Red Is the Colour Of Love (And Blood)
For Valentine’s Day we commissioned a love story, but asked for it to not be ‘typical’. Asha initially sent us flash-fiction, which we normally don’t publish, but loved the story so much we decided to go ahead with it. She asked us for a few days to flesh it out and make it longer, but in our heads, we didn’t know how she could improve it, it was already perfect. Yet we gave her the go-ahead, and such is her brilliance that when we got it back, we were amazed at what she had done with it. In the story, a young girl gets married and moves abroad with her husband, and as their tender love story unfolds, you also fall in love with them. The story then takes a turn in a most unexpected way, jolting you out of your senses, making you even shed a tear or two, leaving you to value and understand the power of love.
It is Valentine’s Day and here I am, pouring my heart out to you.
Remember the day we first met? At the coffee shop with all those blinding lights and loud colours? I remember those couples huddled in hushed conversations, flowery promises of love pledged for eternity floating in the air, when it was unlikely to last beyond the dazzle of the evening.
Among all the pointy heels and painted faces, there I was in my rebellious kurti and jeans, pinpricking the festive bubble. I loved coming here – my pencil had lost its length and my pages had archived my numerous trips. I liked blending into the noise, slipping into my anonymous artist avatar, getting lost among the sea of faces.
I chose my usual seat this time too – the corner one behind the pillar, a snug spot with a good view of the cafe.
I began as usual; selecting a subject, tracing their contours, my mind capturing their emotions, spinning a story of its own. I am usually lost in myself by now, oblivious to everything around me, but I noticed you. Almost filmy style.
The door opened suddenly and you walked in like a gush of wind, raindrops glittering in your face and hair. I pride myself on my focus and yet I was distracted. The tilt of your head, the softening of your features as you began to smile and that relaxing stride. It cut through my consciousness as you made your way towards me. I was stunned and then it hit me.
You were heading for the empty chair next to me. Was this really happening? You sat down and made an offhand comment about my sketch. My mouth stretched into a tight smile. I did not realise consciously but a verbal sparring bout was on. You had caught me unaware with that comment and I was reeling from it. There was no time to analyse, I had to bounce back. You were asking me questions, expecting answers. My mind was processing random emotions, my brain on high alert, flinging out retorts. I went with the flow for a while and then there was a slight shift. The boxing duel had transformed into a smooth boat ride, gentle nudging statements that prompted responses, calming me down. We settled into our seats, relaxing a little – a thread of understanding – binding us as the evening wore on.
Little did I know that you had been sent by my parents to win me over! You had been warned how I detested arranged matches and had chosen an undercover approach. I had read about guerrilla warfare, taking the enemy by surprise. You put it into action.
Well, it worked. We kept on chatting. I was so used to observing people, recording experiences, that I often felt like a fraud dealing in second-hand emotions. Perhaps I had been a loner with my drawing book for too long. But not anymore. As my sketchbook closed on itself, it had let loose the swirly, heavy rush of emotions. Is this what they called “being swept off your feet”?
I was comparing us with the others. We seemed like those couples and yet we weren’t. They had flowers or presents on their tables. On ours we had something more precious – moments crystallising into memories, a connection made.
Our parents were waiting to hear the result of our “meeting” and were overjoyed. Yours had waited long enough. They were getting weary of their son dodging the “marriage” word till now. My parents were happy that their daughter was spared life as a spinster. They had all been patient and were waiting to go out all out with THE BIG INDIAN WEDDING.
I preferred a quiet one. A registry office wedding perhaps. You wanted the same. Years of living abroad had given you a sense of detachment. You had developed a love for subtlety – a dislike for anything over the top. But we felt guilty of spoiling it for our families and decided to play along – two of us pitted against the world, putting us through elaborate rituals. A shared mission that brought us closer.
It was when our families were busy planning what they thought was the wedding of the century, that you began working on me- dropping hints of your life abroad, of how it could be quiet when compared to the chaos of my home. Was I ready for it? I had never lived away from my family; would I cope?
Initially it felt good, the fuss, but then it started getting on my nerves. What was the point in bringing it all up? I thought you were being clever, covering all bases so that you could say I told you so later.
But that is how you were. You always planned things ahead, while I just went with the flow. You liked to be prepared whereas I was too impulsive to care. You had built a life, away from your family. I never had and the enormity of the decision did not strike me at all. I was too busy falling in love with you.
What makes people give up their secure lives and plunge into the unknown? I often wondered. But in my case, it was simple. It was you. What I was giving up seemed like a lot less to what I was getting- a life with you. I do not know where that conviction come from.
Thinking back, how naïve I was to leave my home and country behind for you – someone I hardly knew. I had heard of so many horror stories of girls discovering shocking revelations leading to bitter divorces. I was making the same mistakes that those girls did – agreeing to marry someone within a few days.
You often joked later, “what if I had been a psychopath or an abusive jerk?” I would laugh and say that maybe I still had to find that out!
We soon set down to a new life. You were tackling a new assignment and I a new life in a new place. I had a lot to contend with; my heat-weathered body was not used to the cold snap. No matter how many layers I put on, I still felt chilled to the bone.
I was still getting used to a quiet house with only solitude for company. It did have a good view though – overlooking the fields. When you had mentioned it before, my mind conjured up a picturesque, romantic setting. The artist in me even enjoyed the view for a couple of days. But soon the citygirl mind-set took over; the house lacked life. Back home, I only had to open the balcony door of my second floor apartment and there it was – life spilling out to the streets in its myriad hues, the public and space moving in a noisy, harmonious rhythm.
Here the houses were very secretive and space seemed overwhelming – the driveways, the quiet houses and their backyards. It was only the occasional vehicles driving in and out of the cul-de-sac that showed signs of inhabitation. When I told you this in the evening, you said, “People value their space. You will realise its importance too.” You saw my folded arms and unconvinced gaze and said “Give it time.”
You felt that way too in the beginning, you said. But you and I are so different. You first grew accustomed to this setting and then decided that you liked it; I was thrust into it. It felt like a beautiful gilded cage with a fantastic view and restricted movement. The artist in me was dying to fly out.
The tedious task of building a life with its mundane chores was hitting me hard. My pencils and sketchbook were languishing in my suitcase in the absence of any faces to copy. I wanted to taste this new life in its flavour, capture it in my sketch book.
These were the moments when it felt like the rose tinted glasses were falling off, along with my skin. It hurt.
You came up with a solution. One evening when you got back from work, you entered with a bright smile. You had found a café in town. A beautiful, cosy place just like the one I liked back home. You could drop me off on way to work and I could get the bus back. Simple.
It was a complete disaster. After you dropped me off, I walked into the café you were raving about. I was used to a bustling place, not this deadly quiet one with hardly enough customers to occupy its chairs. Perhaps it was the time, I reasoned with myself. I settled in, hoping to get going. But the random stares in my direction were unnerving. I was used to being invisible. The stares were burning into me. I soon got up and made my way out. Maybe I should try the bench in the middle of the shopping centre next time I told myself, and headed for the bus stop. Recalling that it was a ten-minute ride back home, I got into the bus.
“Can I have a ticket to Whitvick Road bus stop please?”
“White-week Road bus stop.”
I remembered the spelling correctly. Should I write it down to him? Why is he not getting it? I could feel irate passengers behind me, shuffling their feet.
“White-week Road bus stop.” I said slowly, my voice came out like a croak.
“Ah, you mean Whitwick Road.”
“Yes, correct,” furiously nodding my head.
I was feeling hot all over. The bloody immigrant, they must be thinking. I snaked my way to the furthermost seat. I did not care that I would have to wade through them all in the next ten minutes to get to the door. Out of the window, I saw the icy paths disappearing under the gaze of the wintry sunshine. How lucky they were to be able to melt into nothingness.
When I got off, my mind was made up. That was it. I was never going back. I relived the whole incident in my head again and again, that horrible feeling making me squirm each time. I was the invisible face that captured emotions and not the diva who thrived on them. I was not putting myself through it again. Nothing would make me change my mind.
You heard me out, made me recount the whole thing, every detail. And you said, “Go back the next day. Take the bus to town and back.”
“You are mad.”
Turns out I was. For that is what I did the next day. And funnily enough this time, I managed the ride smoothly. I even spotted a bench in the city centre and found good subjects for my sketchbook.
You had said, “meet it head-on.” That was the only way.
And then there was this time at the art supplies store. I had found one further away from home and had gone to pick up some paints. I picked up what I needed and walked to the till. A woman looked at me and said,
“Here you are, let me put them through the till.” And she brought out a basket full of random stuff.
It threw me off. “I am sorry, but I want these. Not that stuff.”
“What? Are you sure? You said you wanted these and went back for something.”
A lady’s voice behind me said, “That is mine.”
I turned around and saw a Chinese lady, with similar hair and height behind me.
“I am sorry. You look so similar,” said the lady at the till.
What? No. Different countries, different features. You need glasses, woman.
But all I managed was a smile and an “It’s ok.”
When I told you in the evening you said, “What an Ignorant woman. You should have pointed out how wrong she was. Give it back to her, but with humour.“
A smile, some humour can go a long way, you would say. And I could see why.
Once, I wanted to surprise you with a home-cooked meal. Instead, I ended up burning the chapatis and the subzi, setting off the fire alarm. I was beginning to panic, not knowing how to fix it, when you walked in. The house was full of smoke and you quickly opened the windows to let it out. With a twinkle in your eye, you said, “at least I got here before the fire brigade did.“ I relaxed. You had a way of taking the edge of things.
Valentine’s Day will always be special for us. The day we first met. How quickly the year had sped by. I wanted to keep it simple with a take-out and maybe a movie. But you were adamant. You wanted to make this one memorable.
You had a habit of leaving notes for me to find after you left for work. You knew how lonely I felt in the house. It worked well. It filled me with a nice feeling – of love and happiness.
That morning, you left behind a note. “Romantic dinner date at a posh place. Be ready at seven.”
I had just finished checking myself in the mirror when the phone pinged. Running late. I was annoyed. You always moaned when I made you wait.
Soon after, the doorbell rang and I rushed to open, ready to shoot off a mouthful, a tirade of words to counter your late arrival.
Two uniformed officers with their hats in their hands looked up solemnly.
What they said didn’t make sense and yet it did.
You were picking up flowers for me, when a gunman had barged into the shop shouting, “Go home!” Random shots flew through the air. He got you first but you did not go down without a fight.
You had a red rose in your hand. You held it out to him before you fell. The gun wobbled a bit and then tumbled out of his hands. No one else was hurt.
If red is the colour of blood, it is also the colour of love, you often said.
The gesture and your death was the talk of the media. Statistics and similar incidents became talking points. I was snowed under with calls from people who had lost loved ones, groups who wanted me to come and speak to their members.
I had always hated the public attention but now was shoved into it. I had a choice. I could wallow in my grief – which I did for a while – or channel it into something meaningful.
I was lucky. A support group helped to piece together a shattered me and get back on my feet. We have been meeting ever since and often carry out campaigns.
This one was my idea. It is Valentine’s Day today and we will be standing on the market square with a bunch of flowers.
We will be approaching strangers with roses and the words, “Say No to hate.”
Meet it head on. That is the only way.
With your words inside me, I can.
Storyteller, Mum, creative soul. Asha loves working with words, scrap material, food ingredients - any chance to create something new. She started off as a journalist but now she writes short stories and flash fiction. She is deeply interested in Indian English writing and commonwealth literature. When she is not in front of the computer, you will find her huffing and puffing down country roads hoping to improve her time. Read her blog here.
Read her posts here.