It was nonsensical to pretend he would leave her. It could never happen. I was in denial. My mind weaved grand tales to turn that denial into reality, to make some sense out of it even while knowing clearly it was fooling itself. I stretched my mind so much that now at this point it was impossible to bring it back to its former shape. It was in a different dimension all together. I knew that he would never be able to let her go and the guilt and fear will always make him feel wrong about being with me. . and yet I stood at the door of the colorful souvenir shop there hallucinating what could happen.
I watched as he slid beside her on the boat. Her face beaming with happiness at something he was saying. I could see them merrily taking pictures and chatting. There were a few other couples and a group of tourists I had seen earlier in the market apart from the local crowd and yet the moon light seemed to shine just above them like a spotlight on their semblance. I could see their silhouettes slowly fading into the pearly night. Entwined without touching, their bodies fused as one. Drunk on the lust filled air, my limbs tingling with what I thought was a want of him. A dream he would resume after fulfilling his duty towards her. I pretended it to be that. Hoping that he would turn his head at least once, give me that gaze of reassurance, a smile maybe. He did not.
He had left me as effortlessly as I had loved him. There was nothing more to wait for and that nothingness filled the increasing distance as the boat carried him away to where I did not fit. She wore his promise on her finger. I , on my heart. It was all of him that belonged to me.
My exotic little adventure was over. Torn between magic and mayhem, need and disruption I walked back to the hotel. Faced with the biggest truth of my life I did not wish to look at the challenge that stared at my face. A challenge of letting go of someone I loved, cared about and more than that I found it exceedingly difficult to let go of the idea, the belief in him because the intensity of disappointment of knowing that he wasn’t what he pretended to be was too much of a betrayal to bear. I often mulled over what could have happened in a certain situations but did not and often a voice in my head said, “if it should have, it would have. ‘Could have’ was a stressful waste of time.”
I pushed the deluge of emotions at the back of my mind. I needed silence to reconnect with myself , to find some way to deal with the demons within. I had realized from past experience that seeking emotional support, love , care and a shoulder to lean on to was nothing but a smoke screen. A big lie. It did not in any way help to resolve the turmoil inside. All the smoke gave were burning tear filled eyes.
I was violently confused my his real inaccessible presence. For months I had been possessed by the imagination of his. He was distant and closed away and yet my imagination made him present to my mind and senses. I had spun romantic fantasies about us, written tales of love and longing, of a constant togetherness to keep me afloat in those long hours of constantly hungry waiting.
I kept thinking of the ways in which he resembled or differed from the man I loved, dreamed of, reached out for and every thought only exacerbated things. The illusion had hit me real and sharp. Stung, I wanted to cry but the tears did not flow. Maybe they did, inwardly, too proud to be seen. I could feel the familiar knot in my chest. My eyes were like two smouldering pools but not a single drop fell. I stared at the blur that had enveloped me. I could not bear to look at the bed which was still unmade. Each fold , each crumple reminder of him, of us, of a man who would never come back to me. I felt as if I was getting morphed into liquefied hurt. The room was buzzing with silent echoes of things lost. I grabbed the chair to steady myself and slowly stepped out in the small balcony. The shimmering waters of the river were filled with overwhelming grief and unspeakable love. The silhouettes of long-tailed boats tied to the dock swayed gently with the night breeze, its touch light and cold like that of a departing lover. The bamboo-hated vendors had all gone home after a busy day. It was all so quiet on the waterway. Just like the water-colour painting that hung in my room. Dreams blurred with tears. In my case the unshed ones.
I sighed and dragged myself back to the room. Each step felt as if I was carrying a weight of a lifetime. One by one I began to throw my belongings into the open travel bag. Things I should have thrown in the trash bin instead but could not. I intended to keep what was mine. Even him. I was committed to the memories, heartaches, laugher and joy, all moments of intimacy however short-lived they were. Committed to the tales of love, the dreams that kept me company in his long months of absence, the hope and the futility of it all. I wanted to treasure that “true love” which could never show forth. I did not want to wipe the slate clean and so I did not cry. I wanted to keep the flickering fireflies like stars in my eyes. It was preferable than to face the fear of letting go everything that meant a world to me. It was preferable than to step into the nightmare called future which was going to be horribly empty without him. I knew it because I had planned to share it with him. Even after knowing how utterly impossible it had sounded even to my imagination.
Usually one could see the fireflies at the waterfront during the nights of the waxing moon but tonight even their glow had dimmed. I had not been able to see even one. Such are some nights.
I held him tightly in my heart but had no hold over him. I loved him and I was not giving up on that I was just letting him go and even that hurt as much as hanging on.
With the daybreak I would be on my way home or let us say to the place I call home. For a home is where the heart is and my heart is a gypsy forever wandering on paths where my dreams lead me to him. In my heart I also knew that in dreaming about being the queen of the ocean I had lost the pond too. There was never going to be a “home”. Only stopovers.
The cell phone which had replaced the watch for the lack of any other activity showed that the night was well into the last phase. I had been betrayed before in body as well as in mind and yet I had fallen in love again. Opened myself to another world of hurt. Knowing he would never be mine. He had a world of his own beyond those two oceans that lay between them. A family, a profession he was passionate about, a home whose comfort he was used too. I neither belonged there not fitted.
He was a saviour who had lifted me out from the mess that I was living every day. Given me a source for dignified living. Given me kindness, care and … love. Given it to me as a fuel to my boost my confidence in myself and the life that lay ahead of me. I, on the other hand had given him myself. Suddenly I had everything I had longed for, a friend, a confidante, a lover ( what did distance matter when the hearts were one.. so I thought) and a man I implicitly trusted.
I had felt betrayed when I had seen them together for the first time. Maybe I should not use the word “betrayal” . It sounds utterly insensitive in our case. I felt betrayed because I had built up expectations and carved out an image of him from my imagination. Occupational hazard of being a writer. He on the other hand had not promised anything but my freedom from the shackles that held me back to the world I needed to escape and happiness that it would bring. Nothing more. As I said earlier there are variations of love and we ( I take the liberty and luxury of calling “us” “we” here. He did Love me but not in the same way I did. There was no question of any betrayal at all. Everything else , yes.
That made me think about her and the question, which one of us was less fortunate? I was seeking a bond of complete trust which could only be built on the foundation of his breaking trust of someone else. The pangs of guilt hit me like a bolt of lightning. Love doesn’t consider all these things conscience does and my tug of war with the two popped up very timely to curb the flight of the heart. The mind was nothing but a manipulating mind controlling freak and in those moments of vulnerability , it leaves no chance to whiplash. I pushed the thought aside. There was no place for guilt and fear in Love. They came to me in glimpses and flashes but for him they acted like a fence that separated us. Some things just happen and it is better not to dig deep.
He was faint hearted, I was a romantic and she didn’t know any better. We were all afloat like the boats on that graceful timeless river. Trusting the flow of life to take us to our final destination.
I was now at a point where I had to decide whether to wait or to forget . I decided to choose the first. I wanted to remain his best friend and not become some heartbroken stranger I was becoming. I checked myself before it was too late . I loved him with whatever there was or wasn’t. Call it a flaw in me to love an unattainable man, it is what it is. I am flawed and fractured but it is a better option than losing. It was maybe my destiny to fall in love with someone I could not have. Over and over again. With him , unlike others, I felt at home. You know the feeling, don’t you? The feeling that your search had ended and you have found your match. All about the Karmic soul-mate or the twin soul etc. It made me warm even through the coldest of hurts. It was a feeling of being a book with two volumes, one incomplete without the other. That’s what we were to me. Strange are the ways of heart.
I watched the empty bed from the couch where I had curled up. The sadness of which spoke to me in his absence. The faint light of daybreak made it look surreal. I felt as if he was there, lying on his back, feet overlapped, head buried in the soft pillow, asleep like a baby just like last night when I had watched him sleeping after we had made love. This time a tear quietly escaped my eye. Missingness is the worse feeling ever a human can experience. We aren’t designed to endure it.
I stretched my limbs and rubbed them to get the blood flowing then got up and walked out to the balcony. Birdsongs of predawn veiled in mist greeted me. I could see the locals arranging their wares on the little canoes and in rows and rows of wooden shops along the edge of the river selling almost the same stuff. Most of them were closed at this hour.
The people in the houses built on planks were slowly waking up to another noisy day. A few Sampans waited for the tourists to begin their journey down the river. The whole place was a tourist trap but people came back again and again to be a part of the old world oriental charm. To escape the maddening city life they took a plunge in another kind of madness. Soon the serene river would be plugged with boats and the place would resemble a tropical forest with exotic vibrant colours and people of all shapes and sizes. There were locals waiting at the banks to offer food to the monks. A sight that always filled me with a sense of calm. The boats selling fruits and delicious meals would soon outnumber the tourist boats. I wanted to get away before their return. I was supposed to. The bills were already paid so all I had to do was pick up my overnight bag and disappear.
We were two hours away from the main city where he had come on the pretext of a conference a few days earlier to my city and from there we had came to this small province for our little adventure. She had flown in only yesterday morning. They were staying in some swanky city hotel and he had gone back to pick her up and brought her in the morning as part of a tour. It had hectic but then all these secret getaways are usually time bound and messy.
I longed for a hot mug of coffee and decided to go down to the small quaint, richly decorated 24 hours coffee shop the hotel had. I needed some human warmth and company to help me cope with the long lonely day that lay ahead.
It was a gorgeous property set in a century old house and had exquisite ornate interiors done in traditional Thai style. The sleepy lobby was draped in early morning rays that filtered through huge windows overlooking a magnificent oriental garden with fruit trees and exotic flowers. A small wat called temple of dawn stood at a strategic angle where the first rays of the rising sun flooded the statue of Buddha. I decided to spend some time there. A section of cafe cha was open air. I decided to sit there in the midst of rose vines and from where I sat I could feel the energy of peace and calm radiating from the sun-kissed statue. Mesmerized by the aura that surrounded me I barely noticed his presence.
“Beautiful isn’t it?”
“Huh? Yes it is.” I smiled as the steward laid the breakfast and coffee on the bamboo table. I had decided to eat and leave before they came. They were staying in a boutique hotel right at the river front and I did not want to be of any embarrassment or trouble. Any way my stay here was till noon.
I thanked the elderly gentleman for remembering to bring exactly the kind of coffee I needed. He nodded and gazed at me for what seemed like a long time.
“You must go and light some incense sticks there. I will bring you some. It is better to ask for love, compassion, joy and sympathy from Him than ordinary people.” His gaze was fixed on me. Suddenly my eyes filled and I looked away unable to stop the flood of tears welling up inside me. I snatched a tissue from the table and hurriedly wiped the tears away.
” Kob Khun maak Ka” I said. He nodded and walked back to the main café.
With the first bite of Waffles I realized how hungry I was. The piping hot coffee almost scalded my tongue. It was the best meal since I arrived here. We had not got chance to do any site seeing r indulge in any local cuisine. It was all room service and a hurried dinner at the dining hall. Food was the last thing on our mind. The thought made me smile and the warmth of the memory of time spent together brought colour to my face.
I wasn’t feeling so low now , maybe it was the Buddha or the breakfast and coffee or just plain affection that the old man had bestowed on me. Sometimes hearts connect and there is an instant energy exchange between two strangers. Whatever it was it charged me for the day.
I licked the plate clean to the last crumb and was about to step into the garden when the old man returned.
” I think you should leave. I will burn the incense for you. Here take this.” With that he handed me a small figurine of exquisite black wood Buddha set in a silver case. He took out a fine silk cloth from his pocket wrapped it and handed it to me.
“Something we give to our special guests.”
I kissed the gift and tucked it in my purse.
“May he look after you and show you the light.” I took his hand and pressed it gently.
” Thank you. You made my trip memorable” I said.
“Go safe.” He said and hastily walked back inside without waiting for my response.
“Yes, I will.” I said softly and went to my room.
I hadn’t asked him why he wanted me to leave so suddenly. I just followed his words.
After a quick shower I changed into a casual denim and tee picked my bag and took one last look at the room.
On second thoughts I kept he bag on the wooden floor and walked to the bed and ran my fingers over the creases of the bed sheet. A fragrance I still carry on my fingertips.
I kissed the pillow and pressed its cool white surface against my cheeks. I held it for a while tightly hugged and then in a swift moment kept it back , picked the bag and walked out in the corridor closing the door behind to yet another parting.
A girl was at the reception and I said my goodbye to her, handed the key and walked out in the morning sun. The mist had lifted long ago and the place was a riot of colours and noise. Quickly I making my way through the notoriously chaotic traffic to get to the bus station when I spotted them just a few shops away. Before I could react our eyes met and instantly he looked away and turned his back. She was bargaining with the vendor about some stuff and I stood there staring as if I had taken roots through the dusty pavement. Everything else blurred.
Without realizing , as if pulled by a force, I began to walk towards them. I think he sensed it and tuned. His eyes not believing what they were seeing. I could feel the rising conflict of emotions swirling inside him. His face intense, his eyes following my every move.
She struck a final price and turned to him with the magnificent stroll in her hand and stopped mid sentence. I was near enough to overhear her. She asked him if he was alright to which he nodded and forced himself to appreciate her purchase. She looked around as if sensing something but missed me in the crowd of tourists who had emerged from the adjacent shop. I turned and walked away with the group without looking back. I put my hand inside the purse and grabbed the little Buddha in my fist and walked briskly through the crowd to catch the bus back home. “Please leave” that’s was his eyes had conveyed in those few moments.
I still don’t know what had made me do that bizarre thing in the market . Sometimes we just do certain things however unreasonable they may be. I knew this will surely come up in our conversations later. I knew that however I may try to harden my heart I would never be able to break away from him. I could not. He was too much a part of me.
“Your phone.” The woman next to me pointed at my bag.
“Oh! Thanks. I didn’t hear it ringing.” I took out the cell phone amazed that it still did what it was meant to do. I had totally forgotten about it being in the bag.
I stared at his face on the screen unable to decide if I wanted to take the call or not. Thankfully it stopped ringing. A beep indicated a text and I opened the message with trembling hands.
“Tried calling. Go safe. Will connect once I am back.” After a minute there was another beep.
“By the way that was wicked. You almost gave me a heart attack. Love always.”
For the first time I giggled at the little prank I had played.
I replied with a digital heart and kiss and placed the phone back in the bag.
At the airport I browsed at the book store, had another cup of coffee and some sandwiches and waited.
Waiting was one thing I did well.
With nothing much to do I took out the Buddha encased in the shimmering silver case. I had not paid much attention to its beautiful ornate carving. The smooth black wood had a lovely shine to it. I ran my fingers over it and turned around the case. Something caught my attention and my heart skipped a beat when I saw my name engraved at the bottom of the case. It was then my eyes fell on the inside of the silk cloth. On its ivory surface were scribbled a few words. “Never too far away from you.”