With slow paced steps down the road Roohi went back to the cactus and lifted the pot to take it with her. She knew that the plant would not fill the void left by Saabir, but she could feel his presence around him, nevertheless. She promised herself, that she would nurture the plant anyway.
Looking out of her window at the grey skies of a winter morning, she reminisced her few years she spent away from her parents. For five years she had been facing the wrath of her elderly husband in a small town close by. For years she was yearning for the affection of someone familiar, someone that she could belong to. When she was blessed with a little angel, she thought her life would, somehow, find a meaning. But that was not to be. Having a girl child, first, in the family was deplorable and therefore, the signs of any ill omen on the proud pathan family was to be eliminated. The baby girl was merely three days old when, in a fit of fury, she was thrown into the village well. Roohi was devastated, more so, because she was physically and emotionally too weak to confront her burly husband and his vile family.
How could she ever forget the day she was married into this family? As she entered the broad gate of the family home, she discovered a new life far from her humble abode she had left. The verandah was wide and open, with halls as vast as the streets in her village. Here she was to make a new beginning and shape her dreams. However, time tested her and soon she began dreading and fearing everyone around her including her husband. Now that she was left with no meaning to her life, after her child was killed, the whole house looked like a morgue. Often she would hear her child’s cries mingled with her screams and would wake up at night perturbed. As her entry was ceremonious in the family, her exit was not. She was coerced to leave since a lovely 16 year old as the ‘new bride’ had now, taken her place.
* * * * *
Roohi woke up from her daydream, now, to realize that it was time for her to slide into the reality she had been facing ever since she came back from her husband’s house a decade ago. For days, weeks, months and years now, she had been re-living each day of her dreadful past without as much as a sob. Her mother saw her quietly walk out of the door. Roohi took the steps to the road uphill she had been most familiar with all these years. She knew that her sunsets were still waiting for her. Of everything that had left her life in the last few years, these sunsets were her only constant. Watching the sun go down she would keep wishing that better days would emerge from the horizon. Her nightmares continued, nevertheless.
It was the day the annual village fair was to commence. She could see a giant wheel wheezing away from afar. She had heard how this year a modern, new ride was to be introduced. She imagined how Saabir’s childlike eyes would have lit up every time the annual fairs introduced something new every few years. That instant she felt her heart ache for him. She wished if Saabir could magically turn up, now. But then, she had been wishing this for many years altogether. Roohi soaked in the sunset, closed her eyes to breathe in the breeze when she heard a faint voice calling out her name. ‘Roohi, is that you?’
There he was. Standing tall and handsome in a bright new kaftan. His eyes shone the familiar blue. Roohi took two steps ahead and then paused for a while, remembering just then that she was perhaps far away from Saabir now. There was too much silence between them for all these years. What could she say to him that would turn time? How would she make herself reach out, standing two steps away from him, with a crevice so deep and for so long? How would she explain the premature greys on her hair and the lines on her forehead? Where would she begin? Oh how she wished she could run towards him, fall into his arms and wail her heart out. Time collapsed.
He kept staring at her, searching for his long lost love in those deep-set eyes. Tongue-tied, knotted moments between them, he was as hesitant as he had been about fifteen years ago. It was like a lifetime had flashed right in front of his eyes. She looked as radiant to him from this far, like always, yet her eyes had another tale to tell. It was as heartbreaking to see her turn away from him as it had been then. Roohi made her way down the hill as night fell. Saabir could still not find his words to make her stop.
As she entered the cobbled street towards her home, Roohi wished how he would once again come running after her and hold her hand for eternity. She imagined his footsteps behind her, aching yet again that he would tell her that he loved him. As she reached the doorstep to her house, she looked back hoping to see him waiting for her at the turn. She smiled. A lone flower smiled at her atop the cacti. A sole tear trickled from the corner of her eye.