I have been here for a week and intend to leave in a couple of days. Perhaps never to return. Rohit and Reema have been asking me to stay longer. I have been declining their request. I don’t despise them. Rohit and Reema are a wonderful couple, I have been enveloped in the warmth of their affection during my stay here. Rohit is my baby brother, younger to me by 18 years. I had literally cared for him as my own child. He had confided every little secret of his. Starting from his first crush on the prettiest girl in class to his blossoming romance with Reema.
It’s the place that brings up too many old memories. I want to run away from them. I had forseen this and had been procrastinating every time Rohit and Reema invited me to spend a few days with them. I had never wanted to sojourn in the past.
I am visiting this town after 11 years. The house had been leased out all this time till last summer when Rohit took his posting here. Shreyas and I had made this house our home for a number of years. Through radiant and cloudy days, easy and hard times. A picture of Van Gogh’s painting of the Field with Cypresses still hangs in the living room. I had requested the tenants not to remove the piece from the wall. Shreyas never wanted to remove that frame. Somehow, it blended so well with the locale: by the window overlooking the backyard. It is autumn now. We both had always loved those lovely fall colors. I happened to see a sudden flash of Shreyas raking those cruncy leaves in the yard. That image however faded away in a fraction of a second.
I turned 54 last Wednesday. Had it not been for the strands of grey hair, I would have looked younger. Somehow I had never gotten to dyeing my hair. Shreyas always liked those streaks of grey. He would tease me, saying they added maturity to my looks. Otherwise, he complained that I looked too young. I still remember what he had said to me right after our wedding. It seems that when he had come with his parents to ask for my hand in marriage, looking at me made him feel as if a box of chocolates would have delighted me more than the proposal. He was much older to me and had always treated me like a little girl, might have pampered me too much, and never let me grow: the reason why I miss him at every point and get hurt at little things. And I keep forgetting that this world has no place for sentimental and sensitive people like me.
Rohit was so eager that I meet his friends. He had invited them for dinner. I wanted to offer some help in the kitchen but failed. Reema had planned out an elaborate Italian cuisine, and it was all so foreign to me. I had spent all my years preparing traditional Indian entries. Shreyas claimed that my moong-dal and tandoori chicken were the best in town. I knew that that was an exaggeration, yet it made me happy, for I knew he said that out of love. Now I don’t seem to remember the last time anyone complimented my cooking.
Reema had burned her hand when she accidentally touched the hot skillet. Rohit came rushing in with a pack of ice. I felt a lump in my throat, my tears gushed down. I went back to those years when I would have so many of those accidents in this same kitchen. Shreyas would apply the Burnol in my hand and would always complain that I had to be more careful. Last month, I had burned my hand, and it remained untreated for weeks.
The guests all enjoyed the dinner. Reema is an excellent cook. I’m impressed by her culinary acumen. We all settled down in the living room. I tried but was an outsider in the conversation. They talked about e-commerce, Jeff Bezos, and Amazon.com. These topics and people do not interest me. At most, I must have simply heard about them in the evening news. I politely excused myself and retired to the guestroom. I turned on the television, and there it was: remixes of old Hindi songs that Shreyas had hummed and I enjoyed. These new variations don’t entertain me the least.
How could I end this trip without visiting one of our favorite places? So I visited the library yesterday. It has been just the same. The same musty smell that I always liked, and Shreyas found rather odd. We would visit this place every weekend. He would get some science fiction, and I a book by Camus, Dostovesky or an anthology of poems. Our tastes were so different. Being opposites, I guess, made our lives more interesitng. The old chowkidar who always greeted us with a smile is perhaps dead. His replacement, a middle-aged guy, gave me a blank look. I was not a familiar face to him. I picked up that book that I had wanted to read for a while- Interpreter of Maladies. It then struck me that I was no longer a member, so I put the book back on the shelf.
I walked back home past that shady spot close to the ice cream bar. I stopped to ponder for a moment. We had spent quite a few summer afternoons here. Shreyas had a sweet tooth, and vanilla ice cream was his favorite. The place was now flooded with youngsters from college all dressed in the latest fashion. Seeing me all alone in my crumpled saree with a lost look on my face might have raised a question in their minds as to what I was looking for.
I have begun to feel that I am a stranger and a misfit everywhere.This town, this house, where Shreyas and I made wonderful memories fascinate me no more. I need to write all about it to him. I have been writing to him everyday for the last 11 years. These letters have remained unread, for Shreyas has long been gone. I know that the day I leave this world, these writings will be discovered, and I’ll be certified as a crazy woman. I don’t seem to care either. For I had always lifted the worries of my heart all these years by penning my thoughts to Shreyas. They made me happy. And how could I not tell him about this trip? I reach out for the pen on the mantlepiece and begin telling him about my excursion to our past.