“Hold the candle a little higher, will you?”
He looked at her sullen and swollen face, the candle light accentuating her sullenness, concurrently softening the planes and curves of her face, bathing them in an ethereal incandescence.
“Please?” he added.
She responded by lifting the candle and her head higher. He peered into the fuse box, irritated that he could not see better.
“Isn’t there a flashlight at home?”
“No and yes. Mom forgets where she keeps things.”
“But don’t you always have a flashlight by your bedside?”
She cocked an eyebrow, “Since when do you know what I have in my bedroom?” she asked coquettishly.
He sighed. Would she ever grow up, ever abandon her childish sparring? More importantly, did he ever want her to grow up?
“I’ve known you since you were five. I know you’re afraid of the dark, which is why you had the candle in your room, and no one else…”
“…because of course who keeps candles these days, right? And for the record, I’m not afraid of the dark.” She resumed her dour look, but shifted closer to him.
He noticed, smiled and sighed again. She was evidently in one of her ‘moods’. He didn’t dwell on the whys. Must be some quarrel with her ‘Vogue’ infatuated BFF’s.
Silence loomed large, amplified by the dark of the night and the long shadows cast by the flickering candlelight.
He checked each fuse to see which one was blown.
“That’s unusual,” he commented at length.
“You staying silent. You’re a chatterbox!”
“Oh, puhleeze! I’m not!”
“Are too… or should I remind you how you gave your tutor a nasty headache with your incessant jabbering?” He meant it as a joke. She didn’t get it. “He already had a headache that day. It wasn’t my fault!” she snapped back. Yes, she was in a bad mood.
“Ooookay!” was all he said. Silence resumed.
She was getting antsy with sleep and something else she dare not admit to herself, yet. “How long is this going to take?”
“I don’t know… I can’t seem to figure out where the fault is. I’ve checked every fuse, they’re all alright.” He flicked the mains on and off again to be sure. Still no power. “Maybe you’ll have to call an electrician tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? But that means there won’t be any light the whole night!” she squirmed in her shoes.
“I thought you said you weren’t afraid of the dark.” He smirked at her, then mentally scolded himself. She looked visibly upset, afraid…fragile.
“I am…” she pouted sheepishly.
An Aha moment for him, a rarity. He guffawed. “I know you are. I know you well, you forget.” He smiled at her.
She bristled. “Oh really? Apparently I don’t seem to have the same insight into your behaviour.” She rushed out the angry words with no restraint.
Where’d that come from? he thought. “What do you mean?” he asked her.
“What I mean to say is that of late we don’t even know who you are or where you are and who you hang out with,” she seethed.
“And by we you mean your brother and your family, or do you really want to say that you don’t know what’s going on with me?”
“You’re a family friend, so obviously that means the family…not just me.”
“Why do I feel this is about something else? What are you trying to say?”
She had to say it now, decorum be damned, “What makes you think you can bring girls like her to our get-togethers?”
Another Aha moment. This night was one for disclosures.
“She’s my classmate at college … and the Invite said plus one.” He waited for her to say something. But all she did was glare at him with her kohl black eyes. “I smell jealousy. She is very pretty!” He smirked again.
“Puhleeeze! I won’t even notice someone like her, much less be jealous of her…”
“…and yet you did…”
“…and yet you’re the only one pointing it out!” They fell into a super-charged silence.
Her cheeks were pink, he could see inspite of the dim candlelight; her breath getting shallower, making her chest rise and fall, which he noticed and then quickly looked away, silently cursing himself for making that observation. It was almost incestuous. Forbidden. She was his best friend’s sister.
His eyes were dilated, even by candlelight, she noticed; and just when he looked down at her, he looked away, clenching his jaw tautly all the way from his chin to his ear. Stop staring at his face, she scolded herself. And yet, she looked on, drawn to his face like a moth to candlelight. How ironical!
“What aren’t you saying?” he asked her tentatively, hoping she would be specific.
She hesitated, suddenly going from being choleric to being subdued, but eventually relented, “There was a time when you would share everything with us,” she said softly as she slipped back in time to the happy, sunny days when the three of them – she, her brother and he, played around in their backyard. They were so close then, so close…
“You became distant… all wrapped up in your glitzy high-school girlfriends…” he whispered, slipping into his own time warp.
“…only because you got busy with college-mates and dorm room parties.”
“What choice did I have? My college is far from this part of the town. I can’t come and hang out with you guys everyday, and…” he trailed off.
He sighed again. She hated it when he sighed like that. It generally was a precursor of bad things.
“And…” he searched for the right words, looking away when he spoke again “…we’ve grown up…grown into different…people. We’re not kids anymore,” he wished she would just understand what he was implying.
“So just because we’ve grown up we can’t be friends anymore? You’re still thick with my brother. What’s wrong with me?”
He mussed his hair in frustration. Was she really this childlike? Could she not understand why he had to maintain this facade of indifference to her? Could she be so obtuse that she couldn’t see what effect, of late, she had been having on him whenever they were within arm’s length of each other?
She tried to shift the candle from one clammy hand to another. Drops of hot, hot wax fell on her wrist. She yelped, dropping the candle to the floor, snuffing it out and bathing them in the dark. He heard her breathe sharply in pain. He grabbed her hand, knowing instinctively where to hold her and blew on the burn. They were so close again, as close as they used to be when they were kids, he reminisced. Why did age have to complicate things?
The dark was encouraging him, emboldening him in the absence of the rest of his senses to daunt and discourage him.
“There’s nothing wrong with you…” he breathed into her palm, then raised his head to her face. He just knew where her pretty, jewelled ears would be. Was it because of familiarity, instinct or love? He didn’t care. He wanted her to know now.
“…but I want to be someone else to you…” he paused as he gathered up courage for his next crucial words.
“…and no one’s stopping you,” she whispered into his face.
They didn’t need words anymore. Silence resumed. The dark ensconced them. But this time she wasn’t afraid.
©Pradita Kapahi, 2016
Picture Source: https://www.walldevil.com/307317-dark-wallpaper.html