Saturday, September 02, 2006

At Crossroads

Sometimes a road you had left behind catches up with you at another crossroad. It would be foolish to ignore it twice.

She left on a winter morning, wearing a cream sweater, her black hair falling over it. She had waited at the door for some time, as if thinking she should say something, then deciding it was useless, walked away. I can't picture it clearly anymore; I just know this is how it happened.

She had come to my room to return a book I had left in the canteen. At the time, I didn't ask her what she was doing in the boys' hostel. Or her name. The latter didn't take too long to find out. When I questioned her later about the former, she had replied, "I was returning your book." "But you're not allowed in the boys' hostel." "I know." "You could have returned the book to me in class." "Yes."

It wasn't love at first sight. It's just that we remember beginnings. And endings. We grew on each other gradually. We looked at the rest of our lives and ordered it into neat little patterns in the way only people who have seen very little of life can. One day she sat up and exclaimed, "But I don't even want to go down that road," and said goodbye.

The years since have been good to me. I found someone else to hold me close at night and in the daylight to look me straight in the eye. I filled my days with purpose; I was content with who I was. But if I could do it all over again, I would do it differently.

I reached the restaurant early so that I could see her walk in. She hadn't changed at all – her black eyes were fierce as ever, her black hair tumbled messily onto her shoulder, and she walked, as always, as if in a hurry to get somewhere. She came up to me and smiled hello. And I knew she had changed in ways I would never know.

"It feels like yesterday and yet like a million light years," I said.

"It's really all the same," she replied, as she sat down.

"What made you think of me?"

"I always think of you."

"I know."

"Are you happy?" she asked.

"Yes," I said, "I'm married to an amazing woman, whom I love very much. I love what I do. Life's been good to me. If I die today, there'll be no regrets."

"But you would still wonder."

"I would still wonder."

"I broke up with my boyfriend two months ago, after 10 years. He said I made him very happy and that he could have stayed if he hadn't known I was more than he could know."

"You wanted him to stay?"

"Very much."

"I love you" I said.

She smiled.

And we talked. Conversations to fill up the spaces we had missed. We took them in small, lingering sips. We took them in huge, greedy gulps. We watched as the sun went down.

"It's time for me to go," she said.

"Down another road?" I asked.

She laughed, "Of course. Is there any other way?"

"No," I replied.

I stood outside the restaurant savoring the cold wind on my skin. It's foolish to ignore a road twice. But then we are foolish. Or maybe, some people are just meant for crossroads.