Wordsmith of the month, Maya Sundar narrates a story of love, suffering and death
Daffodils were her symbol. Light, free-spirited, stand-alone and yet united with their counterparts; they were her souvenir for him. It had become a routine of sorts, albeit one with no benefits visible to the society, to visit the dusty old street across the city every evening. It was not that the shop he graced with regularity had the most fragrant of flowers, nor did it have an unending variety to pick from. It was just a plain, old, decaying flower shop which sold daffodils. The weather too seemed unimpressed with his choice as it turned cold, the winds trying to dangle him from their clutches. With faltering steps and a steady gaze he picked his usual order from the gnarly man and proceeded to his destination. As he drove the rapidly emptying streets, his thoughts strayed back to her. Her laugh in particular, it was always her laugh which struck him first. Rare, a slow build up from a slight chuckle to a full-throated guffaw; it never dawned on him when he was witness to those moments how much she affected him. All with that one laugh. It didn’t help his flow of thoughts that her laughter was his last memory of her too.
The stray workshop was shut he noticed , reticent to come back from his memories and still obligated to complete the ritual. It was just that wasn’t it, a ritual. An order he had crafted to keep his past alive, to cling to the fast withering links from the age he was happy in. Suppressing the fast growing tornado within him, the man unlocked the creaking shutter, paving the way to the dingy space which was once a lovingly built workspace. Their workspace, as she always reminded him when he claimed it was his or hers. It was still covered in soot, him preferring to keep it that way as a reminder of what he had lost in a moment’s negligence. It had been an innocent mistake; and it was constantly reinforced by his family and well-wishers.
If only the consequence showed it too.
They had been expecting their first bundle of joy. ‘A gift from her God’, he teased often, as he never quite believed in the existence of a higher power. She would never retort to that taunt, always telling him that he would realise ‘his’ worth on his own someday. Irony was quite a good eavesdropper, wasn’t she? That day, all these years back, he had understood what she had meant. She was never one to make excuses, neither for herself nor for him. His suggestion for her to avoid working during the gestation months had received an icy glare as reply and there was no further argument. You really couldn’t win against a woman who had tamed your raging dark demon and made you human.
That fated day, her 100th day of pregnancy, to be exact as his spiteful brain reminded him, he had finally expressed his interest of visiting the National Science Forum as a guest lecturer. Never one to withhold him from his dreams, she had agreed. If only he had observed better, reading the reluctance in her eyes, the dragging of her feet or the slight furrow of her forehead. If only he had checked the electricity main board as always and not ignored it in his excitement. If only she had reached the damned workshop later than usual. There were so many alternatives now, so many wishes he had made, but all that had been engulfed in a blazing fire. An inferno which had in all its fury turned his life to ashes.
His mentor had blamed himself, as he could have averted it, being their partner at work. His in-laws had cursed him for snatching their future from them. His friends had built a wall of resilience around him, in an attempt to shield him from the fall they knew he was going to have. None of it mattered, as he had not broken down. Not once did he show any emotion, a stray tear never daring to escape his eyes. The world saw him as strong, heartless, a stone and a workaholic. It would have been true if he had not been feeling that slow incineration of his soul for the past four years. He hadn’t lost his family in that fire; he had lost himself.
Placing the bunch of bright flowers on the blackened floor, right where their remains had been found, he said the same words he always did. “Till we meet”. It was always the same sentence, with no addition or change. As he drove back to his building of concrete and emptiness, he had the same old witness. A lonely bunch of daffodils, which seemed to understand the worth of itself in the dark room.