Purvi, looking gorgeous in pink, drawing the colourful alpana. Saniya, looking breathtaking in blue, talking to some guests. Rukmini, a vision in yellow, painstakingly arranging the flowers. They were so lovely, the orange marigolds, the red roses. And then there were those gifts, wrapped in cheerful colours. Happy, bright, vibrant colours. So different from the grey that had permeated her world just a few years ago, when Arun died.
Priya knew if she turned around, she could see Arun's face. He came to her everyday, encouraging her to live her life. Telling her not to lose hope.His face was so real to her, still . The forehead with two deep vertical lines, an endearing feature that showed how much he frowned when he thought. The sharp nose. The eyelashes that would have made any woman proud. His slight smile. That beloved face, with just a hint of a beard. "My 5 o'clock shadow" that's what Arun called it. Priya used to laugh. "How come your 5 o'clock appears at lunch time? Like you, your shadow also hurries through life." She would gently caress his face. How she loved to touch that face.
"Would you like to have something to drink?" Startled, Priya looked at the woman who asked her the question.
"Are you from the groom's side?" Priya was desperately trying to recall her name, not recognizing her at all. And why was this woman wearing white? White was a colour of sorrow. Today was a happy day. She was getting married today.
"My name is Padma, I am here to look after you. Are you feeling comfortable?"
Priya nodded. Looking at the revelry around her. The music. The dance. The laughter. The sound of bangles and anklets. Sounds so different from what she had heard a few years ago.
The wailing siren of the ambulance cutting through the silent night. Priya sobbing, clutching Arun's hand. The swinging doors of the emergency. The frantic conference of the doctors. The mechanical beeps of the machines attached to the still body. All sounds of grief and helplessness. If Priya tried, she could still hear them. If she tried harder, she could even hear the sound of her endless vigil beside her lover, who was slowly fading in front of her eyes.
"Come, sit on the bed. Why are you crying?" Priya was again jostled back to reality. Why couldn't this woman in white leave her alone? Why did she have to disturb her memories of her last few days with her only true love? Priya knew she was only trying to help. Perhaps trying to take the place of the mother who was also snatched away from her just days before Arun's death.
A scream. That was what Priya remembered most when they told her about her mother. They said she was coming to visit Arun in the hospital when the car ran her over. She was coming to ease her daughter's pain. Priya still heard that scream in her nightmares. Her young vibrant mother, suddenly snatched away from her when she needed her the most. And just a few days later, Arun was also lost to her forever.
"Hey Priya, dance with us." Her joyous friends tugged her hands and forcibly took her to the middle of the room. Priya smiled, looking at the faces of her friends. Purvi, Saniya, Rukmini. The pillars of her life. Her support, her strength. The friends who took her out of the cesspool that was her life. They had come after her mother's death. Quietly sharing her grief. Offering her support. " Dance Priya, dance." Amidst cheers and happy bantering, Priya caught the sight of two more people who mattered in her life. Arun's parents. These two gentle, loving souls who took her under their wings. Loving her unconditionally. Keeping her with them. Crying with her. Trying to laugh with her. It was because of them she had the courage to build her own life again. Because of them she consented to marry the young man who was so often there at their house. Today also, they were with her.Priya could see them, just beyond the glass door, talking to a sombre faced man. Was he the groom's father? He looked grim. And who was the man next to them? From a distance, he looked a bit like Arun.
"Priya, come and sit down here." Priya ignored the command of the woman in white and went towards the window. She looked down at the busy street and saw the endless stream of cars. Life went by, no matter what. Was she doing the right thing? The man she was marrying was not Arun. She twisted the ring on her finger. The simple ring with a single white stone. She turned her finger, trying to catch the sunlight. She desperately needed sunlight in her life. She was so tired of living her life in the dark. She needed to feel whole again. She twisted the ring on her finger, slowly at first, then faster. The play of light on her ring was almost hypnotic.
"Come away from the window Priya, sit here. Your family will be here soon." Priya did not pay attention to the voice. The woman in white. That hateful colour. The colour of the walls in the hospital. The colour that was Arun's favourite. The colour of the sheet that covered her mother's lifeless body. She hated it. She saw the white stone on her finger and tugged at it. The ring slowly came off and fell. " My ring! Please, somebody, my ring fell!"
"Come away from the window Priya,"
"Where Priya? Where is the ring?" Her friends were trying to peep over her shoulder.
"Oh, there. Just on the ledge. Go get it. Priya. Just reach over and get it"
"No, Priya step back."
"It is your engagement ring, get it Priya."
"Priya, step back"
"Jump Priya, jump. Get it now. Jump.
"Nooo, Priya...doctor...doctor help"
Lying on the bed, Priya slowly tried to focus on the people around her. A woman in white. A grim faced man. A woman sobbing.
"We tried so hard to bring her back amongst us doctor. But she has been slipping away ever since her mother died. She just could not get over the shock of seeing her mother lying in a pool of blood"
Priya tried hard to listen to the voices. Arun, that was Arun's voice. Calling her to join him where they would all be happy together. Her mother. Arun. She.
"Mr. Sharma, This is an acute stage and she needs to be monitored constantly. She has started hallucinating and hearing voices. The lines between her reality and unreality have blurred. She is capable of harming herself and others. She needs expert help. I hope you will make up your mind after this episode."
Priya glanced around the room, searching for her friends. Purvi, Saniya, Rukmini. Friends who came only when her world was dark. Her support. Where were they? She saw the retreating backs of her mother. And Arun. Were they leaving too? She needed them so badly. Her eyes slowly closed, shutting out the room, the voices, the people. They always left her.
The old couple slowly emerged out of the hospital. Drained after the lengthy admission procedures. Their tired steps faltering at times. Each holding a hand of the son. Seeking support. Perhaps giving it also. The young man tightly held the mother." I loved her so much Ma. I tried so hard to bring her back to us. But in the end she forgot me too."
" I know son., I know."
" May be if the father had not abandoned her when she was small. May be if I had not been taking so ill at that time." He tried to voice his thoughts, trying to make sense of the bewildering world of his love.
"Yes, Arun, I know."
Holding their son's hands tightly, the man and the woman started the slow journey home.
This is my first attempt at fiction, unless you count those few stories I attempted writing in my school days.
ZB (who else? He will be the death of me one day) challenged a few of us to write this story. As he gave us the story line, the characters, the names, the beginning, the end...in short every thing and asked us to strictly adhere to it, there was not much left for me to do. But I could not stick to the original plot completely. And I did not kill Arun. My blog is a happy place and I could not see a man dying here.
Sorry ZB, I cheated. Am I disqualified?