What should I tell you about them? I could tell you how exactly they met, or maybe the first time they went bowling? I could tell you about their high school days or I could tell you about all the skipped college lectures. Hell, I could read to you from their yearbooks. But what would you to with that? Would you write this story instead?
His walking stick contacts the station’s platform allowing him to balance coming right off the train steps. The train is silent now, no longer hissing or puffing as it was when it first stopped a few minutes ago. The train is on time, but he had prepared for a 1 hour delay. He takes in a deep breath and realizes that he is early. This is not a bad thing, he’s never had a chance to look around before. All the prior visits have been strictly “business”, if you could call it that.
It’s been 6 months since the last time, he starts to wonder how different she will look today. He wonders if she’ll even show up. They haven’t really communicated since the last time, and because there was no communication, today should still be a go. Surely she would have said something if there was a change of plans. As he wanders around everyone else notices how his walking stick doesn’t really slow him down. It does make walking easier for him, but if you didn’t know that it would just seem like it was for show. Time flies when you’re wondering or wandering, it flies faster when you’re doing both.
He recognizes her by the cross she’s wearing. Her head down and her hair out, last time the hair was tied up. She’s reading a book. So that’s what she does, he thinks, she shows up early and reads. His mind wanders back to the cross that hangs off her necklace. This is the only piece of jewelry she wears now. Through out the years she’s had rings on all fingers (at different times), earrings of all sorts, shiny watches, and even fancy hair-clips. And through the years they’ve all somehow managed to dissolve or disappear, leaving her with just the cross.
He walks towards her and she notices the walking stick approaching. She raises her head to make sure and then she stands up. Neither of them have changed much since the last time. He smiles, his lips part slightly as if he was going to say something, but then they join again. She smiles back. This is them saying hello.
Without skipping a beat they start walking. It’s unclear to either of them what their next stop will be, so they walk in a certain way that shows this condition. Shop and stand owners catch onto this very quickly, after all they make a living from people who’re just walking by. “Bhai sahaab, bhel puri?”, shouts one of them. “Chai paani, chai paani,” says another. She gives him a disapproving look, she remembers that they visited that stand last time. She wants to try and visit a different stand each time, adding a unique flavour to each meeting.
They settle on a stand. “Ji behenji?” asks the man behind the counter, waiting for an answer. She lifts her hand to say something, and feels raindrops on her fingers. She starts to lift her head up to take a look and notices from the corner of her eye a smile forming on his face. She searches for clouds, but the sky seems as if it has none. It’s all one big cloud, she thinks, covering the entire sky. Tilting her head back down she notices that he has his tongue sticking out and flat. Catching raindrops as they fall. She gives him a little nudge with her elbow, the tongue goes back in. “Bhai saab?” the man behind the counter tries to appeal to his sensibilities instead.
She points to the kettle, indicating that they want tea. “Okay, do cup chai,” says the man, pulling out two empty cups. She makes repeated tsk sounds, raises her hand with her index finger pointing up and in that same rising motion she opens and spreads all five fingers. “Acha, ek hi cup,” the man corrects himself. “Dood?” the man asks, and they both nod their heads from side to side. No milk. “Shakkar?” the man now wishing that they had made their own tea. She holds up two fingers. Two spoons. He holds up another, making it three. The sweeter the better, he thinks. She doesn’t object. He grabs the other empty cup, putting down the money to cover it (and a little extra) before the man behind the counter could raise concern, and starts to pour half the tea into the empty cup. He hands the second cup to her. They start to walk again, each a cup in hand with half a cup of tea.
They approach the big cross atop the large gates. The cross not too different from the one she’s wearing on her necklace. They all look the same, he thinks, as he sees dozens of crosses marking dozens of graves. This graveyard is decidedly a Christian graveyard. If the crosses didn’t give it away, the cleanliness would have. This one is far better kept than any of the Muslim or Hindu graveyards in this city. Still slowly taking sips from their cups, they slowly approach their intended spot. This grave isn’t marked like the others. Not marked by a cross, and not exactly a tombstone either. It’s somewhere between a tombstone and a rock. There’s nothing engraved on it. So empty and barren, he thinks, if only someone wrote a word. At the same time she ponders upon how strong and free it stands, just the way it is.
Their cups now hold half of what they originally held. They give each other a quick look, observe a quick moment of silence, then start to pour the remaining contents of the cup onto the grave. The symmetry is not exact, but it’s close enough. I wouldn’t ask them to do it again. They pour the tea till the last drops drop, then leave the cups on the rock. People do all sorts of things near a grave. Some shed tears, dropping tear drops. They, he and she, drop tea drops. Pouring a quarter cup each, but somehow making a whole. The math seems to make perfect sense in their minds. This is how some friends say hello, and this is how some friends say goodbye.
Time does fly when you’re wondering and wandering. He looks at her watch (those can’t be the original straps) and it’s almost time for the next train. She understands from the pattern of his eyes, that it’s time for him to go. They start heading back to the train station. On the way back, they pass by the man behind the counter, who smiles and waves at them. They respond in kind. He had already purchased the return ticket on the way here. There was nothing left, but to get on the train.
The train has already warmed up, he’s just in time to jump on. He forgets that he’s walking with her and starts to hurry towards the train. The limp in his step becomes evident, some of those who saw him earlier in the day now feel content. He doesn’t get too far from her, nor does he get too close to the train. She jogs up ahead of him, turns back and starts to encourage him by waving him in, like she was holding a flag near the finish line. Realizing the silliness of his speed and her air-flag waving they both burst into laughter. It really is time to go. He gets on the train, and the train starts to move. She smiles at him. He smiles back, his lips part slightly as if he was going to say something, then they join back. As the distance between them widens, they both wave to each other. This is them saying goodbye.