She stood there at the edge of the terrace, the wind circling around her and whipping her hair and clothes into a fine frenzy like a Sufi saint whirling his way into ecstasy at having seen his beloved god. Only she had not seen god but stared the devil in his face or so it seemed. Her small pixie face stared at the dark and forbidding clouds that seemed to be rushing forward to meet her, a juggernaut that her frail frame could not withstand. Only there was a storm in her mind that was fighting for space already and there was no way another could share. Crowning this window into her soul was her frizzy hair that had a life of its own, tangling and untangling in the wind. Rebellious eye brows framed eyes that were normally black holes that you could see her through. Only, now they were reddish puffed portals into the endlessly deep pools of grief that spilled over every few moments, leaving her racked.
She was wrapped in a cocoon of silence, a vacuum that was built by the wind. But every few moments, a whimper escaped her, only to be carried away by the wind like a jealous lover protecting her from prying glances. A shudder shook her slender frame as if the earth itself was in a sympathetic tremor. All her senses numbed as she fought even to continue breathing. Each breath a rasping fruit of labor dragged through her tortured throat into lungs that were already full with her tears. She continued to stare as the clouds formed and unformed in the sky, not knowing what else to stare at, afraid of looking at anything else. Her fingers plucked ineffectively at her skirt and fluttered in sheer helplessness at not being able to aid in the larger scheme of things.
The legs that had borne her solid till now, gave way and she sank down onto the hard concrete floor. One leg dangled from the parapet as if she were poised to step down from the edge into nothingness. She looked down at her leg and far below that, the seemingly random movements of the dots that were people, down on the pavement. It would be so easy to end it all, she thought. Just to lean out and let go. A brief rush as the wind would have tried to push her back onto the terrace and then releasing her to fall free as it gave up, gently at first and then rushing down to meet the cold hard pavement below. It would be a blessed release she thought, an escape from the harsh reality that threatened her very sanity, like wolves of panic circling at the very edge of her reason and waiting for her defenses to crumble, cheating those demons that bayed for her blood. And she would hit the pavement and lie there like the crumpled piece of paper several times written over and struck out until she was but a maze of strike marks, leaking red ink and inconveniencing the passersby.
It started to rain then, a gradual few drops that fell tentatively as if testing the waters. Then, the rain, encouraged by the lack of any opposition, started pelting down. Normally she would have raised her face to the rain, the rain child that she was, enjoying its cleansing drops. But today, it reflected her mood perfectly, drops lashing out until one would have flinched, a solid sheet of falling water that obscured all else around. She stood and let the rain pour down on her, wishing it would wash away some of her grief. But it would not happen and the rain water just mingled with her tears and washed down her cheeks. She watched the water as it ran down and disappeared down the edge of the terrace, inviting her to follow. She stood up suddenly then, as if she had made up her mind about something. She then took a half step out towards the darkening edge.
Suddenly she was pulled back into here and now by a polite cough and a questioning voice behind her "Madam?" It took her more than a minute to compose herself, thankful to the rain for its mask and the veil that it gave her. Slowly she responded in a voice that seemed to come from somewhere very deep inside that she was coming back inside the apartment. She found the sheer effort of putting one foot before another almost mind-numbing, like every step drained her completely. She prayed that her legs would not give way under her and walked slowly and measuredly back into the building. Reaching the landing, she looked around blankly not knowing why she was there and what she had to do next. It was almost as if she was in a completely strange land and a strange place, not her own apartment. The security guard was right behind her and pressed the button to call the lift. It seemed like eons while she stood there, dripping water on the floor as if she were in fact melting away, until the elevator finally came.
Her mind switched to automatic and she stepped into the elevator and the security guard, familiar with her apartment number, pressed the button for her floor. She leaked her way down to her floor and stepped out of the elevator, squelching her arrival into the corridor. She saw that she had left the apartment door open and there was a rectangle of light framing her doorway in the corridor. She left a trail of water on her path down the corridor as she weaved like a drunk trying to walk in a straight line towards the rectangle of light. As she neared the doorway, she heard sounds of the neighbor opening her door. She had no strength or energy left for the polite conversation and the concerned questions that would have surely followed. She picked up pace out of some secret reserves of strength she had found and quickly walked into the apartment and closed the door. With that, all the noise and interference seemed to have receded and she was back in the vaccum again, surrounded by the noise proof walls of her despair that seemed to echo her silent wails of agony back at her.
Her memory now played back the words on the phone. The voice on the other end had been hesitant and apologetic, enquiring her name, and then her husband's details and whether he had been on a trip to Paris and had arrived there two days ago with a visa and had been carrying a Iphone with a number so and so ? While she patiently confirmed, he said that he was from the Indian embassy in Paris and that the police had just reported a possible accident. A grey overcoat had been found floating on the river and had the passport and phone that belonged to her husband. The voice asked her if her husband owned a grey overcoat with black leather patches on the elbows and she confirmed in a daze. Some import of what the man had been saying had started to sink in and her brain had started to freeze over. The rest of the conversation was a drone in the background as her mind replayed the first part of the conversation again and again, like a turntable that had a jump and restarted at a particular point on the record.
The mirror that was her self-composure then cracked into a million pieces, each shard digging, gouging, ripping her insides as it fought its way to the top of her consciousness. She hardly remembered sinking to the floor, holding herself tight and rocking back and forth as if to shake off the pain that threatened to swamp her consciousness. And sink she did, into a thick fog that enveloped her, memories of the days with him coming back in swathes. His smiling eyes, ever so gentle and welcoming and the way they lit up whenever they saw her and the way they opened wide and then broke into a smile at something she said, the smile starting from the corners and then spreading all over. His voice and the way he called her name, a lilt that sounded musical to her alone, a special symphony for her benefit, the concern when he even heard or saw her tense, the strength when she was hesitant, the laugh when she made those "awful" jokes as he called them. She remembered the way he smilingly kissed her awake in the morning, holding her close in his warmth. The way she loved to sleep on his chest, listening to his breathing deep, letting it's rhythm lull her into that safe strong place that she felt absolutely secure. The way they curled up together to watch the television snacking from the bowl and fighting for the last piece and how he would always give in to her and let her have it. The way he said goodbye as he dropped her off each day, his touch lingering just that second more than it should, almost reluctant to go. And the way he said hello when he picked her up from work, almost as if he had been looking forward to seeing her again all day long and done nothing else but that. The lazy Sunday morning banters and dreams that they used to spin together. Waking up in the middle of the night next to him, touching him just to reassure her and then slowly dreamily sinking back to sleep. The endless looks and touches and moments they shared and the fact that they would never be there again came crashing back ….
It was then that she had realized that the phone had been ringing incessantly, a buzz like an annoying bee that finally penetrated got through her walls. She rose and walked up to the phone, eyeing it like it was an intruder that needed to be tackled with extreme care. The display on top showed a Parisian number and her resolve crumbled. She did not want to face any more news from any more strangers. She felt like calling her mother and crying her heart out, drawing the comfort she had relied on over the years. But knowing her mother's frail health, she decided against it. She went from room to room in the house like a wraith haunting it but each room haunted her instead, each bringing its own set of memories to pull at her like a thousand thorns until she felt like screaming out aloud in the silence that seemed to shroud everything, ominous in its emptiness. Finally, unable to stand all the intrusion she had rushed out to the terrace and spent the next few hours there. Now that she was back inside the confines of the apartment, the silence was even more oppressive and the space even more threatening. Every where she turned, she could see him or hear his voice. And she simply wanted to run away from the knowledge that she would never again enjoy that sight or that sound.
She ran out of the apartment once again, in her wet clothes still, without bothering to lock the door or find her keys. She kept punching the button for the elevator to come, almost sobbing in her frustration, but it seemed to be stuck on the 2nd floor. Finally it inched its way up to the 13th floor stopping at almost every floor on the way. When the elevator finally came, thankfully it was empty and she ran inside, frantically jabbing at the ground floor button willing it not to stop anywhere. But it stopped at the 7th floor and a young couple got in, almost stopping short when they saw her drenched disheveled appearance. Her puffed up eyes and streaked face made her appearance even stranger. They drew into one corner of the elevator and studiedly ignored her while one of them pretended to study some defect in the flooring and the other suddenly found this extremely urgent message she had to reply to. Thankfully, neither of them said or asked anything. She kept fidgeting until she realized that her wet shoes were squeaking incessantly as she kept moving about. She then forced herself to be still. She looked at their faces and realized that while her world had turned completely upside down, the world outside was still going about its paces in utter ignorance and she wondered whether they even cared.
Reaching the ground floor, she walked out on her leaden legs into the rain, which had continued to pour without letting up one bit. As she stepped into the rain, an old couple who had stopped in the lobby tried to stop her. She turned to shake her head that it was alright and they stopped as they saw her face and her eyes. She stepped out on the street and narrowly missed being hit by a car that swerved wildly to avoid her. She was oblivious to the near hit and run, to the water that the car splashed on her. It was dark and a weepy kind of rain or perhaps it was just her emotions that colored the moment. She walked on, bumping into people who were rushing to get out of the rain, drawing angry glares at her slow bumbling steps. A cold chill seemed to creep into her and she shivered despite it being warm and humid. The numbness was now spreading to her limbs and they were slowly refusing to follow her wishes. She slowed down to the point where it seemed to take eternity for just one step forward.
Suddenly she saw a man's head ahead that seemed just like His. A rush of blood to the head and that incredibly irrational relief overwhelmed her that she had found Him just ahead on the street when His body was supposed to be floating somewhere in the Seine. She somehow willed her body to rush ahead and almost fell on the man. She stumbled into him and knocked him off his feet. As they both went crashing down in a heap, she saw that it was not Him at all. The man barely helped her to her feet and left, desperate to get away from this scary woman who had clutched him and brought him down. She was now despairing from the apathy around her, the blank uninterested faces, the remote stares and the disapproving looks. As if, her display of emotion was somehow a weakness that made her despicable and less than human, a shadow of the real one, the flawed piece that had been set aside as it was not strong enough. She turned away blindly, sobbing her frustration at the human walls around her. Bouncing and bumping into people around, she was at her wits end when suddenly, she found herself at the entrance to the park where they both would go and sit late at night. She walked by the hedges, running her hands through the cut stems, scraping her roughly where before they seemed to caress her lovingly. Even nature was turning against her or so it seemed.
She walked up to the bench where they used to sit, the large neem tree in front of it, staring at the stars as they sat hand in hand, whispering in the moonlight. It was wet in the rain, weeping in its own version of sorrow. She sank onto it holding on tight, hoping it would give her strength. But its hardness was forbidding and unyielding. She could not bear the harshness around her and sank down onto the slushy ground sitting in a puddle, whimpering her pain. Suddenly she felt her breath failing. She tried hard to draw the air into her lungs, wheezing with the effort. But it felt like there was an obstruction just down her throat and it was blocking the air from going in. A great weight seemed to be settling on her chest preventing her from dragging in a breath forcibly. She felt the darkness close around her and her vision fading from the edges, all turning black and slowly creeping inwards. Sinking slowly into the puddle that she sat in, she felt as if she were drowning in some pool of ink that threatened to swamp her very consciousness.
Suddenly, she seemed to see herself lying in the puddle below, hair matted in the mud, arms akimbo. She heard footsteps as an old man walked by unsteadily supporting himself with a stick and holding onto an insignificant umbrella. She tried screaming at him to help her, lying on the ground. But no sound came out of her. She tried waving her arms to attract his attention but it was almost as if he could not see her at all. All this while, she could feel the rain drops almost as if they were falling on the body lying on the ground. She moved about near the bench searching for someone, anyone who could help. But no one was around in the rain and it was getting darker by the minute. The water puddle slowly grew around the body as it lay in the rain until it almost reached the ears. She did not know whether the body was still breathing or alive and had no way of checking this. She could only sit there helplessly ineffective, a bystander that could not interfere in the drama at all, no matter what.
Suddenly, there was a loud crack and a bolt of lightning hit somewhere close by. There was static in the air that made it almost crackle. An acrid metallic smell seemed to suddenly blanket the area, tinged by wisps of something burning. With the crack, she felt herself sinking back slowly into nothingness. Little by little, she seemed to disappear into the body lying at her feet until she suddenly opened her eyes again and saw the sky, ink black and drops of water falling on her and all around. She realized with a start that she had woken up from whatever she had sunken into. Grabbing hold of the park bench, she pulled herself up and stood, the effort almost completely draining her and leaving her shivering. She forced herself to walk back again to the apartment, one tiny step at a time, deserted streets now offering no assistance, the streetlights throwing scary shadows that seemed to leap out at her. Another eternity passed until she reached the apartment and went through the routine of calling the elevator and getting off at her floor and walking down the corridor to her home. The phone was still buzzing like an angry bee, now even more upset at being ignored for so long. Was it a home anymore? Could it be a home without Him? The thoughts seemed to boomerang in her head until she decided she needed to be practical and realistic. She needed to find some comfort in routine and so decided to change and shower.
The hot water seemed to wash away some of the panic and fear. She felt distinctly better as she stepped out in her robe. She found a shirt of his in the washer and changed into it, enveloping herself with his smell and his warmth, pretending that it was him holding her and not the shirt. The feeling brought the tears afresh and with it, anger at the unfairness of it all. What right did he have to leave her like this, in the middle of nowhere with no one to turn to? How could he have done this to her? Anger shifted to unreasonable irritation and sought an outlet in victimizing her condition. She then saw herself in the mirror, almost bleached white and pale, hair lying like a limp bunch of hay, eyes wild and totally out of control. That sight did her in and she reached out for something, anything. Laying her hand on something solid, she simply threw it at the mirror, shattering it into pieces. She then saw that she had thrown the framed photograph of both of them in their last holiday in Bali. The frame had cracked and the photograph itself was lying under several pieces of glass. Not able to bear the sight, she went down on her knees and picked up the photograph, brushing the glass pieces off it, not noticing that she had cut herself on her knees and fingers in the process.
The intercom started ringing then, adding to the noise levels. She could not stand it anymore and simply disconnected both phones. She checked her mobile and found that it had died down, thanks to her usual forgetfulness to charge it. After all, it was he who put her phone on charge every night. The silence was blessed and she decided to clean up around the house. The activity helped calm her down as she went about sweeping all the glass off the floor and mopping up the trails of water she had left around the house, picking up all the clothes she had dropped. Suddenly she heard feet running down the corridor and stopped, frozen, almost praying that nobody would knock on her door now. The dreaded knock came, a pounding in fact that was impatient and urgent. She finally gave up trying to shut it out, changed and opened the door. The excited man at the door was obviously from the government and seemed to be losing his trail of words in his breathlessness. Finally, he stopped and started all over again, asking her about her not picking up the phones while they had been trying to reach her for the past several hours. She did not reply and he continued about some mistake in the earlier report and a confusion caused by a theft. None of it made any sense until, finally, his phone started ringing and cut him short. She sat down in a daze, hardly able to understand any of what was going on. Suddenly, the man shoved his phone into her hand, gesturing her to speak. She hesitantly took the phone up and placing it against her ear, said "Hello". The soft "Nina?" at the other end stopped her completely short. It was His voice and it went on to ask her if she was OK. She froze in shock as He explained to her that he had been mugged and his coat and identification stolen last evening and that he had gone to the police to file a complaint in the morning when they had told him that the coat had been recovered in the river and that they had been searching the river for his body thinking he had been drowned. They had been trying to get through to her for the past few hours to tell her what had happened but they could not reach her. He was now in the airport waiting for his flight and would soon be back.
Her breath caught in her throat and seemed to remain that way, her face wan and pinched, eyes searching for that one face that would help end this all. She travelled in silence with the man first to the embassy and then to the airport, declining all help with a shake of her head, not speaking a word. It was almost as if she wanted her first words to be to him. The silent wait continued at the airport where she chose to wait. Several lifetimes passed while flights departed and landed, people left and arrived, but that one she was waiting for did not show up. One realizes the value of time when one is waiting for someone, each second an hour in itself and each hour a month. Finally they announced the arrival of the flight from Paris. She stood at the edge of the crowd, her eyes searching wildly as she scanned all passengers coming through. Finally, she saw him, striding forward impatiently and pushing people aside. Just the sight of him broke the dam and the tears poured down her face, the air travelled back through her lungs and she seemed to start breathing again. The air wheezed into her lungs as she mutely stood and watched him come towards her. He finally reached her and held her in a hug that seemed to inject life into her, giving strength to her starving senses and her dying soul. And then her arms rose and held him as fiercely as he did her, not wanting to let go ever, signs of a life renewed, a lifetime to be lived , the past hours a life in limbo - a suspended animation.