I have been asked this one question that always tends to touch a nerve.”Shamir, tell me one thing, don’t you ever fall in love?” I think I’ve spent so much time wondering that I’ve repeatedly hit the end of my wits. But I think I’ve finally found a satisfactory answer, so here is something I came up with-
I remember when I was 17 years old, I took this girl to McDonald’s for my very first date. We’d been seeing each other for three months straight now, and everything was going better than great. She was 10 days older than I was, with skin that looked whitewashed with this unearthly glow. And if her skin was as white as milk, her hair was like fine strands of silk, which smelt of strawberries; it was weird because every time I put my head on her shoulders, I felt hungry.
Anyway, so I thought I’d take her out for a meal, spend a day telling her how exactly I feel; how having her around was a big deal for a guy who didn’t know the first thing about love. She spent a few hours looking into my eyes, and the rest with her face in Chicken McGrills and french fries, but yeah it felt kind of nice, knowing I could be this comfortable with someone. Just being around her made me numb, with a feeling I couldn’t put my finger on, but that emotion would quietly linger on putting a smile on my face that made me look dumb. For the first time, I had let someone into my personal space, and she waltzed in with such grace, that I was stunned.
Anyway, right after she’d had her fill, we walked to the counter to pay the bill. Now see, this is the part that made me wary; because the numbers printed by the little machine were scary for someone who never liked spending too much. I was cautious, being a miser is what you would call it, but it was simple self-defence for a guy with more dust than money inside his wallet. As I reached for the paper, I could feel my palms start to sweat, my throat go dry and my forehead drenched, and wet. She smiled, and I smiled back, in regret.
I think my love blinded me to how she hogged one burger after another. 700 rupees? I was convinced I was dating Godzilla’s mother. I kept staring at the white piece of paper and what was in it, losing my composure with it, growing paler by the minute. She tugged my shirt and asked “Is everything okay baby? (Like if I said no, it was going to make a difference maybe.)
But eventually I thought I could make a few exceptions; after all, wasn’t love all about learning to live with imperfections?
That episode though, became something in the distant past. Fate turned; crashed and burned, and things disintegrated so fast, they just couldn’t last till the very end. First my money ran out, then she ran out, with my best friend. To the fickle concept of love, I said, never again.
Two years later, a blank slate. I found myself in the midst of another date. I’d known this one for 19 years now, in fact right from the very beginning of my days. I stood on a white tiled floor, and she on a hospital bed, in a half paralyzed state. We’d been here several times straight now, and things were anything but great. She was 24 years ahead of my age, but with a beauty that even today, leaves me in a daze. Her skin had creases and had started to sag, her face looked like it had been dragged through six weeks of jet lag, but that smile, oh that smile, was the best thing anyone could ever have.
For an hour we gazed at each other in quiet silence, for the rest I looked at scars left by the violence of the chemotherapies on her skin. Cuts and bruises uninhibited, for a sin my mother never committed. Just looking at her made my heart sink; it was like someone added one part ink to two parts milk. It hurt how a faint impurity could taint the very essence of beauty.
At that moment, one of the doctors I’d seen around walked in. You see, this is the part that made me wary, because the words printed on the paper in his hand were scary to someone who wanted to see her recover. I got up and stepped outside the door, to a suffocating corridor on the second floor. I walked up to the benches arranged in a long line; my mind preoccupied with how she was doing with a chemotherapy needle slowly piercing her spine. Was she crying? Was she fine? I could never tell. Those few moments are the closest I’ve ever come to dying.
During those terrible moments, I was grateful for certain things, like a significantly advanced science stream and a soundproof door to muffle the screams of an angel losing her wings. Ironic why they called the room intensive care.
I think my love blinded me to the predicament we were in. We were breathing the same air, but only one of us was living a sin. I took her out of the ICU in her wheelchair, pushing no faster than what her back could bear. “Is everything alright Mom?” I asked her, with a petrified stare. I dread asking, or being asked this question, even today.
So when people ask me, Shamir, why don’t you fall in love, I give them this one explanation first. I do fall in love but the definition of the word itself is something I’ve never been able to infer. I’ve felt good love at a bad time, bad love at a good time, I just don’t know which one it is that I prefer. Maybe I fear that both parts of love are a paradox I won’t be able to break or bend, or maybe the women I’ve loved will inevitably leave me in the end. I know what I have lost and how much I miss them. Which is why the question of love doesn’t touch a nerve, it wrecks my entire nervous system.
But what I realize, is that I fear not love, but possibilities. I wrap myself in insecurity, but I still admire the sanctity and the purity of what love tends to bring. Maybe I’ll find love hogging over french fries and onion rings, maybe I’ll find it frozen in the midst of chronic cycles of suffering. I don’t know, I can’t read fate; but if love is anything like what I’ve had to take, I think I prefer to wait.