She glanced nervously at me that afternoon as we waited for her father to arrive.
We were waiting at Starbucks since about 20 minutes. After hearing her go on and on about her father’s punctuality for the 17th time, I finally smiled and said, “Yes, Sita, I think you’ve told this to me.” She got the message, she always got the message. She smiled back and sipped on her Frappuccino. A chicken Mushroom pie sat on the table, untouched. My Americano sat there on the table untouched. I never liked coffee, or tea but Sita insisted that I give her some company. The rain fell softly outside. A few passersby glanced at us, mostly at her, but we were used to it. Most of the glances were sympathetic.
Many more reflected shock and grimace.
Sita’s long black, straight hair fell delicately on her shoulders and gently caressed her lower back. It also covered most of her fair face. But it did little to cover in entirely the distortion that showed on most parts of her right side and almost all of her forehead. I had kissed that part of her face several times, her burns and her scars, those memories embedded in them… of a motorbike accident that most newspapers had covered about three years ago. Of an ex- boyfriend that got away from her just days after the accident, with fractured ribs and a broken shoulder, while Sita stayed on a hospital bed with a steel rod in a left leg and what remained of her once beautiful, cheerful face. Not a word was exchanged. Her failed attempts of reaching out to him dragged her into a chasm of numbness. He changed his phone number. Then he changed his city and then his country. She stopped visiting his Facebook page. She had stopped visiting Facebook, nonetheless. Partly because she was tired of the sympathetic messages to her, mostly because of the title of the social media giant: “Face” book.
“But that was three years ago, princess.” I said to her while she tried to look away from those stares. She immediately bumped my fist. This was our secret phrase, our promise to each other. She took a bite out of the pie. She wasn’t much of a talker, in fact we were so compatible with each other! She knew exactly what I wanted even before I expressed it. And most importantly, I knew what she was thinking even before she thought about anything. My guitar that fell with a thud shook us from that moment and I quickly adjusted it, made it stand upright in a corner.
That guitar went with me everywhere that Sita led me. And I had nowhere else to go but to follow her. I had worn my white shirt and those dirty-wash-look denims again that day. She liked them so much, this was the only thing that I had worn since we met for the first time on the terrace of her building. I was playing “Bizarre Love Triangle” by Frente!, incidentally, one of her favourite bands too. She was so surprised that I knew that song, she almost interrupted me and I almost didn’t like it. But then I heard her voice, when she started singing.
She had me then and there, forever.
I moved in with her in her apartment. We started living together like a married couple. She was staying alone, she could afford it. Her home was stripped of all mirrors. There were no paintings on the wall, neither were there any wind chimes at the balcony which she was once fond of. Her numerous portraits were stacked in a dusty corner which she recovered on my behest. She hung them on those egg-shell whitewalls again.
She had a promising singing career and it was one of those few things that had kept that promise after the accident. The only major difference was that music videos of her independent projects bore a different face. No longer was she hounded by those numerous photographers trying to steal her moments. No longer were there hordes of fans trying to fight their way through the crowds, to get a glimpse of her face. Her life was divided in two phases anyways: before accident and after accident.
She didn’t ask me where I came from, what I did for a living. She cared less, since I cared more about her. I spoke with her gently, told her exactly what she wanted to hear, asked her how her day was in the evening. She showed off her new dress to me. She flaunted her old lingerie that she had got for herself. She had an absolutely fabulous body! Her exercise-at-home video routine had taken a beating before she met me, but I made sure that she kept at it. And I always complimented her on her choice of earrings. Her platinum peacock earrings were absolute stunners.
She was wearing the same ones on that day, as we waited for her father. I patted reassuringly on the back of her hand to have patience. “Maybe the traffic is holding him back?” I said. She wiggled her hand from under mine immediately and sat upright
Her father had arrived.
“Chhabakdi Tabakdi!” He said and pulled her cheeks. Sita turned crimson with embarrassment and threw a fleeting, sheepish glance at me. They sat down and she asked if he wanted a coffee and that is on her.
“That can wait,” he said, “where’s Rohan? I cannot wait to meet him. I’ve heard so much about him. These days you don’t ask about my health at all. All I hear about is Rohan this and Rohan that…”
“Baba! He sitting right beside you.” Sita laughed and pointed towards me.
Her father looked at me, towards me, right through me. He looked back at Sita and laughed “Yes, beta, you got me this time. Now where is he?”
“He’s right here.” Sita wasn’t smiling anymore.
“Mr Mehta, I’m here…” I started to talk but it didn’t register.
“Beta,” he said to her, with a calmness that scared me. “Have your stopped your medication? You know your shouldn’t stop taking your pills.”
“But he’s sitting right there….! Can’t you see?”
“Sita,” her father said, slightly firmly this time, “show me your medication box.”
“I’m not carrying it with me,” Sita said and looked away.
The following incident happened about a week later: I was playing one of those popular numbers by The Eagles for Sita. And just like that, she stopped swaying to the rhythm. This was a first for me! I stopped playing for her to take notice, she always got annoyed when I did that. I called out to her, told her that she hasn’t worn those peacock earrings since some time, she didn’t look at me. We were sitting across each other at her parents’ place but she was glued to the book she was reading. I told her to look at me. I told her to stop ignoring. She was trying hard to ignore me and she was getting successful at it.
The medication box (I failed to understand where that came from, or what her father was talking about), was ever present around her. There were these little light green colored pills that she took from a pack that read ‘Clozapine’. It’s been a month now. Sita had been steady with those pills. I have come to realize that as long as she’s steady with them, I will be invisible to her. But at times I’ve noticed her looking at me in astonishment and love, almost like she’s looking at me for the first time. And times like those hurt the most: like a promise that is made to be fractured.