*Based on dreams
I felt her before I saw her. We collided.
“I do apologise… I …”
“No, it was my fault … I was in the way…”
She took a deep breath. I looked away at the door I’d just exited. I lightly touched her elbow to indicate a direction we should move in and out of the way of any more thoroughfare.
“I thought you had left…” … From this point on we were two people who had known each other. I didn’t leave her a choice. “I had ….but” I interrupted her.
“How are you?” I delivered the question casually. But my eyes asked more, I had to know with an urgency that surprised me – How was she? How had she been these past few years? Where had she been ?
“Good. And you?”
“Very well.. very well”
I paused to gaze upon her face. Fondly, much to my discomfiture. It was true. I was well. Here I was in an anonymous city rediscovering myself. Young, educated and on the verge of the greatest accomplishment in my short life. I had grown up well and I knew it. And in front of me stood my first kiss.
The candles by the window on the inside of the restaurant cast long shadows on her face as they flickered where we stood. I sensed her joie de vivre had been replaced by an enchanting self-possession which she radiated in waves. I watched her study me closely. She didn’t claim any excuse to do so, She just did. She eyed the brown boots that made me tower over her, the dark blue jeans that rested low on my hips with a striped belt that served no purpose, the plain white shirt that clung to my body because a draft was making its way around the corner. My purple tartan scarf and black coat seemed to amuse her. She shook her head and smiled disbelievingly. “You’ve changed” …I laughed, “Indeed, I have”. And just as she said that, I wanted to have her. I wanted the grown-up me to have her. The older her. The older her that I would not have to walk away from because of fear or uncertainty. But that I would walk away from. Because I knew miles separated us.
I moved to stand beside her and the cobbled footpath resonated my steps. “Why don’t I tell you all about it ?” This was reckless. I believed She could be married, have a dozen kids, a stressful job that demanded a pencil skirt, 5 am alarm and still come away with me – a snog from the past and yet a new acquaintance. At this hour in the night. To wherever it was that we were to go. Even if it was only to listen to the sound of her voice. But she had come back for me and that alone promised me the pleasure of her company. I was asking for what was mine. She said by way of reply, “I live in Chelsea” … I gestured vaguely in the direction of where I knew Chelsea to be, indicating that I would follow her and we set off walking. We ambled in comfortable silence for a few minutes before curiosity got the better of her. In a few minutes, she discovered everything that I had been up to the past six years and the reason for my trip to London. I decided I had leverage now and ventured to get to know her better. She did get married to her strapping young childhood friend. And then divorced him. There were no kids. She moved away from India to London 4 years ago. To escape everything. She now worked at a publishing house much to the chagrin of her parents who wanted her back home. Safely ensconced in near reach. So that with much difficulty and societal whispers, they could get her married again. It was not what she wanted. I didn’t dare ask her the reason why. I did not think I had to be privy to that information because I already knew. I knew at 18. And I knew now.
We reached a small white apartment building that screamed retro in its curves and grooves but then reassured its occupants with modern glass entryways and facades. She briefly greeted the doorman and fobb-ed our way through three glass doors to a stairway. She lived on the first floor. The higher we climbed, the more nervous she appeared to get. Suddenly, I was regaled with stories of the many celebrities who lived nearby. She allowed me to walk in first into her apartment. It was large and airy and filled with a warmth that the outside air deprived us of. She unceremoniously dumped her bag and my coat near the door and went to get out some wine glasses. I offered to help. “There is a wine rack on the counter, Help yourself” I perused the selection and settled for a familiar rosé. This was post dinner after all. She excused herself for a few minutes while she took a shower. I set about opening, pouring and drinking the wine. Armed with some dutch courage, I now set about exploring her living room. A large bookshelf lined one end with many hard bound first editions. Apparently, the bookstore in India was a farce. She owned all her own merchandise. I made my way to the window pane that overlooked the street. It was being spattered with rain. Vertical droplets appeared like a permanent sheath over my view of the street.
“Its not much of a view…But…”
I turned around and smiled. She was clad in black track pants and a t-shirt that had seen better days.
“You are back”
“Sorry , just had to get rid of the grime of a workday”
“Don’t apologise, please…I was just looking around”
I continued my exploration, while she walked across the room to join me.
As I looked up at the wall I was standing beside, I saw the painting. The painting she had once shown me. The painting that had voyeuristically gazed upon my first kiss. The-pig-that-was-supposed-be-an-elephant-without-a-trunk painting.
(to be continued….)