Together at Last by Sumana RoyChowdhury

Together at Last
by
Sumana RoyChowdhury

Volume 1, Issue 3

“Lets play...come on,” she said, her face lighting up into a beautiful smile on seeing him.

It was his eighty-first birthday today!

His mind languidly wandered back to his splendored childhood days when birthdays had meant excitement, cakes, presents, and celebrations. It meant being surrounded by people who loved him, people who cared...people who were now all long gone. Now, of course, no one remembered his birthday anymore, no one cared. As he lay in bed, in the zone between sleep and wakefulness, he wondered where the time had all gone.

He slowly stretched, to immediately feel the pain in his creaking bones, and got out of bed. Pulling aside the curtains that were draped across the bedroom window, he blinked at the harsh sunlight in his face and looked unseeingly into the chaotic high street in front of his house. People of all ages seemed to be in a mad rush to reach some specific destination. Cars honked in frustration as they tried to swerve their way out of the ugly morning traffic congestion. Young mothers frantically ran with their kids in tow, in order to reach the impatiently waiting school bus.

He sighed and turned away from the window. This house was almost as old as he was. This is where he had grown up. It had been built by his father in a quiet city suburb and he remembered spending an idyllic childhood here till the mad rush of urbanization had taken over the calm and quiet.

He was stunned out of his reverie at the incessant sound of the doorbell. He shuffled as quickly as he could to open the door to the maid, who gave him an exasperated look and brushed past him into the house, obviously annoyed at the old man for making her wait at the door.

As he was about to shut the door, he saw a pretty, young girl, with curly locks of hair and an oval face, gazing at him out of wide, brown eyes.

Lets play...come on,” she said, her face lighting up into a beautiful smile on seeing him.

This no longer bothered him. It was only Aditi, his seventeen-year-old neighbour. Nowadays she seemed to visit him more frequently than before. He hardened his heart, shook his head in a firm ‘no’, and shut the door on her disappointed little face, pretending not to see the pain in her eyes.

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12:30 PM. Morning chores were done, the maid and cook had left, and lunch was over. This was the time of the day that he dreaded the most. There were at least eight more hours of the day to fill and he had nothing to do. He switched on the old television set in the living room and flipped through the channels - a saas-bahu soap, a slapstick comedy movie, and then news; wars, people dying and suffering; all a part of ‘breaking news’ to satisfy the voyeuristic appetite of a world that had gone grossly wrong since his wondrous childhood days. He flipped the switch to shut out this harsh world that grated on his senses, and dozed off.

Aditi was back again. Young, pretty, a face full of life and a heart that he knew was full of love...love for him.

Let’s play...come on,” she said, beckoning to him as he stood at the door. This time, another voice came from within the house; a voice that he would give anything to hear once more the voice of his mother.

Not now, Aditi,” she reprimanded the girl lightly. “He has some chores to do. I want him to get me some groceries from the market.”

I'll go with him,” came Aditi's immediate response.

Dear Aditi, always there, always obliging!

They walked to the grocer’s shop together, an achingly young couple; she seventeen, he eighteen; with a spring in their step and the whole world at their feet...or so it had seemed back then. On the way back they meandered around town, went into the nearby park, which was deserted in the middle of the hot, summer day. Here, unseen by the world, they kissed each other and whispered about things which had seemed very important back then. He promised her that he would love her till his last day, and she had flashed him a coy smile, as her young heart filled with the sweet promise of first love.

The summer holidays that year drew to a close and with it his childhood; which had seemed so far, like a long, languid summer break in itself; was abruptly cut short. His father had decided that he was to be sent to a boarding school in the city for his higher education, and, at eighteen, not knowing what to expect of the world, he had walked out of the house, with the spring in his step still intact. As he left, he had seen Aditi at her window, her face blotched, her eyes red with tears. He had blinked and looked away, turning his gaze towards the horizons of the new world that beckoned him.

College life, city life was all different and exciting! It seemed that he was suddenly free from the shackles of his childhood. He was free to soar to heights that were limited only by his imagination. “This is life; this is what I had been promised,” he thought happily to himself, forgetting in his youthfulness that no promises had been made to any of us.

It was also around then that he had met her. She, with her dazzlingly beauty, with sparkling stones in her ears that enticed his young heart, and hard stones in her heart, that he had been blind to till much later. The world now seemed to exist only around her or not at all!

He had forgotten all about the old promises of love, and remembered about Aditi only when he saw her when he was back home during the winter break.

She was standing at the door once again, as though caught in a time warp. He felt irritated. He was young, immature.

Go away,” he said, hardening his heart.

Do you not want me anymore?” she asked, her face contorted with pain.

He shook his head in a firm ‘no’ and shut the door on her face, pretending not to see the pain in her eyes.

He shook his head in a firm ‘no’ and shut the door on her face, pretending not to see the pain in her eyes.

That was the last time he had seen Aditi. When he was back home during the following summer break, he immediately sensed something was wrong. His mother greeted him with a soft hug and wet tears on her cheeks. “She's gone,” she whispered into his ears as he, bewildered, tried to make sense of her words. “Aditi's gone. She died two weeks ago. No one knows what she was suffering from, but she couldn't be cured.”

He matured that instant.

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He looked towards the window next door, and it was now empty. The big, brown eyes, that had faithfully followed his every move, were now gone - forever.

He stirred in his sleep and cracked open his eyes. He was lying on his bed; eighty-one years of age. The clock on the bedside stand showed 12 o’clock. The drapes over the window were still open and the stars twinkled at him from above. In the darkness of the room, he could see a petite figure with curly hair come towards his bed. It was Aditi...young, dear, faithful Aditi - forever eighteen.

Let’s play...come on,” she said, flashing him her coy smile.

Yes - yes. Let’s play,” he said, as he left the bed and followed her out of the room.

All that was now left behind was the eighty-one-year-old, lifeless body that lay on the crumpled bed.

About the Author:

Sumana RoyChowdhury is a Bangalore-based scientist. She holds a PhD degree in Polymer Science from The University of Akron, Ohio. Her passions include, science, writing, sketching and playing with her son.

sumana_roychowdhury@yahoo.com

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