Abhimanyu looked across the table and faced the beautiful woman sitting opposite to him. With an increasing sadness, he realized he couldn’t recognize that person anymore - time had drifted them apart and turned the girl he loved into a stranger.
Her features hadn’t changed - the cute stub of her nose, her full, pink lips, the gentle curves of her cheekbones, the soft creamy skin, the wide, intelligent forehead, and best of all - her deep brown eyes…
Yet, her beautifully carved lips weren’t smiling, her face wasn’t animated, and her eyes had no expression…
He looked at her long, pale fingers unthinkingly stir the coffee, her mind aloof, seeing things he possibly couldn’t in those dark, brown depths. Frustration, anger and pain wrecked him till he was reduced to shreds and felt like screaming, “Who are you and what have you done to my Krittika?”
Instead, he said lightly, “It’s getting cold”
She looked up and stared at him as if she was noticing him for the first time.
With a pang Abhimanyu realized that they were the eyes of a stranger; there wasn’t even an hint of the Krittika he knew in those familiar almond shaped eyes. How they used to enthrall him, bring him joy in his times of despair, had taught him to see the sheer beauty of life, of the things around them... how they taught him to LOVE…
He was 8 when they had shifted to a new neighborhood. It was different from the last one; it was less noisy and he had plenty of space in the garden to play. He had been literally pushed out of their new home to keep him out of the way and so he had relented to make mud pies at one corner of their garden. Spaceship, he had told himself, looking at the shapeless mass of dirt and mud. Invisible aliens were just flying in it for him, when a colorful ball came from the adjoining compound and landed on his precious creation.
In a second, the wonderful images in his mind, of extraterrestrial creatures, had been reduced to dust; in this case, a more shapeless mass than before. He looked furiously around him when a small, round face with two large pigtails peeped in shyly from his garden gate. Gaining courage on seeing a kid of her own age, she had come forward shyly, her large, dark eyes searching for what could only be her ball. She spotted it on the ruined creation in question and her eyes widened even more. Looking into her eyes, he could clearly read her apology. Before she could open her mouth to say sorry, Abhimanyu took a lump of mud in his hand and threw it on her pretty face. He felt a mixture of guilt and vindictive satisfaction as he saw his aim hit the target. She stood silent for a minute before bursting into tears and sobbing her way home.
Her dark eyes haunted him the entire night. They kept flashing on his mind and though he tried to convince himself in a childish way that what he had done was right, he didn’t succeed. He kept remembering her small, round face, and the way her long pigtails reached a second before she did, and the way her eyes looked when they saw the damage she had done.
His conscience kept pricking him and the next day; he hung over his side of the wall the entire morning, waiting for her come out of her house. When she did in the afternoon, he ventured to the other side, a ‘sorry’ card hidden in his pocket. She looked with apprehension at the garden gate opening and her eyes narrowed when she saw it was him. He went forward shyly till they were faced to face, an awkward silence stretching between them. Then abruptly, he took the card from his pocket and handed it to her. SORRY it said, in large, unbalanced words and rich, pastel coloring. A beautiful smile graced her lips and she asked “Is this for me?”
He nodded. “Thaanks,” she had drawled in a cute, high pitched voice. And then offering her hand said, “Friends?”
He had taken her hand then without thinking, without planning, without knowing he would never be able to let go of her again…
“Oh… you mean the coffee,” she said presently, bringing him out of his reverie. Abhi nodded faintly, not knowing what to say.
“You must be thinking I have become so dumb” Krittika said, a shadow of her old smile lingering on her lips.
Before Abhimanyu could even think of reacting in a suitable manner, she stood up abruptly and said “I have to leave now Abhi. I have… I have some important work back home”
He watched her pick up her purse, draw her chair back silently; keeping the hundreds of emotions that crashed him at bay. As she was about to leave, he couldn’t help himself “I heard what happened”
And I still can’t believe it, he wanted to add. Her husband dying in an air-crash, only child being born dead, months spent getting over depression and yet the ghosts of pain still haunted her young face, making it age ten years more. He wished he had been there when she needed him the most. But he was too busy with his glory, a proud young officer; too busy to find out about his heart he had left back with her... the heart which ached at her indifference now...
He was surprised as she turned to face him in a single fluid motion, her graceful neckline bent his way and he saw a flash of anger in her eyes that he knew only too well.
“So this was the point of this cozy chit-chat after all these years Abhi? To extend your sympathies to me?” she flared, her voice trembling. Abhimanyu saw her proud chin shoot up in the air, the poise of her graceful body and the disarming vulnerability of her anger.
She is still the same, he thought, brave and proud... battling for everything in her life.
Yes, she was still the same Krittika he had left 12 years back for joining the Army.
It was their last evening together. They cycled silently to their favorite bench overlooking the Godavari and leaned on the small iron railing.
“Don’t be scared Abhi”, she whispered, taking his hand in hers. He gripped it tightly, wishing he could never let go of her.
“You see that?” she said, pointing to the setting sun, “Today, everything seems like the end, like there is no light in our lives. But when the sun rises up, you would see everything with new eyes Abhi - a new day, with new light, a new beginning,” she smiled, her beautiful eyes beckoning him to join her too. He hugged her, burying his face in her soft hair and murmured, “I will miss you.” She laughed flippantly and said, “Just come back soon!” but her eyes spoke of a different story.
I have come back Krits, Abhimanyu thought, and I remember every part of the lore we left unsung.
But… do you?
He looked at her and said gently “You know I didn’t mean that.” He watched the fire in her eyes die down as suddenly as it had sprung.
Casting her eyes down, she said “I know…”
She turned to leave again, and this time he didn’t have any reason to stop her.
The sunrise for him had happened back then, and he had come back to see his life unfold into a beautiful evening, only to realize that his love was left in the dreams of his night and he couldn’t bring it back. The sun had set.
He watched her brisk footsteps die down as they reached the big window overlooking the sea.
A gasp escaped from her lips as she looked at the scene outside. The sun was setting.
Abhimanyu approached her silently and stood beside her, each lost in their own thoughts.
Memories, endless memories wrecked him - pebble throwing competitions in the serene Godavari, the endless dips they had taken there, eating peanuts from newspaper cones, lying on the sand and watching the moon, feeding small kabootars from their hands, racing each other on the sandy shores, doing homework together, watching stupid rom-coms she was crazy about, sending secret messages through each other’s windows, discussing school, hearing her rant about her friends and then realizing the actual depth of their friendship as they grew older; only… it had turned into love for him.
“Do you remember?” he asked her.
“Of course I do” she replied softly, her voice holding the undercurrent of stronger emotions.
With satisfaction, Abhimanyu noticed that this was a voice he knew, he remembered from the past; it was a Krittika he loved, not some bitter stranger.
It seemed natural enough for him to take her hand in his then, and she didn’t protest as his fingers found her cold ones.
After a while she gripped them tighter than he had that day.
They stood together in silence, holding hands, watching the sun set.
“There is indeed no light,
The nights sing of dark.
My world has reached its end
Show me hope with a spark.
Make me yours if I don’t belong
Let’s complete this unsung song
Time and fate had set us apart
But it’s not late to make a new start”
Yes, the sun had set, thought Abhi, but will it rise for them again?
And as Krittika leaned her head on his shoulder, he couldn’t help but think, “I hope it does. Oh! I hope it does…”
“In the sun that set
Their minds fear the darkness
Hope shines like sun rising”
PS: Antara and Sattu, please no raised eyebrows over the characters :P you know my obsession :P
Thank you Leo for editing the story and for the valuable feedback :)