I was the first to reach and wait, as I usually do. Sometimes I feel my whole life is spent waiting. It starts with waiting for the water to boil for tea in the morning, for the bus to arrive, for the rains to fall, and, wait for him to say something. Life is all about waiting for things to happen, isn’t it?
The horizon is on fire. Shades of fiery orange is spread across the sky and the water below. The sky is burning itself out over the sun’s impending departure. The moon has already risen and would soon cool those very burns with its soft light. There is no moon in my life though, to cool things down, only the sun burning me inside out.
I hear him before I see him. I quickly turn to face him, my heart racing as it does every single time I hear him. I smile. That is another thing about me. Burning or not, I always have a smile for him.
His eyes are already searching for the peanut seller. He gets two paper cones full of hot roasted groundnuts and taking my hand, pulls me across to our usual place. The cement bench is still warm from the heat of the day as we settle on it. I watch him tap some nuts on to his hand from the cone and pop them into his mouth. Then he looks sideways at me, and asks his usual question.
How was your day?
I pause hesitating to give my usual answer. I turn the question over in my mind for a moment, wondering whether my answer should be different today. Will the truth do? I am not okay. My heart is breaking. I am not sure he wants to hear that. He has never liked the naked unvarnished truth. Or freely expressed feelings. They are taboo in his world. I consider telling him an out and out lie. I am great. Life couldn’t be better. When have I been able to lie to him with conviction? Never. So I give up and simply repeat something I have heard him say.
Comme ci comme ca.
He smiles, recognizing his own words, and I give a half-smile in reply. Look beneath the smile, my heart screams, and yet I am relieved that he cannot hear me.
What did you say?
Too late I realize I must have spoken my thoughts out. I look up and glancing around, quickly improvise.
Look at the sand pile.
I point to one corner of the play area opposite where we are sitting. He gives me a strange look before his eyes go to the children screaming and jumping on the pile of sand.
Happy to be alive, aren’t they?
I nod in agreement. Are you happy to be alive here with me, I ask him silently taking care not to say that out loud like last time. He is here physically, but is his mind here? I am not sure. Sometimes I even wonder why he continues coming here daily. He hardly says anything to me these days. And then there are the pauses, too long. But then, why I am I here each day, dreading the interminable pauses, but still waiting and hoping for I know not what? I have no answer to that either.
He asks about the book I am reading and I do the same. Topics chosen at random follow. After a while he starts fidgeting. I know the signs. It is time to leave. He stands up, and so do I. My time is up. I don’t ask for an extra moment, not even in jest because I know my place. We walk in silence, to where he has parked his bike.
A radio is playing in some nearby house. It is an old song from the sixties. It is a favorite of ours. I look for his reaction out of the corner of my eye. He seems oblivious to it. He is already in the next world he is moving to. Does he ever think of me when he is there in it? My eyes moisten and I angrily shake my head to stop myself.
See you tomorrow.
Why? I want to ask him, but instead stand mute. He kick-starts his bike and is on his way. I watch him disappear round the corner. Out of sight, but never out of my mind or my heart. I walk home with lead inside me, knowing tomorrow will be no different from the many yesterdays before it. But I am already ticking off the seconds. Some things are hard to change.