It was very difficult to talk about Grace even after all these years. We had met when we were in college and lost touch a couple of months after we had graduated. It was still difficult to talk about her because……, and here I stopped almost; always. Ma looked up from the dining table, where she was peeling cucumbers for the salad we would have for lunch.
“Go on.” She said. She wanted to hear the story in its entirety and not in bits and pieces, the way I had been telling her casually during Sundays scattered over five years.
“There is nothing more Ma. We just stopped talking one day that’s it.”
Which was the truth and I didn’t know how else to tell her. We never had a long conversation over an email about the growing distance between us or anything. There were a few mails still saved in my inbox where once in a year she would wish me on my birthday and would always put in a post script about how old I am getting, a small joke to tease me every year. I had saved them all and would read them sometimes, as if to console myself that the green and yellow lawns of our college had existed and we had spent three winters holding hands and turning our faces to the sun.
“Hmpf!” Ma said and kept on peeling the cucumbers. I went back to my newspaper smiling. Ever since Ma moved in with me she missed her friends and their daily exchange of gossip and other news. Texting tired her out and phone calls rarely happened except on special occasions. Though her move to Delhi had intended to ease her loneliness, lately I had been feeling guilty about asking her to leave her friends and neighbours. She was lonelier here I suspected, even with me working from home most days.
But today’s phone call from Grace had filled her with excitement. A new visitor she had exclaimed, finally a respite from my boring dull face. I had laughed nervously, Grace had sounded cheerful enough but I was skeptical of her asking to stay over a few days while she completed her work in the city. After all these years, I kept thinking, after 5 emails about how old I was she called today and today suddenly……
“Oh and Trisha?” She had said over the phone. Her voice sounded unsure and so soft, the way it would when she would stroke my hair at night and whisper a song.
“Hahaha please don’t mind okay but will Gayatri be okay with me staying over?”
“Hahaha Gayatri and I broke up a long time ago. It’s just Ma and I here in this small apartment now. Don’t worry at all.”
Gayatri had been her friend too. I never tried to find out whether they had re kindled friendship post the break up. Maybe not since Gayatri always maintained that my inability to let go of Grace and our relationship had inevitably destroyed all my sense of ever connecting with someone else. Gayatri had packed her bags one fine morning and left after kissing my cheek and squeezing my shoulder.
“It’s not your fault.” She had said. “If Grace had loved me, if I had a three year long relationship like you did, probably I would be like you too. I understand.”
At that moment my life had seemed like a scene from an American TV- Show. This neat, almost apathetic break up didn’t even allow me to wallow. I had anyway still been wallowing from the relationship that had ended a year earlier.
I stretched on the sofa and checked my watch. Grace would arrive today at 4 in the afternoon. I was scared to let Ma know how much I wanted to see her and how much I longed for her presence after all these years. Ma did suspect I thought. My refusal to meet any men, their general absence in my social life and my complete ignorance of any kind of marriage proposals her friends might send, and it did force her to ask me one day if I liked men at all. I had laughed her question away then and made her tea to change the subject.
I wasn’t sure how to explain it to her and sometimes wondered whether I was underestimating her support when it came to my sexuality. A few times in last four months I sat down with her wanting to come out and I almost did it once. I am gay, I almost said it, but just like how I could never explain to Ma about Grace, I couldn’t go beyond two words here as well.
Time trickled slowly that day and soon I fell asleep on the sofa with the folded newspaper in my hand. My heart was racing, Grace is coming home, I thought.
And what would it be like?
When I finally opened my eyes, the lights in the living room were on and it was dark outside. My heart skipped a beat as I jumped up and looked around for my phone and checked the time. I could distinctly hear voices coming from my mother’s bedroom. With my heart in my throat I made my way to her room, almost instantly recognizing Grace’s soft voice as she talked to Ma about how she plans to make dum biryani while she is here. I stood at the door and Grace looked up and smiled. She immediately got up and soon my face rested against her shoulder. I found myself searching for the same old scent of her perfume that always rested there.
“Hi! You were sleeping when I came so I thought we would let you sleep. Oh wow it has been so long hasn’t it?”
“Yes! But you look the same; I promise.”
“Are you ignoring my greying hair on purpose Trisha?” She laughed.
“I am sorry about you and Gayatri.” She had said during our post dinner stroll.
“Oh well. I kind of always knew it won’t work out you know. It was all too hurried. Especially after…..you know us.”
“I am sorry for that too. I couldn’t get over it fully, more so after I moved to Hyderabad. I missed you so much; I had gotten so used to coming to you for everything. Every time something happened I wanted to tell you but….we were so far away. And once I heard about you and Gayatri I knew.”
“That it was gone forever. I mean I admit that I secretly harbored a hope that one day we might rekindle our relationship. But then I knew that you had moved on and I sort of decided to move on too.”
Neither said anything for some time. The moon was half present tonight and the November air was slowly driving away the summer. I knew that I had loved Grace for such a long time that it felt natural to not grasp her hand now and lace my fingers through hers.
“It was never over, you know. Not even now.”
“Oh my, I had hoped…..I had hoped…..”
Later in the night I found myself musing and secretly smiling to myself. She was here and it felt so real that it might as well be a dream. Our conversation had felt as if it had never ceased. As if someone finally un-paused our life and now it was moving again, with words, memories and anecdotes spilling as if impatient to fill a notebook.