And The Morning After
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She sucked in her breath, readying her retort, but didn’t have a chance to sling the words.
I cupped her face before she could say anything and covered her mouth with mine. Her lips, soft and searching, were robbed of any protest she’d intended. Rivers of heat spread from her cheeks onto my palms. I knew I had no strength in me to pull away. The kiss, it seemed to go on forever. And yet, it only felt like a moment.
I put the plates of crepes and our coffee on the side table and sat on the bed, facing her. She lifted her coffee cup but paused before it reached her mouth. And she smiled that smile. It almost stopped my heart. Yes, I have kissed that smile more than once since last night, and this morning she tasted even better.
“My grandmother had made that match.”
“But an arranged marriage, Nandini?”
“Sort of, not exactly. I was convinced, let’s say.”
“Your grandmother must be extremely persuasive. Unless, you wanted to be convinced.”
“She’s persuasive.” The same crooked smile flashed on her face.
I stretched across the table to reach for her plate of crepes. “Since I figure I’ll be doing most of the cooking, you better get used to some extra butter in your breakfast”, I said, changing the topic altogether. I poured the last of the coffee into her cup and got up to walk to the window to draw back the curtains. The trees were tall and full of leaves this summer.
She rolled over and buried her face into my pillow.
Everyone has that defining moment in life. That one choice you have to make. And in that moment, you either pave a road to happiness or you regret every step from then on. I had my moment. And I had walked away from it.
Something had changed that night. The night that I saw her at the airport lounge, sitting with her coffee, doodling. And I knew it right away that I had found ‘the one’. Was it love at first sight? I couldn’t tell. But I remember being drawn to her, walking towards her slowly. She lifted her big, brown eyes to look at me. With that childlike innocence on her face, sweet as cinnamon.
We swapped our coffees for some beers and got talking. It was then that she told me she was getting married the next week. The world had fallen out from under me at that moment. Although I had always known that I never stood a chance with someone as beautiful as her, the loss of it didn’t hit home until then.
She heard it first. My name being called out from the airport announcement speakers. I still remember walking to the gate, limp with desire. With every cell in my body aching to run to her, and scoop her back up into my arms. But I had a flight to catch and she.. she had someone waiting for her back home.
The moment I buckled my seat belts, I knew I was leaving my true happiness behind. I had only had those few hours with her, the few hours that changed me forever. I’d never forget her laugh and the easy way she seemed to love and live her life. She didn’t live in the world of fear that I inhabited. She chose her path, and she walked it. She deserved the best, and I feared I couldn’t be that. So, I walked away.
Back home, I couldn’t get her beautiful bronze face off my mind. I tried to embrace the emptiness and accept the choice that I had made. But I just could not.
Fate is a cruel mistress, teasing the idea of love, and hope when there is none.
It was not very difficult to find her. I only had to look up the guest speakers at the recently held Travellers’ Meetup event in Delhi. Nandini had been the youngest speaker and also the most-traveled one. And despite prevailing wisdom, I just knew I had to see her again.
It was the day before her wedding. The henna on her hands had turned the deepest red. And she was wearing a bright orange lehanga. We stood face to face in the departure terminal of the Chennai airport. Not a word was spoken. I had this strong urge to pull her into my arms, to kiss her with the kind of fervour that rushed through my bones.
But I didn’t. Not yet.
Finding her had become a relentless pursuit. And when I did finally find her, I knew I was not willing to let her go.
Not this time.
I intended to take her back home with me. To make her my wife. To hold her tight in my arms every night and kiss her right for the rest of my life. Yes, it is true. I had fallen for her. And seeing her before me only brought about a gust of emotions that I never knew existed within me.
But I couldn’t find the words, or muster up the nerve to tell her how much I loved her. Needed her.
She had called off the wedding only a few hours before I had arrived. Her mind was whirring like a tornado since that night at the airport in Delhi, she had confessed to her fiancé. And had packed her bags and left. Her family was visibly upset when I reached her house. But they were very warm towards me. She was adamant about not getting married from the very beginning. So it was a small wonder that she had called it off, they said. But her fiancé knew the reason behind it.
“You are one lucky man”, he told me, just as I was leaving.
There was no way to find her now. No one seemed to know where she was headed. She had even disconnected her cellphone. Her sister thought she overheard Nandini asking the cab driver to take her to the airport. But that was hours ago. She could be anywhere right now!
Yet, here she was. Standing before me at the departure terminal of the Chennai airport.
“Missed your flight again?”, I blurted out without giving it any thought.
She looked at me with tears glistening in those big, brown eyes . She needed me as much as I needed her. This wasn’t the end, but the beginning. She swung her long dark curls over her shoulders and smiled that smile. I don’t remember much of that day, except that one word.
“Yes”, she said softly.
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