Is this Love?

“It is love when you fearlessly hold somebody’s hand and stand at the edge of a cliff…with a belief somewhere deep inside, that the fingers you are holding will never let you fall.” – Nicolas whispered these words to Rebecca as they stood on the little old wooden bridge, looking at the crimson west sky.
Soft nostalgia filled Rebecca’s heart. This was the place they had first met nine years back. Rebecca can still recall that day. The slow walk they took down the hill amidst the pines and ferns and how Nicolas confessed his love for her, stretching out a basket of fresh strawberries, and kissed her, with the mushroom clouds as an on-looking witness!

Rebecca resuscitated from her contemplation. The sun had set and it had turned dark, and the rugged old bridge back home seemed onerous to cross, perhaps because she was walking alone today. Rebecca had walked all the way to the small country Church to pray for Nicolas’s recovery. Nicolas has been suffering from a breathing trouble over the last eight months. Doctors detected a throat infection and chest congestion. For Rebecca sleep doesn’t come without her pillow being wet with tears, and every Friday she made it a compulsory task to go to the country Church. Nicolas had not been keeping too well; the rains had set in and the damp walls took a toll on his health.

“Did you finish the soup I had left back on the table for you?” Rebecca asked as she entered the bedroom. Nicolas was lying, looking pale and weak.
“No”, he replied in a broken voice. “That hard lump midway my throat didn’t let me gulp down even a spoon”, he continued.

Rebecca looked at the soup bowl on the bedside table and let out a deep sigh. “I met the doctor on my way to the Church. He repeatedly told me to make sure that you eat or else effect of medicines will fail and…”, she began crying.

“And what? I will die?” Nicolas asked stoically. Rebecca looked away and walked out of the room. Nicolas continued and it turned into a mere whispered soliloquy—“Money is going down the drains! My death will at least spare you from the pathetic financial condition I hate to see you in”, he broke down into uncontrollable sobs.

Rebecca quietly had dinner, fed Nicolas little porridge, gave him his medicines and his regular dose of oxygen and switched off the light. The silence outside turned stormy at about midnight…the shadowy trees swayed their heads wildly to ‘n fro as if dancing to some tribal tune…dry leaves made a strange rustling noise and crazy winds rattled the window panes. A sudden gasping sound from the side woke Rebecca up from sleep. She sat up startled on the bed and groped in the darkness to reach the switch-board. Perhaps because of the storm outside the voltage fluctuated. Yet Rebecca could see Nicolas gasping hard on the bed, his face scarlet with breathlessness and droplets of sweat trickling down his forehead. A chill ran down Rebecca’s spine. She rushed to him and desperately began hunting for the oxygen tube. To her utter disbelief, she could not trace it. Every other thing—the medicine bottles and tablet sachets, was in its place where it had to be but the oxygen tube was missing.

Meanwhile Nicolas had begun to moan…his chest moving up and down. Outside the storm turned rummaging…thunder lights cut across the heart of the sky and rain gushed down, sweeping the dry leaves like the swift cascading currents of a mountain stream. Nicolas  struggled for a couple of minutes more…his fingers clutched the bed sheet…his mouth opened wide and lips moved as if to whisper out a last word…a teardrop ran down the corner of his left eye and…his body became still.

Rebecca paused the search. There was her love…her Nicolas …lying dead before her… with his soul perhaps walking towards a world where there isn’t any agony. Rebecca shook Nicolas’s body once and let out a loud cry. She had never before seen death from such a close distance. Her pulse paced and her throat went dry. She slowly moved away from the bedside…her feet took a few steps back and she stood with her back to the wall…the clock ticked ahead…
The stormy night broke into a cloudy morning. Neighbours arrived, mourned and consoled. But perhaps for someone who loses a closest one, condolence doesn’t work. Rebecca turned into a stone by Nicolas’s pre-mature demise. Though from inside she felt like bursting out into copious sobs, yet her tears dried before turning her eyes blurred. Rebecca sat on the floor in one corner of the room, motionless and engulfed with a strange stoicism as the neighbours were getting ready for the funeral ceremony.

The cemetery was a mile’s walk from home. It was a forty-acre stretch with Casuarinas and white graves. Nicolas’s body vanished beneath piles of dug-up soil as the pastor chanted the usual prayers. Neighbours placed bunch of white flowers at the feet of the marble Cross and the pastor sprinkled Holy water. Rebecca stood still wrapped in her black mourning gown.

Back at home everything had changed. There was emptiness all around. From the Church, faint melancholic lyrics of the Elvis Presley song could be heard…

“I’ll have a blue Christmas without you,
I’ll be so blue thinking about you,
Decorations of red on green Christmas tree…
They won’t mean a thing if you’re not here with me;
And when those blue snowflakes start falling,
And when those blue heartaches start calling…”

Rebecca took out an old box from the bedside table drawer. It was an old Chocó-chip cookies box with red designs on golden tin. As she opened it nostalgia brought back bygone days in flashes. Inside were a few photographs of Nicolas and Rebecca’s last college day, a dried red carnation, a few torn bus tickets, a rusted broken mouth organ that Rebecca used to love once when Nicolas played it by the bonfire, and a folded paper chit.

This last thing confused her. Many a times before, she had opened the box and admired those souvenirs but that paper was never there. Rebecca unfolded it. It was Nicolas’s writing, as if scribbled by trembling fingers.

“Rebecca, perhaps tonight will be the last night of my life. I love you and will miss you. I can’t see you in financial trouble and that oxygen cylinder costs the amount you can’t afford for any longer. When I die, don’t cry because even if you can’t touch me you can feel me beside you wherever you go. And try and forgive me for the last step I took. And…don’t forget to look further inside the drawer.  Your Nicolas.”

Rebecca’s senses became numb…as if she was holding a conch shell close to her ear to listen to mysterious ‘nothings’…and instead, feel the snapping of thousands of little nerves and tissues in her brain! She opened the drawer and put her curious trembling fingers inside.
And there it was…carefully kept hidden…the coiled oxygen tube!!

Rebecca could hardly react. The breeze blew and swept Nicolas’s suicide note off her fingers…and a sentence unconsciously came out of her mouth in the form of a mere careless whisper—“Dotting the shoreless watery wild, we mortal millions live alone!”

Aryani Banerjee