(…Continued from Last Issue)
“You didn’t ask my name that day” she says matter-of-fact.
“Sophie” he says, walking inside the house leaving her at the doorstep.
“Oooh… you’ve given me a new name, is it? Tell me, do I come to your dreams as well…?” she follows him inside without waiting for him to ask her in. He doesn’t reply, but bends down to pick up the shreds of broken glass from the floor.
“That must have been a nice beer mug” she remarks, “But you don’t look like the sort who has beer. You’re more scotch than anyone I know. Except maybe my Dad. But then, you know what too much of anything does to you. Too much of scotch for my old man. Add to it a weak heart. Gone for two years now, he is”
He doesn’t even look at her, but his hand freezes over the last piece of glass. He’s torn between wanting to ask her to leave that instant, and asking her to not leave till he finishes writing about her. She talks too much, lets too much of herself out without him asking her to. She’s actually entered his house, which nobody’s ever done before. And she’s made him break his favorite mug, when she shocked him with the door bell. But then he’s not written a single paragraph for the last few days, and he knows he’ll go crazy (crazier, he corrects himself) if he doesn’t write today.
He looks up to see she’s already seated herself, quite comfortably too. And then realizes all the while she’d been yakking away without even him getting to hear what she was saying. So that should work fine, he decides. She could talk all she wants with him totally phasing her out. As long as she just stays there. Talking her into staying a few hours with him each day doesn’t appear to be a problem, except that the woman of too many words that she is, she needs to be talked to. Which, as you might have guessed by now, is a problem for my sloppy-conversationalist of a writer. More of a problem because in order to be talked to, she needs to stop talking herself. Which, as you might have guessed again, she simply doesn’t.
But they do end up having a conversation after all. I think all it takes is for him to look into her eyes and just say something like “Enough for now” and she stops mid sentence. Just like that. It’s his voice again, that makes her do it. And choosing his limited words very carefully he tells her what he wants from her. And strangely enough, she understands. Like posing for a portrait, she says, only that he’s writing about her and not painting her. He nods. But what’s in it for her, she asks. She can talk all she wants to, feel free by letting it all out, and yet with him not even listening to what she’s saying, he explains, matter-of-fact. You know how sometimes it’s just about hearing yourself say things out loud without feeling you are losing it? I think it’s like that for her as well, and that is the first time someone actually speaks out those very words to her. She agrees without a second thought. Impulsive young girl, my heroine is.
And so they start spending time with each other. Correction, they don’t spend time with each other. They simply spend time in the same place. Not the same thing. At least for the first few days. It takes a little time for her to get adjusted to the routine. Coming every morning to find warm breakfast ready on the table for her, but no morning greeting from him. Not even the perfunctory “Hi”. Trying to strike up a conversation with him only to be snubbed each time. Getting angry and irritated and bored alternately, and finally giving up on trying to understand just why he wanted her around to write about her when he wouldn’t even ask her about herself. Talking to herself, sometimes venturing on making teasing and abusive comments about him in an attempt to attract his attention but giving up on that too. He’d meant it when he’d said he wouldn’t listen. And then watching him cook with immaculate perfection. Waiting for lunch, which in itself would always be manna from heaven for her chicken-burger and cola fed tummy. And then those bits of conversation between food that he would allow. I don’t think they talk about why on earth she’s got no classes to attend, or an office to go to, or why she’s been in so many relationships but never in love. Neither do they talk about why he never got married, or why he has nobody to call his friend, and why he hates swear words more than anything else. They don’t talk about the modicum of sanity in two absolute strangers spending hours with each other everyday just so that one could write about the other, and neither do they talk about how they both have got used to being with each other. I don’t think they need to talk about fundamentals like we do. I think they are above all that and when they talk, or maybe it’ll be more correct to say when she does, it is about nothing and everything. With him squeezing in a few words now and then between her constant flow of words. And so he gets to know about how she challenged a Prof in her first day in college but never about why she left college midway; about how once her hair got caught in barbed wire while trying to jump a fence but never about why she doesn’t tie it ever or cut it and about how one of her exes broke her mirror once to stop her from putting on make-up but never about why she doesn’t let anyone see her without wearing any make-up. You know, small things which tell you much more about a person than explicitly putting into words why she is the way she is.
I think I am getting the hang of this finally, this whole “writing a love story” thing. And I also think it’s high time I come to the whole point of it. The bit where they actually fall in love. You know, I think they don’t all of a sudden realize they are in love…. They are already deep into it before they even realize. And in spite of him being the one obsessed with her in the beginning, it’s her who falls in love with him. Or at least admits it in front of him. But as to how they get to that… well…
I think there are days when she doesn’t say a single thing. Days when she simply lies down on the couch clutching her knees close to her, and goes off to sleep, just like that. Afterall, her insomnia stems from her not being able to shut her mind off, and with him around, she doesn’t even need to. She simply blurts it all out. Until there’s nothing left. Then again, there are her bad mood days as well. Days when he lets her in and takes one look at her and gets to know that it is going to be one of those days when he’ll have to put on those weird drum solos that she is fond of; the ones that make his head ache in just about five minutes. And those are days when she would ignore breakfast on the table and instead fiddle in the kitchen herself and take fifteen minutes to fix herself a stiff cup of coffee. Too much to drink last night? He’d venture. She’d not even think his remark worthy of a reply. And then he’d chuckle to himself while typing out, taking a look at her from time to time. Drink, but not like an alcoholic, he’d mutter after a while, and she’d mumble something about even her Dad not saying things like this to her, and light a smoke, knowing very well it irritates him more than even her swear words. Kids these days, he’d grumble and open the window with a bang, knowing well it gets to her, the loud bang and more so, the comment. And if she’s exceptionally pissed off she’d walk out that day not to come back until next morning.
So it is such a day, when he is also exceptionally sulky because he realizes that he would have to wrap up his novel sometime in the near future, and he can’t seem to think of a fitting end to it. And worse still, for the first time he’s thinking of what is going to happen once he finishes this novel. And he wonders how he let this happen…. his routine has gone haywire, and life like he’s always known it to be has totally turned upside down. He hasn’t chatted with his editor for ages, and he has no idea if the magazine he’d been writing for has already found a replacement for him. The more he thinks of it the more he doesn’t like the feel of it. And so just to distract himself from all this he is exceptionally rude to her. But even his usual comments don’t elicit the usual bitter responses. He simply can’t extract a single word from her try as he might. And weird though it is even to him, he is worried for her. He is restless, and he’s typing the same words again and again, while all she does is stare outside the window, through the frosted glass pane, twirling the curtain with her fingers, her silver bracelet making soft tinkling noises each time it touches the window, almost like a rhythm. He finally gets up from his seat and walks up to her, brows furrowed in agony at feeling unwillingly and helplessly concerned about this brat who wouldn’t let him be himself in peace. But before he can move in closer he stops himself. This wouldn’t do. He walks back to this seat and keeps staring at the screen for a long while, till his eyes start watering and the words blur in front of him. And it isn’t until much later when he looks up that he realizes she’s standing in front of him. Except that she’s washed all of her make-up and has tied her hair up in a careless bun which hangs precariously on the verge of getting loose on her nape. And she’s fuming.
“Look at me. Look at me good. I am no heroine from some mysterious novel you wouldn’t even let me read. I am just another girl. But you wouldn’t write about me had I been me, would you? No. You would look right through me in the street even if I saw you walk by. You wouldn’t listen to me even if I were dying to tell you about so many things. No. You would ignore me over dinner, over lunch and even if I woke up in the middle of the night from a nightmare crying my heart out. You would want me to be someone else all the time. And you would hate me so much you wouldn’t even want to see my face. Specially not those bruises you would give to me when you’re drunk and wouldn’t believe me when I tell you next morning when that you were the one to give me those last night.”
She doesn’t make much sense to him, but he listens alright. She’s not done though.
“But you…. You listen to me and yet you don’t, do you? You just write about me. Like that helps any. I stay with you all the time, but no. You don’t want my company. I’m.. I’m just another thing in your spotless routine… something like that stupid desk without which you can’t write. Or that stupid jazz you keep listening to without which you can’t cook. You.. You are just some stupid machine which runs on a fixed code day in day out. You’re not human enough to ask me what’s wrong when you know I am aching and breaking. No. You want to, but you don’t want to. You walk to me and then you walk away. You’re scared I’ll make you human. You’re scared I’ll make you feel, because emotions are unpredictable, and you thrive on predictability. You’re rude, you’re old, you’re so helpless without your stupid routine.… You make me sick with your perfect existence. You center your world around me and yet you don’t acknowledge my existence outside that stupid novel of yours. And I will never forgive you for making me fall in love with you.”
He reaches out for her inspite of himself but she pulls away. He thinks she’s about to cry but he knows she won’t. And something inside him snaps. I think it is her vulnerability that makes him want to reach out to her. She’s so soft and so young, poor girl. And suddenly he realizes he’s crying himself. But she’s too proud to do anything but walk out on him. With him sobbing like a man who’s lost everything. And just when she reaches the door she stops and looks back.
“For the record, I don’t drink. Never drank a drop in my life. And I won’t too. I think my Dad drank enough to last both of our lives. His and mine.”
And with this killer line she walks out.
So. There you go. I’ve reached the what you call, climax , of the story. After this it would start sounding like more of a dragged epilogue. I could leave it right here. And put an end to all of it. She walks out, but she doesn’t come back the next morning. And the next, and even the next. Maybe she doesn’t come back at all. She’s too proud to hear what he has to say after she’s bared her heart out in front of him. She doesn’t want him to patronize her. And he stops writing from that day onwards. Till one day he gets drunk, (one of the rare times he does) and writes a fitting end to his novel. The hero kills himself in his story and his precious heroine loses her mind and walks around the street like a lost soul all day long. And having finished the last line he slumps on top of his laptop, all drained.
But I don’t like sad endings. And my story, of all stories will definitely not have a sad ending. I think it would be unfair to use tragedy to tug at my reader’s heart-strings. And so yeah, she does walk out. And yeah, she doesn’t come back for a couple of weeks, in which time he goes out to find her every single day, sometimes twice a day. Ends up asking the bewildered salesman in the department store if she’s come by, and actually starting up something in the lines of a conversation with him. And so he’s given up all hope and given away the manuscript of the novel to his editor who can’t believe his lucky stars this old funny man has really come up with something so brilliant, and yet doesn’t want to have anything to do with it anymore. But then she does come back. And this time when she comes in the first thing he notices is the tangled mop of short curls on her head, tamed with a satin ribbon. She’s wearing a bibbed skirt that makes her look eighteen. Fifteen, he decides. And there is not an ounce of make-up on her flushed face.
“Could we do it all over again? You could write a whole different novel, and I could help you make a whole new story out of me you know. And if the salesman next door is any bit right about you having finally learnt the art of carrying on a conversation, this time around we could talk.”
He steps aside without saying anything and she steps inside. And in his mind he is already composing the mail he’s about to send to his editor, asking him to return the manuscript since he wants to modify the ending. Sad endings don’t work always.
And with this I would end my story. Except that this was just me trying to figure out things inside my head before I actually start writing a story. On second thoughts though, I have almost given up on it. The story has a clichéd ending, just like those Bollywood movies where everything finally ends well and everybody is happy-happy, and you leave the cinema-hall having restored your faith in love after all. And I hate clichés, but neither can I think of a different ending that will leave me happy. So maybe I won’t write it after all. The love story I mean. You see, I am no good with fiction.
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