This story is by Mandira Mazumder and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Leena stood upon the balustrade balcony of her mansion, watching the dark grey clouds across the autumnal sky which seemed to cast their shadow upon her midlife melancholia. She sighed and awaited the arrival of Ron who had been away from home for a fortnight. Of late, an unexpected whirlwind had turned her innards upside down. She was woken up that afternoon by a dream that thrilled every pore of her mellowed body. She saw those passionate eyes of Neel in her misty vision. He whispered something lovingly but she heard the calling bell in her semi-consciousness! She rose up confused and frightened! The maid opened the door and the children entered chirping into her room.
Leena entered the kitchen to warm the food. As she served them, her son informed her of his new captainship in the school football team. Her adolescent girl glanced up from her plate and said she had a late night party with friends that day. Her mother half- listened as a long lost desire instinctively flickered now and again in her body as burning embers. She had been indoctrinated since her girlhood not to think of any man but her husband. Decades back, after a socially arranged marriage, Leena’s world revolved around Ron and his family. There was affluence, expensive tours and children. No time to think of any other man. Ron went to USA on long business tours and returned in an unusually relaxed mood.
There were pictures of lovely girls in her husband’s office drawer. Yet Leena was in her own world, making Ron happy in bed. She bought exquisite jewelleries and wore expensive silks but lost her silky voice that, once, had fluttered many a young heart. She went to the big music concerts yet forgot the melodies of her spring time. Nobody wanted to listen to her voice except Neel! O why he had to make such a meteoric presence in her life and ruffle up her calm contentment? She was 50 and the GYN told her that it was her changing phase. And just when she was slowly getting used to the change, this man turned the tide of her life like never before!
The suave young photographer appeared unexpectedly at their residence with Ron who introduced him as his distant cousin he met after a long time. Leena shyly welcomed him. Neel started clicking the gargoyles at their gate and the ornate columns of their Edwardian building. He seemed possessed by the grand architecture and her autumnal beauty! Her voluptuous gait, her gazelle eyes and the silk saree that wrapped her butter-soft curves could not escape the photographer’s eyes. Leena cringed when their eyes met.
He visited frequently to photograph their intricately designed mansion. Leena had to offer him company in Ron’s absence! The languid afternoons spent by listening to old melodies were disturbed by Neel. She wished her husband was there. She was shocked when he candidly expressed his liberal views on women in front of their conservative family. He spontaneously admired Leena’s beauty in Ron’s presence. He was also curious about her childhood activities.
It took some time for her to open up. He wanted to see her old albums that contained faded memories. Friendship grew. One day, on the terrace, she nervously sang a “Geet” to him on his insistence. She was told to keep that artist in her alive! His voice lingered on in her senses. The Kashmiri meat she cooked that day had a special aroma that wafted out and pervaded the entire household. Yet whenever Ron held her in tight embrace and ravenously devoured her sensuous body, she listened to the soft-falling rain in her soul. Her eyes moistened as Neel’s voice inundated her!
An unknown fear nagged Leena when she was told to pack up Ron’s suitcase for his next travel. She hugged him impulsively and broke down into tears when he was to leave. Her husband was shocked at her absurd behaviour. Yet when she failed to give words to her agony, he suggested that she visited the GYN for her mood swings. He patted her and left.
The next day Neel accompanied her to her ailing mother. After the visit, Neel drove her to the millennium park! To her surprise, Neel said since it was her children’s holiday, it was her day off too! As they sauntered about, Neel held her hand. Leena could hear her pounding heart! The soft breeze stirred her hennaed hair and there was that autumnal longing in the sky suffused with sunset orange. Finally, they reached that seclusion where the magic thicket clustered in dark mystery. Wrapped up in her plumeria fragrance, Neel felt her softly bending doves and mellowed wine kisses and she discovered the wild scent of moonflowers, from her girlhood summer, in his naked chest! Her melancholy opened up lustily to hold on to the moment.
She remained dazed when she reached home. She went into the wash-room but could not wash away the memories of that October evening. Her son asked for some more lentils at dinner table and she poured some chicken stew into his bowl. Rini raised her brows and observed Leena in silence. “Was it love?” or “Was it her Fall?” she brooded alone in her room! She wondered what her mom-in-law would say if she knew! How would Ron feel! She wished she could tell Neel not to see her again. Yet something tugged at her heartstrings and her senses ached for the moon flowers…
Next day, she left home to meet a college time friend who had been telephoning her since long. They met in the coffee house and shared old memories. Leena’s mind had been restless during the conversation. She strained herself to focus and laughed at her inane jokes. She returned home late to find a bouquet of Asiatic lilies and Plumeria lying in her drawing room!
The telephone in her bedroom rang at night and it was Neel’s rich baritone from the other side… “I miss your eyes miserably girl. I love you.” “Goodnight’! Leena whispered and put down the telephone. Sleep eluded her as she drew the curtain, watching the misty night. Next afternoon, she slipped out of the house stealthily. Neel drove her to his bachelor’s apartment outside the city. She cried out in ecstasy as they made love again and again while he smelled her hair.
He made her sing those forgotten songs of her springtime whenever they met. Long back she had won many prizes in singing competitions. He closed his eyes and listened! When she made mistakes, he told her to practice. He informed her that he would be away for two months on an assignment to UK. During that period, she must practice and revive her talent. Her heart bled! Is autumn so short-lived?
Her daughter jolted when she heard her mom sing in her room. She seemed too happy these days, especially when Neel uncle visited. Rini suddenly quipped “Did you find a new excitement in your life ma?” Leena stopped singing abruptly. Then the girl added sarcastically, “It happens to middle-aged women!” The crimson bougainvilleas at her window pained her heart.
The next day Neel left for UK with the reminder that she must practice regularly for TV audition. Leena waited for Ron’s arrival in a whirl. She decided to be outwardly calm and did that quite well to her own surprise! The bedtime story went hunky-dory. Yet she missed Neel terribly after Ron started snoring. She felt suffocated and quietly left the bedroom to feel the October chill in the balcony.
She received billets- doux from Neel which she read in her bedroom, letting her perfumed hair fall over them. Twice he called her from Edinburgh. Then, suddenly, the frequency of letters grew less until they stopped arriving. Leena went through life in silent agony. She looked sick and developed dark circles around her eyes. One day, Ron took her to the doctor who suggested a psychiatrist. Stillness surrounded her!
Only Rini understood and visited her mom one day. She lay down beside her, gently touching her arms. Something snapped within Leena! She broke down, saying “You were right Rini……It was my fall!” The girl kissed away her tears and Leena’s breathe quietened down. Rini left her when she fell into a nap.
That evening Ron brought the terrible news. Neel was killed in Northern Ireland. He was covering civil war strife near Dublin on 20th November. Leena gasped and darted into her room. She rummaged through her drawer to find his last letter that was scribbled hurriedly on 16th November. Rini followed her mom, leaving her Dad stupefied. She cautiously closed her mom’s bedroom door and sat beside her frozen figure on the floor. She whispered to her “Would you sing again Mom?” Neel wants you to sing” Leaning against her breasts, Leena smiled through her tears. Love came softly in her autumn! She would sing again like a nightingale. “Thanks Neel!”