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An unsung rendezvous

SHE blinked at the 17 inch platform again. The photographs swooshed left to right, illustrating a 3D experience for the average viewer. Amongst the tiny thumbnails, a particular photo caught her breath. The portrait of a young girl with blue seas on the backdrop. Underneath it, the photographer had inscribed lines from Ivy's “Edge of the Ocean”. The shy smile curled up at the corner of her lips. Coincidences were rare commodities in the modern diplomatic world. Her fingers stroked on the keyboard.

“That's funny. I just bumped into your picture and you've got Ivy's number on the description. I'm listening to that song right now. Small world, eh? Great shot!”

It was another sunny, boring day in mid-May. He cracked his knuckles and sunk into the chair in front of the 15 inch monitor. Shoving aside the pile of Community Medicine sheets, he logged onto Flickr. The drop down menu indicated new comments on his posted images. He adjusted his glasses and squinted to read the message. The sweaty, exhausted face broke into a curious laughter. He thought for a second, hovered over the keyboard and clicked the mouse.

“Hey! Yea, small world indeed. Just checked out your work; interesting compilation. Looking forward to more.”

So, began a conversation. Curiosity is a terribly wonderful thing: it suffocates you until you've known everything you were ever intrigued about. She was curious to know about the guy who hid behind the lens to unravel his imaginations while struggling between bacteria and bones, and he was connived by the contagious energy that exuded from a girl half his size. Curiosity surpassed the understanding of personalities and sneaked its way into night long discussions about politics, art, science, life, love, philosophy, history and pneumonic. It seemed like a narcotic obsession amidst the race against the odds of human existence, an enduing relief from the stress of daily monotony.

They both felt restless. The boundaries of virtual media seemed to suppress their emotions. They wanted to read expressions, look at each other and giggle and spend lazy afternoons strolling on the pavements of the bustling city they both shared a bittersweet relationship with. The IMs lengthened to nightlong phone conversations. They planned a thousand rendezvous; ones under pelting rain, mischievous recognitions, embarrassed laughter and endless cups of coffee. Sometimes, it would be at the backdrop of a corny wedding duet in the middle of euphoria of Parcan lanterns. At times, it would be a sudden meet at a common park at the crack of dusk and they would share a cotton candy while reminiscing the million plans.

They knew they wouldn't have an extraordinary meeting. The silly plans always broke into a giggle; it all seemed such a fantasy from a Hollywood flick. The nights turned into days, summers to monsoons and minutes seemed like months.

It was wonderful. Care free, sweet, long, addictive and safe. There weren't any expectations, therefore nothing to judge or misjudge. For each, the other was a comforting cocoon to wrap inside and babble on about the most trivial daily occurring.

Around mid-June, the drizzles became more frequent. On such a pouring evening, she lounged at the back seat of a local coffee hub. A new fusion band was debuting and one of her friends was playing. They were late by an hour and she was beginning to feel annoyed. Just then, her cell phone beeped an incoming text.

“Hey, enjoying the music?”

She smiled and punched in a negative. The cell phone beeped again.

“Shucks, they're always these days. Anyway, try having fun!”

He was here. Her eyes searched the entrance and the seated crowd in front of her. She vaguely knew what he looked like, but couldn't familiarize with the features. Her eyes stopped at a tall stature near the counter. He had his back turned at her, hair soaked and probably paying for the ticket.

She has found him.

Their eyes met and broke into a mischievous recognition. He pushed through the crowd and sunk into the empty seat next to her. There wasn't much to say except repeated glances that trailed off to a familiar laughter. The musicians had begun playing a soft number on their flutes, guitars, saxophone and percussions, while the drizzle grew into a pelting rain outside.

Conversations weren't necessary. They had the whole night for that. In the moment, they both just wanted to sit back and indulge into the environment. The music perfectly complimented the weather and the mood, and it couldn't have been better. Amidst the offbeat commentary from the vocalist, his fingers found hers. She inched into a tighter grip and smiled.

Whoever said IMs, phone calls, nightlong conversations and foolish daydreaming about the perfect rendezvous was nothing but a teenage hormonal imbalance should've seen her smile then. This time 'round, it was meant to last a lifetime.

By Sabhanaz Rashid Diya

Turn the screw

THE rain spatters on the glass, streaking down the grimy surface in rivulets of clarity that lend a view of foliage, a glimpse of cement and brick and mortar. I push aside the curtain that hangs limp, dripping water on my desk, and taste the breeze on my tongue before dipping a finger in the ink.

The picture, I contemplate, is hazy at best. Blurred at the edges, like the dream I am attempting to put on paper. The red bleeds away, towards the corners of the heavy sheet, splashes of colour on a blank canvas. I stroke my stubble with a hand that is icy against my skin and try to not let it elude me, not again, not this time. I shiver, slightly, pulling the moth-eaten shawl closer around my shoulders.

The jingle of her bangles rings in my ears.

Head drooping lower now, I stab at the ink pot with the dry nib of a fountain pen. Marble-topped, a milky white colour under the cloudy skies, it was a present from her for an anniversary long forgotten. “So that you can write me letters,” she had said as she watched me shred the wrapping paper, smiling as the pen detached cleanly from its velvet holder. “It's lovely” hardly did it justice, but those three syllables were all that escaped my mouth.

But that was a long time ago.

I do not know what I am trying to achieve by painting her. The dream is already fading from my mind. Vaguely I recall windows, a whole bank of windows, all open, all open to the sunlight that hugs the contours of the hills. But what hills? All around me is rolling flatland, dotted with the scruff of trees. And yet I am sure there were hills, and sunlight, none of the cloudy skies and cold rain that flit from one day to another. Had she and I ever been to a hill? I bury a hand in my hair, willing my mind to touch on forgotten details, but the clump of short black tresses remain bunched in a cold grip. Try as I may, I cannot remember.

I dip a finger in the red again. Lazily I trace a sun, a bloodshot sun rising over the terrain. The clouds are crimson, too, crimson that turns scarlet in the light of the day. I am reminded, powerfully, like a shot down my spine, of her favourite red rose that she nurtured from bud to bloom, a solitary existence lovingly housed in a solitary pot. “My pride and joy,” she would always say, fingering the petals with a delicacy that rivalled the blossom.

Roses. Yes. Roses in the dream. A whole host of them, creeping up a stone wall. A stone wall? And a path, too, cobbled brick lane overgrown with dandelions that I stopped to pick up. Pick up? For? For her?

Ridiculous. She was gone.

Her bangles ring in my ears again.

I take the canvas and prop it up against my cup of tea. The saucer is gone, buried under the soil, smashed to smithereens. She broke it the day she said her goodbyes. Her hands trembled, the tea sloshing down her alabaster arm. “I'm leaving,” she said, her face stonily set, the tears that shone in her eyes refusing to make their way down her flushed cheeks. “I can't stay. You can't make me stay.”

The blood, it would always rush to her cheeks. Blooming across her visage, coating her face in a pink tint, a delicate shade of loveliness, and as her ghost floats across my mind I dip a finger in the paint and draw in what I remember of her. Her hair, a wild tumble of waves, the way it would drape across her back when she stooped to water her rose. The outline of her nose, slightly squashed, the bump barely perceptible. I paint in her eyes, eyes hemmed in with red, bleeding crimson tears.

“I cried when you left.”

Talking aloud again. I chuckle, shift the cup of tea to my right. The ice-cold remains of my drink slosh around in their ceramic vessel. A single drop of mud-brown tea lands on my canvas, a streak on the rounded curve of her shoulder. I dip her hand in the inkpot, her finger stained with her blood. Cold, so cold, but when skin touches canvas the picture glistens to life, and I paint over the unfortunate blemish. Her life pulsates from the canvas.

She and I, we will always be together.

By Shehtaz Huq


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