The man frowned and stared at the lines on his rough open palms, trying to read something as the old pandit once did. Rohan hoped for a miracle.
The lines on his palms seemed like the Yamuna, the Ganga and its other small tributaries. South they flowed, in tiny tube-like veins, riding over his mighty huge dark forearms, among his young thick hair – like the land of the Sundarbans.
And then like the rain from the celestial monsoons, his eyes filled with tears.
“Was it love?” someone called from behind.
He looked over his shoulder, the movement loosed a tear that ran over his dark cheeks and made a damp spot on his blazer shirt.
He was standing on the edge of the cliff, his favourite black blazer thrown down on the gravel. With his one hand he held his new friend – the wine bottle and with the other he kept his black hair back, which were being tossed by the rough cold currents.
“Love son is like catching a housefly. You move your hands stealthily, then make a quick move, double-check your move, but when you open your fist, the fly flies away, leaving only disappointment back. The only way to catch it is to kill it.”
Rohan turned back and faced the uninvited stranger. He rubbed his bloodshot eyes with the back of his hand, drank some more wine and then smacked his lips. “You don’t...” he tried to explain.
He looked at the old man standing before him, his clothes shined so bright that Rohan had to come to the rescue of his eyes. He peeped through the spaces his fingers made. The man’s white hair fell on his wrinkled face, and he smiled at him.
“Love. Loss. Separation. Death. Anger,” the old man said. ”The eyes are like prostitutes, son. They reveal more than they can conceal,” he continued.
Rohan stood there, his head hanging down – motionless and still. The rough currents fluttered his shirt, and he gently swayed in the music of the wind.
“How old was she?” someone breathed through the air.
“Five,” Rohan said.
“Dying won’t make it easier for anyone nor would it solve the problem,” the old man said.
“But it also won’t make it further worse.”
Rohan offered the man the wine. The old man held the bottle in his hands.
“How much does it cost?”
“Sixteen hundred,” Rohan replied.
The man threw the bottle down the cliff, and it smashed against the tides. The storm subdued the sound of crashing glass.
“How much does it cost now?” the old man said. “That would have been you son…and you surely are worth more than sixteen hundred rupees in the eyes of the Lord.”
“Follow me,” the old man said and Rohan obeyed him without any question.
They reached a small hutment. The man invited him in and served his guest well.
“What was that?” said Rohan, mounting the glass on the table.
“Water,” came the reply.
“Water never seemed so good!”
“Only because you have been mixing it up with invaluable things. You see, anything that just costs money is cheap.”
“So what happened?” the old man asked softly putting his comforting arms on his back.
“Two years have gone by but it still feels like yesterday… it’s a dream I sometimes feel…It was 3rd April 2012. It was evening, it was Sara’s birthday. She was five that day. So Anjali and I decided to drive to a restaurant, have a great meal, chocolate ice-cream – her favourite…watch a movie…have a great time as a family.”
Rohan kept staring at the ceiling.
“On the way, a small girl, maybe the same age of Sara came down the road…running after a balloon. I put my foot on the brakes. She caught hold of the balloon and smiled…I looked back and Sara smiled back. Then I saw behind her, through the glass and before I could do anything there was a huge bang. I can’t remember anything after that. I felt my head heavy. There were shouts, screams, metal crashing against metal…screeching. Next day, I woke up at a hospital and got to know about things…I couldn’t take it...it changed me…depressed me. I felt alone, no one to hear me. I lost my job but it doesn’t matter, I’ve lots of money. But money only flows down my veins as that cheap wine.”
Rohan dug and clasped his fingers deep into the soft sofa.
“Whom should I live for?” Rohan cried.
“It’s not living that matters but you should think whom should you die for. All great men died for others.”
A butterfly flew inside from the window, came and sat on the old man’s hand.
“There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a beautiful butterfly,” the old man said. ”It fights, crawls, waits patiently and is rewarded. Everyone has fights to be won, son. Sometimes with ourselves,” he continued.
With a glass he carefully captured the butterfly and mounted the glass upside down on the table.
“Do you know it can live like this for about four weeks, but if I let it loose, it will die in maybe three days. Predators, wind will kill it.”
The old man lifted the glass and the butterfly came and sat on Rohan’s cheek.
“So, son, if you were a butterfly, what would you choose? To live long but die every moment or live life for a short period and keep everyone around you amazed and happy. The choice was and will always be yours, son.”
Before Rohan could understand what was happening a thousand butterflies – shades of yellow, orange, green, blue, purple – flew through the window and came and sat on him.
“Sweet flower you are, son.”
Rohan felt his head heavy. The old man’s clothes shined dazzling white.
“What’s your name?” Rohan murmured.
“Your father in heaven loves you, my child. Now you have to rest.”
Rohan opened his eyes. He was in a hospital. Sometime later a doctor came. “You were in an accident, Sir… I am sorry to inform you, that your wife and your daughter are no more.”
Rohan stared at the empty ceiling. But now he knew what he had to do – to live like a butterfly for three days.