A man – two decades older than the woman he’s lost his heart to – thinks about her often, and he remembers her now as he recuperates from an asthmatic attack in a hospital bed.
Andrea and Sree don’t live together, nor did they ever – but her memories stay in the safe of his thoughts, rarely dormant as he triggers them from time to time. The memories become her and he can deal with them.
A virgin, he never kissed a girl. Perhaps he didn’t want to, as life’s inadequacies numbed him to women. It never became a distraction so to speak, until Andrea came from seven seas away like a lively breeze, disarraying him. He was drawn to her without making it known, for their age was still an issue, his financial instability another.
She was a brunette with a natural tan, her walk carried a charm, and when she kicked in the air she made it clear she was a karate black belt. She spoke freely, her word matching intention – and though she found a friend in Sree, her eyes sought for the man of her dreams. She couldn’t guess she’d become an angel of somebody’s dreams.
Clear blue skies stretched to the hours of the evening. The streets were beginning to swell as dusk approached. He waited outside her apartment, which she didn’t know, and he liked it that way for he didn’t want to send a wrong signal, as their friendship was flourishing. He arrived there an hour before they were to meet, finding a corner at the bottom of the stairs to her apartment, which was on the first floor. He imagined how she’d climb the steps, one foot at a time, the smell of her fragrance trailing her. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, and sneezed, and checked his pockets for Asthalin. The inhaler was there.
She came down at 5 sharp.
“You just got here?”
“Yes, just now. How are you?”
They stood in the middle of the sidewalk, blocking pedestrians; him lost in her. She pulled him aside and shouted, “Cafe Coffee Day?” over the cacophony of noises building in the street.
“Yes. Let me get an auto-rickshaw.”
Minutes later, they arrived at the cafe, ordered their drinks and sat opposite each other in a cozy corner by the window.
“Somebody’s proposed to me.”
A truck whooshed by, outside, scattering dust in the humid May of Delhi, that the window they sat by became a glass of fog hindering their view. Sree took a while to gather himself.
“Nice. Who’s this lucky guy?” His throat choked, and he sipped from his iced coffee swallowing the news down, as dust settled outside.
“A good looking man. Looks a lot like my ex-boyfriend, with chiseled jawline.”
“Is that enough? You should talk to him, you see, as intellect and demeanor should top her list when a pretty girl says yes to a proposal.”
“And physical attraction?”
“Temporary it is. What stays is not jawline.”
That night Sree’s heart beat faster. He rolled in bed as reality assaulted him. He clenched his fists, leaped off the bed, and raced to the bathroom. In the mirror he saw that his hair was grey and wispy, and his jawline blurred. He opened the tap and splashed water in his eyes, then pulled his cheeks in to see if he looked good as he stared back in the mirror. Stressed, he thought about intellect and demeanor, took a pill for hypertension and retired to bed.
Seasons passed by, and Andrea got busy, as she traveled back to the US to meet her family. But for Sree, memories of the time spent with her healed his aching heart, but the same memories made him long for her when she was back in his city. It troubled him if she was dating someone, but he chose not to know or worry, for he was glad he was loyal to her and memories.
Next week they were scheduled to meet again. It was raining.
The thick pouring of rough drops hurt him as he stood in the corner by the stairs hoping the rain might stop. He could have moved some feet away to be under a shade, but worried that if she walked down and didn’t see him she might climb back up to never return. He hoped, which exhilarated him, that she was also longing for him secretly. Water dripped from his clothes.
“By the time I reached here 5 minutes ago I was already wet. I forgot my umbrella, you see,” he told her.
“You want to go home and change?”
“Not at all. I’m fine. I’ll be. It’s only rain, you see.”
Later when they were at the cafe, though water stopped dripping, he was wet. And sipping her hot chocolate, she said, “He’s taking me to Agra. I’m so excited about Taj Mahal.”
Sree blew his nose out into his kerchief, and sneezed. The air-conditioner in the cafe chilled him and he sneezed again. He looked around and massaged his chest, then throat, and was glad that Andrea’s attention was fixed on a text she just received. When his breaths became shorter, he ran his hand in his pockets for Asthalin, which he covered with his kerchief before bringing it to his mouth to breathe the puff in. When Andrea looked back at him, he said, “Can both of us go to Taj Mahal?”
“You must be kidding.”
“No I’m not. I’m serious, you see,” he said, holding his breath.
He took another puff with apparent difficulty and grabbed his chest.
“Sree, you don’t seem okay. You have asthma? Shall I call an ambulance.”
“Yes please. It’s an attack,” he said, and shrunk in his chair.
Two days later in the hospital bed he asked the nurse if the girl who brought him there was around. “She never came back,” the nurse said.
“She must have gone to see Taj Mahal, you see. Hopefully alone.”