He saw her this morning, after almost a year, while crossing a street. Seeing her flooded him with feelings of longing and desire. There was a surprising look in her soft brown eyes when they met his, and she gave him a melancholic smile. He ran that scene over and over in his mind , in the privacy of his distastefully sad and empty apartment in the night, feeling pretty sure that she looked wounded at the sight of him. With a glance, he had managed to notice three things‑ a grey scarf, the one he had gifted her on her 23rd birthday, was folded around her long slender neck, a hideous looking oversized coat was covering her small sticky figure, and she was holding hands with another man. She was poorly dressed but looked pretty. If things had not ended between them on an abrupt note, he would have dragged her to his apartment, away from whomever she was with and would have probably dressed her properly.
The woman he saw was Alva. During the three years that they had been together, he was somewhat in love with her, but he also somewhat found her pitiable. Entering into a mist of her memories, he tried to catch the ghostly spirit of the love they had once shared. When he had met her, she was a 22-year-old gawky-looking woman, working on a meagre salary as a translator in a small firm and he, nearly 30, was doing fairly well as a creative associate in a large advertising agency. Alva despised crowded places; she never agreed to meet him at a public place during rush hours. “Whenever I’m in a place that is hot and stuffed with people, I feel like a lamb who is about to be slaughtered,” she said, looking embarrassed. “I don’t want you to see me unravelling like that.” He squeezed her hand and smiled. He tried comforting that painfully beautiful woman who felt like a scared little lamb. So, he usually saw her either at a cafe (the poorly running ones), or some secluded and abandoned bookstore or even sometimes at her place, when she invited him to come over. It all felt ridiculous, to some extent promiscuous and secretive, but fascinating as well.
Sometimes, he felt like watching her as if she was some study material- worthy enough to be read at least once. Once when they had gone out for a walk, she saw some flowers, and her eyes welled up. When he took her to some museum, her eyes were intently focused as she observed a single painting for an hour. On the way back, she started sobbing on the street, and it worried him, but then she flung her arms around him and said, “Jules, it was so beautiful that it hurts.” Every beautiful thing pained her. She could be theatrical and quiet. There was a drifting quality about her. Whether it was good or bad, he couldn’t figure it out. There was something about her face that gave her the appearance of someone who was easily crushable. He wondered whether it was the paleness in her round and small face with her ears pressed far back, or her open and vulnerable-looking mouth that exposed her fragility. Her eyes were captivating. Emotions floated through them swiftly and brutally. They easily reflected hurt and sadness. So young, yet she was so sad, he thought.
Sometimes, Alva randomly inserted her childhood specifics and got nostalgic while talking about work and even when they were about to have sex. At times, it got him thinking that it might be her way of telling him to be gentle with her, and at times it annoyed the hell out of him. Nevertheless, he could recall some of those specifics. She had six sisters, but they never treated her like one. She didn’t get to grow up with them either. “They have their way of making me feel insignificant,” Alva said, describing her sisters. She received the invitation to her sister’s engagement ceremony on the same day that her sister had her engagement. He accompanied Alva at her request, but it was a boring evening. The food and the people were both cold and bland. No member of her family came to greet Alva. She looked mute and invisible. “I don’t exist for them,” she said plainly.
Once, he saw little faint burn marks on her toes when she removed her black stockings, the ones with little holes in them, which she usually kept on all the time. When Alva was 3, her mum had mistakenly burned her feet with hot steaming water. “Out of guilt, she dumped me with my grumpy grandparents,” Alva said, lying on her back with her legs opened. “As if I was some bag stuffed with discarded things.” He listened while planting soft kisses on her feet, ankles, and inner thighs.
Her granny was bitter and would snap often. Whenever Alva asked for a remote to watch T.V., or mistakenly wet her bed, or even if she forgot her crayons on the floor, her granny would beat her with a thick wooden stick. But she was one feisty, smart little girl, Alva told him while wiping her running nose. She cried a little while discussing her horrible childhood, and whenever she began crying, water started dripping from her upturned nose (it turned red and looked swollen). He glanced at Alva; she looked fragile and babyish. To save herself, Alva sometimes used to hide her granny’s glasses or the stick, or run to her neighbours. But every time she would get caught and beaten. Her granny threatened Alva that she would dump her somewhere, and no one would come looking for her. Her mum deemed it as a necessary disciplinary action when Alva informed her about it.
Alva’s granny once slipped over those crayons. She fell on her back and sprained her ankle. “You might deserve them after all, all those punishments. Don’t you think that, Alva?” her mum said plainly while sitting in a hospital room. Loved ones always disappoint us, he thought.
He remembered going to Alva’s place. It was a dingy apartment where they usually fucked and had conversations about art and literature. Everything there looked like something she had picked up from a thrift store, whether it was her queen-size bed that made a loud creaking sound or her ugly-looking brown boots. He finally sensed Alva’s repulsion to all things pretty and expensive. Did she find him ugly and cheap? Was that the reason she fancied him? He brushed off these thoughts as he delayed his self-loathing sessions until midnight.
There was an old edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and some other titles of D. H. Lawrence which were lying on her desk along with her typewriter (it looked old and majestic in that poor setting). Whenever he visited her place, her table was covered with unpaid phone bills, notices of due rent, and some stationery items. It was always layered thickly with dirt and dust. One afternoon, he saw a punched manuscript lying open in the middle of the table. It was typed in a foreign language. He picked it up and asked Alva, “What’s this?”
Sitting in front of a full-sized mirror, Alva was braiding her long hair. Her hair was copper-coloured. It looked shiny, clean and straight. Hearing him, she turned, and looking at his hands, answered, “It’s a French novella.”
“What’s it about?”
“It’s a literary erotica,” she said, sounding elated. “All the characters in it are depressed, compulsive masturbators, and they psychoanalyze themselves while fornicating.”
It must be the kind of stuff one could beat oneself off to, he thought. She then went to the kitchen, and he heard the clinking of cups and a faint stirring sound. After a few moments, she brought two cups of tea and a plate of biscuits on a tray. Watching her, he cleared the table to make some space. Alva placed the tray gently and he picked up a cup.
“They sound relatable, at least the former part,” he said, looking at her over his cup. “I usually feel depressed after masturbating.”
“Why is that?” she asked.
“It makes me feel lonely. Sometimes even useless, too.”
Her lips parted to say something, but she didn’t. While holding her cup with both her hands, she finally said, “I usually masturbate when I feel depressed.”
“And how often do you feel depressed?” he asked, running his hand over his jaw. He felt a shift in the air. It was electric. Watching her hands trembling a bit, he smiled as he took another sip from his teacup.
“Not so often,” she said, tucking her hair behind her tiny ear. “There is no harm in trying to replace the inner dread umm… with a few brief moments of ecstasy, is there?” she asked, as if looking for his approval. She was cute, he thought.
He shook his head, and looking over her head, he said, “No, but it’s futile… it’s quite stubborn, the feeling of dread, for me at least. No matter how much I want to stroke it away… It doesn’t deter a bit.” Then his eyes slowly lowered over her face. It looked gentle. He saw some pity in her eyes, laced with tenderness, and it pierced him. He thought he would first pounce on her and bite her fairly hard, then tenderly make love to her. It all felt twisted and absurd. He couldn’t decide whether he wanted to break her or pet her. He saw something in her that reminded him of himself, a naivety that ran deep, of not knowing if you are an object of pity for someone or an object worthy of being loved.
Every time he went to Alva’s apartment, it filled him with a strange, uneasy feeling. He feared that if Cecil, whom he had dated when he had newly joined the ad agency (they both were in their mid-twenties), would see him in that area of the city with Alva, she would mock him.
She would slither her tongue sarcastically and comment, “Isn’t she too young for you, Jules? Lowly too, don’t you think?”
His thoughts shifted briefly from his 3-year long love affair with Alva to his brief affair with Cecil, which had only lasted for about a year. Cecil was all flame, blue and white. In his moments of self-loathing, memories of Cecil consumed him. He missed the condescending and mocking tone in which Cecil used to pronounce his name.
She had once said, after straddling him for a few minutes or so, “This is so depressing, Jules. You can’t even fuck properly.” He climaxed only after she had humiliated him (he couldn’t figure out why that was the case). Cecil looked disgusted when she realized it.
She was about to leave him, he instinctively knew it, but he couldn’t have guessed that it would be for Martin, his friend whom Cecil had always found a bit too loud and low for her standards and showed dislike for when he used to hang out with him. Martin was an ad director he worked with and he was also the only close friend he had.
“He’s so crass, Jules,” she said, looking at Martin who was showing off his break-dance moves. He was rather good, Jules thought. The three of them used to go to clubs together and watch foreign films with abstract concepts that they labeled pretentious or revolutionary when they couldn’t make anything out of what they had just seen in the dark, empty hall. After that, they would go out for another round of drinks at some shady local bar and Cecil would dance with her heels on, looking like a vision he could worship. Often, he had meditated on a particular image of hers. The sway of her hips, her arms moving above her head, and the fire in her blue eyes. Everything about her was sexy and unreal. Jules had thought that Cecil would be the woman he could go down on his knees for. But, after Cecil slept with Martin, everything that was beautiful between them became rotten and his heart was filled with misery.
He had, in a drunken state, threatened Cecil that he would kill himself if she left him. She eventually replayed that incident to his mum and even Martin. He found himself in a very embarrassing position. Later, he apologized to Cecil in the presence of his mum. When he saw Martin, he felt ashamed and Martin looked guilty.
“I’m sorry for what happened,” he said to Martin while smoking. “It was crazy… I wasn’t in the right frame of mind, but it won’t happen again,” he reassured him, offering him his half-lit cigarette.
Martin took the cigarette from him and nodded in understanding, looking at Cecil, who was holding blueprints of an advertising campaign.
He went for his daily run, trying to catch memories of Alva. Once,they had gone for a swim at a nearby beach on a weekday and a while after that, Alva felt an unceasing pain and a feeling of fullness in her left ear. She told him a few days later, and he took her to an ENT specialist. He showed him the inside of her outer ear. It was bulging, swollen and red. Fluids were bursting inside it and bacteria had got into it. There was too much moisture in that tiny spoon-shaped ear, and poor Alva had a terrible ear infection from a day of swimming. He bought her the prescribed antibiotics and stayed with her for a week to look after her. “I don’t know what I would do without you,” she said, pressing half of her face against the pillow. “I’ve never received this much love before,” she said as he put the cap of the small bottle containing medicinal ear drops on the side table. He traced her ear gently after dropping some ear drops into it. It looked like a deep, narrowly carved cave. Jules couldn’t stop thinking about how much he needed her to need him. He loved her like one loves a puppy, he thought. Loving her became an oddly comforting thing for him. He knew he could never admit that to Alva as she would feel demeaned (as one is supposed to).
There was a thing about Alva. She fell sick easily and was often nervous; she fumbled over the phone while ordering food and looked fidgety and sweaty on train rides. It was a coincidence that he couldn’t find his car keys one day and had to commute by train. He found himself in the same coach as Alva, and he watched Alva from a distance without making her conscious of his presence. She didn’t look like the Alva he knew; she looked like a version she had once told him about: a scared little lamb. Her eyes looked frightened as if she had accidentally run into a bunch of old bullies and there was no corner left for her to hide her miserable existence from them. For the first time, her fragility terrified Jules, making him feel uncomfortable and in a way helpless too. Why did she have to be so docile? He wanted to ask her. He didn’t as he knew better. He mentioned nothing about that day to Alva when he called her late that night and neither did she, though he thought he heard a faint whisper in Cecil’s voice: “How delicate and timid your girl is, Jules. Quite breakable, isn’t she?”
It had been a few weeks since he last saw Alvaon the street, that too, with another man. So, Jules thought it would be right for him to see other people. He met someone at an ad shoot. She was some model who had come to work for an ad that Jules was supervising. Her name might be Lily or Daisy. He couldn’t recall it. All he saw in her was that she had hair just like Alva’s. When he brought her to his apartment, he kept imagining that the woman who was undressing in front of him was none other than Alva. He knew he no longer had control over his memories; instead, they overpowered him, steering him towards moments that were long frozen in time.
It was just another evening when he was feeling an unexplainable sadness hollowing him out, and Alva was there for him, acting like a comforting pillow. She used to make him forget everything (but not entirely). Still, it was enough for him. She was enough for him. Jules felt a tightness in his entire body as he moved inside her. A warm syrup flowed down Alva’s thighs. Her body was pressed underneath his, twisting like a ball of sweat and heat. Her legs were wrapped around his waist and his eyes were concentrated on that vulnerable-looking mouth of hers. It was making the shape of the letter O. Keeping every stroke measured and slow, he treated her like a fine china cup. Once she pushed her hips against him, only then did he pick up his pace, nearly crushing her with his weight. He could feel the little tremors running under her skin as she gripped him harder, like a perfectly fit glove. Fearing she would turn into the wind and desert him, he buried his face in her hair in anguish. A tear quietly slipped down his eyelids.
The time and his memories both seemed malleable. The faces he saw kept changing from Cecil to Alva, from Alva to Lily/Daisy. His head became heavy, bearing the weight of his past. Shaking his head, Jules blinked his eyes a few times, and after a while, he felt half awake. A woman was lying beside him, on his bed with him. “It’s Lily,” she said when he finally asked her name. He didn’t intend to belittle her or the night they had just spent together. He just wanted to confirm it before she left his place. When she told him her name again, he didn’t hear an ounce of hurt or anger in her voice. It seemed like she was often subjected to such indifference. Her face came into full view before him. So, it was Lily whom he had just slept with. That much was made quite clear to him. Swinging her long legs over her side of the bed, Lily sat upright and turned her back against him. After that, she picked up her pantyhose from the floor. Jules watched the robotic manner in which she moved as her fingers hovered over the hooks of her bra. She didn’t take much time to put on her shirt and jeans. For a few minutes, he stared at her with blank eyes while she was tying the straps of her heels. When her hand reached for the doorknob, he faced the ceiling of his room, directing his gaze towards the lights fitted on it. They flickered for a moment or two and then went off completely.
After his last encounter with Cecil (the one in which Jules had acted like a neurotic person), Jules had visited a club where some male customers were wearing a dog collar and licking the stilettos of the women dancers there. Martin was the one who told him about the club when Jules was still in a relationship with Cecil, and though Jules had laughed it off back then, it had sparked a curiosity in him which sprang forth after he was left all alone. He spent some time in that bizarre place where he passively absorbed the equally bizarre visuals that were playing out before his eyes. Lots of thoughts ran through his mind while he watched all sorts of people engaging in all sorts of deranged sexual acts. Jules imagined these people had an inner life filled with shame. That’s what lured them to such a place, he assumed.
Did he enjoy his visit even for a single moment? He had wondered while making a quick exit from the club. It was right after he saw someone being belted and spat at. Maybe it was a woman, or maybe it was a man. He seemed unsure as images began to blur. It was quite a violent scene that he had witnessed. It left him nauseated and clueless about why Martin had suggested such a club to him. Was his friend mocking him? Did Martin think he would be interested in such a scene? Jules remembered he had once confided in Martin that he enjoyed when Cecil called him names, though he immediately regretted telling him that; it was too personal a detail to be shared with anybody. He felt gutted as he thought of Cecil and Martin sharing a good laugh over it. Every fibre of his being recoiled in shame and self-disgust. He felt truly betrayed and emotionally violated.
Recalling the conversations he had had with Alva, he suddenly missed talking to her. He remembered the alertness in her eyes while he talked and the casual tenderness in her voice while she spoke to him. They had once discussed the notion of niceness, and whether people can be nice just for the sake of it. Their views differed, as far as he could recall. “Don’t you think niceness is an overrated quality?” Jules had asked while applying shampoo on Alva’s scalp. “The nicer people are with me, the more fraudulent they appear to me,” he added while sliding his fingers through her wet hair. “It’s off-putting if you ask me.”
“Do I put you off then?” Alva had asked. She might have felt offended, but she quickly disguised it under a confused look.
“No,” he said quickly. “You’re an exception to that, Al. You’re endearing. Besides, you’ve got a kind nature, you can’t do anything about it. I don’t think you developed it, you just effortlessly had it… I mean niceness.”
Alva hung her head low and fixated her attention on the white tiles of her bathroom floor. It seemed like she was chewing on a thought but was reluctant to spit it out of her head. He wanted to grab her by her hair and tell her to stop overthinking. Instead, after waiting for a few seconds more, he lifted her chin, and she flashed a pained look at him. Then, grazing her hands over his forearms, she said, “I don’t know about the fraudulence of it all… but it feels like a favour when someone is nice to me.”
“It’s because you’ve mostly been treated badly by people.”
“Maybe,” she said, pressing her lips into a sad smile. “That’s why I feel mostly unsafe around people, I guess. The safest I feel is when I’m with you alone.” After taking a short pause, she resumed, “But still, there is a part of me, Jules… that immediately wants to believe in someone’s goodness if they are good to me. I couldn’t think that they might have an agenda behind it.”
He rolled his eyes, and she noticed it.
“I’m aware that I’m quite naïve that way… but I can’t help it.”
He circled his thumb over her nipple, and she let out a sigh. Jules wondered if he wouldn’t be there for Alva, how far would she last in this harsh and mean world, with her frailty and extremely trusting nature.
“One can easily disguise one’s evilness under this garb of niceness. You need to be tougher than this, Al. The sweeter they are with you, the more it will hurt when they actually hurt you.”
“So, should I prepare myself then… to get hurt by you, Jules?” Alva teased in her playful voice. “Because you’re the only person who’s ever been sweet to me.”
“What if I really am a total fraud? What would you do then, Al?”
With a smile, she cupped his face in her slippery, soapy hands. “Jules, you’ve been the only person who has always been nice to me and I want you to know that I know in my heart that you could never hurt me,” said Alva, with such innocence that it nearly broke his heart.
Jules had said nothing. Looking away from her, he stared at the wall. Its plaster was coming off, exposing an ugly red brick. For a long time, he had thought over what Alva had said. There was softness not only in her tone but in her worldview, too. The rosy lens with which Alva saw him made him wonder why God had chosen to make her this way. As he put their conversation in his diary, he thought about how pious she had looked and sounded. If he had any power, he would’ve planted a garden for her and placed her in its center, so that nothing could harm her. She would finally be surrounded with only beauty and innocence. Nothing could terrify her there. Jostling in his bed, in the middle of the night, Jules was gripped with fear. The fear was that life could easily engulf her since they weren’t together anymore.
While sitting in his therapist’s office, Jules felt a strange presence of something which he couldn’t point out. He had discussed with his therapist, in an earlier session, that he had begun to sense some emptiness inside him and his life. This feeling had been churning within him for quite a while now, but it had intensified since he parted ways with Alva. “Even while I’m asleep, I think of her and worry about her. I’ve not necessarily dreamt of her… what I’m trying to do is see how well I remember her,” Jules said. “But I’m not sure any of this is helping me.” He almost broke down while talking. Feeling pathetic, he gathered himself quickly.
“What did you love the most about her?” his therapist asked. Jules looked past him, narrowing his thoughts to the painting hung on the wall facing him. All he could make out in the painting were some varying sizes of hands, which reminded him of a frame of a foreign film he had once watched. All the hands drawn looked delicate and feminine, stroked with different shades of pink and red. There was something intimate about it, something about it felt spiritualistic and sacred.
He recalled that they had attended a dinner and her family was present there. Alva was sitting to his right and holding his hand while keeping her eyes fully closed. She looked like she was in the middle of some prayer, almost in a trance-like state. Her skin was glistening, her entire presence was glistening. Jules tried to place that sensory memory within an appropriate frame, but the more his mind stressed upon that scene, the more gimmicky it appeared to him. All he remembered was that she felt sick and looked exhausted after they both came back to her apartment that night. It was odd because she had barely uttered a word during that dinner. For a moment, he succumbed to telling his therapist about what he actually loved about that woman. But then he didn’t. What could he possibly have said? That she was the kind of woman who easily got sick, frequently felt emotionally tired, and quietly got heartbroken. That was the concept he had formed of her, loved, and in equal parts, come to despise too. What kind of man would fall in love with such a woman? he wondered. It was an unnerving question. He tried to imagine how his therapist would view him if he told him about all this. He would ask, “Do you like weak women?” “Did she make you feel useful?”
That trail of thought pushed him further and further into a deep hole. He had noticed how tightly she would cling to his body whenever they saw each other. She acted like he would evaporate if she did not hold him close to herself. He tried to remember how it felt the last time Alva had looked directly into his eyes and said, “I love you… I love you, Jules.” His eyes had traced her face as Alva smoothed her palm from the back of his neck to his lower back. He felt still for a moment, and so did his heart. Her emotions, as always, were running transparently in her eyes, like a clean, flowing river. Her feelings were completely bare and hit him with a blunt force while his feelings remained disoriented and veiled in confusion. Jules felt irritated, not knowing what to do with her love.
“Jules,” the old man’s voice reached him again, bringing him back to the question he no longer desired to give an answer to.
After weeks and weeks of trying to organize his thoughts and feelings about their relationship, Jules impulsively typed Alva’s number on his phone, but coming to his senses quickly, he backspaced the digits. He instead dialed his mum’s number and told her he was feeling down, though he had recently got a promotion.
“I feel undeserving of every good thing that happens to me. And deep down, I think I carry a sense of shame with me all the time… like I’ve been a bad person and no one else knows that,” Jules said. His voice was breaking down a little. “I feel sick in my head. I feel like there’s something wrong with me.” He pinched his eyebrows together, expecting some kind, soothing words to be showered upon him from the other side of the receiver. But he got none. Silence encircled him, tightening its vicious noose around his lonely self.
His mum sounded quite irritated over the phone when she said, “It’s getting very depressing to get your calls, Jules. I was going to a kitty party, and now you’ve ruined it all. I won’t be able to enjoy it now, will I?” She acted unbothered, as if it had all happened with him earlier too.
“Sorry… I didn’t mean to unburden myself on you.”
“That’s okay,” she said, feeling bad maybe. “You’re still attending your therapy sessions, aren’t you Jules?” she asked, sounding concerned. He was a bit like her. He would feel bad too, about making someone feel bad, but not bad enough to not make them feel bad anymore.
“Yeah, I am,” he lied. He had missed the last three sessions.
“Soon, I hope I don’t get to hear about your poor self-esteem issues anymore,” she said, sounding tired. She cut the phone before he could tell her he was missing her and his dad or even had a chance to ask her if he could come by and see them over the weekend. He couldn’t say anything now, could he? She had ruined it all. He looked at the wedding invite that he had got from Cecil and Martin and threw it into the metal wastebasket.
He saw Alva again, a few days later, this time in a train coach. She was sitting by herself, with a book opened on her lap. She looked healthy, collected, quiet, and thoughtful. He watched her and felt like he was back again in her filthy, small apartment. With her snake-like figure, Alva was lying naked on her back and touching herself. As he stood across from her and watched her, she said, “I feel like you could make me do anything.”
“Are you offering to be my slave?” he asked, rubbing his forehead and feeling suddenly sick.
“Would you want that?” she smiled and got on her knees and hands for him.
The images of Alva and Cecil used to swap and intermingle with each other in his neon-filled dreams. He had envisioned some perverse imagery involving both the women where they were kneeling before him with their hands clasped between their legs, and their mouths opened slightly, waiting to be filled. Alva’s words incited that image. He knew, even in a dream, that he couldn’t fuck Alva’s mouth without feeling like he was debasing her and he couldn’t fuck Cecil’s mouth either without feeling like he was debasing himself. It discomforted him, his conflicted mind, the depth of his depravity, and his inherent inadequacies. All of this reminded him of the French novella which Alva was translating around that time. Jules felt like he was living the life of one of those characters Alva had mentioned to him. He kept psychoanalyzing his sexual life, not arriving at any dignified conclusion about himself.
He couldn’t remember exactly how he had responded, but it was something unpleasant as Alva had quickly covered her body with a rumpled sheet and appeared as if she had been smacked in the face. Maybe he had called her disgusting, weak, and pathetic, and maybe he had finally told her how embarrassed he felt that he loved someone like her. Maybe something far more hurtful that he couldn’t even properly recall now. Her eyes looked like beautifully crushed petals when he had said, “I feel fucked up that I’m in love with you.” After hearing that, Alva curled her knees up to her chin and hid her face in her hands, trying to muffle up her cries. The sound of her sobbing kept him haunted for days. Alva didn’t try to contact him after that episode and neither did he. Not even to offer her a simple apology. He went through his daily routine without feeling conscious. Taking showers, preparing meals for himself, going to his office and driving back home, doing everything on autopilot. It was only when a few months had passed that he mulled over his actions, still feeling dazed and confused; he wasn’t sure if he intended to direct those insults to Alva or to himself. Everything felt obscure and morbid.
With a gliding, sleek movement, the train stopped. Alva got up while he was still reeling from old memories and desires. Her soft eyes fell on him and he lowered his gaze to her lips, then he looked away. They were just one stop away before she would leave, he thought, and took one last look at her. Her scarf seemed too tightly wrapped around her. He instinctively loosened the scarf a little and lightly brushed his knuckles over her neck. Alva breathed out slowly and gripped his arm firmly, steadying herself. With one hand, he grabbed the pole behind her and palmed her elbow with his other hand. He just wanted to absorb her sweet scent and the warmth of her gaze, hoping that would be enough to sustain him. He wished that they could both forget everything and not suffer anymore. If he could freeze time, he would take her in his arms and kiss her and kiss her and kiss her, and never hurt her again. For a moment, it seemed Alva read his mind as she nestled her head just below his chin. He felt her breath on his neck and Jules moved his hand to the small of her back. It was the closest he got to be with her after a very long time, and maybe it was the last favour she gave him. He smiled. Then, her stop came, the doors slid open, and she slipped away swiftly into the odorous crowd.
Nidhi lives in Delhi. She is a short fiction writer, poet, and a deeply anxious person. Through her writing, she tries to explore the idea of love, sexuality, and an unavoidable aspect of loneliness in a romantic relationship. Being a painfully shy person, she finds writing to be a liberating force. She is a blahcksheep as she weaves a world of her own with fierceness and tenderness in equal measure, with no inhibitions. Her Instagram handle is @ jayne_nidhi