D and S were made for each other. They could take up an issue and debate all day, over ilaichi chai and bakery bisuits in her apartment. And at nights, tired of all the disagreement, they would have a slow, quiet dinner on the terrace and watch the lights of the sleepless city under them, and the twinkle of the stars above. She would often fall asleep in his arms under a shared blanket. And he would watch her for a long time before he tucked her in bed and left. They would take off to unseen destinations on instinct, only to come back with animated stories about their experiences. It was as if they had a thirst, to explore and stretch the limits of life, as if there was no tomorrow, as if they could never have enough of each other. He watched them with a mix of envy and awe. He knew S deserved her. Because S was not ordinary like him. He did not spend solitary evenings writing poetry dipped in nature. He did not prefer to remain quiet on controversial issues. S was not like P. For P dreamt of a small life with a scooter, a 2-bedroom apartment, and a loving wife, someone like D. Someone pristine and beautiful like D. Someone passionate and intelligent, and ever understanding, like D. Someone who twitched her nose like D when he talked about his ordinary dreams, but then touched his hand gently to smile and say, "You will have it all.". Someone who could laugh off annoying habits as idiosyncrasies, someone who would question, but always have faith, someone who would bring to his heart a feeling of coming home, every time he saw her. Someone like D. But not D. D was for S. She deserved S. And he deserved her. More than anyone else. The brilliant sparkle of the ring on her finger was a proof of that.
That chilly morning of 3rd February is still etched in his mind. He had rushed when he heard the news. S's parents were standing in a corner, with D's father consoling them. He could see a never-ending haze of known faces, as he looked for D, with desperate concern. There she was, with a bandage on her head from the accident and a stony look in her eyes. He stood there. Fixed to the spot. He did not go near her. He didn't know what to do or say. He backed away from the scene like a horror-struck man.
The days that passed were a haze. D had started to spend more and more time indoors. She had sent her parents back, saying she was okay. P would visit her sometimes, but she did not like to be disturbed, although she never said it. Her dad visited every weekend, just to take her out forcibly for meals, ensuring she got some fresh air. That evening, when he visited her apartment, he saw her sitting in the terrace, gazing at the city lights.This is all she had done for the past few months. Her father slept on the couch in the living room. He went and sat next to her.
"How are you?"
She didn't reply. He exhaled and sat there for what seemed to be an hour when she said, "P, will you marry me?". He turned towards her with a start. Her eyes were still fixed on the lights below, a tear glistening in them.
He turned to look at her father, still sleeping on the couch, looking fatigued, as if he had been running for ages.
"Of course I will.", he replied, and sat beside her in silence for the rest of the night.
D has only vague memories of the wedding and of the many days that followed. P took care of every detail of her time table. He would wake up early to cook for her, run the water down for her bath, make the bed, clean the 2 bedroom house, and then leave for his office on his scooter. The only conversation she had with him were answers she gave to his mundane questions, like, "Did you eat?", "Shall I get you a book?", "I will be in the other room. Call me if you want anything, ok?". She always wanted the lights on.
It was on midnight of 19th October when she was woken up by the ringing of the phone. She heard P's steps in the hall, and his voice saying "Thank you", after which he returned to his room. She remembered then, that it was his birthday. That must be M, his best friend of college, she thought. She noticed in the morning that he had kept the receiver aside.
"I am going to the temple. You want to come?", he had asked the following morning, knowing she did not believe much in 'worship'.
"Ok", she had replied.
She had come back looking breathtaking, draped in a traditional Kasavu. He thought he saw a faint smile in her eyes when she said, "Lets go."
That night, as he lay awake in his bed, he heard her footsteps entering the room. He shut his eyes. She climbed on the bed next to him, and he heard stifled sobs for the next few hours feeling every corner of his heart melt away. Then, he felt her breath on his face, as she kissed his cheek, and whispered, "Happy Birthday, P". He is not sure if she saw the tear that ran sideways to his pillow. She was still sleeping there when he woke up the next day.
It has been five years now. S is still the unmentionable subject in the house, and P thinks, sometimes, she still sobs in the shower when he can hear all the taps opened. P has never aspired to be S. P can not be S. He is ordinary, and safe, like he always was. He buys D little gifts from time to time, that she smiles and accepts. He took her to Coorg last summer, and she petted a rabbit there and brought it home. She laughs sometimes, while playing with the rabbit. She still leaves her hair loose, almost all the time, and sometimes, she still sits in the small balcony of the 2 BHK apartment to watch the city lights.
"Something on the left cheek", she said, touching his cheek to remove a flake, as she handed him the lunch box.