It is always the eyes that you notice first in a person.
That was what he noticed about her.
Her eyes, the pain in them hidden by a conjured up calm- false and fake.
A woman who had put up a fight with grief, but alas, had not won.
He was no stranger to pain himself. He had lost his wife a year ago but thanks to this support group,these meetings, his pain was numbing, still there, but he could now go days without letting himself feel it.
As they now sat in a circle, the coordinator asked the new member, the one with the calm eyes to share her story.
A loss of a young child, the aftermath – a broken marriage, a dissipation of love. That was her story, which she told with a detachment that surprised him.
Later, on their way out, he stopped her.
“You should have let them flow”, he said accusingly.
“What?”, she questioned, a defiance laced with anger
“Tears. This is what these meetings are for. So that you release the grief that is gnawing your very soul.”
“Its difficult, I have been grieving for too long and too alone”, she answered, all defiance gone from her voice,
“Sometimes, only grief can counter grief”, he said as he walked away.
“I do”, the vows taken, they kissed each other.
He looked at her, her eyes were devoid of the pain he had seen hidden in her eyes in their first meeting two years ago, in its place was a brightness that had only grown as they had come closer.
She smiled at him. He had been right, grief indeed had countered grief, love rising from the ashes of sorrow they had buried together in those meetings.
A little girl ran up to them. His child, now hers too.
A balance called life.
This time, her tears flowed easily as she bent down to hug the little girl.
As she lay on her fluffy pink bed, she felt happy, content, even a bit ecstatic. She had gone to the big park today. She had plucked flowers, zoomed down on the slide, hopped onto a see-saw. But it was the swing she had loved the most. She could still hear the creaking sound of it, she could still feel the sun and the breeze kissing her cheeks as she had whooshed to and fro. She had made a friend too. A girl who had come up to her and on being prompted by her mom, passed on two shiny marbles to her. Ah, she loved the park, the freedom, the glee, the joy, the friendships that she could make.
She let her eyes wander around the room- the huge soft, cuddly teddy bear, the huge collection of marbles in a gold rimmed jar, her favorite storybook, a big pile of rainbow colored dresses. The ceiling had a soft glow of a thousand tiny sparkly stars. She was one lucky girl, which is why she might make it to the park again. She smiled at the thought.
The last thing she saw before drifting off to sleep was her loving father coming in with a warm blanket.
Her father placed a torn rag over her as he looked around, wondering what she was smiling about. His eyes fell on a ragged old teddy bear with an arm missing, a torn magazine and two pieces of rags that were hers.
‘This kid’s got an over- imaginative mind, I’d better give her a beating tomorrow before she goes out to beg, just to make sure she looks desolate enough’, he thought as he came out of the makeshift tent under the bridge.
A thousand tiny sparkly stars pinned to the gaping hole in the tent looked down upon the girl; the moon suddenly glided its way inside and two marbles half hidden in a corner reflected a kaleidoscope of colors.
A bullet zipped passed the soldier as he threw himself against the broken wall – just another holding up an already ruined town – seeking refuge that he knew would be short, temporary.
It was then he saw the writing, faded by the suffering and agony the wall had seen-“Make Music, not War”.
As he read the words, the cackles of gunshots, his comrades dying around him, the echoes of devastation – all became dim, just a humming in his ears. His eyes shone as he pulled out something from an ammo pouch in his vest.
‘Music I can make…The war, no, that is not my making’, he whispered to no one.
He was still holding the mouth organ when the final bullet ripped
He threaded his way through cubicles,which looked as tired and worn as their owners, making his way to the water cooler.
“Did you see the new girl in accounts”, a colleague whose name he did not remember stopped him. ” Over there, near the water cooler, quite a looker, that one”. The colleague paused and let out a disappointed sigh.He obviously realized how out of his league the looker was.
“Married and blinkers on, my man, blinkers on”. He smiled and tried to look as disappointed as the other.
There she was, filling an oversized bottle with water. As he approached, she straightened and he saw the eyes first. Layers and layers of green, flecks of gold embellished in them. They owner of the mesmerizing eyes smiled at him. A perfect face, a perfect smile; his heart skipped a beat.
” Hey, I m Renu, just joined the Accounts team today”.
A few seconds passed.
“I m Punit, from IT” , he managed to say, finally finding his voice”. ” Welcome to the madhouse”.
“Thank you, I love madhouses”, she smiled shyly.
Was he staring at her? Suddenly realizing he was, he fumbled with the cap of his bottle and bent over to fill it.
‘So how has been your first day so far’, trying to strike a conversation before she said goodbye. He did not want her to leave.
“Induction today, Mr. Sharma has been explaining the organization structure”
“Have a coffee with me, I will tell you all about it rather than listening to Sharma.” He blurted out before he could stop himself.
“Just kidding, it is just that his voice is worse than the drone of a thousand bees”, he redeemed himself.
She laughed, and his heart did a somersault. Her laughter had just smeared all colors of the rainbow in his being.
He had to leave. He did not want to.
“Let me know if you need anything. My extension is 3404.”
“I will, thank you. Was nice meeting you” she smiled a knowing smile, as if she could sense what was going on inside of him.
Later that evening, he got home late from a meeting.
He walked in and saw his wife in the balcony, looking down at the darkness which was splattered with stars –lights from a million homes.
He sneaked up to her and wrapped his arms around her.
“Hey, what are you doing out here? How was your day?” He said gently, taking in her fragrance.
“Good”, she replied. “And how was yours?”
“Well”, he slowly turned her face towards him. “I fell in love.”
The same layers of green and flecks of gold gazed back at him.
“Again”, he finished.
They both broke into laughter and fell into each others arms as the stars above and below haloed them.
As I look at my sleeping baby, I m awestruck, yet again -at her beauty, at life and at being the person I have become. I was a career woman and someday maybe I will resume being one, maybe I will learn to re-love the limitless stress, the endless meetings and the ladder that I hope to climb. Maybe, I will learn to re-love the adrenaline rush I used to get when I set to work, the cubicles, the smell of coffee and sandwiches, the overcrowded lifts, the swiveling chairs, the conference rooms.But today I am just a mom, who is exulting in the little thing she has co-created,who loves the smell, the touch of her baby, who looks forward to playful giggles,the crawls and the cuddles, who wakes up in the middle of the night just to hear her baby‘s breaths, whose heart sinks when her baby cries and for whom all colors of the rainbow make up her baby‘s laughter…my role as a mom has completed me for it has taught me what unalloyed happiness and love can feel like- pure,divine, magical.
She held her newborn grandson close.
‘ He is so handsome’, she said proudly, ‘he radiates a kind spirit’.
‘He sure does’, beamed her son.
‘He will take care of you when you are old’, the old lady looked at her son, her eyes giving nothing away, none of the pain, none of the longing, none of the questions. Maybe this time, she thought, she hoped.
‘Of course, he will’, said the son.
‘Uh, we better get going. You take care’.
She kissed her grandson’s forehead, a silent blessing passed her lips and slowly, reluctantly she handed him back to her son.
They walked away.
Had she seen a glimmer of guilt in her son’s eyes? Was he remorseful? She will never know. She did not want to know anymore. Her last strand of hope had just broken, her frail heart could hope no more.
She slowly walked up to the window of the tiny room and looked down at the yard.
Her son, with her grandson in his arms was getting in the car as a chauffeur held the door open.
She closed her eyes and said a prayer, again gave a blessing. When she opened her eyes, they were gone. She continued looking, trying hard to capture the silhouette of her son, her grandson, her blood.
The Old Age Home, the yard, the window had just been witness to yet another breaking heart, yet another hope dying. A hope that death comes in a place where life had been – Home, that is.
She stripped off her dress and stood in front of the mirror. That tiny scar below her left eye, the first time, the first beating,twenty days after a fairy tale wedding. A minor glitch; happens in all marriages, she had rationalised, not wanting to take off the rose-tinted glasses that she had just put on.
Her eyes moved to a long thin line in her midriff. A mishap at the stairs, tripped, silly me, she had told the nurse who had stitched her up.
I hit the wall while heading to the bathroom at night, she had told a concerned friend who questioned a black eye.
A string of lies, so skilfully told that sometimes she believed them herself. Years of practice.
There had been a lot of time to walk out, leave him, start over. But she had waited, hoped, prayed that things would get better. He did seem so sorry in the mornings. I will stop it, I promise, he kept telling her. She kept believing him.
By the time her body filled with scars and cuts,
it was too late. She had died a thousand deaths every night, till she no longer felt the pain. Pain and love were cremated by her in the same grave.
She gave a final look at the bruises she could see, and those only her heart could feel as she got dressed.
Kicking her bloodstained clothes aside, she sat back on the armchair and placed the 911 call.
There is always time to walk out, leave. Not just for her. She had waited too long.
“I have killed my husband”, she said into the phone, not looking at the lifeless body lying on the floor.