‘Isn’t it beautiful’, she asked me.
‘Yes dear, it is indeed’, I replied her. There was sunshine onto her cheek glistening like a river between beautiful meadows, coming through the small pores of semitransparent festoons near the gate. The flower she held in her hand was a jasmine, a dead one but full of perfume. And, yes whenever I pass through the garden of Mr. Shah, I just can’t ignore the fragrance of jasmine in his garden. It reminds me of her. She was a jasmine herself. Beautiful, like the midnight sky, full of mysteries yet so enchanting.
Two years of our friendship changed into an inseparable bonding the day I put a ring into her glass of beer. She was surprised. She was somewhat amazed, little confused. However, she jumped into me as if she too was longing for this moment. She kissed me everywhere with tears in her eyes. ‘I knew, I knew baby, this moment would come, and I used to dream of it. I never wanted more than this, dear, nothing more.’ smooching into my cheeks she was crying. It was a moment one would feel just like when the sun comes out for the first time after month-long clouds and overcast. Nothing was more appealing than this moment. Everyone wishes this moment at least once in their lifetime.
‘Love has limits, limits that makes us harder and weaker or limits that makes us softer and stronger. I chose to be softer and kinder, be like a soap or like a butter.’ She would terminate every one of her lecture with a giggle. We met in a bookshop, where we both turn out to be purchasing the last piece of the same book. Well, I let her take it but she insisted that she would pay half and I ought to pay another half so that we could share the book. We agreed to meet every Saturday in a coffee shop nearby the bookshop.
It was midnight and I was about to start a new book. It was my two hundredth book. She had already finished three chapters of the book. She had a bookmark in the book; it was a jasmine but all dried up. There was no any fragrance in it. It was dead. I couldn’t think more than our meeting. I could not start even a page. She came in a blue kurta salwar with a side bag. She was looking nothing like old nineties Bollywood actress but more like a serene nature where there are trees, a sun, clear sky, river, and flowers. A perfect art. ‘Here, take it. It is nice. Loved the start.’ She handed me the book. She sat in front of me, put down her bag. I ordered coffee. ‘I don’t have any money right now.’ She said. This treat, on me. Next time you pay, ok.’ I said. She smiled. We sat there for one hour and talked about books, about war, about politics and everything that was going around but we forgot ourselves.
It was Saturday again and I can’t even finish a page this time. Every time, I opened the book, I was lost in her thoughts. ‘Hey there, how are you?’ she was already there. ‘Hello, I’m fine, thank you. And you?’, she was looking gorgeous. This time, she came in a frock. Frock !, I mean who would wear frock in those days, they were out fashioned. She had very bad taste in dress. I handed her the book. She opened it. She looked me as if I had committed a big crime. ‘Sorry, I couldn’t finish, or just say I didn’t even start.’ I apologized. ‘No, it’s not about how much you read?’ she pulled a long sip of coffee; it was served the moment I was staring at her and I had just realized that there was coffee to drink. ‘Then, why are you angry?’, this was my expression and she got it. ‘You folded the page, how cruel can you be !’ she replied and I couldn’t resist my laugh. ‘Better than your bookmark. Seriously, a jasmine, a flower?’ I just want to win over her argument. ‘No, I found it on the road, is there any better place you know to keep it other than the book. You are such an…, leave it, I’m going.’ She put the book into her bag and we got out of the coffee shop.
There was a rush outside the coffee shop. ‘The army captured three rebels.’ An old man was talking to the shopkeeper. Most of them were closing their store and it was just two o’ clock. ‘Peace is still undefined. Isn’t it Rupesh? You try to hold it in your fist but it slips in between the war of your fingers. Our futile dreams are the reason for everything. Politics trade our dreams for peace and peace cannot exist without war. What an irony! ’ She giggled after she finished saying everything.
War was at its peak. Nothing was interesting. No late night parties, no outing, nothing was there to do for us. Even the TV was filled with the war updates and the pessimist news. Therefore, the best thing we could do were the books. Now that I had met Nikita, everything seemed good for me. ‘We had to do nothing with the war. It will end when each side will exhaust.’ I used to say.
We continued to meet. When the world around me was suffering from worst of its nightmare, I had my most beautiful dream. Nikita was my dream. When the world around me was declining its hope, I was inclining up towards hope. The times of our visits multiplied. We started meeting regularly. We shared books, moments, smiles, tears and above all, compassion. We were friends, friends forever, but for me, she was more than a friend. A year full of war, hate and tears was the most blessed year for me, all because of Nikita.
It was just like our regular visit. We sat down for coffee. I talked of war, politics, books but Nikita was silent that day. She rarely uttered a word. ‘What’s bothering you? Are you fine?’ I asked her. She didn’t reply. She had tears all over her eyes. I could see her face. She was trying to be strong holding her tears but the damned tears, she couldn’t do anything. ‘My father is kidnapped by the rebels. He is a correspondent for the local newspaper. It’s been a month. We haven’t heard anything from him. And this was from today’s news.’ She wept out everything. She showed me a newspaper. I could do nothing. I didn’t even find proper words to say to her. A few days later, I heard the death of her father. I did everything to support her thereafter. But I lost the courage to express my love towards her. Still, we continued to meet.
Mr. Shah who lived next door to us had a garden full of flowers but jasmine always intrigued me. I find Nikita in the fragrance. ‘Mr. Shah, would you mind if I could take some jasmine from you?’ One day I asked him to gift Nikita. ‘What’s it for, boy ?’, a lonely retired old man asked me. ‘It’s my secret Mr. Shah, but I can assure you, it is for someone beautiful.’ I told him. ‘Then my boy, you better show her the garden instead.’ With a grin on his face, he told me as if he knows every little thing about this earth. ‘How do you know it’s for ‘her’?’ I asked him. He just smiled and didn’t say anything. I brought Nikita in Mr. Shah’s garden. She was very happy. Mr. Shah pulled out a mattress, brought two-beer glass and a bottle of beer. He put them near the jasmine plant over the green Chinese grass. ‘Look after my house until I’m back, my boy’ he asked me. ‘Ok Mr. Shah I’ll’, I nodded.
‘Isn’t it beautiful’, she asked me.
‘Yes dear, it is indeed’, I replied her. She was looking at the jasmine with a dead jasmine in her hand. I put the ring on her glass of beer. Two years of friendship and I was proposing her between the most perfumed places on earth. She was my girlfriend now, officially and I was the happiest man. It was getting late and asked her if I could walk her down to her house. However, she denied. She kissed me, then took her lips near my earlobe and whispered, ‘I learned happiness from you. Thank you.’ She bided farewell.
I waited all night in Mr. Shah’s house but he didn’t come home. I slept there that night. Next morning I went to get the newspaper and the news tore me apart like a paper, ‘A girl died while saving an old man in a crossfire… An old man is in ICU and no hopes for him.’ Happiness never comes alone.
Mr. Shah is dead. I still sit in this garden, pass through this garden, look after the jasmines. I am still waiting for something I don’t know, caring garden for him and for Nikita.