“She said she didn’t like him that way and jogged away into the sunset, taking all his happiness with her. At least that’s how Nirav used to put it”, said Fayaz, his best friend.
Tarika glared at Fayaz and asked, “This was a long time ago, wasn’t it?”
“Yes but he’s a bit disturbed now because he got a painting from her.”
Tarika didn’t understand what was going on. She placed the teacup down and stared right at Fayaz.
“So, let me get this straight. My husband has been acting odd for more than three weeks because he got a painting. The sender of this painting is a girl he used to like a very long time ago. Is that correct, Fayaz?”
Fayaz nodded in agreement. They both sat in silence and sipped their tea. “This girl is dead?”, she asked again.
“Very much, ma’am”, he said. “That’s why it’s bothering him”, said Fayaz.
A few minutes later, Fayaz let himself out after saying that he had shed light on the matter as much as possible. Tarika thanked him and returned to her study.
A thousand questions were swimming in her head and she made herself another cup of tea to calm down. She was scared but decided not to jump to conclusions until she spoke to her husband.
Nirav had mentioned the girl in question before they got engaged. He said that he liked someone who didn’t like him back.
It gave her the impression that it might’ve been nothing more than a serious crush. So, she didn’t prod the topic further until her little chat with Fayaz this evening.
Tarika sighed and waited for him to get back home. After all, there was no point in asking herself all these questions.
The clock was ticking and as more time passed, Tarika’s fears grew. She decided to call her husband to see if everything was ok.
Nirav picked up the call on the first ring. “What?”, he asked. “Nothing. Cooked your favorite Chinese dish. When will you be home?”, she asked.
She felt her insides freeze with his cold attitude. “I’m almost there. We need to talk”, he said and cut the call.
Tarika’s mind was racing. A few minutes later, she heard the doorbell ring. She rushed to the door and opened it. Nirav gave her a small smile before entering the house.
“Dinner’s ready?”, he asked. “Yeah. I’ll set the table while you freshen up”, she said while closing the door behind her.
This was the first time they had a conversation in three weeks… sort of.
“Maybe Fayaz knocked sense into him. Maybe things will be alright”, she thought as she set the table.
Nirav was back and the ‘Silent Supper’ began. That’s what Tarika called the dinners with her husband.
She was almost sure that they could make great subjects for a painter from the 16th century. A painter who wanted to depict the melancholy and silence that riddled their life.
It had been six months since they tied the knot and her husband never spoke to her unless he was spoken to.
Of course, there were rare occasions when he did speak to her. Like, now, when he wanted to know what was cooking.
There were even times he’d compliment her cooking or her. When they went on dinner dates, he’d always pull out a chair for her before he sat. She thought it was cute but even then, her husband never spoke much to her.
But the casual, formal conversations had trickled down to a steady stream of silence for the past three weeks.
That’s why Tarika had to call Fayaz. She felt tired of getting glares or silence for answers.
Nirav cleared his throat. “This is good. You’re getting better”, he said. Tarika smiled in reply as she didn’t know what to say.
Why was her husband acting normal? Why was he acting as though he didn’t receive a painting from a dead girl he liked a long time ago?
When they were almost done, Nirav cleared his throat. “I’ll help you with the dishes.”
Tarika refused his offer and trotted towards the kitchen. Nirav decided to wait for his wife to come back. His heart was beating and he kept tapping the floor with his feet while he thought how his wife would react to what he was going to say.
Meanwhile, Tarika raced through the chores and left the kitchen. She couldn’t fathom the emotions coursing through her as she made her way to the dining table.
Nirav was still sitting there. Their eyes locked for a brief moment and there was a hesitant pause before he spoke up.
“Tarika, if you’re not too tired, I’d like to talk to you about something”, he said. She immediately pulled out the chair opposite to him and sat on it. “I’m listening”, she said. He gave a slight nod and began talking.
“You teach Art History, right?”
“That is correct.”
“I need your help with something. I want you to interpret a painting.”
Ok, so maybe Fayaz didn’t knock sense into him. Tarika nodded in affirmative and Nirav got up from his chair. He went to their room and came back with a painting.
Tarika’s hands trembled while she took the painting from him. “How did she send you the painting and how did you get it into the house?”, she asked.
“I just snuck it in yesterday when I came home later than usual. I’ll answer your other question when you’ve finished interpreting the painting.”
Tarika examined the still-life painting. It had a lamp and a rosebud sitting in a vase. Some of its petals were unfurled. She could also see a few books scattered beside the vase. The background was dark blue except for the area that had light falling on it.
“It seems to me like the painter might be depicting love with this.”
She turned the painting towards him. His ears perked up and he tilted his head slightly forward. His eyes shone with the intent of fully absorbing what she had to say.
“The lamp is illuminating the rosebud and the books beside it. Also, the rosebud is unfurling its petals. The light is shining but it hasn’t illuminated everything yet. Do you see that?”
“Yes. Go on.”
“It seems the artist is saying that love blooms slowly. This is depicted by the rosebud on its way to reach full bloom. The painting also says that it takes time to know someone well. As you can see, the light hasn’t reached all of the books yet. The lamp which is the source of light is the small crack in the heart that lets love inside. Well, it’s rather subtle but deep. I like it.”
“It’s for you.”
Tarika looked puzzled. “Fayaz told me. Don’t look so puzzled”, he said.
“She made that painting for you.”
“You’re not making things any clearer.”
Nirav gave her the letter that came along with it. “Read this.”
Dear Mrs. Nirav,
I don’t know what your name is. But if you’ve found this letter, it means that you play a significant role in Nirav’s life.
The painting is yours to keep.
The lamp represents love itself. It means Nirav has had another chance at love.
Did you notice how the light takes a while to reach the books and the flower?
This depicts how people take their own sweet time to know each other and fall in love.
In short, it means that you’re the interesting book that has forced him, a voracious reader to light a lamp in his heart.
I call it the Silence of the Lamp because his love isn’t vocal. Nevertheless, it’ll burn beside you, keeping you adequately warm whenever the need arises.
I know this because it kept my heart warm until it stopped beating and hope it’ll be the same way for you.
Tarika looked speechlessly at her husband. It was Nirav’s turn to speak.
“ I picked up this painting three weeks ago from her parent’s place. When I read the letter that came along with it, all those feelings that I’d managed to get rid of came whooshing back again.
After all, it’s never easy to forget someone who’s special to you. That’s why I couldn’t talk to you, or even look into your eyes. I was afraid that you’d see right through the betrayal because that’s how you are. You see through me.
And these feelings of betrayal kept haunting me because I love you. I do. It’s… I like it when you’re around me. It feels right, your presence just feels right. It somehow calms and tames something in me. That’s why I agreed to marry you.”
Nirav was frantic and his voice trembled with guilt and love. He paused and looked at her again.
“It’s also why I agreed to pick up the painting. Didn’t know it was a painting though. She asked me to pick up something she’d left for me when I was ready to love again. I was and am so…I decided to…get her gift.
I’m sorry for being a jerk and not talking about this before. But I want you to know that Arohi is special to me. However, it doesn’t mean that I love you less. You’re both different people and her death is a part of my life and I’ve come to terms with that.
It took me three weeks to sort myself. I know that it’ll take a while for you to process all of this but there’s one thing you should definitely know. You are not competing with a ghost. Like I said earlier, you’re both different people and I respect that.
I asked you to interpret the painting because I wanted to know if you genuinely liked it. Didn’t want to force you to accept the painting or my past. Well, this is what I wanted to talk to you about.
Also, I love you and I’m so sorry that you had to go through so much trouble because of me.”
Tarika took a deep breath while wiping away the tears that streamed down her cheeks. “I need a hug”, she said. “Do you want me to?”, her husband trailed off. “Yeah, I’d like you to”, she said.
“I’m not okay with this letter. Or with her being special to you. I can’t understand any of this now”, she said while he held her.
“I don’t expec—” Tarika stopped him midway. “Go on”, he said.
“But, I promise to work this out with you and understand you better. It’ll take time and when I’ve done that, take me to Arohi’s grave. She’d like it if we offer her flowers, I suppose.”
“Thank you so much”, he said as his eyes became moist with gratitude. He held her tighter and breathed in her scent. After a brief pause, he said, “Yes, she’d like it.”