You sit across the table, the candle placed between us. The overhead chandelier casts a beautiful glow over your kohl-lined eyes. Or maybe it is your happiness that lends the sparkle to your eyes. Your lips are full and pink – beautifully contoured, and sparkling with lip gloss.
You love me. Do I love you? But you never asked me if I love you. You just smiled and asked me if I have ever loved anyone. I smile back at you. You always did have a way with words.
I don’t say anything, but your question brings back images, thoughts, words – all laid over by time and age. I remember the times when my mother and I would bring down old albums from the loft and gently turn the leaves…sepia-tinted memories now flash through my mind.
I would see her every morning, sitting on her haunches, stooped over to draw a kolam. She would begin with a dot, a line, a curve. Within minutes, an intricate pattern would evolve.
The entry to her house was opposite mine. I was staying with my grandparents for the summer. My father needed to travel for work, and my mother claimed she was going along to ‘take care of him’. At 13, I knew it was not the full truth. But at 13, I didn’t know it was their last chance at making the marriage work.
I loved my grandparents’ house – it was small and functional, with a garden that my grandmother tended to religiously. There were a couple of trees and some flowering plants that grew in a neat line along the wall. At one end was the gate, where I would stand each morning, a cup of coffee in hand, waiting for her. I was tall for my age, so I could easily peer over the top of the gate. When she emerged from the house, I would pretend to be lost in thought, and therefore, not notice her smile.
For the next ten minutes or so, I would stand at the gate, watching her embellish the design with little details – a flower here, a dome there – until it all came together into an artistic piece. When she finished, she would look up and smile again. This time, I would smile back. She would pick up her bowl of left-over flour and head back into the house. I would drain the dregs of my coffee and head back into the house.
You touch my hand gently to ask if I want dessert. I nod – the usual. You smile, and tell the waiter to bring us two lemon souffles. Your voice is soft; maybe you don’t wish to disturb my train of thoughts. One of my hands is holding yours; the other is nursing my drink. I lean back in my chair.
You told me once that you understood what love meant when you met me. That for all the male friends and admirers you have had in your life, I was the only one who made you feel… what was that word you used? Beautiful. You said I made you feel beautiful.
How did I feel about her?
I didn’t know anything about her. I was tempted to find out more, but I knew that my grandmother wouldn’t tolerate my asking about a woman – even one who was older. With time, I began to smile at her. I started to watch her closely, drinking in the fairness of her skin, the shapely curves of her hips, the dark brown of her eyes. Until one day, she looked up suddenly – and caught me staring. I turned away, embarrassed. When I looked back, her face was highlighted by a beautiful shade of pink.
Then, one day, she beckoned to me – hand outstretched, a smile lingering on her lips, her eyebrows arched. I walked over in a daze. I don’t know what she said. Her soft voice washed over me. I was floating on a cloud far removed from the fenced-in neighbourhood.
Is it time to go already? I stand up and take your hand. You slip your hand around my waist, almost as if supporting me
All too soon, the summer came to an end. My mother came to my grandparents’ house one afternoon, her eyes red and puffy from crying, but her gaze determined and her tone clipped. I was told to pack my bag while she talked to my father’s parents about the divorce and what it meant. In an hour, we left. My life had taken a turn. To this day, I have not forgiven my mother for not heeding my mumbled plea, to leave the next day.
I never saw her again.
Your question has brought back a memory I had kept hidden in the depths of my mind. And yet, thinking about her does not hurt like I had feared. It feels like looking at an old album. The images float through my mind like a gentle breeze.
I look across the table at you. A soft smile plays on your lips. I know you won’t ask me to tell you what I am thinking. You trust that I will tell you the story tonight, as we lie in bed.
How would I begin the story, though? I thought I had loved her, but now, I am not so sure. Maybe I just found her beautiful. Like you.
A writer and editor, Yamini has worked with some of the biggest names in the publishing world. She is currently Managing Editor - Culturama Magazine. She was a winner of the Indiereads short story contest. Fiction is a longstanding love of hers, and she has penned a couple of short stories and a full-length romance novel. You can read some of her published works at yamini16.wordpress.com.