Thursday 15 August 2019

Short Story 2019 Longlist, Sheetal Ashpalia

Amor Perfecto

Here I was meeting her again. Just the thought sent a shiver down my spine! There was this inexplainable feeling, I felt all soft inside. I met her four months ago on social media which is something I generally stay away from. But my cousin sister, Shikha created my profile with the hope I would meet someone new on Tinder of all places. I had read umpteen horror stories of relationships and marriages gone wrong through social media platforms, but Shikha had her own ideas. The eternal romantic, she thought this was just what I needed to bring some excitement in my life!
Sorry, I forgot to introduce myself. The name’s Aaryan, 27 years old and still single. Yes, I knew you had guessed that because well, I gave enough away earlier. So, I would scan Tinder with boredom, swiping left along the way until the day I saw her. 

I swiped right and I know she did too, because the next thing I knew, the words ‘It’s a match’ popped up.
She said her name was Ahana and she stayed in the same city as me. She was a fashion blogger and travelled round the world, catching the latest fashions and trends and writing all about them. She sounded very glamorous, whereas here I was, a simple guy with a desk job. Working as a Relationship Manager in a bank from 9 am to 5 pm. We started chatting on a regular basis, wanting to know all that we could – our likes, dislikes, hobbies, movies, music etc. She wanted to meet but I kept putting it off. 

Until the day she asked me “Aaryan, am I just wasting my time?” I knew then that if I said ‘Yes’ and let her go, I would probably live to regret it forever. 

And so, we met at Cafe Dream Heaven (I know it’s cliched!) exactly two weeks ago. I remember the moment she walked in wearing a white gypsy tee and blue jeans. Her hair was cut in bangs and kept falling over her face. She kept trying to get it out of her eyes with her bangled hand, a multicolour riot on her wrist. A dark grey black scarf was casually thrown over her neck to complete the look. She walked up to my table and introduced herself. I gave her a shy smile.
As the waiter came to take the order, she asked for a cappuccino and a hot chocolate with marshmallows. I was surprised she remembered how I loved Cappuccino. She then launched into what she had been doing the last 10 days or so. Not that I paid attention. I simply kept staring at her face and the whole gamut of emotions that crossed it. When she smiled, it reached her twinkling eyes, transforming her face. How beautiful she looked! I thought to myself. Her fingers laced around the coffee mug and her expression of complete satisfaction as she took the first sip said it all. The chocolate left a moustache and I reached out to wipe it with a tissue. Our eyes locked and we both knew then that we definitely wanted to make this work. She loved to talk and I didn’t mind that at all. The evening was over in a flash and promising to meet again, we went back to our respective homes.
Continuing to meet, today was my fifth meeting with her within two weeks. Every time I felt closer to her than ever before. As always, I reached the Café before her and saw her as soon as she walked in. We were considered amongst regulars now and were seated at our usual table. The staff knowing our order by now, left us alone. A toddler at the adjacent table, tugged at Ahana’s jeans. She smiled and picked him up. He gave her a mischievous grin and pulled her hair. He was playful and she didn’t seem to mind. Finally, his mom pulled him away and Ahana laughed and gave him flying kisses. Her laughter was simply magical and lit up her face, just like the lights that were hung in the Café. Low hanging paper chandeliers set the mood at this place. There were cream, yellow and orange paper chandeliers hung from the ceiling and lit each table at the centre. It was a soft and romantic setup and to me, it was perfecto, just like Ahana!
I looked at the lights again. How beautiful everything looked, sparkling and glowing, I mused. I had always been fascinated by lights. My parents had always maintained that even as a baby, I loved staring at lights whenever they took me for a stroll in the pram. I wanted to be lifted out and kept trying to get hold of the strung lights wherever I could. Even the carousel at the amusement park had been my favourite as a kid when I was growing up and I know it was all because of the lights.
It was a pity that my parents were gone now. I never even had the chance to say goodbye. I still remembered that awful day. Mom had sent a text saying that they would return late that night. They had been to Paris as a celebration of 30 years of wedded bliss. She messaged that she missed me and was looking forward to seeing me. Her last message was ‘I love you - Mom’.
In the evening, my childhood friend Mihir came home and turned on the television. The words ‘Plane crash’ and ‘all passengers feared dead’ flashed across the screen. Nothing made sense to me. It was too much to take in all at once. Mihir flew out with me to Paris. The plane had crashed only half an hour after take-off we got to know later.
The bodies were in the local mortuary and Mihir was with me every step of the way. The bodies were charred beyond recognition. I only recognized my mom because of her wedding ring and as I looked at the charred hand with the Rolex, I knew it was my Dad. He never went without his Rolex and it was his only one indulgence. The bodies were repatriated back. I don’t remember much about the flight but recall staring at the twinkling and dwindling lights as the plane soared in the skies. Even then the lights seemed to help me find solace.
And after the funeral, I came back to an empty house. Somehow, I tried to pick up the pieces of my life and move on. My mom would have never wanted me to sit and mope, I reminded myself. And her ‘I love you’ remains forever etched in my heart.
Lost in my thoughts, I suddenly became aware of my current surroundings. Ahana was used to my being quiet and was slowly sipping her hot chocolate. The silence between us was comfortable. She was meant to travel out the next day and hence we decided to leave soon. Bidding goodbye and promising to meet as soon as she was back in town, we both went in opposite directions.
I turned left from the Café and then I saw it. Oh! The twinkling lights how they glowed beckoning me to them! I thought. The display window at the upscale fashion store across the road was a myriad of colours and lights. From lanterns to the smallest of twinkling lights which looked like fireflies, the display window had them all. There was even a lamppost, just like in the Harry Potter movies! Unable to resist this visual, I walked quickly in their direction. They all seemed to be calling out to me, to reach out and touch them just once! My feet were alive like never before. I felt like I was Charlie about to enter Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory.
With brisk steps I moved towards them. Suddenly, I felt a jolt and a push from behind. With a smack, I fell face down on the road. There was a sharp pain on the side of my head. I touched it to find something sticky trickling down. It was blood! What had just happened?
I looked up to see Ahana thrown on the ground next to me. And our legs were now entangled. How had that happened? Hadn’t we just parted ways at the Café?
I stood up and so did Ahana. Staring at her face blankly, I tried to make sense although she was speaking to me. I could sense her frustration as it showed on her face.
Suddenly, she pulled me to her and turned me around in the direction of the road with the moving traffic although now everything was at a standstill. A car was stalled in the middle and people gathered around. A cat lay unmoving beneath its wheels. Someone was checking to see if it was alive or dead. Staring at Ahana again, I watched her lips move. And then it dawned on me! She had pushed me out of harm’s way to save my life, risking her own in the bargain. I had had a very narrow escape and I had only her to thank for it. But words would never be able to convey what I wanted to say to her. And I wouldn’t be able to say them anyways. Born deaf and dumb, yes, that’s me!
I simply hugged her and knew she understood since she was in the same boat that I was in. She was deaf too! It was our Amor Perfecto I knew then.

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