He kissed her softly at the doorstep; trailing his lips like a train over hers as her lips expanded into a smile ever so slightly, and he thought this was the saddest kiss in the world.
He could see her shadow on the floor dissolve into nothingness as the sun disappeared and he saw dark clouds looming in the sky through his window. In a few minutes, it was going to rain. The grey old city braced itself for the thunderstorm, ready, as it always had been for three hundred years.
As she walked out of the door she turned to give him a smile. He smiled back, scavenging on the last remnants of glorious evenings and conversations with her, and he knew she would never come back.
In twenty minutes the rain invaded the city. It entered the city surreptitiously, sending little innocuous droplets of spies at first for insidious information. They came like a fine mist, almost harmless and invisible yet teasing the leaves of the trees enough to make them blush and shine.
Rohan stood by the big window lost in thought. He wondered if she would make it to the airport in time in the rain with the heavy traffic at that hour. He wondered if any other man could give so much of himself as he had given to her in every word that he spoke, carved and sculpted out of his erratic mind with unsure letters every time he whispered to her. And he wondered if she had left behind anything.
Sometimes she cried, her tears slowly making their way down her face searching for meaning, meandering through an unknown world where they had suddenly come to life. She always smiled when she cried, bravely fighting the dark clouds of an indecisive relationship; a smile, which inevitably squeezed out a more decisive river, and that for some strange reason warmed his heart.
The first mist of the rain had gone now and the storm announced its arrival with spectacular fireworks that intermittently tore through the clouds with loud crackling voices, and the afternoon turned into night. The drops of rain were bigger now, unabashed and undisguised, splattering on the windowpanes in deep teenage acts of rebellion. The lightning bolts sounded like drums urging the army of raindrops on and slowly the sound of the rain drowned the noise of the city.
The sound of heavy rain is deafening and yet after some time the same deafening drone becomes the sound of deep quiet and calm. Rohan could feel the solitude of his apartment being amplified as he sat on his couch and poured a shot of Glenfiddich. In a couple of hours she would be on a plane to Barcelona where it would surely be sunny and warm, out of reach of the grey history of this old city on the other side of the world.
Sometimes she cried, not because she was unhappy but because she could not find happiness even after scouring every flea market and every alley and at every vicious turn of tenuously long arguments, and she came home dejected and disappointed. The sense of the inevitable future grew bigger and bigger in front of her like a shadow of a tree lengthening itself through the afternoon. A future that was beckoning to her to come and embrace it; a future where he would cast no shadow.
She started to feel the numb icy armour of his aloneness in his vague, steadfast resolve to never leave his hometown and move to a different country. His aloofness to hold her hand and search for any future for the both of them soon began to decay the glint in her eyes into a listless gaze. In that gaze, one night, he knew the end was near.
It was true Rohan didn’t know how to love. He showered affection in many different ways but he had the heart of a vagabond and his soul was adamantly lonely. He lived in a no man’s land, away from governments and policies, away from happiness and unhappiness, away from metaphors and rhyme in a small cabin that had a blue sofa. And there he sat with a remote in hand zapping at the window, changing sceneries. There wasn’t anyone ever who was allowed in that cabin which had one bed whose sheet was crumpled and unwashed and the window had no curtains. She knocked on the door many times but he never let her in, taking her to lovely restaurants instead. He allowed her to exist in the periphery of his abundant mind guarding the main door of his cabin fiercely, almost with fanatic irrationality.
The noise outside his window had swelled into a victorious rapture of endless raindrops. The roads slowly turned into fast flowing mountain streams surprised and excited that they had suddenly come into existence. The water gushed in every direction furious and fast, not searching for meaning, but with an eager urge to explore and discover life with the wild curiosity of a child.
Searching for meaning is useless, these sudden rivers seemed to imply; what only matters is how madly you explored every artery, every vein of your vast life.
Sometimes she cried, but soon she started to cloak her eyes with a red wine blur as she steeled herself, locking herself behind books. She knew that his hand-brushed grey solitude was more precious to him than her bursting green meadow and blue-sky wish to be with him in Barcelona. They were two beings caught in limbo, immobile and frozen for years unable to get out of the shadows into the sunshine.
It rained through the night till it was morning. By the time the sun came out Rohan had finished his bottle of Glenfiddich. The roads outside were now serpentine tributaries and people waded through them with trousers rolled to their knees. Cars were stuck in the middle of roads, trees had fallen and the scars of a battle were being tended to with urgency as the city announced with bugles and trumpets that Ghenghiz Khan had plundered and gone and yet did not win the skirmish in the end. And yet the people scowled.
Sometimes she cried but this time she just smiled when she walked out of the door. The smile had no teardrops. A smile with no teardrops is the saddest smile in the world.
Rohan got up from his couch and looked at the floor. And this was when he realized she had left something behind. As she was leaving, the clouds had dissolved her shadow; and caught up in the lifelessness of her smile, she had forgotten to fold the shadow into her handbag and take it with her. There it was on the floor, right beside the blue sofa that overlooked the curtainless window, on the dusty wooden planks of the cabin, alive and unwavering.
Slowly, he turned the blue sofa away from the window towards the shadow on the floor and sat down and gazed endearingly at it. It started from the main door where she stood for the last time, right at the point from where she was never allowed to enter the room, till the very edge of the weather-beaten blue sofa.
It was like a stain, a memory that would be impossible to erase. And inside this timelessness played the faint sound of a defeat of many untarnished years of sadness that was forever dressed to go to party wearing masks of many different smiles.
She had left her shadow behind. Neatly pressed and stretched out, ready to be packed.
The sun was blazing and it was getting too bright outside. And, for the first time in his entire life, he yearned for curtains.