It was getting late enough to be worried. I once again stepped into the balcony and looked down. Except for a drenched street dog that was lying down miserably near the gate, there was not a soul to be seen anywhere. Rain water had puddled under the lamp post. A breeze ruffled the mango tree in the courtyard and a few twigs fell down and broke. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Did I hear a soft knock at the door? I turned back and headed towards the door. There was an old man on the door. He was drenched in rain.
'Yes, whom do you want?' I asked.
'I, well... I came here but my car broke down and I can’t get back home,' he replied.
'Uh! Well what can I do for you? And why did you choose to knock on this door? There are so many apartments around here.' I asked.
'I…I knocked on this door since a friend used to stay in this apartment before you.' he replied.
'Oh! But now I stay here with my family and I am anxious since my wife is yet to return with the kids from their swimming class and it is raining so much. Maybe I should head out to look for them.' I said impatiently.
Just then the phone rang. It was my wife calling from a public phone since her mobile battery was dead. They were all fine and were on their way home. I heaved a sigh of relief and relaxed a bit.
I looked at the old man again. He looked frail and wet. I finally softened a bit.
'Well – you are wet. Would you like to come in and have a drink while I call a mechanic to look at your car.' I offered.
He came in and sat on the couch. I called up the mechanic and requested him to come and look at his car.
'So, you said your friend lived in this apartment. Where is he now? I mean I have lived in this apartment for over four years now.' I asked curiously.
'She... she left after her husband got posted in another city', he stuttered.
'Oh! I see.' I said and continued, 'So what did her husband do?'
'He worked with a private company. They were a young couple. I met her at the community club. I worked as a counsellor there and she volunteered as a teacher. We met twice every week and became good friends over time', he explained.
'Oh! Nice. So you must be still in touch with her now?'
'Well, no. She didn’t share her contact details with me after she left.'
'Why is that so? You said you were good friends.'
'Yes, we were. In fact, I used to visit this apartment often to spend time with the young couple. They also came to my house to have meals cooked by my wife.'
'And then what happened? Why are you all not in touch now?' I said deeply intrigued by now.
'Well! It’s a complicated story. I saw her twice a week for so many years and then... I fell in love with her. Her eyes were deep and I loved looking into them. I could spend hours talking to her and she could do that too. I guess we relaxed in each other’s company a lot. There’s no explanation for that kind of thing. I'm maybe closer to her parents' age but when has love known any boundaries', he sighed and went on saying, 'I told her that I liked her, many times, but she laughed it off every time, treating it as a friendly gesture.'
'Her focus was her husband, she loved him to bits. I tried to warn her that she was investing too much emotion in him. More than he perhaps deserved', he added.
'And why do you say so? Was her husband a bad person?' I queried.
'I don’t know if he was bad, but I could sense that he was not totally into her. He would leave her alone and disappear to his parents’ house alone for weeks. She would fret over his absence', he remembered. 'I warned her to take these signs seriously. He wouldn’t stand by her in the future too if he was behaving like this.'
'And, what did she say? Did she believe you?' I asked.
'No not at all! On the contrary, she got quite angry at me. She didn’t speak to me for months', he smiled. 'She was a stubborn girl, she was in denial about her marital situation', he added.
'So, she didn’t contact you ever after they left this place?' I asked.
'No, never. I miss her a lot and whenever I remember her, I drive down to this street, park my car below your apartment and spend some time here. It feels like she is nearby.'
'Oh! Have you been doing this for many years now?' I asked.
'Yes, for many years', he sighed.
'But you have a family. A wife and children. Why don’t you just get over her and focus on them? She didn’t ever say that she loved you. Did she?' I asked sternly.
'No, that she never did. I tried telling her once but she got really angry. She was a dear friend and I can’t help but think of her sometimes. My family knows that she was important to me. They also know how important it is for me to wander off by myself and spend some “me time”. They don’t mind my disappearances', he explained.
I offered a glass of wine to the old man and we both quietly sipped the wine away. I was absorbing the story that he had just narrated to me. It is weird how strangers in a city meet and ever-lasting bonds of friendships and love are formed. I wondered about the young woman and how she was doing now. Did she even know how the old man felt about her? I started to wish that the two would meet again. At least she should know how her old friend missed her. Maybe she should call him to find out how he is. He won’t live forever. Why are women so hard-hearted sometimes? I mean look at the frail, old man. At least it must be comforting for him to visit this house again.
Another doorbell interrupted the trail of my thoughts. I cheered up thinking it must be my children and wife back from the swimming class. I opened the door but there was a woman roughly my age standing at the door. I was instantly drawn towards her big black eyes that had traces of tears in them. Another stranger knocking at my door this evening! Who is she I wondered.
'Yes, who do you want to meet?' I asked.
'Umm! I am so sorry for knocking at your door like this. I know that you don’t know me but I was the tenant of this house before you', she explained in a quivering voice.
I couldn’t believe what I had just heard.
'What? You lived in this house before I did. Did you just say that?' I asked excitedly.
'Yes. I did. And I know it is rude to disturb you like this but I just wanted to see the house one last time if you will permit me. I spent some of the best years of my life in this place', she said in a teary tone.
This was too much of a strange coincidence. It couldn’t happen that these two people had landed at my doorstep on the same rainy evening just by chance.
'Come on in. There’s someone in the house you may want to meet', I said.
She looked at me surprised. 'Why would I want to meet someone in your house? I am sorry but I don’t think we know each other from before', she replied.
'Yes, true we don’t know each other, but there’s someone else you may know. Come right in', I said even more excited.
She spotted the old man as soon as she stepped into my living room. Their eyes met and I could see the surprised joy flowing through both sets of eyes. Tears flowed down her eyes as she stepped forward to gently hug the old man. I spotted tears in his eyes too as he bowed down to receive her. There was a sudden outburst of emotion in my placid living room. I thought it was best to step out and let the two old friends spend some time together.
Just then another doorbell rang. Finally, it was my wife and children back home after an adventurous evening out. My wife came in chirping loudly about the evening’s happenings but stood still in surprise as she saw two strangers in the living room.
'Who are they Akshay?' she asked. I introduced them to her.
'Mr Akshay, thank you for your warm hospitality. I guess we must make a move now and you should spend the remainder of the evening with your family', said the old man.
'Yes, and you too, have a nice evening!' I said as I looked into his eyes that had sparkled for the first time in the entire evening.
After they left my door, my wife asked curiously, 'Who were they Akshay?'
I didn’t know how to answer that question. 'Perhaps they were long lost lovers born in different generations', I answered as she looked at me bewildered.