Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Last Goodbye

I was sitting by my window, gazing at the gray clouds outside when my phone started buzzing. I froze for a second after seeing her name on the screen. My heart started pounding faster and I could feel my breath becoming rapid as I answered her call.

The line on the other side was still. I waited for her to respond to my hello but it never came. If she was thinking this was a bad idea, she might’ve hung up by now. But she had something else in mind. “Café. 20 minutes.” And she hung up.

The ominous gray clouds had begun to trickle down now. What a morose setting for a meeting with your ex, I thought to myself. Even God couldn’t pull up his act for this painful task like this.

The café used to be “our hangout place” back in college. It was our ‘Central Perk’ and nobody got the squishy couch but us. As years passed by, the visits to the café became a rarity. Friends who occupied those seats, moved away to different cities to pursue their dreams. The ones, who stayed close by, grew apart with time. And she grew apart the most.

I picked up an umbrella and navigated my way through the little streams of water that were flowing down the street now. I lived just two blocks away from the café. I passed by it every day, always with a heart burdened of all those memories that made me never enter this place again. I loved the time we’d spent here, but there was nothing here that I could relate to anymore. The faces behind the counter had changed, the squishy couch was gone, masala chai was off the menu. This place was as ridiculous as the idea of meeting her here after all these years.

I sat by the window, gazing outside at the still traffic. The raindrops on the glass scattered the light across the walls of the café, making it look more mystical than it was.

She came in 10 minutes late and sat down silently. Her face was covered with a scarf, something I’d seen her do from the first day I had met her. She never traveled without a scarf. We didn’t share pleasantries. I kept looking at her as she fidgeted with her bag, trying to find something and failing at it. She finally managed to pull out a white envelope and handed it to me. She’d scribbled my name on it with a glittery pink pen. How nice! Something’s never change: like her love for glittery pens and my disgust for them.

She instructed me to read it once she was gone. I thought she wanted to avoid unnecessary drama and kept the envelope aside. She ordered hot chocolate for herself and sent the waiter away. I called him back and asked for a cappuccino. If she felt bad about what she was doing, it clearly didn’t show on her face.

We drank our drinks in silence, looking anywhere but at each other. Perhaps we’d seen each other so closely that now we couldn’t even stand each other’s sight. She put down her cup and leaned forward. “I just wanted you to know that this is the last time we’re meeting. I’m not going to be in touch henceforth.”

I leaned back in my chair, a bit outraged, a bit relieved. “Sure. Suit yourself”, I said.

She pushed her seat back, stood up and asked me to get up. I asked her, “For what joy?”

“Just get up, will you?”

I reluctantly rose to my feet as she came over to my chair and pulled me into a hug so tight that I’d never known she was capable of. I dropped the act and gave in, cherishing this momentarily collapse of reasons and walls between us. Everything that stood between our egos had melted and I simply wanted to revel in this moment’s glory. I don’t know how long we stood there entranced. I don’t know what people in the café or out on the street thought about us. I had her in my arms, and that’s all that mattered.

And then she released her grasp. My shoulder had been soaked in what seemed like silent tears. Her eyes were red, with tiny droplets still rolling down her cheeks. I didn’t know what the hell was happening here. Was this a good? Or was this bad?

She quickly wiped the tears off the edge of a napkin, regained her composure and walked away. She stopped at the door, turned around, smiled and melted away into the crowd outside. I stood rooted to the spot, unsure of what had just happened. After what seemed like minutes, I sat down and found the envelope lying on the table. I opened it and out fell a card. I didn’t have to read it to understand what it was. She was getting married. I didn’t read the groom’s name or the date but knew she truly meant to say bye this time.

My stony façade crumbled inside. All the days I’d lied to myself that I didn’t need her, were staring back at me and mocking me. All the nights I’d forced myself to not think of her, were casting their dark shadows on me. My act was good only till the time she played along. But now, now she was gone. And I couldn’t stop her. I couldn’t call her back.

She was gone. And that last smile kept returning back to my mind, flashing before my eyes. I threw the card in a dustbin near the exit and walked out without my umbrella. The rain was pouring harder than ever before. Seems like God did have a trick or two up his sleeve after all. I cried as the raindrops melted my tears. The walk home was going to be painful and lonely one. After all, that’s what last goodbyes do to you, right?

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