Memory resides in the gaps and ruptures of heart, in the fiber of age, in the making of regrets. Memory is a place for the soul. This is where mankind begins to explain itself.
For Mr. and Mrs. De’ Costa, that morning began with pavement lilies bending to soft breeze, stretching and shredding onto the persistent concrete of roadside. It was age that prevented Mrs. De’ Costa from bending to pick the swaying lilies, and it was age that had her reading poetry into the sway of yellow and white, remembering those many verses into the refracting and reflecting rays of the misty sun. Mr. De’ Costa was observing his wife for many fond moments before he decided that he should be angry at her, for not involving him in her thoughts, for enjoying her quiet reflection without him as he walked beside her. “What do you think of these school kids walking in front of us,” Samarth De’ Costa spoke at last, gesturing at the pair of tiny tots shuffling ahead of them. His gnarled fingers clutched onto the cane in one hand and Mrs. De’ Costa’s wrist in the other. The road stretched matted before them, evenly graveled; the air was lit up, sensing, and the morning rested in acceptance of all its glorious flaws.
Mrs. De’ Costa followed her husband’s gaze, and a smile touched her eyes, loosening a strand of hair from her wispy white bun.
“They are the age of our grandchildren. The boy has the walk of his father. His hair is just as disheveled. And yes, the spirit is in place,” said Mrs. De’ Costa, her smooth crow lines opening and closing on her subjects.
Samarth shone crimson under the sun. “What do you think about the girl?” he followed his stream of consciousness, not as spontaneous as he would have liked Mrs. De’ Costa to believe. But his attempts at inspiration tugged at Mrs. De’ Costa all the same, giving her many ideas about how she should go about the next manuscript at hand, imbibing his idiosyncrasy in her hero-to-be.
“She is quiet, shy, angelic and a closeted spirit. She needs to open her wings,” Mrs. De’ Costa was drifting to another stretch, seeing more than the scene before her. Samarth could see that too, a scene from yesterday, tugging at the present, making ripples of a lifetime ago. The kids walking before them walked unaware of a tale they trotted along, setting the morning’s yarn of stories into a spin.
“Sarah, stop playing with your water-bottle and answer me. Will you talk to your mother?” said Riyaan, tuft of black hair crowding his forehead, round eyes set on Sarah as he walked a little and ran a little more. Sarah Jacob was the quiet new girl at St. Mary’s Primary school, who would refuse to talk to the boys of her class. With her bob-cut hair, pink cheeks and brown eyes, she had fluttered many a heart of class II-C, without blinking an eyelid. Sarah continued to circle her water bottle around her legs, her school bag bundled on her tiny shoulders, walking a couple of steps ahead of him. Dressed in sky blue shirt and navy blue, wide-legged pants, Riyaan’s modesty was kept together by a blue belt precariously holding onto his small waist. A skinny boy of wheat-like complexion and round, set eyes, Riyaan exuded something of a boyish triumph.
“Sarah, I love you and I want to marry you once we grow up. I am earnest. Talk to your mom. My parents will come and talk to your parents,” Riyaan said, coloring. Sarah, meanwhile, was screening the arriving school bus, her legs egging her towards the stretching queue a block away. She was aware of Riyaan, but she chose not to be. “Riyaan, look, the bus has arrived. Let’s go or we’ll be late for the morning school assembly,” Sarah made a run, her tiny legs surprising her with something more than the urgency to catch the bus. “Race you, Sarah,” Riyaan yelled, and down went the two dots hopping and cutting through the winter morning, water-bottles swinging, bag-packs jumping, skirt swaying and pant falling from the belt.
Mr. and Mrs. De’ Costa walked away too. Mrs. De’ Costa’s erect, energetic walk was matched by Mr. De’ Costa’s stooped but forthright steps, falling slightly behind hers. Her crème salwar kameez and his starched white kurta pajama, her shoes and his kolahpuris, her calm and his temper, her retorts and his volleys, her acceptance and his challenge, he said and she replied.
They were now resting on a wooden bench, under a tree, watching the morning play out before them, dwelling on the distance between the park and the road. The sturdy sweepers had begun to corner the leaves, raising a cloud of dust against the over-hanging mist. A milk-man was cycling around the bend with noisy clanging. An army of school children, gloved, capped and booted were lining up at a bus-stop at some distance. They were chittering and sniggering, hatching a conspiracy, as they rubbed their hands together, making winter fog come out from their mouth … the commotion was evident and happy. A brown and white stray pup was hopping about, trying to find shelter between those many legs. A couple of early risers were jogging in the park, their I-pods plugged in, rhythm surging through their calf muscles.
“So, do you think that girl would talk to her mother?” Mr. De’ Costa asked with a straight face, his mat of grey hair glinting.
“I don’t know. But I can tell you what will happen if I were to write the story.”
“I know what will happen in your story.”
“Then, why ask.”
“Because we are getting old… and it is comforting to look back,” he quipped.
“Look back? Or pull my leg…” Mrs. De’ Costa was eyeing him sideways.
“Girls are useless. They do nothing. It’s always up to the guys to make all the moves. Girls sit in one corner like one fat hen.”
“Well, if that girl turns out to be as pretty as I am, the guy will give his right arm to get her, whether or not the she opens her mouth.”
“Well, if the boy grows up to be half the man as I am, he would do all within his reach and rights to get his first love.”
Mrs. De’ Costa’s sagging right hand was holding on to Mr. De’ Costa’s left. It clutched on it tighter still. A tear welled up in her, mingled with something of a glistening syrup. Mr. De’ Costa was smiling too, a gleam of youth reaching his eyes, both hands clasped, heads down.
“You will never forgive me, Mr. De’ Costa. You will never forgive me?” she said, a dimple playing on her left cheek, eyes scanning the frame of her husband, set in its own way but blushing all the same, as her gaze filled his face.
“Not in this life.”