Another 3 am alarm wakes me from a half sleep. I’m getting to be quite good at this. Waking up at unearthly hours to catch the first flight to somewhere.
Gingerly getting out of bed, I make my way to the bathroom, going through my now familiar ‘getting ready to fly ‘routine .
10 minutes later I’m downstairs in the lobby waiting for Dilip’s sleek black Mercedes . This time we were going on an Alaskan cruise meeting up with our other friends from the US who were coming along with us. This was a special trip. A reunion of old friends and the celebration of an anniversary of sorts. To mark the momentous occasion when our paths accidentally crossed 10 years ago.
That night at the Khanna’s was a night I’ll never forget.
I still remember how reluctant I was to go. I hated 25th wedding anniversary parties. They re-kindled old memories, bringing back emotions that I thought I’d left behind me. They filled me with sadness, reminding me of my own 25th anniversary celebration that Fate had cruelly denied me so!
But Anita was insistent. “Priya,” she said, ” you have to get out now and get a life! It’s been more than a year now. You can’t mope around forever” She even sent a car to bring me to the party. It was sweet of her to think so, but honestly, would a party really help me get over the agony I’d suffered the last year and more? Would it fill up the dark hole of loneliness that got deeper each day? It was a tough year , especially after two agonising years of watching my beloved husband succumb to a disease that consumed him cell by cell. Putting those depressing thoughts behind me, I hastily put on my reddest lipstick and steeled myself to make small talk and laugh at silly jokes with people I hardly knew.
As expected, the room was full of strangers. After Anita’s exuberant welcome, I slunk inside and made my way to the bar. At least that would give me something to do, I thought . It was quite deserted and I wondered if I was doing the right thing. Suddenly, a once familiar frisson of excitement ran down my spine . I stiffened as I sensed his presence before I heard his unforgettable voice.
“So my Coca Cola girl has changed to a Scotch and Soda one?”
Chilled to the bone, I somehow summoned enough courage to face him – Dilip, my ex-flame, once the love of my young and foolish life. It was the first time I’d set eyes on him in 30 years. It was the first time we’d come face to face after he had so unexpectedly walked away from me.
I had often fantasized what I’d do if I ever saw him again. I would slap him. I would walk away. I would ignore him. I could give him a piece of my mind. But I did none of them. Instead, I matched him stare for stare and took in his salt and pepper hair, his bi-focal lenses and the hint of a moustache.
He was older, naturally but still had the same twinkling eyes and a voice tinged with laughter.
And, he was irresistible as ever ! I tried to still my traitorous heart from beating faster . I tried to feel happy that he too felt the pain of betrayal that ended in a bitterly fought divorce .Recently divorced from his wife of 20 years, he gamely raised his glass in salute and waited for me to raise mine.
“Ah ! Talisker,” he said catching a whiff of the aroma as we clinked our glasses. In a split second I was lost. Lost in a whirlwind of thoughts that I never imagined I’d re-visit. Lost in the memories of the first flush of love. Lost in a past that had never really gone away
Within the week we were back together, going for movies, concerts and plays. Re-discovering each other as we walked by the sea and tried out new restaurants in town. And slowly his friends and mine became ours as our two separate lives became one. People began inviting us as a couple and surprisingly, even our families accepted our being together. Both his children and mine.
Foot loose and fancy free, he suggested we travel to all the places we had spoken about when we were young and too poor to travel.
Thus began our endless holidays from one place to the next. Like a pair of aging hippies. It was exhilarating to be with each other looking at the world with older and more experienced eyes . But the hearts that beat inside our middle aged bodies were like the hearts of a young couple in love.
Often people wondered why we didn’t cement our relationship with marriage. After all, we still had many good years ahead of us. But we had gone beyond that. We’d been there and done that. We’d had our marriages. We’d had our families. We’d had our duties and our responsibilities. We were done with complications and legalities.
Now, in the remaining years of our lives, I’d tell ‘them’, I’d rather be a half girl-friend than a full time wife!