by Haider Shahbaz

Rain taps on their window. Tip tap, tip tap. She says to him: “Let’s go outside on the balcony”.

“Are you mad? It’s pouring.” he says.

“No, of course I’m not mad. You know I like being in the rain.”

“I think I’m getting a cold. I might head off to bed. Sorry.”

“Oh, it’s okay. Good night.”

She walks out on the balcony and shuts the door behind her.

There is a cold wind, a sad mist, and mammoth clouds pouring incessantly.

He doesn’t remember, she thinks. Her steps are slow, and her shoulders slouched. She feels weary, worn out. She thinks: the first time he hasn’t remembered in nine years. But his forgetting doesn’t even bother her too much. What makes her heart heavy is the burden of ten years of thinking that he was someone she knew he wasn’t. It isn’t his fault, she thinks. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s not that he doesn’t love her. He just can’t possibly remember every time. Can he?

Standing on her balcony, her hands gripped around the railing, she is looking out to the windows on the concrete apartments all around her. She is leaning forward. She likes the rain. She likes some of the clouds too.

Standing there, she feels that she has lost something in the passage of ten years. But she isn’t quite sure what it is. And she isn’t quite sure if she has lost it. For days now, she has gone around with bewildered eyes, asking everybody if they know how she can get it back. Some politely say no, others, perhaps, shrug off the question. Still others sympathize with her and weep with her and even walk with her for a while. But they can’t bear her bewildered eyes. The way they look so naked and depraved and hopeful. The way they are so ready to suffer. They way, often, her eyes gleam with a unique brightness and it charms you, as it seduces you, as it makes you take two steps closer. The way they are so earnest about love. Even after ten years, the way they love with a careless innocence. It’s all there, in her big bewildered eyes. She is rhythm, rhyme, long and short verses that break and lose themselves only to come back to meaning.

And she is with him, he who is prose. But prose that is obsessed with poetry, obsessed with rhythm, obsessed with rhyme, but prose that is never able to break and lose itself only to come back to meaning. He never does that.

But she doesn’t want to think of him right now.

Really, she wants to think about the wetness of the rain, about the sensation of her toes on edge on slippery concrete, about the wet windows displayed around her, about the smell of damp earth, about street lights, and how monotonous they are, how depressingly paced. But she is also thinking about the proximity of innumerable human bodies around her. All so close, in this wet city, so very close to her. She watches them sometimes, behind their windows and curtains, washing dishes, or dancing in the living room, or rolling in their bed on a bright Sunday morning. She even shouts out to some of them on lazy afternoons, and they have conversations across balconies. Right now, she feels the desire to go and kiss all of them. It’s a pulsating desire, not calm; it’s restless in its impossibility. She wants to go kiss the high school teacher walking under his white umbrella, and his obedient student with the square backpack, and the homeless man sprawled on the stoop across the street, and the husband with two daughters and a black briefcase, and his wife, and the black man who boxes in the room across her kitchen window. She wants to run up all these buildings, climb them floor by floor, step by step, and knock on each door, asking them with bewildered eyes if she could kiss them. And why not?

Her first kiss was in sixth grade. In many ways, he was like the man she is with now. He was the tallest kid in sixth grade. Thin and tall. One of those boys who are rushing out of their body and voice to reach puberty. She used to sit right behind him in class. All she remembers is that he had neat handwriting. Each letter separate and standing firm on his white lined notebook. He had glasses even at that age and he used to take them off and wipe them clean all the time. He was the best soccer player in the class due to his impeccably measured free kicks. They had kissed after school, sitting on their classroom benches, once everybody had left. He had approached her just as cautiously as he had lost his reserve when their lips touched. She remembers the sensation of erotic discovery, the sense of possibility that had come with the charge of a first kiss. She remembers the quickening pace of her heart. The way her body was tingled, the way it was swept away. Then it had felt like love will always be so easy, always so fun, always so wild and innocent.

She walks back inside and closes the balcony door shut behind her.

The noise of the rain dies down.

She walks in to her bedroom, and there he is, still reading a book. He looks up and noticing something on her face, he says, “What are you thinking?” He asks honestly so she replies sincerely. She says, “I was thinking, you know, wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could run around in the rain and kiss everyone I can.”

He smiles kindly. He says, “That’s very poetic,” – shaking his head slowly, pondering his words, taking his glasses off – “Isn’t it?”

Even the room feels colder to her after he says that. She knows that he has noticed something on her face but he still doesn’t remember. He doesn’t understand what she’s talking about. But it isn’t his fault, she thinks. He just can’t possibly remember every year. He can’t possibly understand because he can’t break and lose himself only to come back to meaning. Really, it’s nobody’s fault that her heart is breaking over nothing, over his kind statement. Maybe she is asking too much. Everything is how she wants it to be, how it has been for ten years.

Still, somehow, her heart is drowning like the city in the pouring rain.

Ten years have gone away. And she feels like she just aged all of them at once.