He closed his eyes and parted his pale lips to breathe out the final gush of grey air into the still surroundings of his room. It was pitch dark, with only the beams of a far away street light streaming in from his open window to form shadows on the wall. He leaned back on the chair, his laptop on the table in front of him, and his mind flickering with innumerable images of her, which kept flashing in and out of the screen and his heart. If only she knew! If only he could tell her how much she meant to him, then life would have been different. He closed his eyes shut; he knew it was taking his life. It had seeped into his very bones making him weak. He didn’t want to tell it to himself, lie was the best alternative to medicine. It was not hard to affirm, but, yes, today he had to confront himself and admit that her desire ran like a drug through his blood. He was addicted to her!
The alarm bell from the factory premise rang sharp at seven in the morning. Gahfur realized that he had fallen asleep on the chair with the burnt-out cigarette butt trailing on the Persian rug, making a tiny black hole in it. He cursed himself. It was Tuesday, the 25th of July, an important day in his life. He hurried to get ready for the office. He stood in front of the mirror, gaping at the image of himself, trying hard to recognise the person in it. The mirror reflected the reality of his life. He took a good hard look at his smooth abs for which he had exercised ruthlessly; trimming off his body and creating an expanse of lean, hard ripples that had become the envy of the town. He was hard on himself, punishing his muscles, his body, his mind, and most of all his heart for falling head over heels for her. Suddenly, his mind went on a rewind mode on the importance of this day. He was going to be crowned the next Vice President of the company. He was the best of the lot. He loved the adulation that came his way, but kept his feet firmly on the ground. He was rich, had a physique to die for and a position in the office that could only be attained till one had crossed one’s mid-years, but inspite of all this, he was calm and unperturbed.
The clock struck eight, sliding the designer coat on his arms; he walked past the mezzanine floor of his living room, which was furnished with purchases from all his travel escapades. Cars and music were his passion. There was one more thing that had robbed him of life, and that was time. Time was a luxury that he could not afford. Today, he would replace Mr. Singh as the next President of the organisation. He was making headway like nobody else had ever done. From a farm worker’s son, who had come to Mumbai with a college degree and the hope of marrying his lady love, he had accomplished himself to become the President of India’s leading Music Company, Vocals in just two years.
He was the first to enter the office. A faint smell of lavender combined with wet mud filled his lungs. The sweeper was still mopping the floor when his eyes fell on the unarranged chairs, the disarrayed papers and the surprised peon, who stared blankly at him and then quickly looked at the clock to gauge the time of his arrival. It was 8.40 am, quite early for him to be at the office. He settled on a chair in his cabin. He knew not why his heart reminisced about the guitar sessions and the long walks on the palm covered roads in his hometown in Kerala. He recollected her fading images from his memory. The sun was shining bright in the sky and the birds sang the sweetest song ever heard on the planet when he saw her picking sea shells on the beach. Her pretty face smiled at him from a distance, the shadows of the palm leaves creating a distorted image on her round cheeks. A few months later, on the same beach he had confessed his true love for her. His broad forehead glistened in the sun and droplets of sweat trickled down his masculine jaw as he held her hand for the first time. A flush of red bloomed on her cheeks; she dropped down her long lashes and gaped at her feet which waded deep in the sand. He pressed her palm and locked his eyes on her face; she stole a quick glance at him. Their eyes met and a smile followed their lips. It was pure bliss.
The smell of lavender consumed his nostrils for the second time, the peon stood in front of his cabin spraying a bottle of room freshener. “Sir, shall I bring you a cup of tea?” asked the peon. For a while, he was lost. The peon asked again. This time Gahfur answered in the affirmative.
His thoughts raced furiously towards that first stolen kiss in the garden, two summers ago. Her hair was like the waves of the sea, twirling along her beautiful face to graze her shoulders. He felt the cascade of silk in his hand, while tracing his finger on her chin, curious to explore her further. She blushed profusely in his presence, desiring him to stay till dusk, entrusting her soul and her dreams, alike on his dependable shoulders. Soon, the sky had turned dark, it growled with all its might. He felt her tremble in his arms. The soft drizzles smothered her hair with tiny droplets of rain, which he brushed away with a loving swipe of his palms. He felt stronger in her presence than in any other time. He knew he could fulfil her dreams and own her too. He knew they were meant to be together not only for this life, but also for many more. He wanted to protect her, keep her feeble soul safe within him, shield her from all the evils in the world and keep her close to his heart, which beat only for her.
The door opened again and in came the peon with a cup of tea. “She loves tea,” he thought aloud. “Do you want anything more, sir?” Gahfur nodded his head and thanked him for his service. Workers started streaming in like a swarm of bees in the office. There was a lot of hullabaloo outside the cabin. He heard people discussing about the mighty takeover of the second best, Strings of the Sea by Vocals; the reason why Gahfur was pushed to acquire the new position in the company. He took a sip of the black tea, it was strong and for the first time, his tongue disapproved its taste. He longed for the milk, sugar and the loving hands that made a cup full of Darjeeling tea for him. He had known the magic of her hands for years till she threw him out of her life and banged the door on his face. The days were hard, but the nights were harder. Sleep evaded him for many days; he thought people looked at him like he was a monster trying to gobble small children in their slumber. He did resemble one though, in the days back then; lovelorn and helpless, sporting a thick beard and sad eyes.
“Do you see what I see?” she had asked one day, when they sat counting stars on his terrace. His parents had gone to attend a far off cousin’s wedding in Cochin. He refused to come with them. He thought of the wedding as a boon to spend some time with his lady love in his house. It was a winter night, but in Kerala, the winters are just a cool breeze, unlike in the North where one might succumb to frost bites. “The stars you mean? Yes, I see them,” said he. “Look at the one on the left, it is so bright.”
“Yes, it is the planet Venus, the evening star.”
“Hmm,” she nodded and played with her hands making funny and interesting shapes in the air. “Tell me what this is?”
“It is a deer,” he said.
He could not understand the shape that her fingers had created. He gazed on for a while before stating that it was a rabbit. She exclaimed with joy. They laughed heartily for a long time, the sounds of laughter pealing through the cool November air. A smile escaped his lips and he found himself seated in the same chair in his cabin. It brought him back to reality. The colourless walls of his cabin, the steely presence of his frame ignited a stark realisation, which numbed him. Did he want all this without her?
“Good morning Gahfur,” greeted a voice. He looked at the man who stood in front of him. “I took the liberty to come in without knocking today, is that all right?” chuckled the old man, the heir of India’s top music company, Vocals. Gahfur rose from his seat and greeted the man. “Why are you so lost today? Are you nervous, eh?”
“Umm.. No sir. I am fine.”
“Alright. Is it jitters that you are feeling today? It’s a big day for you, come on lad, don’t be nervous. Congratulations!”
“Thank you, sir, said Gahfur with gratitude.”
The old man beckoned him to join him in the conference hall for the big announcement. “It starts in 15 minutes, Gahfur. Today is your day,” he said and showed him a thumbs up. Gahfur took a few slow steps toward the conference, his colleagues and friends were seated when he entered. The applause was deafening. His eyes searched for the face in the crowd, he knew she wasn’t there, but the flicker of hope burning in his eyes scorched his soul. Time was running out, she must be holding someone else’s hand and resting her head on his shoulders. The thought shattered him in a thousand pieces.
“As we all know that Vocals has acquired its new feat,” said the old Mr. Bose, the Chairman of the organisation, who was also considered as one of the pioneers of the Indian music industry. The sound was deafening on the mike, but Mr. Bose went on without any consideration for sound pollution, “because of this young man’s perseverance. We thank him for his effort……” The speech neither boosted his ego, nor distracted him from his thoughts. The only sound that veered him away was the announcement of his name. “It is a pleasure to announce the name of our new President, Mr. Gahfur Rae.” The hall resonated with claps. He looked at the old man, who held his arms and gave him his support. It was unusual for Gahfur to sport a feeble smile on such a day. The old man tried his best to cheer him up, patting his shoulders and congratulating him on his good work. After a while, when the office was back to work, he was still brooding, whether he was the man for her. His boss approached him and offering him a cigarette, he coerced, “Here lad, take this. You are feeling a bit off today. You wanna take a leave?” Gahfur looked at the cigarette; the temptation to drown himself once again in the ashes was strong.
“Are you not happy?” remarked the old man.
The question bothered him. He searched his soul for an answer. He wanted to hide his emotions from reflecting on his face. He wanted to tell the old man what would make him happy.
“What is it?” asked the old man. Gahfur said nothing. He politely refused the cigarette and asked if he could go home. The old man told Ram to take it easy. He smiled and said, “Whatever is bothering you son, just look it in the eye and face it.” The words hit him hard. He scrutinised each and every word of the sentence, reading and re-reading it in his mind till he could stand the answer no more.
In the sea of people who smiled and giggled, he found no joy. He searched for that one spot of light in the whole room that could substitute the brightness of her sunny smile. He searched for that one head, which could make him feel as strong as when she rested hers on his shoulder. He found none. It was she who could fill light back in his heart and drive out the darkness. It was only she who could show him the meaning of his life.
“I love her,” he blurted out to himself. “She deserves a better man and I will be the best man for her.” With this fire in his heart and hope in his eyes, he set out from the office. He would find her and make her his and he knew it. He would bring back the twinkle in her eyes and smother her with his love. It was time to do it. He would give it his all. As he stepped out of the towering building, he felt the concrete under his feet. He knew what he wanted and he was going to get it. He took a deep breath and holding it for one last time, he ran.