The Present

Upon careful observation, her reflection revealed to her the following:

In the two years since she met him last, a grey hair had sprouted. It was defiant and never invisible, however much she tried to hide it. A new pimple on her left cheek, and scars of old ones. An allergy that erupted often, leaving behind angry looking skin. Worry lines that weren’t there before. Her face was different somehow, as though the sorrow had taken root and blurred the contours of her face.

She then spent several minutes deciding what she should wear. Something she felt confident in, something she knew she looked good in, something she knew he liked.

She reached a few minutes early. She wasn’t sure if it was nervousness or excitement, but she seemed to have an unexplainable urge to run to the restroom. Her stomach lurched, as though she were in a roller-coaster perched at the highest point, and was about to come hurtling down. She couldn’t sit still. Her head jerked towards the road every twenty seconds. She tugged her hair, curling it with her index finger, pulling at it until a strand came free. She did this all the time, ever since she was a child. Her mother told her it made her appear vacuous, but the rebuke didn’t come to her mind at that moment.

She wondered what momentous things they would speak of, if they would hug as soon as they saw each other. In her imagination, she always cried. Sometimes they were tears of joy, sometimes they were outpourings of the frustration she experienced in their time apart.

Upon careful observation, his reflection revealed to him the following:

In the two years since he met her last, he had become older, softer maybe, the hair at his temples now flecked with more white than before. He stood staring at his wardrobe – perhaps the bright blue shirt he bought recently, or the dark blue one he knew she’d like? He trimmed his beard, he’d been tending to it the past week, in anticipation of this day. As he put on his shoes, the shoes he expected her to chastise him for -they were far too expensive, she’d exclaim- he paused for a minute. His body wouldn’t settle, the anxiety set off his tics. He tapped his feet and bit his nails, and looked at his tired eyes in the mirror. They told stories of sleepless nights and flights that took him across time zones.

He saw her before she saw him. He noticed the shape of her head, the length of her neck as she turned, the fingers in her lap as she cracked her knuckles. And then she saw him. He watched her as she rose and walked towards him, and hugged him as though she did it every day, even as he worried that they might be strangers to each other by now. She laughed and cried, and led him to the seats by the window in the coffee shop. They would mark this as their spot, and meet here frequently. They sat next to each other, the proximity was familiar and new all at once. It was too much, and it was too little.

They spoke of the weather and the traffic, and the long flight he’d just taken. They argued a bit about what to order as the barista looked on impatiently. There were no momentous things to speak of, it was like they were never apart.

As she walked back home, she thought nothing had changed. She was wrong though.Β On her face was a smile that wouldn’t quit.

You can read about this couple here (Part 1) and here (Part 2). Or you couldΒ read the published version here. I recommend the latter.

This story was published in the September issue of Pendora magazine.


24 thoughts on “The Present

  1. See? I told you. Short story writing is your thing.

    You know I was just thinking how I don’t read stories without getting impatient anymore. I judge the writer in the first sentence and keep going on and on. But all I seem to need is quality. I loved reading this.

    Where you thinking of Kabali dressing up before he met his wife after a long gap? For my mine kept going to that scene.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely writing. Wonderful point conveyed about the beauty in everyday minutiae & those meaingful ineffables of life…
    There was something quietly poignant about this piece. What’s the word I am looking for…Elegant…that’s it – something extremely elegant about this piece…

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Read the article! I can understand your feelings! Mother tongue is a seed within us. A little bit of tending to and it’ll quickly grow into a forest. To quote the great Joker, all you need is a gentle push. It’s not particularly difficult if you begin by reading short stories, especially by authors like Sujatha, Puthumaipithan and Asokamitran. They’re very good starting points to get into the groove of reading Tamil. You could check out these websites.

        Practise running short stretches before going for a marathon! Silapathikaaram and other epics are a life-long marathon and you can never finish running them (mainly because there are so many diverse interpretations and translations that you have to decide for yourself without trusting anyone!)

        And we do have an advantage. I find a lot of my well-versed-in-Tamil friends read Tamil translations of Hemingway & other English authors. I can look at them with an expression in my eyes conveying sufficiently that they can never relish the feel of the original. So the universe kind of evens things out πŸ™‚


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