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* * *
When I was finally done tracing every shop in the mall, on each of its three sprawling floors, of every possible type from SuperDry to One Dollar store, I called her again.
It is the same routine, calling someone over the phone. The sequence of slight touches on the touchscreen. Hearing the mechanical ringtones ringing near your ear, punctuated by heartless silences in-between. And waiting until the other person picks up the phone.
I was hopelessly waiting for her to pick the phone up.
As I’d waited eight times before earlier in the day, and many times before during the past one-year relationship.
There was no answer.
The phone reached her voice mail. This time, though, there was a message notification at the top of the phone screen.
‘Stuck in Traffic. Can we reschedule? Thanks.’
I typed Ok, added a smiley at the end of this short three worded message, and hit send. And then I deleted her number.
* * *
How many signs one need to see before realizing the relationship is over?
Canceled meetings. Mono-syllabled replies. Being busy, always.
Is there a threshold number which can be put on such signs?
Can we identify all these and add them up? Derive a mathematical certainty that it won’t work anymore. Know when it is futile to go on. To give up on this hope that you’d be loved like you love them.
All signs are there. But we still hang on. Hoping for the things to get better. Hoping for a light at the end of a tunnel.
I kept hanging on to such hope. I’d felt the distance between us long before. The flippant casual thing that I felt in her words. Still I held on. Hoping for a light at the end of a tunnel.
Why do we linger around this fading light? Around a candle that is past its burning days. It’s wick half drowned in the molten remains of its own burned wax. The wax which gave it its life once. Now the same wax forming the bed of its own grave.
* * *
I deleted her messages. Her photos. I blocked her on FB and whatsapp.
I did everything to remove the traces of her existence from my life. To wipe the slate clean. To start afresh.
It takes time.
Slowly, as the waves of time washed the shores of my existence again and again, washing away the marks of my present, dissolving them into the sea of past, the memories started fading away.
* * *
‘Were you in a relationship before?’, Rhea asked. It was our third date after I’d deleted that number, ending the already dying relationship. The only one I’d ever been.
‘Yes,’ I said as I swiped fork in the almost finished Plate of Pasta. ‘I had one relationship before. Ended around eight months back.’
‘For how long you were together?’
‘Wow. That’s a long time. Why did it end?
I looked at her for a moment too long. She caught my uneasiness discussing this topic. She then quickly added, ‘Do you miss her?’
‘No. Not really,’ I said as a matter of fact, ‘I have erased the memories of that relationship. Her thoughts don’t bother me anymore. I’m completely over her.’
‘Hmm. Ok.’, she said, not looking at my face. Somehow, she wasn’t convinced of that.
We went out again a few times in the next couple of weeks.
And then the relationship with her ended a few weeks after that.
* * *
We fall in love with a person. We fall out of love with a person. In-between we think that our life will end without them. But then it does not, for most of us.
Forgetting a person is not the difficult part. You’ll forget them, eventually.
It is the tokens that you can never forget.
The little tokens of love that you picked up as you lived with them. The nicks that you gave each other. The internal jokes that only you two could understand. The favourite restaurants. The smoothies that you sipped from the single glass. The movie references that you uttered at the same time.
All these become you. And you don’t even realize that.
They become a part of you. Little habits. Little rituals. These tokens.
An intrinsic part of your existence. Living inside you. Flowing in your veins with your blood. Feeding you. Nourishing you. Making you what you are.
And you can’t wash them off.
* * *
I was with Nisha. An air hostess. She was my second date after things ended up with Rhea. We were in a restaurant.
‘Why don’t you discuss your past?` she asked.
‘There is nothing to discuss.’
‘It does not look like this. I can still feel her memories on you. It is not apparent easily. But then look closely at you, and everything is about her.’
‘You are overthinking,’ I said feeling a little irritated.
‘No. I’m not.’
‘You are not a psychologist,’ I snapped, hoping that she would stop discussing this topic.
‘One need not be. At least in your case.’
I looked at her and for a moment I felt as if she was not there. Neither were the restaurant where we were eating. Its tables, chairs, cash counter -everything disappeared. I felt the surrounding sound sucked into nothingness. And I was transported to an idyllic meadow with distant air hitting my face. It became silent.
And I felt so lonely that it hurt.
At that moment she became unreal to me. Her existence mere symbolic to me. I was trying to understand her but her words became the sound of that wind hitting my face. They had a sound, they had impact. But had no meaning. I was trying to gather what she was saying but it was like she had no meaning anymore.
And then a thought hit me.
What if I couldn’t gather her words because my hands were closed, already full of somethings from the past. I was holding onto something which didn’t matter anymore.
I realized my hands were tightened into a fist. There was a tension in my body I’d never felt. A tout feeling that had enveloped me with a protective layer.
I loosened the grip of my hand. And the cover started vanishing.
I started coming back from the meadows to the real world. The sound started filling in around me. The clanking knives, the hushed talks, the silent footsteps. I was in the real life again.
I looked at my hands on the table. They were not fisted anymore. Her hands were on my hands. Her fingers locked into mine.
‘You need to accept what happened,’ she was saying, ‘We are as much made up of our good past, as we are of made up of our bad past. We can’t cut the bad ones away. We can’t hide from them. Because we are made of them. We are them. They don’t make us good or bad. What we do in spite of them is what defines us. You need to accept that.’
* * *
It’s been three months with Nisha, the air hostess. I’m learning to embrace my life. Still learning.
A lot of what she had said that day made sense. Though it’s not easy to put into practice.
But this thing I’m sure, I’m not hiding anymore. I have stopped running from the past. I have stopped running from myself, running from the tokens of that love which used to be a part of me. Not anymore.
* * *