Carnations like you

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You sit across me. Cross-legged. Laughing. That cheeky cheesy ‘I give up on you’ laughter of yours, biting your lip and sighing at me. I watch you, dazed. Watching you soothes me. It pours outside, inside my heart overflows.
You get down on your knees, and ask my hand for a dance, as it pours upon us! I pull you closer and swirl you around. You smell of lilies. Weren’t carnations your favorite? The last time we knew each other, it was.

***

I remember driving through the empty streets of Calcutta, borrowing my friend’s car. Watching the sunrise on my way back from Howrah’s flower market because fresh carnations were as rare as you. And I wouldn’t have let you sulk on your 19th birthday at least. You were still sleeping. Messed up hair, oversized tee and yawning, you had opened the door. And fallen back right onto your bed. I couldn’t have asked for any better. You signaled me to shut the door behind us and go to sleep as well. I just sat there, counting the stars painted on your ceiling. You slept with exactly five pillows. In your pillow fortress, as you called it. With one pillow on your face. You woke up at ten, that day and the first thing you did was to look for your gifts, while I made the breakfast. Cheese omelet, you had ordered. I had rehearsed the lines over again. You were a bully. You wouldn’t let me go without singing one of your favorite (read: the one I absolutely detested) boy band songs. You had laughed the hardest at my misery. My heart had somersaulted watching you.

Later that night, we had gone to Someplace Else, to watch a live band perform. And you had dedicated me a song, after five pegs of Vodka. “To Nick, the best best-friend ever!” Nikhil, I cringed. The whole pub went on to cheer you. I guess my cheeks flushed an entire bloodstream, as you leaned in to kiss me. It was that night, we met him. He was the guest performer of the night. Dressed in a classic blue jeans, crisp white shirt and brown shoes. He settled away from the flashlight. Modestly smiling at his fans. They couldn’t stop fangirl-ing him. You had overheard them and checked him out. “He’s cute no?” You had asked in a typical accent, only you could pull off. I blew away the question. Till, post-midnight, when he went up to the stage, a cigarette dangling from his mouth and sang your favorite Clapton song, ‘for the birthday girl here!’ he had continued:
“And I say yes, you look wonderful tonight”.
You were flabbergasted. Although it wasn’t new for you, to be the envy of the crowd. You couldn’t stop rambling about him the whole ride back home. I was relieved that you weren’t meeting him anymore. Only to be mistaken, because turns out you ran into him in a college fest the next weekend and that is how your affair with Ryan, began.

***
In the next few months, I had moved countries. Continents, rather. I had flown off to London for my graduation and you stayed back. My life could have been summed up in cramming up before semesters, smoking extensively and whisky over the weekends. More or less, my survival strategies.  And a close group of acquaintances who had turned into friends over the years. Life in Cambridge was tough. Unlike what is believed otherwise.

You had gotten through the Delhi University studying International Relations. And Ryan was already studying in JNU, a student of Economics Honor’s. The reason why you had chosen Delhi in the first place. Our Skype calls were mostly scheduled over the weekends. When you both had moved in together in your tiny apartment, that you called ‘the nest’. In spite of having so many girls in my life and Pauline, the girl I had been dating since the past six months. I had somehow envied the stability in yours. The grimy yellow walls of your tiny apartment seemed more homely than ours, layered in beige and cream.

Ryan was the funny guy. Lovable, rather and always at ease. Maybe that’s the reason why he was so popular, among all. I would have liked to believe that it was just his good looks but hate to confess otherwise. She had found him outright charming since the first day. Ryan performed across the country and she travelled along at times. Charu, soon became a favorite among Delhi’s band circuit and student circle. Charu, my Charulata. Her father named her after his first love. She was my first love too.

Strange, as it may seem. Our Skype schedules got more erratic. Phone calls lessened. And our lives drifted apart in two different time zones.

***
It was my twenty-fifth birthday. Ma wanted it to be celebrated it in our Bhowanipore house. Built in the 80’s by my great grandfather who was a lawyer back then. Red marble floors and huge balconies. A quintessential Bengali home. Remember the balcony by my room, which you had decked up on my last birthday, in Calcutta. The pictures have faded, but my memories of that day haven’t.

I had graduated by then, and was working with an American Company in Boston. And I hadn’t been home in three years. My parents had occasionally visited me. But it was high time, according to them that I got back home, at least for a month. I was almost considering it when Pauline fell sick and I had to stay back. A dramatic Skype call with the mother, followed. Also, I didn’t have much reason to get back to Calcutta.

We weren’t in touch anymore. Our last few conversations had just lasted a few minutes. With us rushing to our respective offices. Although I often tried to imagine your life. Where could you possibly be? Did you get all those streaks done? You wanted a blue one. Are you still crazy about those silver nose rings? Do you now drag Ryan to Chamba Lama, when you occasionally visit Calcutta and try out every anklet in their store only to reject them all and buy something completely different? Like a ring? Are you both married by now? Do you have kids? Whining kids had always annoyed you. You said you wanted none. Strange as it may seem, I always thought you’d make quite a hip mother. And then, something or the other would distract me and bring me back to reality, I had no idea where you were.

***

I had flown to Mumbai for an urgent meeting with a Client. It was supposed to be a matter of two days. Just two days, I reminded myself. I had always been wary of long flights. My flight landed around 12.30am. The company car hadn’t reached. It was raining in Mumbai. And traffic was inevitable. I picked up my suitcase, bought myself a black coffee and a magazine, and proceeded towards the lounge. Fiddling with the phone and India Today, suddenly someone tapped on my shoulders from behind. Nine years, four months and seven days later you still managed to look the same. Dressed in a pastel top, denims and the same old nose ring. God, I could have stared at you for hours. “Dammit. You are still that short” I had grinned and you had laughed and hugged me. I awkwardly held you. The phone interrupted. The car was waiting outside. We both hopped into the sedan as the Sardar ji welcomed us, apologizing for being late. You went on to chat with him and I looked out of the car window. The flooded streets, the bokehs and the rain. It’s strange that even an unknown city with you, felt like home. Where I haven’t been to, in years. You were in Mumbai for a friend’s wedding and your flight had been cancelled. I couldn’t have let you roam around the city, post midnight searching for a hotel room. So, we both reluctantly checked into my suite.

***

You sit across me. Cross-legged. Laughing. That cheeky cheesy ‘I give up on you’ laughter of yours, biting your lip and sighing at me. I watch you, dazed. Watching you soothes me. It pours outside, inside my heart overflows.
You get down on your knees, and ask my hand for a dance, as it pours upon us. I pull you closer and swirl you around. You smell of lilies. Weren’t carnations your favorite? The last time we knew each other, it was.
We don’t talk. We don’t discuss life, the people in it. We just dance. To the tune of the rain.

I pour us the sixth glass of wine, reminiscing about the past.

“I wonder why you didn’t ever tell me that you loved me?” she said as she gulped down the sixth glass of wine. I almost choked. “You knew?”
You lean in to kiss me. Later than night, lying next to each other naked, I bare my soul.
You engulf me into a hug.

***

I woke up to the empty wine glasses and my shirt carefully folded and placed on your side of the bed. A note carefully slid under the fresh packet of Dunhill. I had always been biased about Dunhill’s, like I was about you.
You still remember, I had smiled, amidst tears rolling down my face.

“Nahoy kichhu shukno paata chhoriye chhitiye thaak,
Nahoy kichhu na pawa ta naa pawai thaak..
Amader ei shopno ta ogochhaloi thaak.
Yours Always,
Charulata.”

The note had fluttered out of my fist.

(Translation:
Let ourselves dry like leaves in lap of fate.
Let a few could-have-been be the way they are.
Let’s keep on dreaming,
for I fear-
we’ll both wake up teary-eyed)