This is perhaps one of the habits of a man who cannot accept that his days of youth are now a half-forgotten memory. George David was old enough to recognise that he was not young to still have all the strands of his hair black. He looked at the mirror to check if the hair dye suggested by his nephew was good to bring back his youthful self. After what seemed like a marathon time, he went back to his easy chair to sip his morning coffee on the rainy Sunday morning satisfied that he had indeed preserved his youth. At least, some part of it. Although he knew that the wrinkles in his skin would expose his age much like a wife who would point out the mistakes of a husband in one of those arguments married people often indulged upon when they were tired of making love to each other or frustrated by their act of living together.
He looked around and found the photo of his family taken on a trip to Malaysia about a couple of decades ago. Things were great back then. He had a loving wife and an adorable son until life happened to take away his happiness in a moment. He couldn’t remember the year. Trying to remember the year would mean opening up the stitches of a wound that was yet to completely heal itself. Today was not the day to think about times of sadness. Edward, Martha and Gracy would be home soon. Like him, they were in the sunsets of their lives. Like him, they needed company. Like him, they needed the sound of laughter to fill their ears. Like him, they have lost people they loved. Like him, they worried about the timing of death.
Death. They talked about it more often now. It was no more a topic they were afraid to talk about. It was something, they anticipated, like bad weather and took the necessary steps that were expected. Yes, they were now certain that they could not avoid death. They can only extend their worries. Now that they have known each other for a long time, they decided to catch up once every week. This week was supposed to be at George’s. Maria, his maid, had ensured that the lunch was ready. Yes, their teeth wouldn’t allow for consumption of meat anymore. They listened to the words of the Doctor like apostles did to Jesus. They cursed their age for the bland food they would have to consume. George had ensured that the food they consumed were healthy enough and as per the tastes of his guests.
The doorbell rang and in came the three people George expected on that rainy Sunday. Martha walked in with the look of a lady in the neighbourhood who was curious enough to enquire about the death in the house. George wondered whether this was her usual expression. He had stopped noticing people for some time now. Edward pressed George’s left elbow, smiled and said, ‘George seems to be on a time travel! You look younger, George.’ With a gentle tap on George’s right shoulder, he added, ‘but the wrinkles give it away.’ Edward was in his dark brown suit, his hair oiled and combed. He was a man envied by all the bald men in town. His hair was yet to see autumn and was reluctant to leave spring. Gracy walked in with a paperback in hand. People, in general, were of least interest to her. The obituary columns in the newspapers were of keen interest to her and so was the news of burglary in the houses of lonely old women. She often carried one of those crime novels to read. This was her way of being prepared to defend herself, in case, such an occasion arose.
‘Nick passed away last week.’
Our eyes turned towards Martha. She would have made a great wife to the weather broadcaster.
‘That is sad. He was young. I remember seeing him at Jude’s wedding just a couple of months ago. He seemed fine back then. What happened to your cousin?’
‘Nick had a cardiac arrest. Philippa, his daughter was driving to his house to drop him off. He was sleeping and all of a sudden had this massive heart attack and passed away instantly.’
‘That is quite sad, Martha. A heart attack is indeed a sad way to leave the planet. At one moment, you are fine and at the next, you are gone. Phew! Like that! It is indeed a terrible thing to hear. I am sorry.’ Edward seemed troubled. He added, ‘I hope I don’t go that way. Death should be kinder to me despite the troubles I have given to Life in my time here.’
Gracy clearly wanted to steer the conversation away from death. She had been uncomfortable when informed of Martha’s presence. She only seemed to confirm her presence when George informed her that Edward would be available too. Despite their marriage ending in divorce many decades ago, they continued to remain in touch. Since her husband’s passing away, Edward had been of great support to her.
‘What have you been up to, black haired George?’, she asked teasingly.
‘I have been trying to learn the harmonica. Want to hear?’
‘That is lovely. Let us hear it.’ Edward seemed intent to listen.
George had been practising Bob Dylan’s Always a Woman. He informed that the reason behind his choice being that even if his harmonica playing turned out to be a mess, they could, at least, listen to his rendering of the song as he believed that his voice was as good as the great songwriter. They shared a hearty laugh. His rendition, by their admission, was decent.
They talked of their times in office when they were young and healthy. They took the time to check the photographs they had taken on their travels together. George had remembered to take the box that consisted of the photo albums of their travels and the diaries he had maintained. As they happened to check the photos, George took out the journal in which he had recorded in hand, of their days together. From one of these diaries slipped a piece of paper which he had clearly failed to see. Edward picked the paper and began to read it out aloud.
I have not yet got the courage to tell you. I am not good at this. But the days we travelled together last month have been the best days of my life. I liked your acoustic cover of Eric Clapton’s Layla by the bonfire. I cherish the time we swam naked in the lake on an early morning when the rest were asleep. I remember how I, lost in the moment, kissed you with my eyes closed. I guess, you have a girl to discuss your dreams with. I just wanted to let you know that this girl, writing this letter, cannot think of any other man but you. When you receive this letter, do remember to call me.
Martha had left to the restroom the moment Edward began to read the letter. An eerie silence followed. It seemed to deafen the noises, even of their own breathing. Edward gently placed his palm on George’s knees and politely left the room along with Gracy.
After a few knocks on the restroom door, a teary Martha hugged George. She remembered declining the love of many men, in the hope of being with George some day. She remembered being lonely on the day of his wedding. She remembered her tears falling on the road on a moonlit night when, just yards away, the newlywed couple were locking lips. She remembered crying when she heard the news of Rebecca and John dying in a car accident. She remembered being pained by the sight of a red-eyed George on the day when their coffins were put to rest. When she finally came to acknowledge that she was not meant to be in his life, she had decided to accept it in ways she thought it best.
Finally, when she embraced him, praying fervently that time did not have something else in store for her, she spoke. Her lips quivered. As much as she loved being in love, she hated its sudden arrivals. Martha finally told George that she loved him dearly in her voice that reminded him of the sound of a twig falling on the silent lake on a quiet blue morning when the sun was yet to wake people from their beds. Knowing not how to respond to a love that comes again in autumn, George gently caressed her wrinkled cheeks. Martha felt his gentle touch. He kissed her forehead and gently rubbed her back as her tears wetted his shirt. Years of yearning were forgotten in a moment of embrace. He led her to the balcony where they stared silently into the wet city in front of them. They turned towards each other. Their eyes explored. He held the back of her head as their lips locked. The city slowly became alive with the barking dogs in the neighbourhood, the horns of the cars and buses, the crying babies, the quarrelling middle aged couples and the whispering love making couples. To Martha and George, the cacophonies that surrounded them did not seem to matter. What mattered was the beating of their hearts, the whispers of their minds and the sound of their breaths. The music of their souls was mellifluous.