The light in her bedroom went off. Praveen continued staring at that window, as he had for the past thirty years, every night, religiously and ritually. Even though her house was a block down the street, and admittedly, his abysmal housekeeping skills ensured a layer of perennial dust on his own window, Praveen could describe each inch of the window he had longed for opening. It might seem to be a feat, given his current age, but well, staring at a window that was slightly dented towards the upward-left corner since the past thirteen years, three months and eleven days, does that to you. He stubbed his cigarette as he reached the filter, and exhaled. Another night of a struggle before he could sleep. He almost smiled at the prospect. Almost. The thin lines of his mouth, ever night, cracked towards an upward curve, but always stopped midway. You see, the brain is an organ with an absolutely cruel sense of humour. For reasons known best by itself, every moment brings its cost, and every love struck human, always has the pang of sadness weighing down every chance of happiness. It was the same memory, always. The day when he first met Meera.
He was sixteen, and had just moved to the neighbourhood. His father, a district administrator, was already at his office, and his mother, a home administrator, was readying hers. As she unloaded, unpacked and arranged the seemingly infinite number of boxes into the maze of drawers and cupboards in the kitchen, she realised that she had run out of ammunition for the afternoon luncheon with their neighbours, and that is how Praveen ended up at the supermarket at ten past eleven, on a sunny afternoon in Mid-April, in the row for household spices, searching for chillies, and lost all semblance of flavour, as nothing quite tasted the same since that day. It was an innocent tap on his shoulder, and an extended arm that a small packet on the uppermost shelf which her hands couldn’t quite reach. He grabbed it with ease, a natural height advantage that he took for granted by now, and turned. That’s the first time he saw Meera Joshi. Even today, as he sees her come back home every night at 9.45 PM, she steps out of her car, waves at him with a smile, and goes back in, yet his reaction, as though frozen in the space-time continuum remains the same. A smile plastered across his face that simply refuses to leave. He had handed her the packet and she left without a thank you, and that was it. He was in love, and he never would have guessed the curve his life had taken.
Praveen, as every night, lay in bed and thought about the same thing he had thought about ever since that night, with alarming consistency. He thought about the curves of life. About its adventure, about its uncertainibility. Strange isn’t it? What if he had decided to leave home a mere few minutes later that day? What if his mother had not run out of chillies? What if he had entered the other supermarket further down the lane? The small things of life somehow influenced you and shaped you in ways you never realise until you have reached a time when you can look back and connect the dots. For thirty years now, Praveen had spent every night waiting for Meera to come to her window, and for thirty years now, Meera had not shown. He had fallen for her slowly, and at once. He fell for her, bit by bit, and for her being her, all at once. He couldn’t quite blame her for though. He had never spoken to her. The hundred feet journey had remained so, and he never had crossed it. He loved her from afar, too scared of the consequence, to scared of her reaction. Well that’s not true. He had spoken to her once, and she hadn’t replied. He had spent his entire life waiting for that reply.
It was a bustling day in the market, years ago. Sometime back in early January. He was nudging his way through to the bookstore, and suddenly he felt his breath leave his body. It was Meera, but not her sight, but rather her elbow-in-his-rib-cage as she tried to make her way through the crowd. She looked so beautiful, he thought, the slight nervousness of being in a crowd, of being a tiny person in a crowd full of humongous human beings. Recovering, he grabbed her arm, and she turned, with a look of surprise on her face, but the emotion disappeared as she saw his face, and turned into the smile that has haunted him ever since. “ An apology wouldn’t have hurt” he said with a laugh, but it apparently fell on deaf ears as she seemingly ignored it. Praveen found in him, a confidence, which he never knew he ever had, as he pulled her closer, leant in, and whispered into her ear, “ I love you”. It was as if he dispelled his courage with those words, as if they broke him. He suddenly felt empty, and he could hear his heart pounding, and his mouth went dry. As suddenly as he had gripped her arm, he let it go, and started walking away. She stood there, to his astonishment, with a confused look on her face, but not the kind he was expecting, not the kind one faces when one is expressed with the emotion of love. He halted, turned and shouted, “ I’ll wait for your answer”, and ran. Meera stood there staring after him, not realising what had just happened.
Praveen sighed as the memory of something that changed his life over two decades ago, flashed with clarity quite peculiar to beloved memories. He had held his word. He waited for her response, and still was waiting. He had never tried to ask her again, or approach her again. Love, was not something, in his ideal, that could be forced. He never understood the idea of making people fall in love with someone. How could it be love if it needed external stimuli? He never believed in love that made “sense” because in his books, it never did. He stepped out of his apartment and went down to the mailbox. It was an odd ritual this, the absurd checking of his mail everyday after his nightly smile and wave of heart-breaking love. But, he couldn’t help but feel that there was something down there, waiting for him. He went about the ritual daily, and he was disappointed daily, but he still did it, daily. Funny, how the most absurd of things are the things you can’t explain, and the things you can’t explain, are the ones that pull the strings of your four chambered monster.
No mail again. This time he smiled completely, more out of self-pity, and went back to his home and jumped into bed, and lay there thinking, and dreaming, and eventually drifting off to sleep, but at every moment, loving the word that ran through his blood. Meera.
The next day
Meera Joshi had passed away in the quiet of the night, which was strange. She had passed away in her sleep, a cardiac arrest, sudden, quiet, and deadly. Meera had no family, and had been living alone since the death of her father fifteen years ago. The usual crowd had gathered, neighbours, and friends, and of course, the relatives Meera never knew existed, except for her Aunt who lived a couple of miles away, and was reminded of her love for Meera every year only on Diwali. Praveen ran to her house the moment he overheard the milkman gossip about it to Mrs.Dey, the old widow who was the only other occupant on the floor, with the other apartment, 113, being vacant ever since Praveen could remember. Praveen couldn’t place his emotions. He had loved this woman from afar for thirty years, and suddenly she was gone. Dead. Praveen fell to his knees when he saw her body, covered with a white cloth, and cotton stuffed in her nose. He had loved her, and “why” was not a question he could answer, or even thought about really. She was his drug, his addiction, his habit, his life. It was the strangest thing, giving someone a place on a pedestal in your life, when your interaction with the person had never crossed the puny limit of ten words, and of course, the million of thoughts that raced through his mind when he saw her every night.
Musing mentally, Praveen quietly stood up and strode over to a corner. He didn’t want to talk to people, or couldn’t rather. No one should see his tears, for he didn’t know how to explain them. He slightly turned away his face, and the tears continued coming. He couldn’t particularly place a finger on his emotions. If logic had taught him anything, all that happened was that he lost a daily waving partner. He tried to stop the tears. He really did. He wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeve, tried crunching his face, tried thinking about happy thoughts, but all of it failed, especially the last one. Each happy memory reminded him that he couldn’t share it with her, and now, he never will.
“Excuse me?”, a voice interrupted him, and he turned to see Ravalli, Meera’s friend, he assumed of course, as he had often seen them together. “I’m sorry, but are you a relative of Meera’s?”, she asked with what sounded, suspicion and inquisitiveness in her voice. Snivelling, Praveen replied, “ No, I am Praveen. I live in an apartment in the building across the road. You can see it from this window. We were friends”. The disjointed sentences were quite unlike Praveen, but the past tense in his last statement pushed him over the edge again, and in that moment, one could swear that every teardrop was a waterfall.
“Oh! You’re that Praveen!” she exclaimed, and started off with a rant he never thought he would hear. Meera had loved him, since Ravalli could remember, and that would be a long time, as they had been friends for decades now. She didn’t know if he remembered, but Meera had never forgotten that moment in the supermarket, when they were fourteen, no sixteen, no seventeen, Ravalli said she couldn’t remember, but sometime in the past, he had handed her a packet at a supermarket, and their fingers had touched. Meera had never forgotten it. She had always thought he never reciprocated, and had always lived with the ache that only a love-struck heart knows. She always wondered why he didn’t reply to her letters. She wrote him one every year, on 17th January, a day she told Ravalli, she would never forget. The first time he spoke to her, and it always hurt her that she didn’t reply. How could she? She had waited for his reply for years, but never asked anyone to take it up with him. She believed that love couldn’t be forced, it never could be love if people came together just because it made “sense”. Each sentence broke Praveen into pieces. He wailed, and for the first time, he thanked God for the setting, because a mourning was where that wailing belonged. Love in itself is somehow, the easiest yet the most difficult thing we do, and somehow, a little bit of heart was all that was needed to bring the two of them together, and yet ironically, that is the only thing they lacked. He couldn’t stand to be in that room anymore, the air somehow was getting heavier than lead for him. Heaving slightly, he stumbled to the door, when something flashed in his mind, and he turned to Ravalli and asked, “these letters…are you sure she wrote them? I never received any”. For a moment, he wanted Ravalli to tell him that it was nothing but a lie, and that Meera never loved him, for it is better to have loved and never had the love you longed for, than to have loved and not have had it for the lack of heart to walk up and claim the very same. Praveen prayed silently, but perhaps God is cruel, or maybe she is a playful tease, or maybe she just doesn’t exist, and a human’s prayers are nothing but cries bouncing off the chasms of the universe, for Ravalli replied, “Yes! She definitely did. She would herself go and drop it off into your mailbox. 113 right?”
Praveen ran back. His brain was frozen, and he wanted to do nothing but find a hammer and break open the mailbox for that wretched apartment. Perhaps it was luck, or sheer coincidence that he found the handyman near the gate of the building, who when told that the postman had unfortunately slipped his salary cheque into the mailbox of the abandoned apartment, immediately agreed to help, crumbling about the postman’s inefficiency, something about this being the fourth such instance this month. Poor postman, another innocent injured in the world’s oldest sport, wooing. The mailbox appeared to be full and bursting, and behold! There they were, about 25 envelopes, each ageing in its own way, but the same rounded handwriting adorning the address on each, the black ink almost mocking Praveen. The handyman quietly walked away, for in all his life, if he had learnt something, it was that if a man sobs like a new-born baby on seeing a letter, he is best left alone.
He read every letter. He wept for the two hours it took him, and some more. At 21, she told him that she had fallen for him, at 27 she told him that her office timings have changed, and she’ll get home an hour early, but she’ll still wait for him to come to the window with his cigarette, at 9:44 PM sharp, so that she could wave to him before walking back home. At 33, she told him she admired him for his schedule and his discipline, that she had never met a man who stuck his guns, and everyday, for years together, would appear at the same place, at the same time, for the same act. At 40, she told him that she did not like being alone, and she kept wondering why he didn’t reply. Maybe if he could tell her that he did not love her, maybe that’ll stop her. She retracted that at 41, saying that even if he did not love her, she would always love him. At 46, the last one she wrote him, she looked back at her love for him, and said she didn’t understand why she loved him, they barely knew each other, she wished she could talk to him, but she couldn’t. All she knew was that she loved him.
Praveen’s tears didn’t stop the entire night. He let them flow, for he had no idea how to let thirty years of emotions out. It was dawn when the last of his tears dried on his cheeks, and he decided that a fresh breath of air wouldn’t hurt. He walked down the street, ambling in his pyjamas; hair all messed up, as he saw Ravalli outside Meera’s building. His lack of courage to approach people had deprived him of a lifetime of happiness; he wasn’t going to let that happen again. He walked up to her and asked her, with the bluntness of dull hammer, and strangely, with the sharpness of a knife, “ Why didn’t she ever say anything? Why didn’t she ever speak to me? Why?” Ravalli, turned to him with a surprised look on her face, which somehow even bordered disgust and in the flattest of tones replied, “ only if the mute spoke, and the deaf heard, the world would have been a different place wouldn’t it?”. Strange are the ways of the world aren’t they? Two lovers, never united. One, for his heart never let his tongue speak, and the other, her tongue couldn’t even her heart wanted to.