(This is a work of fiction)
What’s a good love story made of, he asked her. Every kind of extreme, she said. But that’s bound to end, he countered. Would you rather it went on for ever, she asked. “I like love stories to have an ending, preferably not the ever after kind,” she finished and continued to stare into the sea. Afternoon waves ate up the silence that the finality of her preference brought.
What a cliché we are, he thought. A good head taller than her, his broad shoulders and her sharp, petite ones. His fair to her dark. His earthiness to her pointed edges. Sitting by the sea in typical couple fashion. Except, it was a hot afternoon and the Marina was practically empty but for a few couples dotting the simmering sand, dupattas shared over two heads that were too close, yet not close enough. Couples with more money were parked in the parking lot, facing away from the road looking at the blinding expanse of hot dirty sand and the languid sea. Except, they were not love-struck. Except, at the first sign of trouble, they’d blame each other violently, burst into spontaneous flames and singe everything around them. Till, realizing the lackluster life that ash led, one of them would gather up the will to beat one’s wings and resurrect the other. Soon, they’d be back at the Marina, switching the engine on and off for the air conditioner, sometimes hot for each other, sometimes hot from the beach.
Today, she had called. Let’s go, she had said and he had never been able to say no. Just as she never could. The drive invariably made them want to give up on this thing they called love; for they couldn’t decide whether they should use the time to listen to music together, an act of foreplay like none other; or to talk to each other – a stimulation entirely different. But this time around, she turned up the sound and listened without moving a muscle, like if she sat still enough she’d become the screaming, ragged voice of the lead singer. You’re looking for a fight, he said. She looked at him and in that moment she was an ordinary girl, just like scores of women who look at the men they choose to be with and roll their eyes. In that instant, he wanted to pull over and kiss her. But roads in Madras in the middle of the day don’t allow for that sort of romanticism. He’d just have to wait till she was done fighting. Maybe more fun then, too, he grinned secretly.
Turning into the beach road, he always felt he had entered another city altogether suddenly. Wide, calm, clean roads, sweeping expanse of beach and a sea that was mostly murky. No romance here either. Oh well, he sighed, and parked, switching off the engine. She swept up her hair off her neck and tied it up, folding one leg under her, continuing to gaze out the window. So sad, no, these couples, they’ve got to sit on the hot sand to get some privacy, she said. And we have to waste petrol to do the same, he said. She smirked. You should thank your stars I find you funny, she said. The waves growled again, coming forward to claim their morsel of silence. He almost let it pass when a bird that swooped into the sea stole a heartbeat. That white flash of hunter slicing into the water rooted him, even as it undid him. If they hadn’t been sitting in the car, he’d be at her feet, dissolved and undone, worshipping her just as the waves did the dirty, giving shore. I do, he said. Do what? She had already forgotten. I do thank my stars you find me funny; and everything else that you find me. Just that you found me, he said and took her hand. She continued looking resolutely out of the window, but her hands were telling him things her eyes and her mouth weren’t. You know I don’t believe in happily ever after, right? He told her he knew that and it was one of the things that kept him on his toes. So you won’t pine away when I move on? Who says you’re going to, he countered. Hypothetically speaking. These things happen you know, she said, turning the full impact of her gaze, burnt from staring too long in the sun. If his skin wasn’t already burnt, he’d be in agony. Whoa, this is a big one, he thought waiting for her weaponry to come out and bruise him, nervous but mostly defenceless.
Three years I waited for you to see sense and come back to me, she said. Ah, so that’s what this is about, he said. “Look, I am sorry, I honestly thought you’d moved along because when I called…” Shhh, she said, that’s not what this is about. Three years when I knew a freedom that I haven’t known before or hence, three years when my confidence soared and I felt appreciated, three years of not thinking about how to handle you, she paused for breath. And he was fast losing his; his measures hadn’t worked after all. It was like the dread that he lived with every day, an almost person, was becoming real. She was leaving him, like he had left her. “I am sorry.” I said shhhh, it’s not an apology I am looking for. Three years I went everywhere on my own and found no one was better company than me, three whole years of growing up. Then you came back. Did you even notice me hesitate before I took you back in my life, she asked and continued without waiting for an answer. I spent three years in hell, you know. Heaven is not having the freedom to do what you want, it’s the freedom to be free of you. There’s only two things I couldn’t get rid of about you. Your ghost in my breath and that lock, she said. And touched his left shoulder lightly with the back of her hand. In an instant, his heart broke. She wanted to get rid of the lock and key. He reached over, sliding the neck of her blouse till her biscuit shoulder was bare. There it was – a dancing lock, securely couched in notes of a melody, because what good would their love be without the music. She gently reclaimed her shoulder, reaching out to reveal his. The key. I wish we’d waited to get these done, she said almost to herself, staring intently at it. Just for this, we should stay together, no, she giggled, otherwise we’ll have to go searching for new locks and keys. But I am not going anywhere, he said, puzzled, I thought you were. I am, she said, turning away. She then untangled herself from the knots she had gotten herself into, stretched her hands and got out of the car. She walked a distance, hot sand slipping through shoes, under her soles. She dialed a number; the hot breeze slid black strands across her moving lips. She said into the phone, facing a loud, lazy sea, “What’s a good love story made of? Every kind of extreme. Marry me.” In the car, he grinned into the phone and said yes.
Note: This story is inspired (only inspired) by tattoos that @nelsonnium and @phulkadots sport, which they have graciously given me the privilege of knowing about.
Also, disclaimer: this is NOT their story.