Promise Me That You Will





‘Promise me that you will.’


I read the message through the morning haze in my eyes. The words are unclear, but I don’t need my reading glasses to decipher them. Those words are deeply etched in my memory, yet I read them every day, first thing in the morning, only because I now know no other way of starting my day. Or ending it.


There comes a point in love when even the subtlest expressions can be interpreted without the help of the sense organs. You don’t touch, feel, hear, see or taste love anymore. Knowing that it is there is enough. You merely live it, as if it is what paves the way for the air to fill your lungs. Your breath then becomes your love’s abiding companion.


Early morning musings like this have now become a routine, and I lie in bed for a good half hour reeling in them, at the end of which I get up, and reach for my journal to document the first thoughts of the day. Whatever I scribble in it then are extensions of my thought triggered by the first thing I set my eyes on in the morning. Mira’s five-year-old message. ‘Promise me that you will.’


It hasn’t been easy for me to preserve those five significant words in my phone. I have always lived in the fear of losing it to a random technical snag that might obliterate it forever, and it forced me to store it as an image in my email. Umpteen number of mails sent to me by me, all unopened in the in box. I even have a hard copy of it saved among my other paper documents in the bank locker.


I have kept the message safe from every possible hazard. From software virus to a fire in the house. It is the only thing that gives me a reason to exist, to continue living the way I never thought I might after her exit. It even made me survive a covid attack and spend days on the ventilator without capitulating to death.


It is strange that I never responded to her message in categorical terms, but for reasons I can’t clearly say, she knew that she had my promise. All she did was to keep reminding me about it, casually sometimes, poignantly at other. Saying it holding my hand lightly or thrusting her head on my chest. Laughing sometimes, teary-eyed at other.


By reiterating it several times, she was only making sure that I ingrained it deep in my heart, making it hard for me to forget it even in my sleep.


‘Promise me that you will.’


And I have, so far.


At least the first part. I have continued to live without her.


And perhaps, today, I may keep the second part of it too if my heart and mind come together at the appropriate time.


****


The rain could have stopped in the morning, but it hasn’t. Having fallen all night and flooding the low-lying areas in the city, it had no reason to be so relentless. I crane my neck near the window to catch a glimpse of the sky. It is overcast to the edges meaning the monsoon woes aren’t going away anytime today. I wonder if I must call up mom and ask her for a postponement of the meeting.


Rain has always been a good alibi to me to avoid doing things. A wet outdoor isn’t my kind of thing. But to Mira, rain was a reason to celebrate the smaller things in life. Like stepping out without the umbrella and soaking like sponge. Sipping ginger tea in the balcony and letting herself be sprayed all over. Taking out the car and driving to a faraway restaurant just to have choley bature. She pushed the boundaries when I found reasons to shut the gate. She constantly sought and found fresh grounds to flourish as if life was entirely at her disposal.


But she was wrong. Life wasn’t at her command. And the day she knew the reality, she began the groundwork to make sure that I didn’t not use it as an excuse to bulldoze my life and bury myself under the debris.


‘Promise me,’ she kept repeating, taking my hand in hers, as she began slipping into the abyss gradually. Several times in a day, making it tough for me to escape the obligation she was nailing on me. And I sat silently, staring into her ashen face, running my finger on her cracked lips and clearing her forehead of the strands that had strayed in. And she smiled as if she had found her ultimate peace in the mere touch of my finger.


Those were moments that made me want to both die and live. Moments that gave me a reason to give up and carry on. It was hard for me to know which way I would swerve once she was gone, and she knew I could be mulish and maverick, defying her with a vengeance.


****


The rain is striking hard against the windowpane, and I realize that if I wanted, I could use it for deferring an occasion that has been upon me for a while now.


‘Keep it for another day. Tell them. It won’t be possible for us to get there, ma. There is water all around this place,’ I lie to mom on the phone, peering into the road that still was good was traffic. The water hasn’t started causing disruptions here yet.


Mom doesn’t agree. She knows that if she lets this opportunity slip out of her hands, she might never have me go again. She knows that I was using rain to dodge the meeting and begins to blackmail me emotionally with tears. Her sobs are distinct, but I refuse to take them to heart knowing her penchant for melodrama. She laments as if she is a newly bereaved woman, mentioning every sorrow in her life from losing her younger son in Kargil, to Papa’s state of acute dementia to Mira’s untimely departure. She makes it sound as if I am responsible for every woe in her life, and the only panacea to it was by getting me to accept her proposal.


‘There is only one way for life to go. Forward,’ Mom says with utter despair and disconnects the line. I stare at the screen for a while and look outside. The rain isn’t an alibi now. It is indeed falling hard as if it has scores to settle with the city.