04 November, 2008

Story : Zee, the last word

Chapter 1: Tommy
I was on my way to the house after a long day at work. The cook had asked me to get stock vegetables and fish on the way back as my path crossed the market .It is a little more than two kilometers between my workplace and the apartment. I would walk to and from work. I have a car but the walk home cleared my head of all thoughts official. I also get some of my best ideas during this walk. The mind has a capacity to wander with a speed that is unbelievable, linking thoughts events objects et al. The linkages fusing into one other so fluidly that it’s difficult to pin down the track unless one does a back-trail very slowly. Even then a few would slip away. It is no different today

I would be Forty the next year. I, Thomas Joseph Cherian; when had the years gone by I didn’t even realize. It has been a good life, seemingly stable but the effort made to maintain consistency is always trying enough. One keeps second guessing life, and planning every step, such that eventualities are surmounted with little fuss. It does not have the excitement of a Bond movie with evident action. But experience has taught me that life is a great player and always has the curved ball kept in reserve for you to be played later.

I was a wild one in the younger days and stories about me abound, but looking at me today one would hardly be convinced. Terror Tom seemed to be no more and Mr. Thomas Cherian had usurped him. No vestiges of the impulsive youth, or reminders existed here in the Mumbai businessman. Sometimes Tom visited me in the nights and then the sleep would be restless.

Rascal, Notorious, Charming Tommy was quite the talk of the neighborhood. Then we were a large active circle of friends, girls and boys. We would paint Cochin & Ernakulum red. When I graduated with honors in Engineering, and got the best job on the campus which paid the most amongst my batch, that too became another subject for the neighbors. It was an Engineering MNC and my role was in marketing. The scoundrel suddenly attained respectability with a vengeance. Funny are the ways of the world. I had not changed one bit but the way the world looked at me certainly did. I mused as I walked along.

I was a garrulous sort about all subjects save self. Everyone including the family found this enigmatic and I did not bother to correct that impression. Passion was in my soul and the fire was felt by all. The Pater, his highness Joseph Thelmasherry Cherian, tried many a time to get me married and good proposals too came my way but I had no interest there and then the family gave up. Dad even tried to find out through Father Chacko whether I had anybody in mind but even with him I would not talk. It was too personal an invasion for my liking. Time went by.

Two years into my job, I had enough of selling somebody else’s solutions. Against family wishes moved to Chembur, Mumbai and set up a business that prospered over four years of hard work and a little bit of luck. Now fifteen years later had moved to a bigger apartment. The earlier flat was retained and was leased out to Gopan Nair a neighbor from Ernakulum who is transferred here. Financially very comfortable I had everything material the world would have to offer. My mind had processed all these thoughts, while the nose indicated the fish market is closer now.

Shanti was the fisherwoman from whom I regularly bought our weekly quota on Sundays after Church. But today was a Saturday and that too evening. I was not very hopeful of fresh fish but even if I d lay my hands on the morning catch, it would be good enough for now. Avoiding the salt water and fish scale puddles I reached Shanti’s board plate stall. In her typical loud voice Shanti welcomed me on an off day and extolled the virtues of the two fat black pomfrets she had. They were fresh and she pressed the scales to bring out the white water. After playfully haggling, a game enjoyed by most purchasers with the fisherwomen, we settled on a price and she cleaned and bagged the fish for me. On turning to go back I bumped into a lady struggling with her own purse and purchases and got a jolt.

The last person in the world I would have expected to run into in the world and that too here in Chembur, Lizzie or Zee. Life had thrown the curved delivery when I was least expecting it. Somewhere a door that had closed long ago heard a knock on it again. Zee, it really was her as I double checked.

Chapter 2: Zee
I don’t know which one of us was more surprised. Both of us just kept looking at each other with wonder not knowing what to speak. She didn’t look any different from the last time we had said goodbye at the Cochin airport as she flew to the US via Bangalore. That was 16 years ago. Slim supple brown eyed Zee with the hair curling around the forehead had retained everything I knew about her. The difference was she was wearing a Sari, a garment I knew she could not handle then.

‘It doesn’t slip now”, she said following my eyes. My lips turned up at the corner and eyes crinkled at the memory of that incident. She had wanted to surprise me with her Sari clad look. But as she got out of the taxi, she stepped on her hem and the sari got undone. She had stumbled back into the cab and made an about turn. Both of us started laughing at once, With Zee I never had to even talk, we instinctively understood each other and this had not changed. She had filled out a bit but nothing that disturbed her slim structure terribly. She reached over as she used to and patted my slight paunch, “Hmmm” she smiled, “prosperity, Tommy chan. But you are looking just the same and what is that crawling under your nose?” She went into a peal of laughter at my peppery grey moustache, and before my indulgent expression changed, she said “ No.. No… I like it, makes u look more distinguished. “Baju hato akkhaa din idharich khadaa rahega kya?” was the harsh shout that disturbed our reverie. Let’s get out of here first, I told her and took one of her bags and her arm and we walked out of the fish market.

My mind was teeming with questions; we had more than 15 years of catching up to do. I asked her, “When did you move here from the States? Where are you staying and what do you do here?” I asked her as we walked along. Was she in a hurry to go home and did we have time for a coffee?” She kept smiling and said, “You have not changed one bit Tommy still very impatient. We can do both, I don’t stay far from here, Chetak apartments that building, why don’t u come on over and I shall make us coffee and try and answer some of your questions too”. We walked along and reached her place. Chetak Apartment turned out to be one of those middle income blocks that had blossomed in the suburbs. Her apartment was a one bedroom hall one on the second floor. She smiled at the kids playing in the compound as they shouted Hello Aunty. She seemed well liked but then Zee was pleasant, always affectionate.

There was an elevator and as we waited for it she just turned to take another look at me and smiled warmly. I smiled back, the ease and warmth was still strong. It was a small cage and as we entered the elevator the smell of Cuticura lavender talc wafted up to my nose, the Zee smell. Many a time when she was in my arms the first thing to hit me after her warm smile would be this smell. In the proximity of the elevator I noticed many a thing now, her dusky burnished skin below her neck as it stretched to her ears which had the golden fur that my hands and lips knew. I was being slowly pulled back in time and the sensation was not unpleasant. The cage jerked to a halt and naturally my hands rushed to open the door for her as she tried the same turning into me. Her curly hair got into my nose like it always did and I sneezed. You still are ticklish there Tommy Chan? She laughingly quipped. As we reached her door, I saw the nameplate, Elizabeth Koshy it said. It was her maiden name. At Cochin 16 years ago when I had seen her off to the states she was going to marry her fiancée Ajith Verghese. Now Elizabeth Koshy, my mind churned even more. Opening the door she turned and said “Tommy chan” come in we have a lot to talk. Numbly I just nodded and entered,

Elizabeth Koshy, or Lizzie or Zee came into my life when I joined the MNC as a Sales Engineer. I had not noticed her even though we worked in the same place. I was touring and the target orientation was tough initially. It was only when I was assigned to attend a training module in Chennai that we came in touch. She too was deputed for it. We were the only two from Cochin office in Chennai. It was a fifteen day module I was from Sales & she from Finance. When I saw her sitting alone in the training room I went over to introduce myself.

She smiled warmly and said I know you Tommy, though you may not know me. The “how” was writ large on my face as she said “You are Preeti’s coffee guy aren’t you?” Preeti was the girl I would see off and on from office. She was our receptionist and fairly free with her charms and Terror Tom was not one who could be accused of looking a gift horse in the mouth. That my going out with Preeti would be office folklore was not something I expected or even sensed. Surprises never cease, as I laughed and said you got me there, She continued in a naughty manner delicately balanced that it just stopped of achieving the canine adjective. I believe that Preeti doesn’t even have to have coffee at home now, with the amount she has had with you? I sputtered with laughter, as I took in her bright green top and white corduroy jeans in which she made such a charming picture.

This girl was not only pretty but quick on the uptake with a sensational timing to her rhetoric. Now my interest was definitely piqued. I eased into the empty chair on her left. Then she smiled and her brown eyes just lit up, a curl dropped on her forehead that she tucked behind her ears with a forefinger, and my heart skipped a beat. “There are others in the office too who also like coffee, have pity on them too” she cheekily said. I just got up went to the vending machine and poured two Styrofoam cups and kept one before her, saying “Today is your lucky day”. She laughingly said “Very smart cheapo, this wont do at all”.

“I know that lady, but can I buy a coffee for a lady whose name even I know not? She smiled and turned and pointed to the tag clipped to her top which said Lizzie. I told her Lizzie is quite a mouthful. You are the last word in office tales and being so clued on to the grapevine there, thou shall hereby be known to Thomas Joseph Cherian as ZEE. She immediately came back “Then thou art Tommy Chan to Zee”.

Chapter 3 : Tommy and Zee
Zee and I sensed a natural ease with each other and within minutes, we were like old friends. Laughing, joking and giggling about, that the rest of the participants could not guess that we had met just ten minutes ago. I liked her and the fact that she didn’t budge away even when we were asked to form groups made me realize that it was mutual. We were housed in the same hotel but on different floors. At six when the trainer called it a day and we wound up, I looked to her and asked now “What’s the POA?” “You are going to pay for the free coffee Tommy Chan with a meal and a movie. Do you understand Tamil?”’ Nope’’ she smiled and said neither do I “So let’s go, it will be so much more fun”. We went to the Regal Cinema in T-Nagar and booked the late night show for Dalapathy a Rajnikanth starrer. The show was to begin at 9pm and it was 6.30pm now. We went to the Hotel to freshen up before dinner. Took a shower, put on a clean pair of jeans and White T- Shirt and dabbed some after shave lotion. I was set. As I waited in the lobby she came in five minutes, she had only changed her top for a deep blue T-Shirt with her white cords from the morning. We looked like a colorful pair in the reverse. When she came closer, I got a whiff of the Cuticura talc, this was the first time. The fragrance was to remain in my memory a long time.

She made heads turn in the lobby, it was not that she was conventionally good looking but her walk had a bounce and she had a vitality that made people want to continue looking. When she walked over to me took my arm and asked, shall we? I was the proudest man there. The meal at Sarvanna Bhavan was vegetarian and boy did this babe tuck in? I have always had a problem with my dates when we would go out. I love food and when the lady with me just pecks at the dishes, it irks me no end. I asked her “How do you manage to retain your lovely shape while you put all of this away?” She said “Thank you Tommy Chan this is the first compliment u have paid me even though backhanded. I couldn’t stop laughing and told her Zee you are the loveliest thing in all of Chennai? She pouted naughtily and said “yeah Chennai it must be because in Cochin it’s someone else”. I was thoroughly enjoying myself with this girl and it’s been a long time since I had a date whose grey cells were of top class, the bonus, she was lovely too.

Despite the Terror Tom tag am a gentleman and have been told that I have a laconic sense of humor. This came to the fore as we laughed our way through the meal. We called for the bill and she offered to split but I refused saying that this one was on me. But from tomorrow we go Dutch or French I said with a saucy wink, as we eat Chinese and Italian. She punched my arm and said “Naughty one you are” but her grip remained firm as we walked to Regal. The crowd there was phenomenal and in order to not be separated, pulled her close, as we negotiated through the throng to our seats. She smiled as we settled in to a very loud mob yelling to start the movie. We grinned at each other knowing this would be fun. A fat lady was in the adjoining seat to me and was continuously jostling me, Zee kept giggling at my plight and whispered, you can lean on me, I won’t complain. I just smiled and kept my distance but the Cuticura was disturbing my senses. I asked her what would she like, something cold to drink or popcorn. She said maybe later but right now just this as she linked my palm with hers. I was in seventh heaven. The roaring Cinema had vanished for me and all my sensations were in my palm as it rested in hers. I squeezed a bit and she leaned and kept a curly mopped head on my shoulder. As I turned one curl tickled my nose and I sneezed. She squealed with laughter and stopped only when the aunty to the left of me leaned across to say Chumma di - silence. And we realized there was a tear jerker scene happening. I just leaned back and put an arm around her shoulders and she leaned closer.

My arms around her the world stopped for me and somewhere, I knew it was the same with her.
Things were moving too fast and we were caught in a whorl. This was different somehow from the other girls I have been out with. This had the promise of a long time.

We caught an Auto-Rickshaw back and our hands were linked till the vehicle turned into the hotel. As we separated and collected our keys we walked to catch the elevator. She turned back and kissed me on the cheek and said “Tommy Chan this was one of my best evenings out and I am booking the next fourteen too” I told her whoa tomorrow I have a three hour telecon scheduled with Preeti at Cochin and the day after was meeting Latha a friend of my cousin and then was it Sripriya or Srividya.. I forget.. She looked at me with a mock fierceness and said “all cancelled, you rascal, all mine, u understand. Three hour telecon with Preeti, all bosh, Tommy Chan if you can have a three minute conversation with Preeti that does not include her makeup I shall award you the Nobel. I could not hold myself as I burst out laughing; it’s amazing how women when they decide to get catty are often so spot-on. Preeti does have that irritating habit. Still laughing, I relented and went up to my room.

No sooner I freshened up I called her room from the intercom. She screamed you idiot, I was cursing myself whether my talking too much has put you off and hence maybe you aren’t going to call. Another five minutes and I would have called you myself. I told her Zee as much as I was itching to get to the telephone, when nature calls, it doesn’t whisper it yells. I could hear the peal of laughter from the line and we kept talking for something like an hour before I told her you know Zee, this is something special. I know Tommy Chan this has never happened with me either. But we should sleep now else we are not going to wake up in time.

I didn’t wake up and it was Zee’s desperate ringing of the room doorbell that got me out of bed. I sleep deep and mornings are an issue always. When she saw my crumpled state she just blew in like a hurricane and dispatched me into the bathroom and in ten minutes I was presentable for the day. She had called room service for breakfast and while I ate toast she just had a cup of tea with me for company. Hurry, Tommy Chan we would be censured otherwise. Luckily we entered just in time. Lazy bones who wakes you every day, I sheepishly answered mum. She persisted “And on tours?” Room service” said I. Okay she said I have one more task to perform then this fortnight.

The Training that second day cruised and when we were out she told me Tommy Chan shall we go to the beach? I love the sea. We hopped into an auto and got to Marina around half past six. It was sparsely peopled and we just walked in the water in our bare feet and rolled up trousers and then sat watching the sunset. It was a companionable silence. When the Sun was swallowed up in the waves I turned and asked her Zee, where were you all my life? She became solemn and said “don’t ask me now or you shall spoil it all”. Do you have anyone in your life, then? I persisted. She looked at me and just nodded. I am engaged and my fiancé is in the States, California. Our families solemnized the union and I like Ajith. He is my second cousin. I was saddened suddenly and didn’t know exactly why; it was natural that a lovely girl like her would have someone. I smiled back and so did she, a bit wanly though. Lets for now forget all that and feed me Tommy Chan, I am hungry. We resoled ourselves brushed the sand away and stood up.

Somewhere I felt a third person had crept up in between us and when I maintained a distance in the auto she just looked hurt and stared fixedly outside. Chow Mein was the stall near our hotel where we got down and a boy hurriedly put a plastic menu in our hands wiping three plastic stools smartly arranging it so that we could sit on two and one became the table. The proximity to food somewhere cheered me up a bit. I ordered for us, one noodle in eggs, rice in chicken and some Gobi Manchurian which was written as today’s specialty. We ate silently and while a noodle slipped from my fork back into the bowl I hurriedly looked around to see whether anyone saw my performance. She spluttered and said, eat Tommy Chan you are like a kid when food is in front of you, nobody noticed. The tense moment was gone and we resumed our easy chatter.

She didn’t mention Ajith and I didn’t ask. Over the next few days it was work and assignments from the workshop that kept us occupied and but we did manage to find time to eat and chat. Then it was Friday and we had a two day break. I asked her whether she was keen to take a trip to Mahabalipuram, an ancient temple about 70kms from Chennai the next day. She sounded keen and we booked thru the hotel a taxi for the day. The next two days were magical. I had read about the history of Mahabalipuram and narrated the incident of Lord Vishnu and his Vamana avatar to Zee. The just asura king Bali who’s only vice was pride was humbled by the lord when he as the tiny Brahman Vamana goes up to the King while he is distributing largesse during a yagna. There he is promised land in Bali’s kingdom which spans all worlds. Bali asks how much land and Vamana answers just as much as is covered by my three steps. The King looking at Vamana’s size agrees. Vamana puts one step on Akash (Heaven, the abode of the Gods) second on Patal (The abode of the asura’s). Bali realizes that this is the lord incarnate who has been foolishly promised by him in his sense of pride. When Vamana roars where do I put my third step, the King prostates before him and offers him his head. Vamana is pleased that Bali arrogant though he is has not backed away from his promise. He puts his foot on Bali’s head and drives him into the netherworld but gives him a boon. That you shall be named as Maha Bali and you shall be worshipped as a God. This temple on the sea is a tribute to the great King Bali. Legend has it that this temple has risen out of the sea in its perfection.

She had shifted closer during my narrative and was resting her head on my shoulder. Pulling up one of my arms and draping it about her, as she snuggled up to me in the taxi. Zee, I asked, am I boring you that you are sleeping? Smilingly she said no dear “What’s foot for Bali is an arm for Zee” naughtily twisting my tale. I tickled the vixen as she squealed. Her brown eyes sparkling with mischief she said, so serious you were as you recounted, it was as if I had lost Tommy Chan to Lord Vishnu. I want him for myself. She felt just right in my arms; I just drove the niggling thought of Ajith away.

We were of a different faith. As we explored the temples magnificence she just clung to me and whispered Thanks Tommy for your narrative and just being you. I said lets go the beach. The beach here is clean, softly sandy. We collected shells. I loved doing that on any beach. I found a pair of crimson streaked conches of such delicate perfection. I told her that wherever you are when you put a conch close to your ear, one hears the sea it came from. We shared a coconut from a vendor there and it was nearing evening so decided to start back. We were like teenage lovers who could not keep away from each other for long. Her arm was in mine or wrapped around my waist while mine would be either or on her shoulder or waist. In the cab she snuggled again and nuzzled my neck, when I looked into her brown eyes she just raised her face and kissed me quickly on the lips. The driver thought we were young honeymooners and indulgently would look thru the rear view but otherwise silently driving. The sweetness of the moment has remained ingrained in my memory ever since.

The rest of the time flew as if we or on a furlough from the rest of the world. I knew I had fallen very deeply in love with her and knew she felt something for me too. But the shadow of Ajith kept me from crossing a thresh hold in intimacy. It was time to return to Cochin soon and we changed our bookings to have the same flight back. We didn’t speak much on the flight, somewhere the world was sneaking up on us. As I dropped her to her hostel she kissed me deeply and left. The next month I did not see her as I was touring and the hostel did not permit late phone calls. When I came back on Friday, it was to find out that she had put in her notice papers and the next day she was to leave for Bangalore onwards to the USA. The office was buzzing with her impending marriage and she looked at me with forlorn eyes. When she gave me an invite, I looked up and congratulated her to maintain protocol, I even managed a smile. I could not sleep the night and she was leaving in the morning the next day. I went to her Hostel as I could not think of not seeing her one last time. She was in her room and was looking at the baggage when I walked in. I had no words; she just jumped up and came into my arms. I feebly said don’t go. She just mutely shook her head and asked me to come with her to the airport. Nodding, I just picked her bag and walked out to hail the taxi. In the cab I just held her hand but could not bear to look at her and was looking outside the window at the passing city. When the city hazily misted in front of me made me realize that my eyes had filled up. Zee just held on tight. As we unloaded the baggage and loaded it on to her trolley, she turned & gave me a hug. I just murmured into her ear, take care Zee you have been the best thing to happen to me. I put my hand in the pocket and gave her one of the conches from Mahabalipuram. She took it and said thanks I shall listen to our sea in this. I am sorry to have messed up your life so Tommy chan. You are special find someone good for yourself. I just looked at her one last time as she turned and determinedly pushed her trolley to walk out of my life. A part of me was gone I knew for certain every girl would fade up with this benchmark.

Chapter 4: The Last Word
I was determined to let this phase of my life be buried in deep, very private, no one should be able to gauge the intensity of that precious thing I had allowed to walk away. My family did not know this as Zee had never come home nor did I make any reference to her ever. I became immersed in my job and one day chucked it all. It became more meaningless to me with every passing day. Traveling around Cochin and Chennai became physically painful now as everywhere I saw just Zee and me. I had to shift my base to a town that had no vestige of any attachment or reference to her. This more than any other reason was why I chose Mumbai to start a business. I struggled to explain this to family that I was not keen on marriage just yet as the proposals kept pouring in. After a while all efforts to convince me too dried up and I came here. Zee was in my heart never to go. But I had buried her deep under piles and piles of mundane happenings and events daily till she became a distant memory.

All of this ran thru my mind again with remarkable speed and accuracy. Ten minutes ago Zee was lost into my subconscious but with one trigger all those times we had with each other were before me. Each moment etched out so clearly as if someone had just wiped away 15 years off life’s slate with a brusque sweep of the hand. Life had bowled that delivery it had saved up for me.

These were my thoughts as they flashed through my mind while she went to dump her purchases on the kitchen platform. Zee dropped her bags in the kitchen, took my bag of fish and put it in a wrap and into the freezer.

I was still staring out of the window lost in my recollection. The Cuticura again, as the fragrance of the talc tickled my nose, indicating that she had re entered the room. I turned to find her studying me intently. I knew I had changed and she smiled fondly as she said “Not very much, Tommy chan”. She still could read me. I had added a couple of inches to my waist, sported a moustache and there is some grey in the hair now but all of it was still there. She had put on very slightly, her slim figure was fuller but yet slim. The hair was still long, jet black and curled around her forehead. Having made a thorough study I settled in to the only sitting arrangement in the room a two-seater sofa, as she went back to the kitchen to make coffee. The apartment was pleasantly done in warm muted colors. It was sparingly decorated but her touch was unmistakable. The vase had fresh flowers lilies and gladioli, there were curtains in lace the apartment was spotlessly clean and even the bed that I could see through the open door had a bed spread. She was neat, and I liked that about her. Even the hotel room in Chennai where we stayed years ago, she may not have troubled the housekeeping staff much. The Elizabeth Koshy on the door disturbing me and yet again I felt her husband’s--yes Ajith’s, shadow creeping up on me, and I asked her? What’s with the Koshy, Zee, I thought it was Verghese. She turned back from the Kitchen platform and said Tommy Chan u just can’t wait can u? She brought two large steaming mugs and sat beside me. Settling herself in, she leaned back her head and looking up at the fan sighed deeply and turning towards me, with a wry smile asked “You sure you want to hear this? “

“Ajith after his post graduation became a professor in UCLA. We tried but there were no children for us. Today when I look back, Gods been watching over me too, said she. Ajith, she continued with a wooden voice went into a depression and someplace crossed the line with his graduate students. California is filled with beautiful students who don’t have any hang ups. It was as if he tried very hard to prove to himself that he can be a father. I worked and ignored it till it was thrown in my face one day and it broke my patience. An Indian Student had a thing going on with the reader’s daughter and he unfortunately died in an automobile crash. She spent the night with Ajith. Then promptly announced that she was pregnant. Ajith in a full show of responsibility wanted to marry her. I could stand anything Tommy Chan even our not having children but this hypocrite had the gall to talk with pride on his impending fatherhood with me. I lost my temper and served him a notice, waited for our divorce and returned to Mumbai. A city I knew nothing about. Chennai had too many memories for me as did Cochin. Bangalore was simply out of bounds”.

Zee had made instant, grimacing as I sipped the coffee, she grinned, Tommy Chan still don’t like it does he? I bashfully said no, the flavour of fresh beans is too deeply in me. I was immensely sad for Zee and looked at her. With flashing brown eyes, she voiced my thoughts back to me uncannily. “No Tommy Chan what I have here is more than what others get to have in their lives. I had a man who loved me but I married another to uphold a commitment. I gave everything to this commitment. This commitment demanded my self respect and that I was not prepared to surrender. That is mine. My love was always yours; But I doubt whether Ajith ever sensed this.”

“How long ago did this happen Zee?” I was very angry with Ajith for treating Zee so. It still hurt me to see her hurting. Enough about me Tommy, I have a job here now with the same Consultancy Accounting firm I worked with in California. I just took a transfer here, they offered Bangalore or Mumbai and you know what I chose? And now am I glad ?

How about you Tommy who is the lucky woman in your life? How many children do you have? Where do you stay? Tell me all. “Whoa Zee, How did you manage to ask these many questions in one breath?” I said laughing. I told her about my business as I had little else to talk about. My voice somewhere carried the pride of ownership and creation. She looked happy for me and when I had stopped she just raised an eyebrow. What? I asked, “The other questions have no answers Zee”. I was suddenly tired and leaned back. The day had been long and she said nothing, just kept looking at me. With Zee, silences were comfortable too and as she got up to keep the mugs in the kitchen, I dozed off.

I didn’t realize for how long had I slept but woke up to the smell of food and fish frying. As my eyes opened I felt disoriented in this room, where was I? And my eyes fell on the conch, it was the same one from our sea, but I kept it in my chest drawer at home. How did it get here? Did I dream about Zee and suddenly the subject walked out. She had changed into a T shirt and shorts and had taken a bath. She smiled and suddenly the world had a different glow. She said Tommy Chan, I bored you with my story so much that you slept on me. Now get up, get fresh and we can eat in a while. “Arrey I said suddenly embarrassed, I have to get home”. With hands on her hips she glared, who is waiting for you there? Tell me. She was suddenly bossy, and said Wash up, I have kept a T- Shirt and a stretchable running slacks. I truly needed a wash and I went into the bathroom and had a hot shower. The T was large and thin and the track was short in length but ok around the waist. I just hung my day clothes on a hanger and came out. She had laid out the table in the kitchen and I walked in and asked whether I could do anything. Eat and eat well Tommy chan. She was frying fish and I leaned to look over her shoulder and smelled her fresh smell and on an impulse put my arms around her waist.

She just turned and my mouth found hers. The Spatula dropped from her hand as she wrapped it around my neck. With my free hand I turned off the stove and kissed her back with a passion I knew was only hers. Sixteen years to the day I met Zee, the girl who captured my heart , my imagination, was mine and in my arms again. Our love making had a frenzy as if making up for all the time lost. Soon we lay sated in each others arms. I gathered her close and nuzzled her lips and promised to myself, this time I am not letting her go. She clung back as if she sensed it too. I kissed her again and this time our bout was slow, languorous, it had a certainty. Zee, I said moving against her, umm, talk said she, but don’t stop. Tomorrow we are getting married and you are going nowhere without me anywhere now. Tommy Chan she said on one condition that whatever you are doing so beautifully right now is continued for the rest of my life. And you shall eat and finish all the fish i fried for you in the kitchen. My life was suddenly complete with the only person who could have made it so. The days would be brighter, my laugh would have joy too, the house would be a home too and I looked forward to holding Zee forever now that the ghost of Ajith was banished to eternity. Life had given me a second shot at love and i was damned if i let it walk away again; I murmured into her ear, I accept your conditions. What do you say to it? My, Zee the perennial master of the last word just yelled “Harder”.

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