“You are really going?” she asks.
I nod. I feel calmer than ever. But she doesn’t know that. “You don’t really believe… after all these years?”
I don’t nod this time. I arrange the last of the Sari pletes and look at the tiny gray patch on the side of my ears. He’d like that.
“Will he remember the exact date?” she is restless. It’s not that I didn’t ask these questions. I did – had, every day, every year. But after ten years, I am dried up and this day, like I said, I feel calm. It’s somehow become the most ordinary day of my life.
“Am I annoying you?” she asks. I look at her and shake my head. It’s ok, I mouth. I don’t want to utter any words. I want to keep them all.
“Is that the same Sari? It looks so different.” It does not, really. It hasn’t been washed, touched. It has stayed at the same corner of my wardrobe for ten years. Dark yellow cotton with think black borders. He had said nothing when he put it on my table.
“You look good in yellow.” Now I know she’s jut speaking to ease the tension. She won’t believe I’m not tense. She has seen me go through the worst anxiety attacks, murmuring my fears of this day.
“I can’t believe it’s 10 years. I can’t.”
I can. I went and drew the last tally mark on the wall. I thought she’ll say something but she just watched sadly. She had seen me draw most of these lines and crosses, counting days over and over like an obsession.
“Are you sure you want to go alone?”
“You know I should.” I answer this time. She deserves my words more than anyone else. She had stood with me. She had always come back to me after every fight – fights when she tried to talk sense into me and I would not listen and shouted like a child. Finally she smiles today. “Are you taking the letters?”
“That’s for later.”
She puts a hand on my shoulder. “What if?” the question she has been dreading to ask.
“Then I will come to you and shout at you and tell you it is all your fault,” I say. Cause I don’t want to say “He will” and jinx it. I don’t believe in anything anymore. I honestly have no idea if he will or will not come.
Crossroads. The place has changed a lot in ten years. He had seen it as a deserted little spot, like a secret only he knew of. He had been so possessive of the place he took me there blindfolded the first time. I saw him wince when he saw another biker pass one day. “It’s gone,” he whimpered. He could be like that one day and be gone the next.
“I do that on purpose,” he admitted once.
I asked why though I knew the answer.
“To be unpredictable,” he said happily. But that I knew it would make him the opposite.
I knew it when that last day came too.
“I know this would shock you, upset you, but I think this is the best way to do it,” he said.
Crossroads looked dustier that day. I tried to concentrate on the dust to stop myself guessing – reading – his mind.
“I am going today.” He is surprised when I nod.
“You knew?” he asks. I shrug.
“You understand? This is that journey I told you about. Where I just go, without an idea of a return.” I think nodding will annoy him so I look away.
“I have to do this,” he says and it sounds like an unnatural line. So I look at him questioningly. He doesn’t know what to say. “I am not good at this.”
“Neither am I,” I tell quickly. So we shake hands and try to smile.
“You know our deal,” he winks.
That doesn’t suit him either so I play along. “Yea, ten years.”
“Ten years. But no guarantee. Neither from me, nor from you.”
“No phone, no mail, no letters.”
Suddenly I get tired. I hadn’t pictured the last day like this. I thought it’d be full of meaningful silences. Not bland words.
He seems to have understood. “Right, I just wanted to make sure, you know.”
That I have a choice. To get a life. Funny part is I thought I only had that choice. He had never seemed a choice for me. ‘Closed door’, I dared to say once and he had nodded. But when he nodded, when he stressed on it, I felt something like hope. That’s when he first said that ten-year line.
“After my journey is over, after 10 years, I might just decide to start a life you know.”
I say nothing, thinking of the many meanings that line might have.
“I know just where to come back to,” he says, looking at me, half-smile, half-dreamy. And I drop all the other lines he said at different times – ‘No hope’, ‘Never’, ‘It’s not for me’. And I grab this one line I knew I would play in my head over and over again. I cry then. He doesn’t expect that. He touches my head – first and only touch, before that final day handshake.
That line stays as the last line for me. I wrote it on my wall and drew the first tally mark that day. Silly really, for a 30-year-old to draw lines on a wall and countdown like a schoolgirl. Many came with gentle suggestions at first, and then blunt curses – fool, idiot, selfish.
“Who would waste the best 10 years waiting like that, without even knowing where that man is, what he’s doing?”
I believed them sometimes. That I was a fool. But I had no doubts what I’d do.
“With or without him,” I sang to her one day. She laughed with me. Drank with me. And read my unsent letters for him. “You really wrote one everyday?” she asks today. I nod proudly. Not cause it was an achievement. I just liked the feeling of owning those letters.
“But they are for later,” I repeat, telling her it’s time to go.
She walks out with me. “Is he going to come in that lorry?” her final question, I take, cause she’s started her car before I answer. She puts a hand next to her ear and mouths, “Phone me.”
I walk, thinking of the lorry. I had told him that just once. We were on the beach and for some reason watching one of his favourite movies, Namukku Paarkam Munthiri Thoppukal. When the movie ended, I said, “That’s how I want to be picked up.” He doesn’t ask by whom or when.
“Yea,” he smiles, surprising me. He can really be unpredictable sometimes, when he doesn’t try. “I loved it too. The way he lifts her up into the lorry, and that horn too.”
“And the music,” I add, now confident.
But at Crossroads today, it’s all silence. It’s not the deserted stretch he left it as. It’s become a bike path. Luckily our people are still lazy to ride bicycles and ignore this path entirely. And fitting it all is a clock tower opposite where I stand. It was 10 when he had left, it is 10 now.
There’s a cool November breeze and I imagine my hair flying gently behind me, like the slow-moving heroines have them on TV. The Sari leaves only one hand free. And then I do hear music. Not the music from Namukku Paarkam. This is a new AR Rahman track. The beginning of ‘Thallipokathe’. It comes from a bad sounding speaker that I can’t yet spot. And I think of cursing the irresponsible youth when I see a lorry turn to the bike path.
He has sunglasses, and a spot of a beard. He is in black. That’s all I can make out. Rest is blurred in tears. Mine. And shock. Mine again. The pretty-girl picture in my head is gone. Here’s a 40-year-old woman sticking to an old word said on an old day and a 40-year-old man keeping that word. If this were a movie, there would be a flash of all the past scenes in that ten-second drive it takes him to reach me – how we met, became friends, didn’t care for each other for long till somehow we connected through long letters and songs, barely even seeing each other. He had been a declared bachelor for life, me, a hopeless romantic. We had changed in the five years we knew each other, and the two we really knew each other. We left no promises, except the vague mention of a ten-year wait. And now the ten seconds are over and he is in front of me, showing off muscles I dislike. Yea, he could lift me. I feel funny raising my hands, like I am on stage, doing an act I rehearsed many times. But he lifts me easily, slowly, and the bad speaker kept singing. We fall when I am finally up and inside. He places me on my seat and drives without taking off his shades. I am glad. I couldn’t emote. I have frozen. In joy, disbelief, but mostly in embarrassment.
He stops again in ten seconds. And I see a few men waiting, smiling. “It is theirs, I borrowed for a minute. Erm, the speaker is theirs too, they didn’t have Namukku Paarkam.” His first words in ten years. Really? It could have been anything, but I love it. I love it so much I laugh and cry at the same time. And then I see the bike. The one he rode away in.
Now he says, “That is ours.” There, that’s my line to grab all over again. My word. ‘Ours’.
This time he doesn’t lift me. I climb pillion and think of the times I had wished to get on that bike and hold him but faked I didn’t care. The lorry men have not switched off their bad speaker. I hear a female hum in the song and touch him. I can sense a smile from behind. I bet he still thinks he is unpredictable.
And I wish someone was shooting this – us – from behind, we are riding away. With dust in our hair, bad music in the air, and wrinkles on our face.