Never could she have imagined that in the days leading up to her departure, all the electric anticipation for her exit would dissipate into the ether, like embers reaching up out of a fire pit. She found herself in a curious conundrum, wanting to stay in her room with the glow of her golden curtains blanketing the two of them in morning ambiguity. Serendipity is a funny thing, she remembers thinking.
Despite her resolutions, there was nothing that could hold her back… her spongy imagination had been drenched with stories of colour, chaos and compassion told through the eyes of her Grandmother. As a child, she remembers spending hours in her dressing room, running her hands along brightly coloured fabrics or holding Eastern trinkets and treasures up against her tiny 6 year old frame, picturing herself as a Himalayan princess or Bhangra bride. Though she flirted with the idea of staying, she was unmovable in her quest for a spiritual awakening, hoping she would find it under a mahogany Indian sky.
He was as soft and golden as olive oil. His kiss was incandescent. He had an unusual balance of heart and head that made her want to know who he was… because in truth, she had no idea. She’d already passed the point of logical explanation which could only mean one thing – she had landed herself in a buttery and beautiful world of trouble. Even now, she laughed at how she was unable to make decisions with any other organ in her body, but her heart.
She pulled the old rickety backpack out from the top shelf where it had been impatiently waiting, and watched as he helped fold her clothes and pack them into the bag. She couldn’t really understand why he would want to spend his Saturday morning ticking off items on her checklist. Up until now they’d never even said what this was, if “it” was even a thing. She couldn’t remember how things worked anymore, she’d spent the best part of a decade enmeshed in broken people and broken things.
She knew she needed to leave for the airport soon but willed with all her might for the hands of her kitchen clock to go slower. I’m going to miss you. I’m going to miss you a lot. He said, for the first time revealing some vulnerability, as if by accident. They lay gazing out the window at clouds and an approaching night sky and she found herself biting into her bottom lip to stop from saying something completely ridiculous. She thought of all the things she impulsively wanted to ask him: Are we together? What do you feel for me? Where is this going? What do you want? She’d already broken a vow she had made NOT to do this dangerous dance again for at least a year. It had been 2 months, and here she was. Dancing away with a mouthful of questions she couldn’t say or even answer herself. I’m going to miss you too, would have to be enough.
And miss him she would, but not so much at first. From the moment her sandals had touched the ground in Delhi, she was enveloped in a cloud of warm sticky air and suddenly very aware of her bare, milky shoulders. As she walked through a maddening afternoon market, she was absorbed into an alternate universe, ripped out of her comfort zone like a torn off magazine clipping.
She was surprised at how easy it was here to shed the cautious covering that had been thickly coated on top of her spontaneous and open interior. She reached into pots of curry with her bare hands, and filled her belly with exotic spices and handmade breads. She ran her hand along a wall of peeling turquoise paint, and felt how it tickled her fingertips. She breathed in air and filled her lungs right to the brim, right to the most bottom buckets. She felt wonderful, alive and free and it was utterly exhilarating. She wished that her heart could always be unfettered against the restraints of fear, that she could one day allow herself to trust someone else… or to begin with, trust herself.
As she snaked her way up into the Himalayan Mountains she felt a smile creep across her lips; it seemed as though the universe was pleading for her introspection. Confined to a toy train for most of the day, over-looking the most majestic views of snow-capped mountains, roaming sacred cows and luminous scatterings of shanty houses she wanted to look up and say: Yeah yeah, I get it, let go. She had started allowing herself to think of him. Sometimes she’d laugh and want to tell him when something funny happened. Sometimes she’d look up at the sky and want so badly for him to be looking up at that exact same moment. She’d almost let herself imagine that he might be falling in love with her and missing her terribly, but she’d always stop before the thought galloped away like a wild horse with her clutching at its mane, terrified. And just then, her phone lit up and there it was; his name.
Her fingers slid back and forth clicking and clucking over the buttons of her phone, it seemed like she couldn’t get the words out fast enough. You should be here, it’s crazy! I’m having the best time. I had chapattis and chickpea curry with peach chutney for lunch. Now I’m squashed up in a train in these mountains and I’m shaking like a leaf! Though she was the one having an adventure, she wanted to know all about his day, she wanted to know everything about his world. And slowly, like a tap that can’t close properly, small pieces of him trickled into her graces. He was kind. He was a dreamer. He was a little odd, just like her. He was passionate. He was clever and sometimes he was tricky.
The sky in Shimla could inspire poetry. I could write songs out here, she thought. It was tough to narrow it down, the things that made her the most cheerful. There was so much to take in, absorb and set free but she couldn’t help feeling a little divided at times, about India and also about her heart. There were days she’d wake up with her mind set on being alone. She’d tell herself it was better, that she wasn’t ready to love again, that everyone she’d given her heart to had sucked it and spat it out like one of the market stall shop owners who so comfortably catapulted cannon balls of mucus onto the pavement. Like it was no big deal, like her foot wasn’t just a few centimetres away from its landing strip. She sometimes hated that she gave her love so easily and she always hated at who had ended up with.
Dalhousie was situated between some of the highest peaks that Northern India has to offer. The small town sits nestled between a course pine carpeting that gives the area its nickname, little Switzerland. She’d spent the day hiking through thick forest and clinging heat to get here and as she reached her small, 2 star hotel room, she flopped down on the balcony with nothing left to give. She was so tired, tired of the terrain and tired of climbing up all kinds of mountains. For 2 hours she just sat, no book to read, no music to move to, no international texts to respond to. There was something about the piney air and the meditative pace that moved her into a space of clarity as she watched a woman hanging up washing on a chalky white roof. As the woman reached into her basket and wrung out a bright magenta sari to pin on the make shift washing line, she began to unravel. I picked them, she thought, about her mistakes. I handpicked each and every disaster myself.
The moment resonated with bittersweet realism leaving one half of her feeling softly sad and the other half invigorated. She now had a choice and a power she never expected. The power to do things differently, to make better choices and to always, above everything else, place herself at the front of her own queue. She listened to her heart and to the sound of the wind in the trees, admiring how quickly it was able to change direction and re-stream with strength and conviction.
The descent to Delhi felt like a long, well needed exhale. She’d spent three days with no itinerary and no boundaries. She’d meditated with a Guru who’d helped clear her head. She’d opened her hands to a mystic who foretold a wild and wonderful path that lay ahead of her. She’d nourished herself on organic food made with only the purest kind of love and she’d finally learnt that the best answers are sometimes revealed by just asking the right questions. She leaned her head against the temple of Khali and asked: Let me realize my power as a woman. Whatever I do and whichever path I choose - let me be the best of myself in that moment.
She sometimes wondered if the man she had begun to sweeten to would laugh at her childlike curiosity with the magic of the universe. For the first time she could feel it again, like she was a part of a whole, like she’d stepped back onto stage to take her place in the production of her life. She decided that he could laugh, or he could just love her for being extraordinary.
The phone rang in her crumbling hotel room back in Delhi. It was room service. No it wasn’t. It was him. I can’t wait to see you; I haven’t stopped talking about you. Her hands went weak as she clutched the phone, putting up an immense effort to sound nonchalant.
She boarded the plane, sad to leave the mythical land that had disentangled her like a brightly coloured piece of silk. She wondered if there had ever been a love story told where the two main characters were miles away from each other. She wondered if it was possible for falling in love to be a direct result of distance, of solitude and of soul defining self-aperture. She wondered if she would return home as the same woman who had left only a few weeks ago, or if she was returning as something new. She wasn’t sure. But she couldn’t wait to find out.