This story was submitted as a part of the Times of India nation-wide writing challenge called WriteIndia in the month of January 2016.
I just like mornings for some reason that I haven’t been able to figure. It’s probably the darkness, the cold, the positivity or just the fact that everything in life needs a perfect beginning, as much as it needs an ideal ending. Whatever happens in between the alpha and the omega is something that we have mixed control over. Way back in first year, in the mornings, I used to come to the library garden once in a while, just to like sit there, with some Steven Wilson playing in my iTouch. That feeling of being in the right place, in that perfect time was magical in its own ways. And that feeling if I had to share with somebody, I could only think of my classmate Alia. I didn’t have other friends with whom I could share something so beautiful. We used to talk in class, and sometimes after class, but very rarely. Our conversations were so classy, and intellectual that there were some times when we came up with ideas which could actually save the whole planet from the apparent apocalypse. Once, in an engineering chemistry quiz, I got a 5/5 but she miserably failed. Seeing her all sad, I offered her help on some basic chemical equations, lest she fails again. Next day, at six in the morning, I reached the library, and the guard had just opened the shutter. The lights were still on, and from black, the sky had just become dark blue. I was sitting on a wall, looking at the incandescent flowers in the garden, thinking that the chirping birds flying around in those trees was the best sight I had ever seen. Suddenly a wind blew, a little fiercer than the already existing breeze, and I felt the universe correcting my previous thought, and asking me to look into the darkness, where that crepuscular street light gave out an almost nonexistent flame. Out of that fog, Alia came out, wearing a white tee and blue jeans. Her long legs, wet hair and a non-Aryan complexion just drove me insane. I couldn’t like fathom that aureate light coming out of her personality at that very point in time. My teensy little crush on her amplified multiple folds. But as she neared, she looked angry. Anybody would be, because it was cold and getting up in the morning just to study for an exam which was a week away, that too in the library was just a freaking bad idea.
Several of those library sessions, classes, labs, projects, coffees, lunches, hangouts, drinking parties and thousands of WhatsApp messages and calls later, I asked her out during a death metal concert in third year. I didn’t think it would work out at all, because she was from a family of Hindu priests and I was a Catholic. But, she took the leap, though into a pit, and said yes. But, what Alia and I had was magical. I had true feelings for this girl and I actually thought we could make this work. She was smart and adventurous. We were unfettered, and did things normal people wouldn’t. We went to this beach once, 1250 kms away from our college on a rented Harley. That trip costed us 11 days, thirty grand in cash and a practical exam. Our hotel even got raided, amidst us running like crazy people. After that, we came back to college and topped our batch in the 7th semester exams. Terms like swag, kewl etc. were just doing rounds that time, and we were the very definition of it. But then after the exams, it suddenly dawned on me, that college was going to get over, and I would not do very well in a long distance relationship. So I decided to have this “talk” with her about it. And when I did, she tried to be cool and let things flow. I even went to the extent of telling my parents about Alia and obviously, they refused. I was so sure, that her ‘followers-of-Lord Jagannatha’ parents definitely won’t approve of a guy with skin complexion as dark as mine, let alone of a Christian family, that I put on this hard covering on me, and went out to a bar with Alia’s roommate Sonia on the day of the batch farewell and we both had more whiskey than we should’ve. All sloshed, Sonia made a move on me, and I reciprocated. The drive back with Sonia also didn’t end so well, as she ended up running her car over a dog and hitting a lamp post. When Alia heard about my effrontery, and she left me without saying a word, two days before college ended. But I was destroyed by the turn of events, even though I vaguely anticipated it. I came back home, cried for hours, and almost tried to hurt myself, but Sonia intervened and I didn’t. But by the time, my engineering got over, a huge part of my quiddity, my very being also ended with it. Sonia and I have been best friends since and even though I took time, I healed.
Did I just summarize my college life in a paragraph? So fast forward four years: after a master’s degree in New York, and while working in a real estate firm in Lancashire, I found myself coming back to India again for the first time after college. I had never heard about or from Alia again. I was kind of surprised that she had forgotten me so soon. But then I found Kylie, a bartender. She was a blonde, and had a valley accent. Okay, let’s not even go there! But honestly, this India journey was a nervous one, because I had been seeing Alia in my dreams, in my hangovers and in my occasional subconscious hallucinations. Anti- depressants had become a part of me and one thing my therapist didn’t want me to do, is to go to India.
After landing in Delhi, I stayed at a hotel until my next flight and it was still dawn when I stepped out the cab and walked towards the entry gate of Delhi airport. The early morning February air was pleasantly cold. I was travelling to Bengaluru to attend Sonia’s wedding. This wedding was also going to be a reunion of our batch mates. But what I didn’t know was that the reunion would begin much ahead of time; right in the queue in front of the airline counter. I was almost sure it was she. Same height! Same long hair! Same complexion! Curiosity had my eyes glued to her. And then 60-odd seconds later, when she turned, she proved me right. My ex-girlfriend stood two places ahead of me in that queue. We had never met after that college farewell, which didn’t really go so well. I tried to hide, but who was I kidding? She instantly saw me, gawking at her. And out came the words, “Hey Jon, how’s this piercing? I just got this today! “I couldn’t talk. I was just standing there staring at her, and this huge gush of emotions just hit me between my eyes. I don’t know how, but she had her boarding pass, even though she was third in that line, but she waited for me to get mine. It was like she wanted to have a conversation with me. I hadn’t said a thing in five minutes until the silence became awkward. As soon as my boarding pass came, I told her, that she looks beautiful and that her new piercing looked super cool.
Guilt is something you cannot get over. Prisons are made for that single purpose, which is to make people think about the wrong that they have done, by just sitting at one place and think about the decisions that they should’ve differently made. People say time heals your wounds, but the truth is that when time itself comes back to you, those wounds start bleeding again.
As me and Alia went for the security check, we agreed that we’ll meet on the other side. But on the other side, she disappeared. I did not ever see her going inside the frisking room. After five minutes, she was back, though with a latte.
“Where’s your bag? Where’s your money, your boarding pass?” I noticed.
“Don’t worry about it”, she said.
We sat down talking, and she started telling me how her life was, and how she was jobless for the past two years. (She got fired apparently) After she went back home from college, she changed her number and joined the company she got placed in. She blocked me on all social media, rented an apartment in Bangalore, got a tattoo on her neck which said “Carpe Diem” and lived there with Rocky, a Great Dane. She stopped fidgeting with her cup which still had coffee in it, and looked me in the eyes and said, “We lived in the email era, remember? You know I still have more than a hundred mails for you in my drafts folder. But I didn’t want to hurt you Jon, because I realized there was so much hate filled in them. You didn’t deserve it.” I was taken aback. Instantly in my defense, I said, “You should have sent it; I mean I would’ve at least got to know you’re alive. Do you know how much I tried getting in touch with you?”
Almost then, the speaker sounded the boarding of our flight, and we got up and headed to the gate, leaving the coffee there. “Alia, you’ve become so weird and happy now!”, I surmised, while walking briskly with my trolley towards the boarding bus. She didn’t look too happy with this conjecture of mine and said, “You don’t get it, do you? That day, after you kept the phone, all I did was just cry. It’s been more than four years now and emotionally I am still there: right where you left me. I try to hold up a brave face in front of everyone. But behind every smile, there is a part of me, which makes me think about all those conversations that we had and about how life is too convoluted to bring it all back to me.” I felt bad now. I thought to myself, that how could she say all this with a straight face? Because I couldn’t have, for sure.
Surprisingly again, we had adjacent seats. The airplane took off, and I did not say a word. I sat there thinking, that it’s the perfect breakup story that people could gossip about. Guy cheats on the girl, moves on with his life, and girl mourns for him and he still doesn’t care. Who knew the truth, that I loved her even more than myself, even till that very moment? How do I say that to her? I never moved on. I wrote her emails, texts, left her voicemails but it just didn’t happen. Tears started rolling down my eyes. I tried to stop them from flowing, but I couldn’t. She held my hands tight, and said, “Those feelings weren’t lies, I know that Jon. I still haven’t given up on you and on us! I still do literally miss your pathetic sense of humour, your facial hair that doesn’t grow, and your chest where I used to feel so safe. This is the truth, that I can never love anyone the way I loved you! Do you understand?”
I looked at her, and with my hand on her cheek, I told her that I love her more.
“Sir would you like some coffee?”
“Just some water; thank you!”
I told Alia, that I just can’t keep my heart from loving her all the time, because of the simple fact that it was hers to begin with. She disapproved of that, but I insisted that I wanted to continue my life with her. She did not respond, and just looked outside at the morning sun. It was as if those clouds below, yelled back at her, that she had to leave everything behind, and move on and start afresh. She turned, looked at me and just smiled. I held her hand tight, and moving her hair from her face to the back of her ear, said, “I’ll never leave you again Alia, you’re just mine now.” I closed my eyes, and held Alia tight in my arms. She seemed to just have had a swoon, and slept, with a tear still hanging down her eyes.
*thud, and the rumbling of the brakes after landing*
“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru. For your safety, please remain seated with your seatbelt fastened.”
I woke Alia up, and we two came down to the baggage area where she just disappeared into the crowd. Again! I collected my luggage, and my assumption of she being in the restroom was slowly withering away, because it was half an hour she was gone. She didn’t take her luggage too. Or did I phase out again like I do, when on these medicines? One hour passed by, and I came out of the airport all worried. To my surprise, Sonia was there waiting for me. I jumped in happiness, but interrupting that, I asked Sonia that she didn’t tell me that she had called Alia also to the wedding. Sonia’s face turned red, and hiding her penitence, she immediately changed the topic. “What are you talking about? Okay, take this, I finally learnt how to drive, and I am the driving you home today, without hitting any light posts! Come now!” she exclaimed. I asked her to stop, and told her that Alia was inside, and she was on the flight with me. All confused, she sternly asked me to start walking. “Alia travelled with me Sonia, and we got back together. I want to go with her!” I cried. Tears started rolling down Sonia’s eyes, because she understood what was happening. She hugged me tight, and started sobbing loudly and said, “Please don’t hate me for not telling this to you before, but Jon, Alia passed away two years back.”
Life is perpetually a gag reel. No matter what we see, the end product is about how many mistakes we make. What counts is that you hold yourself together when the most unexpected things happen, however impossible it seems. In that airplane, Alia’s eerie behavior, the petty coincidences and those unreal conversations just made sense now. I realized that what I saw and felt wasn’t real, but it was what I wanted to feel. Two years back, Alia overdosed on heroine, and lay dead in her apartment for five days until the police found her dead body. But she has gone to a place, where she is away from all the hurt. I know she looks down at me, with love and just smiles. I know she cares for me. She even flew down, to that airplane, to tell me she still loves me. When I miss her, I just look to the sky, and smile back at her. I have stopped my anti-depressants now, because I realized the fact that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. If you really love someone, just set it free. If it comes back, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it was never meant to be.