I thought I saw you. At the eatery, next to a railway station named after a Sufi saint, you sat in one corner, your hair tied the way it always has been, stirring an empty Styrofoam cup with a spoon. Or so I thought. When the face lit in the bright afternoon sun, I could see that it was not you. It could have been you.
I wish it had been you.
Passing past the shrine, I can see a few foreigners, their eyes red with Hashish, haggling with an auto rickshaw. Next to it is a Methodist Church, which I had never noticed in twelve years. Now, as you warm inside me like a fresh teardrop, I can see the glorious brick building. I feel like stopping and going inside. As if you would be inside, your head bent on the altar. You and your silent prayers. And that faded smile, which was my unguent till its memory became a pill to be kept under the tongue, the moment I were to die.
It is strange how I have gradually stopped feeling anything. The thought of Narcissus in an empty Bombay milk bottle doesn't conjure up as much as a twitch. Or the thought of those wild, red berries in dried milk tins, hanging beneath the moss-laden rooftop of our imaginary cottage. Or the memories of tangy nimbu-soda in the student centre of Punjab University campus.
Or the memories of those mad, vagrant motorcycle trips to Kasauli and, on the way, leaving a dried tulip for the English Engineer, Mr. Barog, who ended his life after failing to make two tunnels meet. Or getting those silly pictures clicked in over-sized Himachali caps. Or singing “Hoga tumse pyaara kaun…” like Rishi Kapoor and Padmini Kolhapure, pretending a friend's sofa to be the train top. Or sitting in the last row of a late night show of “Kranti,” using popcorn as a ruse to hold hands.
Today, someone asked me if I had seen a film recently. I looked at her and said nothing. This evening I then went and bought a lone ticket for a romantic film. I asked for the last row. The girl at the ticket counter looked at me for a moment and then silently handed me one. On my way inside the hall, I picked up a bag of popcorn.
The seat next to me remained vacant. I imagined you sitting there, locking your fingers in mine. The popcorn remained untouched. I left at the interval.
Sitting alone at a café later, I imagined being with you. And I thought I would cry. I took out from the secret pocket of my wallet that pearl, which I had picked up from your necklace you said you had worn on your last school farewell.
I kept it like a pill under my tongue, as if I were to die.