Before the Rain
That day Café Flora felt haunted because the lovers of yore had graced it with their presence. Sitting next to each other they both felt the tinge of uneasiness blanketed in the warm comfort that they used to share at one time. Their curious eyes searched each other with excitement as if the eyes being in darkness for a long time had at once found the light. Her eyes stuck on the left side of his neck where the brown mole that she had tasted many times was as congenial as ever. He studied her hands; both were sporting two rings each that didn’t suggest anything at all.
They sipped coffee in quietness then he spoke, ‘How have you been?’ His animated voice enlivened the sober environment as if someone strummed the strings of a Spanish guitar. Her lips twitched as she answered, ‘Fine.’ Such brief was her reply! He cautiously uttered, ‘Do you live here?’ ‘Yes, somewhere in this very world.’ She tried to smile.
He thought to offer his apologies for that grave misunderstanding. But her indifferent, cold and stoic demeanor discouraged him. He thought to live in the moment that his fate had stolen from life. Years later, today just by sheer chance he bumped into her at the station. The feeling was exactly the same when the lightning strikes. His eyes widened, jaw dropped and then he broke into a confused laugh not believing that he was seeing her after so long. In his frenzy, he kept repeating and shaking his head, ‘I can’t believe this.’ He invited her for a cup of coffee. His stupefied face and the innocence of his reaction quite amused her that she couldn’t decline.
To keep her entertained he started discussing weather. ‘The weather is gorgeous today! Isn’t it?’ ‘It is.’ She nodded and looked out the window.
‘It’s going to rain and in fifteen minutes the sun would pop out from behind the cracked sheets of clouds. And everything would drown in the velvety, golden rays.’ He talked as if he could control the volatile mood of the weather with the flick of his finger like a wizard.
Her mind, however, began to wander in the times gone by. It was a stifling July afternoon. Monsoon was late that year. The birds with their beaks agape would land in the lawn and soak themselves under the sprinkler. She was sitting on the veranda, listlessly going through the day’s newspaper when he barged in. She sprang up in alarm. Things were rough between them since some time. He came and exploded into a tirade. She seemed inundated in the deluge of expletives. But what ruptured her ears was the excessive use of the word whore; the demeaning word that she had always detested. She felt being dragged on the bed of thorns by none other than her own lover.
He unburdened himself and left. She was shell-shocked so much so that she couldn’t say a bit in her defense. When the shock subsided she fell apart like the clanking bones of the skeleton. She didn’t realize the tears were pouring down and so was the rain. The long, dry summer spell had been ended. But that year the rain didn’t come alone. It brought miseries too.
Her misery started from rejection and ended on being called the whore. That word alone froze everything between them. But a few days later her entire being began to writhe and fragment. She picked up the phone to call him. He was unreachable. She would keep dialing his number until her fingers would become numb. She covered the distance from being special to nothingness in just a matter of days. In those feverish times she suffered the worst sort of ambivalence. One moment she would want him back and the next moment hate him with her heart and soul.
For months to come the word whore kept resonating in her mind. In the enraged moments she thought many times of barging in his house the same way and break lose the hell of expletives on him. Then she would feel bitterness in her throat to think that there was no word as derogatory as whore for men in the lexicon of any language.
In the local club, that she used to frequent, the women had formed a group to heal each other emotionally. Every afternoon the women in the closed room would sit in a circle and share the anguishes of their married or love life. She heard several tales full of bizarre details and fetishes. Almost every woman complained of her man’s infidelity. ‘No matter what men do there is no word as disparaging as whore to define their promiscuity’, she thought. She shared her tale. Mrs. Chiragh, the elegant lady in her fifties, said, ‘You need to maintain amour-propre (self-respect). Don’t run after shadows. Remember only you can help yourself out of that swamp.’ That day she realized she was playing in the hands of her own fickle emotions. She only needed to harness those disturbing thoughts that wrongfully reminded her of her worthlessness.
She believed the specter of his memories would always follow her but gradually the ecdysis of her pain began. Her friends used to marvel as to how she had absorbed the ignominy. She was heard saying many times that sometimes indifference was the best vengeance.
‘You too say something. Only I’m chattering.’ His calm voice brought her back.
‘It’s going to rain.’ She said and gazed at her watch.
‘Have another coffee!’ He wanted her to stay.
‘Thank you but I don’t drink more than one cup. Addictions are bad anyway.’ She smiled.
She had become an enigma that was tough to decipher. He wasn’t naïve to understand that mentally and emotionally they stood apart by the distance of one light year. His heart was heavy with indescribable feeling. He met her, stayed with her for an hour but couldn’t apologize. It was like having a coffee with a stranger and he was sure the feeling was mutual. In his ruffled state, before parting, he blurted impulsively, ‘Can we stay in touch?’
Her eyes shone, she smiled – perhaps the most gratifying smile in long time and then said, ‘It’s drizzling. I should be get going. You take care.’
‘You too.’ He said meekly and saw her melt in the swarm of hurrying people.