He turned into the lane and stopped for a moment to catch his breath. This was the ‘road very much taken’, and yet it had always remained for him a ‘path less travelled by’. Can you call it a journey when you never really reach the destination? He didnt know. All he knew, with every tiny blood vessel in his body echoing, that it was the same route he had taken following Rohini home (“Call me Ro” she had said the first time they met, attempting a pseudo sophistication he saw she did not possess), almost every day, for two years.
He looked around surreptitiously, and checked himself – this was not 15 years back and he was not the fugitive stalker anymore. There was no need to peer, no need to dart behind the obliging shrubbery, no need for camouflage. At least not physically. As he stood looking at the greying, shuttered house at the end of the road, the memories elbowed each other for space in his mind. He did not know it, but his face mirrored all the feelings of an awkward teenager battling with the new emotions of yearning, rejection, jealousy and wounded pride. Yes he had been the cliched lovesick youth, pursued his classmate with a tenacity bordering on mania, had acted in a way he could hardly recognize himself now. Yet, below the ‘crush’, the lust and desire for possession, there had been an emotion he knew to be ‘love’. Or so he thought, until that last violin class – which changed his life forever and banished him from paradise. The expressions on his face shifted to give way to something small and mean, a twisted grim satisfaction, and then softened again as they returned to the present. Today was the culmination of his decade long vigilance, and he was prepared.
The first 2 years of college he had followed her home everyday. Hungry eyes tracing her outline through the bushes. Sometimes the twitch of a skirt and glint of an anklet. Other days filmy style churnis. Jeans were a disappointing day and the imagination had to work overtime. The next day at the canteen he had joined in with everyone in the usual banter, teased her about her bollywood callertune which she insisted she had not set, and very successfully hidden the madness which had started taking the shape of a full-grown monster within him. He still wondered what had prevented him from confiding in her. Maybe it was something to do with the late night screams he heard through the bedroom door, the belt cracks, the red welts and red eyes as his mother woke him up the next morning. His mother, a successful pediatrician with a flourishing practice, who payed the bills for their rather extravagant lifestyle. He did not trust himself, did not trust his genes. He told himself he was waiting for the right moment – until it was too late.
By conventional standards Riki was not ‘better’ than him. He was average looking (a little short in fact if one was to split hairs), had no particular skill in sports, did not strum a guitar. Hell he wasnt even a better student, in case that counted for anything. “Average”, “Medium”, “Nice” were the usual adjectives for Riki. He was always there as part of the group, but never a ‘shining star’. Friendly, aloof, uncomplicated (boring?). Certainly not a personality anyone would have expected girls to pay much attention to – especially not Ro, who at 20 had the world at her feet with her sparkly eyes, shiny hair…and more. Much more. At first he had not believed the rumours. Although he had never directly admitted it to her, he knew that she was aware of how he felt with that uncanny instinct that girls always know. And that she did not mind…maybe even reciprocated? There had certainly been times when he thought so. But the truth had been brought home to him in this very lane, on his way back from that last violin class, in a way even his inexperienced eyes could not deny.
He had come by just in case because he knew this was not an usual time for her. But lately she had been irregular, and he didnt want to miss an opportunity. It had been Bach that day and he had been humming a stanza and thinking whether he had enough saved up to buy that precious new violin now, when he caught a flicker of movement. His eyes were trained to spot her out in a crowd, be it the sea of faces during a rock show at the college fest or in the exam hall ‘for a bit of extra luck’. They must have been quite desperate to have been doing what they were in a lane leading up to her house, with just the shrubbery for shield. And that thought had made him even more enraged. He had stood still for few seconds – or a million years. Then slowly, coldly, by some calm instinct he did not know he possessed he had taken out his violin from its case and brought it down with all his strength on the head bent over her. Once. Twice. Then he had turned on her, but the frenzy had been fed and the broken instrument had fallen limply to the ground in face of her stricken expression.
The events of the next few years were a blur. Complicated names had apparently described his ‘condition’, and after suitable ‘treatment’ he had been declared ‘cured’. During the last 10 years or so he had built up an enviable career and was spoken of as one of the ‘brightest brains’ in his industry. The restraining order had kept him away from Ro, but he had tried once or twice to visit the sanitarium or ‘home’ where Riki was kept…the last time he had even made it upto the reception area before his courage failed him. He knew there was to be no forgiveness for him. He had moved continents to try and make peace with his life. Until he had run into her again when he returned for his grandmother’s funeral.
The coils of human nature astounded him. She did not shun him, rather quite the opposite. He couldnt make out if it was some twisted vanity at the thought of someone who had almost committed murder for her that made her receptive, or the fact that she was now a lonely divorcee, or if it was just the feeling of the power she still had over him. She was as beautiful a woman as she had been attractive as a girl. He did not know if there was anything undefined or ethereal about her…no mental connection was necessary. He was as awed at the the flesh-and-blood sight of her as he had been as a gawky boy. There were some innocuous meetings arranged…a weary preamble to what they both knew to be inevitable. And finally here he was in the lane again where it had begun and ended for him. For them.
He walked up the stairs into her room as instructed. She had arranged for them to be alone. As she lay back he noticed things he had never caught before – the lines around her mouth highlighted in the harsh sunlight, tired eyes under the mascara, a crumbling skeleton of bygone magnificence. Abruptly he didnt want to go on anymore…all the pent-up desire seemed to fall away. But he had waited so long, almost his entire life – he couldnt stop now when his destination was within reach. He fired the shots at close range. Once. Twice.
Incongruous bunches of white chrysanthemums in cracked vases surrounded him. Oil portraits of stern ancestors looked down disdainfully. He was humming Bach as he came lightly down the stairs.