He sat stirring a spoon of sugar in his coffee, wishing the choice between cowardice and courage was an easy one to make. Stains of yesterday’s dinner were visible on the tablecloth, he absently scratched at them with his fingernail. He had woken up with a sudden bout of nausea and his head swimming with guilt.
Before he could sip his coffee, his phone chimed with an agitating urgency. The sound of incoming messages were syncing with that of the irregular rhythm of his anxiety, every message tipping him closer to yet another moment of weakness. Niloy told himself that he was afraid of confronting her, afraid of her words that dig their way under his skin and nest in his heart. He placed his phone face down on the table and took to pacing the room instead, the harsh light of the sun’s glare exposing the worry lines on his forehead. Nothing is real till he confronts it, and he intended to keep it that way. Downstairs, his instruments groaned in exhaustion. They knew they had another long day in front of them.
He knows he is in trouble, he is in love. He has been in love before, he was just never consumed by it. Falling in love with her took him by surprise. It swept him up in its torrent, desperate and demanding, almost infantile in nature. He didn’t know then, it crept up on him when she laughed and he felt something detach from the familiar tinkling of her laughter, and come to rest on his tongue. He crushed it gently, the sweetened nectar pouring down his throat and filling up his ribcage. That’s when he knew. He carried the secret with him everywhere he went, rolling it around on his tongue, moulding the unfamiliar shape, testing its weight, asserting its existence.
Each time they spoke, he would wait for another piece to detach and add to the shape. The first time she cried, he tasted a piece of his bruised heart. The first time she said ‘I miss you’, he tasted an unripe bittersweet nectarine. What he couldn’t swallow was her rage. Her rage was acrid, angry words laced with hurt; they stifled him with their need to grow. They would feed on his inaction, grow to consume a room, burn down curtains and beds on its way. Niloy never housed her rage, he dealt with it like most men do- by shutting the front door on it and hoping it dissipates. Men after all have grown up with the privilege of being able to ignore a woman’s anger, of never having taught to acknowledge it. When confronted with a woman’s rage, men either discard it as an unnecessary distraction or stifle it with the remnants of their bruised ego in an attempt to bury its existence.
Yet the fruit of Niloy’s love matured, he nourished it with her softness and watered it with his attention. Niloy was an artist, and as is the case with artists, he sought out vulnerability. He would coax her pain out of the phone, will her to tell him when it hurt, where it hurt and who did the hurting. He would lie down on his blue bedspread, shut the door on his life and curl the night around his body; he only ever spoke in hushed voices to keep their world a secret. Then one night, when she had made him laugh harder than anyone ever had, made his body feel lighter than air, he told her he loved her. ‘Be mine’, he said. ‘You haven’t even met me yet’, she laughed. He told her it doesn’t matter, he loves her now, in this moment. He would love her when they met, when he could stare at her face unbidden, lightly touch her cinnamon skin, and see her eyes crinkle up when she laughs. He scattered his words like flower petals, letting the wind carry them where it wishes, throwing them without real intention.
She sensed his nonchalance, she refused to answer it with intent. He tried to part the heavy fabric of her silence, his pride willing the eight letters to find their way to him, wishing and wishing she felt the same way. After she said goodbye that night, he couldn’t sleep. He stepped out of the door and into the familiar darkness broken infrequently by the glimmer of stars. His thoughts wrapped around his shoulders like an unwelcomed touch, Niloy walked and tried hard to shed them. She didn’t love him, not yet anyway. And if she did, it didn’t glow bright enough for him. When he came home, his ego had made his decision for him. He would disappear, he would dissolve into his world once again, a world where the sound of music was loud enough to drown out the fitful knocking of love.
The next morning, he woke up in his old life. The smell of breakfast greeted him at the door, his father cooking. He ate, showered, slipped into a musty grey t-shirt and jeans, and stepped out of the house. His instrument on his back, he took the metro and seamlessly traced his steps back to where he was before he met her. Back to a life of pastel colours, diluted of real meaning. She called, she left messages. But he was far away, her words funnelled down, into the life he had slipped out of, a life that held her at its centre.
In the time he withdrew himself, her affection stumbled. It questioned itself before it even bloomed, it produced a half-hearted fruit, a sorry looking thing with orange flesh and splotches of brown. So when he did leap back to her, convinced he had secured her love, he plucked the fruit and tasted its over ripeness, and mistook it for love. He thought it was his for bruising, for loving, for consuming. So deep was he in his desperation for her, that he mistook her friendship for love, didn’t notice the fruit rotting. He tortured her, he demanded declarations of her need for him, of her want to be with him. He hammered down pillars and corridors, shrunk the room till all it contained was him and her.
But he didn’t foresee the other side of warmth, the flames willing to lash out and lick the remaining bare walls. She set ablaze the words she had buried deep within, which he now sits dodging. Hurt, more than anger spills out, bubbling at the cracks, frothing and flowing towards his heart. He couldn’t love her rage, couldn’t accept it, and couldn’t love all of her. So, he yearned; a pitiful whine. He yearned for the rage to subside, yearned for her to play a requiem for her harshness. Now he runs far away from her words, back into his world insulated with his narrow understanding of love, of women.
Men, brave or weak are after all cowards in the matters of heart.