Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Love Story: Fourth & Final Installment

Bluestocking's Note: To read the story from start to end, click here. This is the final installment.

The boy found her at quarter to six, in a musty room of the ugly, solid building that was the government school.

She was at the desk, with a pile of notebooks and an even bigger one on the table. A pen – one of those that had two different coloured tips at two ends, red and blue – dangled between her fingers. She was humming to herself.

It was dark without and the single light bulb far above her head was lit. But the light had to travel such a long distance that it gave up midway. So, she practically sat in a pool of semi darkness, with yellow light hovering over her, like some distant sun.

He knocked timidly.

“You are early”, she said, without moving her head. “Come in and sit.” Her voice was brisk but not entirely unkind.

The boy walked into the room and stood in front of her.

“You are blocking my light. Move. Go and sit.”

The boy’s face broke into a half-smile as he looked up at the light high above her.

Gathering his courage, he mumbled, “I am here.”

“So I can see. Give me a few minutes of peace. Go, sit. Now.”

Wearily, he shuffled to the nearest chair and sat down, with his eyes firmly fixed on the ground.

He was here purely out of curiosity. And out of a driving need for respite from his own torturous helplessness.

“Why do you want to save that building?”

Her blunt question caught him by surprise. His helplessness returned with a rush that was almost violent. He jerked a little but did not look up. His lips compressed into a thin line. His jaws clenched with the effort it took to not weep like the child he had left behind.

She waited patiently. For one whole minute. “Fine. I’ll leave then.” She gathered her load of notebooks, hefted them in one hand and with the other, slung a battered handbag on her shoulder. She had almost reached the door, when his own inadvertent voice pierced his angry stupor.

“She calls me.” He still did not look up.

“Who calls you?” He looked up now to find her next to him, kneeling on the ground.

“The building.”

“The building?”

“She…” he had no words that could explain. Not any longer. “She just does. And I can’t save her!”

The boy and the woman looked at each other. They were probably trying to say something. Silently. Or may be not. May be they were just struck dumb.

Finally the woman spoke. “Come. Let’s go home.”

The next day, the woman was back at the site. This time, there was a man with her. To the boy’s young eyes, the man was old but younger than the woman. He was lean and somehow seemed very crisp, despite his limp, too big clothes. There was a sharpness about his eyes that undid his entire pretense of being shabby.

The woman caught the boy’s eyes and  beckoned him. The pair had been standing at the entrance of the building, with the now worn notice flapping tiredly in the heat.

When the boy reached the building, the pair simply turned and walked into the building. The boy took it as an invitation to enter as well. He had worshipped, adored her for so long but never had the right to look inside her. And here he was, at last, walking into her.

But it was not a pretty sight inside. The boy had been prepared for that. Cobwebs hanging from dark corners, cracked stairs, tangle of ugly, dusty, exposed electrical wires, the stale smell of neglect. He tried hard to paint her as should be. She could be glorious. Must have been once. He had to believe that or his resolve would begin to waver. And then what would he be left with?

Ahead of him, the man and woman had climbed the stairs to the first floor. The cubbyholes in which entire families had once lived, were now empty. They walked into one of them, unchallenged, though a few workers squatting in one corner of the floor, followed them with watchful eyes.

The boy had now caught up with the older pair, who were examining somewhere close to the window in the far wall. The boy took note of the room. An entire and possibly large family must have lived here. That did not surprise him. That is how his own family lived back in the village.

One wall was almost entire black from smoke. Another had a patch of lighter, cleaner, electric blue oil paint as compared to the rest of the peeling, dirty wall. Clearly, some kind of furniture had occupied that space. But frankly, it was all hideous. Where was the beauty, he knew, his sweetheart possessed? It had to be here. Somewhere. Anywhere.

The boy began to feel a little frantic, desperate and claustrophobic.

The man called him to the far wall, he had been inspecting with the woman.

When the boy reached them, the man pointed at something close to the perfunctory, boarded window.
“You see this here,” the man said. “It was once a beautiful, latticed window. See these criss-crossing lines. These must have taken a great amount of skill once. Some fool broke the delicacy and put up this monstrosity in its place.” With these words, the man spun on his heels and left the room.

The boy stood there, entranced. With wondrous reverence, he traced the fragile lines of the lattice. Then he spread out his palm. The filtered sunlight created shadowed lines over the lines etched into his hand.

The woman called his name. She was waiting for him. “Let’s go. My work today is done.”

For the next few days, the boy did not hear from the supervisor’s wife. On the fifth day after his short venture inside the building, the woman returned with the same man. But this time, an elderly man accompanied them. He looked familiar to the boy. When the woman called the boy to her side, he recognized the elderly man. He was one of the officials – the one with a bigger desk – who had shooed him away from the municipal corporation.

The two men were talking animatedly.

“This can’t be possibly true. Again”, the official was saying.

“It is a fact. Something that I can prove”, the man replied. “You have to stop the destruction of a heritage site. It was….”

The boy’s heart went into an overdrive. He missed out the rest of the conversation. By the time, he realized that. The official was ready to leave.

“I cannot do anything.” The elderly official was irate. “The transaction is completely legal. The government cannot do anything unless you can prove what you are saying is true. You are making quite a habit of this, I must say. I suggest you approach the courts once again. Like the last time you made similar claims.” With these parting words, the official left.

“And we will do exactly that. Just like last time”, the man shot back.

The boy looked hopefully at the faces of the older pair, who were now completely ignoring him, so engrossed were they in their quiet discussion. But the suspense was too great for the boy. He finally interjected. “But what does this mean? Will she live?”

The man looked the boy in the eye. “I think she will have a reprieve. At the very least. And then who knows? Now, get back to work.”

When the boy left, happy, assured and hopeful, the man winked at the woman and gave her a cheeky grin.

The woman looked merely satisfied.

The building did get a reprieve. In fact, the reprieve was longer than the time boy actually spent in the city finally. It still stands, equally dilapidated, still beautiful in some shy, dank, unexpected corners.
I was first told about it, when I was a child. My grandmother had once told me about the love a boy had for an old, decrepit building. And then one day, she had taken me for a visit.

She still waits for him”, she had said. “That is why she does not collapse on herself.”

“Why doesn’t he return?” I had asked with the solemn curiosity of a five year old.

My grandmother did not answer. Not that time. Not ever. She simply sighed, with an unreadable expression on her face. An expression that I deciphered many, many years later.

It was the expression of sorrow’s acceptance, a content resignation and an infinitesimal twinge of regret. For love stories that remain incomplete.

The end.

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