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Sunday, June 24, 2018

The moon shone on her face

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The little girl I first saw in 1962 died last week. She was too young to die; and I was too cruel not to receive her calls, those desperate yearnings for conversation that came from her. She was not extraordinary in that accepted sense of the meaning. And her education stopped at a point where it should not have. But she remained, all her brief life, a vibrant girl who kept telling me that she had grown into womanhood.

Easy was our banter and light were the battles we waged on the telephone. She called every day --- and she kept calling because I was not willing to talk. She did not, would not give up. When finally I did pick up the call, meaning to reprimand her for calling so many times, it was her plaintive voice that acted as a mellowing agent for me. A sense of her loneliness calmed me a little and I laughed with her. She was happy.

And yet there is in me a grave sense of guilt as I tell myself she will not call again. Somewhere in a village, perhaps in the shade of a bamboo grove, she lies, newly dead in a new shroud. She used to ask me to see her. I promised her I would and then broke the promise every time. She said she would cook whatever I wanted to eat. When I coolly informed her I was busy, that maybe she could call later, she would brusquely tell me off. I understood her anger. You never want to talk to me, she would say.

Call in the evening or at night, I told her. She did. Sometimes we talked, for it was uncomfortable for me to conceive of disappointing her, of breaking her heart. Then again, there were all the moments she would keep calling and I simply would not pick it up. A week ago, after days had gone by and she did not call, I felt uncomfortable. Perhaps she was angry? Maybe she had decided that she would not call again. She had done that once and did not call for a whole month. This time, I waited for her to call. She was so innocent, so naïve at times, that I needed her to feel I was her friend. She did not call. And then one day last week, once twilight had descended, word came that she had passed on.

Life could have been different for her, for me. When we were children (and I was some years older), some people who knew her family and mine spoke of our future together. She would marry me, they said in audible tones. My mother and hers were the best of friends. And somehow they were destined to reinforce their ties through the marriage of their children. Or so they thought. But then things began to change.

There is such a thing as immanent will. Education had to do with it. I moved on to school, to college and finally to university. She stopped midway through school, by slow degrees grew into a vivacious young woman. She lived in a world of dreams, in an imaginary garden she and I inhabited. Often, on my way back from an exhausting spell of tutoring children in their homes, I would drop by at her place. Her eyes sparkled in happiness. The moon shone on her face. The cup of tea she made me was pure manna. I thanked her. And she slipped, ever so passionately, into my arms.

That was ages ago. When she came to see me barely a couple of weeks before the end, it was the sun that planted itself on her enervated features. She wore dark glasses. You will not come to see me, said she. I will be dead and then you will know the enormity of loneliness. I laughed loudly and told her she would live long enough to be part of my thirtieth death anniversary observances. I do not laugh any more. She does not call any more.


The writer is Associate Editor of The Asian Age

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