I remember the first time we met. I was nervous, like always. You smiled from across the street and I was at ease again. I remember the first fight, on the same day, right after I got home. There was something very familiar about the way you walked, always ahead of me. Something about the way you talked, your tone always imposing and opinion unwavering. Something about the way you always tilted your head back after the first puff from the cigarette.
I generally like open-minded men, who are attentive towards what the other person has to say. Men with accommodating minds, who realize that there can be different ways to view the same things. I cannot tolerate cigarette smoke. That should have been the last meeting really. But somehow, I was drawn. One afternoon had changed everything I believed I knew about myself.
We were sitting on a bench by the Baghbazar Ghat, one Saptami afternoon, when you pointed out to a launch in the distance and tried to predict where it was going. I wished I was on it, with you. You took my hand and drew a map on my palm, trying to acquaint me with the city I lived in but never explored. I uttered, “I used to be daddy’s princess,” staring out into the distance. You said “And maybe that’s why you don’t trust men anymore.” I wish I’d understood what you meant.
You were the kind of man girls are warned about. Confident, irreverent, with an angel face kept ready for just when you needed it. I thought I could handle it. I had met with several others who had mastered the art of playing with feelings. I never fell for their sweet words. But I still fell for you, that day when you took me around the city; my first launch ride, aimlessly walking through markets and sitting under a tree at Maidan, chatting. I talked a lot, but didn’t really say what I needed to, to impress you. I didn’t realize that you would haunt me every time I went back to those places which made up the spirit of my city. All of this city was suddenly about you, and I was falling in love with it too.
The fights were violent, soul-sucking. We broke up, just to run back to each other again. You needed support; you needed someone… but not necessarily me. I guess you didn’t take me seriously when I told you how rarely I develop feelings for anyone. You see, I’ve always lived like this, on my own. I enjoy solitude. It’s not very often that I feel like breaking out of my bubble to enjoy the company of someone else. I stay single for long periods of time. I don’t date actively, like I probably should. In your life, women come and go. Perhaps that’s why you could read me so well. So well, that it scared me.
Remember the first time we broke up? And how you wished me on Christmas a few months later? You were never the one to worry about social niceties. But we talked till late that night, with me trying hard to pretend I could be a cool friend who had left the past behind. And then we finally met up at the Book Fair. I found you that book you were fervently looking for. Remember how I joked (or wished) I was your lucky charm? You don’t? But I do. I also remember a little girl and her mother staring at us as you tried to convince me why your litchi ice-cream tasted better than the orange one I had chosen. You wouldn’t stop talking about that one friend who didn’t know the Hindi word for ‘potol.’ I was laughing inside at how hard to tried to be an adult when your eyes kept glinting at the sight of all the books. Closeted nerd, that’s what I thought of you. I had no idea I wouldn’t see you again for a long time.
I was easing back into my usual lifestyle. Books and TV show reruns, occasional display of culinary skills and a sad attempt at writing a novel. I was content and at peace, till I received that call from you. You were drunk, pleading me to give you another chance. I asked you to sleep on it, since I was pretty sure you’d change your mind the next morning. Remember how hard I laughed? I wasn’t making fun of your slurred apology. I realized that your voice had shattered my defenses again.
We started meeting up again. I still remember that first hug. I remember how you stayed up late one night fighting heavy eyelids because I needed to talk about things that really made no sense. I will never forget how you came to see me in the middle of your final year exams. I don’t know if you had any selfish designs for any of it, but I want you to know that these moments really mean a lot to me and I can’t thank you enough. The last day I saw you, you were messed up. I had never seen you so frustrated before. It was a hectic phase, you told me. For all the times I had made my friends feel better, I could not come up with a single word that could help you. Believe me, I have never felt so helpless as I did that moment sitting beside you on the jaded park bench. I just sat there hugging your arm. If I knew it was the last time, I would have held you tighter. I would have talked a lot more.
I would have…
Now as I sit in my room writing this, I can see it all. I see why your presence felt so familiar. The smell of your skin, slightly infused with that of cigarette smoke, that demeanor, that way of walking or talking… I have known it all my life. I had been my daddy’s princess; I tried to be your princess too. If 21 years of trying couldn’t help me meet my father’s expectations, what hope did I ever have with you? It’s clear: I wasn’t what you needed. Maybe you didn’t know it yourself. I held on to you, unconsciously, hoping to find the emotional satisfaction I never received from my father. But now I will walk away: A calculated decision. I finally realize that my dad has been the reason I shudder every time I hear the word ‘home.’
And I can’t let you play that game all over again.