I find it interesting and intimidating at the same time that you can be in a room full of people and yet go unnoticed, completely unnoticed.
Rohini has always been the same. I have known her for a couple of decades now and from what I have seen and felt with her, everything has remained unchanged.
Rohini and I met almost 22 years ago at the home. And I guess I can say that though we did not begin as friends, we gradually developed a sort of a mature and uncommon friendship that never needed the usual mast of words to keep it afloat. Anyway, words were never a luxury she had. She had only sounds to make and gestures to use. But that worked just fine between us and we met quite often after that.
I may never have noticed her. She usually had that effect on most people. But that day when I went to visit my brother at the home, there had been a death in their small, wordless community. The girl who died was just 19 years old and the doctors had just given her an easy twenty years more. She had been Rohini’s only friend and companion. They would spend hours together communicating in that strange … I really cannot call it language. It was more like a bee buzzing, except the buzzing sound came from well within their throats and almost had a Germanic streak of the guttural. It was this same buzzing that I heard that day from a dark corner in the room that made me look around and notice her for the first time.
Much later, I found out more about her.
That day, however, was quite uneventful for me. I felt a momentary sadness that someone so young had passed away after a short life full of strangeness and sorrow but beyond the fact that it disrupted my usual weekly visit, I did not give it much thought. I went back very easily to my normal life. The buzzing sound did remain in my head though and strange though it seemed, I could also remember that dark corner that had been her solace. Nothing beyond that, not her face, nothing.
Work took me out of the country and it was a good twenty days before I could go back to visit my brother. As always, I found the changeless limbo that seemed to descend over the home and somehow embalm it, very welcoming. I did admit to someone much later when I was writing my book that this was the pull that the place had for me; visiting my brother was somehow just a very valid excuse. I felt comforted in the fact that I went unnoticed in a room full of people who never understood why it was important to be noticed in the first place.
Even after twenty days, it felt just like deja vu. Nothing had changed. I had forgotten all about the buzzing noise till I reached the home and then when I walked in into the visitors’ room, unknowingly, my eyes darted towards the dark corner and my ears perked up ever so slightly. The buzzing sound was there. After a few perfunctory minutes with my brother, I got up to go to the wardens’ room.
Her name is Rohini and she has been with us almost all her life now. Her parents left her here when she was just over 6 years old, having battled with her condition unsuccessfully. They could never accept the fact that they could have a child like her. They live in Canada now and have never come back to visit. She has an uncle who occasionally comes to visit and take her out for an ice cream. He reads to her a lot and that is the only time that I have seen her alive. Though she herself cannot read and write, she enjoys being read to. I am not sure how much she understands of these words but the animation on her face is worth a million such words. That is the only time that those sounds do not escape her lips.
A year ago, I really do not know what happened, but her uncle came to meet me. He was very agitated and said that though he would continue funding her stay and expenses, he could never come to see her again. He was quite shaken and after he left, never to come back, I tried talking to Rohini. The little animation that I had seen on her face had frozen into an expressionless grimace and that is how she has remained. Anyway, given her condition, the doctor doubts if she will live beyond the next couple of years.
This was what the warden told me exactly twenty two years ago. Until I heard from the new warden a few weeks ago, I had deliberately kept away from the home. My brother had passed on a few years ago and with no valid excuse to visit the place, despite the fact that I have never forgotten Rohini, I never looked back. I could not. Not after what happened at our last meeting.
So, twenty-two years ago, to be exact, our friendship began. My love for reading and her love for being read to is what brought us on the same page I think. At least that’s what I thought. I began taking my manuscripts, poems, and stories and reading out to her. While I never got more than an animation on her face as a reaction to my work, I began to understand the nuances. A flicker of her eyelashes meant she liked what I had penned; drooping lips meant that she was disappointed; twitching fingers meant she hated every word… A small little world full of words was created in a small, wordless community that had been hers to live in all these years. I began to look forward to my weekly visits and when I did begin to publish my writing, I usually took the first copy to her. She became my avid listener, my source of wordless critique, and in a way, my muse too.
Years passed by and so did relationships. Many women came in into my life but subconsciously no one really measured up and they left eventually, their work done, finding it impossible to compete with something they did not understand. Rohini never knew of all this. Her world remained unchanged and she continued to remain unnoticed.
We began to take long walks together, Rohini and I. I would take her out in her wheelchair and hours would go by as we strolled the massive woods behind the home. Invariably, we would settle down under a tree and I would begin to read to her again.
Looking back, the relationship with Rohini was probably the only meaningful one I had ever had. It is just that I was so peaceful in the limbo that the relationship was enveloped in that even a small change was not something I could fathom or accept.
Our last meeting was three years ago, a year after my brother had passed away. We had taken our usual path down to the woods, Rohini, I, the wheelchair, a few books, a large mat and some sandwiches. I helped her out of the wheelchair and onto the mat and as we nibbled on sandwiches, with Rohini leaning on my shoulder for comfort, the air around us suddenly changed. The limbo was no longer there. Rohini moved towards me in a movement that I had associated with all those other women in my life, but never with her. She kissed me and reached out with her twitching fingers. Shocked beyond belief, I moved away, got up and walked away, never to look back. How she went back to the home that day, I will never know.
The new warden called me a few weeks ago. The buzzing from the dark corner had stopped forever, or maybe till another Rohini would begin to inhabit the place. He asked if I could visit them one last time. Though I had missed Rohini, I could never face her again after that day. Perhaps with her gone, the home would have that same limbo that I could escape into again, unnoticed. But the home had too many strong associations now, too many unmistakable feelings attached, and too many memories of things that I could never forget. Rohini, in a way best known to her, has always loved me. The new warden told me that they had found various leaves and flowers pressed into the books and manuscripts that I had given her.
In hindsight, I think I have always felt that way about her. She was the only person with whom I have always been completely myself. She has been my personal haven away from the world that held nothing for me, beyond those few treacherous relationships. I think I could never face being loved by a person like her. Even though I had looked beyond those twitching fingers, those almost aimless eyes and the buzzing noises and found someone on the inside that I could truly relate to, I just did not have the courage. I had found my kind of nectar but never had the guts to sip it.
The new warden called me again a few more times to ask if I would visit to collect Rohini’s things. But I guess hypocrisy will always put a brake on me. I never went. I did, however, dedicate my latest book My Kind of Nectar to her.