Flashback to when I was five, she was eight.
There was always a warm hand to hold while walking to the school bus stop. At the stop, we would split. She would tittle-tattle with her friends, three years elder to me, and I with mine. When the bus comes, we would climb into it after a quick glance at each other. Just to make sure. In the evenings, back home, we would kneel on the toilet seat cover to gaze at a web of trees and a convocation of eagles outside the window. All the time scanning the road for a blue Bajaj scooter with dad in the driver’s seat and mom in the pillion. Between then and dinner, there would mostly be a fight. Swollen scratches, half moon-nail marks, high-octane screeches and loads of tears. An hour later, we would be in the couch, hands intertwined, shoulder touching shoulder, thigh touching thigh, wrapped in a cozy throw, to watch the mind-scarring Hindi series called Zee Horror Show. During bedtime, in the pitch darkness of the night, as we lie snuggled between mom and dad, she would imitate the blood-dripping, floating-white, sometimes faceless, ghosts of the Show, reducing me into a ball of shivering nerves.
Years pass by…
Schools change, friends change, States change. We find ourselves in a newness that we discuss late at night in our bedroom. There is no more holding hands to bus stops. We ride to school on bikes. Hers follows mine. Back home, we shush each other, trying hard to study for next day’s test, settling in corners of the room, stealing some privacy. Fights get more verbal, and dry. No one cries, but someone writes an apology letter and slips it under the door for the other to read. And slowly, the dance classes and drawing classes become things of the past. Now, leisure time is used on Sydney Sheldon books and chats on Yahoo Messenger. Soon, we, just the two of us, start marching out, first to library, then to malls, restaurants and theaters, armed with a cell phone each.
Some more years pass by…
The distance hurts. But time acts as the perfect ointment. From miles and miles apart, she becomes a talking face on the monitor. The night talks are capsuled into 30 minute chats, and the only warmth is from the computer heating up. A series of fortunate events follow, for her. Love, marriage and pregnancy. My niece enters the world. The apple of our eyes, the star of our lives. Life comes a full circle, for, now, every evening, she stands by the window and scans among a web of trees and a clutter of sparrows for a red car with her mom in the driver’s seat. On my visits, I stand next to her, and softly take her hand into mine… only to feel the same heart-melting warmth from 25 years ago.
The original illustration is by TapocheG.