Through the open window beside my bed, pain comes in quietly on measured steps in moonlight. It touches me in my slumber and my heart is lost in a dream; a dream I have seen many times and have often forgotten in the morning. Rightly so, because the mornings never had a clue. Only the nights had seen me pacing on the terrace of my hostel and stealing a glance at her every time she buried her face in the book, every time her dark tresses fell over her face, and looking away just as she looked up and tucked them back cutely behind her ears.
My student days in New Delhi showed me a view of life that I had never seen in my home town; the way life ran with frenetic speed on the smoothest and busiest roads and I waited endlessly for it under the shed on the sidewalk. I remember losing my footing in the crowd and the fear in my heart that I will be run over. I remember coming back to my cheap, lonely room. I kept tuning and retuning to my favorite radio stations so as to find a familiar voice, a familiar name that I could listen to every day, even if only on a radio. Those were not the days for a romantic dream. And then I found her in the quiet and dusky subway under this road on which life ran. I walked behind her slowly with unhurried steps in my slumber and I lost her just as I reached the other side of the road.
She lived in one of the flats in the building opposite to my hostel. She was perhaps a little older than me. I first saw her when I had come to my terrace in the night to escape the mugginess of my claustrophobic room. She was studying with her friend. In a few days, I discovered she used to study there every night until dawn. I knew her name one day as one of her friends called out for her, "Anjali". I gave the name to my nights, "Anjali". I never stared or smiled at her. I just used to steal a discreet glance every now and then. Her face might not have been the prettiest, but her eyes had a calmness that gently stroked my heart into a sweet rhythm. She smiled rarely but whenever she did, time used to freeze around her; and in that moment when time remained blind I used to smile too, cheating all my pains and fears. I never felt any need to talk to her.
One night, she acknowledged my presence. While I was busy listening to the radio, I felt her gaze tenderly roam around me before settling on my face with love. I turned slowly and for the tiniest fraction of time, our eyes met and shied away leaving a ruby bliss on her pale cheeks and a sweet pain in me. Since that moment, love paced restlessly on that terrace every night, hand in hand with me, aching for her gaze to stretch its tender fingers again. But the distance that separated her world and mine, the silence that floated in the breeze that come to me from her terrace remained. I never tried to transcend it. I let the dream remain a dream for it was so perfect.
Like a day always comes when a little paper boat delightfully floating in muddy pools of sweet rain water has to be lost, that day also came. It was evening and as if in harmony with the moment, the sun was melting into darkness, in the background. She stood on the terrace and looked around, her hands rested on the railings. Her eyes traveled the emptiness of an infinite sky that was losing itself in the arms of dusk. Then she looked at me, I could not have missed as she blinked, a window of dreams opened and closed in her eyes, her lips twitched a little, trembled and love glittered brightly in my faint smile. Perhaps, the longing of the moment could have transformed itself into a few sweet words by its own, if that moment would have lingered a little longer. But... her friend called for her, "Anjali, the taxi is waiting." She went away, forever into the memory lane and she left her address somewhere that could only be reached in my dreams.
Yesterday, those dreams, those nights, the love and the longing broke away the shackles of years and stormed into my office in broad day light. She was sitting across my desk. Her hair were now pulled back and not a single strand fell over her face. Her eyes were a little nervous. I might not have recognized her at all but her old, familiar face smiled at me from her job application that was in my hand. And the first column read the name I had given to my nights, "Anjali". I can't recall how the interview went, my mind only remembers the last question that I put across her nervously, "Do you remember me?". And I continued without waiting for her answer, nervous, without even trying to hide it,"I lived in that hostel, opposite to your apartment in Delhi, 2004?" She shrugged and then smiled,"Ah...hmmm..yes sir, I do. I was doing my masters there.....". As she continued ahead about Delhi and her course, my eyes looked in her eyes, searching. I don't remember what happened next....
Those eyes were stranger's.
I wake up, jolted, tonight, just as I see her dream again. I try to remember where did it go so wrong.
The dream was so perfect!
(c) Ankur Srivastava