The door swayed ever so lightly and faint light slithered noiselessly inside. The movement brought a fresh draft of air into the room and I opened my eyes just in time to catch the familiar retreating figure of the help. I gave attention to her only long enough to think ‘I will ask for water the next time she peeks inside’ and was about to close my eyes when something else caught my attention. Someone was behind the door, almost motionless like a shadow. Whoever it was, caught the swaying door before it could snap shut. But the shadow did not advance.
I was, by then, used to having the help check up on me to make sure I was comfortable, which I was far from, though of course she didn't need to know that. But that shadow was an addition to the familiar mind-numbing routine.
Even in the gloom there was no mistaking the shadow. If my thoughts had a voice it would have yelled in joy. If my heart was not already erratic it would have stuttered from the ecstasy. She stood in the doorway studying the room. And from what I could see of her expression I imagined that she was hesitant to enter. I raised my right arm ever so slightly to motion her inside. She was still undecided so I left my hand hover for a few seconds (with every effort that I could garner) to make her understand that I wanted her to come near. The image of the unacknowledged raised hand brought back into memory another vivid one, though then the roles were reversed and I was the one who was hesitant to take the hand. I wondered if she remembered that time from long ago. She left the door half parted and walked in slowly and deliberately ignoring my raised arm, came to stand by my other side. She was close enough now for me to see her properly. Time had had no influence over her. She looked exactly like from my memory.
"Hi" I tried to say and was surprised to hear how cracked and hoarse my voice was. I definitely needed some water.
She was watching me intently, with something besides worry in her expression. Her eyes roved everywhere about me, about the room too but not quite meeting my gaze. I had no mind for anyone, anything. Had the room been suffocating-ly full with people and their talks, I wouldn’t have noticed at that point, and that wouldn’t have surprised me.
She slowly asked "Couldn’t you have at least watched where you were going?" Like always, I was surprised by her choice of that as the first question. Everyone who saw me would be either empathetic or patronizing or easily repulsed. But no one would dare to have put such a question to me, at least not on face and definitely not then. But I had to give it to her to ask the weirdest of questions at the weirdest of times.
Apart from the surprise my mind also lingered on the tone of the voice. The voice held the same magic I was so used to. It had the same lilting quality that had appealed to me, and it made my thoughts flutter. But right then it was tainted with just a bit of exasperation.
A weak chuckle escaped my lips. And that was when she finally looked at me, in the eye. Innocent, questioning, soul searching look was what I remembered most of her eyes. But the eyes that looked at me from behind the swollen lids appeared weary and tired, with barely any hint of the former naughtiness or warmth.
Had she been crying, I wanted to ask. But the way our eyes connected I completely forgot about it. She tilted her head to the left smiled ever so lightly at me, and I could see some of the warmth creep back into her eyes again. She started at me for a long moment her face full of question and the anticipated nervousness at the answers I might provide. I wondered again if she was recalling the ancient grief of our last meeting.
I tried to shrug, an unadvisable thing to do, for the spasm of pain took me over. I concentrated hard not to wince, not to betray my weakness in front of her. I had to act, as I have always had to when around her. She was not one to be fooled and her eyes rarely missed the insignificants as she diverted her attention again to the state of me. Wherever her eyes touched my body it was like a warm caress and momentarily I could not remember any burning agony.
I could see tears forming at the corners of her eyes though she fought hard to swallow it. As always I tried to ease the hurt she felt because of me. I attempted to talk, but my voice was barely a grunt from want of water. I mumbled, "You look the same. You haven’t changed at all".
I heard her sigh and a genuine smile spread across her face.
I took heart and asked her "How are you?" I instantly regretted the emotion that crept into the simple question. She replied very softly "In a lot of trouble" with a small smile. I needn’t have to ask any further for what she meant by that. Again, I was sorry she was troubled on account of me. I sighed and I was once again over-powered by my want of water. Ignoring that I searched around for what to say next, to make her comfortable, but she did not seem to find my silence disturbing. Rather she sat there as a warm comfort to me, with her fingers entwined in my left hand.
I relaxed at the touch and just lay there almost as still as my body would let me when many pains and flashes of memories and anger and dejection and regret washed over me. It was like yesterday when we…
I felt, rather thought, the hair brushed back from my face with the gentlest of a touch and felt a warm pressure on my forehead. Slowly I opened to my eyes to see.
Someone was behind the door almost motionless like a shadow. Whoever it was, caught the swaying door before it could snap shut. But the shadow did not advance.
But the familiar scene from moments ago (was it just moments?) was blaringly different.
She was not coming for me. She was retreating from me. The lingering warmth of the soft pressure on the forehead and the tingling at the point of the contact were the only real thing. I wanted to cry. I wanted to call her back. I couldn’t find my voice. I wanted something for my thirst. What was that?
I don’t remember what. I just couldn’t care more.
I turned my head to glance back at the place where she had sat and tried to imagine her there again. To find comfort in the seconds that made me peaceful, albeit momentarily! There in the chair she had sat, within my reach, was a warm sterile bottle of drinking water.
I hated the sight of it.
But how can I hate something for which I crave the most? Can I?