Sunday, March 13, 2022

What the stars Knew : An Excerpt

 


PROLOGUE

 


ARYA

 

May 10, 2007

 

“Go.” The word echoed repeatedly in my ears as I dashed through the darkness. I swiped at the tears that were tumbling out one after the other.

 How could a mere two-letter word pierce my heart and make it bleed? It hadn’t been the word. The person who had uttered it had infused it with that much power. And I had allowed it to impale right through.

 His words used to colour my universe. Today, a single word from him had rendered my world irredeemable.

“Enough,” I chided myself even as my na├»ve heart urged me to look back.

This couldn’t be real. He wouldn’t leave me. Not today. Not like this.

The visual of Naveen banging the car door with a cold look on his face and uttering that final stinging word played in my mind again.

“Go.”

I hadn’t waited for him to say anything more. I’d heard enough.

As the envelope of sadness choked me, I paused and hunkered down on the ground. I struggled to breathe.

I’d loved him with all the purity of first love. He had been my first dose of addiction. My soul had surrendered to him on the day we met.

Had it all been a game for him? My heart shot down that train of thought instantly. He had loved me. No one could convince me otherwise.

The person who had walked away from me minutes earlier hadn’t been the one I had fallen in love with.

It made little sense. What we had shared over the past year had been pure love. At least in my case. I couldn’t believe those loving whispers, the tender caresses and stolen moments of passion were all an illusion, a mirage. It couldn’t be. Yet, nothing explained his strange coldness.

Hadn’t he told me a month ago that he was rejecting the overseas job offer because he couldn’t bear to leave me?

And then he had gone missing for a whole month. No calls or messages. No answer to my texts or calls.

And today, as he’d declared he was leaving, his voice had been devoid of any emotion. His eyes had taken on a vacant, distant look. There hadn’t been even a shred of love in those deep, mesmerising brown eyes. If anyone had seen our interaction today, they would have thought of us as two strangers who had accidentally met in an awkward situation. 

Tears stung my eyes as I heard the receding sound of his car’s engine. He was really gone. I raised my eyes to the heavens, seeking an explanation. A million stars twinkled above without a care about what was happening in my world.

I dragged myself up, turned the bend in the village road, and entered our compound. In front of me, my house lay drenched in darkness. In all the years since we had moved here, I had never seen it this way. It always sparkled brightly with light, laughter, and love. Today it resembled me—abandoned.

I sat on the porch, trying to understand what had transpired in the past half an hour.

Where had it gone wrong? With my heart brimming with joy , I’d texted him my exam results right in the morning.. Then I’d patiently waited for his congratulatory call.

He would be proud, wouldn’t he? After all, he was the reason I aced all my papers. Then he had messaged that he was on his way to Sreepuram. I had rejoiced. I’d thought he was coming to congratulate me in person. How wrong I had been!

We had met at our usual rendezvous point.

After the bend in the road between Sreenilayam, Naveen’s ancestral home, and my house lay a sarpa kavu, a conserved sacred forest reserved for the worship of nagas or snakes. We loved the serene, cool ambience inside the kavu. It was our little heaven. We used to there secretly to avoid running into any acquaintances. The kavu was a place frequented by none.

He’d been waiting at the entrance to the kavu, leaning back on his car, his arms crossed, impatience writ large on his face.

“I passed. I am so happy,” I’d declared as I approached him with a huge grin on my face.

His face had remained blank.

“Congratulations. You deserved it,” he’d said in a stilted voice.

I’d stared at him, taken aback by the lack of warmth in his greeting. Usually, the moment we met he would pull me into his arms and kiss me till my legs buckled underneath me.

“What happened, Naveen? Is something wrong?” I’d asked, approaching him.

“This,” he said, waving his hand in the space between us. “This is wrong. And I am putting an end to it.”

Wrong?

“What do you mean?” I asked, refusing to believe what I’d just heard. “How can you say that about us?”

“There is no us and should never be. It was a mistake from the beginning and I am determined to correct it. That is the only reason I came to meet you today.”

“A mistake? I never considered what we had as a mistake. How can you say that?” I said, my heart shattering with each passing second.

“You might think differently now. But trust me, you’ll forget me. You might even laugh at the silly dreams we shared,” he said, his eyes refusing to meet mine.

Forget him? I couldn’t even contemplate that. Not a second passed by without me remembering him. And he was asking me to forget him?

“I can’t.”

“You can, and you will,” he said. After giving me one last look, which was still devoid of any warmth, he got into his car.

“Naveen, don’t leave me like this. At least tell me what is wrong. What did I do to make you angry?” I asked, holding on to the car handle, trying to prevent him from leaving.

He looked straight ahead and refused to face me.

“Nothing you say or do is going to change anything. There cannot be an ‘us’. Ever. Do you understand?”

“Naveen…”

“Go,” he’d said and closed the car door with a bang. Then, without a second glance, he’d driven away.

 Go. The word resonated inside me again and I sobbed.

“Let it all out. Crying is good,” my mother would have said.

I couldn’t wait to cry on her shoulders. She was my cheerleader, the one who taught me to believe in the messages of my heart. She had imbued in me the courage to follow the path of love. 

My parents should have returned by now. I stepped onto the veranda and retrieved the key hidden under the flowerpot near the steps. The temple was at a distance of just thirty minutes. An unease crept up my heart. What was delaying them?

I pulled out my phone and called my mother. I waited nervously as it rang.

“Amma, where are you? Why are you late?” I asked as soon as the call connected.

There were a few seconds of silence before a strange male voice answered.

“Are you related to the owner of this phone?”

Taken aback, I asked, “Yes, I am. Who is this and where is my mother?”

Silence. I heard the person at the other end of the line take a deep breath, as if he was composing himself. Then he spoke in halting words, “Don’t panic, okay? There has been an accident. Your parent’s car was hit by a truck that had jumped the signal. Both the occupants of the car are critical. Please come to the city hospital as soon as possible.”

As a silent scream escaped me, I asked the man to repeat what he had just said, all the while hoping I’d heard him wrong. Seconds later, I cut the call with trembling fingers.

For a long minute, I stood frozen, my mind blank. An owl hooted from somewhere near, snapping me out of my trance.

Shaking my head, I tried to think. I had to get to the town as soon as possible. Emotional stress was blocking out all logical thoughts. The last bus to the town had left a long ago and there wasn’t any taxi service available in our tiny village. What should I do?

As if answering my question, the light at the gate of our neighbour’s house turned on and I could see their ambassador parked right in front of the house. I dashed across the darkness that was slowly engulfing me and rang their bell repeatedly.

My whole body trembled as I repeated to Arundhati Ammamma what the stranger had told me. She grabbed my hands in hers and shouted to her driver, Gopu, to take the car out.

“They will be alright. Don’t worry. I will come with you right now,” she reassured me.

Arundhati Ammamma wasn’t my grandmother. We weren’t even related. All the kids in the neighbourhood called her Ammamma, which meant grandmother, on her insistence. She showered love on all of us equally.

And that night she became my pillar of strength. Throughout that wretched night, she remained by my side while my parents struggled for their lives inside the closed walls of the operation theatre.

Near midnight, my mother stopped fighting and surrendered.

An hour later, my father, too, followed her. Terrified, I raised my tear-filled eyes towards the heavens and pleaded with the creator.

Please, God, turn back the clock and take me back to this morning.

Please restart the day differently.

In a single toss and turn, you have upended my universe. You have to reverse everything.

Please don’t take them from me.

This was a nightmare, wasn’t it? At any moment, my mother would wake me up with a lovely smile on her face.

As the morning came, realization struck that I was now an orphan. I was all alone in this world.





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