His wrinkled, veins laden hands helped in thrusting him forward as he tried to get up from his sofa. Sending in the old springs inside into action, the sofa followed up with a twang sound; and there he was, looking out to the horizon. An orange hue welcomed his tired eyes, while a slight commotion of light entered the dilapidated room, caressed by specks of dust. His eyes bounced around the perimeter; starting from the gramophone, which had played a melancholic tune since eternity, the clay puppet dressed as a ballet dancer, that piano, accumulating tons of cosmic dust to his violin perched over.
A strange tune played in his mind, one which stayed buried, or rather, was kept buried by him, since it needed both the violin and the piano. That tune was last played, ten years back! What was all this? Why was his mind playing tricks with him, convincing him to play that tune?
This insurmountable urge to play the tune, drove him mad as he stood his ground, fighting within himself, to prevent his soul from reaching for the violin, it won’t be possible to stop himself after that. As beads of sweat started to form on his forehead, he gave in. His hands reached for the gramophone, turning it off, and went out to the violin. He picked it up slowly, and tingled the strings, carefully, assuring himself that they are in tune.After a few seconds, with his eyes towards the horizon now dotted with some migratory birds, waiting for the sun to set and the moon to take its place, he started to play.
The first sounds of the bow touching the strings sent goosebumps all over his body, and as he got engulfed in the melody, he entered a different universe. Their universe. That universe where the violin and the piano played together, happily, ever after. Ever afters are a farce! There’s no such thing as Ever afters! It all ends and becomes a part of the cosmos from where it germinated. His half-closed eyes looked towards the piano stool, where she used to sit, and play along; her eyes on him, a smile across her face. How he missed that. How he missed her!
She, her! Those kohl lined eyes with whom he fell in love instantly during the college days,and as with most first days of blossoming love, he couldn’t speak a word in front of her. But strangely, strangely enough, they bonded, over their love for Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet, and philosopher from Iran. And then the discussions went on and on, and soon a connection was built upon.
His branching thoughts, returned momentarily to the present when his eyes fell on the dusty piano. Mixed emotions took over him, but his hands continued to play the violin. He imagined those fingers of her, thin but beautiful, hit the first note on the piano and it sent shivers down his spine. Almost as if on loop, his mind traversed back to that day when he met her again after a gap of a few days. That was the day, the day he realised he cannot live without her.
The audience clapped as he looked across the hall. The lights sharpened slowly, the audience gradually became visible. The claps echoed, bringing in a strange humming to his ears. His eyes searched for another pair of eyes. Eyes that had long been lost, eyes that he hoped to see today, sights that would give his play a meaning; eyes, which are the inspiration behind all this.
It’s so silly of him to search for her in the crowd of over a hundred people. A hundred people! That is actually a fantastic response. The capacity of the hall hovered around one hundred twenty. Those extra seats were for critiques from the eminent art societies of the city. He hoped they liked the play too.
The play is the same old story. A boy and a girl who fall in love, things become complicated, and it doesn’t end up in a happily ever after. But what he has tried to bring into it is inspired by his own life, the real and raw emotions.
It is because of Rumi that he had met her. The mutual love for the philosopher gave birth to their own love story, which grew stronger with time, and probably became too strong for its own good, shattering really hard thereafter.
Shattered the heart, yes. Wounded, too. And the wound is the space where the light enters. He grieved for a while, but his love for directing plays continued. Anything that you lose comes back in another form, Rumi says.
As the audience dispersed, he stood by the corner. He was happy with the play. He looked towards the set he had built on the stage, that would now be broken down. All the world’s a stage, we are just some players, having our own entries and exits. He smiled.
She probably did not come. But he had a tinge of this hope, a belief that despite everything that had happened, she would come. This was the first time his play had gone public, with a larger audience.
His thoughts played along, his heart tried to make him believe that yes, she had come; definitely, it’s only his eyes that can’t see her.
Soon, the hall, which was filled with claps a while back, turned eerily silent with only a handful of people left, closing down the premise.
He heard a knock. Faint. And then another, a little louder. On the wooden window frame to his opposite. The sepia lights spread a strange hue throughout the place, and he didn’t quite understand what it was. He went closer and stopped at a distance, bewildered.
She saw him. Standing on the stage. Humbled by all the applause. But his eyes. Seeking for something. Someone. Somewhere. Was it her his eyes were seeking? Did her eyes seek him back?
Should she go and tell him how beautiful and heart-wrenching the play was. She knew the draft version, which was in the making a few years back, when they were together, but never imagined that to develop into something like this! She felt really proud of him.
She knew he was sure she would come. What if he saw her?After all these years? What will she say? What will he say? What if the barriers break and her tears talk instead? That cannot happen. Things that are buried, times that are long gone, should stay as is.
He was her gentle ruin. And Rumi says, where there’s a ruin, there’s a chance of finding a treasure. And she doesn’t want a treasure, not now. She doesn’t want him to distract him when he’s doing so good!
What if he does better upon being distracted? What if he did this play only for her to see. To come back. To meet him. But lovers don’t meet somewhere, they are with each other all along.
She managed to get out of the hall quietly. Through the glassy wooden window, she saw him standing in the corner, his eyes, still searching. The sepia lights swayed, his face darkened momentarily, and then the light came back on it.
She stood still for a couple of minutes, looking at him. Knock, and he’ll open the door. Vanish, and he’ll make you shine like the sun. Fall, and he’ll raise you to heaven. Become nothing, and he’ll turn you into everything.
She went closer to the window.
There was a moment. When time slows down, when longing eyes meet after a long, long time; realizing the very next second, that this meeting was temporary, that it will pass on as fast as it arrived.
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there’s a field. I will meet you there.”
A cold wind sweeps through the open window, and in a whisker, his mind returns to the melancholic tune the violin made him play. His hands continued to play, and his ears kept hearing those imaginary fingers dance on the piano. It made his heart beat faster. This tune, which they loved to play together, which he avoided after she left, wary of the auditory hallucinations that would punctuate each note of his violin, sent another round of shivers down his spine. The memory of when their marriage broke, that fateful day when they were in court for signing the divorce papers, pulsated stronger shivers all over him.
The typewriter made the clickety click noise as the typing continued. A strange kind of sadness engulfed him. He thought, what if the typewriter could resist whatever was getting typed. What if, it could harden the keys so that hitting the buttons ended up nullifying everything with no words written. But that won’t be possible.
Just then, that tinge of pain, on her lower abdomen, crept up, threefold with a vomiting sensation near her throat. It was unbearable, to the point of not being able to stand properly. The Judge, already tired of the day’s proceedings, gave them a look of dismay, when they requested him to stop the process then and there, before calling a taxi, to urgently rush to the hospital. Later, it turned out to be a case of food-poisoning. She couldn’t decide whether she should blame the Chicken Roll from a roadside eatery last evening, or not.
That incident, somehow made them forego the divorce process, deciding to stay separately, meeting sometimes, if needed. They did not have any child in those three years that they stayed together. Slowly,work kept them so busy, communication started to lessen, probably in the best interests of both and a moment arrived when they didn’t know where the other person was.
How strange is the mind? It can make one travel to those intricacies of life, which were left behind, in some dark hole, thinking they won’t be dug anytime again. And yet, the violin and the mystical sound of that piano coalesce, managed to sprung open those memories.
He kept in sync with the notes of his violin, despite his mind wandering, another memory suddenly came in, it was of that day, when he received a letter after five long years of not staying in contact.
Barman woke up when the bell rang. It was almost three in the afternoon. Winter noons have made him lazier than ever. He drove off the quilt with considerable reluctance and got up; the bell was still ringing. He held his stick and answered the bell with a sharp voice and slowly went towards the door scanning through piles of furniture stacked up in his house.
There was a postman outside, yes, a postman. He was middle aged, seemed a little irritated and as he opened the door, handed him the letter and rode off in his cycle without speaking a single word. His side bag dangling on his left shoulder and his cycle bell ringing at the shrillest possible tone.
Hari stood in front of the Chief Operating Officer.
“Sir, this is the bunch I got the other day. A few of these letters were lying in that almirah for a lot of years. Somehow they had not been delivered. Most of them couldn’t stand the test of time; except one, which is still readable to a large extent. I was thinking of giving it another chance and delivering it to the intended recipient. If the address could be tracked, that is. I needed help with the address since it’s almost invisible over here.”
“Show it to me.”
Hari forwarded the shambled, yellowish grey piece of paper.
“How on earth is this still readable? This is unbelievable.” The Operating officer was bewildered. He then looked closely at the address, and in about thirty minutes managed to have it out.
“Hari, just go and drop it off without saying a single word. We don’t know what this letter holds. Anything can happen.”
“Yes, Sir.” He took the letter, put it in a fresh envelope and left.
Barman opened the envelope. He was going to throw it away but changed his mind at the last moment. It had a yellowed piece of paper, which looked really old. He searched for the specs and went into sunlight and tried to read it.
His hands shook as he finished reading. His heart started beating faster, and he felt like the earth would open and suck him in. Bringing his microscope to see if the handwriting was what he thought it was, and it was; he sat there, a blank expression criss-crossing his face.,
The letter lay on his shawl covered body and his trembling hands held the microscope, which, due to the instability, fell into the ground and broke into multiple pieces of mirror. Barman could see his tear-stricken eyes, some part of them at least, in one broken piece. He started to re-read the letter, dated around a year and a half back.
I am in shambles without you. My hands tremble as I type this. You know very well, that we are inseparable, we are not meant to be without each other. Yes, you might think of this as a cheesy monologue, but I mean it, really. I went to your home, at the address I had but you were not there. Did you ever try searching for me? Or has your heart hardened to such an extent, that you have stopped feeling anything about me? Can we meet, please, when you’re back? I need this. You know where to find me.
He didn’t hesitate for a second, and took the next train to his city, to his love. He cursed the post office for all the delay. A shock-wave went through his body. Why did she not contact him after that, why? Trying hard to shove away the negativities, his eyes remained perched on the fields as the train chugged its course, to his destination.
Barman stood in front of Tilottama’s house, it brought back many memories. The house was locked. He sat on the doorsteps, at the verge of tears.He didn’t know how long he remained shocked, but he instantly regained his senses when a hand touched his shoulders. He looked up, explaining to him everything. That man, in his late 30s probably, handed him an address, which Tilottama had given him before she left.
She knew he would be coming, didn’t she? Borun ran again, towards the address which seemed a bit off to him. His eyes remained perched on the hoarding when he reached the place. As lumps coagulated inside his throat, he reached the reception area, and asked for her. After a few questions, to and fro, the person asked him to follow her to the garden slowly.
There she was. She looked sick, and sad. Her skin seemed to have aged so much in all these years. Tears formed around his eyes, blurring his vision momentarily as he reached towards her.
Tilottama looked at him, her eyes full with love and surprise. She simply couldn’t believe he was standing before her; she touched his forehead, caressing his brown and white hair lovingly, he could see her eyes go from moist to generating blobs of tears, zigzagging through the creases old age had brought on her face.
Time stood still, and so did they, not speaking a word, just looking into each other’s eyes. They couldn’t believe this, both of them in the middle of the street
Before he could say anything, Tilottama spoke first,”Listen, it’s raining outside, please don’t venture out cycling. Please stay indoors.”
“Dementia,” came a voice from the back. It was from a nurse.
“She remembers almost nothing. It’s deteriorating too.”
As the others took her away, she looked at Barman, smiled the Tilottama smile and disappeared inside.
Barman knew he had to ease her pain anyhow. Now was the time. Time for redemption. At least try to ease the pain she had been carrying with her all her life. Maybe stay around her.
He looked on towards the bustling street, a tram car passed ringing its bell.And he stayed back, near her, for her. With all that was going on with her, he wanted to be by her side,and try to help her.
He stopped playing his violin for a while. Panting, he felt a sharp pang jolt throughout his body. But strangely, the sound of the piano seemed to increase threefold, reaching for that final climax, before the audience would clap and the stage lights would slowly come back. His mind played with the memories; this time around, about the last major incident involving them. It was from one of those days when she had recognised him momentarily. And that day was the best in his life!
“Do I know you? Why have you come to meet me?”
These two questions reverberated in loops inside his head as his eyes kept staring, blankly at the pine trees, fluttering in the wind. Slow, steady winds which then increased their pace, making the pine trees sway vigorously, and along with them his mind swayed to the two questions. He remembered those tiny specific details of what she liked and what she didn’t. How she loved it when he made hot garlic soup for her every day. How he cleaned up the room, every single day. How he made her wear her shoes and even tied her shoelaces before their evening walk to the garden nearby. How he wiped her face after she ate her food.
He strolled down to his room, their room which was now devoid of her presence, something he immensely missed. Everything seemed empty; he only wished to hear her laughter, his heart longed to hear it more so now, in this eerie silence. Her smile had always been a breath of fresh air, like when a stream of flowing water gushes down the waterfall, her smile evoked that kind of energy. How he missed it all.
He looked at their photos, carefree, happy, content and funny! The photo albums stayed open on his bed as she slept.
He woke up and looked at the calendar; it was February 14th. Today’s the date of the visit. It was raining heavily and with a flower bouquet in hand, he stood in front of a huge signboard,which read,”National Institute for Alzheimer’s studies and Hospitals”.
Tilottama, his Tilottama is here for three more months. And she has failed to recognise him even once. He still feels he should have been careful enough to understand the onset of this disease in its nascent stages. Slowly it dug deep into her till one day she failed to recognise him! It was the most shocking thing he had ever heard. It shook him. And then they were here.
He clutched the bouquet hard, and he moved towards Tilottama’s room. He remembered that even during his visit last week, as he was tying her shoelaces she looked at him, a bit irritated, and said,”Who are you?” He had smiled sadly,looked down and tied her shoelaces.
He had been tying them for her since they got married. She never did that herself. And every single time after the shoelaces were tied, she complained that it was too tight and Borun had to re-tie it again! This was a regular routine. Borun loved it! Always.
He kept his positivity going. That day, being the day of love, he wished for something happy from her! He prayed!
Tilottama was sitting in her room, staring outside. Her lips moved to an unknown prayer or even a song. She turned towards Borun as he entered but her expression stayed stiff. Borun smiled happily and handed her the bouquet. She took it, smelled the flowers and kept it aside. Borun kept looking at her. Her face seemed crooked and criss-crossed with lines, but her eyes, still beautiful, were searching for something, like always.
Borun sighed and took out her shoes from the closet. It was time for their walk. He pulled her legs towards him slowly, putting socks on her right foot and then lovingly, pushing them into the shoe. He then tied the shoelace, his heart beating faster.
“Do I know you? Why have you come to meet me?” Tilottama said, a little irritated! Borun stopped for a second, and continued. It has become a habit now, listening to that sentence. He pulled her left foot towards him now. Her face was affixed at him.
“Why do you always fasten the shoelaces so tightly, Borun, I can’t even walk properly.”
Borun looked up at her.
As a group of men barged through the room, on the ground, lay this old man, his face on the floor, broken particles of an instrument splattered around the room, and a thin line of blood flowed across to the corner where a piano lay still, watching over the room. Soon the old man was in an ambulance, and as the siren slowly faded into the horizon, an eerie silence took over the entire room, which, minutes earlier, had enjoyed the concert of an artist, playing the notes of his entire life, probably for the last time.
Somsubhra is an IT engineer, finding time, rather trying to find time to scribble something every day. He loves the smell of fresh rain and staring into the sky and old buildings. He has a small WordPress blog where he writes fiction sometimes, and has published some poetry on Medium. You can find him on: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.