The morning was unusually quiet in the house. While the house was afresh from the early morning elements like fresh air, cool breeze, and crisp sunlight there was something missing. Bethany noticed that the place was eerily quiet. There was no rustling of morning newspaper pages or the aroma of her morning brew. The radio was not tuned in and the breakfast was not started.
She rubbed her eyes and looked around. Benjamin was nowhere to be found. She went up to his room and knocked the door. He didn’t respond. She knocked again but still got no response. So she tenderly turned the knob and cracked open the door to peek inside.
The room was quiet. The bed was made which meant he was up already.
Bethany went to the bath door to see if she can catch sound of running water. Silence once again.
“Benji, you in there”, she called out.
She waited for response but it never came.
“Benji”, she knocked on the door and called out to him again.
Still no response.
Finally she slid open the bath door but it was empty.
She frowned and stepped back.
She looked around Benjamin’s room. It looked as if it was left unoccupied the previous night. And then she saw a note lying at his desk. The note had ‘Bethany’ written on top of it in his bold handwriting. She opened it and read it.
‘Bethany, I am going out to take care of a few things that will take time. Make your own coffee and breakfast to start your day. I will come by later.’
The photographer sat down on his bed and frowned. He was being secretive and curt. It was unusual of him. But she could not blame him.
She remembered what she had done last night. She remembered how she had lost her cool with him and slapped him. And she felt guilty for it.
It had taken her entire night to come to terms with her own emotional outburst. How could she do this to him? She had spent the night cursing herself and her actions. And finally the minute she had found the courage to step out of her room she had come out looking for Benjamin.
She ran her hand through her hair and tried to control the next onslaught of guilt and tears that was about to hit her. She was feeling miserable. But the first thing that she had to do now was to look for Benjamin and apologize to him.
She got dressed and rushed to her studio hoping to find him there. All through her drive she kept on practicing what she was going to say to him when she finds him there. She kept coming up with scenarios of how to apologize to him.
But just like the house, the studio was empty. She looked around for signs of his presence but there were none. She fished out her phone to see if he had left any text messages for her. None. This was the longest that Benjamin had gone AWOL on her.
She decided to throw caution to the wind and call him. She hit speed dial and waited for her friend to greet her in his usual friendly manner. But that didn’t happen. Instead she hit his voicemail.
“Hey this is Benjamin. I am unable to answer your call. Just leave a message for me after the beep and I will call you back. Ciao!” His effervescent voice left Bethany reeling more.
“Hey Benji, it’s me. I wanted to say…..you know what just call me”, she couldn’t complete her sentence. She could not say sorry to him in such an impersonal way. She had to have him in front of her eyes. He had to see it for himself that she was really sorry for what had happened.
She put down the phone and went to her picture board. She started sorting through the photos that she had developed and started putting them on the board. She was trying to build a new storyline through photos on her board. She tried to focus on work at hand but that didn’t happen. The silence of the studio cruelly taunted her of Benjamin’s absence. She tried his cell again but still got voicemail. She tried music as a distraction but even that didn’t work. She remembered how Benjamin had kept her constantly on the phone just about a year back.
“Benji! Gosh you are incorrigible”, she said into the phone.
“B, I just wanted to check on you”, he said from the other end.
“You just checked on me 15 minutes back”, she argued.
“When you said that you were checking in. You were supposed to call me after that. Since you didn’t call I called you”, he was not giving up.
“I just walked into my room and was looking around”, she told him.
“How much time does looking around take”, he shot back.
“God you are acting like my mum. I am a big girl and I can take care of myself”, she fired back getting irritated by his behavior.
“Ok ok I take the point”, he said as if he was getting down from his high horse. “So found any new spots to click”, he tried small talk.
“Not yet but I am sure I will find something once I venture out”, she said unpacking her photography gear.
“Well I will let you rest now. Stay in touch”, he sighed.
“As if I have a choice of not being in touch with you”, she teased.
“Hardy ha ha”, he mock laughed and hung up.
And today it seemed like staying out of touch was the only choice that Benjamin had left her with. She picked up her phone and called him one more time. Voicemail again!
Not being able to take the anxiety anymore, she took her camera and left the studio. She went out clicking pictures of anything and everything as a means of keeping herself occupied.
After two hours she came back hoping to have Benjamin back in the studio but that didn’t happen. Worried sick she called him again. Once again she reached his voicemail.
“Dammit”, she cursed and flung her phone across. “Where the hell are you Benji”, she whispered.
The clock kept ticking by making her painfully aware of every passing second. It was close to 4 pm now and Benjamin had still not come back. Neither had he called her or sent any messages. She had called him practically every hour of the day but never got past the voicemail.
She was deeply engrossed in her thoughts when the door to the studio opened and Benjamin walked in.
Bethany who was sitting with a cup of coffee in her hands froze. She looked like a deer caught in headlights. She looked scared. She felt scared. She didn’t know how to approach him.
Benjamin on the other hand busied himself going through his desk drawer looking for something. He didn’t spare her a glance. He just kept to himself.
“Benji”, she approached him tentatively.
“Hmm”, he responded lost in his own thoughts.
“I need to talk to you”, she said looking down at her toes.
“Later Bethany. I am busy right now”, he replied still not looking at her.
His voice held a sting or did just Bethany imagined it. She thought back to the time when Benjamin would drop everything just for her.
“B, are you ok? What’s happened? Where are you? Please tell me you are ok”, Benjamin started pacing around.
“Chill out Benji I am fine”, Bethany laughed.
“God, I just got so worried”, he breathed a sigh of relief. “Why the hell are you calling me at this time of the hour”, he looked at his table clock that read 2:00 am.
“I am sorry I didn’t realize the time difference Benji”, the photographer forgot that she was on a different continent and in a different timezone.
“You don’t have to be”, he yawned, “I am happy talking to you any time of the day.”
“You are a sweeheart Benji”, she cooed.
“So how’s it going”, he asked trying to hide his blush.
“It’s been good so far. Tomorrow I have to meet the representative of Snaps. It’s supposed to be some guy called Varun Sen. He will come to pick me up and give me a tour of their facility. I will be talking to their board to see what sort of engagements they are planning. We will also work out the contract details tomorrow”, she told him.
“That’s nice. Make sure that you are clear about your terms and expectations B”, he yawned again.
“I will. Now go to sleep Benji. I will call you tomorrow”, she said.
“Alright, goodnight”, he said.
“Goodnight”, she smiled and hung up.
And today the same Benjamin had gone missing God knows where for an entire day and was not even giving her a minute.
“Benji, I have been worried for you”, she tried to start a conversation.
“Why”, he kept ruffling through his papers.
“You have been gone since morning. Didn’t show up at the studio as well for the entire day. What do you think will happen to me”, she looked exasperated.
“I did leave you a note”, he responded.
“A note? Are you serious? You leave me a note and expect me to take it for an answer? You have not been answering your phone. You are not calling back. You are not sending any messages”, she continued.
“I told you I was busy”, he got up from his desk with a stack of paper and tucked them in his sling bag.
“Benji, listen I know….”, she began but stopped midway as she saw him preparing to leave. “Where are you going now”, she asked.
“I am going back home”, he replied.
“Why”, she tried to get him to stay by standing in his way.
“Bethany, I am taking a day off. Have to take care of a few things”, and with that he just left her standing there.
Bethany spent rest of the time trying to close shop and go home so that she can talk to Benjamin. The drive from the studio to her house was excruciatingly painful for her. She just wanted to go back and make things right with Benjamin. So high was her anxiety that she almost good booked for speeding, signal jumping, and even road rage. The minute she parked her car she just rushed out of it and almost ran up the stairs to her place. She opened the door but stopped dead in her tracks.
Benjamin’s bag was packed in the living room. He came out of his room with another small bag slung on his shoulder.
“What is all this”, she asked him.
“I am taking a few days off”, he told her.
“You can’t do that”, she told him.
“I think I have enough vacation days with me”, he responded.
“Benji, I didn’t mean that”, she tried to explain.
“I don’t know what you mean anymore Bethany”, he said with no emotions evident in his tone.
“Benji, let me please apologize”, she cajoled him.
“For what”, he looked confused.
“For what I did to you last night”, she felt ashamed.
“You didn’t do anything Bethany. You treated me the way I deserve to be treated. I have been living my life wrapped around your pinky finger. Do you know what that means”, he asked.
Not able to respond to his question she just nodded her head in negation.
“It means I have no self respect left. I don’t see myself worthy of anything other than being your slave. That’s what I am capable of, serving you as my master. But this has to stop. I can’t be treated like dirt. I am not your punching bag. I have feelings too. I hurt and believe it or not I bleed as well”, his voice cracked.
“I know and trust me I am sorry. I am sorry for hurting you like this. I am sorry for making you feel this low. But Benji, you are not my punching bag. You are my best friend. I respect you more than anybody else in this world. And I love you as well”, she admitted.
“But not the way I do Bethany. You don’t love me the way I love you”, he said somberly.
“I am sorry”, she said again.
“Don’t be. It’s something you can’t help. Just like you can’t not love somebody you just can’t love somebody. That’s you Bethany. That’s what you are”, he made sense.
“Then why are you doing this”, she asked with tears in her eyes.
“All along I have been telling you to get over her and to look ahead at life. I have been telling you to let go of your obsession and focus on something else. But I myself have not been doing that. I have been a slave to my love for you and even I have not looked beyond you at all. If I have to get you to break yourself free from this bondage then I myself need to do it first”, he explained.
“Benji, you don’t have to….”, she started but was cut off by Benjamin.
“Bethany, I will always be your friend. But I don’t want to be a prisoner to you anymore. I don’t want you to be a prisoner to an obsession anymore”, Benjamin said.
“I can’t let her go. I just can’t let her go”, for the first time Bethany showed signs of her emotional weakness.
“Bethany, you told me once that an obsession of an artist is more dangerous than an obsession of a lover. I just want you to remember that”, he said and picked up his bag.
“Where will you go”, she asked him.
“To Hawaii. I need some sun and sand. I will be back here soon. Don’t worry, I am not moving out. I just need to stay away from you for a few days”, he answered.
“You will call me”, she asked.
“No”, he replied honestly, “but I will be available if you call me”. And with that he leaned in and gave her a brief peck on her cheeks. “Goodbye Bethany. I will see you in a few days”, and with that he was gone.
All the photographer could do was stand back feeling rejected. She knew he was right. Every single word of Benjamin made sense. But the difference between them was that he was just a guy who was in love with a person who didn’t love him back. But with her things were different. She was not in love, at least not with the person. She had found her muse and she was obsessed with this muse.
‘Obsession of an artist is more dangerous than an obsession of a lover.’
Benjamin’s words echoed in the empty silence. It was a lazy afternoon when she and Benjamin had ended up in a mindless discussion of how human feelings had catastrophic capabilities. Benjamin opined that an obsessed lover was a dangerous person. But Bethany did not agree. According to her an obsessed artist was more dangerous than an obsessed lover.
And now her own thought had come back to haunt her. She had come very close to creating an upheaval in the relatively calm and composed life of her muse. She didn’t want that. She knew better than that.
She had to control herself or else the world would find out who this person was that had turned Bethany Hill’s life upside down.