Every morning I wake up with a burden of million tons weighing me down, immobilizing me from leaving my bed. If I could put a finger on where it weighs the heaviest, I would point to my chest somewhere close to the left shoulder. I bury my head into the pillow waiting for this feeling to pass because succumbing to it is a trap. You cannot surrender for if you surrender, it sucks you in and before you know, you are standing midst a labyrinth of madness. You are spiraling, circling and nothing makes sense. It’s a place untouched by a ray of light. I know the drill to escape these traps. I created it. I give myself a minute for the haze to lift up and the reality to sink in after which, I get up and walk towards the bathroom to splash my face with cold water, hence triggering the domino of routine.
But seldom. I do wonder if there will come a morning I will wake up to, feeling not this way. Any other way but not this. Some days I do get lucky when I am in a hurry and my brain gets no time to think. In a hurry to reach somewhere, be someplace. I hurry as if things depend upon this thing that I am hurrying so much about and for a moment I do feel like it’s all not so bad. My heart sometimes, feels light as a kite. I smile an untainted smile like nothing heart retching ever occurred to me.
Conversations, sceneries and events also play a role to keep me momentarily distracted. But life passes somewhere between these brief moments. Doesn’t it? And one day, maybe there will be peace, unperturbed by any of my yearnings. Undistorted by pain. I am willing to make peace with peace brought upon by monotony. But I know there will come the night, as constant as it is, followed by the morning and yet again, the feeling will return, tiptoeing like the moonlight behind the clouds and it will begin all over again: I will wait for my phone to ring. I will envy anyone who has been fortunate enough to be loved. I will yet again wish I hadn’t woken up. But I also know that I will find a way to dodge this familiar trepidation somewhere between my drill and distractions.
Chapter 4 – Surrealism
Café Viena was bustling with people and activity which gave Amelia Buch more choice of subjects to draw and observe. She would rise with the sun at five am to go for a run along the Mediterranean Sea and would later cook breakfast for herself that mainly comprised of toast and omelette on all seven days a week. She would be ready just in time for her daily tours after which she would go to Viena to work on her thesis. She had set short term and long term checkpoints for her thesis to track progress and had targeted to finish it within a month after which, she had decided post much consideration that it was time to move to Paris to complete its final leg. On alternate days, she had arranged to take Spanish lessons from Africa in exchange of English lessons that she gave her. She would return home tired and exhausted mostly just to sleep ensuring to give herself not much time to think. Why think when you can act and accomplish? She would occasionally drop by the studio to catch up with the band who were busy preparing for their upcoming multi-city tour. Amelia was relieved this would give her some time to reconsider her feelings that she believed, she had delusionally developed towards Diego. She felt utterly silly for deciding to admit her feelings to him and then him taking off to see his ex-wife the very same day. A sign, she thought, only a fool would ignore.
But today she would face Diego for the first time since he had left for Seville. It was Nicholas’ birthday and there was a party at the studio At around eight pm, Amelia and Africa reached the studio where everybody including Nicholas’ family and friends had already gathered. The studio looked different decorated in fairy lights and white balloons, matching the white studio walls.
It was almost midnight before everyone went back home leaving just the band members, Amelia and Africa. Clarence had passed out on the couch while Matteo was helping Africa in cleaning up the studio. Diego went outside to sit on the porch which was dimly lit by the lights escaping through the studio’s door and windows. The night was dark and across the lawn on the other side of the road hung a huge billboard of a cement commercial with a funny tag line. Diego smiled.
“What’s so funny?” Amelia asked as she sat next to him.
“You would know if you could read Spanish.”
“Long time.” He said looking at Amelia.
“Indeed. How was Seville?”
“Successful…if I must say. It’s over now. The divorce papers have been signed. I am a free man.” Said Diego feigning enthusiasm.
Amelia recognized a similar somberness in his eyes, the one she had first seen the time they had had their first conversation outside Marty’s. A pang of guilt overcame her as she realized all through she had been thinking only about herself, oblivious to his problems. They both sat quietly looking at the bill board, not speaking anything.
“Is this is your diary where you write your compositions?” Amelia continued as she reached out for a ragged brown diary sitting next to him.
“How long have you had it, it looks really torn.”
“Almost two years now. I always buy the same journal when one runs out, makes me feel as if the sanctity has remained intact.”
Amelia smiled. “So this contains all the songs that you wrote in past two years?”
“Most.” He looked at her going through the diary, “In fact, there is something I wrote about you.”
Amelia looked at him surprised but his face was expressionless as if he had said the most natural thing in the world.
“If it’s about me, then I deserve to hear it.” She said.
“Well, if you must.”
“Yes of course, nobody ever wrote me a song. It’s good to be somebody else’s muse for a change”
He took a one long glance at her and began:
“Thought that I stood
Made in time
Been there, done that
A man past his prime
But then came along you
And I was hit
By a wave of surprise
For they said there was more
To the air we breathe
But I didn’t know
that there existed
A scent so sweet
I didn’t know
There was a void
as old as me
But then came along
You, oh Amelia,
and life itself
rained over me
and now I am alive
more than ever
more than life
itself could be
For you are a rainbow
With all shades of life
Amelia looked at him both surprised and confused. Does this mean what I think it means? A million question crossed her mind. Why doesn’t it feel so great?
“It’s lovely.” She said, “Could you please read it again?” Diego did without asking any questions. He could almost sense her confusion and did not rush her to respond. His face radiated composure as if it was only important to tell.
“I didn’t know I inspired you like that.” She finally said.
“Everything about you inspires me. I think it’s very brave of you to travel by yourself. You are so young and look at you…” he trailed off.
“How long did it take you to write this?”
“I don’t know. 15 minutes.”
“15 minutes?” Amelia echoed. “That’s it?”
“Well, what can I say? Strong was my inspiration.”
“And when did you write this?”
“It’s been a while. A month maybe. Look, I am sorry if you think this is inappropriate…”
“That was a lovely poem, Diego. Loveliest things anyone ever said to me…in years.”
“I am glad you liked it.” said Diego.
“I am leaving for Paris in a month… maybe.” Amelia said.
“Oh, is it? You never told.”
“Well, how can my thesis on Picasso be actually complete until I cover France.” She smiled.
Diego felt uneasy. He wondered if this was in reaction to his poem. He knew something remained unsaid. Her lips were talking but her words were empty.
“It’s not you.” Amelia said almost reading his mind.
“So what’s the plan?”
“The plan is to go home, sleep. Wake up tomorrow morning, go for a run, go for the tour, study, etc.”
“That is an excellent plan. But seriously, what’s the plan?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I will study further or I will follow my ancestral footsteps.”
“Had enough of Spain?”
Amelia smiled. “Can I just say that I felt at peace after a very long time. I felt…” Amelia paused to light a cigarette, “hopeful. And it’s been all because of you and the beautiful family I found in you guys.
They sat there in silence and shared a cigarette looking into vast nothingness that spread forth their eyes. Both united by pain they had quietly suffered but never shared.
“You gave me a hope too.” Diego added after a while. “And this poem that I wrote about you, is in itself a sign of that. I wrote something after…almost a year, something I truly felt other than indifference. So, thank you. You should know that you will always have a home here.”
Amelia leaned forward to kiss Diego on his cheek.
“Please don’t slit your wrists when I leave next month.” Amelia teased.
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“Do you think I will ever make big as an artist?”
“Yes…you know. Successful?”
“That depends upon what your definition of success is.”
“You know…like Picasso.” Amelia said carefully.
“Do you think Picasso drew because he wanted to be successful?”
“Hah! I doubt.”
“Tell me, would you continue to keep drawing if I told you that you will never be a successful artist?”
“Yes I will.’
“Would you continue to keep drawing if only five people came to visit your exhibits including Africa that is. I am not making any promises though.”
“Yes I would. Amelia chuckled.”
“Would you keep drawing if you didn’t have to?”
“I don’t think see that ever happening but yes, I would.”
“Would you draw if there was no hope and would you draw honestly?”
“What else would I do?”
“Well may be, just maybe, you might actually be “successful” someday. Artists, my love, are too consumed to choose. They do whatever they do because there is nothing else they are able to do. And I don’t know if you will be successful, but you will definitely be happy. The joy of creation is unparalleled.”
“I must admit that coming here, really helped me. I think my Blue period might finally be over.”
“Yes. Picasso’s work has been broadly divided into: Early works, like when he was a child and was doodling, the Blue period- that was when he was so poor and his best friend died that all his painting looked blue and sad, the Rose period- that was when he moved, eh, wait for it…Paris!, Cubism you already know. Classicism, Surrealism. I could explain-“
“When was your blue period? Where was I?”
“Oh it was before I moved to Spain. Nothing important.” Amelia said dismissively.
“Amelia, you can talk to me.”
“It’s a story in itself.”
Chapter 5 – The Blue Period
Amelia vividly remembered the first day at the university where she had been wait-listed for more than two months for the Fine Arts course and the anticipation of making the cut had gnawed at her at every waking second. It was while standing in a queue in the Admissions office, she had noticed Neal for the very first time. A guy in baggy blue jeans and a plain white t-shirt standing ahead of her. Amelia only saw his back for first ten minutes until he turned around a couple of times. He had not shaved in days and his dark brown hair were wildly unkempt. His face looked placid in contrast to his shabby appearance while he skimmed through a book titled “Quantum Mechanics”. He was unperturbed by ongoing conversations and the occasional bursts of laughter in a room packed with freshers, as if an invisible wall separated him from the inessential, distinguishing him from everyone else. He would lift his eyes every now and then to see how far along the queue had moved, his hazel eyes in contrast with his dark brown hair.
Amelia did not see him until next two months in the library where he was making notes from a number of books carefully laid down in front of him on the table. His gaze was intense like that of an observer and betrayed his otherwise empty face. Amelia flushed with embarrassment when he suddenly looked up, meeting her in the eye as if he knew all along that he was being watched. It was only after a few minutes that Amelia looked at him again to see if he was still looking and to her astoundment, he was not just looking but also, grinning openly. Amelia’s heart skipped a beat for the first time ever in almost two decades. She knew it was a beginning of an era.
Getting to know Neal was an experience. He came from a middle class family where his father was a high school Maths teacher and his mother was a nurse in a local hospital. He was the third youngest amongst his four siblings comprising of two older brothers and a younger sister. As a child Neal learned the value of money and hardships that came with the absence of it. He witnessed his parents work extra shifts to ensure private education for all their children. As a child he vowed to be rich when he grew up and provide his parents with every luxury the world had to offer. By late teens he had realized that the only way to earn some real money was to become a businessman and he couldn’t wait to finish his education to become one. Every morning he woke up to The Financial Times and The Economist and never missed a class.
He admired Amelia for her kindness and compassion and would often tell her about his dreams as if they were already true. He told her how he would become an industrialist one day and she would tell him how she would own an art gallery. He would talk in facts and she would talk in poetry and they would both lay consumed in each other’s vastness. She was an idealist while he was pragmatic and they both knew how much they needed each-other to complete the spectrum. They were like lost pieces of a puzzle. The more they appreciated each other’s mind, the more they desired for each other’s bodies. They would travel across cities together, at times indulging in inebriated lunacies and on other times just being silently by each other’s side, reading their own books, listening to their own music. On other times, they would just walk by the beach holding hands, taking a dip in the ocean. Occasionally they would argue but one of them would always concede sooner or later. The price of separation was too high to pay in a life this short.
It was in an evening of their third summer together that a nineteen year old Amelia walked into her hostel room, after a hectic day of classes to find her otherwise shabby room to be decorated with candles and fairy lights. In the middle of the room was Neal, down on a knee. Oh my god! He is going to propose!
“Amelia, I know life is full of uncertainties and as we grow older, it is only going to get tougher. But if there is anything I am certain about, then it is you. I don’t know what future holds and but I am certain that I can go through anything as long as I am with you. I am certain that I cannot go on without you and believe you me, I have tried. I am certain that life will be beautiful with you. And so I want to celebrate my love for you and let the whole world know how proud I am of us. Would you spend your life to me? Amelia Buch, will you please marry me?”
“Bloody hell, yes, yes and a thousand times yes! Please tell me I am not dreaming.” Amelia exclaimed as she threw herself into his arms. Amelia couldn’t believe that love had finally found its way to her. That night she lay in bed, cuddled with Neal, beaming at the ring. The ring wasn’t gold or diamond. It was probably aluminium but she couldn’t care less. She giggled as she said out loud, “hello, fi-an-cé” and they kissed for the hundredth time. Amelia knew that the ring was a promise of commitment and she knew the value of one. Even her own parents couldn’t make one to her when it seemed to come naturally to all the others in the world.
Amelia carefully examined her surroundings. She wanted to remember every detail when she tells this story her children years later. She remembered the light pink floral curtains. The dim lights. The white window panes. The light blue cotton sheets sprawling carelessly across the bed. Her roommates’ Black Sabbath posters on the wall. The tilted photo frame on the bookshelf with a photograph of Neal, Grandma Lily and her from her previous birthday standing next to the only picture she had of her parents from their wedding day.
Must they be still together, mom and dad? Amelia knew of her parents only through her grandmother who had told her that her parents were travelers. Her mother had left for a fourteen day trip when she was twenty but had returned only a year later to inform that she will be travelling for the rest of her life. Her mother had blonde hair and sea green eyes on a heart shaped face, it was a face that must have left a string of broken hearts. It was while travelling to India that she had met her father and had been instantly smitten by his sun baked complexion and stout muscled built. Mother wanted to travel through India and father wanted to leave for Europe so they had both decided to take turns. First, her father showed her mother the gigantic Himalayas, and the dry Thar, the valleys of Kashmir, the royal palaces of Jaipur and the beaches along Indian Ocean coastline. And then it was her mother’s turn to show him the colors of Europe that shaped the history of entire world. Somewhere between the two, Amelia Buch was created and that was when her parents got briefly married somewhere over the Atlantic in a cheap ferry. How drunk they must have been, she thought. Her mother had dropped her off at her grandma’s house, promising to come back once she had run a few errands in Japan. But she never did. Never called and never turned up. What was in Japan though? Amelia wondered.
She looked at the photo frame and then looked at Neal who was casually lying next to her. She smiled. It was a moment of absolute bliss. It’s all too good to be true, she thought.
Amelia and Neal had moved in together in a small one bedroom apartment. Neal had joined as an intern at one of the top corporate firms and Amelia had been taken by a local artist for shadowing in central London. It was only five months later when she was looking at the calendar to pick a date that it struck her that she might have missed her period. She sat there baffled to see if there was a discrepancy but in her heart she knew she had never missed a date. Not once. But today she was late by twenty days. Even the thought of missing her period, let alone getting pregnant had never occurred to her as she had never missed a pill. There was even a reminder in her phone for every night at ten pm. Dredgedly she dragged herself to a pharmacy and got five pregnancy test kits. On her way back home, while sitting in the bus, she stared at the cover of the kit, on which a blond white girl smiled gaily as her stick reflected a positive sign. The blonde girl was happy about being positively pregnant. The sheer irony of it mocked at her. She decided against telling Neal yet, in case it was a false alarm. Hours later, sitting on the bathroom floor, holding a stick, Amelia felt nauseous. All five sticks surrounding her reflected a positive. She couldn’t bring herself to walk out the door and tell Neal about the…baby, she thought. There’s going to be a baby inside of me. She knew she wasn’t ready for this. There is no job, no financial security and no matrimonial bond yet. It was almost thirty minutes later that she heard a knock on the bathroom door. “Babe, are you in there?”
“Are you okay? It’s been a while.”
Amelia looked flushed when she opened the door. She walked up to Neal who was listlessly changing channels on the television. Neal noticed that she was drenched in sweat. Before he could ask any questions, she handed him the pregnancy stick.
Neal looked at the stick for a good one minute. Amelia could see his eyebrows raise and knit in confusion.
“But this is not possible…just not possible.” He said without conviction. “How’s this possible? You were on the pill.”
“I know, oh baby, don’t worry… we will take care of it.”
In that moment Amelia felt as if somebody had burst her bubble. “Take care of it?” She echoed. “It could be a him or a her. There is no it. We created it.” She said, her eyes blazing with betrayal. She couldn’t believe that Neal had referred to their child as an object who could be taken care of.
“Yes, I mean…you know what I mean.”
“I don’t think I know what you mean. Look, we cannot waste any more time. This needs to be meticulously planned. We need to pick the next date. How about Sunday? And get married as soon as we can so that we can begin getting ready for the baby. I know it’s going to be really tough but I could use my savings and prepare for the baby. We could get married somewhere cheap and save the marriage fund for the baby…”
All Neal could here was “the baby”. He could see Amelia talk passionately for about next ten minutes but he didn’t hear a word.
“Yes…yes…of course.” He said at the end of it.
“Should I call grandma?”
“Let’s wait until tomorrow. Let’s go and see a doctor first. One could never trust these sticks.” He calmed her down and put her to bed. Exhausted from all the weeping, Amelia drifted off to sleep while Neal lay wide awake.
Neal wondered what he is going to tell his parents who expected him to join one of the Ivy League colleges. He felt like his head would explode. Next morning, he woke up and got ready for the doctor’s visit even before Amelia woke up. He prepared breakfast and woke up Amelia who ate in silence. The visit to the doctor was a quiet one and even quieter on the way back once their biggest fears were confirmed. He started massaging his forehead with his fingers not knowing how to say what he really wanted to say.
“Baby, I have been thinking a lot about this and I don’t think that the timing is right. I mean we haven’t even started our career yet and how are we going to look after a baby? It’s expensive you know, education, medical, and so on and we are just twenty, we have all our life to make babies and we will. I promise you but not now…please. And think about all our plans of accomplishing things together, travelling together? Prioritizing our career? Please, we are not ready for this.”
“but it’s our baby, Neal? We can’t run away from this and I know we can do this together. I was scared too and I thought about it. Really thought about it. I even googled it and this situation is somewhat similar to cold feet but believe me, we will figure this out. We will love this thing more than we ever loved anything.”
“Do you seriously believe in all these things after what your parents did to you?,” there was mockery and anguish in his tone.
“Are you suggesting that I get an abortion?”
Neal nodded, his lips pressed in a straight line. “You just need to take a medicine.”
“Just a medicine? Is that right?”
“At least sleep over it?”
“I think you should leave.”
“Leave? This is our home. Where should I leave for?”
“I don’t know.” Amelia’s snapped.
“Are you sure you want to keep the baby and there’s nothing I can do to change your mind?”
“Bloody hell Neal! Yes I am keeping the baby. You can get lost if that’s what you want to do.” Her eyes were brimming with tears as she stormed out of the room into her bedroom.
In the morning she woke to an empty house and realized that Neal had left. She tried calling him but he didn’t pick up the phone and didn’t reply to her messages. It was on the fifth day that Amelia realized that he probably will never come back. She lay in her bed restless, feeling anxious. She didn’t tell her grandma or her college friends that Neal had left without a word. She didn’t have courage to tell anyone that she had loved a man who didn’t have courage for responsibility, a man who had left her at her worst. A man who had abandoned her and their unborn child. Amelia didn’t leave her bed for next fifteen days. She couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep and couldn’t change. She never left her home, in case Neal came and always charged her phone in case Neal called. She felt incapable of even crying anymore. It was only when she had decided that things could not get any worse that a month later she woke up in the middle of the night, confused and deranged. Did I get my period?
Chapter 6 – Classicism
Diego looked at her, his expressions soft. They both sat in silence. Diego wanted to give her a hug but he knew she was too strong to be pitied. Amelia understood his silence and was relieved that she didn’t break down, neither were her eyes moist when she finished talking. Instead she felt lighter. It felt like a story from a hundred years ago. None of the characters from this story were around. She smiled at irony of all of it. She wondered where everyone was? What were they doing in this very moment while she was looking at the Spanish sky with a full moon? Were they looking at the same moon or were they looking at the sun? No one could tell.
“Neal was a first class coward and I am not saying this to make you feel better.” Diego finally said.
“He was perhaps a lapse of judgement, now that I look back.” Amelia said nostalgically. “Sometimes I do wonder what the child would have been like. What would I have named it? Would it have been a boy like him or a girl like me with dark locks of hair and Neal’s dark brown eyes?”
“Don’t go there.” Diego said as he held her hand.
“Sometimes I also wonder if I subconsciously killed my own baby. Not willing to face another living reminder of yet another failed relationship for the rest of my life. I wonder if I had been selfish all this while, playing a victim while actually being a perpetrator. You see…I denied myself food when it was someone else who needed it more than me. I did to my child what my parents had done to me. Abandoned it. Selfishness must be a genetic trait.” She said dryly in a flat tone.
“Do you hate your parents?”
“Well. Let’s see. I definitely missed them around the parent teacher meetings and birthdays and sometimes Christmas and I still think about them every day. I wonder if they aged gracefully or if my mother became fat and if father became bald. I wonder if I have step brothers or sisters. I wonder if they wonder I was a mistake. I wonder, if they are even around. I miss them. Sure. But then I also know of a friend whose parents abandoned him and he was raised by his uncle and aunt who were really bad people. His aunt used to burn him and abuse him and what not. They didn’t send him to school for a very long time and said really mean things to him, so the poor guy is still very shaky and sensitive. I think I got lucky to be raised by my grandma who is so smart and intelligent. We both love each other so much. I think she raised me better that anyone ever could. I was home-schooled till thirteen which I loved by the way. But no, I don’t hate my parents because honestly… I don’t really know what it is it like to have parents and so I don’t miss it in that way. I know having parents is mostly about being unconditionally loved and I was fortunate enough to be loved by my grandma. Plus what’s wrong in being selfish? Aren’t we all thinking about ourselves first? Even those who say we love “unconditionally” do it because it kind of makes them feel like a bigger person or makes them feel good about themselves. I don’t hate my parents. I know they must be a little guilty and they definitely are cowards but… what can I say? Right now, as selfish as that sounds, I am happy that I didn’t have my baby. No, I don’t hate my parents.”
“Can I tell you I had a crush on you for a brief moment? And I was slightly disappointed when you just left for Seville. All those feelings came back and I felt like, another man I loved has left the town. Déjà vu.” Amelia continued.
“I would never leave you,” said Diego his eyes burning with sincerity.
“We would never know.”
“You are the only women, if I may say, I really liked after a long long time. After my wife left me, I thought this is it. This is the end, I will never feel this way again. But thank god for you and you have inspired me in so many ways and after today, everything has changed. Thank you for telling me everything”
“How drunk are we to talk about life and matters of heart? Think we should call it a night?”
“It’s almost sunrise.” Diego nodded.
Amelia rose and they both hugged each other. They went inside the studio where the others were sleeping. Amelia packed her stuff and headed towards the door.
“Should I walk you back home?” Diego asked.
“I think I’ll just walk back on my own.”
Diego nodded and planted a kiss on her forehead.
“Will you forgive me, if I never come back?”
“I could never be angry with you.”
Dedicated to my late grand parents – nani-nanu, dadi-baba, who I know shine bright with the stars.
You can read Amelia- Part I here.
Posted in: Short Story