Clouds in Mourning

She liked speaking to the clouds. They could understand her. All she did  when she had to take a quick decision was look up, at a greater being somewhere there, and ask. The thoughts would crystallize before she knew it. It was like the clouds were there, waiting to put her thoughts in perspective, breaking them down into basic facts, and then giving her the answer.

No friends could give her that advice, and that was something that pained her. Just a tinge, somewhere within. They never understood her well enough, she always felt. They didn’t know what drove her, what she was in search of, what she wanted to achieve! To put it in perspective, the friends never understood her emotions. Emotions aren’t just laughing in happiness and crying in pain, like those idiots thought. They are a continuous set of experiences that carve you day in and day out. Like a personal sculptor, chipping and cutting bit by bit, with his chisel, to make your statue perfect. The clouds knew that. They were her source of energy. In their energy, when she raised her head, to look at them, she would somewhere find hers.

Everyday, after college, on her way to the shop to pick up dad, she would stop by at the lake and just spend five minutes speaking to them. Those five minutes belonged only to her. No other person on this planet. Then she would walk down that lane, and see her dad waiting for her eagerly, with a sparkle in his eyes, and a smile that made her feel like there was a reason to exist. How would he know when she was about to turn the corner?! She’d never figured out, and he refused to tell. He would always tease her- “Ek dafa bachcha hoyega tera, tab terese poochoonga mujhe kaise pata chalta hai”, and laugh. And she would look at him, and give him a hug. And in that hug, lay every moment of happiness, every sorrow, every joy, the anger, the silence. If she had a choice, she would never let go of that hug. She always wanted to hold it forever.

She’d then sit, and tell him all that had happened in the day, how she’d almost missed the train, but jumped into the general compartment just as it started. How the guys were actually quite careful, and gave enough space, seeing a girl in the general compartment, and how she thought it was actually a better idea travelling in the general than the ladies compartment with all the kich kich and noisy ladies! And how she hated women who only talk and talk and bitch about what someone else is wearing or someone else was doing. She always wondered. Atleast the guys in the general compartment were pre-occupied with their newspapers, books, music or something or the other. They respected space. And space was what she demanded, expected and gave.

The father would listen patiently, smiling, nodding in approval, or on days when he didn’t agree, giving her the logic behind why she should not be doing it that way. She would hear him intently. He was saying today that one might want space, but for someone else, being allowed into your space is acceptance. And everyone wants to be accepted. She agreed with him, but somehow it did not come naturally to her. Her zone was hers alone. For no-one could understand it. He smiled.

Then, as a daily ritual, she would help him pack up the toy shop on the road, which basically meant putting the plastic animals and dancing dolls in the bag, which she had given him when he had realized that he was too old to sell the goods walking through the streets and roads, and had decided to sell it from the footpath, and walk it home two streets away. He had the money to buy a small shop, but that money, he insisted, was for her studies. To make her a graduate, and no amount of reasoning could convince him otherwise.

That was her father. A very intelligent man. Not educated, but intelligent. According to him, he was not as careful before his marriage, but marriage and his wife, her mother had taught him to be prudent in his decisions. Something he had followed extremely well. He had brought her up in such a way that she never missed her mother. From the days when he would be on the roads selling toys, holding her in one hand, never letting her go. To the days when she grew up, and he refused to let her help him in selling toys, instead insisting she went to school everyday, making sure he left her there, and collected her, standing in front of the school with his toys. All the children would insist on buying toys from him, and would feel jealous of her that she had so many toys to play with at home. Then when she was big enough, he ensured she had enough guidance from the neighbours about how being a woman would be. He wanted that she never feel out of place, or deprived. He wanted her to become a confident, independent woman.

It was her dream too. To graduate well, and get a job that would make her self-sufficient and be able to take care of her father, and make her father proud of her. She was not exceptional in any way. She looked nice and simple. If she wanted, she could look like one of the ‘bombs’ that came to college, but that was not her. She used to quietly attend her lectures, have the chai in the canteen, chatting up with her classmates, listening to their stories about their boyfriends, their parents, their world! Then she would go to the library and do the assignments in the solitude that place offered. She had only recently discovered the library, when she had to visit it a month ago, in search of a particular book, which her friends also did not have. She immediately fell in love with the place, its fragrance of old wood, and fresh paper gave a smell of belonging. She started studying there. There weren’t many regulars to the library. Usually for company were these 2- a guy called Soham, and a very eccentric girl called Sujata. They would not sit together, preferred doing their own thing, but would mostly go for a chai during the breaks together. Their acquaintance were, for starters, only through the four walls of the library.

They were fun people, Soham and Sujata. She enjoyed being with them. Sujata was someone she also failed to understand. In college, she was an unassuming girl, someone who carried herself with poise, very simple, almost nerdy. But outside of it, she used to love adventure sports. Treks, nature walks, rappelling, backward rappelling, rock climbing. She used to love it all. Almost a rebel, she hated boys for they were too cribby in life. Soham was not very tall, but had a distinct face, one you wouldn’t forget very easily once you had seen it. He was not what you would call conventionally handsome, but his facial muscles, his cut, his build, was something you’d admire if you observed him. You would not think of him as strong when you’d first see him, but he had power!, something she discovered the first time she saw him fight.

They used to like spending time with each other, though their thoughts didn’t exactly match. Soham had a entrepreneurial streak in him, he just wanted to do something on his own, not bogged down by a company, or a boss. He just had to do his own thing. He was also quite romantic in his search for the ‘ideal match’. His list was long, to say the least. Sujata, on the contrary, was not one for marriage. She though that marriage should be spelled as ‘disaster’ and that the only reason guys marry is because they want sex, and a wife is, for them, a person to officially have sex with. They would always argue with each other, wanting to prove their point. But neither conceded ever. Secretly, she always thought that through their contrasting opinions, they would fall in love with each other, but she had seen no signs of that.

She for one, believed in love. Not the one that is shouted from roof-tops, but one that is quietly, passionately shared between two individuals. She had never met someone like that, but longed to, one day. Someone who would be able to handle her, make her feel special despite her maturity, make her want to love him. She had never really had the feeling for anyone. She had often felt Soham implied he liked her, but he never directly told her– and she was very confused about him. He had a head over his shoulders, but was too ambitious, in terms of money. He felt that the want for money might overpower the want for love, someday. But then the guys in her class, and others she knew were too self-centred. Atleast from what she had slowly learnt of him in these months, he had a quiet air of understanding and belonging to him, he was not as insecure about himself as the rest..

One day, when Soham confronted her, and told her he loved her, she went numb, unexpectedly stunned. She wasn’t surprised, but was taken aback all the same. She looked up at the sky, staring at the clouds, in frantic search of an answer. Somewhere, though she had never hidden anything from her father, she was too scared to express this to him. She had no idea how he would react.  She liked him, but was not sure what that liking actually was. She asked for some time to think it over.

That evening, she found herself taking faster strides than usual to the lake. There was an air of impatience she was feeling. Distinct impatience. And she did not like the feeling. Love, she was thinking. Too strong an emotion. I don’t feel that for him. I don’t. The clouds were also dark, about to rain. The grayness added to the impatience. She wanted to express something, the feeling could not be put in words.

She walked the lane, to the twinkling eyes. But her eyes could not meet his. Why, she was wondering. Its not a crime. Love is not a crime.  He looked at her and asked her what was eating her, she almost splurted it all out, but then swallowed it. Nothing, she said. Just something she had eaten. She could tell from his look he was not convinced. While they were walking back, he again asked if something was wrong. He knew something was, obviously. But she maintained her stance. He told her that she could tell him when she wanted, and that he shall not probe further. She felt her heart sink slightly. She had told a lie to her father, and it was not a nice feeling. She knew he had seen it through and felt hurt, but she did not have the courage to tell the truth. She swallowed the food in a haste that day, also swallowing morsels of guilt with every bite. She cooked well, but the food tasted bitter that day.

Next day, she was in half a mind to not go to the library. But that wasn’t her. She walked in, and saw Soham, their eyes meeting in that moment. She quickly looked away, and walked to where she used to sit. She could see Soham’s eyes following her, but she wanted to ignore them. They were causing distinct discomfort. Was this what papa had said when he told about acceptance, she wondered. A couple of hours passed. Sujata came up to her and asked whether she wanted to go for a chai. She looked at Soham, and said ‘Ok’.

Downstairs, Soham was searching for an opportunity when he would have a moment alone with her. It came when Sujata got a call, and she started pacing up and down the canteen while chatting. He asked her ‘So, what did you decide?’. She said ‘I don’t know. I mean.. I really like you but I don’t want to hurt you, and I am not sure whether I’m ready for love yet.’ She wanted to look at his eyes while saying it, but was unable to handle his gaze. His eyes were not expressing much in the glances she was stealing. He put his hand on hers, her instant reaction was to want to pull her hand back, but she resisted. He told her it was fine. And that he understood. She wanted to scream ‘You don’t. You don’t understand..!’

There was no tension between the two of them after that, thankfully. She had been particularly surprised by the way in which Soham had handled it. He behaved as if he was very comfortable with the outcome. They went out for coffee that day. She decided to skip the lake, and spend that time with him instead. He was laughing, and cracking jokes normally. She felt better.

She returned to the shop ten minutes later than normal. Father did not look very fine. She asked him if he was fine. He said he felt like he had fever, and a mild pain in the head. She told him to rest while she packed up the stuff. Then gave him some tablets once they reached home, and sang him his Rabindra Sangeet to sleep. Then she lay on the mattress, thinking about the day, and its events. Laughed at Soham. ‘Paagal kahin ka..’ and went off to sleep.

The next few days were good. She used to enjoy spending time with him. She started enjoying laughing. The smile was replaced with a whole hearted laughter. Her father also used to comment that she came home happier everyday. She used to tell her about the jokes, and what Soham was telling, but never about his proposal. A feeling of guilt would sweep her whenever she thought of that in front of her father.

Father had also been growing more dependant on her than earlier. He would start feeling uneasy if she was even delayed by a few minutes. He would often want to hug her, or tell her to smile, or sing for him. She would happily oblige.

On the other hand, she had started becoming emotionally dependant on Soham. She would tell him how father was unwell, and what she was feeling, and there would rarely be a day when she would not spend a part of her day with him. The time at the lake would be spent looking at Soham, instead of the clouds. Observing him minutely. His gestures, his speech, his choice of words, his thought process, his likes, his dislikes.. She enjoyed his company. She liked him. One day when they were sitting together, she was overcome by the want to be close to him, and held him by his hands, drawing him to a hug, and told him never to leave him again.

That day when she returned home, she was dying of guilt. She did not have the courage to tell her father she was in love. The guilt, the guilt. She remembered him telling that she could tell him when she wanted, and that he shall not probe further. She still couldn’t. It made her feel miserable. It was against her logic, but she comforted herself by saying she would introduce him to Soham one day and then tell him.

Over the next few weeks, she was living a dream. The days in college were beautiful. Not much had changed. Her routine stayed the same. But the feeling was different. There was a smile on her face, and a spring in her step. College life was also coming to an end. She wanted to get placed in a good company. Campus placements had been pretty thanda so far. She wanted to get through Grindlays Bank. It was a company known for having a wonderful work culture and a good pay master. They had been coming to the campus for the past 4 yrs. This year also they were expected to come.

On the interview day, she wore her best trouser and shirt. She had sat the previous evening with Soham and made her CV. It looked good. She had showed it to father, who told he had no idea what a CV should be like, but as long as Soham had helped, it should be good. She stared at him, contemplating for a minute, but again reason was defeated by fear.

The interview went off very well. She might not have been the brightest around, but she knew her technical stuff well, and got selected. At a salary of 2.25 lacs an year. She couldn’t control her happiness and was almost in tears when she told Soham. Then she ran home and told dad, whose happiness she could not describe in words. He held her, and looked at her, kissed her on the forehead, patted her on the back many times and cried. Just cried. In that one moment, they both forgot where they were and felt a sense of victory running down their cheeks. She had sprung a new lease of life into him. He would wake her up, and tell her to finish her exams quickly, and ask her when she was joining. You could feel he felt a sense of pride. He would have packed up, and be waiting for her when she turned the corner. He would be singing on the way back home. She felt very nice.

She would share the happiness with Soham, who would listen patiently through her descriptions, nodding where required and reacting where required.

With her first salary cheque she planned to buy her dad new kurta pyjamas, it was high time the torn ones be discarded, she also planned to buy Soham a wrist watch, to help him learn to be on time, and give some amount to the temple. She had also thought she would introduce dad to Soham the day she got the cheque.

When the day finally came, she got the cheque in her hand, Rs. 19,566 it read. She was overjoyed. She wanted to rush to hug dad, but before that she wanted to meet Soham. So they met at the lake. She told him of her plan to introduce him to her dad tomorrow, and took him shopping for dads kurtas.

The next morning, she was abnormally tense, very impatient. She was jittery throughout the day. She went to the terrace in the office, and looked at the clouds. They showed no emotion. She wished they would offer her an answer. But they seemed like they were indifferent. She had been ignoring them for too long now. They were passive to her. She called up Soham, who was busy himself. She decided to go for a cup of chai to her favorite joint across the road.

By the time it was end of day, she could have sworn it was the longest day in her life. She went to meet Soham, who was waiting by the lake. He was carrying the kurtas. She gave him his watch, and he gave her a kiss. They looked each other in the eye, and in that moment all that needed to be said was told. She looked at the clouds, still hoping they would emote. Give her some reaction, it was the happiest day of her life so far.

She walked the lane, holding hands with him gave her reassurance. As she came to the end of the lane, for the first time in her life, she did not see those sparkling eyes waiting for her. Her father was lying on his back. She quickly thought he was fine in the morning.. Something must be wrong. She gave Soham a glance, and ran towards her father, worried.

The clouds were not emotionless. They were in mourning.

She sat down and hugged him, tears flowing down her eyes. If she had a choice, she would never let go of that hug. Hold it forever. Forever…

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