On Love and Loss
They walked to his old apartment in Bangalore, making way through the traffic that was an inseparable part of the city. As soon as they stepped on a footpath, in a typical fashion, she slipped off a broken edge and fell, bruising her knee. She groaned good-naturedly, cursing her clumsiness. He held back a smile as he fussed over her, marvelling her ability to stumble on even most regular surfaces. He clasped her small hand a little more firmly, intertwining their fingers, hoping he could save her from further cuts and scrapes.
She chattered happily, talking about the time she had been in Bangalore before that, the diner that had a cute boy band playing old Bollywood songs, the coffee-caramel-nut ice-cream she had had that day and the possible mystery behind the salt on the rim of the glass of a Bloody Mary. He let her talk, it aided in distracting himself from other things on his mind. “Anyway the drink tasted so yuck”, she made a face and he smiled. He knew what she would say next, repeat for the umpteenth time her fond wish that alcohol tasted as good as her favourite “Kala khatta”. Instead, she looked sideways at him and asked with concern in her voice, “You okay? You are so silent”.
“Yeah, yeah. I am fine”, he said.
She wasn’t convinced. She never was.
She stopped walking and drew him to the side of the footpath where they could stand leaning on the railing of a building. “Are you sure you want to do this?” she asked quietly.
He marvelled at her innate talent of guessing what was on his head. Women, he thought. “Yeah” he shrugged. “It will be good to see them again.”
And it would be good to see them again, he thought. It already felt good to be back in the city that was home for two whole years. It would be good to catch up with his friends, talk about old days and pull each other’s legs. But, would it?
He was sure that one event would linger heavily on every conversation. Unsaid things would be spoken through eyes, in clink of glasses and small, heavy sighs. It was almost 6 months to Aditya’s death and it still felt so surreal. No one knew how exactly he died, except that falling off from a 7-storey building didn’t seem like an accident. Suicide was something everyone thought but didn’t say because it somehow just didn’t connect with the person he was.
It was not like they didn’t discuss it between their friend-circle. But somehow, standing there, a mere hundred steps away from the place where they had lived together, laughed together, something weighed down his heart.
She hugged him, bringing him back from his reverie and he hugged her back, silently thanking her presence. He remembered the night when the surreality of Aditya’s death crashed over him as he found some old photos of them working at a competition together. Aditya had dragged him to get some sleep while he himself worked on their robot that night. He had lain on the bed for a long time, the photos flashing in his mind’s eye, sleep evading him, trying to sink in the truth. Her arms around him even in her deep sleep had been the only comfort that night.
His eye suddenly caught something on the stand of a local seller displaying coffee mugs and he made his way to it. He picked a mug with Gateway of India sketched on it and “India” written across it, a million memories crashing over him again. In answer to her questioning glance, he said “I had a mug exactly like this. I forgot it in the apartment when I shifted to Gurgaon and Aditya had coveted it. I had totally forgotten about its existence till a few months back when he sent me a photo of it saying that he had been using it since then and was even planning to take it with him to Germany”.
She smiled at that, still looking at his eyes, gauging his reaction. They stood there holding the mug for a while, before he finally returned it to the stall, much to the irritation of the shopkeeper. They started walking slowly towards their destination when he stopped abruptly and said, “Let’s go back”.
If she was surprised, she didn’t show it. Without losing a breath, she said, “take me to that Andhra mess you told me about? I really wanna have some curd rice with pickle”. She licked her lips in exaggeration and he laughed, loving her for not asking any questions. He would encounter the same memories again for sure, but today was not the day to deal with them. She took his hand and gave it a squeeze, and for the hundredth time, he thanked for her in his life. They walked in a comfortable silence and in a quieter part of the lane, he kissed her softly.
“I love you” he said, looking into her dancing eyes.
“I know”, she smiled and they made their way in the night for some all-time favourite curd rice with pickle.