“It is neither a story of hatred, nor of love; it is not even a fatalistic story. It is a story of sheer indifference towards oneself and those loved, one that eats away a human soul slowly, bit by bit but persistently. It is a story of spiritual paralysis caused by maddening disappointed passion.”
Nadia was standing by the window of her office, which offered a spectacular view of the main boulevard, with an air of untroubled poise which was reflected in her quiet dark brown eyes outlined with a dash of kohl.
Her frozen, soft face complimented the stillness of her being. It was the month of December. The morning was lifeless and overcast. She looked a little sullen and lost. She looked through the window panes at the stark bare tree branches alongside the road, their leaves were stripped off in the fall, their beauty gone. She thought, moving away from the window to her chair behind the large office table,
“Winter was not always this cruel.”
Sitting in her chair, lost and oblivious, she thought of the days when winter used to actually be fun. It was still fresh in her memory, even after a lapse of five long years. Images kept flashing in her mind, projecting themselves on the window slowly, and then it all came rushing back to her.
They were sitting in the lounge of their hostel, giggling and making noise, and in the centre of all of them was her, bursting into streams of laughter and telling everyone what they should do.
This was their routine. Islamabad was no more a dead city, at least not for them. They had breathed life in every moment of the chilled December. Every evening they would gather in the lounge, or in her room or at the dining table. On those days, it seemed that their conversations, arguments, and laughter would never end but eventually it ended, just like all good things do.
They would talk about politics, governance, fashion, their troubles at the academy, girls, boys, and everything. There couldn’t have been as diverse a gathering in the city at one time and one place as theirs.
“Hamza, recite a poem for us.”
She said in the middle of their hue and cry. Suddenly the laughter and chatter came to a standstill. They looked at her in incomprehensible amazement.
“Are you sure?” Hamza asked.
“Yes, I am sure.” She uttered spontaneously.
“I will but only if I am not interrupted in between.”
“Nobody would interrupt you.” She said imposingly.
“I said—then, dearest, since it is so,
Since now at length my fate I know,
Since nothing all my love avails,
Since all, my life seemed meant for fails,
Since this was written and needs must be.”
Hamza recited from Robert Browning’s ‘The Last Ride Together.’
She looked at Faisal slyly, who was sitting in the corner, lost in composing a message on his mobile or maybe playing a game. When she first met him a few months ago, she had thought he was one of those people whose attention span was limited either by an inability to absorb detailed information, or a lack of interest in subject matter that wasn’t directly related to their well-being. She realised, later, that she was wrong, at least partially.
Faisal was usually one or two jumps ahead in the conversation, extremely funny, uncompromising on aesthetics, but someone who wouldn’t mind throwing in a nasty joke here and there. He was a dark haired, five feet and 10 inches tall, and had the body of an average man. It didn’t take her long to see his true nature. Sharp witted, moody, upright, he had that fire in him that all women would fall for. His magnetic charm was maligned by his terrible dressing sense, but that amused her more.
Now after five years, she seemed to have lost all that mirth and happiness she used to feel those days. She heard a faded knock at the door as if it were coming from a distance, but even before she heard the knock, she had recognised his scent. It was as if she had been wearing it herself for ages.
Faisal entered her office. After completion of their training, they were posted in the same office. She looked at him as if snapping out of a dream and smiled at him. The smell of his cologne had never paced in tandem with her heartbeat, one of them or either always ran faster.
“Did you see the roads on your way to office, Nadia?” He asked her,
“Isn’t it beautiful today?”
She looked through the window at the naked and dull trees and wondered how he could find life even in the dead, but that was Faisal. He seemed excited by the onset winter. He had been like this since she knew him, easily excited by sheer pleasures of nature.
“I was thinking of going out for coffee today.” Faisal told her.
But she was not there. She was lost in her thoughts once again, well before he could tell her that his wife hated winter. She thought of the long winter nights when they all used to play cards. How many times, she thought, they used to go for coffee or even ice cream in winters. Winters were getting dull, she thought.
“And I tell her winter is the best season.” She overheard Faisal.
“My whole heart rises up to bless
Your name in pride and thankfulness!
Take back the hope you gave,—I claim
Only a memory of the same…”
She heard Hamza reciting in the dead woods.
She thought of the countless evenings they spent together. They mesmerised her. She wanted to tell him how much she would love to go out for coffee on such a day.
“Didn’t he know that or he just pretended that he didn’t?”
She thought of the evening when they went out for a walk by the road. Fog had engulfed the city and visibility was extremely low. She couldn’t see his face so much so that she wouldn’t know if it was he walking with her, if it were not for his scent and witty remarks.
She felt a sense of warmth when he made some naughty remarks on otherwise meaningless things. She made a weak effort to focus and remember if she could recognise his face from that evening walk. She tried, but she failed. All she remembered was the warmth during the bitter cold.
“Boss should have given the day off to everyone.” Faisal said, “After all this is not a day when you come to office.”
Her peon entered the office with tea.
“You are such a darling, baba Jannat,” Faisal addressed the peon beamingly,
“A cup of tea is the best possible gift one can give to someone on such a day. I will remember your gift.”
She thought of those untold gifts she had given him in the winters gone by and perhaps he remembered none of them. Far away, behind the dead tree by the road, she heard Hamza again,
“Then we began to ride. My soul
Smoothed itself out, a long-cramped scroll
Freshening and fluttering in the wind.
Past hopes already lay behind
What need to strive with a life awry?”
“I have received three wedding invitations by now.” Faisal said while sipping tea from his cup,
“God! Winter and spring are full of marriages. I don’t know which one to attend and which one to miss. After all, you are one person and you cannot be everywhere.”
She thought of her marriage, and she thought of him standing in front of her in the hall talking to his friends, aloof from the world, just the way he had always been. She thought of how desperately she wanted to go to him and ask him all the ‘whys’ burning inside her but she couldn’t.
She looked at him over the table and she felt nothing. He was talking. She looked at him and glanced out through the window, traffic was increasing on the road as the day passed. It seemed everyone was on the move, distant to the dead leaves scattered on the pavement. She thought of the birds that had migrated to far off unknown places because their old tall friends, deprived of leaves, were not strong enough now to shelter them now.
“No one sticks to the dead.” She thought.
“I wish this winter lasts a little longer before the cruel summer pops into our miserable lives and make us more miserable. Faisal proclaimed earnestly, I don’t like summer and my wife loves summer.”
She thought of his wife. He was so fond of her and still they were so different from each other in their liking and disliking for things. She bore in mind a faded memory of her Chemistry teacher telling them how two ions with opposite charges attract each other, they from a covalent bond, share one electron with each other, form a stable compound, and no longer have a charge. It was a perfect union. She always thought that you become one with the other so much so that the two become one.
“And if our miseries were not enough, scientists around the world are predicting less rains and more heat during the summer due to increasing pollution and ozone depletion.” Faisal grumbled, “I wish there were a perfect life with no miseries for anyone, not for me at least.”
She heard Hamza whispering from the woods,
“…Had I said that, had I done this,
So might I gain, so might I miss
Might she have loved me? Just as well
She might have hated, who can tell…”
She looked at Faisal and thought of the days when he used to talk less and feel more.
“He was more alive in those days, wasn’t he? They were perfect together.” She whispered to herself.
So many times she had weighed his reasons: his family, wife, a child, and above all the society. There were times she hated him for being brutally rational and weak, weak because he couldn’t stand for what he wanted deep down.
But it was not so always, she had loved him for his rationality and moderation. But those were the early days when she had just met him. He had not evolved since then. Somewhere he lacked that madness and the intensity of passion which always drove a person. She, being herself, was never able to understand how he could bow down to the traditions of society when he, too, didn’t accept them.
She had never asked him for anything, nor had she ever desired to take him away from his wife, child or family, all she had desired was to become one part of his world where she could just live near to him. She could be his slave and be happy only if he had not separated her from himself. She looked at the naked trees again and hated him for his rationality and all that was good about him.
“He could give her life, only if he was a little rebellious and mad like her and they all would have been happy.” She thought,
“Time sets everything right, doesn’t it? It could have set things right for them, too. It could have been a perilous life but it was worth it.”
But he didn’t like troubles. He was wise and he had told her how it could destroy everything they had built, and how they wouldn’t be happy together. He chose to preserve the little life had allowed them and would not trade the memory with anything, not even for more.
“Who knows what’s fit for us? Had fate
Proposed bliss here should sublimate
My being—had I signed the bond—
Still one must lead some life beyond,
Have a bliss to die with, dim-descried.”
She heard the dying echo.
She knew the seemingly dead trees alongside the road would come to life again in spring and wear new leaves but that didn’t interest her much. Instead, she was interested in the fate of the leaves scattered and torn on the road.
“Would they ever get a new life? No.” She heard herself this time.
Her soul wept for them. She knew the trees might be weeping for the dead leaves now, but would not weep forever and forget them as soon as spring returns, or maybe they were not weeping at all for the dead leaves, and were just despondent about the fact that they were stripped bare of their beauty.
She thought of him becoming silent after he had chosen not to ruin her life by getting married to her, rebelling against all those he cared about. She wished only if he knew that her life was made a living hell just because he chose to do so. She looked at him talking in monotonous excitement and wondered if he was even alive from within.
For a while, he looked at her, a robot, a machine or the walking dead. But this was another thing she had never found an answer to. How many times had she tried to see that pain in his bright eyes, pain of not choosing what he actually desired, did he really want her? She could never decide. She thought of how he had changed after parting with her. But he was still himself. Even if he were distressed, the pain had not robbed him of a single inch of him.
“Do you remember the long monologue that Hamza recited to us in the hostel?” Nadia asked him.
Faisal paused for a moment and looked at her and then looked away. He was silent for a while. He looked outside the window and saw the traffic flowing like a chaotic river. It took him a moment to revert to his usual self again. He looked at her in silence and smiled briefly. It was a faded smile.
“No. I don’t remember. I don’t like poems. They make me sad.” He replied.
“I should go now before the boss finds out that I’m not in my office.” said Faisal.
He stood up in a hurry and walked to the door, stopped briefly, turned towards her and asked in a fainted voice,
“Would you like to go out for coffee after office?”
Their eyes met, but only briefly. They were empty eyes filled with a void, there was no longing in them. They looked at each other as if they were the eyes of the dead. He could read nothing. She looked at him but, perhaps, she was not looking at him. She, perchance, was looking at some yonder place where his existence mattered no more.
“No, I’m going to go home.” She said.
Faisal walked out of the room silently. Nadia’s peon, who happened to pass by him on the stairs, was awe-struck to hear whispering some odd poem.
What if we still ride on, we two,
With life forever old yet new,
Changed not in kind but in degree,
The instant made eternity–
And heaven just prove that I and she,
Ride, ride together, forever ride?
from The Express Tribune Blog http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/29061/their-maddening-disappointed-passion-and-the-silent-love/