It was a merciless winter’s night, somewhere in late December I think. I can’t say for sure actually; time has drowned my memories ever so quietly. We must have walked down that lonely, desolate lane to Block D at least a hundred nights now. I’m sure he has done that at least twice as much. Nothing has changed; and yet strangely, everything has.
You see, me and him, we’ve walked these streets so many times that we’ve discovered its most minute intricacies. For instance, I know that seven minutes into our walk, I would hear the sound of gravel crunch beneath my size 9 Woodland shoes, breaking the effortless silence of the night, but not the uneasy one between us two.
The pale, dim yellow streetlights would dully light up the grey tar roads, the bright green benches with paint scraping off along its sides, the only witness to this pilgrimage of sorts.
And yet, in the midst of this monotony, things have changed. Sometimes, a gentle breeze would tug at my baggy shorts and the comfortable, loose fabric of my tee shirt during summers. And at times, the winter wind howled incessantly, a waft of ice cold breath from the Gods would bite at knuckles tightly clasped around my leather jacket. So much change, and yet so familiar.
Anyway, 15 minutes into our walk, I could see the familiar outline of Block D swarm in front of my eyes. The same rundown building that no one bothered to maintain. It looked like something you would find straight out of an archaeology magazine; chipped walls lined with dark green moss, missing bricks and faded paint making it seem like a page from a forgotten memory.
‘I like this place’ he looked at me and whispered in a rough, sombre voice. It was the first time ever that he had spoken to me during our walks. We always talked before or after it, but in those hundred days I walked with him, we never spoke when we were face to face.
‘This building is my reflection, it is what I am, you know? Weathered, broken down, forgotten. But I like it, because despite its shortcomings, it makes no attempt to hide. It still stands.’
I could see he was struggling to speak, but I didn’t ask him why. This was a change from our usually accepted pact of silence, I decided it would be wiser to let destiny do the needful.
We slowly trudged to the side of the building. The low balcony of the first floor stood right in front of us. It was low enough for me to jump and touch, in fact I could climb it if the drainpipe next to it wasn’t ancient. We stopped. Same place, for the umpteenth time. I’ve lost count. He put his hand inside his pocket and pulled out the same old bar of chocolate. I liked this part, and I made a conscious effort not to blink. He looked up at the open window next to the balcony; these were the only few seconds of the day when I saw glimpses of life flood back into his eyes. That made me happy; knowing he hadn’t completely forced himself into emotional exile.
He carefully held the bar of chocolate in his right hand, and arched his back. With the expert precision of someone used to doing something every single day, he threw the chocolate perfectly inside the open window. It was dark and empty inside, yet he stood there transfixed; staring at the open window for at least 5 minutes. It was a simple yet powerfully serene picture that I wish I could paint with words; hope looking up at expectations, in static and unsettling silence.
After 5 minutes of holding his breath, he let out a deep, pained sigh. He looked at me, which was his way of telling me that it was time to walk back.
‘Once every 20, maybe 25 days, when she’s strong enough to stay awake, you can hear the gentle rustle of the wrapper being torn open, I swear. She doesn’t go out much because the chemotherapies have left blotches on her skin, and she has little left of those gleaming strands of silky hair she had before. She says that it all makes her look ugly, but I disagree. What could possibly be more beautiful than someone learning to smile through adversity? Once every one and a half months, when the medicines don’t drain her soul, you can see the faint orange light come on in her room. She puts her head at the window, one of the rare times she ever lets anyone see her. When that little study lamp lights up the side of her face and she holds up the chocolate I threw and she smiles at me? It is all I ever needed.’
I just looked at him and nodded as if I understood. I clearly did not, and imagining the courage it took made me wish I would never have the chance to find out.
‘I told you, I like Block D. The place reminds me of what I have become. All I have left is a little window; but that does not stop me from standing in front of it every night in desperate hope. Everything around me is slowly crumbling, but something inside gives me so much to believe in. I like this monotony. It gives me faith. So I keep coming back, even if it means confronting my worst fears.’
‘And what are those fears?’ I asked him.
He looked at me, and gave me a tired, almost resigned smile.
‘Sometimes, I fear my chocolate will hit a closed window. Sometimes, I fear it’ll drop on an empty bed, and the hollow thump I hear will be nothing compared to the reverberations in my heart. I dread these possibilities. But when I started off doing this, she used to look through the window every 3-4 days. That number has slowly gone on increasing. Now I consider myself fortunate if she manages to hoist her limp, drugged body to the windowsill even once a month. I fear I’m living my darkest fears. Maybe it’s her way of preparing me for the worst, I don’t know. Perhaps I do know, but I do not care. I do what I have to, and nothing less.’
As we talked, we reached Block T, where I stay. We embraced, and he thanked me for coming. Although we did this every night I walked with him, it never felt out of place or cliched. I walked up the stairs to my house, and then into my room, slowly taking in what I had just seen and heard. I had a hard time sleeping that night.
The very next morning, I got a phone call. She had passed away in her sleep.
Even though in one hundred nights I never saw anything beyond the little window, I felt empty, I felt hollow. I could only imagine how standing in his shoes would be, let alone walking in them.
That night, I got no text message from him asking me to come for a walk. But I did see a lonely shadow, dragging a soulless existence through the empty street on the way to Block D. I saw all of it through my balcony. Seven minutes later, I could hear the sound of gravel in my head, heavier and deeper than I had ever heard before. Tonight, hope wouldn’t look up to expectations; expectations would look down upon broken hope. Tonight, there would be no warm embrace, no thank you’s. Perhaps there never will be.
It has been almost a year since her death. I have always wanted to walk to Block D one night and pay my respects. But I can’t. I can’t find the strength to look at him staring at that little window again. I can’t. I can’t imagine his chocolate bouncing off a closed window, I just can’t. I still watch him every night, just walking. I realize now why monotony isn’t redundant; it is beautiful, almost overwhelming. But for it to exist, nothing must change. Which is why I think we all fear change. Maybe that little window will slam shut or what lies inside it will fade. But whatever happens, it is important to keep walking.