Rains and Freezing Rains

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His windshield wipers were useless now. Coated with ice, they were like foot-long icicles making 180 degree sweeps of his windshield every couple of seconds. The freezing rain continued its relentless pace, sounding like the crackling of minuscule pebbles pelting his car from all sides. He couldn’t see more than a foot ahead of the car and the bald tires would skid on the icy roads if he had to tap the brakes even once.

He couldn’t go on and decided to pull over by the side of the road. He would stay there all night if he had to but he couldn’t risk driving around in this. So he leaned back in his reclining car seat, folded his arms behind his head and prepared to wait out the falling sheets of wintry mix coating everything.

They were supposed to meet for dinner at the Red Garlic Thai restaurant tonight. They had made the date a month ago, adding the date, time and venue to her Blackberry and his tattered appointment book, as they sat up in bed, wide awake, trying to have a conversation about growing irretrievably apart. It was a cathartic night. They had suddenly rediscovered themselves, come to the shocking realization that they did indeed live in the same house. They had stayed up all night reminiscing about the early days, about sharing everything, about going off on one madcap adventure or another and about the halcyon days when every decision was spontaneous and impetuous. They couldn’t pinpoint the time when things had started changing, it had been gradual until that night, one month ago, when they suddenly realized how far apart they had traveled.

A tear crept down his face as he realized that he was going to disappoint her once again. He pictured her seated at the restaurant, repeatedly glancing at her watch. In his mind’s eye she was gazing out the windows and he wondered whether she was annoyed at his absence or concerned about his well-being. He thought it was a shame that after fourteen years he still didn’t know her well-enough to fathom her state of mind.

He closed his eyes as scattered images of their first meeting flashed across the celluloid of his closed eyelids. She had been huddled under the gray awning of the local bidi shop, trying her best to stay dry. Her clothes were wet and clinging when he caught a fleeting glimpse of her through his auto-rickshaw. Her discomfiture was obvious to him even as he spotted her through his moving vehicle; she had been trying her best to maintain a stoic demeanor as the bidi shop clientele tried to huddle close, using the rain and the limited shelter provided by the awning as an excuse. Something about her compelled him to stop. He felt inexplicably drawn to her. He stopped the driver so he could offer her a ride to wherever she was headed. He opened up his umbrella and ran back to the bidi shop, offering to share his ride. She hesitated at first but then agreed.

It was a memorable, rainy day, auto-rickshaw ride. They had hit it off so well. She had told him she had been observing, rather intently, this carefree, fearless kid on his bike. He seemed to be headed for school and was undaunted by the pouring rain, the flooded streets, he was riding his bike standing up, the rain didn’t bother him one bit. She had told him she couldn’t recall when she had ever been so foot-loose and fancy-free. She had said it in a tone that had flooded him with feelings of tenderness. He wanted to do that for her. He wanted her to feel not one but several carefree moments in her life. He wanted her to feel that he would always be there for her.

That was fourteen years ago. The lashing but harmless Bombay downpours. Here he was now, in a car that wasn’t equipped to handle the harsh northeastern winters in this country. He missed those warm rains now, the joyous monsoons, that special rainy day smell. He had chosen this world over the one of his childhood and youth. He had been chasing the elusive American dream and the more he chased the further away it drifted. Successive lay-offs from three companies following the big IT bust in Silicon Valley had left him scrambling for his next paycheck. His Toyota Camry had 300,000 miles on the odometer and four bald tires. He couldn’t afford to buy himself a new car and couldn’t accept her buying or leasing one for him. His pride always got in the way.

Her career had taken off. She was an EVP in a multi-million dollar global corporation. She was always short on time and was traveling more than she was home. She had become a stranger in her own home. Yet, she had always been encouraging to him. She had always told him not to worry and that things would look up for him, sooner or later. But there had been times, he admitted to himself, when he had chosen to read condescension in her words. He had wanted to protect her, shelter her and give her a carefree life and in the final analysis he had only succeeded in driving himself away from her.

A scraping noise on his window finally shook him out of his reverie. He opened his eyes and sat up to see a familiar and beautiful face peering inside through a patch of ice that had been scraped clean with an ice-scraper. She had been concerned about his well-being after all, and had come looking for him on eastbound Route 80, the most logical place for her to have any luck finding him. He had never felt happier than he did now. They had kept their date after all.

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