“It was still dawn when I stepped out of the cab and walked towards the entry gate of the Delhi airport. The early morning February air was pleasantly cold.
I was travelling to Bengaluru to attend a college friend’s wedding. It had been four years since we graduated from the same college. This wedding was also going to be a reunion of our batchmates. But what I didn’t know was that the reunion would begin much ahead of time; right in the queue in front of the airline counter.
I was almost sure it was she. Same height! Same long hair! Same complexion! Curiosity had my eyes glued to her. And then about 60-odd seconds later, when she turned, she proved me right. My ex-girlfriend stood two places ahead of me in that queue. We had never met after the college farewell.
This was the first of the several times I saw her after the hiatus. She looked so radiant, so happy. It blinded me. Bewitched, I dropped my luggage. The ill-clasped suitcase cracked open on the floor. I bent down and procured a DSLR, a drum stick, banana peels, a cookbook, a MacBook, a dart, a map and three pens and hurled them back inside as fast as I could. I ran my hands over my shorts pocket and was reassured of its contents. I stood up then and looked for her. She was gone.
It was then that I noticed, I had become a laughing stalk for the crowd. I saw people holding up their cell phones to my face and guffawing. It didn’t matter. None of them mattered.
After I landed on Bengaluru airport, I saw a placard with the name ‘Cyrus Shah’ on it. My steps traced mechanically to the lady holding it.
“Dude! You really have to see it to believe it, don’t you?” said Gauri, too astonished to bring the placard down.
“Hey, Gauri. How have you been? Where’s Sumit?” I tried to make a conversation, while taking down the welcome sign, somewhat against her will.
“But, look at you! You are so not entering my wedding in this rainbow..ugh..Mohawk and loafers!”
“I’m fine. Trust me.”
“I just…am really worried for you. That’s all.”
“You don’t need to be. I will explain later. Let’s go now, and get you married to that punk.” I smirked.
Gauri let it go for the moment. The wedding was due the next day. I entered my hotel room, took out my camera and searched my pocket. I took out a crumpled pink sheet wrapped over a photograph. I took a selfie with the photo, uploaded it on my blog and scratched no. 3- “Get laughed at over a insane haircut and a crazier hair colour.” on the sheet. After that, I lay down on the bed and closed my eyes, trying to revisit that illustrious glow and ethereal gaiety on Trisha’s face.
I woke up the next morning to the boisterous pounding at the door. It was Sumit.
“My wife warned me not to look you in the face. But…”, he gasped as he raised his eyes to meet mine.
“Wife already?” I teased.
“Well, um..Gauri sent you these. She would not have you wear anything else.”
“I thought this was fine,” I tried to protest.
“It’s a big day for her, for me too. I wouldn’t bother, but I want her to have her way all the same. She is a little girl once again. She cries her eyes out over a badly arranged flower. Don’t get me started..ha-ha..”
“I get it. Trisha would act out the same way when…..” I stopped short.
A moment of awkward silence passed. It was years since I had taken her name out loud. Each syllable seemed to sting me in the tongue. Blatant memories lashed into my mind tearing my calm into shreds. And then, there was that smile. That one smile from yesterday. I shut my eyes, took a breath and said, “Meet you downstairs in five.”
He left, mumbling something. I dressed in, carefully transferring the pocket contents of my shorts therein. A joker in suit, I mused. That will do. I walked into the banquet hall. I could see familiar faces taking shape, but I kept looking for her. There was a discomfort in the crowd wherever I passed. It just didn’t not bother me anymore.
As the wedding procession entered, I unbuttoned my jacket, folded up the sleeves of my shirt and started dancing like I had never danced before. I didn’t care. None mattered. Nothing else mattered. I just danced like a hopeless drunkard. Everyone was flabbergasted. They stared, they laughed and ultimately joined in. The subtle aura blew out into a gaudy jamboree. I danced till every muscle in my body ached, till my feet pinched, till air and earth became one and the same to me. Finally, few concerned faces drew me aside and made me sit down.
As I watched, I saw Trisha the second time. My heart skipped a beat. She was too lost in her dance to notice anything else. I could hear her laughter ringing in my ears. She was so happy. I forgot everything else in that moment. I beckoned the cameraman to click a photo of myself holding the photograph and the entire batch of 2012 dancing in the background. I made sure to collect that photo from him personally.
At night, I posted the photo on my blog and scratched off number 7 on the sheet- “Dance like drunk at a school/college friends’ wedding.”
I set out the next morning itself. I ran into you on the way in, because I am clumsy. But, you know that now. You were bent on enquiring my predicament because I looked too absurd to you. There, you got it.”
“But, it’s an incomplete story. If you love her so much, why did you break up at all? And what is with the photograph and the paper you carry?” retorted Nimisha, a random stranger Cyrus had met while boarding his flight.
“That’s a lot of questions. Trisha passed away four years ago. I did not break up with her, she was killed in a plane crash.”
“But, you said you saw her…um…twice! Are you on drugs?”
“I wish..ha-ha..I wish it was meth.”
“Tell me, then.” urged Nimisha.
“I met her in the higher secondary. She had just shifted to Delhi along with her family after her father was killed during a terrorist assault in Srinagar. For someone who had been through so much recently, she was rather too optimistic. Of course, she had an impossible waist and great hair. Whenever I was around her, I was somehow unconditionally and irrevocably happy. I was all over her since I first saw her. She finally said yes. We worked hard to make it to the same college for B.Tech. We moved in together in 2010 while pursuing MBA. I proposed her after we both got the job. She said yes. That moment, that point of time was my whole life. She was so excited. I have never seen a happier person or a happier child. She wanted me to meet her mother and her elder brother. Everything was sorted out. Everything in my life since the moment I had met her felt so right. We were supposed to leave the very next morning after the farewell at college to go meet her family. She had decided to spend that last night after farewell with her girl friends. She was giddy shopping, prancing and decorating. So, I invited my friends over. We fooled around till sunrise. I was to meet her the next day at the airport and I overslept. She had left several messages, called innumerable times. I was just, not there for her. I missed the flight. The flight crashed while landing. I lost her forever.
You know, you would say it’s just the way it is and I should let that go. You don’t get it. That day, I not only lost her, I lost my entire life. Everything I worked and lived for, since the day I saw her, every decision I made, whether it was the colour of my shirt or the job location I chose, seemed meaningless. She just ceased to exist. Every day I wish I had not missed that flight. It’s unfair. It’s unfair to her, to me and to her family. That is not the way to go. She was supposed to wait till we had lived our dreams. Sometimes, I wake up at night shrieking, imagining the pain she had had to go through. She died one of the most horrendous deaths one can imagine and for what? What wouldn’t I give to turn things over. But, she is gone. You are right, it’s not just me. I saw hundreds of dreams crushed and thousands of stories rewritten. Trust me when I say this, none of the these stories are half as good as what they used to be. They are compromises, not life anymore.”
“That’s…really…sad! What after?”
“Then, I just lost it. I was a nobody again. I never met her mother. I could not go back to our apartment. It was filled with her. I went to Mumbai, sent my friends to collect what was quintessentially necessary from our apartment, worked like a robot, climbed up fast in career. But, that was the by-product you could say. I could not stand a moment not working, because it killed me. It does not seem real. She died. She just did not and would never die in my world. Well, after three years, I mustered the gall and revisited our apartment. I had managed to pay the rent and keep the place. It was like being engorged in the limbo. Her blue top was just lying on the rug. She loved that top. Her hair and makeup paraphernalia were everywhere in the bathroom and the bedroom. I never got to learn their names. The wind chime she had put up was still clinking. The aroma of the place was magical. It was like travelling back in time or warping in an alternate universe, like the interim was a phantasmal vision and you finally woke up in your home surrounded by the warmth that was exclusively yours. All those years, I had feared encountering her, and yet there I was very much in her lap and I was just happy. You say material possessions are just material possessions. But, they are so much more. They are little pockets of memories that no photograph or video could ever capture. They are the lifestyle, the quirks, the smiles, the pranks, the laughter, the wails. Life is all about things that we put together and make and hey sometimes that’s all you are left with. At least, they never die. I realised I had forgotten what she smelled like. It was daunting. It was just three years and it felt like I was already losing her. It bothers me even now, I am in constant panic, what if I forget her voice or her face or those little details.”
“You won’t…but, what about the slip?”
Cyrus took out the sheet from his pocket opened it, keeping the photograph and the sheet side by side. By now, a lot of fellow passengers had turned around listening to his story. He was too deep in that limbo to notice.
“She is even prettier than I imagined. What is this though? ‘Things I want to do before I die’…” came a croaky voice of a teenager.
“I found this in Trisha’s box of bangles that day. She had never told me about it before. I had never touched her make-up stuff before.”
“So, you found her bucket list!”
“I did. I know she is no longer alive. But, I am. I decided I would look out for her, now at least. But, actually it was she looking out for me, even in death. This list, these words are all that matter now. No one else matters. Nothing else matters. Just when I was at the rock bottom, she gave me a new purpose in life.”
“Ok, I am reading it…” said an elderly.
THINGS TO DO BEFORE I DIE:
- Run in a field of sunflowers.
- Try every recipe in a cookbook.
- Get laughed at over an insane haircut and a crazier hair colour.
- Throw a dart at a map and just go.
- Have a meaningful conversation with a random stranger.
- Learn belly dance.
- Dance like drunk at a school/college friends’ wedding.
- Change someone’s life, in a good way.
- Learn to say ‘Thank You’ in 40 languages.
- Prove that magic is real.
A profound silence followed this recitation, till Nimisha finally said, “I need a picture of these, a selfie with you and I need to know about your blog. Also, are you really going to learn belly dance?”
“All in good time. I have committed to this wish-list. Every time I complete one, I close my eyes and see her live some more. Anyway, why would you want all that?” asked Cyrus, confounded.
“You will know, all in good time.”
She took the pictures and the long-hauled flight landed in the isle of Skye, a beautiful Scotland country side. Cyrus got down, took out the sheet and crossed numbers 4 and 5, smiling to himself.
When he returned back to India, he was overwhelmed with unprecedented surprises. The story of Trisha had taken over the internet. His blog had forty thousand new followers. His facebook page was spammed with #Trisha, #wishlist, #Cyrus and more. People of all ages he never met before were taking vacations, running through sunflower fields, taking belly dance lessons and what not. Was all of that for Trisha? They did that because everyone has a ‘Trisha’ in their lives; someone’s daughter, someone’s grandchild, someone’s wife, someone’s sister who is taken before time. But, everyone is not lucky enough to live the dreams of the deceased. Trisha had become the face of all those forgotten dreams. She was the beacon of hope for many. That had been possible due to the alacrity of Nimisha of course and it had changed everything.
One year later, Cyrus adopted a girl and named her Trisha. He ran with her in the sunflower fields and signed in belly dance classes with her when she turned five. He crossed off number eight. He learnt to say ‘Thank You’ in forty five languages later and said that often. He was no more the peevish guy he once had been. He was calm and happy. Little Trisha was one of the most adorable girls one could find. What is more, she believed in magic. He crossed off number ten off the list, for he learnt magic is nothing more, but faith, love and firm belief.