The Come Back – Chapter 31

by Anita Menon

It took Ash an entire 15 minutes to realize that she was on a train to Cambridge. She felt like she was on auto-pilot for the last few days. The train was whizzing past the rolling hills that were spotted with white and black sheep. Ash sat with her nose pressed on the thick glass pane of the train window. A part of her wanted to jump out to become one with the green hills but the other part held on to the impulsive child. She was eager to get to Cambridge. She had to see Jai. He didn’t have a clue about her spontaneous trip and for that matter she, herself didn’t know she was travelling to see him.  All she knew was, she had to breathe else she might just dissolve into the floor of her house, into the ink blue sky, into the pages of her secret leather diary and into the colours of her tattoo ink. She had to hold on so as to not disintegrate like the clouds that turn into rain. Drop by drop they splatter to dissolve into the earth, the people, the animals, the grass, the rivulets and the sea. Drops that begin with being themselves and then end being something else. She had to  hold on. Her only chance was to see Jai and to attain that sense of normalcy. In 30 minutes from now she would be searching for him at his University.

The past few days had been exhausting for her. Her Mother had come back and with her came so many realizations. Ash understood that all the years of fueling her hatred had failed her at the time when she needed it the most. Her creative life helped her get rid of that part and made it go away. Yet she felt listless in Maya’s presence. Their ability to connect without words made Ash uncomfortable. She had to fight it to keep her distance and that enervated her. The unplanned getaway, now seemed like the most plausible thing to do.

The train slowed down at the Cambridge station and she hopped out into the crispy, cold air. She had her duffel bag hanging on her right shoulder and the other hand tucked into her jacket’s pocket to keep warm. It was too early to be so cold, she complained to nobody in particular. She walked with a deliberate slowness to let the cold seep in to make her feel numb. Feeling numb wouldn’t solve anything she knew but that was the easiest way out. She remembered her earlier days at school being bullied by a bunch of nasty boys and girls. She was different, they said. She didn’t mingle with others, kept to herself and scribbled patterns in her notebook. They forced her to turn violent as an act of self-defence. This was after Maya left. Ash felt her world crumbling around her. She couldn’t move any faster to pick up the pieces before they hit the ground and dissolve into the carpeted floor of her home, into the drop of paint on her drawing sheet, into the vortex of words of her English teacher and into the hysterical laughs of her bullies. The pieces scattered everywhere and she felt helpless. And so lonely. She turned to her father and only saw a shadow of a person who resembled her father. A withdrawn man. That is when she decided to strike back in anyway she could. She picked up fights and challenged her bullies. She silenced every one of them. All the schools decided they couldn’t have her. She was tired of them, anyways. Somewhere in the tiniest corner of her heart, she had hoped that her mother would come knocking at their front door. Come in and hug her tight to never let go. Ash had waited every single day at the porch after school until dusk, pretending to do home work or reading a book. She waited and waited until she knew her mother might not come back at all. She felt she was the only one in the family hoping against hope. Her father had shrunk in everywhere way that was possible. Barely talking to anyone, he went about his business like nothing had happened. Anna was too young to notice anybody’s absence. That is when Mrs. P stepped in with her efficiency and boundless affection. Her energy  transformed their home and made it a place worth returning to after a torturous day at school.

Now she had almost reached the grounds of the University. Old and majestic, the building itself gave Ash something of an assurance. She mingled into the student crowd like she was one of them. She asked a few students about Jai’s whereabouts and they all pointed out to the same direction. She headed to that direction in quick steps and her duffel bag thudding against her back. She saw him, standing in a group and talking animatedly about something. When he saw her approaching him, Jai quickly bid a hasty goodbye to his friends and ran to meet her. They stood staring at each other for a few moments, absorbing each other’s presence. Jai took her hands in his and then hugged her tight, lifting her up a little. He took her duffel bag and hooked his arm in hers and started walking towards the cafeteria. The weather had sudden turned mellow and fat bumble bees buzzed around them seeking their attention. But they had eyes only for each other. Ash hadn’t smiled yet and Jai couldn’t stop smiling. They entered the cozy cafeteria and ordered for coffee at the counter. Almost immediately both of them lit up their cigarettes and stood outside the door of the cafeteria waiting for their coffee to arrive.

“I can’t believe you are here!” , Jai exclaimed with the smoke whirling out of his nostrils and mouth. With a jerk he pulled Ash on to his side and held her close with one hand, while puffing away with the other. Ash, whose eyes were still reading Jai’s face, taking in every single feature, expression, emotion, line and shade. She was glad she made this trip. Life was normal here, with Jai and his smile. Under his strong arms she felt the world that had unfolded into different directions was folding itself in to restore balance and normalcy.

” Neither can I” , she spoke with a deliberate slowness because of the chill that made her teeth chatter a bit. Jai’s sunshine like demeanour shone down on her making the ice melt away and a warm, honey like warmth spread throughout her body.

” How have you been, darling? I have missed you and was planning  escape this rigorous schedule and see you.” , he said, drawing her closer.

“I haven’t been that good, Jai.”, she confessed. What was it about him that made it so easy for her to say things that were so difficult for her to admit to anybody else.

“What seems to be the problem, sweetpea?” , he asked her and his deep brown eyes, widening with concern.

Ash related every little detail, her feelings and her need to escape  which Jai listened to in rapt attention.

“Baby doll, you have been through so much. ” , he said with a finality which meant that she needn’t say anything more and that he was there to take care of her troubles. They sipped coffee in silence.

They spent the afternoon making love, passionate and engulfing. The physical act of love pecked at every little hint of self-doubt and despair. All the sadness evaporated and formed white, thick, foamy clouds in the sky. There is no way to completely avoid pain but there are ways to escape it; even if it is for a little while. Short bursts of joy find their way through those gaps left behind by despair and they lighten up the room for the shortest little while. In that shortest while, faith gains power and refuels the mind with the strength that it seeks.