by Nitin Dangwal
The curtain hid me from the first light of the day as the dawn broke and lifted the dark veil off the face of the earth. I was lying on the bed, half-asleep since last one hour, wasted from the last night party. I could still feel the smell of Whiskey in my breath. Its stale taste in my mouth. And the memories, which the last night unlocked, in my mind.
I slipped out of the bed and went to the window lurking behind the cotton curtain. I parted the curtain and found an orange disk outlining the eastern horizon of the clear blue sky. A fresh air was blowing. It hit me with the force of the embrace of a young girl who had met her lover after a long long time. I stood there for some time, my eyes closed, and the fresh air expunging the stale air out of my lungs. I felt refreshed.
In front of the mirror, I looked at my messy hair and swollen eyes. A washed out face looked back at me. The face appeared aged since I last looked at it like this. This is not me — I almost said it out loud, before I splashed my face with cold water. I realized I’ve become older.
As I dried my face with a fresh towel I realized there were marks on my neck. I leaned closer to the mirror to have a look at them. Yes, there they were. Two big ones. The proof of my paper thin willpower that gave away under the first test of virtue. The first test of commitment.
Then it all came back to me. The constant laughing. The innocent touches. And all of a sudden I was in a room with this girl I’d met only a couple of hours back. It started with a long suffocating kiss which I knew I didn’t want in the first place. But then the defense melted away as the half-eaten moon appeared from behind the clouds and covered her body in a pale milky light.
We went on and on and on, kept on making love under the moonlight and among the symphony of Four Seasons that somebody had put on loop and forgotten. Leaving us panting, our bodies heaving as the music reached its crescendo and fell down only to rise up again.
I remembered the wave of guilt and shame that washed over me afterward as I slowly picked up one item of clothing after another. I had submitted to my impulses. Bent down to its brute force that knocked my defenses to the longing of a high and euphoria which I know was without substance. Without real love. What had I become, was my last thought as I left her house.
In the kitchen, I found the refrigerator as empty as my life. There was no milk in the carton. Juice cartons emptied to the last drop. Only stale leftover bread from last week. The vegetables rack left with only a mishmash of dried up remains.
In the shelf above, the coffee, too, was all gone. So were the packet of chips and crackers I thought were well stocked. I got out of the kitchen, put a cap and black shades and left the house for getting something to eat.
Outside it was bright and hot. The summer had arrived and the mornings didn’t take much time to shed the coolness of the early morning. A bright sun which appeared so benign only a few hours back was now pounding my head with a force of a hammer-smith.
Soon I started sweating. Sweat beads started growing on my body, making me feel as if ancient ants were crawling on my back. I sprinted the last twenty yards into the grocery.
The cool air from the centralized AC felt like a blessing from the heaven above. I lingered around for some time, letting my body adjust to the temperature change. I knew my way around there. So I quickly moved around, picking a packet of coffee along with other items like bread, and cookies and crackers to eat. Occasionally I would find someone staring my shades. I was almost overcome with an urge to stand and ask them what is it they are looking for. But I continued without engaging with anyone anyways.
The girl at the billing counter looked at me with a smile. I think she spotted hickeys on my neck. I smiled back at her. It was early hours for the shop and nobody was standing behind me at that counter. So she didn’t hurry, taking her own sweet time.
As she picked one item after other she asked me what I did for living. I told her I was a writer. That spiked her interest in me and she stopped for a moment and looked at me with a raised eyebrow. “Which novels you have published?” she asked before resuming the mundane activity of picking the stuff and placing it on the bar-code reader.
“No,” I said as I made a mental note to tell something else if someone asked me what I do for living. “I mean I write for magazines,” I continued, “Itsy bitsy stuff. Nothing to be proud of, yet.”
She knew a couple of magazines that I mentioned. She rolled her eyes upwards and repeated the names to memorize them before putting the last item in the basket. I gave her my card and after taking the receipt stepped forward to pick the basket.
As I left I heard her voice. She asked me how she would know which story was mine. I looked back and paused for a moment before telling her to look for the saddest ones. The ones which ended with separation and pain and grief — they would be mine.
Back in the flat, I relished the cool damp darkness of my room. I boiled water and made coffee. Toasted bread. Spread butter on them. And sank into the couch as I relished the first bite of the day.
The phone on the table blinked blue light at me. Messages in WhatsApp. They were from Nisha, the girl I met last night. She said she enjoyed the movie and the dinner. And the drinks after that. She didn’t mention sex. There was a gap of a minute after which she had asked what I was doing evening today. Was I free?
I typed yes. Then deleted it. Then typed no, only to delete it again and replace with yes. Finally before sending, I deleted the yes and said I’ll confirm it by evening.
Then it all came upon me. The movie with the colleagues. Rhea, one of my colleagues, had brought along her two friends from her team. The taller one, Nisha, had found the movie interesting. So did I. We got along well after that. Discussing movies and music and books. She was well read and had an enormous appetite for reading.
Soon we were talking like old friends. At the table when the others fumbled with their mobiles or looked elsewhere, Nisha and I cracked jokes and shared incidents that I think we only found amusing. She listened to me intently and found me funny. Even when I was not trying.
When we were high and the music was to our liking we went to the floor and started gyrating to the rhythms of the nights. Time and again we would break for a drink only to turn up again to the dance floor. Every time she sipped on Vodka she ended up an inch or two closer to me. By the time we had finished off the last of our drinks, we were practically doing Salsa with each other. At least she was doing, for the trained dancer she was.
In her flat, she was the one who pinned me against the wall first and devoured my face. Her tongue searching the hidden corners of in my mouth. She had a figure of ballerina, her movement lithe like a dangerous viper. I tried to resist her, only halfheartedly. I knew what I was getting into. I knew things will never be the same after tonight.
When Pooja called I didn’t know what to say. Her voice ever so enthusiastic. Ever so beautiful. She told me about the work — that the project was in its last stage. And she might even return earlier. As early as in a couple of weeks.
Pooja was in Spain for work since last eight months. We’d met a year back and had instantly fallen in love with each other. My mundane existence had found meaning in her company. But after four months since we started dating she was told by her manager that she was required to leave for Spain. For a year.
Lost in my thoughts I didn’t realize she was waiting for my response.
‘It’s great,’ I said. My words betraying the doubt in my voice. She didn’t miss that.
It wasn’t that I slept with a girl that tortured me. It was something more fundamental. The distance between us had overwhelmed me. Talking to a voice for eight months had worn me out. The time difference had worn me out.
And in the last couple of months, the love that I had felt for her, the extreme exuberance that I’d felt with her had vanished. Had disappeared.
I could’ve hidden this one callous act from her. Could have put it under the carpet and forgotten it as a mistake. But it would have been a lie to myself. To her. To our relationship.
She stayed quiet for a long time when I told her about the last night and the fact that my feelings for her are no more the same they used to be. She hadn’t hung up. I could hear the sound of her breathing. The silence growing on me with every passing second.
It stayed like this for a long time. She, I and the eternal silence between us.
Then I heard the click. The heartless sound of the call getting disconnected. And I could no more hear her breathing. At that moment, I felt something snapping within me. The last pillar that somehow had held the crumbling castle of our relationship had given away. There was no looking back. And a realization crept into my consciousness. That I have lost her for forever.
Category: Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing