A Flash of Lightning
The sun was playing hide and seek with her through the leaves of the tree she was sitting under. The pool looked temping but the water needed to be changed. The dried leaves and a film of oil blanketed the surface. She arrived here at the ashram late last night for a five-day seminar on Greener Earth.
The place where she lodged was like a small cottage on a holiday island. There were ten to twelve cottages that were going to be all the participants’ resident she gathered. Most of which were one-storied with either two four rooms in a row; with the exception of the admin building which was three storied. It’s the immodest green of the surrounding that hurt her eyes. There were millions of trees, plants you name it. Lush green, nothing like the concrete jungle she came from. It’s the quietness of the place that characterized it; a perfect place for meditation or even writing a book.
She filled her lungs with the fresh air. A man was walking towards her; she straightened her dress and her lips automatically curved into the friendly smile of hers. He was of medium height and stature. He had pleasant countenance, but it was his green eyes that gave her the jolt. They glistened in the sun matching the surrounding and he narrowed them to keep the sun away.
“Hi! I’m Taifur.”
“Hello! My name is Namrata.
“It seems like a nice place. When did you arrive?”
He talked with a kind of confidence she found strange for someone meeting for the first time.
His eyes studied her as he approached; a petit structure with lovely features he thought. She wore her long black hair with fringes above her eyebrows.
”Yes I love this place, I arrived late last night,” she said tentatively.
“That explains why we haven’t met, I got here yesterday afternoon.”
He kept his eyes on hers as he spoke and she could see her image in his pupil.”
She was a bit taken aback at the suddenness of his question. But was clam while answering.
“Yes; I have an eight year old son and you?”
She thought about Ramesh and her son Sunny. Were they missing her? Well she was thinking of them and wished they were here with her. She could hear her son’s footsteps running around the concrete floor in front of her house.
“I think therefore I am, single! How come you don’t have any vermilion on your
head and no white bangles? Aren’t Hindu women supposed to wear them at all times?”
So he knew who she was. How? She wondered.
“Yes but I don’t believe in that. It’s all in your mind to wish well for your husband
and I don’t really think I have to tell the world that I’m married. Men don’t have
His looks were so intense that she had to look away.
“I have never seen anyone with such beautiful eyes!”
Was he joking or was he fishing for compliments? She thought to herself.
It was time for tea. They were called in. They walked in together. She could feel his stare on her throughout the whole day.
During lunch he sat next to her. Making conversation, he inquired about her likes and dislikes. He was with her, around her all the time since then.
After dinner all of them gathered for a musical game. They sat slightly away from the group with a note pad in front of them. Her and him and the moon. It was not full but it shone for them. The night was clear and there was music going on.
She asked, “What do you really want?”
”I want it for us to happen!”
“What? Are you crazy? You know I’m married.”
“I just want you to give me a little space in your heart.” He told her apologetically.
“But that’s impossible” She blurted.
He wrote the word ‘I’ m possible’ on the notebook
“See! It says ‘I m possible’ and it is you who said it.”
The wind blew hard. The trees were rubbing against one another and there was a storm gathering inside her. As she walked to her room, in the semi darkness she could feel his eyes on her which seem to bore through her. She didn’t look back, she couldn’t. Her heart was heavy and her calmness disturbed. She was a happily married woman. Then why was feeling like a teenager at some stranger’s undivided admiration? She should call it disturbance if anything. How dare he? She would tell him off the next time see sees him she vowed.
There was a lot to do next morning, getting everybody’s name on the right group, checking with the administration for tickets and fares. Then there was the discussion going on. She looked at him and he at her. Eyes locked, heartbeats synchronized, everything went on as usual.
At lunch she told him
“Please don’t do this.”
“Sorry; I will stop staring if that’s what you mean but how will you stop my heart
from feeling the way it does?” He inquired.
“You are making me feel uncomfortable, you can’t do this to me, you barely know
me.” She retorted.
“Give me three reasons as to why I should hide my feelings. I could say one, but I’ll
make it difficult for you,” was his mischievous answer.
She got a book on her desk she knew who it was from. Inside there was a page folded into half the size of it. The holes were torn from being pulled out. Picture pretty handwritten note with blue ink said:
"You say I don’t know you but I have known you since the beginning of
time. I know you inch by inch, from your head, from your hair strings to
your toes. I would love to taste your toes. In fact I’d like to taste your skin
all over. I even know what your skin tastes like. It’s salty, isn’t it? As you
immersed yourself in the water of the ancient caves which collected it’s
salinity over one hundred and fifty years. The river had flown thousands
of miles carrying soil rocks, minerals with it over the years and brought it
to the cave. As you took a head to toe dip in the cool water the salt in it
became a permanent ingredient of your skin. And the green-eyed boy who
was watching you from the trees nearby; well you had no idea about him
did you? He was shedding tears for he knew he could never get close to
you. The flowers, the birds were telling you about him but you were not
listening were you?"
She couldn’t look up as her eyes brimmed with the treacherous salty water from within. She was scared someone might see her tears. But then what was she going to tell him? What reason was she going to give him? What about the tsunami that he brought about in her serene pool? How would she handle it? Would she be able to handle it or would it overflow and take everything with it? The life that she had known, the society which she lived in. And the loving home that she built with years of toil. Could she give them all up just because she met this person in a strange place just for two days?
She didn’t sleep a wink that night. After going through the note for what she thought a hundredth time did she fold it and put it away. She tried to sleep but where was it? She prayed and was surprised that did give her solace even for a short while. The next morning she went for a walk before everyone was awake. The breeze was cool on her face. There was a wired fence beyond which was a thin muddy trail towards what seemed like a jungle. She was a bit hesitant to go along as there might be some animals or even dogs. She had the things for dogs, stray ones. But as she crossed the broken part of the fence she found the walk pleasant. She thought of Taifur, was he up? What if he came up to walk? She almost wished she knew which hut he lived in so that she could call him. She scolded herself. There you go again! You are thinking of him! Is it right? She knew it wasn’t. She turned back, it was time for breakfast.
He seemed extremely serious that day. He wasn’t in his usual jovial mood. In the evening all of them decided to go for a walk in the woods. Namrata and Taifur fell behind from the group without even planning to do so. It was on the other side of Namrata’s cottage and the road was paved with pebbles. There were mud and big rocks on the way. A few bicycles and one or two small pick-ups passed by. The sun was about to set. Namrata came in her slippers and she knew that she should have changed but her hut was far away now. As they walked she could smell him; Neither spoke. It was the silence speaking for them.
“I don’t mean to encourage you but I thought of a lot last night.”
“How kind of you!” He replied.
“Are you angry with me?” Namrata inquired in a worried tone.
Just then the slipper got torn.
Taifur shouted to their friends that they would be turning back as Namarat’s slippers were torn.
But they decided to sit down on the rocks beside the brook that ran across the road. The sat in the twilight dawning on them. She had a beautiful face; he thought as she sat against the sun. Peals of laughter could be heard from a bit far. When it could be heard no more he took her hand in his. As they touched for the first time she was electrified. And his breathe quickened. He whispered to her ears
“I have to tell you this I’m in love with you. Don’t know how it happened but it did.
I’m sorry if I make you feel uncomfortable but I can’t help it. You flow through
me like my blood is flowing, you fill me up with your presence; nothing will ever
be the same for me again. Nothing.”
“But we’ll be leaving in two or three days and I have a family back home.” She
said in a muffled voice.
“And am I asking you to leave your family? Have you ever worshipped anyone
“No.” She said.
As the last rays of sun disappeared and the only sound they could hear was the water flowing they decided it was time to go back. They walked back slowly hand in hand.
Namrata carried her slippers on her hand which gave them some added time to return to their normal daily chore.
They had to do their presentation on the last day, everybody worked hard on that day. Sharing the computers, gathering information, typing them out and getting prints to produce the results. In the afternoon they had tea on the roof of the admin building. The building dwarfed the tallest trees. The tree tops formed a green carpet all around, the birds were flitting about. The floor of the roof was paved with red tiles with wide concrete benches all around the boundary wall. It rained profusely here but the water always drained away. The weather was cool most of the time and all the houses were ventilated on both sides so that the air inside was the same as the outside.
Namrata sat in one corner with her tea mug. She was lost in her own thoughts: was it the surroundings that made her feel the way she did? Was love in the very air in this remote village? Or was it really her? But how could she allow herself to feel the way knowing what it meant for her marriage. She has never ever dreamt being unfaithful to her spouse.
The thoughts crept on her like an ominous snake under the door of an abandoned room. She thought of the seven encircling around the sacred fire behind her husband. She thought of the vow to be faithful to her husband, to care for him in sick and sin and thick and thin.
They had to work late as the final prints were taken. Each of them went back to their room tired. Most fell asleep right away. Namrata couldn’t for some reason. She had dark circles under her eyes from insomnia. As she lay down on her wooden single bed something pulled her towards the door and she was going towards the tall building. The full moon lent her it’s light to find her way. The white flowers fragrance permeated the air. She sought the name of the flower in her mind. ‘Chapa’ that’s what they called it back home. The staircase was dark, she wondered, what if something or somebody collided with her? But after a few flights of stairs she was on the roof.
He couldn’t sleep either. So he went up to the admin building; was playing the music he had stored in his mobile. It was a faint noise so he was sure that no one would be disturbed. He wished she was here with him, they would watch the moon together. He couldn’t understand why he felt the way he did about her. She had everything he ever wanted in a woman. Her hair reminded him of the darkest night, her body smelled of some wild flowers he couldn’t name, her lips oh! She had the most kissable mouth he had ever seen. The tip of her upper lip was shaped like the letter ‘v’ which people pay to get done, her skin was like smooth satin under his palm, she spoke music when she opened her mouth. How could God bestow someone with so many qualities? As he was mulling over these questions he had a strong urge to hold her tight just once before they parted. He wished he could extend their workshop a bit longer. As he was engrossed in his thoughts he saw a shadowy figure appear at the mouth of the stairs. His heart skipped a beat. It was her. How did she know he was here? He walked to her as if in a trance. They stood against the moon holding hands for what seemed like eternity. He caressed her arms which were bare as she had a half sleeved t shirt and a pair of Pajamas on. Their lips met as his hand cupped her face. She didn’t flinch. Rather welcomed his full lips onto hers. As he came down to her neck she whispered
“What are we doing?”
He looked into her eyes to see if she meant he should stop. There was a tiny voice inside telling her that she should stop him but her eyes betrayed her. He put her on the bench and fumbled at the strings at her waist. It was like touching a live wire as hands found his way to the most intimate parts of her body.
“Show me how to open this.”
She did and he got undressed himself. She touched him; a gasp escaped him. As he entered her his muffled voice uttered
“Let me know if I hurt you.”
He didn’t. They were lost in the whirlpool of passion; a passion she had never experienced. Nor was she aware of such intensity of lovemaking. His hands found it's way all over her body. He couldn't get her close enough and she pulled him to her with all her strength. Long after it was over he kissed her tear-streaked face.
They sat for a long time looking at the moon. Everything was calm. Finally they came down and went to their separate rooms.
The last day passed faster than any other. She wore a black sari with a black ‘tip’ on her forehead. They watched each other through the presentation and dinner. They shared a secret no one else could imagine.
As everyone exchanged phone numbers and email addresses, they sat very quietly stealing glances at each other at intervals. Her eyes showed a strange melancholy while he was making jokes at every little thing he could. Her flight was at night. She felt heavy as she went inside the room to pack her things. As she changed into a pair of jeans and a black t- shirt her fingers trailed her body where his were the night before. She looked at herself in the mirror and found that she was a different person that night. Teardrops didn’t seem to cease as she put her things in her suitcase. She took a book she brought to read and put it aside. The shouts and laughter at the yard stung her ears. As she came out of her room she located him sitting on a boulder. She slowly walked up to him holding the book towards him.
“Something to remember me by.” She managed to utter.
He took the book; it was the famous Farewell Tunes by Rabindranath Tagore which he read and loved as a young boy.
“Give me something that will help me forget you. I know you will haunt me forever.
But then, do I want to forget you at all? No. Never! I’ll always treasure the
memory. You will always be with me. Always.”
The chauffeur helped her taking her baggage to the car. He informed her that they should start, as there might be traffic on the way.
He hugged her tight as she stood up to say goodbye to everyone. He felt her body shudder as he let her go. Tears rolled down her face as she walked away.
Namrata’s heart was filled with a strange sorrow which overwhelmed her. But as she got inside at the back of the ambassador she was almost relieved. Relieved that her secret escapade was over or relieved to be going back to her familiar territory she couldn’t tell.
Taifurs sight was hazy as he stood watching her get into the car. The car started with a jerk and grey smoke filled up the place as it took the turn before disappearing.
Jackie Kabir is a writer and translator from Bangladesh. She is also a regular contributor to the book review page of The Daily Star. 3 of her translated stories have been anthologized in 3 books. Visit http://nymphiaspage.blogspot.com/ to see some of her published works.