Two knocks. Just the two, on my window… they woke me up. The clock on my bed-side table showed 2:25AM.
“Who can it be at this hour?” I wondered, as I got up and went to the window.
The world outside was dark. A steady drizzle enveloped it, and even the crickets seemed to have gone to sleep. As the moon came out from behind the clouds, a tearful, wet face greeted me.
“It can’t be,” I told myself and took a few steps back. And she knocked again… just the two knocks.
I hurried to the door and opened it, and found her there, a long shirt soaked and clinging to her bosom, and nothing else. I pulled her inside, and closed the door.
My heart wept as I read that letter over and over again. The ring was next to it. It was unlike me to be emotional, but tears fell on to the sheet, and the ink of her name dimmed.
“Why? Why today of all days, Kate? We were few hours away from being married. Couldn’t we have solved any problems that came our way?” I said aloud, to no one. I turned around to see Dan and David there, my best men. They stood silently, knowing nothing would calm me immediately.
As the days passed, she became closer to me. Her memories made it so. Dan, seeing me sad tried his best to cheer me up. He set me up on blind dates to try and help me move on from Kate, and it seemed to work. The memories were blurring, and I was beginning to be the old Jeff again.
Five months had elapsed, and I was dating Dan’s sister. My life was almost back on track, and I’d moved on… till those two knocks on the window.
She sat on the couch, her knees to her chest and her hands holding them tightly. I watched her from the kitchen, as she murmured to herself. She was looking very lost and dazed. There were cuts on the tips of her toes, and her wrists were covered in angry red welts.
When I took the hot chocolate to her, she shook her head no, and held herself tighter. I reached for her hands, and gently prised them away from her knees. I took my blanket and covered her nakedness, and held her close. She didn’t object, which was a good sign.
My mobile beeped with a new message. “Fire at Dan and David’s… come ASAP. – Julia”
“I’ve to go. Dan’s in trouble, fire at his place,” I told Kate. “You stay here. Get some sleep. We’ll talk in the morning.”
She reached out and held my wrist, and began to cry. I sat down and tried to console her.
“Jeff, please don’t go. Listen to me. I know that house is on fire.”
I was shocked.
“I never wanted to leave you, Jeff. On the night of our wedding, Dan came to my room. The other guy was with him. He tied me up, and abused me that night. The other guy took snaps, and threatened that if I didn’t write that note and go with them, they’d show them to everyone during the wedding. I was left without a choice.”
“You could have run, come to my room and told me,” I said to her.
“Dan told he had drugged you so you wouldn’t wake up. And the other guy was blocking the door. Being caught would’ve humiliated you more. They took me to their place, and tied me up to a bed. Not a day has passed that they haven’t abused me. Sometimes, they’d invite other guys too. When you’d come to their place, they’d make me unconscious so I’d not call out to you. Dan set you up with Julia so you’d forget about me soon.”
I was dazed with taking all that information at one go.
“How’d you escape tonight?”
“The power had gone, but they pulled me downstairs, where they had lit candles. They were too drunk, and had some argument. They broke the alcohol bottles, and threatened to hurt me, and then each other. In the commotion, a candle fell, and the fire began to spread. They tried to run, but tripped on the shards and fell. I took my chance, and made a run for it. I didn’t know where else to go.”
She was shivering, and I knew it was hard for her to tell me all this tonight itself. I took her hand, and led her to the guest bedroom. I tucked her in, and sat beside her as she stared at the ceiling, unable to sleep, till tiredness got the better of her and she finally closed her eyes.
“What happened to the guys? Did they make it?” was the first thing she asked when she woke up around noon the next morning.
“The fire had ravaged the house, and the rain did little to slow its blaze before the firemen arrived. They only found the bodies of Dan and David. There won’t be any detailed inquiry into it. The housekeeper told the cops that the two had a fight, and one of the candles fell on some broken alcohol bottles. The cops seem eager to hush it up too.”
She seemed relieved, and she managed a wan smile. I gave her a tight hug, and she returned it. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, but I hushed her up. “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine,” I told her.
That week, I broke up with Julia. Kate agreed it was best to tell her the truth, and when I did, Julia was shattered. She befriended Kate, and told she’d help her recovery from the trauma. Kate moved in with Julia, and our lives began to move quickly.
The moonlight through the window fell on us as we lay in bed.
“Close your eyes;” I told her, “I have a surprise for you.”
When she did, my hand slipped behind her back, and took her right hand, and gently put the ring back on her finger again.
She moved to remove it, but I held her close.
“I can’t, Jeff. It’s not right,” she said.
“It is. I want it to be. It’s been a year now since the fire, Kate. You can’t keep blaming yourself forever.”
“It’s not that. I don’t deserve you,” she replied, trying to get up. I didn’t let go.
“That’s not for you alone to decide, Kate. I’ve always loved you, only you. Even Julia knew it. We had been together since college, and what has happened over the last year hasn’t changed anything, not to me.”
She stopped trying to move, and just lay there next to me. I felt a teardrop fall as she squeezed my hand gently. “I love you too, Jeff”, was all she said.
“Dad, don’t be such a crybaby,” she says, as I watch her in the rear-view mirror. “I’m not leaving you forever. I’m just going to college, and I’ll be coming home every two weeks. It’s not a million miles away.”
“I know, but it’s the first time you’re going to be staying away from home,” I tell her.
She smiles, and keeps silent.
After we park, she gets out and walks away, admiring the new campus. She has been there before, but to her, everything is new. Near the hostel steps, she takes her bags from us and walks inside.
As she stands on the steps, waving goodbye to us, a note comes to mind. “… and without you, things won’t be the same from tomorrow, but I have always loved you, and will love only you. Goodbye, my dear dearest.” The face of the silently sleeping Kate from twenty years back comes before my eyes.
“Darling, it’ll be okay. She’ll be okay,” Julia says to me, as we walk back to the car.
I turn back, and she is still standing on the steps, a tear in her eye, and waving.
“Bye my darling, Kate. See you in two weeks,” I whisper, before giving her a flying kiss.
(July 9th, 2012)