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Image by Taylor Smith
Contact but no Connection
Bosom buddies connect after ages. Will they be able to renew their lost friendship? 

Someone pings me a message. While sipping my morning tea, I scroll through it — “Will be going to Delhi on a work trip during this weekend.” A brief one from a dear friend, Ray, who lives in Bangalore where he runs his own IT company. He visits several other places both inside the country and abroad on business and personal trips, but never here.

 

I message back, suddenly awakened from the slumber of our friendship — “Can’t believe we’ll be meeting after ages. Let me know your plans.”

A quick response from him lets out the ravishing flight of joy that know no bounds — “Will spend time together over the weekend.”

“You’ll stay at my place.”

“Done!”

 

I feel his presence even before he lands in my house like petrichor permeates the air before the rain, though two decades of lost connection is a long time.

 

It’s Wednesday when I receive his message. “I need to make all arrangements.” I remind myself repeatedly, placing my hand on the cream-colored, broad-window dimity curtains edged with lace in the guest room, unprepared to receive any visitor. Flurries of dust swirl as I slap the bed cover, removing the debris that shadowed the reminiscences of my childhood days with Ray, an ecstatic resignation to the lively moments spent together — playing, eating, dancing, studying, quarrelling, laughing, crying, consoling, but never separated from each other.

 

Ray is a foodie. He loved to have home-cooked food, specially prepared by my mother. On a rainy day he would yearn for the rich aroma of my mother’s celestial kitchen where she would be preparing the comforting, flavorful kichdi made with rice and lentils, seasoned with a dollop of ghee (clarified butter), cumin seeds, ginger, and asafetida. The warm, savory kichdi would be served along with eggplant and potato fritters, papad (a thin crisp, disc-shaped cake made up of lentils, either deep fried or cooked with dry heat), accompanied by the sweet soul-melting tomato chutney. At the end we would have payesh (rice pudding). It felt like a benediction in the form of a heavenly meal. Looking for a gourmet spread, he would come over often to our house and always returned delighted with my mother’s exceptional culinary skills.

 

Time cascaded into years, and we were destined to follow different paths that never converged. We were in college the last time we met, memories of which remains like a lush, untended garden. The past breathes alive, engulfing me with its heavy emotional precipitation, as tears roll down like water pouring from a bursting rain cloud.

 

A pale, languid demeanor overwhelms me as I try to tidy the room — cleaning the cobwebs at the corners of the ceiling, getting rid of the accumulated dirt on the fan blades, wiping the cupboards, dressing table.

“What’ll he think?” a doubt of unacceptance after a prolonged absence lingers. Will the embers of love generate fire this time or disintegrate like before? How will I broach the possibility of rekindling a lost connection?

 

Next, the air conditioner servicing is done. It’s the beginning of spring with a chill in the air. Perhaps the hugging warmth of emotional quilt will awaken the cherished recollections of togetherness that disappeared under the sea of time. We had once reconnected over social media, beginning a short, nostalgic correspondence that lasted for a couple of months. He didn’t forget me and had been looking for me all those years since our last encounter. I continually liked his photographs which usually had to do with some kind of food in it — the birthday boy eating a creamy chocolate cake gleefully, the boss gobbling up an entire pizza at an office party, the glutton devouring a whole chicken all by himself. But the relationship never developed further, and communication broke off, perhaps realizing that will be like slipping into something that will never be real.

 

I organize the living-cum-dining area, other bedrooms, the kitchen, as well as the chambers of my mind. A constant phenomenon whenever people visit my place — everything is sorted, cleaned, set up within minutes, much like putting together the disjointed parts of a battered, uncared self, sheathed under a colorful make-up.  

 

How wil it be to meet Ray after such a long time? The solemn quiet of all these years will suddenly be broken, an urge to uncover the deep, dark secrets of life — generally not shared with others — will prevail. Will he be the same as in our preteen age? Have the fabrics of his mind altered by his lived experiences as a company’s boss and father of two teenage boys? Are there going to be giggly crushes on each other like our childhood days? Will the reunion bring forth the possibility that there could be something? A probability of a date?

 

I’ve continued to remain the way I was in college. An uneventful life where I started working as a schoolteacher in a distant city after completing my postgraduation, always busy shaping the lives of others, almost forgotten my own in the process, never a complete woman nor a wife. Ray spent a couple of years more in our hometown completing an MBA, following which he got married and shifted to another city. What will we talk about? The secret uncertainty of choosing a path and allowing it to define my life. Will the silence be claimed by the garrulous Ray, or my quiet, reserved self? 

 

At last, the weekend arrives like a dream come true, adding an extra heartbeat, a sprint in my motion. Ray sends the long-expected message on Friday late in the evening that he has already landed in Delhi two days ago and is having a very hectic schedule but is free over the weekend.

 

On the ethereal Saturday morning, I call him up. It’s our first phone call in a very long time.

“Hi!” We both say almost in unison and pause, imagining the providence of fate that has prevented us from being companions in our adult lives, or perhaps long-lost soulmates, unaligned in this lifetime.

“When are we meeting?” I try to remember his face I had last seen nearly eons ago.

“I’ll be free after may be two o’clock in the afternoon. On Sunday evening I’ll go back.”

“Ok. Check out from the hotel and come over to my house.” Reveries of the fragrant, wet grass of our childhood playground, light, and air bloom.

“Hope it won’t be inconvenient to you.” It’s so unlike him. Perhaps life has instilled these changes or choices which I’ll discover once we meet face-to-face for the first time since we were children. Our relationship has been like the sun and the rain — there is contact but great distance between our connection.

“Not at all!” Momentarily, I put a brake to the dancing throng of happiness in my mind.

“Great!” He hangs up.

 

I communicate the live location. It feels as if I’ve developed wings and can fly but not beyond the ceiling of my room. Every cell in my body joyfully quivers with limitless expectations of the moment that we’ll jointly relive our growing-up days.nI set off the day with cooking, as his preference for good food has remained intact with which he has retained the strong emotional association. Though pleasurable, the cooking painfully prolongs beyond measure. After a couple of hours, the food is ready, wafting the fragrance of love and remembrance — comfort of fried rice, affection of lentil soup, satisfaction of mixed vegetable curry, jubilance of chilli chicken, and harmony, essence of rice pudding. The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach — will I find the way? By the time all the preparations are done, it’s almost three in the afternoon.

 

I anticipate that Ray will reach before four o’clock. Seconds dissolve into minutes, and minutes expand into hours, but there’s no sign of him. I try to call but he isn’t reachable like the previous years when he wasn’t available — busy, cocooned in his own familial world.

 

At around seven in the evening, I receive a message from him — “Sorry, the business deal has to be finalized today itself. Tomorrow I’ll be busy with meetings followed by a lunch invitation. I guess we’ll have to wait until next time.” Once again, we are like strangers in this wide world, only we know what magic will unfold once we meet.

 

I had forgottenthe menacing presence of time. It had always played mischief with us, detached us from our roots like an orphaned child, washed us away to new frontiers. As always, we acquiesce to its plans. I sit down to eat the self-made dinner, while emotions rush out of me in a tremendous wave, my salty tears roll out and mingle with the food, as I recollect the bygone crossroads, our past selves, and the road not taken. We have been separated all over again, seemingly forever. A voice murmurs, “Will there be a next time?”   

Image by Kenny Eliason

Sreelekha Chatterjee’s short stories have been published in various magazines and journals like Borderless, The Green Shoe Sanctuary, Usawa Literary Review, Different Truths, Storizen, Five Minutes, 101 Words, BUBBLE, Indian Periodical, The Chakkar, The Hooghly Review, among others and have been included in numerous print and online anthologies such as Fate (Bitterleaf Books, UK), Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul series (Westland Ltd, India), Wisdom of Our Mothers (Familia Books, USA), and several others. She lives in New Delhi, India.

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