IKE AND OVE

To Rochester, for letting me be in love with him, and loving me through it.

No one will ever love you as much as I do. Why isn't love enough?
~ Alice from the movie "Closer"

Sia turned away from the embrace and walked away. A subtle tear formed in her sleep deprived eyes, but the chill wind that came by washed it away. She folded her hands tightly across her chest and took a deep breath, taking in the icy situation. Had this been a movie, the camera would have now zoomed out to show Ryan still standing there, his hands in his pockets, still registering what had happened. Slowly he turns too and walks away. The screen slowly fades to black, leaving the audience to believe that life eventually faded away into normalcy for the both of them.

In reality though, Sia walked into the worst week of her life. How else would you euphemise a 19 year old being told that she had no more than a few months left to live? The diagnosis had gone terribly wrong and her cancer, a rare form that it was, had been detected only in its last stage. The pain and sickness that she had been going through in the past few months had never seemed so severe for her or anyone else for that matter to have even imagined something of this sort.

There was no ideal way to react to something like this. There never had been. Life is but a trick question and she was going to die even before she figured out what the answer was. For someone who grew up watching "A Walk to Remember" as her favourite love story, it just seemed like a pathetic lie right now, meant to mislead innocent, romantic, young girls like her.

Sia came back home from the hospital and dropped herself on the bed. No tears flowed. She simply locked her state in sleep. She believed that when she wakes up, maybe it will all make more sense, she might be a little older with a better idea of how to react to everything. However, it just became a continued wish for a whole week, alternating between unsuccessful medical procedures and feigned sleeping spells. Life had become a futile attempt of deciding between saving time and hoping it would pass soon.

A couple of weeks passed and Ryan hadn't seen Sia, let alone heard from her. The alarming part was that no one else had either. Their last meeting haunted him. It had been a normal walk from far away, and yet being her closest friend, he had seen it coming some time, just not this way. Her strength had broken down, and all those buried feelings had exploded from inside. For an idealist, this had been a rebellion, and her eyes had showed a wounded revolution.

"Love isn't what you feel about a certain person. It is a selfish emotion that arises out of what someone makes you feel about yourself," she had cried out sorely. "It is the drama that comes out of knowing that you felt something strong enough". Her courage had flowed away in the tears and she had asked him if he could hold her. He had complied, held her tight, hoping that somehow it would make her pain go away, the one he had been responsible for.

It was a strangeness both of them were getting used to, telling themselves time and again, as if that would make it right, that it was all normal and the right way to be. It had to be, because there was no one better than him to understand what she felt, and no one but her to see better that he didn't feel the same way about her.

Life gives everyone individual lessons of what love is, and yet it remains a failed class so universal. They both loved each other, a lot. For her though, the security and comfort that she felt being with him meant being in love, while for him, inspite of that shared feeling of proximity and closeness, it wasn't the love he had been looking for. Yet what they shared was special, a relationship the outsiders would hardly understand.

As he sat thinking about it, it came, that call. She sounded distant. A faint rumble of "hi" and she cut the phone. "I am dying", the consequent message read. It is easy to say that things should be spoken face to face, but sometimes it's easier to read them out because that gives an opportunity to emote and register. This time though, he wondered if this was a hyperbole from her dramatic concept of love or just a failed euphemism. Just when he was going to decipher the latter to be only a farfetched idea, she called him up again to tell him of her cancer. She wanted to return and spend the last months in normalcy. She had refused to go through intensive treatment, and the doctors, aware of the futility involved in them at this stage, had agreed.

She returned the next day, with the characteristic smile intact on her tired face. It hardly spread to her eyes though, making them look even more shallow in the dark circles and tearful bags that surrounded them. She hadn't cried, the redness shouted that out to those who knew her. Ryan came by the gate to welcome her. He held her close, cajoled her hair and hoped she didn't see the confused reluctance in his sleep deprived eyes. How the hell was he supposed to react to the situation? As a close friend, and as the one she loved? Whose hands was the situation in, anyway?

As the news of her condition spread, he saw the behaviour change. Inspite of the repetitive begs from her close friends to maintain a normalcy and behave like nothing had happened, everyone, including him, knew that it was a tad bit more complicated than that. People coated sympathy, pity and fear with sugary sweetness, and she hated that. However, right now, even if she knew, she showed no signs of noticing the same, as if she had numbed herself to all these things. She continued to bear a strong painless face, which made Ryan feel even more helpless, knowing how little he could do for her.

What took over though was the fear of losing her for ever. It drove him crazy, and the way she felt for him made it no easier. His conviction that he did not feel the same way about her faltered in the scare. A tiny doubt, that maybe the connection that they shared meant something, began to hurt and haunt him, and the fear of him realising the truth in it much later, when it was too late, made him feel like there was something in this call of destiny.

All of a sudden then, he began to see love in the times he went beyond his usual comfort zone to hold her when she cried over silly things, in the way her eyes seeked answers in his and the ease with which his fingers dialled her number each time his life moved up or down the naturally rocky path. The movies and books, theories and friends had called these idiosyncrasies love for so long, and yet in his practicality and need for perfection, he had refused to believe so.

As he confessed to her his change of mind that night, he received a reaction unexpected. Instead of beaming with happiness, she looked suspicious and a little pained. "I didn't expect you to have a change of heart as soon as you know you were going to lose me, especially after the amount of energy you have spent in convincing me of what you do not feel." She uttered without feeling as he watched stunned.

"This is exactly what I meant when I said that I feared changed relationships. Just give it time Ryan, think it over again, more calmly. You know I understand what you feel and that I do not hold it against you. It doesn't have to, and in fact it must not change just because I am dying." He flinched, she noticed. "Get used to the word Ryan. Facts remain cruel, inspite of the romanticism attached to them. Good night." She gave a half hearted hug and walked away, not once glancing back to see how he would react, because he knows that that would melt her strength. He was just staring back, watching her tiny figure disappear.

He stared into the blank void that remained, before swearing at the sky and going back to his room. Thankfully, there was boiling hot water in the shower. He melted on the floor under, letting the water flow over his head, hoping that the heat would ease out the many knots that prevented clear thinking.

He replayed what had happened several times, hoping to find some hidden signs. It was then that he noticed how much she had matured, calmed down, much beyond her usual self. Maybe being close to death did this to people. But everyone else remained the same, not equipped enough to deal with the situation. There was no ideal way of dealing with death, much less the knowledge of its nearing.

At that moment, he hoped more than ever to hold her and keep her there with him. He felt stupid for not having realized this passion and intensity for so long. The prejudice he had of what he wanted had made him blind towards what they shared. He wished he could change it all. A cruel thought that called this a sign, hurt him.

He came out of his shower and called her. It was late at night, but he knew that she would be up inspite of the effect of the medicines. She sounded like she had expected the call.

He had already reached their meeting place when she arrived. He was standing there restlessly with his back towards her. She stopped and gathered herself before she approached him. He smiled as an attempt to change the blankness that covered her face, but it was all in vain.

"Forgive me for the hurt I have caused you and I am sorry it had to be this way. Yet I feel that nothing has been lost. I have had a wonderful time with you and the late realisation of what it really was does not change the happiness it really contained. I love you Sia, and I want that to remain a constant factor in the days to come." She remained unconvinced. He held her and gently kissed her. The kiss melted into a more passionate one and lingered on as she moved away to reveal a smile, inspite of the tiny tear that flowed down her dried cheek.

The months that followed were right out of a beautiful love story. The new dimension to the relationship did not change the fun they always had, that intimacy they already shared. In fact, a tiny peck here and there and a random whisper of an "I love you" only added to the beauty of their connection. Inspite of the knowledge that every passing moment brought them closer to the end, they remained happy. After all, in all situations it would end someday. The realization made their story an epic in every way, and yet they continued to revel in the simplistic fancy that would melt every heart.

The fear however remained of how soon it will all end, of the lack of time. She showed signs of impatience every once in a while, especially when it came to consummating their relationship. He, however, was nervous, waiting for the perfect time, not knowing what it really was. He believed that somehow, if he could keep it for later, he would be able to keep her for longer.

On one such day, about three months later, they were having a movie and a quiet dinner, when her impatience burst. The fear she had faced so strongly so far, subsided, and she began to cry over her wine. A silent sob turned into a wail, and she held him severely as he tried to console her. He let her cry it all out, coaxing and caressing her as she spoke. Then slowly, he kissed away her tears and pulled her closer. If there was a right time, this was the one.

He lay watching her sleep all night long, as she slept peacefully in his arms, her hair messed up but not her smile. She looked content and happy. As he pushed her hair from her face, a strange thought gripped him. It clenched his guts and he held her tight. It woke her up, and she stared right at his face with a blank expression. Her eyes were bloodshot red. She clasped him tight and he knew that it was no good.

What followed next were swift shots of blurs. He called her parents up and they reached the hospital in the ambulance that was sent immediately. He stood outside as she was admitted with the IVs sticking through her delicate arms and all sorts of medical procedures that took place in a jiffy. He waited there for hours, as the rest of the friends also came in, to be called in and to be able to speak with her.

The wait melted into the news that the end was here. He walked in to speak to her, but words had lost their way. He held her hand as he cried. He sat there as the other friends came in to wish her goodbye. They came in and left, and she remained half-smiling through it all, making him love her and hurt inside more. No miracle took place, and in a few days, she was gone. He never found a way to say it, and never figured if she had read it through his eyes like she always did.

An excruciating guilt remained, the antidote to which he did not know. He couldn't even speak about it to anyone, words had given away. He remained quiet through the days, weeping silently, convinced that it would never be okay. Finally, at the funeral, her mother handed over Sia's diary to him. She had wanted him to have it. Sia's mother hugged him, and gently whispered, "It wasn't your fault." Did she know?

He went to a corner and opened the diary to the last entry. It was made on the last day, just after that night. He remembered her stealing away and writing something for a while. "I know he never loved me, really really liked me maybe, hopefully, but not loved. I don't hold it against him. I will always love him for going this step further. I hope he will forgive me for holding on nevertheless, selfishly revelling in his arms, loving him, convincing myself that maybe, just maybe, it had been enough." He kept the diary down and wailed. Maybe there were no rights in this world.