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I had a perfect summer and now I’m going back.
I close my eyes and lean against the window, hoping it would bring cold relief to my feverish head; the sunlight has made it warm and I’m surprised that’s a relief as well, that it was heat I needed, not cold.
Your face is all I can see, flashes of it, flashes of you, across my mind. Your crinkled smile, your piercing grey eyes, the mess of unkempt black hair, your strange spicy smell like mint and aftershave and chilli. I remember the movies we watched and the evening I met you and you smiled, telling me you’d be my knight on white horse in this city of boring, mundane people. ‘At least for the summer,’ you’d said, not having let go of my hand, with a flash of your brilliant white teeth.
And now summer is over.
I’m careful each time I fall in love; falling in love is such a turbulent affair, it’s like a mistake or pain, both of which never leave you where they found you, and it is strange, that mistakes, pain and love have something in common, love is supposed to be wonderful, to be bliss and ecstasy and all good things in life, like laughter, chocolate and a good book you haven’t read and is thick and new. I tell myself, each time, very solemnly, that it won’t happen again, not at all, love is overrated and unnecessary. And then like a breeze comes along someone who uncannily has all the things I ever dreamt of, or at least enough of them to make me forget my solemn self-promise and blows me away, me and my promise, and oh yes, I’m in love again.
So I’m going, summer is over, but all I can think of over the summer is you, and I wonder where did everything, everyone else vanish, my family and my cousins and the old attic and the books I read or all the days shopping? Why does memory intend on being cruel yet ironic, remembering the most beautiful moments, which give me pain?
I rant and rant away and you’d have laughed, you’d have told me I’m hilarious, and I’d have been offended, but you’d have redeemed yourself, easily, because you have this talent of making people believe you and a deep, gravely voice which makes me feel like a child, like I know nothing of the world or love or being hilarious.
We’d do a lot of things, filling in months of movies, walks, talks, songs, into a single sweet summer. We never talked of goodbyes or the temporal vividness of our relationship, except at the beginning when you said you’d be my knight for the summer, or when we said our goodbyes, our painful goodbye to us as the summer ended, fading away.
Over the summer, we made world and life passive, defying time or routine or propriety, holding hands and running ahead, racing ahead, so that we’d have time to squander, some time to waste, some time for sharing silence or stolen kisses, or running together, or maybe playing hide and seek. I think we were fooling ourselves, I think the world was all the while mocking us, laughing, because we were just racing ahead, and the end came, and where did it all go?
In some ways, I think the fact that we always knew that we were sharing love with a deadline, made us love more. You enticed me, made me think less. Words fell through me, we danced in the rain and fell into heaps of sweet-smelling hay laughing, falling in love and erasing ourselves in it.
‘I don’t know you,’ you told me once, ‘I just know how we are in the summer.’ And that had made me think, and you were right. Because in summer, there were no rules, only love.
I smile, thinking of you. ‘You’re such a man,’ I often told you in despair. You’d laugh at that, knowing I was talking about your messiness, your unkempt long hair which you just sheared off when you got time, your love of cars and tools and rowdy sports, and your aversion to sitting around. You read the newspaper, you wanted to watch a game, you never cried in movies, in fact, you never cried. I took you to watch a million movies, read out painful poetry, told you about sad things, intent on squeezing a sign of humanity, of softness out of your rugged, grey-eyed physique. ‘Come on, isn’t that sad?’ I’d ask you and you would nod and say it failed to make you cry and I’d despair but never give up, I told you I’d see a tear in your eyes once sometime. You dressed like you’d picked up the first pair of shirts and jeans that you set your eyes upon, lacking any sense of colour or fashion.
‘Fashion,’ you pronounced the word almost like it was some filthy thing on the road. I teased you about how lack of protein was never something you could suffer from, you gorged on eggs and chicken and fish. You were bad at expression, at romance – the typical silent man of a few words. You listened to the kind of music I could bear hearing but never liking, hard rock and blues.
‘I think you’re subtle,’ I told you once, ‘I think you’re fashionable in your own sense of the word. That your I’m-just-out-working-from-the-fields look is less carelessness and more caution, a deliberate attempt to look good with sweat and torn, faded jeans and rippled muscles.’ You laughed throatily at that. Another time when I was told I was hilarious.
I didn’t expect us to get along well together, honestly. It was a surprise to realize we were actually good at making conversation, that we connected on some strange intellectual plane. I liked your dependable stability. Grounded, a word that makes me think of you. Your steps are deliberate, certain and steady, like you’ve thought of the outcomes well. Impracticality hasn’t touched you while it has ruined me. We talked of life, and you said you don’t think about things more than you can help it, you take it one step at a time, and you walk away from the past, like something growing continuously, heading away and heading towards but always just at one place. You said sometimes I made you feel like if you blinked a few times, I’d disappear and be just a dream.
And all the while, summer was slipping away.
Before I left to see you for the last time, I sealed the paper I’d spent hours writing the night before into an envelope; the envelope was a bit small so I had to fold my paper many times to squeeze it in. It was a letter of things I’d learnt over the summer, from you. We’d promised to write each other that; we’d known our love was as long as the summer lasted.
You hug me as soon as you see me, as you always do, except you hold me for a little while longer, awkwardly because you’re such a man. I laugh at that errant thought. We share our usual coffee at the sunny sidewalk, talking lightly. ‘What time do you leave?’ you ask me. ‘Five,’ I respond. You nod, as if you knew all the while, you just had to ask.
We take a walk along our old haunts, the coffee shop, your house, meeting your mother who has the same grey eyes, the same kind steady controlled way of life. She laughs when we go to your kitchen to smell the bottle of vinegar, her concoction of pickles in vinegar, the jar smelling tangy and fresh. We sit on the park bench for a while, the one by the pond which is actually just eroded soil filled in by rain. We go to the movie hall, just as a compulsion of habit. We walk a lot.
As the afternoon draws to a close, you hug me close and tight again, making me feel protected and childlike. ‘I think you’ll get late,’ you say, ‘You should leave.’ ‘Yeah, I guess,’ I respond, not looking at you. We stand awkwardly now, hands in pockets; had we thought that the love would fade away with the summer? Because this hurts like any other goodbye, it’s not supposed to, I thought of summer loves as tempestuous and flighty, beautiful in a liberating sense.
‘It was a good summer,’ you say and I smile. I take your hand, and when I leave it, you hold your letter. You take out yours out of your pocket, it is a thick envelope and I put it in my pocket quietly. ‘Call me,’ you say and I nod, knowing it is futile, we won’t call each other, we’ll just learn, we’ll know, we’ll be better, and next year, summer will come, and we’ll have our summer loves again, and then we’ll think of each other and maybe on a starlit night or a sweltering afternoon, you’ll take your girl out to your home, you’ll smell the vinegar and she’ll laugh, and I’ll be breaking my solemn promise not to fall in love and be heady in a summer love, knowing it will end but summer comes again, and each time we’ll think of each other, sit by a pond which is as accidental as our love was, and read and remember what we learnt this year.
My hands are unsteady as I open the envelope, knowing the last person to touch it was you. Tightly folded papers fall out of them onto my bed. I unfold the first, and the blurred, blotchy ink confuses me. I unfold the second, and it is the same, the letters barely legible, the letters blurred. The last one is blank, just slightly stained with darker patches of white, mildly indented. I cry as I realize what they are, what you’d been trying to do for all those sheets of paper – writing a letter without crying. A teardrop falls on your last words, the ink blurring instantly. You’d written, ‘I love you. Summer shall come again and now I blink, you’re gone, you were a dream, I knew you were.’ Then there’s your beautiful name, and a postscript – ‘P.S.- Not feeling like much of a man right now.’
I laugh. I seal your tears and mine away and go to sleep.
Summer has gone.