Pandemic and her yellow eyes
BY Lashika Asanthi

Today is one lousy Monday. It has been about a year since the pandemic had first started but we are still stuck in the same loop of time. Wearing masks, not meeting anyone, and living in absolute isolation. For today, it has been exactly one year. Her plain smile, her brownish-yellow colour eyes, and her yellow frock were haunting me day and night almost every day for the last year but today, the urge to see her was nothing like before. So taking my phone, I typed her name in the Facebook search bar and waited for that haunting eyes to appear in her profile. It has been exactly one year since I last had the idea of checking her profile and twenty-one years since I last saw her. Suddenly, my eyes were drawn to the messenger icon with one notification on it and curiously I clicked on it thinking what it could be. To my surprise, our last conversation popped up. But there was one new unread message which I had never seen before. it said nothing but the three most regretful words one can ever see. “I forgive you!” and was sent by her exactly one year ago. My heart reached another level of self-pity and loneliness thinking how well she had known me to reply to me even though she never had the answer she was asking me for all her life.

One year ago was the time when nobody had any idea about what will happen in the future and when everyone was so busy figuring out how to spend the day without dying out of boredom. Life was not easy for anyone. Amidst the fear of catching a virus that would not only slowly but painfully strangle you to death, people had lost every hope they had held dearly. It may be going to the park in the evening after a long tiring day at the office or going to the petti-kade near the junction to have a joint. Corona had mercilessly thrown all of our hopes and dreams away to a never-ending bottomless pit of time. During the first-ever lockdown the country underwent, I was stuck at my three-story luxury house in Battaramulla, with no one by my side as after my divorce with Kethaki had been finalized, she had fled to Ireland with my son.

At around three in the evening, I was suddenly awakened by a loud noise. It was my phone. I waited till the sudden noise disappear and immediately tried going back to sleep because I did not have the will to get up. I had been sleeping the whole day, which was my routine since day one of the lockdowns. But the phone kept on ringing. Cursing whoever on the other end, I got up went to the living room. Angrily, I swapped my finger intending to cut the call even without answering. But the caller’s name caught me off guard. Suddenly the sleep was nowhere to be found but only a man in his late thirty’s struggling with so many overwhelming emotions from his past.

“Hello! Is this Renuka? Where are you, man? I was trying to get to you since yesterday. Whathappened to you? Are you ok?”

It was Bimal from my school. He and I were inseparable during school days but after that, we got drifted apart. I wondered why he was suddenly calling me given that he never even bothered to give a call, even when Kethaki and I got divorced and she left with my son leaving me all by myself.

“Nothing’s going on machan. I am doing fine. Well…. not fine but I am doing ok I guess.
What’s going on with you… um and Amali?”

“Well, we are back here in Colombo and now we are working at Kalutara hospital”

“Really? You never told me you are here! So how bad is this thing?”

“You never answered my calls man. So how would you know?”

I did not reply to that. He knew me well enough to start speaking again.

“ Well speaking of the corona, I was assigned to the corona patients’ ward actually. The situation is getting out of control…… But I suddenly called you because I have to tell you something. Not something about someone.”

“Someone? Why by any chance, did you meet my mother? Please tell me you did not! She’s looking for proposals again” I sighed.

He was silent for a minute. Then again slowly started to say something. But with all the background noise from where he was making the call, I could not hear him properly. As I was going to tell him to repeat what he was saying, a name was mentioned. A name I have been trying my best to forget but had failed miserably. A name that had been haunting me for ages since the first time I met her. A name that I had pushed away and locked in a box with memories that I did not dare to open any time soon.

“Machan! Nimali! She is here in the Kaluthara hospital and she has been tested positive for corona. I don’t know if you two are still talking or even friends. But I thought if you were me, I would want to know.”

I could not feel anything except the heartbeat that was getting intense. My heart was beating insanely after hearing that name. I had spent many years trying to forget her, yet the second her name was mentioned, my heart still reacts like a moth to a flame.

“Hello! Renuka. Are you there? I have to go back. Are you there? Renuka? Hello?”

The faint sound of Bimal trying to reach me suddenly stopped with the sound of my phone hitting the floor.

The phone slipped from my hand. Just like all the chances I had with Nimali twenty years ago. I had let her slip away from my hand many times but this time, I felt it more than ever.

But I did not have anything to say anyway. Bimal might have thought that I would want to speak to her given how well he knew our history and how he wanted me to end up with her.But that was the very thing I did not want to do.

What could he possibly want me to say? What would she want to hear from me?

To say to him that I was glad and she deserved it or to say that I regretted not calling her for more than twenty years now because of something I did?

To say that I wish her death or to say that I don’t want to be in this world knowing she is struggling to breathe?

What would I say to him anyway? Like the pathetic loser I was, I looked at the screen of my brand new iPhone which then had been crushed into pieces, fearing to touch it. That’s what I was always good at. Breaking things and living with the utmost regret of not taking action when I had the chance of remedying the damage. I, Renuka Dineth Rajapaksha was nothing but capricious and let everything break into pieces no matter how much they were valuable to me. The silence was my way of escapism when I am about to get suffocated with overwhelming emotions and at times I did not know what to say when people were expecting something from me. But most of the time, it was not someone but her at the end of my silent treatments, because I was never good at being the person she deserves, and deep down I knew that well. She of course on the other hand had always been there for me and could read my thoughts even before I speak out.

Even after my marriage to Kethaki, with whom I thought I was head over heels in love, I always wanted to hear from Nimali or even to see her. So my Facebook history was filled with her profile visits even though I did not have the courage to send her one message. When I first met Nimali, she was someone I never thought would bewilder my heart and soul in a way nobody else could. She was in my class and the only competition I had to become the top of the class every year. Other than that, she was never the center of my attention as she rarely smiled, rarely talked, and rarely engaged with anyone. She always had this plain simple sorrowful look on her face but her eyes were beautiful nevertheles. One day, I saw her smiling for a second. It was the most beautiful smile I had ever seen and I wanted to see that smile often. So I found myself joking constantly around her and for some reason she always laughed at my pathetic jokes. But that Nimali was nowhere to be found after her mother got sick when we were sitting for A/L’s. It was around that time I met Kethaki and she and I got selected for the same course at the university, Mechanical engineering. I was mesmerized by her brains and beauty and was over the top that she chose me out of all the other two hundred and thirty-two boys in our batch who wanted her. But I never left Nimali out of my sight. She was studying at the Colombo University at that time and her boarding place was only twenty and two rupees away from my hostel at the Jayawardenapura University. Although I was going out with Kethaki, I never introduced her as my girlfriend to anyone let alone Nimali. So she knew that Kethaki and I were friends and she was interested in me but never suspected anything more than that or asked me anything about her. Nimali and I used to meet once every few weeks as a habit but there was nothing serious between us. We were plain old friends hanging out together. Looking back at those days I feel like meeting her was the only highlight of my life back then. I still remember
every color she wore when she came to meet me. Because they all were different shades of yellow, my favourite colour. But everything went wrong after one heavily rainy day, when she called and asked for me to come and meet her at our favourite hanging spot near her boarding place. I went there instantly even though I had promised Kethaki that I would go to the cinema with her later in the evening. When I got there, Nimali reached me and hugged me thoroughly. Her clothes were all soaked up from the rain and I could not help but hugging her back. She was hurting badly because of her mother and she wanted me to console her aching mind and body. I did the exact thing and she let me. But that was it. I never meant to go even that far given that I had a girlfriend. But kissing her felt like thunder strike and all the other things were felt like reaching for a new sense not meant to be felt in this world. None other than Nimali, had made me feel those overarching emotions with only one single touch. But after that, we never spoke about it again. Maybe because the very next day she faced the most tragic loss of her life, the death of her mother, or maybe because I went to her mother’s funeral to share her sorrow like the good friend I am with Kethaki by my side. Kethaki introduced herself as my girlfriend and showed her deepest condolences towards Nimali’s sudden loss. Only if she knew, Nimali was facing not one but two losses in the very day. I never spoke to Nimali but was
looking at her by far. She never looked directly at me the entire time we were there but raised her head only when we were about to leave. She looked at me with her big yellow eyes pleading for something and gave me a polite smile which to my surprise I knew was genuine by years of knowledge on how her lips curve when she genuinely smiles. But that was it. It was the last
time I ever saw her. 

Knowing me and Nimali his whole life, Bimal might have figured the history as to why I did not invite Nimali to my wedding, why I did not speak about her anymore and why we were not friends anymore. But truth to be told, I myself did not know the reason why I distanced myself from her. Maybe because she never asked me why it was not her but Kethaki, or maybe because even I was confused as to whom I loved the most. Looking back, I think I never loved anyone other than myself. I wanted Kethaki because she chose me out of many and it boosted my ego. Nimali was more like a safe option for me back then and always thought she would be by my side even though I never chose her. But seven years into my marriage with Kethaki, the tables had turned and it was me who was never a priority to anyone anymore.

I looked at my phone which was then in pieces. It sure was broken. The screen had damaged with the glass being broken and pieces going all over the screen. Somehow the broken phone reminded me of Nimali’s face when she first saw me with Kethaki at her mother’s funeral the very next day after we shared our most intimate moment. Her eyes widened for a second and then they got filled with thousands of unspeakable emotions. I could see her heart breaking into pieces just by looking at her eyes. Then she looked down at her feet. It was a habit she had. Always looking down at her feet when she had too many going on in her head. And when she looked at me for the last time, she gave me a weak yet genuine smile with longing eyes which I knew very well as to what she was asking. But all I offered her was the silence. I held her hand, said that I was sorry for her loss, and left with Kethaki by my side. I only could imagine how lost she might have felt that day. For twenty years hearing her name brought me back to
that exact date, and time. Every time I heard her name, I was standing by her mother’s body looking at her and her at me without speaking. She was pleading for an answer I was never ready to give and I doing nothing but looking at her like she would make everything fall right back into pieces because that’s what she always did. 

And now I find myself in a similar situation. I let the only chance I had in twenty years for me to apologize to her and say I never meant to hurt her. But I did not know that back then. As the lockdown was still going I could not repair my phone. So I carefully placed the broken phone aside like I did with Nimali’s memory and continued with my routined life. To say I did not have any way of contacting Bimal is a lie. But I was afraid. I was afraid of hearing something I was not ready to hear and I was never ready to answer that one question, I was afraid of being asked. However, after two days when the lockdown was lifted for groceries to be filled, I went to get my phone repaired. When I switched it on, there were thousands of messages and calls from work, Kethaki, my son, and Bimal. But even before calling him back, I knew everything has changed and nothing would be the same again.

“Where is she? I want to speak to her.”

Those two sentences were not difficult as I thought they would be. I exhaled deeply and waited for the answer. But nothing came.

The regret was overwhelming 

“I am sorry! Please give her the phone. Please I want to speak to her. I want to say one thing only please machan. I swear it will only take two minutes.”

I kept on rambling like a crazy person. Even I did not know why I was crying exactly at that point after waiting so long to say something so small.

“Renuka, man I am sorry. I tried everything I could. Please forgive me, If this is anything, she asked for you. She wanted to tell you something as well. But I could not get you. I am sorry she died yesterday.”

I did not know what to say, think, or even feel. The feeling of losing someone had never felt this much and all I wanted to do was to see her. I cut the call and went to her Facebook profile and clicked on the very first photo I saw. It was an image of Nimali wearing a yellow colour dress. She knew it was my favourite colour and I knew it was never hers. The dress surely fit her long hair and brownish-yellow eyes. She was smiling slightly but her eyes were the highlight of the photo. They were the same eyes looking at me when I left her at the funeral.

Pleading for an answer which I never had the courage to give. 

 

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