People often mistook Ankur and Chaya for being childhood friends. They were not. They met in their mid-twenties during graduation and instantly connected. Since the beginning they had a difficulty defining their relationship. It seemed to them that there isn’t any word in any of the three languages they spoke between them, which could describe this anomaly of a relation. They were sure it couldn’t be love because that’s not what they have learned from the books and movies. Anyway, they both have had failed romantic relationships before and this was nothing like that. It wasn’t the sudden wave of thrill and excitement but a constant sense of belongingness. Sometimes they felt amorous and other times platonic.
After graduation, they both got jobs in the same city. And thus, they continued just being together, until one day Chaya got married. Chaya chose her husband herself through a dating website. She dated him for six months before tying the knot. She moved to a different city now. Finally, they could name their relationship- Chaya and Ankur were now long distance best friends.
Ankur did not want to be fastidious but somehow, he never liked anyone enough to consider spending a lifetime with her. He told himself and his family that he is not looking for perfection but just a sensible and smart and good humoured woman. He never found one.
Many years ago, on her birthday, when only a few months had passed since they had met, Chaya had jokingly told Ankur that it was the worst birthday she has ever had, to which he had replied that he will always ensure she has such terrible birthdays. For four years after her marriage, she continued to visit Ankur on her birthday every year. She told her husband that she is spending the birthday with her group of friends as it was a silly birthday pact they had, but it was just the two of them on a holiday somewhere in the Himalayas. The holiday served as a breather to both; they felt free in the true sense of word. They drank wine, laughed, took long walks in the woods, discussed ideas and philosophies and glowed in each other’s embrace. This was the only lie she ever told her husband. And hence, she was convinced that it is justified. Her conscience would sometimes reproach her that some people are also convinced murder is justified but she silenced her conscience with the retort that “it is how it is”. Essentially implying that it was beyond her control, that it was just destiny.
Two days before her fifth birthday after marriage, on her way back to home, Chaya was reading the folk tale of Sohni-Mahiwal; the star-crossed lovers who had a tragic end to their story. Chaya felt unsettled and impulsively felt she had to confess everything to her husband. She wasn’t doing anything wrong and so there was no reason to hide anything. She reached home and hurriedly told her husband everything with the sense of urgency that accompanies the bearer of bad news. He was a calm and reasonable man and for the first time in five years Chaya saw him lose his cool and address her with a language so profane that it seemed surreal coming from his mouth. She was more surprised than scared and stared at him in disbelief. She didn’t know what hit her until she felt a warm liquid sensation on her face and heard the sound of a droplet falling and she bent and saw a tiny red drop on the floor and then a stream.
Two days later, on her birthday, Ankur was staring down at the Beas river rushing through the remote valley. The only sound in those calm surroundings was that of the river. He remembered how Chaya loved this sound and found it pleasant that the river cared to keep anyone company who came in search of solitude but found the silence too overpowering. Whereas he always thought that the river was showing off her prowess; angrily trying to prove her might in front of the stationery snow-capped mountains and barren rocks. He remembered how Chaya called him a cynic for his interpretation and he called her a naive for hers. It seemed to Ankur that his ability to comprehend the world he has inhabited for thirty-four years was gone. He had flashes of incidents run across his eyes all jumbled in vivid colours and then all images merged together until it was just an incomprehensible mass of black; he heard sounds of people talking and singing and then all the sounds getting merged together until it sounded like a cacophony; the air around him felt humid and the wetness increased until it became water; he was breathing in water now with a burning sensation down his throat. Suddenly he saw a flicker of a light and it tried to follow him. Ankur wanted to scream at the light to let him go but no sound came out of his mouth. Ankur closed his eyes and took deep breaths which no longer burned, rather felt liberating. He could feel the light coming closer to him but he knew the darkness has embraced him. Ankur smiled and felt the familiar sense of being free.
PS: The little girl was rounding up her mountain goats to return home. In the twilight, she saw a silhouette falling from the cliff in the river. There was something unnatural about it. She froze for an instant but then she let out a shout and tried to descend the slope as quickly as she could. She already had lit up her lantern a while ago. Balancing the lantern in one hand and the stick in another, she ran downwards towards the spot the silhouette fell. Girl couldn’t see anyone and kept standing on the bank for a while. There was neither any body found nor any person reported missing. Her parents told her it must be the twilight playing tricks on her imagination. But she never forgot, the falling ghost.