[Editor’s Note : Every week we will be publishing one chapter from Ansh Das’s book, The Memory Of A Face. Needless to say, we are super excited! Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13, Chapter 14, Chapter 15, Chapter 16, Chapter 17, Chapter 18, Chapter 19, Chapter 20 & Chapter 21]
“After the trip, Nyle found more reasons to stay over at my place. Even though I had a spare bed, he’d complain and move into mine, and prevent me from taking the spare one. So it would get cozy but it never went further than that. Now that I think of it, it was funny. We’d get into bed and then start talking. After some time I’d realize he’d fallen asleep from his snores.”
“I’m okay with that. We’d hug each other to sleep until the morning. And then I’d wake him up and send him home before I left for work.”
“It’s such a sweet story, I hope it didn’t have a bad ending.”
“Ending? It didn’t end, Andy. We never broke up. We didn’t have a chance to do that.”
“Then why do you speak about him using past tense?”
Diano drank some more water. He had reached a difficult part in his story. He didn’t know whether he had the courage to go on. What happened after that point was known only to Summer. And, of course, Nyle and his family.
Diano had chosen to remain silent about that part of his life. Summer had repeatedly requested him to move on. She’d asked him not to cling to the past because his past was affecting his present. It was slowly turning him into someone very different from the Diano she knew from before. Maybe he should let it out now. Maybe he should make peace with his past and look ahead in life. But how could he ever forget that face?
“Are you okay?” Andy asked. “You can stop here.”
“No. I want you to know the details. I’ve never shared this part of my life with anybody except my best friend. So I’m not good at talking about it. But I wanna share it with you.”
Andy kept silent.
“I started working on a new project, which required me to fly to Taiwan often. So we saw less of each other. We stayed in touch via email and ICQ. He was busy at school. He’d write to me about his projects, his study tours, his loneliness… I guess it was the sharing over the distance that brought us closer emotionally. Somehow we started sending more romantic messages to each other. Something like ‘miss you’, ‘love you forever’, ‘kiss’, ‘darling’ — something on those lines. That’s how it turned into love. I’m sure it was love because that’s how I felt.”
“I know that feeling.”
“I wanted to see him more often. We’d meet for a quick lunch or dinner sometimes. It was never enough. How we wished we could spend more time together! But it was difficult for him to stay out overnight. No excuse worked on his family who’d discovered our emails.”
“How was that?”
“Nyle had forgotten to sign out of his email account after using the computer his family shared. His parents wanted to know the exact nature of our relationship. They wouldn’t buy friendship, they thought otherwise. More curfews were imposed on him.”
“So poor.” Andy sighed.
“Yes. The last time we met, he actually spent the night at my place. One of his relatives was terminally ill and expected to pass away that night. So his parents had gone over to the hospital. Nyle had told them he’d stay behind at home.”
“And he came to see you.” It was a statement rather than a question.
“Yes. We hugged for a long time that night. We’d missed each other. I didn’t want him to stay overnight because I was afraid he’d get caught. But he wanted to and broke down when I suggested he go back. So I let him stay over.”
“Then?” Andy said.
“I was supposed to fly to Taiwan in the morning. So he helped me pack and we went to bed early. But unlike previous times, he couldn’t fall asleep. We talked for a while and then…” Diano paused.
Andy cleared his throat.
“…he asked me to kiss him good night.”
“I asked him whether he understood what that meant — a boy kissing another boy. He said yes. I told him I just kiss my lover. He buried his face in my chest and whispered that he loved me.”
“How cute.” Andy smiled.
“And then we kissed. It wasn’t a short kiss. But it had no hint of sex. Just mouth to mouth confirmation of our love for each other.”
“That night he hugged me more tightly than he normally did in bed. Finally, he fell asleep.”
“Did his parents find out?”
“No. He was feeling sick in the morning, but wanted to see me off at the airport. We took a bus there. For a good part of that bus ride, he slept with his head on my shoulder and his arms around me.”
“At the airport he hugged me goodbye and asked me to take care of myself and come back soon. That’s the last I ever saw of him.”
“All calls to his phone went unanswered. If I called his home, I’d be rudely cut off. Since his family never picked up calls from hidden numbers, I got my friends to call up from different numbers, pretending to be Nyle’s friends. But no luck.”
“I managed to get through only once. He told me that he was very sick. He wanted to see me at that moment because he missed me very much. I told him I’d meet him under his building in thirty minutes.”
A tear trickled down Diano’s left cheek.
“He never came out. I spent a good part of that night and the several days that followed, waiting outside his building. I didn’t know the exact number of his flat. I wondered whether his parents had placed him under house arrest. I thought about calling the police. I thought about asking around in the neighbourhood. Somebody was checking his emails because all my e-cards were being picked up. But there was no reply from him, ever. It was like he was gone. Disappeared.”
Diano felt a lump in his throat. His heart had stopped beating. He couldn’t breathe. Tears flowed down his face. His mouth was open but he couldn’t say a word. He could see Nyle’s baby face right in front of his eyes. That was all he could see. He let his heart cry out as much as it could. When he finally found his voice, he screamed out his pain.