Sunday, August 26, 2007

First Rains

He paused as he saw his ugly reflection on the closed windowpane, sighed to himself and moved on. The moon was barely half her full self, but there was enough light for a passer by to notice him (that is if anybody thought of passing by at that hour). Luckily for him, the streetlights were on the other side. He carefully moved behind the heavy branch of the old mango tree, which looked over her house like a tired and sleepy watchman. A steady cool breeze kept its leaves restless.

There was one window that seemed to be unlatched. He gently moved towards it and pulled it open with trembling hands, trying his best not to make any noise. The moonlight slipped in through the opening, and there it gently fell on her face as she slept.

He felt like reaching out and touching the dark hair which lay all over her shoulders in tumultuous waves, but then he held his hand back just in time... what if she wakes up.

The wind had grown a bit stronger. The leaves had gotten a bit noisier. A blinding flash of lightning lit up the sky, and all of a sudden, it started to rain. It rained heavily; the raindrops fell on the windowpanes with a wild clatter, like an army against a castle wall. The air now had that smell of new monsoon he loved since he was a child.

Roused from his sleep, the mango tree slowly spread his arms wide to take in the smell with lusty breaths; as he welcomed his lover on her yearly visit. The monsoon lashed her moist arm through the half open window. A few bracelet beads broke off and fell on her face. She opened her eyes (those eyes, he had never quite got them right).

The sight of the silhouetted face of a man at the window gave her quite a fright. She let out a shriek, but that was drowned by a timely thunder. His first impulse was to run away, but for some reason he held on to the window grill and kept looking into her eyes. The raindrops glistened on his bearded face. His eyes sparkled from the dim moonlight. She recognized them. The wind and the rain roared on in the background.

“What are you doing here?” she managed to ask after 5 minutes, during which they said nothing, but gazed at each other (the best 5 minutes of his life…he thought).

“Answer my question, why are you here?” she persisted. He was starting to get that strange burning sensation on his right cheek, soon it started to spread to his right arm and then to his right leg, and then he started to shiver all over. Whenever that happened, his ability of speech failed him too. And by strange coincidence, this sort of thing happened invariably when the situation badly demanded his speaking. And as usual, he didn’t try to say anything.

The fact of the matter was that he wasn’t really sure why he was there; why he had scaled walls on a cold windy night, braved the moonlight, and pried open sleepy windows. Why he couldn’t sleep that night…or any night.

“You better tell me why you are here, or I am going to wake up the whole neighborhood”, she tried a threat. “…I…don’t know...” he replied after a long pause, and then added eloquently, “I… Just wanted to…” “What?” she was starting to lose her patience. He lost his speech again. A peal of thunder seemed to answer for him.



*****

"Amma, did it rain last night?"., she asked her mother as she was lighting a match for the stove. "What rain? It didn't, this is still May girl", came the sharp rebuttal. "Yes…I know that..." she said sheepishly.

The window was closed. She opened it and looked out. The sky was a clear blue, the mango tree looked dry, no sign of rain anywhere. Must have been a dream. She tried to forget it as she diverted her attention to the morning newspaper. As she sipped her tea and tried to read the newspaper, her thoughts wandered away to a night a few weeks back. That was the last time she had seen him.

*****

"I hope I don't ram into a post one of these days" he said glancing sideways at her after pair of glaring headlamps had thrown them off the road temporarily, and they narrowly missed an electric post. She laughed. He'd actually be handsome without the beard she thought.

He looked at her again. He was trying his best to keep his attention on the road, but it was starting to get difficult. It had been a long day. He had been at the wheel of the Scorpio since seven in the morning. The only sleep he had got was when he dozed off to Ghulam Ali while waiting for her.

He glanced again to get a good glimpse of her face, the thick dark waves that brushed her cheeks, and the big expressive eyes (that tormented him day and night). He had been working on it for a month now. "What will I name it", he thought.

"But then, what would I do with it.? What would people think? What would she think? Should I destroy it?" A wave of guilt was starting to sweep over him.

"Why do you drive so fast" she asked, cutting out his train of thought.

That was a recently acquired habit. "Really? .is this too fast?...maybe you are right. you know, people used to tell me I drive very slow. and I think without my knowing it, I have actually started to drive very fast" He was quite surprised by the length of that sentence. Must be the lack of sleep, he thought... or was it something else? (It wouldn't have been much of an exaggeration to say that he rarely managed more than five or six words in conversations with women, except his mother that is)

"You want me to slow down?" He continued his good form. "Yes please" she said looking at his eyes intently. There was something about those eyes, she thought. deep, dreamy..."

Why do you work so hard?" he asked; just as her cell phone rang. She fumbled it out of her bag, she thought of taking the call, but thought otherwise after a moment's consideration. "I don't know", she said after silencing the music," I don't know. maybe it's because everyone else does the same." she tried to reason. "That's not a very good reason for losing your sleep like this", he said. "Why do you work so hard?" she came back after a brief silence. He glanced sideways again and smiled. He didn't have an answer to that either.He had just wanted to hear her talk. There was something about the sound of it. He wished she would go on talking. He wished he could paint her voice. He was driving much slower now.

"Aren't you going to work today? ", her mother inquired over the newspaper.

*****

He stood there transfixed by those eyes. With brush in one hand and easel on the other he stood there gazing at the canvass. His hands had trembled slightly when he made the final strokes to her eyes. It never trembled while he painted, but this time, it did.

He took one more sip of the black coffee that he made himself, and sat down looking out into the dark through the half open window. It was unusually cold and misty. There was a hint of a breeze too.

He looked at the mirror, which he used for shaving. It was all dusty; he hadn't used it for weeks now. He wiped it clean and looked at his reflection. Below, on the windowsill lay the matchbox.

It had to be destroyed…that was the promise he had made to himself. He picked out a match and struck it. The wind had grown much stronger, and it put out his flame. Then like a naughty child paying an unwelcome visit, the rain gushed in through the window. He tried to strike the match again after closing the window, but it was too wet. He threw it away in frustration and looked at those eyes again. A few drops of rainwater had fallen on her face, a little bit of the red had spread into her eyes.

*****

As she stepped out onto the road to her bus stop, a few droplets of water fell on her arm. She looked up at the sky; it looked very dark now. The early monsoon clouds were rumbling in the skies. A steady breeze was blowing across. It grew stronger and started to dislodge dry leaves from their perch. The coconut trees started to sway wildly. The rolling of the drums soon culminated into a deafening thunder. And then, like a dam that could hold no more water, the clouds opened up, and poured forth a torrent. She ran as fast as she could to the bus shelter.

She saw his face as the wiper stroked the raindrops clean from windshield. The beard had grown thicker. She tried to smile but he was looking ahead.

*****
The sound of breaks screeching and metal clanging against metal filled the air. He was thrown off his seat by the impact and fell onto the road. He cried out in pain as his bones broke; blood started to flow from a cut in his forehead. The asphalt around him slowly turned red.

She screamed out loud and ran towards the middle of the road where his trembling body lay bleeding in the rain. She took him in her arms and frantically tried to stem the flow of the blood with her dupatta. "Are you alright, are you alright" she kept asking hysterically, tears streaking down her cheeks. He looked up into her eyes; they were teary and red, but still beautiful, much like they had been the night before.

He couldn't speak a word. The pain had given way to a sweet numbness, as he lay there in the arms that he cherished to be touched with…looking at the eyes that held…the best moments of his life.

*****
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