I sensed choking in her voice when she called up. She wanted to have tea. I hadn’t learned if tea was a part of her fascination for things British. Whenever I heard the British accent or heard someone even mention it, in my head, her tiny-voiced squeaky war cry outburst would play like an automated response to the stimulus. I agreed to have tea straight away, because there was no point asking her what the matter was; she had repeated her question twice without giving as much as a breathing space for me to respond, and that spoke out aloud for the state her mind was in.
It was an unusually cold February evening. Her hands gripped my unwashed t-shirt for balance and warmth – no, not my waist, only my t-shirt. The ginger in the steaming hot tea burnt the throat soothingly. She was on her way of being zoned out.
Tears kept swelling in her eyes, and when they got threateningly close to drawing a path down her cheeks, her brows crossed, an effort that froze her entire face, as if gathering strength from it. Her fingers sprung to rush into a clenched fist and stopped midway to relax slowly, as though they were a part of a choreographed performance with her eyes that filled and emptied in a rhythmic pattern. Her gaze was fixed somewhere over the bare, unpainted walls of the terrace on the multi-storied building that someone was raising on the other side of the road for almost half a year now.
Just like her gaze, I was stuck. Writing was not hard for me. There was a point of time when it felt natural and easy. And with time, I had lost my familiarity with it. Surely, there should be some way to go about it and be done with it. How would she have done it? What would she notice in the glances she stole? She would have noticed how my shorts were rolled, stuck between touching my knee and desperately trying to slip past it with each movement of my leg. She would have noticed how my eyes engorged and my brows arched when I put my entire concentration into tearing open a mouth-freshener with my teeth. She would have noticed the crooked 9’s on the envelope I held and probably made a mental note that they looked like tadpoles.
Tadpoles! There. I hadn’t lost it all, after all, and she was unknowingly helping me find it in my head.
She turned slowly to face me, tears brimming, brows still crossed as though she was judging my silence and my observational skills, boring right into my shifty self. After exactly a second and a half, I shuffled and dug into my pockets, mentally noting that she would never understand why I always had to look at my notification-less phone so often when she kept throwing looks like that at me.
‘What is it about?’ I asked her.
She lifted the book she was clutching in her left hand and brought it to the eye-level, holding it with all her might, lest it slip away from her grasp, and probably the universe as well.
‘That girl died,’ I said, not entirely realizing that I had shaped it as a question in my head, but had ended up making a statement.
She remained silent, still using all her concentration to abstain from crying in front of me. From the times I knew her, her cold skin could certainly do with some warmth. She continued looking straight into me. Taking a deep breath, she gave me the book and then showed me a couple of bookmarks held together by a tear strip. She folded it along that line.
‘If this is the whole of my heart or something like that,’ she said, and pointed to one side, ‘this is the bigger piece, and I want you to have it.’
I took it and examined it to see ‘Okay?’ printed on it in an artistic little cloud. She held the other piece in her hand. It said ‘Okay.’
That February was unusually cold. I wondered if he understood the depth of what I had just said, what I had just done. And like every other time, what mattered was not if he did, but that I did. I stretched my hands open, diffidently.
‘Shah Rukh Khan?’ he asked.
‘Shah Rukh Khan?’
‘I thought you were doing the Shah Rukh Khan pose,’ he said.
He chuckled softly and pulled me into his chest, letting me bury my face on the comfortable spot along the side of his neck. And through him radiated the central heating system that my body had the luxury of being spoiled by.
‘Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. (…) There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbound set. I want more number than I am likely to get. (…) But, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn't trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I'm grateful.'