A Cold, Rainy November Night….
The building wore that same melancholy aspect, a look of despairing farewell. Though the walls had disintegrated somewhat, they still boasted of seventeenth century architecture. As he made his way inside the building, one step at a time, he reminisced about the once wholesome body he possessed. A fatigued smile escaped him when he thought about the childhood days when he would race his friends to far away fields and never feel an inch of discomfort. All that was now reduced to a rickety structure standing on 2 bones around which fluttered the cloth of his trousers. He walked with a certain sense of purpose and determination, inching his way to an isolated corner. It was an odd request by a dying man to be taken to a quaint building in shambles. His children attributed this to mental trauma associated with their father’s prolonged illness. What was even more odd to them was his request of going alone, walking, coming from a man whose life had most certainly reached its end. Yet they gave into his request, the last from their dying father. He seated himself on the ground with considerable difficulty and gently removed an old book from his trouser pocket. A droplet of tear fell from his eyes and along with it wet some of the writing which was already illegible. It was not the first tear from him. His impassive, vacant eyes did not seem to contain anything anymore, not tears, not sight not even the slightest hint of a desire to live.
It was a chilly November evening. He had just finished piling up the final few books in their designated shelves at the local library; which had been his job for the last six months.It had started out to be a normal, routine day for Ali; he had reluctantly attended his classes for the day coming by in the evening to help his uncle with the library work. The money wasn’t good but it did provide him a respite from problems at home and that is why he chose to drown himself in books to avoid confronting his life.
At twenty three years of age, Ali could have been easily been considered dashing. He had inherited his mother’s hazel eyes and father’s strong built. He clearly stood out amongst the boys in his community and was unsurprisingly the center of intense female attention. Oblivious to all that and fraught with his own domestic issues Ali continued to lead a reclusive life. He had dreams of course, but knew the perils associated with unfruitful dreaming. Just as he was about to head home after the day he heard some frantic knocking on the front door. By that time the library was empty given that his uncle and cousin were the only others working with him. It was Ali’s responsibility to lock up and leave at the end. He reached the door and unlocked it to find it raining heavily outside. The strong winds splattered the rain in all directions and at first Ali couldn’t see who it was knocking on the door hardly anyone ever came to.
Then it caught his eyes. Standing in front of him was the most beautiful thing he had ever laid eyes on. She stood there, the only form of light in the dark November rain. She stood there with a shy gaze, drenched in rain, scared yet confident, daring yet timid, intense yet delicate. She was an instant mystery to him. An object of curiosity. It wasn’t as if his town lacked beautiful women, there was something about her that he could not understand. After some hesitation Ali asked “Please come inside, you will catch a cold”. She replied with a soft smile which sent shivers of warmth down his spine. “I’m sorry but my car has broken down outside.” She apprised, “My husband is on his way, I just wanted to know if it’s alright with you if I stay here till he gets here?”
Ali didn’t know whether to talk back or keep gazing at her. He was having the hardest time uttering words out of his mouth. Everything she said seemed blessed, everywhere she looked seemed purer to him, every time she looked at him his heart stopped for that tiny second. She must have been around twenty six or more as suggested by her physical appearance. He was so mesmerized, he took a minute to decide which feature of her’s made her the way she was. To which part of her body, should one attribute so much beauty, was it one in particular or was it that every part of her face, every part of her body, every movement she made, every word she uttered were they so much in harmony that it was impossible to distinguish them from one another.
He pulled himself back to reality and said “Uh..sure…you are more than welcome to stay here as long as you like.” She replied with a shy “Thank you..”. He summoned her inside and showed her the 5 chairs on the back, “Not many people come here you know? It’s a small family concern” he said in an attempt to justify her presence in such a small, unimpressive place. She gave out a quiet laugh “That is alright, as long as I can just sit some where and wait for my husband to get here.”. “O.K” said Ali, “May I get you some tea? It will just take a second, will keep u warm in this weather.”. “I would love that” she replied with a full smile for the first time revealing her beautiful set of pearls.
He was confused. Yes. He could not understand the tenderness that this woman evoked in him. What business did he have even thinking about a strange woman like that? A strange “married” woman on top of that. Nonetheless he could not shake the feeling off him. It was unlike anything he had ever known. He compared this feeling to the best feelings he had ever experienced in his life; getting his first bike? Winning lottery among friends? His first school crush? No. this feeling transcended beyond all that. This was above anything and everything he had ever known.
As he waited for the tea, he kept gazing back to make sure this was not a dream, to make sure she didn’t run away so that he would never see her again to make sure she didn’t know what turmoil she had caused inside this boy. He hastily walked towards her with 2 cups of hot tea in his hands, his heart beating faster with every step he took towards her. “There you go.” He stuttered embarrassingly. He envied the cup as she took it to her lips, “This tastes so good, thank you.” She said apologetically. “I’m so sorry for keeping you, it’s raining cats and dogs I’m sure you have to get home too.” “That is alright madam, I am in no hurry.” He replied with a confident smile. “So, what is your name if I may ask?” “I am Ali, but my friends call me A.” “That is a very interesting name, or letter should I say?” she beamed.
His gaze was fixed on her every move. Every time she opened her mouth to speak the delicacy surrounding her every movement amazed her. It was as if everything around her was in love with her from the air, to the rain to the very chair she was seated on. She got up from her seat and walked over gently to the first row of books. The books were outdated and had sat on their shelves gathering dust for quite a few years now. She ran her eyes searchingly over the shelves as if trying to find some thing. “May I help you with something you are looking for?” he asked desperately so that it would give him an opportunity of being near her, of feeling her presence more strongly, of living this moment that had struck him so. “I used to love reading before I got married you know? After marriage all my time is devoted to the husband and the house, no time for myself anymore” she said jokingly. “That’s a pity” Ali commented, “Have you heard that famous quotation? Books are a man’s best friends!” “Yes I have, that is why I was an avid reader in my days…” “Why don’t you pick a book from here?” Ali suggested “It will be a gift from a stranger you once met on a rainy November night.”
She looked at him for a minute or so and then turned away. She once again searched the rows of the dimly lit book shelves until her gaze rested on an old half torn book. She pulled it out with some difficulty, sneezing in the dust which had gathered around her. She laughed embarrassingly, “I usually get allergic to too much dust”. “I understand” Ali said apologetically cursing himself at why he hadn’t listened to his uncle in so many days and cleaned the shelves. She sat down even before he could get up and get her a tissue. “This used to be my favorite book when I was a child.” She said with a tone of excitement. “I never thought I would ever find it anywhere.” “Well, like I said, It’s yours” Ali said joyfully. “No I could not possibly take it from here.” She said shunning the idea. “I insist madam, it would be a pleasure.” Said Ali with more confidence that he had ever shown in his life before.
She looked at him, her smile faded. She tried to remember him from somewhere. All of a sudden he looked strangely familiar to him. Could it be? No she dismissed the idea instantly and opened the first page. It had grown cold outside, the rain had stopped, however their conversations were punctuated by the monotonous drizzling outside. She started reading out loud. She was so engrossed in the book and he in her that it seemed like the very purpose he was serving by being alive right now was to be with her, to gaze endlessly at her. They sat there endlessly, captivated in each other. They were oblivious to the fact that outside their window, the first unwelcome rays of the sun had already entered the library. The tea had long grown cold. They were jolted out of their world by a frantic knocking at the door. There was a look of longing in his eyes. Desperate hope in hers. It was as if in that one night time had come to a stand still for them.
They had lived their entire lives in that one night. They had been everywhere together yet they stayed grounded. They had kissed each other so many times yet their lips had never met. They had entangled themselves in each other’s bodies yet they did not touch once. She pulled herself away and hurried outside where her husband was standing outside apologetically for taking so long in coming. She tore herself from her husband’s arms and went inside where he stood there. Their eyes met. It was as if a long lost puzzle had been solved. Her look was magical. She was crying yet laughing. He was sad yet the happiest man alive. That was all there was. She came into his life like a breeze, rejuvenated him, gave him a purpose for living and then, just like that she left him a forever changed man.
Life did go on for him like it was meant to. He married, lived a reasonably happy life but he wasn’t the man he was before that cold November night. She forever haunted him. He lived in the hope of seeing her again and wished death in the hope of seeing her in the other world. Life went on for him. It was 50 years later that he was told death was just days, at the most a few weeks away for him. During moments like these some people wish for comfort, others wish for family support, but Ali wished for one thing. He wished to be taken to the old library which he hadn’t visited in so many days. As averse as his children were to this idea, they gave in considering it his last wish, strange though.
He sits there trying to discover any traces of herself she might have left behind her. Her smell so sweet that the air around her might have refused to let it go. Fifty years might seem a long time, but they aren’t long enough for him to forget her smell, her taste her presence. As the last few remaining tears roll down his face, he wonders if she ever remembered him, if she ever thought about him after that night. He opens the book he has treasured for so long, the same book she had picked out and starts reading, when his eyes pull him towards a mark on the wall. It is a red mark fairly old. Squinting best he can with what is left of his eyes, he crawls towards the wall and his heart stops. On the wall is inscribed “A thank you”.
Ali summons the owner of the building which it seems would level to the floor given its present condition. Ali asks the owner who wrote those letters on the wall. “An aged woman came here a few years ago looking for some ‘A’. She would come to the building every night for weeks looking for a person by the name of ‘A’. her children thought she was suffering from mental problems and put her in asylum. Last I heard was she passed away a few months back. That’s all I know of her.” Ali closed his eyes and for the first time in 50 years he attained peace. That same feeling rushed through his body. He had lived his life. He passed away to a world where a woman he had loved more than life itself, and whose name even he did not know was waiting for her…on the same cold, rainy November night.