"Some people feel the rain, others just get wet"- Roger Miller
The streetlamp seemed brighter with her standing underneath. She slowly lifted her face. In the yellow light and the chilling rain, she looked at me. Unexpectedly the whole world and its futile chores came to a halt, and the deserted bus stop witnessed just two of us!!
Charlie Chaplin had said that the best thing about rain is that we can't see the tears. We often tend to miss the essence of his quote. As my eyes met hers in a wink, my past played a motion picture in front of my eyes. Probably the melancholic rain and solitude of the adjacent hills acted as able catalysts to this process. The memories of my carefree, struggling days when I was in search of myself with a heart full of fire flashed. My quest is still on; however, maybe the fire no longer lives. Her dark blue eyes and black mascara around them brought back many fond reminiscences. Memoirs flashed of sleepless nights with romantic dreams when I gave a peck on her cheeks, a time when happiness meant just a plate of hot Maggi at midnight from a street-side stall. As she gazed at me, I had to look down to avoid eye contact. The rain intensified, and so did the cold. As the tin shade of the roof of the bus stop was cracked in places, rainwater kept dripping, making us feel cold, wet and awkward. The raindrops pricked us like needles in the cold of the night.
"Do you still love rain?" She asked in a heavy voice looking at a deserted house in front of her, barely visible in the rains. The trees and bushes entangled it like a gigantic octopus, hiding its existence just like how the social baggage and my past decisions had concealed her existence in my life. Though the rain made her almost inaudible, I heard her loud and clear while the lone street light blinked in the shower. The loneliness of the forsaken bus stop made me increasingly uncomfortable.
It has been 13 monsoons since we last met. It was now; I wanted to answer her question. Shouting aloud, saying, "no, I hate rains now". But the lump in my throat did not let me. There was a circus of cacophony going on in my mind. It seemed I was standing on a busy road, and speeding traffic stopped me from crossing the road to the other side. The deafening buzz of the traffic and endless honking had crippled my senses. Amidst the grey traffic, a woman dressed in red on the other side was slowly moving away from me. I desperately tried to stop her, but the traffic would not let me. I could see the red getting reduced to a dot. I could not find words to reply. But I wanted to.
A cold realization dawned on me at the deserted bus stop. I shouldn't have missed the bus today. It was 8:45 PM by my watch. The last bus was supposed to be at 9, but the rain would delay it as the visibility reduced. Excepting the rain, the entire world around me seemed immersed in deathly silence. It felt like we were on stage for an act, and the wet trees, the relentless rain, the soaked deserted house, the puddles in the road, and the blinking street lights were the anxious audience waiting for the final act. She pitched her dialogue, but I messed up as I always did. I wrestled with my inner demons in search of my missing words. Out of the anxious audience, an impatient dog barked, breaking the night's silence and the monotony of the rain.
I wish I hadn't met her today. Why today? I shouldn't have met her ever, for that matter. A few minutes back, I had felt so cold and numb, but later all the earthly sensations of heat and cold seemed to have deserted me at the lonely bus stop where I met her again. When you fall out of love at a young age, a part of life gets stolen from your life forever. The funny part is every memory of that time stays vividly with you, but you don't own them. They constantly remind you that you once had such beautiful moments in your life, but now you don't have them. The central piece in the jigsaw puzzle of your life is lost forever. You suffer the eternal déjà vu of incompleteness. The past demons slowly took control over me and my resolutions in the tiny hilly village of Jimpla on a rainy night. The deserted bus stop and the abandoned house beside the hills witnessed all of it.
But what was she doing here? That too at the odd hour? Did she become a singer finally? Back then, she mimicked Madonna so perfectly. She used to kill it with her swag when she performed with her lady band. Songs penned by herself against the patriarchal world. They called themselves "Daring Daises". According to her, it was the band for the ladies, of the ladies, by the ladies. Unlike me, she trusted her passion. She believed and nurtured it. I was not brave enough. They say dreams, like plants, must be taken care of and nurtured; only then do they bloom.
It has been four years since I got divorced and three years since I quit my job as an IT Consultant in a leading IT firm. My passion is photography. Finally, after ten years of corporate grilling, I realized that I was not happy. I had money, but I started losing my soul. The fear of missing out ate my marital peace. I don't blame my wife. She wanted to be with a man I had always pretended to be. But I could not continue acting. As I revealed myself, our marital bliss started eroding. Finally, it reduced us to two strangers trapped in a bedroom. Later, I decided to pick up the camera and search for my long lost passion. If she were there, she would have said, "I am proud of you, Dude!!"
Memories are strange. They take you to strange places at strange times without your consent. 13 years ago, we were in a similar situation on our college campus. The weird aura of awkwardness we had in the rain on the night we met again never surrounded us back then. As usual, she was the bubbly bundle of joy. Stretching her arms out to feel the shower, she asked, "Don't you love the rain? I so love the rain". Her voice resonated with pouring raindrops. Even then, I was out of words. Whenever I saw her free spirit and zeal, my passions soured high. But I had too many factors reminding me of the reality in my life. I needed a job to prove many people wrong. It never bothered her free spirit. As I was searching for words, she playfully pinched my cheeks and pulled my frowning lips to form a smile gesture.
"I have decided to join the job!!". I spat out. But she did not hear me, and she was busy admiring the rain.
I loved the rain; at times, I was envious of it. If ever she had to choose between the rain and me, she would choose the rain hands down. When the other girls in the college complained about the puddles and their make-up, she embraced the rain with open arms. The rain made her kind of prettier. Drenched in the rain, she looked like an angel with the locks covering her bright blue eyes, water dripping from her eyelid, rolling gently down her white cheeks and jumping from her pointed chin. My adolescent heart started galloping seeing her. A gush of desire tried to break free of the shackles of restraint in me. But I had to tell her. I had to tell her that I would relocate to Bangalore in the coming week to join one of the same jobs that we mocked so often. I was about to become a suited clerk with zero creativity. I had to tell her that my dad had a heart attack the previous month, and my mom thought it was for her. A middle-class Brahmin boy was not allowed to love a tribal Lepcha girl from the hills!
I wanted to tell her, "I am sorry, Nomi Sangma. I am sorry for falling in love with a waitress in my college canteen". Nomi was a fabulous singer. After hearing her sing in the casual jams, the Girl band inducted her into their set-up as the lead vocalist. She resembled the Highland lass whom William Wordsworth had referred to in the solitary reaper. Her voice had the freshness and melancholy of the hills, and her Lepcha origins had lent her voice a unique rustiness that gave me goosebumps. It was my first love. She sang after 8 in the evening with her guitar in the canteen. The canteen owner Singh Saab never complained as it increased his customer count significantly for dinner. "I am sorry, Nomi Sangma, I am madly in love with you."
"What did you say? I can't hear you. The rain is so sweet today, and I feel crazy, dear. I feel like writing a song right away. Why are you staring at me? Take my photo", Nomi started posing for photos. She, too, had fallen in love with him.
Charlie Chaplin had said the best thing about rain is that you can't see my tears.
The lonely bus stop had another visitor as the soaked dog came into our company and settled at one corner of the shade, bringing me back to the present. I could make out clearly that the lady beside me was trying desperately to portray a girl called Nomi Sangma thirteen years ago. But the fact remained that after thirteen years, we are just two strangers haunted by ghosts of the past stuck in a forsaken bus stop as it rained. The deserted house, which, just like us, was in full bloom once upon a time, kept watching us in silence.
I needed to pick up my scattered feelings, and the rain made it difficult. Though my words rebelled against my thoughts, I had to gather quickly. "What shall I tell her? Shall I ask if she got my letters? If yes, why didn't she reply? Why did she quit her job the very next day I left? No, I can't be that insensitive. On the contrary, I had been way more insensitive 13 years ago. Can I apologize?"
"Sorry", as always, was not the best word for such times!!
Memories are not always your best friend. I deserved the suffering. But did she? I couldn't even tell her before leaving. I never gathered the courage. I just took the shortcut and ran away. I kept running all this time. Maybe I am still on the run. I tried to redeem my guilt by writing her letters which she never replied to. I tried to bury her memories in the rat race. But the rain never failed to remind me that I knew a girl called Nomi Sangma once upon a time. Now I could connect so vividly with the deserted house across the road that seemed to embrace its gloomy past glory in eternal nostalgia.
"You remember, what's the best thing to do when it rains?" She asked in a heavy voice.
As usual, her questions stumped me.
"What?" I asked sheepishly.
"To just watch it rain", giggled Nomi Sangma.
I could feel my heartache. What I loved most about Nomi was that she could say the most beautiful thing most casually. She would have become a great lyricist.
Perhaps the rains heard her compliment and started intensifying. Now the seepage through the roof was making us wet. For a change, she was no longer eager to get wet. We moved toward the centre, where the ceiling was not cracked. In the process, we came close. I could hear her heavy breathing and see her small lips trembling. I still remember how she smelt. After I left her, I used to wake up in the middle of the night and smell her. But as we came close, the pungent smell of perfume filled my nostrils and gave an uneasy itchy sensation in the back of my throat. She did not smell like Nomi Sangma at all. The uninhabited house in the distance with its broken pillars kept mocking me in the rain.
"I quit my job three years ago, and now I am a travel blogger and freelance photojournalist," I had to say, and I was dying inside to say this. Or I could have said -- Sorry!
Again, Sorry, as always, was not the best word for such times!!
She smiled tiredly, looking at my camera bag and winked her small blue eyes. "I guess ten years too late, don't you think?"
We looked at each other, and our eyes demanded answers. I had a lot to explain. Her eyes blinked, and her lips trembled a little. Perhaps she wanted to cry. It seemed like an eternity as we kept staring at each other. Trivial questions like where she lived, what she did, if she was married, and if she had a band formed a tornado in my mind but never made it to my lips. The rhymes of the raindrops on the rooftop seemed to narrate our stories to the wet trees, the lone lamp post and the deserted house.
Rumi said, "Listen to Silence. It says so much". But for silence, I was a poor listener. I kept looking at her as I was entangled in the guilt feeling. I could see the age lines on her face, which some cheap make-up had tried to conceal. The rain was spoiling it. My nightingale looked melancholic. But those blue eyes still kept telling me, "I waited, Adi. You never came".
I lost track of time. A Black Scorpio's screeching sound in front of the bus stop broke my trance. As the window glass rolled down, a dark hairy guy peeped out of the driver's seat and whistled nastily to her. "Get in, Saniya, it is already late. Hurry up Bitch!". The backseat door opened, and I could see a few other girls sitting in the vehicle. The rain toned down, and the deserted house got visible. Nomi slowly headed towards the car.
"Why? Nomi, Why?" That's all that came out of my mouth.
Nomi Sangma looked at me in the shadows of the blinking street light and said gently, "Clouds come floating into my life, no longer carry rain or usher storm, they just add colour to my sunset sky."
The street light seemed brighter with her standing underneath. She looked back at me for one last time, and suddenly there were just two of us in some parallel world free from the shackles of caste, social prestige, taboos, and expectations, full of music and dreams.
And it rained ...