It was dinner time at the Jones’ 7th floor apartment at Sixth Avenue. As had become a routine in recent times, Alph was preparing to set out the dinner table with a tired smile on this face, as Ronnie, his wife of 20 years looked on. The day at work had worn him out, but he was glad he was back home, to his beloved wife, who he loved coming back to, at the end of a long work day. Of late, she waited for him at the door every day, at the stroke of 6 in the evening and that made Alph want to come home on time, every day.
The Jones’ were blessed with each other’s companionship, with each one finding in the other, peace in times of conflicts, solace at times of distress, a mentor to motivate and guide, a friend who listened & cared, and above all, a soul mate who understood silence as much as words, loved deeply and trusted unconditionally. But unfortunately there were not blessed enough to have kids. Much as Ronnie would have loved to have them and much as Alph would have loved to see them running around the house, the kids were not to be. The initial disappointment of not being able to bear a child, had eventually given way to acceptance, then a state of inevitable normalcy and later on to a sense of realization, bordering at times on a blessed state of awakening, that no one else perhaps deserved to share, what had become ‘their life’. Just their life.
Alph walked up to Ronnie who was already seated at the dinner table and gently kissed her forehead. He then stood by her side, staring at her.
“What do you see in my eyes, Hon” asked Ronnie, after a brief silence, as Alph kept staring into her eyes, like one stares into the eyes of a newly-wed bride.
“I see a pure reflection of myself, my dear” said Alph “But I wonder why I feel so good when I see myself in your eyes!”
“Well, that is easy, Honey. It is so, because you are seeing yourself through my eyes. And my eyes only reflect the beauty in you” Ron said with a smirk, implying that she only reflected his ‘good’ side.
“Ha ha. Only? Right, Only. A fair statement, that” said Alph in a tone that suggested he understood exactly what she implied. After all these years, he could not have known his wife any better.
“Yes, it is only fair, Honey, that what you see is what my eyes show you. My eyes filter out the dark side of you, you see” she said, with a wink.
“Ha! Of course, Of course” said Alph. “Do you remember several years ago, when we first met? It was your eyes that got me attracted to you” said Alph.
“Just the eyes, huh?” said Ronnie with a playful frown.
“Well, yes, it was just the eyes, to begin with, dear. Those lovely, mesmerizing eyes. But it was so magical, that moment! When words and all else, seemed so unimportant. A moment that was to be cherished forever. And so here I am, 20 years on, still fondly remembering that moment”
“Why don’t I recall any one such attribute of yours, then, Mr. Jones? What was it, I wonder, that I found appealing in you? Does it simply mean that you just got a better deal?” exclaimed Ronnie in her inimitable tone.
“Quite possible, dear” now it was Alph’s turn to wink.
“I am sure there were far better looking men than you. I perhaps did not spend enough time looking beyond you. Lucky you. Unlucky me! But it is never too late, you see. I am still young and capable of attracting handsome young men” said Ron, teasing her husband.
“Sure, Why don’t you give it a go then, baby?” said Alph
“Where are my brittles, by the way?” asked Ronnie, as her eyes fell on the empty jar that usually houses the brittles, on the shelf just below the TV in their living cum dining room.
“Ah! There you go” said Alph with a sigh.
“But where are my brittles? Did you eat them up again?” asked Ronnie now in a somewhat irritated tone.
“Nay Dear, Not this time. Remember we served them to the O’Brien’s last evening? said Alph.
“Ha! The honorable O’Brien’s! Right. ‘You’ served them, Mr. Jones. Not me” Ronnie sighed. “Makes me wonder why they had to arrive unannounced during our dinner time. That was so very thoughtless, wasn’t it?” said Ronnie. “And if they had to anyway arrive like that, they could have done themselves better, by buying some brittles rather than the so out-of-fashion Ferrer Rochers”
“Well, Well…. Dinner is ready, Darling” said Alph in a tired tone.
“When was the last time we went hiking, Alphie?” asked Ron after a brief pause “Don’t you think it is time to go again?”
“For now, why don’t we finish our dinner, baby?” said Alph in an indifferent tone.
“Oh yes. Let’s eat. Lucky me, that I should have such a lovely husband. Who makes dinner so delicious every day. Lucky me, indeed” exclaimed Ronnie.
“Today’s menu is only Soup and Garlic bread though, dear. Nothing extravagant. But yes, we have apple pudding after that”
“I have you, my love, for company. And that completes my dinner. What more does one need in life anyway?
They had a quiet dinner with Alph feeding her the first bite himself, as he so often did these days. Their bonding had only grown stronger over the years and especially lately with Alph getting to spend a lot more time at home.
“Would you have rather married Rachel, Mr. Jones, as your mother so desperately wanted?” Ron shot an out-of-the-blue question at Alph, as was so typical of her.
Alph let out a “Aah, there you go again ” in a tone of resignation, as he began to clear the dishes from the table.
Ron went on “Just imagine. A blue eyed blonde with absurd idiosynchracies & disheveled hair walking hand-in-hand with a meticulous and discipline-crazy gentleman would have been a pretty sight. Even God would have let out a laugh”
“But you know she had lovely long hair and half the college swore by her unconventional methods” Alph said teasing her.
“Right. I can see that you were secretly adoring her too, Mr. Jones”
Alph looked at her smiling, as he served dessert “Here’s the apple pudding, Ma’am!! But let me warn you – this is a new recipe from the TV show. So you know whom to blame, if it is not up to the mark”
“You would have been forced to start your day with 2 scoops of chocolate ice cream and end it with a bowl of cornflakes and fruits and nuts!” Ron said still talking about Rachel.
“Try it and let me know, hon” said Alph pointing to the apple pudding.
“Thank your stars you did not get tied to her. The marriage would have been a disaster. It would have either ended abruptly with you ending up at the asylum for mental retardation or led to you guys being branded social outcasts for your preposterous mannerisms. Imagine walking into a birthday party and asking for an Oats & Quinoa cake. Ha” Ron let out a deliberate loud laugh.
Rachel was the only daughter of Alph’s mother’s close friend. Her dad was an extremely rich local businessman and rumor had it that his residential property alone was worth over two billion dollars. He owned four villas in the most expensive locations of the island and two private yachts off Sentosa. Alph’s mother had laid out plans of getting him married to her, secretly hoping that she would then get to live in one of their palatial Sentosa properties and sail in the yacht. Ronnie brought up Rachel every now and then to tease her husband and also to hear him say he could never have married anyone else.
“How is the pudding hon” Alph insisted, with a smile on his face.
“Great, except that it may be been a few hours early, as per the Rachel Diet Chart. This would have been the first thing to have in the morning” she retorted.
They finished dinner and sat there in silence sipping green tea. There was this thing about silence that Alph had lately discovered and found to be very discomforting. Silence showed up promptly in situations when you did not need it, just as one sought it in utter noise, and perhaps in a more telling manner. It was at such times that, Alph had discovered, silence could be a crude reminder of reality, of what you did not want to be reminded about. He was beginning to learn that the more you shooed it away, the more it lingered on. The trick was to make friends with it and allow it to let you speak.
Alph made an effort to finally break it. “You know Hon” he said. ” I could never have married her”
“Well, to be honest with you, she had a bottom far too big for my liking”
“What” she exclaimed, shocked at what she had heard. “You never mentioned to me that you married me because my bottom was to your liking, Mr. Jones, whatever that means. Where on earth did that come from?”
They looked at each other and burst out laughing.
Alph held her hand and kissed it gently as he whispered ” I have got to get to work now, hon. I have over a 100 pages to clear tonight. I will be right back with my laptop”
Alph came back with the laptop, as Ron sat there looking at the life size wedding photograph of theirs, on the wall, opposite to where they sat.
“All these years haven’t changed you much, Alphie. Look at you!” She said pointing to the photograph.
The photograph was taken 20 years ago, at the time of their wedding.
“Barring a little bumpy speed-breaker at the tummy” she continued with a laugh.
“Yeah” said Alph ” and barring a few grey strands of hair adorning the beautiful woman by my side!
As had become a daily routine, Ron quietly sat down next to her hubby, watching him edit pages of copyright material & fell asleep before long, resting on his shoulder.
Peace lies in the knowing that you are safe and secure in the warmth of a loved one beside you, not so much in the mere existence of a dwelling place.
An hour later, Alph woke her up and said “think you should go in now and sleep, hon”
Ron answered half asleep “are you done yet”
“No baby, I have only barely started” he said “I might easily take a couple of hours ”
“Ok take me in then Alphie” said Ron. “But will you be ok by yourself?”
Truth was: he dreaded to be alone at this hour of the night. Several disconcerting thoughts hurled themselves at him. Besides, he was exhausted, worn out after another hectic day and more so at the thought of the long night that lay ahead of him. But he had no choice since he had committed to work that had to be delivered by Monday morning. And he could not let Ronnie sleep in that position through the night, for his sake. He knew she needed to sleep more than he did.
“Most certainly hon” he said, as he got up to do what had become to him, the most burdensome task ever. That of pushing along, his beloved wife of 20 years, his love, one who had yielded purpose to his life, one who stood by him at all times, now couched helplessly on the wheelchair, into their bedroom.
Divinity puts you through a test more severe than the severest you have known, just when you feel you are strong enough to face up to any adversity, exposing your vulnerability once again, breaking your faith shackles once again.
It had occurred exactly three months ago. The accident. It had completely shattered the Jones’: emotionally & financially. Just at a time, when the Jones’ had begun to believe that life could not get any better. Alph had been promoted recently as a Senior Manager with a well deserved raise and they had had dinner by the riverside to celebrate.
A drunken middle aged woman in a Ferrari had lost control at high speed, failed to brake at the red light & rammed into Ronnie, while they were crossing the road on that fateful Friday night after dinner & dragged her for atleast another 100 m before stopping. She had suffered multiple fractures in her hip and legs & remained unconscious for 15 days thereafter. She was declared paralyzed hip down. A month and a half later, when she was discharged on a wheelchair, the doctors gave her a remote chance of being able to walk again, even with support. She was advised six months of intense physiotherapy.
Alph had to go on unpaid leave. His savings were wiped out in no time and he had to borrow money to pay Ronnie’s medical bills including the wheelchair & the intense physiotherapy sessions. Once Ronnie was home, he had to hire a maid during the weekdays to take care of her. He got himself an easy paced job in an accountants office that let him go at 5 pm sharp every day. Of course that meant a lower pay than what he was used to, even without the recent raise he had got on promotion, but at least he reached home on time to be with Ronnie. He took up an additional job of a copyrighter, editing and re-editing thousands of pages of text at night to cater to the medical bills, when Ronnie slept. On weekends, he happily helped his wife with her entire routine and even cooked for her. That also meant he saved two days of wages that would have been otherwise paid to the maid. Life had become extremely hectic and emotionally Alph felt drained.
During the first check up, after a month of physiotherapy, the doctor had remarked that there was ‘very, very slow progress’! Ronnie had begun to sulk after what the doctor had said. To her it almost meant loss of hope. Alph realized it was up to him now to keep her in good spirits. He started buying her little things everyday – things she liked such as brittles, butter cookies, m&m candies. He watched movies with her, sang Beatles numbers for her and watched her favorite soccer team Arsenal win. He did anything & everything possible to keep her spirits up. Ron too then began to look forward to these little things, that actually became big events in her otherwise morose daily life. So much so that she would get extremely irritated, when she was denied any of it, for whatever reason.
One Monday morning, as she watched Alph getting ready to go to work by her bedside, she suddenly noticed how much weight he had lost. His face looked scrawny with his cheeks sucked in as if he had not eaten for days. The figure that stood before her was a much toned down version of the Alph she had known all these years. She was struck by his pale demeanor that conveyed to her a deep sense of sorrow. Not just that, she was also struck by the realization of a sense of loneliness that seemed to have engulfed Alph. In the process of yielding her the moral strength to wade through this period of distress, his own morale seemed to have taken a beating. In the process of yielding her a shoulder to cry her woes on in her time of utmost distress, he had all of a sudden, himself lost a companion to shares his own distress with.
It suddenly occurred to Ron what Alph must be going through. She never left him alone thereafter, even when he was working on his laptop & she did not understand a thing of what he was doing. She realized she had to take responsibility for Alph’s health and his state of mind. She had to make him feel better. And she had to get better, for his sake. Or at least appear so.
The realization that here was something she ought to work for, for the sake of her beloved, energized her. She started to paint. She painted a picture of a happy home with kids running all around, another one where the two of them go hiking, up the Himalayas. She named the first “In Dreams, Until Reality” and the second “To be, Will be”
Alph was touched by her paintings and wanted to cry. They looked to him, as Ron’s dreams presented on a canvas, begging for life, for realization.
At the same time, Alph was glad Ron had started to paint – at least she had gathered herself to keep her mind fruitfully occupied and importantly, distanced from the daily pain of reality.
She presented Alph on his birthday, with a beautiful painting of him playing the guitar and singing on big stage, with her sitting in the front row and cheering. Something that was once Alph’s dream. She called it “The real side of me”, signed Alph at the bottom.
Alph loved it and bought her a life like 6 ft X 12 ft white canvas to paint on, as a return gift, which brought tears to her eyes. The bigger canvas meant a bigger avenue to paint her dreams on and that gave her a greater sense of hope that her dreams would be indeed realized one day.
Back in his living room, Alph now sat down to complete his latest assignment about a soon-to-launch wellness company. It was well past midnight and he could no longer concentrate on his work. He shuddered at the thought of the following morning’s appointment with the Orthopedic, at the end of two months of therapy. He walked out to the balcony and stood there, staring at the sky in a resigned state of mind. He had no idea if she would make it, especially after what the doctor had hinted at, during the previous checkup. Besides, even now after two full months of the therapy, she could barely walk. He feared the worst at times when he was alone.
At the same time, he had no idea how he would service the ever increasing loans he had contracted. He had taken personal loans from two banks and a local money lender. The money lender charged him twice the interest the banks did, but he had had no choice. His body threatened to collapse at times, burdened by these thoughts and compounded by lack of proper rest and sleep.
But he knew he had to pull along. He had to drag the precious wagon along the rough terrain, inch by inch, fuelled by hope that easier, smoother roads were ahead. For Ron’s sake. For their sake.
He began to re-assure himself that she would recover and get back on her feet one day, hopefully not very far-off. She would be able to walk again and he would then make sure that all her dreams were fulfilled. They would indeed go hiking, up the Himalayas and get to the Kanchenjunga ranges. He started to believe in his mind, that this would indeed happen. And he would wait for that day, whatever time it took.
As he stood in the balcony, all of a sudden, he noticed how beautiful the night sky was, with thousands of bright stars adorning it. The crescent moon shone enough to spray a blanket of light, dispelling any darkness that lay on its path. The erstwhile still trees in front of his apartment had started to sway gently, as a cool breeze was now blowing, caressing his face. He felt a sensation down his spine and it was then that he heard an inner voice, from deep within his heart, speak:
“Hang in there, Alph! The divine force is only testing you and your love. The test that man is put through is a continuous process, a process of re-setting the finish line, just as you reach one. This resetting continues until you have reached the ultimate goal that you are meant to reach. Every hurdle has a purpose, has a lesson, which strengthens you on the path. Every hurdle that you overcome will ensure you have grown, you have expanded. Your ability is not just what you limit it to, but much, much beyond your imagination. The force thus guides you one step at a time, one hurdle at a time to make you realize your true abilities. The key is to trust it unconditionally. So let go, let you be guided, let you be led”
The moment was magical and Alph went to sleep peacefully that night.
He woke up the next morning with a renewed sense of hope and energy. When he looked at the first rays of the morning sun, through the dark curtains of his bedroom window, he knew that the divine was on his side.
Faith, fuelled by the voice the night before, kept him going. His love for her, magically merging with her own new found love for life, manifested through her paintings, kept her going.
And so, life carried on.