a piece of paper

Coming back from Lahore, he handed me a slip of paper. “you don’t have to read it now but it might come handy when you are writing a story”  I looked at the folded piece of paper and then looked at him. He was already looking out the window where the ever changing scenery was running parallel to the train tracks. I put the paper in my purse and forgot about it.

I had known him since my childhood and disliked everything about him mostly because of his sneaky nature. Why he was living with us is a different story for some other time. When I was nine or ten, he used to send ambiguous messages to one of my cousins through me with strict instructions to deliver the message when she was alone.  At that time I didn’t think much about it but as I grew older and wiser, these messages also became rare, then completely stopped or maybe he found some other channel.  By the by I forgot all about it but that day, when he handed me that note, my memory started opening a long forgotten page.  There definitely was going on something between them. I thought. Maybe, was even now …!  Many mental pictures, images, situations started popping up in front of my eyes.

I looked at him again. He was sitting  in the same position … leaning against the window and looking out at the fast receding trees, fields, small villages etc. Soon the train’s rhythmic movement lulled me to close my eyes and  doze off.  When next I opened my eyes, it was my sister telling me to wake up,  our train had arrived to our destination.  I had already forgotten about his note and my images. Moreover, I was young and life had just begun with all its ever changing – sometimes enticing sometimes disappointing – scenario. Who had any spare time to sit down and tire the brains digging out somebody – mean and deceitful as him – and his past.

One day when looking for something and not finding it I emptied my bag on my bed and found not only what I was looking for but that piece of paper too. First I thought to tear it up without opening and take it to the trash bin. Then curiosity took over to see what it was that he thought was good for writing about. It was a couplet and started like …

“lou aaj safar khatm houa ……” (so today it was the end of a journey …)

In two lines he had tried to compose a sad event, a loss … in no way it indicated it  was his personal loss or had anything to do with him – affecting him in any way … It was obvious he didn’t want any one reading these lines to think it had anything to do with him personally.

I was nine year old once again.

We were going to her house in the evening. He called and asked me to bring a glass of water for him. I went to him with a glass of water. He gave me a folded piece of paper – told me to tie it in my hand kerchief and remember to give it to her, but only when no one was around. when I was leaving he suddenly held my shoulder forcefully. Don’t tell anyone about it. His eyes were bulging with menace. I obeyed his orders.

Our school happened to be situated near her house. If we went through her house, the distance was shortened by half a mile. So every morning going to school and every evening coming from school, we would cut through her house. I became his personal messenger for two years.

During these two years things happened, some making sense, some going beyond my apprehension.  Like sending the messages but when visiting them with the family, he pretending and behaving like he was there just tagging along with the family … not even looking in her direction.

Messages stopped. I moved to another school. But once in a while we would still go to her house. She never asked anything about him but was   always happy, always smiling.

Then she was restless, asking me all kinds of questions about him.  One day I saw her crying.  She would not tell what was wrong.

Our family was approached by her family. They wanted him to marry her but were refused, because she was about four or five year older than him.

Both families snapped their ties with each other.

Heard that in a mosque, she stood all night on one leg – praying.

Heard again sometime later that she was  complaining pain in her right leg and was hospitalized.

Heard about her hospital visits – more hospital visits.

He never showed any averse affects of this news or separation.

Life went on .

He got married to an older woman because it was beneficial to his carrier. He was all set in a comfortable life.

We never saw her or her family again.

The day he gave me the note, we were coming from her house where we had gone for condolences.  She had died the previous night in a hospital.

I had questions, many questions that I had never asked. I could have written a story because, there were no broken lines anymore. I understood what had happened  but instead, slowly and gradually, I removed myself from his sphere. That was all I could do to lessen her pain – now that she was beyond all pains inflicted by that rogue of a person – or was she?

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