Cherry blossoms bloomed during winters, here. I suddenly found myself developing an obsession for these cherry blossom trees. Seeing them, brought an indescribable joy in my heart and the very sight of them soothed my mind, splashing color into my otherwise dreary day. There is a cherry blossom tree standing right outside the window of our bedroom. Every evening, since the beginning of winter, I sit on the bay window and sip my large cup of coffee, looking at that cherry blossom tree. After fitting myself well into the process of admiring the tree, the writer breathing within me begins to conjure lines on my muse.
This is my first winter, here. It has been exactly four months since my arrival. The city continues to remain a stranger to me. My husband, even stranger. It’s half passed five in the evening. I shiver when the telephone begins to ring. I run toward the table on the side of the bed where I sleep. The cordless phone is standing there, with the light blinking as it rings. I answer the call. Perfect silence breathes on the other end of the phone for a few seconds before I hear Zeeshan’s voice:
I’ll be late from work, this evening. Don’t wait up for me.
What about dinner?
I’ll grab a bite from someplace close to work. Don’t worry.
There was a few minutes of silence before we said goodbye. Zeeshan and I were close family friends. Our families knew each other much before we were born. Our fathers have been the best of friends since their college days and our mothers eventually got closer, through the years. Zeeshan and I, however, were never close. Zeeshan was an introvert and even after all these years, he still continues to be. Whatever little that I did get to know about him, was from what my mother used to tell me about him and the brief conversations he and I used to have during our various gatherings. It has been five months since Zeeshan and I have been united in holy matrimony. Everything occurred in a lot of haste. Neither of us got the time to take it all in. We did not get married because we were in love. We got married because his parents wanted him to get married and have a family, while my parents did not want to leave me all by myself, with a child produced out of wedlock. They did not want to leave me with a child whose father was no more. Zeeshan and his parents knew about the baby. The baby did not cause an objection to the marriage.
This human growing inside of me, is the only source for giving me a reason to live. More importantly, this human is the closest living reminder of Zohran; of our love and, just him. I speak to the baby. The baby helps me to get through my many moments of loneliness. The baby is always with me. Even though there never comes a response or a verbal confirmation that the baby is listening, I knew that she is. More often than not, I refer to the baby as a girl. It comes very naturally to me. I do not know why. I want the baby to be a girl. No actually, I want the baby to be a boy. No actually, the baby can just about be anything. It doesn’t matter. Sometimes I find myself wondering what if I lose the baby. The thought leaves me in a state of numbness. With the baby gone, I will not only lose this human I have become attached to, but I’d lose the only living reminder of Zeeshan.
Darkness slowly begins to set in. I put on my walking shoes and step outside the house for my evening walk. Cool breeze is blowing outside. Cars and auto rickshaws pass by in a flash. I walk toward the garden which is close to our apartment building. I sit on a bench for a few seconds, before resuming my walk in the garden. A couple walks past me. They walk hand in hand. Zohran and I spent endless evenings walking just the very same way as the couple, outside his or my apartment building. We would spend our time on marine drive or just walking around the island city, after our lectures when we were in college. Nine years. If he were alive today, it would have been our tenth year of knowing and loving each other. Almost every night, I meet him in my dreams. The nights I do not meet him, sadness accompanies me the whole of the next day. In one such dream, a few days after his passing, he held me with a tight hold and gently placed my head on his shoulder, while I wept. He asked me the reason for my weeping, but I just looked into his eyes and continued to cry.
After spending a little more than an hour outside, I am welcomed into an empty apartment. I place the house keys in the bowl on the table, next to the door. I sit on the dining table to have my dinner. In these few months of our marriage we’ve spent innumerable moments in silence. We’re two strangers living in the same apartment. We live our own lives and do our own things, for the most part. Zeeshan has these walls created around himself which I find very difficult to break down. Most of the times, I feel like me and my child are just his good deed for the day. Maybe this marriage is a mistake. Maybe we did run into this too quickly. But it’s not like we had a choice. Our decision was already made by our parents. Maybe this isn’t a mistake. Maybe it isn’t.
It’s the sixth month of my arrival in the city. It is the tenth day of January. Zeeshan and I are sitting on the bay window. He and I are sipping mugs of tea. The incessant rains which brought in the day, decided to take a break, leaving behind a dull cover and the smell of wet mud. Our eyes are fixed on our view outside the window.
I’m not a very big fan of the rains. Zohran was. There used to be this chai wala bang opposite his apartment building, who used to make one of the best chai’s I have had till date. Zohran and I used to go have his chai. It was the best especially when it was pouring outside.
Zeeshan remained silent, while his eyes continued to remain fixed on the view.
Do you miss him? I turned toward Zeeshan and looked at him in shock. This is the first time he is talking about Zohran or taking his name, even.
I do. Very much.
We remained silent.
You talk, but you don’t really talk.
What do you want me to say?
Anything! Anything about yourself.
I was in love with a girl named Lara before the two of us got married.
Are you still in love with her?
Part of me still is.
She never wanted to settle down and I wanted to. I always knew this about her but I thought maybe down the line when we become more serious about each other she would want to get married. Turned out, I was wrong.
Hey, it’s okay.
There’s a reason why everything turns out the way it does.
Well, I haven’t found this reason yet.
Why did you marry me, then?
Because my parents wanted me to settle down. And also because I was looking for something to help me to move on from all the sadness which had settled inside me. I’m sorry.
Don’t be. I understand.
Are you happy with this marriage?
I don’t know what to say or feel, really. Are you happy?
I do not know.
That particular day on the tenth day of January two years ago, the heavy showers had prevented Zeeshan and Yasmin from stepping out of the house and having a rendezvous with their reality, that is, their marriage and them. That day planted the seed to what grew first, a strong friendship and then, a love which they themselves did not expect to happen. Zeeshan still loved Lara, but wasn’t in love with her and Yasmin still loved Zohran but wasn’t in love with him. Zeeshan and Yasmin knew this about each other and they respected and understood this part of their existence. Zeeshan was still the same introvert Yasmin knew two years ago when they met. But, she finally broke down all those walls which he had built around him. Yasmin was still the same person he met two years ago. But, he had learnt to love her. Zeeshan wore the shirt Yasmin got him for their anniversary and Yasmin wore the dress he got her. Yasmin’s brother had made a reservation in one of the Italian restaurants the couple of them always wanted to go to. Yasmin was almost done getting ready when Zeeshan came and stood behind her, admiring her in the mirror.
What? Do I not look good?
You look incredible! Yasmin smiled from ear to ear. She turned to face him and slowly whispered in his ear, I love you, Shan! He whispered back, I love you too.