Raurkela, my adopted city had devoured me, physically drained me and had me occupied. There was always something happening, always some lecture to attend, some projects to prepare or some movie to see. There was always someone to crowd my life. Friends in the canteen, batch mates in class and roommates in the hostel.
However, my village never left me. What they say about, “You can take the man out of the woods, but you can't take the woods out of the man.” My village slumbered somewhere between Bhubaneswar and Cuttack: tucked deep into nowhere. There were fifty houses and a high school. There was an all season stream and countable water pumps. A few street lights and no proper hospital. Surprisingly, my father, mother, uncles and aunts all were healthy and robust. There was no case of any serious disease or unnatural death that I heard of. Except the accident that choked my life.
In the name of a bus stand, there were a couple of tea stalls on the high way. It was 9 pm and I had dozed off, when I was shaken and shown the bus door by the conductor. I thanked him profusely and got off on a sour note.
No one was around, not like I was expecting an entourage. I had not bothered to inform my parents. I took the wiry track to the now famous wooden bridge and the stream underneath. Summer usually had more visitors to this place. The path remained muddy and slippery. This was the route for villagers to carry fresh water. It was a moonlit night and I could see each tree. I pulled at some branches to disturb sleeping birds. I spotted a few rabbits or were they mongoose; I was not sure. Yet their presence assured me of company.
It took me all of twenty five minutes to reach the wooden bridge and yes I was keeping track of the time. Once, I reached it, I knew I would lose my sense of time. Time took a timeout. This was where I had played hide and seeks as kids. Here on these planks, I had sat for hours telling stories. I had slept on this bridge at night looking up at the stars.
I walked to the bridge and watchfully chose my spot. Not too far from the center and not near it either. The barricade stood perfectly broken at the middle. I found the bridge damp as I rested my hands beside me. I hung out my legs and sat on my denim back. Water gurgled and made a contended sound. Early, rains had pepped the place with greenery. I wished, I had carried a few pebbles to throw aimlessly into the water. I sat there doing nothing. I had no clue how long I sat there. And then I saw her.
A first, she was a mere shadow. When I focused on her, she came into light. She stood at the edge of the water bed. I was relieved that she was there. I was getting fed up of myself. She wore an orange shalwar suit that looked like burnt red in the night. Her hair was tied loose in a pony and she was bare feet. I had often teased her that she had prettier feet than face. Right then, I realized, I was wrong. She had a most fascinating face. Her skin was silk and her eyes were pools of water.
I saw a touch of excitement in her eyes and some madness in her smile as she came and sat next to me.
‘I was kind of hoping you would be here’ I said.
‘I wouldn’t be anywhere else’.
‘You look unreal’.
‘What? I take good care of myself’ she burst out in giggles.
‘Strangely funny’ I joined her in laughing.
‘How have you been, Su?’ I asked.
‘Susanna is my name. Su is no more’ she teased me.
‘Do you miss me? Did you miss me in the city?’
‘What kind of a question is that? I loved you…deeply.’
‘I did not understand you like I understand now’.
‘Now that it is all over, it does not matter whether you loved me or not, belong to me or not’.
‘Oh’. I was pensive.
‘I know, I love you and nothing could change that’.
‘You still love me, after all the trouble I put you through?’ I looked into her eyes.
‘Trouble does not trouble me but love still weakens me’. She looked away. Was she crying?
‘You weaken me, Su’ she did not mind me calling her Su again.
‘I know, I am here to tell you, it was not your fault. It was nobody’s fault’.
‘I should have caught you. Better still, I should have jumped after you’
‘Yes, you could have. The bridge is low height. Fear did not stop you, shock did. There is a difference’.
‘Low height, hun? How come, you were hurt’?
‘I hit on a stone, that one over there. Some people are plain unlucky’.
‘Did that hurt a lot’?
‘Nope, it was quick. My last most dominant emotion was the excitement of your mouth on mine’.
‘But…’I tried to reason.
‘It was an accident, accept it’.
I love her, I had always loved her. Our homes were as entwined as our destinies. Our parents worked in the same farming field. We went to the same school. We were born a few days apart. We grew into adolescence together. She was the one for me and I always knew that. Often, I would force myself on her, in the field, near the bridge, in the river. She would threaten to spill the beans but she never did. I knew she loved me too.
My engineering admission was done with. I had always been a bright student. I did not want to go away. I did not want to be away from Su. She was upset and had not been talking to me for almost a week. That was my last night; I had plans to get close to her.
At night, we met on the wooden bridge, our common meeting place. I was all excited. She was still upset. I was impatient and she was awkward. She did not realize time was running out. We ended up fighting. She tried to detangle herself, I caught her and pinned her hands behind her. I pushed her into the barricade as she struggled and tried to bite at me. When I kissed her, she eased against me.
The entire village was sleeping and I was living my dream. I felt all grown up. I release her hands to cup her face and then she kicked me. I got all worked up and pushed her back. The old wooded bridge creaked and complained. I was too far gone to care. The middle of the barricade opened up and she fell, her back facing the river.
I wanted to hold her back, to collect her into my arms. Instead, I could only balance myself from falling. I had let her fall and hit on a stone, while I stood there breathing abnormally. She hit her head first and there was a distinct sound of death that came from her.
‘I sat there looking at your body, until morning.’
‘I never confessed to anyone about how it happened.’
They believed it was an accident. Everyone knew, we kids always came here at night’.
‘They found me on this bridge, too. I had not moved from the spot’.
‘There was a big scandal. Some people said you were pregnant’.
‘A scandal or two does not hurt the dead. It only makes them famous’. She was smiling. I could not take it anymore, I needed a hug. Tears were forming in my eyes and clouding my vision. I turned to her after wiping my tears and she was gone with the winds. Soon, it was going to be another day. I got up, dusted myself and was on my way home.
You can vote for Ghazala HERE
Ghazala's Blog : Ghazala Hossain