Snowflake

The other day we were talking about melancholic excerpts from authors known and unknown. Outside the winds were strong and the rustling of autumn leaves seemed like a song from my childhood. With no words but notes lingering here and there playing softly like a dream. While I was going through the old stuff a thought caught hold of my hand somehow, like when a child holds your finger to trod along.

What was it you said that day?

I tried so hard to recall your words but ironically I dont even remember your voice now. I do however remember that day in fragments and dialogues. All these years the cold sighs of that snowy evening still find their way back to instil a clamour inside my well sorted life.

So I stood by the front door just like i did that morning prancing up and down the steps. How could I forget what you said? I know it was a question not an assertion. It was asked past the midnight. It was a cold December night. Christmas had long gone but the lights stayed, withering flowers and wreaths tinkling in ice as the season of perpetual hopes was walking away. I had an assignment to submit the following day and a presentation on “biodiversity”

See that is the problem with people like me; we remember. Sometimes I think little bit of Alzheimers wont hurt us as much as remembering does.

But what did you exactly say?

I was even trying to wrest those words from the aisles of the grocery store. I got tired of the ordeal and my thoughts wandered into where they have been prohibited since ages.

Maybe the reason I dont remember that question is because the words were shallow and empty. And later the bigger question was : Did you ever mean it? Did you ever mean anything?

I was strolling by the lake and watching the cold winds fight the willows when the sky changed its shade and snowflakes started twirling with the winds. Just as the first snowflake touched my nose, your words rusted from time came running to me.

“Will you be mine?”

Still empty, still shallow.

“Do you know the speed at which the cherry blossoms fall?”

in the place where memories rest

“collecting memories?”

 

My younger sister Mia said pointing to the perfume vial in my hand.

 

“it’s a perfume vial”

 

“oh harry and Dumbledore stored memories in that”

 

Memories? I stood up and walked to the windowsill. Did emma too store a memory in that perfume vial?

 

Emma was my aunt who died a week ago. She had been living in the next door for a while now. She was not sick but unusually quiet. Infact it felt like she wore silence as clothes. Even if it were bombing outside, Emma’s room would still be the same, unusually quiet.

 

My mother told us Emma once had been a lawyer and lived in another city but she quit her job. She took up teaching at a nearby high school. I don’t remember much of her except once when she invited us over and I must have been six or seven that year.

 

After dinner I switched to “peter pan” on tv and she sat next to me.

 

“peter pan- oh I love it. Do you ?”

 

“you still watch that? Comeon you are too old for all that. How many times have you watched it? Thirty or forty?” my mother laughed at her

 

“well its my first time with sophie”

 

I fell asleep midst the movie. When I woke up Peter was biding bye to Wendy and Emma was wiping her tears. I sat up and she looked at me, laughed and said something I really don’t remember. But the way she looked at me with her big brown teary eyes was painful. I never saw her again until a few years back when she moved to our neighborhood. My mother told us Emma was growing old so she wanted to stay around the family. For a year she was fine. We would watch movies at her place. She would read stories or poems to me and Mia. Then something happened like the withering of blossoms. Suddenly stillness made acquaintance with her. Emma took to her bed and she wouldn’t leave her room. For days she wouldn’t eat. That is when I guess silence infested her.

 

Doctor was called and I overhead him saying that she was depressed and there was no other problem with her health. We tried to stay around more and get her books or flowers. She took no notice. Sometimes I would visit her and sit quietly in one corner of her room. I would read to myself. Only silence passed between us briefly interrupted by her occasional sighs.

 

One day I saw her pull a perfume vial from beneath her pillow. She removed the lid and sniffed. A tear rolled down the corner of her eye. She put the vial back and sat under those covers listless looking at her hands. I felt weird.

 

“emma? Is everything okay?”

 

“maps my dear, how tricky and complex”

 

I thought she was driveling but she was talking about the lines in her palms.

 

For the next few weeks she seemed to hold that vial close and sniff it occasionally. I was almost convinced that it was heroine or cocaine because the vial had a white liquid and never had I seen any perfume of that colour.

 

One morning she didn’t answer the door. I thought she was asleep but while I sat solving the algebra assignment in the class I felt uneasy. All kinds of weird thoughts crawled beneath my skin. I ran back home before even the class dismissed and I rang her door bell. I stood there for a while and I knew something was wrong. I called my parents. They hurried back home, the door was broken and there she was. She laid unconscious in one of the corridors. Her body was cold as ice. We rushed her to the hospital.

 

The doctors said she had passed out because she was weak and had been starving. Her health was failing and she needed special attention. It was a physical manifestation of her depression.

 

When Emma opened her eyes she looked different to me. There was a strange calmness in her disposition. She gestured me to come close. I lowered my ear close to hear her.
“my vial” she whispered.

 

“tell me the name? I will buy you a fresh bottle”

 

“no. my vial “

 

I protested because the hospital was not in close vicinity of our neighborhood but she was adamant that she only wanted her vial. So father drove me to get her stuff. The vial was still under her pillow and out of curiosity I removed the lid to smell Emma’s preserved treasure. To my surprise the white liquid in that bottle was not perfume but shampoo!! Yes an old shampoo called ICE which hardly anyone used now.

 

“shampoo? She sniffs shampoo? Why?”

 

Did she like that smell? Ofcourse she did that’s why she sniffed it. Was it like petrol or nailpolish remover to her? Intoxicating?

Well I was not quite sure why she preserved  that shampoo. When I gave her that vial she seemed happy and I helped her sit up. The brown of her eyes seemed to have faded. She looked old to me, much older than she looked the day before. The creases from her forehead had smoothed.

 

“emma its not perfume? Its shampoo?”

 

Her wide eyes dwindled as I asked her these questions. She tried to remove the lid but she was very weak to do that. So I helped her. She sniffed the vial and made a bleak sigh. Then she gave me that vial and rested her back.

 

“should I read to you? “

 

She nodded.

 

“it’s a poem by Robert Frost called The Road Not Taken”

 

When I finished reading the last line she was already gone.

I walk again

I walk again, the streets of my beloved

I walk with my heart dressed in shroud

Looking around in pensive glances

I walk this city for hopes that wont bloom

There are leaves falling now

And streets are crowded with my sighs

The mornings are grey and evenings in gloom

Winds are wearing the mist tonight

Shed in silence of empty rooms

I am a prisoner disguised as dove

Blind in faith that fails me again

But i will wander here for a while

Or for a lifetime if i survive

Back In Love’s Time

Pakistan 2010
I was 18 when I got admission into a medical college. Its a very prestigious moment for every student and his parents particularly from where i belong. We dont have big needs or dreams. Just mango people who want to live life in dignity and peace. My parents shared a rural background. My father got married when he was of my age and my parents shifted to a nearby town, an hour away from our ancestral home in village.

My father was a modest educated man. He was tall and had pale skin. He looked too humble and passive. My mother was illiterate but a wise and thoughtful lady. She had fine features, slender physique and long jet black hair which i remember playing with when i was small. She doted on me. I had an elder brother and two younger sisters.

My brother was doing BA in Urdu by the time i got my admission. Everyone in my family was happy. Its seemed a perfect day. So many relatives coming over to congratulate. I felt like life had given me an opportunity to do something good. However the only concern was that my college was at a seven hour drive and initially i was too excited but later i got weary of this distance. My mother would freeze some homemade delicacies like kebabs, biryani or karela chicken and pack it for me. I would enjoy it with my friends at hostel. Yes i made friends as soon as I got into college and i never would mind sharing my things with anyone. I had place for everyone. My arms were forever open. I would thank God for making me so patient and humble like my father.
The first two years of my college seemed tough because of the subjects and the effort they demanded. Anatomy. Physiology. Biochemistry. But it passed like a dream. I was not the topper of my class neither was I ignorant. I would say i was doing well not only academically but socially too. I was never part of any trouble ever being called for. It was when i saw her and trouble was all invited.

***

Helplessly in love

She sat at a table in the corner of the canteen with a friend I didnt know. I looked at her from the corner of my eyes, sometimes an occasional glance. Whatever i would do it never seemed enough for my eyes. Her hair was woven in a plait over her right shoulder. A few loose ones fell on her face every now and then because of the fan. Her clothes were a mix of pink and white. I remember her like this.

She smiled at her friend very often and how much i wanted to be the reason of that smile or how much i envied the privilege of her friend. She was having french fries and coke. I never liked having fries for food. I could eat them with a pizza or something but not like that. I was born in a family wher meals had to be proper. Steamed rice or wheat bread with vegetables or non veg and a portion of curd and salad. Fries would never satiate me. I was born in a small town. My parents shared a rural background. To them food could never be french fries. But i liked to see her do anything. So i even liked her french fries and coke. I secretly tried having that as well.

She left in a while. Half her fries untouched and half her coke in bubbles. It made me realise i would never do that. Waste money like that. Back home if one of my siblings would leave food like that, others would eat.  We were not poor. Just an ordinary middle class family who cannot throw money at streets like that. My little sister’s face, who was barely nine came running to my mind. She would relish every bit of what i would give her off my meals. We were too simple. I was too simple for her. I always tried to keep her away from myself but I couldn’t help myself with the brooding affection within. That was the first year of my college

I didnt ask her to love me. I didnt day dream of miracles but the way her fine fingers fidgeted with fries, i wanted to hold them for once. I didnt want anything else. Infact i still dont know what i wanted from life at that time. I couldn’t ask for her because she was beyond  my reach and I couldn’t let go of her thought because i was helplessly in love…

Looking back at you

I sat in the light of a lamp and kept staring at my own shadow on the wall. I don’t understand how certain things crawl out from ashes. I saw him commencing from the corner of my eye. My heart made an unaccustomed thud of pain, disappointment and dissent. His presence was always conveyed through a similar means though contradictory. He sat opposite me in leisure. My gaze didn’t shift anywhere but the wall, until he spoke

“So how come Paris?”

These words hit my heart like stones and rocks. Like a dagger being stabbed again, in the same place, cutting through the flesh of my heart but i managed to be composed.

“It just happened”

There was a pause. He expected me to say more. He thought it was an incomplete statement, he didn’t know this was how i explained things now. I didn’t have any strength to open my heart to anyone. Besides my heart devoured in its ignominious silence. 

He continued

“How has everything been? Tell me about it?”

I looked into his eyes and returned  back to the shadowed wall. After all this time he thinks i can still talk? I wished to ask what he wanted to know or how i managed to survive or whether i had planned this???

I fell vulnerable to his inquisitive gaze. I knew this feeling, it had been there before betwix us but that was love, this was heartache. So i thought about my professional garb and made out

“Medicine has a vast field, its consuming”

She

one evening i was sitting in the bed. the evenings had caught some chill. my daughter too got into the bed and sat on my legs. she put her cold hands on my cheeks. it felt like soft, small ice cubes against my cheeks. i shivered and she gave a squeal of victory. she was four but had her ways to drive merry around. i held her hands in mine to warm them. i was blowing warm air into her little fragile fingers when she spoke:
“tell me a story”

“i dont know stories sweetheart. mum knows all” 

that was always a perfect excuse to get away.

“you always say that. did no one tell you stories when you were small?”

“i am too big to remember my small. maybe they did. i forgot them”

 

she knew i was not telling her stories. so she pulled her hands from mine and put them on my cheeks again. this time they were warm. i smiled at her. she laughed. then she began pulling my cheeks and upon my resentment, she only moved them in small circles over my cheeks. 
“daddy, what is the colour of your eyes?” 

” emerald green” i heard myself say that instantaneously. 

“who told you?”
i paused. 
“emerald green” there was a long pause on the other side of the line. i knew this made her nervous and equally speechless. like being swamped by reticent emotions. she couldn’t say anymore. it was only a silent explanation. 
“when did you notice?” 
“i didn’t stare at you. sometimes when i would look at you, i would find your eyes already over there” 
i knew she couldn’t just look at me. i didn’t know why. she would say it makes her nervous. however i never had noticed my eyes so much to figure out the colour. it never occurred to me. i only came to know the colour when she mentioned it. 
“no i think maybe you have been staring at me” i was only trying to make her anxious. i loved doing that to her.
“i wish i did. but i cannot”

“why not?”

“i cannot look into your eyes”

“and that is because?”

“because i fear maybe i wont be able to look away then. it feels like something grabs hold of my heart. i don’t feel my own self”  
she again paused. and i smiled. 

                      ***

my daughter was waiting for my answer.

“ofcourse my dad did” i felt the coldness of my own lie touching my lips. 

her mother came in and thank God she did for i was not present to answer any of her more questions. she asked her why she didn’t have the colour of my eyes. because she had taken after her mother who had black eyes. i pretended to sleep and somewhere past midnight i really did fell asleep.

                        *end*