Crackling of dusk. The last few tendrils of pink and orange streak across the sky. The smell of the night flowers starting to awaken, begin to whisper through the air. Nothing smells as enticing as her neck, though. Fresh grass crunching under his feet, he walks beside her. The breeze gently blows her hair into her face and he tries not to stare too hard. He wonders why she does her hair and makeup, she looks the most beautiful when she’s happy, carefree with no fine lines folding her face into a book of shadows. She’s bright and full of life. This is how he will always remember her. Nothing, definitely not the uncertainties of life can take this moment away from him. Only he can.
After all these years, she still makes him feel risky. Like he is doing something utterly wrong, but he wants to keep doing it anyway. He’d fallen for girls before, but she wasn’t someone he could fall for; she was fluid, entering and leaving anytime she wanted. He could never give his heart to her, she wouldn’t recognise it. Love, like everything else in her life was transient, never lasting. But she didn’t throw away promises of love on purpose, she was just the way she was, ‘Moira – the Undefined’, he would jokingly call her because her name meant something entirely different. And as undefined as she was, every word of love was never permanent, but nor was any utterance of goodbye.
That’s what he loved about her the most. She never said ‘goodbye’. She didn’t believe in the idea.
“Why should you close the whole book when you’re just taking a tea break? Just leave it open on the chapter you’ve left off, and pick it up the next time.” She would ramble at the raw age of twelve. She hadn’t taken into account that in life, time waits for no soul, and if you take a break for too long you can end up skipping more than a few chapters. Sometimes the story evolves so much, that you can’t comprehend what is happening when you return. Sometimes, you skipping the chapters makes all the difference.
They had known each other since middle school. She was bullied in school. Picked on for the gap between her teeth and the thoughts in her head. Both made people uncomfortable, so they pushed her aside. She tried her best not to mind. And then she met him. Or he met her. Whichever way made the most sense, because the truth is that they both collided into each other’s lives, impacting the course of their lives equally and mysteriously, towards the same direction. And so far, they hadn’t drifted much from their aligned paths. Sure, she would go off with different people and come back with different ideas and experiences, but she always came back and that’s what mattered to him. She would always come back. And this was one of those times. She had just come back from a busy year of when, whats and whys he had stopped bothering to ask her. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that she was there with him, in the present. Even if it was for the last time.
“Where should we set up the picnic dinner? Thank the universe I have some blankets, it’s so chilly out here. You’ve got the netted tent, right? I ain’t gonna even think about sitting here if my skin might get chewed up by those tiny nuisances of nature.” She speaks while circling around a small but dry piece of grass where they could have their picnic.
“Yes, Moira I have the net. Your beautiful skin will be well protected from insects. Why do you always have to make simple words so complicated? Insects are so much easier to say and to understand than ‘tiny nuisances of nature,’ jeez.” He replies with a taunting edge to his voice.
She makes a face and starts to set up. He joins her. After what he is about to tell her, will she ever make that face again?
They finish the set up, and after dinner each take out a blanket and sit side by side trying to see the stars through the holes in the netted tent. Moira insisted on buying a 5ft tent made of a netted material for the occasion. She never liked insects. He chuckles to himself as he lists out all the idiosyncrasies she has. The list goes on and on. But he can’t afford to reminisce before she actually goes away. He needs speak, before their time is up yet again. This cannot wait any longer. He turns to her and to his surprise she is starting right at him.
“You have something to say.” She utters, barely audible. She’s lost in thought yet still able to engage in conversation. What a strange little bird.
He replies, “Yes, I do.”
“Well, then say it. I know that starlight-gazing post a picnic dinner is not something we do everyday. Go ahead, don’t be afraid.” She says, with much more concentration this time. In his thirteen years of knowing her, she’s never been fully attentive to any one thing very easily. She must sense the magnitude of what he is about to say. In turn he straightens up, and looks her directly in the eye.
“I met someone. I love her. We’re getting married in the summer.”
He waits. He knows that she vehemently disapproves of anyone getting married at the age of 25, but that’s the least of his concerns. Eyes wide open, he looks at her desperately trying to understand the creature in front of him whom he had not understood for the past thirteen years.
A split second of confusion appears on her face. Then a glimpse of sadness. It happens so quickly he isn’t sure if it actually happened or if it’s the night shadows playing tricks on her face, and in his mind. Her face finally settles into one of pensiveness. She lies down, and breathes in deeply.
“No, I don’t want to know her name. I don’t want to know how you met her either. I want to know this-can you imagine being tied down to her for the rest of your life? To have her as the mother of your unborn child? To travel and explore, but with her by your side always keeping you in place? To build a home where there will never be anything that is truly yours anymore? To wake up every morning and see another person next to you? To realise that whatever direction you take, you need to always consult her before? Are you sure that you found a person about whom you will never change your mind?” She rattles on, her eyes closed.
“Yes. She’s worth giving up the freedom to choose my own, independent path. Because any path I choose will always lead me back to her. Then it’s not really a loss of freedom, it’s a mutual sharing of our lives. I want to share the rest of my life with her.” He says, gently but confident.
“Interesting. I can never imagine sharing even a bookshelf with someone else, to have his or her books next to mine. They would be our books. I wouldn’t have read all of them, so if somebody asks me about them I’d have to depend on the other person entirely. A loss of self-sufficiency. That’s commitment and obligation.” She responds absently.
“Or that’s fidelity and an oath. She’s not my responsibility, she’s my vow; to be happy by keeping her happy to the fullest of my capacity. And that’s something I’m excited to do, now and till the end of my days.” He smiles, thinking about his to-be wife and their future together. It feels abnormal to think about another woman with love and devotion when Moira is right in front of him. His Moira. Yet her presence bubbles up a feeling, born so long ago and sure never to leave. He’s tried to make it leave.
Silence. He wonders if she’s thinking about the same thing he is. It would be a rarity, but in this moment it is more possible than ever. What a shame that they could never use what they feel for each other. As powerful as it is, time and circumstance never favoured the two of them.
“I’m very happy that my best friend found what I could never offer him.” She says, this time starring directly into his eyes.
A little taken aback at such a rare display of emotion, he takes a little time to fully understand what she meant. He looks into her eyes and gives into impulse. He pulls her close and hugs her tightly.
“You gave me everything I needed. I wouldn’t give any of that up. You are a part of the person I have become today. You gave me everything you could, I never expected more. And if I did, I was wrong. Thank you, for always coming back.” He whispers and he feels a decade of pent-up emotion cascading down upon him.
“I came back every time because you needed me to come back. Now, you don’t. I’m not going to come back anymore. I want to be free, finally. And I want you to be happy. You expected this, didn’t you? You knew that this would be the last time?” She muffles through the fabric of his shirt.
They both know the answer. He inhales deeply, breathing in the her scent for what he knows will be the last time. “I wanted to give you one last memory before you go off discovering forever.”
He feels a tiny drop of moisture. His or hers, he isn’t too sure. They stay in comfortable embrace for a long time, but not long enough.
“I’m leaving, for good.” She pauses and attempts to untangle herself from him, but she can’t seem to find the strength. She falls back into the warm crevices of his body. “I love you. I’m sorry,” She mumbles.
His voice saturated with emotion, he replies, “I’m staying, for good. I love you.”
Fate was never on their side.