My little one

Your eyes filled with a million dreams

Tears that roll down your little cheeks

A scary dream about me shatters you

Lying down on my lap

Is your happy moment

When you are happy you have to share it

With me

When you are disturbed

Telling me reassure you

This trust you have in me

That I am there for you

How did you learn this my little one

Was it when I held you

As you took your first steps

Or when I fed you as your little tummy growled

Was it when I held you

Each time you fell ill

Or did it form deep within

Even before I held you

This trust is the strongest of the strong

That I strive everyday

My little one

To hold onto

With my every being.

Coffee house…

“Hello Shalu…”, said the male voice on the other end. Shalini recognized the voice instantly. She had heard it many times before. The number was new, not what she had saved on her phone as, ‘Think before you pick’.

“Hello Gopal…”.

“I am in Trivandrum, shall I come over for sometime?”, he asked. She wanted to ask ‘why’. Common sense prevailed and she quickly got into the skin she had shed ten years ago.

“Okay Gopal. Let us meet at Coffee Day at Kowdiar”. Shalini had moved apartments almost every other year when the rent went up. With her meagre salary from the job at the library, she could afford only so much. She tried to live as close as possible to the library, so she could walk and get her legs move. It felt eons ago when she drove her Audi car into the driveway of the public library at Houston to drop off books. She did not want Gopal to see her current living conditions.

“Ok at 4.30?”, he asked.

She looked at the clock and saw that it was 3.30 in the afternoon. It gave her enough time to dress up and get an auto to get to Kowdiar.

“Yes, 4.30 is fine.”

Shalini seldom heard from Gopal, maybe two or three times in the last ten years. She had shut that door when she walked out of the house with two bags of her clothes and jewellery. She left everything behind. The sprawling house, the luxury, friends, her job, she had left it all.

She got to the coffee house on time and saw Gopal sitting at a table. He looked younger than she remembered. Life had treated him well. She thought she should have colored her hair, she was greying everywhere. The little make up she put on, did not conceal her wrinkles. She turned to look at the glass door and saw the reflection of an old woman.

“Hello…”, she said and sat down across Gopal. He looked up from his phone and smiled.

“How are you Shalu?”

“I am good, and you?”

“I am doing very well. How did you come?”

“I took an auto. Are you in Trivandrum for work?”

“No, my wife’s family lives in Trivandrum, so I came to visit them”.

“Oh!”, said Shalini and instantly regretted the reaction.

“I have been married for about three years. She is from Trivandrum, moved to Houston after the marriage…”

“You live in the same house?”

“No, I sold it. I live in another neighborhood now.”

“Are you happy?”, quipped Shalini.

“Yes Shalu. I am happy.”, said Gopal, looking down at this hands.

“Good for you…”, said Shalu, with a tinge of jealousy and self pity.

“And you?”

“I work at the library, live with books, write when I can. It’s going on… Why did you want to meet me, after all these years?”

Gopal was silent for a few minutes. The waiter came, we ordered our coffee and I looked up at Gopal, waiting for the answer.

“Shalu… I wanted to thank you…”, said Gopal.

“For what?”, wondered Shalu.

“For leaving me….”

Shalini burst out laughing.

“I realized that when you left me, you were giving me back my freedom.”

“And you realized that now? After ten years??”

“Took me a while… you know me…”, said Gopal coyly.

“Gopal… it was obvious to me like it was to you, that we were not meant to be. I don’t know why we decided to get married in the first place. I tried in my way and you tried in your way, but the puzzle never fit. I waited for a long time for you to leave. I understood that you were scared and I had to be the one to let go. It was not what I wanted to do, but I had to do, to give us both our sanity. I was getting sucked in my depression and you didn’t want to hear about it. The best thing was to stay away. I never met your expectations, you looked at every other woman and thought what a wonderful woman and wife she is. It is not that I am bad, it’s just that I was never enough for you, I always fell short… anyways, there is no point of talking about all that and digging the past… bottomline is you are happy now. I am glad I could give you atleast that.”

Gopal took Shalini’s hands in his, looked into her eyes and said, “I am sorry”.

The waiter brought their coffee. Shalini withdrew her hand and sipped at her coffee. She avoided eye contact with Gopal and looked at others who occupied the coffee house. They drank their coffee in silence deep in their own thoughts. When Shalini was done with hers, she got up, smiled at Gopal and left the coffee house, without looking back.

Now, it was truly over.

A cold December evening…

As she got out of the car, he handed her a jacket. It was a cold December evening. She hadn’t seen him in months. She knew he was happy to see her. She was never sure about him. He was a pro at shielding his inner thoughts. Had he wanted to see her before today, maybe, maybe not. Her face had always been a canvas to her thoughts. She tried hard to guard what she felt for him. She handed her purse and keys to him, while she wore the jacket. A few seconds outside had turned her cold, longing for warmth. In another world, he would have simply put his arms around her. A familiar look passed between them, like they were reading each other’s mind. 

They walked side by side to the restaurant across the street. He chose a table for two and held the chair for her. He was a perfect gentleman that way, she had noted in her previous rendezvous’s with him. He always opened the door for her, seated her first and made sure she was comfortable. She sat down, happy and bubbling on the inside, calm and poignant on the outside. She had wanted to spend time with him. The last time had been magical. They had talked into the wee hours of the night, until dawn, like there was no tomorrow. Sleep did not daunt them, neither did time. It just felt right, to be with him, talk to him, listen to him. Sitting under the stars and sharing incidents from their childhood, circling the commonalities and drawing out the differences while the world slept on. 

This evening was like every other evening she had spent with him. A little bit of teasing, pieces of advice, stories about his travel, that she loved to hear. She longed to go on one of those trips with him. She knew it would never happen. She told him about her work, her art, the classes she was talking and her upcoming lecture at the museum. He listened intently, and with keen interest, offering inputs. He didn’t judge her and always encouraged her to flap her wings a little harder so she could soar higher. He liked to listen to her stories and everything that went on in her life. He offered less insight into his, which didn’t bother her much. Spending time with him was enough. 

They spoke through appetizers, main course, dessert. In the blink of an eye an hour had passed. She had to leave. She had to tell him. That was why she had asked him for dinner. It had been a perfect evening. Should she ruin it, she thought. She knew he cared for her and didn’t want anything to change between them. She liked him, a relationship she couldn’t name. He existed as a part of her life, somewhere in a cozy corner, she could turn to. She had no idea what he thought of her. Maybe the same. In another time, in another world, she would have written the story a different way, she knew that. Time was running out. He knew she had to get home. He asked for the check. She was contemplating between telling him inside the restaurant or outside. It was too cold outside. He knew she wanted to say something. He just waited, that was his demeanor. He never made the first move. 

They paid and got up to leave. She didn’t say anything. He opened the door for her and walked her to the car. She took off the jacket and handed it back to him. As he smiled and said bye, she put her arms around him and hugged him. He asked if she was okay. She didn’t say anything. He wrapped her in his arms and held her there. After a brief moment, she stepped back, looked at him, turned around and left. 

She knew, she probably would never see him again, after that cold December evening.