“Are you feeling better? I know it’s not a question you would like to be asked now, I’m sorry I had to ask.”
He sits in the chair. By the bed. The same as Mr D. The only two visitors I have had. Both asking the same question they are sorry to ask. It is almost funny. I would laugh if I had any humour remaining.
He looks at me, waiting for my answer. The answer isn’t coming. He also sees something else, something that pleases him greatly.
“You like stories don’t you? Shall I tell you a story?” he asks. He doesn’t need my answer. He can see it, or so it seems.
Am I so easy to read? Is it all so clear on my face? Or is it something they can all do? Read minds, read my mind.
“A really long time ago, there was this girl. The most amazing girl. So gifted. There was hardly a thing she couldn’t do. She was the pride of the tribe.”
He pauses to look at me, waiting for a reaction. His patience is far greater than mine. As much as I want to remain expressionless, give him nothing, I lose. A blink of my eyes is all the reaction he needs. Smiling victoriously, even pettily, he continues.
“Unfortunately, there was no tribe. No great pride or the sort. But yes, there was a girl. A girl I knew a really long time ago. Not like you and Aniya though. Not even like you and your friends in class. More like a girl you have seen in school a few times. You know she’s there, in the same school, but nothing more. That was how I knew this girl. I had seen her a few times, and that was all. But I knew she was there. We were in the same circle, the same world. And one day, just like that, she was gone. Poof. And like they say, out of sight, out of mind, I had forgotten. Until one day, without warning, she appeared in front of me.”
It was as unlike a birthday dinner as it could be. We were all laughing, celebrating the same. Overflowing with enthusiasm. For anyone else, it might seem no different from any other birthday dinner. Like nothing was amiss. But we weren’t anyone else. I wasn’t. I could see the difference, even if it was limited to the aesthetic sense. We weren’t dressed like a birthday dinner. Aniya wasn’t in her dress. The green dress we had with such difficulty convinced her of. Instead, she was in her usual torn jeans and tee. I was in matching jeans and tee. Like we were in uniform. And I was the shield keeping the conversation away from the dress. It was as unlike any other birthday dinner as it could be.
The restaurant was the same though. Vikram had reserved our table, kept it ready. It was nice to have a restauranteur as a friend. One of the many cool things dad had managed to do. Vikram had everything done and ready for us. Balloons around our table, party poppers blowing up in our welcome. Musicians, one with a guitar and the second singing, welcoming us with the birthday song. A beautiful rendition that could only be expected from professional musicians. The chef himself welcoming us to the table, with an appetiser he had prepared just for us. It couldn’t have been a better dinner, for the best girl. Aniya complained about the dress, but never about good food.
There was so much to talk about. Such a big story to tell, for Vikram wasn’t there. Being shown the picture of Aniya in the green dress he had the same thing to say. She was stunning. Looking like an angel. Showing him my wrapped up hand got the exact same exclamations too. How painful it must been, how much it must have sucked. At least he didn’t have reservations swearing. He didn't fall under the jurisdiction of our moms, and he didn’t shy away from gloating about it.
Aniya and I agreed. It did suck. And we burst out laughing. Mom and aunt could do nothing, unless they were going reprimand Vikram too. It wasn’t like Aniya to let such an opportunity go by unused.
“Vikram here is like the beast mom,” Aniya said. “To some he’s evil personified, and to some he’s the hero. Our great hero, Vikram.” She knew she was funny. Having us laughing came easy.
“Imagine my surprise. I was staring at a girl who was lost. I hadn’t the slightest expectation of seeing her ever again. And there she was, appearing just as suddenly as she had vanished. There was so much I wanted to ask. Where had she gone? What had she been doing all these years? Did she remember me? Even know me? Most of all, why? Why did she have to go away? Why was she living the life she was? I had known her for years, but she was gone for decades. Obvious I wouldn’t recognise her, nor she me. I never would have recognised her, if not for the story. If not for you and your dear girlfriend. So I should thank you, for you set it all in motion.”
I don’t understand everything, but as he speaks more becomes clear. All the pieces fallen into place, and I can see now with growing clarity. More of the picture. Me at the centre of it all. And I wait for him to continue, to tell me what I need to hear. To figure it all out.
The blue was the deep sea, with a storm blowing above. High above the waters. What was it that set it off? I could see the change in aunt’s expression, so small it was invisible. But there it was. And it was showing in the blue. Through the calm of the deep blue, the current was visible. Throwing about the turbulence. Infusing the incessant restlessness into the blue. Strangely though, it wasn’t anything to do with me. For once, it was centred around aunt. And him.
As if reading my mind, he answers the question I have had for a while now. I hadn’t even figured out how to put it into words, and now I don’t have to. Because I have the answer.
“It’s called the stream,” he tells me, smiling like a teacher smiles at a particularly weak student in class. I don’t mind being weak student, but the smile does bother me. It has no mirth. Even if there is, I have no intention of sharing any with him. He sees me refusing to warm to the conversation, and shrugs my resistance away, continuing.
“You would have known if she had been honest with you. If we had known about you. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. So, here we were. At dinner. At my restaurant where we had so many of your birthday dinners. As friends. And I hear you two talking about stories that you couldn’t have known unless you were one of us. In that moment I recognised her. The girl from long ago, who went away. Who vanished. Who no one really wanted to talk about. Almost as if they were afraid. Silly, isn’t it. To be afraid of someone. Maybe they weren’t. Maybe they just let her go. I don’t know. And it doesn’t matter. Because looking at you two, I figured out the answer to at least one of the questions. What was she doing? Was she merely hiding? Was that why I couldn’t sense her even though I was looking straight at her? Or was there something else? Was there something even more important? Now imagine my surprise when I realised the answer was sitting right by me, at the very same table. I didn’t know exactly, but I knew it had to be one of you two. Now imagine this, for two whole years I was trying to figure out which of you two it was. Or maybe it was you both. I had to know. I didn’t want to go back with the mere news that I had found the girl who vanished all those years ago. No, I wanted to go back with the news that I found her. And also discovered her super big secret. Every day of the last two years convinced me more, how right I was. Just how big a secret it must be for her to have hidden it away so well. If one of you two had the gift, how could she have it hid? I had do so much research, to find the answer. So inconceivable, I was certain that was it. For you, she could do it. Seal it away in you. Without you even realising something was amiss. Do you see the brilliance?”
I can see it now. What we had was not a lie. Aunt was protecting me. They all were. Protecting me from myself. It had been about me all along. If a part of me was sealed away, I can see why I felt different. I can see why the dark side felt so good, so inviting. It was where we could just be us. Everywhere else, a part of me was missing. I couldn’t even feel like myself, how could I feel like I fit in. Like I belonged.
It all makes sense. Whenever the blue erupted around me, I was at ease. Emotionally. I was just myself. I was whole. It was how Aniya made me feel. Which was why I felt the blue most around her. It was also why we crashed.
We were in the car. Aniya and I in the back, mom and aunt in the middle, dad and uncle in the front. The four sets of eyes looking at me, smiling. Almost knowingly. It felt like we were in heaven. Like we couldn’t have been happier. I couldn’t have been more whole. More me.
I can see the car, getting swallowed up by the blue droplet, completely sucked in. I can see the six of us inside, smiling. Happy. Like the most beautiful, the most perfect painting. A sight to behold, the most beautiful in all of the world, all of the worlds. I can feel me. And I can see the explosion.
A sharp blue exploding from the deepest depths in me. A tiny dot, growing at a frightening pace. Instantly filling the droplet of blue. Turning it opaque. For a brief second, all I can see is the opaque blue covering all else. Leaving nothing visible. Then exploding. With a force that distorts the world. Lifting the car off the road, sending it crashing. Ending everything.
It was me. I realised the frightening truth a while ago. Ever since running from it. I caused the accident. I killed my family. It is because of me that Aniya is on the brink of death. All because of me.
He is not done talking. As much as I would love to be left to my misery, to wallow in my sorrow, I must listen. Because he was there. In the distance. Looking. Just before I fell into the darkness, when I had hung on to the last of my strength, the blue had shown me his face. He has something to do with everything, and I must know. I must hang on to every word he speaks. I will.
In the end, it is just the two of us. Vikram and I. And the truth.