Roshan’s day had started out just like any other. He woke up to a steaming cup of coffee on his bedside table, and his office clothes ironed and neatly folded on his desk chair. Since dragging himself to his job at the travel agency, Roshan had expected his day to unfold as usual, just like the 75 days that had passed since he took up this new job. What shook him from his sleepy routine was the text message that reached him at exactly 3.14pm:
Fonseka’s letterbox, 5.30pm. Nisha.
Even though his heart started racing at the sight of her name, Roshan fought the urge to overanalyse the situation and went on with his work. Routines and processes were a form of escape for Roshan, and he relied on it to distract him on days when bitter nostalgia and emotions from the past interfered with the present. A habit that proved to be useful on days like this.
After all, it had been six years since he had spoken to her.
Growing up, Roshan and Nisha were inseparable. They lived on the same road and walked to and from the bus stop after school every day. The highlight of their friendship during this carefree childhood was a special game that they used to play. Old Mr Fonseka who lived in the house at the bend had a big shiny red letterbox which was accessible to anybody walking by. Being a frail old man with no family, Mr Fonseka was hardly ever aware of any activity beyond two feet from his armchair. The game revolved around one of them leaving a note in the old man’s letterbox with a line from an old song. The other would have to guess the name of the song and write it at the back of the note and put it back.
This innocent exchange went on for much of their early teenage years. Having no siblings, Roshan and Nisha found each other’s company comforting. This comfort stemmed from the fact that the kind of company they both yearned for was unusual for their age. While most of their schoolmates revelled in physical activities such as hide- and- seek and cricket, Roshan and Nisha had in them a kind of unique curiosity about the world that they only identified in each other.
Roshan’s father, a professor of anthropology who had died when he was just nine years old, had left behind a sizable volume of books, maps, encyclopaedias and scrapbooks that Roshan proudly hoarded in his bedroom. Amongst these treasures was a collection of vinyl records of the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Jim Reaves and Elvis Presley that Roshan’s family found no use for. As he grew protective of this collection, Roshan introduced Nisha into his world one record at a time, finding immense joy in playing the records for her on his loku seeya’s old gramophone. They spent hours listening to the same songs over and over again, which lead to Nisha inventing their little game when they were 12 years old.
As they grew older, their friendship grew into a deep connection that was never defined or expressed in words. Yet stepping into young adulthood created a distance between them that neither one of them were prepared for. Nisha blossomed, taking on adolescence with ease and comfort while Roshan crawled into a shell of awkwardness and unease that Nisha was not a part of. His yearning for their childhood friendship to be restored soon grew into anger as he watched her become a different person surrounded by groups of adoring friends. Years later this anger would turn into indifference, which Roshan wore like armour that would help him remember her only as a vague childhood acquaintance.
Shortly before they both turned seventeen, all interactions, including their innocent song-game, ended, and Roshan’s last note in Mr Fonseka’s red letterbox never got a reply. Nisha drifted out of his life as easily as she had come in.
Leaving work early, Roshan started walking towards the letterbox, feeling more anxious with each step. All he knew about Nisha now was whatever he heard his mother tell him. She had gone to India to study journalism and was about to be married to somebody her parents had chosen for her. Roshan found it surreal to listen to his mother talk about her, and to hear of her doing things that ordinary people do. In his own memory, he had kept her frozen as a 12-year old girl with curious, beady eyes, sprawled on his bedroom floor with a book in her hand. He
almost turned back three times but something in him forced him to keep walking.
When he arrived, with only a minute to spare, she wasn’t there. He walked up and down the road for ten minutes, keeping the letterbox within his line of vision, pretending to read something on his phone and looking up every few seconds. Old Mr. Fonseka was no more, and his house stood empty, paint peeling from the walls and overgrown plants creating a mini forest behind the rusty gate. After thirty minutes, she still didn’t show up. To his surprise, the anger he was expecting to feel had been replaced with the same calm indifference that he had found comfort in years ago.
As he started walking towards his house, something made him stop in front of the letterbox. He pulled open its small creaky door. Amidst the years of collected dirt and dried up leaves was a folded piece of paper. He took it out and unfolded it, staring for a few seconds at the words scribbled in familiar writing:
Let it be
At the back, faded by years of folding and unfolding, was the last song lyric Roshan had written to Nisha all those years ago:
“For though they may have parted,
there is still a chance that they
Roshan folded the piece of paper, put it in his shirt pocket and started walking home, the pounding in his chest slowly falling back into its calm, natural rhythm.
Written by Chalani Ranwala
Illustration by DRG