph requests kept her occupied. After spending most of the evening separately, we found a faint chance to slip out of it together. We took it and soon we were alone, away from all things glittery. She was talking, placing pecks on my shoulders, playing with my hair as I was driving our way back in silence.
We reached her apartment. She was still awaiting my answer to her proposal. I knew both what I wanted to say and what I should say. Unfortunately, those twos weren’t same. ‘We can’t work. We won’t work.’ I had broken my silence for the first time that night.
‘What?’ She stopped removing her scarf midway. Her sexy neck was peeping through it.
I wanted to remove the scarf myself. But my impractically practical mind had other things to say. ‘This “us” is impossible. We are two people of two different worlds. You are the star. I am the follower. The present may seem a beauty, but the future is all blurred. There will be our egos involved and it’ll be a catastrophe. And I don’t want anything bad to happen to us. So we have to, we need to part our ways.’
Overcoming her initial shock, she presented to me a hundred reasons to change my decision. But none was strong enough to deny the reality. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Now that was stronger than any logic or reasons. My eyes moistened as well. I went closer to her and touched her forehead with mine.
‘You’re thinking about the distant future. But what if we don’t last that long? What if I die tomorrow or on someday in the near future?’ She murmured.
‘Don’t talk like that.’ I put my finger on her lips gesturing her to stop.
‘The last face I would want to see is yours. Wouldn’t you want the same?’
Damn it! I could not have let her torment me like that anymore. I hushed her with a kiss. The world, all my empirical knowledge of it, vanished in the thin air. I poured all I had into that kiss like this was the last kiss that is going to be. She did not let that be. She led me to her bedroom, pulled me close and paved our way to another union. Pulling me inside her, she moaned with pleasure while clutching me rigidly. I wondered if her strong grip was somewhat out of fear than pleasure. Afterwards, I held her tightly in my arms till she slept off. Slowly I got up, leaving her there, sleeping. I wrote a note:
I love you and can’t let bad things happen to you, to us. So, for the sake of everything good, I have to go. Take care.
I left the note beside her and turned to leave. But I couldn’t. Her love was pulling me back. I sat in front of her. Seeing her mouth little open during sleep, I smiled. She looked a little like a goddess in sleep. I sat there, sobbed mutely, looked at her and sobbed again. She moved a little in her sleep. My heart raced up. I knew I shall never be able to leave if she wakes up. Silently, I turned around.
I left her naked and ditched. I heard about her hospital visits due to the drug overdose on following days. I wanted to rush to her and held her in my arms. But I never did any of those. I have remained firm in my decision and listened to her countless super hit tunes on heartbreaks till she started writing about the beauty of romance again.
The show anchor invited me to the stage for the Excellency award. The audience, which included all the who’s who of my company, welcomed the gesture with loud applause. I went ahead. There were stairs that led up to the stage. As I walked towards it, everything seemed to blacken out. The stairs seemed as if the way to hell. My body felt so heavy that I couldn’t move. I held the railing firm. I felt the devil’s dance inside me. They were throbbing with joy. I knew something very bad is going to happen that day.
My eyes moistened, my legs shook and my body ached. I still went ahead, being pulled by some unknown force. I reached the stage where my CEO was waiting for me to hand over the memento. I flashed no smile. I exchanged no courtesies. My eyes surveyed the whole crowd for Sneha. My CEO did his part by handing over the gift. But I did not do mine. I uttered no speech. I stood there, frozen. The devil practiced its victory lap. I realized I am going to die that day.
I rushed to the washroom. I stared at my reflection in the mirror. My chin tightened, my heartbeat tripled. The feeling that I was going to die that day increased even more. I hit my head on the wall hoping this feeling would die with the pain. No result. I left the washroom in search of any other distraction, leaving my memento beside the washbasin in ignorance.
I called up my children, wife but couldn’t bring myself to tell them any of it. ‘Take care’ was the phrase I emphasized on. The fear in me went out of control.
I rushed to my car. I wanted to go home, see my family one last time. But as I held the car door open, visuals of a road crash flashed in my vision. I was not a believer. But that day was far away from a usual day. It was when rationality was covering itself in a layer of untold mystery. I refrained from getting into the car. I went back to my cabin. I tried to gather the courage to get up and go home a thousand times. I failed every. And then the clock struck 2 in the night. All of a sudden all the anguish were gone. I got up and started off towards home.
My car stopped at the same signal where I had to halt in the morning. It was a lonely road at that time with very few cars. I looked at my side. An Ashton Martin stopped beside my Honda City. Men and beast- I looked at it and swooned for a moment. To my surprise, the person in the driver’s seat opened the door and turned to my side. It was Sneha! I double checked to see if I was hallucinating. No! It was her in the flesh. She spotted me as well and stared with a blank expression. My heart raced up. The devils started their jig. I knew it was the moment; the last breath of my life.
In a moment, I heard a truck horn at its peak. It was incessant- as if a case of brake failure. My senses stopped working. I couldn’t judge from which direction the car must be coming from. My hands quivered. I couldn’t drive as well. I closed my eyes. So this was how it was going to end? Was this how I was going to be punished for breaking her heart by claiming to have known it all?
And I heard the sound of a crash…
I opened my eyes. I was intact. So was my car. I looked at my side. The truck has hit Sneha’s car causing a blast. I jumped out of the car and ran towards it frantically. I tripped over something. I stopped to take a look at it. It was Sneha’s bloody hand that was lying at a distance from her car. The rest of her body was up there, in the ashes, blazing high.
Her words buzzed in my ear. ‘What if I die tomorrow or on someday in the near future? The last face I would want to see is yours.’
The devil’s dance stopped. All that remained was my frozen, guilt-ridden, bewildered self and a burning car ahead.