Could Have, Should Have

Image by junsung back from Pixabay

As he walked away, her surroundings blurred. She focused on him, a silhouette fading in the dark. Silence swamped her, threatening, bursting out, invading her senses like a beast hungry for her conscience. Her pulse quickened, pounded in her veins, beat in her ears. She froze on her chair unable to move, unable to think. Closing her eyes to chase the image away, to avoid the sight of him disappearing completely into the crowd, she rested her forehead on her palm, then inhaled deeply and counted to three. If she didn’t see him stepping out of the door maybe everything could be undone. Maybe he had stood there, close by, looking at her, regretting it. Maybe.

She opened her eyes. He was nowhere. The sounds of the people in the bar exploded, they hurt her ears just as the silence in her head did. Short of breath, she inhaled more deeply and exhaled slowly. She didn’t know what to do next; she had millions of things to do but this time of the day had always been set aside for him. Every alternative seemed somehow wrong.

Her gaze fell to the table where they had first met. He had crouched beside her as she sat with her friends, and asked her out, the acceptance of which had almost been a reflex, something she had not given a second thought to.

Scanning her surroundings again, memories replayed without her consent. In her mind’s eye, she saw him in front of the window, pushing her chair gently behind her. Almost a year had gone by since that night. He had sat across from her at the table and stared into her eyes.

Time had stilled, his voice reached her ears, powerful, enormous, yet soothing, filtering out every other sound around them. The bar’s soft light fell like placid, golden waterfalls, lighting the French windows that framed the city under a muted rain. The rain made her happy. Being in the same room with him made her happy.

For a long moment, they didn’t speak. He smiled faintly, and she looked at him more closely, drawing in every detail of his face. Her eyes trailed the faint dimple in his right cheek, more a line than a dimple really, swallowing back the urge to slide her fingertip along it.

She watched him noticing the way she studied him. She took in with greed the low charge of joy in his eyes, the release of tension, the prompt surrender to her gaze, his stillness except for his lips that curved upward as if on their own will. She was immersed in the pleasure he exposed in his face, an image that has been carved in her mind so vividly ever since, it manifests from her subconscious each time she thinks of love, connection, safety.

When she returned her look into his eyes, he let the moment settle down.

There was an immense intimacy between them, she had thought, a familiarity she found almost incomprehensible; a sense of two spirits reuniting bodies that had once been very close but were torn away with time. Their silence had never been uncomfortable. On the contrary: if anything, it was almost comforting.

“I like it here,” she said, her voice low, almost a steady whisper.

He reached for her hand, his fingers running softly between hers. “I’m glad you are here.”

She had always thought of home as a person; a personified version of grand mansions and costly furniture, of endless gardens and luxurious swimming pools. She felt there was nothing more joyous, and nothing as precious than the home of the soul, and that was not something one could buy. That was something one could find, if lucky enough, once in a trillion lifetimes.

She had also thought that the night has a particular way of bringing souls together, and if it so happens that one finds a home somewhere, in someone, somehow, the universe will align the stars, and this home will become their strength in life and beyond. Maybe that was the true meaning of life: finding the place to share success, the way to sooth failure, and, most importantly, the source from which one can derive hope; hope for mutual growth, hope for the future, hope for a life that feels right; for hope and will are the greatest gifts humans possess. And maybe that was the true meaning of connection: untarnished admiration, absolute respect, precise awareness of one’s faults and yet perceived with the inability to avoid affection.

She looked at him more and smiled at how weak she felt before him and for the intrepid strength she possessed facing anything that stood against him. She remembered the way they had said so much during that silence before they started using words, before they laughed, and drank, and leaned closer to each other. She embraced, at that moment, the way everything else paled. And when the laughs eased, and the night felt full, he took her hand and they walked under the drizzling sky, not caring where to.

Now she was alone, reminiscing the way she had felt that day, pondering the world’s failure to speak of the curse a home carries secretly behind its absolute happiness; the curse of being unable to fill in the gap once you know what it feels like to have one but lose it. She confirmed in her thoughts that people don’t speak of the things that lie hidden behind the walls that prevent our fears from surfacing; that people don’t disclose the things that keep them awake or those they quietly aspire to. People deal with those silently, during the late hours when the reticent night can hush them, and cover them beneath its sombre veil.

“I fear the fear I sense in you,” she recalled him telling her. A fear he had fought so hard to extinguish, a fear she felt dissolving when she was in his arms, bewitched by his scent, as the rhythm of their heartbeats matched.

She grabbed her bag and walked out of the bar, the always drizzling sky her friend more than ever. She walked quietly, allowing the raindrops to relieve her from the heat that burned her body. She lifted her head up and looked at the cloudy night sky, and for that moment she felt tiny. Tiny, standing in the middle of an even tinier, empty planet, surrounded by the abyss of a vast universe filled with little yellow twinkling lights. She closed her eyes and imagined her feet on two ropes, each leg on one; struggling to balance between love and hate. How easy it was, really, to catch one of them and hold tight onto it until it was time to jump.

But how easier it turned out to be, embracing the moment she could still stand with her arms open under the soothing rain that covered her tears, as she smiled at thoughts of what could have been.