The five o’clock twilight is right around the corner. You can see it painting the white dining table in hues as though the sun’s hiding behind the black trench coat in the corner of the room like a child with a missing milk tooth. The room smells of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. It’s been two years since I’ve been here and, I never realized how much I missed this place till she opened the mahogany door. Her smile is still the same. It’s just that there’s a few more grey strands and the wrinkles have grown deeper. But the smile is still the same. And she still wears the same shade of red, lined with a subtle maroon, highlighting her cupid’s bow in the most powerful way possible. You’d think she’d be delicate but her hugs embrace you with warmth and firmness. Do you know those hugs that are like a safe haven? The ones that make you feel safe? Like nothing could go wrong? Her hugs were like that; joining every broken fragment within you together.
She complains about the two years first but then quickly moves on to ask me how work is going on, if I’ve been taking care of my health, whether I like the new place, does the cold bite me too much and so on. I’ve never felt the crevices of my back relax so soothingly like it today as I plopped onto the fuchsia sofas, stretching my tired legs briefly before I sat cross legged amongst the colourful cushions that stood out on the sofa and yet brought out its colour too. The cookies tell me why I’ve never been able to quite call the cookies of the baker round the corner my favourite even though everyone else did. I can say she’s been painting these days; you could too if you were here. New canvases have replaced the older ones. She fiddles with her silver bracelet as she gently keeps her cup of tea on a coaster of mandalas. I can sense the reason behind her hesitation as she rubs her palms against her thigh absent mindedly, speaking of the loud woman next door and the angelic child her daughter-in-law takes out to the park in a blue pram at six in the evening. She tells me how the man comes home by seven thirty and how the house is exploding with giggles and happiness. She tell me how the other day she heard him argue with his mother, thinking that perhaps it was the stereotyped curse of old age and generation gap creeping in on them. But then later she gets to know it was cause the loud woman hadn’t been having her blood pressure medicines on time. She tells me how she would scold you sometimes when you barely reached her hips for not finishing the tiffin you took to school. Her eyes get lost a little. She asks me how you’re doing; if you still skip lunch. I assure her that you’re doing well and, never miss a chance to eat nowadays. She tells me how she’s started to grasp our technological ways of keeping touch but then the time difference always catches you at the wrong time. She laughs and tells me it’s a good thing it didn’t catch up with me at least. I can hear her pain echoing in her laughter; you could too if you were here.
I’m not sure why you didn’t come along but, I wish you did. I’m not sure why you can’t call more often but, I wish you did. She thought you’d surprise her today; that you didn’t forget today. There’s a jar of freshly baked oatmeal cookies for you on the kitchen slab. Half a century is quite the milestone, isn’t it? She brushes off your absence saying you’ll probably call as soon as you get off work and perhaps even drop by as soon as you get a leave. But I know it’s an hour past our office hours and you’re at home, relaxing on the cream couch, thinking about having Chinese for dinner because they make Chili Garlic Noodles on the specials today and, sleeping early since you have to leave for a hike over the three day weekend, early tomorrow morning. Her eyes keep turning towards the door. Perhaps she thinks you’ll still make it. I wish I could tell her you will, but it breaks my heart to know else wise.
It’s nine and the sky is empty with just half a moon glowing behind winter clouds. She’s kept the jar of oatmeal cookies inside the cabinet and I see her sigh silently as she keeps the phone on the slab, screen facing downwards. Perhaps she’s started accepting that you might not turn up. She turns around and asks me how long I’ll be staying. I tell her till the end of the long weekend. Her eyes lit up but, I’m not too sure if it’s with happiness or surprise. We’re talking about anything and everything under the sun; about politics and drama; about work and whether the house needs another layer of paint; about her; about me; about you; about us. She asks me about you again but this time, she asks me if there’s someone in your life. She whispers this and I can tell she’s not sure if she wants to know the answer or not. I tell her I don’t know. But, you see, I do. I know you’re still with her; the one who you left me for. It’s been two and a half years and I can feel the lump slowly starting to choke me. I can feel her staring at me as I stare at my plate of untouched food. I wonder if she’d like her; I wonder if she’d be as welcomed to the family as I was. I’m not sure why but the possibility of the answers to those being yes pricks my heart as suddenly and briefly as an injection. I look up to her and can tell you she’s wondering the same. We’re two women who love the same man and both our love tossed aside. She’s gazing at me with a question in her eyes I’m not able to read.
“Why? Why do you still send me tulips every full moon like you did when you were married to my son? Why do you still never forget to ask me if I’ve taken my tablets every night before going to bed? Why is it that I am still a part of your life even after the person joining us isn’t?”
I won’t lie to you, she took me by surprise. But it was that endearing confusion in her eyes that melt my heart. You see, love is very powerful but it also very innocent. It’s pure and it is that purity that I saw in her eyes and her questions.
“Because he was merely the bond that brought you into my life not the one that kept you there.”