The pavement below her has begun to shake. She gripped the hem of her jacket firmly to maintain composure. Just a few feet; that’s all she has to go, she soothed her frayed nerves. She realized that she has started sweating. “Oh God...Oh God…don’t let this happen in the middle of the road, among all these strangers,” she prayed fervently. Her heels made an unnatural and loud clicking sound on the ground. “Is this how Scamper feels when she wears heels and walks around the house? Poor doggie, it must be irritating. Oh God…if I come out of this unscathed, I’d never wear heels,” she promised herself. A man walked past her looking at her rather curiously “…or was it three men?” she narrowed her eyes and tried to focus. She could make out the hazy silhouettes of the shops to her right. She shook her head sharply. Her head stung dully at the effort. She supported her head with both hands and shook it another time. Her head reeled and she fell down on the pavement before she could stop herself. A newspaper boy standing the closest to her rushed forward just as she lost her consciousness.
“Madam….madam…excuse me?” someone slapped at her face. She flinched at the contact. She opened her mouth to speak but wind just blew out. She carefully opened her eyes and closed it almost immediately. This wasn’t a dream then, she thought feverishly. Her heart seemed to weigh her chest down. Reality seeped in. she realized, between jagged breaths, that this wasn’t one of her vivid and imaginative dreams. The process of breathing seemed so agonizing. The boy and the crowd and the touch and the feel of people around her made the nightmare real. Until then, the afternoon’s events seemed a bad dream; just something which she could brush off as fantasy. But that moment, the feeling raging inside of her was like a light-house. It recognized a ship and it was sinking. She could block the light but that might make her blind. She didn’t feel heroic at all like the heroines she so ardently admires. But she knew she needed to try. She took a deep breath, opened her eyes to the glaring sun, propped herself up gently on her hands, brushed herself and hoisted herself up. “Thank you,” she breathes the word towards the boy. She quickly fished in her purse for money and pressed an Rs.20 note into the boy’s hands. By that time all the people around her scurried away like she had the plague. ‘This is worse than that people’, she snorted to herself. She stumbled towards her car, unlocked the door and shoved herself inside. Her hands were slippery on the steering wheel and her legs were still numb. She became conscious of the weakness that was engulfing her as she started her car. She began sobbing quietly to relieve her tension just as she did a year ago.
It was a warm and rainy afternoon in the town of Alleppey, Kerala. It was mid-July. It was the glorious time of the south-western monsoons. The heavy rain beat upon the creaky windows in a musical rhythm. It was cold and wet outside. But the little corner of the room was warm because of the heaters and carpets. The room smelled of a burnt wood. There were very less people in the library than usual. It was the only library in that part of the town. It was a privately owned library belonging to one Mr. Ramaswamy, who was a great book-collector. It was the only library in that part of the town. The librarian was snoozing in her cubicle near the entrance at the far end of the room while a lone man was checking out books in the history section. Other than that, the entire hall was completely deserted. Tara was curled up on the only sofa in the room and she was sobbing quietly. Tears rained down her face and wet the pages of the book she was reading. ‘Don’t be afraid to fall in love again. Open your heart and follow where it leads you…and remember, shoot for the moon……PS. I will always love you…….’ She sniffed with emotion and looked around for her handkerchief. The book slipped and fell down with a soft thud.
By the time she retrieved the book and opened the page again, she was practically bawling. The girl who sat in the corner near her sofa didn’t even stir. She was sitting on the carpet with a few hard-bound books spread around her and was taking notes. Her lips pulled upwards in a way that told she was smirking. The two girls have been sitting in this manner almost every day since they arrived in Alleppey two weeks ago. But that particular day was quite different than the other days. That day, she fell in love. While the two girls were occupied in that style, the man who had been wandering around their corner approached them. All that while, he had been glancing towards the girl sitting on the sofa, wrapped up in a shawl and crying like someone had died. Not able to contain his curiosity anymore, he walked over to her and spoke with concern.
“Excuse me?? I’d hate to interfere…but are you alright?” She jerked her head up and was sucked into his grey smoky eyes. Something twisted in her throat. The girl in the corner looked up and cleared her throat pointedly. “Uh...Huh…?” Tara mumbled at the man standing in front of her. Oh God, he looks like a Greek God, she danced a jig in her mind. He waited for the girl on the sofa to collect her thoughts, but she was looking at him blankly apparently clueless. “So, why have you been crying? Are you hurt? Has anyone close to you died?” he prompted. The girl in the corner snorted mockingly. Tara raised the book in her hand and waved it so he could see clearly. The girl in the corner shook her head and got up with a sigh. She walked over, saying, “Hi…..I’m Tina D’Costa and this is…my best friend, Tara Rodriguez….and you are?”
“Hello pretty ladies,” he said eyeing Tara with intrigue, “I am Dev Nair. I am…..an apprentice wild-life photographer to …well, my boss, Dr. Pradeep Cherian,” he rolled his eyes “and came here to do some bird-watching.” Both the girls gave him appreciative looks. Dr. Cherian was a very famous and eccentric wild-life photographer rumored to have brought the discovery channel producers on their knees. “So, why have you been crying for the last half-hour?” he repeated. Tina squeezed Tara’s shoulders gently. “Oh, yeah…the crying. I was reading a particularly heart-rending chapter in the novel. I always tend to get a little emotional in some moving scenes. In fact, I believe that crying is good for health; maybe that’s why I read a lot of tragic novels,” she blabbered on in an unnaturally high voice. Tina shook her head again and pinched Tara making her shut up. “So, you don’t like your boss?” Tina looked disapprovingly at dev. “No, no, he’s a genius. I’d be a fool not to like him. It’s just...ah… every genius has a wild streak to him and well, my teacher is a control freak and a major workaholic. Guess that’s why he doesn’t have a family,” he grimaced, “Ok, what are you ladies doing tonight? I know this awesome place on the beach……,” his words trailed off as he watched Tara with apprehension. “I don’t like parties…if that’s where you plan on taking me,” Tara said flatly. “I noticed you are not the type. It’s a surprise. C’mon…,” he insisted. “I’m busy. You two people go. I’ve got to complete researching on the ancient agricultural methods on cultivating paddy in a water-surplus irrigation system,” Tina countered smoothly. “It’s ok,” both of them exclaimed loudly. Tina raised her eye-brows. Tara was mortified that she expressed her eagerness to meet him alone out loud while dev burst into laughter trying to make Tara more comfortable.
She slammed on the brake so hard that she banged her head on the steering wheel. So much for smooth driving, she scowled at her reflection on the windshield. Good thing she still had her wits about her, otherwise she’d be facing a lawsuit from the black Skoda before her. She gritted her teeth and smacked her head violently. She brushed off her tears with the back of her hand just as she eased her car to move forward. She noticed that she drove faster than usual. She had never been a reckless driver. She was all about care and safety while Tina was the wilder one between them. She laughed hysterically at the thought of Tina’s driving. People would’ve thought someone was close on her heels hell-bent on murdering her. The thought of Tina brought her back to the present. The thought brought a sharp pain in her head. She had to get home, at all costs before her heart won over her head. She needed home; she started sobbing loudly. All she ever wanted was a home. There’s no reason her expectations were just shattered by a man. Now, of all times, when she got her hopes up; when she thought he got his hopes up, he dropped a missile on her. She felt like Pip in Great Expectations who found out his benefactor was a convict. I need the man and he walked out on me, she gritted her teeth willing herself not to scream and scare people around. She was relieved to pull up the car outside her house just as this thought entered her mind. Oh god….just a few steps. She locked the car and rushed inside, pattered up the stairs and tore the lock off the door. She staggered forward after shutting the door and fell onto the floor for the second time that day. She could still remember crystal clearly the first time with him.
“Shut up….,”she teased him as she slammed the door hard, “are you really really sure that you weren’t flirting with her? Because honey, that trick’s not going to work with me,” she tossed her thick, black hair with a resounding smack on his face. He took the blow good-naturedly and took a moment to gather his thoughts. Suddenly, he hugged her from behind and cuddled her. “I love you, Tara Rodriguez,” he kissed her ear. She cooed with delight. “Dev Nair….what would Mr. Cherian say if he saw your unruly hands all over a girl instead of a humongous camera? Mr. Nair, distractions are a hindrance to your passion,” she imitated his boss’s high-pitched, almost military voice. “Hmm, let’s think about that later,” he murmured hugging her tighter. She cackled as he tickled her neck with his nose. They had just gotten back from an office party to Dev’s apartment. It had been seven weeks since they met; she marveled at the way things had unfolded.
She had been mildly shocked when he said that he too lived in Bangalore. Her guardian angel had decided to present her with the best gift of all, love, she thought with a wry smile. It had never felt more right than that night when they slept in each other’s arms on the floor of his apartment. After what it seemed like hours of laying beside each other and watching the ceiling, she curled into his side and whispered something that changed her perception of the world forever. “I love you, dev Nair and there’s never going to be another,” she whispered intensely. She felt the tear rolling on her cheek and falling into a void. She waited for his reply. After a few seconds, she gently lifted herself off him and looked at his face. He was fast asleep. She extricated herself from him and sat right there all night watching his face until the first morning rays fell into the room. She watched him until he woke up and mumbled a hurried good morning before he dashed off into his bedroom. “There’s never going to be another,” she whispered to herself.
Oh god, stop it. She covered her ears tightly willing the phone to stop ringing. But no such luck. Her best friend is a crazy monster, she thought with irritation. She flipped open her mobile and pressed the phone to her ear. “Tara…..listen to me! I’m at PVR….what movie do you want to watch because I……,” Tina trailed off when she sensed something was wrong, “Tara….,” Tina all-but-screamed into the phone with anxiety and concern. That did it for Tara. What an enemy’s rejection hasn’t been able to do, has been done by a friend’s concern, Tara thought bitterly. Her lips released an involuntary sob; a huge sob, more like a scream. She held onto the phone firmly like it was a life-saver and started crying. “Tara, honey, what happened? Don’t be scared. I’ll come to you as fast as I can….hold on….,”Tina sprinted towards the nearest bus stand.
Tara never cried like that all her life except when she lost her parents and had to join her in a foster home in Goa, Tina remembered. That’s how they had met. They were more than best friends…they were sisters; soul sisters. Tina had shielded Tara from all the miseries of the world while Tara had showed Tina how life ought to be lived and how she mustn’t be bitter about some things in life. She worried, prayed, fought with the conductor on the bus to move fast so many times during that one hour travel. It was rush hour and there were traffic jams everywhere. Meanwhile, Tara just held onto the phone and cried and cried until she was left with no tears. She scratched her face and pulled her hair in agony. She crawled to a corner of her bedroom and huddled there looking at the bare peach wall in front of her.
It took her more time than she anticipated, Tina thought with unease as she hurried along the street of their house. Tina banged open the gate, flew up the stairs two at a time and was prepared to hammer the door, but the door was open. “Tara….Tara……,” she yelled with hysteria. But no one answered. She dashed into her best friend’s bedroom and there she was…..all battered and weak and tired and weary. For an instant, she stood there on the threshold short of words and with no idea of what to do next. She stared at Tara for another milli-second with shock. She immediately stomped into the kitchen and brought a glass of water for her best friend. She kneeled in front of her, took some of the water into her palm and wiped Tara’s face clean and soothed the angry red marks on her face which definitely were made by its owner. “Thanks, Tina….,” Tara finally spoke dully, “you know something? I loved him and there’s never ever going to be another man…” she spoke softly and passionately. She glared at Tina daring her to challenge her statement. “Your first fight?” Tina asked skeptically, narrowing her eyes at Tara. “No fight…Clean...Closure…” Tara murmured again and again. “There’s no use talking with you. Let me call Dev, the saner one of you two…,” she was about to get up when Tara declared “no point, because we’re over!”
She talked to the wall first and then turned to look at Tina. “We’re over, Tina,” she bored into Tina’s brown eyes and searched for a reaction there. Tina stared right back with a blank expression. She was shell-shocked. “But…but..,” she fumbled for words, reached out, took Tara’s hands and gripped it tightly signaling her strong presence in her best friend’s life. She waited for Tara to talk away her pain, her humiliation, her disappointment and most of all, her despair.
She reached out on the table to clasp his hand. “Hey, hey, look into my eyes. Do I look like I’m joking over something this serious?” Dev hissed at Tara clenching his fist under her touch. “Well, I wouldn’t even think of it. The great Dev Nair, who always stands by the truth…ha-ha...very funny, now could we drop the act please?” Tara grimaced and rolled her eyes. Dev glared at her and cursed under his breath. Tara searched his face, trying to see past his already crumbling façade. Tara surely knew about one thing. Dev was a really good actor and she was the only person, living or dead, who could understand his every expression and every feeling. And the vibes she was getting off of him that day were in a pretty dangerous territory.
She gritted her teeth and willed him to give up on his talk. But just as she had an advantage over him, he too had one up his sleeve. Tara always has been easy to manipulate and he was going to use that on her then. He unclenched his fist, took her hands into both his hands and looked into her deep black eyes. She held his gaze and prayed he’d change his mind seeing all the love she had for him. “Tara Rodriguez, listen to me very carefully because I’m not going to repeat myself,” he said in his most persuasive tone. Looking into his smoky eyes, she stopped listening altogether. She’d been forced to catch her breath. She just sat there watching his eyes crinkle, his jaws move while he was speaking and she felt his fingers fidgeting nervously under her palms. She saw the earnestness in his face and the feeling in his voice and the frustration in his heart. She just sat there momentarily mesmerized by the man sitting in front of her across the table.
He was perfect and from the time she first saw him on that fated rainy afternoon, she had never wanted another man. “There’s never going to be another, Dev,” she breathed at last, looking every bit as bitter as she felt. “But…it’s ok, Dev, I want you to be happy,” she told him in slow, halting words still holding his gaze. After that, she lost her power to speak. She had a hard time remembering the basic words of the language. All she wanted to do at that instant was to sit and look at the amazing man before her for over a lifetime. She knew she’d burst into tears if she sat there for another moment and she didn’t want to embarrass him. She already felt the first tears rolling out of her eyes. “So you want me to drop you home, baby?” he asked her gently. She just waved a hand at him and stood up to leave. She started towards the door but stopped suddenly. On a whim, she whirled around and kissed him, right there, in the crowded restaurant. A crowded Indian restaurant, she thought with shock. “I will always love you,” she murmured into his shocked face and ran out of the place.
“Am I still alive, Tina?” she moaned piteously, “I thought I died two hours ago.” Tara lay in Tina’s lap on the carpet. Tina had covered her with blankets and stroked her hair lovingly while Tara had recounted her story. Tara abruptly got up and leaned back against the bed. “How will he live without me, Tina? He’s so dependent on me,” she worried for him too much. Tina just looked at her best friend incredulously. “I mean….what will I do without him? I’m completely incapable of living my life without the man called Dev. I love him….I care about him…” she frowned at herself with her bloodshot eyes. “I insist…I need him,” she hit the bed with her fist only to add more injury. Ouch, she howled. Tina kept looking at her best friend with strong disapproval in her eyes. Every cell in her body wanted to protect her best friend from all the pain. She’d murder or kidnap the guy if she had to, but this is Tara’s battle, she told herself. Her best friend needed to deal with it. She’s ready to support her, but not to take over from her. She remembered the first time they met.
Their foster parents introduced them to each other. Tina had been with the family for almost two years by then. She had learnt about the new girl from the conversation between her foster parents. The girl had been recently orphaned and she seemed pretty nice to the young Tina. She insisted that Tara join their family and the parents have complied. Tara brought her a yellow rose the first day they met. The day, Tara had entered the door of Tina’s home, she had just walked into her life and filled it up with nothing but sunshine. She always thought that Tara was a pretty girl. But she looked magnificent today.
“Alright, c’mon,” she stood up, took Tara’s hand and pulled her towards the mirror. She planted Tara in front of it and hugged her firmly from behind. Tara looked at her own reflection in the mirror. Her face was pale and hideous red markings appeared here and there. Her black eyes stared back blankly. Her hair was all over the place. Tina put her chin on her friend’s shoulder and gently combed her hair out of her face. “Never have I seen such a beautiful young woman!” Tina said affectionately hugging Tara even tighter. Tina shook her head pointedly. “Never have I seen such a beautiful woman!” she repeated, “I’ve always heard that true love changes a person and everything but…..” Tina shook her head again trying to find the right words. “Your love for him is just so phenomenal and selfless……never have I seen such a beautiful woman mourning her man!” Tina squeezed her best friend even tighter trying to get her message across.
Tara’s eyes shined in the mirror. She found herself looking at the image before her eyes objectively. All she saw was two young girls trying to wade through a muddy puddle after a rainy day. Two frightened faces were staring out of the antique gold framed mirror in front of her. It reminded her of her mother. It was hers. Old memories rushed back into her all of a sudden. Tara braced herself against them. She gave Tina a terrified look and started weeping again. She tried to pull away from her friend but Tina gave her no chance. Tina held her while Tara finished her second round of the day. As soon as she realized that, Tara gave herself a watery smile. Tina hated feelings and crying. She forced herself to move toward calmness.
After a few minutes, Tina took a deep breath and thought for a moment. Immediately, Tina dragged her into the kitchen against all her protests and made some coffee. All the while, Tara gazed out of the balcony over the concrete roofs of her city and had locked eyes with the setting sun. “I’d never get over him Tara….never...” she declared decisively. “Or not…...please, you won’t die if you stare long enough at the sun,” Tina said loudly and did a little jig around the tiny kitchen. Tara looked at her best friend with exasperation. Tina glowered back at her friend with hands on her hips looking fiery standing under the orange rays of the dying sun. She hooked her hand to Tara’s and gently guided her outside onto the balcony.
Balconies have been their favorite hangout since they were kids. They instinctively had known that though they haven’t any blood ties with anyone on earth, they had very strong soul ties with nature. Both of them had been ardent admirers of the sun. To her immense surprise Tara realized that they hadn’t been on the balcony too much from the time they had come to this city. Both of them settled on the ground with blankets and pillows; shaded by the high wall of the balcony, both the sisters curled up together sipping coffee, talking about the beaches of their home-town, singing silly songs, sometimes crying, sometimes laughing oblivious to the whole world. Only the setting sun was an addition to their small party. Tara instinctively found herself singing happily. By the time, she finished the song the sun had set and she had tears of joy in her eyes. Her mother was right; music saves the soul, Tara recalled. Tina was right too, she owed Tina one for forcing her to enter the music industry; Tara hugged her dozing friend. Tina jerked her head up. “I love you, Tina….,” Tara murmured slowly. “Love you too…sister,” Tina smiled at her getting up, “let’s get you in your bed. I noticed you’ve been writing a new song. Complete it tomorrow!” Tara eyed her friend warily. Tina hauled her friend in, tucked her into bed and kissed her good night. She turned around in the doorway to have one last look at her sister. Tara was staring into the ceiling wide awake. Tina grinned to herself. Tomorrow is going to be a very difficult day, she thought sighing to herself.