She clutched the copper embellished grip of her wooden walking stick and raised her ageing body from the bed. Then, straightening up a bit, she took small steps towards the switch board to turn on the dim lights before heading for the balcony. She sat there on her cane chair and stared into the sprawling lands that overlooked her house. The hour was late and life in the village had almost come to a grinding halt. From this corner she could only see the vast spread of coconut trees and dimly-lit cottages, whose occupiers, she presumed must have been enjoying the tranquility of sleep by now. Above, the sky though blanketed by darkness, looked like a dark fabric ornamented with glittering trinkets. Patricia looked forward to such quite hours every day, especially after she had lost her husband a couple of years ago. She enjoyed the companionable stillness of the wind and the rustling of leaves caused by the movement of nocturnal creatures. Here, she absorbed herself with old memories of people, who at the age of 81, she had almost half-forgotten.
Today, though, she was thinking of him; the grey-eyed boy, whose charms had occupied her heart for more than part of her lifetime. She had only begun visioning him, when she heard someone unbolt the door of her balcony.
“Nana, aren’t you sleeping,” a soft baby-like voice asked from behind the door.
It was her seven-year-old granddaughter Vera, the youngest of her grandchildren, who was here to spend the summers with her.
“Oh dear! I thought I put you to sleep.”
“No. I wasn’t feeling sleepy, so I called out to you, but you weren’t there.”
“Come darling, come and sit on my lap… I shall sing you a lullaby and you will soon go back into dreamland,” Patricia said and stretched her hands to hug the young girl.
“But Nana I want to hear a story.”
“Okay, which one, hmm… let me guess, Goldilocks.”
Vera shook her head in refusal.
“Hmm… Then is it Cinderella or may be Snow White,” Patricia asked again.
“No, no, no nana… I want to hear the story of you and grandpa.”
“Which story my honey pie?”
“The story of how you both first met.”
Patricia smiled bashfully, “Why?”
“Because this is the only story I don’t know… Mama says it was love at first sight, but even she doesn’t know.”
“She never asked me,” Patricia said, dismally.
“Please nana, please, I want to hear the story that none have heard.”
Almost instantaneously, she drew her grandchild closer and lifted her onto her lap and said, “You know what? I was just thinking of the same thing.”
“So go on nana… tell me the story.”
“Yes, but first, you need to see how your grandpa looked when he was younger… when I actually first met him,” she said, sliding her wrinkled fingers into the loose waist pocket of her baggy night dress.
After a little bit of a struggle, she removed a tattered black and white photograph and handed it to her grandchild.
“Hey, that’s grandpa Marshall and you. He looks so handsome.”
“Sure he does, now hold this picture and listen to my story carefully and don’t distract,”
It was the year 1945. I was 15 years and 11 months old, both new to the city and the place I had come to call home. After a long and humid stretch of summer, the heavy grey clouds had finally made their way into the blue matted skyline, pouring in glory and drenching all who lived below it. The rains were so unexpected that I was anything but prepared. The lanes too were empty as nobody dared to compete with the storm. But I walked hastily in knee deep water, towards my building soaked beyond belief. My leather sandals were in a poor state, and my resplendent newly-dyed green cotton dress already looked like it was losing color. I was crying, amused at how the first rains could have possibly caused so much damage to me, when suddenly I noticed him come in my direction. He was walking under a huge black umbrella, unaffected by the weather. I clearly remember what he was wearing that day. He was in a pair of shorts and loose vest. I couldn’t see his face though as the rains had literally watered my vision. As he approached closer, a calming effect embalmed my physical self. He was the only guy on the street, and that only brought some mental relief to me. When we were just arms distance apart, our eyes met and suddenly it felt like I had seen this face before. Not now, probably, once upon a time.
“How nana? How could you feel this way, when you had seen him only for the first time?”
“My child, remember what I told you. Don’t distract me or else I will lose the flow.”
For the brief second that our visions locked, he just felt so familiar. I don’t know, but he looked known. I had never seen him before, yet on seeing him, I had forgotten everything, the heavy rains, my clothes, my sandals… everything. He had the most beautiful pair of eyes I had ever seen, small yet deep. It reflected the warmth of chivalry. He was just so good looking.
And then he spoke… he spoke in a mannish tone that actually contradicted his boyish charm.
“I think you need an umbrella.”
Knots developed inside me. My lips were wet, but my mouth had nearly gone dry. I just couldn’t speak. I was probably a little dazed, lost in the nature of his looks.
“Hello, young woman… step inside the umbrella, you are soaking,” he said again, and brought it forward, so I could enter. I walked in hesitantly.
“You live in the neighbourhood, I suppose,” he asked.
“Well… uhh… yes two buildings from here.”
“I live close by too. I shall drop you below your building,” he said and placed his healing arms on my shoulder blades, before leading me forward.
“You seem very scared.”
I didn’t respond… I was just tongue-tied. My home was few minutes away, but I hoped that this walk never ended. Every now and then our eyes met, but we couldn’t look at each other for longer than a second. When we finally reached, he got his arm off me so that I could enter the large arched entrance of my building.
“Hey, you forgot to introduce yourself?” he said.
“Patricia,” I said.
“Nice meeting you Patricia.”
I had never heard someone take my name so charmingly. My name felt like silk, woven only for him.
“Wow nana that is such a beautiful story. He was like the Prince Charming, who came to Snow White’s rescue.”
“You are distracting me again.”
“But, I thought the story was over…”
“No, it isn’t.”
“May I have the pleasure of knowing your name,” I asked him.
“Phil,” he replied.
“Phil… who is he Nana?”
“Vera, you can’t keep interrupting all the time.”
“Sorry, go on.”
And then suddenly, I heard a boy call out to Phil. He was standing on the other end, completely drenched. Phil’s attention suddenly drifted; he rushed towards him. From a distance I saw both the boys hug, before Phil pulled him inside the umbrella and headed towards my building.
“Hey Patricia, this is my best friend Marshall.”
We both shook hands and smiled.
“And that’s how I met your grand pa.”
“Hmm… it is kinda boring though. Anyway, I think I should go to sleep now…”
“Yes, you should.”
Vera got down from her grandmother’s lap and was heading into the house, when Patricia stopped her.
“Can I have my photograph back? It is all I have of him.”
“Oops!” But before giving it to her grandmother, Vera happened to notice something.
“Hey nana, who is that man, you and grandpa are standing with in the picture.”
“Oh! He is uncle Phil.”
“He too had light grey eyes like grandpa.”
“Yes darling… he too did.”