As he inhaled the nicotine, his past flashed in front of his eyes. The woman who betrayed him. The father who supported him. The mother who knew it all along but kept quiet. And the friend who advised him to forget it all and move on. As if it was that easy. He crushed the cigarette under his foot and mulled for a while. Try as he might, he couldn’t stop thinking of the mistake he had committed. Knowingly. Unknowingly. Willingly. He stared at the setting sun. Yet another day had passed. He couldn’t believe it had been so long. He looked at the skyline and felt the need to smoke again. Squinting his eyes at the mighty sun, that continued to display its power as it bid goodbye for the day, he lighted up his fourth cigarette for the day.
Two years ago, he lost his virginity to a Muslim bride. She was irresistibly pretty. Her kohl eyed face sometimes still visited him in his dreams. She rarely covered her hair, as was the custom in their community. And he was attracted to this little rebel in her. She was fiery, feisty and arrogant in her persona. There was always a pinch of rage on her face. O, what a sight! To hear her disagree. To stare at her unstoppable mouth that refused to shut up. To see the fury in her eyes when she disapproved of something. The subtle sight of victory on her face when he finally surrendered to her arguments. She enjoyed winning. And he loved losing to her.
Their passion was alive and aloof at the same time. He believed he had found love in her. He had never been so hopelessly awed at any woman in his life. Perhaps that was not the case with her. She had loved many times. Well, not exactly love. She carefully avoided any confrontation with that four-letter word. She enjoyed his company. And he was a good kisser. She didn’t look for a third reason. She didn’t need one. They spent days and nights together. He: unaware that she was engaged to someone else. She: reveling in his ignorance. Until one day, truth decided to show up on its own. She moved on. He was crushed.
As it started getting darker, he felt a chill run down his spine. His loneliness was pricking him like a thorn. The Muslim bride was a traitor. He obviously fell in love with the wrong woman. Like he had any control over it, he thought to himself, and lit a beedi. The cigarette packet had nothing but ashes left in it. He walked to the shore to meet the stranger woman.
As she put on her clothes, she mused over the colour brown. The colour that reminded her of her lover. His skin, the colour of coffee sans milk. Brown. Dusky. She decided to drape her brown dupatta today. Somehow, today smelled of him. His aura. His mere presence. She sipped her glass of wine and fondly remembered her days with him. They had been together for two years. And it felt like she had met him, known him, felt him only yesterday.
It’s been a little over a year now since his death. Thirteen months ago, Fate took him away from her. Fate that brought them together. Fate that seemed to promise them a lifetime of togetherness. Maybe Fate had other plans; maybe even better ones. But she was too nihilistic to consider that possibility. She wiped her bindi. It didn’t go with her attire, she felt. But then, something looked missing on her face when she removed it. She put the bindi back on. A brown dot that seemed to suggest that it belonged there, no matter what she wears. It seemed to complete her. She sighed.
She finished her glass of wine, stole one last look at the mirror that always lied and left her apartment. The shore was a twenty-minute long walk. The weather was promising this evening. It played juvenile games with her brown dupatta. But she didn’t mind. It eased her conscience and she was more than happy about that. She had barely walked a couple of minutes when she felt a drizzle caress her cheek. Was she crying? She touched her eyes to check. Drop. Another one. This time on her forehead, narrowly touching the brown bindi. She touched her forehead and realized that the bindi had gone. It had left her, too. She didn’t care to cover herself with her dupatta. As the raindrops touched her soul, she was reminded of her own mortality.
She reached the shore earlier than expected. It stopped drizzling. As she looked at the moody waves of the sea, she waited for the stranger man.
They both knew each other’s story. Their broken lives had felt a resonance. They had never met. They were strangers, after all. And yet the fact that they knew everything about each other was true. It was surreal. They had written letters to each other, read poems on the phone, even wrote stories and laughed about it. They had never known what it was like to be in the same place at the same time. They breathed the same air. They lived on the same earth. They stared at the same moon every night as they spoke over the phone and discussed its fading light. But they had never met.
As the waves growled angrily and shone under the moonlight, two figures inched closer. Two figures who had not known to be around each other and yet knew what it would feel like when they would be together. Alone. He breathed the air that she exhaled. And with the power vested in her as the perfect stranger, she kissed all his troubles away.