The Unfinished Story
The Unfinished Story
Meher had stepped into the realm of that particular age when the human heart impatiently tries to find someone worthy of carrying the hundreds of unrealised dreams that are locked safely in one of the secret vaults of the heart. She watched her friends ‘break up’ and ‘patch up’ with boys of her age, and no matter how vehemently she denied it, she secretly wished to be a part of something other than examinations and expectations. She knew, and the same had been repeatedly told to her by her mother, that this age was meant to make mistakes, some of which were actually important as they taught some of the vital primary lessons of life, but she needed to make the ground beneath her feet strong. “I’m not one of those mothers who would just marry their daughters off and sit back relaxed. I know what you are capable of. And I want to see you achieve what I believe is waiting for you. Remember Meher, this time of your life, this preparatory phase, is never going to come back. Never. So just mind your step.”
Meher had been minding her step, but the heart wants what it wants. It was a small Teachers’ day party when she met Reyaan, the boy she had been hearing about for the past six months, about how wonderful he was, how beautifully he played piano, and how good he was in virtually everything. When she saw him for the first time, she felt terribly short of vocabulary, but Reyaan made things simple for her by shaking her hand and finishing the formal introduction. Meher grew quite fond of him in no time, and realised what people had been saying about him was so true. He was somewhat shy. He talked less. He smiled only occasionally, but whenever his did, the small quiver at the corner of his lips actually expressed more than a hearty laughter ever could. Meher spent the entire evening sipping at her glass of coke and watching him. His decency was something extremely striking, for the time she was living in, boys and girls were, in general, extremely reckless about everything, and the ‘different’ feeling was just absent.
“I hope to see you soon again.” Those were the words said by Reyaan after their handshake, and those were the words that kept forming unique symphonies in Meher’s head all night. She looked at the photograph of her father next to her bed and wished he were there by her side, just so that she could ask him what it was like to be special to someone. Even the mere thought of discussing something like this with her mother made her shudder. Not that she was always scolding, no, but the comfort level was not up to the mark. She pulled her blanket over, for it was cold, and wished that what Reyaan had said came true. What she did not expect was that it would come true so soon.
They met again two days later while returning home from school. She used to walk home, and Reyaan used to cycle. When Meher noticed him coming the same way, she had pretended to look the other way, and just as she had wished, he jumped off his cycle and said, “Hi! Meher, right?”
She smiled and hoped her hair was alright. The rest of the way they both walked, talking about the party, talking about how irresistible the nuggets were, and how monstrous their maths teacher looked after having his moustache shaved for no reason at all. Meher laughed, and she had not laughed like that for a very long time. No body’s company had ever seemed so enjoyable. She willed to tell him so much. She wanted to read to him the short poems she secretly wrote, show him the sketches she made of how she would look like at the age of seventy, and ask him to play her Celine Dion melodies on his piano. She wanted to do so much, but the promise to meet again was something she needed to hear, primarily.
This went on and on, and as nature’s wheels rolled, the bud blossomed into a flower, and its radiance became difficult to hide. By the end of the next three months, both Reyaan and Meher had understood that they had become that fragile little part of each other’s lives that needed to kept hidden, with utmost care, and without which things would not be the same ever again. Meher sometimes thought of her mother and her glaring eyes when she would discover this, and she promised herself that she would maintain her grades to keep her suspicion off. “I would hate to see you suffer academically for me”, Reyaan would say, “We don’t need to meet so often or talk all day. Please. I need you to believe that I’m not a…. what do you call it… a passing cloud. I shall be standing right here, always.” And it was what he said and the way he said that made Meher feel so fortunate. She had found someone who cared selflessly for her, who understood every hidden meaning in her poems, who said she would still look so beautiful at the age of seventy after seeing the sketch. She had found someone who could actually miss a sunset in the sky, just to see the setting sun in her eyes.
Thanks to the world that breathes a special kind of air called ‘social media’, the touch never went cold. Reyaan texted very less, and she perfectly understood why. But suddenly the texts ceased to come. It went on for days, and then weeks. The complete summer vacation she did not hear from him. She asked a few of her friends to check whether he was ill, but that was not the case. Life had already started losing all the vibrant colours, and she felt the lack of concentration in studies, which she knew was terrible news. Nonetheless, she kept on climbing up her syllabi and kept on waiting for a phone call, or a text. Questions cloaked in fear clogged in her mind, and strangely she found herself not strong enough to push them away.
One evening she finally mustered courage and texted him asking about what the problem was. She willed herself not to check her phone to see if he had replied. This sinking feeling to find absolutely no communication from him was becoming unbearable, almost torturous.
And then, just as she was about to leave, her phone vibrated. With her heart thudding in her ear, she unlocked her phone and stared at the screen. Yes. It was him. Her finger froze, but somehow she managed to open the text. And then she nearly stopped breathing.
She did not know if he was joking or not. What was this? She read it again, but it hardly made any sense. Just then, like a bolt of lightning, the truth struck her. Her fingers went numb. She now knew why he had not been texting her. She now knew what was waiting for her. The message read, “Reyaan won’t be available. Ever again. And I would like to talk to your mother about this.”
Reyaan sat quietly, his face buried in his book, although it was impossible for him to read one single sentence and understand what it meant. His father, after sending the message, threw the phone back on his bed and said in a voice that could chill the water in the glass he was holding, “I would like to meet her, and her mother. Parents should know what their children are doing behind their back.”
Reyaan slowly looked up and tried to say something, when his father roared, “Don’t you dare frame one of your silly excuses again! For the first time in my life, I’m happy your mother isn’t alive. I don’t know what else you have in store for me to see….this is just the beginning I guess.”
“Father, please….I will talk to her and…”
“And?” his father sank down on the sofa and said, “So much money spent. So much effort. So much…. So much… you know Reyaan, I used to cycle you to school every single day because the children in the vans bullied you, and for that I had to cycle five kilometres extra up and down every single day! You know how I saved money, pie by pie, to ensure you had the same quality notebooks like your friends? To ensure you had standard tuitions, if not the best? To get you your favourite birthday cake every year? And this is how you repay me, son? Have I not taught you that fruits are always sour when consumed in the wrong time of the year?”
Tears trickled down the cheeks of Reyaan. He fumbled, “Father, I’m really sorry, I should have told you, but believe me, we are not like….like…”
“Oh, please! I know what love is, don’t you dare teach me! You want to know the colour of it? Have you seen black? Like the night sky with no stars? That’s the colour of love! One day one just turns less interesting for the other person, and then all that will remain are fragments of the big and beautiful palace you had been subconsciously building for such a long time. This is how it works! All the time!”
Reyaan was silent. He did not have the courage to utter another word. His father looked out of the window and whispered, “There is only pain. Love’s the most effective way to destroy yourself, to inflict wounds on yourself that will take a long time to heal, and scars forever to erase.”
Keeping the glass down, he said, “I am meeting her mother tomorrow. Don’t be afraid. I will be most polite. Meher is a child, and so are you. I don’t know what kind of education she received from her mother, but as far as you are concerned, this was unexpected from you. I will sort things out tomorrow. I can’t watch anybody spend the rest of the life talking to walls, be it you or her. Now, tell me where she lives.”
Next day, Reyaan’s father had no difficulty finding the house. He had some well-constructed sentences in his mind. He knew how to end it without being rough or rude. When he knocked, the woman who answered was perhaps the maid. “I would like to speak with Meher’s mother. I’m a distant acquaintance.”
He was allowed in and shown the couch in the drawing room. “Madam will be here in an hour. I hope you are not in a hurry.”
“Oh, no. Please. It’s fine.”
“Tea or coffee?”
“Tea, please. And, is Meher home?”
“Can you send her to me, please? Tell her Reyaan’s father has come. And tell her not to be scared.”
Meher had already shrunk like a caterpillar hearing the doorbell and the husky male voice asking for her mother. She had been praying furiously to God, but it seemed God was busy listening to the others. She could burst into tears any moment. Not only was the fear of facing her mother after all this crippling her, but the very thought of losing Reyaan was soul-crushing. She slowly stepped out of her room, and saw the male figure sitting on the couch. The deafening silence was killing her. She slowly progressed and finally a word escaped in a trembling voice, “Sir.”
Reyaan’s father turned around and said, “Oh, so you must be….”
But he could not say anything else. His eyes could pop out anytime. His brows arched upwards, and slowly his mouth opened. There was fear in his eyes. There was surprise. And bewilderment. And perhaps a hundred questions. Meher, who was already frightened to death, was suddenly puzzled by this unexpected behaviour. She waited for a few seconds and said, “Sir? Are you fine?”
Reyaan’s father mumbled something that made little sense. He stood like a stone statue and kept gaping at the nineteen year old girl before him. A few moments later he stammered, “I… I have to go.” And before Meher could say anything, Reyaan’s father had already rushed out of the house, stumbled down the stairs, opened the gate and was gone in no time. The tea that was brought for him had to be taken back. Meher stood perplexed, not knowing what exactly to be afraid of now at this point. Clueless, she slowly went back to her room.
“Don’t come to my room today. I have a headache. I need to sleep.”
Reyaan was shocked to see his father act so weird. “Baba, what happened there?”
“I told you, Reyaan! Just go back to your room! And you need not worry, I didn’t say anything to her!”
That was all he said before slamming the door. Reyaan had to have his lunch alone that day. He could not fathom what had troubled his father so much that he had to leave Meher’s home without doing what he was so enthused to do. At night, when his father did not even come down for dinner, the maid asked what to do with the food. “Just slip it from down the door” came the reply. At around ten, Reyaan heard the creaking sound – like the lifting of the lid of an old and rusted trunk. Reyaan slipped out of his bed and tiptoed to his father’s room. Through the gap by the hinges, he tried to have a peek. He was surprised to see what his father was doing.
The whole room was in a mess. Three to four boxes were lying on the floor, open, with hundreds of paper all around it. It was evident Reyaan’s father had frantically been searching for something. And now it seemed he had finally found it. In the old trunk. He took out what looked like a prehistoric photo album, blew the dust off its cover, and opened it. He was clearly not interested in all the photographs. One, however, caught his interest. He pulled it out cautiously and kept staring at it. And then what Reyaan saw surprised him even more.
He could swear his father was crying.
The soft sniffling sound was hard to listen to, though, but when his hand went up to his face to wipe the tears, there was no doubt at all. He held the photograph with both his hands and brought it nearer to his face. This time the sniffling sound was perfectly audible. Reyaan realised his feet had turned cold. He had never known his father was a man who could cry, who could keep secrets locked up in a box for years, who could miss someone so badly even today.
The next morning, Reyaan spoke nothing of it. His father finished his breakfast, stapled all his assignments, packed his bag and grabbed the lunchbox. While he was getting ready, the only question he had asked was, “This friend of yours, what’s her mother’s name?” Reyaan had replied, “Savitri.’’ But the look on his father’s face showed he was asking just for the sake of confirmation of what he already knew.
When he left for office, Reyaan sneaked into his room. He pulled out the trunk and found the album right above the pile of garbage his father had rummaged through all night. He opened the album, and his heart skipped multiple beats. Even in this cold, his hands sweated.
The album was of his father’s schooldays, and maybe the start of college days. He was a joyful kid, Reyaan noticed. It was awkward to imagine his father running with a kite in his hand, or playing football in the mud wearing little half-pants, shirts and ties. Each picture was a story in itself. Reyaan was smiling unknowingly, but he knew he was looking for something else. And when that something else came, the album almost dropped from his hand.
The photograph was old but was kept with a lot of care. In the picture, his father must have been eighteen or nineteen years old, roughly of the same age as Reyaan himself. He was wearing a red coloured well-knitted sweater, and he was crouching over a butterfly on a flower. But he was not alone. There was a girl sitting right beside him, who was trying to catch the butterfly. It was this girl that shook Reyaan to the core.
It was Meher.
Well, the girl looked exactly like Meher, like, to the T. Her eyes, her smile, the way she tied her hair… everything was so similar that it was actually quite unsettling. Below the photograph were two letters that were barely legible- K and S. Reyaan knew K was Karthik, his father. And the S, he could very well guess now, was Savitri. It had to be.
Tears rolled down his eyes without his permission, and a smile escaped form the corner of his lips. He tried to imagine a number of things his father had been burying in his heart, in this trunk, for all these years, and yet how he had fulfilled his duties as a husband and a father so very efficiently. He wiped his tears and kept the photo back to where it belonged.
That night, when they were having dinner, the only sound was the clinking of the silverware. Reyaan’s father finally broke the silence saying something most unexpected.
Reyaan dropped the food from his spoon. “What?”
“I have been too hard on you.”
“Father, please…. You don’t have to…”
His father placed his hand on Reyaan’s. The touch had an uncanny feel of warmth. He said, “I now know, the girl you have chosen has an exceptionally a good soul. I know.”
“You know? And how, may I ask?” Reyaan asked although he knew the answer. His father silently chewed his food and said, “I just know. She had grown up under….under wonderful parenthood. I’m pretty sure she is different.” He smirked. “She must be”, he added.
Reyaan finished his food smiling. He was dying to say everything to Meher. From the corner of his eye, he saw his father actually happy. After drinking some water, he said, “Invite her to dinner tomorrow.”
Reyaan could have wrapped his arms around his father that very instant. His father continued, “Although, I need to see both your and Meher’s grades rise. Remember, brighter your future, brighter will be the smile on both of your faces. Is that a promise?”
The promise was made with a beaming smile. And a father’s eyes almost whispered to his son, “You better complete the story I had started, but could never finish.”