(fiction) To change a story

The best way to start a story is really at the end. That way it’s easier to establish a sense of purpose and direction because you cheated and gave away the ending. But what do you do when the ending makes you want to rewrite the story? You hear people occasionally spell banalities like the ending is really just the start of a new story. Like the past is a chapter of your life, part of a much bigger picture. If that were true, one of the saddest chapters of my life has just come to an end. And the picture has been washed, the colours smudged. I am never going to see Miriam again, I am never going to share a train ride back, never hear her chuckle, never walk her home or smile languidly as she asks me to help her do her nails. Miriam is gone, and I am lonely, empty. I want her back. I invent in my head a new life, an alternative tale. One that has a happy ending. Miriam is still here. I asked her to marry me and she never left. Its our 75th anniversary. We are happy. I am awake. Am I? Shadows are getting darker. Birds have started screaming. Screaming. It’s getting colder. It’s getting… colder.

* * *

It was evening the first time when I first met Miriam at the park. I used to go to the park near my university for a walk every night. It was my way of unwinding, usually ending with me lying down on the grass and staring up at the sky as I listened to some music. I might have been humming, or singing, I had my eyes closed. When I opened my eyes, I saw someone was standing over me. It was a girl with a red hat, brown hair that were done up in tresses and she had gone to the effort of matching her shoes with her hat and skirt. It made me instantly like her. ‘Sup?’ She asked. I pulled off my ear phones and smiled. Who was this person? ‘You were singing’ she said ‘Umm.. ya, Belle and Sebastian, I’m a fan’ You can tell I am not a people person from this interaction. ‘Nice choice, they are one of my favourites.’ she smiled squatted next to me. ’I found it interesting that you were actually singing along. People don’t do that often, but you sounded really nice’ ‘You reckon? Umm, thanks’ ‘ya, you’ve got talent! And what’s next on your playlist’ ‘Umm… Dido.’ ‘Oh I love Dido! Here with me, thank you, safe trip home!’ She did this hand gesture of rolling her palms out as she said each song. That’s when I noticed her nails were all done with cat faces. She paused, smiled and asked, ‘You going to sing Dido for me?’ ‘Not now… I don’t know you that well’ and we laughed. She was so pretty. I noticed she had brown eyes and she looked so happy. I liked her, and this realization was making it hard for me to pretend to be cool. ‘You are at the university?’ I asked getting up ‘No, my sister is, I just use the library’ ‘I’m Rahul’ ‘Miriam’ she said extending her hand.

* * *

It’s hard to do this. Just try and describe how someone looks and behaves, you feel the words, you know the emotions, but putting it down on paper and using the correct metaphors are hard. Sometimes it gets easy, and I think that’s when you realize you know this person really well. That’s when you start noticing things you never did before. Like the twinkle in her eye when she smiles, the way her freckles line up, how she bites her lips when she thinks. Soon you realize you behave differently around her, how you project a new persona, how you see her from peripheral vision but pretend not to… how you follow her every move and think about her all the time. How your heart beats faster when she is around, how you frantically check the phone at every message to see if it’s her… yes, it’s the little things. But you never confess any of this because that would be uncool. I heard somewhere that the definition of being cool was to be unfazed or appear to be unfazed by anything and everything. Love, makes you uncool.

* * *

Miriam worked for the Red Cross. She told me she did work in Africa and I nodded and she changed the subject. I didn’t really want to know much about her work and she didn’t really want to talk about it. She had described her work as being ‘Too depressing’ I honestly didn’t care what we talked about, so long as we talked. We shared stories from our childhood, stories of our siblings, our travels. Miriam had been everywhere. She spoke of her backpacking through Europe, her time in Brazil, the weekend in Indonesia, her volunteer activity in Japan. She had lived such a beautiful life and she was always full of energy. She took me hiking once to a place just outside the city. I wasn’t sure I was up to it, but I accepted. ‘Live a little’ she would say and I would fall in line. When we reached the top, I was exhausted and she said the view up here was going to be great. I hadn’t complained, but she could tell I was tired and this wasn’t the best way to spend a weekend for me. But it was at the top of that hill, looking down on the city that we shared our first kiss. It was spontaneous. It was heavenly.

* * *

I was studying for an economics exam late one night when I heard a knock on my door. Miriam had decided to bring me dinner. She did that a few times, but tonight, she knew I was really nervous and she knew I didn’t like the subject. We had actually not met for a week. Seeing her there, I just hugged her. I had missed her so much. ‘I brought you dinner!’ She announced as she entered kissing me lightly on the cheek. She set things up and I sat down, smiling watching her as she talked, described her day and the food she had prepared. ‘Well?’ she said looking at me. I guess I was being silly just staring at her. ‘I love you’ There was silence. I had never said it before. I didn’t know what she was going to say and I could see the color running into her cheeks. She looked away and then smiled. Her eyes were twinkling, and she said, ‘Well took you long enough to say it!’ ‘I love you’ I said it again and we kissed. ‘And I… will tell you tomorrow what I think’ she said. We laughed, and as we ate dinner, we were in my shabby apartment and not a fancy restraunt, but we held hands. When she was leaving, she wished me luck and whispered ‘I Love you’ in my ears.

* * *

When I graduated, I had a job lined up and I was, no, we were… very happy. For a while, for a short while, I considered asking her to marry me. We had grown so close. We had spent so much time together this last year. We had started living together for the last 3 months… I think she would have liked it if I asked. I think she would have said yes even then. But I hesitated. I was shy, I was still trying to work things out, and in the days leading up to my working up the courage to ask her, she told me she had an assignment in Africa again. This sounded like bad timing. If she was going to leave, I better ask now… but I felt in case she said no… I didn’t want her to leave and not give me time to salvage our relationship. So I decided to wait.

* * *

‘You need to do the whiskers!’ I was doing her nails. It was her last week with me before travelling to Africa. She liked to make cat faces on her nails and she talked me into doing it for her. ‘I’m trying… Listen, about Africa… do you really have to go? I mean, It’s so far away’ ‘Well, yes, but it’s just for 3 months… and then I’m here for a long, long time again so… It will be great. And I’ve been there before. Don’t worry. Actually… worry, I like it when my boyfriend worries about me’ she teased.

* * *

When I got the call, I was in my office and seeing the international number, I was elated. She was calling! I replied in my most upbeat voice. ‘Hey! How’s it going! You took your sweet time to call’ ‘Uh, Is this Rahul?’ ‘Yes’, oops, not her. ‘Rahul, this is Greg, I was with Miriam on the red cross mission’ ‘Oh, oh Greg, yeah, I think we met that one time in the new party last year’ ‘Uh, yes, uhh… Rahul. Miriam had you listed as an emergency contact… Rahul, something’s happened’

* * *

Sometimes you can’t change the ending. But while I sit here, helpless and broken, I can’t stop wondering… what if? What if I had asked her to stay? What if I had bought the wedding ring? What if I had insisted to come along? What if… I can’t change this ending. Dead at 29. I will never know happiness again.

The End

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