It was Christmas and the smell of Mutton Biriyani mingled with the spicy aroma of Pork Vindaloo wafted through the living room. The two families who met regularly at Christmas were sitting around sipping wine and chattering like magpies.
“Where are those two?” someone asked.
Just then Shayla and Megan’s laughter pealed through the room.
The two girls had been prodding a frog with a stick and the disgruntled frog had jumped right onto Megan’s foot and was refusing to jump off. Megan was kicking her foot out manically and Shayla was holding her stomach with laughter.
Even at 9 years Shayla had an aura of self-sufficiency about her. She walked like royalty with her black hair swinging out behind her. Megan, who was three years younger, wore glasses and her short hair was always a mess. The bond of friendship had been forged at the hospital when Megan was born and Shayla had gone with her family to visit her.
It’s amazing how much we believe in ‘forever’ when we’re young and as we grow older we start clinging desperately to whatever ‘here and now’ we chance upon.
They giggled to school, stuffed their pockets with fresh tamarind and spluttered their way through a stolen cigarette. Music and poetry tightened the web of intensity around them, closing them in and shutting the rest of the world out.
Megan would sometimes sit and stare out of the window vacantly.
“Why won’t you tell me what’s wrong”? Shayla asked gently.
“Because I have to go through whatever I’m going through, both of us don’t need to”.
Instead of arguing with her Shayla would play for Megan, waltzes, most often The Blue Danube, or when Megan was quiet for too long the ‘Starlight Waltz’. She was a born musician and her fingers would fly over the keys creating magic. Megan could listen to her for hours. Megan would close her eyes and become the music. It was as though the notes that crashed around her like waves took away some of the pain in the ebbing.
“Listen to this Meg, and tell me what images of life you have”, she said as she played a complicated, intricate piece. When she finished Meg looked at her and said,
“Take my soul when you must
But treat it gently
I have tried to do you justice
In the only way known to me”.
Shayla asked Megan to repeat it over and over again. The poet and the musician didn’t seem to want for anything or anyone else. They made so many memories and marked so many milestones on the road that they traveled together.
They decided, one day to make the perfect male. “Let’s give him Henry Fonda’s eyes”, suggested Shayla.
“NO !! c’mon Shay who the hell even remembers Henry Fonda, let alone his eyes. Ok, Clint Eastwood’s eyes.”
“I’ve never seen his eyes, the man squints so much”, protested Shay. Slowly they worked their way feature by feature when Shay said, “Does he need to have the perfect…er…”.
“Ofcourse Shayla, every part of him has to be perfect”.
“Ok then, do you know a perfect prick”??? Shayla giggled at her own double-entendre. Just then Mr.D’Costa, Shayla’s father, poked a worried face into the room, “What are you girls talking about”?
“Oh, Shayla said she knows the perfect trick for Humphrey”, Megan replied, with a straight face, as the canine lazily thumped his tail.
A very relieved Mr. D’Costa closed the door on muffled giggles.
Then there was Mrs.Singh, Shayla’s neighbour who was constantly complaining about the girls. Holi seemed the perfect time to get back at Mrs. Singh, so on Shayla’s suggestion, they waited for Mrs. Singh to leave the house and coloured her Pomeranian a bright green and pink. Mrs. Singh’s screams reached their ears before her footsteps could. Mr. D’Costa stood at the door trying to calm her down even as his lips twitched at the sight of the, blissfully unaware, very colourful Pomeranian in her hands. Ofcourse the girls had to apologize profusely and listen to a discourse on what happens to bad girls in the end.
Shayla had turned into a beautiful sixteen-year old. Dark and dusky with intense eyes, she was quick to anger and would say exactly what she wanted to. She was the brooder, always contemplating on how to get back at the world for everything it had done to her but only Megan knew about her biting sense of humour. Megan laughed a lot and was always ready to see the best in people but Shayla knew all about the ‘tears of a clown’.
Once they were walking down a busy street and it was raining.
“Oh oops, my sandal’s broken”, said Megan.
Shayla immediately took off her own sandals swung them over her shoulder and said, “You’re coming or what?”
Megan and Shayla went splashing and giggling barefoot in the rain, completely ignoring the staring crowd.
She was always looking out for Megan; she always had since they were kids. She would lash out at anyone who she thought was getting at Megan. “You’re so beautiful Meg”, she said.
“Yeah, I get that all the time”.
“No really, It’s as though the horror that seems to be your life hasn’t touched the core of you, you’re so incredibly naïve, and gentle Meg., but you’re not fragile.”
“Shay, what worries me is that you’re the exact opposite. You come across as very tough but you’re so fragile inside. If you break, I don’t know if you’d ever be able to put the pieces back together”.
A few days after the conversation Megan barged into Shayla’s house to see her crying. Someone had hurt her. Without thinking about it she wiped the tears off her cheek and kissed her on the lips.
It was sudden and both of them froze, looking stunned. What had just happened? They just stared at each other and as though compelled by a force beyond them, reached across to each other and kissed again. It seemed so natural, like the final piece in a relationship that was already so complete. They didn’t strive to understand it or classify it. They just held each other. They didn’t want to give what they were feeling a name. All they knew was that it felt so right, so perfect.
Ah, Mr. Poe, but they too loved with a love that was more than a love, like you and your Annabel Lee.
Every thought they thought was of the other, every waking hour was lived for the other. Both the families decided to travel to Hyderabad for a last holiday before Megan went away for her studies. Somewhere within them, both Shayla and Megan knew that life was going to change for them. They savored every minute together, saying so much without saying a single word. Words never meant much to either of them. They had spent a lifetime speaking without words, listening to the other’s silence and knowing exactly what it meant, like nobody else in the world could. The last evening at Hyderabad, they went to Birla Mandir. The mysterious, ephemeral, lights of the marble temple glowed for them through a veil of a drizzle. It was almost like God was beginning to cry for them. They walked side by side, in perfect rhythm, as they had done all their lives. They stopped at the foot of the hill and by force of habit Shayla brushed the hair off Megan’s face and kissed her. There was such heartache packed in that kiss.
The lamp of love is hard to find
And hard it is to light
Once lit, harder it is
To put out of sight
Her father saw them and everything went crazy. There was a family reunion where they were both grilled. They sullied what was beautiful, or atleast they tried. They called them names. One particularly malicious adult wanted to know who the ‘queen’ was. Megan looked uncomprehendingly at Shayla…and whispered, “What is this reference to royalty now”? She asked in genuine bewilderment. Shayla giggled and that just served to anger everyone even more.
Megan’s departure was hastened. They only had a few minutes left with each other. They sat across each other, holding hands and staring out of the window while the tears fell from both their eyes … a silent testimony to the death of their entire lives as they had known it. Meg looked at Shayla’s hands, the sensitive fingers that could create magic on the piano, the hands that held hers through slippery puddles, the hands that would never again hold hers.
“Will you look after yourself”, Shayla asked, brushing the hair out of Megan’s eyes.
Megan could not reply.
After several moments of struggling to get her voice out Megan said, “Shay, I don’t know a life without you being a part of my every thought, without my every breath beginning and ending with your name. I don’t know how to live without you”, she said as the tears rolled down her cheeks
“You will learn to love again and live again”. Shayla declared in a trembling voice
“So will you”, said Meg in a small voice.
Not like this. Never like this.
“Will you think of me sometimes”? asked Shay, in a quiet voice.
“Will it matter if I do or not? I’m not going to be a part of your reality ever am I? We can’t do anything with what we feel Shay.” Shayla was not even trying to stop the tears.
“I’ll think of you Shay”, Megan continued in a whisper, “every time I hear the piano, every time I taste tamarind…every time I love again…if I ever love again”.
Shayla moved over to the piano and played The Starlight Waltz one last time, this time for both of them. Her tears splattered all over the ivory keys and Meg sat next to her, adding her tears to the deluge of utterly helpless, hopeless, broken dreams. The final notes of the waltz faded out, but the pain that twisted and turned in their hearts threatened to last forever.
“I’ve got to go now, don’t come to the door”, said Meg in a voice that dripped with grief.
They looked at each other through a blur of tears. She left without saying anything. What was left to be said??
Meg walked slowly out of Shay’s house and out of her life. Mrs Singh’s Pomeranian which was now a pale pink and green yelped at her.
“It’s so strange to live when everything in you is dead”, was her last thought as she walked up the lonely road towards a lonely, unknown tomorrow.