She came to amid sounds of talking. Someone had laid her on the bed. The room was alit and someone sitting beside her was fanning a newspaper over her face.
“You’re an idiot! She could have a low BP issue. What if she needs hospitalization? We could all go to jail, and she could die here!”
“Don’t say that! Bhai, kuch kar na. Do something!” That was definitely Kirat…a worried Kirat.
“I am doing something, you asshole! I’m trying to…” and they noticed her coming to. Kirat rushed to her side.
“Oh my God, Trishna, are you okay?”
Obviously not! She wanted to punch him in the face and run for her life but she was still very weak.
The other man brought her a glass of something, “Please drink this. It’ll make you feel better…. and I’m soooooo sorrrrrrry for being a part of this stupidity…and…and…kidnapping you…and shouting at you…all because of this asshole!”, and he smacked Kirat on the head.
“Bhai, will you please leave me alone with her?”
What? Leave me alone with this lunatic? Nooooo…
She shook her head in alarm.
“Don’t worry. He promised me he won’t hurt you.” The one Kirat was calling Bhai (brother) reassured her (in vain) and then turned to Kirat, “I’m going now. But make sure she keeps eating or drinking. She needs her strength.” With that he filed out of the room and Kirat locked the door behind him.
Run! Her brain commanded but her legs won’t move.
“Easy, please. You must still feel jittery.” He splayed his hands wide in a move to calm her frayed nerves, but of course, the very sight of Kirat, a.k.a. Hairy Chest had set off mayday signals in her brain.
What’s he going to do to me? Will he force himself on me? Or is he one of those psychos they show in movies who feign calm but are totally insane on the inside?! Talk, Trishna, distract him! “I can’t believe you did something like this…” she started backing away from him to the other side of the bed.
“And who’s fault was that? I’m so sorry for doing this to you but you left me no choice!”
No choice, he says?! She lost it. “No choice?! What the fuck, Kirat! Couldn’t you have chosen a more conventional way of talking to me?”
“And just which conventional mode of conversation did you leave open? I’ve been trying for more than a month to get in touch with you but you won’t even let me be within a mile of you.”
He started pacing the floor furiously.
“I tried calling you…you didn’t take my calls. I tried texting, you didn’t answer them, you blocked me. I tried calling from different numbers and you fucking changed your number. I tried approaching you at Bashir’s place, you didn’t even let me enter the house. You threw things at me from his window! I even fucking covered your apartment door with sweet, sappy sticky-notes, but to no avail.” Now he was livid. He was panting. His voice had reached a quavering crescendo that oddly reminded her of a pressure cooker whistle, just before it explodes into a mass of dangerously hot steam and a deafening scream.
And then he exploded, “HOW ELSE WAS I SUPPOSED TO TALK TO YOU?!”
And there he was, Hairy Chest, without the Hair. How blind was I to miss this in him? Miss this fog-horn voice, loud gestures and quick temper? That’s because Kirat acts like this only when he’s hopping mad. And I had never seen Kirat mad, only Hairy Chest.
It made her angry. White-hot angry that she could be this stupid. “Don’t you fucking get it? I’m not interested in talking to you…I don’t ever wanna see you again.”
“WHY? Just what is my fault?”
“YOUR’E HAIRY CHEST!!!” she shouted.
He was dumbfounded. It took him a while to absorb her words. Then comprehension seeped through as he recalled that one fight where she had called him Hairy Chest. “So….so what if I’m Hairy Chest? Do you have a problem with chest hair?”, he was still confused.
“No, you numbskull! You didn’t tell me that you were he, that Hairy Chest was Kirat …aaaarggghhhh, you lied to me about being my neighbour.”
“I didn’t lie to you! I fucking didn’t know myself that you were Panda Eyes! An officer told me that you and Panda Eyes were the same person.”
Wait, what? Panda eyes, again? That’s what he calls me? “Oh please! Do you want me to believe that when you first saw me at the Gallery you didn’t know I was your neighbour? That you didn’t recognize my voice, or my gestures?”
“YES, that’s what I’m telling you. Were you able to tell that I wasn’t me? No! Had you seen yourself the day you wrecked my door, you wouldn’t have believed it was you either. You looked like a……a rag-picker, like a rabid raccoon….. or panda! You had toilet paper stuck in your hair and dirt and kohl smudged over your face. Plus, you acted like a loony woman out from an asylum. Nothing like the Trishna I met at the Gallery. It’s entirely possible that we missed it because you and I hadn’t reached that point when you can start making our what one sounds or laughs or coughs like. We have officially met only twice… TWICE!!”, he cried out in sheer exasperation.
She was mute. He could be right, she conceded.
“And Trishna, so what if we hated each other as neighbours? We felt something when we met as you and me, or are you gonna deny that too?”, he lowered his voice to a tender entreaty.
She was turning over all of what he said in her mind, but… “Of course, we did. But that’s not the only reason why I’m mad. That night…” she stifled a sob and he quickly strode over to her side of the bed, but she stalled him with a hand, “Don’t come near me.” She still didn’t trust him entirely. “That night, when I heard the shots, I went through all that I had gone through before when my father blew his brains out. I saw him die, Kirat! I saw him point that gun to his head and pull the trigger. Can you imagine what that feels like? To see someone you love chicken out on life like that, chicken out on you like that? The hysteria, the heartache, the fear was all so palpable like it was only yesterday when he died. It was as if the horror wasn’t over. I went through all of that because of you.”
“Sweetheart, I didn’t know you went through all of that…” he lowered himself to the edge of the bed and looked up at her in genuine worry and regret. “I wanna kill myself for making you go through all of that. But…it wasn’t my fault. That barmy son of a barmy politician troubled a female friend in our party and I had to drop her home so she could be safe. He followed me all the way to the apartment just to pick a fight with me. He was the one carrying the gun, not me. He was the one who shot me.”
“I know that!”, she bellowed in exasperation.
“Then Trishna, why are you punishing me? What did I do to deserve this from you? “ , he asked her tenderly. Grief laced his voice and shimmered in his eyes.
She could only look down at him in response. A smidgen of fear and a whole lot of regret reflected in her eyes. Because you’re an artist, like my Dad, and I don’t want an artist to ever fuck up my life again. But she didn’t tell him that for fear of sounding illogical. Yes, it was illogical. But she couldn’t help it.
She didn’t need to tell him, though. He guessed it all by himself. “I know what’s going through your mind…”, he began softly, his voice returning to its comforting, chocolaty smoothness that she loved to hear, “Trishna, just because your Dad fucked up, doesn’t mean that I’m going to as well.”
She let herself go then. Drip, drip, drip, the tears rolled off her eyes.
“Just because he cheated on your Mom, he chickened out on you, doesn’t mean I will as well…”
“But I heard you making out with someone the third night of my stay…”
“That was a one-off thing, and that happened before I met you.” He stood up and slowly seated himself on the bed. He took her hand gingerly, carefully, like she was a china-doll, prone to breaking, “Look, love doesn’t stay the same throughout the years. I’m not defending him but that’s probably why your Dad cheated. I may not love you the same way 5 years from now….or 10 years from now, but I can promise you one thing…I’ll love you and only you as long as I do love. I’ll stay true to you as long as we’re together. Isn’t that all that matters?”
She wrenched her hand out of his hand. “So you’re telling me, that if we fall out of love, and if, down the line we’re married or together around that time, you’ll just up and leave?”
“Trishna you’re talking of something that hasn’t even happened yet. That may never happen. For God’s sake, we haven’t even had a decent date yet!”
“Just answer my question!!“, she yelled at him.
“Well, what point is there in keeping a relationship where all love is lost?”
Uh-oh, wrong answer! “Fidelity! Loyalty! That’s the point! That’s what my father stopped believing in… And that’s what I’m afraid of with you!!”
He let out a huge sigh and rested his head in his hands in defeat. When he looked up his eyes betrayed the tumult in his soul. “Trishna…how can I prove my loyalty to you before we even begin? How can you suppose, right off the bat, that I’m going to cheat on you? What is your assumption of me being a cheat based on? My having a one-night stand? Or me being an artist like your Dad?”
She didn’t answer. Just sat there twiddling her thumbs and staring into space. He had spelled it out so succinctly. But he carried on, “How do I know that you’re never going to cheat on me? Aren’t you your Dad’s daughter? Aren’t you just as likely to cheat on someone?”
Wow! She’d never looked at it that way. What if she, thanks to genetics, proved to be disloyal down the line?
He continued with his reasoning, “Do people who fall in love start out with the assumption that they’re going to be cheated on? If that were the case, no one would ever fall in love. All they can do is hope that it never comes to that. Trishna please, your assumptions of artists being cheats and spineless are baseless and irrational… ” He looked into her face searchingly, looking for that last ray of hope.
But she interjected with yet another pretext, “Then there’s this…”
“What?!” His voice finally betrayed resentment.
“That we, as Hairy Chest and Panda Eyes, can never seem to agree on anything. We’re always fighting, always cursing each other. Our lifestyles are dissimilar. We can’t tolerate one another….”
He suddenly got up from the bed and put a hand up for her to stop, “…and normal couples never fight, do they? They never have different outlooks, do they?” He shook his head in exasperation. “Trishna….I can see you’re not interested.”
He paced the floor while he rubbed his face with his palms. Defeat and resignation came off in waves from every movement of his body. Then he strode towards the door, unlocked it and threw it open for her as an indication that her incarceration was at an end. “I’m sorry about this. I’m sorry about everything, intended or unintended. You’re free to go. No one here will stop you. You’re free to report me to the police too. I will never bear a grudge.”
She was stunned at this turn of events but a part of her mind screamed, what are you waiting for? Run! And she obliged that part of her brain. She got up and half-ran out of that room. Half way through, she turned around to look at him and say something but he stopped her with his words, “Don’t say anything unless it is to tell me that you’re mine.” He didn’t even look at her while he said that.
She turned around and walked off. She walked out of that gate, out into the black of the night…
He still couldn’t believe that she walked out on him. He watched as her petite figure was swallowed by the abyss of the night. Was all this for nothing? Was she really so scared of me? Where did it all go wrong? We seemed to be made for each other!
He crumbled on the steps of the porch and rested his head between his hands.
“I’m sorry it turned out this way for you, Chotey (young one).” His bhai laid a tender hand on his shoulder.
Kirat smirked in abject dejection, “Maybe it wasn’t meant to be. But thanks for what you did, bhai.”
“Anytime, Chotey. And might I add that its better to go through an arranged marriage, like me, than this.”
“Please, bhai, not now…”
“You might wanna look up!” And Bhai walked back into the house. Kirat looked up in bewilderment.
There she was. Making her way back through the gate in her baggy pants, wild hair and self-conscious walk.
Could it be true? Could it really be that she is coming back to me?! He got off the steps and bounded off towards her, anticipation and relief writ large on his face.
She spoke very, very self-consiously, “Ummm….I….Don’t know where I am and I’ve no way to go back home.”
He felt like a balloon being deflated by a pernicious child. He asked her in irritation, “Is that it?”
“No….Then there’s this….”, she stood up on tiptoes and gave him a chaste kiss on the lips. On her way down she smiled by way of apology and he broke into an incredulous, stupid, ear-to-ear grin.
“Ohhhhh, Trishna…finally!”, he hugged her to himself. She began to say something but he stopped her with a hussshhh “No, don’t say a word. Let’s just…stay like this…love like this…”
And they did….
©Pradita Kapahi, 2016.
Picture Credits: https://pixabay.com/