To Arjun, for being with me all this time
When a voice from the other end of the phone woke me up to the news of the demise of Amir, my childhood friend, the world had barely risen from its deep winter slumber. There was not a trail of light to soothe my eyes, nor a sound to destroy silence - which hung heavily around my ears. The news didn't disconcert my lethargy; it couldn't disturb the shallow post-retirement period where I found myself in fond company of solitude and regret.
'Aren't you supposed to go?', Esha asked.
Esha. She had been beside me - sitting where I sat, reading my thoughts before I spoke, giving me a world of abundance in a rather lonely life - for 45 years! I gazed at her. Life had stolen her numerous facets; her soft skin, the blackness of her hair, her imposing seductiveness, her fragile laughs and the exquisite music in her voice.
'Yes, I must go. Are you coming?'
'Shouldn't I? How could I forget Amir?', her passionate reply found me in a peculiar guilt.
Amir was my friend even before I could understand the miracle which separates sounds and language. Amir, Esha and I thought the same thoughts and dreamed the same dreams for the greater part of our youth. When I tied a knot around Esha, and claimed her to be the first and the loveliest possession under my ownership, it was on Amir's shoulders my weight rested, my life leaned. Sitting back on my cushion, I could not comprehend where the guilt originated from, but I knew it was something which would take time to recede.
Esha was ready within an hour. I had called up Pratyush, our eldest son to drop us off at Amir's place. Senility had completely destroyed my directions and fragmented my memories, it took a lot of queries to find the place which I have so often visited when I was a child.
'Call me when it is over.', Pratyush said as we got down. I nodded.
He struggled to guide his vehicle through the gathering which overflowed from the house and onto the streets. Every mouth moved in remembrance and tribute, every ear heard a tale of kindness, every heart melted tenderly amidst tears and every mind searched to out-pour its grief. Being a part of the elite, I couldn't entirely judge the genuineness of that social expression, but I could feel a remarkable sadness prevailing powerfully, which dissolved into me and perspired through my eyes. Esha held my hands tighter, she could feel my heart beat even before my cells respire with fresh air. She says that she heard my heart's echoes resounding with music on a rock concert 47 years back - the day Amir asked me to propose her!
I saw how baldness had disfigured Amir's hair. His hair was the envy of a whole classroom. He used to carry three things with him every single day; a purse without money, a bag with a single book and a bright green comb to present his most valuable treasure in the most perfect way. His body, shunned by the ruthlessness of life, remained sturdy, yet there was a dark patch beneath his eyes which showcased a lifetime of fatigue. I was sure it could no longer hold his extensive curiosity nor his avid dreams.
Esha leaned onto me and cried. I could feel the heat of her tears permeating my clothes and touching my skin. Yet, I couldn't bring out a single drop of tear to present to my comrade. I floated in memories, and found the place where there was an abrupt ending. Beside me was Esha, holding a baby who would grow onto be the fine gentleman who dropped us off today. We were moving to Delhi in a hope to find a better job and a better place to raise our child. Amir waved his hands in ecstasy but with tears in his eyes, within every single drop of his tear I found the tremendous love which made him run three kilometers to fetch us a taxi that day.
'No one had to run to call an ambulance. He fell down and died instantly', a relative said. I scanned the vicinity in a hope to identify Amir's wife or children but could not distinguish any emotional break down from the other. It seemed everyone was equally sad and equally at loss.
Esha and I walked away from the house. Just then, they took the body for burial, a wave of tears erupted. Esha leaned on me again. I looked at her imperfect frame and mocked at life which couldn't claw into her threshold of love, nor take away the glow in her eyes. I felt Amir's hands curling around me, comforting me and asking me to move on.
We walked away from the place where Amir's spirit still tends his banana trees, where his hands still graces his farm. We reached the bus stop where years before I saw a boy in white shirt and dark blue trousers, who asked me my name and told me his, who shared his cold and damp biscuit with me during recess, who laughed at me when I fell down while playing, who held my hand and asked me to count ten before jumping into a pond, who used to tell me he sees phantoms roaming about his room at night, who cried with me when I lost my father, who shared his lunch box when my mother was sick, who motivated me with his smile, who destroyed my tears with his laugh, who kept coming back to me after our fights and in the end who cried like a fool standing alone in a station as our train blew past!
While we waited for Pratyush to arrive, I asked Esha, 'Do you know what made Amir my best friend?'
'No', she replied.
'It was my first day at school after my father died. Everyone offered me to help out on anything I would possibly need. I felt an overwhelming pity crippling me and suffocating me that day. I asked Amir if he could help me complete my notes, and then with an impish laugh he politely asked me to piss off!'
Esha gave up her tears, which impeccably gave a spontaneous smile as she imagined the scenario.
I continued, 'Only then had I realized that more than all acts of love, saying no marked a more substantial trait!'
Esha's smile widened, she hugged me and I sat still.
'You know Esha, that bastard still took the time to write my notes, he wrote it all up and gave me the next day!'
I didn't look at Esha, but I could tell she would have heard my heartbeats, because she held my hands tighter. I saw drops of tears running through my cheeks and disappearing into the humidity which held every joy and every tear of Amir's cherished life.