The elevator sounded like nudging floor by floor. My heart pounded. I looked down to check what my fingers were doing to ease the tension. The phone was the victim, as it kept turning like one of those cheap fidget spinners sold at traffic junctions. I took control and tapped the mobile screen. There were no notifications. The wallpaper shouted out for attention from the empty screen; the picture was of a semi-closed window, the curtains of which were silhouetted by the morning rays of light. It was an ordinary photo, slightly out of focus. But it was her view from the bed, which she clicked and sent to me, years back. It was the first ever photo she had sent me, and my sole wallpaper since that day. The image held a warmth of that room – her room – and it had often comforted me. But not now, as the elevator creaked at ‘4’. I bit my lip. Though I had set it up, the situation now seemed a tad too much to handle. It felt like the day I had confessed love to her. That hadn’t gone well either…
Stepping out, my eyes turned faster than the head, to the right. She was there, leaning onto the wall, facing me. The same pitch black jacket, hands pocketed, the long hair sandwiched between the jacket and the yellow, printed kurthi. The same old sight, minus the smile.
Incredibly, I started to beam. An uncontrollable smile surfaced on my face, regardless of the fact that it was a tense, temporary reunion; that the glee may annoy her. With this sudden radiant face, I walked towards the door, and her. Her thick, long eyebrows arched at my smile; I pulled my lips inside, trying to dilute… Dilute what, I wondered! What magical time did that rickety elevator open to, where the tension was forgotten?
Elation! It was elation, I realised then, that had taken the form of this insuppressible glee. The mere delight to have seen her! All the mess was cast away by that sensation. It was incredible. And understood only to me.
“This could have been avoided.” She exclaimed, her eyes full of intent. “You could’ve couriered everything.”
Even her serious face did not help me, as I failed to tune-down the smile. Feeling slightly apologetic about it, I looked up for no reason, while my hand rummaged the pocket for keys.
“Yeah, I could have.” I said, smiling at the cobwebs on the ceiling.
’19:06′ the digital clock showed in green, as I entered the apartment. Was that clock part of her belongings, I wondered. I turned like always, to see her enter. But of course, she did not make eye contact as she passed by. And the glee had disappeared, probably because I was already missing her stare, as she would stagger inside, always carrying too many things in her hands.
She headed straight to the bedroom.
“You want coffee?” I asked from behind.
“Shut up!” she shouted, turning to face me. “Please.” She added, with unnatural depth in her voice. It was unadulterated anger, familiar to me – four years had brought our every shade to the forefront. But before the four years could flash between us, she turned and marched into the room.
I instinctively walked towards the living room. As I slid onto the couch, my eyes fell on the refrigerator. Its door held innumerable Sticky Notes – her messages over the years. Would she sweep the door clean too? What about the water colours? And the letters? I sat and thought, but did not move.
A minute later, she marched back into the common room, carrying a carelessly stuffed bag in her hand. The jacket was hanging down from the bag, swaying with her smooth hair, which did not match her animated gestures now. She too caught sight of the metallic door. Her chin – that wonderful arc which eased whenever she smiled – now moved as she muttered to herself. She walked to the refrigerator and started plucking the paper notes with one hand, while the other readjusted her free-falling hair.
Unsure if it was the lady or the papers’ fate that was making it an uncontainable sight, I stood up and walked out to the balcony.
Looking out but seeing nothing, I stood silent. My hand reached into the pocket and took out a cigarette. I lit it, quite aware of the presence of the one person who had asked me to quit the habit. Well, words expired too, right? They did not come with an expiry date, of course. But they were merely existing on uncertainties. Quite daring, I thought about words, as well as me – as I took a deep drag. Seconds passed.
Her smell – that intoxication of life – beat the cigarette’s, as I sensed it and turned to see her stand beside me. I looked towards the door, where her bag laid along with a few scrolls of drawing paper and her colouring kit. I then looked at her, the final wisps of smoke from the drag escaping my lips. She stared back, with softened eyes. The cigarette burned, oblivious to all of this.
A few seconds later, she said, still looking at me, “I’ll leave now. I’ve taken. Whatever is-” her voice turned feeble. As she looked away from me, the glitter of her tear didn’t go unnoticed. She walked out, picking her stuff at the doorstep. I followed, having stubbed the cigarette on the railing.
“We had the time.” I said calmly. She slowed, but did not turn. “The decision stayed…” I ended.
“Hmm.” Came her voice. She was still now, though there was nothing in the room that made her so.
I couldn’t bear the sight of her teary eyes, yet I wished she would turn towards me. She didn’t.
“I’ll be here.” I said. Silence. “Where will I go? I will be here.”
“I’ll leave now.” Her sweet, sad voice said.
I stood frozen as she walked out. There at the doorstep, adjusting her slippers, she looked at me, one hand holding her belongings, while the other rested on the frame of the door. Nothing was spoken. I suddenly got reminded of the pun I used to make at her, where I’d ask “Why the long face?”, mocking her naturally long features. Funny what thoughts surfaced at moments like these! I waited till I heard the sound of the elevator closing. Even then, I didn’t look out. I merely closed the door and turned to face the apartment.
The green digits said ’19:12′.