“My gift to you will be a few moments of honest laughter and a little bit of life made easier. The memory of a stolen glance or a moment or two of shared understanding. Maybe a scattered picture or two cropping up in Facebook memories in which we are tagged, standing apart in a group of people. You might sometimes remember some words or turns of phrase that were uniquely mine. And I hope that you will remember me then, sometimes, just a little.”
Swift and crisp were her words. Like the edge of a sheet of paper. Unlike her poems that he had one day chanced upon as she had sat writing them in a corner of the bookstore. Soft, light yet permeating the being as the gentle fragrance of aromatic oil wafted about a room at night.
“On most days, I tried not to think about you too much. I really tried. And about love, and loving you, I tried not to think at all. For love came with unforeseen, unspoken boundaries.
And I could not tie myself down, I really couldn’t. Love found its way into every lyric I wrote, every paragraph of my whimsical, weirdly funny letters and every time I sent you a message to ask how your day was. It found its way into the cups of coffee that I stirred the sugar into at the bookstore for you as you were engrossed in your reading.
It flavoured the extra toppings I added to the pies I baked, hoping you would be the one to partake of them. It found its way into the seemingly random paragraphs that I left underlined for you in the books I lent you to read. In the hope that you would decipher some of my words among the ones written by others. Love found its way into the numerous times I reminded you to take your umbrella from the store or not to leave a book behind. The number of times I ran back, on some pretext or another, to talk to others at the store but, in reality, for another fleeting glance of you. The one and only time I timidly put my hand forward to adjust the scarf around your neck, my fingers barely brushing the fabric and accidentally grazing the skin of your neck. I was so scared then. That the touch of my fingers would betray my feelings for you. I was at once relieved and yet unhappy that you didn’t notice. Why had I always had contradictory feelings for you when the one true emotion I felt never wavered, and showed no signs of doing so? I tried, really tried, to close my doors and windows to love, stifle my feelings in the sultry evenings. To ensure that love didn’t sway the glass wind chime in my window, to tinkle my feelings away for the world to see. To sublimate them in my art. Believe me, I really tried. But love sometimes found its way into my eyes and even if you didn’t notice, I was afraid others would. And I couldn’t let that happen, I really couldn’t. Because love dashed against boundaries, borders and conditions as the waves crashed against the rocks alongside the promenade. Yes, I know I used a cliché. Because aren’t all stories of love and loss clichéd?
It is such an irony. Do you remember I was always a stickler for originality? The only time I spoke up in your presence, with a great degree of passion, was when I expressed my views on art, and originality in art. To not consciously imitate. You must have felt I was rather unforgiving in my demeanour: This obsession for simplicity and honesty over stereotypes, any day. And yet, here I am, using cliches to describe the degree of insurmountability that my love for you has come up against. The one thing powerful enough to move me out of my complacent, introverted existence.
And yet it is not this fact that bothers me. What bothers me is the fact that these barriers are not to be scaled or to be mentioned. And yet I tried.
Not to let it show when you appeared. Or began spending less and less time at the store. I couldn’t take the empty corner any more…
I loved the books. I loved the paintings of the beaches that I made for the wood-panelled walls. I loved the fact that the store had fresh flowers. Yet I couldn’t take the fact that amid all these, the serious, slightly-troubled life wasn’t present any more…
My love, which flourished among the shelves, continued to grow like the waves at high tide till I was afraid they would bring up things from the depth of the sea. Like my feelings I would rather keep hidden. But I really couldn’t. Not now that I know I have to go. I really have to.”
It took him some time to take in her letter. And all that it contained: The sudden surprising, and yet inevitable, feeling of emptiness. It was written on soft, thin paper, with a light hand, in neat letters. As if the words flowed fast so as to keep pace with the thought. Yet the hand that wrote the letter was far out of reach. Why didn’t he notice her as much as he did the others? He did but she always seemed so contained, as if she was a whole universe within herself.
Unaware of the vastness of the universe, the unforeseen galaxies, he had thought of her as she was, as her name spoke of: a single star. And now the star had burnt out, consumed by the vastness of the galaxy. They say a star that has already reached the end of its life cycle begins to shed off its outer layers. The layers were before him between the lines of the letter. Yet, he could no more trace the letter than prevent a star from dying.
(Alipta Jena is an aspiring writer from Odisha, currently based in Kolkata. A former journalist, she teaches Mass Communications.)