I look at my reflection in the mirror. I see the serene body lying in front of me, smiling beatifically in a dream in some far-away realm–sans a care in the world. She’s been my wife these seven-and-thirty years, this beautiful woman here, sleeping like a baby as I watch over her…
I’ve always been fascinated by the magic a little time spent in quiet reflection is capable of conjuring. My current reverie takes me back to the time I’d first met her in college. She was strikingly beautiful with hazel eyes, raven tresses, a little nose and lips like a rose in bloom that housed the most charismatic smile in the world. With skin like honey and perfectly balanced features she was the desire of many a heart. She chose me above the rest, though I was neither half as handsome as some of her admirers nor a quarter as wealthy…only luckier!
Once tied to me in holy matrimony, she blessed my world with bliss I scarce knew existed. From a boy of scant consequence, she helped me metamorphose into a man of considerable affluence and discernment—a man of substance, as they say.
The picture was not always so rosy or even conspicuous for that matter. There was a phase when I had deemed her the greatest impediment of my life–a time when my conduct by her was so gross; it can barely pass for human. I had lacerated her both physically and emotionally.
I took a fancy to another woman, filed for divorce and for the custody of our two children, moved out of the house, and left her bereft of any support – pecuniary or otherwise – in the frailty of health of an advanced stage of a pregnancy I knew to be complicated enough to claim her life. I shudder with self abhorrence every time I remember the brutality of my heinous act. I can never forget the anxiety and regret that had gripped me once my delusions faded and reality sunk in – smiting my consciousness, reprimanding my conscience for my gruesomely abysmal demeanour! I lost four precious years in the transit. I was overwhelmed when her magnanimity pulled me out of the purgatory for promiscuous decadence I had landed myself in, and ushered me into life. We annulled our divorce and crossed the threshold of connubial felicity—a journey of many a memorable mile…
She stirs not, my darling! I’ve never witnessed such tranquil as her silent sleep exudes. The more I look at her, the more overcome I am by a yearning to embrace her. I check myself lest I perturb her repose. “Thirty-seven years”, I say aloud. “Thirty seven years you have been by my side…unwaveringly. You’ve been my beacon, my strength, my guardian angel, my saviour, my redeemer, my best friend… You’ve never let me down. You’ve forgiven my worst excesses. You’ve channelled an unruly me into a humane me. I’ve done nothing to deserve you…I just want to tell you that…that I love you, I treasure you, I…”, I falter. An old song stirs in my memory. Never have lyrics been so apt, a heart so feeling, a soul so touched…
You’re my bread when I’m hungry
You’re my shelter from troubled winds
You’re my anchor in life’s ocean
But most of all, you’re my best friend
She’s my muse. I’m not sure if she knows… She has always urged me to move forward, make mistakes, stumble, learn, get up, walk, jog, run… She taught me to loosen my moorings and leave the familiar shores in quest of horizons unknown. I did not always succeed. I was not meant to, for, she said, “For every time you fail, you surely know what not to do in the future, though you might still not discern what to. Failure should be no taboo for not only will it make your success sweeter when it finally comes, but will also show future generations how to hoodwink lethal perils that await them in the open deeps. So you see, every failure is an act of philanthropy, really.” I smile at her as I recollect her recounting her home-grown wisdom on a bleak evening when I was so dejected by a string of failures that I had almost given up.
She had more faith in me than I had in myself. Her belief triumphed when, embroiled in the mesh of failure and propelled solely by her conviction, I one day struck success. Astounding, scintillating, brilliant success! I chuckle at the remembrance. From that fateful day, I have endeavoured to outdo what I did the previous day, taking for my dictum what she had once told me, “You may succeed in creating something or may not, but the eco system that your efforts construct around you will have intangible effects that, though not recorded anywhere, will surely make a difference to you and to the world. It might be paltry, it might be intangible, but some difference there shall certainly be!”
Serendipity personified, her placidity imparts a quiet strength to me. There are turbulent storms lurking somewhere within my breast, foraging for a vent to break forth in their fury…they find none, for, every time I feel the turmoil rising, I drink in comfort by gazing at her. Such peerless beauty, such magnificence, so luminous an aura! Oblivious of all this admiration, my lady sleeps – unperturbed.
Unable to contain my feelings anymore, I lay down next to her and embrace her like I’d never let go of her. I call to the heavens to freeze this moment for perpetuity—a blessed moment when in her deepest slumber she lays wrapped in my arms…our moment of pristine togetherness when oblivious of everything else, I am her universe, she mine…
A bell chimes somewhere in the distance, the sound gets closer. Groggy-eyed, I shake away the cobwebs that hang low on my mind—clouding my perception. I am cold, stiff. I look around. She looks cold and stiff too. The chimes are repeated—impatiently, almost frenetically. It is the doorbell. I make haste to answer it. Before I leave the room, I turn around to take one last look at my heaven-sent grace before my world transforms.
I limp to the door. It is my oldest daughter. Anguish writ clearly on every line of her face, she breaks into sobs as she hugs me. “The others are on their way,” she stammers, implying her siblings. “It is inconceivable! Whatever happened? I am not able to come to terms with it,” she says between hiccups. Not waiting for me to respond, she sprints to our bedroom where her mother lies motionless. She lets out a long wail of agony that shatters the floodgates of my difficultly-managed delusion of composure. Unfettered now, my heart pours out its excruciating distress as the full weight of my irredeemable loss falls on me. I am devastated! I wish my heart would stop beating, I wish I would stop drawing breath, I wish I could bid adieu to the physical world with her! My soul asphyxiates with every passing moment. The burden is too much for me to bear. I fall to the ground as my alarmed daughter rushes to my side. I pass out…
I re-gain consciousness to witness a flurry around me. Apprehensive countenances –those of my children, grandchildren, and a couple of strangers –medics I conjecture- surround me. By degrees the reality of my situation dawns on me and I break down. My children console me. “We’re here for you, papa,” they say. Slowly, I gather the charred remains of my fortitude and get to work. Work…ah! she so loves – loved – that word! My wrenched heart almost tears out of my breast as I bid farewell to her. I can never get enough of that last look! A disconsolate me has to be forcefully dragged away from her – as this world witnesses the last of her.
How transient are we! One life is no more than a fistful of sand that insists on slipping out irrespective of the effort employed to contain it. Akin to a bubble, we spring up on one momentous moment and rupture in another. Like a ripple, we are profound where we emanate, we perceptibly grow in size and stature, and then fade away…dissolving and mingling inextricably into the universe we had sprung from. True as a tide, life flows and then ebbs—an immutable decree of an indefatigable cosmos!
I have been mourning for a week now. The children have all left to answer the calls of their duties. I see my reflection in the mirror. The last time I had glimpsed thus, we had both been captured in the image — she was asleep and I had sat beside her. All I can see now is the haggard, woebegone countenance of a gaunt, bedraggled man whose features bear an uncanny resemblance to mine. An unsteady hand hovers about the mirror where she had appeared but seven suns ago. Nothing! I bite my lip to fight the deluge that is effervescing within me. My eyes brimming, my spirit superfluous with emotion, I duel with my pain. I curb those tears, nip those emotions and lie numb on my bed.
Sleep has evaded me since the day she had slept snuggled in my embrace. Ever since, I have lain on my back staring into oblivion with vacant eyes. I have but one question for anyone who would care to entertain me: We began on a sacrosanct journey together. We became one soul and one flesh. We traversed through life together – hand-in-hand. We’d been equal partners to life’s travails and ecstasies. Why then have we been so brutally severed at a juncture where one needs the other so crucially and more than ever! A ripe age is no time to practice hardiness.
Crippling a soul at a time its abode – the body- is wrecked and splintered is a cruel mockery perpetrated on hapless beings by life and its author. Age and tensility are inversely related. Yet age is compelled to endure the most heart-rending of agonies where a soul is chafed asunder when its companion of many years is forcibly wrenched away—leaving in its wake a pain nothing but death can alleviate…
A new day dawns. My tired eyes incessantly rove around—they are looking for something… someone. They know their search is futile… yet they persist in their quest. My old ears strain themselves to hear certain sounds they have been wont to harken all these years. At times they do hear something. I startle only to realise it was my imagination. I have no appetite, but I eat. I have no wish to live, but I continue to breathe…
Six months ago this day I had sat before this mirror admiring the reflection of one who had lain sleeping on this bed, on this very spot where I now sit. These six months have overhauled everything — my world-view included. From a despondent man with little strength to live on, I now aim at becoming a stronghold for those of scanty might. I foster hope, I generate smiles. My house is open to anyone in need and ever since word about this got out, I have never been the sole inmate. A young widow and her two little sons were the first to seek refuge. Two young girls – orphans – came next. Someone brought in an infant – scarcely a month old – that had been abandoned under a tree in a park. We are now a family. The children all go to school and call me ‘grandpa’. The young woman calls me ‘father’. She looks after the infant and helps the housekeeper in her tasks. Our home has an air of felicity about it. We celebrate life. When my children and grandchildren visit us, our joys are compounded.
Today, I am content. I smile. I look forward to tomorrow. I remember my wife and the time we spent together. I beam at the recollection. I close my eyes. I can feel her beatific smile touch my soul… There is a knock on my door. I open my eyes to see a little cherub step in. He takes me by the hand and lisps, “Come on grandpa, it’s time for dinner and for the story of the five little bears you promised us yesterday”.