Ameera12 mins 21.8K 12 mins 21.8K
25th January 2001.
Bhuj, Gujrat, India
“WE ARE NOT COMPATIBLE!!” I was damn angry.
“You are right!” Amar said.
“Then what are we doing?! Let’s call it QUITS!” I bellowed.
“FINE. This is goodbye then! See you around Amar, or NOT!!” I said, turned back, and walked away. I was furious. He cannot, for God’s sake, keep quiet without fighting with me. Sometimes, I wondered if he loves me at all. If he loves me, will he hurt me? No, he wouldn’t. He would understand what I am going through too. And this time, it had become very stressful. Why will he not understand! I stepped into my house, went into my room, locked it and dropped onto my bed. I have ended it with Amar. Or have I? I don’t know. I loved him too, a lot. But he always fought with me! He deserved this! I wanted the day to end.
At around eleven-thirty, I got a text from him, which read ‘I love you, Aki.’ I did not want to reply. I love him too and he knew that; I am not going to tell him that now. I slept.
26th January 2001.
My name is Akira. My mother had thought that I looked strong, even as a baby. But my dad thought I was most of all, pretty. They ended up naming me Akira, which they said, meant graceful strength. I was fourteen when I found out that ‘Akira’ was mostly, a Japanese name given to males. I was furious for two months. I am twenty-eight now, and I liked my name. Amar does too. My graceful strength notwithstanding, I was feeling dizzy today.
“Akira! Quickly! Run!” my mom was anxious. I felt the ground under my feet shake slightly. My dad grabbed me by my arm and pulled, and I helplessly followed. Pandemonium reigned on the streets outside. All around us, the buildings were shaking, more like rattling.
I pulled my hand free from the strong clutch of my dad and ran. “AKIRA!” shouted my mother after me. I knew my family was safe and would survive. I had to make sure Amar was ok. It was dusty and I was not used to running barefoot, with clothes not fit for running. But I ran. I needed to make sure my Amar was ok. He lived in the next street, behind my house. Within two minutes from when it had started, all quaking stopped, but within the same two minutes, the street I knew so well had become unrecognizable. At the end of the street, debris and rubble blocked the turning. The water tank which had stood there for as long as I can remember was not there anymore. I climbed up on the rubble and climbed down the other side. When I reached Amar’s house fifteen minutes later, the house was not there anymore. Dust and smoke shrouded everything.
“AMAR!” I shouted in the direction of the house and no one replied. I searched for him everywhere. Except the debris of his house. I prayed he was not inside it. I sat there for many hours hoping he would return from somewhere and apologize for not coming for me, like how I did. But there was no sign of him. I was tired and weak. Unsure of what to do, I went back to my parents.
The list of the dead, posted on the hospital premises was enormous. There was a crowd in front of the noticeboard. The hospital had not survived the quake, but the noticeboard had. When I reached the notice board, I felt weak and my knees were shaking involuntarily. Amar’s name was listed in the first page. And his uncle Ameen three names afterward. I loved him and he was dead. A part of me died inside. I felt empty and I felt the quake all over again. I moved away from the noticeboard and the crowd, sat down, cursed god, and cried like never before.
27th January 2016.
Smruti Van (The Earthquake Memorial, Bhuj, Gujrat, India).
From the time I set foot on Bhuj, memories came flooding to me. My song sand songs that reminded me of Amar, old songs, from about twenty years back. I am forty-three now, but, did not feel a day older than twenty-eight. I felt all the love and pain flooding through me. I had never gotten over him. Maybe I shouldn’t have come here at all, or maybe I needed to have come here sooner, I didn’t know. I had so many memories of him, more in intensity than numbers, that it still, hurt a lot to know that I had lost him.
It was an average winter day. The thirty-three thousand trees in the one hundred and seventy five acres made Smruti Van a beautiful place. However, it felt like there was a tornado raging inside me. A granite stone, by the side of an artificial waterfall by the natural lake, had all the names of the earthquake victims engraved. I started to read from ‘A’. I missed him. Amar. He went missing from me, like the French say. And I couldn’t find his name. His uncle’s was there, but not him.
“Why?!” I asked to no one in particular, realizing later that I was speaking aloud.
I felt the stare of someone on my back. I turned around. The man was standing ramrod straight, like a statue and staring at me. It took me a few minutes. And when I did realize I was looking at Amar, the earthquake started all over again. Ami. In real.
“Aki?!” he said, almost inaudibly.
I just stared at him, a mixture of excitement and melancholy coursing through my veins, or maybe it was shock. I felt like I was burning up. I didn’t know I could feel like this. Not one moment in all these years, had I thought I could ever see him again, alive.
“Aki..?” he said waving a hand over my face.
“Yes..,” I said, still staring at him when I came around to speaking, “Err... How... How are you..? How are you alive?” I muttered clumsily.
“I will not take offense to that question, and I will assume both your questions are not related,” He said with a smile, “I am ok, Aki, and my being alive is, really, because I didn’t die yet.”
I was silent again, not understanding what I was feeling. I needed to sit.
“Can we sit?” he asked, indicating a wrought-iron garden bench, outside an eatery, some distance away.
We walked side by side silently, the ground moving beneath my leg without my knowing it. When we reached the restaurant, he ordered a latte for me, with a sprinkling of cinnamon, and a double espresso for himself. He didn’t have to ask me. It was like we had never been away.
“How have you been, Aki?” he asked softly, “You look good. You have not aged much.” He always spoke softly. Only then did I notice, he had grown more handsome. His salt and pepper wavy hair was stylishly trimmed. He wore a crisp full-sleeves shirt, with a jacket. His eyes had the same twinkle and his lips had the same naughtiness that I remembered so well.
“I am ok, Ami. How are you?” I asked.
“I am ok too, I guess. What do you do now?”
“I live in Milan... Italy... I write for magazines and I am an Image Consultant...”
“Like I used to say you should be,” he interrupted, smiling.
“Yes, It worked out well for me,” I said smiling back, now the initial shock of seeing him morphing into excited surprise. “Mom is old and lives with me. Dad is gone. It has been five years now. Heart attack.”
“I am sorry, Aki.”
“Yeah, me too,” I said, “I miss him.”
He said looking into his coffee, “That fateful day, I was about to come see you first, however, my uncle’s condition was bad. He was bleeding heavily and I had to rush him to the hospital. I managed to be among the first few to reach the hospital when beds were still available. But that turned out bad. The hospital collapsed. Many people lost their lives that day. And my uncle. Later, I found out that I was listed as dead too, because I was in the building. You know how efficient our administration is.” He sipped his coffee thoughtfully and continued, “I didn’t know where to look for you Aki. Your family had just uprooted and left so quickly. If I had any thread to go on, I would have never stopped looking for you. But it was like you had vanished off the earth completely, until I found you on Facebook in 2014. I saw pictures of a happy you and I thought it best to not kindle your emotions, especially after...” he drawled off.
Did I loose so many years without him and have been lonely just because of some lowly grunt in the municipality, making a wrong list? I stared wide-eyed.
I said, “Our home was completely destroyed with everything in it. And… we couldn’t stay and salvage anything. My dad acted quickly and we left to Ahmedabad. Later, he decided to forget about Bhuj and we left India. I was mourning and was in a stupor. Later, I didn’t think of looking for you, as I didn’t want it confirmed that you were dead, Ami. And… that fight… I never broke up with you in my heart...”
We fell silent.
“What about your family, Aki? How many children?”
“I never married.”
“I never found anyone,” I lied.
He was silent.
“I run a weaving and spinning mill at Surat. I have offices in Ahmedabad and Mumbai. Mostly exports,” he said.
“What about your family?” I asked.
I sensed he was uncomfortable with that question. “Say, what? Here is my address at Bhuj. Can you make it at six tomorrow evening? We can catch up on dinner and old times,” he said handing over a card.
We sat there having more coffee for about one hour, talking, and sometimes not talking. Silences were like clearings in a forest of emotions.
28th January 2016
We had, sixteen years back, designed a family crest for ourselves, for fun’s sake. Nothing like the crests with lions and swords, but a playful collage of things we related to. And we had named the crest ‘Ameera’. We were soulmates. Yet, I hadn’t had the courage to look for him later. How did I not have the sense to confront my fears? Isn’t that why I have lost him? I am a fool. I am not going to be anymore. I have had enough time to think. This was my only chance at life. I can either speak now and live, or, not speak and be dead inside, forever.
Six o’clock was almost dark. I waited in the lounge of his office. He appeared beyond the front structural glazing, under the brightly lit porch, walking towards the entrance. Yes, I was going to tell him. Definitely.
I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. "Ten, nine, eight, seven..."
He entered, saw me, smiled, and walked towards me.
“Three, two, one…”
“Hi, Aki,” he said smiling.
“I still think of myself as Ameera, I still love you.” I said, not wanting to deal with the anxiety anymore. He stopped about three feet away with the smile frozen on his face. I was counting beyond zero in my mind, in negatives now.
When I had reached minus twenty, he said, “Come with me. I want to show you something.” He turned around and walked. He wore his sunglasses, which was uncharacteristic of him, for he thought hiding one’s eyes while talking to someone is rude. Maybe he had changed. Maybe everything had changed and I am embarrassing myself.
He held his car’s door open for me, closed it after I had gotten in.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“You will see, Aki,” he said.
In about fifteen minutes, we were approaching a building that looked like a hospital. A big one. When I saw the name of the hospital in large letters, sticking out of the building façade, lit up in floodlights, I had to read again. ‘Akira Healthcare’.
We went in, parked and got out.
He said, “Come.”
He showed me the various departments, the ICU, the ER beds, the various labs and the OPDs. It was a clean, large hospital. But uncharacteristically, the people who came to the hospital seemed poor.
“This is a center that constantly streamlines the philanthropic expenses for my companies,” he explained, “We do not charge anything more than the cost of the medicines for the natives of Bhuj. And for people eligible as per our guidelines or if they are below the poverty lines, everything is free.”
My heart was a molten lava and I felt like a volcano. When we reached his room, he just stood by the tall glass wall, overlooking the forested landscape below.
“You called this hospital in my name?” I asked.
“Everything you taught me, Aki,” he said, “I might have lost you all these years, but you never went away from me.”
I didn’t realize I had tears in my eyes.
“I am trying to live in your image, Aki. At every turn of my life, I think, what you would have liked me to do. And then, I do that. Remember, you taught me all this kindness and love. So this...,” he waves his hand around the hospital, “…is what you have done Aki.., not me. I was merely a tool of your memory.”
I don’t know how to talk like Amar, but I understood he loved me too. I couldn’t stop my tears from flowing.
He continued, “I go to Smruti Van every twenty-sixth of January, but I got held up yesterday because I was in Ahmedabad. Yesterday, I got around to getting this done, Aki,” he said, taking off his jacket and rolling up his sleeves. On the inside of his left forearm was a tattoo. His hand was reddish and the tattoo was still healing. The Ameera. In black and white, shaded and beautiful.
“I never married because I was already married to you, Aki,” he said.
“If you feel as intensely as I do, and if you are available, there would be no one luckier than I, if you can be with me, Aki. I know you are forty-three and I am forty-two, but can we too, still go through the occasion to let other people be happy for us? Will you marry me, Aki?”
“Yes Ami” I heard myself saying, not sure if I have to say anything at all.
He came closer and looked into my face. I didn’t know when we hugged. I stood there with my face buried in his shoulder, hugging tightly, and tears drenching his shirt.