How do you explain moments like this? Like when you turn on the car radio with a blank mind and the first thing you hear is a song uncannily fitted to current situation of your life. Or, more specifically to my case tonight, when you pick a song by one of your favorite singers without much thought, a crowd pleaser that you must’ve sang countless times before, and slowly, unexpectedly, word by word, chord by chord, even as you begin to sing, even as your fingers strum the strings, and navigate the frets, you discover a new meaning, a brand new dimension to it. Every chord seems replete with new emotion and every line, every sway of the tune, resonates deep within and before you’re even finished you admit to yourself, a little dazedly, that, forget your relationship with the accidentally targeted audience of the song, your relationship with the song itself has changed for the term of your memory, if not your life.
With her chin resting on a hand, and her body leaning forward slightly, her eyes didn’t leave him all through the first song and even when he took on the second – another acoustic night favorite – after a short pause. She wasn’t close enough to know if she was actively listening or if she had drifted away again to that…sad space she often did when with him.
One day, he reminded himself with a faint twinge of what felt a lot like desperation, one day to convince her to believe in them…to fight for what they could be.
He forced himself to be optimistic. It was difficult considering his previous life experiences taught him that life, obnoxiously maverick, disliked paying heed to suggestions. Or pleas.
I close my eyes, only for a moment, and the moment’s gone
All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity
Dust in the wind
All they are is dust in the wind…
Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea
All we do crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind
He couldn’t help turning toward her again, their gazes meeting again in a brief sparkling clash of half smiles. His heart felt full as he turned and continued with the strumming, a sudden prickling behind eyelids accompanied by a flash of annoyance.
Anita. His mind flew two years back to their first meeting. He wondered anew at the distance they’d traveled since. Together but separate. He smiled to himself, his head bowed as his fingers cajoled the strings to execute a satisfactory chord. He reflected on the evolution of his perception of her -a two year period in which certain things changed while others surprised by not changing at all like he’d expected them to. After their first meeting, he had thought of her – often thought of her – as that girl on the plane whose face refused to be erased from memory, who he didn’t forget with time like one would have expected him to. A girl with an unforgettable scrunched mouth smile and bewitching eyes who photobombed accidentally a selfie of him and his girlfriend at Amsterdam airport. For some reason or the other, he kept putting off deleting the picture – not even at times when running low on phone storage, he mass deleted scores of pictures without giving it another thought. That picture always ended up being spared. It made itself at home, niggling constantly to be pulled up and viewed – which he did often at unusual times and unexpected places…
And then, days passed, and she evolved from an unforgettable stranger, a face in a photograph, to words – a torrent of words – that configured themselves slowly into a person, a soul, a whole universe in his heart. Arian always found it difficult to explain to his own self but they somehow fitted into – filled – an emptiness he had seldom noticed within – a void that made him conscious for the first time in adult years of his own loneliness…
And now that these little parts had finally come together in flesh and bones to form such an enchanting whole, how was he supposed to stay sane and continue with this charade, when every fiber of his being ached to hold her tight little body in his arms…to kiss her senseless…no, to kiss her until she came to her senses. To touch with his lips the small birthmark on the side of her neck, the hollow at it’s base. To feel her little body wrapped around…his…
The last thought was accompanied reflexly by a long unblinking stare and he realized it only when her chin faltered over her palm and she straightened to cross her arms defensively. Amused by both the wild arc of his thoughts – to the strumming of his faithful Layla, no less – and her response, he grinned reassuringly before turning to conclude his song. With his mind choosing to act like a wild stallion on stage, it was a marvel he was able to remember the notes and words – and even improvise a spur of the moment flourish at the end.
And all your money won’t another minute buy
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind…
When the applause died, his eyes swept across from his elevated perch behind the bar to assess his audience. Considering it was the night before thanksgiving, it was a decent sized happy hour crowd – professionally dressed men and women ducking in for bracing drinks before a day dedicated, for no good reason, to extended family and over cooked turkey.
“And that, ladies and gentlemen”, he announced wryly, “was Dust In The Wind by Kansas. Causing existential crisis since 1978”.
Laughter rippled through the audience and echoed off the walls but tonight, all that mattered to him was her wide, dimpled grin and the way it seemed to make the Earth languorous in it’s spinning.
He went on to sing two of his original songs – ones with not so subtle political undertones – and heartened by their reception, he took a deep breath, shifted his position on the uncomfortable stool and prepared to deliver his last song of the night. On a last minute impulse, after he was halfway through the opening riff, he paused and decided to replace the song he’d already started – another one of his original compositions – with a S & G cover. A thrill of anticipation skipped across his heart.
He turned to assure himself of her attention and their eyes joined across the air tinged with blue and now expectancy.
“This song is dedicated to a special…”, he paused and the whole world seemed to pause with him, “friend who’s here with me tonight”. He couldn’t do it. Not like this. “One of her favorite songs, this one is for you, Anu”. He felt her tensed body visibly relax. With a purposely enigmatic half smile, he winked and turned to ready himself for the song.
He hugged the guitar close, and braced it’s hard body close against his. Positioning his fingers and slanting his head in concentration slightly, he waited for the music to come to him.
Her smile was radiant with delight as she recognized the song and relieved too as if in the few seconds leading up to the beginning of the song she had dreaded being forced to confront what she had long avoided.
Are you going to Scarborough fair?
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine…
The applause was dying and the bar DJ reclaiming his territory before the blue grids as he made his way toward her, his guitar slung on his back in its hard case.She looked up as he came to a halt before their table, a pulse ticking away busily on the base of her shadowed throat.
“Hey”, she said with an unsure smile and suddenly, for the moment, the desire to put her at ease, to make her comfortable, superseded itself above all others.
“Do you mind if a friend of mine joins us tonight?, he asked seriously. “She’s by herself”, he added for good measure, “and kind of lonely”.
She frowned in confusion and the beginning of what appeared a lot like barely suppressed outrage. It was very satisfying to watch.
“I mean”, he continued, leaning against a backrest, “It’s not like we’re out on a date or something”.
She surveyed his face for a long moment before turning away to hide her blush.
“Sure”, she said with saccharine sweetness, “No problem. The more the merrier”.
Even as he burst out laughing at her tone, he swung his guitar off his back and laid it carefully upon the seat across from her.
“Meet Layla”, he said, still laughing a little. “She’s too tired to speak right now but one day, soon, she’ll thank you properly for allowing her to join us”.
Even though she tried hard to look unamused, she ended up chuckling and shaking her head at him at the same time.
“I got you”, he smiled as he slid into the booth beside her, resting his back to half turn toward her.
“Wait until it’s my turn”, she smiled back at him. His eyes couldn’t help dipping to her lips – wide, generous, sensuous, and covered by a sheer coat of gloss tonight.
“Seriously? You have a name for your guitar?
“For all my guitars”, he said looking back up and straightening a little, “Layla is my favorite though”.
“How many do you have? And why do you need more than one? She seemed determined to know all about his guitars, his lips twitched amusedly, and to probably move to a similar safe topic afterward. Ha, he thought, that was her plan. Not that he blamed her, or thought less of her, for being loyal to her boyfriend; if anything, to make things even more complex than they already were, it made him respect her more; and he himself had always believed in playing fair and square, in not stealing a poor unsuspecting guy’s girlfriend behind his back…
However, on the other hand, he couldn’t help feeling that something about Anita’s relationship with Aman – something he couldn’t quite put his finger on – was off.
He was no expert on love but a girl in love or rather, a girl who was loved like she deserved to be loved, he believed, wasn’t supposed to, wasn’t supposed to be allowed to, feel lonely enough to confide in a stranger…or to have those little girl lost eyes when nobody was looking…
And to think that he was partially instrumental in convincing Anita to give Aman another chance. Fucking hell. Never in his life had he felt more like kicking himself…
“How much do you know about guitars?
“Almost nothing”, she confessed, her eyes humorously rueful.
“Well”, he said, “Layla here is a Martin dreadnought acoustic electric. Then I have a Fender Stratocaster electric called Bernadette”, he chuckled, “And lastly, a pure acoustic – my first – called Caroline”.
“One day I’ll make you tell me the story behind all these names”, she said with a chuckle too, her softly lambent eyes searching his, as if for clues, “But I got to ask this. Why only girl names? Why not something like…like Harvey? Now, that’s a pretty good name for a guitar right there”.
“Harvey!”, he laughed, “I would feel weird strumming a Harvey. Sorry, I don’t swing that way”.
“You’re crazy”, she said with a laugh.
“Pot kettle and all that”, he smiled, his heart flipping at a fleeting softness – a melting – he glimpsed, or thought he glimpsed, in her eyes.
His mouth was dry from all that singing and he decided to brave the throng around bar to get drinks for them. Happy hour was almost over and the drink prices more than doubled after that. After nine, Green Martini morphed into a night club complete with rave like atmosphere and the DJ mixing a seamless flow of electronic dance music and songs. “What would you like to drink?
She considered her question very seriously, lips scrunched in concentration before looking up at him to say, “I’ll have whatever you’re having”.
He got them one of the signature martinis – bright green as expected – and even as he took an appreciative sip and decided it was nice and strong, Anita downed almost half of it in one gulp.
“Whoa”, he thought to himself but held his tongue.
“Do you like it?, he asked and she nodded in reply.
“It’s awesome”, she said, finishing off the remainder of the drink in another gulp. When she met his eyes, her eyes glittered with a fiery misery. “The next one is on me”, she said with a wide smile.
Arian placed his drink on the table and turned toward her. Enough was enough. He’d had it with this charade. To hell with Aman, and to hell with consequences.
“Anita”, he said and his tone probably gave away the sudden shift in him because her body stilled and her eyes widened with anticipation.
“You – we – don’t have to do this”, he said and then swore as she deliberately chose to misunderstand him.
“Oh no, I insist”, she said, putting on a fine performance, “And I think I’m going to get them now”, she winked at him, “while they’re still half priced”.
He looked into his drink and tried to calm himself – but to no avail. His jaw tautened with a sudden flash of anger. Looking back up, he said through clenched teeth, “Oh for God’s sake, stop acting, will you?”, he said, his jaw tautening with sudden flash of anger, “You know what I’m talking about. You know exactly what I’m talking about”.
Anita met his gaze squarely and after just a second, flames leaped out of her turbulent brown orbs. “I don’t”, she hissed through clenched teeth, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. And more importantly, I don’t want to know”.
Their gazed remained locked for what seemed like eternity before he turned to look back down into his drink again.
After a long interval of crackling silence, he said coolly without looking up, “Ask the bartender to skip the olives in mine”.
When she didn’t respond, he turned and raised his eyes to hers.
The sight of expression – especially her partially opened mouth – made his anger evaporate completely and it was awfully difficult to maintain a straight face as he raised a quizzical eyebrow and said, “What? Go. Make it snappy. It’s almost eight”.
He slid out to allow her to get out of the booth and just as she was walking past their booth and him, he swung his hand back impulsively, finding her wrist and his fingers closing around it in a tight grip.
Her eyes leaped up to his at once, both their gazes sharp and piercing as they melded together molten metal.
“Are you sure you’re not going to jump out the restroom window and flee? , he asked, his lips curving a little.
He watched her eyes flare in remembrance of the conversation in question and her lips widen in a smile before laughter – bubbling and involuntary – escaped through it. That dewy softness he could spend all his life looking at shone through her eyes again.
“No, I won’t”, she said and added slyly, “Not yet. Now, would you please let go of my hand?”.
Chuckling, he relaxed his fingers and let her go. Very soon, he thought to himself as he sipped his martini, she was going to be the death of him.
Cause with your hand in my hand and a pocket full of soul
I can tell you there’s no place we couldn’t go
Just put your hand on the glass, I’m here trying to pull you through
You just gotta be strong
A/N: Next update, next Thursday, same time 😊