The Invite

It has been an year since the news of Maya's sudden death reached our colony and a week since I accepted her invitation.It is a beautiful Friday morning, and I am standing in the balcony of my apartment on the third floor watching the sun rise over the trees into the clear blue sky. The air is sweet, clean and light. People are walking in the garden below. The mildness of the rising sun, the green of the grass enhanced by the early morning dew and bells from a distant temple are in a simple way reflecting what I am feeling. I am experiencing the bliss that my denial had denied me.

Maya’s apparitions ,appeared every now and then -as the little girl with the most loving ,deep eyes; as the older girl with glimpses of the beautiful woman she was to become ; as the woman I had imagined her, years after she had left. She was too magical for me who had a less than ordinary existence until week back. She had an angelic presence in my life ever since she ,with her family, moved into the apartment right above ours. It was also the time when the differences between joy, fear, anxiety, hysteria, love and relief had started blurring in my life along with my vision. I was approaching my teens ,falling short by an year or two. I was growing up as a loner and I could sense from my appearance and thoughts that I was headed to become a pure introvert, thought many don’t consider a loner and a introvert different.

Maya must have been nine when I first met her on the stairs to my apartment. It was an usual gloomy day. The entire setting of my house was lugubrious. My father was stuck to the television remote and mother was consistently down with migraine which usually ,according to her, was triggered by my father’s indifference. So there were either loud arguments between them which eventually ended with my mother retelling, between her sobs, the entire story of her cursed life with my father, or haunting silence with only the sound of TV channels changing at random. Even the lights were set to the ambience. We only had the low voltage incandescent bulbs, emitting melancholic yellow light. Windows were kept shut and curtained to give a consistent aura of dampness. You tend to get used to everything if you are born into it, however bad that might be. But sometimes things could get even beyond the wen that is hardened by time. And it was one such day.

I got out of my house and took the stairs down. A tall and hefty man was coming up the stairs and behind him was a timid looking little girl. The man, as I later learned, was her father. I pretended not seeing them to avoid the trouble of having to decide how to act. After I crossed them I turned back to check who the girl was. Unexpectedly, at the very moment she turned back and smiled at me . I was not prepared for a response and I didn't want to look embarrassed either. I immediately moved my eyes few degrees to her right , then rolled it down towards the landing area of the stairs, and quickly moved down. I had never before seen anyone smile like that at me nor, I guess, I felt like that about anyone’s smile before that. There was this shine in her eyes like - she was expecting me with lot of plans of us together; I had arrived late but she was happy I showed up; just truly delighted to see me. Her image flashed inside me and remained there for ever.

Back then she had peculiar chuckle in her voice which would have been very repulsive if it wasn't hers. I would spend hours listening to her from the balcony of our apartment that was right below theirs, as she spoke to her family. We went to the same school and I remember picking up things that she left on her desk, like bits of paper she would have written on. I would treasure them as souvenirs. I do now feel a bit weird about all that, but back then I felt I was just trying to know more about her without letting anyone know. It was kind of adventurous and interesting ,I guess. I did grow over those tomfooleries in sometime but never dared to think beyond a distant admiration. How I wish my thoughts and my life out of it, was simpler.

Our relationship hardly moved further than the initial introduction. Peepu once introduced me to Maya as part of her regular exercise to assimilate me into the social mainstream. Peepu would literarily drag me to people and introduce me to them as her talented ‘but a bit shy’ brother. We both shared the same parents and the associated family problems and yet Peepu was so immune to all of it that I was so sure it had something to do with her birth. I secretly believed, Peepu was not my biological sister. She was pretty, fair and lively while I was remotely good looking and found myself awkward in situations involving anybody other than myself. But Peepu was the best thing about my life. She was the only friend I had and the only person who ,I believed, could interpret me right.

Peepu had made me a FB profile and even managed it on my behalf. It were mostly her friends who were on my friends-list. I surly couldn’t blame her for that; I didn't have many friends that she could have added. While she was home , Peepu would log-in to my account and show me the updates and the posts. According to her it was the right place for me to start interacting with people. But social networking, somehow, never interested me.

“I don’t need social acceptance. I don’t want to feel that since I don’t have the courage to build relationships in the real world ,I am faking myself on the internet”, I once told Peepu as she was annoyed by my disinterest.
“Subbu, it isn’t about what you don’t want to feel. You should try understand and accept what you feel. There is no point claiming to feel a certain way just to avoid the problems associated with feeling the other way”, Peepu replied. I knew she was right. But it was my grand arrangement of convenience. Acknowledging how I felt was something I was scared to do. It would have meant to accept that I may not exactly be the one I had made myself believe I was. And that would have required me to change and to venture into the unknown; something that I was not ready for then.

After high school, Maya went to stay with her aunt in the US and continued her studies there. It was in the evening before the day she left that I met her for the last time. I saw her sitting cross-legged on the bench, in the garden. She was in a soft, pleasant colored pajamas. I don’t remember if the color of her pajamas was baby pink or white, but she looked a child in it. The evening sun was shining on her and her skin had turned golden. Few strands of her hair that had curled close to her chin were undulating in the mild breeze. She didn’t look very happy and I couldn’t say she was sad either. She strained to look through the sunlight, and smiled on recognizing me. I smiled back. I was not aware she was leaving...forever. I walked on ,taking with me the image of her sun bathed smile.

I did not believe that what I felt for her was love. I had hardly spoken to her and we didn’t even have anything in common; I could not explain what I felt for her and what it was about her that I liked. May be it was the smile that she gave when I first saw her and thereafter, whenever we met. “It could be something that is a little more than an ordinary, untalented man’s admiration for a work of art. But surly not love”, I once told Peepu.

There were two occasions when I expressed my regret to Peepu, of not having tried speaking to Maya and not having expressed my thoughts to her. One was the day after Maya left for the US and the other was when the news of her death reached me. These were two the stages of losing her – one of hope and the other of desperation. When she first left, there was indeed a certain realization, but that was not enough to overcome the fear. It was as if I was waiting for something to change. Something which I could take as a sign to go find her. I waited timidly until the news of her death. Maya , I learned, had died of drug over dose. “Was she lonely too? Was it a sadness that I read in her eyes and was it that which pulled me to her?”, thoughts swirled in my head. Her death would have been the sign to get out the self-imposed quarantine but I failed to see it and let the desperation set in.

Things were more difficult since Peepu moved to Belgium for a project. She regularly mailed me her updates and that was something I eagerly awaited everyday. Sometimes she would get online and we would spend hours chatting. It was one such night. We had finished chatting and I had just gone to sleep, when my mobile rumbled on the table. It was Peepu’s message asking me to immediately get online . I had just fallen asleep and Peepu was in a habit of waking me up for fun. I pulled the laptop which was on the bed ,closer. Peepu had already left a message online.

“Subbu, you remember the fb account I created for you? It has been quite some time since I had checked it. I guess last time was a year back. A while back when I logged in ,there was something that was a bit strange ”
“Peepu! Is this what you want to discuss? I have a real better thing to do and that is go back to sleep”, I typed irritably.

“You never had anything better Subbu, idiot! You have to check your account. There is something there for you”, popped her reply.

I was still not convinced to spoil my sleep and check the social networking account, which I was sure could never have anything for me. But that day I did exactly as Peepu asked me to.

“I am in and I can see some of your pictures on it. You are looking good…”,I told Peepu over the microphone.

“On the top left corner of the page there is an icon of a human bust…do you see? ,Peepu asked eagerly sounding like she was helping me solve one of those doors- puzzle games.

I replied affirmatively as I clicked on the icon.It was a list of invites, from people offering to add me to their list of friends. There were some six invites and one of them was from Maya Ramesh. I felt a chill go through me. It was as if I had seen her ghost. It took me a while to comprehend that the invite could have been sent by her sometime before her death.

“Wasn’t it something I had moved on with ? Should I accept the invite and in turn let thoughts of her in?”, I asked myself. I logged out; went to bed; turned there in the bed; got out of the bed, logged in and accepted her invite. While I was searching for her profile there was an excitement as if it was my first date with her. It had been years since I had seen her. I wondered how she would look in the picture on her profile .I cursed myself for not putting in a better picture of myself on my profile. The one I had was a terrible photograph which had Peepu cropped from a family photograph.

I found her profile and opened it. To the left of the page was Maya’s photograph. Draped in red sari, embroidered in silver. It must have been taken in some wedding, I thought. She looked heavenly. Her hair was beautifully done and decorated with pearls. Her hands looked fragile and delicate. She had grown unrecognizably beautiful but her eyes remained as they were-deep with promises. Her eyes were more black than anyone’s I had seen in my life. Those pair of eyes were magical; they could have anyone transfixed. I felt a rapacious urge for more pictures of hers ;I wondered why felt that way. She had many pictures uploaded.

“Was it all about her looks? Did I ever really love her?”, I thought. I wondered what was I thinking about, and what was I trying to reasons for. Until then I was never convinced I could be in love with her. Even the times when I had thought of expressing my feeling to her, I no idea what those feelings were. My thoughts confused me.

In her photo album I came across a picture of our block. It was a shot ,zoomed to the block covering just two floors. It was her balcony and right below, mine. It could have been taken from the garden next to the main gate. It was the garden where Maya spent her evening while I watched her from my balcony. I remember one such evening. She was sitting on the wooden bench in the garden with her back towards me. The bench was placed facing the main gate and away from the building. I could see a side of her face; the curve of her cheek and the darkness of her eyes. It was while I was marking these in my mind that to my utter shock and embarrassment, she suddenly turned around and waved to me from the garden. It was as if she always knew I was watching her. I looked down at my fists holding the railings and cringed. I think more than an embarrassment it was an unease caused by the fact that she had introduced herself into that which until then was a secret game of mine.

I continued browsing through her albums. She had many pictures from her life in college, from her travels to different countries and some from her childhood. She looked pretty happy in most of the pictures. These pictures were randomly arranged in a single album along with pictures of kids , streets, scenery, rivers and flowers. I was observing a struggle within me to prevent myself from expecting a pattern in the randomness before me.

The Blue rose, symbol of hope against the unattainable love, is considered the rarest of the roses. Some say it doesn’t exist naturally due to certain genetic limitation imposed by nature. I always wondered why nature would limit hope in something. Could it be that it is locked within everything and when the right key clicks it breaks open. The white rose is dyed in blue to generate the blue tint, and that was what I did the only time I expressed myself to Maya. I placed the blue rose in the drawer of her desk before anyone had come to the classroom in the morning. I immediately regretted having done that. I was scared to the pit of my stomach the entire day. I prayed god she never checked the drawer and promised myself I would never do such a thing. I don’t remember what I was exactly scared of. I guess I didn’t know it even then. In the evening I saw Maya as I had entered the corridor on the second floor of the school building . I couldn’t have turned back. She walked in from the opposite end of the corridor. She walked straight with her head bent down. I was petrified ,but kept walking. I looked straight ahead with my eyes fixed on the knob of the door at the end of the long corridor. As she came close, I sensed she was not looking my way. As she passed me for a split second I dared to look at her. That was the longest second I had ever experienced. The details are clear even to this day. Her hair was neatly plaited but few strands slipped off from her hairline. These partly hindered my view of her face. I could see her eyes, which were curtained too by her eyelashes, as she was looking down towards the floor. And then the corners of her lips drew back and her eyelashes raised with the smile. It was surreal but I was sure about the smile. My fears were lost in the sight. A moment later it re-griped me I kept walking until I took the turn at the end of the corridor.

I never came to know if she had seen the blue rose or not. I kept thinking about the smile I believed I saw. But it didn’t make sense relating the blue rose to it as there was no way she could have got anything from it even if she had seen the rose in her desk. She wouldn’t have had any clue of who put it there and wouldn’t have had bothered to comprehend what the blue-rose signified. It was easier for me to assume that she hadn’t seen it and that everything remained unchanged.

Picture of a blue rose on her page re-ran the entire episode. “It couldn’t be more than a projection of my own desire ;at the most the picture of the blue rose could have be a coincidence”, I thought. I knew my heart could be very deceptive at certain times. It had scavenged a poem to suit its arguments. It was Maya’s post on her ‘fb wall’ few months before her death. These were long set of couplets and not precisely related. I was leery about my heart which stopped at these lines:

Life hid in corners and in spaces
hope in the distant views
I had seen and felt it all
It was written on, yet another wall

It was 4.30 AM and I was still awake staring at the ceiling fan. I noticed that it had something rotating within its own true rotation. It looked like a soul that was trying to catch up with its swifter receptacle. My thoughts were drifting between my love for Maya and things absurd. Things weren’t too different in past one year. But something had changed now. “What had changed? Was I for the first time in my life acknowledging my feeling for Maya? Was it her invitation that I was seeking all the while? or has my mind yet again found an easier escape?”, I asked myself.

The day broke and later the sun set again. May be few days had passed. I have very less memory of the days and of the thoughts during the period. I only remember that initially my heart was growing heavier by the hour and warm waves were rising from my head. Then, slowly the heaviness subsided as if something was leaving me. The periods in between were thoughtless. I woke up to an awareness that I had never know before. I was experiencing joy…immense joy.

No longer was there an answer that I sought. I was in love with Maya and was flooded by it. There were no signs that I awaited. She was the sign. I cannot rationalize what happened to me that night but since then I knew life was beautiful and living it without apprehension was bliss. The acceptance was all I needed - realization of my own ability to love and be loved. Maya had invited me to let her into my life and to re-experiance it . Maya is a ghost, a memory and a thought. She has given me the freedom to hold her in and let go off her memories. No other realized love could have given me this freedom.

The sun is brighter now and I can hear my mobile rattle against the footboard of my bed. I must be Peepu


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