She was running, almost always, whenever I did see her. I had once joked that it almost seemed like she was playing Leonardo’s character from the movie “Catch me if you can”. She had told me that her legs hated the slow seemingly monotonous movement we commonly refer to as walking. To walk made her feel like she was lagging behind and then a moment would come when she would stop, thankfully, to sit or to sleep as the case maybe.
A meeting, a deadline, a marathon, a health check were the times when I usually ran. I particularly hated the activity and the only pretty part was when the frosty wind hit my face during the winter months. It used to be my only incentive to accompany her on this ridiculous activity when I was asked, or no dragged, maybe bullied even to join.
One evening, catching her in one of those”slow-stopped” moments of her life when she was reading, I came close to asking my flatmate on what compelled her to run always and why. Bira stared right through me as though looking for someone else and I lost her as usual. It had been four months into the arts fellowship program where we were both introduced to our yellow room, which would be our abode for the next one year.
My writing usually kept me busy, which is why I seldom had time to interact and get to know her better. She used to be occupied with her painting which had a lot of red and charcoal as part of her work. But the late night to early morning stretch was when we would acknowledge each other, equally exhausted, but mentally fresh to engage.
One night, when we were both drained by a day of excessive creativity, she insisted on going for a run near the corniche, I resisted. Either we both talk about ourselves while we run or do neither. I had her at that. She relented but decided on a very peculiar exercise and request. For every event she would narrate from her life, I had to compose some lines capturing the essence of her feelings and emotions as I interpreted, instantaneously.
Despite her grave demeanor, I agreed to her request, almost too eagerly. Anything to sharpen and test my writing skills was graciously acceptable and so she started her monologue.
It was a chance meeting at a gathering of a common colleague from work. He looked like the conventional tall, dark, handsome type of men. He had let her speak first after which little she remembers hearing her own voice. “You see, it’s the conversation that made it work for me”, said Bira. According to her, there had been many who held their charm in their talk but there had not been one among the other gender who had kept Bira on her toes like Umar had. To me, she made Umar sound like he was general knowledge served with a seasoning of wit. They started meeting with increasing frequency and months would have gone by with dates ending at the Cinderella hour. But as Bira claimed, it was Umar’s talk and not the meals which was the ‘food for thought’.
Her description of Umar only reflected Umar’s ability to gauge her in a way that had kept her completely hooked and I could safely concur that this was the very first time Bira had experienced such ardent love for someone.
Since centuries, love is the most spontaneous thing to happen to anyone. However, in this day and age the mind interferes with shameless right in every decision of the heart. Though you can argue that love is pure but how much ever you may think of it as a calculated risk, be sure it will surprise you. For even now, we all yearn for true love even now. In this commercial world where people are quick to change love as the latest color of the season Bira bet her bottom dollar on Umar.
I smile at this thought as I picture Umar from her account. Such emotions and situations could only bring these words to my mind and on paper;
I go in circles. Corners I can’t find.
It has found me. What was always mine.
He came as an autumn breeze but all my seasons he has now become.
Bira smirked at me and remarked that the last line was apt in describing what her life had become back then. She continued and went on to describe the days, weeks and months with Umar leading to their marriage. With the blessings of both Christ and Allah, they said their vows and exhibited their bond with rings. Nothing could be more beautifully described than this day by Bira and while she did, her eyes glistened with crystal, whether happy or sad, I could not gather. Umar gave Bira his mother’s ring, a darling piece of tradition and time to adorn her fingers as it had been his mother’s last wish. But as luck would have it, it did not fit Bira’s finger. Yet, not wanting to ruin the sanctity of the moment, she took the ring and put it in her chain and told him that precious memories are not fitted to the current times, they are made to fit as they are.
To my mind, greedy Bira had only yearned to complete the occasion on that beautiful day and so I was quick to pen;
We are a knot.
It binds some – releases some.
A befitting ring he gave. It didn’t like my finger though.
I made it my hearts guardian. Every beat now is his and only his.
“I wore the ring or rather the ring wearied me”, Bira nodded in agreement. So happy was I with my remarkable literary writing prowess that I ignored her words intent. With the first break of dawn, the yellow hit her face and we both stood watching the white waters as they came running to us escaping the sun’s first rays. Bira shared her fascination for the inanimate nature almost wishing to be like the waves which would never fail from reaching the shore and then subsume in the brown sea ahead. “Well, at least that has an end”, she sighed. It was only now I could see the tense emotions behind the silent face.
But I got nothing more that day and she laughed that I was a true conjurer of words. Notwithstanding the hundred questions I had to ask, she did not relent and ran along to our lodgings, too fast and too brisk for me to catch up with her as usual.
Bira and I had varied backgrounds. She had never gone to college before and had been married rather early. I had travelled all over the world and had completed my education with majors twice over and now a fellowship to nurture my creative writing. But I also am a very guarded and secluded person. After all my travels and experiences, ironically I am still old fashioned when it comes to love. Perhaps this is why I could never indulge in meaningless dates and casual intercourse was too much of an emotional gamble I ever could participate in. Even if I do meet someone, ‘potentially for being all my seasons in life’, I could never have it in me to think of anyone else. But Bira was different.
Though Bira may choose not to reveal but her artwork and paintings attempt to narrate her past. They scream of red; sometimes of protest, sometimes of love, making it hard to interpret what exactly it revealed. But then there were many shades and much meaning to each of them. The same red which sparked the magic of togetherness could be darkened to echo voices of bitterness, shouts and anger.
One night I waited for dawn and then followed Bira on the dreary morning run only eager to silence the questions in my head. I caught her standing at the corner of the very steep end of the pier overlooking the vast waters around. She turned almost at once, sensing my presence, looked at me piercingly with those reddened eyes and burst into tears. I instantly knew what I was going to hear would not be pleasant.
“It is almost as if I had to be a part of everything he did”, Bira cried out loud.
Everything in her life had to include Umar and vice versa.His friends, office peers, distant family all knew Bira. “I feel like I was in his world for much longer and so lost sight of my own”, said Bira.
But then Umar could not have been a part of her world she sighed. Her father had not approved of their inter-faith relationship and there was nothing that she could do about it. Giving her father the veto to vote for her partner was not a way with her and so Bira went ahead, leaving her father, the one man whom she was closest to, for another.
I must confess I was rather surprised by her decision. Bira did not come across as such a radical and that she would harbor the courage for such fierce decisions was rather unexpected. That day I also realized that jealousy is not a vice found only in women. Umar had not approved of Bira conversing with me as she disclosed to me. I was caught off guard by Umar’s overt insecurity, since I harbored only intrigue and concern and nothing else for Bira,but then I concluded that jealousy is a feeling very common to lovers which eventually matures to meaningful concern.
Days and hours went as they were thereafter. Then it all began with misplacing the chain, which had ‘the’ ring…
I felt bad for Bira, who had overturned everything in her room, the hall, my room to find it; almost sure it would be somewhere close, waiting to be found. I helped her in the hunt and on back tracking her usual morning run path, we found it lying near the edge of the rocks, surprisingly not washed away by the waters. She almost found back her breath and gladly took the chain with the ring,and placing it on her neck ran back, almost too immediately.
I think I spotted a red scar on her neck or maybe I had imagined it. Back in the flat, I could only confirm this shade of red and others now showing clearly on her arms, wrists and ankles. She would not answer my questions and only mentioned that silence was good for everyone’s peace. Concerned for Bira, I had made up my mind to speak to Umar in order to remove any suspicions concerning my involvement with her. I had absolutely no interest to be a thorn in a loving marriage and was hopeful that once I had spoken to Umar things would improve for Bira.
I also shared another friend’s room for that night and for the next couple of days to give Bira and Umar the space to sort out their differences. Her life narratives and events had distracted me enough from my term papers and I had to close myself to get some serious writing in place.
Words in red were waiting for me back in my room. I had gone back to my room to collect some reading material that I required and there in the middle of my room I read these words scribbled on an easel;
Ring won’t fit, the chain won’t break.
Fate is now blood red.
It had to be her’s without a doubt. Bira’s easel, her strokes, her words, her ring and her chain; staring at me and now seem to be mocking at my indifference. I immediately enquired about her absence with the professors, peers and anyone who may have known her.
The authorities having no information on her whereabouts contacted Umar and he stormed into the college only to accuse me of being responsible for Bira’s absence. He alleged that I had intruded in their marriage which once a beautiful relationship had turned to a knotted affair. Instead of being ashamed at his cowardly behavior, Umar accused me of luring Bira towards myself and also of stealing their symbol of love (i.e.the chain with the ring) and many such baseless claims involving Bira and I.
I wondered how such unfounded suspicion, aroused from meaningless incidents had sown such an outrageous tale. Shocked at Umar’s audacity I walked out, out of the room, out of the building and finally ran, ran to those very white waves that Bira used to flee to.
There are times when you look back and question how it all lead to this for Bira. This was one such time. How much should a person tolerate and adjust in the name of ‘love’. And does ‘love’ wither just like the seasons. Though even spring returns every year then can lost love ever find its summer.
It is not enough to start loving a person. The relationship has to be grown, be nurtured, and be built. Jealousy or suspicion has its roots in fear which breeds from lack of trust. But why it should be difficult to trust someone you ardently love, I wonder. Does this very love cause the mistrust? From baring your innate nature to then living in an eclipsed reality. From telling all to telling none. This red of love and the red of hate; how easy to be either by shadowing the other. I shudder at the thought.
I pictured Bira at this moment. Bira who had harbored immense grit to leave not once, but twice a significant man from her life. The past times caught up with me and I could almost hear her voice asking for my lines to her narrative. To her then my last regular rhyme;
Rare the sun that smiled at me, had me believe what I want to see
But its sparkle shone so bright that I was blinded only to thee
And now these questions don’t cease, moments don’t freeze.