I had met them about a couple of years ago when I started going for my morning walks. An elderly couple – he in his early seventies and she, I suppose in her sixties.
I have a fairly set pattern in the route that I take on my walk. I walk along that route twice and it is usually when I am in the beginning of my second round that I see them. They always come by a car parking it under the same tree every day. I used to then see him get out , go across to the other side of the car , open the door and help her out. She had trouble moving her joints I guess and was not as fit as her husband appeared to be. He, on the other hand was very brisk in his movements. He had a stiff bearing and his thick grey mustache made me think that he must have been in the armed forces.
I found it very touching, the way she used to take his hand while walking. She was not very fast and was certainly not used to the sneakers she was wearing. Neither do I think, did she like the salwar kameeze that she wore. In all probability she was a regular saree wearer like my mother! There was therefore a self conscious air about her as she tried to negotiate her way around the damp roads fresh from their bath in the morning dew. But her grooming always put me to shame! I used to wonder how she found time to comb her hair, do it up in a neat bun and put her trade mark “one rupee coin” bindi so early in the morning? It used to make me feel very conscious of my sweaty T. shirt and track pants.
Whenever we passed each other, I used to slow down and give them a smile and exchange a “Good Morning”. His used to be a curt nod accompanying the greeting while hers was softer but brilliantly suffused with a lovely smile. I could easily imagine her to be a very friendly person while he came across as being rather reserved. She always had something extra to say besides “Good Morning”. Sometimes it would be as mundane as “ Nice weather isn’t it” to more personal comments like “ You should not walk so much. You are losing too much weight”. He never said anything much but waited quietly in the background for her to finish this small talk.
I remember the last time I saw them together- her shoe laces had become undone and she was finding it difficult to bend down and tie them up. He made her sit on a small bench at the side of the road and tied her laces all the while looking up at her and smiling. She on her part sat with down cast eyes and was probably blushing, sensing my presence across the road. No bride had looked as bashful!
In my eyes they were the most romantic of all the couples that I had known! A perfect foil for each other –she the friendly and talkative one and he the quiet and reserved man. His chivalry where his wife was concerned was something that I had only read about in books. He reminded me of the heroes of the days gone by who opened doors for women or stood up to offer them his seat. I used to see him sometimes pluck a flower from a creeper hanging over the wall of one of the houses and hand it to her. She always took it from him with a shy smile and put it into her hair. It was very sweet, the way she accepted flowers like bougainvillea and hibiscus tucking them into the bun at the back of her head just as though they were strings of jasmines – flowers made for hair decoration!
He never rushed her to walk with him at his pace. She on the other hand was never stressed trying to keep pace with him. They walked together, hand in hand and deep in conversation –often oblivious to the world around.
I am not a very superstitious person but somehow whenever I saw them together like that I just knew that the day was going to be a wonderful one! They were like the aroma of coffee in my kitchen and the voice of Yesudas singing Raag Bhairavi in my ear phones – it gave me hope that life held possibilities beyond what we imagine!
Then, suddenly one day, I did not see them!
Actually, it was not that sudden. It had been raining for that entire week and the few people ( other than the very determined) ventured out for a walk. I of course, grabbed the excuse to spend those extra thirty minutes in my bed!
But when the weather improved, I went back to my routine of two rounds. A week passed, then two but I still did not see them.. ! I wondered what the matter was. Sometimes, I felt compelled to ask someone about them but then we were all strangers brought together by our common need for exercise in a public place. Very few people talked to each other outside of their own little group or cliques. Since, Aunty and Uncle ( as I had begun to refer to them in my mind), did not mingle much with others, it was quite possible that people may not know much about them.
Thoughts about them kept coming to me at the most unexpected of moments – when I was in a meeting in the office or when I was cooking or sometimes just when I was falling asleep. I always hoped that I would see them the next day.
And then finally after about a month my wish was answered as I saw that grey Maruti. I knew it was theirs but I was surprised that it was not parked at the usual spot. “ Uncle is probably losing his sense of routine after the long break” I thought to myself hurrying along towards the car.
The door opened but it was a young man who got out. I waited a little beyond wondering if I had made a mistake. I knew I hadn’t because the registration number was the same. Meanwhile, I heard the passenger side door open and saw Aunty getting out. I waited for Uncle. But no, he was not in the car.
I walked towards the car and shouting happily “Good morning Aunty! Don’t tell me you have come alone today! Where is Uncle?”
It was only when she turned around to look at me that I got the answer to my question. In place of her lovely large bindi, there was a blank space- a space as blank as the expression in her eyes as she said “ He will not be coming anymore with me my dear. He is now walking a different path!”
I felt my eyes fill up as I turned around and walked away. Silly, of me, considering that I hardly knew them!
I sometimes wish I had asked her how it had happened or even said “ I am sorry”. But then words- saying them or not would not have mattered to her. The deep love between them was a rare one. Theirs was a match made in heaven that death had decided to part..
It is more than six months today after that fateful encounter. I have not seen Aunty again !
Mornings for me will never be the same !
( I wish this was fiction)