Old Flame – a short story

by Rishi Piparaiya

Let me start with the disclaimer that this is a relatively long and fairly personal article. But for those who do make it through it, I believe that there could be an important message for you or someone that you care about. Here goes…

In the winter of 2009, I lost my companion; someone I was destined to spend the rest of my life with. It was a relationship that lasted close to two memorable decades but how can one predict the vagaries of life? This is our story.

I was 17 when I first saw her, standing demurely on the road on a cool Mumbai evening, in a white ankle-length dress and a carelessly tossed, light-brown stole. She was gazing vacantly as the world raced by around her. She was delicately beautiful, not very tall or curvaceous, but to me, she was as sexy as anyone I had ever seen. When my friends eventually met her they thought so too, which as one can appreciate, is very important to a teenager.

We got talking and ended up taking a walk around the block. And something clicked on that first evening and a relationship sparked. Both of us were from conservative middle-class families and we would meet surreptitiously, a few times a week, away from the prying eyes of parents and neighbours. But with lengthening time and strengthening emotions we grew bolder and started seeing each other almost daily. I embarrassedly even remember the few instances when she sneaked in home, when my parents were travelling, and we clumsily did the silly things that teenagers, left alone, are likely to do.

She had a vibrant love for life, much the same way as a little child. She was the center of attention at every party and one would always find people clustered around her as she smiled, joked and played the crowd. I must confess her free-wheeling spirit did not appeal to some, and they found her brash, outspoken and might I say, even offensive. But to each his own. We enjoyed traveling, exploring new places, and particularly driving around the countryside. She would love to lean out of the car with the breeze blowing through her hair and music blaring on the car stereo, and she wouldn’t have a care in the world. She had a wild streak and she would often say, “One day I may just kill you, Rishi” and follow it up with her characteristic, tinkling laugh. “Yeah, right”, I would chuckle and just hold her even closer.

But she was also as sensitive and caring as she was vivacious. She was my rock, my shoulder. I would frantically call her before every important event – an exam, a presentation, an important meeting. And she would say just the right things and calm my nerves. She stood by me through every low point in life – from the smallest of challenges to major calamities. She was always there by my side, sitting in silence, patting my hand, and helping me forget the pain with her gentle kisses. And for that, more than anything else, I adored her.

She knew how much I loved her and she did sometimes take this for granted. I was addicted to sex and she always knew exactly the right buttons to push to get what she wanted. And at times this would get highly frustrating and like most couples, we had our share of break-ups. Sometimes we would go for weeks without even a phone call but I must admire her stubborn resolve – she never made the first move. I would invariably go back, crestfallen and apologetic, and implore her to get back with me. And she would glare at me in silence but then eventually break into a smile and we would go on to make passionate love, multiple times, for the rest of the night.

She had her eccentricities. She detested air travel and would be hysterical at the thought of taking a flight, however short. She hated doctors and coupled with her natural disregard for the health, it wasn’t a pleasant situation. She was a staunch atheist and would refuse to enter any place of worship. And she despised going to the movies – “Rishi, you know I hate to sit still for hours at a stretch” she would plead and we would only watch movies at home, with the comfort of remote control within our reach. And annoying as these were, none of them were deal-breakers that I could not adjust to.

We were inseparable. The world called us the ultimate couple. We were made for each other.

And then one day, she died. She was barely 35.

I don’t know how others deal with the death of a loved one. But I withdrew into a shell – it was a chore to simply drag myself out of bed each morning to face the day. I shunned society and even if I did meet people, I found myself aloof, distracted, or just downright irrational. I found solace in food, drink, and my own lonely company. But the time they say heals the deepest wounds and as the months passed, I started getting used to living without her by my side. Life started getting better. But I still sometimes wake up at night, in a cold sweat, my hands blindly reaching out for her. But she’s not there – she’s gone forever, and I know that.

I don’t think I have shared how she died.

One cold evening, on October 9th, I will never forget that fateful day, we wrapped up another tense, silent dinner. Our relationship had been rocky for some time now – the phase when couples have lost the rhythm in their relationship and are just going through the motions. Both are aware that they are better off apart but also that they are too far invested to call it quits. A heart-to-heart chat was something that I had been planning for a while and today was the day. “Honey, shall we step out for a walk?” I said casually and picked up the car keys, without waiting for an answer. She looked at me with inquiring eyes, almost as if she knew what was to follow. And grudgingly placed her palms on the edge of the dining table, pushed back her chair, slipped on her shoes, and followed me out of the door.

We went down to the promenade and found a secluded corner. “So tell me, what is it?” she said, her white jeans creasing across her thighs as she leaned back against a large rock. I knew she was just toying with me and that it was finally time. I pulled her close to me, kissed her passionately on the lips, and then without a word or warning, twisted her around and clutching her hair, smashed her head on the very rock she had been leaning against. And as she shrieked in shock and pain, I did this over and over again. Eight times to be exact. I would pull her towards me, kiss her, and then bludgeon her head on that damned boulder. God help me! Each time was more vicious than the previous. And when I was finally done, I stepped back, hands trembling, eyes flooded, and I watched her life fade away. “I’m never going to see you again”, I whispered and walked away from her mangled body without turning back.

I am a murderer – I killed my beloved cigarette almost a decade ago. And for committing this heinous crime, I’ve been given a life sentence of freedom.


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