Asters On My Birthday

I saw her through a haze of pungent smoke and brilliant flashes of festival crackers. The deafening noises and the vivid colours had surpassed the usual humdrum of life in the ‘gully’ and this change had sent me once again into the ever familiar, deep slumberous reverie and I stood there, riveted   the threshold of my dingy room.

It was a festival of some sorts and had come to me as any other had come earlier. It meant nothing to me and as for that matter nothing did matter to me in my life; perhaps, only my loneliness did. Why I stood there I did not know and what made my eyes rest on her comely figure was another undecided feeling, then. When I became fully aware of my unblinking stare at her, my eyes smarted and involuntarily, two salty drops of tears ran down my unshaven cheeks.

A relic of a radio was blurting out an equally old song, very much in tune with my mental disposition which reciprocated to everything that is morose in life and took it in as if made to my order. Anything else, happiest of the  happenings even, brought with excruciating clarity the self-imposed penance, a reckoning that I had no right to be happy, anywhere, anytime.

I was born to lose and I had lost – my inner life, my future, my career and above all, my love. All these losses nevertheless, crowned me with one ironical achievement: they made me a writer, they made me a miserable sentimentalist who in order to ease his own caustic feelings wrote stories and belted out misery to the people, just like that relic of a radio. Nevertheless, it was an achievement!
She lived across the street and filled the entire surroundings with  the stunning simplicity of a creation endowed with everything that is womanly. She was not voluptuous but also not a plain Jane next door. She was desirable in her own distinct, different way. All this about her came back to me from my sub conscience as our eyes met. Though the distance of the lane separated us, I could see the depth in her eyes.

Then, I had a strange feeling. I felt her coming towards me. I trembled and in that chill of the night beads of sweat broke out on my forehead. "No…no….no…" something within me pleaded with her, begged with her to stay away. She did not hear my plea and she kept on walking towards me, dodging the burnt out embers of the firecrackers and shielding her long, silken hair from fiery sparklers.

""…it was a festival that reminded me that I am vibrantly alive….""

As my senses felt her fragrant proximity, I gasped involuntarily. I closed my eyes and waited. The sound of silence was excruciating.

"Was it a night like this?" Her voice was calm, deep and rich. I fought to keep myself on my feet. I could hear my own heartbeat, boom-boom like the beat of the tribal drums.

"Yes…" my faint reply trailed off into silence.
"You loved her?"
"Yes!" The old familiar lump rose in my throat. Not again, not again, I pinched myself.
"Did she?"
"She liked what I liked, liked what I wrote….she talked to me for hours…perhaps she pitied me?"

There was a brief silence.
"You are wiser now," she pointed out. I felt her moving closer to me. "I’ve read your writings…perhaps I have read between the lines too."

"What is all this to you?" I blurted out, flinging my arms. "I do not need any sympathy, I do not want to be dragged back into the world of make-believe."

Suddenly, her warm soft fingers clasped my forearm. A tremor ran through my whole being.
"There can still be another time!" she said plainly.

Before I could say anything, she let go of my arm, clapped and said with glee, "Let’s watch the fireworks!"

We sat down and watched, people burning money. We watched and we talked. Rather, I talked. I told her about me that had remain untold in my writings. Everything, even the minutest details. My birthday, the shimmering blue sea which I love and the simple asters which give me joy.

When it was over, the ‘gully’ was dark and silent. The acrid smell of the burnt out crackers still hung in the air. The dew had begun to settle down. I felt empty, drained, nay, I felt like a fool.

She rose without a word and left. I watched her walk with the same youthful gait. I smiled bitterly and withdrew into the confines of my  dinghy room.

There can never be another time, I assured myself.

Time passed. For me days did not pass, only time passed.

I saw her, rarely, from a distance. Meeting her that night was a misty dream. I wouldn’t dare to give it further credit.

And this morning, as I changed the date on my desk calendar, my fingers trembled and tears welled up in my eyes. Years ago, this date meant a lot to me; it was a festival that reminded me that I am vibrantly alive. It used to be my day. But this morning, I wanted to wrench today’s leaf too, to wipe away this date.

There was knock on the door.

She stood there with a bunch of aster still afresh with dew.

The stalks were held in place with a bright blue ribbon.

She held out the bunch to me.

"I remember!" she said, with a voice laden with palpable emotion.

And then, I knew.

Edwin J. F. D’Souza

Author: Edwin JF DSouza- Mangalore