Sunday, 24 May 2015

The Night Before Wedding

Elina wanted to see Neel that day.

Ok, yes - one last time, if you insist. That famously infamous “one last time” – times, when that man up there, if at all, rolls his one last turn of the dice. And then, just with that single roll, the game can even change! True, even if it is just the day before.

It was the day before, just the day before. She was asking him to come.

Neel thought over it again, and yet again.

-          I understand you want to meet me, Eline, but can we not make it sometime sooner?

-          No Neel. I want to see you that very day.


Eline had said in a very cold, confident tone, punctuating after every single word of the sentence, as if to put in it a word of finality as she spoke. Neel could hear her silent smile in the way she breathed out the words. He was uncomfortable; she knew he would be uncomfortable.


-          Well, you understand I’d be, er, a bit occupied just the day before. There’ll be a long list of items that would chase me I can imagine – flowers, lights, decorators, grocery… Eline, I don’t know how I can make it!

-          Well… - she waited, and said nothing more.

-          Why can’t it be some other day, Eline? Like, any day, any day that you pick, in the whole of next week? – He tried on.

-          I’d want to meet you that day. That’s all I ask for, Neel. Won’t you? For me? This one last time, Neel. Please!

Elina had quickly hung up right after. Though she had maintained her compose through the conversation, her voice was close to giving up; her throat choked as she muttered those words.

The call was brief, of just about two and a half minutes. And long, very long, after they had spoken the last time. Eleven months, to be precise. Does Neel remember how long it has been like she does, Elina wondered. She keeps thinking of him and wondering if he remembers of them and of her as much as she does. And then, somehow, Neel could also figure that. Only, he doesn’t know how to deal with that!

He had thought long and hard before he agreed; or wait, did he? – Neel wondered still. But then, she said she was asking for it, and, she had hardly ever asked him for anything!

It was precisely ten minutes later, that Elina had received a brief, curt text message on her handheld. It said –

“6 pm. Seventeenth January. As YOU want it.”

Elina did not feel a conquest like she thought she would.

Isn’t it strange how we define our momentary victory by those small little measures of binary outcomes – will I get him to say a “yes” or not –of things that can neither be measured nor won? Elina thought she’s like to think of his acceptance as something she fought hard for and won for herself; and yet somewhere, somewhere deep inside, it pained to see it finally granted. That, he is giving in; that, he is losing to her.

He was losing, and to her? She’d let him win always, didn’t she?


xxx


It was six past twenty when Neel rang the bell at the door. Elina answered it almost immediately, as if she was leaning on a door waiting to hear him come. He pushed the door in, without looking into Elina’s eyes as he would always do earlier, when he came home and they were together.

Neel looked around - the room looked just as it always was. Newspaper and magazines scattered on the center table, the brown legged one with a ceramic green top for its surface. The curtains however looked changed. Last as he can remember, Elina had dismissed him when he had said they should do the upholstery afresh - most of the things they had were second hand and shabby, bought out of tuition earnings they both could put together - now that they had jobs. Elina had wanted to do them herself. She had showed him her rejected dupattas and bedsheets, and some old sarees from her mother’s wardrobe, which she wanted to stitch into colourful collages that would make for a heavy layer of curtains. Elina always had a thing for artwork; she would find the pettiest of the things, often recycled, and put glue and acrylics and beads on them and transform them into magical keepsakes. The house was once filled with things she had handmade, and often as friends visited, she’d gift them away and make new ones soon after. Knowing Elina, he expected the room to change looks every fortnight. She had always been passionate about it, and went about trying every small thing that would make the house their home, a special place, in every way. 

However, the curtains he could see now looked very minimalistic - clearly bought off the shelf, looked like on discount, doscoloured items - cheap and bland. As Neel looked around in the room, the sofa, the short coffee table, the water jug atop it – they all looked just the same as they were when he left.

No, wait! The flower vase that would always, almost always, hold the fresh products from the tiny garden in the balcony, now stood barren.

Curious, Neel peeped into the balcony through the glass window and as he somewhat already expected, the flower pots stood empty and dusty. The soil in them had the yellow of the sand of the deserts, and in a few of them, some dry stems stood like sticks dug into the sand. They held no leaves or flowers. They haven’t been cleaned, watered, or looked after in anyway, it seemed. He looked up at the rest of the balcony, and they had the similar look of a desert – not by the weather or colour but by the feel that it carried.

It seemed to him that Elina cared no more for the home she once so loved; or was it that he wanted to believe so?

Elina stood at the door for quite a few minutes, waiting and hoping that Neel would finally take his eyes off the furniture in the room and take a look at her; the few minutes seemed long and eventually rude. Neel kept looking at the room as if he was making a mental note of things that have remained and those that have changed, ever since he had moved away eleven months back.

She understood, and she decided to leave him alone with the house for a while; walking away to the kitchen in tiptoes, guilty as if she was the intruder between the house and him.

Several minutes later, Neel finally seated himself at the sofa across the hall, a decent five feet away from where Elina would come and sit when she walks in, as he knew.

Geographical distance! Yes - howsoever superficial that may sound to others, it will help. He had resolved in his mind he would maintain a distance.

And then, she finally walked in, with a steaming coffee mug in her hand.

Heck, that’s mine! – He quipped, before he could think whether he should. Almost immediately, he also realized that these were the first words he spoke since he has entered the house. But then, it indeed was his coffee mug, and he felt strangely possessive of it in a sudden.

To tell the fact, they had got two coffee mugs customized for themselves, with each others’ picture and name on it. And even if their household that once was had very few rules to abide by, this was one - and a rather strict one at that. That, they’d have their own coffee mugs, irreplaceable and non transferable! Even if they were on no talking terms otherwise, this, as a rule, had stayed between them. That they always drank coffee from their own mug, and that would have the picture of the other one. Always! Indisputably!

But then - that was when he used to live there. In this apartment!

-          I am sorry – he tried to ease out the sudden spur. You know how I was so used to this cup!… - he fumbled. He smiled. Poor try!

-          Yes, you remember? – Elina smiled back.

-          Yes, surely. And, I’m sorry, Eline. You may use it of course.

-          We fought like siblings over these cups when they had just arrived, remember Neel?

-          Uh, yes. I do.

There was something in Elina’s tone that finally made him comfortable and easy - to settle down, and to converse.

-          Want some coffee, Neel?

-          Uh.. okay!

           
But then, he reminded himself yet again - he must appear normal, courteous yet cold, and steady. As if, as if, the many memories with her, with the house, those times - they could do nothing to him today.


She walked back to the kitchen to get him coffee. Bare feet, he noticed.

-          Wear a sandal or at least some socks, Eline. The weather’s tricky.

He had shouted those words behind her before he realized that it was none of his business anymore. And yet again, he had let out what he shouldn’t have.

-          I’m fine, Neel. Don’t worry for me.

Her voice was normal, too normal. She sounded unintimidated, calm, soothed. And that stood quite in contrast to his apprehensions and secret.. uh.. he cannot tell what it was. Blame, some melancholy, or a score to fix?

What was he worried about, by the way? Was he vulnerable himself?  Did he feel he could lose it at a stroke of instigation, if she so pleases? - He tried to ponder. No way! There should also be some rule written somewhere on this. That, one cannot feel emotionally vulnerable the evening before your wedding. One, plain, cannot!

And more - Eline didn’t exactly ask for anything from him that could make him uncomfortable.

Actually, she never did ask for anything, did she?


Minutes later, she had walked back to the drawing space again - this time, with two mugs in her hand. One, the earlier one - freshly washed and filled to its brim with the most magical coffee that anyone he knew ever made; he had to give it to her. In another hand she held a new cup - one that he didn’t know existed in the kitchen from the times that he knew the kitchen like his own. It was a plain one, an atypical white, small, roundish one that hotels serve coffee or tea in, in their room service.

Knowing Elina, the colourless, ordinary, average looking cup reeked of the change she’s undergone.

Perhaps, as it seemed, she doesn’t want to use a cup with his picture on it anymore; and given that, she couldn’t care less for how her cup looked. Or, was it him who wanted to believe so?

He looked back at her to see if she was trying to guess what he’s thinking.

She smiled. Gently.

-          Eline, I had loved you. – He found himself saying to her.

-          I know!

-          More than you possibly know, or can think of.

-          I know that, too. - She smiled on.

-          So, why did you want me here?

-          Because, well, I thought.. I don’t know!

-          I want to know, Eline. I’m asking you! – He sounded a little impatient. Exasperated. He got up from his seat and stepped forward, close enough so that she could reach him if she stretched her arms. With each step, he felt clumsy, and constantly aware that he had resolved not to go weak as he met her today. A part of him reminded him, warned him, to remember what maybe the other part of him fought back, struggled to forget.


Eline stood up and faced him. There was still this small distance between them, one that separates two strangers when they say goodbye and part - no, not in movies or in novels, but in real life. She glanced at him, thoroughly from his feet to his face as if she was checking him out; and finally, she looked him into his eyes.

-          I’m sorry, Neel. I forced you to come today. I know it was inconvenient.

-          That’s fine, Eline. But tell me, would you?

-          I don’t know, I can’t tell – she fumbled for words, and in a soft voice. You know Neel, I am having this funny feeling. For quite some time, you know! That I needed to cry. But then, I could not. I tried, I tried very, very hard. I pinched myself, I hurt myself with a knife. I hit my head hard against the wall, I slammed the door over my toes. Nothing helped, Neel. I could not. I need to cry, Neel. But then, I cannot cry other than to you, ever. Just let me cry it out once; will you?

She choked as she took that final step to reach him, and placed her face on her chest, like she’d always, always do, until only eleven months back.

He believed her as she said that. He had always known how whimsical, irrational and yet helpless his little girl was.

“I’d belong to you for the rest of my life - even if you go away” – she had once said, a long time back. And Neel couldn’t tell why, in all of a sudden, and of all memories good or bad, that one moment flashed in his eyes as he felt her wet face against the cotton of his short. It came back to him as suddenly, and as unprepared, as the moment that she had told him this; abruptly, inside a crowded, very crowded, metro coach where at least seven other people who were standing with not just their toes but more of their body parts upon both of them every time the train jolted a jerk. Those guys had turned their neck around, unsure if they had heard it right what they heard, and whether it was even possible for such a scene to happen at the place that they were in – a packed office time ride on a metro on a busy, morose, melancholy, incessantly raining monsoon morning. And then Elina had repeated what she had just said, in her characteristic matter of fact, steady, composed voice. Neel, do you hear me? I am saying, I’d belong to you for the rest of my life - even if you go away.” Neel was looking at his toes; half wishing he could vanish from the spot to save the embarrassment. But then, there she was, and here, he was. And, there they were, the whole crowd, gaping at both of them and figuring out if they at all heard what they heard two times over.

The thought, as it always did, made him smile.
-          Eline, remember that metro ride? – he chuckled.

-          Yes. - She softly said, like she has been doing ever since he stepped into the house today.

-          Eline, say?

-          Yes?

-          Eline, why did you ask to meet me today? Please, I want to know! Why today?

-          I don’t know, Neel I just don’t know!

-          You have to tell me. You owe me an answer, I guess! Don’t you think so?

-          But I honestly do not know, Neel! Trust me, will you? I think.. I think.. I think I could be jealous. I wanted to test my power on you. Or maybe not! But I cannot exactly tell. And you know what? Then, suddenly, I also started feeling very nervous.

-          Nervous?

-          Yes, nervous!

-          Nervous of what?

-          That, you’re getting married. I don’t know! I was nervous. I was not sure how I’ll be able to take it. Not sure if I’d be able to take it. If I’d be able to cry it out. If I cannot, you know..

-          What?

-          You know how it works with me! I get all pent up and then I sink and then.. I don’t know! I just thought I’d not be able to deal with it alone.

-          But Eline, look at me. Baby, you had asked me out. You had said you didn’t want me anymore. You must have got over me. Haven’t you, Eline?

-          I don’t know. I can’t tell.

-          Baby.. look at me.

-          I cannot. I feel too guilty.

-          Guilty?

-          Yes. I did it. It was me.

-          Eline!

-          Don’t! Let me speak. I owed you myself. I failed. I feel terrible, Neel.

-          Okay, listen to me.

-          No. I just feel so wrong. What right did I have to…

-          Okay, I understand. I understand how you feel. So, what do you want me to do now?

-          I needed to see you, Neel. Because, you can do it. You, alone, of everyone else in the world. You, only, can.

-          Do what?

-          Make me cry! Make me cry this one time, Neel. Please! I don’t want to sink again.


As he walked up closer to her in small, slow steps, she continued to jerk her head and repeat her last sentence several times in a strange, hoarse whisper. His resolve melted just as he feared it would. He came close, very close, and held her tightly into his chest.

-          Okay, here I am. All yours. Cry, baby?

And as strangely as she could never ever break down by herself, she broke down against him. She whimpered, she sobbed, and then she wept aloud. She shrieked and shouted, and wept along. For a long, long time.

She cried like a baby. Finally!



The next evening, Elina brought out her new attire and jewelry which she stored away for the day.

She dressed up; she wore the jewelries, and put on a heavy make-up. Eye-shadows, blushers and mascara, her face came live and glowing. She smiled heartily as she looked at herself in the mirror for a long, long time; mighty pleased, and yet rubbing off one shade of lipstick for another, and changing her red bindi into a bigger one, and then into one yet bigger. Finally, she brought out a packet of sandal powder and mixed in water to make it into a paste; she carefully picked up a thin brush and put the sandal paste in dots and as a line above her eyebrows. It took her a few rounds, rubbing them off and replacing them with a finer design each time.

She took a long, long time to dress up. She was in no hurry! Finally, she stood up to take one final look at the mirror. She seemed to herself the most gorgeously dressed up woman in the whole of the universe.

Only, she never stepped out of the house.