Author: Saadut
•11:14 PM

Scrambling red pomegranate in a white bone china bowl grabbed my attention like silent fuchsia and reminded me of her red painted nails that she would tap inattentively on the coffee mug, while her gaze was lost in some unseen wilderness beyond the window view. She often ordered her coffee hot but wound slowly in its sips, spreading her coffee drinking ritual over epochs of time, till the coffee would drop dead cold by the time it emptied. Was she trying to read something in those delayed sips of coffee or was she narrating some incomprehensible tales to the coffee mug, I never found out. Her face would stay still for a brief, like figuring out how to come out of a tangled puzzle, and then all of sudden she would drop that stern mask in gracious smiles. And those smiles would have the power to erase much ache and frown, pulling you inside her beaming aura.

Except for the occasional nail polish, I never saw her putting any other makeup. Her baby like face would need no maquillage or facial layers to pretend what she was not. With a shoulder cut hair, combed neatly backwards and wearing a no jewelry attitude, she would slip into a tomboyish look in cotton trousers and floral shirts with the same ease that she would transform into an ethnic diva in those Indian outfits.

I first noticed her one early morning during the first week at the Tech Univ hostel, which overlooked a running track close to a rectangular garden, bordering the bakers. A new city in an alien country would wake me up early, slow steps towards the balcony and a lazed watch over a breaking morning. Early risers would already be on their morning walk, some in groups, she would walk alone, brisk yet calm and smiling. But those days I would be more interested in unraveling a distant view of the city that lay beyond the walk bridge and the chair car, over the narrow gorge, a city I was to make home for the next 5 years.
Some days later at the hostel community grocery store, I first saw her up-close in a purple Lactose T-shirt, unassuming in an alluring smile that looked away from strangers. In her cellophane shopping bag I could notice the carelessly stuffed Columbian coffee that sat tilted on top of chocolates and some lemonade. While my friend was busy in converting the grocery prices into Indian rupees, sensing my prudence in staring at a stranger (she also was presumably my senior), I immediately turned back.

Almost three months had passed since I had joined the Univ, and my routine of early morning lazing on the balcony had been interrupted by extended classes and some late night sleep. Hostels are notorious for chasing nights into extended evenings, with gatherings, talk, gibberish that reveled in some strange unaccountable student life freedom. Such extended evenings that trespassed over nights would often rob us of early morning chirrup and lonely aurora smiles. First snowfall of an early November evening had sprinkled some new hues to the landscape. In simmering evening lights snow fell like thin curtains of fine muslin, that seem to be falling in reams and disappearing on impact. As I hurried shook my exposed arms in a sleeves sweater, running over invisible pools that pushed water in a squirt on impact. In a camel brown jacket, hands in pockets, she walked slowly by the side of the walk bridge, occasionally looking up towards the sky as if smiling in the face of falling snowflakes.  I paused, looked at street light flare that seemed to warm her, resumed to more pace and rushed to the warm confines of my room. She paused, looked away towards the narrow gorge, staring in the infinite of an invading winter, as if holding reams of this winter muslin on her face and heaving quietly to some invisible feel.

The snow was unrelenting for almost three days, spreading out thick carpets of white that stood drawn by odd motifs of standing green trees and footmarks that looked like ant queues on human frequented tracks. The classes went off from the second day of this snowfall, in preparation of our first semester exams, hence extended evenings had to draw a close and nights returned to a studious calendar. Mornings started with black coffee over crisp local bread and Beatles, Sting or Roxette in loop. On one such wintry days when everybody rushed in dull winter colors, the common buffet two blocks away from my building was already full. Jostling in bulging winter attire, balancing our food plates, me and my friend walked to the other end of the buffet in search of a seat, found one by the western window where she was sitting in silence. I excused, she smiled and I sat down. My friend frowned, found no option and continued to stand. “Indian?” I asked, “Yes” she nodded, “and you?”,Kashmiri” I said, “Is that a country?” she asked. “Used to be” I replied, “I know” she smiled in recognition.  Nodding to my assertion she continued with her food plate that had sparingly been consumed, as my friend had found an empty chair somewhere, pulled it alongside and started munching voraciously.

By the first week of March as winter was still spread out like an old rug that bore brunt of some rough wear and tear in odd exposed patches and spring bloom was spouting in baring branches, students had started to return from winter holidays. A few days after I had resumed classes, we were walking on the footbridge  she holding some LP disks, I holding a desire to talk to her. She stopped by the bridge railings looked towards the gorge steep, in a musing sigh like inhaling some deep breath extracting spring freshness from the bloom. As I waited to withdraw my steps, she turned back smilingly “so you arrived from Kashmir”. I saw the winter ice breaking, and smiled in the affirmative. We walked the bridge, some part in silences, and some part in my fumbling words. “What music is that?” I said, grasping for conversation. “Classical”, “you want to listen?” as she extended two LP disks towards me. The unwillingly willing in me grabbed the disks and continued to walk in muteness till the apartment ways parted. She waved briefly, her red painted nails creating mosaics in air, drawing images that she must have been searching in the distances of the gorge where she would often stand alone by the fringes of the walk bridge.

Back in the room the LP disks read “Tchaikovsky Symphony Number 2 in C minor” and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, The Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor (Op. 23).

Having no idea what the disks contained, I mounted the first one on the disk player and sunk into incomprehensible acoustics that sounded more like some band to me. The local wedding band, I told myself, played better than this, and laughed at my own folly of grabbing these disks when words had failed to find meanings with her. The drag of a day ensured that night assumed early and sleep sunk like a dog. Early morning I paced to the balcony anticipating to see her walking the morning, mounting the second disk (The Piano Concerto No. 1). For many days the disk kept playing early morning by my balcony, but there was no sight of her.

Later next week, on a flowering spring day, I saw her walking by the ‘Philharmonia’ (Philharmonic) and offered a coffee in the Turkish café that was close by. In the café she chose a window that overlooked winding steps dotted with flowering vases rioting in colors, as her red fingernails tapped unwritten songs on the coffee cup. “You seem to have taken a liking forThe Piano Concerto No. 1” she remarked. I was baffled that she knew what had been playing on my balcony in mornings, even when she was not to be seen in her morning walks. “You like this music?” I asked. “I like all kinds of music” paused long “especially the music of silences.” Frankly I had no comprehension about the notes of silences, so I kept quiet. “Every note emancipates from silence. Every word and music was written from a point of blankness, from an idea that spouted in a quiet mind” she said looking into her coffee cup, like stirring some tempest from quietude. “For every note that was ever played there is an equal or more brief of a quiet rest that preludes or follows the note. We hear the note, ignore the silence, while as it is the silence that identifies the note.” I could feel the unspoken being expressed.

Learn to understand the silences and you will have a whole new meaning to words” as she looked beyond the winding steps is some unknown quest, while her red fingernails slowly tapped an unheard melody on the cup edges. As I attempted to look beyond the steps in silence, I could imagine boutonnieres lined up where I had seen small vases sometime back. “The boutonnieres you imagine are your silences speaking” she said, as I almost fell off my chair stunned. Was she reading my mind or was she so accustomed to these silences that she knew each sequence of this mind plot?

In days to come this friend became a teacher for me, unraveling the paradoxes of life. The teachers in my life never confirmed to any age limits. The disks were never returned, kept at her insistence as memories of a time. Four years later her meaningful silences went silent forever, leaving a silent but crying void. Meanwhile the foot bridge keeps gazing over the open gorge, seeking voices and notes of yesteryears, in silences. 

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