Author: Saadut
•10:52 PM

She used to tuck it away underneath her pillow every night, like a talisman that would guard her wishful dreams, like some treasure that she needed to guard from the night. With three miniature diamonds sitting like a crest on its top, the ring emitted brilliance of burning dusk that in evening light wore a look of some shining liquid fire. The glitter on her ring finger would often compete with the glow on her smiling face, the diamond ring at times winning for attention. This seemed the only piece of adornment she would ever prefer over her plain clothes, those stood out as elegant and neat as her thoughts. 

One evening that fall, four years ago, right after she had passed college and university was still a spring away, the family went out to dine. The Chinese restaurant was on the top floor of this mall in the food court, with the ground and first floors spread out with fashion and designer outlets, a couple of exquisite jewelers shops near the right bend towards the escalator. It was when dinner had been done with, and the mall lights were reflecting over glazed walls in tangled shadows of competing neon, she stopped by the jewelers showcase captivated by the sparkles in tiny boxes spread over velvet on glass shelves. Closing her hands over eyebrows, narrowing eyes as if peering over a distant star that shone many lightyears afar, towards a ring that perched like an empress over a velvety box on its glass pedestal. As she was transfixed there it took a lot of calling from Mom to make her move, but even then she kept on glancing back at the sparkle that called her attraction. In the brilliance of an aura held in that velvety box, she has seen her reflections. Dad, who shared a deep bond with his daughter, noticed the glimmer in her eyes when she was almost stuck in a silent conversation with that ring. She had never been a demanding kid and he knew she would never press him for this, but he had also seen a longing in her eyes near the showcase window. Next evening, after having come back from office, he slipped in her hand a tiny velvety box that opened up to a starry effulgence. That night she tried hard to sleep, but slumber evaded her over a seemingly endless night. She tried the ring on all her fingers, by the edges of her thumb too, and then would slip it back to her ring finger, sometimes putting it back in the box, and then tucking it away in the drawer only to reopen it again.  From that day she wore it almost always. Her Dad passed away two years later, leaving a deep void within her. There is nothing that can comfort such a loss; no words can lighten this anguish. In the following years whenever she felt like confiding into someone, she would whisper to the ring and let her heart unburden of its entire affliction.

University itself was a challenging puzzle, not with demands of being studious; she always passed in the top slot, but with aimlessness staring at the end of her course. Most courses in the university try to fit you in pre defined exams, where a routine syllabi is drilled and parrot repeated and then put to the ‘who among you can reproduce the parroted routine from memory’ tests. Universities, I found, don’t really prepare you for the practical challenges of life, the anticipation of the unseen and the unanticipated. It was here that one spring afternoon during an interactive session on ‘social networks and political renaissance’ that she saw him for the first time. Defending the right of political and social resistance, he always advocated the rise of the individual from societies to allow the change within. This had been his maiden visit to the university event, an invitation he had accepted with a lot of reluctance knowing that the state had always been monitoring him. Standing by the doorway to a packed room, she never figured when the talk had ended and even before she realized, he had already disappeared among small groups of dispersed discussions. Like mad she scrambled, pushed through the jumbled crowd where faces were hidden by evening shadows, and rushed towards the notice board that had announced the event. Grasping, panting as she scrutinized the board for his details; there it was his first name only and nothing more. ‘What identity is a first name only?’ she asked herself.  For the next two weeks she had nothing more than his first name. He left the very next day of the event that had been his first ever visit to this place. It was after two weeks that she stumbled upon one of his write-ups on a web magazine, which she read and re-read umpteen times, unable to hide the joy of moving beyond his first name. And it took him more than a month to reply to her mail, that too in a one liner ending with ‘Regards’. This frost continued over next winter, she searching for all his work, keeping an eye for every word he wrote and he replying rarely to her mails.

Early spring a thaw came, the first conversation almost happened over phone when he was on his second visit to her city. She somehow had found out about his visit, called his hotel room, and on her first call could not muster the courage to talk, froze in silence for a minute and dropped the line. Then she looked at her ring pleadingly, muttered a prayer and mustered courage; called and this time they talked for a few moments that seemed like an infinity for her. The ring held a charm for her wishes; she looked up and figured someone was praying in sync with her. She had held the ring during all trials and tribulations of the past years and it always seemed to comfort her, some kind of unseen force.

The freeze having broken they talked often, expressing the unhidden, laughing away the unavoidable and at times confiding their worst fears. Something between them was connecting, even while they had never met. Back home she would often grab her younger sister to endlessly talk about him, her oft repeated blabber of his praise. The younger sibling would smile at her repertoire; she unaware of the bored audience that sat tamed yawning.

The next fall, for almost a week there was no reply from him, all her mails or attempted calls going into a blank vortex of sorts. Uneasiness bore a discomfiture that sunk like a rock in her heart; her frown was visible to everyone at home. She would talk in briefs and then withdraw to reclusive silences that wore a sulk. For some days, like a hermetic, she withdrew to her room, often walking to her window, partially opening the curtains and standing there for hours in wait, looking out blank. On a Saturday afternoon the younger sister, wanting to break her seclusion, somehow managed to plead her for an evening out. Venturing aimless they drifted to a familiar mall with the Chinese restaurant on the top floor. Among pacing shoppers with heavy hands and screaming kids the noises of a weekend seemed incomprehensible to her. As if all these voices meant nothing in her vacuum of silence, walking insulated from all this din.  The turbulence within her was no match for the babble outside.

Then she stopped by the right bend towards the escalator, trying to see his image in reflections of a glittering showcase, while behind her descended interlaced chaotic shadows over drab glazed walls. The jewelers showcase seemed empty today; all its velvet spread barren like autumn fields plucked of its yield. A voice was heard from behind “May you see within yourself what you want to see in this glass. May he see your longing in himself”. A bedraggled old man in unkempt hair, with dry ash grey skin and a lean skinny figure concealed under layers of clothes, in seemingly satisfied eyes, extended his cap begging for a pittance.  “May he see your longing in himself” he repeated. She again looked at the showcase window where now the velvet seemed to shine even in its emptiness, having given its treasures in yore for somebody’s smiles. And then she imagined figures in glass reflections, of an old man, of that young man, of her own self smiling. She drew her hand to the ring finger, extracted her diamond ring and dropped it in the beggars cap. The younger sibling clasped her own mouth in surprise, turned towards her and even before she could turn back in a fraction of second to stop this giveaway, the beggar was nowhere to be found. 

Meanwhile jumbled faceless shadows continued to pour over drab glazed walls of an autumn evening.