Monday, October 24, 2011

Moving On

I often saw him standing with his friends on the coffee station. Our eyes met frequently; yet, neither of us acknowledged each other. And then the day came, when we were to work on the same project. Nick, my boss, called me to his small cabin. The moment I entered the cabin, I saw him sitting with Nick.

Nick waved to me and said, “ Hey Naina, come in!! This is Dave. Dave.. Naina. You both will be working together in the next project.”

I stretched out my hand to him.

“Hey Dave! Nice to meet you.”

“Hey Naina!! Nice to meet you too.” Dave held my outstretched hand a little longer than usual. After a while, I withdrew my hand and caught a naughty glint in his eyes.

Sifting through his papers, Nick looked up, “I will leave you both to discuss the project. I have a meeting to attend.”

I turned to face Dave, and saw his appraising look.

I gave him a perplexed look, “What?”

“Nothing!! Wondering about you. Are you single?”

For a moment, I was taken aback. I quickly hid my surprised reaction to say, “No”.

“Ahhhh!!”

I smiled warily and shook my head. I turned to leave the room. “Let’s sit together tomorrow for next-phase planning.”

He answered with a retreating drawl in his voice, “Okkk”

On my way back home that day, I contemplated over Dave’s question - whether I was single. I had been asked this question couple of times before, and I always evaded the topic. I myself did not know whether I was single or committed, or in simpler terms – married or widowed. My husband Neil, a US army captain deployed in Afghanistan, was reportedly missing for the past two years. Last seen, he was ambushed in a deadly bomb blast, but army did not have any whereabouts about him.

An Indian by origin, I was born and brought up in India. I came to US for higher studies. I met Neil when I was in college. We dated for three years, and soon after graduation (despite strong resistance from my family) we got married. Neil always wanted to be in the army. We lived a happy married life of two years, till he was deputed in Afghanistan. When I came to know that he was missing, I went into denial - never accepting that he could have been martyred in that ambush. I always thought and hoped that he was well, and soon will return one day. I vehemently opposed any thought or opinion that suggested that he might be dead. I broke contacts with my family and friends, never talking to anyone how I felt. Instead, I immersed myself completely in my work, working almost 14 hours a day.

The next few days were very difficult for me. Dave was hard to ignore. He was one of those unique combinations of good looks, intelligence and compassion. Though we worked together in a team, I always felt his eyes on me. Though he never made a move after our first meeting, I strongly felt a silent chemistry between us, which got intense day by day. I got acutely aware of accidental touches or encounters. His thoughts dominated my mind, which I tried my level best to brush aside.

Things became easier, as the project demo date neared. We turned our attention to our work – working in frenzy. It was a Friday evening. I and Dave were preparing a demo presentation. The entire team had left, and we had been working in office for the past sixteen hours. Unable to stare at the monitor any longer, I got up for a break. He accompanied me to the nearby coffee shop. Over the cup of coffee, he saw me idly playing with my wedding ring.

He smiled, “Do you know, what human behavior experts say?”

“What?”

“That when a woman plays with her wedding ring, she is unsure about her marriage!!”

I gave him a tired smile. My tiredness, perhaps, lowered my defenses, and my eyes watered.

He apologetically looked in my eyes and gave me soft look, “I am sorry if I hit a wrong chord. I did not mean to pry.”

“That’s fine Dave! My husband is an army captain, and has been missing, during the course of war, for the past two years. I know he might be no more, yet I am not ready to move on. I feel I am married to him, still committed to him.”

For next five minutes, I went on talking about Neil’s disappearance and my life afterwards. I could not believe my ears. I had finally talked about it. I felt lighter. All these years, a tight feeling clutched my heart, and suddenly I felt relieved. He held my hands softly and said, “Sorry about your loss, Naina!!”

The ice between us broke that day. Demo went fine, and our project got a go ahead. Next six months saw our friendship flourishing. Comfort level seeped in our relationship, and I talked to Dave about anything – my marriage to Neil, lovely times that we spent together, my troubled relationship with my parents, back in India, my doubts and deepest fears.

On the project completion party, he asked me out for a date. I agreed. Ours was a perfect date. We dined in an exotic beach resort. He looked handsome in formals, and he could not take his eyes off me either. We kissed that night.

Life moved at a rapid pace. Dave and I were completely in love with each other. We started seeing each other, and gradually the kisses started getting even more passionate day by day. Then one evening after dinner, he fiddled with his jacket. Suddenly, he brought out a ring and sat on his knees to say, ‘Marry Me, Naina!!’ I was in such a daze that I did not realize that I had already stretched out my hand. Suddenly my glance fell on a small solitaire ring that I was already wearing. It was the ring which Neil had got me from his first salary from Army, our wedding ring.

It was as if somebody woke me up abruptly in mid of a sweet dream. Yea, the time that I spent with Dave was like a dream; but the reality was that I still belonged to Neil as his lawfully wedded wife.

I gasped in agony. A wave of unexplained guilt ran through me. I turned my back to Dave and started running, without saying a single word to him. He kept calling my name….

Next few days, I went into the denial mode again. I took leave from my office, and stopped answering calls from Dave. I put my phone on answering machine, and cut myself from the entire world. Dave left several messages every day, saying that he loved me and needed me. His voice sounded so distraught that my heart went out to him.

After several countless days, my phone rang and a strange yet familiar voice spoke from the other side. My heart dipped.

It was Rick, Neil’s buddy and best friend, who was in the same troop that was deployed in Afghanistan. “Hey Naina! This is Rick. I returned from Afghanistan just two days before. Just wanted you to know that…” he paused as his voice lowered “Neil could not make it through the ambush. One of the critically injured soldiers woke up from a coma few days before, and he said he saw Neil trying to defuse the bomb which went off. Neil took the entire impact of the blast. Neil has been declared a war hero.”

I dropped on the floor, as my legs gave away. He continued, “I have brought his belongings along with, and have sent you the same. Let me know if I can be of any help to you. Take care.”

That evening I received Neil’s suitcase. I opened the box, his clothes neatly packed.

I unpacked each piece and hugged them. The pain and grief tore my heart. Suddenly a letter dropped from one of his shirts. It was marked,

“For my wife, Naina
To be delivered when I die”

My hands trembled when I opened the letter. These were Neil’s last words to me.

To Naina,
My love!! You will read this after my death. But dear, hold your head high. I have died a hero’s way. Don’t mourn, only the fortunate can lay down their life for country.

Sweetheart! I just wanted you to know that I want you to be happy after I die. Move on!! Love again!! Lead a happy life. I will always be there…alive in your memories, but don’t let your love die with me. For my happiness dear…be happy!

Love you always!!
Neil ;)

I wailed like a child. I lost Neil forever. I was in a daze, for God knows how many hours. Next morning when phone rang, it was Dave. With one hand still holding Neil’s letter, I answered the call.

I had moved on.

3 comments:

  1. Great writing! Couldn't stop till I finished the post! :)

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  2. Thanks Naiesha. Glad that you liked it :)

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  3. wonderful writing..it was so touching

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