Memories

When in tumult, her mind always wandered back to Andrew, to his sun kissed hair, to those bottomless blues that never seemed to age. Everything she was, everything she had, she owed it all to him. Even years after he was gone, it was always him that she missed when anything wonderful happened. It was always him she wanted to turn to, when she was frightened out of her wits.

Running into his father was completely unexpected. She was meeting Daniel for lunch at the diner around the corner from her office. It was a rare afternoon when both of them could make it. The diner was a no-frills place, but they both liked it there. It was unusually empty this afternoon, the only other patrons, two young men in army camouflage, silently eating their meal. Looking back, perhaps she should have taken it as a sign, but she had never put much stock in such things.

After lunch, Daniel was walking her back to her office when they ran into Mr. Halford. As always, his face relaxed into a sunny smile when he saw her. He walked towards her with renewed vigour and gathered her into a hug. Her first reaction was utter shock at the comprehension that this is what Andrew would have looked like when he were older. They had the same shape to their faces, the same eyes, the same smile. Of course, one of them would never age, never wrinkle, never develop a slight stoop to the shoulders…

Mr. Halford had become much thinner than she remembered, he joked that his age was catching up with him. She could see the haunted look in his eyes, even as he smiled. He greeted Daniel genially, gripping his hand firmly. They had met at the wedding, of course, she remembered now. Mr. Halford had made it a point to attend, he said he wanted to tell her on the most important day of her life how proud Andrew would have been of her, for all that she had accomplished. She had almost cried then, and he patted her on the head awkwardly, as he used to, when she was a child.

Daniel was a good man, he made her very happy, and she did love him, a lot. But there was always a part of her that felt that perhaps, he loved her more than she could ever love him. There were moments, when she looked into his dark green eyes and saw a flash of blue, when she ran her hand through his black hair and missed a sandy hue. There were days when she looked back in time and saw a young man in army camouflage at her door, his hair shining in the sun, with a lone red rose in hand, and a shy smile on his lips.

She spent every summer vacation at her great aunt’s place in the countryside, a respite from the city and it’s pervasive loneliness. There, among the mango trees and the paddy fields, she felt truly alive. There were other children to play with, and oodles of open ground just to laze around in. The sky was blue all day everyday, the sun bright and the landscape inviting.

That was the first time ever they had done anything wayward, so to speak. It wasn’t exactly a risky endeavour, since they weren’t even leaving the property. But it felt exhilarating just the same, the thrill of doing something forbidden no matter how tame it was. They stole away at night after the grown ups were asleep, and walked to the stream past the fields. The night was a little chilly, though not unusually so. The strips dividing the fields were so narrow that they had to walk in a single file, like ants treading a line, while the moonlight streamed over them in a silvery cascade. They walked by the palm trees, past  the small fishing pond in the centre and beyond the line of trees at the edge whose names she did not know.

Someone had swiped a bottle of whiskey from her uncle’s bar. They passed it around, each taking a swallow, shuddering and handing off the offending item to the next person. She gently lowered herself on to the grass and stared at the pinpricks in the inky sky. She could feel the alcohol traversing her body, all the way to her bones.  Someone had started singing, in a voice that should never be raised in song. The stream flowed on and on, its melody uninterrupted and serene.

My first best friend

He had jet black hair and wide dark brown eyes. His skin was pale and silky smooth, his jaw tapered to a discernible pointed chin. He once told me that he wished he had dark tanned skin like mine. I was surprised. I had always wanted to look like him.

He was a boy I went to elementary school with. He was kind and sweet. We used to play together in the little playground under the building where we both lived. I used to hang from monkey bars because someone had once told me that that would make me grow tall. He always used to stand under, ready to catch me if I fell.

We went to school together, did homework together, played and read together. Our mothers used to joke that they’d have to literally pry us apart with a crowbar if we spent any more time together. I think he was my first best friend.

He always had a smile for me. Even the last time I visited him in the hospital, when his insides were Churned and ruined by cancer and chemotherapy, even when his eyelids were droopy from pain and fatigue, there was a smile on his face. When I cried, he held my hand. When I was leaving, he gave me a charm bracelet off his wrist. When I asked what that was for, he said, “so you’ll remember me when I’m not there”.

His funeral was a low-key affair. His parents looked sad and worn out. His mother hugged me close and kissed my hair when I went up to pay my respects. I wanted him to have something to remember me by as well. I had brought a book we had read together. As I left it by his side, I looked into his face. He looked like he had before, before the illness that took him. He looked happy and peaceful.

I still miss him.