The Chestnut Tree
I got married on 17th February on an evening quite bright as the sun was shining with all his might just before signing off for the day. I looked at my to-be wife just moments before the final verdict was to be passed and was horrified to see that her eyes were not gleaming in a manner I had hoped. I knew, at that very moment that the days to follow might not turn out to be as I planned.
We chose, and often we tend to think that what we have chosen was the wrong thing after all. And thus, we seldom become happy with our decisions. The day I got married, I could have fled from the scene and could have gone fishing with the random stranger who passed my house on his red coloured bike on that very morning. He was looking at my house as if he was admiring and overlooked the road in front of him; I caught his eyes which now seemed like a frozen moment and felt that he smiled towards me. I sensed a kind of invitation was hidden under his smile and he was most likely willing to smuggle the invitation towards me to go with him. Now I wonder why I have referred to the fact that I could have gone fishing with him! I tried hard to remember whether he had a fishing rod with him or not, but there was nothing stored in my memory that could give any sort of proof to that. So, I had to come to a conclusion that he never had any, but the moment strangely coupled with my desire to go fishing; I don’t know, but maybe the urge of going fishing was diminished by the idea of getting married, I chose and I decided and there is absolutely no point on mourning over that.
My wife was a lady I met on one of my birthdays. She used to sell pastries in a shop near my college, I often used to go to that place and she was usually my waitress for most of the time. But all along those years I just passed a faint smile towards her when she brought those pastries to me and incidentally never had the urge to talk to her. As a matter of fact I often wondered if I should give her a tip or not, but I decided not to and the condition of my wallet always supported the decision. But that day was different, that was for the very first time I had come to the college on my birthday, I had to as I had a paper on that very day. I finished my paper in an agility not quite natural to me, but I had to go back home as I did not wish to miss the ritualistic lunch with my parents. But the situation was different, it started raining heavily and I was left with no option other than retrieving in the small pastry shop. I could have decided to run and get soaked in the rain but had I chosen that there would have been no story to tell today.
And she was there, gleaming in a new dress, purple and orange; when I asked her to give my regular with twenty one written over it in red crème, she smiled and told me that it was her birthday too. After finishing my pastry I paid and waited outside the door. When she came we went for a walk at the backside of our college and shared my first kiss in almost four years, under the chestnut tree which got burnt completely by a lightening the month before.
On 17th February, I was sitting on my bed fully dressed. I was looking outside and was thinking about my decision of getting married, but the thought was interrupted when my mother shouted from outside the door that I was getting late. I got up and instead of putting the pair of shiny leather shoes they bought for me for the occasion; I took my favourite red canvas shoes and put them on without tying the shoelaces.
My wife did not have any formal college degree. But she was a girl with a golden heart; everybody was ready to vouch for that. And there she was, standing at the altar, wearing a beautiful wedding dress. “Lucky, you are,” whispered somebody, but I did not turn to see his face. The sun was shining now and in a trance like situation, I finally got married. When I hugged her, she smelled like the chestnut tree we kissed underneath and I prolonged burying my nose in her neck to remember the exact moment from our very first day. She told me, “I love you, and will love you, forever.” I did not reply; I was still trying to remember the moment of our first kiss.
And retrieving from the hug, when I looked at the audience, smiling, I found many faces familiar. Friends and relatives crowded the whole place. I got down of the podium. As I looked back to my wife offering my hand, I was dumbstruck to find her sharing a laugh with a man I had never seen before. The man was wearing the same dress as mine but with those shiny leather shoes on, which I refused just a few hours back. What kind of a joke that was?
I shouted, and above the music the orchestra was playing, my voice stung my own ears. It was like hearing somebody entirely unknown, and when I sensed that the murmur of the crowd stopped in a snap, I felt ashamed. I felt my wife beside me as she was asking me politely what had happened.
I could not answer. And I apologised, “I am sorry. I don’t know what went wrong with me.” She smiled and said, “It’s okay! You are nervous, nothing else.” And I found solace in the most obvious words that she used to comfort me.
And the ceremony continued with usual ease. Bottles of wine were being emptied and food scattered all around shiny silver plates. I was not exactly habituated to all this, but that was a day when I could not complain. I was in need of some aspirins, but that was hard to find. I kept on listening to the faint ringing that continued to play inside my head. I was helpless and wanted to sleep. Then I thought of closing my eyes just for a moment, and did so.
When I woke up, rather should I say my wife woke me up, the hall was almost deserted. Only a few were scattered here and there, and amongst all my wife was looking at me with a worried face. “You made me really worried. What happened to you?” she asked. “Nothing, I was just tired. May I go home?”
“We will go together, just wait a bit.” I don’t know where she went but I sat there with my eyes closed.
And as the day came to an end I fell asleep like a child, by the time the car stopped in front of my house, I was already in a state of dreams. As my wife took me gently by her arms and dragged me to the bedroom with the help of the driver, I could not resist nor assist them. I slept there with my wife beside me, I slept for a whole long day and thus the first night passed.
Our married life began with the usual note. My schedules got matched with her and hers with mine. I wondered how easy it would have been if I had just continued on my life before the marriage. I imagined myself getting up in an empty bed and then having black coffee and biscuits for breakfast. As I sat down on the breakfast table with my wife to eat the voluptuous amount of food she prepared, I saw my image sitting just opposite to me, still in his trunks, holding the usual cup of mine. He smiled at me and I replied. My wife kept on talking to me but everything seemed blurred, I kept on staring at my alternate self and grew a bond that I never had with the lady sitting beside me.
As the days passed, the deviation in routines of my life started to irritate me more often. The self of her was more unlikely to get on with myself. We felt distraught, both of us. The silver lining separating us on our bed started to grow bolder and after a few months it was impossible to ignore. We had our share of lovemaking, but unlike the first few days, we started to do it keeping the lights on. We were afraid to see the sleuth and tried to find solace in each other’s faces, no matter how distant they might seem.
And thus the summer ended and so did the spring. She got pregnant and I became hopeful that a new life might invoke something worthy to cling on to; but as I sat on the breakfast table, my other self looked grim. He was not happy and wanted nothing. I looked at him and tried to persuade him with silent nods, but he was more powerful than me and his mind held mine. Soon I got lost into thoughts of a singular starry night beside the dungeon of King Arthur, lying on the grass with my son, telling him the stories of his mother whom he had never seen.
Then a child came, I could no longer remember whether it was a boy or a girl. Sometimes I consider the gender to be masculine and for all the other minutes, a feminine. Were they twins? They could have been, but my memory fails to answer. The hours I shared with my wife became irregular with each passing day, though she assured me that things will change once the child gets to a tender age, but that day never came. He started speaking and she started running, but the nights we shared under the starry sky were never to follow.
I grew my beard longer and refused to cut my hair, a look I had conceived in my ideas for so long. The way she looked at me bore her disgust and the children never followed me to the fields. Sometimes I wonder how I managed to earn. But then I remembered the small pastry shop in front of our house, she came and went through that wooden shelter, with coins jingling inside her overstretched pockets, trying hard to paint a smile over those lips which kissed me once.
And I sat in front of the window which overlooked the street, men passed by with their fishing rods but none invited me even once. With years passing by, they were accompanied by their children; happily they traded and looked at me sometimes. They waved and so did I. And I remembered the day when I refused to be one of them, a simple choice and how grand their effects might feel.
Days withered away and I became a shadow of the man they knew. I was fed and she kissed me in the morning, but the children never called me father. Nobody visited our house and I forgot how my parents look like. Then came a rainy day, and she prepared a pastry for me, “My usual,” I said and smiled as she put fifty one, neatly with red crème over it.
I forgot how I slept for days, but then somebody woke me up and spoke from the other side of a tunnel, “Sir, you are out of danger.” I tried to remember what she was talking about, but no danger could I recall. I lied there in the embrace of Medusa, as pipes and tubes refused to let me go, and then after a century later, she came with a smile that I had longed for all those years that have gone by, “You look good,” she said; “Nothing matters anymore,” I replied.
Now, I was at the rail station of my town; a small and quiet affair, yet it was a stage where magic was performed. I was standing there looking at the big old clock which was about to strike eleven. Suddenly I realized I was holding somebody’s hand, and as I looked down she smiled at me, “Papa, we are getting late.” As confused as I was, I asked her, “For what?” Puzzled, she replied, “Mama is coming today, don’t you remember?”
And then the whistle of the train broke out and the rhythm of departure became audible. We rushed to the platform and then I saw her. She was just as I remembered her under the chestnut tree. She was smiling as I saw the little boy whom she was holding hands with. He looked just as my daughter, the same blue eyes and the similar smile as his mother. I started at her direction, ready to take her in my embrace, but then, suddenly, my daughter pulled me back, “Papa, Mama is on the other compartment.” I stared at her in disbelief, and then I noticed the man coming out, he came and grabbed the other hand of the woman I was so desperately in love with. And I recognised him, the man with the black suit and shiny leather shoes; they kissed and passed me without even noticing. With moist eyes I looked at them as they left the platform. And then, from the other side, I heard the little girl cry, “Mama!” She was in an embrace with a lady whose face I was not able to see. As they started in the direction of mine, I closed my eyes and prayed for the first time that I could remember, for the face that I kissed under the chestnut tree.